I’m coming by tomorrow to p/u my stuff.
My girlfriend’s text message—your ex-girlfriend, idiot—made me long for the days of flip phones. Dropping my cell into the cup holder wasn’t nearly as satisfying without first slamming the little bastard shut.
From the driver’s seat, my bodyguard, Jeremy, glanced at the phone. “Leigh?”
“How’d you guess?” I rubbed my eyes. “I can’t wait until all this shit is really over.”
“I wish I could tell you it ends overnight.” He shrugged as he pulled into the gym parking lot. “Unfortunately, after you’ve been together that long . . .”
I groaned. “If she’d agree to it, I’d just toss a match in the place so we could both start over fresh.”
“Tempting, isn’t it?” He parked and killed the engine. “It does end, though. Promise.”
“Yeah, we’ll see.” I grabbed the phone, but didn’t look at the screen. Instead, I shoved it into my pocket as Jeremy and I got out of the car. I’d respond to the message later. For now, I needed to blow off some steam after a long week on set. The next season had just started, and though the episodes currently filming had other directors at the helm, I had plenty to keep me busy.
With Jeremy on my heels, I headed into the gym. The instant I stepped through the tinted glass door, I was hit with the familiar pungent smells of sweat, metal, disinfectant, and more sweat. After this long, it didn’t bother me anymore. It just made my brain shift gears from work, work, work to time to sling some iron! My pulse ratcheted up. I hadn’t drunk my preworkout supplement yet, but I was definitely psyched for this. Probably because I hadn’t been here in a few days.
It wasn’t super crowded today, thank God. I quickly scanned the room. The squat racks and benches were occupied, but no one was using the leg press, and there was plenty of room by the dumbbells. Besides the people at the squat racks, everyone seemed to be doing upper body, which was perfect. It was leg day for me.
Jeremy stayed outside the locker room while I went in to change clothes. When I came out—nearly vibrating from the preworkout I’d just drunk—he fell into step with me and stayed hot on my heels while I started my routine. As always, he was close but out of the way, though he never hesitated to step in when I needed a spotter. As much as having a bodyguard annoyed me, it did have its perks sometimes.
As I warmed up with some kettlebell swings, I kept thinking about that text message I still hadn’t replied to. This thing with Leigh was exhausting. The relationship had been more tiring than my job, and the breakup wasn’t much better. At least we’d finally split. We could not possibly have drawn things out any further. What a waste of time and energy.
Well, at least some good had come out of it: our attempt at counseling had put Jeremy in the crosshairs of a therapist in the office. They’d started dating, and the guy had even helped Jeremy find a counselor of his own to work out the postdivorce mess with his ex-wife and kids. Jeremy had recently started going to LA twice a month for family sessions. It was too early to tell if it was working, but he’d been a lot less tense, so I was optimistic. And if slowly crashing and burning with Leigh had had any silver lining at all, I was happy.
Maybe there was even a silver lining in it for me. Well, if nothing else, my throat hurt less these days. Fewer screaming matches had that effect. So that was a plus. And I wasn’t so stressed out going up my own driveway anymore, wondering what kind of petty or not-so-petty fight awaited me. Just a house that was too big for one person. Too big, too empty, too full of echoes of—
“What is your fucking problem?” The man’s shout made everybody jump. About half a dozen people wearing earbuds, myself included, popped them out and looked around.
“My problem?” came the sharply accented response, and my head snapped toward the squat rack where a man and a woman faced off.
It wasn’t just any couple. I’d seen the guy around the set, though his name escaped me at the moment, but the woman was one I’d recognized as soon as I’d heard that Russian accent—Natalya Izmaylova, the take-no-shit stunt coordinator of Wolf’s Landing and owner of the most gorgeous ass I’d ever seen.
Oblivious to the stares they’d drawn—and me shamelessly ogling her—Natalya stabbed a finger at her boyfriend’s chest. “My problem is that you’ve—”
“Oh forget it.” The guy threw up his hands, nearly smacking her in the process. “I’m—”
“Excuse me?” She snatched his arm and got right up in his face, sending him back half a step. “You ever raise a hand to me, and I will—”
“I wasn’t raising a hand to you.” He wrenched his arm free. “Fucking psycho.”
