“Guys, this is Taylor. Taylor, these are the guys.” Conor strips out of his suit jacket and tosses it on the back of a chair.
For a moment I’m transfixed, watching the way his muscles push against the crisp white fabric of his shirt. His chest straining against the buttons. He may have just ruined me for suits.
In unison the guys reply, “Hi, Taylor,” like we’re all in on a joke.
“Hi, guys.” I wave, now feeling awkward. All the more so because it’s hot in this room and I really, really want to take off my sweater.
But the dress I’m wearing must have shrunk in the wash yesterday, because my tits have been attempting to jailbreak out of it all afternoon. It’s discouraging to walk around a room full of former White House officials, Nobel laureates, and Fortune 500 CEOs, and find that they still haven’t perfected looking a woman in the eyes since their fraternity days.
Men are a failed species.
“So you’re the one.” Hunched forward with a game controller in his hand, one of the roommates raises an eyebrow at me. He’s handsome, with the kind of dimples that leave bodies in their wake.
I recognize him from the banquet as the dude standing with Conor’s team captain. He’d beat Conor home, but that’s my fault—I needed to hit the ladies’ and the lines had been atrocious.
“What one?” I ask, playing dumb.
“The one who sent Con to his knees and turned him into a slobbering, love-professing fool?” Mr. Dimples eyes me expectantly, waiting for me to fill in the gaps.
“Oh shit, that was you?” another guy demands. “Can’t believe we skipped out before the big show.” He pins an accusing look on the guy beside him. “Told you we should’ve stayed for one more drink.”
“No interrogating my guests, Matt,” Conor grumbles. “Same rule applies to all of you.”
“Are you our new mommy?” The third guy cracks open a beer, smiling with stupid puppy-dog eyes, and I can’t help but laugh in return.
“Alright, that’s enough.” Conor kicks Matt off the smaller of the two couches and gestures for me to take a seat. “This is why you dumbasses don’t get visitors.”
Their house is huge compared to my little apartment. A big living room with old leather sofas and a couple of reclining chairs. A massive flat screen TV with at least four different game consoles hooked up to it. When Conor said he lived with four roommates, I expected to walk into a nightmarish cave of man smells, pizza boxes, and dirty laundry, but the place is actually pretty tidy and doesn’t smell at all like feet and boy farts.
“Yo, visitor?” A fourth face appears in the doorway that separates the living room from the kitchen. “What do you want from Freshy Bowl?” he demands, a cell phone pressed to his ear.
“Grilled chicken salad, please,” I call back without delay. I’m very familiar with the menu of one of Hastings’ only healthy eating choices.
“On me,” Conor murmurs when I reach for my purse so I can chip in.
I glance over. “Thanks. I’ll get the next one.”
The next one? As if this rare occurrence of me having dinner at Conor Edwards’ house will ever fucking repeat itself? There’s a better chance of Halley’s comet showing up a few decades ahead of schedule.
And I’m not the only one marveling over this unforeseen turn of events. When Sasha texts a few minutes later and I inform her where I am, she accuses me of pranking her.
While Conor and his roommates debate over which movie to stream, I surreptitiously text my best friend back.
ME: Not a prank, I swear.
HER: You’re actually at his HOUSE????
ME: Swear on my signed poster of Ariana Grande.
That’s the only pop star Sasha allows me to fangirl over. Usually it’s “if they can’t sing live without lip-syncing or using their auto tuner, then they’re not a real musician, blah blah blah.”
HER: 50% of me still thinks you’re lying to me. Is it just the two of you?
ME: Six of us. Me + Con + 4 roommates.
HER: Con???? WE’RE ON NICKNAME BASIS NOW?
ME: No, we’re on shortening his name for texting convenience basis.
I’m about to punctuate that with an eyeroll emoji when the phone is unceremoniously snatched from my hand.
“Hey, give it back,” I protest, but Conor just flashes an evil grin and proceeds to read my entire text convo with Sasha out loud to his roommates.
“You have a signed poster of Ariana Grande?” Alec demands. At least I think it’s Alec. I’m still trying to learn all their names.
“Do you kiss it good night before bedtime?” inquires Matt, which evokes a howl of laughter from the others.
I glare at Conor. “Traitor.”
He winks. “Hey, like my junior high teacher Ms. Dillard always warned, if she catches you writing notes in Geography, she’ll read ’em out loud to the whole class.”
“Ms. Dillard sounds like a sadist. And so are you.” I roll my eyes dramatically. “What if I’d been texting about my horrible period cramps?”
Next to Alec, Gavin blanches. “Give ’er the phone back, Con. Nothing good could come of this.”
Conor’s gray eyes dip back to the screen. “But T’s friend doesn’t believe we’re all hanging out. Hold on, let’s show receipts. Smile, boys.”
Then he has the gall to snap a picture. My jaw drops when all four roommates flex their biceps for the camera.
“There,” Conor says with a satisfied nod. “Sent.”
I forcibly wrest the phone from his stupid hand. Sure enough, he’d sent Sasha that pic. And her response is immediate.
HER: OMFG. I want to lick Matt Anderson’s dimples.
HER: And then suck his dick.
I burst out laughing, which prompts Conor to try to steal my phone again. This time I win the battle, and firmly shove the iPhone into my purse before anyone can get their grubby hands on it.
“See this?” I tell the room, holding up the leather purse. “This is a sacred place. Any man who dares snoop through a woman’s purse will be murdered in his sleep by the Bag Butcher.”
Conor snickers. “Damn, babe. Your serial killer is showing.”
I just shoot him a saccharine smile. Then I finally shrug out of my cardigan, because all these big male bodies are generating a crazy amount of heat.
The moment the material slides off my shoulders, I feel more than one set of eyes travel to my chest. A flush rises in my cheeks, but I ignore it and purse my lips.
“Everything okay there?” I ask Gavin, whose brown eyes are completely glazed over.
“Um, yeah, all good. I’m…you’re…ah…I like your dress.”
Matt snickers from his new perch on one of the recliners. “Pick your tongue off the floor, loverboy.”
That snaps Gavin out of his stupor. And despite their initial ogling, the rest of the guys go back to acting normally, which I appreciate. I wouldn’t quite call them perfect gentlemen, but they’re not sleazebags, either.
Once the food arrives, the guys stream DeepStar Six. I eat my grilled chicken salad and watch as the underwater naval station is under attack by a giant crab monster, all the while wondering how I’ve been hypnotized into hanging out with Conor Edwards.