I was doing a third pass of the crowd, trying to keep my anxiety in check, when I felt a presence behind me.
“Looking for someone?” a deep voice said.
Smooth like silk.
Edged with a hint of sarcasm.
The sound settled over me like a caress. A totally inconvenient caress. I knew who it was. Recognition came quicker than it should have, wasn’t like we’d talked a lot. Still, I knew the owner of that voice and decided to ignore him.
Or I tried to.
“No answer, huh? Guess I have to assume you’re here to see me.”
“In your dreams, O’Brien,” I said.
“Nah, in my dreams we’re alone, and there aren’t as many clothes.”
I bit back a laugh. “Nice. You practice that one?”
“Didn’t have to. Unlike how you must practice pretending not to like me.”
Again, I ignored him.
“Seriously, what’re you looking for?” he said.
“None of your business,” I replied.
“You just have to ask nicely.”
“I don’t need your help, O’Brien.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, and I could hear the grin in his voice, “though I got about a foot on you, shorty. Good luck finding anything in this crowd without me.”
The fact that he was right just made me loathe him more.
Begrudgingly, I turned…and found Dex O’Brien staring back at me. Piercing gray eyes. Granite cheekbones. Full lips. The grin was there as predicted, so was his ever-present scar that should’ve made him less attractive but didn’t. Yet another injustice in a world brimming with them.
“Okay, fine,” I said and crossed my arms. “Since you offered, I do need your help.”
“Sorry, can you repeat that?” he said.
My scowl deepened.
“Thought I must be hearing things.” He shrugged, crossing one arm over the other. That’s when I noticed the beer he was holding. Of course, he had a drink. Nearly everyone did. He was probably one of those guys who couldn’t have a good time without one. “It’s not every day the Maisie Hawthorne says she needs me.”
Rolling my eyes, I said, “Forget it, Dex. Sorry I asked.”
His lips stretched into a full-blown smile.
It should’ve been illegal for someone with Dex’s bad boy rep to have a smile that pretty.
“And she used my first name,” he said. “Sounds serious.”
“Whatever,” I muttered. “I should’ve known better. You wouldn’t lift a finger if I was dying in the middle of the street.”
He cocked his head. “Depends. What finger and what street?”
Before I could walk away, he placed a hand on my arm. I looked at it, taking in the blood-stained tape wrapped around his knuckles from the fight, then lifted my eyes to his.
“It was a joke, Hawthorne.”
Pulling back and rubbing away the warmth his touch left against my skin, I sighed. “I don’t have time for your jokes, O’Brien. I lost something important tonight.”
“What’d you lose?” he asked.
“My sister,” I said miserably.
Dex nodded. “What’s she look like?”
“Like a younger, happier version of me, I guess.”
“Ah Hawthorne, you’re breaking my heart.”
“So, she’s pretty,” he said.
I blinked. Did he just…call me pretty? Dex “I hate everything about you” O’Brien? Maybe he got hit in the head one too many times.
Seeing my look of surprise, Dex lifted a brow. “I meant in an uptight, straight-laced, no-fun-ever kind of way. Don’t read more into it.”
“I wasn’t,” I lied.
“Sure, you weren’t.”
When I heard the door close, I glanced over my shoulder, and my eyes shot wide.
“Why are you half-naked?” I asked.
Dex looked at me and raised a brow. “Because my shirt’s covered in beer.”
“You could’ve said something to warn me.”
“Oh sorry, Hawthorne. Did you want to watch me take it off? I’ll remember that for next time.”
My voice trailed off as I watched him walk to the opposite side of the room. The way his muscles shifted with each step distracted me. His abs stayed tight the whole time. His biceps flexed as he pulled open the top drawer. And when he turned, oh my. Those tattoos, the ones I’d always wondered about but never saw up close, were on full display.
On his left shoulder, there was the outline of a howling wolf along with a tribal design that reached above and below the wolf’s head. The left side of his ribs sported some kind of script while his upper back had another tattoo that spanned the width of his shoulders. It took me a second to realize there were words mixed in with the intricate design.
Family Over Everything.
That’s what Dex O’Brien had tatted on his body. I couldn’t agree more.
Unconsciously, I licked my lips as I watched his shoulders contract and release.
“Can I put my shirt on?” Dex drawled. “Or do you want to stare some more?”
My eyes met his, and there was amusement mixed with something else in his gaze. A spark of warmth. I hadn’t realized he’d turned around. Oh Lord, how long had I been staring? I cleared my throat as heat raced to my cheeks.
“It’s fine, Hawthorne,” he said.
“It is?” I said stupidly.
He nodded. “Watching you watch me feeds my ego.”
“Psh, like you need that.”
Dex shrugged those broad shoulders, and I could see why Bonnie wanted him, why I’m sure so many others did too. He was undeniably gorgeous.
“Go ahead, O’Brien,” I said. “You don’t need my permission to get dressed.”
“Just trying to be hospitable,” he said and finally pulled a shirt over his head, hiding his body from my way too inquisitive gaze. I didn’t know whether to be grateful or disappointed. “Out of curiosity, you ever going to finish that sentence?”
“Which one?” I said.
“You said ‘You’re so’ then stopped.” He cocked a brow. “I’m so…what? Sexy? Hot? Lickable?”
“There’s lots of ways to fill in the blank.”
Crossing my arms, I said, “Here’s one. You’re so arrogant.”
“Did I mention big words turn me on?”
“And freaking cocky as hell.”
Dex grinned. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Running my fingers along his chest, I felt him shiver. Dex released a breath that turned into a chuckle, then reached down to pick something white and blue off the floor. As he helped lower me from the dresser, I lifted a brow.
“You sure you want me to wear that?” I asked.
“Why not?” Dex gestured for me to hold out my arms, and I did. Pulling the material over my shoulders, he placed my arms into the holes then started doing up the buttons. “You’re supposed to my girlfriend for the night.”
I gulped. “Fake girlfriend,” I said. “All that stuff I said downstairs was pretend.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “I’m not an idiot, Hawthorne. And just so you know, I’m not going to doing anything stupid like fall in love with you.”
For some reason, that statement bothered me.
It shouldn’t have, but it did.
“Well, I won’t be falling for you either, O’Brien,” I said.
“Good to know. As fun as this was, I’m not looking for a relationship.”
“Me either. I’m glad we understand each other.”
Dex took a step back and crossed his arms, grinning as he looked at his handiwork.
“The guys are going to go crazy when they see you in my jersey,” he said.
Shaking my head, I grabbed his hand, led him out of the bedroom and to the stairs. The party was still in full swing as we descended. And Dex was right. We were getting a lot of attention.
“You like stirring things up,” I said. “Don’t you, O’Brien?”
“What’s not to like?” he said then lowered his voice as we got to the bottom of the stairs. “But I also wanted to see you wearing my number.”
“And?” I asked.
“Looks just as good as I knew it would.”
Dex’s intense eyes held nothing but heat and yearning as he stared back at me. I knew I was looking at him the same way. Shoot, why did he have to say things like that? Add in the amazing kissing, and I felt more than a little unsteady.
Luckily, someone interrupted us.
I was just about to suggest we go back upstairs, so we could pretend some more.