“Bullshit you weren’t,” she snarled.
“You’re making a scene,” he said in a stage whisper. With the two of them fighting in it, the squat rack resembled a shark cage, only with the shark on the inside.
Watch it, dude. She will eat you alive.
“I’m making a scene?” She folded her arms and narrowed her eyes, and I swore everyone in the room inched back, including the man in front of her. “Well, it’s going to turn into a much bigger scene if you don’t get the fuck out of here. I’m done with you.”
“Whatever, bitch.” He lifted his hand a little like he was going to make some animated gesture in her face. Evidently, he thought better of it, though, and stormed off without another word.
Jeremy and I exchanged glances. He watched the guy go, and from the way his eyebrows came down slightly, he wasn’t checking him out.
Fuck with her again, dude. I dare you.
I shifted my attention back to Natalya. She didn’t give a second look to all the people who were staring at her. She shoved an earbud back in, ducked under the barbell she’d positioned at shoulder height on the squat rack, and went on lifting as if nothing had ever happened.
And as she did her squats, coming down almost all the way to the floor, I let myself stare—and not because of the scene with her boyfriend.
God. That ass.
Jeremy cleared his throat.
I glanced at him, and he snickered.
“Oh, bite me.” I rolled my eyes. “I saw you checking Ari out this morning.”
He shrugged. “Guilty.”
“That’s what I thought. Don’t make me tattle on you to Scott.”
“Go ahead. Only reason he’d get mad is I didn’t get a picture this time.”
I laughed. “Why am I not surprised?”
He just chuckled.
I loaded plates onto the leg-press machine, and before I started my set, I glanced over at Natalya again.
She was still at the squat rack, and her boyfriend had reappeared. They were speaking in hushed tones now, but the fury was palpable from across the room. Natalya didn’t take shit from anybody, and had half the production crew scared to death of her, so I didn’t envy her boyfriend. That finger she kept stabbing in the general direction of his throat wasn’t nearly as menacing as the way her eyes narrowed or her lips peeled back across her teeth. Whatever she was saying in that sharp Russian accent was apparently hitting its mark—his eyebrows climbed higher and higher as he drew back farther and farther, as much as he could within the squat rack’s tight quarters. Much more of this, and he’d either tumble backward out of the rack, or she’d grab a dumbbell and smack him over the head.
Good for her. He’d dated several women who worked on Wolf’s Landing, and none of them had anything good to say about him. A skeevy manipulative son of a bitch, by all accounts. Jeremy and Alfonse—Levi and Carter’s bodyguard—had both made noises about “removing” him from the set on multiple occasions. I suspected both guys wanted to remove him in multiple pieces.
Watching Natalya give that asshole what for, though, I was pretty sure she didn’t need any outside assistance, so I went back to my workout. All through my lifts, especially when I was resting in between sets, I stole glances at her, ostensibly to make sure she was all right.
Perv, I thought as I moved from the leg press to the dumbbell rack. You know damn well that’s not why you’re looking.
Eh. Guilty. There was no law against looking. And now that I was a free agent again, well, why not? She was beautiful. A few long tendrils of damp, dark-blonde hair had escaped her hairband and now hung in spiraling curls beside her sweaty face. Her taut midriff gleamed with perspiration between the snug yoga pants and blue tank top that was little more than a sports bra. She was one of those women who was so fit she could probably bench any man in this room, but she wasn’t “big” by any means. Just strong and powerful, like she must’ve been back in her gymnastics days.
An image flashed through my mind of her in a tight leotard, and I almost dropped the dumbbell in my hand. I shook myself, forced Natalya out of my brain—for about two seconds—and focused on doing some lunges.
Get a grip. She’s straight, remember?
After my workout, I went into the locker room on rubbery legs. I took a quick shower and planned to take one hell of a long soak in my giant bathtub when I got home. Leg day was always fucking brutal, and since I hadn’t been coming to the gym much lately, I’d be paying for it tomorrow.
