“I should let you go in first,” I said, rubbing my hands together. “It’s your party, and I think you should have your moment.” I stood tall in my dark blue button-down shirt and dark jeans.

“We can go in together,” she said.

I hesitated. “People will think we’re a couple.”

She held her hand out toward me with the most beautiful smile on her lips. “Aren’t we?”

Man. With those two words from her mouth, I felt like such a damn giddy asshole.

God, I love her.

Even though we both were sure about each other, it didn’t mean everyone else in Meadows Creek would be as okay with the idea. As we walked into the bar, everyone shouted ‘Happy birthday!’ to Elizabeth, and I stepped to the side to allow all the hugs to begin.

She looked so happy from the love she was receiving.

Those were my favorite moments to take in.

It didn’t take long for the music to turn loud and the drinking to begin. Shots were being taken left and right, and the gossiping ladies of Meadows Creek were growing louder and louder as they watched Elizabeth and my every move.

After taking another shot of some nasty alcohol with her, I leaned in and whispered against her hair, “Are you okay? With the looks from people? Because if you’re not comfortable, I can stop touching you.”

“I love when you touch me. Don’t stop touching me. It’s just…hard. Everyone’s judging us,” she whispered with a frown. “Everyone’s watching us.”

“Good,” I replied. My fingers touched her lower back and her body relaxed, curving into mine. “Let them watch.”

She smiled wide and looked at me as if I was all she could see. “Kiss me?” she asked.

My lips against hers were my answer.

The night went from a calm beginning to a quick trip down drunken lane. I knew Elizabeth was going to be pretty intoxicated, so I made sure to stop drinking hours before we were going to leave. I was quick to sober up, and one of the most annoying things about being sober was dealing with the drunk people. Every now and then, Elizabeth would get pulled into conversations with the book club ladies—who she hated. I overheard them talking to her, making her feel guilty about us.

“I can’t believe you are actually with him. It seems way too soon,” one judged.

“I wouldn’t be able to date for years if I lost my husband,” another echoed.

“It’s just weird, that’s all. You don’t even know him. I would never bring another man around my kid,” the last one explained.

Elizabeth handled it like a champ. Maybe because she could hardly stand up straight and was in a happy-drunk bubble. Even so, every now and then, she would look my way and give me the biggest eye roll followed up by her smile.

“So wh-wh-what’s the deal with Liz and you?” Tanner said, plopping down on the bar stool beside me, slurring his words. He’d been drinking more than most, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed that he’d spent most of the night staring at Elizabeth.

“What do you mean?”

“Come on, man, everyone in town can tell you two have something going on. I can’t blame you, though. Liz has one of the best set of tits I’ve ever seen.”

“Knock it off,” I said, growing annoyed with drunken Tanner. He had a way of getting under my skin, and ever since I’d found out that he’d had a thing for Elizabeth, I couldn’t stand him that much more.

“I’m just saying…” He smiled, shoving me in the shoulder before he reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter, and started flipping it between his fingers. “Back in college, Steven and I flipped a coin for her. I called heads, he called tails. I won, but the asshole went after her anyway. I guess she was too good in bed for him to pass up.”

My eyes moved over to Elizabeth, who was wrapped up in a conversation with women I knew she hated. When she glanced my way, we exchanged the same ‘save me’ facial expressions.

“Don’t talk about Lizzie like that,” I said. “I know you’re drunk, dude, but don’t talk about her like that.”

Tanner rolled his eyes. “Take it easy. We’re just having some good manly talk.”

I didn’t reply.

“So did you? Have you slept with her?”

“Fuck off, Tanner,” I said, my fingers slowly forming fists.

“You sonofabitch, you screwed her, didn’t you?” He shook his head. “Realistically, though, how do you see this unfolding, Tristan? Let’s be honest. She’s having a fun getaway with you, but a woman wouldn’t want to stay with someone like you. One day, she won’t be sad anymore. One day, she’ll be the same Liz she used to, and she won’t need the asshole neighbor to lose herself. She’ll find someone better.”

“Let me guess…someone like you?”

He shrugged. “It’s an option. Besides, I know her. We have a history together. Plus, she’s too good for you. I mean, I have my own auto shop. I have a way to provide for her. But you? You work for Crazy Henson.”

“Say one more word about Mr. Henson and you’ll regret it.”

He held his hands up in defeat. “Easy, slugger. That vein in your neck is popping out. You wouldn’t want Liz to see that temper of yours, now would you? Like I said, she’s too good for you.”

I tried to ignore his words, but they were finding a way inside my head.

What was I thinking?

She’s too good for me.

Tanner slammed his hands against my shoulders, rotated me around on the stool to face the dance floor, and pointed toward Elizabeth laughing with Faye. “What do you say? What if we do show her your temper? I think it’s only right that she sees the true monster inside of you. You shouldn’t be anywhere near Liz or Emma. You’re a fucking beast.”