Chapter One

The thing about going away parties is they make you want to stick around a little longer. That was the singular thought on my mind as I sat at a bar top table surrounded by the few friends I’d made since moving to Minneapolis less than a year ago. We were all cops on the city police force, but on that particular night we were just five twenty-somethings having drinks on my last night in town.

Brent, a native Minnesotan whom I’d always thought looked like an authentic Viking, raised his pint glass. “To Cassidy!” he toasted loud enough to be heard over whatever mash-up remix the DJ was playing. His chevron mustache twitched above his top lip. “To one awesome chick and one helluva cop.”

Everyone around the table raised their assorted glassware, which ranged from pint glasses to martini funnels, and they echoed Brent’s sentiment. Glasses clinked together and beverages sloshed over the rims.

I ducked my head at the gesture. I typically hated being the center of attention, but I was trying to let myself enjoy it. It had been a while since I’d experienced this feeling of belonging or that anyone appreciated my existence.

I looked around the table at the faces of the people who had quickly become like family: Brent the Viking, whose shoulders were broader than a doorframe, but whose heart was just as big; Angie, the dark-skinned woman with the quick smile. She was small in stature, but feistier than anyone I’d ever met, male or female. Adan, a slim Latino man, nursed his gin and tonic. He was the quietest of our group, and as the alcohol flowed more freely, he seemed to sink further and further into silent contemplation while his toothy grin grew wider and wider.

At the rank of detective, Rich had the most years in the department, but he was also the most immature of all of us. He reminded me of the guys I’d served with in the Marines—young at heart, but serious and professional when the situation called for it. I was proud to call him friend. In fact, even though I’d only been in the Twin Cities for a little over a year, I was going to miss this place and these people.

Angie echoed my thoughts. “God, I’m gonna miss you, Miller. Without you around, I’ll be swimming in testosterone.” She took a careful sip of her apple martini.

“Methinks the lady dost protest too much,” Rich teased. “Don’t let her fool you, Cass. Angie’s been counting the days down until she gets all the men to herself.”

Angie snorted. “Boy, you’ve got it twisted if you think Miller and I have the same type.”

“You’re probably right.” Rich ran his hand over his shaved head. “I suppose I don’t have enough hair to be on Cassidy’s radar.”

“Or nice enough tits,” Angie countered.

A howl of laughter rose around the table. Rich clutched at his heart, feigning being wounded by her words.  

Brent palmed his broad chest over his T-shirt. “What do you think, Cassidy? Are these a solid B cup?”

I smirked and took another pull from my bottled beer. I drank using only my thumb and forefinger. It was an unnatural way to hold the bottle, but it mimicked the motion of pulling a bolt from a rifle. I’d been indoctrinated to drink that way at Boot Camp on Parris Island. “Dude, your boobs are bigger than mine.” I grabbed onto his muscled cleavage and gave it a firm squeeze. “I’m kind of jealous.”

A loud chorus of laughter erupted from an adjacent table, rivaling our own volume. I glanced in the direction of the noise and saw five women sitting around a bottle service table. It didn’t look like a bachelorette party—there wasn’t enough penis paraphernalia for that—so I wondered at the cause for celebration. The VIP seating was too pricey for a simple girls’ night out, and in a low-key city like Minneapolis, the need for bottle service seemed out of place.

I’d never been to this particular club before. It was too loud for extended conversation and the strobe lights were too aggressive for my liking. I preferred dive bars that served cheap beer and gave away free popcorn. But my friends had insisted that this was a special occasion and that we needed to deviate from the norm.

My eyes flicked over each woman’s face as I tried to discover the reason behind the party. My innate curiosity had gotten me into trouble over the years, but it had also served me well in combat and on the police force. My investigation came to a halt on one face in particular. When caramel-colored eyes looked up and met my own, I immediately tore my glance away and pretended to be interested in the label on my beer bottle instead.

