I am completely screwed.
Well, not completely, because I can’t get screwed screwed to save my life.
Okay, fine. Not to save my life, just to save my vagina from developing cobwebs.
I’m getting way off track here…
I nibble on my thumbnail, a disgusting habit I really should give up, and stare at the email pulled up on my laptop screen.
SUBJECT: APPLICATION STATUS
Dear Ms. West,
We regret to inform you your application for the two-bedroom apartment at WHITE OAK APARTMENTS has been denied for:
NO AVAILABLE UNITS
We thank you for your interest in being part of the WHITE OAK APARTMENTS community. We wish you the best in your apartment search.
It’s not the first email like this I’ve received, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
In the last six weeks since I received notice from my landlord that the building is being sold and demolished, I’ve put applications in on anything I can find.
Unfortunately, since everyone else in my building is doing the same, and due to the fact that we live in a small Colorado town where the supply of affordable living is already scant, well…the pickings are slim.
It’s been one big game of hurry up and wait, and I’m almost out of time to wait.
My lease will officially be terminated at the end of the month. If I can’t find something soon, I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with myself and my almost-thirteen-year-old son when we’re scraping by as it is.
I navigate back to my inbox and click on the email from my landlord.
I wish I had a better reply for you, but my hands are tied. The deal has been finalized and there’s no possible way to extend it. The buyer was clear: all occupants must vacate the premises by the end of the month.
Please know this decision was not made lightly. Trust me, if I could have told him to screw off, I would have. The last thing this town needs is another outdoor sports equipment shop.
I’ve not made this public knowledge, but being a single mom yourself, I’m sure you’ll understand…Katlyn is sick, and unfortunately, the medical and medication bills are stacking up. Selling wasn’t what I wanted, but it’s the best solution I can come up with for my daughter.
You’ve been a great tenant over the years, and I’d be happy to write you a letter of recommendation should you need one.
I’m sorry about this. Please let me know if I can do anything.
Danford Apartments Owner
Like it did the first, second, and third time I read his email, my heart sinks.
Hell, it breaks for him.
Katlyn and my son, Sam, are the same age. I can’t imagine watching Sam going through anything that would cause him pain.
I’d sell the damn building too.
It’s hard to be angry at him, which sucks because I could use someone or something to be angry at right now.
“Crap, crap, crap,” I chant, bouncing my head off the back of the couch a few times.
I lay my head against the cushion, stretch my neck toward the sky, and blow out a long breath.
What am I going to do? I have nowhere to go. Either nobody has apartments available or, if they do, they are out of my price range or out of the school district. I’ve checked out a few houses, but most are on the outskirts of town and not in the best shape or are owned by people I do not want to be renting from. If all I had to worry about was myself, fine. I could manage it. But with Sam in tow, I can’t take on a potential problem like that.
I wish I could afford to buy us a house, but I don’t have money for a down payment.
My best friend, River, offered to let Sam and me move in with her and her boyfriend, Dean, until I could find a place, but three adults, a teenager, and two pets—one being a cat who is a major asshole—sharing a small, two-bedroom apartment? So not a good idea. We’d all kill each other within a day or two.
Since my parents are out of the question entirely, my only other choice is my ex-husband, Patrick.
If I needed to—like I had zero other options—I could go to him. He wasn’t the best husband, but he’d never reject me if I needed help. Except the last thing I want to do is go running back to him and show him I’ve failed on my own. Just picturing the satisfied grin on his face has my stomach aching.
Tears sting my eyes, and I do everything I can to fight them off. The last thing I need is for Sam to walk in here and see me crying. I’ve worked hard to be strong for him throughout the years, and I’m not going to change that now.
Hell, I managed a teenage pregnancy all on my own when my parents wanted nothing to do with me. Finding a place to live with the deadline inching closer and closer? Piece of cake compared to that.
I lift my head, determination coursing through my body.
I can fix this. I’m not sure how, but I can.
“Yo, Mom, what time are you leaving?”
Speaking of my teenage pregnancy…
I snap the laptop closed before he can see what’s on the screen. I don’t need to bother Sam with this stuff. It’s my problem, not his.
I push up off the couch and move toward the kitchen, shoving the computer back into my bag where it hangs off the chair at the bar. Sam knows getting into my work bag is prohibited, so I know it’s at least safe from his prying eyes in there.
“Why? Curious how much longer you have on your GameStation?”
