Authors: Molly O'Keefe
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor, #United States, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #American, #General Humor, #Sagas
“He won’t,” she said. “You’ll convince him.”
He turned his face and whispered, “How do you know that?” into her hand.
The sensation of his breath between her fingers sizzled up her arm, across her chest, settling in her belly, where it smoldered and burned.
“Because I’m a little sister, too. And my big brother
would tear down the world to help me. That’s what big brothers do.”
She smiled into his bloodshot blue eyes when he opened them.
The air crackled around them, the power of all the desperate grief and anger he was throwing off turned to something else entirely.
She felt the touch of his gaze across her face. Her lips and eyes, the cheekbones that had earned her quite a bit of money. Her hair pulled back in a high ponytail and falling over her shoulders like a luxurious cape.
What he saw wasn’t really her. It was a quirk of genetics, a lucky break in the womb. To have her mother’s nose and her father’s eyes. Her grandmother’s bone structure and her grandfather’s outrageous thick shiny hair.
It was just what she looked like. The tools she used to make a living.
And it had taken her years of destroying nearly every relationship that ever meant anything to realize that.
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
She pulled her hands free of his. The moment of intense connection between them was fading to something slightly more manageable. Attraction and appeal. A rare camaraderie, but at least she wasn’t ready to crawl over the bar into his lap.
“That’s the Scotch talking.”
“Give me some credit. It’s not just your looks, Ryan. You’re lovely.” For no good reason, that made her flustered, made her feel stupid for reaching across the barrier.
The rules were in place for a reason after all.
“Ryan!” Lindsey said. “A little help?”
Ryan turned to see Lindsey inundated with gray-suited Wall Street types so she gave Harry a quick smile over her shoulder and headed over to help Lindsey.
“Getting a little cozy over there, aren’t you?” Lindsey asked, her eyes twinkling. She was a good sport, Lindsey. As long as someone had the chance to get lucky she was happy.
“He’s a nice guy.”
“They always are. But listen,” she jerked his chin across the bar where their manager was talking to a few of the regulars in the corner. “Gary’s watching you, so just be careful. He fired Will last month for going home with that crazy bitch from Sak’s.”
As if he heard, Gary looked over. Gary was a nice enough guy, but the rules were pretty ironclad and he could lose his job for ignoring them.
The rush at the bar lasted a good hour and finally around ten p.m. slowed down to a trickle. Lindsey sent out another martini, a watermelon margarita, and three more Coronas and checked her watch. “It’s cutting time,” she said.
“You’ve been here since three,” Ryan said, because the first one in was usually the first one to go home unless they were working a double. She set dirty glassware under the bar in the gray bins and then handed them to Sam, who was heading back to the kitchen.
“Grab me some lemons, would you? And more mint and more thyme. Thanks.”
Sam, a notorious flirt, winked at her, taking the bins with him.
“Yeah, but I don’t have a hot guy at the end of the bar waiting for me,” Lindsey said.
Ryan looked over her shoulder where Harry sat, looking at his phone, nursing a Corona, the chicken and waffles forgotten at his elbow.
“Ugh, denial is so boring,” Lindsey said, grabbing two more pint glasses and starting the intricate pour
and wait system for Guinness. “Get into my back pocket.”
Ryan reached into the tight pocket of Lindsey’s shorts, pulled out two sticks of gum, a twenty-dollar bill, and a condom.
“Go,” Lindsey said. “Stock my garnishes and then take Sad Ken Doll someplace and cheer him up.”
It had been a long time since Ryan had gone home with a guy. Picking up at a bar was for other women, younger women. Women who hadn’t been burned quite as effectively as she had.
There was also the small matter of losing her job if management found out.
But like every job, there were ways around management, if a woman wanted it bad enough.
She glanced back at Harry and caught him staring at her.
His eyes flared and the bar fell away again, the whole world disappeared. He had some kind of magical power when he really looked at her, a way of making her feel like the only woman on the planet. And hundreds of lesser men had tried and never even came close to doing that. Of engaging the rusted and old machine of her desire.
This man did it in a look.
A sudden breathlessness seized her, and the fifteen minutes she had left on her shift was too much. The time it would take her to get up to his room was too much. The fact that he—serious and well-meaning—might not take her up on what she was going to offer, was a reality she had no interest in.
She wanted him, his scruffy face, the burning anger in his eyes, the beautiful symmetry of his body, the delicious humanity of his grief.
Without a second thought she slipped the condom in her pocket.
“Thanks Linds,” she said.
“No problem.” She wiggled her butt while Ryan tucked the twenty back in her pocket.
An asshole at the bar whistled.
“Oh, you wish, buddy,” Lindsey said.
“Hey,” the guy said, leaning across the bar toward Ryan. “You look really familiar to me.”
“Because you were in here last week.”
“No … my friend,” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, vaguely referencing one of the other guys in suits with manicured hands behind him. “He says you were the Lips Girl like fifteen years ago. Is that true? Can you do the thing? The slogan—”
“Your friend is wrong,” she lied and dismissed the guy by turning her back on him. There were bigger things on her horizon than trying to put a shine on ancient history.
Ryan walked over to Harry and picked up his plate of half-eaten dinner.
“No wife?” she asked. “No girlfriend? No woman waiting at home for you? Don’t bother lying, I’ll be able to tell.”
He shook his head.
“Are you gay?”
That made him smile and again she felt that little spike of pleasure. Of a job well done. “I’m not gay and no one is waiting for me, Ryan.”
“Are you staying at the hotel?” she asked.
His burning blue eyes met hers, and there was no confusion, he knew what she was asking.
“I’m getting off in about fifteen minutes.”
Harry stood, a new urgency in his movement. He tossed several bills on the bar, but she pushed them back at him.
“It’s on me,” she said. “The Sister in Trouble special.”
By the shocked and blank look on his face it was obvious no one ever joked with him and she wondered if he had any friends. Why a man like him in what seemed to be the worst three days of his life showed up alone at her bar.
But when he did laugh it was a good one. Full-throated and deep, the kind of laugh that made other people smile. But not Manager Gary, who walked by giving Ryan a serious warning glare.
She took Harry’s plate and stepped away.
“Room 534,” he said.
She nodded once, the number tucked away.
“Ryan?” He said.
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