Her life would be so much easier if she could hate him. Better yet, feel nothing at all. A lovely, soothing blankness.
God, that would be good.
Blue Sullivan knocked back the remainder of her vodka as she watched the man on the dance floor. His dark hair came close to brushing his shoulders, and dark jeans hugged his thighs as his lean, muscular body moved sinuously to the music. No embarrassing foot-to-foot shuffling or fist pumping like the other men on the dance floor. In fact, he was so good that if she didn’t know better, she’d think he was a professional.
She did know better, though. She knew Eduardo Oliveira better than she knew anyone in the entire world, because she’d been his friend and co-worker for more than ten years now. She’d also been in love with him for all of those years. Most of the time loving him in silence was okay. Tonight…not so much.
Tonight, loving Eddie was a curse, a burden, a punishment.
Tonight, it hurt to watch him flirt with other women.
The feeling would pass soon enough—it always did—but that didn’t make it any easier to bear.
Eduardo got up close and personal behind a tall blonde on the dance floor—one of Maggie Hendricks’s friends, which made sense, since this was Maggie’s birthday party—his hips moving suggestively against the woman’s as he wrapped an arm around her waist. For a few seconds they did the sexy, grinding-in-unison thing to the beat of the pumping bass. The woman reached back to splay a hand on Eduardo’s thigh, her bright red nails digging into the fabric, and the hot burn of jealousy became a physical pain in Blue’s belly.
Yeah. Too much fun.
She turned away. She didn’t need to see more to know what was going to happen. In the very near future—an hour or two, max—Maggie’s friend would follow in the footsteps of countless other women when she hit the sheets with Eddie. It was as inevitable and predictable as the sun setting, the tide turning and other immutable, incontrovertible forces of nature. This was what Eddie always did when he broke up with a girlfriend: spend a few weeks being a complete pants man, sleeping with whichever hot women crossed his path, before once again slipping into a relationship with some poor, deluded idiot who was convinced she could reform a man who freely admitted he was hopeless at relationships, yet stumbled into them anyway.
Blue made her way through the crowd to the bar, signaling for the bartender to hit her with another delightfully numbing vodka. Eddie had broken up with his most recent girlfriend, Denise, a few days ago, so Blue shouldn’t have been surprised that he was diving straight into his man-whoring ways. She wasn’t privy to the details of the breakup—as occasionally happened, there had been a distance in their friendship as the girlfriend demanded all of Eddie’s attention. Eddie’s girlfriends were always either jealous of her, or wanted to be her new best friend, the world’s most obvious neutralise-the-perceived-threat gambit and one Blue had long since learned to side-step. Still, she could guess what had gone wrong, because it was the same thing that always went wrong: Denise had wanted more, campaigning hard to take their relationship beyond sex and good times, and Eddie had pushed to maintain the status quo. Denise had then probably done one of two things: issued an ultimatum, or tried to manipulate him with tears. Both tactics would have triggered Eddie’s get-the-hell-out-of-Dodge instinct, hence him burning up the dance floor with a tall blonde whose name Blue could never quite hang onto. Chloe? Cleo? Something sexy to match her long, straight hair and legs-up-to-her-armpits.
“Hey. There you are.” Maggie brushed against Blue’s shoulder as she joined her at the bar. “Having a good time?”
“I think I’m supposed to ask you that,” Blue said, taking in her friend’s flushed face and curly blonde hair. “Many happies, birthday girl.” She raised her glass in a salute.
“I need to talk to you about this.” Maggie thrust her arm in Blue’s direction.
An Art Deco marquisette watch circled Maggie’s wrist, the numerals picked out in stylized script. A perfect match for her vintage fifties dress, even if Blue did say so herself.
“If it’s too big, I can get it adjusted,” Blue said.
“I said no presents. I insisted Rafel add that to the invitation,” Maggie said.
“I know. I am just a total bitch when it comes to things like acknowledging my friend’s special day. Sorry,” Blue said, utterly unrepentant. Maggie was the bee’s knees, and no way was Blue letting her birthday pass unmarked. If life had taught Blue anything, it was to value the good people around her.
“It’s enough for me that you’re all here,” Maggie said. “I don’t need presents. This is too much, Blue.”
“Okay. I’ll take it back.”
