© 2008 by Savannah J. Frierson
Bevin Moore hated Trolling Nights. It was the night the group of them from the coffeehouse went out to the bars near base so they could find men who would provide a good time. There was a ritual and everything—the trip to the pharmacy to buy condoms; the alcoholic pregaming at her apartment; the check to make sure everyone had charged cell phones and valid IDs; the dropping of a set of keys into her palm because she was always, always, the designated driver. They would only hit three stops on any given Trolling Night, because the one and only time they’d decided to make a night of it, Bevin had ended up sleeping on some guy’s random futon. He’d driven her and one member of the crew to his apartment so they could have a little fun, and Bevin had been too exhausted to fight—but she was damned if she weren’t going to stay with her car. That meant the ladies had three chances to find prospects. If not, they all went home in her car, because, damnit, Bevin wasn’t ever sleeping on a stranger’s futon again.
“Designated driver, I designate the rules,” Bevin had decreed when the others had tried to fight her on it. “Otherwise, y’all better bring extra money for a taxi, because I’ll be gotdamned if any of you heffas drive drunk or go home with men who y’all ain’t no gotdamn business being with—I don’t wanna see y’all on the morning or evening news the next day!”
She was also the unofficial official gatekeeper of the Femme Crew, as dubbed by the owner of The Barrel, the bar where they always make their first stop.
Every man knew this too. In fact, most men went directly to her before they even approached their chosen girl for the night. If a man were new in town, he’d be schooled quickly so he could avoid being “read his rights” in a most public manner. Some men tried to be rude with Bevin, but she would smile and tell them she’d heard better insults from a mute dog, then watch their intended lambaste them for daring to speak ill about “her Bevin.”
Rarely did she or any in the Femme Crew pay for their drinks, either. Bevin would try to leave a nice overall tip before they left any establishment because she would usually get a water or a sweet tea or a lemonade. Since the other women made it a mission to get plastered and laid, Bevin had to be in full control of her faculties to make sure the others remained as safe as possible—
Or at least prevent them from having a case of regrets almost as large and painful as their headaches would be the next morning.
Nevertheless, it was a successful night if she drove home alone. Everyone found someone with whom she’d have a good time, and Bevin felt reasonable safe she hadn’t allowed a lunatic to take a member of the Femme Crew home.
And if she did, at least she had a working cell phone of theirs. No one was to leave without her getting the man’s cell phone number, and she always called it back with the man present. If a phone didn’t ring or vibrate, the girl wasn’t going home with him.
Bevin wished Trolling Nights would end soon, though. They were getting too old, and the pickings weren’t getting any better. Right now, they were at The Barrel, a roadhouse-type bar with peanut shells and other things she couldn’t recognize decorating the faux-wooden floor. She was sitting in their designated booth watching the some of the others in the Femme Crew dance. Any moment, Bevin thought, they’ll be doing it in the middle of the dance floor—or at least trying to! She didn’t particularly relish having to get up to tell them to take it to the bathrooms should it reach that point.
“Won’t be the first time,” Bevin snickered to herself. It was a wonder how she even got on with these women. They were hedonistic creatures who worked at the coffeehouse near the NEX with her. During those hours, they rarely had nothing to talk about, and they got along just fine. But at night, they turned into people Bevin didn’t recognize, and probably wouldn’t associate with if she hadn’t known about their daytime personalities. In fact, she hadn’t even known about Trolling Night until they’d invited her to come along, saying she needed to “get out more.”
Bevin should’ve realized that was actually code for “keep us out of trouble.”
She was damn good at her job, though, if Bevin said so herself, and she wore her badge of “Cock Blocker” proudly. Besides, it was only the unworthy who were denied, and Bevin would never apologize for that.
