Sucker-punched. That’s how I feel. Dylan thinks I’m dull. A killjoy. That I don’t care about having fun.
When Danni mentioned I might be sucking the life and the joy out of the guys I date, I didn’t believe her. I didn’t want to believe her. Now, however, I’m beginning to wonder how much truth there is to the sentiment. Dylan thinks I’m perfect for staid and boring men. In other words, I must be boring. Going after the things I want in life should make me ambitious. Driven. Focused. Confident. And yet…
Given that I can’t remember the last time I had fun, it makes sense that the men I’ve dated probably didn’t enjoy themselves much, either.
No wonder Evan dumped me. Our relationship was one giant snooze fest. He didn’t really care about me, and I didn’t really care about him. But I’d been so caught up in what I wanted for the future that I ignored the fact our relationship just seemed to drag by. Odds are, he didn’t see me as anything other than a sensible, type A sort of person, which doesn’t exactly inspire warm and fuzzy, or romantic feelings.
And now it’s obvious that Dylan sees me the same way. As much as I want to pretend that I don’t care what he thinks, I can’t lie to myself right now. I’ve always wondered why he finds it so easy to see me as nothing but his best friend’s sister. Now I know. By keeping my priorities in check and never straying from my no-nonsense plan for the future – well, aside from my juvenile crush on him years ago – Dylan has come to view me as someone who doesn’t know how to have a good time.
But I can have fun, damn it. My friends certainly think so. I’m going to take that timeout they were trying to sell me on. No more excuses. I’m going to prove to Dylan and the rest of the world that I’m a fun-loving, excitement-seeking goddess!
And I’m going to start by going on a date with Sam the bartender.
I push back my chair. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment.”
I can feel Dylan hot on my heels as I stride towards the bar.
I don’t tell him to go away because I very much want him to see what I’m about to do.
“I’m sorry,” he says to my back.
What is he apologizing for, exactly? Thinking I’m a bore?
“Forget it. You think I don’t know how to have fun, that I don’t care about having fun.”
“That’s not what I-”
“But you know what, Dylan?” I ask, whirling around to face him. “I do want to have fun. And I’m going to have some.”
Turning around was a mistake. In the now overcrowded pub, we are standing too close together. Close enough for me to feel his breath fan across my face, and as I look up into his sky-blue eyes, my stomach decides to go for the gold medal in somersaulting. I can’t remember the last time I shared personal space with Dylan, but I’m confident I’ll be avoiding it at all costs from now on.
I’m about to take a step back when someone pushes past me, propelling me forward. My forearms land on Dylan’s chest at the same time as his hands go to my waist to hold me steady. My heartrate soars as I stare into his eyes. Then his gaze drops down to my lips and I’m pretty sure my heart stops altogether.
Is it possible I’ve imagined every teasing thing he’s said to me over the years? Because instead of pushing me away or making a joke, like I would expect him to, he looks like he’s getting ready to kiss me. He leans in, his gaze still riveted by my lips. And instead of feeling repulsed by the idea, I’m suddenly ravenous for the feel of his mouth on mine. His fingers curl into my hips as if he wants – needs – to bring me closer to him. The flare of heat in his eyes is enough to make my panties melt and my breathing become shallow. I close my eyes in sweet anticipation, only to stumble backwards when he abruptly lets me go.
Even though I don’t physically lose my balance, it’s like my whole world has just shifted and I can’t seem to get my bearings. I stare at Dylan, hoping he’ll say something to help me make sense of what just happened.
“Fun is overrated,” Dylan says flatly.
“You don’t need to worry about what your friends say, Claire.”
I almost laugh. Coming from Dylan, the sentiment is absurd. He is, hands down, the most reckless daredevil I know – a real thrill seeker. He regularly goes skydiving and bungee jumping, and rock climbing – all in the name of fun. He rides his motorbike too hard and too fast. If fun is so overrated, why does he do all those things?
“Actually, I do need to worry about what my friends think. They care about me, and they want what’s best for me. And tonight, they brought it to my attention that I haven’t really had a good time and enjoyed myself for a while. So I’m going to take a timeout from chasing my goals and mix up my priorities, if that’s okay with you.”
I don’t really care whether he’s okay with it or not. For one stupid moment, I actually thought he was as affected by our close proximity as I was. Then reality came crashing down. He rejected me years ago, plain and simple. And just now I pretty much did the equivalent of offering myself up to him on a platter, and he passed on my offer all over again.
I hate him. And I hate myself for allowing that moment between us – for forgetting his first rejection. Is it possible to be completely sensible, staid, boring, and stupid?
I reach the bar just as Sam finishes serving someone.
“Hey, Claire. What can I get you?” he asks.
It’s not quite the greeting I hoped for. One of his flirtatious smiles would have been much more… reassuring.
