Happy Hour

Love Lessons, Book 1

Mari Carr

Chapter 1

Another pitcher,” Jamie Fisher called out to the waitress.

“And some wings,” Grace added.

Jamie laughed as Grace raised her glass and quickly finished off her beer to make room for a fresh cold one.

“Take it easy, Ms. Wright,” he teased. “We have all night if you need it.”

She grinned and nodded, hoping Jamie couldn’t see the flush she felt heating her cheeks as his all night comment sent her mind straight to the gutter. After such a long sexual dry spell, she had the feeling she’d definitely need all night, especially if it was with him. “Oh, I need it all right. I’ve been living for this happy hour all week. It’ll be a miracle if I make it through exams without killing a senior.”

“Yep. Same thing every year. Seniors check out at the end of April and it’s hell trying to teach them anything until graduation,” Jamie agreed.

“At least you have some underclassmen classes to break up the insanity. I’ve spent eight hours a day for the last few weeks trying to teach literary theory to AP kids and I’m fairly certain I’d be doing as much good if I just stood in front of the classroom and beat my head against the whiteboard.” Grace taught six classes of advanced placement English to seniors, a futile task in May as their minds were already focused on the after-graduation party, senior beach week and college.

“Well, there’s your problem,” Trey Donovan chimed in. “I don’t even know what the hell literary theory is and you’re trying to teach it to a bunch of kids with senioritis.”

Grace rolled her eyes, mainly to keep from letting her gaze wander over Trey’s pecs. His firm muscles pushed their way through his tight gray T-shirt. Ever since they’d entered the bar, she’d been fighting back some serious arousal issues as she considered slipping her hands beneath the soft cotton and touching the firm muscles and chocolate-brown skin taunting her. She took a deep breath and cast the thought aside…again.

Trey and Jamie were both teachers in the physical education department at her school, and while she’d never considered them dumb jocks, they liked to play the part whenever she started talking about literature or writing, teasing her about her highbrow lessons and bragging about how they got to play games all day. Lately, her feelings of friendship toward them had been laced with more than a healthy bit of desire. She needed to stop reading spicy romance novels. They were clearly leaving her too horny—and planting some pretty wicked seeds in her psyche. She’d hit the library on Monday and check out a murder mystery—the bloodier, the better.

“Should I launch in to today’s lecture about existentialism?” Grace asked.

“Jesus,” Jamie said. “I can’t even spell that word. We’re in the tennis unit this week.” He raised his short sleeve polo and Grace tried to ignore the purely female part of her that wanted to melt as she was treated to a glimpse of his muscular arm. “Been getting paid while working on my tan.”

She laughed, fully aware of the fact Jamie was much brighter than he pretended to be around his male friends. They’d had more than a few discussions about books while alone and he had a very sharp mind. Of course, tonight wasn’t about intellect. It was about talking, laughing and unwinding over a few beers with friends. As she glanced around the table, she knew she was blessed.

Lucas, a fellow English teacher, and her best friend, Cheryl, the librarian, were also casting off the stress of work at happy hour. The group had been coming to Tully’s Bar for the occasional Friday afternoon decompression as long as Grace could remember. She had worked with most of the teachers around her for years, and they’d become much closer than mere colleagues to her. They’d seen her through one of the darkest periods of her life and she sometimes wondered how she’d gotten through the daily stress of teaching without them.

Cheryl leaned toward her with a mischievous grin. “Looks like the Cougar Club rides again.”

“Oh jeez,” Grace muttered.

Cheryl had given their little group the nickname last summer when they’d all gotten together to celebrate Grace’s fortieth birthday at Jamie’s house. When a discussion on age ensued, they’d learned Trey and Lucas were in their late twenties, a fact that delighted Cheryl so much she’d henceforth referred to them as The Cougar Club. The guys loved it. Grace, not so much.

Jamie laughed at Cheryl’s comment when Grace complained. “Do you have to call it that?” she asked. “You make me feel like a dirty old woman.”

Jamie winked at her and she tried to ignore the completely inappropriate Mrs. Robinson-like feelings his handsome face always provoked.

“I wouldn’t mind getting dirty with you.” He leaned closer as he spoke, running a finger along her arm seductively. Grace resisted the urge to glance down and make sure her suddenly tight nipples weren’t poking through her blouse. One touch and the man had her panting like a dog in heat.

They all laughed, but there were times when Grace wondered if there wasn’t some veiled invitation behind Jamie’s teasing comments. He joked about sex all the time with her. His playful words never offended her, but instead fanned the small flame he’d lit inside her. He made her feel young and attractive and desirable.

She dismissed the thought.

Wishful thinking.

