Why is he making it so hard to hate him?
There are few things I enjoy more than messing with Taylor Palmer. She’s such a priss with her tight, corporate skirts and her high heels. Someone’s got to bring her down to Earth.
She glares at me and parades her dates into my bar like she thinks it’ll bother me. She’s on the hunt for a husband, but she’s doing it all wrong. She’s never going to be into one of these nerds. She really wants a man like me, but I’m not on the market.
I can help her find a guy she can stomach. And if she decides to break her celibacy streak with me in the meantime, good for her…and me. But she better not get attached. She also needs to quit making me feel things I don’t understand.
I’ll never forgive John Chapman for what he did to my best friend. I don’t care that she’s forgiven him, is close friends with him now, and even seems to be pushing me toward him. It’s because he and I are the last two single people in our friend group. All will be right in the world if he and I just connect. Forget it.
He fancies himself some kind of dating coach. He says he can find me the right guy. He certainly couldn’t do worse than I’ve been doing. I guess it won’t hurt to let him help.
The only problem is he won’t quit making his own moves on me, and they are working, impressively. I can’t fall for him. He’s made that crystal clear. But as we grow closer, I have to wonder if I’m chipping away at his cement walls, just a little bit.
Welcome to Destiny Dunes, where the only thing hotter than the Florida sun is the romance between this resort’s employees. Each book in this steamy series focuses on your favorite romance tropes. Once you enter the gates of Destiny Dunes, you’ll never want to leave!
Chapter One (Taylor)
I sit across from tonight’s date, struggling to keep my eyes open. He’s droning on about his dream car, or his friend’s dream car, or some car he test-drove. I can’t be bothered to keep up. What wakes me up is watching John Chapman, who we all call by his last name, because a guy like him is no ordinary John, walk out of the kitchen carrying two plates of food in each of his big, strong hands, the muscles in his forearms flexing as he goes.
I sit up straight, focusing on my date as if he’s the most interesting guy on the planet. I nod, smile, and even say, “Fascinating,” as Chapman delivers the plates to the table next to us. He cuts his eyes in my direction, not that I’m looking out of the corner of my eye or anything.
He heads back to the kitchen, wearing those jeans like no other man could. Everything about him is big and grabable.
“You know?” asks the twerp in front of me.
“Oh yes, definitely,” I say.
He breaks out in a smile. “I’m so glad you agree.”
I lift my eyebrows with a nod.
He squints at me. “Would you mind if I hit the head a moment?”
“Be my guest,” I say, pointing him in the right direction.
Once he’s out of sight, I put my head in my hand, nursing my newly forming headache. The sound of a chair hitting the floor hard grabs my attention, and I look up to find Chapman at the table where the twerp was, sitting down in a chair he’s turned around backwards. His muscled-up arms rest on the back of the chair, and he studies me with crystal blue eyes.
I’m shocked that he’s actually chosen to speak with me. He never talks to me.
He leans in, looking like a grizzly bear at a little girl’s tea party. “How’s tonight’s date going?”
“It’s going great. He seems wonderful,” I lie.
He scrutinizes me, making my girl parts sing. Bad vagina, bad.
I have the misfortune of being in the same friend group with Chapman. He owns this bar along with Easton and Logan. Logan is coupled up with my good friend Piper, and up until about a month ago, Easton was my roommate and close friend. We’re still close friends, just not roommates anymore, because now he’s with Raven, who also works at this bar, and up until about a month ago, lived with Chapman. There’s no way to get away from this guy unless I want to find all new friends. I’ve already lost all my girlfriends from college to marriage and babies. These people are all I have. So I endure him, no matter how big of an asshole he is and no matter how scorching hot he is.
He lifts an eyebrow. “You know, there are a couple dozen bars just like this one up and down Beach Avenue. Do you have any reason in particular that you always bring your dates to this one?”
“Is my business not welcome here?” I ask.
“I’ll happily take your money or his anytime. But I have a theory as to why you bring your dates here.”
I roll my eyes. “Let’s hear your theory.”
“I think you might be trying to make me jealous.”
I make a production of laughing. “I’m making you jealous, huh?”
“That’s not what I said. That’s what I think you’re trying to do.”
“This might come as a shock, but I never even think about you,” I lie, “much less would I factor you in to where I bring my dates.”