Tim Capshaw dangled the bottleneck between the index and middle fingers of his right hand, staring intently at the booth where the singular young woman with a curly bob stared sentry-like onto the dance floor. Tim wasn’t exactly sure why his eyes had stopped on her during his slow casing of the joint, but they had. Maybe it was because she looked so out of place—and it wasn’t because she was one of the few black bodies in the building. It was her rigid posture; the fact she wore a black top that covered more than exposed; and the fact there was a three-foot empty radius around her that was rarely broken by anything other that women or servers who would chat her up for a few seconds then leave her alone again. She didn’t seem sad or depressed, either, which further intrigued him. She looked comfortable in her skin, and to Tim, that was sexy as hell.
There was a continuous hum of sound in his left ear, and Tim realized it was of a slim brunette who had one of the most stunning pairs of blue eyes he’d ever seen, but a body with more angles than a stop sign. Tim gritted his teeth and took another swig of his beer. Her interest wasn’t reciprocated, unfortunately, but he would give her a B+ for effort.
“Ah, you found her,” the brunette said, pointing toward the black woman he’d been watching earlier. “If you go over there with a drink or something, chat her up, then I’m sure she’ll give you permission to take me home tonight.” The brunette ran her tongue over her bottom lip in what he assumed was supposed to be a provocative gesture. Tim took another sip from his beer so he wouldn’t laugh in her face.
“Is she your mother or something?” he asked dryly, his Alabama drawl almost sprawling as the alcohol started taking effect. He looked at the brunette with a raised eyebrow. “Your sponsor?”
Her eyes fluttered and her cheeks turned red. He grinned. The woman was much cuter when she blushed.
“Nothing like that,” she assured him, resting her fingers on his muscular forearm. He watched her painted-red nails catch some of the dim amber light in the bar as she flexed her fingers. He switched his bottle from his right to left hand, the muscles underneath her fingers cording when he gripped the bottle. This time he didn’t hide his smile when she unsuccessfully stifled her whimper.
“Who is she, then?” Tim asked, staring at the brunette when he really wanted to look back at the booth.
“She keeps the losers away from us.”
He raised his eyebrows. “And what makes you think I’m not a loser?”
“Other than the fact I know you wear a trident?” she asked, her blue-eyed gaze roving slowly over his form while her fingers caressed his forearm. “You don’t have the look of a loser.”
A corner of Tim’s full-lipped mouth curved. “Looks can deceive.”
“I’m nothing if not adventurous.”
The brunette smirked and leaned against the bar. Tim drank the final few drops in his bottle and set it on the bar in front of him. “What’s her poison?”
“Is that her name?” Tim asked, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
“Yeah, and um, nonalcoholic, I know—she’s our DD.”
He nodded and tapped on the bar. When the bartender approached, Tim ordered. “Can I get a Diet Coke and another one of these?” he asked, pointing to the empty beer bottle. A few moments later, both orders appeared before him, and Tim slapped down a ten. “Keep the change,” he drawled, and the bartender nodded thanks.
“Come back and let me know what she says, yeah?” the brunette commanded when Tim slid off the barstool.
Tim didn’t answer her, already stalking toward his quarry.
Bevin immediately went on alert when she spotted the jolly white giant of a man, except his expression was anything but jolly. Though his stonewashed jeans were loose, they didn’t hide the muscles in his legs and thighs, and his white Polo shirt strained against his broad chest. His hair, the color of sun-burnished wheat, was wavy and cut economically yet stylishly about his head. He was clean-shaven, highlighting his chiseled cheeks and jaw, and a mouth that had Bevin licking her lips wanting to sample a taste. Whichever one in the group who had managed to reel him in was a lucky bitch indeed. She just hoped he weren’t an asshole.
She almost creamed her pants. His voice was smooth, deep, and decadent; and his Southern drawl made her bite her lip so she wouldn’t ask him to say her name again, which was notable since Charleston was full of men with Southern dialects. She nodded instead.
“I’m Tim Capshaw. Your friend said you didn’t drink alcohol, so I got you a Diet Coke. That all right?”
