I dig at the bottom of my purse, hoping to find a couple more random crumpled up bills to stuff in the slot machine, doing everything in my power to resist the urge to just pull out my credit card. I probably should’ve just waited in the lobby for Janka to give me the signal, read a magazine or something to pass the time instead of giving in to my addiction.
The cocktail waitress hasn’t come by in awhile, but she’s probably on to the fact that I’m just here for the free drinks. It’s obvious by the crappy tips I’ve been leaving her that I’m no high roller.
I pull out my cellphone, thinking maybe I should text Janka and make sure everything is going alright, and as I go to pull up her name, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I swivel in my stool and maybe it’s the drinks but it takes my brain a minute to process what my eyes are seeing.
He’s much more muscular than I remember, his arms straining up against his tight black t-shirt. His hair is shorter, stylishly trimmed and spiked just a little bit in the front, like he’s going for the just rolled out of bed look but in a sexy way. He has a five o’clock shadow that only enhances the cut of his jaw. Maybe he wasn’t ‘hot’ back when we were eighteen, but he’s definitely a sight to behold now, and yet, everything in me is telling me to run away.
“Serafin?” I whisper, staring into his eyes, trying to contain my shock. I always knew there was a chance I’d run into him when I moved back to Krakow, but the city is so big, and I rarely go anywhere. I didn’t think it would happen so soon.
“It’s been a long time, Mia,” he says. God, his voice is much deeper than I remembered, much richer and sexier.
“Yes.” I am completely at a loss for words. Everything about this man standing in front of me is overwhelming. Feelings from the past start flooding through me like jolts of electricity, from the way he always cared for me and spoiled me, to the fateful night where I watched him get attacked in an alleyway before my eyes, to the day his parents made me sign a piece of paper saying I’d never come within ten yards of him, and I’d never speak of what I witnessed that night.
“I know that smell,” he says.
“Vodka and tonic? I’ve had a couple,” I say nervously, hoping that cracking a joke will make the air in this room feel a little less heavy.
“No, the perfume. Haven’t smelled that in ages.”
My heart races. The perfume he bought me. “I always liked it. You always did have excellent taste, Serafin. You spoiled me rotten.”
I can’t tell by the expression on his face whether he wants to kiss me or kill me. My heart is racing so fast, I don’t know if I want to run away and pretend like this never happened or if I want to fling myself at him, fling myself back into the place I was before we split and I was just some innocent flirt working at the bakery.
I know the kind of people his family are. I know they’re killers, dangerous, wealthy, and powerful. Getting tangled up with Serafin is like playing with fire, and my life is already like living in a house that’s burning down.
When he wraps his arms around me and hugs me tight, we’re the only two people in this room. The ringing sounds of the slot machines, the shitty band playing covers from the 1970s, the murmur of the crowd, it all fades away. It’s just him and I against the world, just like it used to be…
and I feel like I’m going to be sick.
I pull away as I stand up from my stool and smooth my jacket. I’m suddenly hot and cold at the same time. I feel like I’m being stabbed in the stomach, but my heels are too high and my legs are too wobbly to run. I want nothing more than to stay in this moment and pretend like everything is alright, but my body is rejecting it on every level.
“How are you? How have you been?” I ask, trying to act like a normal human being who has their shit together, and not somebody who can’t figure out up from down.
“It’s been twelve years, Mia. I don’t think small talk is gonna cut it.” He stares right through me like he can’t figure out if he hates me or loves me, and I don’t blame him. We are well past the point of niceties, and in this moment I want to go off the deep end with him. Sink to the fucking bottom. I want to know everything and rip my heart out and hand it to him all over again, even though I know that’s probably the worst thing for me.
I laugh and hang my head. “I’m sorry. I really don’t know what to say.”
“I could get us a room upstairs and I’m sure we could figure something out,” he says, licking his lips.
Ice pours through my veins. I slap him on the chest, and he starts to laugh.
“You haven’t changed a bit, musiu,” he says, taking my hand in his and kissing it. “I’m just fucking with you.”
“Apparently you haven’t changed either, you horn dog.”
The way he winks at me and bites his lip makes me a little disappointed I didn’t take him up on his initial offer. If he was attractive back when we were in high school, he’s a million times sexier now. He aged well, like a barrel of bourbon kept tucked away for a lifetime.
“You broke my heart, Mia. I spent the last twelve years trying to hate you.”
“Well you should,” I say. I fidget with the rings on my fingers.
“What are you doing running around with Janka?” he asks.
“Were you watching me?”
When you see someone you used to be in love with for the first time in a long time, it’s very easy to forget all the red flags of the past. I always thought he meant well when he kept tabs on me, but I thought my ex husband meant well too when he tried to control me.
“Last I checked I was a free woman,” I say.
“She’s trouble, Mia. I know her very well.”
A little bit of jealousy sears inside me, and I don’t like it. I know we haven’t been together in twelve years, but he’s gorgeous and she’s stunning and I could totally see the two of them together. I try to bleach the image from my mind.
“Roommates are hard to come by when you’re almost thirty years old,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest. “She’s a little rough around the edges, but she’s my best friend.”
He shrugs like he knows he isn’t going to change my mind either way. Maybe I’m reading way too into this. Maybe he really is just being a concerned friend. I didn’t even think to ask if he’s married by now, but it would make perfect sense. He’s rich, gorgeous, and charming and I know he isn’t afraid to shower his girlfriend in beautiful things and attention. I look down at his finger for a wedding ring, and even though I don’t spot one, I imagine he’s the kind of man who might not wear one at all.
“Speaking of almost thirty,” he says, “it’s my birthday tonight. Do you want to come to a party at Club Taboo?”
My eyes grow wide. Maybe he’s not a married man, and if he is, his wife must be a pretty open person. Club Taboo is known for being an anything goes kind of place with naked dancers and sex shows and rooms with glass walls. I’ve only heard stories about it from Janka, who obviously loves it, but I really don’t think that’s my scene.
“It’s not what it sounds like,” he says. Even after all these years he can read me like a book. “My friends rented the place for the night. I’m sure it’s going to be pretty low key. We can leave if it’s not.”
I know I should say no. I know everything about this is a bad idea. Sex club with my first love when I’m drunk and vulnerable isn’t exactly in the “how to recover gracefully from a divorce” handbook. I wouldn’t be standing here right now if it weren’t for indulging in my bad ideas, though.
“I would like that. I have something I have to take care of here first, though, and I’m going to bring Janka with me. I’ll meet you over there in an hour or so?”
“I’ll make sure to add your name to the list. You better give me your number just in case.”
I pull out my cellphone and get his phone number, calling him so he has mine. I swallow down the lump in my throat, knowing there’s no turning back now.
“Happy birthday,” I say, giving him a hug. My phone starts to ring, Janka’s number scrolling across the screen. “I gotta go.”
“I better see you soon,” he says, squeezing me tight to his rock hard chest. God, he smells good. I wish I wasn’t such a nice friend and I could just blow Janka off. I know she’d probably do it to me if she was in the same situation.
“Of course,” I say.
I wait for him to walk away and answer my phone. “You ready for me?” I ask. “Let’s make it a quick one.”