The lights pulse with the music – perfectly timed flashes that make the room dance with color. The heavy beat of the drum vibrates the floor beneath my feet as I move with the rhythm of the upbeat song.
This isn’t my scene. Well, not usually. I’m more of a dinner and a movie kind of girl. I can count the number of times I’ve stepped into a club on one hand. But tonight is not about me. It’s about my best friend, Emma.
“You only turn twenty-two once,” she had said to me earlier in the evening. I bit my tongue, choosing not to remind her that’s exactly what she says every year.
Besides, what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t suck it up every once in a while and step outside of my comfort zone for my best friend of ten years?
So here I am, smashed into a room with way too many people, in a dress that might as well have been painted on it’s so tight, throwing back cosmos like this is an everyday occurrence for me.
When Emma goes out, she goes all out. And I mean that by she spends more money than she can afford on a new little black number and a minimum of two hours on her hair and makeup. Of course I’m expected to follow along.
I’ve learned to roll with it, as I have most things with Emma, choosing the path of least resistance. Trust me when I say, she always gets her way in the end anyway.
I have to admit, even when I don’t really want to do something, I usually end up enjoying myself just the same. Not that I would ever admit that out loud. Admitting Emma is right about something is a sure fire way to make sure you never live it down.
As the song winds down and a slower one takes its place, I turn to see Emma a couple feet away, pressed firmly against a twenties something hipster with a dark man bun tied at the back of his head.
Ignoring the way the man looks at me as I step up next to them, I immediately lean into my friend’s space.
“I’m in need of another Cosmo. Stat,” I announce a little louder than necessary.
Emma turns her head toward me, a small smile playing on the corners of her lips. Even red faced with sweat collecting at her brow, Emma is a complete and total knockout. Her skin the softest brown – a perfect combination of her father’s dark skin and her mother’s fair. Her long brown waves fall perfectly to the middle of her back and she has legs that go on for days. But what really puts her over the edge is her crisp green eyes which are so bright they stand out even in the dimness of rooms.
We really are polar opposites. At least on the outside. I’m about as fair as they come – ghost white even in the dead of summer – despite the fact that I live in Florida which is pretty much sunny year round. My hair is light – a dirty blonde with natural highlights. Unlike Emma, I’m not tall or model skinny but short and curvy. No matter how hard I work out I’ve got a butt and thighs I simply cannot get rid of.
Emma says that’s why guys fawn all over me. I’m not sure what planet she’s living on, but she’s the one that has the male sex eating out of the palm of her hand. Has as long as I’ve known her.
“Order me one. I’ll be over soon,” she says, nodding her head ever so slightly to the guy whose hands I’m now noticing are resting comfortably on her ass.
“You got it.” I flash her a knowing smile before quickly turning and maneuvering my way through the crowd of people that stand between me and the bar that resides along the far back wall.
Snagging the only empty stool I can find, I lean forward on my elbows and let out a slow breath, feeling slightly overheated and a whole lot buzzed.
“Two more?” My gaze lands on the muscled bartender that stops in front of me.
“Please.” I bat my eyelashes in a way that makes me cringe internally, followed up by a wide smile.
“Coming right up.” He winks, quickly turning.
“You’ll have to tell me your secret.” A deep voice resonates next to me and I instantly turn toward the sound, sucking in a sharp breath when I meet a pair of deep brown eyes.
“Huh?” It’s the only word I can manage, completely transfixed by the yellow speckles that pepper the brown eyes currently locked on mine.
“Your secret.” The man smiles and my gaze immediately dips to his mouth. Full lips shadowed by a dusting of dark facial hair.
“Secret?” I try to shake off the fog that seems to have settled around me and refocus.
“Considering nearly everyone on this side of the bar has been standing here for ten minutes and muscles hasn’t even looked our way once.” He gestures toward the bartender.
“I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” I find myself teasing, fueled by the alcohol and how damn attractive this man is.
I’d guess him in his mid-twenties. He has two length dark brown hair – short underneath and longer on top – pushed back away from his face that’s sporting neatly trimmed facial hair. He’s hands down the hottest guy in here, and by the smirk on his face, I’d guess he’s perfectly aware of this fact.
“I might be dying of thirst. I think I’ll take the risk,” he immediately counters, his smile growing. A deep dimple makes an appearance on his right cheek.
My stomach instantly whooshes and it takes me a full ten seconds to gather my bearings enough to come up with a response.
“Come here.” I hitch my finger, gesturing for him to come closer. “You can’t tell anyone.” I lower my voice when he gets close, moving to place my lips just shy of his ear.
His scent invades my senses and I take a moment to appreciate how amazing he smells before finally finishing my sentence.
“Boobs,” I whisper, giggling when he pulls back, deep laughter rumbling through him.
I decide right there that his laugh is the best laugh I’ve ever heard. The kind I could close my eyes and listen to for hours. Just the sound of it makes my skin prickle.
“Boobs?” he questions through his laughter. It’s only then that I pick up the slight drawl to his voice and I have to admit, I really like it.
