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And we were back to him telling me I had a nice rack… that’s what it felt like, anyway. How could a guy with such pretty thoughts and words deliver the absolute worst pickup line I had ever heard? Not that I had heard many pickup lines.
His ability to spew that comedic crap, with such a sincere face, made me wish I felt sick. I had serious reasons to doubt my willpower—there was a point in my life where I thought eating gallons of ice cream was a great idea. Worse, my willpower around good-looking guys was wildly untested.
Don’t ask me again. All I needed was to be his number thirty-four, or sixty-seven—or hell, two hundred and twenty-three. What was this guy doing in my bookstore?
“Um,” I stuttered, then I stalled. “Was there something else I could help you with?”
Lord, I hoped that didn’t sound as dirty as it did in my head. The edge to my voice said my mental state was somewhere between Warning! The edge of the cliff is near and Panic! Too late to turn back. But I pressed on. Where had the Kaylee with the calm voice gone? I wanted to scream, dance, shout, do something, but I could think of nothing besides the anger boiling under my skin.
The dude with two last names sauntered over to me, and he had total girl hips. But seriously, who saunters? Only whores and bad boys, in equally bad romance novels. In this case, he was probably both.
“I already told you what I want,” he said, cocking his stupid lady-like hips. Perfect pose for a cocky bastard.
Sure, he told me what he wanted. The G-rated version of it. He also told me he’d be dead tomorrow—and since he didn’t look like he was on his deathbed, one could only assume he was full of shit. I opened my mouth to tell him my suspicions about the content of his character, but he cut me off. I really wished he’d shut up; words were far more dangerous than fists, after all.
“But since you’re not interested,” he says to every pile of books in the space—but not me—he went to great lengths with his eyes to avoid mine, staring all the way back to the aisle of 1980’s cookbooks—”Got any Jack Claret novels?”
The guy made no sense, whatsoever.
“Of—of course," I stammered. "Those would be the kind of books someone like you would want to read…”
“Of course?” He asked, amused. Still, his eyes didn’t smile like his lying lips. Maybe it was hard to keep up the total jerk life. Maybe it was getting to him, being pretentious to people like me wherever he went. Maybe I was trying too hard to paint him as the perfect book boyfriend.
“We have every book he’s ever written, except for Dakota, because that’s the only book of his I’ll rec to friends.” Friends don’t let friends read stupid Jack Claret novels.
Suddenly the crooked stacks of 1970’s National Geographics were way more interesting than my internal monologue. First time for everything. Thinking about stupid Jack Claret made my mind shut down to protect itself. Blue screen. Something has gone terribly wrong. Pop up. Warning. Do not even go there, girlfriend.
“Dakota fan, huh?” he asked, making me flinch. “Couldn’t waste all that cute fangirl love on Greene?”
Deep. Breath. In. Have I mentioned that I really hate when people tease me about books? Especially pretty people.
Deep. Breath. In. Speak. “Dakota is the only one of Claret’s novels worth a damn. It can make you love enough to want to bleed when it’s over. It can make you want to live only long enough to die. But he must have lost his fucking mind after that, because the rest of his crap is all commercial garbage slapped together for pretentious pricks like you.”
For milliseconds, Jackson Bennett looked as though I had slapped him. My triumph, however, died before it could get to my head. Jackson looked like I had slapped him, but he also seemed to like it.
“You like Dakota—you’re not just—you’re serious! But it doesn’t even have an ending!” His arms went up, flailing as he spoke.
I wasn’t watching, I was thinking about the book. So Dakota didn’t end with a well-organized bow. Jackson didn’t exactly scream happily ever after, and predictability was for teenagers who read about emo werewolves who are shockingly devoid of facial and chest hair as they stand half-naked on their book covers. Jackson reminded me more of ripped-off butterfly wings than dying of old age. Really, what was his deal?
“You know why it doesn’t have an ending, Kaylee? Because Jack Claret doesn’t just write books—he is one..
The heat kicked on with a thud and a whir—mechanical, like the iron lung I was about to need. Stupid Jackson might be every book-loving girl’s wet dream come to life, but he seriously needed a warning label. Danger! Fire! Run away! Three hundred and forty-seven!
That snapped me out of it.
“Now,” Jackson said—and he was so close I could see every pore in his almost perfect nose, “ask me how I know.”
As near as he was, I could have smelled his soap—or eau de douche cologne, like the guys wore too much of at the clubs downtown—but Jackson didn’t smell like those things. He smelled like ink.
“It’s not a secret. Everyone thinks Claret is an—”
Jackson flinched. It was really obvious because he was all up in my personal space.
“Not think, Kaylee! Know. Ask me how I know Jack Claret is an absolute asshole.”
I glanced down, watching Jackson clench and unclench his fists. His knuckles turned white, but the sides of his fingertips were stained red like mine were stained blue. Colored by smeared, hurried writing.