Blue reached for Maggie’s wrist, but Maggie jerked her arm out of reach.
Blue grinned at her. “Ha. Admit it, you like it.”
“Are you kidding? I freaking love it. It’s so gorgeous, I almost swallowed my own tongue when I opened the box. But you still shouldn’t have.”
Blue looked her friend in the eye solemnly. “It was my pleasure. I saw it, I thought of you, and I knew it had to come home with me. Enjoy.”
Maggie blinked a couple of times, then suddenly she was hugging Blue, her cheek pressed against Blue’s.
“Meeting Rafel is the best thing that ever happened to me, but you and Eddie are the second best. I love you, Blue.”
The unfamiliar sting of tears burned at the back of Blue’s eyes as she returned Maggie’s embrace. The L-word wasn’t something Blue threw around like confetti at a wedding—never had been—but she didn’t hesitate. “Love you, too,” she said, her chest tight with emotion.
She’d known Maggie for only eighteen months, but in that time she’d come to appreciate her friend’s smarts, kindness and generosity. Maggie was a keeper, the sort of friend a woman took to her grave.
“Wait until it’s your birthday. I am going to spoil you rotten in retaliation,” Maggie said. “Once I find out when it is.”
Blue smiled mysteriously. She didn’t do birthdays. Hadn’t for a long, long time. Consequently, none of her friends knew her birth date, and she liked it that way.
“Come on. If you don’t tell me when it is, I’ll just make up a date.”
“You can try.”
Their stand-off lasted all of five seconds until Rafel Oliveira swooped in on his woman, wrapping his arms around Maggie from behind and nuzzling her neck by way of greeting.
Blue looked away to study her leather biker boots. She didn’t begrudge Rafel and Maggie their happiness—the opposite, in fact—but it was hard to watch two people who were so patently, incandescently in love. A little like staring at the sun—there was definitely the risk you might go blind if you looked too long.
“Doing your best to blow out the bar tab, I see,” Rafel said when he’d finished mauling Maggie’s neck. Unlike his identical twin, Rafel’s hair was cut in an edgy short style, a fashion choice which made it easier for the rest of the world to tell him and Eddie apart. It didn’t make any difference for Blue - she’d always known which brother she was talking to, from the moment they first met.
“You’re the fool who handed over his credit card,” she said.
The truth was she’d been going easy on the vodka until she’d seen Eddie on the dance floor with the blonde. Now, getting drunk seemed like a good plan for the evening. Or maybe getting laid. Or both.
It had been a month or so since she’d called Reid, her current friend-with-benefits, but she was pretty sure he’d be up for a booty call if she dropped him a line. She thought about his big, highly developed body. The man had muscles on his muscles, and he knew his way around the bedroom. Yeah, a few hours of sweaty, mindless sex would surely cure what ailed her. Then by morning, tonight’s ridiculous jealousy and sensitivity would be a thing of the past, and everything would be back to normal.
“Scuse me a sec, just need to make a call,” she said, easing away from the bar and pulling out her phone.
Reid was a former client who had never made a secret of his admiration for her while she worked on the full back tattoo he’d commissioned. All the same, she’d allowed a respectable six months to pass before she took him up on his offer of a good time, and they’d hooked up half a dozen times since on a completely random basis. Fortunately for her sanity, he answered on the second ring, and his “Come on over,” was gratifyingly unhesitating and eager.
And why wouldn’t it be? She was a hot tamale. A pocket rocket. A bona fide hottie.
“When are you going to get here?” Reid asked, and she glanced at the dance floor where Eddie was still dirty dancing.
“Give me twenty,” she said.
She’d had enough to drink that she would have to get a cab, but Reid’s place wasn’t far, and there was no reason to stay here and perpetuate the torture. She wasn’t into self-flagellation. She turned to offer her apologies to Maggie for bailing while the party was still going strong, but she and Rafel had disappeared. Deciding she could make her excuses on Monday, Blue grabbed her denim jacket and headed for the door.
She smiled at familiar faces as she wove through the crowd, but she didn’t let anyone waylay her. She wanted out of here, wanted her equilibrium back. Wanted it to once more be perfectly fine with her that she would only ever be Eddie’s friend and nothing more. Something Reid was going to fuck back into her if it killed her.
She was mere feet from her goal when her path was blocked by a hard male body.