The boisterous conversation of the going-away party continued around me, but I couldn’t stop looking back at the other table. It might have been the alcohol starting to talk, but seated at the adjacent table was the most striking woman I’d ever laid eyes on. Her raven-dark hair was styled and cut to frame her heart-shaped face. The ends flipped out just below the edge of her strong jaw line. Dark eyes, accentuated by smoky makeup, smoldered under the lights of the club. Her lips looked impossibly perfect, painted a deep shade of red and tugged up at one corner in an early smirk.

“Could you be anymore obvious?” Angie nudged a well-placed elbow into my ribs.

I snapped my eyes back to my friend. “What?”

“Don’t play innocent. You’ve been gawking at that woman like you’re on a stake-out.”

“What are you two birds buzzing about?” Brent butted it. He leaned across the table, and his thick blond mane fell across his eyes.

“Nothing,” I quickly asserted.

“Miller’s got a crush,” Angie countered.

“I do not!”

“Where?” Rich grinned eagerly. His eyes swept around the dimly lit club.

“Classy brunette over at the bottle service table,” Angie supplied, much to my horror.

Rich and Brent nearly fell over each other trying to get a glimpse of the woman while I couldn’t look up from the bottom of my beer bottle.

“Jesus, Miller,” Rich chuckled when he spotted the gorgeous brunette with her friends. “You really shoot for the stars, don’t you?”

“I’m not doing anything,” I defended myself. “I’m just sitting here, you assholes.” I chanced another glance in her direction. The distance between our two tables wasn’t that much, and I was sure she could pick up the topic of our conversation if she had wanted to.

“Which is a problem. You should be sitting over there,” Angie pointed unobtrusively in the direction of the nearby table, “charming your way into whatever fancy underwear classy dames like that wear.”

“Which you would know nothing about, Angie,” Brent snorted before draining the rest of his pint.

“You wish you could check out my underwear, Olson,” Angie returned with a snarl.

“So are you gonna make a move?” Rich egged me on.

“Guys, she’s not even gay,” I mumbled. Personally, I didn’t enjoy labels. I found both sexes attractive, but if pressed I enjoyed being intimate with women more.

“How do you know until you try?” The optimistic statement came from Adan. He was a man of few words, so when he did talk, people usually listened.  

“Dude, this is your last night in town,” Brent reasoned with me. “What do you have to lose?”

I glanced again in the direction of the VIP section. The woman had her head thrown back, laughing. My eyes were drawn to her mouth, lips painted red and white teeth flashing. I jerked my attention back to the table when I spotted a hand grab my wallet off the table.

Angie waved down a nearby cocktail waitress. “Bottle of champagne for that table over there, please,” she requested. She produced a credit card from my wallet and gave it to the waitress.

I swiped back my wallet, now one credit card lighter. “What are you doing?”

“Helping you be brave, my friend.”

“With my own money?”

I watched in mixed fascination and horror as the cocktail waitress delivered the bottle and five long-stemmed glasses to the adjacent table. The women uniformly appeared confused, waving the waitress away until the server pointed in the direction of our table.

“Jesus.” I jerked my stare back down to the tabletop and my visibly shaking hands.

“Hey ladies,” Brent called, waving a massively muscled arm. His blond hair not only looked like it belonged on a Viking; he was physically built like one, too.

“Would you stop it, Olson?” I hissed under my breath. I was thankful for the dim lighting so no one could see the blush I was sure had crept onto my cheeks. I aimed a boot to kick him under the table, but missed and hit Rich’s shin instead.

“Fuck, Miller!” Rich leaned under the table to rub his tender shin.

“You probably deserved it, too,” I huffed, refusing to feel guilty about my poor aim.

“If you keep sitting here, I’m gonna keep charging drinks to your card all night and sending them to that table,” Angie threatened. “Someone has to make a move.”

Brent started to pound on the table in some kind of primal testosterone encouragement. Rich joined, followed by Angie, and even Adan.