Jamie wasn’t as young as the other guys in their group. She and Jamie had worked together for nearly eight years and they’d been close friends half that time. It seemed like lately she was seeing him more often. Not that that was surprising. She’d begun to instigate ways to run into him because she enjoyed his company more than she cared to admit. The past few months, she’d been suffering from this lingering sadness she knew was loneliness. It disappeared any time Jamie was with her, so she contrived ways to be around him. Still, at thirty-two, he was almost a decade younger than her forty. “Behave yourself, Mr. Fisher,” she teased, “or you’ll be singing alone tonight.”

“Jamie alone?” Cheryl asked. “Our resident Casanova?”

Jamie shook his head and threw up his hands. “I think you have me confused with Trey or Lucas here. Pretty sure they’re pictured in the dictionary under the term player, not me.”

“If the shoe fits,” Lucas joked.

Grace laughed. “Oh, it fits, hotshot. Hey, Trey. What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were going to a Jay-Z concert tonight.”

“Nope, the concert is tomorrow night,” Trey replied. He was sitting next to her and she could swear when they’d claimed their chairs earlier, his had been farther away. He was close enough now she could smell the faint scent of his cologne and his leg kept brushing against hers beneath the table.

She accidentally moved hers until her knee touched his thigh. She left it there. Trey looked at her and gave her a knowing grin. She returned it and suppressed a tiny giggle. She was flirting with him—pure and simple. She wasn’t sure why, but like everything with Trey, it was fun.

Jamie looked at Trey, then at her, his gaze curious. He moved closer to her, casually draping his arm along the back of her chair. In Grace’s sex-deprived mind, the gesture seemed charmingly possessive and hot.

She took a deep breath, resisting the urge to drag Jamie or Trey or both of them to the parking lot for some serious backseat fucking. Her hormones were out of control and she knew something was going to have to give…soon. Bottling up sexual desires for so long couldn’t be healthy.

Jamie picked up a strand of her hair and began looping it around his finger gently. “I dragged him out tonight because the bartender dumped him.”

“She didn’t dump me,” Trey replied. “It was a mutual decision. By the way, thanks for bringing it up, bro.”

Jamie laughed. “What are friends for?”

Grace could see Trey wasn’t really upset about the break-up and laughed at Trey’s “bringing it up” line. It was a Jamie and Trey standard. The two men constantly entertained the rest of them with stories of their adventures—in and out of the classroom. They were inseparable, and lately she’d lie in bed each night playing out some pretty hardcore fantasies about the two of them taking her on a little adventure between the sheets.

“I’m sorry, Trey. I was starting to think she might be the one,” Grace said.

Cheryl rolled her eyes. “These guys wouldn’t know the one if she walked up and bit them in the ass.”

Jamie grinned wickedly. “Believe me, if a woman bit my ass, I’d pay attention.”

Cheryl narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms.

“Now you’re in trouble,” Grace muttered, but Cheryl never paused, never missed a beat.

“Dammit, Jamie. At least Trey can sustain a respectable amount of time dating the same person. Every time I see you out, you’re with a different woman. You’re not getting any younger, you know. What’s the fun of getting married and having babies if you’re too old to pick them up?”

“Whoa.” Jamie threw his hands up. “Don’t even mention the ‘b’ word to me. I work in a high school because the kids there are old enough to wipe their own asses. I was not made for little kids.”

Cheryl conceded that point and latched on to the first. “Don’t you ever think about getting hitched?”

Trey piped up, obviously enjoying the fact Jamie was now on the hot seat. “Yeah, Jamie. Don’t you want to settle down?”

Jamie narrowed his eyes at his best friend and then shrugged. “I guess I do.” He looked around the table and then grinned at Grace. “If you want the truth, I’ve just been biding my time with those other women until Grace comes to her senses and realizes how much she wants my hot bod.”

Grace rolled her eyes. He was a master at dodging subjects he didn’t want to discuss. “Such conceit,” she said. And such truth. She allowed herself the small pleasure of letting her gaze travel over his sexy physique.

“Now,” Jamie said, leaning closer to her, “about our duet…”

Jamie was a hopeless flirt, but she had to admit he was good for her ego. There wasn’t a single inch on his body that was hard to look at. Not that she’d seen much of his body anywhere besides her unprofessional fantasies.

The last few times they’d gotten together for happy hour, he’d dropped a quarter in the jukebox and managed to shanghai her into singing the Diana Ross part in “Endless Love” while their friends cracked up at his overdone Lionel Ritchie. To make it even funnier, they used their thumbs as microphones.

“I only sing while under the extreme effects of alcohol.”

“Even better,” he replied, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “I’ll get you drunk and have my wicked way with you.”