Whatever. Worth it. And I’d have an excuse not to help Leigh carry boxes in the morning. Petty? Maybe. But I was getting a little tired of playing both workhorse and ATM for her. In fact, maybe I wouldn’t even be there tomorrow. She still had a key—the breakup hadn’t been so nasty that I was concerned about her stealing or destroying something—and everything she needed was stacked in the garage or kitchen.
Yeah. I liked that idea. Levi had been pestering me to come over and watch movies with him and Carter. Since tomorrow was a rare day off for all three of us, I decided it was a damn good time to take him up on it. After I wrapped things up here, I’d shoot him a text.
As I was starting to rearrange my wet hair into a semipresentable ponytail, the locker room door opened again.
In the mirror, I saw her come in, and my heart fluttered. Her features were tight the way they always were when someone pissed her off, and she was also flushed and disheveled.
A second later, she disappeared between two rows of lockers. Shaking myself, I shifted my attention back to my reflection.
Seriously, Anna. Get a grip. What the hell?
I pulled my ponytail together and grabbed my gym bag. On my way out, I paused beside her row. She was still dressed, just riffling through her bag, so I cleared my throat. “Natalya?”
She looked up, and the fury in her expression immediately softened to something in the ballpark of a smile. “Oh. Hi.”
I gestured toward the door. “You all right? Looked like a nasty fight with your boyfriend.”
Natalya snorted and waved her hand. “Ex-boyfriend.”
I blinked. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear it. I hadn’t realized you’d . . .”
She shook her head. “It’s all right.” Her Russian accent wasn’t terribly thick, but it gave her words a hint of curtness even when she wasn’t pissed off. “I’ve had enough of him.” She blew out a breath, and some of her usual tough exterior faded for a moment. “Breaking up still sucks, though. Now I have to meet up and give him back all his shit.” She threw her locker open, the door banging against the one next to it. I jumped. She didn’t.
Recovering quickly, I rested my shoulder against a locker. “Well, I feel you. My girlfriend and I just recently called it quits too.”
She arched a thin eyebrow. “Really?”
I nodded. “It’s a pain in the ass, but I think it was long overdue.”
Natalya gave a quiet grunt. “Usually is.”
“Mm-hmm. Never seems like it at the time, but once it’s over, you wonder why the hell you stayed around so long.”
She nodded. “God, yes.” She pulled her purse out of her locker and dropped it beside her gym bag with a sharp jingle of keys and change. “And now that it is, I just want to go get drunk.” She looked right at me—oblivious to the little bolts of electricity that went straight to my clit every time our eyes met—and matter-of-factly added, “Join me?”
Oh. Yes. Please.
Easy, Anna. She’s only been single for fifteen minutes. And she’s straight.
I swallowed. “Um, I . . . Well, if I go out for the evening, my bodyguard has to stay with us.”
She shrugged. “Then we have a driver.”
I chewed my lip. I was pretty sure Jeremy didn’t want to spend the evening out with me while I drank myself stupid. Not judging by the number of texts he’d exchanged with Scott today, most of them with that silly grin on his face.
But spending an evening in a bottle with another woman, drinking our exes away, sounded absolutely fabulous.
“Alternatively,” I said, “I’ve got a fully stocked liquor cabinet.” Blood pounded in my ears. “My place?”
Natalya grinned, and she nodded. “Your place.”
Natalya still wanted to grab a shower and run home to feed her dog, so we agreed to meet at eight. I gave her my address and left with Jeremy.
At the house, we sat down for some coffee. He hung around sometimes if his boyfriend was still seeing patients that day and we were done early from the set—I was between episodes at the moment, so we had a bit of a breather for once. That wouldn’t last long. Never did.
But thank God we’d brought in Simon Conklin as a new director/producer. With him on board, I didn’t have the same enormous workload I’d had last season. Right now, he was mostly directing, but as he took on more responsibilities as a producer, I’d be freed up to direct more. Exactly as I’d hoped when I badgered the studio into hiring him.