Can I really do this? Can I ask out this guy who probably gives his number out to hundreds of women every week? It is either that or turn around and confront Dylan again. In other words, the answer is simple. Hopefully, Sam likes his women blunt.
“How about a date?” I ask, straight out.
His gaze is fixed behind me, probably on the blue-eyed devil trailing in my wake.
“I’m real sorry, Claire,” Sam says, never taking his eyes off the man behind me. “But I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Austin’s a mate of mine and we all kind of have this, don’t-date-my-sister rule.”
I’m so mad it’s a wonder steam isn’t pouring out of my ears. “Is that so?” I ask softly.
“Yeah.” He scratches his head and looks around awkwardly. “I didn’t realize who you were until Dylan told me. So…you should probably go ahead and tear my number up.”
“I’ll be sure to do that.”
I turn around and once again find myself standing too close to Dylan. This time, though, I’m not going to think about kissing him. This time, the only thing I want to do is hit him.
“You are a giant jerk, Dylan James. I hate you.”
“I know,” he replies flatly. “But you’ll thank me later when Sam still has his teeth. Austin wouldn’t approve. I tried to tell you that.”
He shrugs as if I should have seen it playing out this way from the start.
Now I really, really, want to hit him. “You did tell me. I guess I didn’t think Sam would actually be as much of a pussy as you implied he would be.”
I don’t bother looking over my shoulder to see if Sam heard me. I don’t care.
“And you certainly don’t want to date a pussy,” Dylan says, nodding.
He’s right about that. As cute as Sam the bartender is, there is no way I want to date a coward. Anyone who doesn’t think I’m worth fighting with Austin over isn’t worth it. There are plenty more fish in the sea. I just have to make sure I do all my future fishing where Dylan isn’t around to kick the water.
“And you’re going to find that most guys don’t want to go up against Austin.” Dylan says solemnly. “There are a lot of scared people in the world.”
“You might be Austin’s best friend, but he wants me to be happy. He’d never stand in between me and a date the way you just did.”
“You don’t know how wrong you are,” he utters softly, his eyes never leaving mine. “He knows how important a future with the right guy is. He’s going to warn off anyone he doesn’t feel can give you that.”
I shake my head. “I don’t believe you.”
“Then ask him.”
“I will. I’m going to go home and call him. And when he laughs at the absolute stupidity of what you just did, I’m going to ask him to call off his watchdog. I don’t need you to play big brother to me, Dylan. I already have Austin.”
“He’s not here right now.”
“I’m twenty-five, not five! I don’t need a guardian.”
“I think the fact that you just walked up to a guy you barely know and asked him for a date disproves that theory. Austin is going to have my back on this one.”
“You’re not my brother, Dylan. And you’re certainly not my friend. Just stay the hell away from me.”
I try to brush past him, but he blocks me.
“No one wants to see you get hurt, Claire. Not Austin and not me.”
The sincerity in his voice only makes me see red.
“When have I ever done anything as reckless as you or Austin have? What have I done to make either of you think I can’t be trusted to look after my own emotional well-being?”
“And if you say, ‘asked Sam for a date,’ I’ll kill you. Seriously, Dylan. You and Austin have had your fun and done plenty of stupid things. Maybe it’s my turn to act a little reckless. Deal with it.”
“This isn’t you, Claire. You don’t just walk up to guys you don’t know and ask them out.”
“I do now.”
“You’re asking for trouble.”
“Maybe I am, but I’m looking forward to it.”
“I can’t let you do that. Austin would kill me.”
“Just you try and stop me.”
With that, I shoulder past him and walk back to my friends. I’m half waiting for Dylan to come after me and try to talk me out of my plan, but thankfully, he doesn’t.
“That looked intense,” Kara says as I sit down.
I don’t know which part of the last ten minutes Kara is referring to. It all felt pretty intense to me; the almost kiss with Dylan, asking out Sam the bartender, and then arguing with Dylan.
“I think I want to go home.”
“Why? Because Dylan is a dick?”
“He told Sam he shouldn’t date me because I’m Austin’s sister.”
“You want me to talk to him for you?” Kara asks.
“No. I think I want to talk to Austin and get him to speak with Dylan, since Dylan’s gotten it into his head that my brother gets to call the shots on my dating life from two states away.”
“Can we at least finish our drinks?” Danni asks.
“Of course,” I say, picking up mine.
“So…” Kara starts after a short pause. “You asked out the bartender?”
I nod, causing Kara to grin. “You’re taking a timeout?”
“I am. You guys were right.”
And the fact Dylan thinks I’m so boring I should stick to boring men…it was a kick in the gut.
“I haven’t been happy for a long time and it’s time to change that. Otherwise, I might keep on scaring off men. Right, Danni?”
“Yay,” Tori says, clapping, before raising her glass again. “To you having the time of your life.”
“I’ll drink to that,” I say.
“We all will,” Kara says, raising her glass.
“Cheers,” the four of us shout in unison.