The Rebound Girl (Getting Physical #1)
Plastic surgeon Whitney Vidra knows all about getting over a cheating ex. She followed her boyfriend halfway around the world before she found out about his infidelity. Now she’s focusing on her career and her friends, and using men just for single-serving, no-strings fun. Until she meets charming Matt Fuller.
Newly single Matt is captivated by the vibrant Whitney, in every way the opposite of his cheating ex-wife. When he confesses to Whitney that he hasn’t had sex since his divorce, she volunteers to be his rebound girl. But Matt’s not a no-commitment kind of guy—he’s either all in, or all out.
Whitney is determined to remain attachment-free, but Matt is equally determined to prove to her that what they have is more than just a rebound fling.
“Is this seat taken?”
Whitney Vidra looked up from her phone and stifled a sigh. The man approaching her in the poorly lit bar didn’t have a popped collar or the scent of Axe Body Spray wafting around him, which counted as a few points in his favor, but that didn’t mean she wanted his company.
Yes, she was dressed to the hilt in her favorite red dress. And yes, her hair looked fantastic, if she did say so herself. But it had taken all of five seconds to recognize this place for what it was—a backwater attempt at trend, and a fairly poor one at that, what with the middle-aged DJ encouraging them all to start grooving and the cheap black paint blistering on the walls. Her friend Kendra might be content to swap spit with one of the locals out on the parquet dance floor, but Whitney would rather reserve her saliva for digesting the stale bowl of pretzels on the bar.
“I’m not saving that particular stool for anyone, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said, striving for a politely distant tone.
Taking it for an invitation, the man sat, holding up two fingers to the bartender—either a secret code or a macho attempt to order her a drink without asking first. She hated when guys didn’t ask.
“Your friend’s a really good dancer. You don’t dance?”
Whitney switched off her phone and tucked it carefully in her purse before turning to face her accoster. Now that she was seeing the man head-on, she could tell she was going to have to take it a little easy on him. He wasn’t bad looking—in fact, the hesitant smile and tousled sandy hair signaled nerd chic at its best, and there was a slight depression in his cheek that she thought might transform into a full-blown dimple if he tried. But the guy wore a corduroy jacket with elbow patches and drank something pink with little bits of fruit floating on the top.
He was obviously clueless.
“If you’re asking can I dance, the answer is yes.” Whitney took care not to provide any encouragement. “But I’m choosing not to at this particular moment.”
She cast a glance over the dance floor, nodding when Kendra sent up a cheerful wave. Her best friend and business partner had insisted they go out tonight, an official commemoration of their first night as Pleasant Park residents. But although Kendra felt the permanence of their signatures on their new office building as a good thing, Whitney had never been nearer to breaking out in hives. There was so much finality in a ten-year lease.
“I’m a terrible dancer,” the man offered.
“Imagine that,” Whitney said dryly, taking in his crisp khakis at a glance. In her experience, men who ironed their pants and men with great moves—on the dance floor or off it—were mutually exclusive entities. “Next you’ll be telling me you’re a regular Don Juan.”
“I like to do my part for womankind.” He deflected her sarcasm with some of his own. “Your friend said you might want some company.”
Aha. Things were beginning to make sense. “Let me guess—you’re friends with the guy she’s currently grinding against, aren’t you?”
“He’s my brother,” the man corrected her, “not my friend. Well—I guess he’s my friend too, since we’re obviously out together tonight. But you know what I mean.”
Seriously? Whitney had known coming in that her new life would take a little getting used to. That was kind of the whole point. Take one part upscale Pennsylvania borough, add three parts big-city beauty professionals. She, Kendra and their third partner John were practically their own bad joke: a chubby plastic surgeon, an overeducated esthetician and a hirsute massage therapist walk into a bar…
The move had been a long time coming, of course, and she didn’t mean to sound ungrateful. It was just that she’d somehow failed to realize that setting up their medical spa in an upstate outpost meant living in an upstate outpost—complete with an agonizingly slow nightlife and guys like awkwardly conversational elbow patches over there.
