“So, do you have a boyfriend?” he asked as they started strolling down the beach.
Both women’s gazes snapped to him.
“Uh,” Ella said, “who? Me or Zoey?”
“Both of you, of course,” he said smoothly. Or what he hoped was smoothly. “It sucks being all the way across the country from my best friends—”
He heard a subtle, sarcastic snort from Zoey’s direction.
“—because I don’t get to keep up with you as much as I’d like.”
Ella sighed. “No, I don’t have a boyfriend. I’ve dated around the past few months, but no one’s stuck.”
“That’s too bad,” Nate said sympathetically. There was a long silence. When Zoey didn’t volunteer her answer, he said, mega casually, “What about you, Zo?”
Shit. That hadn’t come out as casual as he hoped. His voice sounded tight. Hopeful.
He felt like a wuss. Clearly being around her too much was going to turn him into a girl.
“No boyfriend,” she clipped out.
Good. That was very, very good. He breathed a silent sigh of relief.
“You know what’s really weird?” Ella said. “We’re all single this year. Well, except Matt.”
“And Matt’s engaged,” Zoey said. “That is so hard to believe.”
“No kidding,” Nate added. “Out of all of us, I’d expect him to be the last to settle down.”
“No way,” Zoey said dryly. “That would be you.”
Nate eyed her around Ella. “Why do you say that?”
She turned away from him to gaze out over the distant water, which was getting rough, the breeze whipping up whitecaps as if in anticipation of the rain.
Nate stopped walking. “No, really. Why do you say that?”
Ella stopped too, giving him a pleading look. But he crossed his arms over his chest and stood firm. Heaving a sigh, Zoey slowed as well, turning to look at him over her shoulder. “Because, Nathan, you’re a player.”
She started ticking names off on her fingers, each name cracking out like a BB gunshot. “Sarah. Melissa. Fatima. Angela. Kate. Tyra. And those were just the year we broke up. I would go on, but I lost track of all of them.”
He gaped at her. Jesus. She’d just listed the six girls he’d dated after her. Starting with Sarah… That poor girl. He’d been so messed up. Not ready to be thrown into a new relationship when he was still in love with Zoey. The rest—he could hardly remember them. He doubted he’d have been able to recall all their names, especially in order like that.
Ella groaned. “Can we just walk, guys?”
He ignored her, kept his gaze on Zoey. “I’m not a player, Zo.” Not anymore, anyway.
Nah, there was more to it than that. He’d given up on finding something real. Because he knew where to find it—across the country being a heroine to a bunch of underprivileged kids. And she had given up on him years ago.
Zoey shrugged and started walking again. Casting one last pleading look in his direction, Ella rushed after her.
Nate stood still for a couple of seconds, watching them. Ella was blond and willowy and pretty—she looked like the kind of girl you’d see lounging around in a bikini on a billionaire’s yacht. Nate had actually seen her doing that more than once.
But Zoey… She was small and compact. Her dark, almost-black hair tangled down her back in wild curls. The way she looked, the way she dressed, the way she acted, even the way she thought about things, was so different from most of the girls who ran in his and Ella’s sphere.
It all made Zoey that much more appealing to him. And as he watched her walk away, his blood heated. Her ass… He’d always loved it. It had substance. She had curves to make a man go crazy, and the way her hips swayed as she walked across the sand was so sexy… He wanted to catch up to her, grab her arm, spin her around, and kiss her until she forgot how much she hated him. Until she forgot everything but the feel of his hands on her.