Wicked Sexy Liar (Wild Seasons #4)(3) by Christina Lauren

And Luke is . . . well, he’s a reflection of every reason rule number one exists in the first place.

* * *

WHEN THE LAST customer has left, I help Fred close up, drive home to an empty apartment, and tumble into bed.

My parents are less than thrilled with the life I’ve built in San Diego, and are careful to remind me of this at every visit. They don’t understand why I took a roommate when Nana left me the loft, free and clear. Although I spent much of my childhood here, they also don’t understand why I didn’t just sell the loft after graduation and move right back home—which, come on. Freezing Colorado over sunny San Diego? I don’t think so. And they definitely don’t agree with my surfing all day and tending bar at night when the graphic arts degree I busted my ass for is sitting around, gathering dust.

And okay, I’ll give them that last one.

But for now, I’m fine with my life. Lola worries that I’m alone too much—and I am alone a lot of the time, but I’m never unhappy. Bartending is a fun job, and surfing is bigger than that. It’s a part of me. I love watching water slowly rising and curling, seeing the tips break into these foamy, glass cylinders. I love climbing inside waves so big they tunnel me in as they crest, roaring in my ear. I love the feel of salt-water-rich air filling my mouth, dusting my lungs. Every second the ocean builds a castle and breaks it down. I will never get tired of it.

And I like falling into bed, tired because I’ve surfed my ass off all day and been on my feet all night, and not because I’ve been sitting at a desk, staring at a computer.

For now, life is pretty good.

* * *

BUT AT THE start of my shift at Fred’s Saturday night, I feel both wrecked and antsy: my ribs hurt and I still have the sensation of coughing up a lungful of salt water.

Some days the ocean cooperates and the waves come right to me. Today was not one of those days. The swells were decent at first, but I couldn’t seem to hit a single one. I took off early or popped up late. I lost count of how many times I fell or was knocked flat on my ass. I spent every holiday of my life precollege at my grandmother’s, and I’ve surfed Black’s Beach and Windansea since I was old enough to carry my own board. But the longer I stayed out there today the more frustrated I got, and the last straw came when I was surprised by a big wave, and rolled . . . hard.

The guy with the hair and the smile is back. Luke, I remember, in some sort of breathy echo. He’s at a booth tonight with more of his friends, but I spot him as soon as I walk in.

The place is packed and I feel a brief pulse of longing when I hear Harlow’s laugh rise above the music. I’d rather be sitting with them than working tonight, and so I have a noticeable chip on my shoulder by the time I step behind the counter and slip my apron over my shirt.

“Someone’s having a bad day,” Fred says, putting the finishing touches on a tray of margaritas. “Weren’t you the one who told me the worst day on the water still beats the best day anywhere else?”

Ugh. I did tell him that. Why do people always remind you of your best parts when you’re having a bad day? “Just sore and cranky,” I say, trying to smile. “I’ll get over it.”

“Well, you’re in the right place. Loud drunk people are always the right thing for a bad mood.”

This pulls my reluctant grin free, and Fred reaches forward, gently chucking my chin.

A row of tickets sit on the counter and I reach for one. Two martinis, dirty, extra olives. I place two glasses on a tray, fill a shaker with ice, pour in vermouth and four ounces of gin, a little olive juice. I fall into the rhythm of the work: measuring, shaking, pouring, serving . . . and the familiar movements relax me, they do.

But I still feel restless with the breathlessness, the few terrifying seconds I thought I might not be able to fight my way up from the tide. It’s happened to me a handful of times, and even though logically I know I’ll be okay, it’s hard to shake the lingering sense of drowning.

Luke moves in my peripheral vision, and I glance up as he walks around the back of the booth, typing on his phone. So he’s one of those, I think, imagining how many girls he’s texting right now. There’s a brunette at their table who seems pretty interested in what he’s doing, and I’m tempted to walk over to her under the guise of serving drinks and tell her to cut her losses: invest in one of the kind nerds in the far booth instead.

I shake and pour the cloudy liquid into the glasses, rereading the ticket again before adding two skewers packed with olives. The waitress smiles and leaves with the order, and I move to the next, reaching for a bottle of amaretto when I hear a barstool scrape across the floor behind me.

“So how’s the car fund?”

I recognize his voice immediately. “Nothing today,” I tell him without looking up, finishing the drink. “But I’m not really in a smiling mood, so I’m not holding out much hope.”

“Want to talk about that?” he asks.

I turn to look at him: this time wearing a dark blue T-shirt, same perfect hair, and still entirely too good-looking not to be trouble. Unable to resist, I give him a tiny smile. “I think that’s supposed to be my line.”

Luke acknowledges this with a cute flick of one eyebrow skyward before glancing back at his group.

“Besides, it looks like you’ve got some people waiting for you,” I say, noting the way the brunette’s eyes track his every move. He reaches into his pocket, checks his phone, and looks back at me.

“They’re not going anywhere,” he says, and his eyes smile a split second before his lips make that soft, crooked curve. “Figured I’d come up here and get myself a drink.”

“What can I get you?” I ask. “Another beer?”

“Sure,” he says. “And your name. Unless you want me to keep calling you Dimples for the rest of our lives.”

Luke’s eyes widen playfully as he whispers a deliberate “Oops” at this, and produces a dollar bill from his pocket, slipping it into the jar. “I came prepared tonight,” he says, watching me pour an IPA into a pint glass. “Just in case you were working again.”

I try not to linger on the thought that he specifically brought a pocketful of singles with him for me and this little game.

“It’s Lon—” I start to say, just as the bar door opens and Mia walks in with Ansel behind her. Luke’s head turns toward them just as I finish with a mumbled “—don.”

After a beat, he looks back up at me, eyes oddly tight. He nods quickly. “Nice to officially meet you.”

I’m pretty sure he didn’t get my name, but if he’s fine not knowing it, I’m fine not repeating it.

Another customer sits at the bar and waves to get my attention. I slide Luke’s beer over to him and smile as he looks up, the coaster touching the edge of his hand. “That’s five dollars.”

Blinking at me slowly, he says, “Thanks,” and pulls out his wallet.

I move to help the new customer, but out of the corner of my eye, I see Luke slap a bill down on the bar and return to his friends without waiting for change. Either he didn’t leave a tip, or he left a big one.

Unfortunately for my determination to find him douchey, I’m pretty sure I can guess which.

Two whiskey sours, four Blue Moons, and a pitcher of margaritas later, I’m at the register. Mia, Ansel, and Harlow are standing nearby, waiting for Finn before they all head out to a movie. I watch them for the span of three deep breaths, struggling for what feels like an eternity over my relationship ambivalence. On the one hand, I see the people around me so happy—some of them even married—and I want that. On the other hand, I know I’m not ready.

It’s been just over a year since Justin and I ended things, and I still remember what it’s like to be paired off like that, where all plans have to be created with another person in mind, and then decided on again in a group of friends like this. I’m sure most people wouldn’t believe me, but after busting my ass in school and dating the same boy throughout, it’s nice not to have to do anything. I surf, I work, I go home. I make all my decisions based on what’s good for me as a person, rather than one-half of a couple.

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