She lifted her finger to stop him from going any further. “Save yourself the trouble. I am not now, nor have I ever been, the DUFF. So thank you, random stranger, for your oddly endearing company, but you’re off the hook for the night.”
The man’s brow wrinkled, and something like a frown crossed his face. The dimple potential disappeared with it. “Matt. My name is Matt.”
Despite herself, Whitney softened. “It was lovely meeting you, Matt.” She stopped short of offering him her hand and swiveled on her stool, effectively ending the conversation.
Which was why it was so surprising when his finger tapped lightly on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry—I don’t think I did that right. I’m still kind of new at this.” His voice was soft but firm, and he stuck out his hand, holding it steady until she had no choice but to take it. “Hello, there. My name is Matt. I somehow got wrangled into coming out with my brother tonight.”
“And how is that my problem?” The words came out a lot crueler than she intended, but she bit back the urge to apologize. Men these days sometimes had to be pried off a girl’s leg with a crowbar.
“It’s not,” he said pleasantly, not the least bit put off. “You look nice, so I’m offering to buy you a drink. And if you don’t mind my asking, what in the world is a DUFF?”
The bartender chose that moment to drop two shots of amber liquid in front of them, followed shortly by a pair of limes and a salt shaker. Whitney stared at the drinks for a moment before looking up.
“You’re moving on to tequila now? Really? Would you like me to sprawl out here on the bar so we can just skip to body shots?”
He shrugged and reached for the salt shaker. “I’m beginning to think you’re making fun of me.”
“I’m beginning to think you’ve been transplanted here from another universe—one that’s stuck about twenty years ago.” Whitney watched as he licked the salt from his wrist, just inches above the band of his outdated wristwatch, and kicked back his shot. He did it all with a kind of understated grace, as if he knew how ridiculous he appeared and simply didn’t care.
“Do you want yours?”
Whitney shook her head as he drank the next shot straight. He made a face, wincing and flashing his teeth, but the expression was gone in a moment, replaced once again by a strangely kind smile.
“Don’t underestimate finger foods?” he asked, tilting his head at her.
Say what, now? Whitney blinked. “Um…I guess I like an amuse bouche as much as the next girl.”
“Deranged undernourished fighting fish?”
“I think you’re the deranged one.”
“Am I getting close? How about…” He paused and looked thoughtful. “Dangerously unhealthy French fries?”
Realization forced her to sit up a little straighter, and Whitney studied her partner with renewed interest. He was playing a DUFF guessing game. It was almost as cute as his dimples, which were coming out in full force now. He was like some sort of saintly, attractive man-child, dropped here for her amusement.
“Designated ugly fat friend,” Whitney offered, taking pity on him. “But you were close.”
She nodded toward the dance floor, where Kendra had somehow gotten her leg hooked around the brother’s knees and was doing some strange whipping thing with her head. When Kendra had said she wanted to go out to celebrate their new venture, she’d obviously meant celebrate.
A hand, warm and soft, found its way on top of hers. “Hey. That’s not true. I think you’re lovely.”
Whitney laughed, only stopping when she brought her pint of Guinness to her lips and took a long pull. “Thanks. I happen to think so too.”
“Then why did you—?”
“Look,” Whitney said, setting down her glass, “you won’t be the first man to assume that because I prefer sitting alone at the bar over grinding to dubstep that I’m somehow faulty. But I am not the consolation prize in a bar mating game.”
Matt frowned. “That sounds awful.”
“It is awful, which is why I don’t play. I don’t care what Kendra told you or promised you or begged you to do. I don’t need you to babysit me. Good night.”
“Do you mind if I sit here anyway?”
Geez, he was persistent. Most guys were only too happy to be handed such an easy out. It wasn’t that she couldn’t pick men up at a bar—it was hardly rocket science—but never, in her thirty-three years of existence, had she ever accepted DUFF droppings. Contrary to what most men thought when they first saw her, the thirty extra pounds she carried mostly in her hips didn’t make her a victim of low self-esteem or discounted standards. She liked that weight right where it sat—and she would have been the first to advocate going under the knife if she felt otherwise.
“I guess I can’t stop you from sitting wherever you want,” she said slowly.
