“What’s your pleasure, Princess?”
“The name isn’t Princess. It’s Kane. And I’m good, thanks.”
Kane Liberty took another sip of her Long Island Iced Tea and sighed. The last place she wanted to be was out in public. The last place she ought to be was home alone. So here she was at a bar, trying to beat her feelings back with a club—a bustling club with bangin’ beats. The lively dance music was the opposite of her gloomy mood.
She looked sideways at the stranger a couple of seats beside her at the bar, a mountain of a man not so easily dismissed. He loomed next to her, about six foot six, a mass of muscle and masculinity. His skin was the color of her Long Island Iced Tea, warm and pleasant. The stranger possessed a sort of human gravity that was hard to ignore.
“Let me get you something,” he tried again.
“I’ve already have enough,” Kane said.
Despite looking like the kind of man who didn’t give up easily, he didn’t bother Kane again.
That was good. Kane wasn’t at the bar to meet a man. She was there to forget one. His name was Dilly. Dillon Durfee. He was supposed to be The One. They had been together for three years. Kane had been waiting for him to give her a ring. Instead, he had packed one bag and given her his key to the apartment they’d shared—then he was gone. He had disappeared before Kane had even realized it wasn’t just some cruel practical joke.
That had been on Monday. This was Friday. Kane was still a wreck. Work had distracted her for the last few days, but the weekend had arrived and she faced two free days without a boyfriend for the first time in years. Kane had texted her girlfriends after work and Lani and Sora had promised they would meet her…at seven. It was only six-thirty and Kane had her first drink already half gone.
She looked around the bar, avoiding eye contact with the stranger who had offered to buy her a drink so as not to encourage further flirtation. Kane might be browsing, but she wasn’t ready to buy. She was a long way from even taking something off the shelf. It had been quite some time since she’d even bothered to look at the selection. Like going to the grocery store when you were already full, Kane had only given a perfunctory glance at the men available in places like this while she’d been dating Dillon. Now that she was free, she looked harder at the merchandise than she had in the last three years.
Men had changed while Kane had been off the market. They looked softer, more scared, less aggressive than the boys who had always hit on her before—before Dilly. Boys at the bar in designer jeans and too-tight T-shirts sported look-but-don’t-touch smirks. Middle-aged men moped like pets trained to beg for treats and know their place. The gaze of old geezers skittered across the floor and ceiling, as if they only had interest in shoes and scalps.
With the exception of the beefy bull beside her, no one had tried to even make eye contact since she’d walked in. The new rules in society likely made for a more cautious climate in the dating scene. Disrespectful interactions were no longer tolerated, and maybe this put guys on the defensive. The modern dating pool felt like swimming with hungry sharks that were all afraid to bite. She wasn’t ready to get nibbled yet, anyway.
“So what happened?” Kane asked the big man beside her.
Her Long Island Iced Tea was almost gone, and the alcohol made her bolder than she’d been in a long time.
“What happened to what?”
“There are plenty of men all around us.” The big guy had a sexy British accent. Kane wasn’t in the mood for sexy…or foreign. She missed humdrum and familiar.
“These aren’t men,” Kane complained.
The big Brit shrugged.
Butterflies flitted about in Kane’s stomach, a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Over the course of the last three years, Kane had become chill. Complacent. Content. She’d believed Dillon was her one and only. She hadn’t expected to ever have to start again. Kane had been relieved that she was done with first encounters—first dates, first kisses, first fucks. Kane thought she was closer to endless instances of ‘only’ with Dillon—her only wedding, her only family home, her only child. Now she couldn’t stop thinking about her lasts—the last kiss, the last time they’d made love, the last fight, the last words Dilly had said to her.
Kane took another drink until the glass was empty.
Even the bars had changed. They weren’t as loud, as if meaningful conversation had replaced bass-beat flirtation. The place was bright and clean instead of smelly and dirty. Screens were everywhere—twenty TVs playing sports on every wall, phones in hands like candles flickering all across the room, terminals advertising games for money at every table. LED lights ran along the underside of the bar, trimmed windows and doorways, glowed under the floor and illuminated the deejay stand. There wasn’t a shadow to hide in in any corner at all. Mirrors covered the rest of the surfaces, either reflecting everyone’s sin or a reflection of this modern generation’s endless vanity.
“You started without us,” Lani scolded as she approached the bar while Kane sipped her second drink.
“She needed a head start,” Sora said, waiting back as Lani ordered from the bartender. “This girl needs to get numb.”
“What’re you having?” Lani asked Kane.
“This is already my second tea. Maybe I shouldn’t have another.”
“Maybe you should grow a set of balls,” Lani said. “I’m getting you a fucking drink.”
“Whatever you’re having,” Kane conceded.
“In that case, you might be in for a threesome with that hot-ass deejay.”
Lani had been married since they were kids and was always too much talk about a whole lot of action.
The bartender brought two shots of something bright and pink, like liquid candy.
Lani took the empty stool beside Kane and put her arm over Kane’s shoulder, giving her a side hug. The three girls had known each other since elementary school and Kane laid her head on Lani’s bare shoulder. Lani had three kids and patted Kane on her temple like she was a toddler with sniffles instead of a grown-ass woman with a broken heart.
Lelani ‘Lani’ Travers was blonde and busty, with double-barreled weapons that could get her a free drink in any bar in America. Her curves should come with road signs to warn eager eyes of the dangers of each turn. She wore makeup as a mask and a costume as colorful as Supergirl, like some kind of superhero of sex with boots more appropriate for a prostitute than Powerwoman.
