Sitting at a table in the back of the Dry Desert Brewery, Jeff bounced his heel under the table while nervous energy bounced around his insides like a damn glow-in-the-dark Super Ball.
He was keeping his eye on the door, though trying—and probably failing—to look like he was watching the game highlights on the big screens mounted over the bar. Any minute, she was going to walk through that door, and just like the first time, and every time since, he’d lose his breath at the sight of her.
Derek nudged his shoulder. “Chill, Nelly. She’s coming.”
Yep, failing. Not taking his eyes from the screen, he lifted his beer, took a swig, and swallowed. Stalling because he was not going down without a fight. “Who?”
Derek chuckled. “You know who.”
Rayna turned toward both of them, an amused look on her face. “Why do you call him Nelly? And why does he call you Shirley? I know you told me this, but I don’t remember.”
Derek scratched his chin. “Come on, you just like the story.”
“Go on.” She grinned.
“Fine.” Derek motioned to Jeff with his thumb. “Mr. Nervous Nelly over there earned that one when you and me were first dating. I think it was the second double ‘date’ we went on with him and Tish, and he was as nervous as a schoolgirl. Nervous Nelly fit, and so it remains.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Rayna pulled her hair over one shoulder and nodded. “I remember now.”
Derek chuckled. “Uh-huh.” Then he nudged Jeff in the shoulder again. “Well, he’s nervous now too. He always is when he’s going to see Tish.”
“Look, Shirley.” Jeff slid his chair back a bit and stuck his chest out. “I know I’m awesome, and the sheer electric energy that flows off me in waves, completely natural of course, is hard to absorb all at once. I get it. I do. But”—he raised a hand—“that does not translate to me being nervous. So you, sir, are mistaken.”
Derek shook his head and picked up his beer. “Still full of himself, but also in denial. Again.”
“Doc, ignore him. He has no idea what he’s saying. Plus, I call him Shirley because, really, look at his eyes. They scream Shirley to me. Don’t they?”
Rayna grinned and looked at her man. “Ya know, they kind of do.”
“Whatever.” Derek laughed and took a swig of beer.
Jeff grinned, scooted his chair back in place, and glanced toward the entran—
There she was, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, ever touched. He lost his breath…
She wore a pair of dark, skintight jeans. A pair of gray, chunky-heeled ankle boots with an open toe. Yes, he noticed shoes, especially on Tish. An oversized cream-colored knit sweater, half tucked in the front, hanging off one shoulder, exposing her collarbone and creamy skin. Her hair was perfect, all thick and wavy. Her makeup light and flawless, and her lips… Fuuuuck. Kill. Me. Now. Her lips, painted a dark matte burgundy, were just unf*ckingbelievably sexy.
“Yay!” Rayna hopped up and ran to meet Tish halfway, and they embraced.
Which was good. It gave Jeff time to remind himself to breathe.
“Yeah, yeah. You just do you, Shirley.” Jeff pressed his lips together and shook his head, unable to take his eyes off Tish as she approached the table. He’d left her alone today and hadn’t texted. Not even a good morning one. Mostly because he knew he’d see her tonight—or hoped anyway—so he was saving it all up.
Which meant this could go awesome or go really, really bad.
He stood when she got to the table. “Your highness, so nice of you to grace us.” He bowed and motioned to the chair to his right, between him and Derek.
She snorted and rounded the table, taking the seat he offered. “Be careful. If you annoy me tonight, I might order your head to be taken.”
“The pleasure would be all mine.” Jeff sat.
“You are a sick, sick man.” Tish set her small wallet-sized purse on the table. “What’re we drinking tonight?”
“Whatever you want, mami.”
Derek looked over. “I already got my Yuengling while we wait for everyone to arrive.”
“Heather and Rob coming?” Tish grabbed the menu.
“Yes. And you look like you need a shot. Let’s go get one?” Rayna stood.
Derek grinned up at his girl. “There’s my wild ginger!”
Right then, the waitress walked over. “Hey, guys, ladies. You want another round?”
“Hey, beautiful.” Jeff leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “These two awesomesauce ladies would like a shot of Patrón.”
“Why is saying please so hard for you?” Tish nudged him in the side and then rolled her eyes. “Jesus.”
He bent to her ear. “Sorry, mami.” He looked back at the waitress. “Pretty please? With salt and lime on top?” He grinned.
“You seriously need home training.” Tish leaned forward and directed her attention to the waitress. “Please ignore him. We’re going to wait for now, but Rayna and I are going to come up to the bar to do a shot there. Girl time.”
The waitress laughed. “Sounds good to me. Give me a wave when everyone else gets here.”
“Let’s go, Rayna.” Tish stood, rounded Jeff and the table, and made her way to the bar.
Derek tugged at Rayna’s arm before she stepped away. “Hey, give me a kiss before you run off.”
“Of course.” She let out a little giggle, bent, and gave him a soft peck.
Derek caressed her cheek and let her go.
Jeff couldn’t help but smile. He loved seeing how happy Rayna made his bestie. She was good to him and good for him. They made an awesome couple.
“You trying to annoy her already? Why do you do that?” Derek leaned back in his chair.
