Authors: Karla Sorensen
© 2016 by Karla Sorensen
All rights reserved.
Cover Designer: Najla Qamber, Najla Qamber Designs
K Keeton Designs
The Write Assistants
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, brands, media, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. 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.
To my brother-in-law Ted, who gave me the line about cold pillows and who doesn’t like to be questioned about his questions. I swear, this note in my iPhone probably made much more sense eight months ago when we had the conversation that solidified Dylan’s conflict for me, but whatever. You now get a book dedicated to you because of it.
e is such a creepazoid
, Dylan. Can’t you do something about it?” Kayla whined to me for the fortieth time that week. I blew out a puff of air and stared out into the chaos of a Saturday late afternoon crowd at a sports bar during baseball season. I could barely breathe the whole day, it had been so busy, let alone instruct the owner of the bar I managed that he wasn’t actually allowed to call female employees things like
“I wish I could, Kayla. I’ve said as much as I dare, okay? Just ... avoid him if you can. Come to me with anything you need, and then I’ll have to be the one to deal with him. And if Jim calls me sweet cheeks, it’ll get ugly.” The way she smiled up at me with relief, the adoring look glittering in her big brown eyes gave me the freaking hives.
Another one bites the dust. It wasn’t cockiness or anything, I swear. It was just a sad fact of life that eighty-nine percent of the single female employees I managed eventually fancied themselves in love with me. Sometimes the bartenders started a pool on how quickly one of the newbies would start throwing lingering glances my way, accidentally brushing past me when I was helping get their orders ready in the window. Honestly, when I noticed the new ones with engagement rings or heard that they had girlfriends, I was so freaking relieved.
“Thank you, Dylan,” she said, laying a hand on my forearm and biting her lip in a way that she probably thought looked coy, but just looked painful to me. “You are the
I gave her a polite smile and stepped back, lifting my chin toward one of her tables. “No problem. Looks like your six top needs a refill.”
While I stood with my back to the kitchen window, looking over the different tables and watching the servers in action, I didn’t hear Jim step up behind me. So when he clapped a hand over my shoulder, I actually jumped, like a little girl.
“Man, I’m going to make a lot of money today,” Jim said far too loudly to keep me comfortable, as a couple at the table closest to me looked over at us. I smiled at them and basically wanted to die inside.
“Looks like it. Rivalry games are good for business.”
“They are, they are.” He removed his hand from my shoulder and rubbed at his chin, staring over at where Kayla was chatting with her table. “You did great with that one, Dylan.”
I waved goodbye to one of the regulars and then glanced at Jim. “Yeah, she’s doing well. Customers like her.”
“And that ass.” He whistled. I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Makes me pretty glad to be alive.”
“Jim,” I said on an exhale. “Somebody is gonna sue
ass if you say stuff like that. Especially out loud.”
With an unconcerned laugh, he elbowed me. “It’s not gonna be you, Steadman, I do know that.”
The same couple next to us looked at each other for a moment and went back to eating. Just standing next to Jim made me feel guilty by association, let alone being employed by him.
“Well, I may not sue you. But I have a little sister,” I gripped him on the shoulder like he had done to me, “and if I heard someone talk about her the way you just talked about Kayla, I’d rip his nutsack off. Boss or not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to keep your customers happy.”
Without a second glance at him to tell me whether I’d just gotten myself fired, because I didn’t really even care at that moment, I approached the table with the middle-aged couple.
“You folks enjoying your meals so far?” The man smiled at me while I picked up some stray straw wrappers and a crumpled napkin off their table.
“Food is great,” he said, leaning back in his chair and patting his stomach.
“That’s what we like to hear. Can I get you two another beer? On the house.”
His wife’s brows raised in surprise. “Do you normally hand out free drinks to patrons who haven’t complained yet?”
I laughed, crossing my arms over my chest. “No. But we appreciate your business, and I’d also like to apologize for what you overheard. That’s not how things are typically done here.”
The crowd roared when someone on the game scored, and we waited for it to quiet down again. He stretched a hand out, and I clasped it. “What’s your name, son?”
“Dylan Steadman, sir. I’m the manager here.”
“How long have you been doing that?”
“About six years now. Started as a bartender, worked my way up.”
The way he eyed me reminded me of my father and that tough steel behind his eyes made me stand up a little straighter. Instead of returning the greeting, he smiled and winked at his wife and then stood up from his chair, pulled his wallet out, and handed me a business card. The thick pewter gray paper said William Harrison, Owner & Operator. The other side held a flat, embossed logo of a mountain range over the words The Continental Divide Bar & Grille.
“My wife and I are in Michigan visiting her sister,” he said by way of explanation. “But we live in Colorado, and I own a few bars myself.”