I glanced out the window at my dark driveway. No headlights yet. Hopefully she could find the place. Not every GPS seemed to be able to navigate the roads out here, but she’d probably be okay. Wasn’t as if I lived out in the sticks like Levi and Carter.
“Earth to Anna?”
I shook myself and turned to Jeremy. “Hmm?”
Watching me from across my kitchen table, he chuckled. “You got a hot date or something?”
“What?” I folded my arms behind my coffee cup. “Why?”
“You keep looking out the front window, but you’re not pissed off, so I’m assuming you’re not waiting for Leigh.”
Not tonight, no. She and I had exchanged a couple of texts on the way home, and I bit back a groan just thinking about her coming by tomorrow morning. “I do not have a date.” Unfortunately. “For your information, Natalya’s coming by for a couple of drinks.”
Jeremy’s eyebrows climbed his forehead. “Oh is she?”
“A couple of drinks?”
“Hey!” I straightened, the kitchen chair creaking beneath me. “What exactly are you implying?”
He shrugged. “Just making conversation.”
“Just saying.” There was a faint undercurrent of seriousness in his tone. Genuine concern. I hadn’t been drinking that hard lately, had I? Before I could say anything, though, he changed the subject. “Well, before she gets here, what’s the plan for tomorrow? I assume you won’t be leaving the house at the crack of dawn for once?”
“Thank God, no.” I drummed my nails on the table. “I don’t really have any plans yet. I thought about bugging out when Leigh comes to get her stuff in the morning, but . . . I don’t know. Kinda feels like I should stick around.”
Jeremy’s forehead creased with concern. “You want me to be here too?”
“Only if you want to bask in some uncomfortable silence and carry a box or two.”
“Hmm.” He tapped his fingers on his coffee cup. “Maybe not.”
“That’s what I figured. I can send you a text after she’s gone. And when I figure out if I’m even leaving the house. It might be nice to stick around here for a day.” I paused. “And I’m sure you and Scott can find ways to occupy an afternoon?”
He laughed as some color bloomed in his cheeks. “Well, he does have to work.”
“Right. Like that’s ever stopped the two of you from hooking up.”
“I’ll let you know, but I don’t see myself doing a whole lot tomorrow.” I got up to rinse out my empty coffee cup, adding over my shoulder. “I’m usually exhausted once Leigh’s gone.”
“I don’t blame you. I’m serious, though—if you want me to come by while she’s here, say the word.” His tone was gentle and sincere. “I can help her move stuff out, and then the two of you don’t have to interact much.”
It was tempting. So, so tempting. But working as my bodyguard already cost him plenty of time and energy. Using him to keep the tensions down between me and my ex-girlfriend seemed a bit . . . excessive. Even though I really would’ve liked to have him here. He was a good friend. He knew how to keep me sane and distracted, and for that alone he was worth his weight in gold.
But he also deserved to spend some time with Scott.
“I’ll be all right.” Facing him, I forced a smile. “Levi and Carter are off tomorrow too, so I may see if they want to spend the day watching movies.” I paused and in a conspiratorial whisper, added, “You think I can get away with driving myself over there without a bodyguard?”
“Anna.” He shot me a pointed look. “Just call me if you need me.” A grin played at his lips as he got up and took his mug to the sink. “Especially since we both know you’d take the Ferrari instead of the piece of shit, and the minute you and your lead foot go out there in that car, half the town’s going to notice you, which means it’s going to get back to someone important that I wasn’t there.”
“Hmm, true. Fine. I’ll call you.”
We both laughed, but I had to admit, the whole thing annoyed the hell out of me. My more persistent stalkers had been arrested, and the others seemed to have lost interest. I thought it was stupid that I still couldn’t leave my own property without a bodyguard, but the studio and their insurance company had spoken.
Good thing Jeremy and I liked each other. How Alfonse put up with Levi—and vice versa—was a mystery. They didn’t hate each other, per se, but Levi resented the shit out of Carter needing a bodyguard, and he wasn’t exactly subtle about it.
Jeremy’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket, took one look at the screen, and a silly grin immediately materialized on his face. “Scott’s last patient just left.”