“I really hate you idiots,” I spit out between ground teeth. I took one more pull from my beer bottle, building up my courage, and stood up on uneasy legs. The pounding on the table turned to victorious whoops and cheers.

I raked my fingers through my loose hair. “What the hell do I even say?” I grumbled to no one in particular.

Rich hopped up from his seat and slung his arm around my shoulder. “Don’t worry. I won’t let you go in there without backup.”

“I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that her four friends are equally attractive.”

Rich ran his hand over his squared jaw, which was just as closely shaved as his bald head. “Just taking one for the team, Rookie.”

We made our way over to the table, Rich’s gate exaggerated and mine unsure. I could feel myself start to sweat in the small of my back, but Rich’s arm remained slung around my shoulder, keeping me from running off. It felt like it weighed one thousand pounds.

The women were distracted by each other’s conversation and didn’t notice our approach. We hovered close to the large table, ignored for the moment, until Rich cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, ladies,” he announced. “Sorry to interrupt, but I hope you’re enjoying the champagne my good friend Cassidy was so generous to send over.”

The chattering at the table died down.

A blonde woman with wide-set eyes and an upturned nose was the first to respond. “Thank you, Cassidy.” She raised her champagne flute and tilted her head to the side. “What’s the occasion?”

I opened my mouth, although I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, but Rich beat me to it. “It’s Officer Miller’s last night in town so we’re giving her a kind of bon voyage party.” He leaned forward and flashed what I thought was a particularly wolfish smile. “How would you ladies like to celebrate with the Twin Cities’ finest and help us see our friend off with a bang?”

“You’re all cops?” asked a redhead with a spray of freckles across her nose.

“Detective Richard Gammon of the Minneapolis Police Department reporting for duty, Miss.” Rich touched his fingers to the rim of an imaginary hat. “Think you’ve got room at your table for a few more?”

The women looked at each other, wordlessly conferring, before the blonde spokeswoman answered. “Sure, why not?”

I couldn’t help but notice with a belly full of misgivings that the woman I had been staring at hadn’t participated in the conversation. I was about to excuse Rich and myself—the need to run away building in my body—but he had already waved at our other friends, motioning for them to come over, and the five women were shuffling around the long rectangular table to make room for us.

Rich settled himself between the blonde and the redhead, looking particularly pleased with how things had turned out.

I hesitated, unsure of where to go, until I felt hands firm on the tops of my shoulders planting me in the empty space next to the dark-haired woman whom I had been eyeballing.

“Have a seat, Cass,” Adan instructed me in his lightly accented English.

The space was limited and ten people were crammed around the table that was meant for maybe only eight. Beneath the wooden surface, my thigh pressed flush against my crush’s and our shoulders knocked together so I wouldn’t fall off the end of the cushioned bench. Despite our physical proximity, she continued to stare straight ahead. As I inspected the faces seated around the L-shaped table, she appeared to be the only person upset by the interruption. Even Adan had partnered up with one of her friends and was looking uncharacteristically chatty.

I found myself unable to make eye contact now that I was actually sitting here. Things had escaladed too quickly, and I needed a moment to get used to the change in company. I had planned on spending my last evening in town with my closest friends, not making awkward small talk with attractive strangers.

I managed to flag down a cocktail server, and I ordered another bottle of champagne for the table. Uncomfortable with silence, I would ply the table with more alcohol.

“You should slow down.” The woman finally acknowledged me.

“Excuse me?”

Dark eyes turned to meet mine. “If you keep ordering bottles like that, your bank account isn’t going to thank you in the morning.” Her voice was an impossible low burn, and I felt its hum all over my body.

I grimaced at the truth of her words. I hadn’t bothered to ask how much the bubbly beverage cost; I’d only been following Angie’s lead. I looked for our cocktail waitress, but it was too late to retract my order of the second bottle. I mentally vowed to pace myself in the future.