Bevin looked over at the bar where she saw Courtney with her hands underneath her chin as if in prayer. Bevin nodded again and got her equilibrium back.
“Coke’s fine, thanks,” Bevin said, and pointed to the bench across from her. “Have a seat.”
Tim raised his eyebrows, yet did as told, his mouth widening slightly. She tried not to stare.
“You make this seem like a job interview.”
Bevin shrugged. “If that’s the way you feel, I won’t stop you.”
Tim cradled his beer bottle between his hands and stared at it. “I’m not sure how to proceed here.”
“What would you like to know?” Bevin asked, endeared by the fact he didn’t immediately start spouting lines or empty promises.
Tim licked his lips and looked at her. His sea-green eyes seemed to sear into her soul, and Bevin dropped her eyes immediately. She took a sip of her Coke and winced as the bubbles burned her nostrils.
“All right? Flat?” Tim asked, frowning at her.
“Fine, sorry,” she said with a small cough, scrunching up her nose. “It’s been a while since I had a soda.”
His frown deepened. “Shit, well, I’m sorry—what do you really want? Let me get you something you’d like.”
Bevin couldn’t stop her shiver and she cleared her throat, licking her lips. “Uh, a sweet tea or a lemonade—but you don’t have to.”
He grinned at her, and the fact his upper two front teeth were crooked did little to make her breathless from his smile. “I don’t mind. I aim to please.”
With a parting wink, he left the booth to slink back to the bar. Her eyes followed his progress, her body still quivering from his voice, her skin still burning from the heat of his gaze. This was the first time she’d ever wished she could be as free as the others in the Femme Crew, for she wouldn’t mind taking home that corn-fed redneck boy home for a night at all.
“What did she say?”
Tim blinked at the brunette from earlier, then ignored her question. “May I have a lemonade? No alcohol.”
“Is that for Bevin?” the brunette asked, confusion and impatience in her voice.
“She doesn’t drink sodas,” Tim said, barely sparing her a glance.
“Oh, sorry,” the brunette said with a shrug. “Did she hand down a verdict yet?”
“All we’ve done is exchange names,” Tim replied, staring at the bottles and glasses behind the bar instead of the woman beside him. Even if Bevin deemed him fit for this woman, this woman wasn’t fit for him. The fact she didn’t know her “friend” didn’t drink sodas said a lot about their relationship.
“Here you are,” the bartender said, setting the lemonade in front of Tim.
“Thanks a lot.” Tim put a five on the bar and waved away the change the bartender tried to return.
“Aren’t you a generous soul?” the brunette commented.
“I try to be,” Tim said. “I believe in karma.”
The brunette gave him a sultry smile that he returned, and she twiddled her fingers in goodbye. As soon as he looked away from her, Tim rolled his eyes and sighed. It didn’t matter this was his first night out in months; he wasn’t that hard up for a screw that he’d bed the first willing woman he met.
No, he thought, smiling when Bevin’s eyes brightened at the sight of her lemonade. I do have standards.
“How is it?” he asked, watching her take a long drink. She closed her eyes and licked her lips. His cock hardened in his jeans.
“Glorious, thank you,” she murmured and took another sip.
“You’re very welcome.” He saw her glance toward the bar and she snorted. The sound made him smile. “What?”
“I’ve never seen Courtney so anxious for my opinion in my life!”
Tim didn’t bother turning his gaze. “That’s her name?”
Bevin didn’t seem surprised or offended that he’d been ignorant of that particular information. “Yes. She’s a barista at the coffeehouse near base along with the rest of us.”
“I’ll bet you’re the manager.”
Bevin ducked her head, and if there’d been better lighting, he would’ve seen her blush. “How could you tell?”
“They listen to you. Defer to you. I doubt they’d do that so willingly off-hours if they didn’t have to do it on hours.”
“Courtney’s the assistant manager. Very helpful. She likes to have a good time.”
