Home > The Virgin's Guide to Misbehaving (Bluebonnet #4)

The Virgin's Guide to Misbehaving (Bluebonnet #4)
Author: Jessica Clare

ONE

There were days, Elise Markham decided, when the world seemed to be hideously unfair.

If the world was fair, she wouldn’t have been born with that awful port-wine stain on her entire left cheek. It didn’t matter that she’d had it lasered away in her teen years. When she looked in the mirror, she could swear she still saw traces of it there, discoloring her from jaw to brow. And if she saw it, so did everyone else. If the world was fair, karma wouldn’t have then turned around and slapped her with scoliosis during puberty that involved wearing a bulky back brace and made her even more of a social misfit.

If the world was fair, that would have been enough and she wouldn’t have had to go through the other awful things teenage girls did, like pudgy thighs and pimples and braces. But she had. She’d endured those things and then some.

All of which had told Elise by the age of thirteen that the world wasn’t fair, and she needed to stop wishing it was.

Because, if the world was fair? Her new friends would not be trying to set her up on a blind date.

“What about that really quiet, tall officer?” Miranda asked, raising her margarita glass and licking the salt from the rim. “The one who’s the sheriff’s son. He’s not bad looking. He gave me a ticket last month for speeding and I thought he was kind of cute. In a law-officer sort of way.”

Miranda and Brenna sat across from Elise in a cozy booth at Maya Loco, the only restaurant in tiny Bluebonnet. Beth Ann was at the bar, getting a refill on her drink and chatting with a friend. It was busy in the restaurant, the noisy hum of voices and clinking forks making it difficult to hold a quiet conversation.

Not that it stopped the women she was seated with. At her side in the booth, Brenna shook her head. She twirled her short red mixing straw in her drink as she spoke. “He hooked up with that weird blogger chick. Emily’s sister. You’re a few months too late.”

“Oh. Rats.” Miranda screwed up her face. “I know this is a small town, but Jesus. There have to be some hot, eligible men around here.”

“It’s really okay,” Elise said, but her voice was so quiet beneath the din of the restaurant happy hour that she wasn’t sure anyone heard her. “I don’t need to date.”

“I stole the last hottie,” Brenna said with a sly grin. She winked at Elise and adjusted her purple bangs on her forehead. “Lucky for me he’s into tattoos and kinky sex.”

Elise made a face at the same time Miranda did. “Um.”

“That’s her brother, you sicko,” Miranda said. “Gross.”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s hot. Those uptight clothes and frumpy glasses? Mmm.” Brenna fanned her face. “Great big cock—”

“Still her brother,” Miranda said.

Elise nodded. Brenna was weird. Sweet, but weird. No one could predict the things that came out of her mouth, so it was best for Elise to just sit back and let someone else correct Brenna when she spouted off. Not that Elise would ever say something to hurt Brenna’s feelings—her brother’s fiancée was strange, but Elise thought she was great. Brenna marched to the beat of her own drum—she wore old T-shirts and ill-fitting clothing more often than not. Actually, most of the time it was Grant’s clothing, which was odd to see. But her uptight, once-lonely workaholic brother worshipped Brenna, and for that, Elise adored her as well.

“There’s got to be someone,” Miranda muttered.

“Someone for what?” Beth Ann slid into the booth next to Elise.

Self-conscious at the appearance of the statuesque blonde, Elise straightened, careful to raise one shoulder above the other so it wouldn’t look like she was slumping. Adolescent scoliosis had made her incredibly aware of her posture, and she was constantly self-correcting and hoping no one else noticed. Of her three new friends, Beth Ann was the most intimidating. Miranda was pretty but scholarly. Brenna was cheery and strange, and dressed like a slob. But Beth Ann? Beth Ann was completely perfect, from her delicately manicured nails to her faint tan in November and her immaculate blond hair. She was also dressed in a dainty gingham dress topped with a matching cardigan and slingbacks.

She was intimidating, all right. But Beth Ann was also the sweetest person that Elise knew, and she was going to be her partner in a new business venture, provided Elise decided to stay in Bluebonnet. But . . . she hadn’t decided yet.

