Pretend It's Love(5)

By: Stefanie London

The buzzing started up again, and Libby rummaged around in her bag to find her phone. She wouldn’t give her father the satisfaction of answering his call, but she could turn the damn thing off so she didn’t go insane. She continued walking as she hunted for her phone, her blood pressure rising with each step. Maybe she should answer his call if only so she could tell him what an arrogant, selfish, mean—“Hey!”

Libby looked up at the sound of the warning but her shoe connected hard with a solid mass. Pain ricocheted through her ankle as the world tilted beneath her feet. A strong hand wrapped around her arm, wrenching her back to standing just as the sound of glass shattering pierced the air around her.

It took her a moment to realize her eyes were squeezed shut, although against what she wasn’t sure. Pain and mortification were neck and neck.

Libby cracked an eyelid open, her breath catching in her throat. The man holding her wore a tight black T-shirt that amply showed off solid arms and broad shoulders. But it was his face that made her chest squeeze and her mouth run dry. The fading daylight cast shadows across him, highlighting razor-sharp cheekbones and full lips. His eyes—edging on black—were covered with heavy lashes, and his hair had been cut short, though it didn’t hide its natural kink.

He held a now-empty tray in the hand that wasn’t wrapped around her arm. Libby risked a glance at the floor and cringed.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his dark brows narrowed in a way that made her unsure whether he was concerned or furious. Maybe it was a little of both.

Her brain grappled for a response, but the fireworks going off in her body were more than a little distracting. It seemed that if you spent long enough away from the opposite sex that first “re-introduction” would wreak havoc on one’s hormones.

“I’m fine.” Libby mustered a smile; she was not the sort of girl who got flustered by a hot guy…usually. Now embarrassing failures of coordination on the other hand… “Uhh…thanks?”

“Was that a question?” He released her slowly, his dark eyes tracking her movement.

She tried to put pressure on her foot but fiery pain shot up her leg, making her gasp. “No.”

“You’re not okay.” He put the drinks tray down on the table. The bar’s name, First, was artfully carved into the wood in funky, tattoo-style font.

For some reason the name sounded familiar.

“Neither are your glasses,” she said miserably looking down to the glittering shards decorating the footpath. “Did I get them all?”

“Every single one.” A smile twitched at the corner of his lips. “But glasses can be replaced. That ankle looks like it needs some TLC, though.”

“I’m fine.” She tried to stand normally while keeping all her weight on her good foot.

Stupid weak ankles and stupid, stupid heels. This day could not get any worse.

His face told her he wasn’t buying it. “Let me help you inside. You can take a seat, and we’ll call you a cab.”

Did she have to embarrass herself in front of the hottest guy on earth? No scratch that, guys like him weren’t best described as hot. Striking, perhaps…or exciting. Darkly sensual.

She swallowed. What happened to being a confident, intelligent, and powerful woman? That was the Libby Gal Cocktails brand. Her signature. But today every ounce of confidence she owned had slinked off with its tail between its legs, and now she was playing damsel in distress. Ugh.

“You look like you could use a drink anyway.” He smiled, holding out a hand to her. “I make a mean Negroni.”

“Can you make it in a vat?”

“That bad, huh?”

She hesitated for a second and then took his hand, a shiver running through her at the slide of his palm against hers. The grip was sure, strong…yet gentle. He abandoned the drinks tray and came closer to her, tugging her arm around his shoulders and supporting her weight against him. They moved slowly, and each step made their bodies press together.

Libby clamped her lips together to keep from crying out as the pain in her ankle worsened.

The bar looked warm and inviting. Golden light spilled through the open door, and the calming sounds of chatter and jazz music beckoned.

“How you holding up?” His easy smile and dark eyes made her heart thump as they stepped into the restaurant.

“Apart from the mortification,” she muttered, “I’ll be fine once I get that drink.”

There were a few steps down from the doorway to the main area, and she could already feel her ankle protesting.

“Are you going to be able to get down the steps?” he asked.

She hesitated and a second later he’d scooped her up into his arms and was carrying her down the steps and across to the bar.

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