He released an audible sigh of relief. “Thank you. I don’t know why I let Lincoln drag me out tonight—this place isn’t really my style. To be honest, the women here kind of scare me.”
“No kidding? You? With your tequila shots and fancy lime wedges?”
“You’re making fun of me again.”
She snickered. She really was.
Her phone vibrated, and she pulled it out to find an email from her mother coming in. Since there seemed every chance that her new friend Matt would try and read over her shoulder if she opened the message inside, she nodded a polite dismissal and made for the door.
The air felt clean as she slipped outside—a nice departure from the dank miasma she was used to back in Philadelphia. One thing she hadn’t been expecting about this place was just how breathable it was. Country air did great things for her complexion.
She scrolled through the screen, hesitating for only a second when she saw the subject line.You’ll never guess who I ran into today… It was just like the woman to be purposefully coy, and Whitney had half a mind to simply ignore her. Unfortunately, if she didn’t respond right away, her mom would email again, then text, then call. The Vidra women were nothing if not persistent.
But as soon as the email opened, Whitney groaned and snapped the phone shut. Not content with simply spelling out his name, her mother had included an oversized jpeg with the header that had been all over the industry publications last month. Dr. Jared Fine Resigns from Charity Post, Returns to PA. Like she cared. Let him take up residence in state for the rest of his life, brandishing his golden scalpel and transforming the lives of the underprivileged. She was on to bigger and better things.
Well, maybe not bigger. The fellowship at Temple University she’d turned down had been pretty big. And not everyone in the medical community shared her belief that the term better applied to her chosen focus on boob jobs and liposuction in place of more sedate medical care. But this was her life, her rules.
“Thanks but no thanks, Mother.” Whitney pressed delete without bothering to read the rest of the email. Her parents had never understood why she was so willing to turn her back on the man she’d loved enough to follow to the ends of the earth, the plastic surgeon god who’d fathered her own career aspirations. But then again, they hadn’t caught him with his pants around his ankles, plowing an anesthesiologist in a third world country.
Make the World Smile, he’d said. We’ll fix cleft palates, change children’s lives for the better, he’d said.
Call her cynical, but that seemed like a poor substitute for fidelity.
Her first instinct was to rush inside and pour her heart out to Kendra, but she hated to interrupt her friend in the middle of what was obviously a conquest for a fitting one-night stand. John was probably meticulously packing the rest of his things in anticipation of the train ride up tomorrow morning, and there was no way in hell she planned on calling her mother.
Which left…what? A man in the bar wearing elbow patches, friendly and clueless?
She put her phone away. He is awfully cute.
As she suspected, Matt was sitting right where she’d left him. His gaze was concentrated on Kendra and her dance partner—Lincoln, he’d called his brother—but the dim light made it difficult to tell if he was envious, outraged or merely…spectating. She suspected the latter.
“You came back,” he said pleasantly as she took her former seat. Her beer sat, seemingly untouched, but even though Matt didn’t look like the sort of man who carried spare flunitrazepam in his pocket, Whitney had spent too many years as a single woman to play fast and loose with her beverages. She pushed the drink away.
“Was it good news?” he asked.
“Was what good news?”
He nodded at her purse. “The phone?”
“Oh.” She paused for a moment. He’d been paying attention—it seemed the oddly earnest elbow patches were more than just a fashion choice. “It was from my mother.”
“So…that’s a no, then.” He signaled once again for the bartender.
She laughed and relaxed, letting him make his next macho move. Crowbars and legs aside, she did kind of appreciate the reminder that she was worth pursuing.
“I don’t suppose I can buy you that drink now?”
“Sure. But make it a beer, please. Newcastle.”
A smile quirked at the corner of his mouth as he placed the order with the bartender. Whitney was just about to ask him what it meant when a pair of hot, sweaty arms latched around her back. She might have been scared, if not for all the scratchy sequins pressing through the fabric of her dress, the tangy scent of girl sweat and citrus perfume wafting up. She didn’t have to look to know that the arms around her were the dainty, perfect limbs of her best friend, who’d donned an electric pink bobbed wig for the evening, a perfect complement to her party girl aesthetic and molten gold skin tone.
