He hadn’t kissed me. The jerk.
From the front door, I watched my date walk down the path, through the gate, and to his car, illuminated by the full moon and the streetlamps on our suburban Sydney street. I waited for him to turn back and wave—anything—but, nope. Another Saturday night that had led to Nowhere Town. He’d said he’d call, but a guy that sticks out his hand awkwardly at my front door is not planning a future with me.
I closed the door, kicked off my heels, and headed through the house calling, “I’m home.”
Finn, my roommate and best friend rolled into one,looked up from the dining table as I went past. “Bad night?”
He was surrounded by a mountain of textbooks and random notes he’d scrawled on scraps of paper. His almostblack hair was disheveled—knowing him, probably from running his hands through it—and he had blue ink smudged on his stubbled jaw, as if he’d forgotten the pen in his hand when he’d rubbed it.
“Not a great one,” I said and dropped into the chair across from him. I looked around at his Saturday night companions and frowned. “But at least I went out. I’m starting to think you’re more interested in ancient reed flutes than real life.”
He narrowed dark blue—but bloodshot—eyes at me. “This is my real life, Scarlett. PhDs don’t write themselves.”
Fair point. Even if his PhD topic was the poorly tuned musical instruments of a long-dead society in ancient Mesopotamia. Sighing, I rested my forehead on the closest pile of old books, careful not to press my favorite cobaltblue glasses into my face. I should be more focused on my messed up self anyway—Finn never had trouble finding a date if he wanted one. Keeping them was another story, but overall, he was more than capable of running his own social affairs.
Though we were only friends, even I could appreciate that Finn was hot.
His chair creaked as he leaned back and yawned. “You seem cranky. Was it that guy with the unfortunate facial hair? Was he out of line?”
“The perfect gentleman.” Which was the problem. I lifted my head and sought the reassurance of his always-steady gaze. “Finn, if there was something wrong with me, you’d be honest about it, right?”
“What,” he asked, rubbing his chest through one of his signature pale blue T-shirts, “like if you had botulism and the doctor asked me to break it to you?”
Botulism? He needed to start reading things written in this century. “I mean, if there was something about me that guys found…unappealing.”
He dropped his pen onto his notebook. “Scarlett, you know you’re pretty. What are you really asking?”
It was probably time I admitted this out loud. I drew in a deep breath and said it quickly. “I seem to be having something of a dry spell.”
He winced and stood. “I haven’t had near enough caffeine for this conversation.” He headed for the kitchen and I followed.
“Four years of friendship, Finn McKenzie, and you still try to avoid talking about sex with me?”
He opened the cupboard and grabbed a mug, but his broad shoulders slumped a little. “Four years of friendship and I’ve given up trying and accepted it as inevitable.”
“Forget the coffee,” I said, opening the fridge. “I’ll make mojitos.”
Finn turned back around and grimaced. “It’s going to be a serious conversation about your sex life, isn’t it?”
I gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Men love talking about sex.”
“Not with their sisters or their female friends,” he said, his face paling.
And I guess I ticked both boxes—a female friend who was more like a little sister. He pulled the state of the art blender out of the appliance cupboard, and I put a cup under the icemaker in the fridge door, filling it with enough for a jug of mojitos. One of the best parts of renting a room in Finn’s house was the appliances. He always had up-todate electrical gadgets in the kitchen, the best sound system in the living room, and the laundry room was so high-tech, the clothes pretty much took care of themselves.
He’d inherited the house, a large bank account, and custody of his two younger sisters when his parents had died, and he’d kept the furniture the same. The whole place had a lived-in, almost shabby feel, but anything that plugged into a power socket was updated every six months.
Being the child of self-professed hippies, raised according to their back-to-nature philosophies, there was nothing I liked better than a brand new, shiny appliance. The icemaker was my favorite. An entire appliance whose only job was to create ice and have it waiting to tumble into my cup any time of the day or night. Now that was living the dream.
Finn threw the lime juice in the blender to join the other ingredients and I pushed down the lid and switched it on. The rattle of the ice being crushed into the alcohol made me smile. I might be having a dry spell, but there was always late night mojitos with Finn.
Drinks in hand, we headed for the sofa. He’d obviously resigned himself to having this conversation—he never held out on me if he knew it meant a lot. I hugged his arm on the way past, completely conscious in that moment of how lucky I was to have him in my life. I didn’t know what I’d do without him.
“So,” he said, then paused to guzzle half his drink. “What did mustache boy say that’s got you thinking these stupid things?”
“Nothing.” I took a long sip of my mojito as I tucked my feet up underneath me on the vintage sofa. “Do you remember the last time I dated anyone?”
“That guy with the awkward fuzz on his face was here tonight. Am I wrong, or was that a date? And more
importantly, did you tell him to stop embarrassing himself and just shave it off?”
Ignoring the dig about my date’s admittedly patchy beard, I brought the conversation back into focus. “It was a first date. That doesn’t constitute dating someone.”
“How are we defining it?”
I grabbed the mojito pitcher from the coffee table and topped up our glasses. “It has to be something regular. Maybe five dates or more.”
“What about the guy with the pink beret?”
