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The Wrong Girl - Chapter 2


Ellie

*

I knew immediately I’d never seen him before. I never forget a face, and his was definitely worth remembering. Despite the dark hair and eyes, he had an unmistakable air of ‘Captain America’ I found intriguing. His hair was neatly cut, his jeans and shirt impeccable compared to the sea of rumpled band t-shirts around me, and even from here the broad shoulders and muscular fit of his pants clearly portrayed ‘man’ as opposed to ‘boy’.

I felt his eyes on me long before I deigned to look back. These guys all know who I am, and even though I like to hang out, there’s a definite line they don’t cross with the boss’s daughter. 
This one clearly didn’t know, judging from the way his eyes roved over my body.

Or didn’t care, which was even more intriguing.

As the song ended, I decided refreshment was in order and excused myself to get a drink.
The man reclined against the bar with one muscular forearm, his other hand clutching a beer. When he realized I was heading his way, he froze completely, like prey attempting to avoid catching the eye of a predator.

Interesting.

“Hey Erik, a beer, please.”

The bartender nodded and popped the cap on a brown long neck bottle before placing it on a napkin in front of me. I took a long pull from the frosty drink before I turned and looked directly at Captain America.

“Hi,” I smiled, pulling damp hair from my neck and draping it over my shoulder. “Are you new?”

Seeming to come out of a trance, he straightened and offered me his hand. “Hi, yes I am, first day. I’m Jake, it’s nice to meet you…?” he trailed off, holding my gaze as he waited.

“Ellie,” I replied with a grin and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you as well. Did you have a good first day?”

“Yeah, I did actually. A bit strange, but I’ll adapt.”

“Strange? Strange how?” Oh yeah, he definitely had no clue who I was. The pleasure of anonymity widened my smile; I so rarely met someone completely unaware of who I was.

“I just got out of the military, so that in itself makes all of this strange.” He gestured to the party.

“Ah, that makes sense.”

“It does?”

“Yeah, I thought you had a whole ‘Captain America’ look about you. That’s odd for Aspen Ridge. It’s adding up now.”
He glanced around, then dropped his gaze to his hands. “You’re not wrong. Is it that bad?”

“No, it’s not bad. Just… noticeable. We draw more of the earth-loving hippy types. Not that you don’t love the earth,” I corrected quickly. “Just… I mean, I’m sure you can see it.”

Thankfully, he laughed. “Yeah, I get what you mean. Don’t worry, I’m not insulted. I’m sure I’ll adapt. I’ve already received some helpful tips.” He snorted.

Suspicion rose in my chest. “Oh, no, what happened? If someone was rude to you, I’ll-”

“No, no, nothing like that. Everyone has been very kind,” he rushed to reassure me. “I met Alyssa, the events center manager. She was just tired and wasn’t very amused by my attempt at humor. I’m pretty sure she didn’t get the joke at all.”

“Oh. I’m glad to hear you haven’t had problems, at least. Yeah, I think her pregnancy has been harder on her than she expected. Honestly, I thought she went home hours ago, but I’m not surprised she stayed. I will say that her sense of humor has definitely tanked in the last couple of months. But you didn’t make a joke about her being pregnant, did you? Because that never goes over well.”

He raised both hands. “No, absolutely not. Trust me, I know better than to tease a pregnant woman.”

“So what was it?”

“What was what?”

“What was the joke?”

“Oh, no,” his cheeks colored. “She advised against repeating it. At the risk of betraying my age, I think I ought to listen to her.”

I set my beer down. “Well, now I have to know, I’m too invested. Let me give you a second opinion, no judgement, I swear.” I beamed at him, and his gaze darted to my mouth.
Jake licked his lips. “I’m not sure…”

“I insist,” I pressed him. “I really don’t feel you got a fair shot with Alyssa. Try me.”

Heaving a sigh, he replied, “Okay. It’s really not that funny and now I feel like an idiot. We’ve made too big of a deal about it already.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Hit me with it. I’ll buy you a drink if I hate it.”

