Cash Only

pexels-photo-751046Thirty minutes. That’s how long it’s taken for me to decide that I’m capable of strangling one of my best friends.

Actually, strangle is too harsh. Slap is more like it. One good slap to her pretty, youthful face should do the trick. That’s just how my mood shifts when I’m left to sit alone in a bar because my good friend Elle has stood me up on our planned girls’ night.

At least the bar is decent. The Night Owl is an easy ten-minute walk from my apartment. I’m digging the dim mood lighting and décor. Brick walls are the perfect backdrop for the dark mahogany furnishings. An impressive selection of hard liquor bottles rests along a mirrored backsplash behind the main counter. It’s equal parts hipster haven and no-nonsense watering hole, a pleasant change from the overly trendy bars that dominate this part of Chicago.

I take a gulp of my prosecco and glance down at my phone. Still no calls or texts from Elle. She didn’t answered the two times I tried to call, nor did she respond to my texts.

Maybe the tenth time is the charm.

ME: Elle! Where the hell are you?

My phone buzzes almost immediately with her response.

ELLE: Crap! So sorry…I can’t make it tonight

I yank my hair over my shoulder, huff out a breath, and study my reflection in the backsplash. The coal black color of my hair matches my current mood. I thought only inconsiderate dates stood you up, not sweet and reliable friends. My fingers fumble to type a response.

ME: Elle Maria Reyes, you told me to meet you at Night Owl at 7. Tonight. I’ve been waiting a half hour. You’d better be on fire, sick in bed, or in a car accident  

ELLE: Well…I’m in bed…but I’m not sick…

My brow lifts.

ME: Do tell…

She replies in seconds.

ELLE: His name is Mason…he’s incredible… that’s all I can say for now. I promise I’ll make it up to you! I feel awful!! Seriously Nia, I’m SOOOOOO sorry 

My eyes go wide in curiosity.

ME: Nope. Going to need a bit more info about him if he’s the reason you’re standing me up

The blinking ellipses below the conversation bubble on my phone screen has me on the edge of my seat. Who is this mystery man currently fucking my bestie’s brains out?

ELLE: Argh. Fair enough. He’s 22, just graduated college, and has the body of an Olympic athlete. Because of him I have stubble burn on my thighs and I can’t walk straight…so…yeah…

Something between a giggle and a scoff leaves my mouth. My annoyance has morphed to amusement. Sweet, demure Elle has landed herself a boy-toy. I chuckle to myself.

ME: If that’s not a worthy reason to blow off your friend, then I don’t know what is. Go get him, sweetie! 

ELLE: You’re seriously the best!! I’ll make it up to you, promise! Next week, wherever you want to meet, I’m there! And drinks are on me! xoxo

“Must be something fascinating.”

A low growl hits my ear. I jerk my head up to see a clean-shaven stranger eyeing me from the bar stool to my right.

“Excuse me?”

“Your phone. You’re glued to it.” A toothy grin fills his face. It doesn’t give me friendly vibes.

I manage a quick once-over. Short cropped blond hair with a smattering of gray, blue eyes, laugh lines. The crisp suit he dons probably costs more than what I make in a month.

I rest my arm on the bartop and tilt my body so my back is toward him. There’s a shuffling noise behind me, then the stranger switches to the empty stool on my left. He sets a short glass filled with golden liquid next to my glass.

“Nothing like a stiff drink to distract a pretty lady from her phone.” The boastful grin is still there. This guy must have confidence through the roof to buy a drink for a woman who so clearly isn’t interested. I bet he works in finance.

“No, thank you.”

I slide my other arm on the bartop, hoping to use it as a make-shift barrier, but he tilts his head closer to me. His face crowds my peripheral vision while I stare at the mirrored backsplash.

“Are you ignoring me, honey?” he taunts.

My stomach knots. Just my luck. First I get stood up by my friend, then I get hit on by a douchebag who can’t interpret negative body language to save his life.

I give him a sideways glance. That self-satisfied grin hasn’t budged. I silently dub him Finance Douchebro.

“I don’t drink bourbon or Scotch or whatever that is, so there’s no point in trying to pawn this drink off on me.”

Somehow, Finance Douchebro still doesn’t get it. Or maybe he doesn’t care.

“Come on. No one likes a wet blanket.” He lifts an eyebrow. He shifts from smug to obnoxious in less than a second.

I shove the drink at him. “I’m not into hard liquor, and I’m not into persistent assholes who can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

The amber liquid spills on the sleeve of his shirt. I steel myself for his angry response, but all he does is smirk. I almost would have preferred a shout. There’s something predatory about it, like he’s taking my refusals as a personal challenge.

“Feisty,” he growls. “I like.”

His hand slides so quickly to my arm, I don’t have time to react. I don’t need to though. Finance Douchebro’s fingers are on me for less than a second before a mystery hand from behind the bar yanks it away.

“I don’t think so, asshole.” The words punch from a bearded face. A beautifully chiseled bearded face that belongs to the bartender who served me a half-hour ago.

Finance Douchebro falls off his stool as the bartender lets go of him. He must have an iron grip because Finance Douchebro is gripping his wrist with his other hand. A grimace replaces his smirk.

“What the hell, man?” he shouts.

The bartender ducks under the flap of the counter, grabs him by the jacket lapels, and shoves him roughly against the bar. Finance Douchebro’s eyes widen, probably at the realization that the bartender is a few inches taller than him and made of pure muscle. He doesn’t stand a chance with his lithe build.

“You think you can come into my bar and put your hands on a woman who told you to leave her alone?”

I crane my neck to watch the spectacle unfolding next to me. Everyone in the bar joins in on the gawking.

“Get the hell out of here. Now. If you come here again, I’ll kick the shit out of you. Got it?” The bartender’s voice thunders against the brick walls. Patrons stare in stunned silence.