“Good luck with that,” she teased.

He picked up the pitcher and topped up her mug. “Drink up.”

She swatted his hand away from her glass playfully while Cheryl laughed. “What’s Maddie up to tonight?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She went away for the weekend with Jessica’s family. They own a cabin on the lake. Sort of a last hurrah for the two of them before graduation.” Grace’s heart gave a painful lurch as it always did when she remembered her days with her daughter were numbered. Maddie would graduate from high school in one month. For weeks now, Grace had suffered from pre-empty nest syndrome. Her colleagues who’d already sent their children off to college had assured her it would only get worse before it got better. Some consolation. On top of that, there was a tiny part of her that was terrified about the prospect of being alone for the rest of her life.

“Good for her,” Cheryl said. “She’s worked hard this year. She deserves a little fun time.”

Grace nodded, acknowledging the truth behind her friend’s words. Maddie was a straight-A student, active in too many clubs to list as well as the pitcher for the Varsity Softball team.

“She’s a good kid,” Jamie added and Grace realized that over the past two years, her daughter had become less child and more friend. They’d always been close—fate and circumstance had pretty much assured that. Losing a husband and father had bound them together in ways no one should ever have to experience. Maddie had only been twelve when they’d lost their beloved Drew in a car accident. Since then, Grace had taken on the role of both mother and father, and now friend.

“She sure is. I’m lucky.”

Cheryl shook her head. “Nope, you’re a good mom. Luck had nothing to do with it.”

“Amen,” Jamie whispered low enough that Grace was certain she was the only one who’d heard. She gave him a grateful smile and thought for a moment he was blushing. “I’m going to go throw a few quarters in the jukebox.”

Grace nodded as he stood up. One of the best things about Tully’s was the old-fashioned jukebox. She wondered how much money their small group had thrown into the machine at these Friday afternoon get-togethers.

“You sure you don’t want a beer, Cheryl?” Trey offered.

“No way. I’m Grace’s DD tonight. She drove my drunken ass home last time and I still have the headache to prove it. Remember?”

“Hey, that was a special occasion,” Lucas said. “We won the state basketball championship. It was your God-given duty as a teacher at that school to get ripped.”

Cheryl shook her head. “Yeah, you suckered me in with your line of bull that night, hence the hangover. I’m too damn old to drink like that. I’m fine with my diet soda, thank you very much. Besides, Jeff is still teasing me about the way I acted that night. Gonna take years for the man to forget about it.”

“That sounds like your hubby,” Grace joked. “You really were funny that night. I had no idea you could dance like that.”

“Christ,” Cheryl muttered. “Don’t remind me.”

“Come on, Trey. We better make sure Jamie picks some decent dance music. Otherwise, we’ll be listening to fucking Jimmy Buffett all night,” Lucas said. He and Trey walked across the room to where Jamie was bent over the machine, making his selections.

“So I totally think you should try to hook up with Jamie.”

At Cheryl’s unexpected comment, Grace choked on the sip of beer she’d just taken. “W-what?” she asked.

Cheryl gave her a wicked grin. “Thought that would get your attention. I’ve been watching you two lately and I think he’s got the hots for you.”

“Yeah, right. And the Pope is Jewish.” Grace spoke the words lightly, trying to hide how much she wanted Cheryl’s observation to be true.

“I’m being serious.”

“He’s young, handsome and definitely not looking for an older widow with a teenage daughter. I’m toting too much baggage. Trust me.”

Cheryl shook her head. “I don’t think that’s true. I swear sometimes it’s like he seeks you out. There could be twenty teachers standing around in the cafeteria and he’ll make a beeline for you.”

“We’re friends. We have the same twisted sense of humor. Plus, have you ever considered the idea that I’m not a threat to him? You’ve seen how the new female teachers flitter around him like a swarm of flies around a sugar cube, hoping to get his attention. He’s probably just using me as a buffer to keep them away.”

“How many single guys do you know who try to keep hot young women away from them?” Cheryl scoffed. “He doesn’t want them because he wants you. You two are perfect for each other. Mark my words.”

“Well, I hope you’re wrong because I’m not interested.”

Cheryl burst into a fit of loud laughter. “Jesus. Sell that shit to someone who doesn’t know you, sweet pea. I’ve seen you flirting tonight. You’re as hot to get in his pants as he is to get into yours.”

Grace narrowed her eyes. “Why am I friends with you again?”

“Because you don’t want to grow up any more than I do, Peter Pan. Neither one of us is going down without a fight.”

