Sneak Preview Once Upon A Real Good Time

*** Please enjoy a giveaway at the end of this sneak preview! ***

Chapter 1

Mackenzie

 

I’m not checking him out.

I am solely focused on answering the next trivia question. The game emcee spouts it out for the four teams vying for the prize at The Grouchy Owl bar. The prize being bragging rights.

The hostess clears her throat, brings the mic to her mouth, and asks the question: “Which Las Vegas hotel did the bachelor party stay at—”

I’m perched forward in the chair whispering the answer to my teammate—Caesars, Caesars, Caesars—so we can write it on the answer slip before the hostess even finishes.

“—in the 2009 movie The Hangover?”

“So easy,” I say to Roxy as she smacks my palm and mouths ringer while filling in the answer.

I’m not a ringer.

I was simply fed a steady diet of Trivial Pursuit, trivia books, and endless facts about the world as a kid.

That’s all.

Also, I love trivia. Trivia helped me through some tough times as an adult, and by tough, I mean anxiety-ridden, sleepless, and stressful. That kind of tough.

As the hostess flips her cards to the next question, the guy on stage—the one I’m not at all checking out—adjusts the amp for his guitar. The Grouchy Owl has a little bit of everything—from darts, to pub quizzes, to pool, to live music from local bands. It’s like a Vegas hotel right here in the West Village. Big Ike doesn’t want patrons to leave, so she makes sure the entertainment options are plentiful.

And if that handsome hottie stays on the stage, I won’t want to head home for a long, long time. Except I’ll have to. I’m Cinderella, and I turn into a pumpkin in minutes.

But for now . . . Hello, nice view.

As the guy turns the knob on the amp, his brown hair flops over his eyes. He flicks it off his forehead with a quick snap then runs his fingers down the strings on his guitar. Those fingers fly.

I bet they’d fly other places too.

Come to think of it, I better give him a full and proper appraisal, especially since the Jeopardy!-style theme clock blasting from the hostess’s phone is counting down the seconds till we’ve all penned an answer to her latest question, which means I have time to ogle.

A thin blue T-shirt reveals inked and toned arms, and stubble covers his jaw—deliberate stubble. Not the I-didn’t-shave-today stubble, but a healthy amount of scruff. Yum.

“Would you like your camera to take a picture, or have you captured Guitar Hero in your brain for posterity?”

I jerk my gaze back to Roxy.

Note to self: develop some subtlety when ogling. Especially since you’re out of practice on . . . everything.

I flip a strand of hair off my shoulder. “I wasn’t checking him out.”

Roxy rolls her hazel eyes. “I’m hereby awarding you a trophy for the most unconvincing attempt at denial ever.”

I huff. “Fine. He’s crazy handsome. Look at those cheekbones. Those lips. Those eyes.”

She sings his praises too. “Those hands, that ass, those legs.”

I swat her arm. “Stop perving on my eye candy.”

My best friend smiles wickedly. “It’s so easy to see through you.”

“I didn’t deny it for long.” I hold up one finger. “For, like, one round of denial.”

She reaches for my iced tea and hands it to me. “Speaking of rounds, take a drink. It’ll make you strong for the final round of the game.”

“Sometimes I think you use me for the useless facts in my head.”

“You don’t have to think it. You know I do.”

“Love you too.”

“Also,” she says, leaning closer, “your eye candy was checking you out as well.”

My eyebrows shoot into my hairline. “Lying liar who lies.”

The hostess taps the mic from her spot in front of Mr. Guitar Hero. “And now, for the final question in The Tuesday Night Grouchy Owl Pub Quiz . . .”

Like synchronized swimmers, Roxy and I straighten our shoulders in unison. I grab the pencil. Hold it tight. This isn’t a first-to-the-bell game, but there’s something about being on high alert that feels right. I’m ready.

Questions zip through my brain, answers following instantly as my mind exercises itself. The Beatles were first the Quarrymen; at sixty-three, Jupiter has the most moons; the Pacific is 8,000 meters deep.

“Which Whitney Houston song is an anagram of ‘mention mine to me’?”

What the what?

