Dare to Hold (Dare to Love #6)
When Scott Dare hears Meg’s friends are determined she have a night of hot sex, before her life changes forever, he decides that man must be him. Their one night is mind blowing and life altering. And Scott, a man already burned by his ex-wife, finds himself all in anyway. While protecting Meg from her violent ex and becoming part of her increasingly complicated life, he’s falling hard and he can’t seem to find distance. Not when their bodies respond to each other with such heated intensity and he’s drawn to her unique combination of strength and vulnerability.
But Meg’s future is one Scott has accepted he’ll never have, even if his growing feelings say otherwise …
She pulled on her favorite pair of jeans, tugged them up over her hips, and unsuccessfully attempted to close the button. She grunted and lay down on the bed, pulling the sides closer together but no luck. She wriggled, sucked in a deep breath, and tried again, only to end up huffing out a stream of air in frustration.
“Didn’t these fit just last weekend?” she asked herself, peeling the denim off her legs and tossing them onto the floor with a groan.
She glanced down at her still-flat stomach, placing her hand over her belly. “How could something I can’t see or feel cause so much upheaval in my life?” And how could she love the baby growing inside her so much already?
A vibrating buzz told her someone was sending her a message. She checked her phone.
Lizzy: Almost ready?
Meg sighed. Her best friend, Elizabeth Cooper, was due to pick her up in ten minutes. Girls’ night out. Or, in Lizzy’s words, hookup night and Meg’s last chance for a hot, no-holds-barred fling before she started to show and her sole focus became being a new mom. Meg was up for girls’ night, but no way would she be picking up a stranger for a one-night stand. Her days of choosing the wrong men were over. Mike was the last in a long line of sucky choices. So not only didn’t she trust her judgment when it came to the opposite sex, it no longer mattered. She was finished relying on men to define her or make her happy.
“Right, baby?” She patted her belly and headed to her closet for a pair of elastic-waist leggings.
* * *
Meg and her friends settled into their seats at Mel’s, a popular spot for casual drinks after work and on the weekends. Mel’s was a dimly lit bistro with a wood-fired oven and grill in the back, dark mahogany-looking tables throughout, and a funky bar where people gathered. Meg loved it here.
She waved to the waiter, who stepped over to their table.
“What can I get you ladies?”
The girls ordered alcoholic drinks, and the good-looking waiter turned to Meg.
“I’ll have a club soda. With a lime.”
“Going for the hard stuff, I see.” He winked and scribbled down her order.
Meg smiled. “Designated driver.” Which wasn’t a lie. Lizzy might have picked her up, but Meg would be the one driving home.
She glanced around at the women she’d ignored for a long time in favor of her asshole ex and, unfortunately, her baby daddy. She was grateful these women were here for her now because Meg had a bad habit of dropping friends in favor of men. Men she looked to for the love and acceptance she’d never received from her own father she barely remembered. Meg sighed and rested her chin on her hands. Her childhood memories included a string of Alicia’s boyfriends who came and went from her young life.
Her mother had set a pattern Meg unconsciously followed. First she’d latched on to Dylan Rhodes, the one and only good guy in her life. He’d been her high school boyfriend and her rock until they broke up before going to college, and then Meg began emulating her mother’s taste by choosing men who always took advantage one way or another.
Luckily she and Dylan had reconnected when they’d moved back to Miami years later, but Meg had over-relied on Dylan instead of standing on her own two feet. It took Dylan falling hard for another woman to wake Meg up to her too-needy ways. Dylan was her friend, but he was now Olivia Dare’s husband. And Meg was determined to be independent. Everything the way it should be.
“Earth to Meg.” Lizzy waved a hand in front of her eyes.
Meg blinked, startled. “Sorry. Just got lost there for a minute.”
“Nowhere good, from the look on your face.” Lizzy tilted her head to one side, her long blonde curls falling over her shoulder. “Everything okay?” Her friend studied her, her brown eyes soft and concerned.
Meg smiled. “Couldn’t be better. I was actually thinking about the changes I’ve made—that I’m determined to keep making in my life. And it’s really good to be out with you guys,” Meg said, meaning it.
“It’s great to be out with you too,” Lizzy said.
The waiter stopped by the table and passed out their beverages. Meg took a long sip of her cold soda, appreciating the way it eased her dry throat.
“Well, you must be doing something right because you’re glowing,” Lizzy said.
“It’s the pregnancy hormones,” Meg muttered.
“No, seriously. You look beautiful,” her friend insisted.
Meg smiled at her. “Thank you.”