“Oh, uh, that’s great Mr. Harrison. Then your compliment means even more.”
He rocked back on his heels, completely unconcerned with the chaos of the full bar around us, just stared at me with a weird little smile on his face. “Ever thought about moving to the Rocky Mountain state, Dylan?”
“Uhhhhhh, wha-?” Not my most shining moment, I admit. But what? What the what? My jaw was down somewhere around my Adam’s apple. “Sir?”
“Call me Bill, please. Sir makes me feel old and crotchety.” I couldn’t even laugh at his joke; my brain had stalled somewhere around ‘moving’.
“Which he can be,” his wife interjected with a soft smile at her husband. It was the same type of smile that my mom gave my dad when she teased him. “Honey, sit down and let the poor man do his job.”
“No, it’s fine, Bill,” I said slowly. “And I’m flattered you’d ask. Though you’re probably just being nice, right?”
He finally sat back down in his seat and took a slow sip of the water in front of him. “I never extend pity job offers.”
“But you don’t even know me.”
Bill raised his eyebrows in concession. “Fair enough. But we’ve been sitting here for two hours. Your staff is always smiling when they talk to you, your kitchen is quick getting food out, and it’s tasty. All of the servers are kind and capable; that’s a credit to good management. And you came right over here when you knew we’d heard something we shouldn’t have. Didn’t gloss over it or try to twist into something it’s not. That’s the kind of man I want working for me.” I was stunned. He could sense it too, because he just smiled and pointed at the card. “I’m going to be opening a new location in the next couple months. If you’re up for a change, let me know.”
“Ah, I will. Thank you, sir, Bill. It was a pleasure to meet you both.”
The rest of my shift passed in a blur, partially because it was so damn busy, but also because I just couldn’t get over it. That stuff didn’t happen to me. I knew I did a good job; I didn’t need some ass-hat like Jim to pat me on the back to tell me so. I worked hard, the people who worked for me respected me, because hey, if I wasn’t nice to them, then how did eighty-nine percent of the single women fall in love with me?
But I wasn’t the guy who got job offers that included me moving halfway across the country because an employer was so blown away by me. Out of all my siblings, me being the second youngest of five, I wasn’t the one who stood out. I didn’t own a company like my twin brothers did, I wasn’t a lawyer like Tate, and Casey, well, she was just good at everything she did.
By the time I made it home, I didn’t turn on the TV or call anyone. I just sank into the couch with my bowl of cereal and stared at the dark room. Like a loser, which was fine. I worked way too many damn hours to care about whether people thought it was lame for me to sit at home on a Saturday night.
I set the empty bowl next to me on the couch and pulled my phone out of my back pocket. The screen was bright in the dark room, so I had to squint a little while I flipped through Facebook.
For the most part I hated social media, but I could see all the pictures of my nephews this way. I laughed when I watched a video that my sister-in-law Rachel had posted of her and Tate’s son, Asher. Tate was in their backyard, tossing Asher so high into the air that Rachel hissed at him to be careful. But Asher was belly-laughing every time my brother tossed him higher and higher, always catching him.
Most of my guy friends would probably call me a twinky for saying it, but sometimes all the pictures and the videos just made me sad. I loved those kids. They always made me smile and I never failed to spoil them rotten just so I could be the favorite uncle, but everyone else had that. Everyone. And it didn’t bother me because I wanted it, believe it or not, but because it just set me apart so much.
The friends from high school that still lived in west Michigan were all married with at least one kid. My sister Casey was the sibling I was closest to, but she was married to Jake and I expected her to be knocked up any day. Even without a munchkin slobbering over her, I didn’t talk to her nearly as much anymore. My family kicked ass, there was no doubt about it, but they all had busy lives that just kept getting busier.
And it wasn’t that I was terribly unhappy here, because that wasn’t it. With the exception of douchebag Jim, I really enjoyed my job, and I was good at it. My house was okay, but it was a rental, nothing that I felt tied to. Just stuck in it. Actually, that’s kind of how everything felt for me, when I narrowed it down. I felt stuck. Going to the same places every week, never branching out enough, never seeing or experiencing the things that I always thought I would have by the age of thirty-four.
Unless the perfect woman literally dropped into my lap, the way I was living now certainly wasn’t going to bring her to me. This week alone I’d worked seventy-four hours; not exactly an open schedule for experiencing new things. And there was no sign of that changing. The only way my life would change was if I made it happen.
I watched the video of Asher one more time, grinning when Rachel told my brother he had a death wish by pretending like he was going to drop their son.
Then I pulled Bill’s card out of my wallet and sent him a text.
Me: It’s Dylan. I think I’d like to hear more.