I turn to Roxy, and we are matching slack-jawed, WTH memes. Admittedly, pop music is my weakest category, but I can handle the basic questions surrounding the genre. This question is a little left of center though. I try my best to cycle through the diva’s tunes. We mouth to each other the big Whitney hits: “I Will Always Love You.” “Greatest Love of All.” “How Will I Know.”

I shake my head, and Roxy furrows her brow.

I stare off at the stage when the guy with the surfer hair catches my gaze and mouths hi, startling me. Is he talking to me? Oh yes, he is, since he follows that hi with four more words.

Holy smokes.

He slipped me the answer.

I’m officially in love.

I grab Roxy’s arm. “‘One Moment in Time,’” I whisper, and I unleash a smile at Guitar Hero. Because we’re one step closer to winning, and that’s one of my favorite things to do on a Tuesday night during my hour-long escape at The Grouchy Owl.

But wait. How does hottie know a Whitney Houston song? Straight men can know Whitney tunes, right?

Of course they can. God, I hope so. He looks seriously straight. He’s staring at me like a man who enjoys boobs stares at a woman who has them.

I sneak another peek. His fingers slide down the guitar as he tunes it. He raises an eyebrow and locks eyes with me, his lips curving up.

My stupid stomach has the audacity to swoop.

Of course, in my stomach’s defense, the loop-de-loop makes complete sense. Not only is he a babe registering easily at 15.5 on the only-goes-to-ten babe-o-meter, but he’s holding a guitar. The way he wields the Stratocaster cranks my libido up high.

That might be due to said libido’s sadly solo life these days.

As the hostess collects the answer slips, Roxy nudges my shoulder. “Go talk to him.”

I roll my eyes.

“Oh please. You can do it,” she adds.

“I’m not going to go talk to some random guy onstage at a bar, prepping for his set.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” I sputter. “Because it’s dangerous, risky, crazy, and I have a thirteen-year-old at home.”

“Isn’t Kyle out right now? Practice or something?”

“Yes, but I need to pick him up in a few minutes, and that means I should go.”

Roxy pouts. “Don’t go before we find out if we win. And don’t go before you talk to Mr. Steamy McMusic.”

I laugh and shake my head. “You go talk to him.”

“I can’t. He has your eye marks all over him.”

“Good. I own the view.”

I stand, and Roxy joins me to give a quick goodbye hug. “Love ya,” I say.

“Thanks for coming out to play. It’s nice to see your face every now and then.”

I head to the door, nearly bumping into the curly-haired Big Ike on the way.

“Hey, Mack. Is Kyle ready for Pine Notes?” she barks.

“Starts tomorrow. He’s so excited.” As the keeper of all musical knowledge in the tristate area, she recommended the music camp my son’s attending starting tomorrow, and it sounds like a fantastic opportunity.

“The teachers there are great. He’s going to love it.”

I give a thumbs-up, wave goodbye, and don’t even bother to check and see if Mr. Guitar Hero is watching me, though I’m tempted.

I head down the street then turn the corner, hoofing it a few blocks to the community center where Kyle practices with some of the other kids his age. He’s formed an ad hoc sort of string quartet with some friends in the city who like the same music as he does. Shortly after I arrive, the kids stream outside, and I smile at my little blond-haired, brown-eyed guy.

Okay, he’s not so little anymore.

But he’s still my guy.

“Hey, monster,” I say. “How was practice?”

He slings his violin case over his shoulder. “It was good. We worked on a new Brahms concerto that’s totally dope.”

“That’s the only way Brahms concertos should be.”

During the short walk home, Kyle regales me with details of the music. His voice rises as he grows more excited, then he smiles at me, the metal in his braces occupying most of the real estate on his teeth.

We reach our building and go inside.

“Did you win big tonight?” he asks once we’re in our apartment.

I shrug and smile. “Don’t know. But we fought valiantly. Are you hungry? Want me to cook some scrambled eggs with rosemary country potatoes?”

He pats his flat belly on his trim frame. “I’m still stuffed from the sandwich you made earlier.”

I gesture to his room. “Big day tomorrow. Go put your violin away and get ready for bed. We’re leaving to take you to camp at seven thirty sharp.”

He salutes me on the way to his room.

