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Deceptive Innocence

By:Kyra Davis

chapter one

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Four years later

My heart’s beating a little too fast and my eyes keep darting toward the door. He’ll walk through there any moment now. There are only a handful of barflies to distract me, and the kinds of drinks they order don’t take a lot of thought to make. This is not a Mojito Sparkler type of crowd.

Most of the people who come to drink at Ivan’s are men. They come to lose themselves in alcohol and sports. The few women who show up are looking for a special kind of trouble. This isn’t the place you come to in hopes of picking up a nice guy.

I know these women. Maybe not personally, but essentially I know who they are and what they’re about: disheartened or damaged, looking for men who can inflict enough pain to help them forget the pain that’s coming from within. Screwing assholes, making themselves vulnerable to emotional predators—it’s just another form of cutting, really. Every time they smile at a Hells Angels type I can see the unspoken words hovering over their heads.

Here’s the knife. Hurt me so I don’t have to hurt myself. Take away the responsibility and just give me the pain.

I get it, I really do. But it’s not my game, not anymore.

So I just pour the beer, keep the whiskey flowing, keep my smile evasive, cold enough to scare away the more aggressive ones, warm enough to coax the tips out of the passive . . . and keep my eyes on the door.

And then it happens. At exactly seven fifteen, he shows up.

I feel an acute pang in my chest, right where my heart is.

Lander Gable. How many times have I seen this man walk into this bar while I was sitting across the street in a cab or rental car? But now, today, I’m in the bar, and he’s walking toward me, not away. I’ve never been so close to him before. I can almost touch him!

And soon I will.

The ringing of the phone momentarily distracts me.

I pick up and ask¸ “Ivan’s, can I help you?” The person on the other end mumbles an embarrassed apology for calling the wrong number and hangs up, but I keep the phone pressed to my ear long after hearing the click, pretending to listen while I study the perfect specimen in front of me: a clean-shaven face, bronze skin, a watch that’s worth more than everything I own . . . Only he’s replaced the suit he wore to the office today with a pair of Diesel jeans and a sweater. Less conspicuous, but still a little too clean for this place. His physique hints at time spent at a gym, not a dockyard.

You’d think some of the other guys would kick his ass just for entering their bar.

And yet absolutely no one gets in his way.

It’s not until he’s almost at the bar stool that we make eye contact. He doesn’t smile, but there’s something there—curiosity maybe, perhaps surprise at finding a woman bartending, definitely appraisal.

I’ve gotta give myself a major pat on the back for that one. I must have spent two hours putting myself together today for him. He’s why I’m wearing my wild black hair down, letting it cover my bare shoulders. He’s why I matched the loose, low-slung jeans with a fitted tank that subtly reveals the benefits of my new push-up bra. He’s why I’m wearing thick mascara and sheer lip gloss. I know this guy’s tastes.

He takes his seat, pulls out a ten, and gestures to the bottle of whiskey still in my hand from the last drink I poured. “On the rocks, please.”

“You sure?” I ask even as I fill a glass with ice. “I could make a whiskey sour if you like. Maybe throw in a cherry?”

He raises his eyebrow slightly. “Mocking a patron when you’re new to the job? Risky, isn’t it?”

“How do you know I just started?”

“I’m here a lot.”

“Every day?”

“A few times a week.” He reaches for his drink, brings it to his lips. Over the glass he offers a bemused smile. “I like your prices.”

“Really?” I ask. “Drinks more expensive where you’re from?”

“You make it sound like I’m visiting from some far-off land.”

“Are you?”

His light-brown hair looks darker in this room, his eyes brighter. “Upper East Side,” he says.

“Ahhh.” I take a step back and cross my arms over my chest. “That’s about a million dollars from here.”

He winces. “Not necessarily.” On the other side of the bar a few men burst into cheers as a UFC fighter’s arm is broken on live TV.

“You living at the 92nd Street Y, then?” I quip.

“No,” he answers, his smile returning. “I’ve managed to avoid that fate.” He studies me for a moment, trying to gauge what he’s dealing with. “How ’bout you? You live here in Harlem?”

“Occasionally. I’m a bit of a drifter.” I fiddle with a glass, playing at cleaning it. “So why do you really come here . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

He gives me a quizzical look. “Considering how coy you’re being about what part of town you live in, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t volunteer my name just yet. That way we both have an air of mystery.”

“Oh, I’m only coy about inconsequential things.” I lean forward, put my elbows on the bar, and cradle my chin in my hands. Ever so slightly I arch my back. “I’m very straightforward about the things I want.”

“Really?” He takes another sip. “And what exactly is it that you want?”

“Tonight?” I pause for a moment, pretending to think. “Tonight I want . . . your name.”

His smile spreads to a grin. “You think you can coax it out of me?”

“Maybe.” Out of the corner of my eye I spot one of the regulars on the other side of the bar waving his empty glass in the air. “When I have the time.”

And I walk away to pour the next drink.

The foreman needing the refill is too drunk to notice that I’m trembling while taking his money.

God, is this working? Am I being too forward? Too much of a tease? My mother would have chewed me out for behaving like this.

But when I look back, Lander’s still smiling. I exhale in relief. I have to have confidence. I’ve studied this man; some would even call it stalking, although I’m not sure I see the distinction. Bu

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