“Go. Get out of here.” I shooed him toward the door. “You kids have fun tonight.”
He chuckled, then paused and glanced out the window. “You too, since it looks like your date just got here.”
My stomach was suddenly full of butterflies.
“She is not my date,” I hissed even though the headlights in the driveway were making my body temperature soar. “She’s just—”
He shot me a pointed look.
I squared my shoulders. “She just broke up with her boyfriend, and she’s coming over to have a few drinks and commiserate over exes. Nothing more.”
“I’m sure she’s—”
I didn’t hear anything else he said, because the instant Natalya stepped out of her car, my heart went haywire. She’d changed into a pair of snug jeans and a blouse that hugged her slim, powerful figure. And of course, she’d left the top two buttons open, depending on the one just above her bra to keep things PG-13—because God knew I wasn’t already wondering how I’d form coherent sentences around her tonight.
Beside me, Jeremy chuckled.
“Shut up,” I muttered. Our eyes met, and we laughed. “Okay, get out of here. Your man is waiting.”
We headed for the front door, and when I opened it, Natalya was just reaching for the doorbell.
“Oh. Hi.” She glanced at Jeremy, then at me, and her thin lips curled into a smile that didn’t help my pulse in the slightest.
“Um.” I gestured at him. “This is Jeremy, my bodyguard. Jeremy, Natalya.”
She extended her hand. “I’ve seen you on the set. Never did catch your name before now.”
“Well.” He smiled, shaking her hand. “Now you know.”
She gave a quiet laugh.
“It was nice to actually meet you,” he said. Then to me, he added, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe?”
“Maybe. Good night, Jeremy.”
“Good night.” He glanced at Natalya. “Good night, Natalya.”
She gave him a slight nod and a hint of a smile. “Good night.”
He headed down the steps. Without being the least bit subtle, she watched his ass as he walked toward his car. Then she turned to me and flashed a toothy grin. “He’s cute.”
“Jeremy?” I shrugged as I gestured for her to come in. “I guess he is. Boys aren’t really my thing.”
“And they are his thing, aren’t they?”
I closed the door behind us. “I didn’t think most people knew.”
Natalya laughed. “Anyone who’s paid attention for more than three seconds knows that man is gay. He didn’t even blink when Charley West was on set. And she is hot.”
Yes, she is. You noticed?
I pushed that thought out of my head—no point in getting my hopes up. “Well, gay or not, he’s gone now.” I grinned. “So that means no adult supervision.”
She flashed a sharky grin. “Perfect.”
I started toward the kitchen, motioning for her to follow. “I’ve got a fully stocked liquor cabinet. Any preference?”
“You have tequila?”
“Tequila?” I glanced over my shoulder. “Really? I thought you’d—”
“Not all Russians drink vodka.”
“Oh. Fair point. Tequila it is. This way.” I stopped at the liquor cabinet and pulled open the glass doors. “We’re both going to feel like shit tomorrow. You know that, right?”
“I feel like shit tonight. A hangover sounds much better.”
“Can’t argue with that. Do you want anything to eat?”
“Limes are enough, I think.”
I pulled a bottle of Cuervo from the liquor cabinet. A few shots were missing—Leigh and I had both self-medicated a time or two since we’d bought this bottle—but there was more than enough left for tonight.
“Sorry for the mess.” I gestured with the bottle at the boxes stacked in the kitchen and dining room. “My ex is still moving out.”
“I guess I’m lucky.” She smirked. “Tommy left plenty of crap at my place, but never moved in. If he knows what’s good for him, it’ll all be gone by tomorrow.”
I pulled some glasses from a cabinet—two apiece because hey, go big or go home—and fished around in the fridge for a lime. I found two and paused.
I’m keeping limes in the fridge now? Okay, maybe Jeremy’s right. Maybe I have been drinking a lot lately.
Vowing to go easy on the sauce after tonight, I put one of the limes on the counter.
As I started cutting them, Natalya picked up a slice and slipped it between her lips. Her cheeks hollowed and her lips puckered around the rind, and I just about chopped off my finger.
