All The Birthday Goodies!

 

April is my birthday month,

and this is my birthday week!

It’s my favorite time of the year to celebrate life

and shower my favorite readers with special treats.

 

 

For five days only, ten of my most popular box sets are on sale! You can find all the info here.

Birthday Box Set Bonanza

 

 

 

 

 


Every year for the past eight, I’ve released a book on my birthday. But since I’m turning 55 in 2022, I decided to release FIVE books!

THE WILD ONE

A YEAR OF LOVE IN A SMALL TOWN VOLUME 3

DIAGNOSIS: LOVE BOX SET ONE

DIAGNOSIS: LOVE BOX SET TWO

BOSOM BUDDIES: A KINDLE VELLA SERIAL

 

Tawdra Kandle is the author of over 100 romances that span genres from contemporary through paranormal. Her engaging and realistic characters bring readers back again and again to devour the steamy love stories she spins. Fan favorites include The Anti-Cinderella Chronicles and the Love in a Small Town series.

Tawdra lives in central Florida with her husband, who is an Anglican priest, a sweet pup, and too many cats. Assorted grown children and two perfect granddaughters live nearby. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.

You can visit Tawdra’s website for more information and subscribe to her newsletter for sales announcements, special exclusive content, and promotions!

If you enjoy Tawdra’s books, join the Naughty Temptresses!

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Birthday Box Set Bonanza!

It’s my birthday week!

And that means lots of fun and goodies for YOU!

Ten of my fabulous box sets are discounted to just 99 cents for five days (because I’m celebrating turning 55).

Click on your favorite one below–or snap up all ten. Why not? It’s an unbelievable deal!

{Note: some of the links might go only to Amazon because the books were not updated yet at the other vendors. If your vendor isn’t linked, don’t worry– the sale should be happening there, too!}

 

 

 

 

Love in a Small Town Box Set I

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Dish Romance Collection 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Anti-Cinderella Royal Romance Box Set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Career Soldier Collection (Fort Lee Tour of Duty)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Love in a Small Town Volume 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis: Love Box Set One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis: Love Box Set Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Recipe for Death Box Set 

First Chapter Friday: The Anti-Cinderella

How many girls can say their first kiss was with a prince in the British royal family?

I was fourteen and he was sixteen, and yes, it was magical. But that kiss didn’t exactly change my life. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even think about it-or Nicky Windsor-for the next ten years . . . until fate, in the guise of my grandparents, brought us back together again.

Now everything has spun out of control. I’m ducking reporters and photographers when I try to leave home. My friends act as if I’m someone they don’t know anymore. The whole world seems to be watching me, wanting to see some kind of modern Cinderella story.

But trust me, I’m no man’s princess. I’m more comfortable in tennis shoes than in a tiara, more likely to rock a bucket than a ball gown, and more liable to fall on my face than to pull off a graceful wave.

The only thing that keeps me from running away and hiding is Nicky. He’s all I’ve ever wanted in a man: hot, hunky, and head-over-heels in love with me. I think I feel the same way. I think I want to be with him forever.

But the idea of life with the royal family terrifies me. Even if I have found my one and only, can I handle what comes after our happy ending?

***

Read the first chapter here!

“Woooohooo! Hot mama walking alert.” Shelby, my roommate and best friend in the world, waved her hand in front of her face in an exaggerated fanning motion as she lounged in the doorway of my bedroom. “Damn, girl! Sometimes I forget how good you clean up.”

“Funny. Very funny.” Rolling my eyes, I balanced myself on one foot. “I need your input. Which shoes work best? Option one . . .” I switched feet, lifting the first one up behind me. “Or option two?”

“Hmmm. It depends. Are you going to a club? Or is this date a quiet affair at an elegant restaurant?” Shelby wiggled her fingers, grinning at me wickedly. “C’mon. Tell me all the details.”

I blew out a breath. “Neither one. And get real. Where would I find either a club or an elegant restaurant within thirty miles of us? Tonight is a command performance at my grandparents’ house.”

“You’re going to visit Honey and Handsome without me?” Shelby frowned, pushing out her bottom lip. “I thought you loved me.”