“Mom.” He huffs, rolling his eyes. “It’s a PlayStation, not a GameStation.”
“Roll your eyes at me again and I’ll take your GameStation right back to the store.”
He starts to lift his eyes skyward again, then thinks better of it when I raise my brow at him.
“Sorry,” he mutters. “What time is Dad getting here?”
I glance at the clock on the stove. “He said he’d be here about six thirty.”
“Cool. Can I get ice cream after dinner?”
“You’ll have to ask your father.”
“He’ll say yes. He always does.”
Of course Patrick always says yes to ice cream. He’s the cool parent.
We share custody of Sam. Oftentimes he’ll spend a week at my place and then a week at his father’s.
And oftentimes he’ll come home with shiny new gadgets or telling me about all the cool stuff he did with his dad.
I try not to be jealous of all the things Patrick can provide, but it’s hard sometimes.
“Just make sure if you’re going to play your game, you’re doing it out here. I know how wrapped up in it you can get, and I don’t need your father knocking on the door for several minutes disturbing the neighbors.”
I’ve received that complaint before from the always-angry lady next door, and I don’t care to get it again. I have other things to be worried about.
“Good.” I press my hands against my stomach. “Okay, how do I look?”
I opted for a simple yet trendy outfit for the night out: an off-the-shoulder, long-sleeved silky dark pink blouse plucked straight from a mannequin at the small boutique I work at, a pair of dark-wash skinny jeans, and black booties. It’s nothing that will turn heads, but it’s cute enough to get me through a couple of hours with my friends as we nurse a drink or two and complain about life.
I grin at him because he’s not saying it to be a kiss-ass. He’s just that sweet. “That’s why you’re my favorite kid.”
“I’m your only kid.” He sighs like he’s exhausted by me.
“Thank god, too. I couldn’t handle another one of you.” I cross the room and wrap my arms around him, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. He grumbles, trying to wiggle out of my embrace. “Love you. Be good for your dad. Text me when he picks you up, please.”
Patrick’s supposed to do that too, but he always forgets.
Sam never does.
“Love you too,” he mutters, and I tousle his hair as he tries to shove my hand away, but I don’t miss the grin forming at the corners of his mouth.
He might almost be thirteen and is convinced he’s a grown-up, but he’s a momma’s boy at heart. He always has been. We bonded during all the years I stayed at home with him.
I grab my purse off the hook by the door and slip it over my body, then give myself one more glance in the mirror.
I tousle my own hair and smooth down my shirt again.
Eh, good enough.
I’m not trying to impress anyone tonight. I just want to drink and have fun with River.
I need a break. Need to let loose.
I will not think about how I only have weeks to find a place to live.
Drinks. I need drinks.
I’ve known River White since we were eight years old. We’ve been best friends since the day she moved into the house next door and have been through every major life event together. We run a business together. See each other almost every day.
There is no doubt she knows me better than anyone else in this entire world.
So why she believes I want to go for drinks at a hole-in-the-wall, dingy sports bar is beyond me.
But here I am, pulling open the door to Hole in One and stepping into the crowded room. Almost all the tables are occupied, and I only spy a few empty spots at the bar.
I do a quick sweep, not seeing River anywhere, then head toward the bar, squeezing onto one of the few empty stools and flagging down the bartender. He nods, letting me know he’ll be with me in a moment, and returns his attention to the couple in front of him.
I pull my phone out of my purse and shoot off a message to River.
Me: Are you sure you told me the right place? There’s A LOT of sports crap on these walls…
River: Unfortunately, yes. Dean loves it for some godforsaken reason.
River: GIF of Judge Judy rolling her eyes
River: We’re running a little late, just so you know…
Me: You’re totally having sex, aren’t you?
River: Well, not right now, no.
River: But we might have…
Me: GIF of Rachel from Friends saying I’m so happy and not at all jealous
River: You know you love me.
Me: Right now? You’re like my fourth favorite person.
River: Top 5, baby!
River: Be there soon. *kissy-face emoji*
I set my phone to vibrate and slide it back into my purse to resist any temptation to spend the whole evening on it being disappointed when I come up empty-handed.
The cab ride here was spent scrolling through apartments, and I only came up with one new listing in a place on the line of the school district. I bet if I made enough of a stink, I could keep Sam in his current school. I filled out the application and sent up a prayer.
