One Time Only by Lauren Blakely

I clear my throat. Loudly. Dramatically. Ivy and Callum look at me, a little chagrined. “Yoo-hoo. Your suite is upstairs. Time to get your pretty asses out of here.” I wave toward the exit, shooing them. “Be on your merry way, lovebirds.”

Ivy gives me an are you sure look. “You don’t mind?”

“I am all good, Ivy. One hundred percent. Go do your thing,” I say, clapping Jackson on the shoulder to show just how good I am without them. “I’m going to grab a nightcap with J-man. If he’ll have one.”

My gaze drifts to the man next to me. Jackson Pearce.

Even his last name is smoking hot. He sounds like an action man. Like he has a TV adventure series. But then, everything about him is surface-of-Mercury temperature.

Figures he’d be straight.

So many of the hottest ones are. But I’ll never lament that when I was born with the good fortune to be able to consider all the offerings at any table.

Callum rises, patting me on the back. “Thanks again, man.”

I slice a hand through the air. “Say nothing of it. That’s what friends are for.”

“I owe you,” Callum adds, serious and intense.

Out of the corner of my eye, I register that Jackson’s jaw ticks. Like he’s the slightest bit peeved.

Which is weird.

Why would he be ticked by Callum’s words?

But then, my bodyguard has no patience for my antics some nights.

Most nights.

No biggie. That only makes me want to give J-man more antics.

Especially since I’m not in the mood whatsoever for this night to end. Sure, I’m ready to say sayonara to my buds, but bedtime doesn’t interest me. Talking, chilling, chatting—that absolutely does, since I’m still buzzing from the high of the concert.

After Ivy and Callum leave, Jackson shifts to a chair across from me, probably so he can get a better view of the exit now that the others are gone.

“Just you and me, J-man. Should we get some Ben and Jerry’s and have a gabfest? Or play Would You Rather?”

He snorts, rolling his eyes. “You don’t like Ben and Jerry’s.”

“Figures that’s what you’d home in on. Trying to catch me on a technicality. But I do like ice cream in general.”

“Everyone likes ice cream in general,” he counters.

“Do you? I’ve never seen you eat it.”

“Is that important to you when it comes to your security detail? That you have visual proof of me licking an ice cream cone?”

I linger on that image for a few seconds, though I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t. But in my defense, he planted it in my head.

The tempter that he is.

I’m picturing Jackson’s tongue licking a mint chip cone, and that’s so not fair.

“Yes. I would like proof very much,” I say, then return to the immediate issue—what comes next. “So, the way I see it is this—we could go out for cones or have another drink. After all, we had an epic show tonight. We need to celebrate.”

He cocks his head, arches a brow, and, after a second, asks, “Isn’t that what you’ve been doing? Celebrating?”

An edge slices his voice, reminding me of his jaw ticking a few moments ago, but I don’t let either deter me. “Why stop, then?” I stretch my arms out wide across the back of the booth.

He’s stoic, as he often is. Then, after a few seconds, Jackson nods, neat and crisp. “I’m on the job, but I’ll take a seltzer water.”

“Let’s get this man a seltzer, then.” I call the server over and order another bubbly water for my favorite bodyguard, then a Macallan for me.

“Glad to see you’re not trying to slip away,” I tease when the server takes off.

Jackson barely cracks a grin. “I believe the job entails me not slipping away.”

I slam my hand to my chest, like I’m mortally wounded. “You’re only here for the job?”

He raises a brow, his expression amused. “Did you think I was here for the bubbly water?”

“The company, man. The goddamn company. Moi.”

He smirks. “And the company pays well, so thank you for not hiring volunteer bodyguards.”

I reach out an arm and smack him on the shoulder.

The rock-hard shoulder.

That’s my guy.

He’s a solid mass of man.

Those pics on the Web that show a big-ass dude looking out for Radcliffe or Gaga or whoever? The kind of guy who, when you discover his picture on the internet, you share it all over your Facebook page, your Instagram, your Twitter?