“I’m really sorry about this,” I apologized under my breath. “I didn’t mean to crash your party. My friends are idiots.”

“They wanted to make sure you had a good time tonight,” she supplied. “That doesn’t sound so idiotic to me.”

“Yeah,” I said, appropriately chastised. “I guess so.” I let out a shaky breath. I should try to have a conversation. “Do you, um, you live here?”

She twisted her long-stemmed glass on the table. “At the bar?”

“No, no. Of course not.” I forced out a nervous laugh. “In the Cities.”

“I used to,” she confirmed.

She didn’t supply any additional information, and my nervousness returned until the second bottle of champagne appeared. I busied myself with the task of filling five more glasses for my friends. I also topped off the woman beside me’s glass, but hated the way my hand shook. At least I hadn’t poured champagne all over the table.

I slid her refilled glass in front of her. “So what’s the occasion? Girl’s night out?” I asked. “Or are you celebrating something?”

Her dark, painted lips pursed. “I’m sure I don’t know you well enough to reveal that.”

“Maybe after a few more glasses of champagne, we’ll be best friends,” I shrugged.

I didn’t think of myself as particularly clever, but she laughed at my comment, and the sound was glorious. As soon as I heard the deep, throaty chuckle, I knew that as long as she continued to talk to me, I would continue to order champagne, regardless of the price.

“I’m Cassidy, by the way—in case you didn’t catch it from before.”

She shifted beside me, turning her body and attention more in my direction. Her knee bumped lightly into mine beneath the table. “Julia,” she returned.

With her hands at the base of her champagne flute and mine on my own, our fingers were nearly touching.

“Can I call you Jules?”

She leaned forward and my pulse quickened. I felt mesmerized as her lush mouth moved to form words: “Absolutely not.”

I tilted my head back and laughed, probably a little too loudly. When my palms landed on the table top in my moment of bliss, I promptly knocked over both flutes of champagne. The bubbly liquid tipped down Julia’s dress—not on her dress: in her dress.

I froze and the music in the club seemed to come to a halt, but it was only my over-active imagination. No one had noticed my clumsiness outside of myself and Julia. I would have found the look of horror on her face mildly comical if I hadn’t been the party responsible for it. I grabbed fistfuls of cocktail napkins with the intention of helping clean up the mess, but she stood up before I could ply her flesh with tiny squares of paper.

“Oh my God. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” she said stiffly. “I’ll just … clean up in the restroom.” She wiggled out from behind the table and stalked away in the direction of an unseen bathroom.

I grappled with indecision. Should I follow her to the bathroom? Or should I give her privacy to put herself back together?

I settled on the latter and sopped up as much of the spilt beverage as I could that covered the table and the space where Julia had sat. I successfully cleaned up the champagne, but an ugly mess of saturated napkins remained heaped on the table as evidence of my ineptitude.

“You okay down there, Rookie?” Rich called down the table.

I could feel a dozen eyeballs on me.

I raised my voice to be heard over the noise of the bar. “Yeah. Everything’s fine.”

My words were a lie and the mountain of wasted napkins was evidence of that. I tried to catch the attention of the cocktail waitress who’d brought over the bottle of champagne so I could close my tab and escape the awkward situation before Julia returned, but she failed to look in my direction.

“You’re not going to make me crawl across your lap, are you?” Julia towered over me. Her lips curved into a small frown.

I scrambled to my feet. The tops of my thighs bumped the table again as I stood up, causing our champagne glasses to wobble, but there was nothing left for me to spill. “I’m so sorry,” I apologized again.

Julia dismissed me with a wave of her hand and wiggled past me to return to her place at the table. “Don’t worry about it. It’s dark in here, and it’s not like champagne stains.”

“Can I get you another drink?” I offered.

“That depends. Do you plan on dumping this one down my cleavage, too?”