“That’s my secret.” Straightening my posture, I tuck my hand toward my chest. “I have boobs,” I mouth, biting my bottom lip to contain my laughter.
“I’m Hudson,” he announces, as if my comment was enough to make him decide I was worth introducing himself to. “Hudson Demasi.”
“Lennon Claire.” I take his hand when he stretches it between us.
“Lennon?” He phrases my name like a question, clearly thinking what everyone does when they first learn my name. Wrapping his fingers gently around mine, he shakes my hand. “I take it your parents were big Beatles fans?”
“My sister’s name is Starr, spelled with two R’s. What do you think?” I roll my eyes.
“Wow.” He shakes his head, amused. “Well, would it make you feel better to know that I think Lennon is a kick ass name?”
“Not really,” I joke, pulling my hand from his as the bartender reappears with my two cosmos, setting them on the bar in front of me.
“Can I get a Bud Light and two shots of tequila too?” I quickly request, watching the bartender’s gaze shoot to Hudson and then back to me.
Instead of lingering eyes and a flirty smile this time, he simply nods before walking away again.
“I hope you like beer,” I offer, picking up one of the cosmos and taking a small sip. “I wouldn’t want you to die of thirst or anything.”
“Beer is good with me.” He smiles, that dimple once again gracing his face. “Thank you.”
“You’re more than welcome. Besides, now that we’re friends I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure you’re taken care of.”
“You always make friends so easily?” He arches a brow playfully.
“Only when I find someone I feel like I can really open up to. I mean, I did tell you my secret after all,” I say playfully, watching his eyes dance with humor.
“I guess that’s true. Now you’re stuck with me.” His gaze slides to the bartender who reappears with two shot glasses filled with clear liquid and a bottle of Bud Light.
“Thirty-three dollars,” he says, setting the drinks on the bar in front of us.
“On me.” Hudson immediately reaches for his wallet.
“Not a chance,” I object, reaching into my bra to pull out a small roll of bills, dropping two twenties on the bar.
Hudson pauses mid motion and watches me, a mixture of humor and disbelief washing over his incredibly handsome face.
“Keep the change,” I inform the bartender, tucking the remaining bills back into my bra before grabbing the two shot glasses and extending one to Hudson.
He takes it, one side of his mouth cocked up in a sexy smirk.
“You always keep your money there?” His eyes dip to my chest as I shove the shot into his hand.
“Do you see this dress? Where else would I keep it?” I gesture to myself.
“Oh, I see it alright.” His words instantly make my heart pick up speed and causes tiny droplets of perspiration to form at the base of my neck.
“To new friends,” I say, choosing to ignore his comment. I wait until his eyes meet mine again before clinking my shot glass against his.
“To new friends,” he repeats, his gaze holding mine for a moment longer before he tips his head back and pours the shot into his mouth.
I mirror his action, cringing slightly as I swallow- the tequila burning a trail of fire down my throat.
Hudson, clearly seeing the grimace on my face, bites back a smile, but before he can say anything, Emma suddenly appears at my side.
“There you are.” She leans in, reaching over me to retrieve her Cosmo from the bar. “I was wondering where the hell you...” She trails off when her gaze lands on Hudson and she completely redirects. “Well, hello,” she purrs in the way only Emma can.
“Hello.” Hudson grins.
“And who are you?” She smiles, her eyes bouncing between the two of us.
“This is Hudson,” I interject. “Hudson, this is Emma.” I gesture to my friend, noticing his gaze is now focused on the person standing behind Emma – the hipster guy who had his hands all over her ass on the dance floor.
“Where the hell’s my beer, douche?” It takes me a second to realize he’s talking to Hudson.
“Sorry, dude, you were over there pretending to dance.”
“Pretending my ass. Did you see those sick moves?” He twirls his hips causing Hudson to laugh, the sound once again making my whole body ignite.
“So I take it you two know each other?” I question, gesturing to the hipster who gladly accepts the glass Emma offers him, killing half of her Cosmo in one swift gulp before handing it back to her.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Hudson shakes his head, humor on his face. “Lennon, Colton. Colton, Lennon,” he introduces us.
“I see he’s made friends with my friend,” I say to Hudson rather than acknowledging Colton directly.
“It would appear so,” Hudson agrees, following my line of sight to where Colton now has his arm wrapped around Emma’s slender waist.
“Come on, babe, let’s show these lame asses what real dancing is.” Colton ignores me and Hudson altogether and waits until Emma finishes off her drink before taking the empty glass and setting it on the bar behind me.
“Len.” Emma reaches for me.
“I think I’m gonna hang out here with Hudson for a while. You two go, dance,” I say, giving her a look that I know she’ll understand. One that says ‘leave me alone so I can spend more time with this incredibly hot guy next to me.’
Emma smiles knowingly and nods once before taking Colton’s hand and letting him pull her back onto the dance floor.