She grimaced and pulled the lime free. “Wow. These are . . . sour.”
I laughed. “What did you expect?”
“They’re usually a little bit sweeter.” She shrugged and sucked on it again. This time, the rind came back completely bare. “Sour, but good.”
“They taste better with condiments.” I nodded toward the Cuervo.
She laughed. “They always do.” Then she licked her thumb, probably to catch some lingering lime juice, and winked, and I had no idea what to read into that.
“Well.” I cleared my throat. “Shall we go in the living room and get comfortable?”
“Yes, please.” She picked up the bottle and the plate of limes. I grabbed an empty plate for rinds, plus the shaker of salt off the kitchen table, and we moved into the living room.
I grimaced as I eased myself onto the couch.
“You all right?” she asked.
“Mm-hmm. Leg day.”
“Oh.” She laughed. “I know the feeling.” She patted her hip. “Squats for me today. Won’t be able to move tomorrow.”
Oh honey. I know you did squats today. Believe me, I know . . .
And because my pulse wasn’t already going crazy, she picked just that moment to lick the back of her finger. At least I hadn’t been pouring the tequila right then, or she might’ve thought I was already drunk.
She put some salt on her finger, and after I filled the glasses, I licked my own finger and put some salt on it.
Then I cleared my throat and raised one of the shot glasses. “To killing ourselves at the gym.”
Natalya laughed again. We clinked the glasses together.
We licked off the salt, threw back the shots, and sucked on the limes. She was right—the limes were a little more sour than usual, but with the salt and Cuervo, they tasted pretty damn good. We went straight into the second round. Salt. Shot. Lime. The tequila burned its way down my throat. I was pretty sure I’d pay for this in the morning, but tonight? Fuck it.
“Ah, that shit is good,” Natalya said. “A few more shots of that, and I won’t give two shits about that idiot.” She dropped a bare rind on the empty plate. “Good riddance.”
“Amen to that.” I licked my lips, my tongue tingling from the mix of salt and sour. “Just don’t hold it against me if I say anything stupid when I’m drunk.”
“Isn’t that the point of getting drunk?” She giggled. Natalya . . . giggled. And it was adorable.
And if I kept staring, she was going to get suspicious.
I cleared my throat, shifting my gaze to all of our tequila paraphernalia on the coffee table for a second. “So. Um. You’re from Russia originally, right? I wasn’t just making a stupid assumption because of your accent?” Or because I’ve read your bio on the Wolf’s Landing site like seven hundred times.
“I am, yes. I came over here . . .” Her eyes lost focus for a moment. “Almost twenty years ago, now. After I retired as a gymnast.” She quirked her lips. “Not enough to get rid of my accent, I guess.”
“No need to get rid of it, is there?”
She shrugged, lounging on the sofa and slinging her arm across the back of it. “Only if I want to blend in.” With a wicked grin, she added, “Which I usually don’t.”
Oh, you definitely stand out. And I stopped myself just before I would’ve added that her accent was hot. Because what kind of stupid comment was that? One I’d blame on the tequila. And she probably wouldn’t believe me. Because her accent was kind of hot.
Was I always this much of a lightweight? I’d only had two shots. Where the hell was my brain?
Probably in the locker room where I’d left it the moment I’d invited Natalya over to my place for drinks.
“What about you?” she asked. “Where are you from?”
“Eastern Pennsylvania. Nothing terribly exciting. I’ve been in LA since I was twenty.” I paused. “Well, up until I moved to Bluewater Bay. But I’ve been in Hollywood since . . .” Yep, brain is still in the locker room. I muffled a cough. “You know what I mean.”
“You must’ve always known you wanted to make movies.”
I nodded. “Kinda thought for a while I wanted to be an actress, but then I directed a little indie short, and I was hooked.”
“Yeah?” She made a face. “Directing never seemed that fun to me.”
“That’s because your job entails dangling people from cables and crashing vehicles into things. Kind of hard for any job to compete with that.”
“True. But production . . . how do you handle all that bullshit?” She pushed herself off the back of the couch, gingerly rubbing her lower back, and wrinkled her nose as she said, “All Finn Larson has to do is show up and I get hives.”
