Author: Lorelei James


“Between us?” Mr. D. leaned closer. “It about killed Big Kenny when Willow won the Miss Firecracker contest.”


“It proved that rough-around-the-edges Willow was also all woman. And trust me, the men in this town who wouldn’t have looked twice at Willow-the-toolbelt-wearing-carpenter? They started paying attention to Willow the beauty queen.”

Blake had the oddest urge to growl his displeasure at anyone paying attention to Willow but him. “Funny Willow didn’t mention that.”

“Can you blame her?”

“I guess not.”

Mr. D. tossed a five on the counter and stood. “Good luck, son, because I have a feeling you’re gonna need it.”


The joint was hopping by the time Mandy clocked in. Willow lagged behind with drink orders. A few of the guys who worked for her decided to come in. They ribbed her endlessly about her new “job” but she wouldn’t give them the lowdown. As breezy and sarcastic as her responses were, Blake knew by her jerky, tense movements the situation bothered her.

He wasn’t surprised by her curt conduct toward him. Bothered by it, yes, but surprised by it, no. No one in the bar would’ve guessed they’d spent a good portion of the day n**ed together. In fact, Blake wondered if he’d dreamt it.

Mandy dropped her tray on the counter. “I need a pitcher of Bud, four cups and four shots of Jack.”

“A boilermaker party, huh?”

“How anyone can drink that crap is beyond me.” Mandy shuddered. “You a Jack fan?”

“Nope. Hate the stuff.”

“Good.” She jerked her chin toward Willow’s table in the back. “Looks like Willow got herself a fan club.”

Blake harrumphed.

“But if the cold stares they’re sending your way mean anything…damn, they don’t appear to be fans of yours. Did you cut one of them off or something?”

“Not yet.”

“Hmm. They jealous you got it goin’ on with her?”

When Blake didn’t acknowledge her guess, Mandy sighed.

“Look. I’m not blind and neither is anyone else. You two threw sparks off each other from the moment she strolled in here the other night.


“So, pretending to ignore her when your eyes follow her everywhere just makes what’s going on between you two more obvious.”

He leaned in. “FYI, Mandy. She’s the one who’s ignoring me. She’s the one who doesn’t want her male buddies, her employees, to know she’s knockin’ boots with a lowly bartender.”

“Interesting. I don’t think the issue is so much that you’re a bartender as these guys are surprised that Willow is knocking boots with any guy. She’s just playing it cool.” When Blake placed her order on the tray, Mandy leaned over and rubbed her cl**vage into his forearm. She nuzzled his ear, then leisurely kissed his cheek. She pulled back and smirked at him. “That oughta get her hot under the collar.”

Blake couldn’t help it, he grinned.

Willow spent an hour imagining how crappy Mandy would look bald as a cue ball. After she’d snatched every hair out of the man-stealing woman’s head.

As soon as Willow saw randy Mandy disappearing into the back, she followed her.

More like stomped after her.

She found Mandy smoking in the breakroom, her shoulders resting against the wall. She offered Willow a tired smile. “Hey, Will, how’s it going?”

“What are you doing?” Willow demanded.

“Taking a break.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

Mandy lifted her eyebrows. “Maybe you oughta cue me in since I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about you flirting with Blake. Rubbing your boobs on him. Smiling. Whispering stuff. You even kissed him!”

“Does it bother you, sugar?”

Sugar. As if. Willow was about as sweet as vinegar right about now. “Yes, it bothers me! You know that Blake and I are…”

“Are what?”

She gritted her teeth.

“Are you with him?”

Willow glared at her.

“Lemme tell you something. Either you’re with him, or you’re not. You can’t have it both ways. Blake is way too nice a guy to be your dirty little barroom secret.”

“Is that right?”

“Yep. And Blake is too good a man to put up with that high school-ish bullshit, Will.” She granted Willow a once-over and French inhaled. “If you’re not woman enough to stake your claim on him…well, sugar, step aside for those of us who are.” Mandy stubbed out her cigarette and sauntered out.

As soon as Willow regained control of her temper, she realized Mandy was absolutely right. She returned out front with renewed purpose. Instead of checking her section, she walked behind the bar and stopped beside Blake.

