After This Night (Seductive Nights #2)(9)

by Lauren Blakely

“Oh, is that it? That’s your kryptonite?”

“Or maybe it’s just that you are,” he whispered, admitting more than he wanted to.

“I think the same could be said here.”

There was a pause, and though they were three thousand miles apart, the silence was heady. He was in a drugged-out state tonight. This woman was his pill, and closeness with her was what he craved most even as he feared she would destroy his heart. Smash it to a million tiny pieces and eat it for lunch. But he had a built-in barrier in distance, and with no trips to San Francisco on his immediate calendar he saw nothing wrong with this temporary moment of relief from the pressure inside of him from wanting her. They couldn’t be together in any meaningful way, and he couldn’t get hurt if he didn’t actually see her. Right? Right, he answered for himself.

“What are we doing, Julia?” he asked, and he was sure she could hear the longing in his tone, but he didn’t care. There was no need to hide it after they’d just broken down and pleasured themselves together.

“I wish I knew,” she said, her voice wistful and full of yearning. “I really wish I knew.”

He heaved a sigh, trying to sort out his thoughts, but his brain was a mixed-up mess and he didn’t know how to untangle all the threads. Or if he wanted to remain tangled up with her instead.

“What are you going to do when we hang up?” he asked, changing direction.

“Read a book.”

“What are you reading these days?”

“A crazy story about a guy who treks across Antarctica.”

“That does sound crazy.”

“Yeah. He’s kind of hallucinating and talking to penguins right now,” she said with a small laugh.

“Can you blame him? I have to imagine if you’re stuck in the polar ice cap that talking to penguins might be a rare source of comfort.”

“As long as he doesn’t eat the penguins I’ll keep reading it.”

“Here’s to no penguin meals in the books we read.”

“What will you do?”

“I suspect I will fall fast asleep and dream of a beautiful redhead on the other side of the country.”

“She would like that dream very much,” she said in a sweet voice, the kind that worked its way beneath all the hard edges in him, and settled deep in his heart. “Will I talk to you again soon?”

He took a fueling breath, and put his armor back on, steeling himself. “I don’t know the answer to that.”


The next month passed in a paradoxical fashion. The days were long, but the weeks sped by as Julia won and lost for Charlie. She took the fall he asked for, but mostly she won, clearing another few thousand off her debt. The rest of the time, Julia mixed drinks at Cubic Z where she listened to Kim discuss whether to decorate the baby’s nursery with horse or teddy bear wallpaper.

“Craig wants teddy bears. He says horses are too scary for little kids,” Kim said, referring to her husband who helped out around the bar now and then as he looked for a regular bartending gig.

“Can I vote for otters instead?” Julia offered. “Have you ever seen an otter that’s not utterly adorable?”

Kim laughed. “Can’t say I’ve ever technically seen an otter at all. But I will hunt out otter wall-art now.”

Julia held up her arms in the victory sign. “Ladies and gentleman, my greatest accomplishment may indeed lie in convincing my friend Kim to go for the otters.”

She also helped her sister with final wedding prep, which included last-minute visits to boutiques and stores as McKenna chose gifts for the guests. No gifts for herself, though; McKenna and Chris had specifically asked for none, with the invitation saying, Your presence is our gift. In lieu of presents, please consider a donation to your local animal shelter.

Tonight, she popped into the bar to bring Julia a sample of cake. “I changed my mind at the last minute. I think I want to get this cake. Try it,” she said, thrusting the carton across the bar.

Julia reached for a fork and took a bite, and her eyes rolled in pleasure when the sweet cake hit her tongue. “This is amazing.”

McKenna clapped. “Oh good! Wedding cake is usually awful. But I want to have an amazing cake.”

“Speaking of amazing things, try my newest concoction.” She whipped up a Heist and slid it across the bar. “I named it for Clay,” she said in an offhand way.

McKenna’s eyebrows rose. “Wait! Are you back together with him?”

She shook her head. “No. We talk on the phone sometimes though,” she said, adding an olive to the martini she’d just made for another customer.

“What do you talk about?” McKenna asked, her voice dripping with curiosity.

Julia shrugged playfully, remembering the late-night conversations with him, the way his voice went low and husky when he asked her what she was wearing, then when he proceeded to tell her exactly what he wanted to do to her when he’d removed every last shred of her clothing. “This and that.” She handed the drink to the customer and returned to her sister.

“Are you having phone sex with him?” McKenna whispered, her eyes wide and eager for a yes.

She nodded. “And we talk too. About whatever. Our days. Movies. Books. Life. That sort of thing.”

“Wow,” McKenna said and her jaw was hanging open. “So are you going to see him again?”

“I think he likes the barrier. I think he probably figures it’s for the best.”

“Why?” McKenna asked, holding up a hand as if to say what gives. “I don’t get it. You like him. He likes you. You have great phone sex. What is stopping the two of you from getting together?”

Instinctively, Julia’s eyes flashed to the door, checking for Charlie or Skunk. Neither was there, but they might show up any day. That was the real thing keeping her and Clay apart. Keeping her distant from everyone, come to think of it.

“Who knows,” she said evasively as a gray-haired and sharp-dressed man in a suit and tie raised a finger to grab her attention. “I need to go tend to some other customers. Can’t wait for more cake this weekend.”

She headed to the other end of the bar, slapped down a napkin, and flashed a smile at the older gentleman. “What can I get for you tonight?”

“A friend of mine tells me you make the most amazing cocktail ever,” the man said, speaking in a most proper voice. He didn’t have an accent per se; he simply had an air of sophistication about him, from the well-tailored suit to the classy speech. “A Purple Snow Globe, I believe?”