At her words, my eyes drifted to said cleavage. Her black cocktail dress dipped modestly in the front, but it revealed enough to keep my attention. When I realized I was openly staring at her chest, I jerked my eyes away. But it was too late; the smirk on her mouth said she’d caught me.

I waved a hand in the air, and sure enough, this time the waitress immediately saw the motion.

“What’ll you have?”

“Dirty martini,” Julia ordered. “Three olives.”

“Um. Beer,” I stumbled out unsophisticatedly.

“What kind?” the waitress asked.

“Surprise me?”

The waitress arched an eyebrow. “Sure thing.”

She returned a few, painfully silent minutes later.

“Dirty martini,” the cocktail waitress announced, setting Julia’s drink down in front of her. “And … a beer. Enjoy ladies.”

I flashed a smile in thanks and the waitress left to check on her other tables.

Julia brought the funnel-shaped glass up to dark red lips. When she returned the drink to the table, her lipstick had left a stain on the glass’s edge.

“I don’t know how you can drink that stuff,” I said, making a face. “Martinis are pure alcohol, aren’t they?”

“And olives.” She speared one of the olives at the bottom of her glass with a toothpick and sucked the salty fruit into her mouth. Once again I found my gaze drawn to her bee-stung lips, but it was better than me gawking at her breasts.

“I take it you’re not picky about your alcohol?” she said, nodding to the beer bottle I worried between idle hands.

“Not really,” I admitted. I fiddled with the bottle’s paper label, shredding and peeling it out of nervousness. This woman was attractive enough that even without having spilled our drinks on her I would have been tongue tied.

“So what do you do?” I swallowed down a mouthful of whatever beer the waitress had brought me. It tasted like a lager—not my first choice—but I didn’t care. It was wet, and it kept my tongue loosened.

“Besides get free drinks from strangers?” She ran an elegant finger along the edge of her martini glass. “I’m a lawyer.”

“Wow.” I took a second pull from my beer. “That’s impressive.” It wasn’t a line. Anyone who used their brain instead of brute strength for their job was impressive to me.

“Perhaps.” She tilted her head to the side. “But no more so than being a police officer. Isn’t that what your friend said you do?”

I nodded and looked down at my hands. I didn’t bother telling her that I was leaving town the very next morning for Bumble-fuck, Minnesota. There was no need to put an expiration date on the evening.

“Yeah. I graduated from the academy last year.”

“And you enjoy it?”

I bobbed my head. “Uh huh. Serve and protect and all that.” I mentally grimaced. It was just one lame string of sentences after the other. I might as well have been talking about the weather.

“Do you find it difficult being a female cop? I imagine you’d get backlash from some male officers as well as the public who think only men can do a good job.”

“It has its challenges, for sure,” I acknowledged, “but once you prove yourself, eventually they see you as just one of the guys.”

Julia’s lips pursed in thought. “Law school was like that, too. Women are still very much a minority in the profession. Plus, I went into criminal law, which is very much a male-dominated specialty. I always felt like I had to be the most prepared person in the room.” She shook her head and laughed self-consciously. “I’m sorry. This sounds like a therapy session.”

Every word that came out of that gorgeous mouth was the most interesting thing I’d ever heard.

“I’m starting to feel this alcohol. I can hear myself rambling.” She pushed her half-empty glass away. “And no one likes a drunk. It’s not attractive.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about there,” I said pointedly.

A ghost of a smile played on her painted mouth.

“I can relate though; it was like that when I was enlisted, too,” I said. “I had a serious chip on my shoulder after Boot Camp. The Marines say soldiers have no gender—we’re just Marines—but my experience wasn’t genderless at all.”  

“How long were you in the Marines?”

“Once a Marine, always a Marine.” I flashed her a grin. “But I was active duty just shy of ten years.”

Her eyebrows rose on her unlined forehead. “Ten years?” she echoed. “That’s like half of your life.”

