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Kiss Me at Midnight
By Diane Alberts, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Diane Alberts
All rights reserved.
Ashley Hanes smoothed her skirt and examined her worried reflection in the bathroom mirror. It had been a hell of a year spent studying more than actually living, and she'd never been more exhausted in her life. Of course, she'd never been as happy, either, but the two kind of went hand in hand.
She'd also been enjoying the independence that came with the single life, and tonight was definitely one of those nights.
Because tonight she was really, really horny, and she had one goal and one goal only: find a man and bring him home with her for an unabashed, unhindered one-night stand. It had been months since she'd had any action. She needed to scratch the itch before she plowed through a whole freaking pack of AAbatteries in a month.
She knew her mission. Knew what she wanted.
She should be calm and collected and focused on finding a man. And yet, she couldn't even bring herself to leave the bathroom of the bar without panicking a little bit.
A toilet flushed behind her, and she turned on the faucet, trying to look as if she wasn't loitering in the small bathroom for no apparent reason. It wasn't as if this bathroom was big enough for girls to hang out in. It was tiny, just like the bar. The Green Frog was a local joint that had a good mixture of locals and tourists, which was perfect for her get-laid-mission of the night.
But being back in Rehoboth Beach—her hometown—resurrected way too many memories of him. Ethan Pierce. He'd been her best friend up until the New Year's Eve of senior year when he'd stopped talking to her. She hadn't seen him since graduation, but she knew he was in town at his parents' house for the holidays.
But was it possible ... maybe ... that he would come here?
Her heartbeat sped up in anticipation of seeing his face. What would she do if she saw him? How would she react? She didn't know why he still affected her after all this time. All she knew was one day he'd stopped talking to her.
Stopped looking at her.
Every day, he had walked by her in the hallway with that closed off expression on his face, as if they hadn't been best friends only days before. She had tried to get in contact with him every single day for months—calling, emailing, stalking even—until she finally got the hint and gave up. She had no idea why, but he hated her. Even now, nine years later to the day, she had no idea what she'd done to make him turn against her.
It didn't matter now. She wouldn't let one jerk from her past ruin a potentially down and dirty night with Mr. Tonight. Whoever that turned out to be. It was New Year's Eve, for god's sakes, and she was going to get laid. L-A-I-D. And Ethan's cold, stand-offish behavior—assuming he even showed up—wasn't going to stop her from getting some.
His problem with her was just that: his problem.
Shaking off the past, she smoothed her hair, grabbed her purse, and left the bathroom. The bar was incredibly crowded with men and women shouting into each other's ears to be heard. Certainly she could find someone hot and ready for a little no-strings-attached action.
As she passed the bar, her friend Rhiannon shoved a red tiara in her face. "Put this on. Everyone needs to wear a tiara or a ridiculous hat if they want dollar drinks, so I stole the last of these for us."
Ashley grimaced. The red would clash horribly with her strawberry blond hair, but she slammed it onto her head anyway. "I guess I'll suffer the indignity for the cheap drinks. Speaking of which ... where's mine?"
"Right here." Rhiannon handed over some sort of concoction in a festive glass, her brown hair brushing the rim as she twisted. "So, do you see him?"
Ashley choked on her first sip. Not a good sign of how tonight was going to go. When she finally could breathe again, she managed to ask, "Uh, I'm sorry. Did I see who?"
"Oh, come on. I know you heard Ethan might be here, and I know it's why you suddenly had to come, even though you'd been planning on staying home and reading tonight, of all things." Rhiannon pointed a manicured finger at her. "I know you want to get laid and all, but the change of heart was way too abrupt to be a coincidence. No one's that horny."
Ashley shook her head and tried to look innocent. "I have no idea—"
"Ashley," Rhiannon said. "Don't even try to lie to me."
Ashley blew out a frustrated breath. "Oh, fine. I'd heard he might come from Sharon, who talked to Alex. But I do still plan on going home with a man tonight. I shaved my legs and everything."
Rhiannon nudged Ashley with her elbow. "Maybe you plan on it being Ethan?"
"Puh-lease. He can't stand me. And I don't think I'm up for a few rounds of hate sex, even if it would end the longest dry spell in recent history." Ashley scanned the crowd and took a cautious sip. "But it doesn't matter anyway. I don't see him."
Was he still skinnier than her? Did he still wear glasses two sizes too big for his face? Did he still hate contacts? She had no idea. And she didn't care, either.
"Maybe he shrunk or got fat or something." Rhiannon tossed back her drink and set down the empty glass. "It's been nine years."
"I doubt that," Ashley said. "I'm sure he's as dorky and cute as ever."
