I needed to go out on a date and forget about Thatch once and for all.
So when Thatch walked out of the hospital looking like absolute hell, when he slammed his hands against his steering wheel and screamed at the top of his lungs?
I ignored the need to go make it all better.
Because that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to support him. I wanted to pull him close and ask what he was doing at the hospital. I wanted to be the person he went to when he was stressed.
But I needed to get a clue. If he wanted me there, he would have told me to come, or at least shared why. I wasn’t in his life anymore. The sooner I realized that, the better.
“Austin? You still there?”
Sighing, I closed my eyes and whispered, “Lucas still got that friend?”
I had tears streaming down my face from laughter. Matt, my blind date, was hilarious, his gestures so big and over-the-top that I hadn’t stopped laughing since we sat down. He immediately put me at ease.
He was dressed a bit too nice for my taste, in a full pin-striped suit with a purple tie that he kept adjusting. According to Lucas, Matt was a higher-up at a bank, though I didn’t ask what he did, and since he didn’t offer, I figured it was too much info for a first date. I imagined if we hadn’t met right after work, he would have been wearing something more casual—just like his personality.
From his dimples to his big brown eyes, he reminded me of a cute puppy—unfortunately not one that I wanted to take home and invite into my bed.
“So, what do you do?” he asked, popping a peanut into his mouth and chewing a few times before dabbing the corners of his lips with a napkin. The guy had good manners on lockdown. It should be attractive. The suit, the smile, the easy banter, he was the whole package. But for some reason, all I wanted to do was reach across the table, muss his hair, and ask if he’d ever been tempted to sport a man bun.
“School.” I jolted myself out of my weird Thatch daydream. “I’m getting my MBA at UW’s fast-track program.” He popped more peanuts into his mouth and smiled with it closed. He reminded me a lot of my dad. Impeccable manners, nice suit, chewed with mouth closed, smiled with his lips, but the smile never quite reached his eyes. Was that what this whole Thatch thing had done to me? Pushed me into the arms of someone who could be my father? I shivered. “I’m a few credits shy of graduating, so hopefully once I’m done, I can get a good-paying job.” In the real world. With real people like Matt, whose starting salary was probably more than I would make in five years.
“It’s tough out there.” He nodded seriously as he leaned in, no doubt to give me some amazing life advice, since he’s been in the field for more than three years. Holy shit. I was on a blind date with my father. How did this happen? “But Lucas says you’re wicked smart, I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”
I regarded him with what I hoped was a “gee, you’re really great” look and slowly started to grab my phone from the table; all I needed was to make up an excuse.
My dog died.
My father needed me.
Avery’s in the hospital.
Or maybe just the truth: my dad has that exact same suit, and I’m pretty sure if I married you, it would be like incest.
He blinked at me.
I smiled back.
Insert a few beats of silence.
Because we’d officially run out of things to talk about.
It was awkward.
Gone was the teasing, easy banter; ah, I was wondering when the awkward blind date would arrive. There was no warning; instead, tension settled around our tiny little table at my favorite bar like a cloud of stink, and all I could do was pray for an interruption from the universe.
“So . . .” I glanced at my phone and then back up at Matt. “You must work really long hours, huh?”
“Yeah.” Fake smile was back. Great. “I mean, I love my job, so it’s worth it, but I hardly have any time for dates.” He checked his watch. “In fact, I have to be up early tomorrow, but I’d love to see your place.”
It took a minute for what he said to sink in. “My place?”
“Yeah.” This time his grin reached his eyes. Of course it did—the bastard thought he was getting laid. Sorry, I hadn’t had enough alcohol, and I’m pretty sure even with my rose glasses on, I would have still scrunched up my nose at his offer.
“I live with my parents,” I said sweetly. Take that!
“I know,” he countered. “Your dad’s the mayor.”
A prickly sensation washed over me. “Lucas told you?”
“I researched you online.”
Well, that’s . . . nice. “Um, why?” asked the stalker. Great, Austin. It’s not like you wouldn’t have done the same thing if you weren’t so sad all the time about Thatch!