He sits back, squinting at me. “You know, you don’t have to hate me so much.”
“I don’t have to like you, either.”
“What did I ever do to you?”
I glare at him. “You know what you did.”
“Sure, but I didn’t do it to you.”
“You did it to my sweet, kind friend. That’s even worse.”
“It all worked out fine, she’s forgiven me, and we’re sitting here in this bar because of what I did. You should be thanking me.”
I huff a laugh. “Why in the world would I thank you for brokering a deal with Piper’s sleazy ex for Logan to break her heart for money so she’d go back to asshole ex? Do you see all that is wrong here? Not only were you setting up that sweet girl for heartache, but you were trying to send her back to a horrific man who was only in the relationship for her trust fund.”
“When you put it that way . . .” His perfect mouth sneaks into a smile and I could just slap him, or jump him.
I grab my purse strap off the back of the chair. “You’re not worth my time.” I dig in my purse for my wallet, because even though he’s part owner of this bar, two other men own it with him, and I’m not stiffing them.
He reaches across the table. “Save your money,” he says as he puts his big hand on my wrist, causing a jolt of electricity to go through me that I try to tamp down. “This one’s on me. Now do you forgive me?”
I shrug his hand off. “You really think you can buy me a couple of drinks and a plate of nachos and that makes up for your abhorrent behavior?”
“Look, it all worked out in the end. We turned it around on the guy and suckered him. And Piper gave us the money for this bar. You love this bar. You’re here five nights a week.”
“I come here because my closest friends either own it or work here. And I do not come here five nights a week. I’m here maybe once a week.”
“You were in here three times last week.”
I lift my eyebrows. “You’re keeping track?”
He looks rattled for the first time since he sat down. He glances over my shoulder and stands up. “Sorry, dude. Just saying hello to a friend.”
“No problem,” the twerp says, putting his fist against his chest with a burp. “Those nachos did not agree with me.” I stand up, shouldering my purse, and the guy’s eyes go wide. “Wow. You are tall, aren’t you?”
I let out an exhaustive sigh. “Yes. I state clearly on my profile that I’m six feet tall.”
“Yeah, but you’re at least six and a half feet tall. I’m six foot one, and you’re way taller than I am.”
Chapman clears his throat with a little grin. “Enjoy the rest of your date.” He walks away, leaving me wanting to strangle him.
I take a couple of bills out of my wallet and then head over to the bar. “Raven, I need to get out of here. Will you make sure Kinsley gets this?”
“Of course,” she says with an empathetic smile.
I hold out my hand to the guy. “It was nice meeting you. I hope it goes okay with your car.”
“Motorcycle,” he says.
“Whatever. Have a good night.”
I head out to the parking lot, and the second I reach my car, my heart sinks. My lights are on. That stupid dinging sound that goes off when you open the door and your lights are still on quit working a few months ago. You would think after the first couple of times this happened, I would get the stupid thing fixed. But here I am, once again, needing a jump.
I get in and turn the key. Nothing. Shit.
I sit here, drumming up the courage to go back inside for help. That damn Chapman. Why do I let him rattle me?
My date for the evening walks past on the sidewalk. He squints at me.
Crap. I give him a smile and a wave off. He waves back, and I can feel him getting ready to come over, so I grab my phone and start looking at it like I’m busy. He finally walks away and I relax again.
Once he is safely out of the parking lot, I haul myself out of the car and head back inside. Chapman is at the bar with Raven. I want so badly to walk straight back to Easton’s office, but I don’t want to be presuming. “Hey,” Raven says, like she’s surprised to see me.
“Is Easton in his office?” I ask, thumbing over my shoulder. I’m blocked in by two cars, but I think Easton has one of those battery booster things that doesn’t require a second car.
“He ran out for a minute. They needed something in the kitchen.”
I glance around. “What about Logan?” I’m not as close with Logan as I am with Easton, but he’s with my girl Piper. He’s a great guy, and he knows she and I are good friends, so I know he’ll help if he can.
“He’s working the outside bar,” Chapman says. “What’s wrong?”
I set my purse down on the bar. “I’ll wait for Easton.”
“What’s going on?” Raven asks.
I put my fingertips on my forehead. “My battery’s dead.”