“It’s open bar,” he replied with a small curl of his lips.

“Then I’ll buy you a drink either way. What have you got to lose?”

Finally cracking a smile, he chuckled. “It’s seriously not that big a deal. I was helping her bring in the food, and she offered to introduce me to a few people before she left. I told her it wasn’t necessary, that I’d just tell anyone who asked what I was doing here that I carried a watermelon.” He tipped his beer back and finished it. “I’ll take another of these, and a shot of jack, since you’re buying.”

The laughter rose in my throat and tumbled out. “Carried a watermelon, like from Dirty Dancing? No I get it, that’s clever.” I put in the order for two shots and another beer, then turned back to catch the pleased grin melt from his lips.

“But if you’re Baby, then what does that make me?” I ducked my chin and smiled at him suggestively. “Am I Johnny?”

“Well, I’m glad you get it. Alyssa acted as if she’d never seen Dirty Dancing before. It made me feel old.”

“Of course I do. It was one of my mom’s favorite movies.” As soon as the words came out, I realized what I’d said, but Jake just laughed.

“Well, I guess it’s official: if you’re comparing me to your mom, I am old. Where is that shot, anyway? It’s past my elderly bedtime. I should head back to the old folk’s home.”

“Stop!” I laughed, pressing a palm to his muscular biceps. “There’s no way you’re that old. You can’t be more than a couple of years older than me.”

“Okay, I’m probably not as old as your mom. But I don’t know how old you are, so I can’t comment on our age difference.”

“Is that your roundabout way of asking my age? You know a lady never tells,” I sniffed, pretending to be affronted. Erik arrived with our drinks and I pushed his shot over. “At least not first.”

“I see, so I go, you go, is that it?” He eyed me with one brow raised. “Fine. I’m thirty-five. Your turn.” He lifted the shot and waited, a playful gleam in his dark eyes.

“Fair enough.” I lifted my own shot. “You’re six years older than me, so definitely not mom-range.” I clinked my glass to his, and we both downed the alcohol together. His eyes never left mine, and my hand shook slightly as I lowered the glass. The burning sensation ran down my throat, heating my body from the inside out. 

He may not be in mom range, but he was definitely in the safe zone. Not one of the younger seasonal employees, and since I knew about all the hires in my department, definitely not someone I’d have to worry about being an issue at work. Dad frowned on me getting too close to our employees—particularly the younger ones—but Jake was an opportunity too delicious to pass up. He had that sexy ‘older man who knows what he’s doing’ vibe that was hard to resist, and he clearly worked in another part of the business—totally fair game.

“Come on,” I scooped my beer with one hand and tugged on his hand with the other. “This bar can hold itself up without your help. Let’s go dance.”

His head shook back and forth vehemently. “Nah, I’m way past my dancing days. In fact, I should go find my walker. I think I left it somewhere next to my oxygen tank.”

“Quit!” His self-deprecating humor was surprising, given the confident man-in-charge aura he presented. “If you keep insisting you’re old, that means I’m basically old, and I believe you’re only as old as you feel.”

“Well then, according to my knees, I’m sixty-two.”

That drew another chuckle from my lips, and I didn’t miss his gratified expression. Despite his resistance, he was enjoying our banter.

“Fine, I know what’s going on here,” I sniffed, leaning across the bar to signal Erik yet again.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“You’re too sober. A little more liquid courage will be just the thing.” I ordered us another round of shots and turned back to catch his eyes raking over my body with his lip between his teeth.
Realizing I caught him staring, his gaze met mine with an expression I could only describe as ‘guilty schoolboy’, and somehow it was all the hotter on this grown man.

A slow smile spread across his lips. “I could be mistaken, ma’am, but I believe you’re trying to get me drunk.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, good sir. I’m merely attempting to provide adequate social lubrication to make sure you enjoy yourself. It appears you need some help to separate you from the wall.”