“I do, which is why I’m not taking you with. This isn’t the fun kind of H squared visit. It’s a formal dinner. It’s going to be long and boring.” I shook my foot. “Shoe answer, please.”

“Uh, the first one. It’s cute, but it’s not trampy.”

“Excellent. That’s exactly what I was going for.” I kicked off the shoe that hadn’t made the cut and found the match to the one I was wearing. “Tell me again why I put myself through this shit.”

“Because your grandparents are funding your graduate school career and keeping you fed, with a roof over your head?” Shelby tilted her head. “Those seem like wonderful reasons.” 

“Yeah, that’s right.” I turned a little, checking myself out in the full-length mirror. My black dress was silk, sedate and stylish, the most important three S words for this kind of occasion. “Plus, there’s the whole thing where I love them.”

“What’s not to love? Honey and Handsome are the coolest people I know. No one who’d just met them would ever guess that they’re both in their seventies.”

“Or that they’ve been married for over fifty years.” I frowned, concentrating on fastening my earring. 

“Yes! They’re so dang cute together. Remember when they came here to help us move in, and we caught them making out in the kitchen?”

I held up one hand. “I don’t want to remember that, thanks. Eww. You might find it adorable, but it’s not something you want to see if they’re your grandparents.” 

“I guess I can see that.” Shelby was silent as she watched me dig through my backpack, pulling out essentials like my driver’s license, cash, tissues, and mints and depositing them into a small evening bag. “What’s the occasion tonight? Why did they ask you to come to one of their fancy dinners?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” I scowled. “Honey was being a little cagey when she called to tell me. She said they wanted me to be there because of my unique point of view on the subject at hand, or something like that. It probably has to do with ecological sustainability. They like to have me there as back-up so it seems like they have the latest research on conservation.”

“Are you saving the moose this time?” 

I snorted. “Totally possible.”

“Well, whatever the cause, I know you’ll end up having a blast. Your grandparents never throw dull parties.”

“Yeah. You’re not wrong. I’m not afraid of being bored. I just don’t want to smile and act happy around a bunch of rich people. Even if they might someday consider donating millions to one of my projects.” I patted my bag, took one more look in the mirror, and straightened my shoulders. “All right. I’m set, I guess. Do I look okay? Will I do?”

Shelby scrutinized me with narrowed eyes. “You will. You’re gorge, babe. You’ll knock them all dead. And who knows?” She gave me wide, dramatic eyes. “Maybe one of them will bring his hot and sexy grandson, who just happens to be rich as hell, and your eyes will meet across the crowded room—”

“Ugh!” I stuck out my tongue at her. “Just stop. You’ll get my hopes up, and when no one under the age of seventy is there, I’ll have to drown my disappointment in some of Handsome’s best whiskey. That never ends well.”

“Hey, it could happen. And if it doesn’t, at least your grandfather’s whiskey is primo.” She leaned in to kiss my cheek. “Have fun. Drive safe. Make good choices. Give the two H’s my love.”

“Will do. See you tonight.” 

I stopped at the tiny front closet by the door to grab my long raincoat. Yes, it was late April, but this was Maine, and although today’s high temperature had broken the sixty-degree mark, as soon as the sun set, the chilly air would get downright frigid. I’d lived here long enough that I didn’t mind the cold so much, but my dress tonight was sleeveless, and there was no way I was going to shiver when I could avoid it. The raincoat wasn’t exactly haute couture, but it would do the job. 

Opening the door to the hybrid compact Shelby and I shared, I tossed the evening bag onto the passenger seat and eased behind the wheel. I was unreasonably grumpy about this dinner. My grandparents were wonderful, amazing people, and I adored them beyond reason. One of the reasons I’d chosen Grant’s graduate program was because the school was close enough to Honey and Handsome’s summer home that I could visit when they happened to be living there. But I wasn’t in any mood to play nice just now, when I’d spent all day mucking around in a muddy field, working on the research for my final project. 