I’m staring too, but for different reasons. This guy is the definition of jacked. The black t-shirt he sports does little to hide his physique. Chiseled pecs and a washboard stomach are visible under the dark fabric, but it’s his arms that are stealing the show for me. Perfectly sculpted pipes of muscle adorned with endless sleeve tattoos, inked in black.

Heat rises through my chest. My anxiety is turning into intrigue. Oh my.

I should look away, but I can’t. My eyes remained glued to him. I swallow before I start to drool.

Finance Douchebro’s pained whining snaps me out of my trance. I whip my head around to follow the bartender as he frog marches him behind me to the entrance. With one effortless push, Finance Douchebro flies out the door. The sound of a heavy thud makes it into the bar before the door closes.

Three long strides later, jacked bartender is standing in front of me. The scowl on his face has disappeared. He’s still frowning, but his caramel eyes radiate concern as he gazes down at me.

“Are you alright?” His voice is a low whisper.

I clamp my mouth shut when I realize I’ve been staring at him with a wide-open mouth. Seconds pass and I still can’t make a sound. This beautiful Hero Bartender swooped in and saved me from a creeper. I’m officially speechless.

I shake my head, hoping my brain can relay the correct words to my mouth.

“Um…I…” I stutter. I press my eyes shut and shake my head. Come on, brain. Don’t fail on me in front of this mystery hottie who pulled the most swoon-worthy gesture I’ve ever witnessed.

“Yes?” he says gently.

His massive hand lands on the back of my bar stool. The protective gesture trips my brain up even more. I don’t know how much more sweet, gentlemanly behavior I can take.

“Toilet,” I finally say. Flames engulf my cheeks. Toilet? I am a twenty-nine-year-old woman who edits textbooks for a living, I skim tens of thousands of words every week, and that’s the best word my brain could come up with?

“Um, in the back.” He points to the back of the bar with wide eyes and a raised brow. I’m guessing that’s his confused face.

I mutter what I hope is a thank you, grab my purse from the back of my stool, and speedwalk to the ladies room. Thankfully there’s no one else around. I clutch the sink with both hands to keep from collapsing. When I finally steady myself, I’m greeted with my disapproving reflection in the mirror. The mortified flush has left my face, leaving a sallow tinge against my light bronze complexion. Embarrassment does not suit me.

“Real smooth,” I mutter to myself.

The slow-building heat in my chest is now a pathetic puff of smoke. I’d bet anything Hero Bartender thinks I’m a weirdo.

I run the tap and splash icy water against the back of my neck. No way am I facing him after my “toilet” line. When I exit the bathroom, I stay huddled near the door. I can’t go out the front entrance. I’ll have to walk past the bar, which means he will see me in all my haggard embarrassed glory, and it will be the “toilet” comment all over again. I spin around. The back door comes into view.

A few hurried steps later, I’m in the back alley behind the bar. I heave a sigh of relief and walk toward the street. I cross my arms, feeling the sticky film against my skin. Even my airy red sundress isn’t much solace from the unrelenting humidity. Less than one minute outside in this evening heat and sticky moisture coats every inch of my exposed skin. I bet my mascara’s running too. I dig inside my bag for a wet wipe just as I reach the end of the alley.

Turning left around the corner, I collide face-first into a brick wall masquerading as a chest.

“Crap, sorry! I—” When I glance up, I’m rendered silent for the second time in one night. It’s Hero Bartender on a smoke break.

Both of his arms hover above him, like he’s being held up. His caramel eyes are wide at first, then settle into a kind, amused stare. He lowers his arms.

“Hey, you.” He tosses his lit cigarette into a nearby puddle. The sizzling sound it makes is the perfect soundtrack to the heat circulating inside my body when I gawk at him.

“Hi.” I internally thank my brain for choosing a proper word this time. “Sorry to run into you, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“You left out the back.”

He crosses his arms and leans a shoulder against the nearby building. His amused smile is still there. It’s causing some strange loops in my stomach.

“I did.” I manage an awkward head bob.

“Why? We have a perfectly functional front entrance.”

“Well. I um…” My brain is fresh out of words to come up with a convincing lie that would make me appear less weird than if just I admitted the truth.

I sigh and shrug at him. May as well be honest. It’s not like I’m ever seeing this guy again. I’m sure as hell never coming to his bar again after making such a fool of myself.

“Honestly? I was embarrassed that I said ‘toilet’ to you instead of thanking you for helping me against that creep.”

He pushes himself off the wall so he’s standing straight. We’re a respectable six inches apart from each other. I’m starting to wonder if this guy is a stickler for personal space.

“You shouldn’t be. It was cute.”

The loops in my stomach turn into figure eights. “You think I’m cute?”

I bite back a grin. It’s vain to prod a person to repeat their compliment to you, but I can’t help it. I don’t often receive glowing comments from hunky men.

“Very.” The smile falls from his face. He’s serious again. “And you don’t need to thank me. It’s what any decent person would do.”

I shake my head. “You were more than decent. You were amazing. So thank you. Sincerely.”

His eyes are kind again. It seems I’ve reassured him. The warm look he flashes me makes the loops in my stomach surge straight to my chest. I feel something in my lips. An aching tingle. It tells me I need to be closer to him.

I take a step forward till we’re nearly chest-to-chest. I feel like a dainty waif standing next to him, which is saying a lot because I’m no little thing. At 5’8” I’m taller than most of my female friends, but Hero Bartender could probably pick me up like I’m nothing. As we stand in front of each other, I can’t help but fixate on how his body outlines mine with room to spare. If someone were to stand behind him, they wouldn’t be able to see me. His burly, broad frame masks me almost completely.

The tingle in my lips persists, making me bold. Why the hell not?

I tip-toe up so my lips reach his ear. “I mean it. Thank you,” I whisper before pressing a kiss to his cheek.

I spin around and jog down the street before he can say or do anything. The tickle of his beard lingers against my lips. I’m so dizzy I could fall.  I’ve never done a kiss-and-run before.