“A man for Elise to date,” Miranda offered, delicately licking a large grain of margarita salt off of one finger. “Since we’re all paired up, we thought it might be a good idea to find Elise a man, too.”

Elise shook her head and whispered, “I really don’t—”

Miranda snapped her fingers, cutting off Elise’s thoughts. “I know! What about one of Colt’s brothers?”

“Oh, honey, no,” Beth Ann said in her sweet drawl. “Berry’s the only one close to her age and he’s not right for her. At all.”

Brenna leaned across the table toward Elise and gave her a mock-conspiratorial whisper. “Colt’s brothers are all named after guns. Berry’s short for Beretta. It’s all very redneck.”

“Honey,” Beth Ann said again. “She knows that. She grew up here, remember?” Of the four women at the table, only Brenna wasn’t originally from Bluebonnet.

“Actually, I don’t know them all that well,” Elise said in a small voice. “I went to boarding school as soon as I was old enough.” And she’d never left the house much before that, too ashamed of the gigantic purple mark that had disfigured her cheek. Even now, she had to fight the urge to drag her long hair over that side of her face to hide it. “But it’s okay.” She did remember hearing Grant’s stories about Colt’s poor-as-dirt family while she was growing up. Not that she was a snob, but when even Colt didn’t want to associate with his family, it was bad.

Beth Ann patted Elise’s hand. “We’ll find you a good guy, honey. Don’t you worry. I have a few single clients. Let me think.”

God, she didn’t want anyone. Or rather, no one would want her. But her friends seemed determined to find her someone to date, which made her want to cringe and hide. She felt like a charity case, which only made things worse. Our poor ugly, shy friend can’t find a man? We’ll just have to find one for her.

The worst part was that she knew they meant well; but it still hurt. It hurt that she was ungainly and unattractive enough to have to resort to charity. Being single and alone was so much easier. No hopes to get up. “I don’t really want to date right now, Beth Ann,” Elise said in a low, soft voice. “I just don’t think—”

“Nonsense,” Brenna interrupted. “You just sit in your room every night over at the bed-and-breakfast unless we drag you out. That’s not healthy.”

“That’s not true,” Elise protested, then bit her lip. Okay, so it was a little true. “Sometimes I go out and take photos.” But only at times when she wouldn’t risk running into too many of the nosy, well-meaning people of Bluebonnet. People who would stop and try to have a conversation with her.

Elise wasn’t good with conversations. Actually, she wasn’t good with small talk, period.

“You don’t want to date?” Miranda looked crestfallen. “Really?”

It wasn’t that Elise didn’t, exactly. She wasn’t the type that guys dated. And she was getting up toward the age that it was starting to become weird. Never dated by twenty-four? You’re clearly a freak. She didn’t know how to date, how to make out, anything. It was easier to just eschew it entirely. “I’m concentrating on business right now,” she said. “And besides, like Beth Ann said, I grew up here. There’s no one in town who interests me. No one here is my type.”

“So what’s your type?” Brenna wanted to know.

Her tongue felt glued to the roof of her mouth. Should she lie? She was a terrible liar. Really, the only thing she was excellent at was taking photos and avoiding people. But admitting her type would make it pretty obvious who she liked. More than liked, really. She had a schoolgirl crush on a man who was sexy, covered in tattoos and piercings, and rode a motorcycle.

But only one man in Bluebonnet matched that description. So Elise said nothing, because speaking would have betrayed her thoughts, and she had no desire to be humiliated like that. She simply shrugged her shoulders.

“Do you like tall men?” Brenna prompted. “Short men with a coke-can dick?”

“Let it go,” Beth Ann said, coming to Elise’s defense with a laugh. “If Elise doesn’t want someone in town, I can’t say I blame her.”

“We could always get her an out-of-towner,” Miranda said with a sly glance in her direction. At her side, Brenna gave a chortle and elbowed her, then nodded in the distance.

Beth Ann and Elise turned.

Coming across the crowded restaurant, beer in hand, was none other than the object of Elise’s crush, Rome Lozada. Oh no. Elise immediately turned away, feeling her face turn a bright, beet red that would make the remains of the old stain darken on her face. Please, no.

