Authors: Ivy Sinclair
Two empty pitchers of beer later, Mel’s teeth
together from the strain of not saying something highly inappropriate to Bud Parker
that would likely get her fired. As she set the third
full-to-the-brim pitcher in front of him, she deftly stepped out of the way just as his hand shot out from the booth and grazed her thigh.
“Quit it, Bud,” she said sharply.
“Just playin’, Mel,” Bud said. His words were starting to slur. As his eyes drifted down to her chest again, Mel retreated quickly to the bar.
Max looked up at her and then at the clock above the bar. “I’m going out for a smoke. Cover the bar, Mel.”
For once Mel was grateful for one of Max’s notoriously long smoke breaks. It meant that she could hide behind the bar until he got back. If the Parker brothers slugged the beer in front of them down the way they did the first two
, they’d have to come up to the bar to get a refill.
The wide bar made for an effective barrier.
Mel made her way around
eaned next to the cash register in the spot that Max had recently vacated.
She looked at her watch. Three o’clock. That meant she still had six hours to go
until the end of her shift
. Mel sighed heavily.
“Tough day?” The words floated to her from the
vicinity of the
end of the bar.
Mel looked up in surprise. She had practically forgotten about the mystery man planted on the last barstool. For a moment, she had no reply. “It’s Monday,” she finally said, as if he should understand the full implications of what that meant in her world.
“Seems like you have your hands full over there,” he said
, jerking his head toward the Parker brothers’ booth
Mel wasn’t sure why the man was talking to her. The aura he had given off earlier seemed to say that he wanted to be left alone. Most people who are looking for company don’t spend a Monday afternoon by themselves at a bar. She moved a little closer, taking the bar towel off her hip and started to wipe the bar top. She didn’t want to appear obvious that she was willing to talk, but at the same tim
e, she wanted him to keep him engaged
Raucous laughter erupted from across the room, and Mel winced. “They’re regulars.” She wasn’t sure if she should say something else, or just keep cleaning. There was a short pause, and she thought that she had lost him.
“Mel is an interesting name. Is it short for something?”
Now he had Mel’s full attention.
He had been listening when Max said her name and remembered it.
She straightened and looked at him closely. “Interesting for a girl, you mean?”
Her tone was sharper than she intended.
Her friends had given her the nickname in elementary school
and it stuck, even though Mel didn’t really care for it. She had just gotten used to it.
The man frowned. “Just making conversation.”
Instantly, Mel felt bad. She wanted to kick herself. A gorgeous guy was sitti
ng in her bar and appeared to be
actively trying to have a conversation with her, and she was acting like an idiot. Of course, he was going to breeze right out of the door at some point soon, and she’d never see him again.
“Melanie,” she said. She continued her wax-on, wax-off motion of the towel on the bar, moving even closer to him. “It’s short for Melanie. But I don’t think anyone remembers that anymore.” She didn’t add that she no longer associated with
most of the people in the world
who would. That was her old life.
“I’m Nate. Short for Nathan,” the man said.
There was something about the roll of the words across his tongue that sent shivers down Mel’s spine. She felt a tingling in her stomach, and realized with a start that sh
full-on body lust going on. It had been months since she’d had sex, but Nate had awakened those desires with
the span of
a few simple sentences. At that moment, s
was sure that she
“Nice to meet you, Nathan,” she said primly. “Can I get you another drink? That one looks pretty watered down.” In fact, she wa
sn’t sure that Nate had even
one sip of it the entire time he had been sitting at the bar.
Please, just Nate. And
I don’t drink,”
Nate said as he swirled the amber liquid around in the glass again. “So no, I’m good.”
A jumble of thoughts ran through Mel’s mind as she
considered the strangeness of his answer to her question
. “You don’t drink? But
you are sitting in a bar with a drink in front of you?”
Nate looked up at her. He seemed to be struggling
about what to say next. She was
used to men in power suits acting like pompous asses
uncertainty made him even more attractive.
I know it looks strange. It’s because I
’ve been sober for two years. Let’s just say that I’ve had a tough day too.”
A wave of sympathy ran through Mel. Now Nate’s actions made perfect sense. He was struggling w
ith some kind of internal demon
, and the way
that he used to cope with that
was to drink. Now, faced with some new stressor, he was falling back on an old habit. She was impressed then that he hadn’t actually taken a drink.
She was sure he
Mel pulled another highball glass from underneath the bar
and quickly dumped some ice in it. Then she shot water in the glass an
d filled it to the top. She set
in front of Nate. “I know it’s not the same thing, but you had to have worked up a thirst staring at that glass the way you have
for the last hour.”
Nate closed his eyes and released a shuddering breath. Then he slowly loosened his fingers from around the glass with the bourbon in it and pushed it in her direction. She picked it up and looked at him with a question. He nodded
and she turned and dumped the glass’s contents into the sink.
“Thanks,” Nate said.