He had a bottle of gin in one hand and the soda dispenser in the other, mixing the liquids in a lowball glass. “Something you need?” he asked, without looking up.

“Uh. Yeah.” She set her hand on his shoulder and rose to her tiptoes, putting her mouth next to his ear. “To say I’m sorry.”

Blake turned his head so their mouths were mere inches apart. “For what?”

“For acting like there’s nothing going on between us.”

“Is there something going on between us, Willow? Besides us havin’ a good time and enjoying each other?”

She faltered for a second, but she didn’t look away from his mocking eyes. “You know there is.”

“Yeah? Then prove it.”


He shrugged. “You’re fast on your feet, remember? You’ll come up with something.” Then he sidestepped her and reached for a lime, finishing off the gin and tonic.

Shoot. That hadn’t gone like she’d planned. Willow felt dismissed. And she didn’t like it one bit.

Now you know how he feels.

True. But how was she supposed to prove it to him?

A sultry feminine laugh floated above the bar noise. Willow pinpointed the source: Mandy.


Mandy would probably know how to “prove it” to Blake. Maybe Willow ought to storm over there and beg Mandy for help.

Help you to do what? Show you how to seduce the gorgeous hunk you’ve already slept with three times?

Yeah, not the best plan.

Maybe you oughta step aside and let a real woman show you how it’s done.

Willow paused. Now there was a great idea. One that didn’t reveal her ineptitude. She’d get a crash course in Flirting 101 from Mandy without Mandy knowing. Mandy’s tips were twice what Willow’s were the previous night, so if anyone had the flirting thing down pat and got the most bang for her buck, it was randy Mandy.

So for the next hour, Willow paid very close attention to Mandy. Her mannerisms. Her habit of tease and retreat. Her loose-hipped stroll. Then Willow tried it out on a couple of unsuspecting customers. And wow. It worked.

Willow zeroed in on her target. Blake. She added an extra swing in her hips, giddy with knowledge that he watched her every movement. Raptly.

She ambled behind the counter. She timed it so when Blake stepped over to fill a glass with ice, she did too, forcing his groin to connect with her backside.

He froze.

Willow peeped at him over her shoulder. “Oh. Hello.”

Blake blinked at her. “What are you doin’ back here?”

“I needed ice and I didn’t want to bother you.”

“It’d be no bother.”

“That’s sweet. Just give me a sec and I’ll be out of your way, okay?” Willow bent at the waist and scooped ice from the back of the ice bin, pressing her behind more firmly into his groin.

“Ah, no hurry, Will, take your time.” He didn’t move. At all.

She jerked upright and pretended to lose her balance. And yep, Blake’s big hands landed on her h*ps and righted her. Just as she’d expected. And he left them there. Just as she’d expected.


“Thanks.” Willow cocked her head at him. “Know what this reminds me of?”


“Last night. When you were behind me on the bed.” She dropped her voice. “That was hot, Blake. I keep thinking about it. And wanting to do it again. And again.”


“Sorry.” She straightened and pressed her mouth to his. The kiss was more than a simple peck but less than the tongue-tangling variety they’d shared other times today.

Someone from the side yelled, “Can I get some service over here?”

Blake swore under his breath and released her.

Willow returned to her section, mighty pleased.

Next, she “accidentally” spilled ice water on herself, forcing Blake to see her mopping water from her chest and picking ice cubes out of her cleavage. And he did watch. With those hooded eyes, causing her body to tighten in all the right places.

Her blatant pursuit took a toll on him. So when Willow saw Blake rubbing the back of his neck, she felt guilty. “Want me to do that?”

“No, it’s okay—” was all he eked out before she plunked him on the barstool behind the bar.

Amidst his half-hearted protests, she dug her thumbs into his shoulder blades. “This’d be easier if you didn’t have a shirt on.” She rubbed the tight bulges, imagining her tongue tracing the defined muscles. Tasting the salt on his skin. “You’d probably rake in the tips too.”

He snorted.

She massaged the knobs of his spine from the base to his hairline. “If I had more time, I’d loosen every bit of tension.” She buried her nose in his hair, whispering, “Isn’t that what you want, Blake? For me to ease you? For me to bring you release?”

Blake moaned again.

“You like my hands on you.”