Our shots arrived, and I held mine up, waiting for him to clink his to it. He sighed, but lifted his glass all the same, and met my gaze with gleaming eyes. “Okay, but last one. I need to drive home tonight.”

We tipped our shots back, and I resisted the urge to shudder—the second shot of liquor was much worse than the first.

Smiling instead, I tugged on his hand. “That’s fine, because now it’s time for our dance.”
“Hey, I don’t recall agreeing to dance.”

“Didn’t you read the contract? I bought you two shots and a beer. You owe me a dance.”

“Pretty sure if I used that on a woman, I’d get charges filed against me.” Despite the serious words, his expression remained playful. “Plus, it’s an open bar, so you technically didn’t buy me anything.”

No sense in telling him I paid for the entire party, drinks included. It would just ruin the vibe.
“Quit stalling and get moving, soldier,” I replied instead.

“Airman.”

“What?”

“I was in the Air Force, not the Army. Therefore, Airman would be the most appropriate term of address.”

“How about I stick with Captain America?”

“Captain would actually be correct, but my last name isn’t America.”

I rolled my eyes. “Then enlighten me, sir. How should I address you, exactly?”

“Captain Right.”

The laughter tumbled from my lips. “Right? As opposed to Captain Wrong? That’s a line I’ve not heard before.”

Jake cracked a wide smile. “I’ve heard it once or twice. But no, my last name is Wright, with a W.”

“Fine, Captain Wright, it’s time for you to report for duty on the dance floor. No more stalling!” I added when he grumbled. “You can bring your beer. Just come on already.”

I tugged harder on his hand and he finally started moving. Jake’s fingers were warm and smooth against mine, and electric tingles spread up my arm from the contact. Hot blood raced through my body—I could feel my pulse in my neck, the flush of pleasure from my conquest combining with the heat from the liquor.

I dragged him out onto the dance floor where we were surrounded with small groups of people doing various interpretations of dancing. Jake’s expression was placid, but it seemed frozen in place, like a studied impression of calm. Meanwhile, a vein throbbed in his temple, and his gaze remained distant while he swayed awkwardly.

“Hey, just relax. You’re not getting graded on your dance skills, you know. This is supposed to be fun.” I got his attention and smiled, moving my body to the pulsing music.

“Look, I never claimed to be an excellent dancer. This is what you get.” He took a long pull of his beer and narrowed his eyes, doing a deliberate side-together step like he was performing some stiff approximation of a line dance.

A snort burst from my lips. “Anything can be awkward if you make it awkward. And anything can be cool if you own it.” To demonstrate my point, I copied his steps but added my own flair, making the movement fluid and sexy.

“You got me,” he admitted. “I make everything awkward. I’m ceding the point, you win. I’ll go back and hold up the bar.”

“Not so fast.” I grabbed his hand, turning my back to him and placing his palm on my hip. “Just move along with me.”

I knew the moment the alcohol kicked in. Or at least the moment he finally relaxed and went with it. His fingertips dug in to my flesh, squeezing my hip and drawing my body closer to his. I felt the heat of him behind me, his other arm wrapping around to press against my opposite hip bone. I had no idea what his expression looked like, but I imagined a face of pure concentration and it cracked me up.

Abruptly, the fast song ended and the next track was slower, more sensual. I disengaged his hand from my hip and turned in the circle of his arms, catching him biting that lip again. My pulse pounded, and I wrapped my arms around his neck, drawing closer to him while we switched to swaying back and forth in tune with the melody. His cologne was clean and woodsy, with a note of sweetness. 

“Now this is more my speed,” he admitted with a small curl of his lips. His gaze was soft, his breath warm on my cheek.

I batted my lashes at him. “What, you mean slow?”

“Ha ha, you know eventually you’re going to run out of age jokes.”

“That wasn’t an age joke, that was a speed joke. Keep up. Unless you can’t…”

“Oh man, the hits keep coming,” he grumbled, but his expression was all smiles. “What did I do to deserve this abuse?”