Grace had to agree with Cheryl’s assessment. The older she got, the younger she felt. She wondered lately if there was something wrong with her. Wondered if by being widowed so young, something inside her had been broken and it stopped her from maturing the way she should. Of course, Cheryl was definitely going through the same phase, which proved that assumption false as her friend was happily married. If anything, Cheryl had it worse than her. At forty-five with two kids in college, it seemed sometimes as if Cheryl was reliving her youth all over again, attending rock concerts and even getting a tattoo.

Grace sighed. “Unfortunately I think the cruelty of nature is going to win this battle. I’ve got crow’s feet around my eyes and my breasts are definitely succumbing to gravity.”

“You’re gorgeous, Gracie. I’ve known you for nearly fifteen years and it’s safe to say you’ve never looked better. After Drew’s death, you made it pretty clear to everyone that raising Maddie was your number one goal. You made that girl the center of your universe because she needed you and you needed her. But she’s going to go away to college in a few months and that’s going to leave you on your own for the first time in your life. It’s time to open yourself up to some new experiences.”

“Cheryl—” Grace interjected, but her friend waved her off.

“Hear me out. All I’m asking you to do is consider what I’m saying. You’re a beautiful woman with a lot to offer any man lucky enough to snatch you up. You’re smart, funny and sexy. Hell, if I wasn’t happily married and getting sex three times a week from Jeff, I’d do you.”

Grace laughed.

“Forty is the new thirty,” Cheryl continued, “so stop hiding behind that number and get out there again. Besides, you weren’t made to live alone. All that nurturing and loving shit would come bursting out at the seams if you didn’t have someone to smother with it.”

Grace considered her friend’s words and knew they were the truth. She’d never lived alone, leaving her parent’s home for a college apartment with roommates. She’d married Drew shortly after graduating from the university and since his death, she’d had Maddie to come home to. Cheryl’s words struck a chord as she realized some of her sadness over Maddie’s leaving was the idea that she would be alone and she dreaded it.

“Okay. You’ve made your point and it’s a good one. I’ll think about what you’ve said.”

Cheryl shook her head and placed a friendly hand on hers, gripping it tightly for just a second. “I wasn’t telling you to think about it, Grace. I was telling you to do something about it. Those are two different things.”

The guys returned to the table, ending their conversation, and Grace considered her friend’s words.

Do something.

Cheryl was right. Since Drew’s death, she’d lived her life for her daughter. Tonight she was going to start living for herself again. She only hoped she could remember how.

Chapter 2

Jamie snuck a glance across the table at Grace. She seemed more relaxed tonight than usual and he wondered about the change in her demeanor. She was always easy to be around—low-key, laid-back—but tonight she was different. Hell, she was the life of the party—telling jokes and laughing loudly. He’d always known she had a terrific personality, but it was more vibrant tonight, more animated…and more attractive.

He tried to covertly adjust his tight jeans over the half-hard cock he’d been sporting ever since they’d walked into the bar. His friends teased him mercilessly for what they referred to as his crush on the cougar. He usually told them to go fuck themselves when they got on a roll. Jamie didn’t mind being the butt of their jokes occasionally, but he got annoyed when they acted as if Grace was too old for him. She was only eight years older, though he knew she viewed that gap to be as vast as the distance from New York to California.

“Last softball game on Monday,” she said to him. “What do you think your chances are?”

“So long as Maddie doesn’t injure her pitching arm at the lake this weekend, I think we’ve got a pretty good shot. Our record is a bit better than theirs and they don’t have much on the mound.” Maddie was his star player and he never ceased to be amazed by Grace’s support of her daughter’s talent. When it had become apparent Maddie’s interest in the sport wasn’t just a flash in the pan, Grace had asked Jamie to teach her the finer points of softball, so she could pass the lessons on to her daughter. He’d given Grace an old catcher’s mitt of his so Maddie could practice her pitches and Grace had never missed a game.

“Damn, I didn’t even think to warn her about the waterskiing. Maybe I should call her and tell her not to—”

He cut her off. “Grace. I was joking. Let her have her fun this weekend. We only have one more game and it’s not like we’re making the playoffs this year. Not with the rocky start we had.”

“You’ve got a great team, Jamie, and they’ve grown so much over this season. I know Maddie’s learned a lot about the sport from you.”

He smiled at her compliment. “I hope I’ve been telling her the right stuff, considering she’s signed on to play in college. Hate to have some big-shot university coach telling her I’ve taught her all wrong.”

“I don’t think there’s any danger of that.”

As he looked at her, Jamie recognized how much the mother and daughter favored each other. Maddie’s hair, like Grace’s, was long, wavy and blonde. However, while Maddie’s eyes were dark, Grace had bright blue eyes that sparkled when she laughed. She also had a smooth complexion that belied her age and the sexiest body he’d ever seen—curvy in all the right places.

