Chapter 1: Lyra
The smooth melody of soft jazz drifts through the air as I enter the bar, its rhythm speaking to my soul in ways few other things can. Everything about this place is appealing, from the black marble floors to the gold-accented bar top. The classy velvet booths and leather bar seats add an element of sophistication that most places lack.
The smell of spice and whiskey entices me toward my usual spot at the bar, where my favourite bartender is chatting up a cute blond guy. I slide into my seat silently, not wanting to interrupt the sparks flying between Marco and the blond. I shoot him a wink as he side-eyes me, his mouth tilting into a lopsided grin.
After a few minutes, the cute blondie slips a business card into Marco’s hand, his fingers lingering longer than an accidental touch would, before he strolls away, adjusting his pants subtly.
“Wow, Marco, it’s only seven and you’ve already got yourself a nightcap lined up,” I say, impressed and maybe a little jealous.
“You know how I roll, sweetness.” He winks. “You waitin’ for anyone tonight?”
“Just meeting Lex. Seems like your Friday night will be much more exciting than mine.” I grin at him, pleased at least one of us will end tonight with a bang.
“Ah, the night is young yet. Plenty of time for you to bag a hottie, too.”
I roll my eyes, not interested in another fuck-and-chuck. I’m getting bored with the same old one-night stands. They always want ‘just one more night’ or ‘just one date,’ neither of which I’m willing to give. “Can I get a scotch, Marco?”
“Comin’ up, babe.” He blows me a kiss and struts his fine self over to the back bar to whip up my drink.
I love this guy. He’s easy on the eyes and makes a mean cocktail. I’ve been coming to this bar at least once a week since I moved to New York, and over the years, Marco has become not only my favourite bartender but also my friend. Oh...and my self-appointed therapist, too. Poor guy.
“Actually, make it a double!” I yell over at Marco, feeling like getting more than a little tipsy tonight.
“Marc! Can you whip me up a martini while you’re at it?”
I flinch hard enough that my ass separates from my seat when the lilting voice of Lex, my best friend and business partner, pipes up beside me. I don’t know how she always creeps up on me like that. She’s like a walking party trick, always appearing like magic to scare the ever-living shit out of me.
“Dammit, Lex. Quit doing that! Almost made me piss myself.” I scowl at her, giving her a little shove when she wraps her arm around me in a side-hug. “I didn’t even see you come in.”
“You seem a little tense. Need me to find you a big, fit man to bang away your problems?” She giggles, her bright green eyes dancing with humour.
My grumpy attitude never dims her sunny disposition. I’m not even sure how we’re such good friends. She’s bubbly, sweet, and likeable, all traits that I don’t possess. But maybe that’s why our friendship and professional partnership is so successful—we balance each other out.
“Okay, first of all, where the hell were you? I left the office hours ago, and I’ve been here for half an hour already! And second, abso-fucking-lutely not. I do not want you to find me any type of man, thank you very much.”
“Shit, you’re a cranky asshole today, aren’t ya?” Lex says, pursing her lips and holding her hands up in mock surrender.
“Why bother finding a guy when I’ve got trusty BOB at home? He never disappoints.” I ignore her jab at me, adding to my argument about why I don’t need a damn man in my life.
“God, your life makes me so sad.” She shakes her head dramatically, her angled blonde bob swaying with the motion. “And sorry for being late, Mom. I got stuck at the office with my new assistant. She had a bunch of questions about Mrs. Pritchett’s case.”
“Ah. Mrs. Pritchett. Makes sense.” I nod, not needing any further explanation.
Mrs. P. is a recurring client at our law firm, Hart & Lumen. She is currently on divorce number four or five; I honestly can’t remember at this point. Although our firm primarily focuses on defending survivors of sexual and domestic violence, we specialize in women’s cases in all areas of law, including family law.
Fortunately and unfortunately, Mrs. Pritchett has taken a liking to us. The crazy old woman is like a handful of razor blades disguised as candy. It’s a wonder to me how she even swindled that many men into marrying her.
Lex reaches for her drink as Marco arrives back at the bar, knocking back half her martini in one swig.
“Damn. Are you sure you don’t need me to find you a fuck friend for tonight? Shooting back a martini like that implies that you, my friend, are the one with the problems.” I raise my eyebrows at her, smirking over the rim of my glass as I take a sip.
Marco clears his throat, leaning an elbow onto the bar top before adding in his two cents. “Sounds like you both need to have a little fun between the sheets.”
“Cheers to that,” Lex shouts, raising her glass in salute before taking another swig.
I roll my eyes, already getting a feel for where this is going. “Oh, no. Not me. I have much better things to do than—”
“Sh! I have an idea...” Lex blurts, cutting me off and waving her hand to silence me. Her eyes sparkle with mischief, and I’m afraid of what might come out of her mouth next. “How about this? You find someone I can take home tonight, and I’ll leave you alone for the rest of the weekend? It’ll be like the good old days!”
God help me. She has got to be kidding, right?
“What? No! We’re not in fucking college anymore, Lex. I don’t want to be your wingwoman. All I want to do is drink in silence and live vicariously through Marco’s sexual adventures with that hot blond over there.” I motion to the guy from earlier, who’s watching Marco with bedroom eyes from across the bar.
Back in the day, before life jaded the shit out of me, I used to live for this stuff—drinking all night, dancing until sunrise, and being Lex’s designated sidekick. Even though my then-boyfriend hated it, living it up with Lex had been my happy place.