It’s about all I can do right now—keep hoping something lands in my lap. Positive energy and all that mumbo jumbo.
The only thing I’m positive about right now is needing a drink.
Where the hell is the bartender?
I spot him at the other end of the bar, talking with a different customer now. He looks like he’s going to be a while. I let my eyes drift over the sports-focused establishment.
The walls are littered with memorabilia that means nothing to me. Sam loves sports and even played football this school year. They may interest my kid, but I still can’t seem to get into them—not that it stops me from going to every single game and being the loudest mom on the sidelines.
I shift my gaze, doing another sweep in case River has arrived.
But what I do notice has my shoulders shrinking, and that familiar feeling of sadness hits me in the gut.
There are couples snuggled up in every corner.
One guy leans into a beautiful blonde, brushing his lips across her cheek and to her ear. She giggles, leaning into him and clutching his thigh.
Two guys sit with their heads together at a booth in the back, their smiles full of promises of what’s to come.
I’m so damn destitute for romance of any kind, and jealousy and longing run through me.
I spent my formative years with the same man who got me pregnant at sixteen, Patrick, and we were together for eleven years. Though we’ve now been divorced for two, I haven’t dated anyone since him. Haven’t slept with anyone either. Hell, I haven’t kissed anyone since him.
Lonely is my middle name at this point.
It could be hormones and all the stress of this apartment fiasco, but I’ve been extra miserable about the state of my love life—or lack thereof—since my two best friends have found that once-in-a-lifetime kind of love in the last six months.
I watch River and Dean bicker and argue—then make up within two minutes. Watch Caroline and Cooper, who have been best friends for a decade, stare at each other with nothing but hearts in their eyes.
I want that.
I want to know what it’s like to be loved again. Want to feel what they’re feeling, that rush when someone looks at you like you’re their whole world. I miss being part of a couple. Miss all the cutesy shit and all the romantic gestures.
I want it again.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?”
A deep voice startles me, and I glance at the now occupied stool next to me.
A guy is sitting there, staring out at the crowd, scanning it.
The first thing I notice is how tall he is. I’m not lacking in the height department, but even sitting down I can tell this guy is at least six inches taller than I am.
I tip my head back, peering up at his profile.
His jaw is strong and sharp, dusted with hair like he forgot to shave. There’s a bump along his nose, like he’s broken it before, and I have the strangest urge to ask him what happened. Ridiculous since I don’t know him.
His inky black hair is tapered at the sides, longer on top and disheveled like he’s run his hands through it several times. His focus is on the crowd, and I wonder if he was talking to me at all.
Then, he nods at the throng of people and leans into me. It’s not enough that I’m uncomfortable, just enough so I can hear him…and smell him.
And damn does he smell good.
Like fresh mountain air with a hint of something minty.
“All the lovey-dovey shit,” he says out of the side of his mouth, shaking his head. “It’s a bit overrated if you ask me.”
“Yet nobody did.”
He pulls back, looking down at me for the first time.
My breath is caught in my throat when his eyes meet mine.
They’re a bright, light blue. Maybe the brightest I’ve ever seen in person.
The color is striking against his long lashes, but it’s not the only thing drawing me in.
He’s looking at me like it’s only us in the room. It’s intense, and not how you should look at a stranger.
My skin prickles with goose bumps.
Finally, he flicks his eyes away.
I swallow, my mouth tacky and dry.
Oh hell. I need to get ahold of myself. Stop acting like I haven’t seen an attractive man before. Sure, it’s been a while since anyone other than Henry Cavill has given me tingles, but still. I need to get a grip.
“Ask you,” I say to him, doing my best to ignore the way his stare has my pulse racing. “Nobody asked you.”
A grin pulls at his full lips. “That’s fair.”
I smile back at him and spin around on the stool, facing the bar. The stranger copies my movements, and our elbows brush during the movement.
He doesn’t miss the contact either, glancing down at where we touched before his eyes flit to mine again.
I’m embarrassed by the heat flowing through me.
I’m ridiculous. It’s a damn elbow—but it’s been that long since I’ve had any physical contact from an attractive man.
He lifts his hand, flagging down the bartender, and it draws my attention. His hand is big, covered in small scratches, and his forearms are corded with muscle. A dark blue short-sleeved shirt stretches across his body when he moves. It’s tight, but not in a Hey, look at how much time I spend in the gym kind of tight. Besides, I have a feeling his build isn’t from time spent in the gym, but rather from whatever it is he does for a living.
