“Yep. Look, I didn’t get a chance to say thank you for going after Norbert with a barstool.”
“But I didn’t—”
“Do you know how many times he’s done that? Stuck his slobbery face in my tits and laughed about it? Knowing I wouldn’t do a damn thing?” Mandy chewed her lip. “I have a kid to support and I need this job. But you saw what Norbert did and took action.”
“That’s not what you told Blake. You said Norbert hit on me.”
Mandy’s face colored. “I’m not used to anyone standing up for me. I thought telling Blake that Norbert had propositioned you was a better explanation for your umm…aggressive reaction.”
Learning the truth about what’d gone down last night alleviated every bit of her guilt about taking a swing at the old pervert. Apparently she retained some semblance of a conscience even when she was drunk.
You know exactly why your conscience popped up and you attempted to pop Norbert.
Every day she dealt with men who held that “women are inferior sex objects” attitude. She’d listened to crude jokes and lewd comments on the jobsite. And if she was a hard-ass to her employees or to her subcontractors about it, then she was called everything from a ballbreaker to a lesbo Nazi.
“Putting up with geezers copping a feel should not be part of the job.” Mandy shuddered. “I hope Norbert never comes back. But I’m sure he’ll be in his usual spot once Dave returns from vacation.”
“Dave never does anything about Norbert?”
“Are you kidding?”
“No, I’m serious because that’s sexual harassment.”
“I mentioned it several times, but Dave’s first priority is his customers.” Mandy jerked her chin toward Blake. “I wish Dave would let Blake run the place.”
Rather than ask, “Is there a chance he’s sticking around?” Willow hedged. “He seems like a good guy.”
“He is. He sure went to bat for you last night.”
“Pity I don’t remember anything.”
Mandy cocked her head. “Nothing?”
“I got the impression you two planned on making hot steamy memories the second you were alone upstairs. But then again…since Blake is the Boy Scout type, I’ll bet he didn’t take advantage when you were wasted, huh?”
“No. He didn’t.” For the millionth time Willow was glad Blake had been on duty last night. Things could’ve ended so much worse for her.
“Well, sugar, you’re sober tonight.” She winked.
The sixtop in the corner waved for Mandy’s attention and she sauntered off. Willow heard Blake wiping the bar behind her.
“You doin’ okay, Will?”
“Yep. If I haven’t said it enough, thanks for looking out for me last night.”
“Aw, shoot, ma’am, it weren’t nothin’. Just doin’ my job. But I wouldn’t be opposed to such a purty lady as yourself thankin’ me good ‘n’ proper with a little ol’ kiss.”
“If I remember correctly…you said you didn’t think we could stop at just one little ol’ kiss.” She peeped at him over her shoulder.
“I hope not. ’Cause I can think of a whole lotta places besides your tempting mouth that I’d love to put my lips.”
A fluttery sensation took wing in her belly. Before she could push words past her thick tongue, a customer shouted her name.
For the next few hours, Willow’s conversations with Blake involved drink orders. The man defined adept; he could do twenty things at once. Since the place was packed, customers were coming up to order from him, plus Blake had to fill her drink orders and Mandy’s drink orders.
He kept up, but Willow was glad a lanky teenage boy showed up to help out. His main job consisted of hauling buckets of ice and dragging trays of dirty glasses back to the industrial dishwasher and bringing clean racks back out.
What bothered Willow more than her cramped toes or the thick clouds of smoke was how few people she recognized in this crowd. She should’ve known everyone. She was a native of Broward. She was in the prime barhopping years of her life. Heck, up until last night, she’d been Miss Firecracker, the ambassador to the county. Why did she feel like an outsider?
Her attention whipped to Blake. He looked like he belonged here. Smiling and chatting as he poured a pitcher of beer and refilled a bowl of pretzels.
Then Blake seemed to sense her staring at him. Their eyes met and held for a heartbeat or two. No one else would’ve thought anything of it, but that brief, molten, purely sexual look rocked her to her core.
Maybe he wasn’t such a Boy Scout after all.
During a respite, her belly rumbled. She realized she hadn’t eaten anything all day besides two slices of toast.