The sun was drooping low in the sky, but I still needed my sunglasses, thanks to the eye-level glare. I knew this route by heart since I’d been driving it for two years now. Still, this time of evening was when the moose liked to come out and play, and God knew I didn’t need to hit one of those monsters tonight. So I kept my car to a reasonable speed, sliding my eyes right and left as I passed wooded areas and open fields. 

Darkness settled slowly, and I finally shed my sunglasses a few minutes before I reached the turn that led me down my grandparents’ driveway. Their home was large, but it wasn’t ostentatious. No one would ever guess that these two had founded and still owned—and were actively involved in—one of the largest organic juice and sandwich businesses in the country. Honey Bee Juices had won accolades over the years for its business practices, growing methods and passionate commitment to conservation and activism. I was proud not only of my family’s success and efforts to do the right thing but of the fact that they used their wealth in practical ways. 

This estate, for instance, housed a group of horticulturists for a month in the summer, men and women of all ages who won scholarships to a camp where they were taught the latest methods for natural gardening. Not only that, but Honey and Handsome always opened their home to anyone visiting the nearby college—the one I was currently attending. 

“Nothing we have is truly ours, Kyra,” Handsome liked to tell me. “Everything is held in trust. And if we don’t share, what’s the point in anything?”

My grandparents were, without doubt, the coolest, kindest, and most compassionate people I’d ever known. Growing up, I’d spent a lot of time with them—not because my parents were absent or neglectful, but because we worked and played as a family so often. Both of my parents worked in the juicing business, and I was always there, too, listening, watching, and learning. 

It was natural that I became close to my grandparents, of course, who had wanted me to call them Grammy and Grampy. But even as a toddler, I’d had my own mind. I’d noticed from a young age that my grandmother always referred to her husband as Handsome, while he called her Honey almost without fail. If it was good enough for the two of them, it worked for me, too, which was why all of their grandchildren—and their grandchildren’s friends—henceforth used the same names for our grandparents. 

I smiled as I stopped the car and climbed out, my heels crunching on the gravel of the drive. Handsome and Honey gave selflessly to all of us, whether it was time, attention, or education. They didn’t lavish us with gifts, exotic trips, or designer clothes, but my grandparents were the reason I was now in my last year of graduate school at Grant. They’d covered the tuition and bought the adorable little cottage that Shelby and I shared. I worked hard to keep up my grades, and Shelby and I were responsible for all the maintenance on our home, in addition to the improvements Handsome requested, but that was a small price to pay for the freedom to study and live without worry. 

That was why I never really balked when H squared, as Shelby teasingly called them, asked me to make an appearance at one of their gatherings or fundraisers. They didn’t force the issue, ever, nor did they invite me to any social affair that would make me uncomfortable. Truth be told, I almost always ended up having a good time and meeting interesting people. 

Which, come to think of it, made me wonder why my car was the only one in the circular drive as I climbed the steps of the porch. Usually, other guests’ vehicles would be here, too, by now; I was running late, as I usually was. Everything was quiet, and for a moment, I wondered if I’d somehow misunderstood my grandmother and gotten the date wrong. 

“Kyra, are you planning to come inside, or should we deliver your dinner on a tray to the porch?” Honey’s voice behind me held more than a hint of laughter. “You look like you’re lost.”

“I was beginning to think maybe I was.” I turned around to face the front door, where my grandmother stood. “Where is everyone? I know I’m not early. That just isn’t possible.”

“You’re just exactly right on time.” Honey drew me into a tight hug and kissed my cheek. It was impossible to believe, looking at her, that she was over seventy years old. Her skin was smooth, her eyes clear, and the hint of white in her hair was well-camouflaged by her natural blonde. The smile on her face held just a hint of mischief, which made me pull back a little, my eyes narrowing in suspicion. 

“Honey, what are you up to?” 

“Up to? Whatever are you talking about?” She affected innocence, but I knew better.

“Honey . . . you told me this was a formal dinner with some people you wanted me to meet. Tell me you’re not scheming about something else.” 

“I never scheme, sweetie. And maybe you misheard me. I said it was a formal dinner, and you might meet someone interesting.” She gave a little nod, and I remembered that she was right. That was exactly how she’d phrased it. 