A few minutes later, Kyle has brushed his teeth, washed his face, and is reading his biography of Mariano Rivera. I park myself on the edge of his twin bed and knock on the book’s spine. “Good guy or bad guy?”

Kyle only reads books about sports stars if he deems them good guys, so I know the answer, but I ask anyway because I like knowing what’s in his head. For now, since he hasn’t hit puberty with a vengeance, he usually tells me what’s on his mind. “Definitely a good guy. He’s also the greatest closer of all time.”

I’m not even a sports fan, but I know that. “Six hundred fifty career saves isn’t too shabby.”

“You’re such a dork.”

“From one to another.” I tap his forehead. “Did you take your headache meds?”

He gives me a thumbs-up.

“Good.” I give him a kiss and say good night. “Love you so much.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

 

When I retreat to my room, I find a message from Roxy on my phone.

 

Roxy: We won, but it was by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins! It was super close—we need to be tighter next time. Also, all this could be yours.

 

The screen fills with an image and tingles zip down my body. Damn, that man is dangerously handsome, especially with the intensity in his eyes as he plays that instrument.

I sigh happily. I’m so checking him out.

What’s the harm? He’s likely in some band that’s making a one-night-only appearance at The Grouchy Owl, like many of the bands that play there do. I’ll probably never see him again. Unless you count later tonight in my dreams. Because that face and those hands are definitely fodder for a good night fantasy.

Besides, fantasies are the only times I’ve had any action lately, and by lately, I mean years.

 

Chapter 2

Campbell

 

I get lost in the music as I play. I lose myself in how notes and chords flow through my veins and pour from my fingers. Playing like this—incognito—makes me feel as if I’m flying high, like I can love performing the same way I did when I was younger.

We cruise through our set of covers and originals. As we do, I keep one eye open, so to speak, for the woman I spotted earlier, hoping she’ll slip back inside. I scan the crowd from time to time, searching for those freckles, those pink lips, the tattoo I caught a peek of on her shoulder when her top slouched down.

She disappeared an hour ago, and I haven’t seen her since.

When the set is over, my curious eyes search once more for the dirty-blonde who’s damn near addicted to trivia games. She was here last week, and we weren’t playing then, just meeting with Big Ike, but I have a good memory for inked and brainy women.

At least, I’m guessing she has a solid noggin since I saw the intensity in her eyes and the set of her mouth as she’d worked through the quiz questions.

“Encore, encore!” a leggy brunette near the front shouts, cupping her hands over her mouth.

I turn to my Righteous Surfboards bandmates, asking with my eyes if they’re ready. The guys nod, and since we’ve played all our originals earlier in the night, we dive into a cover of “Wicked Game,” since that one seems to please audiences the most. When we’re done, I thank the crowd, turn off the mics, then high-five the guys for a good show.

“Dude, that was a most awesome gig,” says our bassist, Cade, who’s all of twenty-five. He talks like Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and dresses like him too, down to the Vans. I’m pretty sure he’s stuck in a time warp.

JJ stuffs his drumsticks in his back jeans pocket and glances at the crowd, dispersing and heading for the bar. He looks to me. “Man, for only our fifth show, that was impressive, but if you’d let us say who you are, we can attract a bigger crowd.”

I give my longtime childhood friend a we’re-not-going-to-have-this-conversation-again look. JJ knows the score. “But I won’t, so we can’t.”

He mimes holding a knife and driving it into his broad chest. “You’re killing me, Campbell. Why don’t you take the knife and stab me?”

“Why don’t you let the music do its job in bringing the audience?”

“Because, bro, your name. Who you are. That face!”

Cade jumps in. “Yeah, you have a face that the teens and the MILFs both like.”

I laugh at our resident young’un as I drag a hand across my chin. “The face has aged many years since the teens liked it. Also, can we not talk about teen girls digging me?”

Cade points at me. “Don’t try to deny it. When you deny the power of your own face, you’re dismissing what the good universe gave you.”

But they know the true reason I don’t use my former stage name, and it has nothing to do with MILFs or tweens. I don’t use Mason Hart because that’s not the life I’m living now. I want my life to be simpler.

I say goodbye to the guys and head home to my place across town.

This is the life I’m living now.