“You might be a fancy lawyer, but you’re not very good at math,” I teased. “I’m twenty-eight.” I always got carded when we went out. With my blonde wavy hair, dimples, and wide, toothy smile, I had a bit of a baby-face.

“Well thank goodness for that.” Her laughter was like a drug. If given the chance, I’d soon be addicted to the sound. “I was worried I might be corrupting you.”

I leaned perceptibly closer and lowered my voice. “I don’t think I’d mind that at all.”

It hit me all at once: I was pulling this off. I was holding my own, talking to a gorgeous woman; we might have even been flirting.

I didn’t want our conversation to stop, but I had to go to the bathroom. I was so worried about the indelicacy of admitting to having a small bladder that for once I didn’t worry about my physical awkwardness. My knees bumped the table as I stood up, knocking over our drinks.

Julia’s gasp was audible when the drinks spilled across her lap and legs. Again.

One accident might have been forgivable, but two? Never.

I kept going without looking back or trying to help, forgetting about my need to use the bathroom, forgetting about my credit card and the open tab, and most definitely forgetting about the woman on whom I’d spilled four drinks.

+ + +

The next morning came too soon. My head pounded and my stomach gurgled from mixing liquors the previous night. It was like a giant mixed cocktail of champagne, beer, and tequila sloshing around my body. The morning sun was too bright, and I stumbled around my nearly empty apartment trying to find a pair of sunglasses that hadn’t already been shipped up to Embarrass with the rest of my belongings. 

My phone was full of missed calls and text messages from my friends, all worried where I’d disappeared to last night. I would have probably left town without returning anyone’s calls, but Angie had left a message that she had my abandoned credit card and would continue to use it unless I came to pick it up.

Meeting up with Angie became my final stop before I left town. We met on a riverboat on the Mississippi River that doubled as a bar. It was more like a glorified double-decker pontoon boat, and the bottled beer was overpriced, but it offered a nice view of the city I was soon leaving. Having grown up in Minnesota, the murky Mississippi River was far from the prettiest waterscape I’d been witness to, but it was an open body of water, and when I’d been stationed in the middle of an ashtray, thousands of miles away, it had been what I’d missed the most about home.

To say that the years between 2004 and 2012 were an interesting time to be a soldier was an understatement at best. The country was fighting a multi-pronged war on terror, and as the memory of 9/11 became further and further in the rearview mirror, the war became increasingly unpopular with the people back home. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, and in July 2010 WikiLeaks released seventy-five thousand secret documents related to the United States and the war in Afghanistan.

I wasn’t anything special in the Marines. I didn’t go to officer school until after my first tour, and I wasn’t doing one-handed pushups like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. I’d signed up in 2004, straight out of high school, on an open contract. That meant the Marines could put me wherever it needed an extra body. It hadn’t mattered to me, though; I just wanted to get away. I wanted adventure. I wanted to get out of Minnesota.

I attended Boot Camp at Parris Island, just outside of Beaufort, South Carolina, as part of the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion. Although the Marines accepted both men and women, we were separated for training. The Island was gender segregated, but we received the same training: martial arts, close-order drill, pugil sticks, marksmanship, bayonet, gas mark, obstacle courses, rappelling, and combat water survival. I used to think about Swim Week of Phase Two of Boot Camp when I sat in desert sand so fine that it better resembled moon dust.

After Boot Camp, I spent two weeks in Marine Combat Training Battalion to learn things like communications, intelligence, electronic warfare, nuclear and biochemical defense, logistics, and vehicle repair. If I’d been a man, I would have gone to a fifty-two day Infantry Training to serve as a grunt: infantry, machine gunners, mortar men, assault, and antitank guided missile men.

Being a female in the Marines was akin to walking a tight rope. If you didn’t hang out with the guys in your squad, you were a lesbian. If you palled around with the guys too much, however, you were a slut. The best I could hope for was to be thought of as their little sister.