Oblivious to Elise’s distress, Brenna waved a hand. “Rome! Hey! Come sit with us!”

Elise whimpered in her throat. Luckily, the restaurant was too noisy for it to be overheard. She stared down at her iced tea, unable to work up the courage to lift it to her mouth, lest someone notice her movements. Maybe Rome was meeting friends and wouldn’t be sitting with them.

To her dismay, he came and stood at the end of their table. “Ladies.” He gave them a gorgeous smile, and Elise felt her pulse flutter. No man should be that pretty. “Am I interrupting girls’ night out?” He glanced at their group, and his gaze seemed to linger on Elise. “Hey, Bo Peep.”

She averted her gaze, staring at her drink. With a quick shift of her chin, her hair fell forward. “Hi.” His nickname was so embarrassing. He called her that because he said she looked lost. She was pretty sure that was supposed to be an insult, wasn’t it?

“We’re just trying to find Elise a man,” Miranda said, a hint of slurring in her voice. Too many margaritas for her. “You know of any good pieces of man-meat?”

“Other than yourself,” Brenna said, and gave him a wicked, lascivious look. “You’re the best man-meat we have in town. Other than all the ones that are taken, of course.”

“Am I?” Rome laughed at Brenna’s outrageous comments. “Maybe I should volunteer to be Elise’s man-meat, then.”

Elise wanted to crawl under the table. She shrank down, just a little, and kept staring at her glass. Was he really volunteering to date her? Or just humoring a tipsy Brenna? Was this a suggestion born out of pity? That would be just awful. Elise’s throat felt knotted in embarrassment. No one as gorgeous as Rome Lozada would even look in her direction, except for the fact that her well-meaning friends were trying to coerce him into asking her out. Ugh.

“Brenna,” Beth Ann said in a chiding voice. “Be nice.” Elise felt Beth Ann shift in the booth, turning toward Rome. “What these two drunks aren’t telling you is that Elise isn’t interested in dating anyone in town. There’s no one who’s Elise’s type. She’s already said so, but these ladies won’t take no for an answer.”

Oh god! Now Beth Ann had just told Rome that he wasn’t her type and she didn’t like him. That was either a blessing or the worst thing ever.

“That so?” Rome gave a hard-sounding chuckle. “Guess Elise is too picky for the likes of me, then.”

She wanted to protest, or apologize, but the words wouldn’t form.

“Now, now,” Brenna called, and Elise glanced over at her long enough to see her reaching out and patting Rome’s tattooed arm. “Don’t be sad. I’m sure you’re other women’s type. Just not Elise’s.” She leaned in and whispered loudly, “You probably talk too much.”

Miranda snorted and drank again.

“You ladies sound like you’re enjoying your drinks,” Rome said, voice cool. “I take it you have a designated driver?”

That was her. Elise raised her hand, not looking up.

Rome made a noise of approval. “Well, I’ll leave you be, then. Enjoy your drinks. See you at work tomorrow, Brenna.”

“Bye, man-meat,” Brenna called after him. Miranda dissolved into giggles. Beth Ann only sighed at their antics.

Elise had been nursing a crush on Rome for a few weeks now. She’d stayed overnight at the Daughtry Ranch when she’d first come in to town, visiting her brother, Grant. Her brother and two of his friends from high school, Dane and Colt, had started a survival expedition business where they took businessmen and school groups out in the wild and showed them how to survive. They ran it all out of a big ranch on the outskirts of town, and there was a big lodge that doubled as a rec room and office for the business.

Elise had crashed on one of the couches one night and woken up to see Rome Lozada staring down at her. She’d immediately become flustered because the man was utterly, insanely delicious, and he’d simply laughed and called her Bo Peep. She’d been totally tongue-tied around him.

That hadn’t changed in the last two weeks, unfortunately. She was still tongue-tied around him.

Elise watched a droplet of condensation slide down the front of her glass, wishing she were back in her nice, safe room at the bed-and-breakfast. Rome Lozada, the hottest man that Elise had ever seen, thought she was a snob and too good for the men in Bluebonnet.

Yep. That clinched it. The world was definitely not fair.

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