* * *

When I reach the tenth floor of my Murray Hill apartment, the scent of something sugary and mouth-watering wafts down the hall. I slide the key in the lock of 10B, but the door gives instantly.

The door is yanked open from the other side. Samantha smiles widely. “I have a surprise for you!”

I crinkle my nose, sniffing. “Hmm . . . what is that? Better not be liquor.”

My fourteen-year-old rolls her green eyes. No one can roll eyes like a teenage girl.

“Dad,” she chides.

Nor chide as well.

“Well, what is that smell?”

“It’s vanilla. I’m baking.” She shakes her head. “You’re so ridiculous.”

“Okay. It smells good.” I drop my guitar case by the door and give her a peck on the forehead.

“Also, how can you even say that? Do you think the chocolate chip-stuffed soft pretzels smell like liquor?”

My stomach growls, answering for us both. “Clearly, my stomach and I think they smell wonderful. But I’m obligated to ask if there’s any liquor in the house that I don’t know about.”

“Obligated by whom?”

I flap my arms around. “By the code of . . .”

“Code of nosy dads?”

“I’m not nosy.”

I’m so nosy.

She ushers me into the open-space, state-of-the-art kitchen. She asked for an upgrade, and I did it, because seriously, how am I supposed to deny a kid who doesn’t have an ounce of trouble in her body?

At least, none I’m aware of yet.

She opens the oven and grabs a tray from it. Her looped-over blonde hair falls against her cheek, and she bats it away with a pink skull-and-crossbones oven mitt, complete with bows daintily tied on the skull heads. Irony, thy name is Samantha Evans.

“When I was trying to decide what to bake, I asked myself what great tastes go great together,” she says as I inhale the warm, homey scent. “And the answer is pretzels and cookies. I devised this recipe for chocolate chip cookie pretzels—basically, the cookie is stuffed inside the pretzel. I call them cookie-etzels, and I think they’re legitimately the best thing ever, but they might also be the worst thing anyone has ever tasted.”

Everything is both the best and the worst at the same time for her.

There is no in-between.

She shoves a cookie pretzel at me, bouncing on her Adidas-clad feet. I take the treat, pop it in my mouth, and fall in love with a cookie-etzel.

This kid has mad baking skills.

“It’s delicious,” I declare as she adjusts her apron.

She narrows her eyes, skeptical to the end. “You’re not just saying that?” The excitement in her tone says she wants to believe me.

“Would I lie to you?”

She parks her hands on her hips. “You one hundred percent would.”

Laughing, I answer her, “Then why do you ask me to test your stuff?”

“Because you’re here.”

I wave at the door. “So is Dave the doorman. Go ask him.”

“Good idea. Come with me?”

I shake my head. “Nope. You’ve lived here for five years. You know him. Go give him one and ask his opinion.”

She grabs a plate and says she’ll be right back.

She scurries downstairs as I ready myself for bed, yawning while I brush my teeth. These late-night gigs are fun, but they were a helluva lot easier when I was seventeen. I head to the kitchen for a glass of water, downing it quickly.

When Samantha returns, she gives me a thumbs-up. “He said I should open a corner bakery, and there would be a line down the street every day.”

“I told you so.”

“Maybe I’ll believe you. Maybe I won’t.” She shrugs happily. “Also, can you, you know, go?” This last request comes out moderately sheepishly.

I narrow my eyes. “Go where? I live here. I just returned home.”

She shoos me out of the kitchen. “To your room, Dad. I need to record a video now for my cooking show on these cookie-etzels, and I can’t have you in it.”

“You wouldn’t want anyone on Instagram to know you have a dad.”

“Obviously.”

That’s the thing—I’m unwelcome in her videos because I’m her father, not because I was once Mason Hart, one-third of the band of brothers once known as the Heartbreakers.

But that’s fine with me.

This is my life. My fourteen-year-old has sent me to my room.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Chapter 3

Mackenzie

Two weeks later

 

When I was younger and living in the wilds of Connecticut, I used to ride my bike everywhere. To and from school. Around the neighborhood. With my sister, Jackie, to the convenience store to grab Butterfingers and Skittles after school.

Now I am one of the many in Manhattan who ride to nowhere in a mirrored room. Spin class is a thoroughly modern form of torture up there with eyebrow threading and bikini waxing. But that’s okay, because I’m really riding somewhere.

