“You might be surprised.” My gaze strayed back to Shaw. It was as if he knew I was searching for him. His eyes were already trained on me. My face grew hot. The idea that he was watching me get my flirt on made me decidedly uncomfortable. His eyes seemed so knowing. Smug, almost. Like he knew I was only humoring this guy. Humoring myself. Like he knew the games I played with boys like this. Boys I didn’t give a rat’s ass about.
No longer feeling like flirting with anyone tonight, I faced Pretty Boy. “If you’ll excuse me, I see my friend.”
“What? Where are you going?” He grabbed my arm. “I thought we were having fun.”
I smiled and lied as I slipped my arm free. “I was, but my friend had this ugly fight with her boyfriend and she needs me tonight.” It was easier to say this than wound his ego with the fact that I wasn’t interested.
I started weaving my way back to Pepper, but I paused when I saw it was just her and Reece. No Shaw. Had he left? And why did I care? I wasn’t returning to see him.
I turned in a small half circle, scanning the room.
“Looking for me?” The voice at my back made me jump. If my cup was full, I would have spilled it all over myself.
I turned to face Shaw, trying to look calmer than I felt. More composed. “Shaw?” Was that breathy little squeak my voice?
He didn’t smile. His face didn’t reveal anything as he looked down at me, his sharp gaze roving over my features like he could see something there beneath the makeup and the smile I pasted on my face like a well-worn mask.
Then his question sank in. Looking for me? God. Is that what he thought? “I-I wasn’t looking for anyone.”
“It looked like you were.”
Okay. So I was looking for him, but I wasn’t about to admit that. He’d told me in no mincing terms the night before that I was entirely resistible to him. Not irresistible. Resistible. I hadn’t forgotten about that dig. I didn’t have any desire to come off as some desperate, clingy girl all hot and bothered for him.
He looked back at the bar where Jonathon stood looking decidedly unhappy after me. “Your admirer looks disappointed.”
I shrugged. “I just met him.”
“In other words, you don’t give a shit about him.”
Was I supposed to care about a guy I exchanged five sentences with? Why did it feel like whatever answer I gave would be wrong?
“You give a shit about every girl you flirt with in a bar?”
“I don’t lead girls on.”
Was he judging me? I laughed, feeling my temper stirring. Maybe I flirted and made out with my share of boys, but my reputation was more exaggeration than truth. Mostly.
I looked the long length of him up and down, clinically assessing him in all his brooding hotness. And I wasn’t the only girl looking at him. Others were checking him out, too . . . hoping he noticed them back.
Was he telling me he was so different from every other guy I’d ever met? I had rarely come across a guy who didn’t want to use me for his own needs. I knew there were exceptions. Pepper’s relationship with Reece had shown me that, but I wasn’t so arrogant as to think I was special enough to attract the exception.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “So every girl you sleep with becomes your girlfriend? Is that what you’re saying?” Silence met my question. I smiled humorlessly. “I didn’t think so. You and I aren’t so very different.”
His gaze flicked back to the bar where Jonathon stood, still looking after me. “I bet you’re one of those girls who likes to tie guys up in knots and leave them begging.”
I stepped closer, letting my body brush against his. This close, I had a perfect view of his mouth—the well-carved lips slightly parted with a breath. “Careful, Shaw, or I might think you’re actually jealous.”
My words elicited a grunt. I couldn’t help tossing them out at him even though I knew they weren’t true. I didn’t affect him that way. He’d said so himself. I knew when a guy liked me, and this one didn’t. And yet here I was. Taunting him like I wanted something.
Like I wanted him.
He turned away and started cutting through the crowd. Annoyed, I followed him, not realizing until he cleared the front door that he was actually leaving. Without even responding to my taunt, he was just walking away? I get that he didn’t like me, but c’mon. He didn’t have to be a dick about it.
I followed him down the porch steps onto the walkway and called after his back. “Why didn’t you let my friends know you already knew me?”
He turned around. Several yards separated us. “I don’t know you, Emerson.” He said that like it was the simplest reason, but there was also a ring of something else in his voice. That he didn’t even want to know me. That stung a little. Which was dumb. It wasn’t as though I was trying to win him over or something. I knew better than that.
“You know what I mean,” I said.
He stepped forward, his biker boots crunching over the snow as he closed the distance between us. He stopped right in front of me, his hands buried in the pockets of his leather jacket. I shivered, achingly aware that I’d left my coat inside and was freezing my ass off out here.
“You had this panicked look in your eyes.” He tapped the side of his head once. “It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together. You thought you’d seen the last of me. I get it. You didn’t want your friends to know you were slumming it with me last night.”
I worked my lips a little before finding my voice. “That’s not it at all.” I shook my head.
He shrugged like he didn’t care either way.
“I was embarrassed,” I admitted. “But not because of you. I didn’t want my roommates to know I passed out and had to rely on some stranger to take care of me. God, they’d stage an intervention.”
He considered me for a moment.
“Not my finest hour, I know,” I added, scuffing the ground with the toe of my boot. And then we just stared at each other. Him looking at me. Me looking at him. Like we were trying to figure each other out. I doubted I could ever do that. This guy . . . a boy who’d been to war, who’d seen people die all around him, was not like anyone I had ever met. He’d lost his cousin, and when he returned home it wasn’t to family and friends waiting for him. Not from what I had just seen anyway. Beth looked almost ill at the sight of him. His mother was gone, remarried, and he’d told me yesterday that his grandfather died a year ago. Probably while he was stationed over there. Had he even come home for the funeral?