"Don't you think it's time to get over the 'one who got away' syndrome? I mean, it's not like you ever made a move on him in high school, though God knows it would've been easy enough. He wanted you so bad that he would've blown his load the second you kissed him."
Ashley snorted. "That's not fair. Funny, but not fair." Ashley shrugged. "And don't worry. I'm not making a move on him even if he comes. Not unless it's my fist to his face because I'm giving him hell for treating me like shit back in high school."
Her friend squeezed her shoulder. "As upset as you are at him for not talking to you, it's clear you never got over him."
"I never got under him in the first place," she muttered.
And maybe that was the problem. Why she could never really stop thinking about him—even when she was mad. They'd never had a chance to see if their friendship could have been more. If they could have been happy together.
She'd been shy and focused on school. He'd been shy and completely unsure of himself. They'd never even kissed, for the love of God.
And they never would, damn it, because Ashley was having hot and sweaty sex with someone else tonight. Someone who didn't know who the heck she was or what she did for a living. Someone who didn't know her at all.
Yeah. That would be perfect.
Then she'd be ready to tackle her new job as town doctor come January fourth. In the meantime, she was getting started on her New Year's Resolution early ...
To end her obnoxiously long dry spell.
And I'll forget about Ethan once and for all.
* * *
When Ethan Pierce entered the crowded bar, he fought the urge to turn right back around and leave. Loud music and excessive amounts of alcohol had never been his scene, not even as a teenager. He preferred the quiet solitude of the beach at night, when everyone else was busy getting drunk and being sociable.
But it was New Year's Eve and even though he despised this town with an unparalleled passion, certainly he could find someone at the bar to spend the evening with. Someone who didn't expect more from him than he was willing to give.
And he was only willing to give the next few hours.
He had rules. Plans. And none of them involved settling down.
Never fall in love. Never get married. Never have kids. And never, ever stay more than a week in this godforsaken town.
Every time he came back home, he felt as if he took a step into a fucking time capsule, back to a time he never wanted to relive. A time when he'd been a stuttering, scrawny, shy, and insecure kid. But that was then. This was now.
He moved toward the bar, scanning the room for a potential partner for the evening. He hated spending New Year's Eve alone—too many memories of an old high school rejection—so he had to move quickly if he was going to get someone in his arms by midnight.
The blonde by the left side of the bar looked promising, but she had already flirted with a guy who looked vaguely familiar. The brunette had gone out with his brother a few times, so she was out, and the black-haired girl had been a bitch to him in high school.
He might not be that stuttering geek he'd once been, but he had no interest in proving that to her, thank you very fucking much.
He sighed and walked to the opposite side of the bar. He hated this town and almost everyone in it. He needed to get this holiday over with, spend a little more time with his family, and then get the hell outta Dodge—and back to California come Monday.
But first ... the girl.
Ethan tugged on his shirt collar. Why hadn't he worn a pair of jeans and a T-shirt to this damn thing, instead of khakis and a dress shirt? Some things were not meant to be on a man like him—and a tie was one of them. There was a reason he was an IT man in a laid-back company.
His eyes landed on a strawberry blonde facing away from him. Something about her reminded him of a time from long ago—and the unwelcome memory hit him harder than a kick to the nuts.
He clutched the flowers he held in his hand so tight it hurt. White carnations, just like Ashley loved. They were so pure and clean. Like her. He had just turned eighteen, and it was time to be a man. Make a move. He was going to kiss her tonight, on New Year's Eve.
He'd been planning it for months. He'd written her a note.
She would be here, waiting. And he'd tell her he loved her.
He crested the hill, swiping his sweaty palm over his jeans. His glasses slid down his nose, and he impatiently pushed them up. He'd tried to put in contacts tonight for her, but he'd ripped the darn things in half with his clumsy fingers.
He was such a klutz ... but she didn't care. She liked him anyway.
He still couldn't believe it. Just like he couldn't believe that tonight, he'd be doing the one thing he'd always been too scared to—
He froze in his tracks, his heart stopping.
Ashley was there all right, but she wasn't alone. She was kissing Roger Hampton in their spot. In their special spot, on New Year's Eve. His heart splintered into a thousand pieces. He stumbled backwards, tripping on his own oversized feet. He fell flat on his ass, blinking back the tears in his eyes, and dropped the pristine white flowers in the wet sand.
All this time, she had been lying. Lying about not wanting a boyfriend. She wanted one, all right. It just wasn't Ethan. He shook his head at his naivety, stood up, and bolted from the pain coursing through his chest.
He ran away from her, the image of her and Roger burned into his brain.
He was done.