“Five more minutes. Climb the hill. Give it one last push. You can do it.”

The instructor in the class that Jamison and I attend is peppy and full of energy, but if she wasn’t, her card as an exercise instructor would be instantly revoked by the Committee of Cheery Exercise Instructors. That governing body ensures that anyone leading a class at a gym or fitness center must possess the personality of a second-grade teacher on caffeine. Or a puppy. Ideally, both combined into one compact, trim, toned, muscular figure.

Which Candace possesses.

And honestly, which I can claim now too—the toned figure, that is—thanks to this class. Even though I’m here to train for an upcoming Spin for Kids fundraiser to benefit leukemia, I started spin classes last year when I finally decided I wanted to take better charge of my health.

Fifteen pounds have evaporated off me, and I feel better and healthier. It hasn’t changed my fortunes when it comes to dating though, but that’s probably more related to the little fact that I DON’T HAVE TIME TO DATE.

“All right, girl,” Jamison whispers to me from the bike next to mine. He’s in town for a bit between Hello, Dolly! and a new production of Chicago. “It’s your last night of freedom. Are you going to party hard or do online Scrabble?”

As sweat trickles down my neck, I give my son’s father a sneer and pant out the answer. “No. I’m going to go really crazy and finally watch that Idris Elba movie I’ve been wanting to see.”

“Ooh, that man is such a fine specimen.”

So was the guy at The Grouchy Owl.

Jamison cycles harder. He loves to be the best in the class. His body shows it—he’s in flick-a-quarter-off-him shape. I’m jealous, but only slightly, because he works out at five most mornings when he’s on the road, and that sounds like a worse way to spend an hour than bikini waxing.

As I pedal harder up a hill that’s as vicious as Candace promised, I manage to answer between breaths. “I’m probably going to review some of my top trivia questions tonight. We won two weeks ago, but it was too close for comfort, so I need to shore up my knowledge.”

Jamison’s goatee-lined jaw drops as if he’s completely shocked. “Was there some tall, handsome brainiac who distracted you?”

I snort and stare hard at a fascinating mark on the wall. That paint speck is mesmerizing, and how on earth could Jamison tell?

“I wish,” I say as we crest the hill. If I tell him I was admiring the guitarist’s assets, he’ll ask a bajillion questions, find out the guitarist’s name, track him down on social media, and ask him to go out with me.

Jamison is a meddler. He’s so good at it that I’m pretty sure he invented meddling.

“You did it! Now it’s time to cool down,” Candace shouts, thrusting her arms in the air.

I breathe fifty million sighs of relief that the rest of the class is downhill.

“Back to your last night of freedom, missy,” Jamison says, returning without losing a beat to his efforts to agent, manage, and event plan my social life. “You need to do something fun before Kyle comes back tomorrow.”

I arch an unthreaded brow as I slow my pedaling. “I do?”

“Yes. You.” He nods. Vigorously. It’s the only way Jamison can nod.

“Why do I need to do something fun?” I love to egg him on.

He rolls his big brown eyes. “Because it’s return to Mommyville tomorrow. You never do anything but be his mom.”

“Because I am his mom.”

“You’re wasting your youth as a martyr, you know.”

“No, I’m giving him stability, you manwhore.”

He pretends to look shocked. “How can you say that about moi?”

I laugh. “Because it’s true.”

“I mean, besides that,” he says, with a wink. His expression turns serious, his tone concerned. “But, Mack, I want to see you out and having fun. I know a lot has fallen on your shoulders with my travel schedule, and you bore the brunt of Kyle’s headache management.”

Truer words were never spoken. Our kid suffered through wicked migraines in grade school, the kind that left him curled up in a fetal position in a pitch-black room. We scoured all the online med boards, tested every combination of food, recorded details in countless headache diaries, and tried endless over-the-counter meds until we finally found a doc who got it and prescribed the right preventative meds for him. Those daily pills are life-changing. In fact, once he started them, his violin skills shot to the stratosphere. He was not only learning, but mastering concertos in no time. His teacher has told us he’s more talented than she is now, which is one of those things a teacher says that makes you scratch your head, rub your ear, and figure you’re hearing things.