Jeff watched Tish at the bar with Rayna and shrugged. “What can I say? It’s our way. No need to read into it.”
“You know she tells Rayna everything, right?”
“No doubt. They’re besties, like us. I tell you everything too.” Jeff winked. “Your point?”
“My point is, Rayna then tells me.”
“Again I ask, your point?”
Derek groaned. “Fine, play hard to get. Point is, Nelly, I know you text that woman daily. I know you love to pull her pigtails. I know you get some sort of f*cked-up kick out of getting her riled up. What I don’t know is why don’t you just tell her how you feel?”
Jeff knew what Derek’s point was, but he wasn’t going to give his best friend an inch, and for good reason. Jeff knew for a fact Tish hadn’t told Rayna about the night they’d hooked up.
If she had, Rayna would have told Derek, and Derek would’ve come right to Jeff. That was how the couple game worked. Especially when they were all BFFs.
The brutal truth of it was, if Tish didn’t tell Rayna, then she likely regretted that night to the point she was willing to take it to her grave. That was more than Jeff could face, let alone accept.
Especially when he knew, deep down in the depths of his dark, smart-ass soul, that it’d been the best night of his life. Hers too. At least, that was what he felt between them that night.
So if she actually regretted it…then how could he be so off base?
Jeff focused on Tish across the bar as she threw her head back, downing the shot of tequila, and then set the glass down beside Rayna’s on the bar top. As always, she captivated him, but she also frustrated the ever-loving hell out of him. That was much of where the teasing stemmed from.
He knew they were meant to be, though. Had to be, and she knew it too, even if she wouldn’t admit it to him or herself.
There was just no other possibility, and no, not because he was an egotistical a$$hole who thought he was God’s gift or something. Yes, he was guilty of that kind of thinking in the past, but this was different.
Tish was different.
The whole damn situation between them was one hundred percent different.
Jeff ran his palm along the back of his neck. “There’s nothing there, man. Nothing going on other than me teasing.” He hated lying to his best friend, but technically, it wasn’t exactly a lie. Sadly, there really was nothing going on.
Whether or not he’d give his left nut to have something, anything, going on between him and Tish was irrelevant. Derek didn’t need to know that. “I mean, yeah, don’t get me wrong, she’s hot. We all know this. It’d be a lot of fun to mess around, a little slap and tickle, right? But…we’re all friends, and that just wouldn’t be a good idea. It would make things awkward.” He palmed his near-empty glass of beer. “Of course, I ain’t gonna lie, Shirley. When that woman is pissed off or agitated, she is off the charts hot. That alone is worth yanking her chain anytime I get the chance.” He pursed his lips and shrugged before downing the last of his beer.
Derek laughed and shook his head. “Okay, brother. If you say so. Here they come, so I guess, game on?”
“Game on for sure.”
Tish locked eyes with Jeff as she approached their table. When she got close enough, she licked her lips and pushed the hair off her shoulder. Tequila on deck, and she was taunting him. AKA, trying to f*cking kill him.
Jeff gave her a minute to get settled before setting things in motion. “Feel better?”
“Who said I felt bad?” She pushed the sleeves of her sweater up.
“Psshaw. You don’t give me enough credit.” He leaned back, balancing his chair on its two back legs. “I know when my mami isn’t feeling up to par.”
“Hmm. Highly doubtful.” She brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. “By the way, what, no texts for me today? Did you finally find some other girl to harass?”
Jeff gasped and pressed his palm to his chest. “You wound me. I’m an officer of the law. I would never harass anyone. But wait. Are you saying you consider yourself a girl and not a woman? That’s so surprising. I never would’ve guessed that.”
Tish rolled her eyes. “Wounded, my a$$. Whatever you say, Jeffrey.”
Jeff lowered his voice. “Your ass? Mmm, yes. I’ve seen it, it’s not wounded though. Not at all.” He bent closer to her and winked. “On the contrary, it’s quite amazing.”
She locked eyes with him, lips pursed. There were only a few inches separating them. Seconds passed, a conversation happening but no words being exchanged. She was remembering, as was he.
God, what he wouldn’t give for just one more night…
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date published : June 15, 2021
pages : 201
For members of a police K9 Unit, partnership is everything—in work and in love.
LOVE AT FIRST NIGHT . . .
Shuttled between her alcoholic parents and foster homes that separated her from beloved younger brother, Steven, it’s no wonder Tish Beck is a woman with trust issues. To avoid getting hurt—or hurting someone else—she’s kept her romantic life commitment-free, and that’s fine by her. Until she meets exasperatingly hot, funny, smart-ass K9 officer Jeffrey Pearl, and stupidly spends the night with him . . .
Currently single and content, Jeff’s always got his canine bestie, Rio, by his side, and loads of human friends. He enjoys the occasional close encounter, but hasn’t been tempted into anything serious. Until Tish. He’s inexplicably head over heels. Too bad she’s determined to keep him at arm’s length. But when Tish’s brother winds up in jail—again—Jeff’s glad to be the man Tish turns to for help. And with Steven back on the scene, she’ll need it. Soon Tish will have to open her eyes—and her heart—to love, and realize where, and with whom, her safety truly lies . . .
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