Home > Crazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club #3)(16)

Crazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club #3)(16)
Author: Lyssa Kay Adams

“Who is Frank?” the Russian asked again.

“Someone fucking tell him,” Noah growled.

Malcolm leaned over and whispered in the Russian’s ear. He giggled and covered his mouth.

Their food arrived, but Noah barely had time to take a single bite before the questions continued.

“So what are you going to do about it?” Mack asked.

Noah poked his eggs with the corner of his toast and feigned ignorance. “Do about what?”

“The staring,” Colton said.

Noah lifted a shoulder. “Nothing.”

“You can’t do nothing, man,” Colton said. “She stared.”

Noah snorted even as his pits began to sweat. “You guys have read too many romance novels. Which, by the way, the one you gave me? It’s total bullshit. Do you even know what that book is about?”

Mack leaned back in his chair. “I do. What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s about a guy who abandoned his daughter! You seriously expect me to learn something from this guy?”

“The secret baby trope is a very popular plotline in the romance genre,” Mack said.

Noah made a noise that was part snort, part laugh. “Secret. Baby. Trope?”

Mack shrugged. “Guy finds out he has a kid he never knew about.”

“And people find this romantic?”

Mack sighed and looked to the ceiling as if praying for patience. “It’s a plot device for a larger message, Noah.”

“What larger message?”

“Forgiveness.”

This time, Noah laughed outright. “Bullshit. Some things are unforgivable.”

Mack sipped his coffee. “True. But that’s not the point.”

“Yeah, the point is that there’s no freaking way I’m going to learn how to build a relationship with Alexis by reading about a guy who’s as much of a bastard as her father.”

“You can’t judge the book based on one chapter,” Malcolm said. “Give it a try.”

“No.” He sounded as stubborn as he felt.

The Russian patted his arm. “Noah, why are you so angry all the time?”

“He’s not angry,” Colton snorted over the rim of his coffee mug. “He’s horny.”

Noah pointed. “Fuck off.”

“Dude, Alexis could not be making it any clearer that she wants more and is ready for more,” Mack said. “What the hell are you waiting for?”

“Didn’t you hear what I just told you about her father? She’s going through a lot right now. She’s emotional, and—”

“Alexis isn’t exactly fragile,” Mack said.

Noah bristled. “I know.” Just the opposite. Lexa was the strongest person he’d ever known. “I’m just saying she is going through some deep stuff now, and I’m not going to add to her burden by asking her why the hell she was staring at my nipples!”

The restaurant got instantly quiet, and twenty heads turned toward their table.

“He’s talking about his dog,” Mack said loudly with a lift of his hand. “Nothing to see here.”

Noah heard a growl rumble from his chest. “I’m going to hack into your phone and leak all your nudes on Facebook.”

Mack spread his hands wide. “Naked is my best angle, man.”

“Look,” Malcolm said, wadding up his napkin. “I think what Mack was attempting to say is that there’s a fine line between being sensitive to what Alexis is going through and treating her like she doesn’t know her own mind.”

“Doesn’t change a goddamned thing.”

“Of course it does.” Malcolm leaned forward. “Your relationship with her is built on unrequited feelings. That’s not fair to either of you. She deserves to know how you really feel about her, and you deserve to know if she feels the same.”

“I can’t risk our friendship like that.”

“And you’ll be happy to remain friends with her, only friends?”

“If that’s what it takes to be in her life, then yes.”

“And I suppose if she started dating someone else, you’d be fine with it?” Mack asked.

At his blistering silence, Mack snorted. “That’s what I thought.”

Noah gave in to a sudden burst of weariness. He set down his fork and ran his hands over his face. After a long, quiet moment, he looked up to find the guys watching him in matching expressions of patience and amusement.

“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted.

“Luckily, we do,” Mack said. “Be at my bar at three o’clock tomorrow.”

Noah’s stomach dropped. “What for?”

Mack grinned. “Initiation.”

Fuuuck.

CHAPTER TEN

A few hours later, Noah pulled into Alexis’s driveway again to pick her up for their meeting with Candi. He hadn’t been this nervous to pick up a woman since . . . ever. Something had changed last night, at least in his mind, and he was going to have a hard time keeping it cool today. Which is exactly what she needed from him.

