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Taking Him (Lies We Tell)

By:Jackie Ashenden

Chapter One

Ellie Fox was drunk. She’d had three Dark Shadows already—a hideous cocktail that involved Guinness, cinnamon liqueur plus something else that made it even more lethal—and was now on her fourth. It tasted vile, but since the cocktail had been named after the video game heroine she was currently dressed as, she felt a certain obligation. Also, as she was the creator of said video game, there was the promo aspect to consider.

Kara, her best friend and fellow NZCon attendee, sat on the couch opposite, frowning at the cocktail menu and fiddling with the chain around her neck. She was dressed as slave Leia from Return of the Jedi, a costume that involved a skimpy metal bikini and a couple of scraps of fabric. Not the world’s most original choice of costume as she herself had admitted, but it did rock when it came to picking up guys.

“Some of these are so lame.” Kara pushed her thick, black-framed glasses up her nose, peering at the menu. “Who wants to drink something called Spock’s Balls? Ugh. Sometimes the whole theme thing goes way too far.”

“Says the woman dressed as slave Leia.”

“Did you not see the glasses?” Kara tapped her eyewear. “I’m intellectual slave Leia. Leia with feminist cred.”

Ellie raised her glass in a woozy salute. “And you look hot too.”

“Damn straight.” Kara looked back down at the menu. “Hmmm. Perhaps I’ll try a Slippery Vader Nipple.”

“No way. They have those?”

“Says right here.”

“That’s just wrong,” Ellie muttered, leaning back in her chair and peering tipsily around at the rest of the bar attached to the Auckland conference centre where the latest NZCon was being held. The place was packed, clearly the meeting place for the majority of people attending the convention. Tall, furry aliens talked with Darth Vader. Scantily clad women walked arm-in-arm with Imperial stormtroopers. There were werewolves and Japanese cartoon characters, Star Trek lookalikes and people in robes wielding plastic light sabers. It was completely fantastical and even made Ellie, in her Dark Shadow outfit, feel a tad underdressed.

Kara was eyeing her. “Where’s your feminist cred then?”

Ellie looked down at her black vinyl-clad figure. She’d had the jumpsuit specially made, as were the thigh holsters and the belt of silver mesh that went around her waist. The costume was, she supposed, not particularly feminist. The material fit like a second skin, the neckline nearly reached her belly button, and the entire outfit had a zip that if pulled down would make the whole thing fall off. Not that she had anything much to show even if it did. Unlike Kara, who had curves enough to put a rollercoaster to shame, Ellie’s shape was ironing board all the way. Still, she wasn’t wearing the costume for the sexiness value. She was wearing it because it made her feel powerful. Dark Shadow, the heroine of her computer game, was a kick-ass female superhero, and when one was a nerdy game designer in real life, one took kick-assedness where one could get it.

Ellie kicked her calf-length platform boots up onto the table and crossed them at the ankle. Then she took her fake gun out of her thigh holster and blew across the muzzle. “Hey, I’m all cred, baby.” She grinned. “Plus I’m not wearing a bra.”

Kara scowled. “Bitch. This thing is killing me.” She adjusted one of the cups of her metal bikini.

“I told you to go with the Uhura outfit, remember? But oh no, you had to go with Leia.”

“Come on, how else am I supposed to get laid?” Kara pushed her glasses back up her nose again.

“That’s not the most important thing in the world, you know.”

“It is when you’re not getting any.”

“What? Not that old shit again.” Ellie tried not to roll her eyes.

“Stop looking so smug,” her friend said grumpily. “At least you’ve had some.”

“Yeah. Six months ago.” Ellie tapped the gun against her thigh, trying to ignore the rush of annoyance that went through her at the thought of what had happened with Cam. He’d been her first serious boyfriend and she’d liked him. Really liked him. He’d been into gaming and computers, a little bit nerdy just as she was. He’d been her perfect boyfriend in so many ways. Until he’d IM’d her to tell her he’d found someone else. Not that she could blame him. Their relationship had been as comfortable and cozy as a pair of old sweatpants.

And about as exciting. But that wasn’t Cam’s fault, oh no. It was all hers.

