The whiskey’s burn was soothing as it slid down my throat, a harsh bite that morphed into a warm wave, flowing through me until the heat pooled in my stomach. I closed my eyes as savored the smoky aftertaste that lingered in my mouth. Damn. I’d forgotten just how good a decent whiskey could be. I was not without addictions – strong predilections for coffee and runner’s high were definitely among my vices – but the buzz of alcohol wasn’t something that I often sought. But today I sure could use a drink.
Claudia Ellers had called me this afternoon to give me the good news: Sean Reynolds had just asked her to marry him. And of course she had said yes. I grimaced and took another draw of the amber liquid.
I was happy for them. Really I was. A blind man could see that they were perfect for one another. And although I had my reservations about Sean’s past, it was obvious that he loved her more fiercely than anything else in the world.
The only problem was that I was in love with her too.
I had fallen for her while she was gathering information on Sean and the Westies for the FBI, a task that I had assigned her. She had been so brave and so beautiful and so damaged. Everything in me screamed at me to help her, to take care of her. And then she had looked at me with those striking grey eyes, and I could see a growing trust there that tugged at my heartstrings.
But I had never had a shot in hell. Claudia’s heart had already belonged to Sean on the day that I met her, even if she didn’t realize it herself at the time. I had been promptly friendzoned.
Now I considered Claudia one of my closest friends, and I had grown to respect Sean as well, but I couldn’t shake my feelings for her. Hell, I hadn’t felt this strongly about any woman since Jen, and I had dated her in my junior year of college.
I knocked back the rest of the glass at the thought of Jen. That was nine years ago. Nine years and what had happened with Jen still haunted me. I hadn’t been with anyone seriously since then. But I had my job, my mission. My work with the FBI was important. More important than my love life.
“I’ll have what he’s having.”
There was a hint of laughter in the woman’s melodic voice. I turned on my barstool to find myself looking at one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Her long, straight platinum-blonde hair fell around her delicately boned face like a silvery wave, and her pale skin seemed to shine with some inner glow. Her eyes were striking: a light, crystalline green ringed with indigo. Those eyes were looking at me expectantly.
I cursed myself for an idiot as soon as the word left my mouth. Could I be any less composed? I clenched my jaw to keep my mouth from hanging open in awe.
Her hand reached out to touch my glass, and her fingers lightly brushed against mine as she did so. Even the slight contact sent a jolt running up my arm before thrumming deeper through my body.
“What’s your drink?” She asked, her voice a bit throatier than it had been when she first spoke.
Shit, Vaughn, string two goddamn words together!
Small lines appeared in her flawless skin as her brow furrowed slightly. “What’s that?”
I could understand her confusion. This wasn’t the kind of bar where you ordered a nice scotch. It was where you came to pound cheap liquor so that you got drunk fast. It was a dive, but I had chosen it because it wasn’t likely that I would run into anyone that I knew there. I was in a brooding mood, and I hadn’t wanted to inflict that on anyone. Well, I had been. All thoughts – as well as most of my sense – had been knocked out of me as soon as this gorgeous woman had spoken to me.
“Scotch whiskey,” I explained.
She gave me a small, slightly mocking smile, showing her perfect white teeth. There was a playful light in her remarkable eyes, and I found myself entranced.
“Never mind, then Mr. Fancypants,” she said, releasing me from the magnetic hold of her eyes in order to address the bartender. “We’ll have two shots of tequila, please.” She glanced over at me, looking me up and down. I had the feeling that I was being measured up, and I wasn’t at all sure if I was going to meet whatever standard this woman had set. Her gaze fell on my suit before flicking back up to my eyes. “Is Cuervo good enough for you, Fancypants?” She asked.
I hated tequila, but I nodded. She smiled at me broadly, and I could feel my own expression widening into a grin.