L. A. Witt - Rules 1 - Rules of Engagement

Published by
Dreamspinner Press
4760 Preston Road
Suite 244-149
Frisco, TX 75034
http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Rules of Engagement
Copyright © 2009 by L.A. Witt
Cover Design by Mara McKennen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 4760 Preston Road, Suite 244-149, Frisco, TX 75034
http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/

ISBN: 978-1-61581-211-0

Printed in the United States of America First Edition
November, 2009

eBook edition available
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61581-212-7
To Mom, Dad, and Eddie for their love and support,

and to Nichola—I am once again in your debt.

T
HE
bartender leaned down to pull a bottle of Bud Light from the refrigerator beneath the bar. As she did, the front of her shirt fell forward, giving me an eyeful of her ample cleavage. Glancing up, she gave me a grin that almost made my heart stop.

“Bud Light,” she said. As I took the bottle, I deliberately brushed my fingers across the back of her hand. Her eyes darted to our hands, then back to me. I winked, and she returned it.

A moment later, she was gone, tending to other patrons, and I smiled to myself as I leaned against the bar and looked around the club. All of the bartenders in this place flirted with their customers. It was just some harmless, playful fun, and usually more than enough to get me spun up and horny. Not that I needed a lot of help with that these days.

Before I realized what I was doing, I thumbed the place where my wedding ring used to be, and that familiar knot of guilt sank deep into my gut, pulling my good mood down with it and dulling the excitement from my brief exchange with the bartender. I had no reason to feel guilty; the divorce wasn’t final, but the marriage was long since over, even if I wasn’t over it.

I sighed into my beer bottle before taking a long drink. Maybe tonight wasn’t a good night to be out on the prowl. At least nights like this were getting fewer and farther between, but they still happened, and it was happening now.

Oh well. I was already out for the evening. I might as well have a good time instead of going home and drinking the wife away.
Some cheering and shouting caught my attention, and I craned my neck to look at the pool tables on the opposite end of the room. A guy in a cowboy hat stared slack-jawed at the pool table, his shoulders slumping and head shaking as if in disbelief. His opponent—a cockylooking bastard in a half-buttoned denim shirt over a white T-shirt— held his cue in one hand and reached across the table to shake hands. With a smirk on his face, he said something to the cowboy, who then rolled his eyes, slammed his cue onto the rack, and stormed off.

The winner picked the ante up off of the corner of the table and pocketed it. He lifted his eyebrows and spoke to the onlookers, asking a question by the looks of it. Judging by the way most of them avoided eye contact and even backed away, he was looking for another victim. He smirked and ran a hand through his dark hair, which fell to just above his collar. Even the way his hair was kept seemed cocky: perfectly trimmed and managed, but just long enough to say “I don’t give a fuck what you think of it.”

A girl in a blue tank top shimmied out of the crowd and plucked a cue off the wall. She grinned at the pool shark, wiggling her shoulders just enough to jiggle her breasts. I—and damn near every man in the bar—immediately took a drink. The pool shark, though, didn’t seem fazed. He put some chalk on his cue and grinned at her, saying something that brought a little extra color to her cheeks.

He tossed his head to get a stray strand of hair out of his face and looked up at her as he took a shot. When he grinned, the devilish sparkle in his clear blue eyes was visible even from across the room.

From where I stood, I couldn’t hear anything, but there must have been some serious shit-talking, if their expressions were to be believed. Satisfied that this would be more entertaining than wallowing in selfpity, I moved closer to watch the game.

“Go easy on him, Josie,” one of the guys said to the girl. “Nah,” the pool shark said, leaning over to take a shot. “Give me all you’ve got, girl. I can take it.” The light above the pool table added a soft shadow below his prominent cheekbones and illuminated his hair, picking out hints of copper that made me wonder if he’d had his hair highlighted.
Since when do I notice these things?
I pulled my attention away from him and tried to focus on the game.
“Maybe
he
should go easy on
her
,” someone else said. “Have you lost a game tonight?”
The pool shark snorted as he took a shot and pocketed the six. “I haven’t lost a game all week.”

“That’s going to change tonight,” Josie said. Though she sounded cocky, the crease between her eyebrows betrayed her lack of confidence as she watched him drop the three.

“Maybe tonight.” He lined up a shot. “But not this game.” As if to emphasize his point, he hit the cue ball and pocketed the one and four in a combo that could only be described as a thing of beauty.

“Distract him,” one of the guys said to Josie. “Show ’im your tits.”

“That won’t work.” The shark looked over his shoulder at the guy who had made the suggestion. “Might trip me up if you show me yours, though.” Laughing as he turned back towards the table, he caught my eye, and we exchanged the briefest glance.

