Crushed Page 12

Instead, I focus my annoyance on Chloe.

Despite the fact that we’ve had three very productive—okay, sort of productive—workouts this week, it’s apparently done nothing to increase her self-respect.

I glare at her even though she hasn’t seen me yet, trying to convey my displeasure over the fact that she’s allowed herself to be a tagalong.

As though she senses my annoyance with her, her blue eyes bounce around the crowded bar until she finds me.

Normal girls would widen their eyes in surprise, maybe give a little half smile of recognition, but not Chloe. Without missing a beat, her wide mouth bursts into an even wider grin and she gives me a wave that’s too enthusiastic to be cool.

Well, at least I know one thing: Chloe Bellamy isn’t interested in me as a man, because she’s not even remotely trying to flirt.

Or if she is, her flirting skills need even more work than her coordination on the elliptical.

Chloe says something over her shoulder to her sister and Devon, but they’re already chatting it up with another couple at the table in the corner, and neither responds.

It’s a little pathetic, actually, but Chloe must be used to it, because she doesn’t so much as pout or flinch as she makes her way toward the bar.

God save me.

“Beefcake!” Again with one of those dopey, guileless smiles.

She plops down at one of the few vacant spots at the bar, and unlike with the usual solo girls that daintily perch themselves on the stools, there’s no glancing around to see who’s noticed her arrival. No careful positioning to ensure her posture’s just right to show off her best side. She’s just there … and happy.

So annoying.

“Beefcake?” Blake repeats from beside me.

Chloe smiles at my coworker and explains. “Michael’s my personal trainer. He thinks my life will be complete if I can run an eleven-minute mile.”

“No,” I say through clenched teeth, “I just think you’ll live a little longer if you don’t have cheese-puff crumbs trickling through your veins.”

Her smile grows wider as she beams at Blake. “He cares. We’re best friends.”

“We’re not—damn it—” I inhale through my nose, praying for patience. Generally speaking, I’m not much of a talker, but Chloe Bellamy has this way of making me talk just as a means to counteract her ridiculousness.

“You have to order a drink if you’re going to sit up here,” I finally manage. Irritably.

She shrugs and smiles. “Okay! Make me something alcoholic.”

This time I don’t bother responding, but I hope my withering look clearly conveys that appropriate bar behavior demands she be more specific.

“Um, do you have anything that tastes like bubble gum?” she asks, tilting her head.

In the gym, Chloe’s been better about pulling her hair back, but tonight it’s all crazy and everywhere. Add the busy purple pattern on her blouse, and looking at her is dizzying, even if she demands a second look. And a third.

“Actually, we do have this new bubble gum vodka,” Blake says, his eavesdropping skills in full force.

Chloe’s eyes light up, but I put a hand on Blake’s shoulder and push him toward the other end of the bar that he’s supposed to be manning. “No. You’re not drinking that,” I mutter. “You’re drinking something respectable.”

“But I want …”

Ignoring her, I pour gin into a glass, watching her pout as I fill it to the top with tonic and then drop in a lime.

“Here.” I set the drink in front of her. “A reputable gin and tonic.”

She takes a sip of the drink.

“Well?” I ask when she says nothing.

Chloe rolls her eyes. “I’ve had a gin and tonic before,” she retorts before reaching across to the condiments container and helping herself to a few maraschino cherries.

One goes in her mouth before the other three drop into her drink.

I watch and frown. “You know there aren’t supposed to be cherries—actually, you know what? Never mind,” I mutter, nodding acknowledgment at the two women down the bar pointing to their empty pinot grigio glasses.

Chloe Bellamy could coax even a mute into conversation, and it annoys me.

“Shoulda given me the bubble gum vodka,” Chloe calls after me as her arm reaches forward to grab yet another cherry.

Things at P&S pick up then, as they generally will on a Friday night, and several minutes pass before I can get back to Chloe. Not that I need have worried about her. She’s busy chatting it up with an aging businessman on her right who’s showing her something on his phone.

When things finally calm down enough for me to check on her a second time, her drink has turned pink from the cherries and she’s about to launch into another conversation with the couple on her left. I snap a finger in front of her face. “Hey, I wanna talk to you about something.”

She sighs. “Is it about the calories in this drink? Because I’ll give you another minute on the treadmill to make up for it, but not a second more.”

I almost smile. “No, it’s about the fact that you came here with your sister and her boyfriend.” A quick glance across the bar shows that they’ve settled in with their friends in the corner, and neither seems to be the least bit worried—or aware—that one of their companions is all by herself.

Chloe tilts her head, sending the curls tilting to one side. “What about it?”

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