***

Two hours. That’s how long it took me last night to discover my screw-up.

One hundred and twenty minutes after I had shed all self-consciousness and kissed the nameless Hero Bartender on the cheek, I realized I left my credit card at the Night Owl. When I paid for my glass of prosecco, I used my credit card and left it with Hero Bartender to open a tab. It made sense because I thought Elle would be joining me, but then the creeper came along. Then I got distracted by Hero Bartender’s killer body and gentle demeanor. After all that, my credit card was the last thing on my mind. Of course. Because that’s exactly how events in my life unfold, like a tragic comedy of errors.

The morning after, I’m not faring well. As I dump the contents of my purse on my work desk, the rational part of my brain scolds me. I’ve searched my purse a dozen times since waking up. I know my credit card isn’t there, but that doesn’t stop my compulsive inspecting. I hope against hope it’s buried in some hidden side pocket of my purse or shoved behind my library card. It’s not. I come up empty handed, like I knew I would. I sigh loudly enough that the crumpled tissue on my desk blows to the floor.

My clammy hands shoot up to my temples. The rubbing I attempt isn’t the slightest bit comforting. There’s no other choice. I’ll have to go back to the Night Owl and fetch my card, which means I’ll have to see Hero Bartender again after my awkward and impulsive kiss attack.

I search for the bar’s number online and dial it. It’s a dozen rings before someone answers.

“Night Owl.” The voice on the other end of the line is growly and feminine.

“Hi. I left my credit card with one of your bartenders last night. I was wondering if I could come pick it up today? Maybe this afternoon?”

“Name?” she barks with impatience.

“Nia O’Sullivan.”

A deafening clank hits my ear. Holding the phone away from my face, I rub my ear with my palm. She must not like to waste time carefully setting down the phone either, as it sounds like she threw it against bar top.

A minute passes before I hear her gruff voice once more. “It’s here, but you gotta come pick it up now.”

“Now?” I glance at the clock on my computer. It’s barely 10 a.m.

“That’s what I said. I got things to do, lady. Places to be.”

Before I can utter another word, she hangs up.

I shake my head while shoving everything back into my purse, then dart into my boss’s office.

“Hey, Keith. I’m popping out for a sec. Be back soon.”

He squints through his thick-rimmed glasses at me. The argyle sweater he dons gives much-needed shape to his scrawny body. “Very well,” he sighs. “How are you coming along on that final edit for the Brit lit compilation?”

“Nearly done. I’ll have it finished by Monday.”

He nods and flashes an unenthusiastic thumbs up, then slides his Buddy Holly-style glasses back up the bridge of his note.

“Hurry back. It’s Edna’s last day today and we’re catering lunch for her.” He turns back to his computer screen. “You don’t want to miss the nacho bar. We’re having two types of cheeses. Cheddar and monterey Jack.”

His hum-drum tone makes it sound like he’s reading from a cue card.

I turn to leave. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

The taxi ride to Night Owl is less than ten minutes—surprisingly quick in midday Chicago traffic. When I walk through the door, I spot the woman who I assume answered my call. She’s surprisingly small, barely five feet. By her domineering tone I assumed she was ten feet tall. Her jet black bob is a stark contrast to her porcelain skin. A rainbow of colorful tattoos cover her arms and chest. I wonder if being inked within an inch of your life is a prerequisite for working here.

She stares and blinks while drying a glass behind the bar.

I walk up to her. “We just spoke on the phone. I’m Nia O’Sullivan. I left my credit card here last night.”

“Luke!” Her throaty shout sends a jolt through my spine. “That hot chick you were talking about is here!”

She heads for the door. “We’re a cash-only bar, by the way,” she mutters. “I don’t know why he took your card in the first place.”

The glassware along the bar rattles with the slam of the door. When Luke walks in from the back, I notice his face sports a rosy shade. My cheeks burn the same color. At least we’re both mortified.

He stops just a few feet from me. I let my eyes scan down his body for a quick few seconds. He’s wearing a casual button-up today, rolled up to the forearms. The dove gray hue makes his skin glow. Straight-leg dark jeans and black sneakers complete his easy yet pulled-together look. This man has impeccable casual style.

“Sorry about that.” His embarrassed smile makes me feel better in an instant. “Jules is a little rough around the edges.”

“I guessed as much.”

“She makes a mean cocktail though, so I have to keep her around.”

I chuckle. It helps the tension a bit.

“Your card.”

I swipe it from his outstretched hand. “Thanks, Luke.” The way I emphasize his name earns me a grin.

“I suppose we never got around to names last night, did we?”

My chest tingles at the memory of my lips skimming against his ear, the faint smell of smoke tickling my nostrils.

“We didn’t, but I’m assuming you caught my name while you had my credit card.”

“I did. Pleasure to officially meet you, Nia.” He offers his hand.

I shake it in return. “Likewise, Luke.”

His grip is firm and smooth. A few calloused spots on his palm press against mine. It takes everything in me to let go. My mind drifts, imagining how his rough hands would feel on my body.

I tuck my credit card into my purse. When I look up at him, he chuckles.

“What?” I ask.

“Your last name.”

I frown. “I didn’t know O’Sullivan was a name worthy of a laugh.”

“It’s not. Just, I’ve never met anyone as tan as you with an Irish last name.”

“My dad’s parents are from Ireland. My mom’s from the Philippines. Hence the tan. And the hair. And the eyes. And pretty much every dark feature I possess.”

“I can see that.”

He makes no effort to disguise the way he scans me from head to toe. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I’m in intrigued and flattered to have a tattooed hunk so openly appreciate my body.

“So answer me something, Luke. Jules says you’re a cash-only bar, but you took my card last night. What’s up with that?”

He blushes once again. “The truth?”

I nod.