“You look pretty tonight.” He wasn’t sure where the words had come from or why he’d chosen that moment to say them, but he knew they were true.

“How much have you had to drink?”

He tapped her nose with his finger and she laughed at the playful gesture. “You suck at taking compliments.”

She rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything else. He studied her face and tried to put his finger on what was different about her tonight.

Grace had been a good friend to him over the past few years. He’d only been teaching a couple of years when her husband passed away. Around the same time, his fiancée, Maura, had dumped him. They’d had the same planning period that year and a lot of that time had been spent talking about how much their lives had changed. Their friendship had solidified as they’d discussed what they were going to do with their uncertain futures and it had only grown since then.

Unfortunately, so had his feelings for her. He’d managed to shove them aside, ignore them as he dated other women. A few months ago, after another failed relationship, Trey had made an innocent comment that had haunted him ever since. After watching him drown his sorrows in a bottle of Jim Beam, his best friend told him it was going to be hard for Jamie to find a woman who was better suited for him than Grace. Trey suggested he pull his finger out of his ass and ask Grace out for a date.

The waitress delivered yet another pitcher and a heaping plate of wings just as the jukebox started playing “LoveGame”. Trey grabbed Grace’s hand and the two of them hit the dance floor. Jamie laughed as Trey spun her around while she sang along with the music. The image of his best friend and Grace trying to dance together was priceless. Trey’s taste in music ran in one direction—rap—and his dancing was confined to lots of hip-thrusting and bobbing in place. At the same time, Grace looked like an extra from the set of Footloose, bouncing around and swinging her arms.

Lucas stood up. “Hey, I think I just spotted Scott Barker over at the bar. I’m gonna go say hi.”

Jamie and Cheryl glanced over and nodded, and then Jamie’s gaze traveled back to Grace’s face. He sucked in a deep breath. He’d never seen her so carefree and he wished he’d snagged her for the dance before Trey.

Then he realized what was different. Grace was flirting. Seriously flirting. With him and, if he wasn’t mistaken, with Trey.

“You’ve got a little drool on your chin. You may want to wipe that off before they come back to the table.” Cheryl was giving him her usual shit-eating grin and he grimaced. Grace’s best friend had been riding his ass for the past month about making a move on Grace, but something had always come up.

“Very funny, Cheryl. I’m glad I can provide you with so much entertainment.”

Cheryl took a sip of her soda. “It’s not me I want you to entertain. It’s Gracie. You’ve given me seven hundred and twenty-nine excuses the past few weeks about why you can’t ask her out. Don’t you think it’s time you grew a pair and took the plunge?”

Jamie shook his head. He was used to Cheryl’s straightforward comments. “Tell me again why I hang out with you?”

Cheryl burst into laughter. “If you only knew how much you and Grace had in common. I think she asked me the same damn question about an hour ago.”

“I’m not surprised,” Jamie muttered.

“I’ll tell you why you hang out with me. Because I tell you the truth and I don’t let you get away with shit just because you’ve got those baby blue eyes and dimples that make most women bend over backward to do your bidding.”

Jamie fell silent rather than admit the truth of Cheryl’s statement. She and Grace were straight shooters and he preferred their company to that of women his own age, who tended to agree with everything he said and giggled incessantly.

Jamie ran his hand through his hair. “You and Trey are starting to sound like the same broken record lately. I’m not sure why the two of you think anything has changed from the status quo. You know as well as I do, Grace wasn’t ready for another relationship after Drew died. She said flat-out she wasn’t going to date, wasn’t going to bring some strange man into Maddie’s life after she’d just lost her father.”

“I also know,” Cheryl interrupted, “that excuse stopped being valid quite a while ago. Maddie’s more than mature enough to handle her mother dating and has even mentioned it to Grace. Hell, the girl tried to set Grace up with the divorced father of a friend a few months ago.”

“And Grace turned down the offer.” Jamie remembered Maddie’s matchmaking scheme well. He’d lost more than a few nights’ sleep fearing the hook-up would take and he’d lose his shot at asking Grace out himself.

“She wouldn’t turn you down.” Cheryl’s response was confident and Jamie felt the tiniest spark of hope emerge.

“What makes you so sure?”

“She’s my best friend. I know her. Trust me on this.”

“Is she ready for more than casual dating?” Grace was a very good friend. He wasn’t about to risk that relationship for just sex. When he approached Grace, he was going in for the long haul. He was thirty-two and fucking sick and tired of the dating scene. Grace was everything he wanted in a woman and a helluva lot more.

Cheryl smiled. “You’ve been thinking about more than just asking her out, haven’t you?”