“I just needed a little dose of sanity
Melanie smiled. “We all do sometimes.”
Nate pushed away from the bar and stood up. “If I’m not drinking, I should probably get back to work. Where’s your restroom?”
Mel pointed toward the back corner, feeling a small rise of disappointment in her chest.
He was leaving. O
f course he was leaving. No one
a bar in the middle of the day if t
hey weren’t drinking.
As if he
had read her thoughts, she heard Bud holler from his booth. “MEL! We need a refill over here. C’mon! We’re dying of thirst.”
Mel was ju
st about to yell back that he could pony his fat ass up to the bar if he wanted a refill
reappeared at the end of the bar
. “Don’t leave your customers hanging,” he said.
She wanted to stomp her foot. “Can’t you take it out to them, Max? Please?”
Max poured the new pitcher and set it on the bar. Then he picked his magazine back up. “Your table. I’m busy.”
Mel could see that Barry and Bud were stretched over
the middle of their table, their
too low to be heard. With the glances they kept cutting at the bar, she was fairly certain that the conversation was about her.
“Dammit!” she swore under her breath. She pulled the pitcher off the bar and made her way across the
room, not caring if she spilled any of it on the floor. Cleaning it up would give her another five minutes of work to do. Just as she plunked the pitcher dow
n on the table, the creak of a door made her twist. She though
was leaving without at least saying a goodbye.
The irrational thought
distracted her from the men in front of her. Before Mel knew what was happening, a hand
cupped her ass while
an arm snaked around to grab a fistful of her cleavage as she was hauled backward. Mel cried out in shock and disgust, but found herself on
her back on
Bud’s lap staring up at his incoming lips. The stink o
f his breath overwhelmed her as
her legs trying to find her balance. She
slammed her arm on the table, upending the pitcher of beer
but that didn’t stop Bud’s assault of hands crawling across her body. For a small man, he was amazingly strong, and being squeezed between his body and the table, Mel couldn’t get the right angle to push herself free.
She opened her
mouth to yell just as Bud’s squish
, and then she felt strong fingers encircle her
flailing wrist and pull her upright onto her feet.
She caught a glimpse of Nate’s blue eyes, tightened in an angry scowl
before he pushed her behind him.
Bud seemed just as surprised as Mel. Then Bud’s face fell into a deep frown. “Hey! We’re just having a little fun.
We’re old friends, a
ren’t we, Mel?”
Remembering the fat fingers that had so recently trolled her body, Mel wrapped her arms around herself and willed herself not to cry. “You are an ass,
Nate put up an arm and stilled her. “Why don’t you go take a break, Mel? I’d like to have a little chat with these fine gentlemen.”
The chill in his voice was evident.
Mel didn’t have to be told again. She spun on her heel and dashed for the kitchen, the tears welling up in the corner
of her eyes even as she glared at Max, who looked chagrined. As soon as she was through the door into the kitchen, Mel started to sob. The cook, an old man named Billy, stood up guiltily swiping a
small handheld TV
behind his back. Mel
just wanted to be alone
The incident had hap
pened so quickly that she couldn’t process it
. The only thing she k
new was that Nate had saved her. What had started out bad would certainly have gotten worse. The worst part was s
he didn’t know if Max would have
to help her before things
were totally out of control
Horrible visions of what could have happened danced through her head.
Collapsing into a chair, Mel dropped her head into her hands wondering what the hell she was doing with her life. Six months ago had marked the end of her old life. She had nothing new to cling onto, except a crap job in a crap bar on the road to nowhere. She was lost.
A few minutes later, she heard the
front door open and close
. She shot to her feet, wondering if Nate had left her. Then the door to the kitchen swung open, and Nate poked his head around it. He took in her disheveled, tear-stained face.
“I told the loser behind the bar that you quit. Let’s go.”
Mel’s eyes widened. “What? I need this job.”
“You may need
job, but you don’t need
Let me take you home.”
Mel started to protest
but Nate held up a hand. “I have a lot of contacts in the restaurant industry. I’ll find you another job to replace this one. C’mon.”
She wondered if she had somehow been transported
into some kind of fairy tale; t
kind where the
white knight saves the young princess and they ride off into the sunset together. It was an immature, illogical thought, but staring into Nate’s blue eyes, Mel felt the stirring of something else she thought she had long since buried.
Then she thought about the fact that
she hated working at the Rumbling
Rock. She had since the day she was hired, but somewhere along the way, she
convinced herself that was where she belonged. Now
Nate was offering her a way out, and with it came hope.
Mel slowly nodded. She reached up on the shelf next to the door and took down her purse. “Okay.
I better be getting a sweet raise with this new job
Nate’s face broke out in a smile. “Guaranteed.”
She followed him out into th
e main bar area. Max looked as if
he was about to spit nails. His mouth opened, but a glare from Nate closed it. At the back booth, the two Parker brothers were quiet and subdued. They didn’t even look in her direction as Nate escorted her out the door.