Life on the Level

By: Zoraida Cordova

On the Verge: Book Three





To Laura Duane, for totally getting me.





Chapter 1


Zero days sober




“I hope the sky’s not the only big thing in Montana,” I whisper in his ear.

His full lips smile against mine.

“You’re a handful, aren’t you?” His voice is like the whiskey, burning right through me.

I pull away from him to get a good look at his face again. The dim blue light of Grizzly Country Bar frames his sharp cheekbones and strong jawline. He has dark eyes and darker hair that coils around the tips of my fingers. I’ve finally met a guy that makes my heart skip a beat.

I’ve been in town for a little less than two days, on the road to salvation. Actually, on the road to Sun Valley, Montana. Tomorrow, my life changes forever. Tonight, I’ll allow myself one last hurrah, and his name is—well, actually, I don’t know his name. But from the moment I set foot in the bar and saw him hunched over his beer, looking like he was just as lost as I was, I knew it had to be him—and only him.

I went right up to him, grabbed his beer, and took a swig from it. It was still frothy and cold. His midnight-black eyes went wide and a little angry. Then he looked me up and down, and his eyes softened. Unlike other guys, he didn’t linger at my long, suntanned legs. He looked straight into my eyes, and I didn’t look away for a minute.

“Hey, Trouble,” he said, an irresistible grin spreading across his beautiful face.

The rest of his body is solid, and even sitting down, he looks tall. I bet he’s one of those guys who rides around on horses, rounding up cows and stuff. Men aren’t built like this in New York. Salt of the earth and all that.

“Hey, kind stranger,” I said. “Can I buy you a drink, since I stole yours?”

He looked taken aback by the offer. Some guys don’t like aggressive girls, and even more girls don’t like aggressive girls. But what did I care? If he was into me, great. If he wasn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be. He looked a little nervous. He asked me my name, and I pretended the music was too loud. I loved watching him turn toward me. I asked if he wanted to sit in the corner booth for more privacy.

My heart skipped when he hesitated—just because a guy is smoking hot doesn’t mean he’s a manwhore. I put on my best mischievous smile, thrilled when he decided to follow.

And now we’re here.

I was surprised at how easily he talked about himself. I didn’t want to care. But I found myself smiling while he spoke. He was born and raised in Montana, and went to the U of M right here in town. He’s going to tell me what he does for a living, but the waitress comes over and drops off our next round. He wants to know too much. Asks too many questions. In turn, I’m super vague.

I’m from out east, I say, and he guesses New York because of the way I asked for water. I’m an only child, and an orphan. What do you know? So is he. Then we’re kind of quiet, and I feel something tight in my heart. He smiles so easily and reaches for my hand. I tell him, I’m just passing through. No, I don’t go to school. No, I don’t have friends in town.

He watches me like he’s trying to unravel a mystery, and I watch him because I want him to kiss me first. When he doesn’t, I kiss him. I press my lips to the corner of his mouth, and he watches me for a long while. It feels too intimate, but what do I know of intimacy? My skin flushes when he reaches for my long blonde curls. He brushes them over my shoulder. I see him trying to make up his mind. I see him convincing himself that this anonymous hookup is right.

“You look nervous.” I rest my back against the leather of our cozy little booth.

He chuckles. “I’m not used to putting on a show.”

A few locals nudge each other in the ribs. Waitresses eye us in their perfunctory ponytails and maroon tank tops two sizes too small, to get that perky and pushed up look. Or I should say, they eye me. It’s like I’ve taken something precious from them and kept it for myself.

My best friend Sky always reminds me that I don’t like to share. That goes for my fries and my men.

“Only when you’re sharking some dudes at pool?” I ask.

He cocks his head to the side and takes a sip of his beer. It’s local, and there’s a picture of a moose on it. It matches the moose head on the wall, among other mounted wild animals. This is the closest to nature I’ve been in a long time. Unless you count the squirrels that try to hijack my food in Central Park.

“I know what you’re doing,” he tells me, pulling my legs across his lap. “You’re trying to make me guess your name.”

It’s a funny thing—I don’t remember his name. I don’t know his birthday. I can’t figure out if his sign matches mine in any sort of astrological way. I don’t know where he got those cheekbones, that creamy skin, those callouses on his hands, or the scar right under his bottom lip shaped like a crescent moon. I don’t know any of these things, but I sure do love looking at him.

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