The Pact

Page 1

PROLOGUE

“So, do you want to get married?’”

I’m so wrapped up in what went wrong with my date tonight that I barely hear what Linden is saying. And that’s saying a lot because he usually has my rapt attention no matter what’s going on. I guess tonight’s dinner with Mr. Assface was just too much for me. I mean, what kind of guy wears an ascot and picks his nose in front of you?

“Steph,” he repeats in his light Scottish brogue and I finally tear my eyes off the bubbles in my beer to look at him. Sometimes he makes me wonder why I even bother looking at anyone else, he’s just that fucking handsome.

He’s also my best friend. And I’m pretty sure he just asked me to marry him.

“What?” I ask, trying to make sure I heard him right.

He grins at me. I wish he wouldn’t. Sometimes his smile rips the air from my lungs. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s messy, violent and abrupt and I wish it wouldn’t happen because, fuck it, I like breathing.

“I said, do you want to get married?” he says and I realize that perhaps some extremely important conversation has gone on without me knowing about it. Also, Linden…marriage…these things don’t exactly gel together.

“Uh,” I say, and I wish I didn’t feel the heat creep onto my cheeks. “Get married? To you?”

He shrugs and takes a sip of his beer in his easy-going fashion. The bar is dead quiet at this time of night except the music, Faith No More’s aggressive King for a Day that James always puts on when the night is over and he wants people to leave.

James Dupres, the owner of The Burgundy Lion, my ex-boyfriend and Linden’s best friend, is puttering about, cleaning up the tables and shooting passive-aggressive looks at the group of four who is gathered in the corner, the only other people left in the bar at ten minutes to closing.

“Yeah, to me,” Linden eventually says, casually, as if we are deciding which movies to see this weekend. “But I also meant in general.”

I stare at him for a few beats. He looks self-assured as always, rubbing his fingers along the length of his beard as he stares at me right back. Linden and I are close – as close as you can be for a purely platonic man and woman scenario. But even so, we’d never really discussed topics like this. Our shitty dating lives, yes. But marriage and the future, what we really wanted from life? No.

“Let me get this straight,” I say but I can’t find the words to continue.  I take in a deep breath. “You’re asking me to marry you?”

He sighs and sits back in his chair, one strong forearm hung over the back, his fingers toying with the ends of my newly dyed jet-black hair.

“Baby Blue,” he says, his own personal nickname for me stemming from the fact that when we first met, I had blue hair the color of Caribbean waters. “Tell me about your date again.”

I give him a look. “I’d rather not, cowboy.” My nickname for him since he has the chiseled looks and furrowed brow of a young Clint Eastwood. Also, sometimes he’s a bit of a chauvinistic asshole as most stereotypical gunslingers can be.

“Right. And I’d rather not get into why the last five dates of mine ended with me jerking it in the shower.”

Pleeeeeease don’t make me think of you jerking it in the shower, I think, or things are going to get really inappropriate, really fast. At least in my head. Then again, my head is usually always inappropriate. It’s like a Pinterest page of hot, barely dressed men 24/7 up in there.

“And so,” he goes on, forcing my attention back to his words and not naughty images, “don’t you start wondering if this is going to get any easier? You’re beautiful, smart, I’m beautiful, smart…” he pauses and smiles to himself, “obviously. We’re turning twenty-five this year…what if we have to keep dealing with this? All this shit, never going anywhere.”

I raise a brow, not really sure what to do with this side of him. Is he pulling my leg or being genuine? He always has that dickish smirk no matter what kind of shit he’s saying and he’s pulled the rug out from under me more than a few times.

“Well, I like to think my life might take more of an optimistic path,” I tell him.

He smiles and nods. “And it should. It really should, I mean look at you.”

Look at me? I think, wondering what exactly he sees.

“But what if the planet is full of fucking morons? Then what…” he trails off and looks around the bar before he leans in and only then do I look close into his dark blue eyes and see that he’s drunk. “We’re good for each other. You know this makes perfect sense.”

I don’t know what I think. “You’re drunk, Linden.”

“I’m a man with a plan.”

“Since when have your life plans ever involved marriage?”

He shrugs and runs a hand through his thick, mahogany hair. “You may be one of my best friends, Baby Blue, but you don’t know everything about me.”

“Apparently not.”

His mouth quirks up into a half-smile. “But when we’re married there will be plenty of time for that. Also, sex.”

Okay, now I can see this is kind of a joke for him, as most things in life are. “What if I never want to get married?” I point out, putting the image of us having hot, sweaty sex out of my mind. “When have I ever waxed on about marriage or babies?”

“Never,” he admits. “But it doesn’t mean you don’t think about it. Why else would you always be dating?”

“Because I like to get laid.”

He laughs. “Another reason why we’re a perfect match.”

I purse my lips, staring at him. I think I need another drink.

Linden reads my mind. He gets up off the bar stool and walks behind the bar. James isn’t paying attention and even if he was, he wouldn’t say anything. Linden and I were twenty-one, James twenty-three, when the two of us first started working with James at The Burgundy Lion. Linden and I eventually went on to bigger and hopefully better things, while James ended up buying the place. There’s still a bit of an employee mentality for us – I don’t think James has ever charged us for a drink.

Linden takes two bottles of Anchor Steam out of the fridge and slides them to me. It’s our annual autumn heatwave in San Francisco and Linden has the sleeves of his rumpled grey dress shirt rolled up, showcasing his strong, tanned forearms and the Charles Bukowski quotes he has tattooed on the insides. He’s wearing a pair of khaki knee-length shorts that highlight his toned ass. On his feet are his worn black Keds that I think he’s had ever since we first met, but it suits him.

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