My first tour was relatively unremarkable. My mosquito wings were freshly stitched on my uniform, and I was admittedly gungy—gung ho, but inexperienced. After witnessing the death of my first Marine, however, they stopped looking at me like a Wookie monster—a female Marine. I was simply a Marine. Sometimes being a woman in Afghanistan was problematic, especially when interacting with village elders. But other times, like when it came to defusing situations between Marines and local women, it came in handy.

I wasn’t technically allowed to engage in direct combat until February 2012 when the Pentagon finally changed their ban on women in combat battalions. It was little more than a rubber-stamp of approval on a piece of paper though. I’d been serving as a signal officer through a loophole that allowed me to be attached to a combat unit. A few months later, however, we started to withdraw from the country.

Being a Marine meant working until a job or objective had been completed as expected. At the time, I’d found it ironic that the President was removing us from Afghanistan. The job wasn’t done. And in my opinion, it hadn’t been done the right way.

After my second tour came to an end, I briefly entertained the plan of becoming a Marine security guard for an embassy or consulate. But in the end, I decided to go back to America and be with my family. Marine security guards typically served three rounds of twelve-month long tours. After another three years in the military, I would have been thirty, and I wanted to start the rest of my life before then. 

When I ended my service with the Marines, I came home to a hero’s welcome. Signs all over town welcomed me back. I even got a parade down Main Street. I’d sat on the back on some stranger’s red Corvette convertible like a goddamn beauty queen who wore Marine dress blues instead of a prom dress. There had been a nauseating amount of tiny American flags in the crowd, all stiffly waving as the car carrying me drove by. Kids ran into the streets with their hands on their hips, expecting candy. It was supposed to be a parade, after all. The town did everything short of giving me a key to the city and declaring it Cassidy Miller Day.

During my two tours abroad I’d returned to St. Cloud occasionally, but being back for good was different. Nothing looked the same to my eighteen-year-old self. The only thing relatively unchanged was my parents’ house and my childhood bedroom. VCRs had been replaced with DVD players and tube television sets had been exchanged for flat screens, but that same hideous brown carpet still covered the floor.

I hadn’t believed that coming back after all that time in a warzone would be easy, but I’d underestimated the real difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life. War is hell, but the aftermath is endless.

I parked my bike in the small paved parking lot adjacent to the riverboat bar and climbed up the stairs to the second level. Angie was already at a table with a beer in front of her when I showed up.

“You’re alive,” she observed. She wore sunglasses on the overcast day, which told me how the rest of her night had gone.

I sat down in a plastic lawn chair across from her. “Yeah, I’m sorry about last night.”

Angie lifted her sunglasses to her forehead and rubbed at her temples. “Who bails on their own going-away party?”

“I know. I’m sorry,” I apologized again.

“What are you drinking?” She waved down the bartender. Normally there wasn’t table service at a bar like this, but we were the only people on the boat so the bartender made an exception.

“I’m good,” I declined the offer. “I’ve got a long drive ahead of me today.”

“You can have one beer. Besides, I’m buying.” She pulled out a dark blue credit card, which I recognized as my own.

“Thanks for taking care of that. It saves me the hassle of having to cancel the card.” I took the charge card back and returned it to my wallet. “What’d I miss last night?”

 “Rich went home with one of those chicks,” Angie snorted.

I immediately bristled. My reaction didn’t go unnoticed.

“Not your fancy broad, Miller,” she reassured. “He’s not that classless. Besides, she basically clammed up the moment you took off.”

“Really?” I didn’t know why that information felt so satisfying.

“Also, I may have bought another round with your card.” Angie smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I dismissed. “That’s my punishment for ditching you guys.”

“Why did you leave?” she pressed.

“I just needed to get out of there.”

It was a vague excuse, but my pride wouldn’t let me admit the depth of my awkwardness. Besides, it didn’t matter anymore. I was leaving the city shortly and chances were I was never going to see that woman again.