“You realize your friend has been violating my friend half the night,” I inform Hudson as Emma and Colton disappear into the sea of people and flashing lights.
“I don’t claim him.” He lifts the beer bottle to his lips and takes a long pull, the action way sexier than it should be.
“Funny, I don’t think I would either,” I tease.
“My best friend since I was twelve. Colton?”
“Since I was born,” he responds without hesitation.
“And you’re how old?” I arch a brow.
“Twenty-two,” I answer before adding, “You’ve known each other that long?”
“All our lives.”
“Are you two from around here?”
“Nashville.” He rests the bottom of his beer bottle right above his knee as he angles himself more toward me, his leg brushing mine as he does.
“Nashville?” I question, trying to hide the disappointment in my voice.
It would figure. The first interesting person I’ve met in a long time and he’s not even from around here.
“Well, Texas originally. Just north of Austin. But I moved to Nashville a couple years ago to pursue music and Colton came with me. I’ve tried to get rid of him but he doesn’t seem to get the hint. I’m still trying to convince him he’s not my manager, though he’s claimed to be since we were teenagers.”
“You’re a musician?” I question, trying my damndest to keep it cool. I’m a total sucker for musicians. I just met this man and it’s like he already knows my weaknesses. “Do you sing or play instruments?”
“Both. Well, I sing and play guitar.”
If I could fan myself and not look like a total psycho I totally would. Not only is he super hot but he also sings and plays the guitar. Dear lord, help me now.
“That’s awesome. What kind of music do you play?”
“A mix of country and rock.”
“So far so good.” I nod in approval. “Do you play in bars and stuff or are you one of those street performers?”
“Been to Nashville before, have ya?”
“A couple of times. My sister loves Nashville.”
“There’s a lot to love.” He takes another pull of beer, sliding his finger around the rim of the bottle when he rests it back against his knee.
“So what brings you to Destin?” I clear my throat, trying to seem cool when I feel like the biggest dork.
I swear I’m hanging on to every word he says like it’s the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard. Mainly because it kind of is. Not that what he’s saying is some kind of epic statement, but it’s more just listening to him talk. That I think I could do all day long.
“Vacation. We’ve been coming here every March since we were kids.” He gestures off somewhere in the vicinity of our friends. “Colton’s family and mine are extremely close. Our moms have been best friends since they were in grade school, so our families did everything together growing up, including vacations. Colton’s dad passed a few years back. I think continuing to come here is his way of keeping his memory alive.”
“I get that,” I sympathize, not even able to fathom not having my dad around.
“It’s been tough on him but he’s getting by. Mainly by driving my ass crazy.” He laughs to himself. “What about you? You local?”
“Born and raised.” I nod, taking a sip of my Cosmo.
“I would have given anything to live by the beach growing up.”
“If I had a dime for everyone that has said that to me over the years I’d be rich.”
“I guess you kind of take it for granted. The weather, the beach. When it’s around every day it probably loses a bit of its luster.”
“When I was younger maybe, but not so much now. I don’t know, it’s different I guess. For all the times I’ve said I couldn’t wait to get out of here I don’t really ever see myself leaving either. I think I’d miss it too much.”
“And what is it that you do? For a living I mean,” he tacks on when I don’t answer right away.
“Actually, Emma and I are seniors in college.”
“For another three months anyway.”
“That’s amazing. What are you majoring in?”
“Design.” I shrug. “Emma’s dad buys and sells a ton of real estate and he’s agreed to cut me and Emma in once we graduate. Let us design his renovation projects. His only stipulation is that we, well really she, went to college first.”
“That’s pretty cool of him.”
“I thought so.” I shrug. “So how long are you and Colton in town for?”
“We’re heading back tomorrow morning. This is our last night in Florida.”
“Well that doesn’t leave us much time then, does it?” I grin mischievously.
“Time for what?” He cocks a brow, his eyes dancing with humor.
I knock back the rest of my Cosmo and push to my feet, reaching for his hand. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” He stands, taking my outstretched hand in his.
“You’ll see.” I wink before turning, pulling him through the crowd of people onto the dance floor.
“Um, I don’t dance,” Hudson informs me when I stop in the center of the dancing masses and turn toward him.
“Well it’s about time you start.” I smile, reaching up to wrap my hands around the back of his neck. “Besides, you owe me.”
“Do I now?” He wastes no time pulling me close, dropping his face within inches of mine.
“I did buy you a beer after all,” I remind him, slowly starting to move my hips, the front of my body sliding against his.
“I didn’t realize it came with strings,” he quips, his smile fully intact.
“I’ll make it worth your while,” I promise, pushing up on my tip toes to close the small distance between us.
“Is that so?” His voice is low and sexy, his breath hot on my lips.
“Do you trust me?” I whisper, my eyes locked on his.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Well get sure.” I smile, reaching down to grab his hand before taking a full step back.
He eyes the sudden space between us and a slow smile pulls up the corners of his mouth.
With one hard tug, he pulls me back against his body, and just like that, he starts to move.