“I’ll jump you,” Chapman says with that gleam in his eye like he’s gotten one up on me.
I glare at him. “I’ll wait.”
“Seriously. I got this.” He winks and heads toward the parking lot.
I follow him out there. “There’re cars on either side of me, so I don’t think we can do anything right now, unless you have one of those battery booster things.”
“No, but I’ll take a look.”
I have to practically jog in my heels to keep up with his huge strides. Chapman is probably six and a half feet tall. He is the stuff of tall girls’ wildest fantasies. But I am not falling into that trap. I’ve dated tall guys who were complete assholes. I stopped a long time ago trying to find a guy who was taller than I am because why eliminate ninety-five percent of the dating pool? Guys who are shorter can be great. I’ve dated some terrific ones. It’s just never worked out in the end.
He stops in front of my car, and I realize he already knows what car I drive. He’s taken note. Of course, I know what car he drives, but I didn’t expect him to have paid attention to anything about me.
He stands in front of it, surveying the situation. “Yeah, I don’t know these cars. We’re going to have to wait till these people leave. Do you want me to go inside and make an announcement?”
“No, don’t do that. I’ll just wait.”
“Or I could take you home.”
The idea of going home and being in my comfies right now is too good to pass up. I’ll be right back over here tomorrow for the fall festival on the beach. Piper has set up a booth for the restaurant and I offered to work it. I’ll catch a ride with Simone and Isaac, and then I’ll get Easton to give me a jump at some point tomorrow. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“Nope,” he says, walking toward his truck. He stops at the passenger side and opens the door. I give him a leery look. I wonder if this is typical for him, opening the door for a woman. He’s not trying to butter me up so he can sleep with me tonight, is he? That would be so weird.
He barely speaks a word to me when our group is all together. He always brings a date when we hang out or have parties. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not just to make sure I don’t think he and I are a possibility because we’re the only two single people left in our group. And the fact that we’re both tall doesn’t help things. We’re sort of an obvious match. But he’s made it evident that he’s not interested. Not that I am. Chapman is an asshole. Nowhere near marriage material. And I’m done wasting my time on assholes.
He drops his head to the side. “You have to actually get into the truck for me to take you home.” I get in, and so does he. He backs out of the space, and we pull onto Beach Avenue. “I assume you’re still in employee housing at Destiny Dunes?” he asks.
“Did they give you a new roommate when Easton moved out?”
I roll my eyes. “I have no idea, to be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without her face in a book.”
“Bookish. Definitely hot.”
I wiggle in my seat.
“Sorry I ruined your date,” he says, looking not sorry at all. “You didn’t have to go when you did.”
“It had nothing to do with you. I was done.”
“With that guy? Seriously? He seemed fantastic.” The sarcasm drips off his tongue.
“He was fine. I just wasn’t in the mood for a date.”
“Why, you getting tired of that parade of losers you’ve been bringing into my bar for months now?”
I turn to face him. “Why are you suddenly so interested in my love life? You never even speak to me when we’re at parties or hanging out with the group.”
“Because you’re always talking to some guy. Besides, that works both ways. You can come up to me and speak.”
“I’d have to bump your five-foot flavor of the week out of the way.” I regret the words as soon as they come off my tongue. But I can’t help it. It irritates me so badly that every girl he brings to our group get-togethers is under five feet tall. It’s like he’s trying to send me a message that I am the complete opposite of his type.
He peers over at me with a hint of a triumphant smile. Dammit, why did I let him know he gets to me? “My dates can’t help how tall they are,” he says. “They weren’t blessed with height like you and me.”
“Oh, sure. When you’re a six-and-a-half-foot tall man, you’re the envy of everyone. Men want to be you and women want to be with you just because you’re tall. But when you’re a six-foot tall woman, your dating pool is reduced to like one percent of the male population.” And then I say under my breath, “No matter how hard you try.”
“The short guys aren’t doing it for you?”
“I don’t put emphasis on height. I try very hard to look at the person and whether or not they are someone I would want to spend time with. Are they decent and kind, and do they know how to treat a woman? If I could find a guy who met that criteria, I wouldn’t care if he was four-foot nine.”
He peers over at me. “You would date a guy a foot shorter than you?”