“You’re not making me feel any better.” I followed her into the foyer. “How many people are you expecting? And where is everyone?”

“Already sitting down, waiting for you.” Honey inclined her head, indicating the direction of the dining room. “Your grandfather is entertaining.” 

“Oh, brother.” I giggled, leaning conspiratorially against Honey. “That means long-ass stories, doesn’t it?” 

She bent her head so her mouth was next to my ear. “‘When I was first coming up with the recipe for pineapple sunshine, the juice that put us on the map . . .’” Her impression of Handsome made me laugh even harder. 

We walked across the foyer and down the wide hallway that led toward what my grandparents called the public side of the house—where the large, formal dining room, the conference rooms, and the ballroom were all located—but to my surprise, Honey steered me to the left and opened a door. 

When I hesitated, she only smiled. “Since it’s just the four of us, I thought it would be cozier to eat in the family dining room.” When I didn’t move, she patted my back. “Come on, now, no one’s going to bite you. Don’t you trust me?”

“All of sudden, not so much.” I frowned, but I allowed her to move me along. 

This part of the house was comfortable and warm. The sitting room where I’d played dolls as a kid flowed into the kitchen and dining room. As we rounded the corner, I heard the sound of my grandfather’s laughter mingling with someone else’s voice. 

I didn’t know who it was—not really—but for some reason, my heart began to pound, and I felt a little lightheaded. There was something familiar—something in me that recognized the tone and timbre of the voice. 

We rounded the wall that hid the table from my view, and I came to a sudden, abrupt halt. Sitting at the table next to my grandfather, leaning back in his chair as though his being here was the most natural thing in the world, was a man I thought I’d never see again—not in person, anyway. 

He looked so different—and yet, of course, not that very different. He wasn’t the boy I’d known ten years before. He was a man now. Still, although I hadn’t been in the same room with him—or even in the same city, to the best of my knowledge, since I was fourteen, it wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen him. I hadn’t sought out glimpses of him, but they’d been impossible to avoid on magazine covers at the grocery store checkout counters or splashed over social media. 

Yet, he was more a stranger than a friend now. Too many years divided us, and those years had taken us in opposite directions. Neither of us was who we’d been back then on the Florida beaches. 

And then he saw me, and the way his eyes lit up was heart-rippingly familiar. A smile spread over his face, and slowly he rose to his feet.

“Hi, Ky.”

 

Read the rest of it here!

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First Chapter Friday: The Mustang

Duty. Honor. Country. 

Love. Romance. Passion.

Lark

Look, I don’t need a psychologist to tell me why I am the way I am. I grew up with a mom who was forever chasing her happily-ever-after, never considering the cost to herself–or to me. That’s why I’m not interested in fairy tales or in finding some elusive prince charming to solve all of my problems.

Until I meet him in the bar where I work. One night of fun somehow begins to mean more, and it scares the crap out of me.

Nolan

I joined the Army when I was just a kid, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I never dreamed I’d love it enough to make it my career, but now here I am, an officer, stationed at West Point, leading a company of soldiers. What started as an escape has become my passion–and it’s one that doesn’t have space for anything–or anyone–else.

Until I meet her at my buddy’s bachelor party. I think I’m indulging in one meaningless night, but I can’t stop thinking about her. Remembering her. Wanting her.

Read the first chapter here!

Lark

“Hey, baby, let me buy you a drink.”

The guy sitting at the end of the bar leaned forward to catch my eye, and I bit back a smile. This was a regular routine, something we went through at least once a week.

“Dale, honey, I told you before. You’re too much man for me.” I patted his hand and slid him the beer I’d just poured. “Also, take my advice. You want a woman who hasn’t known you since you peed your pants in kindergarten on the first day.”

He winced. “Awwww, Lark, why’d you have to bring that up again?”

I chuckled. “Sorry, dude. It’s what happens when you live in a small town and then try to hit on someone who’s known you too long.” Lowering my voice, I added, “But we just hired a new waitress who moved here from West Cornwall. She’s super cute, too. You should talk to her. I think you two might hit it off.”

