I’m not entirely sure what just happened. A moment ago, she was about to turn me down…I think. Actually, I’m sure she was going to say no. I know rejection when I see it. But something caught her attention. From the way her skin pales, it’s not a good thing. “Caroline?”
Her eyes are wide when she turns in my direction. “He can’t see me here.” Then her cheeks turn a bright red. “Though that explains why he didn’t bother to pick up his son. Selfish son of a bitch.”
She’s angry now. I don’t know what to do. Of all my time keeping drama out of the bar, I have a feeling I’m about to be thrown into it. Whether I like it or not. “Who are you talking about?”
“Him,” Caroline nods in the direction of the couple walking toward the bar. Her movement is small, but it’s just enough to catch the man’s attention. “Damn it. He’s coming this way.”
She’s not wrong. The man looks to be a few years younger than me. There’s something about him that makes me not like him immediately. The woman with him looks like she’s barely out of high school. She’s confused while he looks like a predator who has just latched onto his prey. “Should I go?”
Her hand flies to my leg and squeezes. I guess that’s a no. I look toward the bar to see what the idiots who put me up to this are doing. Both Eric and Angie are pouring drinks, but their eyes are glued to this table. Weighing whether or not they should intervene or keep their distance. I give a quick shake of my head and they nod. Even though they are a pain in the ass, I know I can count on them to understand what I need. Too bad, they’ll never get the joy of seeing me go on a date with the woman beside me.
Caroline’s grip on my leg tightens as the couple approaches the table. She doesn’t say anything, only waits. Her entire body is tense beside me, and I wish I knew the backstory. Why does this man make her so rigid?
“Hello, Caroline.” The man’s voice is smooth and confident as he looks down on us. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“I could say the same,” she forces the words between gritted teeth.
He smirks and pulls the woman beside him closer. “Don’t be upset. I had this dinner meeting set up for weeks. I’m sure David understands.”
“Huh. A meeting?” I don’t miss the way she surveys both of them. The closeness between them or the way his hand is placed firmly on the woman’s hip. It definitely doesn’t look like a dinner meeting to him. It looks like a date. I’m also guessing this is her son’s father.
“Yes.” He takes a step closer to the table. “And who is this?”
I’m not a fan of how he asks the question. Why does it matter who I am? I open my mouth to answer, but Caroline’s nails dig into my leg. Damn this woman has a grip. Even though I know nothing will ever happen between us, I can’t help but envision her nails digging into my back. Her underneath me. I’ve only witnessed this woman from afar, and I already long to have her in my bed.
“This is Carlos.” She’s quiet for one, two, three seconds and adds, “my boyfriend.”
The man’s jaw drops. My face probably looks exactly the same. I literally asked her out minutes ago. Rejection on her tongue before she got distracted, and now she’s claiming I’m her boyfriend. What the fuck just happened?
“I didn’t know you were dating.”
“Well, I am.” Her teeth are gritted as the words slip through them. He’s putting her on edge, and that is not okay. I need to do something to diffuse the situation. Or, at least, get the attention off her. If only for a few moments.
I stand and put my hand out in his direction. “It’s nice to meet you…” I let the words trail off to see if he’ll supply them.
“Nathan.” He grips my hand much harder than necessary to shake it.
I pull my hand back, but I don’t sit down. I’ve served guys like him more times than I can count. They think they are better than you for whatever reason, but really they’re douchebags who get their jollies off on making people feel small. I will not give him the opportunity by allowing him to look down on me.
“If you don’t mind, Caroline and I would like to get back to our date.” I motion to woman whose night I most surely ruined when I spilled the drink. Happy to save the day for her, even if it’s taken me by shock. “And I’m sure you’re late for your dinner meeting.”
His body is rigid, and I know I’ve hit a nerve. Good. He made Caroline feel like shit and I can’t stand by that. I don’t care that she’s using me to be her pretend boyfriend. Nathan glares at me before stalking away, dragging his date behind him. I kind of feel sorry for her. The night probably isn’t going to end the way she planned.
“Are you okay?” I sit down again. But Caroline eyes are fixed on his retreating figure. “Caroline?”
“I asked if you were okay.”
She shakes her head. It’s not an answer. More of a way to loosen her body up after the interaction we just had. I want to talk to her about it, but she doesn’t give me the chance. “I need to go.”