“And what about you, Bevin?” he asked, leaning forward and resting his arms on the table. “What do you like to do for fun?
She blinked at him, confusion clear on her face. “Me?”
“Yeah, you,” he said with a nod. “When does Courtney become the designated driver?”
Bevin frowned and shook her head. “I’m always the designated driver. The Gatekeeper.”
“I got that spiel earlier,” Tim said and jerked his head toward the bar. “Courtney let me in on that detail.”
Bevin’s shoulders sagged with obvious relief. “Well, you don’t have to worry. I think you’re a cool guy. You can let Courtney know I approve—but you have to give me your cell number.”
A corner of Tim’s mouth lifted. “Why?”
“Don’t you worry about that. Just give me your number,” Bevin said, already whipping out her cell and preparing to dial. Tim was impressed her cell phone was an actual phone, and not one of those mini computers with a keyboard, camera, camcorder, and remote to access control of orbiting satellites that seem to be all the rage nowadays. He recited his number to her, and she punched in the digits accordingly.
“Thank you very much,” Bevin said and put her phone back in her purse.
“What about you?”
“What about me?” Bevin asked, sipping more of her lemonade.
“Don’t I need your number?”
The confusion was back. “For what?”
“If I need to get in touch with you.”
“Courtney has it.”
“But I want it for myself.”
Bevin narrowed her eyes at him. “This is new.”
“A man wanting my number. Are you new around here?”
“I’ve been away for a few months,” Tim admitted. “Why?”
“Men rarely ask for my number,” Bevin said. “I mean, I’m actually still surprised you’re here. After I give ‘my blessing’, men usually high-tail it away from me just in case they say something stupid and I revoke my permission.”
Tim laughed and Bevin’s eyes narrowed even more. “I can’t believe you’re serious!”
“As a heart attack—there’s a reason they call me the Cock Blocker.”
Well, his certainly pulsed at that. “Because you keep the losers away.”
“Damn straight I do,” Bevin said with a nod.
“And who cock-blocks for you?” Tim asked softly.
Bevin’s laugh was too loud to be genuine. “Boy, please! Ain’t no cocks interested in me!”
Tim let his eyes roam over Bevin. Her black top had an enticing V collar that exposed her cleavage. Her skin was the color of nutrient-bearing topsoil, and the gardener in him approved very much. She was a thick woman, a woman with an abundance of curves in all the right places; a woman he didn’t think he’d ever break during a night of passionate loving.
“You’ll forgive me if I find that hard to believe,” Tim said.
Bevin shrugged. “That’s just because you haven’t seen the rest of the Femme Crew yet.”
“I really don’t think my opinion will change,” Tim said seriously.
Bevin squirmed in her seat and took another drink of lemonade. “Well, ah,” she began and pointed to a pretty petite Asian woman who was dancing with a very happy black man. “That’s Patrice. She works in the coffeehouse—all of us do, actually—and she’s usually the first one to get a suitor. She’s a really sweet girl, too, so I’m extra careful about who I allow to be with her.” Bevin scanned the dance floor and then pointed again. “See the blonde? Tall as hell with a sick body? That’s Tamara, and she leaves a trail of broken hearts and blueballs wherever she goes.”
Tim crossed his legs at that even as he stared at the blonde woman who was dancing with three men at once.
“You’ve met Courtney. She’s my roommate, so I’m also extra careful with whom she chooses.”
“And I passed,” Tim reminded Bevin.
She rolled her eyes but grinned. “Yeah, you don’t suck.”
“And finally . . . there she is! Rosita,” she said and pointed to a cinnamon-skinned woman with thick curly black hair. “She’s Cuban, and when she gets really mad she speaks in rapid Spanish.”
“Do you speak Spanish?” Tim asked.
Bevin shook her head and laughed. “Not enough for me to figure out what the hell she’s saying!”
