I always feel like Cinderella on the day after big events like the movie premiere. Sure, I put on the dress and the glass slippers and rode to the ball in the carriage, but after midnight struck, I’m just a girl in rags with a pumpkin and a long list of chores.
On the morning after my evening with Dax, the feeling was even worse. I’d spent the night in my lonely bed at the hotel tossing and turning, restless with frustration and regret. I couldn’t help wondering what might have happened if I’d let Dax come back to my room with me, if I’d allowed myself to believe what he’d been saying—that the red-carpet kiss had been for real. Would my bed have been less lonely? Would he have stayed with me all night? And instead of being bleary-eyed and numb the next morning as I prepared to check out, mindlessly tossing my finery and cosmetics into my suitcase, would I have been blissfully relaxed, enjoying a sexy breakfast in bed with my super-hot lover?
Well, I reasoned with myself, we’d never know. I’d sent Dax away last night not because I wasn’t attracted to him but because I was. And, come on now, let’s get real—it wasn’t just the physical draw, although that was there in spades. It was that I honestly and genuinely liked him, and that was a dangerous proposition.
I wasn’t a prude about one-night stands. Hell, hook-ups without any strings attached were my jam, though I didn’t go around proclaiming that. Even Celeste and Sabrina were largely unaware of my assignations. Hey, I didn’t love how these things happened, but a woman has needs, after all. And since I knew that love wasn’t in the cards for me, tumbling in the sheets with random dudes was the way to go.
But I had standards. I didn’t sleep with men who I didn’t like—that was one reason Dr. Dopey hadn’t made the cut—and I also didn’t sleep with men who I liked too much. If there was even a whiff of a possibility that the situation could morph into romance, that was a deal-breaker.
I didn’t do romance. And I sure as hell wasn’t showing up for love. Been there, done that, had the ugly scars to show for it. I’d handed over my ability to love when I was eighteen years old, and I never planned to take it back. Thanks very much.
And that was why I was alone today, skulking out of the Hyatt in dark sunglasses as my rolling suitcase bumped along behind me. I smirked to myself as I waited for the YouRideIt that was going to carry me back home. I’d arrived here yesterday with so much excitement, all shiny and glowy, ready to be a temporary star. How quickly the mighty fall. If I’d done something crazy and impulsive like indulged in wild, sweaty sex with Dax the smoldering bartender, would that glow have lingered a little longer? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. It was possible that I’d feel grimy and uncomfortable.
Probably not, but it was better to think that way.
The car pulled up to the curb, and I climbed inside, smiling briefly at the driver who asked me if I was all right for him to listen to the radio on the ride to Burton.
“Oh, sure.” It was actually a relief that I wouldn’t feel pressured to make small town with a stranger when all I wanted to do was close my eyes and think about absolutely nothing for forty-five minutes.
I was doing just that when I felt a buzzing in my ass. It took me a minute to realize that my butt hadn’t fallen asleep; I’d tucked my phone in the back pocket of my jeans.
With a sigh, I tugged it out, yawning as I blinked at the screen.
TEXT FROM HOT BARTENDER DUDE
I bit back a smile. I really needed to change that entry . . . or crap, maybe I should just delete it. I’d made the decision that Dax wasn’t safe for me to be around. That meant I should take his number off my phone, and I definitely, positively shouldn’t answer this text. Hell, I shouldn’t even read this text. I should hit delete and move on.
And yet my finger hovered over the notification, and before I could second-guess myself—or should that be third-guess myself?—I’d touched it, making the message pop up.
Hot Bartender Dude: Hey, Coral. Thanks again for last night. I wanted to say I’m sorry if I was pushy at the end. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable and ruin what had been an incredible time.
Three dots appeared, indicating that he was typing. Then they vanished . . . and then reappeared. I waited to see if anything else showed up, but the dots stopped again.
After a moment, I blew out a long breath. I shouldn’t answer. Right? I should ignore it.
Coral: You didn’t make me uncomfortable. And I’m the one who should be thanking you. Again. Because you did me a huge favor, and I appreciate it. And you weren’t pushy. You were actually kind of sweet.
Hot Bartender Dude: Sweet. Yeah, that’s the vibe I’m going for.
Coral: I meant it in a very strong, masculine way.
Hot Bartender Dude: Sure you did. If you’d seen how many times I wrote and rewrote that message, you’d be thinking again.
Coral: Awww, that’s even sweeter.
Hot Bartender Dude: Awesome. Let’s start again. Hey, beautiful, what’re you doing? Are you still at the Hyatt?
Coral: No, I’m on my way home. The ball is over. Cinderella has left the building.
Hot Bartender Dude: I always thought old Cindy was a much more interesting girl when she was at home than when she was in that overgrown pumpkin. Anybody can put on fancy clothes and be someone they’re not. Singing while you clean a floor takes real balls. And you’re so much more than the person those reporters saw last night.
Coral: Oh, yeah? How do you know that? From one hour of me moping at your bar and a single movie date?
Hot Bartender Dude: I’m a good judge of character. It comes from years of bartending.
Coral: Better training than psychotherapy, huh?
Hot Bartender Dude: You know it. So when will you be home? And what are your plans for the rest of the day?
Coral: About half an hour, I think. Plans for the day include crawling into bed with a cup of tea and reading until Celeste brings me barbecue for dinner. These events always wear me out.
Hot Bartender Dude: So does that mean you’re too tired for a picnic?
I paused, my thumb over the keyboard. A picnic? What was he talking about?
Coral: I didn’t see a picnic on my schedule for today. Might be tough to do that from my bed.
Hot Bartender Dude: If you haven’t had a bed picnic, darlin’, you’re missing out. But I was talking about eating lunch outside. It’s a pretty day for October. The sun is warm, and I have the day off.
Coral: But you’re in Savannah.
Hot Bartender Dude: So were you a few minutes ago. See, there’s this thing called driving, and turns out I can be in your neck of the woods with lunch in hand by one.
Coral: But why? Last night was wonderful, so much fun. Maybe we should just leave it at that.
Hot Bartender Dude: Or we could go for a picnic and see what happens next.
I let my head fall back against the seat, closing my eyes. I was so tempted. So very tempted. Dax made me wanted to believe that unreachable dreams were possible. And a picnic . . . it was a beautiful day. I’d been inside for too many weeks, working hard to meet my last deadline, and the idea of sitting in the sunshine with a man like Dax . . .
Hot Bartender Dude: Are you still there? What do you say, gorgeous? There’s this sandwich shop right on the way outside of town, and I promise, my picnic won’t disappoint. Tell me where to meet you, and I’ll be there.
I bit the side of my lip. This was dangerous. Dax himself was a huge threat to my fenced-off heart, and if I let myself relax, I might be in danger.
Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself sternly. There’s no risk because you’ve already gone through the worst day in your life. This is a damn picnic. What’re you afraid of?
Picking up my phone again, I typed out a response.
Coral: There’s a place I know. It’s by a lake on a farm—I know the owners. Sending you the directions now. See you there at one.
Tucking my cell away again, I exhaled a long breath and gripped the edge of the vinyl seat, hoping I wasn’t making a horrible mistake.
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Fourteen is coming next Friday, December 3rd!
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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