“You know, if you’d let her play, she might beat you,” someone said.

“I will,” the shark said. “As soon as I miss a shot, the table is all hers.” He leaned over the table.
I chuckled. “Spoken like a man who always hits where he’s aiming.”

His eyebrows lifted, as did the corner of his mouth. “When there’s a possibility of being beaten by a girl, you’d better believe I do.” His eyes shifted to the cue ball.

“I could think of worse things than being beaten by a woman.” He looked at me again. “Oh?”

Shrugging, I lifted my beer to my lips. “Like losing to someone who actually knows how to play.” I sensed Josie glaring at me from the sidelines, but my eyes were locked on her opponent.

When his eyes came up this time, there was something unreadable in his expression, something that lodged the breath in my throat. An instant later, he focused on the game again. He took his shot, and the two narrowly missed the corner pocket. Cursing, he stepped back from the table to let Josie take her shot.

“About damned time,” she said. “Now let me show you what it feels like to be beaten by a girl.” She leaned over the table, straining the seams of her painted-on jeans. She had damn near every man in the bar mesmerized, myself included. When she lined up a shot and paused to adjust her grip on the cue, I went for my beer.

As I tilted the bottle back, I glanced at the pool shark. He was looking right at me.

There was an intriguing look on his face, something that appeared to be a combination of amusement and cockiness. He seemed to be reading me. Sizing me up. Mentally scrutinizing me, as if trying to decide whether or not to challenge me.

I rolled a sip of beer around in my mouth for a second, and as I swallowed it, I swore he was watching my throat. Then he met my eyes again, and I got the feeling he’d made his decision of whether or not to challenge me.

I knew in that moment that, once he finished with Josie, I would be playing the next game.
Josie managed to drop four balls before she missed a shot. Her— and soon to be my—opponent soundly trampled her after that, knocking in every remaining solid ball before sinking the eight.

“Good game,” he said, extending his hand across the table.

She shook it and smiled, but her smile was thin-lipped with annoyance, and her grip on his hand looked stiff and forced. They exchanged terse pleasantries, and she left.

He looked at me and gestured at the table. “I’ve got plenty left. You game?”

 

I smirked and took a cue off of the wall. “You’re on. What’s the ante?”

 

Picking up his beer, he said, “Fifty.”

Fishing the money out of my wallet, I eyed him. “So how long has it been since you lost a game?”
He chuckled as he racked the balls. “A few days. But I have been known to lose on occasion.”

“Good,” I said. “Then at least I know you’re used to it.”

His grin widened and his eyes narrowed. “Confidence. I like that.”
I set my beer down and put chalk on my cue. “I hope you like losing too.”

“You’ll have to tell me what it’s like.”

I looked at him to make a smartass retort, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the chalk. At my fingers holding the chalk. I turned it slowly on the end of the cue and watched as his eyes followed when I set the chalk down.

He cleared his throat and picked up the chalk. “Your break.”

I nodded. An unfamiliar tension crept into my gut as I set the cue ball on the table. Lining up my shot, I struggled to focus, forcing myself not to follow the muffled grinding sound of my opponent putting chalk on his cue. Swallowing hard, I furrowed my brow and stared the cue ball down.

I broke, and the twelve dropped. On my next shot, the ten went into the side pocket.
“Looks like you’re stripes.” He didn’t sound in the least bit nervous. As far as he was concerned, he had this game in the bag.
We’ll see about that.

“So I am,” I said, eyeing the table and sizing up the available shots. Then I glanced at him. “Don’t worry. I’ll get mine out of the way for you in just a second.”

He snorted as he lifted his beer to his lips. “How considerate.”

The cocky side of me wanted to go for a fancy combo shot to impress the gathered crowd, but the competitive side of me knew better than to risk it. Against someone like him, it was best to stick to the simple, straightforward shots. The final score was all that mattered, and the two fifty dollar bills on the end of the table didn’t care how it happened.

I avoided his eyes as I lined up my next shot. In spite of my confidence, he made me nervous. It wasn’t just that he was an incredible player; there was something else in the way he looked at me that unsettled me. Something that said he was still sizing me up and not just as an opponent.

Focus. He’s just trying to intimidate you
. I took a deep breath and made my shot, knocking the fourteen in. As I moved around the table toward the cue ball, I chanced a look at him. Our eyes met briefly, but it was enough to make it difficult to breathe.

Maybe it was just some sort of technique he used to psych out an opponent, but I had never seen anything like it. When his eyes locked on mine for that instant, he startled as much as I did. I wondered if his pulse jumped the way mine did.

If he was trying to make me nervous, it was working.

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