Jamison continues making his case. “Now that he’s doing better and kicking butt with violin and everything, why don’t you try to go out more?”

“I do trivia nights,” I point out, because that’s more than enough for me. After an unexpected pregnancy and all the changes that rippled through my life because of it, I’ve still managed to make Kyle my number one priority and build a business that supports my kid and me. That doesn’t give me much time for more than trivia nights, but I love trivia, so that’s fine by me.

He sighs dramatically. “Besides trivia. I mean dating. You know that thing two people do when they like each other?”

I adopt an ultra-confused look. “I don’t know what that is.”

“That’s my point! It’s a sin you’re not going out more. You are young and, evidently, attractive to men.”

I give him a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me look.

“Fine, you’re attractive empirically. But the clock is ticking.”

“I’m young. I’m only thirty-three.”

“You turn thirty-four in a month.”

I hiss at him. “Thirty-four is still young, and I can date when he’s safely at college. Besides, I’m kind of crazy excited to see him tomorrow and hear how camp was. Aren’t you?”

“Yes, Mack. I’m crazy excited to see him too. I already have the rental car booked, and I think the new year is going to be a good one with all the opportunities at the community center—playing space, and concerts, and practice rooms for his string quartet. But have you thought that maybe instead of spending the night with Idris Elba, you could, I don’t know, go crazy and do something besides play trivia games?”

I stick out my tongue at him. “Why?”

“You’re such a good girl. You need fun.”

I chuckle privately. If he saw my internet history, he wouldn’t think I was a good girl. Tumblr knows the real me and knows to never be in safe mode after ten p.m.

Jamison goes quiet for a second as our pedaling slows further. Jamison is rarely quiet. If he’s quiet, he’s thinking, and when he’s thinking, he’s stirring things up. He wiggles his eyebrows and, like he’s luring a dog with a toy, says, “Fun might make you a better mom, and studies show moms who let themselves have a little fun now and then are better at parenting.”

I narrow my eyes. “You’re playing dirty.”

He smirks. “I always play dirty.”

A chipper voice carries across the room. “Well done, class. Well done! We’re getting ready for our fundraiser. Keep it up!” Candace beams from the front of the class.

At last, I dismount, and my legs are jelly. My muscles scream at me. They ask why I make them suffer in this class. But I make them suffer because it’s good for them and for the kids we’re raising money for.

I grab my water bottle, and Jamison and I leave the spin room, moving our your-love-life-resembles-a-cobweb lecture to the hallway.

“Look, I know you’re busy. I know you’re the most in-demand graphic designer in the history of all the universes, but especially in this universe of New York City, which I wish I spent more time in.” Jamison works as a theater producer, overseeing a handful of touring productions, which means he’s on the road frequently. “But I worry about you. I want you to embrace the YOLO.”

“Are you fourteen?”

A nod. “In some ways. You need to live it up. Life is short, make the most of it. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll be like this beautiful, recharged woman who excels at momming even more than she does now.”

“Momming isn’t a word.”

“Now it is.”

“If I go out tonight, will it get you off my back about going out?”

He laughs. “As if anything would get me off your back. Baby, you’re stuck with me.”

I stare at him. “I’ve been stuck with you ever since your crazy idea back in college.”

“But it was worth it. Admit it. So worth it.”

I’ll never regret saying yes to my best friend when he told me in our senior year that he’d never had sex with a girl and was curious if he was missing anything as he explored his bisexuality.

I was his test case, and we learned two things—I’m a fertile myrtle, and Jamison definitely prefers dudes.

I never thought anything more would come of it than me doing a favor for my bestie—giving him a chance to learn once and for all if he loved dicks 100 percent of the time or only a little more than half. Turned out, one screw with me was enough to both confirm he was 100 percent pro-penis and also to accidentally put a bun in my oven.

He goes on and on about some hip new club I need to check out. I’m sure you have to have ripped jeans or heels four inches high or a resting bitch face the likes of which I’ve never had to get in. I’m not going to go. But I humor him by listening.

“And they have drinks with names like Shelter and Sin.”

Wow, that sounds dreadful. “Perfect for me,” I say with a fake smile.

