The Professional_ Part 1

By: Kresley Cole

Chapter 1



“Mommy issues. Serial cheater. Humor void. Two-pump chump.” With each guy who entered the campus bar, I ticked off my initial impression to my drunken friends.

I had an uncanny knack for sizing up males—I was a regular “manalyst.” My secret? I always went negative, and the guys, well, they always accommodated.

The girls at the table—several of my roommate’s friends and a couple of mine—looked at me like I was a fun sideshow act, their carny pal. Drinks were perpetually free.

After the week I’d had, my dinner of salt, tequila, and lime was hitting the spot.

My best friend Jessica murmured at my ear, “You better be careful, you picky prude, or else you’ll take your hymen to your grave. Like a skin tag.”

She alone knew that I’d never given it up—and why. “Low blow, Jess,” I said without any heat. Like her, it took a lot to get me ruffled, which was one of the reasons we made such great roommates.

Other than that, we were as different as we could be. Whereas she was leggy and tan with twinkling blue eyes and cropped black hair, I was short and top-heavy, with long red hair and pale-as-a-porcelain-sink skin.

I was a workaholic studyaholic, pursuing my history PhD. After years’ worth of incompletes, Jess had finally dipped a toe into the core courses of her major—leisure studies—and decided college was “a racket” for “wretched fucks.” Though it was midsemester, she was heading out tomorrow for a tour of the Greek Isles with her wealthy family.

Another round of tequila shooters arrived, sent by a trio of frat boys a few tables away. We raised our glasses, then dutifully licked, pounded, and sucked. The tequila, not the boys.

While other women might look at these superficially attractive guys and see potential mates or even fun one-night stands, I saw impending headaches. Other girls got hot and bothered by their lines and pickups; I just got bothered.

But I hadn’t always been that way.

“Do the frat boys, Nat!” our friend Polly cried. She was a sturdy corn-fed Nebraska girl—her family’s farm was in a small town outside Lincoln, just a few miles away from ours. Well, not ours anymore, since Mom had sold out last year.

“Too easy,” I said, having already sized up the trio. The first guy had been constantly checking sports scores on TV while his leg jogged. The second was a bleary mess whose own friends rolled their eyes at his drunkenness. The third one’s grooming and clothing were fanatically perfect, and he kept checking his appearance in the mirror behind the bar.

“From left to right, then?” I said. “Inveterate gambler, habitual drunk, and—how should I put this?—the third is ill-equipped.”

I sighed. Yep, those guys were too easy to read. Where was the excitement? Here I was at the same Lincoln bar I always went to, with the same crowd I always hung around. I had an early work shift tomorrow at one restaurant, a late one at the other, and classes to take and to teach on Monday. I’d been averaging five hours of sleep a night for the last few weeks. What was I even doing here?

I guessed I could sleep when I was dead.

“I’ve chosen my quarry for the evening,” beautiful Jess said. “Ill-equipped is mine.” As per her usual, she would pick up another conquest and take him back to his place—so she could leave when finished with him. “His type,” she continued blithely, “usually make up for any shortcomings with their mouths. True story.”

I told her, “And you better be careful, Jessebel, or else you’ll collect another admirer who clings like lichen.”

“I can’t help it that this is the Bermuda Triangle”—she pointed at her crotch—“when guys venture there, they tend to stay.”

I tapped my chin. “Oh, I thought you called it that because it’s sucked in lots of seamen.”

Between guffaws, she said, “That’s a completely fair statement!”

We could laugh about it now, but I’d lived with the aftermath of her affairs: the desperate gifts, the late-night phone calls, the stalking.

What was the point of all the drama? Of all that angst? Dating, love, and sex were all overrated—as I’d repeatedly tried to explain to Jess. She would get this secretive smile and say, “You’re gonna get blindsided one day. I only hope I’m there to see it. . . .”

When the laughter died down, Polly said, “Do him,” with a wave at the door.

“Fine.” Exhaling with boredom—earn your booze, carny—I turned toward the entrance. And saw the baddest-looking man I’d ever encountered.

His eyes were a vivid gold, stark against his thick black hair. He wore it longish, the ends brushing his collar. He had a roman nose that had likely been broken and a razor-thin scar that sliced down across both lips. A fighter?

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