“How do you know?” I asked. I didn’t have to fake the curiosity. It was there, as real as the towers of books that encased us. My heart no longer needed to be reminded to beat. It was fluttering into warp drive, or the angry percussion of speed metal. I got the feeling I was about to be let in on juicy, plot-worthy gossip.
But the A-hole shut the book in my face.
“I’m not going to tell you until you kiss me.”
I could still say no. It was in my power. So was turning off the light after reading one more chapter. Just because I could doesn’t mean I would. Even if I knew I’d regret it in the morning.
Besides, every guy I had dated wound up being a jerk. At least I knew Jackson was one to begin with. The idea was kind of freeing, and kind of really, really hot. A kiss with a super sexy guy and gossip about my least favorite guy in publishing? No messy attachments? It sounded amazing…
Unless he was lying, but even then he was still hot. Super hot.
You never realize how tall a guy is, until you are leaning in to kiss him and have to stretch up and up. My bare feet were not doing me any favors. My legs—still warm—brushed against his denim-clad ones, as Jackson bent down to meet me.
The kiss was just light enough not to draw blood, and just firm enough for me to realize this had been a terrible, no good, awful idea. Jackson moved one hand to push the tendrils of sweat soaked hair off my neck. I couldn’t be embarrassed. I couldn’t even breathe. For the rest of my life, I’d dream of his smell and this kiss. It wasn’t fair. Every love interest I’d attempt to pen for the rest of my life would pale in comparison to my idea of him. I’d never be able to write another word again. I hated Jackson Bennett for it, but I still wouldn’t stop kissing him.
You wouldn’t have either.
I didn’t need to pull away, though. He did. Killjoy. I’m sure I sighed, or did something equally embarrassing. I didn’t have time to over-analyze what I did or did not do, however, because Jackson—with his lips swollen from our kiss—or pride at getting his way—rested his cheek against my temple. Probably just to relish in the frantic pace of the blood through my veins. Or to drive me crazy with nothing but breathing out. He also did it to tell me exactly what I wanted to know, but I had forgotten.
“I know Jack Claret is a pretentious asshole because…”
More breathing out. More brain cells I would never get back.
“Because I’m him.”
Whoa, his lips were way better for kissing than telling lies.
“Get out,” I said.
“No,” he breathed out again, but now I just wanted to hit him, “really.”
“No,” I mocked—because the witty part of my tongue was still only getting static from my brain, “Really.” I pleaded, shoving him toward the door and away from me. Forever, I hoped.
I had to give it to the guy. He was way more original than I gave him credit for. He probably told girls he picked up in clubs that he was the DJ. He probably told the girls he picked up at the mall that he was Versace. Those were the kinds of girls that would fall for it.
But he knew a lot about books. Maybe he normally picked up girls in Barnes & Noble.
“You are so full of crap,” I added for good measure. It didn’t make me feel better, though, and it didn’t seem to detour Jackson in the slightest.
“What will convince you?” He whirled back toward me again. I looked back at the clock by the register, willing it to be closing time. Jackson Bennett and I would probably better off with a locked door and a wall of iron bars between us. Alas, the stars and the clock were never in my favor. Twenty more minutes.
“I know!” He snapped his fingers. “Look at this!” He pressed something cold and slick to my face.
“A SighPhone," I grumbled, still unable to come up with anything remotely witty. "So what? You and a million other conformists have one. That just proves you're a tool—not that you’re a famous one.”
Jackson laughed. He thought I was hilarious. I didn’t feel funny. Just too tired to stand up.
“But do you know who this is?” He asked, indicating whatever was on his screen. Against my better judgment, I looked. I had to. It was a contact from his address book, for a Harold Silverman. Harold Silverman. I had attended three of his Webinars.
I tried to swallow, but I couldn’t make my throat work. I had written twenty-seven query letters for Harold Silverman, and deleted every single one of them without hitting send. For you non-writer types out there, query letters are what a writer does when they decide that they are really, really, into pain and punishment—and want people of power to crush their dreams and cut their souls.
Harold Silverman wasn’t just a crazy hot literary agent in New York City, he was like the agent. The guy on the top all the dream sheets, the guy lusted after by losers like me. He represented some of the top writing talent out there. Including stupid Jack Claret.
“Fine,” I admitted. “You’ve done your research, but that number could belong to anyone.”
His finger slid across the screen.
“Speakerphone,” he told me, but the phone didn’t ring. It went right to voice mail.
“You’ve reached the private line of Harold Silverman. I’m off getting the doctor recommended eight hours—but if I gave you this number I would probably be inclined to call you back. In the morning. Oh, and if this is Jack…” The man’s voice changed suddenly, “Jackson, for Christ's sake, don’t do anything drastic. Not without talking to me first, and Jackson don’t hang up without—”
Oh. My. GOD.
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