“Hey, you showed up at my party. You should have prepared better.”

“I thought this party was for all the employees. My apologies. I didn’t mean to crash.”

“Oh, it is, but it’s also my party.”

“That doesn’t make much sense.”

“It doesn’t have to.”

“I see.” His arms tightened, drawing me closer, pressing my body lightly against his. The heat of him seeped through my dress, and I was electrically aware of how close his lips were to mine. “In that case, I suppose I’d better keep an eye on you, Ellie. Something tells me you’re trouble.”
I laughed, tossing my head back. He had no idea. “I’ve heard that before,” I teased.

“I believe it.” He didn’t look put off at all, as if he rather liked the idea that I might be trouble.
The slow song ended and a faster one kicked off. Jake rolled his eyes and glanced to the side, as if he were considering escaping again.

Deciding to give him a break, I slipped my hand back into his. “Come with me.” I tugged him toward the balcony doors, and he followed willingly.

I didn’t realize how muggy the atmosphere had become inside until we passed through the doorway. Outside, the air was cool and refreshing, the moon huge and brilliant in the sky. It bathed the valley of trees and mountain peaks in the distance, leeching everything of color and setting a dreamy backdrop.

“Ah, so this is where everyone over the age of twenty-two went,” he commented, glancing around the deck.

It was large enough to accommodate a wedding with seventy-five seats, the ski hill in the background. Right now, there were a dozen picnic tables spread around, with people sitting in small groups and chatting. The music was still audible, but much quieter than it’d been inside. I tugged Jake to the point of the balcony, shaped like the bow of a ship pointed over the forest below.

“This is quite the place,” he admitted quietly, leaning against the railing. My eyes swept over the bulging muscles concealed beneath his shirt and a hot coal of desire burned in my stomach.
“Top of the line,” I agreed. “It’s already booked out for most of the weekends this winter, and half of next winter, too.”

“Is that what you do here? Book the events?”

“I do a little of everything, I guess you could say.” I switched the topic before I had to tell him too much. “What brought you here, out of the Air Force?”

Jake cleared his throat, as if he were uncomfortable with the question. “I was ready for a change,” he answered after a pause.

“Fair enough,” I replied. If neither of us was in the mood to go into details, there were other things to occupy us. “Come on, I want to show you something else.”

I slipped my fingers between his again and he squeezed lightly, following me along the railing to the edge of the deck, where a set of stairs led down to the ground. I tossed our bottles in the trash on our way out, curious if anyone noticed us leaving, but no one was looking. We walked along a pine needle-covered trail for a short distance, catching glimpses of moonlight through the tall trees overhead.

“You’re not dragging me off into the woods to kill me, are you?” He joked after a few minutes.
“Of course not, I’d never do something so cliché.”

“And this isn’t some kind of prank, like tie the new guy to a tree in his underwear?”

That made me chuckle. “Okay, who have you been hanging out with? You’re very suspicious for a guy on a moonlit walk with a girl.”

“Sorry, maybe I was in the military too long. My faith in humanity only goes as far as I can throw a person, and that isn’t far.”

“Well, rest assured I have no nasty surprises in store.”

“No surprises?”

“I didn’t say that,” I answered with a grin. We followed the curve of the path and the gazebo came into view.

After we stepped up onto the wooden platform, he looked around warily. “Okay, I don’t see any ninjas ready to ambush me, so that’s good. But this is sort of an odd place to put a gazebo, isn’t it? Like, there’s no lake to look out at, no actual view. It’s just forest.”

I sidled up to him and pressed my body against his, sliding my hands up his chest. “It is quiet, but I wouldn’t say there’s no view.” My gaze locked on his, and he swallowed awkwardly. “What I like best about this place is that there’s no one around. It’s a brilliant spot for privacy.”

Even in the darkness, his eyes seemed to flash with comprehension. I waited, my breaths light past my lips and my heart pounding, to see how he’d respond to the invitation.

