One Time Only by Lauren Blakely

Especially knowing he was in the suite with Ivy and Callum, her bodyguard. That’s what’s driving me crazy—the thought of what he might have been doing in there with everyone.

But maybe especially with Callum. Especially with another guy.

My muscles tense all over at the reminder, like someone turned the crank inside me.

Stone sets his elbows on the table. “But why do I have to ask? Why don’t you ever share?”

His question pierces me, as if he can poke through the protective layer I wear when I’m around him. The one to keep him away because I can’t stand how I feel.

I pick up my glass, drain the rest of the drink, and set it down. Then I sidestep the messy truth. I don’t share, because I don’t want to let him in. It’s easier to make him think he’s keeping me out.

I give a casual shrug. “Because you don’t really talk about anything besides yourself.”

Stone points at me, incensed. “That’s not true. You know that’s a bald-faced lie. We talk all the time. We talk as we walk. I don’t walk ten feet in front of you. I walk next to you all the time, brother,” he says, his words piling on top of each other. The man is worked up, and it’s kind of hot, kind of sexy.

Wait. Better revise that to all hot, all sexy.

“Yeah, you do?” I ask, just to keep him going, to hear him talk, because I’m a masochist.

“I walk next to you every day and we discuss restaurants, clubs, the cities we go to . . . We talk about shit all the time.”

He’s not wrong. But tonight is different. The late hour possesses its own kind of energy, and so does this place, this bar, this conversation. It all feels dangerously close to not work. It feels too personal. And I’m simmering with my own latent jealousy, an emotion that’s starting to make its way to the front burner. Nighttime tempts you to cross lines you shouldn’t cross. So, once more, I deflect. “And yet I know you have a little brother and you didn’t know I had any sisters.”

He slams a palm against the table. “That does not count. None of that counts. You do not get to say that about me, because the world knows about Zane. The world knows I have a little brother. Hell, he joined me on a concert tour a few years ago, doing the lights. Everyone knows everything about me. I am all over the internet. And you? You’re nowhere. You exist in this bubble of no one knowing anything about you.”

I lean across the table, closer to him, in his space. Maybe a sick part of me likes doling out crumbs. Maybe that part likes it because it gives me some semblance of control over this desire. “Fine. So, since we supposedly talk, do you have any idea where I grew up?”

He pauses, like he’s cycling through options on a multiple-choice question.

I laugh. “I guess that’s a no.”

“Just tell me, man—where did you grow up? Don’t play these little information games.”

But games are a necessity with him. “I bet you’d like to know.”

“Oh, so that’s how we’re doing it? You giveth, then you taketh away.”

And I crack up. The man makes me crazy. He makes me laugh, and he makes me feel sometimes like this isn’t a job. Hell, he makes me feel that way often.

I toss him a bone. “I’m from Maine.”

The grin that crosses Stone’s face is epic. “Jackson Pearce is from Maine. It’s all coming together. I’m picturing you at a lake house. Some gorgeous view. Your dad was a lobster fisherman. Am I right? Tell me I’m right. I know I’m right.”

I stare straight at him. “My dad’s a firefighter.”

“That tracks.”

I look at my watch.

My shift ends soon.

I need to cut this conversation off—it’s too much fun.

This can’t last all night. His friends went back to their suite, and that’s my reminder that he has places to be. That this attraction I feel for him is going nowhere. Time to put it not just on the back burner, but in the ice chest.

“Don’t you need to return to your private party?” I bite out.

“No,” he says, all casual. “I’m done there.”

I seethe inside, black tar roiling through my veins. I try, I try so damn hard not to picture him at his private party, not to see what he might have been doing a few hours ago.

“Where do you want to go, then?” I ask, aiming to keep my tone even.

But failing miserably.

I can hear the jealousy in it.