“You had my attention from the moment you walked in and sat down. I didn’t want you to leave to go to another bar. I was going to strike up a conversation with you, but we got busy. Then that prick approached you.”

A hot flush makes its way up my cheeks. “That must mean you never charged me for my drink.”

He rubs a hand across his face. “You are correct.”

The tingle I felt in my lips last night is back, only this time it spreads to my chest. No one’s ever gone to such lengths just to talk to me.

“So do you always kiss strangers, Nia O’Sullivan? Or am I one of the lucky few?” His raised eyebrow and half-smile do strange things to my breathing.

I try to laugh off the embarrassed flush making its way through my entire body. “That was definitely a one-off. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.”

He narrows the gap between us by one step. We’re barely a foot apart now. Still a respectable distance, but inarguably closer.

“The only thing I’m sorry about is that you didn’t give me a chance to kiss you back,” he says.

I breathe in an intoxicating mix of peppermint and sandalwood. I mentally order my eyelids not to flutter.

This is a new one. I’ve never felt so drawn to someone so quickly. Maybe it’s Luke’s kind eyes and sexy smile, or the fact that I’m still riding the high from his gentlemanly rescue last night. Maybe it’s his habit of maintaining a respectful space around me, so unlike other guys I’ve known. Maybe it’s his cologne. Whatever it is, it’s making me want to continue our kiss from last night.

“You can cash in your chance now, if you want.” The moment the words leave my lips, I feel newly emboldened.

“Yes, please.”

I lean against him, sliding my hands up his chest to rest on his shoulders. His arms snake around my waist before he presses his mouth to mine. It’s the world’s lightest kiss, but it’s electrifying. The tingle I felt last night has morphed into a full-fledged pulse. Our mouths are magnets aching to collide. I part his lips with my tongue, and he quickly accepts. The teasing rhythm he sets causes my chest to tighten. I never would have thought a man this tough looking would kiss so gently, so lovingly.

A soft moan escapes my mouth. My hands find the back of his neck and dig in. Luke’s hand slides against my scalp to gently pull my mouth away from his.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off you last night,” he says with a soft grunt.

“Oh really?” I bite my lip. “Tell me more.”

He treats me to a filthy kiss before answering. “That red sundress you were wearing? Hot. Your bare shoulders, your beautiful back. Your legs.”

His lips trail down the side of my neck, ending at my shoulder. I can feel the heat of his breath even through the fabric of my blouse.

“Every man had their eyes on you last night, and you didn’t even notice. You had no idea how sexy you were. How sexy you are. It drove me wild.”

He flashes a pleasure-drunk grin at me before pulling my mouth back to his. His sweet words are like wine, and I could drink it forever.

“Aren’t you a charmer,” I say between shorts breaths. My heart races as a sexy idea pops in my head. “Can we move this some place in the back?”

My request is met with a grin that takes up half of his face. He leads me by the hand past the bathroom. We swing left and turn down a hall. At the end, there’s a tiny wet bar against the wall.

“Will this work?” Luke’s warm eyes are suddenly shy.

I raise an eyebrow at him. “Definitely, but why do you have a bar way back here?”

He wraps both hands around my waist and lifts me to sit on the sleek black granite. The effortless way he hauls my body makes me ache.

“I built it when I bought this place. It’s where the trainees practice making drinks,” he says.

I run my palm over the cold stone. “I’ve always wanted to fuck on top of a bar.”

I curl my fists into the shoulders of his shirt, but he steps away. With his hands planted on top of both of my thighs, he gently spreads them apart.

“I’d like to take care of you first, if that’s alright.”

A sweet, gentlemanly hunk who is eager to please? Hell yes.

I nod and scoot closer to the edge of the bar top. He pushes up my gray pencil skirt until it’s bunched around my waist. His thumb runs over the seam of my cream-colored satin panties, stopping in the exact right spot.

“So warm. So wet,” he moans against my mouth.

I groan as my tongue slides against his. He moves his thumb in tiny quick circles. There’s a pulse reverberating throughout my entire body with every loop of his thumb. I wrap my legs around his waist, pulling him into me.

“Fuck. Luke.” His thumb has reduced me to a whimpering, shuddering, panting mass.

My head falls against his forehead. My body is winding tighter and tighter into itself. I’m not normally a woman who can come from manual stimulation, but Luke has the hands of a magician. His dexterity is off-the-charts. I bet it’s all the time he spends mixing and pouring and shaking.

When the heat within me intensifies, he pulls his hand away. He reaches behind his back and encircles each of my ankles with his hands.

“Hey!” I whine.

He chuckles at my petulant tone. “I’d rather finish you like this.”

The moment he lowers his head to my lap, my frustration switches to joy. A low whimper starts at my throat and pushes into my mouth. His magical thumb hooks over the crotch of my panties, pulling it to the side.

The feel of his hot, wet tongue sends a lightning bolt through my body. It turns out that his tongue is just as skilled as his fingers. My back is ramrod straight, my eyes wide, my mouth agape. I have never, ever felt so much pleasure with a single lick. He doesn’t give me much time to process this revelation though, as he treats me to another slow, long, measured slide of his tongue. Another follows, then another.

I silently thank the universe for whatever it was that I did to earn this session of oral perfection.

My thighs tremble as each lash of his tongue brings me closer to the explosion I’m craving. Licking soon turns to sucking, and I’m clawing at his head in desperation.

“Oh god, Luke,” I gasp. I pull at his golden brown hair, but his thick buzz cut makes it difficult to get a solid grip. His shoulders are a worthy backup. The meaty, dense flesh is the perfect spot to steady myself while I weather the heavenly suction he’s imposing on my body.

The pressure in my midsection slowly crawls up my stomach to my chest and the base of my throat. My brain wants to say the word “please,” to beg for this to never end, but my body has a different agenda. With one more slide of his tongue, I’m thrashing. The explosion hits, causing my jaw to fall open. A high-pitch howl thunders from me, echoing across every surface in the back room, the hallway, and probably the front of the bar too. It sounds nothing like “please,” but Luke seems to get the message.