His face brightened. “Is she hot?”

“Sure.” I wasn’t really comfortable commenting on the hotness or lack thereof in other women, but Dale definitely wasn’t a man who understood enlightenment when it came to the female of the species. Any rant I might go on would be lost on him.

“Can you introduce us?”

“Dale, get your own sorry ass over to one of her tables and introduce yourself.” Rhonda came lumbering around the bar and glared at the man in front of us. “Lark has better things to do than to play matchmaker.”

I shrugged and mouthed sorry toward Dale as he groaned and rose from his barstool, carrying his beer with him. He lumbered across the seating area, searching, I assumed, for a likely empty table.

“So what do I have to do that’s more important than Dale’s love life?” I winked at Rhonda. “Because obviously, that’s my purpose in life, to help him find his one true love.”

“That would take a stronger woman than you or me.” Rhonda slid her tray under the bar. “Listen, honey, do me a favor. Take that table over on the other side of the dining room. They’re going to be here for a while, I’m pretty sure, and I need to get off this knee.”

She hiked the hem of her gray dress up just enough that I could get a glimpse of her leg. I winced, wrinkling my nose when I saw how swollen and discolored her knee was.

“You need to get to the doctor,” I scolded. “I think that needs medical attention.”

Rhonda rolled her eyes. “Then it needs to get in line behind my back and this cough I can’t shake.”

There wasn’t a good answer to that, because I knew, as most of us working here did, that seeing a doctor wasn’t a viable option unless there wasn’t any other choice. Chronic and worrisome didn’t fall into the emergency category for those of us without any health insurance.

“Well, go on home and rest.” I gave her a gentle push. “I’ll take your tables.”

“It’s just the one.” Rhonda untied her apron and dropped it into the basket beneath the bar. “I was only here for another half hour, anyway.”

“I got it,” I repeated. “I’ll see you tomorrow—if you’re feeling better. If you’re not, you keep your sick and hurting butt at home. You hear?”

“Yes, Mom.” She patted my cheek, her smile weary. “The way you talk. Like I don’t have more than twenty years on you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Stop grousing and get moving.” I reached for her order pad and flipped it open as I watched Rhonda limp toward the door. Once she was gone, I headed to her table of guys, my gaze roaming over the occupants as I approached.

I was used to seeing soldiers and soldiers-to-be in this job. First, second and third classmen often wandered over to our bar from the confines of the post, looking for some relief from the nearly constant rigor of training that made up the four years of education at West Point. Fourth classmen, also called plebes, were not given the same liberty to leave post, so we didn’t get as many of them as patrons.

Even more than cadets, we tended to serve the soldiers who worked at West Point, both the officers and enlisted who served as instructors at the Academy or performed other duties on post. The men and women who were stationed there tended to be polite, good customers for the most part. Still, I had an innate distrust and wariness when it came to soldiers, borne of years of watching them walk all over our town as though they owned the place, as though being stationed at West Point entitled them to both mock and abuse Highland Falls. They laughed at the people I’d grown up with, they made fun of our small-town life . . . and the men saw the women in our town the same way they did candy in a vending machine.

But over the years, I’d learned to hide my feelings and put on a good show. Pasting a smile on my face, I paused at my new table, arriving just in time to catch a little bit of their conversation.

“ . . . none of your damn business.” The guy sitting in the middle seat glared at his friends. “What happens on Flirty stays on Flirty.”

I smirked. This was just the sort of opening a girl like me was made to sashay through.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before.” I paused for a moment, as the attention of six hot guys swiveled around to focus on me. Their eyes widened, taking me in, and I added, “If I had a dollar for every time a cadet sweet-talked me into just taking a walk on Flirty . . . well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be your waitress tonight. But here I am.” I shifted my weight onto my left foot and hooked a thumb at my chest. “I’m Lark, and I’m taking over for Rhonda. She passed on your drink orders to me, so I think I’m all set. Are y’all ready for another round? Or are you planning to order some food first?”