Mandy said, “I heard that belly roar. Blake ordered pizza and sub sandwiches. It’s in the breakroom.” Mandy snagged Willow’s tray of empty glasses. “Grab something to eat before you pass out. I’ll keep an eye on your section.”
Willow skirted the dwindling crowd and fell on the cold food like a starving hyena.
She’d just wiped her mouth when Blake’s voice bounced off the concrete walls. “Lord, do I love to see a woman with a healthy appetite.”
She took another swig of ginger ale. “Is that your gentlemanly way of telling me I eat like a pig?”
“No. I was talking about all appetites, not just the one pertaining to food.”
“Oh.” Willow held perfectly still as Blake crowded behind her.
“Although, I’m feeling guilty. I starved you all day and the best I could manage tonight was fast food.”
“That’s okay. I eat a lot of fast food.”
“I don’t. I can’t stand the stuff.” Blake drew his finger down the side of her neck. Goose bumps danced across her skin. “I’m a good cook. I’d like to make you a decent meal after the bar closes.”
“You’ve already done so much—”
“No expectations, Will. Just you and me, sharing a meal.”
She slowly turned around. “I’m not usually hungry at two in the morning.”
“Then I’ll save my culinary delights for breakfast.” Blake brushed his mouth over hers. “Stay with me tonight.”
“But I…” Really really want to scream yes.
“I got the feeling watching you earlier that you were feeling a little displaced.”
“Mmm-hmmm. You looked that way last night too, right before you started dropping cherry bombs.”
How had he picked up on her melancholy so quickly? Was it true about bartender’s intuition? Or was he just that tuned in to her?
“I hate to think of you sitting home alone, stewing about your place in the world and in Broward, Nebraska. And me sitting here alone, worrying about you stewing. Wouldn’t it be better for us to be alone together?”
“Then we wouldn’t be alone.”
“Exactly. And there’s always this in the plus column.” Blake kissed her. Not hot and hard. Not sweet and warm. His mouth simply…overtook hers. The kiss knocked her sideways, even as he pressed her against the wall to keep her upright.
When he broke free from her mouth, Willow gasped for breath.
He whispered, “You undo me. You have from the second you I saw you.”
“Umm. Yeah. Wow. The feeling is mutual.”
“Good.” His teeth scraped her neck.
“Isn’t this against the rules?”
“What I wanna do to you right here in the breakroom could probably get us arrested for indecency.”
“No. I mean between a boss and an employee—”
“Neither of us is officially an employee. The ‘no fraternizing’ rule doesn’t apply.” Blake retreated. “But I won’t push you to be with me if you’d rather say no.”
Willow grabbed his shirt. “I don’t want to say no. You’re so sweet and hot and sexy and nice, but the truth is I don’t have a lot of experience with this type of thing.”
“What type of thing?”
And just because she’d been dying to, she rose to her tiptoes and dipped her tongue into the deep grooves bracketing his mouth. First the left side, then the right. A sound resembling a growl rumbled from his chest.
She liked the effect she had on him, even when the situation scared her spitless. Willow twined her arms around his neck. “But I feel I oughta give you fair warning. I’m not the wild woman you met last night. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”
“In what? Your table manners? We’re just sharing a meal, remember?”
“Okay. Just sharing a meal sounds great.” Once she’d said the words out loud, it seemed less a big deal than she’d made it out to be. She tended to overanalyze everything, preparing for every contingency—real or imagined. Just this once, she wanted to go with the flow.
The bar emptied at one and Blake decided to close early. Mandy and Willow were laughing and trash talking while cleaning up front, which made closing duties fly by. After he walked Mandy out to her car and locked the back door, he saw Willow sitting at the bar counting her tips.
She was so damn cute. Concentration wrinkling her forehead. Her full lips pursed. Her legs swinging back and forth beneath her chair.
He’d worried having her “help” in the bar would actually create more work for him, but Willow had held her own. In fact, even skeptical Mandy mentioned being grateful for Willow’s help.
Blake clicked off the neon bar signs and poured himself a fresh Coke. “Want something to drink?”
“Sure, I’ll have what you’re having.”
“One Coca-cola coming right up.”
She stopped arranging the dollar bills so they all faced the same way. “I figured you’d have a beer to relax now that you’re off the clock.”