He shook the memory off, rolling his shoulders in a circular motion. That was a time better left in the past. He'd been eighteen and stupid. He'd treated her badly afterwards, refusing to talk to her even though she hadn't done anything wrong. She'd been understandably hurt and angry.
After a while, she'd stopped trying to talk to him, and he'd never apologized. He had been an ass in the first degree. Years later, once he grew up, he thought about tracking her down and apologizing to her. By then it seemed too late.
And there was nothing he could do about it now, was there?
But he could find a woman who would make him forget all over again ... and the one who eerily reminded him of Ashley looked to fit the bill.
He did love strawberry blondes, after all.
He approached the woman, his eyes taking in her gray sweater dress and black tights. She wore a pair of kick-ass red heels, and her hair flowed down her back in soft waves. She looked as if she was here for the same reason as him, judging from the way her head turned from side to side as she scanned the crowd, her foot tapping in impatience as she sipped her drink.
She watched all of the men, studying them before passing on to the next. As if she was analyzing them in the same way he was. And that was the sign he was looking for.
Game fucking on.
As he got closer, his shoulders grew more tense. She really reminded him of Ashley. Last he heard, she was somewhere in D.C. pursuing her dream of being a doctor. Just like she'd always wanted. So, why would she be here, in the same bar?
Easy. She wouldn't be.
He was being haunted by the ghost of New Year's past or some shit like that. He brushed aside the sense of foreboding creeping up his spine, and tapped her shoulder with a smile on his face. Leaning close, he let his chest brush the woman's back and lowered his head to ear level. "Excuse me, but can I buy you a drink?"
She stiffened and turned around slowly, her hair tickling his nose. She smelled like flowers and like ... like ... her. A fist of desire slammed into his gut, almost making him fall back a step. The second he touched her, he knew.
Before he saw her face, he knew.
Only one woman set him afire like that, and her name was Ashley.
And after years of being a complete asshole to her ...
He'd just strolled on up and tapped on her shoulder like the fucking idiot he was.CHAPTER 2
The breath slammed out of Ethan's chest while his stomach fisted in a tight coil of need. Her bright green eyes studied his face, dropped to take in his body, and then rose to meet his gaze with an unspoken challenge. The way she looked at him, her mouth soft and her eyes boldly on his, told him she'd changed as much as he had.
She screamed of ...
Confidence. Yes, that's what it was. She was confident, hot, and sexy. That was how he would describe her now. She'd been sweet and somewhat quiet in high school—not as ultra-nerd as Ethan but certainly not the homecoming queen, either. She'd been well-liked but not a 'notice me' kind of girl.
Yet, there wasn't a damn thing about her that didn't attract notice tonight.
Everything from the tip of her head to those spiked, red heels she wore screamed for a man's attention. And damn it all to hell, he was more than willing to be the man to provide. Her plump lips were tinted with pink gloss, begging to be kissed. And her body ...
Curves once disguised underneath loose t-shirts and bulky jackets were now hugged by the soft cashmere of her dress. Teasing him, challenging him, reminding him of exactly what he'd been missing all those years in high school. Fuck, he wanted to run his hands all over those curves. A jolt of desire shot to his groin. She looked tantalizing.
And he wanted to play.
His gaze fell on the ring finger of her left hand. No ring. She wasn't married or engaged, thank God. Maybe he could finally get that New Year's kiss he'd hoped for back in high school. Maybe he could even get a whole lot more. Then again, maybe she'd slap him and throw her drink in his face for being such a dick.
He kind of deserved that, too.
"Hi, Ethan," she murmured, licking her pink lips and watching him from under her lashes. "Fancy meeting you here."
After she spoke, she bit down on her lower lip and stole a look at the woman standing next to her. He didn't recognize her, but she was obviously Ashley's friend.
He widened his smile, determined to bullshit his way through this conversation as if he'd known it was Ashley all along. As if he'd intentionally tapped her shoulder and now wasn't dying to turn around and walk away from the embarrassment of how he'd acted all those years ago.
"Hi." He rubbed his jaw and eyed her, not sure what the hell to say. "How are you?"
"Funny that you ask that, considering you didn't bother to talk to me for the last half of senior year. Or any other time since then." She gave him her back, glancing over her shoulder at him with a dismissive flick of her wrist. "But, hey, it was nice seeing you again."
He rested his hand on her shoulder. Even such an innocent touch made him want nothing more than to pick her up and carry her back to his place caveman style so he could show her exactly what she'd been missing all these years. What he'd been missing. And judging from the surprised flare of interest he saw in her eyes, she felt the same way.
"Okay. I deserved that," he admitted.
Excerpted from Kiss Me at Midnight by Diane Alberts, Shannon Godwin. Copyright © 2013 Diane Alberts. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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