Amazingly he doesn’t budge, even as my legs jolt violently around his head with each orgasmic wave crashing through me. His mouth and tongue stay put, never leaving me for even a second.

The last wave rolls through me, leaving me in a hunched-over heap. Luke’s face is still planted between my legs. I grin down at the back of his head. He presses a soft kiss to the inside of each thigh before lifting his head up and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. The milky skin of his cheek is now flushed. He opens his mouth to speak, but I grab him by the jaw and direct him to my mouth.

“Beyond incredible,” I huff after kissing him. I lean forward and slide my free hand down to the front of his pants. The steely bulge I come across sends a wicked smile across my face.

“My turn,” I say.

Sliding off the counter, I yank my skirt back down. I press my palm flat against his chest and push him against the bar top.

“Stay,” I command.

“Yes, ma’am.” His heaving chest betrays the steady calm of his words.

I kneel down and unzip his pants. A generous bump under black boxer briefs greet me. I lick my lips before pressing a kiss on top of it. A slow hiss of breath releases above me. He’s already wildly turned on. I can’t wait to see how long this will take.

I look up at him from under my eyelashes. “Three minutes,” I say.

He frowns, his face still flushed. “What are you—”

A slow swirl at the top of his head shuts him up. I keep my eyes fixed above me and observe his head falling back. A soft growl hums from the base of his throat.

After a few more swirls, I leave his tip with a light suck. His hips buck, and I chuckle as I pull back. The first long lick I glide against him earns me a full-on moan. I get the feeling Luke isn’t the kind of guy who likes to shout in bed, but I’ll do my best to change that. I take him fully into my mouth, wetting either side of his shaft with the fat of my tongue. I bob up and down, slowly, deliberately. The feel of his steely hardness against the softness of my mouth is heaven.

He slides a hand into my hair, but not to guide. To feel. The soft way his fingers curl against my scalp make it seem like he’s enjoying the touch of my hair. There’s another hiss of breath, then a low groan. The pleasant tugging combined with his throaty noises are the best positive reinforcement I can think of.

His groan soon morphs into a growl. I’d bet anything he’s close. I speed up the movement of my hand while my tongue and mouth go crazy. I can’t suck and lick fast enough. I’m aching for him to lose himself completely, to feel him release in my mouth.

A low shout rings above me. His body goes rigid while warm spurts of liquid slide down my throat. I take him as deeply into my mouth as I can. I pull away slowly, but his hand doesn’t move from my hair.

I pat the top of his hand, which is covered in the thick black silk of my hair. “You can let go now,” I say, gazing up at him.

Glazed-over eyes peer down at me. My words seem to register after he blinks a few times.

“Shit. Sorry.” He laughs and lets go, then leans down to help me up. “Damn it, Nia. That was…” He trails off before slinking his arms around my waist and pulling me against him.

The slam of the door yanks us out of mutual afterglow.

“God fucking damn it!” Jules’s voice booms through the bar, echoing against the hallway, reaching us all the way in the back. “That bastard cop thinks he can just set up shop at my car and write me a motherfucking ticket the when I’m thirty seconds past the meter timer. What the fuck!”

Luke scrambles to zip up his pants while I straighten out my skirt and blouse. My shoulders tense as I smooth down my sex-tousled hair. I’m so not in the mood to get busted by Jules the banshee for having sex in the back bar.

The sudden slam of a door silences Jules’ angry tirade. Luke and I let out identical sighs of relief.

“She must have gone into the office,” he says.

I catch a glimpse of the clock on the wall. It’s already 11:45. I grab my handbag off the bar stool I dropped it on. “I should head back to work.”

The soft touch of Luke’s hand grabbing mine short-circuits my brain. Do I really need my job? I’d much rather stay and spend the rest of the day fucking on every surface of his bar.

“When can I see you again?” His smile sends a flash of heat down my spine. He should teach a class on how to perfect that panty-dropping grin.

“This weekend?”

He shakes his head. “Not soon enough.”

He traces my lips with his thumb before leaning down to kiss me. The teasing, filthy rhythm reminds me that there’s no way in hell I can go two days without his mouth on me.

“Tomorrow?” I say with a shaky breath.

I would have said tonight, but I want to maintain some modicum of control. He’s already seen how easily he can make me lose it with just his fingers and tongue.

He leans his head to the spot on my neck that meets my shoulder. Goosebumps flash across my skin with the cold air of his inhale. There’s a soft press of his lips on my cheek before his caramel eyes find mine.

“Sounds perfect.”

***

Leaving me with a soft kiss on the cheek, the same kiss I left him the night we met, was a strategic move. I’m sure of it.

He did it to make me remember him, to infiltrate my thoughts and actions the remainder of the day. It worked. I kept picturing his face on every person I encountered, even at Edna’s going away lunch. I almost called her Luke when she hugged me good-bye.

That toe-curling, feather soft kiss is why I spent this entire day locked in my office proofing the hell out of that British literature compilation. I couldn’t stand to be around people who weren’t Luke.

I sip a gin and tonic at a table for two at the Publican restaurant in the West Loop neighborhood. He said it was his favorite spot when he texted me earlier today, and I can see why. It boasts a similar hip vibe to Night Owl. Clear mood lighting and simple wood furnishings create a chill, slick atmosphere.

My index finger taps the spot on my neck where he pressed his nose and inhaled. Just the memory of it makes me quiver.

“Nia.” Luke’s voice calls from behind me.

I twist around to look and start to stand to greet him, but he shakes his head “no.” He leans down to kiss me on the lips instead. It’s a soft, chaste kiss, but doesn’t lack in the steam department. It’s a delightful taste, but I’m going to need more soon. Loads more.

“You weren’t waiting long, were you?” he says, taking the seat next to me.