“Whit-ney,” Kendra’s singsong voice called. “I’d love for you to meet Lincoln.”
That was fast. Whitney swiveled on her stool to confront Kendra’s dance partner. Kendra’s remark was the code phrase for their schtick, their safety net. Whenever either one of them found a partner for the evening, he had to first answer a few pertinent questions before the cab was called. It was a routine they’d developed in college and perfected over the years.
“Hello, Lincoln,” she said, sizing him up. He was exactly what she expected from a guy Kendra dragged home—but not at all the kind of guy she imagined her new friend Matt of the elbow patches being related to. Although their hair shone the same tawny color under the lights and they shared a slightly bulbous nasal tip she could fix in under one hour flat, Lincoln was clearly cut from a different cloth. He wore a shiny button-up shirt, jeans that were tastefully faded along the fronts of his thighs and shoes that probably cost more than hers did. None of that would have been particularly noticeable if not for the bright synthetic tan that set it all off.
Classy. But then, Kendra was a born-and-bred city girl riding the wave of their recent success. Classy wasn’t a requirement—or, apparently, a consideration.
Whitney cocked her head and narrowed her eyes, waiting until Lincoln gave her his full attention before asking, “When was the last time you were tested for STDs?”
Matt spit out a huge mouthful of whatever he was drinking.
Lincoln, the poor sap, looked back and forth between her and Kendra, color leaching from his orangey face. “Um…I dunno? A few years ago?”
“Hmm. That’s not a good sign. You carry condoms?”
His eyes, a rare icy blue Kendra always fell for, widened. “Yes, ma’am.”
“And you always use them? Never get that urge to tell a woman how much better it feels all natural?”
“Um, no? Of course not.”
“Good for you. Now—have you ever been hit with pepper spray?”
His head swiveled some more. “Is that a real question? Listen, I’m not sure…”
Whitney held up a finger. “Did you know that a person can’t join the Secret Service unless he’s been shot before? It’s an official job requirement. They want to make sure that everyone tasked with serving the president of the United States knows what it’s like to take a bullet, and is prepared to do it again.”
“I don’t get it. Is she going to shoot me when we’re done?” Lincoln shifted a little until he was at Matt’s side, as if he was in search of some kind of protection. Not that Matt would have done him any good at that moment. He was hunched over the bar, his shoulders and head shaking with laughter.
“Just answer the question.”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Lincoln said slowly. “Our dad had some bear spray when we were kids, and Matt dared me to use it. I had the nozzle pointed wrong—it hurt like a bitch and I couldn’t see for days. But I still don’t understand the question.”
“Kendra always carries spray. So do I. And believe me when I tell you that neither one of us is afraid to use it to, ah, protect the president. Do you get where I’m going with this?”
She had no idea how much alcohol Lincoln had consumed during his Saturday night quest for companionship, but if the puzzled look on his face offered anything to go by, it was quite a lot.
“You’re saying her vagina is the president?”
Beside her, Matt let out what could only be termed a guffaw.
Whitney reached out and clapped a hand on Lincoln’s back, sweaty through the synthetic material. “You’ve got the idea now, big boy. Now, just let me have a quick peek at your ID and you two kids are all set.”
Bewildered, Lincoln reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Kendra cooed something comforting into his ear, her eyes dancing at Whitney. No matter how many times they did this, it never failed to amuse.
When he finally handed over his driver’s license, Whitney jotted the details down on a cocktail napkin. Name, address, ID number. It was amazing how well that simple step worked. A person had to show proof of documentation to buy alcohol, vote or even take a flight, but few people bothered verifying the identity of the person they dragged home to swap bodily fluids with.
“Okay, Lincoln Fuller of West Cirque Lane. You’ve been cleared for the evening, but you should know I’m not throwing this napkin away until she’s back home safe and sound. No funny business, got it?”
Kendra leaned over and pecked her on the cheek. “Thanks, Whit. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Have a good night.” Whitney waggled her eyebrows. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“I’m not sure that’s possible. You’ll be all right getting home? Is there anyone you, ah, want to introduce me to before I go?” Kendra looked pointedly over at Matt, who had finally regained his composure.