The bartender saunters our way.
My lips pinch together in annoyance because he couldn’t be bothered when I wanted a drink.
“Your usual?” he asks the stranger, never mind that I was here first.
I’m about to let him know he forgot about me when the mysterious man next to me speaks.
“Please, and whatever she’s having.”
I’m not dumb enough to argue about a free drink after the day—hell, weeks—I’ve had.
“I’ll have a whiskey sour, light on the simple syrup,” I tell the bartender. “I’d like to taste the top-shelf bourbon, please.”
He grins, then nods and whirls around to grab our drinks.
“So we’re clear,” I say to the man next to me, “just because I’m letting you buy me a drink, it doesn’t mean anything. I’m not going home with you.”
He nods, fighting a grin. “Duly noted.”
I tuck my lips together, combatting my own smile.
We sit together in silence. It’s not comfortable, but it’s not uncomfortable either.
I like having him here next to me despite not knowing him.
“I tried flagging him down twice, you know,” I say, breaking the quiet.
“Don’t hold it against him. Donny’s a good guy. He just gets distracted sometimes.” The stranger tips his head toward the other end of the bar. “Especially when his partner stops by.”
I lean forward to get a glimpse. A man who looks strikingly like Taye Diggs, so much I half expect him to start singing about my rent, sits at the other end, chin resting in his hand. He’s watching the bartender work with lustful eyes, and I’m jealous all over again.
“Is this some sort of couples bar?”
“Usually? No.” He twists his neck around, looking at the room again. “I’m not sure what’s in the air tonight.”
“Do I detect disdain in your voice?”
He chuckles. “That obvious?”
“Yes. That and your opening comment really gave it away.”
Donny pivots our way, drinks in his hands.
“A whiskey sour for the lady, top shelf.” He slides my glass toward me, then sets the other in front of the stranger. “And neat scotch for Brooks.”
The name fits him and doesn’t all at the same time.
“Let me know when you’re ready for refills,” Donny says.
Brooks nods, picking his glass up and taking a sip. He doesn’t grimace, doesn’t shake his head after the burn like my ex-husband always did when he tried to drink hard liquor.
I like that he doesn’t do that.
“I’m not some guy drowning his sorrows at a bar, all down on relationships because he’s been broken up with, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Duly noted,” I chirp back at him.
Another grin pulls at his lips. It’s not a full smile, just a soft tug at his lips that’s more mischievous than amused. Though I don’t know him, I like it when he does it.
Which isn’t a fitting word for a guy as big as him.
“So, what has you here drowning your sorrows? Get broken up with?”
I snort. “Something like that.”
I wasn’t dumped in the traditional sense, but my landlord did basically break up with me.
It was just via an eviction notice.
“That bad, huh?”
“That bad.” I gulp down a drink of my whiskey sour, grimacing as the liquor hits the back of my throat. Donny made up for ignoring me by adding extra alcohol.
Guess I can let Donny off the hook this time.
“I got an eviction notice.”
I’m not sure why I tell him.
He’s nobody to me. Has no business being privy to this embarrassing information.
But maybe that’s why I say it.
“It’s not a surprise. I’ve known about it for weeks. Just can’t seem to get my crap together. But it hit me today that I’m going to be homeless in about three weeks if I can’t find something between now and then. Saying it was a punch to the gut would be an understatement.”
“Fuck. That is bad.” He lifts his hand, signaling at Donny for a refill. He peeks back over at me. “You need another drink.”
“Gentle reminder that my statement from before stands,” I tell him, narrowing my eyes.
Those startling blue irises of his sparkle, and it’s not only the grin lining his lips that’s mischievous.
“That’s so.” I push my shoulders back, though I’m not sure even I believe it.
His eyes darken with a promise, and my breath is caught in my throat as he leans into me for the second time tonight. His lips are a short distance away. I’ve never had the urge to kiss a total stranger before, but right now?
Right now, I could kiss the hell out of him.
“Trust me, I have better moves to get you to go home with me than buying you drinks.”
I had no intentions of coming out tonight to find a guy to go home with.
But the more sips of alcohol that burn my throat and the more this man stares at me like I’m the only thing he wants to see, the more my guard slips.
And the more the idea of going home with him doesn’t sound so crazy after all.