I shake my head. “Just a few minutes.”

He runs his fingertips along my forearm. When my eyes flutter, I catch a smirk forming on his face.

“Thank you for meeting me here. I’ve been craving their pork rinds.”

He gestures to a server and places an order for pork rinds and a single malt Scotch.

I raise an eyebrow. “Pork rinds? You don’t look the type to indulge.”

“I’m one of those annoying people who does Crossfit six times a week so I can eat what I want every once in a while.”

“And smoke,” I add.

He shoots me a sheepish grin. “You got me. Full disclosure though: I only smoke when I’m majorly stressed out, like when I have to throw a handsy prick out of my bar.”

“Oh. Right.” My eyes fall to my lap.

He reaches out and places his massive hand on my arm. It’s an instant comfort.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up.” His voice is gentle, reassuring. Already he can read me so well.

“It’s okay.” The last thing I want to do is think about Finance Douchebro.

My eyes wander up Luke’s arm and along his body. It’s the perfect way to refocus. He’s wearing dark jeans, tan Oxford shoes, and a maroon Henley shirt. The sleeves are rolled up to just below his elbow, like a perfect frame for this thickly muscled forearms. His left one sports a tattoo of stream cascading along rocks. It looks like a beautiful charcoal sketch.

“I love your ink,” I say, mesmerized.

He smiles at the server when he delivers his drink. “Thanks. Could you maybe tell my parents? They hate that I’ve desecrated my body. Their words, not mine.”

My head falls back in a laugh. “How could they say that? Tattoos are art. Your arms are like beautiful inked canvases. They belong in a museum.”

“Do they now?” He counters with a playful shrug while sipping.

Now it’s my turn to touch. I give his forearm nearest me a long squeeze. The dense flesh below my hand barely budges.

“It’s just so hypnotic,” I say.

I swallow to keep from drooling. I’ve never been someone who cared about tattoos before, but Luke’s ink is mesmerizing. An intricate nautical compass tattoo adorns the exposed part of his right arm. Just above it is a detailed rendering of the continent of Australia. I can only see the bottom half of it though. The top half hides under the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt.

He sets his hand over mine, halting my manual assessment of the world’s most perfect forearms.

“Wrong. You are the very definition of hypnotic, Nia.” His voice is a low growl. It’s the exact same tone he used when we went at it in the back of his bar.

He leans into me, his face barely two inches from mine. Just then the server drops a plate of pork rinds on the table.

Luke and I let out simultaneous embarrassed laughs as we thank the server. We were one second from making out in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

He helps himself to a handful of pork rinds. “You look amazing, by the way. You have a knack for picking out killer dresses,” he says before chowing down.

A hot flush creeps up my chest to my face. I tried my best to look sexy tonight, hoping that he’d notice. My trusty cream shift dress hasn’t let me down. Low yet appropriate neckline and sleeveless, with a body-conscious cut.

“Thank you.”

His gliding hand makes a second pass at my arm. I can’t help but moan softly.

He leans his mouth to my ear. Seeing his mouth up close reminds me of how good it felt on my body. I swear, my heart stops beating.

“I don’t know how long I can look at you like this, Nia. I’m going to have to take you somewhere and fuck you properly soon,” he whispers.

My mouth waters at the thought.

“I’d like that. Very much.” It’s a struggle to keep my voice steady. “We should finish these first though.”

I point at the nearly empty basket. He backs away and takes another long sip before gesturing for me to take the last rind.

I turn around to look for the server so we can pay and leave, but my head stops turning the moment I spot the front entrance. There Finance Douchebro stands, waiting to be seated with a two other suit-clad men. Before I can turn away, he spots me. A predatory smile crosses his face.

I spin back around to Luke. “We have to leave. Now.”

His face softens, concern filling his yes. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“That asshole from the other night is here.” I gesture to the front door before digging into my purse for cash. “He just spotted me and gave me the most disgusting, taunting smile.”

“No fucking way,” he mutters. In an instant his expression has flipped from sweet to menacing.

He starts to turn around, but I grab his arm to keep him still. “Don’t. It’s not worth it.”

“He was out of line.”

“I know.”

My fingers caress his jaw in an attempt to calm him. All I feel are tense muscle and bone.

His frown softens a tad as he seems to process my touch. “If he so much as looks in your direction, I’ll crack his fucking head open.”

“Fair enough.”

I pull my credit card from my purse, but Luke waves it away and sets down cash.

“Don’t tell me this place is cash only too,” I say.

He winks, then leads me by the hand, weaving through the tight configuration of tables and chairs. I keep my eyes locked in Finance Douchebro’s direction. His two companions have left him to sit at the bar. He stands alone, arms crossed over his chest, next to the entrance. I notice his eyes widen as he registers Luke’s presence.

“So you two are a couple now? How sweet.” His mocking tone bears a hint of fear.

“Don’t start,” I say, planting myself in front him. I will not let him intimidate me.

Luke’s body tenses behind me, but I give his hand a gentle squeeze to let him know I’ve got this under control.

Finance Douchebro lets out a bitter laugh and turns his stare to Luke. “I didn’t know you were into sloppy seconds, man.”

“Excuse me?” I say. The way he blatantly insults me without acknowledging me makes me want to punch him.

He turns his smug gaze back to me. “Hun, when you’re ready for a real man, you let me know.”

My fists clench. I get it now. Not only is he a handsy creeper, he’s the type of guy who throws out blanket insults when he feels threatened. Time dish it back.

“Go fuck yourself, asshole.” The words burst from my mouth like they’re on fire.

The way he flinches tells me I’ve landed a decent blow.

“I rejected you. Get over it. You’re a pathetic piece of shit if this is how you handle a woman saying no to you.” My voice reaches an eerie calm. “I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire. You’d better hope I never see you again.” I’ve never felt so at peace while insulting someone.