Allie Mendez, the office secretary and the third woman in their posse, slipped her cell into her purse and leaned closer to join the conversation. “Maybe I should get myself pregnant, because Lizzy’s right. You’re gorgeous.”
Meg blushed. “And you two need glasses.”
“Not if the guys at the next table are any indication. Look. The blond one can’t take his eyes off you!” Lizzy said, her voice rising in excitement.
Oh no. All Lizzy needed was a target and she’d be aiming Meg his way all night. “I’m sure he’s looking at one of you. Not the pregnant woman in the elastic-waist pants.” Lizzy and her blonde beauty or Allie and her olive skin and luscious curves attracted men wherever they went.
“You must not have looked in a mirror before leaving the house,” Allie told her, a frown on her pretty face.
“Oh, look! He’s coming this way. Now remember. There’s nothing wrong with getting yourself some before your life gets serious.” Lizzy nudged her arm.
“I don’t want some,” Meg muttered. “If he’s so hot, you should—”
“Hi, ladies,” the man said, bracing an arm on the back of Meg’s chair.
“Hi!” Lizzy said too brightly.
“My friends and I would like to buy you all a drink.” He spoke to the table, but his eyes were on Meg.
She shook her head. “We were just having a private convers—”
“We’d like that,” Allie chimed in.
“Mind if we join you then?” he asked, making Meg wonder if he was dense, oblivious, or just that ego-driven.
In response, Lizzy slid her chair away from Meg, making room for the other man to sit. Which, after grabbing his chair and pulling it over to the table, he did. His pals joined them too.
Meg shot her friend an annoyed look.
“Give him a chance,” Lizzy mouthed behind the man’s back.
Rob, Mark, and Ken, they said their names were, as conversation began to flow. Ken was the one closest to Meg, and with his light hair and coloring, he definitely resembled his Barbie-doll namesake. Even if she were interested in a hookup, a preppy man who liked to talk about himself wouldn’t be her choice. She disliked his wandering hands even more.
He brushed her back.
He sat forward so their shoulders touched. She shoved her chair in the opposite direction.
Somehow he ended up close beside her again, his thigh touching hers.
She was all too ready to go home, but her friends seemed to like the guys they were talking to, and she didn’t want to ruin their time by being rude to Ken. She wouldn’t leave with him, but she’d be pleasant while they were here.
“So what do you do for a living?” he asked.
“I’m a kindergarten teacher.”
He blinked, long lashes framing green eyes. “That’s … brave.”
“Don’t like kids?” she asked, none too sweetly.
He fake-shuddered. “Not for a good long while. But you must have a decent pension plan?” he asked, back on the subject he liked best. Ken was a stockbroker and investor, and soon she found herself listening to all the ways she could save more money by investing with the best of the best. Him, of course.
She hid a yawn behind her hand, and when her bladder informed her she needed a trip to the restroom, she nearly groaned out loud in relief.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to go … freshen up. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Meg rose and Ken followed, helping her pull out her chair.
Allie met her gaze. “Gentleman,” she mouthed in approval.
Meg swallowed a groan.
“I’ll be waiting,” Ken said as she walked away.
“Oh, please don’t be,” she said to herself, making her way to the bathroom at the far back of the restaurant.
She spent a long time in the restroom, checking her phone, swiping some gloss on her dry lips, and washing her hands, twice, in her effort to stall returning to the table.
When she did, she paused by Lizzy’s chair and whispered in her friend’s ear. “I’m going to bail. I’m not up to this. I’m really sorry. Will you be okay driving?”
“Of course. I barely had a sip. But I can leave and take you home.”
She shook her head. “No need. You seem to be hitting it off with Mark. I can get Uber,” she said of the car service in most cities, including Miami.
“I’d be happy to drive you,” Ken said.
She hadn’t realized he’d left his seat and had overheard them.
“No, really. Stay and have fun. I’m just not feeling too well.” Which was a lie, but it was nicer than go away, I’m not interested.
Which was ironic, since not too long ago, Meg would have been all too willing to see where things went with a guy who showed her any interest at all. Maybe the baby really was changing her, making her more self-reliant and aware as well as giving her better taste in men.
“Then you really shouldn’t go home alone,” Ken said, grasping her forearm.
Oh no, he didn’t. She pinned him with an annoyed glare. “Let. Go.” And what was it about her that attracted assholes anyway? she asked herself, as she tried to extricate herself without resorting to insults or calling management.
Lizzy jumped up from her seat just as the jerk released her arm, and a familiar voice reverberated in her ear.
“Touch her again and you’ll answer to me.”
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