Thanks For Last Night by Lauren Blakely



It’s best to keep Ransom at an ogle-distance and out of reach, thank you very much.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

Until the night I told myself the craziest lie of all—that I could get him out of my system and return to the way things were.

But it won’t work.

After Ransom, I’m going to need a whole new normal.





His Prologue





Ransom



* * *



Some guys believe in mottos.

Plenty of women do too.

People plaster their world with their life’s catchphrase—stick it on their walls, print it on their mugs, ink it on their bodies.

I’m not one of those—the motto plasterers. I don’t have posters in my pad or ink on my skin, and all my mugs come from my little sister, who chooses only the snarkiest of sarcastic slogans.

But I am definitely a mantra guy.

I’ve got mine stored nice and handy up here in my head, accessible at a moment’s notice.

Most are pretty basic—respect your family, put down the toilet seat if you live with a woman, and play your motherfucking heart out every time you hit the ice.

My list of dos and don’ts is longer, but if I hit the two biggies—don’t be a douchebag and do be more chill—I pat myself on the back and feel pretty damn good about myself.

That’s how I lived in my twenties, and those guidelines are why I have the life I want now at thirty. They’ve never let me down.

Except once.

That one time they failed me.

So now my number one, never forget, always follow is this: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

When you’ve allowed yourself to be tricked so cruelly, once you know the sharp, stabbing pain of naivete so deep that it hollows out your heart—you learn your boundaries.

The ones you won’t cross again.

I found my line the hard way, and now I know better.

Love sucks, so save yourself a world of hurt and avoid it at all costs.

Especially if the woman is a friend.

Case closed.

Except I have a sinking feeling I’m about to get fooled again.

So, put that on a mug and drink up.





1





Ransom





She rounds the corner, just a blur of silky red hair, fleet feet, and a kamikaze heart.

Her white-and-orange pistol swings slowly as she hunts me.

From my hiding spot behind a dimly lit doorway, I narrow my gaze, take aim, and fire off a punishing round of green lasers at the lithe redhead. “You’re going down, King!”

I strike a fatal blast to her chest. Teagan goes all-in on the drama, letting her pistol clatter to the floor as she collapses to her knees.

Sputtering, she clutches her heart and coughs like she’s performing Shakespeare, going for the save. Rules are rules, and our mutual friend Bryn devised them for today’s game of laser tag—if you can make your killer laugh while you’re dying in the last round of the battle royale, you can earn another life.

When it comes to sports, I don’t believe in do-overs or mulligans. But sportsmanship also means respecting the rules of the game as they’re laid out, even the silly ones. So my job here is to remain impervious to Teagan’s dramatics, implacable as she twists and writhes, contorting her face and making sounds reminiscent of a cat heaving up a hairball.

Ice.

I’m the North Pole, just like I am in the rink.

Nothing breaks me, and nothing breaks me down.

Though if something were to chip away at my armor, it might be gorgeous-as-anything Teagan King flopping onto her back, looking like a break-dancer doing the worm while being electrocuted.

Oh, hell.

She’s so ridiculous fake-dying that the seed of a chuckle takes root in me.

A kernel of a laugh sprouts and gathers strength in the center of my rib cage, gaining speed now.

Then she rises like the undead, reaching out her arms and groaning like a . . . sexy zombie.

How the fuck is that possible?

Zombies are not sexy, but my laugh grows faster, climbs higher, until it takes over my chest, gripping me in a quick convulsion.

Dammit.

Maybe the hot auburn-haired zombie didn’t notice.

But she sits up completely, points at me, and grins in epic satisfaction. “You laughed, North. Admit it, or forever be known as Laser Tag Liar.”

I clench my jaw, wanting to deny it. But I won’t do that. The gods of sports hate cheaters more than they hate commissioners and all-star games.