“Have you ever been to Dinosaur World?”
I laugh out loud. “You really are just a big kid, aren’t you?”
“Come on, let’s get off here.”
She stands up and offers me her hand. I take it, realizing it’s the second time she’s touched me tonight.
So much for the no touching rule.
Rylee leads me on a walk through Ybor Square, being the perfect tour guide. I get stopped by another fan and Rylee takes our picture. Then we make our way down the main strip, window shopping and people-watching as we decide which place to go.
The street is bustling at this hour as more and more people get out of streetcars, crowding the sidewalks of this popular Friday-night destination.
“That one looks good,” she says, pointing to a cigar shop across the street that looks less crowded than most.
The bell above the door jingles as we enter, and the proprietor greets us in both Spanish and English. “Come. I have place for you,” he says, leading us to the counter as a few people scoot over to make room.
Then he grabs two small glasses, much smaller than shot glasses, and proceeds to fill them with a splash of brown liquor. I glance at the bottle and then look at the makeshift sign behind the counter that reads ‘Bourbon tasting’ with today’s date below it.
I look at Rylee and then at the tiny glass. I push it back to him. “No, I’m sorry.”
The man looks saddened.
Rylee picks up the glass and hands it to me. “When in Rome,” she says. Then she picks up her own and taps it to mine before downing the small gulp of liquor.
I throw my head back, laughing, before I do the same.
So much for no drinking.
We spend the next thirty minutes sampling bourbon and smelling cigars and by the time we leave, I’ve gotten a combination of the two that will definitely put a smile on my old man’s face.
As we descend the steps back onto the street, my stomach growls, reminding me of the time. “Know of any decent restaurants here?”
“Sure, there are a few. What are you in the mood for?”
“Let’s go for something fancier than sandwiches this time.”
She stares me down.
“I didn’t say Shula’s Steakhouse, Rylee. Any old place I can get a steak will do.”
We walk a few blocks over and stroll into a restaurant to find there is an hour wait. We check three more places only to find the same. Rylee throws up her hands in defeat when we exit the last one. I reach for my wallet. “There are ways to get seated, you know.”
She rolls her eyes. “What? As in you either throw your name around or glad-hand the hostess?”
“Are you hungry or not? Because I’m starving.”
“I’m not hungry enough to have you buy our way to a table or showboat your celebrity.”
“Then what do you suggest?” I ask.
“I’ll just eat at home,” she says, walking back towards the main strip and the streetcars.
I grab her elbow and stop her progress. “You have to be kidding me, Ry. If you think I’m letting you go home hungry, you’re crazy.”
I get out my phone and send a text.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“There is a good restaurant in the lobby of my hotel.”
My phone pings with a reply. “Yes, and Lenny will pick us up in fifteen minutes in front of Ybor Square.”
“Because the streetcars take too long and we’ve been drinking. You should be sober enough to drive after dinner and then you can Uber back to your car.”
She thinks about it as my stomach makes a loud noise. She laughs. “Fine. That’s very thoughtful of you, Brady. Thank you.” Then she gets on her tip toes and plants a quick kiss on my cheek.
My cheek burns where her hot breath flowed over it. Her soft lips have branded me like cattle and my pants get tight thinking of what else those lips could do to me.
So much for no kissing.
I tuck the cigars and bourbon under my arm and lead the way back to Ybor Square wondering how long I’ll last before my assholery has me putting the moves on Rylee Kennedy.
“Table for two?” Natasha asks when we walk up to the hostess stand.
“Somewhere out of the way, please, if you don’t mind, Natasha.”
She smiles shyly. “I told you it’s just Nat.”
I don’t think so.
I raise my chin at her, but I won’t say it. I’ll never say it.
“Right this way,” she says.
Rylee eyes Natasha from head to toe as she guides us to our table in the corner of the room.
I hold out a chair for Rylee before taking my own. Then I thank Natasha as she bats her eyelashes at me.
“So, you and Nat,” Rylee declares. Then she holds up a hand to keep me from speaking. “Sorry – don’t say anything, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s fine. And I’m not sleeping with Natasha. I’m not sleeping with anyone.”