“Nope,” I said and adjusted my glasses. “Two dates and never heard from him since. Besides, it was a red beanie. And it was winter, so it was a sensible choice of headwear.”
“Hmph.” He chugged more of his drink. “What about the one who was wearing his sunglasses at the bar?”
“Larry. And he’d had eye surgery and had to wear the glasses around bright lights.” I chewed on my bottom lip. He was hot and I’d had high hopes. “One date, and then I
accidentally ran into him at The Three Beers a week later and we had a few drinks. Maybe we could call it one and a half dates.”
Finn wrapped a hand around the back of his neck—a spot that usually bothered him when he’d spent all day hitting the books. “I don’t even know why we’re discussing this. You want to date, and you go on dates.”
“I want something more.” My female friends fell in and out of love all the time, and their sex lives made me sound like a nun. Was it so wrong to want a little of what they had?
Finn shrugged and lifted his feet to rest on the coffee table. “Then choose better men.”
An easy solution—blame it on the guys. But if I wanted things to be different, I couldn’t resort to platitudes to make myself feel better. I had to face the truth. “It’s obviously not them. The common factor in all this here is me.”
“And here we are back at the start,” he said, not masking his exasperation. “There is nothing wrong with you.”
But I wasn’t so sure. “Hang on a sec.” I put my glass down, jumped up, and grabbed my laptop. Time to get mathematical about the situation. “Let’s go through this again. Who have I been on dates with?”
“This is crazy. You know that, right?”
“You were expecting sane after a disappointing date and two mojitos?” I opened a new spreadsheet document.
He threw back his head and groaned, but I could tell he was smiling.
One hour and another jug of mojitos later, I had a colorcoded graph that tracked my dating progress. I hit print and stood a little woozily to snatch the paper as it spurted from Finn’s fancy printer.
It was just as I’d suspected. “See?” I said as I thrust the paper under his nose.
“See that you’ve lost your mind, you mean?” But he took the graph.
I settled in beside him on the couch so I could point at the page. “There’s a downward trend. The guys I dated in high school lasted at least a couple of months. Then it decreased to around four or five dates. In the last year, it’s gone down to one or two dates.”
I looked at the plunging line again. I’d made a lot of graphs, charts, and spreadsheets in my time—I was halfway to being an accountant, after all—but this was by far the most depressing graph I’d ever made.
“So you’re getting pickier about guys. Good for you.”
“But I am not the one ending these non-relationships. They’re getting more picky about me. Color-coded charts don’t lie, Finn. This totally explains my dry spell.” It was hard to get to the sex dates when the guys cut and ran beforehand. “How long can you go without sex before you become a born again virgin?”
Finn gulped his drink, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but in this discussion. “There are probably other factors in play.”
That was true. What factors hadn’t I taken into account? What was the commonality in first or second dates…?
And then it hit me.
These guys seemed eager when they asked me out, but once they’d kissed me, they drove off into the sunset. Tonight’s date had kissed me briefly at the door when he’d arrived, but he’d been different once we’d headed for the bar. And he hadn’t made a move when he’d dropped me home…
Mortified, I covered my face with my hands.
I was a bad kisser.
“What?” Finn asked.
Could I admit this? Even to my best friend? I looked up at Finn’s sweet face; his dark blue eyes were filled with concern. I’d never been able to keep secrets from him, and it looked like that wasn’t about to change now.
“It’s my kissing.” I blew out a lungful of air, resigned to my fate. “I kiss them on the first or second date, then never hear from them again.”
His eyebrows drew together. “You’re kissing guys on the first date?”
“A little focus here, please. Apparently I’m a bad kisser.”
“And I revert to my previous theory.” He shook his head. “You’ve gone insane.”
“My entire dating future is doomed. I’ll grow old, probably still in this house, surrounded by cats.” I grabbed his hand. “Promise me you’ll let me live here when I’m wrinkled and lonely. And that you’ll make sure I have an ice maker in working order?”
“I’m sure you’re a perfectly good kisser, Scarlett.” But he said it patiently, as if he were speaking to a child, and let go of my hand.
I threw myself back on the sofa, feeling the need to be as dramatic as this realization was. “You wouldn’t know—you’ve never kissed me. The guys who have are currently running for the hills.”
He took my glass. “And that’s enough for you tonight.”
“It makes total sense. In high school, I was dating boys who didn’t know much about kissing themselves, so they probably didn’t notice, and the relationships progressed. Then,” I said, stabbing the chart with my finger, “the dating length gets shorter the older I get—because the guys I date are getting older, too, and they obviously have higher expectations of kisses.”
I held up a hand, cutting him off. “It stands to reason their expectations are higher, since nowadays, these guys tend to take me out to places that don’t have a drive-thru. My lack of kissing skills is the only thing that makes sense of the data.” I slid down on the sofa and threw my feet onto his lap. “God, what twenty-one-year-old can’t kiss properly? I’m doomed. Doomed, I tell you.”
“You’re over-thinking this.”
Over-thinking? I chewed on my bottom lip. Maybe the mojitos were making me pessimistic. I needed to come at this from another angle.
