“Well, it looks like someone doesn’t need a penile enlargement after all,” a familiar voice called out with a chuckle.
And then the crowd parted.
“Austin.” I said her name with venom, not longing. I refused to show weakness when it came to the girl with pale skin and dark brown hair with golden highlights.
The girl I destroyed.
The girl I still wanted.
The girl who had the brass balls to try to make me into someone I would never be.
The girl who got away.
She was a brilliant and terrifying woman in expensive clothing; she looked innocent enough—she wasn’t.
Then again, neither was I.
Austin stood, cake in hand. “We just thought it would be fun to surprise you on your special day.”
The hell? “My special day,” I repeated at an utter loss. Why was she in my office building?
“You’ve been recognized by the city of Seattle for your exceptional work in plastic surgery.” She grinned, waving a plaque in front of my face. “I came by myself to deliver it.” She winked. “Daddy wanted to, but you know how busy he gets.”
Even though she was smiling, her eyes looked empty. I knew that smile. I just never thought I would ever be on the receiving end of it. Was it me? Or was it lingering sadness that her father was once again too busy for her—but never for free publicity? Wait. That made no sense. Why the hell wasn’t he the one bringing me the award rather than his daughter, the woman I couldn’t stop thinking about? “So, on behalf of the mayor of Seattle, I present to you . . .” Oh hell, cell phones stood at attention, taking pictures of me with the plaque. In spandex. “The Best of 2016 Award for you and your staff!”
My body twitched.
I couldn’t help it.
She’d said “staff.”
“What an honor.” I kept my voice even, because it was rare for someone my age to receive an award of this caliber, but she was ruining it with her presence. Ruining what should by all means be a huge moment for a plastic surgeon.
“And how cool is it that the picture going into the newspaper will have you in your gear for the big race!” she said loudly as a camera flashed.
I stepped away from her while my staff began to chatter about the award and how great it was to get one at such a young age, and just out of residency. As excited as I was about the award, I knew it would put more of a target on my back—which just meant more stress.
“Big race?” Apparently, all I was capable of was repeating everything she said. “Big race for what?”
Austin pointed to my shirt. “The Seattle to Portland Classic, of course. I mean at least that’s what it says on your sleeve here.” Her fingertips grazed the shirt and then fell to my skin before she pulled away and smirked. “I bet you’re just dying to get on that bike.” She drew out the word “bike” while a cold sweat started trickling down my neck and into my spandex shorts, which meant I was going to have to be buried in them since it would be nearly impossible to get too-tight sweaty spandex off my body without chopping off my legs.
I stared her down. Hoping my glare would get her to shut the hell up about my clothing or the fact that she’d said “bike.”
“You’re doing the classic too?” Troy, one of the doctors I worked with, walked into the room and grinned. “Hey, we should train together!”
“I uh—” Was it hot in there? I tugged the tight jersey, irritated that it made a sucking noise as it plastered itself against my chest again, and I tried to think of an excuse.
“Oh, that’s such a great idea! My father’s going to be doing the race as well—maybe all of you guys could go on a few long rides together.” Austin winked at me. “Some of those rides can be brutal. Why, I’ve even heard of cyclists getting hit by cars.”
I felt myself pale as a choking fear wrapped around my neck in the form of visions of dismemberment by a semi.
“That’s not common,” he said reassuringly as he patted my back. “Had I known you were into cycling, we could have trained for the race this week together. Eh, next time, right?”
“Yeah,” I croaked, flashing him a fake smile. “That sounds fun.”
Death? Getting hit by a car? Sign me up.
He left me alone with Austin.
Her eyebrows arched as she gave me a mocking smile. “Gee, Thatch, you think they’re going to let you keep your training wheels on?”
She kept staring and smiling.
And then it occurred to me.
That tingling feeling.
Son of a bitch!
Lucas told her!
She burst out laughing. “Don’t worry, Thatch, just wear a helmet!”
