Authors: Alisha Basso
© 2012 by Alisha Basso
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored
in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Published in the United States of America by Alisha Basso
Cover Art: Ronnell D. Porter
To my aunt Shirley, you are always with me.
To my mom and dad, Ralph and Jolynn Henson, you are the greatest parents in the world.
To my husband, Tony Basso, you are everything, always…
To my kids, for making my life so full.
A big “hug” and thanks to everyone for giving me a bit of your time. Jamie Yohey, my friend, my “sister” and my rock! Andrea Alejos, you are an angel on earth, thanks for pushing. Shannon Souza Leone, I’m so glad I could take you out of your “box”!
My first readers: Kimberlee Henson, Melissa Cosgrove, Pam Crawford, Rai McGee, Amanda Decell, and Mindy Wade. Sorry for making you trudge through the first draft.
I was humiliated, and no amount of therapeutic breathing was going to change that. Hyperventilating wasn’t the answer. I wondered if I could dissolve into a puddle and escape through the floor drain.
My eyes were watering, threatening to sluice off all three coats of my new blackest-black mascara. “Super,” I muttered, “black smudges all over my cheeks should round out this humiliation nicely.” I gingerly rubbed the lump forming on the center of my skull as I attempted to straighten the shelf that currently hung askew. The few bottles that managed to stay intact were now crowding the counter behind me.
Sticky, sweet schnapps made thick, sucking sounds as it squished between my toes. The smell of gin and peppermint assaulted my nose as I tried to wring out my sodden clothing. My only comfort was that the bar was packed. With all the commotion, hardly anyone seemed to notice my stupidity.
Needless to say, I was a wreck and I needed a break. Unfortunately, the reason for my clumsiness was sitting way too close to the restrooms. From the moment he sat down, my brain ceased all normal motor function. All I was able to manage was a steady stream of vivid, erotic images and embarrassing sexual scenarios. They would flash through my mind at the most unfortunate times. I would stop whatever I was doing and stare off into space as some hot and steamy thought jolted through my brain, which, I observed again with a sigh, left me wearing half a shelf of booze and sporting a king-sized headache.
“This has got to be the worst night of my life,” I growled to myself. Shaking my head, I mopped up the remaining puddles of alcohol, rinsed the mop and put it away in a tiny closet behind the bar.
As I turned, my eyes went straight to his face. I swear that sweat actually broke out across my palms. I was tempted to toss a couple of ice
cubes into my bra. I think stuffing them into my panties would have been a little too obvious
His cool gaze met mine and I spun, tripping on my own two feet. I stumbled sideways. Instead of grabbing the edge of the bar, my arm shot out wildly, sending a bowl of salted peanuts tumbling across the inlaid glass of an ancient poker machine. Nuts and dingy clumps of salt scattered wildly in all directions. As I scrambled to recover the bowl, the blunt ends of my black wig got caught in my mouth.
It was all I could do not to throw my arms up and walk right out the door. If I spilled one more drink or broke another bottle tonight, I’d have to give back my entire paycheck.
I was dabbing cherry juice off my skirt after destroying another cocktail, when movement caught my eye. It was him. My mouth went dry as I watched his long, elegant fingers tap a steady rhythm on a paper napkin. The contrast between his pale, perfect skin and the black and red print was striking. My God, I needed serious help. I was in such a daze that I failed to realize he was signaling me for a drink. I had forgotten to take his order!
I looked around nervously for Debbie, The Edge’s second bartender. Her craggy face and bleached blond hair were normally hard to miss. Tonight, however, she was nowhere to be found. She was probably in the back, making out with some guy who just happened to say “hi” to her. I straightened my skirt and ran my hands over my hair to straighten any flyaways and subtly make sure my wig was straight. I brushed the sore spot on my forehead and sighed. “Well, hell,” I muttered. I couldn’t do any more damage to my pride than I already had, so I stuck my chin in the air and grabbed a napkin.
As I neared him, my stomach clenched. I felt queasy and slowed my pace. I figured hurling all over my shoes probably wouldn’t impress him much.
Something about him had to be off. I’d never reacted to anybody this way before! Cool sweat chilled the back of my neck. Another sign that I was about to lose it. I wiped my trembling hands on a damp towel. I was acting like a crazy person.
“He’s just a guy… he’s just a
” I chanted to myself. The music changed to a darker, more subdued beat and I focused on the edgy sound. I was stalling. The beautiful man wasn’t going away. I fisted the napkin and strode toward him with new purpose. I was tough, goddamn it. I could handle him.
He was glancing around the room as though he were expecting someone.
God, Grace, get a hold of yourself!
You’re acting like a psycho over another woman’s man! I felt so stupid. Of course, a man this lethally seductive couldn’t be alone.
As I neared, I followed the direction of his gaze. The crowd was thick tonight.-the usual mix of class and trash packed tightly- tied together by ghostly ropes of rank cigarette smoke and the thrill of a one-night stand.
I let my eyes wander further, dissecting the crowd.
, I thought cattily, not a single supermodel among them. I looked back at him and practically jumped out of my skin. His piercing gaze was focused on
. Standing so near, I could fully appreciate his masculine beauty. His cool eyes were silvery-blue, fringed with thick sooty lashes, his nose straight and an even straighter jaw made my mouth water.