“You’re right.” I sat up again but left my feet in his lap. “No point moping. I’ve identified the problem. The question now is what I do about it.”
He sighed and deposited my feet on the floor. “I’m not even sure why I’m needed in this conversation.”
Thing was, how did someone improve their kissing skills? When I wanted to learn to be an accountant, I enrolled in school. Sure, I’d taken a year off to work and save up money so I could finish my degree, but the overall process was the same. I wanted to learn, and someone was teaching me.
Who would give kissing lessons?
“Cole Jericho,” I said and nodded, impressed with the elegant simplicity of the answer.
Finn stilled, his gaze sharpening. “Cole Jericho? The actor?”
“He’s a client at work, and we’ve chatted a few times when he’s been waiting for an appointment. He’s perfect.” A spark of hope lit in my chest. This plan was great. I wondered when he’d be into the office next.
“Perfect for what?” Finn asked warily.
“Well, he’s been on TV most of his life, so he’s had to kiss
a lot of girls on camera.” With the roles he’d been playing in
the last few years, it had been a lot of girls.
Finn shook his head. “I don’t think I like where this is
“He said once that it’s all part of the job. Meaning, he’s pretty much a professional kisser.” If anyone was going to be able to give me pointers, it was Cole Jericho.
“Stop right there—”
“Nope,” I said, mind made up, “this is too brilliant. I’m going to ask Cole to give me kissing lessons.”
“No.” The word was out of my mouth before I’d had a chance to think about it. But the idea of some
random actor giving Scarlett kissing lessons? Not going to happen.
She shrugged and pushed her cute blue glasses further up the bridge of her nose. “You don’t get a vote.”
I threw back the last of my mojito, then the rest of the one I’d confiscated from her.
That skinny guy with the try-hard beard had seemed like bad news, and I’d been right. When she’d answered the door, he’d looked like he’d wanted to throw her down on the floor there in the hallway. Scarlett was blond, gorgeous, and shaped like an old-time movie star, so part of me understood his attraction to her. But she was also much more than that, and deserved a guy who could appreciate all those parts of her, not see her just as a potential sex toy.
While we’d been waiting in the living room for Scarlett to finish getting ready, I’d told the guy as much.
“Listen,” I’d said, my voice low so Scarlett didn’t overhear. “I know this is only your first date, but you’re going to do me a favor and make it your last.”
The guy had screwed up his face. “Why would I do that? She’s hot.”
“Because I asked very nicely.” I’d crossed my arms over my chest in a way I knew showed the results of visits to the university gym. Then I’d smiled in a not altogether friendly way.
The guy took a step back. “Whoa. You two got something going on?”
“Nope. Just like the two of you don’t have anything going on. Right?”
He took another step back. “How about you just tell her I had to go?”
“That would disappoint her. She’s dressed and ready, so you’ll take her out. Once. And you won’t mention this conversation, either.”
“Okay, sure.” He’d edged closer to the door. “You know, man, I’ve met a lot of roomies before, and I have to tell you, this is not a normal conversation.”
Mission accomplished. Then Scarlett had appeared, poured into a too-short dress, her hazel eyes smoky with all the dark makeup around them, and she’d walked out the door with a guy who didn’t deserve her.
It had been more complicated to track down her dates in the first few years of our friendship, and sometimes they’d get to four or five dates before I could find the latest guy, assess him, and send him packing. Luckily, things had become much more streamlined since she’d moved in.
Of course, she’d stab me in my sleep if she knew what I was doing—probably with her favorite electric bread knife—but it was worth the risk. She really needed to start picking a better class of guy. As soon as she started dating someone who could appreciate how awesome she was, I’d let the relationship go forward, with my blessing.
In the meantime, I’d keep protecting her from the guys who were only after one thing.
She stood and stretched, then pushed her blonde hair back behind her ears. “You finished my mojito. I’ll make some more.”
I checked my watch. “It’s two a.m. Maybe we should stop.” Before her plan got any crazier.
“Two a.m.” Her face fell. “That’s too late to call someone I don’t know very well, right?”
A picture of Cole Jericho kissing Scarlett popped into my head and made me want to throw up. I had to clear my throat to get my voice to work. “You really want to kiss that actor?”
“You’re not listening.” She pointed her index finger at me. “I want to end my dry spell. To do that I need to get past the kissing date. To do that I need to improve my kissing. To do that I need Cole to teach me. He was voted Australia’s Sexiest Bachelor again this year, you know.”
Sure, if you liked the obvious. Which, from her expression, maybe Scarlett did. “But he’s only an expert at pretending to kiss,” I pointed out.
She threw up her hands. “What else do you want me to do, Finn? I need someone who will understand that I don’t want to start something, just get some pointers. Cole’s an actor, he’ll understand that. What else can I do?”
“Choose me,” I heard myself say.
She blinked. “What?”
This might have been a stupid move, but it was better than the alternative. “You don’t need Cole. If you want to go ahead with this crazy plan, I’ll give you kissing lessons.”
As her mouth opened then stayed that way—and my lungs stopped working—I realized I’d probably just landed myself in a monster-sized pile of trouble.