Jake’s hand slid up into the tangle of my hair, cradling my head while his lips moved in to claim mine. He was firm, insistent, and I bent under the pressure, opening to welcome him. Heat built between my legs, a pleasurable throb of excitement when his mouth met mine. His tongue slid against my lips, followed by a gentle press of teeth, and a surge of heat shot up my spine as I pressed back against him. My fingers climbed his shoulders, tracing patterns over the soft hair at the nape of his neck.

Jake groaned deep in his throat, and his free hand pulled my body tight against his, then slid down my back, over the curve of my hips, to the place my dress split. In one move, he tugged my thigh up and clenched his fist in my hair, arching my back against the rail. My leg wrapped around his hip, tightening, and I had no problem balancing on one leg when I was pressed between him and the railing. His fingers massaged my thigh while his hips pushed between my legs, the pressure leaving me with little doubt that he was every bit as turned on now as I was.

He tugged more firmly on my hair, trailing kisses along my exposed neck, followed by the gentle scrapes of his teeth that sent shivers coursing through my body. His lips tracked down further, painting a course over my chest, down to the indentation between my breasts.

My chest heaved, every nerve alive with sensation. Jake’s hot breath on my chest; the sweet aftertaste of Jack Daniels on my tongue; his warm, firm fingers; the pleasurable sensation of the hand gripping my hair; the scent of his cologne mixed with the fresh scent of pine; the cool night air at odds with the heat between our bodies. I could imagine the steam coming off of us like a jacuzzi on a winter night.

And just like that, the spell was broken. A trio of voices reached us from the direction of the events building, coming down the path we’d just walked. We froze in place.

“Come on guys, we’re almost there.”

“Dude, we don’t have to go this far out to smoke a bowl. No one cares.”

“I dunno about you, but I’d like to be invited back next summer. Blazing up at the company party isn’t exactly the best look, bro.”

“I dunno if you’ve heard, bro, pot is legal in Colorado now.”

“That doesn’t make it fit for public consumption. We’re almost there, man, just stop complaining.”

Jake released me in a panic, pulling me upright, then stepping back two paces with a terrified look.

I almost felt bad for the guy. I approached and placed my hands on both of his cheeks, planting a soft kiss on his lips. “I guess it’s not as private as I’d hoped. Let’s head back.”

He kissed me back more firmly, then claimed my hand and led the way out of the gazebo. Jake kept me slightly behind his body as if he were protecting me from oncoming threats.

“It’s no big deal,” I giggled quietly. “It’s just some lift-runners coming down to smoke pot. They seriously won’t care that we were down here making out.”

“Yeah, well, I care. It’s not a good look to be feeling a lady up in the dark woods alone.”

“Hey,” I tugged on his hand, forcing him to stop and turn around. “I happen to think it was a very good look.” I reached up and tugged his face back to mine to emphasize my point. He kissed me back, but with less enthusiasm than before.

“Well, I still think I should take you on a proper date,” he grumbled as he continued back up the path, my hand still in his.

“And what makes you think I want a date?”

That got his attention. “You don’t?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll guess we’ll have to see what happens when you actually ask me.”

Jake chuckled. “Fair enough.”

We passed the trio of summer employees on their way to the gazebo, and I didn’t miss their curious glances when they realized it was me. I gave them a wink but didn’t say anything, and we finished our climb to the top in silence.

“So,” I said finally, when we were back on the deck. I leaned against the railing and regarded him coyly. A light breeze ruffled my dress and drew goosebumps to my skin; the space was empty aside from us now, the sudden change in temperature having chased the other employees away. 

That or the siren call of free booze inside.

“So, what?” At this point, I couldn’t tell if he was confused or just teasing.

“So are you going to ask me out? Or was this all an elaborate ruse of some kind?”

He grinned, leaning against the railing next to me. “No, first I have to ask for your number. Then after several days of playing it cool, then awkward texting and random conversations about the weather, I might finally work up the courage to ask you on a date. Does that work for you?”

“I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
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