He shrugged and Cheryl pointed to Trey and Grace on the dance floor. “You better hurry your ass up before someone swoops in and gets to her before you.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Cheryl. I’m not about to throw away a friendship for a fling.”

“She’s worried about Maddie leaving, scared about the prospect of being alone.”

Cheryl’s comments washed over him like a bucket of ice-cold water. “Sounds like a lousy reason to date someone. Fear of being alone.”

Cheryl shook her head. “That didn’t come out right. Grace is a warm, vibrant, caring woman who’s just spent the last six years of her life giving up a lot of her own needs because she felt like she owed it to Drew to raise their daughter in a safe, normal environment. She didn’t accept dates because she didn’t want to run the risk of feeling something for someone and upset the routine of Maddie’s home life. But, Jamie, in doing that, she let some prime years pass her by. Now she’s forty and facing a lifetime alone. You know as well as I do she’s not meant to live life as a single. She loved being married and she loved making a home with Drew and Maddie. That home’s going to be empty soon and I want to make sure she doesn’t accept that as her lot in life rather than try for something more, something special.”

Jamie looked at Grace dancing with Trey. He was trying to teach her how to bump and grind and she was laughing. He fought back the twinge of jealousy pushing its way to the surface when Trey drove his hips into her ass.

“They look cute together,” Cheryl said.

Jamie turned to her angrily, ready to set her straight on the subject, but Cheryl’s laugh cut off his reply.

She held up her hands in mock surrender. “Easy greasy. Those blue eyes of yours are suddenly the most unusual shade of green.”

“They’re just dancing.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. You’ve had months to make a move, Jamie. Do you really think other men are going to remain blind to Grace’s beauty forever? She’s put out some serious hands-off vibes in the past, but I think you can see that shield’s been put away tonight. Even Trey has noticed.”

He looked at his friend and knew Cheryl’s words were true. Grace was different tonight. She was open and…well, ready. Ready to move on, ready for the next adventure.

“You’ve made your point, Cheryl.” She had. Jamie was finished playing this game by Grace’s rules. Tonight the game plan changed.

“Damn,” she joked. “And here I was just getting on a nagging roll. You give in far too easily. Not even a challenge, really.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

Lady GaGa’s voice faded away and a new song started playing. “Woot.” Cheryl stood up quickly. “Hot damn. ‘Dancing Queen’. I paid a quarter for this.” She boogied her way to the dance floor, dragging Grace back out to the center as she and Trey were walking off.

Trey came back to the table alone, shaking his head. “Fucking ABBA. Where’s Lucas?”

Jamie gestured to the bar. “Saw an old friend of his. Went over to say hi.”

“Oh.” Trey turned to watch Cheryl and Grace dancing and Jamie felt an uneasy chill at the look on his friend’s face.

“You and Grace looked like you were having fun on the dance floor.”

Trey grinned. “Grace is a good dancer—for a white chick.”

Jamie fought back a scowl. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to pick her up.”

Trey shrugged. “Grace is cool. She’s a lot of fun. Maybe she wouldn’t mind taking a ride on the midnight express with me.”

Jamie’s temper reached the boiling point. “You better be fucking kidding. Besides, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’ve told you a few thousand times how I feel about Grace. So what’s the real deal?”

Trey shrugged. “I don’t see a sign around her neck that says off-limits, property of Jamie Fisher.”

Lucas came back to the table and both of them fell silent. Jamie was seething, furious at his friend’s comment. Then he realized Trey was right. He’d done nothing but talk about Grace—and not even to her. He’d never asked her out, never let her know he was interested beyond a few racy innuendoes. When he thought about it, Trey had given Grace more hints about being interested tonight than Jamie had in their entire friendship.

Jamie looked back at Grace and Cheryl dancing and laughing. Before tonight, he’d had some sixth sense about Grace that told him she wasn’t ready. Suddenly that feeling was gone and he’d be damned if Trey swooped in now that the time might be right for him to make a move.

The music changed to David Allan Coe and Jamie saw a grin cross Lucas’ face. “There’s my song. Who’s in?” Jamie shook his head and neither of them even looked at Trey, knowing his distaste for country music. “Fine,” Lucas said. “I’ll grab Gracie and Cheryl.”

Jamie sighed. This was becoming a fucking epidemic. If it went on much longer, he’d feel compelled to beat the shit out of both his friends.

“I thought you needed a kick in the ass,” Trey said. Jamie looked at him and realized his friend was picking up their argument right where they’d left it.

“So you’re trying to make me jealous?” he asked, relieved. They were best friends, had been for years. Obviously Trey had spent one too many nights listening to him talk about the sexy English teacher.

