Chapter One

Isabelle Ballantine sucked in a breath as the man she’d been lusting after for weeks walked into the bar. It was hard to think straight with Adam Marcellus anywhere in the vicinity. To keep her hands busy—and to keep from staring—she ran her rag over the mahogany bar one last time before tucking it into the back of her pants. It was Saturday night, but Mad Dog’s Bar & Grille hadn’t picked up yet. Seven was still too early, but in an hour, they’d be three deep at the bar and she’d be working her tail off.

And hopefully making enough to cover this month’s rent and groceries. It was hard to think about bills though when Adam, with his impossibly broad shoulders, was headed her way.

He definitely had that tall, dark and handsome thing going on. She wasn’t positive, but she guessed he was six foot two at least.  She was five eight and he stood a little taller than her even when she wore heels. Something she enjoyed immensely.

“Hey, Izzy.” Adam ducked under the bar hatch.

“Hey yourself.” She wiped sweaty palms on her black pants as he scooted behind her.

He opened and checked the lower beer coolers.

It was impossible to ignore what his nearness did to her nerves. When he bent over to rearrange some of the bottles, she shifted to the side and leaned against the bar. From this angle she had a perfect view of his sculpted backside. She almost felt guilty staring at him, but it seemed a sin not to enjoy something so perfect.

He glanced up, and she could feel her cheeks heat up at the intense gaze from his startling green eyes. “Need me to stock anything for you, darlin’?” His deep accent sent shivers straight to her toes. She guessed it was Cajun, but wasn’t quite sure. He rarely talked about himself.

She swallowed hard. “No, I’ve only had a couple sales. In an hour I’ll be calling on you though.”

“I don’t doubt it.” He chuckled before ducking back out.

Once he’d disappeared into the kitchen, her heart rate slowed back to normal. No man had ever had such a ridiculous effect on her before.

Maybe it had something to do with his smooth accent, or the way his dark hair always seemed a bit too shaggy, but still looked sexy as sin. Or maybe it was the way he filled out a T-shirt. Or maybe it was all of the above. The man had tight, corded muscles to die for, but not the kind from a gym.

He’d started working with her less than a month ago. She wasn’t sure how she’d define his position, but he was somewhere between a bar back and a bouncer. He was sort of a jack of all trades. She’d even seen him in the back helping put up shelves and doing other small construction jobs, but so far he hadn’t said much about himself.

They’d hung out a few times, but only in a group. He always made it a point to sit next to her in staff meetings or when a bunch of them shared drinks after work. And she’d noticed she was the only one he called darlin’, but the man hadn’t so much as hinted that he wanted anything more.

She’d love to go out on a date with him, but she certainly wasn’t going to ask.

There were some things her southern heritage simply wouldn’t allow.

She still didn’t know what he was doing working at Mad Dog’s. It wasn’t something tangible, but somehow he didn’t belong. Like he’d be happier doing something else. Of course, she was a multi-millionaire’s daughter and she was tending bar so what the hell did she know anyway? According to her overbearing father, she didn’t belong here either.

“Hey sweetheart, how about two Miller Lights?” A man from the end of the bar jerked her out of her daydreams.

Gritting her teeth, she dug into the cooler and pulled out the beers. She hated when men called her sweetheart or honey. All men except Adam of course. He could call her any and all of the above.

Pasting on a bright smile, she strolled back to the end of the bar and placed the drinks in front of them. Her night was off to a great start.

Two hours later, her feet ached and panic had set in.

“Izzy, I need those drinks.” Robert, one of the best servers, stood at the server station waving his drink ticket at her.

“I know, give me a sec,” she shouted from the other end of the bar.

Carolyn, the other bartender for the evening, was thirty minutes late. And that wasn’t like her.

After serving three mixed drinks and two buckets of beer, Izzy hustled back to the other end.

“Go grab Adam for me,” she said to Robert.

When he didn’t move she shooed him away.

Rolling his eyes, he turned around and disappeared through the swinging kitchen door.

“Two margaritas and four martinis,” she muttered under her breath. Of course all the martinis were different.

“What’s up?” Adam’s deep voice caused her to jump.

With all the noise she hadn’t heard him approach. “I need your help. Carolyn still hasn’t shown up and I can’t get Toby on the phone.”