“Yeah, he’s a tough one to deal with.” I groaned. “Good thing Simon’s involved with production work now, so he gets to deal with some of Finn’s crap.” I paused. “But putting up with that asshole is worth it sometimes. Just seeing that defeated little look on his face when he backs down—”
Natalya burst out laughing. “You’re evil! I like it.”
I laughed too, and shrugged. “It’s the only way to stay sane in production.”
“Well, and . . .” She gestured at the Cuervo.
“That too. And now that you mention it . . .” I grabbed the bottle and poured us two more shots apiece. So much for going easy on the sauce. Four shots in rapid succession? Yeah, this night was going to get interesting. But whatever. I had Natalya Izmaylova on my couch. Bottoms up.
We pounded the next two shots, and as I pushed the empty glasses away, the room whirled around me. Okay, maybe I did need to slow down a little. I at least wanted to remember anything stupid I said tonight.
Natalya sucked on another piece of lime, completely unaware of what that did to my ability to concentrate. “So . . .” She dropped the rind on the plate with the others and licked her lips. “Enough work talk. What happened with you and your ex?”
Well wasn’t that a bucket of cold water?
“Jesus.” I scowled, my buzz lightening a bit at the mention of Leigh. “What didn’t happen?”
Natalya laughed even as her forehead creased. “Bad?”
“Mm-hmm. I mean, there was no cheating or anything like that, but . . .” I stared at the glasses and limes in front of us for a moment, then sighed. “I’m not even sure where we went wrong. We had a really good thing going for a long time. Somewhere along the line, we started fighting, and I guess . . . I guess we just didn’t stop.”
“Fighting about what?”
How was she not slurring even a little bit? Then again, I still sounded more coherent than I felt, so maybe I just didn’t hear how drunk she was. Or maybe her tolerance was higher than mine. Whatever. Didn’t she just ask me a question?
Natalya’s eyebrows rose. As she spoke again, she touched my arm, and I didn’t hear a word she said.
We’d shaken hands plenty of times, but everything had always been professional and detached. Here, now, semidrunk on my couch with no pretense of anything but drinking and commiserating, I could barely get my head around the fact that she was touching me.
She withdrew her hand, and my other senses snapped back into focus.
“We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” she said. “I—”
“No. No. It’s okay.” I laughed, shaking my head and trying to ignore the cool invisible handprint she’d left on my arm. “I think the tequila’s going to my brain faster than I thought it would. What did you ask me a second ago?”
“I asked what you and your ex were fighting about.”
“Right.” The question seemed to suck half the booze right out of my blood. I was still light-headed, still not completely clear in the brain, but the thought of Leigh and the last couple of years jolted me hard enough to bring me partway back to earth. “Oh, we fought about everything. I think it started after we moved in together. Bills, chores.” I waved a hand. “Then the next thing you know, we’re arguing over where to spend Christmas, and . . . it just kind of escalated from there.”
“It was. And it’s over. Thank God.”
“Always a relief when it’s over, isn’t it?”
“Well, sometimes. I assume it is with your boyf—ex-boyfriend?”
She muttered something in Russian and leaned back against the couch again. “Tommy . . .” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t know why I wasted my time. The sex wasn’t even that good.”
An image of her naked and in bed with someone—male, female, both—flashed through my mind, and heat rushed into my cheeks. Among other places.
I forced my brain to cooperate. “How long were you two together?”
“Too long.” She played with the seam on one of the couch cushions. “Almost a year.”
“Was it always bad?”
“It . . .” She hesitated, then met my gaze. “Well, not always. He’s not a bad guy most of the time. Just doesn’t understand that women do have thoughts and opinions about things, and those thoughts and opinions don’t vanish upon contact with his penis.”
I snorted and clapped a hand over my mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” She laughed. “And, I guess I can see why he confused his penis with an eraser. It was pink, he tried to rub it on everything, and it was about the same size as—”
We both erupted into giggles.
“Okay, okay . . .” She wiped her eyes, still laughing. “He wasn’t that bad. But he really didn’t like being with someone who didn’t go along with his every whim.”
