Page 39 of The Keeper

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She grins and gives the hostess a thumbs-up. We follow, heading back to a two-top table in a secluded alcove. I pull out her chair, and she sits, thanking me.

She chooses the wine, and then we look over the menu for a few minutes. I find my eyes sliding frequently to take in the fullness of her lips, the prominence of her nose. She’s such a unique woman, beautiful in a way I can barely process. I want desperately to unclothe her again, to take in every inch of her body. I want to hear her crying out when she’s coming like she did during our night together. It’s all I can think about.

She asks what I’m having, and I force my mind back to the menu. I rattle off the first thing I see. “Good choice,” she tells me.

After our order is in, she focuses her attention on me. “I’m getting the feeling your mind is somewhere else tonight, Cal. Would you rather not go to the show?”

I recoil, surprised by the question. “What? No.”

“You just seem…distracted. If you don’t want to go out, I understand.”

“No, I want to go out,” I say quickly. “I’m sorry, I—”

“You what?”

“I’m finding myself distracted, that’s true. By you. By how you look tonight. I think you’re really beautiful, Billie.”

Her cheeks alight with color as she grins and swats at me like she’s swatting away the compliment. “Oh. Well, then.”

“Let’s talk about something,” I suggest. “Music? Since we’re going to a show?”

“Well, I like rock and alternative primarily, but I’ll listen to anything that’s musically or lyrically interesting,” she offers, the blush in her cheeks still clearly visible.Compliments make Billie blush.Duly noted—as I make plans to give her more compliments throughout our evening. Seeing Billie blush really works for me. A. Whole. Fucking. Lot.

“Do you find yourself listening for the drumbeats in songs since you’re a drummer?”

“I used to.” She twirls her braid in her hand and I’m fascinated. “It was all I could hear when I was first learning, and I’d put on my headphones and try to match beats. I taught myself to play that way. Now, though, unless something is particularly interesting or complex, I try to let go of the layers and hear the whole song. What about you? Are you a guitar-riff kind of guy when you listen to music?”

“No. I just enjoy music. Playing the guitar was something I did just to see if I could do it. I found that I had an aptitude for it so I kept playing, but I’m not very creative, so I can’t write. I can only repeat what I hear or play from sheet music.”

“Interesting,” she says with another rotation of her braid, the electric purple of the last two inches or so of her braided hair flashing as it whips through her fingers.

She rattles off a long list of bands she loves. Some I’ve heard of, and others are more obscure. We have plenty in common, though, and I find that I enjoy just talking with her. I’m loosening up in Billie’s presence in a way I don’t usually loosen up with people. She does most of the talking because, let’s be honest, I’m not the best conversationalist. Either way, it feels comfortable and good to me in a way I can’t recall because I’ve never experienced it before. I would know if I had. I might suck at sharing my feelings and emotions, but I am crystal fucking clear on when I’m feeling relaxed and comfortableand goodall together at the same time.

The room is warm and candlelit, and Billie’s cheeks are flushed as she pours herself a second glass of wine from the bottle we ordered. I’m still sipping my first and she offers me a pour, but I decline.

“Not a wine guy?” she asks.

One side of my face scrunches up ruefully. “Not really, no. More of a beer guy.”

“That seems right to me. Well, order a beer then.”

I shake my head. “I’m good with this wine you picked.”

Our salads come and I ask her about her family, to which she makes a face, rolling her eyes and sticking out her tongue.

“My parents are both in the entertainment business here in Los Angeles. You’ll meet them this weekend if you’re still up for the role of fake boyfriend?”

“I’m still up for it, though I don’t really know why anyone like you would ever need a fake boyfriend. I’m sure you can get a real one on your own.”

“Oh, the sweet things you say,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not that I can’t get a boyfriend. It’s that I don’t have one at the moment and my mother does not need to be meddling in my love life.”

“She’s a meddler, your mother?”

Billie barks a loud laugh, then slaps her hand over her mouth, peering around to make sure she didn’t call too much attention to herself. When she uncovers her mouth, she says, “My mother is a meddler to the thousandth degree, yes.”

“And she wants you to have a boyfriend?”

“Oh, my dear darling Cal, she wants lots of things for me and so far, I’ve been one disappointment after another. You see, my mother toted me around to be in commercials and television shows and on talent shows for the first ten years of my life. I lived, ate, and breathed child stardom, and I hated every minute of it. So, in retaliation, I went to live with my grandmother in Vegas when I started middle school. Spent middle and high school living a normal life like a normal kid. Got a normal college education and a normal job. My mother is beside herself over the wasted talent.”

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