She looks at me sideways. “But you’ve been here for almost a month.”
I laugh. But before I can say another word, our server, Miguel, comes over and puts a bottle of wine on the table.
“Your usual, Mr. Taylor,” he says. “Shall I pour you a glass?”
“Not today. Thanks.”
“Mind if I have one?” Rylee asks.
I look back at Miguel and motion to her glass. “I guess we’ll both have one then.”
He pours our drinks and then hands us the menus. “I’ll give you a minute,” he says before retreating.
Rylee takes a sip of her wine and looks at me from over the rim of her glass. “Your usual?” she asks, when she sets it down. “As in you drink a bottle of wine at dinner every night?”
“Wow. If I could only be inside your head right now,” I say. “You think I’m sleeping and drinking my way through Tampa, don’t you?”
She shrugs an accusing shoulder.
“I ordered the same glass of wine every night I ate here the first week, so now they just bring me a bottle. They save what I don’t drink and bring it out the next time I dine. I guess it’s more economical that way or something. Whatever.”
“At least someone is trying to be responsible with your money.”
“I’m responsible,” I say.
“How many cars do you have?” she asks.
“You have three cars in New York City?” She shakes her head in disapproval. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you pay more for parking than I pay for my monthly rent. I bet you don’t even drive them much, do you?”
I shake my head. “I usually ride my bike. Easier to get around.”
“You ride a bicycle?” she asks.
“I ride a motorcycle.”
“Of course you do.” She rolls her eyes. “And what floor is your apartment on?”
“And how many floors are in your building?”
I sigh. “Twenty-four.”
“The penthouse,” she says. “Yeah, you are totally responsible with your money.”
“What would you have me do, live in a fourth-floor walk-up in Harlem?”
“First off, I hear Harlem’s not that bad these days. And second, I would expect a twenty-seven-year-old athlete who may be at the peak of his career to think about the future.”
I call her out. “You mean a twenty-seven-year-old athlete who may never play again. That’s what you really meant to say, isn’t it? You think I need to save every penny I have in case I lose my job.”
“I think we all need to be practical. Because you never know what can happen. And no, that is not what I meant, Brady. I’m still confident your nerve will regenerate.”
I laugh disingenuously. “Tell me that again when you have to cut my steak for me.”
She looks at me like she feels sorry for me. “I’ll be happy to cut your steak, but not because I think you’re helpless, Brady.”
Miguel comes back and asks for our order. I nod to Rylee.
“I’ll have the French Dip,” she says.
“Would you like fries or onion rings with that?” Miguel asks.
Miguel looks at me. “I’ll have the same, but rings for me. And a beer. I can’t drink red wine with a sandwich.”
“As you wish, Mr. Taylor. Ma’am?”
“What the heck,” Rylee says. “Bud Light if you have it.”
Miguel gathers our menus and leaves.
Rylee stares me down.
“What?” I ask.
“I had to badger you into going to the sandwich shop with me last week. You said you hate sandwiches.”
“And look how that turned out, it was the best one I’d ever had. Plus, the French Dip is the cheapest thing on the menu. I’m sure that’s why you ordered it. I’m just showing you that I’m not as irresponsible with my money as you think.”
She fingers the bottle of wine on the table. “Mmmhmm, and how much is this bottle of wine?”
“I honestly have no idea, but it was probably the best one on the menu.”
“You mean the most expensive.”
I shrug. “Is there a difference?”
She laughs. “Just because it’s the most expensive, doesn’t mean it’s always the best. But I’m proud of you. I guess baby steps are better than nothing. Just think of all the money you saved tonight. Your dinner bill will be half of what it normally is. And if you order a sandwich instead of a steak some of the time, and maybe house wine instead of that expensive wine cellar stuff, you’d save thousands of dollars every year. That’s either good padding for your savings account or a lot of food for Simba and his friends at the Big Cat Rescue.”
Our beers get placed on the table in frosty glasses. Rylee takes a drink and savors the taste. “Give me a three-dollar beer over a fifteen-dollar glass of wine any day.”