Home > Never with Me(3)

Never with Me(3)
Author: Kaylee Ryan

She reaches over and lays her hand over mine that’s resting on my lap. “I’m sorry. I just want to see you happy.”

“I am happy. Happier than I have ever been.” I’m telling her the truth. Since moving to Willow River, life has never been better.

“I still think you need that special someone to take that happiness up a notch.” She wags her eyebrows, and I laugh.

“There are battery-operated devices that serve that purpose just fine.” I know they exist, but I don’t have one. Most days, I’m too damn exhausted to even shower before bed, let alone give myself any kind of self-love.

“Nothing like the real thing, my friend.” She laughs as she pulls into the parking lot. “Sit tight. I’m going to set up and make sure your date is here and ready.”

“Oh, maybe he’s going to be a no-show.” I make a production of crossing my index and middle finger on both hands, and she rolls her eyes.

“Stay put.” She points a finger at me before climbing out of the car. I remain seated while she reaches into the back seat to grab her camera bag. “I’ll be right back. Get your blindfold ready.” With that, she closes the door. I watch her as she walks behind a row of trees.

I’ve been to Willow Park many times over the last two years. It’s full of beautiful landscapes and park benches. There’s a brick wall that’s great for photo ops, and a ton of beautiful landscaping. There’s even a small pond with a bridge that crosses over it. It’s almost something out of a fairy tale. I know that’s why Palmer chose this location.

I just wish she hadn’t chosen me.

A knock on the window pulls me out of my thoughts. “Ready?” Palmer asks. Her beaming smile reminds me of why I agreed to this blind-date photo shoot. Palmer is my best friend. She’s mine, not an acquaintance of my parents or because I have money or status. She’s my bestie for me, and I would do anything for her, even if it means subjecting myself to the awkwardness of a blind date.

It’s not just the blind-date part. I don’t do well around men I don’t know and trust touching me. That’s why I work behind the bar at the Willow Tavern. I’ve been offered to work the floor, but I like the barrier that the counter provides me. Never again will I let a man touch me if it’s not my choice. This brings me to today. I googled blind-date photo shoots, and they’re pretty intimate. They look fun, but that’s for someone who’s… normal. Not a girl who was touched by the rough hands of her father and her ex-boyfriend. They don’t have the fear that lives inside me.

I groan as I push open the car door. “Palmer, this is going to be a disaster.” I wipe my sweaty palms against my thighs.

“No, it’s not. Trust me, Rams. This guy, he’s one of the good ones. He’d never hurt you or me. I promise you with all that I am that I know him. I wouldn’t put you in this position with a man I didn’t trust.”

I pull in a deep breath. “Okay.”

“Okay.” She smiles. “Hand over the blindfold, woman.” She wiggles her shoulders with excitement. “I’m so excited for this. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome. Can we get this over with?”

“So impatient,” she teases as she helps me slide the blindfold over my eyes. She links her arm with mine. “There is nothing in our path. We’re going to take slow, steady steps. It’s not far,” she says, guiding me to the meeting spot.

“What if he hates me?” My insecurities run deep. Sure, I know guys like what they see, but I can hear my father and Robert in my head telling me I’m nothing without them.

“What if he falls in love with you?” she asks, her voice full of wonder.

“Come on, Palmer, we both know that’s not going to happen. I’m the ice queen, remember?” I repeat the words Robert said to me so many times I lost count.

“Fuck him,” Palmer snaps, her voice heated. “You’re beautiful, and trust me, this guy, he’d be lucky to have you.”

“I’m nervous.” I’m sure she can feel the tremble in my arm that’s linked with hers, but I voice the words regardless.

Palmer places her hand on my arm that’s. “I’ve got you, Rams. I promise you, this is going to be fun. If at any time you feel like you need to stop, we will.”

“Thank you.” My voice is soft, barely a whisper, as I fight with my emotions. My best friend will never know how grateful I am for her.

“Here we are,” Palmer says. “I’m going to place you so that the two of you are standing face-to-face. I’ll step back and count to three. On three, you remove your blindfolds.”

“Can you count that high?” a deep voice asks, laced with humor. It sends chills down my spine, but not from fear. Holy hell, that voice.

“I’ll let that slide since you’re doing me a favor,” Palmer fires back. I can hear the affection in her voice for the man, and that helps to set my nerves at ease even more.

“Okay, one,” she starts, but the male speaks up again.

“Wait. So, we take off the blindfolds, and then what?” he asks.

“Really?” Palmer sighs. I can almost hear her rolling her eyes. “You introduce yourselves, and I’ll take pictures.”

“That’s it?” he asks.

“No, that’s not it. We talked about this. I’ll give you directions for poses and positions, and you can roll with them. This is supposed to be fun.”

“Fun. Right.” He doesn’t sound convinced, and that, too, helps calm my nerves. He sounds like Palmer used her charms to convince him to do this too. He’s probably in love with her. My best friend is a looker. Long dark hair and green eyes unlike any I’ve ever seen before. She’s outgoing and kind, which means she’s beautiful on the inside and the outside. I’m sure all she had to do was bat her eyelashes at him, and he was bending to her will. Hell, I’m not into women, and the move worked on me. I fight a smile. If Palmer is anything, she’s definitely persuasive. She claims it’s because she’s the baby of the family. I think it’s just her.

“Any more questions, Mr. Fun Killer?” she teases.

“I’m good,” he says, and the affection and humor in his voice goes even further to tamp down some of my fears.

“Finally.” Palmer's tone is dramatic, but there is an underlying playfulness that is a constant trait of my best friend. “Now, where was I? Oh, right. One. Two.” There’s a long dramatic pause, and I’m about to tell her to get on with it when she says, “Three.”

My hands tremble as I reach up and remove the blindfold. I blink a few times, letting my eyes adjust to the sunlight, and then I gasp. The man standing before me is one I’ve seen before. I’ve never met him, but I’ve seen pictures. Hell, I’ve been to his house. I turn to look at Palmer, and she’s beaming.

“Ramsey, meet my big brother, Deacon. Deacon, this is my bestie, Ramsey.”

Palmer set me up with her older brother. Deacon Setty is… the sexiest man I’ve ever seen. His gold-colored eyes take me in, and a smile tilts his lips. I suck in a breath as his feet carry him closer. He stops with maybe a foot of space between us. “Ramsey,” his husky voice says, holding his hand out for me.

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