“I’m not sure you should be driving right now.” Besides what will that dirt bag think if he sees her rush out of the bar. “Stay and collect yourself. I’ll bring you a bottle of water.”
I get up and head to the bar. Eric is there and I know he wants to know what happened, but I can’t tell him. Not right now. “Toss me a bottle of water, please.”
“You got it, Boss.” He bends down to the fridge, grabs the water and hands it to me. “I expect a full report when you get back.”
Turning toward the table, I shake my head. She’s gone. I rush over to see if she left a note. Anything. But nope. Just a few bills on the table to pay for her drinks and the book I ruined earlier. There’s no sign of her at all.
As frustrating as the whole night has been, I find a tiny bit of comfort. I pick up the book and carry it with me to the bar. She has to come back for it at some point.
Caroline left two hours ago and I’m still unsure what to make of things. Telling her ex I was her boyfriend was definitely a shock. But I’d do it time and time again. Even if it isn’t real. Anything to see the stress to leave her body. To keep her from feeling small.
“So, are you going to tell us what happened when you were over there?” Eric is like a dog with a bone. He refuses to let it go. Angie is just as bad. She’s practically bouncing on her toes in anticipation.
“Not right now.” I pour another drink. “We still have customers and a job to do.”
“You’re no fun,” Angie sticks out her tongue. Considering she’s around my age, she can be so childish at times.
“She’s right,” Eric pushes past me to grab a bottle of liquor. There’s a crowd around the bar and we don’t have to sit here and chit chat.
The music coming through the speakers is just loud enough to drown out my thoughts. To keep me from wondering what everything means with Caroline. Now the focus is on serving our customers and keeping them happy. As long as they are content, we don’t get shit from anyone in town and they keep coming back.
Most days I can’t believe I stay in this line of work. This isn’t the career my parents would have chosen for me. They wanted me to get a degree and land an office job. Something respectable. They needed me to be a good example for my sisters. They didn’t need that from me, though. Both of themwent on to do their own thing. I chose bartending. It’s a job that will pay as long as people are coming to get drinks.
“Hey, Carlos,” a voice pulls me out of my thoughts. “Can I get a bloody Mary?”
Stella is standing in front of me, waving her hands as if I can’t see her. “You know those are morning drinks, right? And tonight’s special is wine?”
“I would hope so considering I came up with the themes,” she laughs.
I roll my eyes. She may be the best thing that’s happened to the bar since I’ve started working here. “Your wish is my command.”
“Don’t make it too spicy, though, Audrey will be pissed if it’s so hot she can’t drink it.” Ah, so the drink is for her cousin and not her. Stella is a wine girl through and through. I’ll never forget the time I gave her a beer and she spit it out across the bar. Luckily there weren’t any customers, and we were doing a team building lunch.
“Gotcha. The usual for you, then?”
“Absolutely.” She leans against the bar, waiting for me to pour the drinks. “So, I hear you finally talked to Reaf’s sister.”
Dear God. Do they have a bet running on what will happen in my love life? Or lack thereof. “Well, it didn’t take long to make it to you.”
“Don’t blame Angie,” she holds up her hands in mock surrender. “She’s not the one who told me. Eric didn’t either. Reaf is the one that spilled the beans. I just happened to be in the room when Johnny was speaker phone with him.”
Of course, he is. I swear he’s just as bad as the rest of them. “I’m assuming your cousins also know?”
“Naturally. Don’t worry about them. We have much bigger issues on our plate.”
“Tiffany doesn’t like the direction I’m going with her wedding, and she’s getting hostile.”
“She better not try to beat your ass inside this building. I know you’re one of the partners, but I will throw all three of you out.”
Stella laughs and waves away the statement. “She may be wild, but even she knows to keep her cool in public…most of the time.”
Yeah, it’s the most of the time that has me worried. I’ve seen her when she gets mad, and it isn’t pretty. “Here you go.” I hand her the drinks and she rushes back to their table on the other side of the room. I didn’t even notice they came in. Shows how much attention I’m paying.
Coming October 11 https://geni.us/UuyQnrKatrina Marie lives in the Dallas area with her husband, two children, and fur babies. She is a lover of all things geeky and nerdy. When she’s not writing you can find her at her children’s sporting events, curled up reading a book, or binge watching her favorite shows.
***All excerpts have been published with permission from the author. My Blissful Books does not claim any copyright to the excerpt. That remains with the author.***