Trey nodded. “I was…but somewhere along the line that plan backfired. Grace really is hot.”

Jamie took a drink of beer, trying to cool his throat and his anger. Trey was interested in Grace and he couldn’t help feeling that perhaps she was interested in his friend too. She’d touched Trey on the dance floor a few times in ways that made him think the feeling might be mutual.

Dammit. She’d always had this underlying sex appeal that attracted him, but tonight it seemed magnified a hundredfold. His cock had been rock hard for hours. It’s a shame all the blood in his body was hanging out down south. He could use a pint or two of it in his brain so he could figure out what the hell was going on.

“Backfired?” he repeated. “So you aren’t trying to make me jealous anymore?”

Trey had never poached on his girlfriends in the past. But Grace didn’t belong to Jamie. Not yet.

They sat in silence for several awkward moments as the truth came crashing down on top of him. “You can’t have Grace.” Jamie stated flatly and he watched Trey struggle for a response.

His friend’s back appeared to come up a bit. “You’ve had months to make your move. Shit, you’ve had years. If you’re not going to, I don’t see why I should have to bow out.”

“You’re right. I’ve had months, but I also think I was right to wait. Grace wasn’t ready before.”

He could tell the only word Trey heard in his sentence was before. “But she is now?”

Fuck. He found himself wondering once more if Grace’s interest in Trey was real. Had her touches been sincere? What if he’d waited too long?

Jamie shrugged, unwilling and unable to answer the question.

Trey looked at him, his face far too serious for what was supposed to be a fun evening out. “I’ll tell you what I think. I think she’s a powder keg about to explode.”

“You do realize she’s twelve years older than you.” It was a low blow, but Jamie was scrambling for ground.

“I’m not looking for forever, Jamie. Just one night. I happen to think there are a lot of things I can give Grace. Things I don’t think she knows she wants yet. The way she’s been looking at me tonight, the little touches, the sexy smiles. She’s reaching out for something. I know you. You’ll snatch her off the dating market the second she places her big toe on the board. But is that fair to her, man? She’s gone from married to single parent, never experiencing anything else in between.”

Jamie suspected there were some hidden desires inside Grace and suddenly he understood what Trey was suggesting.

“I’ll never let you touch her,” Jamie said. His words were true.

“You’ll never let me touch her alone.”

Jamie’s eyes widened. His mouth opened, then closed, then opened again, but no sound emerged. He could see Trey taking a perverse bit of pride in leaving him speechless.

“A threesome?” Jamie whispered.

“Do you think Grace would go for it?”

Jesus. Jamie wasn’t sure he’d go for it, but now that the idea was out there, he had to admit it was a secret fantasy of his.

“I don’t know. Are you serious about this, Trey? Would you really go through with it?” He knew Trey, knew this was uncharted waters for both of them.

Trey considered the question. “Yeah, if she wanted to and you were okay with it, I think I would.”

“I’m in love with Grace.” The words flew from his lips, but he wanted them said, wanted Trey to understand.

“I know that, man. I’ve known that forever.”

Jamie nodded, but Trey’s answer wasn’t enough. He would never risk Grace’s emotions, her feelings on something that Trey might consider just a lark. “I need to know how you feel about her.”

Trey grinned. “I’m fucking crazy about her, but I’m not in love with her. She’s an awesome friend and I think she’s one helluva woman. Let’s just say my feelings reside in the ‘friendship with healthy bit of lust’ realm.”

“That’s not good enough.”

Trey ran his finger around the rim of his glass. He was silent for a few moments and Jamie sensed his friend was struggling to explain his feelings. Finally, he looked up. “She’s a good friend, Jamie. Probably one of the best I’ve ever had. I’d never do anything I thought would jeopardize that relationship. I may not be in love with her, but I care about her. A lot. There’s an attraction between us. I don’t wanna fuck up anything between you two, but I’m pretty sure I’d spend the rest of my life wondering what it would be like to be with her. Just once. And, at the risk of sounding cocky as shit, I sort of think she’d wonder too.”

Jamie sat back and considered Trey’s comments. While Lucas was definitely a player, Trey was a nice guy. He’d never hurt anyone he cared about and Jamie knew it.

Trey leaned forward, placed his elbows on the table. “You know. You’ve made a lot of excuses for why you’ve never asked Grace out, but I think there’s one excuse you’ve never admitted, not even to yourself.”

“What’s that?” Jamie asked, not certain he wanted to hear the answer.

“Maura seriously fucked up your head when she gave back the ring. You were crazy about that bitch and when she dumped you, it messed you up. I think you’re as afraid of getting into another serious relationship as Grace is.”

