He chuckled, “Trust me.”

I gave him a look, “It’s illegal to smoke in a restaurant. He’s endangering all of our health, including the servers and cooks. It’s a major lawsuit waiting to happen.”

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He gave me a dead, blank stare and looked back at the guy smoking, “Yo!” The man looked over. He was the size of a Honda Civic with tattoos and a huge beard. He looked like a biker, but not the hot kind. Not the kind in the novels I liked to read.

Lochlan nodded, “You wanna put that out. She’s a pain in the ass about smoke, so if you don’t put it out, she doesn’t put out. I ain’t getting any, if she’s mad when we leave here. Help a guy out.”

The guy gave him a look and laughed. He winked a glossy eye at me and ground the smoke into the bar, “Better be extra nice to him later.” He spoke with a gravelly voice. The waitress smacked him in the arm and wiped up the ashes.

My face was on fire. I looked down at my sticky, plastic menu, “I can’t believe you just said that.”

He snatched the plastic menu, ignoring my annoyance, “You don’t need that.”

I looked up, about to snap and smack him like the waitress had done to the biker with the manners.

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A gum-chewing, hair-twirling brunette with her own biker sort of look to her and too much cleavage, stepped in front of our booth. She snapped her gum at me. I glowered at Lochlan.

He chuckled and ordered, “We’ll have two number threes and non-stop coffee. Over medium.”

She winked a false eyelash at him.

I shuddered as she left, “Who wears false lashes at nine in the morning?”

He smiled sardonically, “Oh, you think we’re here for small talk?” He leaned forward, “No, princess. You need to tell me what’s going on.”

My stomach started to hurt again, “I hate it when you order for me. I can order my own food.”

He pointed, “Start talking and not about food. Unless that’s why you carry mace everywhere you go.”

My fingers left the table, brushing against the mace in my pocket. It was as natural as putting deodorant on.

I sighed, “It’s nothing, it’s just an ex-boyfriend and he’s back in North Dakota. No big deal.”

His hands slid across the table, encompassing my left hand with warmth, like a cocoon, “Did he hurt you?”

I stared at the plastic table, unable to breathe, “Not… not really.” I felt detached from it, “He just wouldn’t leave me alone.”

He lifted my chin to look into his intensely-dark blue eyes, “Are you scared he’s going to come for you?”

I shook my head, “No.”

His look softened, “Tell me the story.”

I nodded hypnotically, still seeing him the way I had the night before. The words left my lips, like I was in a trance, “I lived in dorms at UND. My parents are in Grand Forks but I wanted the full college experience. I dated a guy first semester. We’d known each other for years; we were both in track together in middle school. One month into the relationship, he proposed.”

He made a face.

It made me laugh, “Right. Who does that?”

He winked, “Britney Spears’ boyfriends.”

A smile crossed my lips, relaxing me, “Right, but I don’t have millions of dollars or her sex appeal.” He opened his mouth but I put a hand up, “I wasn’t fishing for a compliment.” I ran my fingers through my hair, realizing how huge it actually was. “Anyway, I broke it off because he freaked me out. It was my third boyfriend who sucked. My first one, in tenth grade, cheated on me the entire time. My second one, in twelfth grade, was a drug addict and stole my mom’s tennis bracelet because his parents cut him off.”

He snorted. I flashed him a look. He nodded “Continue.”

I sighed, “I broke up with him and his dad started phoning me. They were threatening me, saying I had to get back together with him. He was showing up at my classes. It was bad. So I recorded the calls and got a restraining order. He and his family weren’t allowed on the campus anymore. I moved back home with my parents and finished my degree.”

His eyes narrowed, “Now, for the part you’re not telling me.”

I sneered, “That’s it.”

He shook his head, “I can tell you’re lying.”

My throat was dry, thankfully the waitress brought the coffees. I dumped cream in and swirled it. The white slowly dissolved in a twirling pattern, until it blended completely.

“I need to know.”

“Okay,” I nodded. “He attacked me one night. It was about five months after the ‘Do Not Contact’ order was in place. He hit me over the head with something and pulled me down between two buildings. He was shaking me and hitting me, when a girl came. She was walking by, minding her own business.” This was the part of the story that felt like a demon crawling around inside of me with sharp talons. I took a breath and a sip of coffee. “She attacked him. I think I blacked out but when I came too, he was beating her. She had tried to help me, but he turned on her. I grabbed a huge rock and smashed him in the head with it. We called the police and cried holding each other. It was insanely frightening.”

