“You boys enjoy. Drinks on me tonight.”

She froze. That drawl. Slow, thick, and warm like the dark gold, heavy Karo syrup her mother used to pour over pan-fried cornbread when Hayden was younger. Delicious. Pure sin. And familiar. Too damn familiar.

Her heart kicked into a dull, ponderous thud in her chest. It’d been five years since she’d heard that voice. Since then it had teased her, whispered to her…seduced her.

“Open up for me, baby. That’s it. Let me fuck that pretty mouth.”

“This tight pussy is mine. Mine. Say it.”

“I could fucking die in you, baby.”

She blinked, beating back the memories that molasses-and-sex voice stirred, locking them away in the vault they’d somehow escaped from. Swallowing past the fist in her throat, she slowly rotated in the direction of the bar.

Wide shoulders and a broad chest tested the fortitude and determination of a plaid shirt stretched over a white T-shirt. Long, thick, muscular thighs encased in sturdy but worn denim. She could only catch a glimpse of his profile, but that small look revealed a man bigger, more muscled than the one in her memories. The formerly short blonde waves were now caught up in one of those pretty-boy man buns. Sure, this area of Florida could probably claim more than one Viking among its population, but only one man had ever incited the oh shit dip in her belly. Or that damn lick of heat in her veins.


The man had eviscerated her soul to the point that for a year after he left she hadn’t wanted to do anything but lie in a bed and disappear under the covers. Yet, her body still recognized him as the only man who’d ever made it sing like fucking Pavarotti.

God, how she hated him for it.

Hated herself for it.

But that was then. Now? She didn’t want him, didn’t need him.

Sliding from the chair once more, she straightened her shoulders, and strode toward the bar. The sooner she delivered her message to the bastard, the sooner she could call this mission accomplished and go home. Wishing she had a baby wipe to clean the scarred surface of the barstool, she slid onto it.

“Hello, Griffin.” Griffin, not Griff. Since they were no longer friends, she didn’t have the right, or the inclination, to use the shortened, more intimate version of his name.

The blond giant next to her shifted, a small smile already curving his lips. But she caught the moment recognition entered his eyes, darkening them. That sensual but polite smile fell, leaving an impassive, stoic mask she prayed to God she mimicked.

Five years had brought some changes. At twenty-five, Griffin had been leaner, with the hard, beautiful body of a man who spent time in a gym to let off steam. But at thirty, his wide shoulders that blocked out her view of the room behind him, rock solid chest and thick arms put her in the mind of someone who spent less time on a treadmill and more on the sites of his construction company. Those were sweat-and-back-breaking-labor muscles.

But some things had remained the same. The impossibly blue eyes that were all the more brilliant because of his sun-kissed skin and bright hair. The wide, almost-too-full-for-a-man mouth that saved his face, with its chiseled, elegant planes and lines, from verging into pretty boy territory. He still resembled an angel about five minutes after it’d fallen: beautiful and fresh from sinning.

No, she took that back. Now he was more like the huge, powerful, golden mythological creature he’d been named after. A gryphon. Half lion, half eagle. Fierce. Dominant. Stunning in its beauty and just as terrifying.

“Hayden,” he murmured, breaking the quiet that had grown deafening with each passing second.

Just that.

What had she expected, really? Him to fall out of his chair, delirious with joy to see her? He’d exorcised her out of his life like she hadn’t existed. That spoke volumes.

Inhaling a deep breath, she dipped her chin in acknowledgment. “It’s good to see you.”

He arched a dark brown eyebrow. “Is that right?”

The lie had pretty much scalded her tongue, and from the faint, wry twist of his lips, he’d guessed as much. “I figured it was the polite thing to say.”

“Polite.” He picked up the brown beer bottle on the bar in front of him, and tipped it to his lips, his hooded gaze remaining fixed on her. “I’d say we’re far past manners.”