Damn Hunter Chase. And damn her obsession with him. Such a cliché to fall for one’s older brother’s best friend but her poor, deluded heart hadn’t cared about being a cliché. Neither had her body. She’d hoped being with Cam would have killed her desire for Hunter but no such luck. And it hadn’t been until Cam had gone that she understood he’d only been an interlude. Preparation for the day when Hunter actually noticed her.

A day Ellie knew would never come.

“Six months?” Kara muttered as she scanned the bar, probably on the lookout for a waitress. “Child’s play. Try never.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. You’re the world’s most frustrated virgin. So do something about it already.” Ellie couldn’t really blame her friend’s bad temper. Being a virgin at twenty-five sucked.

“Do you not see me in the metal bikini? I’m not wearing it because I’m a huge Star Wars fan, babe.”

Ellie picked up her glass. Took another sip. “You know what your problem is? You’re too picky.”

“I’m not picky. I just have standards.”

“You want normal,” Ellie went on, expanding on her favourite theory. “Except you’re not going to get normal dressing up like slutty Leia and working in a manga café. Why do you think you’re such a weirdo magnet?”

“Boy, you’re mean when you’re drunk.”

“I’m not drunk.” A complete lie. “And I say these things out of love.”

“There’s a couple of things I could also say out of love.” Kara examined her bright green nails. “Things about holding out for a certain guy with awesome tattoos and—”

“Okay, okay,” Ellie interrupted. She’d shared more than a few dirty Hunter fantasies with Kara over bottles of cheap wine while watching bad chick flicks. Her friend had even drawn a couple of cartoon panels about them, but she didn’t necessarily want to discuss it now. “We’re talking about you, not me. Now—” she gestured with her glass toward the bar, “—what about Spock over there?”

“Which particular Spock? There are five of them.”

“The tall one.”

Kara leaned back in her chair. “Hmmm. Maybe. He’s possibly a bit too tall. Good for you though.”

Ellie didn’t bother to look again. She knew he wasn’t good for her. “Nah. He doesn’t do it for me.”

“Why not? You’ll be leaving soon anyway, so if he’s a tool, at least you don’t have to call him again.”

This was true. In six weeks she’d be leaving for Tokyo, having landed her dream job in one of Japan’s most prestigious game design studios, something she’d been working toward ever since she’d gotten into computers and game design. A fantastic career move, not to mention the perfect opportunity for getting the hell out of Auckland. Away from her mother’s instability, her brother’s seething frustration, and most important of all, away from Hunter bloody Chase.

“Tall Spock is hot,” Kara persisted.

Ellie shrugged. “He’s not really my type.”

“No prizes for guessing what your type is, I suppose.”

Lean hips, powerful shoulders. Tattoos. Black hair shorn close to the skull. Black eyes that hinted at the most fascinating dark secrets. Perfectly carved features with all their fallen-angel beauty. A mouth that had sin written all over it. A magnetic, compelling presence full of lazy, bad boy charm and the kind of confidence that didn’t need to shout to make itself heard.

Yeah, that was her type. Dammit.

Ellie inspected her gun. “Don’t say it.”

“Don’t worry, wasn’t going to.”

“Hey, you’re the one who needs to get laid here, Kar.”

Kara snorted. “Rub it in, why don’t you. Look, I’m not a fan of rubber ears, okay?”

At that point, Ellie’s mobile gave a happy chirp. Pulling it out of her other thigh holster, she glanced down at the screen.

Vin says you need a lift home. Where u at?

Ah, crap. Hunter. What the hell was he doing texting her? She’d sent her brother a couple of stupid texts earlier, something silly about drinking herself into a stupor and picking up a couple of hot guys for a dirty three-way. Purely to annoy him, of course. His overprotective tendencies irritated the shit out of her and she liked to tease him whenever possible. Sometimes Vin ignored the teases. And sometimes he did dumb things like tell Hunter to come and get her.

“What’s up?” Kara asked.

“Oh, just Vin being an asshole and Hunter being an asshole accessory.” Ellie fired back a quick and grumpy text.

I don’t need a lift home. I’ll get a cab when I’m ready to go.