His hands slipped over mine again. They trembled a bit, “Were you guys badly hurt?”

I nodded once. “Her, more so than me. She ended up so bruised and beaten. I was better off than her. I visited her in the hospital, she looked so bad. I felt sick.”

“If she hadn’t come along…”

“Yup.” The word came out strong. I knew it was my self-defense kicking in, shutting down the fear I was remembering.

“Where is he now?” The question was growled.

I pulled my hand back and drank with my left hand. My right needed to touch the mace. “Prison.”

“Does he know you’re here?”

I shook my head, “No.” I looked up, “He’s in jail for another year. This is my fresh start.”

I hated the look on his face.

Our plates were dropped down in front of us. I looked at the food and laughed, “Eggs Benedict?”

My favorite food ever… Could he have guessed that?

He nodded, “It’s my favorite. This place makes their own hollandaise and the home fries are dirty good.”

I smiled at the surly waitress, “Thanks.”

She cocked an eyebrow and left.

The first bite was amazing. My poor stomach wasn’t sure though. I ate slowly, in case it was going to come back up, which resulted in him stealing my home fries.

He switched off the weird, tense look and chatted between bites, “My mom always made eggs Benedict for Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. It’s the only time we were allowed to have it. My dad has cholesterol issues.”

I laughed, “My dad is the opposite. He would never eat something like this. He runs marathons. That’s how I picked Boston. We came here in 2008 for him to run the marathon, before the divorce.”

He cocked an eyebrow, “Your parents are divorced?”

I nodded, “Thank God.”

He winced, “Yikes.”

“Yup.” My strong yup was back in full force.

“My parents are still together but they’ve had a couple close calls.”

I took a huge bite and moaned, “How do you find these places?”

He laughed, “Just say it—I was right, and this is the best shit you have ever eaten?”

I nodded, “You were right. This is exactly what I needed.”

He laughed, “I have had a lot of hangovers in my day.”

I closed my eyes, chewing and enjoying the sound of his voice and the taste in my mouth.

“Now that you’re all blissful and happy, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

I opened my eyes, “What?”

He drank a huge sip of coffee, “I want to stay together. Forget the bet, forget the moving out, and apartment hunting. Just be roomies.”

His proposal burned my insides. I thought for a second and nodded, “Okay.” He made me feel safe. As much as it burned me, I liked it.

“It’ll be cheaper for you to share the rent, and I won’t have to worry that you’re safe.” His voice dropped down a bit.

My eye twitched, “You would worry about me?” I tried to sound sarcastic, but it didn’t happen.

He nodded, “Yup. Besides, I am in talks right now with the band, and an agent, and some serious contracts. So if I have to tour, it’s better if I have someone at the house for me.” He stole my strong yup, and I knew what we were both talking about. It was the end of the flirting and the fun. I felt like I could cry any second. He was asking me to be his friend. I was being friend-zoned.

I wanted that, didn’t I?

I wanted to go to school and become a successful lawyer, and be independent. He was a sleazy singer. He was going to be crazy famous. We would never fit.

I wanted that, didn’t I? My heart tried to negotiate, but my brain shut it down. “So we’ll be roomies?” The words felt dirty and wrong, but I made myself smile.

He smiled back. His eyes tried to talk to me with emotions, he wasn’t letting himself say either. We liked each other. There was chemistry.

But we both felt the pitfall the other person could be.

I would be that tag-along girlfriend who would make him less sexy to the women of the world, and he would be that guy I never quite trusted and ruined my grades over. Or worse, quit school and followed him around on his tours. The idea of him with other women made me physically sick. I pointed, “Can we agree no dates at the house? If girls and guys are roommates, it’s better not to have sex going on in the house.”

He nodded, “I agree completely.” He put his huge hand out “To the new deal.”

I gave him my hand. He shook them for both of us, while I tried not to think about the fact, his touch lit me up.

Chapter Six

Bromance

I leaned against the counter, bobbing to the Beats I’d stolen from his room. He had the best headphones ever. I felt like I was at the Imagine Dragons concert. Not that I even had a clue, who they were. He was opening my eyes to music, always filling my iPod that he bought for me. I didn’t hear him come in the house. I picked at the strawberries on the counter and read the text from the class I’d just left. Something shifted in my peripheral. I looked up to a whipped cream-covered pie sliding across the counter at me. I pulled the headphones off. He handed me a fork.

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