“I can’t imagine how you two lasted a year.”
She eyed me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I’ve been working with you long enough to know that anyone who thinks you’re just going to demurely smile, nod, and go along with their every whim is going to be quickly disabused of that notion.” I paused. “And I can’t believe I actually said all of that clearly. Do I sound as drunk as I feel?”
“I don’t know.” She sat up again, and her lips pulled back in a grin that made my spine tingle. “How drunk do you feel?”
Drunk enough to read more into that grin than I probably should?
“Well, I can still talk. Not sure if I can stand.”
“Standing is overrated. Drinking, however . . .” Natalya picked up the bottle and poured us each some more. I was going to decline, but she only filled the glasses about halfway and didn’t pour us each two like I’d done the first couple of rounds.
Then she slid one toward me. Oh hell. What was one more shot? After she’d salted her finger, I did the same.
She raised her glass. “To exes being better as exes.”
“Cheers.” I clinked my glass against hers. Licked my finger. Threw back the tequila. Got distracted by her sucking on the lime, and nearly forgot to do the same. I shook myself and tore my gaze away from her. “You ever wonder why we stay with people like that? Such a fucking waste of time.”
“It really is.” She scooted closer to me, crossing the narrow gap between our respective cushions so now we were on the same one. My skin tingled and my toes curled beneath the coffee table, but somehow, I managed to keep from visibly squirming. Or moving toward her to close that sliver of space all the way.
“It’s so funny,” she said. “We’ve worked together all this time, and I don’t think we’ve ever talked before. About . . . not work.”
“And now your first impression of me is when I’m getting drunk.”
She picked up the bottle. “So am I, so we’re even.”
I put up a hand. “No more for me.”
Shrugging, she poured her own, and I watched, mesmerized, as she licked, sipped, sucked. Some of the tequila—or maybe the lime juice—landed on her hand. She licked that off too, completely oblivious to what she was doing to my drunk, sexually depraved—deprived—brain.
“Whoa.” She wavered a little. “Okay, now I’m feeling it.”
“You’re just now feeling it?” I slurred. “I’ve been drunk since we opened the bottle.”
“Lightweight.” She giggled again, which should not have sent my blood pressure soaring like that.
“You say ‘lightweight.’ I say ‘cheap date.’”
She laughed, patting my thigh as if there was no reason to believe that would make me even dizzier than good old Jose Cuervo already had. “I like that. Cheap date.”
“Most people do. And if . . . if you get too drunk, I can call . . . call you a cab when you want to go.” I wasn’t that drunk. Why was I struggling to form words? Oh right. Because I was that drunk. “Or if you want to take my bed, I can crash on the couch.”
“Your bed sounds good.”
And before the words had even sunk in, Natalya grabbed the back of my neck and kissed me.
TITLE: Stuck Landing
COVER ARTIST: Lori Witt
LENGTH: 68,500 words
PAIRING: Lesbian, Bisexual-identifying Character
For months, acclaimed Wolf’s Landing director/producer Anna Maxwell has been nursing a crush on Natalya Izmaylova, a former Russian gymnast and current Wolf’s Landing stunt coordinator. When Anna witnesses Natalya’s very public breakup with her boyfriend, she can’t resist inviting her over for drinks to commiserate about love and all that nonsense. Commiseration doesn’t last long, and soon Anna’s in bed with the hottest woman she’s ever touched, living out fantasies she didn’t even know she had.
Despite the amazing sex, Anna wants to proceed with caution. They’re both newly single. They’re colleagues. And there’s the not-so-small matter of Anna’s biphobia.
Natalya won’t commit to someone who clings to ridiculous stereotypes, but they can’t avoid each other at work, and there’s no ignoring their chemistry. Anna’s defenses are slowly eroding, and Natalya is willing to give her another chance. But Natalya only has so much patience, and even scorching-hot sex won’t keep her coming back forever. If Anna doesn’t come to her senses soon and let go of her prejudices—not to mention her insecurities—she’s going to lose the woman of her dreams.
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