The Best Laid Plans
Fallen leaves crunch under my feet where they’ve created a carpet of gold and red. October is in full swing, leaving the air crisp.
“You know what we need, Tillie?” my best friend Kit asks, wrapping his arm around my shoulder as we walk from the dean’s office. He pops the collar on his jacket and dons a pair of designer sunglasses as the setting sun shines in our eyes.
“A new major?”
He laughs. “Not me. I’m graduating this year because I’m not the one who was stubborn and refused to take humanities classes for the last three years.”
“I did. I took lots.”
“Just not enough.”
My shoulders slump. “And now I have to switch out of my extra math so I can take the only humanities class left.”
His blue eyes twinkle as he erupts into giggles. “Mythology and Occultism. You.”
I look up at the crisp blue sky with a heavy sigh. “It’s the worst class possible. It doesn’t benefit my degree at all.”
“I don’t know. A molecular biologist might need to know about the history of witches.”
“Ha-ha, very funny. I just hope I can stay awake long enough to pass the class and move on. Not to mention catch up. I’m six weeks behind.”
He nudges me with his shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Maybe the professor will be a hottie as compensation?”
“Okay, well, back to the matter at hand. We need a distraction. It’s Friday night, let’s get out of here and blow off some steam.”
It’s an appealing offer. I’d much rather do that than what I have planned for this evening. Stacy is forcing a mandatory sorority house meeting to take care of last minute details for our charity haunted house. “When you say, get out of here, do you mean out of here, or to the bar around the corner?”
“I mean out of town. Somewhere that isn’t swarming with students. I need to find myself a real man, not a college fuck-boy.”
I’m liking this idea more and more. “Yes. God, yes.”
He glances at me, taking in my vintage pencil skirt and fitted sweater. “God, you look like a pin-up.”
“Do I need to change?” Self-consciousness takes hold. I’d been going for serious professional rather than sorority girl.
Kit runs his finger over the cowl neck of my sweater and grins. “No way. You’re one of the only women I know who can pull off this color.”
“It’s goldenrod,” I say, frowning. “You’ve always said you loved it.”
“It’s mustard and I love it on you. Your dark hair and pale complexion are perfect.”
I laugh and my cheeks heat at the compliment. Hooking my arm in his, I tug him toward the parking lot. “Are you driving?”
“Absolutely. What’s the point of having a classic car if you’re not going to drive it?”
We walk to his powder blue T Bird and I can’t help my giggle when he opens my door with a flourish. “Are you sure you don’t want to switch teams and be with me forever? I swear, no guy has ever treated me as well as you.”
“Sorry, sweets. I’m officially uninterested in what you’ve got under that skirt.” He slides into his seat and takes my hand. “But you should never settle for less than what you’re worth.”
Kit and I have been friends since rush week of our freshman year. He was the first guy to attempt to rush a sorority and I knew I’d be his friend immediately. In the end, he didn’t get in, but I love him for his tenacity.
“You’re going to make me cry.”
“Stop it.” He wipes his own eyes and smiles at me. “Do you want to touch up your makeup or anything, or can we head out?”
I shake my head and offer him a wide smile. “Let’s get the heck out of here.”
“As you wish, sweets.”
We pull out of the parking lot and head in the direction of the city, far enough from Oak Ridge University to avoid running into frat boys and the awkward run-in with a professor. My phone buzzes in my purse, prompting me to pull it free and sigh when I see a text from Stacy. She’s the head of Mi Alpha Alpha and as much as I love her, she’s type-A to the max, and sometimes that can be a little hard to handle. Particularly on a day like today.
“Important?” Kit cocks an eyebrow.
I turn my phone to do-not-disturb mode and put it back into my purse. “Nope.” I can miss the meeting. I’m sure Stacy will have an entire set of meeting minutes for all of us by tomorrow morning. I’ll read them while I nurse my hangover.
We grab some dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall taco joint before strolling through downtown in search of a nice place to hang out and decompress. I stop us in front of a place called Cock’s Crow Whiskey Bar.
“Whiskey?” Kit says. “I like it. Whiskey leads to bad decisions and a hell of a good time.”
I laugh and walk in after he pulls open the door. I’m immediately enveloped in the atmosphere of the place. Warm wood walls, copper fixtures, and a fireplace in the back. The scent of whiskey mixes with the food they’re serving and even though I just ate, my mouth waters.