I steal a quick glance around the crowded restaurant. It’s bustling and operating at a dull-roar volume. Workers speed around while patrons chow down and chatter. No one seems to notice our charged exchange.

Finance Douchebro lets out a strangled breath. “Or what? You’ll send your muscle-head bodyguard to attack me again?”

Luke gazes down at me while smirking.

“Maybe.” I shrug and tilt my head to the side. “If I were you, I wouldn’t push it. He went easy on you last time. You’ll be unrecognizable if he ever gets a hold of you again.”

All the color drains from Finance Douchebro’s face.

“I just have to say the word,” I say.

Luke steps forward to so we’re standing side-by-side.

Finance douchebro takes a step back and holds a hand up. He seems to finally understand the shit he’s in. “Look dude, she made it clear. I don’t want—”

“You don’t call me dude,” Luke interrupts. “You don’t call me anything. And you especially never, ever speak to her or look at her again. Do you understand?”

Finance Douchebro gives a wary nod.

This time it’s me leading him out of the restaurant by the hand. When we make it to the end of the block, I burst into a fit of gasps and giggles.

“You were incredible back there,” Luke says before pulling me into a kiss.

“I was all talk. You were the muscle. He was terrified of you.”

He shakes his head. “Your words are what rattled him. I was just the backup.”

I trace my finger down the center of his chest. “So when are you going to make good on your words?”

“What do you mean?”

“That proper fucking you mentioned earlier. Or are you all talk too?” I playfully poke him where I assume his Adonis belt starts under his shirt.

“Nah. I’m action, all the way. You should know that by now.” His eyes fall to my midsection, as if to remind me of yesterday.

“Then show me.”

He hails a cab, his hand still clutching mine. We do our best to keep from groping each other during the ride to his apartment above the Night Owl, but we can only contain so much. His hand keeps sliding between my thighs. With every caress of his fingertips, my head falls against the backseat, eyes rolling to the back of my head. I pray the driver can’t see me in the rearview mirror.

“You won’t be leaving my bed tonight,” Luke growls into my ear.

He slides a finger under the crotch of my panties. I let out a soft moan. I catch the cab driver’s frown in the mirror.

“The naughty, naughty things I’m going to do to you, Nia.”

When we finally arrive at the Night Owl, my thighs are coated in sweat. Luke’s dirty words, his whispered breath against my ear were all too much.

I’m surprised my legs can still hold me up when I climb out of the cab. Instead of walking through the entrance of the Night Owl, Luke leads me down the side alley to a fire escape. We climb three flights of stairs and end at a large window. Luke opens it with one hand. My knees wobble at his easy show of strength. It would have taken me both hands and a hell of a lot of grunting to open it.

He steps inside first, then reaches his hands out to guide me in. It’s a roomy studio cluttered with dark furnishings. A king-size bed rests in one corner. There’s a sectional couch, an Oriental rug, and a flatscreen TV in the living room area. A pub table rests in the tiny kitchen.

I smile at how cozy it is. “I love your place.”

“Thanks.” He walks me over to his bed and lies me down at the edge. When he drops to his knees, a familiar ache pulses through me.

I reach my hand out and caress the thick hair on his cheek. He plants a kiss on my palm and sets it on my stomach.

“This is all I’ve been thinking about since you left yesterday,” he says.

I try to think of something sly to say in return, but I can’t because the moment his head drops between my legs, I’m worthless. He licks roughly against the crotch of my panties. I cry out in pleasure. It feels heavenly and he hasn’t even made contact with my skin yet.

He engages in a dozen more rough licks before peeling away the wet fabric. My panties don’t even make it to my ankles before his tongue is on me again.

With a single naked, full-contact lick, I’m on the edge. Waves of bliss simmer underneath my skin, just like yesterday. I suck all the air out of the room. It does little to ease the pressure building in my chest or the white spots beginning to form in my vision.

I claw at his head, moaning and screaming. He slides in a finger. The thickness of it has me panting. The heavenly sensation commands all my energy and focus. It’s like lighting striking my entire body. These are no longer sweet waves of bliss. These are white water rapids of pleasure, threatening to drown me. If I have a prayer of surviving this, I need to steady my breathing.

I don’t get past a handful of breaths before climax takes hold. I convulse like a ragdoll being thrown against a wall. I can’t see or hear or taste. All I can do is feel Luke’s mouth on me.

I ease down from the high while gasping for air. My vision is blurry at first, but after blinking for a bit I can focus. There’s a ringing in my ears, but it turns into soft laughter. I prop myself up on my elbows and glimpse Luke chuckling, still on his knees.

“Alive?”

I nod, but my head moves in slow motion. I feel like I’m drunk. “Barely.”

“Good. I need you alive for this part.”

He sheds his clothes slowly. I’d reach up to help him, but I can hardly move. All of that was just from his mouth. I summon what’s left of my strength to enjoy the rest of him.

He leans me up gently and pulls my dress over my head. I reach behind me to unhook my bra. When I toss it on the floor, I catch him gawking.

“Goddamn, you’re stunning,” he says.

I bite my lip while my eyes take a slow tour of his naked physique. His toned chest is covered in tattoos as well. A warped clockface and large-scale, deconstructed gears take up one side. A cluster of stars peeking through a cloudy night sky adorns the other. His stomach remains bare, save for a dusting of hair. As tasty as he looks all tatted up, I’m over the moon that his stomach is untouched. It’s the perfect blank canvas of cut muscle. It would be a war crime to cover it up.

You’re the one who’s stunning,” I say. My hands can’t touch him fast enough.

He shakes his head with a chuckle. “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

My gaze moves to the impressive hard length between his sculpted legs. He turns and walks to a nearby desk and opens a drawer. Even in the dim lighting of his apartment, his rock-hard ass looks divine. I battle the impulse to bite him.