His stare caught me by surprise. As he watched me, I felt a sudden tremor of unease. I was filled with an eerie awareness that this man was not what he seemed to be
He smiled, flashing even, white teeth.
I managed a slightly pathetic smile of my own. “What can I get for you?” I asked forcing my voice to remain steady.
“Scotch on the rocks.” he answered smoothly. His voice was deep and darkly sexual. His slight accent made my toes curl. I tried my best not to swoon and went to fetch his drink. I could feel his ghostly eyes following me as I scooped the ice. The scotch sloshed a bit while I rolled his seductive voice around in my head.
I set his drink on a napkin and watched his slender fingers pull a twenty out of his wallet. He laid it on the counter. You’d think he was taking his clothes off the way my palms were sweating! I took the money. He watched me as I set his change on the counter. The look in his eyes me made me feel like a juicy steak in a room full of hounds. I swallowed hard as I turned to walk away. Heat rushed up my neck. My whole body was humming with nerves. I wondered if anyone would notice a tall brunette crawling into the ice bin.
The night trudged on. I tried to put him out of my mind and concentrate on my work. It was no use. I ended up spilling drinks and bumping stupidly into objects that had been in place for years. Every now and again, I’d glance at his drink. It remained untouched with beads of condensation that pooled and then soaked into the paper napkin.
“You want me to freshen that up for you?” I asked before I realized what I was doing. I leaned a bit closer.
“It’s looking a little soggy now that the ice has melted.” I tried to smile and appear cool and collected. I knew the effect was dampened when the smell of candy canes drifted off my sticky sweater.
His brow arched as he considered me. “Thank you, but no.”
Was that a smirk?
“Alright then, give me a shout if you need anything else.” I said, as I backed away. I felt defeated. I couldn’t seem to get it together. With an effort, I continued to schlep drinks to the already intoxicated masses and collect the few tips I managed to earn.
I was mutilating a few limes when a voice caught my attention. I smiled, relieved to see my best friend, Ann, weaving her way through the crowd.
“Where’ve you been?” I tried to yell over the raging music. I jumped up and leaned over the bar. Giving her a one-armed hug and a peck on the cheek, I asked, “Who’s the victim tonight?” I smiled at her eye roll and settled back on the ground.
“Jared,” she beamed, “we’ve been seeing each other for a month now.” She was glowing. The radiant look of a woman in
. I wasn’t ready to use the other L word, not with my Annie.
“Really?” I tried to dampen my sarcasm, and not very well. “What makes him so lucky? He must be hung like a…” I slammed my mouth shut before I could finish my crude sentence. Damn, my mind couldn’t take a break for a second! Just as I was about to apologize for my stupidity, the victim in question appeared.
Jared Monroe, a local cop and honest-to-God good guy, came up behind her and gave her neck a light kiss. “Gracie,” he said with a nod, “I’ll have a Miller.” He sat close to her, a possessive hand resting low on her back. I knew he came to The Edge only because Ann would have come with or without him. She loved to hang out with me and people-watch. I smiled at Jared. He ignored me, while practically growling at the other male patrons, daring them to sneak a peek at his woman. I wanted to laugh out loud. I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if he stood up and peed around her stool.
I mixed Ann’s usual Grey Goose martini and grabbed a bottle of Miller and a glass. I set the drinks in front of the happy couple and wiped off the counter, more out of habit than necessity.
Ann was smiling at Jared, who responded with a loopy grin that enforced how totally besotted he was. I chuckled to myself. Only Ann could make a tough as nails, no-nonsense policeman look like a pre-pubescent teenager with his daddy’s
They started kissing. I wanted to remind them that this place didn’t have “that kind” of back room, but instead, I turned away. No one would really care if they did it on the counter, just as long as they didn’t spill the drinks, or soil the mixed nuts. Yep, there were lots of reasons why people came here.
The martini glass felt cool in my hands as I passed the strong cocktail to a waiting business woman. Her sensible blazer was draped across the bar and she was working on releasing the second button of her blouse. She absently grasped the glass by its stem. Her eyes were focused on Mr. Delicious.
The man was a predator. His pull was dangerous. His cool eyes held the promise of forbidden delights. Carnal and wicked were the words that swirled around him. Shivering, I watched the poor woman approach him. I knew he would smile at her, say a few words and send her away in a daze. It’d been happening pretty much all night, which made me wonder what his game was.
My favorite song thumped on the speakers. My mind wrapped around the rhythm, as I moved with the music. I put my back to the crowd and started to reach for a bottle when a tickle began at the base of my skull, like little fingers of awareness tapping out a warning. I stopped short, afraid to turn around. I knew who was there, even before he spoke.
“Excuse me,” his unmistakable voice hummed from directly behind me, “may I trouble you for a moment?”
I whirled around, my heart racing. He was so close. His lips were full and looked lusciously kissable. Every part of him was exquisite. He had to be well over six feet tall. His straight, black hair draped over his shoulder like a liquid curtain. I watched as he tossed it casually behind him. All the moisture in my mouth rushed back to my palms, and
areas I won’t mention. I was in need of some serious help!
“I’m looking for a young woman,” he began again. “Her name is Grace Allen. I was told she could be found here.”
It was a punch in the gut! All the air rushed from my lungs at the sound of my name on his lips. Oh hell! This man was hanging around here looking for me? How was this even possible? I didn’t know if I should be overjoyed or scared shitless.