Jamie considered his words, wanting to deny them, brush them off with a joke. Problem was, there was a vein of truth in them that he wasn’t sure he could hide anymore. “I think maybe you’re right, but I'm not letting that stop me anymore.”

“Good, but you need to remember that if Grace is scared, it’s not just because of her fear of hurting Maddie.”

Jamie snorted. “And you think a threesome would make it easier for her?”

“With casual sex added to the mix, maybe it would be easier for her to move toward a relationship.”

Jamie was intrigued and terrified by his friend’s idea.

“Do you think it would work?” Trey asked.

Jamie narrowed his eyes. “We’re walking a very thin line. And I’m still not so sure why you want to tread it. I mean, I know why I’m here. What’s in it for you?”

Trey laughed. “Are you fucking kidding? Number one, I’d get to have sex with Grace. Number two, I’d get to have a threesome. I mean in my wet dreams of that scenario it’s always me and two hot chicks, but I can deal with that. And number three, I won’t have to listen to you crying over Grace anymore. Besides, she’s cool with me and Lucas, unlike Maura, the bitch from hell, so I won’t have to worry about her being a jealous girlfriend who won’t let you hang with us every now and again. Hell, best part about Grace is she hangs with us.”

Jamie fought back a grin. “So basically this is all about you.”

Trey laughed. “What can I say? That’s just how I roll.”

“No, it’s not. I’m not sure about this, Trey.”

His friend sobered up. “It’s your call, man. I don’t go anywhere you don’t want to go. Try to have a little faith. I have a feeling everything’s gonna turn out just fine.”

Jamie nodded. Saying things would turn out all right in the end was simple, but given how much could potentially go wrong, there was a good chance tonight would be anything but easy.

Cheryl came back to the table, wiping sweat off her forehead. “Dancing is damn hard work. Hey, how many calories do you think I just burned out there?”

Jamie chuckled. Cheryl was forever dieting. Or at least talking about dieting.

“Why aren’t you guys out there?” she asked. “Poor Grace is trying to keep up with Lucas on that Cotton-Eyed Joe song. It’s funny as hell watching him dance. Reminds me of that Riverdance shit.”

They all laughed at Cheryl’s comment. The beauty of their school’s librarian was what came up in her mind came out of her mouth, and it was pretty much always funny.

“Shouldn’t you be home with the ball and chain by now?” Trey asked.

Cheryl laughed at his joke, then gasped. “Shit. What time is it?”

Jamie shrugged and reached for his cell phone. “Eight-thirty.” They’d been having so much fun hanging out, drinking and bitching about work, they’d lost track of time.

“Fuck,” Cheryl muttered. “I told Jeff I’d be home at seven with a bucket of chicken.” She pulled out her own cell and dialed. Jamie laughed as he listened to her talking to her husband. He hoped someday he’d have a relationship as solid as hers. Her husband was a great guy and it was obvious to anyone who spent five minutes with Cheryl that she adored him. They were independent people in a rock-solid relationship built on trust and true love. In Jamie’s mind, they had it all.

“I’ll head out now,” he heard Cheryl say and for a moment, he was sorry to see the evening end. Cheryl was Grace’s ride. He looked back at the dance floor and watched Lucas spin Grace. The two of them were drawing an amused audience with their silly dancing. It seemed a shame to cut the night off so early.

Cheryl closed her phone and spotted the same thing he did. “Hate to drag Grace away. She’s having so much fun.”

“We could give her a ride. I go right by her house on the way to my place.”

Cheryl nodded quickly and stood. “Great idea.” He should have known she wouldn’t put up a fuss. She was the consummate matchmaker. She waved to Grace on the dance floor, who returned to the table with Lucas.

“I’m heading home, Gracie. Forgot to take Jeff his dinner.” Grace looked disappointed until Cheryl added, “Trey and Jamie have offered to give you a ride home if you want to stay.”

“Awesome,” Grace said. “Are you guys sure it’s not a problem?”

Jamie shook his head. “You’re right on my way.” He tried not to show how pleased he was that Grace was staying and that he and Trey would be driving her home.

“Hey, Cheryl, I’ll walk you out,” Lucas said. “I’m hitting it too. Helping my dad mow his yard tomorrow. Five freaking acres and he mows it all.”

They said their goodbyes to Lucas and Cheryl as their friends left the bar.

Grace picked up her beer and took another drink. All Jamie could think was he’d prefer to bypass Grace’s house, taking her to his home, but he still wasn’t sure she would accept that invitation.

Fuck it. She would accept it. He’d do whatever it took, because tonight Grace Wright was sleeping in his bed. The real question was whether or not Trey would be there too.

~

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