He fetches a condom and trots back to me. He bites it open with his mouth, then grabs me under both arms, sliding me up the bed. My head falls to his pillow. I turn my face to the side and inhale deeply. It’s his spicy scent, but magnified. I want to breathe it forever.

“Your smell is the best smell I’ve ever smelled.” I say it breathlessly, like a drug addict who’s reached a high after a long withdrawal.

He grins while crouching over me. “File that under most unique compliment I’ve ever been given,” he says.

I reach up to his shoulders and pull him over me. “Less talking. More fucking, please.”

His throaty laugh echoes against the walls. Then he grabs me by the waist and flips me over on my stomach. I steady myself on my elbows while he props my ass up in the air.

“Now this is a beautiful view.” He palms my ass cheek, then follows with an affectionate squeeze.

I hum in satisfaction. His hands glide to my hips, steadying me as he slides in.

With each thrust, I’m gasping. He stretches against me, but the pressure is divine. It’s an ache that slowly morphs into satisfying intensity. With every slow glide in and out, the pressure mounts. It builds and builds, causing loud groans and moans to echo from me.

Just when my knees start to shake, he flips me over on my back. His stamina is beyond impressive. How he can thrust like a champ and flip me around without breaking a sweat is a mystery. It must be those Crossfit sessions.

He eases back in and lowers his face to mine. “Is this okay?” he asks.

I wrap my legs around his waist and purr in affirmation.

In bed, Luke moves like he does in real life. He hovers above me, his arms bracing the bulk of his weight instead of lying on top of me. The way his arms and legs cage around my body is protective. He’s an impenetrable shield. Nothing can touch me when I’m tucked safely underneath him.

His lips fall to my forehead in gentle reverence. I’ve never felt so taken care of, so looked after in the heat of the moment. A surge of pleasure shoots from my abdomen to my chest, then my throat.

I lock eyes with him. “Don’t stop. Please.”

The rabid pace at which he plunges into me suggests he doesn’t want this to stop either.

Climax finds me soon. The force of it sends me in thrashing against his bed. His chest and arms hold me still as he maintains his steady stream of thrusts. This orgasm is just as powerful as my last one, but this time all my senses are heightened. All of my muscles endure the pleasure hammering through me. His grunts fill my ears. With each pant, I breathe in his divine smell. The taste of his kisses coats my mouth.

As my body unfurls and relaxes, he seizes above me. He’s nowhere near as loud as me, but he lets himself groan and swear in release. When he finishes, the heat of his panting mists my forehead. My head rolls to the side, my face painted with a grin. I knew I could get him to make some noise.

He rolls over, peels away the condom, and pulls me into his chest. I bury my face in his hot skin.

“There are not enough adjectives to describe you,” I say.

The deep rumble of his laugh dances against my ears. “Try anyway.”

“Hot. Irresistible. Addictive. In-fucking-credible.”

I’m rewarded with a sweet kiss on the top of my head. His body shifts under me.

“With those glowing words, I’m putty in your hands,” he says. “You get to choose what we do the rest of the night.”

I bend up to look at him, a gleam in my eyes. “I’d like to fall asleep, cuddled next to you. Then order some food, my treat this time. Then I’d like you to fuck me on the bar downstairs when it closes and everyone is gone.”

He peers down at me, his caramel eyes equal parts warm and mischievous. “Deal. Except for you treating. No way you’re paying.”

I prop myself on my elbow to face him. “Come on. You didn’t let me pay for my first drink at the Night Owl or at the Publican tonight. Let me.”

He leans his mouth to my neck. There’s a slow lick, then a soft bite, then the press of his lips. “We’ll see.”

I shiver and moan. “This is the last time you pay for one of my drinks.”

He pulls me by the waist to sit on top of him. My fingers press into the steely mass of his chest while I lower my mouth down to his. Our tongues tangle until I can’t breathe. He hardens beneath me. So much for falling asleep.

“You know it won’t be,” he says.

I smile against his mouth. “We can’t even agree on who should pay. We’re a disaster already.”

“So? You love it.”

He bucks his hips, causing me to fall forward against his chest. He wraps his powerful arms around me. I wiggle up to kiss him.

“Hell yes I do.”

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12 thoughts on “Cash Only

  1. Wow. Okay. I need to find a guy right now. He needs to be hot and I’m gonna say, “screw the 3 date rule! Let’s screw!” 😂😉🔥🔥🔥
    This was smoking hott!! I definitely will be reading more!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aww, thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment!

      And haha, I think a guy like Luke is worth breaking the three-date rule for 😉

      Like

      1. Oh yeah! It would be so nice to find a guy like Luke. 😍

        Liked by 1 person

  2. averyjkingston March 5, 2018 — 4:00 am

    This. Was. Incredible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aaaahhh thank you for saying that! Your feedback means everything ❤

      Like

    2. CimmerianSentiment March 10, 2018 — 2:06 am

      I agree, this was incredible!

      Like

  3. CimmerianSentiment March 10, 2018 — 2:08 am

    This was incredible, I loved every bit of it.

    Like

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you for taking the time to read it *hug*

      Like

  4. #hoo I’ll be in my bunk. Dreaming of Luke. I swooned too when he came to her rescue.

    Like

    1. Oh yay! I tried to make Luke as swoon-worthy as possible 😉 You’re so sweet, thank you for taking the time to read the story 🙂

      Like

  5. Posy Churchgate March 11, 2018 — 4:07 pm

    Luke is the ultimate hunk, knight in shining armour, everything you’d want rolled into one. I also know he owns that bar, and maybe the other one they went to, but I like that he’s not brash about it! The sex was very hot, and the build up to the 2nd encounter was great but the cherry on the top of your writing is the believable characters and settings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you SO much for your lovely comment, Posy! You’re incredibly kind!! Haha, I think we all wish we encountered a look once or twice Luke in our lives 😉 Here’s to believable and hunky male romance leads!

      Liked by 1 person

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