“Please don’t,” he interrupted with a laugh, holding one of his hands up. Quite big hands, actually. Funny she hadn’t noticed that before. “My intentions are completely honorable.”
Well, that settled that, then. She’d have to content herself with a friendly chat over a couple of beers—which, come to think of it, didn’t seem like that bad of a plan. This guy was growing on her.
Kendra and Lincoln used the opportunity to walk-stumble out the door, where a cab already waited, their hands shoved into places that were probably sweatier than the rest of them.
Ah, young lust. It warmed her to the core.
Before the padded door swung to a close behind them, Matt spoke up. “So…now that we’ve been abandoned, do you want to get out of here?”
“Hey, now.” Whitney shook her head. “Did you just miss that whole part about checking IDs? We aren’t kidding about that.”
“I’m sure you’re not, and I respect you both for it. But I’m not inviting you to my crappy one-bedroom apartment or an unmarked van out back. I meant coffee. It’s almost two in the morning—we might reasonably squeeze in some pancakes.”
She pretended to think for a moment. “And bacon? Can there be bacon?”
Matt placed a reverent hand over his chest. “There can always be bacon.”
Whitney sighed contentedly and drank the rest of her beer in one gulp. There was something about a man who made jokes about pork products that got her right in the heart.
Matt grabbed Whitney’s coat and helped her into it, an action so ingrained into him he didn’t realize he was doing it until one of her perfectly arched eyebrows rose.
“Why, thank you, Galahad,” she teased. “I had no idea the country was such a chivalrous place.”
“Sorry.” He covered his faux pas by putting way more money on the bar than he needed to. That was one of the first things Lincoln had warned him about—that he had to be a lot less gentleman and a lot more barbarian if he wanted to blend in with the rest of the bar crowd. “It’s a force of habit.”
“It’s a good habit,” Whitney assured him.
He took her at her word. It was amazing how everything about this woman carried such candid self-assurance. All he could see about Whitney, from the way she held herself to the way she put Lincoln, the world’s most confident man, in his place, spoke of the same thing. Her rich, dark brown hair hung in tumbled waves around her shoulders. Her eyes, a piercing shade of gray that seemed to see everything, were made up with sixties-style makeup that would have looked ridiculous on anyone else.
He was going to be in big trouble if this was what the dating world had to offer these days. Lincoln told him that women were more assertive than they’d been the last time he’d dipped his hand in the cookie jar, but Matt had assumed his brother was exaggerating in this, as in most things.
Not anymore. Not if Whitney was anything to go by. Strange as it seemed, Lincoln might actually know a thing or two about this stuff.
“So, your ex-girlfriend do the training? Current girlfriend, maybe?”
Matt pushed open the door and followed her through it. “Ex-wife, actually.”
Now that he stood next to Whitney, Matt felt woefully underdressed. Her heels made her almost as tall as he was, and the red dress she wore wrapped like a series of tight bands around her body, stopping just above the knee. But no matter how restrictive the material might look, it was hardly enough to keep her ample curves in check. The whole effect was a grand departure from the loose linens that most of the women in their town favored. Or the soft, floaty, floral things Laura always wore.
City girls. He’d forgotten how different city girls were. How much…more they were. The last time he’d dressed up for anything had been when he was the best man in a friend’s wedding, and even then, they’d gone with chinos and button-down shirts appropriate for a Hawaiian destination ceremony.
“Oho! You have a sordid past lurking inside there, don’t you?” She shook her head. “It’s always the quiet ones.”
He grinned, glad she seemed so accepting. He’d been half afraid women would hear that he was divorced at twenty-nine and immediately run for the hills. “That depends on your definition of sordid. It was what they call an amicable split, and we even divided all our books without arguing about it.”
“No fiery blowups or horse heads in the bed?”
He shook his head. “No passion of any kind. That was the problem.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he paused. “Oh, crap. Was that oversharing?”
She laughed again, a sound that started out deep and throaty but moved higher as it increased. It was a sound that made him want to make her laugh even more, just to see how far her range went.
“Yes, it was.” She linked arms with him. “But I’m under the distinct impression you don’t get out much.”