“Yes, I would. You date women a foot and a half shorter than you all the time. What’s the difference?”
He chuckles. “There’s a huge difference.”
“Oh please. Don’t tell me you’re into this whole societal norm of male is big and strong, woman is tiny and docile.”
“I have a type. I can’t help that.”
I shake my head, the fury building inside of me. I just wanna slap him so hard.
We ride in silence a minute until he pulls into the resort.
“Do you know which unit is mine?” I ask.
“Yeah, I stand on your front lawn with a boom box over my head cranking Peter Gabriel songs every night. Haven’t you seen me out there?”
I would be bothered by his insult if it didn’t excite me that he knew that movie. “Don’t tell me you like eighties teen flicks. I don’t want to like something about you.”
“Are you kidding? The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo’s Fire. How did we end up with all those movies about sick kids falling in love when our parents’ generation had those gems?” We ride to the housing units in silence as I get used to the fact that there might be more to like about him than just his hotness. “Are you still in the same unit you shared with Easton?”
He huffs a laugh.
I squint at him. “What?”
“I just think it’s silly that you two hid the fact that you slept together all that time.”
My mouth drops open and I turn my body to face him. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb. I’m not an idiot.”
“Seriously, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that it’s not possible that you and Easton lived together and never slept together. He’s straight, you’re straight, it was bound to happen. Just admit it.”
I can’t help a laugh. “You are unbelievable. Easton and I never slept together. Where did you get that idea?”
He rolls his eyes at me as he pulls into the driveway.
“Did someone say something like that?” I ask, because I don’t want it going around that Easton and I slept together. I’m just now getting Raven to like me. She was insecure about the fact that I lived with Easton, which I understood, and so I gave her plenty of time to come around. Easton has assured her that we did not sleep together. I don’t want her thinking that we did.
He puts the car in park. “I said it,” he says, staring at me in challenge.
“You need to quit saying it because it’s not true.”
He gauges me like he’s trying to make up his mind.
I shake my head and go to get out of the car but he puts his big hand on my arm. “Wait, tell me why you weren’t in the mood for this date tonight. Did something happen?”
I don’t know this Chapman. I’ve never known him to have interest in anything I had to say, much less actually care about something that might’ve made a bad day for me.
“I’m just getting tired of dating.”
“Then why do you do it so much?”
I let out a sigh. “Because have you looked around lately? Everyone we know is part of a couple. Logan and Piper, Easton and Raven, Simone and Isaac, Kylie and Brett, Jack and Tori, Val and Levi. And every single one of my girlfriends from college is either engaged, married, or having babies. Even my best friend from home, Knox, is getting married and having a kid, and I never dreamed he’d do either. Sometimes I feel like the world is moving on and I’m not.”
“So that’s a reason to get married? Because everyone else is doing it?”
“What if I want to get married?”
“Ugh. No thanks.”
“I wasn’t proposing, you jerk.”
“I just meant I don’t want to get married.”
“Well, I do. And last I checked you need a partner for that.”
“You should give yourself a break. Have some fun.”
“My dates are fun,” I lie.
“When’s the last time you had some real fun?” He lifts his eyebrows.
“I have real fun,” I snap at him as I remember a fun date. “It’s true. I had some fun recently.” It was about three months ago, but it was fun . . . ish.
“I could come in right now and we could watch a John Hughes movie. You could fangirl about how much you love Molly Ringwald’s style in Pretty in Pink.”
I consider him, feeling the moment turn. “You are trying to get inside so you can sleep with me, aren’t you?”
“Haven’t you thought about it?”
My stomach tingles. I can’t believe he’s calling it out like this. The obvious tension of being the only single people in our group has been sitting between us for months. And now it’s all right here, brought to the surface.
“No, I have not.” Man, is my nose growing.
He narrows his gaze at me, causing a fire down low. “I call bullshit.”
“Have you ever considered that maybe you aren’t as handsome and desirable as you think you are?”
I just huff at him and then open the car door.
As I’m getting ready to shut it, he says, “I’m glad it worked.”
“You’re glad what worked?”
“The women I brought to all those parties. I was trying to get to you.” He stretches over the seats, leaning toward me, staring up at me with those blue eyes that make me swoon. “Looks like I did.” He pulls the door shut.
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