He would’ve laughed, too, had he enough breath for it. The way her eyes sparkled with her mirth sucked all the air from his lungs. The contrast of her golden eyes to her dark skin was astoundingly beautiful, especially when she had a smile that matched.
“Anyway,” Bevin said sheepishly and coughed. “That’s the Crew.”
“So I see,” Tim replied. “And I’ll ask again—who cock-blocks for you?”
Bevin sat back and looked at him weirdly. “I show you everyone and you still—?”
“Hey, Bevin! Thought I’d come over and see how things are going!”
Bevin snapped her attention to Courtney who was busy staring at Tim. The red tube top pressed tight against her chest, and Bevin wondered how it felt not having to worry about bras like she did.
“Everything’s fine,” Bevin promised, giving her friend and roommate a small smile.
Courtney slid into the booth next to Tim, who seemed surprised and a little annoyed that he had to scoot over to accommodate her.
“The girls are having fun,” Courtney commented, looking on the dance floor. Patrice waved at them as she ground against her dance partner. Tamara was twirling two men underneath her arms and Rosita was in a heavy lip lock.
“There she goes!” Courtney laughed and Bevin smiled. “No one is going to catch up to her tally.”
“Tally?” Tim asked.
Bevin blushed and Courtney grinned. “You know, the notches on her bedpost? She’s definitely in the lead!”
“But I thought Patrice got the most men,” Tim said.
“She gets the most suitors, but many of them think she’s easy. You know, the whole Asian women stereotype. I nip that with a quickness,” Bevin said.
“Rosita gets the most leeway because Rosita and Bevin have known each other the longest and Rosita knows capoeira. She can kick some ass,” Courtney said. “She’s started teaching us a few moves just in case . . . you know.”
“Are you any good?” Tim asked, looking at Courtney with interest for the first time since she’d sat down.
“I’m not bad at it,” Courtney said. “But surprisingly, Bevin’s the best at it so far.”
“Why is that a surprise?” Tim asked, looking at Bevin with a look Bevin thought was more appropriate for Courtney. “She looks more than capable to me.”
Bevin and Courtney gaped at him, but Courtney recovered first and slid her hand to Tim’s. “Dance with me.”
Tim still looked at her and Bevin shrugged. “I already told you, you passed my test.”
“Only if I get to dance with you later,” Tim said, ignoring the way Courtney was tugging on his hand.
“I don’t generally dance—”
“Just tell him yes, Bev,” Courtney pleaded.
Those sea-green eyes stared intently at her and Bevin found herself nodding. “Okay.”
He smiled, and both Bevin and Courtney sighed at the sight. “Thank you, Bev, you’re the best!” Courtney cheered, and she pulled the tall man onto the dance floor.
The DJ was on point tonight. The bass thumped and shook the furniture, and even Bevin couldn’t stop from bouncing in her seat to the beat. A few of the others from the Crew and their partners came up and spoke to her. The man with Patrice seemed completely enamored, which had Bevin thinking they would make an adorable couple.
“Ulrich said he’d drop me home,” Patrice told her.
“Ulrich?” Bevin asked, and the black man grinned at her. He really was handsome—well built with closely shorn hair and a mustache, his skin the color of a Werther’s Original.
“My old man was in the Army; named me after one of the men in his squad,” Ulrich explained.
“And you’re Navy?” Bevin asked.
“Part of the Teams,” Ulrich said.
I love him! Patrice mouthed dreamily, and Bevin bit her lip to keep from laughing.
“Congratulations,” Bevin said instead.
“Thank you,” Ulrich said. “Want to dance?”
This time Bevin did let out a chuckle. “Trying to butter me up?”
“Naw, girl, nothin’ like that,” Ulrich said, but he winked. “I see you jammin’ over here and my girl wants to take a break.” He rubbed Patrice’s shoulders. “So how ’bout it?”
“You okay with this?” Bevin asked Patrice.