“That’s it.” I gripped her by the elbow and tugged her away from the party. The hall was silent except for the click-clack of her high heels against the slate.
Once we were in the safety of my office, I slammed the door and glared. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
She lifted her chin.
God, I’d always loved how pretty she was when she was angry.
“And how the hell do you know about”—I coughed and averted my eyes—“that?”
“That,” she repeated as she advanced on me. Damn it, I hated how tall she was—it made it hard to antagonize her. “Meaning the fact that you can’t ride a bike?”
“Fucking hell.” I tugged at the ends of my hair again, my one and only nervous habit. “What else did Lucas tell you?”
I stumbled back against my desk. “You bitch!”
“It’s not like I’m an actual frog. No need to get your panties in a twist, or in your case, really, really tight spandex.” She scrunched up her nose. “Those shorts really don’t do the little man downstairs any favors, do they? Maybe I should have gotten them in a bigger size, but wouldn’t you know? They were completely out of extra-large.”
“Wait, what?” I ignored her insult and held her gaze, my heart thundering in my chest while anger pounded through my blood. “You? You did this to me? You set me up!”
“Gee, I wonder why I would do that.” She tapped her chin. “And no, it’s not like I planned on seeing you. Trust me, if I could avoid you forever, I would, but considering our best friends can’t keep their hands off each other, we’re stuck together.” Her smile was cruel; hurt laced her features. “Besides, you know how my dad sometimes makes me do these things for the press. Plus, he’s been really busy lately, so . . .” She straightened, but I didn’t miss the hurt flash across her face. “An opportunity presented itself, and I took it.”
Yeah, I just bet he was busy.
“Just like an opportunity presented itself for you to slit the tires on my car?” I countered.
Her lips twitched.
“It’s not funny.”
“It’s kind of funny.”
“Do you even realize how expensive that was? The towing? The new tires?” I roared.
Her façade broke as she sucked in a breath and looked down. I knew I’d hit my mark; she knew I was paying off student loans while she was still living at home with her rich dad, who had the city at his fingertips.
My guilty conscience reminded me that even though she seemed to have it all, at home, she was lonely—and ignored. I pushed the irritating emotion away and hung my head.
Besides, there was so much she didn’t know.
I was too tired to deal with her.
Too exhausted to attempt to figure out the mess I’d created for both of us. We were in that weird stage when you slept together, broke up, and still had the same friends, making it impossible to ignore each other.
“I’ve done nothing to earn this level of”—I waved my hands in the air—“crazy, even from you.”
Austin’s pretty head jerked to attention. “You insulted me. Embarrassed me. Humiliated me. Kissed another woman, and then dumped me. After cheating on me!” She yelled “cheating” so loud, I was sure people could hear her from space.
I refused to feel guilty. It was for the best. That’s the lie I told myself, and it was the lie I was going to stick with. “What the hell do you want, Austin?”
“Revenge.” She grinned. “But I thought it would only be fair if I warned you first . . . Gives you more of a fighting chance.” She rose up on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around my neck. “And I’m always fair.”
I kept my arms pinned at my side even though all I wanted to do was press my mouth to that sweet spot on her neck and wrap my arms around her waist.
She’d been an addiction.
One that nearly destroyed us both.
One that threw me off the path I’d sworn to stay on for years.
“Revenge, hmm?” I whispered, almost grazing her soft lips and trying to act calm when my brain was going a million miles a minute. “Sounds dirty, and if I remember correctly—you’re all vanilla.”
Her eyes widened with hurt.
“Plain,” I repeated, hating myself even more. “Young.” She jerked back. “Inexperienced.” She backed away as if I were firing actual shots at her. I pursued her, pinning her against the wall. That’s it, keep her angry. It’s the only way. “Immature . . . and without any sort of direction. Try your damnedest to get your revenge, Austin. Hell, what else would I expect from a girl who’s only twenty-two? Because that’s what you are, Austin, a girl.” I deserved to be slapped. “And here I thought I made myself so clear. I want a woman.”