We are getting a sexy new standalone from Elizabeth Hayley—part of the Misadventures collection of spicy stories, each written or co-written by some of the best names in romance—and I have the cover for you, as well as a little sneak peek.
“Isla? It’s so nice to meet you. I’m sorry I’m late.” After letting go of my hand, he pointed to the empty chair across from me. “May I sit?”
“Yes. Of course. Please.”
We looked at each other for a few more moments before he spoke. “Sorry if I’m staring,” he said. “It’s just that you’re even more beautiful in person than you are in your pictures.”
That made me smile, and I felt the comment draw some heat to my cheeks, no doubt bringing color to my usually pale skin. “Thank you. I was thinking the same.” It was probably the first time any of the men looked better in person than they did in their profile pictures.
He looked at me a little longer before I asked if he wanted to get something to drink before we talked.
He nodded. “Sure, I’ll grab something. Can I get you anything?”
“No thanks,” I said. And while he waited in line, I took a second to text my sister that Luca had just shown up, he was hot, and so far, seemed like a gentleman. Olivia made me promise to call as soon as I left.
When Luca returned with his coffee and a cheese Danish, I found myself feeling more excited for this date than I had about any of the others before it. He worked about two miles from the coffee shop as an investment advisor. “I’ve been with Millennium for a little over two years,” he said. “It’s been great so far. I can bring my dog to work.”
“Seriously? I love dogs. What kind do you have?”
“A labradoodle named Chelsea.”
I found myself leaning in a little as Luca talked, almost entranced by his clear blue eyes and the way his crisp button-up fit perfectly across his chest and shoulders. The man definitely worked out. Though thankfully not as much as Mick.
“Chelsea’s a cute name for a dog. Where’d you come up with it?”
“Oh, I can’t take credit for that. My girlfriend named her. She went to college in New York.”
My eyes widened as I struggled to swallow the sip of tea I’d just taken. “I’m assuming you mean your ex-girlfriend?”
Luca looked genuinely confused. “No, Marybeth and I live together.”
“You live together!”
“Oh, yeah, sorry. Is that a problem? Because it’s not for Marybeth. She’s cool with it.”
“She’s cool with you having online dating profiles and seeing other women?”
“Yeah. Or men. We identify as relationship queer.” He sat back in his chair with an air of superiority. Like he and…Marybeth were somehow more progressive than me and my antiquated monogamist ideals.
“That’s not even a real term.” I would’ve laughed if my current situation wasn’t so sad.
Luca rolled his unfortunately gorgeous blue eyes. “That’s exactly what someone who adheres to conventional norms of society would say. Marybeth and I don’t subscribe to typical relationship roles. We’re not monogamous or polyamorous or into bigamy or polygamy. We’re just…whatever we want to be whenever we want to be it.”
Despite my urge to get up and leave Luca sipping his Americano alone, this was all too strange not to investigate further. As a lawyer, I had no doubt met my share of unique or just plain weird individuals, especially during my internship with a high-profile defense attorney.
I was almost surprised I hadn’t been able to sense something was off with him from the moment he sat down. But Luca seemed a different type of strange. He was a strange that usually stayed hidden until he wanted to show people—like a third nipple or a genital piercing.
“I’m pretty sure ‘relationship queer’ is offensive to the LGBTQ community,” I said.
Luca laughed like the idea was ridiculous, like I was ridiculous. “I doubt that. They’re an accepting group of people. Not subscribing to a particular belief regarding how relationships should be practiced is like not identifying with a particular gender. Gender queer, relationship queer,” he said like it was justification. “It’s the same.”
“It’s not the same.”
When Luca’s phone sounded with a text, he picked it up and began typing back. “Sorry. One second. It’s Marybeth wanting to know how everything’s going.”
I slumped back in my seat wondering—and kind of hating myself for it—what Luca was writing back.
Fifteen minutes later he left after telling me it wasn’t going the way he planned—no fucking kidding! My sister was going to get an earful about this one.
“He told me he was ‘relationship queer,’ Liv. I think I’ve earned a break from this adventure for a while.” I finished the last few sips of my tea and then spun the cup in my fingers.
I could tell by my sister’s deflated sigh that she was disappointed, and I felt bad, but I couldn’t keep going out with guys like the ones I’d met so far.
“I think you’re being too picky,” Olivia said.
“Not agreeing to see someone again after they tell you they have a girlfriend at home is not being too picky. Just like it wasn’t being picky to turn down that date with the guy who said I was hot because I looked like his mother when she was young.” That had actually been one of the less odd things he’d said. “It’s called self-preservation. I could’ve ended up as a mummified corpse somewhere while he strutted around in my clothes.”
“I feel like that’s a reference to something, but I have no idea what.”
“You’re so young,” I said with a shake of my head that my sister obviously couldn’t see from the other end of the line. Despite the almost ten-year age difference between us, we had been close since Olivia was born—and closer after our parents’ deaths eight years ago. How could we not be when we only had each other to rely on?
I hadn’t hesitated to take custody of my teenage sister, even though it meant putting my own life on hold for a bit. I’d been focused on raising Liv and finishing my law degree and eventually pursuing my career. But I’d never focused on myself—not from a purely selfish standpoint anyway.
“And you’re old,” Liv joked. “I need some nieces and nephews running around my new apartment, and soon your eggs are gonna expire.”
“It’s been lovely talking to you, sis. Gotta go, though.”
“Wait!” Liv said. “I’m kidding. Well, sort of. I do want you to find someone soon. You deserve to find a guy who’ll tell you how beautiful you are and cook you dinner after you’ve worked all day. Someone who’ll make love to you with a passion that—”
“I’m hanging up now,” I said, making Liv laugh, which thankfully caused her to stop talking about my imaginary sex life. Not like there was a real one to speak of.
“Love you, Lala.” Lala was what Liv used to call me when she was learning to talk, and she still employed it from time to time when she was trying to prevent me from killing her.
“Love you too,” I said before ending the call and tossing my phone in my bag. I waited another minute before standing to throw my trash away.
“Sorry. I know it’s none of my business, but you definitely made the right call getting rid of the psycho.”
I turned toward the direction of the voice, which belonged to a man who’d been sitting a few tables away. I’d noticed him on his laptop when I was waiting for Luca to arrive but hadn’t paid him much attention until now. Though maybe I should have.
Even though he was seated, I could tell he was tall—long arms, broad shoulders, a swimmer’s build with sandy brown hair and eyes so green they rivaled freshly cut grass on a spring afternoon.
“Oh, yeah, that guy was out there for sure. Who in their right mind thinks they can get someone to agree to date them when they already have a girlfriend?”
He raised his eyebrows in amusement. “It’s ballsy, no doubt about that. But I was actually talking about the future Norman Bates.”
I laughed. “Oh right, that psycho.”
“And I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on your phone conversation. I like to hear people in the background. I’ve never been much of a music guy while I work. I start singing along, and before I know it, I’ve either accomplished nothing at all or worked every line to the latest Taylor Swift song into my doodling.”
“Didn’t peg you for a Swifty,” I said.
He shrugged. “I’m a sucker for anything with a catchy beat.” He gave me a little wave. “I’m Grayson, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Grayson. I’m Isla.”