Toby was the owner of the bar and more or less lived and breathed the place.

“Want me to call him?”

“No, I want you to help me until we get a break. Think you can manage bartending for an evening?” At his frown she continued, “I’ll split the tips evenly with you. From the time I started tonight.”

He shook his head. “No, we’ll split them starting now. I’m not taking your money.”

She grinned. “Fine, I’ll buy you a beer after work. How about you get started with those ladies down there and I’ll catch up on the server drinks?”

He nodded and they both got to work.

By closing time she was ready to go home and soak in a hot tub, but something told her the night had been worth it. Working with Adam had been better than she imagined. The women loved him and she had no doubt their tips would reflect it.

“That’s it. Their cab just arrived,” Adam called out from the other end.

She glanced up from washing glasses.

“Finally.” Two slightly tipsy women had been hanging around, probably waiting for Adam to ask for their number. “I’ll lock up.” After grabbing the door key off the hook next to the cash register, she hurried to the front of the restaurant. She wanted the place locked down before some late night stragglers stumbled in.

“I’ll finish up with the dishes if you want to start dividing the tips,” she said as she ducked back under the bar hatch. Normally she and Carolyn split the duties, but she felt bad enough dragging Adam behind the bar with her tonight.

“How about you count and I’ll clean?” His deep voice was enough to make her knees weaken.

“You sure?” Her aching feet weren’t inclined to argue.

“Yeah.” He gave her a half-grin and her stomach fluttered. Actually fluttered. Like some teenage girl.

She sat at the bar and spread out the bills and change while he continued stocking and cleaning.

“Did you ever hear from Toby?”

“Oh yeah. Forgot to tell you. Something’s going on with Carolyn. That’s why neither of them showed up.”

Carolyn was the closest thing she had to a best friend since moving to town. Sometimes she was a little flaky, but she was incredibly sweet. “Is she okay?”

He shrugged. “I think so, but he didn’t elaborate. Just said they wouldn’t be in tonight.

But,  the staff meeting tomorrow is still on.”

She groaned. “That man is a slave driver.”

“Yeah, but you’ll get to hang out with me so it can’t be that bad, right?”

His words rolled over her like a warm summer breeze. “Guess not,” she murmured.

“How’d we do?” Adam asked when she slid his pile of money over to him.

“Very nice. Do you think you might like to do this more often?”

He shrugged and locked up the cash register.

“You ready?”

“Yes, grab my purse please? And you didn’t answer my question.” She waited while he opened the cabinet under the cash register to retrieve her things. He handed it to her across the bar then dimmed the lights.

Keys in hand, he came around to meet her.

Finally he spoke. “Whether I work behind the bar or not isn’t my decision to make.”

“I know that, but our sales were amazing tonight. I’m sure Toby wouldn’t mind putting you behind the bar a couple nights a week.” Izzy had a feeling their sales had a lot to do with him. Some of the women had refused to let her take their orders, choosing instead to wait for him. That was certainly fine with her. She’d made enough tonight to cover her bills for the rest of the month.

As he locked up she noticed what looked like a couple fighting across the nearly deserted parking lot. A man she vaguely remembered serving earlier that night grabbed a woman’s arm and was trying to drag her toward a truck.

“Hey!” she shouted before jogging across the lot.

“Izzy, wait.” She heard Adam behind her but ignored him and picked up her pace.

The other guy looked up and let go of the woman’s arm. When he did, she fell onto the asphalt. She cried out as she rolled onto the pavement. The man turned and sprinted toward the lone black truck and sped off before Izzy reached her.

“Are you okay?” Izzy knelt down next to the crying woman.

A second later Adam was by her side and helping the petite woman up. “What’s your name?” he asked.

The pretty brunette hiccupped and wiped a few tears from mascara-stained cheeks. “My name is Andrea and my stupid friend left me to hook up with some guy. I tried calling a cab, but couldn’t get a ride for almost an hour.”

When it was obvious she could stand on her own, Izzy and Adam both took a step back.

“Do you need a ride home?” Izzy asked.

“You wouldn’t mind?” she asked through sniffles.

“Of course not.” Like she was going to abandon a drunk woman with no recourse to get home.

“Did you know that guy harassing you?” This time Adam spoke in a clipped tone. Izzy noticed the way his neck muscles corded and his fists clenched by his side.