“I don’t date nobodies.”
That was his answer.
I don’t date nobodies. He slid his hand across the table and placed it on mine.
I was just getting ready to jerk my hand away and toss my drink in his face movie star–style when a gruff voice sounded from behind me. “Get your fucking hands off her.”
“Thatch.” I leaped out of my seat—two more feet and I would have been in his arms. “Thank God.”
“Who the hell are you?” Matt stood and puffed out his chest.
Thatch straight up growled and then said in a low voice, “A surgeon. Her boyfriend. Great in bed. Rich. And right now? Leaving. With Austin.”
Matt’s eyes bugged out of his head. “You need to go, without my date.”
“The hell I will!” Thatch and Matt were chest to chest.
And then Thatch made a really poor life decision—he shoved Matt in the chest, causing Matt to flail backward. When Matt regained his footing, his right arm surged through the air, hitting Thatch square in the nose.
“Son of a bitch!” Thatch held his nose as blood gushed down his lips.
“Better hope you’re a good surgeon, asshole.” Matt straightened his jacket. “Sorry you had to see that, Austin. Should we go?” He held out his hand.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry.
“No.” I shook my head. “I think this date is over.”
He frowned. “You’re choosing this guy?”
Thatch glowered at Matt.
What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. “Yup, I guess I am.”
Thatch’s taut muscled shoulders visibly relaxed while Matt shoved by us both and said, “I’m too good for this shit.”
Sighing, I grabbed my phone and purse, shook my head at Thatch, and said, “Let’s get you home, Rocky.”
My only goal had been to apologize to Austin for treating her like shit and being distant; anything beyond that, I wasn’t sure I could stomach.
But now that my dad was in the hospital, I figured the truth was getting closer to being exposed, and I’d rather she hear it from me first.
God, my parents were so good at ruining my life, weren’t they?
And now they were going to ruin hers.
My nose throbbed. Luckily, I didn’t think the bastard broke anything, though it hurt like hell to the touch. When I’d texted Lucas for Austin’s location, he hadn’t said jack shit about her being on a date.
So I wasn’t prepared to see another man touching her hand—my hand.
> I still felt those hands slide down my skin at night when I fought back the anxiety over our breakup. I still dreamed of the woman attached to those hands.
My nose pulsed—yeah, life wasn’t fair, not by a long shot.
“We’ll pick up your car tomorrow.” Austin finally stopped the silent treatment as we pulled in front of my apartment complex and she got out of her car, slamming the door behind her.
I followed suit, and hated that she was making me feel small, like I was the one who had done something wrong—I did just defend her honor, right?
The bastard was touching her!
The worst part? He was allowed to.
She wasn’t mine.
I’d done this.
And I was finished.
I couldn’t even handle him breathing near her and touching? No. Just no.
Thinking about it was almost as bad as reliving it. His hands looked manicured. What the hell type of man goes and gets manicures?
His suit made me want to puke.
And I could have sworn I saw a ring on one of his fingers, and not a wedding ring, no, a gaudy gold thing that looked like he was one step away from becoming a pimp.
I followed her up to my apartment, dug my keys out of my pocket, and quickly ushered her inside. Dad was supposed to still be at the hospital, but I didn’t want to take any chances of a run-in—not before I got a chance to talk to her about everything.
“Um, were you robbed?” Austin asked once we made it inside and I flicked on a few lights in the kitchen and living room.
I searched for a towel and some ice, and muttered, “No.”
“You sure about that?” She pointed to all the magazines lying on the floor in front of the couch, the clothes thrown all over my floor, and the dirty dishes in the sink.
Yeah, I was normally a complete clean freak. I liked to be organized in both my personal and professional life—and Austin knew this.
So my apartment looking like shit? Out of character.
“I may have lost my temper.” I glowered at her.
“And you took out your temper on the clothes? What about the dirty dishes?” She walked around the breakfast bar and shook her head at the sink. “What’s going on?”