“I'm here with …” I start to say my sister's kids but I don't want to get into the whole torrid story with a sexy stranger. What does it matter? It's not like I'll see the guy ever again anyway. “The beautiful Bella.” I point out my dark haired look-alike. “And gorgeous Grace.”
“Nice alliteration,” the guy purrs as he winks at me and I feel my skin heating up from the inside. “I like a girl who can alliterate.” Zayden leans back, sunlight skipping between the redwood branches above our heads, speckling his skin with sunlight.
“I can rhyme, too. Oh, and list palindromes.”
“Sexy. You're a real smarty-pants, huh?”
“I try,” I say, straightening the boring brown skirt I decided to wear today. Again, not my usual style, but I think I'm overcompensating for the whole strip club thing. I feel my face fall, but I can't help the rush of emotion. I don't want to do this. I'm scared. I shouldn't have to do this.
When I glance up, I notice that Zayden's studying me carefully, watching my face like he can sense the emotional turmoil inside of me.
I look away and study the original play set from when I was a kid, a structure of wood and metal that's older than I am. It sits in the center of the park under a copse of old-growth trees. The redwoods are so big they distort the proportions, making it look like the playground's in miniature.
“Something on your mind?” Zayden asks, his voice deepening a little with the change in mood. “I hear I'm a killer listener.” When I look back at him, he's grinning at me again. “Feel like spilling your guts to a stranger?”
“Thanks for the offer, but the thing that's bothering me, there's nothing I can do about it. I'd really just rather forget about it while I can.”
“Fair enough,” he says as he leans back, elbows on the top of the table. “I feel you.”
I smile, but the expression does nothing to shake the awful feeling settling over my shoulders. I have a handful of days left to find another job, something where the hours won't conflict with my school schedule. As of right now, it looks like I'll officially be taking my clothes off for money.
“I like your tats,” I say, gesturing with my chin as I examine a colorful sugar skull on his upper arm. It's mixed in with a strange variety of other things: a bundle of lollipops, a tree with leafless branches, a woman with angel wings, a pinup. This Zayden guy must be an interesting character.
“Thanks,” he says, holding his arms out, so I can get a better look. “I started collecting them when I was eighteen. Think I might be a tad addicted.” Without any prompting, Zayden lifts his shirt up and flashes me his midsection.
Holy … shit.
Color spills across his chest, peeks up from his waistband. The ink above and below his abs only emphasizes how tight they are, how flat and sexy and touchable … I blink several times to clear my head. I can't really look at him without getting light-headed. I glance away and pretend not to be interested. Were his … were his nipples pierced?!
“Nice ink,” I say, hoping I sound cool. I mean, not that I care because this guy's a complete stranger with at least two kids, one of whom's a baby. I bet this man makes a lot of babies. The last thing I need to be doing is sitting here and hitting on him like this. I do not need to be making any babies. Or trying to lose my virginity with some Tattooed God Guy.
“What about you? Got any tats?” I shake my head as I look back at him. I'm sure his story's a hell of a lot more interesting than mine.
“Nope. Not a single one. I've always been scared of getting poked.” I flush as Zayden grins at me, forcing myself to smile like I meant that double entendre. If he only knew how true that was … “Does it really hurt as much as everyone says it does?”
“Naw,” he says, reaching up to scratch at the back of his head. “Personally, I like getting poked.” A wink that's clearly meant in a flirtatious sort of way. “Got any piercings?”
I shake my head and smile.
“Same problem. The whole … you know, poking thing.”
“Gotcha,” he says as he looks me over again, clearly checking me out. Basically, I'm in complete shock. I'm wearing torn nude tights, a brown chiffon skirt, and a white tee that's a little too small for me. On my feet are a pair of suede boots with scuffed toes. Essentially, I'm a hot mess. “So, how come your,” a pause to look down at my hand, checking for a ring I think, “boyfriend isn't here with you today?”
I raise my eyebrows as my heart starts to pound. Holy crap. This guy really is hitting on me.
“I don't currently have a boyfriend,” I say, trying not to think about that particular screw up. Three years with the wrong guy, a guy who was supposed to be perfect. And the reason I'm still carrying my V-card. He said he wanted to wait until marriage, that his faith was important to him. Yet, he was sleeping with my friend on the side. Yeah. Great. “I'm not looking for one either,” I add, even though I really like the idea of this guy liking me.