“You could never be little if you tried.”
She’d met Isabelle MacKenzie at a party in upstate New York, and they’d immediately bonded. Like two halves of a whole, they were both on the search to forget the past, bury their pain, and exploit every pleasure. They’d gotten their tattoos together, commiserated over sleeping with all the wrong guys together, and traveled with only a backpack to places young girls should avoid. Izzy was her soul sister, fellow mischief maker, and best friend in the world.
Unfortunately, when Izzy had gotten hooked on drugs, their friendship had become strained, but Raven was there to not only push her into rehab but hold her when she finally broke. Izzy had a twin sister, but there’d been a falling-out, so she’d turned to Raven to help get her life back on track. Izzy was doing well now, living in Verily, New York, with her sister and working at the local matchmaking agency, Kinnections. She’d also met a hot cop who seemed to be her perfect match. Izzy was finally happy, clean, and sober, and they’d both stopped chasing disaster around every corner.
They’d finally grown up.
“I’m nervous I’ll say something stupid and they’ll print it and no one will come back to the restaurant,” Raven admitted.
Izzy seemed to consider. “Could happen. But if you said something stupid, it would probably have the opposite effect. It will go viral, and everyone will want to come check you out to see why you said something that stupid.”
Raven laughed and shook her head. “You’re probably right. I miss you. Can you come visit soon?”
“Definitely. I’ll bring Liam with me so you can get to know each other. Anyone I should be meeting?”
Raven hesitated. “Maybe.”
“You don’t want to tell yet?”
She blew out a breath. “He’s been doing work on the bar for me. He’s sexy as hell, smart, charming, and we have a crazy connection.”
“His mother is the one who ran off with my father. His name is Dalton Pierce.”
Shocked silence settled over the line. Izzy whistled. “Umm, okay. Wow, didn’t see that coming. Coincidence isn’t a big enough word for this.”
“How do you feel about him?”
The question was too direct. She closed her eyes, trying to avoid her friend’s probing. “I’m not ready to explore it yet. I think it may be better to stay away.”
“Did you tell him?”
“No, and I don’t want to. Maybe it will go away. Maybe it’s just a passing sexual connection and when he moves on, we won’t even think of each other again.”
“Or maybe it’s bigger than you think and you’re meant to face your past, babe.”
Her throat tightened. “Stop throwing the therapy stuff on me. You know it freaks me out.”
“Sorry, all this evolved thinking and life philosophy can’t be untaught. I’ll stop pushing. Keep me updated—I’m here if you want to talk more.”
“Thanks. I think I hear the camera crew outside.”
“Go. Good luck. Peace out.”
She clicked off, pushing Izzy’s words to the back of her brain. No time to be thinking about boys. Her big moment was about to arrive, and she wanted to focus on every detail.
Hours later, Raven locked up the bar, a silly grin tugging at her lips. She’d rocked the interview. The photographers loved the bar and had taken a bunch of pictures, and the reporter was super cool and chill. Al had joined them to talk about his background, not afraid to tell the truth about his prison stint, and had even whipped up a few of his choice appetizers for the crew. The feature would appear in the September issue, and could even get a blurb on the cover.
They dubbed her the “Cocktail Queen.” Though it was a bit embarrassing, she admitted the title had clickbait power and would probably be great at drawing in more crowds.
Her phone registered a text. She picked it up.
How did it go?
Dalton. His words made her sigh a bit with girly pleasure. One of the things she’d missed most was telling her father when something wonderful happened. She had Izzy, and Aunt Penny, but she’d been mostly a loner these past years. Why did it feel so good to have a man check on her? She tapped out the response. Went great. They loved the bar and setup. You can now call me the cocktail queen.
A smiley face popped up. Not surprised at the praise or the title. Congrats, darlin’. You deserve everything good to happen.
Her heart squeezed. Her finger paused on the keyboard. He sounded like a . . . boyfriend. A lover. Someone in her life who cared about her and took her successes seriously.
No. This had to stop. Now.
Thanks again for all your work. See you around.
Raven turned off her phone and drove home. When she pulled into her driveway, something flashed in the light. What was on her porch?
She cut the engine and walked over. A dozen bloodred roses lay before her. Reaching out, she touched one satiny, smooth petal, running her finger over the rich velvety texture, then down to the wicked, sharp thorn hiding behind the vivid green leaves.
There was no card, but she already knew who had sent them.
She shivered and looked up at the sky, wondering what she was going to do.
I need another Sweet Hot Chris!”
Raven grinned and stuck up her thumb. “Nice choice, ladies.” She grabbed a bottle of champagne and got to work. With lightning speed she combined the simple syrup, fresh clementine juice, lemon vodka, champagne, and aromatic bitters. The first batch had gone in record time, and she’d even had extra requests for her new mint-infused cocktail that put a twist on the mojito. Hmm, she needed to come up with a name for it.
She lined up four glasses, added sprigs of rosemary, and slid them down the bar.
“Two Bass on tap!”
“Can I get a Chardonnay?”
“Three frozen margaritas with salt, please!”
The requests shot at her like a firing squad. The music pumped, countless people pressed together to grab appetizers and check out the new poker tables, and the alcohol flowed like molten gold.
God, this was a good day.
She’d decided to hold the party Saturday night for full effect. Her promos included showing off not only the restaurant’s brand-new look, but the implementation of both cocktail night and poker night. For the past week, she’d worked nonstop to put it together, and she hadn’t seen such a record crowd walk through her doors in months.
And this was even before the magazine released.
But the real hidden star had just walked in trailed by his brothers, bringing a healthy round of applause in his wake. She’d told everyone that Dalton Pierce had done the work for Pierce Brothers Construction, and she’d left out a stack of his business cards at the end of the bar.
It was fair. His work was stellar and beautiful, and he deserved success as much as she did. It was hard to think of his company in those terms, since for so many years she’d hated the Pierce brothers with a passion. But somehow, by giving him the praise he deserved, something inside her had loosened a few notches.
He put up his hand, laughing and waving off the applause with a good-natured roll of his eyes.
The adorable flush in his cheeks was sexy as hell.
Dalton Pierce was sexy as hell.
He’d cleaned up for the party, and wore a white button-down shirt, dark jeans, and leather shoes. His hair was loose and freshly washed, tawny strands brushing his shoulders. His jaw was clean shaven. When she went to greet him, the scent of lemon varnish and a touch of Hershey’s chocolate drifted around him.
She wanted to devour him whole.
That’s when the irony struck. She was hot for a Pierce brother. Her father should be here right now. Helping behind the bar. Laughing with Al. Hanging his paintings on the walls.
Instead, he was dead, and it was Diane Pierce’s fault. Dalton’s brothers had spread lies about her father, ruined his reputation, and gotten away with it. Could she leave the past alone and try to move on without answers?
Oh, she’d been trying. The odd relationship with Dalton was growing stronger, and this past week she’d tried to keep her distance, especially after she’d rudely dismissed him via her last text. But he’d sent her the damn roses. And he made a point to drop by the bar every single day, just to grab a drink and converse for a while. He was offering friendship, but she knew he wanted more, and each time she began to soften, the past roared up again. In order to allow him closer, she needed to know the whole truth, or it would haunt her forever. Somehow, some way, she had to get Dalton to tell her what he knew about the events leading up to the car crash.