Return of the Bad Boy

By: Jessica Lemmon

But you wanted it to be.

That was the tired talking.

She rubbed her weary eyes and strolled to the coffeepot by the door. She fired up the machine and looked out the front window. She was comfortable behind that pane of glass, watching women in colorful dresses carrying shopping bags and smiling. Sometimes there were friends chatting over coffee from Cup of Jo’s and sometimes there were families going in and out of the multitude of restaurants lining Endless Avenue.

Gloria had made plenty of friends here, which was part of the draw, but she’d admit, as they settled down one by one—Evan and Charlie, Sofie and Donovan, and now Faith and Connor—she’d begun to feel almost…lonely.

Yeah. Definitely, she was tired. She never let her feelings get to her this much. She poured a mug of coffee, sipped, and smiled as a couple walked by—vacationers by the look of their jaunty beachwear and floppy hats. She should be happy for what others had instead of pining for what she didn’t have. Maybe she just needed to get out. She’d been working a lot lately.

Or maybe she needed to go on a date.

It’d been four months since her last “real” date, and that evening had ended with a one-night stand she’d chosen to keep that way. Thankfully, it was while she was in New York. She’d met a decent guy at the hotel bar. They’d parted with a wave and never exchanged phone numbers. The sex had been as sad as the story sounded in her head right now. Gloria hadn’t been able to enjoy herself, and she suspected it showed.

Asher’s fault. The last sex she’d had before casual New York sex had been with him, and it was the pinnacle of great sex. Hotel Bar Guy had a lot to live up to and he fell drastically short.

In several areas.

She quirked her lips in thought as the bell over her door rang. A man walked in, dressed in a slim navy suit and light blue shirt underneath, the collar open. He had a twinkle in his hazel eyes and enough blond licking through his medium brown hair to make him look harmless. That façade was his best and greatest asset.

Brice McGuire, one-man show at his own Chicago firm, Encore Music Agency, breezed into Gloria’s life right when Asher landed the cover of Rolling Stone. He’d been at the magazine when Asher was doing his photo shoot and Glo had attended. They’d made small talk, learned they lived in the same city and that their careers had the potential to overlap. Since then, Brice had sent her a few of his clients who were writing books and she’d helped them along with contracts. Brice was a good business contact to have.

“Gloria Shields.” Brice smiled but it didn’t quite hit his eyes. His stubble was prominent and intentional. As was the tattoo of his family crest on his right shoulder. Dealing with clients who were rock ’n’ rollers meant he wanted to be viewed as one of them. Staying dressed to the nines while having an edge was absolutely on purpose. Brice had the ability to be one hundred percent salesman, yet ninety percent likable. As averages went, they didn’t get much better than that.

“Mr. McGuire.” He’d called her a few weeks ago and said he was planning a trip through Evergreen Cove. One of his new signs—an up-and-coming band she couldn’t remember the name of—was here playing a few local bars. “This is a surprise.”

“I called, but it went to voice mail, so I decided to crash in on you.”

Ah. That was the call she’d ignored.

“You promised to buy me dinner if I came to see you,” Brice said. “Where are you and your gorgeous legs going to take me?”

And then there was the endless flirting. Brice was interested in her. She knew because he made a move every time they talked. She’d never taken the bait. As tempting as it was to bed a very attractive, highly successful man, she had to draw the line at a man she worked well with. She’d blurred those lines between work and play with Asher and the result was not pretty. She did not want to climb back into that sinking boat.

“I have a few Lean Cuisines in the freezer back there.” She shot a thumb over her shoulder. “You, me, and the microwave make three.”

He plunged his hands into his pockets and shot her a grin that lit his eyes. And there it was. The reason Brice was tolerable. He wasn’t exactly a sweet guy, but he did let his guard down every once in a while. “No way am I letting you pay me back for my generosity with a microwave meal. You’ll have to do better than that.”

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