Sweet Burn – An Excerpt
Mack was driving her crazy. As always, he looked sexy as hell without making an effort, the white T-shirt beneath the button-up shirt he’d undone four hours ago pulling against his muscled chest as he slung drinks. His faded blue jeans were white around the seams, hugging his butt and his thighs. And his steel-toes… Lord knew, what those steel-toes did to her should be illegal. Maybe she could convince him to wear just the boots to bed.
She’d had her night with Mack and anything more was just begging for trouble. She didn’t need a man who made her scream and yell in bed, because then she’d need him and he’d go like they always did. Yeah. She was a fount of positivity tonight. Her head didn’t want to let go of the good memories, though, and every time she brushed against him in the bar’s small space, she remembered. Damn it.
He certainly didn’t act like he was lost in fantasyland. He slung drinks with the same competent air with which he tackled everything. The first time he’d stepped behind her bar four months ago, she’d issued him an immediate what the fuck? He hadn’t bartended before, so why should she let him cut his teeth on her bar? She’d demanded he get out of her space. He’d demanded she give him a chance. Turned out, he’d read an encyclopedia-sized recipe book. The man could make cocktails she’d never heard of. Obscenely delicious—and obscenely named—drinks. He’d served up Slippery Nipples, All Night Longs, and After Sex until she’d agreed he could have his shot behind her bar.
Somehow, since then, he’d become a Friday night fixture. Of course, since he’d started the drinking game (not that he ever drank much more than a beer that she’d seen), she’d had to up her own game. Tonight’s creation ought to put her in the winner’s circle. When she slid a glass toward him, his hand closed around it automatically and he looked down at the lemon-yellow drink. He always paid attention to anything she did.
“Nice,” he drawled and flicked the star that she’d cut out of a lemon and stuck on the rim. For added bonus points, she’d stuck a spear of red cherries and pineapple chunks in the glass as well.
“The Twinkle Twinkle, with a side of bonus fruit because you can’t have too much vitamin C.” She made a drink up gesture. Mack might be a beer man, but he could take one for the team. “I’m researching for the Event That Shall Not Be Named.”
Mack took an eensy-weensy exploratory sip (wuss) and shuddered. He’d never liked sweet.
“No?” She took the glass back from him and tried it. She’d had worse. The cocktail definitely erred on the side of sweet and probably packed a thousand grams of sugar.
“What is it?” he rasped.
Yeah, that was definitely a no vote from the male contingent. “Pineapple juice, grapefruit juice, coconut milk and cream. Plus, for those of us not sporting a baby bump, rum.” She shoved the glass back at him. “Try it again.”
He gave her a look. “I don’t recall volunteering to be your guinea pig.”
She shrugged. “You were the one who said I needed help. I’m just taking you up on your offer.”
“I’m not drinking that,” he said, but that small smile of his was curling the corners of his mouth. He didn’t mind.
“Waste not, want not?” she suggested, eying the glass. It seemed a shame to dump all that alcohol.
“Not a chance.” He folded his arms over his chest and leaned back against the bar. “You want it drunk, you drink it.”
”I have his and her cocktail stirrers too.” She dumped a pile of cocktail stirrers with pink and blue flags onto the counter. “You apparently vote boy or girl by sticking one in your drink. I had no idea baby showers were so complicated.”
“Or we could wait another eight weeks and find out for ourselves,” he pointed out.
“You’re no fun, Mack Johnson.”
“I’m plenty of fun.” Something heated and darkly masculine flashed in his eyes. Maybe Mack had memories of his own after all. Dial it back.
“Then you’ll love the Something Blue.” She mixed him another drink that he wouldn’t actually drink, keeping half an eye on the bar as the last stragglers stood up and headed for the door. Laura waggled her car keys at her, blowing her a kiss. Good. The paramedics had themselves a designated driver and wouldn’t have to pull themselves out of a ditch somewhere. She and Mack would have the place to themselves soon. “White wine, ginger ale, and a little French liquor because anything French must be good—just ask Katie Lawson.”
Katie had been practicing her French for months now and Mimi had had to stock champagne in single-serve bottles for her. Mack sniffed the drink she handed him, shook his head and opted instead to swipe a cold beer from the case below the counter.
“I’ll pass.” He popped the top on his bottle and tilted it toward her in a silent Cheers. “Unless you’re trying to tell me that you have plans for a wedding night?”
“With you?” she scoffed. Wow. The bolt of heat that went through her had to be illegal. Maybe the Twinkle Twinkle packed more of an alcoholic punch than she’d realized.
“I could be tempted.” He gave her a slow smile. “Since you proposed so nicely.”
She didn’t do virginal or white. Or second chances, long-term relationships, or strings. Since having a deep, soul-searching moment in her bar wasn’t her first choice, she opted instead to go over and lock the door. Usually, she didn’t bother until she was on her way out, but the sedan-that-was-actually-a-truck-backfiring earlier today had made her jumpy.
“New safety precautions?” There was no slipping anything past Mack.
“No point in taking chances,” she countered.
He shot her an incredulous look. Too bad she’d turned around and couldn’t pretend she’d missed it. “You live to take chances.”
“Maybe I’m finally growing up. Settling down.” She settled into her closing routine, wiping down the counters and loading the dishwasher with dirty glassware. Since it was a weekday and slow, she hadn’t brought in either of her two part-time girls to help. There was just enough work for one.
“Something’s up.” Mack kept pace with her as she cleaned, lining up the hooch bottles with military precision. And in alphabetical order. She didn’t answer while she cleaned out the register and dropped the cash into a zippered pouch. She’d count it tomorrow; right now, all she wanted was to get out of here. She needed to go somewhere.
“Why do you always have to believe that there’s something up?” She made air quotes and zipped the pouch viciously. Mack had an annoying habit of being right that she hadn’t been able to break him of yet.
She thought about that while she ducked into the back office and deposited the cash pouch in the safe. Unfortunately, no brainstorms or bright ideas occurred to her before she made the return trip to the front. Hell, she didn’t even have any stupid ideas. Her head was a complete blank. She certainly hadn’t told him about the car that slowed down and he’d already been on her case about taking independence too far and insisting on taking care of herself.
“You can walk right on out that door.” She jerked a thumb toward the door.
“Uh-huh,” he said.
Was that a yes? A nope, I’m sticking, thanks? She glared at him. “You should come with an owner’s manual.”
“You interested in owning me?”
Good question. “I’m interested in figuring you out.”
“That’s something,” he agreed. “And I’m not going anywhere, boo.”
And, once again… she had no idea what he meant. He’d be around to make sure she locked up safely tonight? He’d be back tomorrow night? What?
“I’ve got a plan,” he confided.
“Do tell,” she drawled. The look in his eyes was positively wicked. She shouldn’t be encouraging him.
“You’ve got all these rules about not having rules, but then you tell me you only do one night stands. You don’t stick. You run.”
Nope. She definitely didn’t like the direction this conversation was headed in.
“Really,” she said, her voice cool. He didn’t get to push her buttons, not tonight.
“A man can come in handy,” he growled.
She laughed. “That’s the oldest one in the books, Mack. I’m not falling for that.”
“You want to play show and tell?” He took a step forward, pinning her between his big body and the bar in what just might be her new favorite position.
“Back off,” she snapped. Give Mack an inch and he’d take a mile.
Take. Yeah, she wanted him to do plenty of taking. Damn it.
His slow smile was all male testosterone. “Make me.”
Copyright © 2014 by Anne Marsh
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