“You’re not going, are you?”

“Of course, I’m not. But I’ll see you bright and early for the drive to camp.”

He shakes his head and sighs dramatically. “What am I supposed to do with you?”

* * *

My evening goes like this: I take a shower, singing show tunes at the top of my lungs. Afterward, I blow-dry my hair, slather on lotion, and take a leisurely stroll through some of my favorite eight-inches-and-more feeds. Hey, when the kid’s away, I like to take a few extra solo flights, and I happen to be a big fan of above-average assets on the male form.

Next is a quick game of Words with Friends with one of my fellow designers. I crush it, and then I hop over to Netflix. The Mountain Between Us or Molly’s Game? The debate is real.

As I watch the trailers to decide which mood I’m in, a text message pops up on my phone.

 

Roxy: Turns out it’s game night tonight. Want to go out?

 

My senses go on high alert.

I pace my small apartment, weighing my options. I could stay home and watch both movies. Hell, I could go full Idris marathon. Or I could read. Stopping in front of my bookshelf, I run my thumb over the new trivia book my dad sent me, stuffed with fun facts about modern geography. It’s totally addictive.

On the other hand . . .

Jamison’s words ring loud in my ears. Do I need fun instead? Is fun another trivia night? Or is fun the movie marathon and a new book?

Before I arrive at an answer, a second message lands on the screen.

 

Roxy: Also, Hendrix is here.

 

Mackenzie: Hendrix?

 

Roxy: The guitar hottie!!!

 

Ohhhhhhhhh.

Well.

That does sound precisely like fun.

Fine, fine. Nothing is going to happen with the guitar hottie, but I like looking at eye candy.

Eye candy equals my kind of fun.

I pull on my skinny jeans—thank you, spin class, for the way the denim hugs and loves my ass and thighs—tug on a top that slouches off one shoulder, and slide into heels.

I consider my reflection in the mirror as I comb on mascara and slick on pink lip gloss. Big brown eyes, dark-blonde hair, cute freckles, and sexy hummingbird ink on my shoulder, inspired by my favorite Pablo Neruda quote. The hummingbird in flight is a water-spark, an incandescent drip of American fire.

I give myself a thumbs-up, then a talking-to. “You are fun, Mackenzie. You are so fun you’re like the living, breathing definition of fun.”

I head to The Grouchy Owl.

Maybe it’s not exactly what Jamison had in mind. But who cares as long as it’s game night with an added benefit of a nice view?

When I walk into the bar, I don’t spot the usual signs for game night. But I do see a tall, toned man with dark floppy hair, a fine ass, and ripped jeans as he walks down the hall toward the back of the bar.

Roxy did not lie.

A shiver runs through me, and I stare till he turns the corner.

Hot damn.

I find Roxy at the bar. “Hey, you. Where’s the game night crew?” I survey the scene, but I don’t spot the usual emcee or the other regular teams. I don’t even see Big Ike here tonight.

Roxy wiggles her eyebrows. “It’s not game night. Guitar Hero’s band is playing. You’re welcome.”

I smack her arm. “Are you in cahoots with Jamison?”

She laughs. “Mackenzie, I’m in cahoots with your libido. It called me up and told me a good friend would help you get laid.”

“How do you know Guitar Hero wants that?”

“I saw the way he looked at you. I’m not blind. Now, let’s go enjoy some pop music. Sorry it’s not Hamilton, but hopefully you can find it in you to enjoy it.”

“I’ll do my best.”

I do better than my best, because when the object of my dirty daydreams walks over to his guitar, my libido definitely sits up and takes notice.

More like stands and nearly rushes the stage.

He’s hotter than I remembered, and if he were an ice cream cone, I’d order a triple scoop and lick him up.

His eyes scan the crowd. A charge runs down my spine as I remember him mouthing the clue to me the other week, and again as I imagine other things his mouth might do.

As his eyes find me, that charge turns to full-blown electricity. His gaze locks with mine, and when it does, a lopsided grin spreads on his handsome face.

Oh my.

Maybe it is time to focus on me tonight. Maybe it is time to have some fun. One night of wild abandon sounds perfectly reasonable. In fact, I think my libido is in cahoots with me, and I have a feeling we both might win.

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