Sora Chan took the stool on the other side of Lani. Sora was half as wide, twice as terse and doubly dressed, every inch of her covered from chin to toe. She wore glasses to make her look smarter, which would put her in the company of Einstein or Faraday. Kane wasn’t sure if Sora had come right from work or if dressing in a pantsuit and putting her hair in a bun was her idea of ‘loosening up’.
Back in high school, Missouri Lewis had nicknamed the three of them ‘Neapolitan’ because Kane’s skin was medium mocha, Lani was white—or orange if she had recently spray-tanned—and Sora was all Asian. None of them were quite sure how Sora equaled pink instead of butterscotch. Lani had explained politely to Missouri that Neapolitan “is chocolate, vanilla and fucking strawberry. I’m not sure what kind of shitty ice cream you were eating.” Still, the name stuck. Sometimes they would still share a serving of Neapolitan as dessert and laugh about it. Kane preferred the strawberry.
“You can do better than Dillon Durfee,” Sora said.
Sora had said that for the last three years. Maybe she was right. Kane hated him right now, and yet she still loved him so much. He’d been Dillon, her Dilly, for so long now. He’d been her everything, and now there was nothing. He might not have been movie-star material, but Dilly had been her heart. Now he’d broken free, leaving it in shambles. And Kane didn’t want to hear that she could do better. It was like when people offered condolences when they discovered Kane was an orphan. Many would offer empty expressions about her deceased parents, like “They’re in a better place.” or “God must have wanted more angels.” None of those words had helped the fact that her parents weren’t there.
Kane grabbed the pink drink and took the shot in one big gulp.
“You look dressed to slay, sweetheart,” Lani said.
Kane had stopped by their apartment—her apartment—and put on her shortest red dress and highest spiked heels. She’d puffed her head of black curls out into a nimbus cloud that floated around her face, like a thunderhead preceding the storm. She wore the bracelet Dillon had given her for her birthday and the necklace she had gotten for a Christmas gift, but Kane had left behind the promise ring that didn’t mean anything anymore. Maybe she had inadvertently lured the British man who had tried to buy her a drink. Her bare hands hadn’t indicated an affiliation.
“Would you rather I had on a sweatshirt and yoga pants?” Kane asked.
“I so would not,” Lani said. “You and me, we could snag any guy in this place.”
“I’m sure your husband would love to hear that, La.”
“Do you think Chase would rather have a wife who couldn’t attract anyone?” Lani asked.
“Not couldn’t. Maybe wouldn’t.”
“Kane’s not ready to start all over with another relationship so soon, Lani,” Sora warned.
“Who said anything about a relationship? She just needs to find a hunk of man who can take her mind off that creep who dumped her, even if only for one night.” Lani gave Kane a big wink.
Kane looked back over her shoulder for the big guy who had offered her a drink, but he was gone. She didn’t want to start anything with anyone, anyway—not even something as meaningless as casual sex. She just wanted to drink a little and wallow in some dance club depression here among her girlfriends.
“How are the kids, La?” Kane asked, already tired of talking about Dillon and her damage.
“Nonexistent,” Lani said. “Don’t try to change the damn subject. We’re here for you, Kane. This night is all about forgetting the past. No crazy kids. No bad relationships. No miserable yesterdays. Just right now.”
Kane wasn’t sure if Lani had said that for Kane’s benefit or for her own. Lani wore a top cut dangerously low, as if the twins might spill out if she made any sudden movements. Her exposed midriff was flat and impressive for a mother of three. Daily yoga with her personal instructor paid off. Lani’s jeans looked as tight as a pair of spandex, showing off every bulge and crevice. Lani might be thirty, but she could pass for a coed.
Asian and elegant, Sora had short hair chopped right below her ears, straight and black. Her pants were a dark navy color, pressed and perfect. She had sensible shoes that would be comfortable even after an entire day on her feet. CEO of her own business, Sora always looked like the adult in the room.
“So, what happened?” Kane asked, looking around at the men who were just looking back. It felt like a junior high prom where everyone was afraid to ask each other to dance. “The last time we went out on the town without any boys in our group, we got hit on by every guy in the club.”
“That was when we were on the other side of thirty,” Sora said.
“Hey,” Lani snapped. “Who said anyone was over thirty?”
“Well, you graduated the same year I did,” Sora replied.
“Keep it down when you’re spreading your version of the truth, Sora,” Lani hissed, looking around. She preferred that everyone believe she was ten years younger. Lani dressed like she was on a collegiate soccer team instead of as a soccer mom. Lani’s outfit was tighter than the sports bra Kane wore for Tuesday night cardio.
“The last time we went out without any of the boys was the night I met Dillon,” Kane said.
“He’s such a dee-bag,” Lani said.
“Not now, La,” Kane sighed. “I’m not ready to be angry.”
“You aren’t pissed that he gets to be a heartless son of a bitch while your heart is just broken?”
Sora flashed a warning look at Lani and Kane picked up on it. There was something Kane didn’t know—something about Dilly, something that her girlfriends didn’t think Kane was ready to learn. There was more to the story. But wasn’t there always? And didn’t it bring more hurt with it, every time?
“Love is like my beer,” Lani said, holding up a bottle freshly delivered by the bartender. “All fizzy and fun and cool at the beginning. But by the end, it gets as flat and warm as a puddle of piss.”
“You should write for Hallmark,” Sora said dryly.
Kane didn’t ask what Lani had been talking about before Sora shut her down. She wasn’t drunk enough for more truth…more hurt. She wasn’t drunk enough to ask what Lani had hinted around.