“We should’ve come here first,” I say.
Kit’s gaze is locked on a burly, bearded mountain of a man in the corner. “Yes…oh, yes we should’ve.” The man raises a glass and, I swear to God, he winks at Kit.
“How do you do that?”
He laughs. “Magnetism, baby.” Then he leans in and whispers, “I met him on a dating app last week.”
I give him a playful shove. “Go talk to him then. I’ll just sit at the bar and get a drink.”
“You sure? I don’t want to leave you alone. Did you see the way the guys looked at you when you walked in?”
That stops me. No, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. “Really?”
“Yeah. You’re a piece.” He drops a kiss to my cheek and glances at his bearded man before he says, “Just flag me down if you need me?”
“Go get ‘em, tiger.”
He responds with an exaggerated imitation of a tiger and I turn away laughing. There are two empty seats at the end of the bar, so I snag the one closest to the edge, not wanting to sit next to a stranger if I can help it.
“Whit kin ah git ye, sweetheart?” the bartender asks, his strong Scottish brogue making it hard for me to understand. All I really got was, sweetheart.
I stare blankly trying to puzzle out what he’s said, and by the time I do figure it out, he’s rolling his eyes and sliding a glass of water my way. “I’ll have a—”
He walks away before I finish, having not heard me, or just ignoring me out of spite.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I huff. “Ass.”
“David, stop being a twat. The lady will have…” The man one chair away calls the bartender back and David stands in front of me.
“Whiskey sour,” I mutter.
“Good choice, a little sweet, a little sour, but a lot of alcohol,” my neighbor says without looking at me. His voice is smooth and warm and that British accent of his is very nice to listen to. Honestly, I could listen to him carry on a conversation with anyone and enjoy it.
“I can’t handle whiskey straight.”
“Then you’re not drinking the right kind.” Our eyes meet in the mirrored shelves behind the bar and my breath catches—honest to God. He’s the most handsome man I’ve ever seen. Broad shouldered, a strong jaw shaded with a neatly trimmed beard, and his dark hair is my kryptonite. Short on the sides but carelessly tousled and long at the top. It’s the kind of haircut that says he cares what he looks like, but not enough to spend more than a minute or two looking in the mirror.
My drink is delivered but I barely register David’s presence. I’m focused on the intense gaze of this mystery man. Turning toward him, I smile and raise my glass. “Cheers,” I say.
He shifts in his seat and he’s even more good looking after I get a chance to look into his cobalt blue eyes. His lips turn up in a smile and he touches the rim of his glass to mine. “Cheers.”
We drink together, not carrying on a conversation with words. Instead, we use our eyes. Before I know it, my glass is empty and he raises an eyebrow in question, as though asking if I’d like another. I grin and nod.
“I’m Jude,” he says, holding out a hand.
Jude? God, that’s probably the sexiest name in the world. “I’ve never met anyone named Jude before.”
“Really?” He grins, raising his hand and gesturing to the bartender for two more drinks. “It’s more common than you think where I’m from.”
“And where’s that?”
“Bristol…that’s in England.”
I roll my eyes. “I know. And even if I didn’t, the accent was a dead giveaway.”
His cheeks go a charming shade of pink and he bites his lower lip. “Right, I don’t ever think about that. Back home it’s nothing special. I quite like your accent.”
I tuck my hair behind my ear. “Really? I’ve always thought it was just boring.”
“I think your voice is absolutely beautiful.”
My heart flutters and I think I might giggle if I don’t get ahold of myself. “You’re charming. Is that ingrained in you British boys at birth?”
He drags a hand through his hair and laughs. “No. Some might say it’s my downfall.”
Our cocktails arrive and I take a long sip of mine. Then Jude slides over to the chair next to me and says, “Tell me, what brought a gorgeous woman like you here? Are you here with your boyfriend? And if so, he’s a git for leaving you on your own.”
I glance over my shoulder to see the table where Kit had met his man is now suspiciously empty. “No boyfriend. I came here looking for something different.”
“Different from what?”
“From the boys I usually date.”
His eyebrows rise. “Well, I’m not a boy. I haven’t been for a long time.”
He’s right. He’s a man. A gorgeous one. “I know.”
“And did you find what you wanted?”
My thighs clench and need rushes through me. “I think I just might have.”