She met him on the sidewalk wearing a long cardigan, a pair of leggings, and a small smile. “I saw you pull up,” she explained.

He held open her door and waited while she slid into the car before returning to the driver’s side. He exhaled the breath he’d been holding before sliding behind the wheel.

“Thanks for driving,” she said, not quite looking at him as she buckled her seat belt.

“You sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure.”

She didn’t look sure, though. Her hands were a tangled mess in her lap, and her lips were a thin line. A raw, red nick in the corner meant she’d been gnawing on it with her teeth.

“You don’t have to—”

She cut him off with a look. He raised his hands in surrender.

The trip downtown was short and quiet. And when Noah parked in the ramp for the hotel where Candi was staying, they sat in the dark and the silence for a moment, just staring at the glowing red sign that read ELEVATOR. He finally looked over at her.

“Ready?” Noah got out and rounded the car to her side. He held out his hand as she slid out of the passenger seat and, as if they’d done it a hundred times before, she folded her fingers in his. His heart kicked the underside of his ribs with a painful thud as they walked hand in hand to the elevators. Only when they walked in did she pull her hand away to push the button for the lobby floor.

Noah shoved his hands deep in the pocket of his fleece. “Where are we meeting her?”

“The hotel bar.”

“She alone?”

“I think so.”

The elevator opened into a marble-floored hallway. Noah pressed his hand to the small of her back as they walked out. Her muscles twitched beneath his fingertips, but she didn’t try to move from his touch. His heart kicked again.

“Over there,” she said, pointing to a darkened corner where a hostess stood beneath a sign bearing the bar’s name.

Noah looked down at Alexis. “The Bluegrass Grill?”

Her eyes turned sarcastic. “It’s like they just gave up.”

“Do you think there will be banjos on the walls?”

“And drinks named after Waylon Jennings songs.”

Noah ushered her forward, hand still on her back. “First person to spot the Willie Nelson picture wins.”

The brief banter seemed to relax her, because her muscles softened beneath his fingertips.

The lobby bustled with bleary-eyed travelers dragging heavy suitcases and the remnants of last night’s bad decisions.

The hostess smiled as they approached. “How many?”

“We’re meeting someone at the bar,” Noah said.

The hostess directed them to the center of the restaurant, where a circular bar on a raised platform glowed a soft blue from the pendant lamps that hung from the ceiling. It was nearly deserted but for a handful of guys who were hunched quietly over beers, their eyes glued to a football game on the six televisions on the wall.

A woman sat alone several stools away, her face turned toward the entrance of the restaurant as if looking for someone.

“That’s her,” Alexis said, her feet slowing.

Noah slid his hand higher on her back until his fingers met the tight cords of her neck. He squeezed and lowered his mouth closer to her ear. “You okay?”

Her only response was to keep walking.

Candi spotted them, fumbled the glass of water in her hand, and then winced as it spilled on the counter. A bartender waved off her apologies and began to wipe it up as Candi slid from her barstool.

Alexis grew tense again beneath his hand.

“Hi,” Candi said, her voice shy and breathless.

“Thanks for meeting us here,” Alexis said.

Candi darted a nervous glance at Alexis but then turned to face Noah straight on, and—wham. He felt the impact of recognition like one of Del’s head smacks. Alexis hadn’t been lying. Their eyes were identical.

“This is my friend Noah,” Alexis said to Candi in a voice heavy with reassurance.

Noah had heard her use it a hundred times on angry customers who were pissed off that ToeBeans had run out of cranberry scones or some other stupid complaint.

Candi swallowed. “Hi.”

Alexis stared at him and lifted an eyebrow. He knew that look too. The one that said he’d forgotten his manners and was acting like a brute. Noah swallowed hard and stuck out his hand. Candi stared at it hesitantly before accepting his handshake.

“Nice to meet you,” he mumbled.

Candi bit her lip as if she wanted to repeat the sentiment but hated lying. She looked back at Alexis. “Are you hungry? We can get a table or—”

“The bar is fine,” Alexis said. “This won’t take long.”

“Oh, right. Um, we can just sit here, then. I saved some seats.”

Candi rushed to clear two other barstools of a coat and a purse. Alexis said a quiet thank-you and claimed one of the stools. Noah took the one beside her, and Candi returned to her own on Alexis’s right.

   
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