“I wasn’t.”

He looked up, and I fingered the neckline of my bustier to see where his eyes would go. They stayed on my face.


Hmm. Passed the douche test.

“No one carded me,” I said, “and I didn’t offer to show ID, so of course it doesn’t have alcohol. Bartenders are smart, especially in the Quarter.”

“Here’s an idea,” he said. “How about you bottoms up with your citrus Shirley Temple and I’ll take you back home?”

I sat back in my chair and took slow sips, studying him. He had a strong face, a wide jaw, and a bow-shaped upper lip. He smiled, because he realized I was staring at his mouth. I met his gaze.

His eyes were so damn sweet. There was no other word for it. His lashes were thick, and a scar sliced through his left eyebrow.

He was still smiling. Because I was still staring. I drained my drink. “I need another one.”

“You sure you don’t just want to grab a bottle of water at home?” he asked.


“You’re going to make this hard on me, aren’t you?”

-- Advertisement --

“Most definitely.”

He reached for my glass and fished out the remaining cherry. “Here’s an idea.” He was smiling with his eyes again. “How about we negotiate?”


Chewing on the fruit gave me a second to gather my thoughts. I stared at her. “You look different.”

An obvious statement, which was why it had to be said.

Hallie raised her brows and sucked on the end of the plastic sword that had been in her drink. Her hair was as dark as usual, but her normally hazel irises were a deep brown. “Do I now?”

The changes were subtle, because her body was slim and tall like usual, but something was off. “Yeah.”

She smiled and leaned over to rest her elbows on the table. The angle and the bustier were doing a number on her cleavage. Her cleavage was doing a number on me—that was the difference. There wasn’t usually so much of it. I made a great show of not looking.

“Not one bodyguard has been able to catch me once I got into the Quarter. I’m offended—maybe impressed—that you’re here.”

“You run away a lot?”

“Every chance I get.”


“You’ve met my father.”

Tossing the plastic sword onto the table, she stood up straight, giving up the attempt to draw me in, and finally allowing me the opportunity to breathe normally.

“He’s not so bad.” I shifted on my stool.

“Are you kidding me?” The once-over she gave me could’ve been an X-ray. “If you’re in his corner, why haven’t you already started dragging me home?”

Because you’re lonely, and you aren’t alone right now.

Relief I hadn’t said it out loud made me a little light-headed. “I’m not a caveman. I don’t drag. And I was hoping, maybe, I could convince you to go back with me by asking nicely.”

“You aren’t going to threaten to tell my dad? That’s what they usually do: get all blustery and self-righteous and make a big point of how much trouble I’ll be in when I get home.” She shrugged. “But I never get in trouble, and they always do. You’re smart, Dune Ta’ala from Samoa.”

And just a few minutes ago, she’d acted like she couldn’t remember my name. “I need this job.”

She stepped closer and I caught the sparkles on her shoulders and neckline. “Are you trying to make me feel guilty?”

“No. Maybe.” I needed her to move back. I needed to stay objective. I didn’t need to know that she smelled like buttercream frosting. “Yes.”

“So back to negotiations. Here’s the deal. You stay here with me for a little while, let me have some fun, and we can go back together.”

“I don’t—”

“Take or leave it.” She leaned forward again, so I stared at the ceiling.

I guessed I was taking it.

Hallie patted the seat beside her. I eyed it and remained standing, wondering if she sneaked some superglue onto the leather so she could make a quick escape.

“I really just want to take you home and get you to bed—”

“Keep walking into that innuendo. Really. I enjoy it.”

“Get you to bed before your dad gets home so I don’t get fired,” I finished, with a sigh. “Please, Miss Girard?”

She put up a hand. “Hallie, if you want to stay on my good side.”

“I’m deathly afraid of your bad side, Hallie.”

Her next move stole my breath. She slid off her stool and put her palms on my chest, ran her hands down my stomach, and hooked one finger inside the waistband of my pants. “Do you dance?”

“I …”

A second finger sneaked in. She pulled me closer.

“Um …” I tried to step away.

“Just where do you think you’re going?”

I thought of her bare back, skin as smooth as velvet, and how she must taste. I wondered how she’d respond if I gave in. How far things would go before I caught myself and remembered why I came to New Orleans.

Best to remember why I was here right now.

“Home. I’m taking you home.”

“I could get you in a lot of trouble,” she threatened, trying to play me. Even though I preferred girls who were a little more low-key, if I’d been a normal guy without some higher purpose, I’d have let her play me all the way out. “You’re here. I’m here. Why can’t we have fun?”

“You know why,” I said.

“You aren’t going to give in, are you?”

I shook my head. She picked up her bag and started for the other side of the bar. “Where do—”

“The bathroom. To change.” She pointed to her red leather pants. “Did you want to help?”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to help.”

“Jean Lafitte likes to hang out in the ladies’.” She flashed a wide smile. “Pirates. They never disappoint. Especially when I pretend they all look like Johnny Depp.”

“Fine. Go change. Don’t sneak out a bathroom window.”

“I said I’d go home with you and I will.”

I had no reason to trust her, but she didn’t seem like a liar. A sneak, most definitely, but not a liar. “Forgive me if I have trouble taking you at your word.”

“There aren’t any windows in the bathroom.” She growled in frustration. “You can check, unless you’re afraid of pirates.”

“It’s not like you couldn’t go in and come out a completely different person.”

Her eyes narrowed and she sat back down. “What did you just say?”

“I mean, you have a proclivity for disguises. There’s the shoes. And the eyelashes. The brown contacts. The outfit.”

She shook her head. “Did my dad tell you anything about me?”

“All he said was that you had … an uncanny knack with appearances.”

“An uncanny knack?”

In the span of a second, her face morphed back to its original form, her eyes to their original hazel. I was so fascinated by the transformation that I didn’t react. Big mistake.

-- Advertisement --