But those days are long gone. I’m not the same person I was back then. The woman I am now is a ride solo kind of gal. With my bitter attitude and tainted view of men, I am no longer wingwoman material.
“Aw, come on, Ly! I need a little fun in my life, and you’re the hottest damn wingwoman out there. Bet you could set me up in a hot minute. Plus, we both need a little pick-me-up after this shit week,” Lex pleads, jutting her lower lip out in a pout and staring at me with her big, round puppy-dog eyes.
I roll my eyes at her yet again. Spending every day with Lex, it’s a wonder my eyeballs don’t get stuck back there. “You are ridiculous.”
Inching closer to me, Lex curls her fingers around my arm and rests her chin on my shoulder to stare at me. “Pretty please.”
I burst out laughing; I can’t help it. Looking at her right now, you would never know she’s a badass lawyer with a mile-long win streak. She’s acting more like a child begging their mommy for a new toy.
But knowing Lex, I’m not getting out of this one without a fight, so I’ll bite. I can win her little game, and the prize of her leaving me alone is far too tempting to pass up.
“Ugh, fine! But just know, this is some serious reverse sexism shit.” I cave, fighting a smile and softening myself to her stupid idea. “Oh! And if you want to play this game, babe, I’m upping the stakes.”
“Spoken like a true lawyer,” Lex says, clapping her hands together and plunking down on the edge of her bar stool. “Lay it on me.”
“If I win and find you a one-nighter, you leave me alone, and you have to debrief Mrs. P. on her husband’s requests for the divorce.” I counter offer her terms, smiling internally and patting myself on the back for this one.
“Ugh. You drive a hard bargain...” Lex eyes me cautiously, weighing whether her little game is worth the consequences. “But you’ve got yourself a deal. This guy you think you’ll find though, he’s gotta be a solid eight with a personality of gold.”
“Challenge accepted.” I nod, clinking my glass to hers and turning around to scan the room.
There’s a group of pretentious-looking men sitting in one booth, all too busy on their phones to pay attention to each other. Another table is full of young, rowdy, frat-looking guys that don’t fit in with the refined vibe of this place. Damn. It’s slim pickings tonight.
I sip my drink, ready to accept I may lose this little challenge until my eyes finally settle on a pair of the sexiest men I’ve ever seen. It’s too bad I’m not on the market tonight because I’m almost tempted to change my mind and scoop one up for myself.
“Them.” I toss back the rest of my scotch and motion to the two sex pots sliding into an electric-blue booth across the way. “Marco, we’re gonna need a few shots for this.”
Checkmate, Lex. One of them is bound to make me a winner.
Three tequila shots later, I feel loose enough to make my move. I grab the unopened bottle of expensive scotch I just purchased, hoping my little gift will impress. A woman who drinks fancy whiskey always surprises men, especially fancy men in suits like these two.
I shimmy off my bar stool, straightening my tight dress before I say, “Alright, babe. Let’s go. Game on.”
Their features come into focus as we make our way to the booth. Target number one has dark auburn hair that whisks the collar of his crisp white dress shirt, which is accented by a pale pink tie.
His eyes are a milky chocolate brown with a touch of yellow around the pupil, framed by nicely manicured brows. His hint of a smile at our approach shows his slightly crooked front teeth, which weren’t unattractive but gave him a unique appeal.
I can’t quite see target number two’s face yet, but what I can appreciate from this angle is his inky black hair; it’s slightly shorter on the sides with an attractive tousled flip on top, begging for fingers to run through its strands. And he’s big. Even sitting, you can tell he’s got to be at least six-and-a-half feet, easy. I can’t help but wonder if he’s that big everywhere.
As we arrive at their table, I slap a megawatt smile on my face and say, “Mind if we join you, gentlemen? We come with gifts.” I hold up the bottle of scotch and four tumblers as proof.
The swish of liquor in the bottle draws the gaze of hottie number two, and… oh my, fuck me. If I thought the first guy with the crooked teeth was hot, this man was otherworldly.
He had a jaw that made my legs shake, his five o’clock shadow just adding to his rugged sex appeal. His lower lip was slightly fuller than the top, leading to a perfectly chiseled nose.
But his eyes. Those were the cherry on top. They were so light blue they looked almost silver, with an intensity that gave me instant goosebumps. I feel all the hairs on my body standing on end when those eyes scan me slowly from head to toe, almost like he’s memorizing every inch of me.
Once his perusal of my body is done, he looks away without a word and slides over, motioning for me to sit beside him. I scowl, incensed that it feels like I just passed some secret test of approval. I'm not here to impress this guy. I don't need permission to sit in his presence like some hopeful conquest.
"You just gonna stand there, Ly?" Lex smirks at me, noticing my pinched face as I glare at Mr. hot-but-dickish.
I’ve been so wrapped up in his damn perfect face along with my dislike for his judgment of me, that I didn’t realize Lex was already sitting beside guy number one, clearly claiming him as her prize for tonight.
She doesn’t waste any time, and I love that about her. She always acts before she thinks, jumping in with both feet every time. But I can’t fault her. She knows what she wants, and that’s something a woman like me can appreciate.
I don't bother answering Lex when I drop into the booth beside Mr. Tall and Dark, taking in the authoritative air around him.
Shit, I’m going to have to watch myself with this one. He looks like he could be my next big mistake. If I don’t play this carefully, his assertive demeanour may just knock my badass ego down a notch.
I’d be lying if I said he didn’t embody every fantasy I’ve ever had, but I refuse to let some sexy stranger fuck with my feminine energy.
Not tonight. Not ever.