“It was my idea!” she said, grabbing Bevin’s hand and tugging. “Have some fun. I think it’s ridiculous you always make sure we have fun but don’t have any yourself!”
Bevin scowled at that, but couldn’t respond because Ulrich was leading her to the dance floor and twirling her around in time with the music. He spun her so her back was to his front and he settled his hands on her hips. He certainly shook what his mama gave him, and it made it easy for Bevin to do the same. She heard Patrice whistle and catcall, and Bevin shook her head at her friend’s antics.
“Go ’head, girl, dancin’ like this Soul Train!” Ulrich encouraged.
“Boy, please!” Bevin scoffed.
“I’m serious,” Ulrich said, and Bevin sensed his sincerity. “Best dancer here!”
Bevin snorted. “We’re also two of the four black people in here!”
Ulrich laughed loudly at that and popped her hip. “You said it, not I! Wrong for that!”
“You were thinking it,” Bevin challenged.
Ulrich laughed again. “Not gonna lie; not gonna lie . . .”
It was the most fun she’d had in a long while thanks to Ulrich, and when the song ended and a slower one began, Bevin gave Ulrich a hug and started off the dance floor. She didn’t get very far, however, for a warm, damp hand curled around hers, and a shiver better served for a wintry evening than a hot, sweaty bar overcame her.
“You owe me a dance,” came the drawl in her ear.
“I’m kind of tired,” Bevin mumbled and started forward, but the hand around hers tightened.
“It’s a slow one, little energy required.” The hand pulled her gently until she faced Tim Capshaw. He was smiling at her, and Bevin squelched down the urge to hide her face in that broad, muscular, sexy chest of his.
“Where’s Courtney?” Bevin asked, looking everywhere but at him.
“Back at the booth,” he replied. One hand settled on her hip, and she noted his touch felt very different from Ulrich’s. More potent. His other hand grasped hers and he rested both against his chest. He was so tall. She had to crane her neck to look into his eyes, which she did fleetingly.
“Something wrong?” he asked after the third time they locked eyes before she darted hers away.
He brought her closer, and she trembled.
“I’m making you nervous?” Bevin didn’t answer him. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing?” she asked.
“You’re so stiff and you won’t look at me.”
“Isn’t this just a pity dance?” Bevin asked before she could tell herself to shut up.
His brows furrowed. “Why would you assume this is a pity dance? Did you think Ulrich’s dance was a pity dance too?”
This time she had no problem pulling back and meeting Tim’s eyes. “Y’all know each other?”
“We’re on the same Team.”
“You’re Navy?” Bevin asked, then she gave him a quick once over and sucked her teeth. “’Course you are, with a body like that!”
She did not just say that aloud! Bevin stole a peek at him, and he was blushing and grinning down at her. Her embarrassment overrode her wariness over being so close to him and she hid her face in his chest.
“Such an idiot,” she muttered.
“You are not,” he disagreed and patted her back. “You’re really sweet. Thank you.”
Bevin just moaned.
“And for the record, this is not a pity dance. This is just a man wanting to dance with a nice, sweet woman, okay?” She nodded and started to pull back, but his hand pressed against her. “Where are you going?”
“I’m all up on you,” Bevin explained, then blushed at how it sounded.
She felt his chest rumble with his chuckle. “I happen to like just where you are, Miss Bevin.”
She shivered again, but decided to relax. The song would be over soon, anyway.
And it was, but Tim wouldn’t let go of her. Bevin laughed cautiously and tapped his hard bicep.
“You can let go of me now,” she said.
“And what if I don’t want to?”
This man was throwing too many curves at her this evening. “Courtney will get upset.”
Tim clenched his jaw, then he slowly dropped his arms from her form. Bevin immediately felt bereft, but she’d rather deal with that than with Courtney mad at her.
“Thank you for the dance,” Bevin said quietly, and she left Tim standing on the dance floor. She felt numerous sets of eyes on her, but it was the set behind her that affected her the most.