The man sitting at the corner of the table was the first to speak. I’d seen him earlier doing some kind of bizarre dance, swaying back and forth while his friends made fun of him. I was curious about that, but right now, my job was to get these guys drinks and food.

“How about another round for everyone, and maybe some wings for the table?” The dancer guy glanced at his buddies. “How does that sound?”

“Let’s do it.” The one sitting closest to me lifted what appeared to be an empty beer bottle. “But I’d like to switch to ice water, please. I still need to drive this group back to post once we’re finished.”

“You got it.” I flashed him a smile. “Anyone else wanting a change in drink order?”

“Yeah.” A third man spoke up and tapped the neck of his empty Corona. “I’d like to switch to a Hudson Valley Lightbringer.”

I cocked my head, allowing my eyes to show some surprise as I checked out the dude. “Coming up.” I began to turn around and then paused. “Are you a local, then? Not many people know about the craft brews around here unless they live in the area.”

“I’m stationed at West Point.” He jerked his head in the direction of the man who’d asked for ice water. “My buddy here is getting married on post this weekend, and all of his friends came up for the wedding. So this is kind of like a sad version of a bachelor party. Minus the lap dances.”

I laughed. “Yeah, Benny’s is known for a lot of things, but lap dances aren’t one of them.” I winked at the groom-to-be. “Congratulations, by the way.”

“Thanks.” He beamed at me, and his obvious happiness gave me an odd, almost envious feeling, as though I was jealous of the girl he was marrying . . . which was ridiculous, since I didn’t even know her and this dude was not my type at all.

Giving myself a little shake, I pivoted and headed for the kitchen to deliver their wings order before I returned to the bar for the drinks. As I went, I was aware that one pair of eyes, in particular, was watching me go.

Four more people had taken seats at the bar when I stopped back to fill my table’s drink order, and all of them looked at me expectantly as I hesitated. We tried to staff a dedicated bartender every night, but sometimes, that wasn’t possible, which meant one of the wait staff had to juggle both tables and bar—which wasn’t usually a big deal. Weeknights could be slow. Apparently, though, I was going to have to balance customers in both areas tonight.

“Miss! We’re waiting to order.” A thin-lipped woman with carefully coiffed gray hair raised her voice.

“Sorry for your wait. I’ll be right with you.” I flashed the lady a smile, hoping to charm her into patience. “I just have to drop these drinks—”

“We’ve been sitting here for ten minutes, and no one has even offered us a water.” At the other end of the bar, another woman put in her two cents. This one was a younger bleach-blonde with enormous boobs that threatened to spill out of her low-cut shirt.

“I apologize. I’m on it now.” Grabbing two glasses from under the bar, I scooped ice into them and reached for the still water hose.

“The service here is usually so good,” the first woman’s companion remarked, and I gritted my teeth against a growl.

“Hey.” A deep voice floated down to me, and I glanced away from my task briefly to see the guy who’d ordered the local beer peering at me over the bar. “Can I help?”

I released the hose and straightened, sliding the water glasses to the younger women who were now openly eyeing up the Army officer as though he were the special of the day. Rolling my eyes, I turned my attention back to the object of their lust.

“I’ll be right over with your drink refills.”

“I didn’t come to harass you. I came to help.” He pointed to the empty space next to me. “Can I come back there? I’m happy to lend a hand—and I promise, I won’t demand a share of the tips.” He winked, and something deep within me went melty.

“Okay.” It wasn’t exactly standard operating procedure to invite a patron back behind the bar to help out, but on the other hand, he’d offered . . . and it would only be for a moment. “Tell you what. Here’s your table’s drink order.” I whipped the pad out of my apron pocket. “You take care of that, and I’ll serve these lovely folks.”

He rounded the bar swiftly, took the pad from me and began moving. “On it.”

With only the slightest niggle of worry, I focused my attention on the customers sitting at the bar, beaming at the older couple first.

“Now, what can I get you this evening?”

* * *

The bachelor party table kept me busy for the next couple of hours, but it was the kind of busy I appreciated: the men were funny and friendly, but none of them crossed the line into creepiness. No one was inappropriate toward me, although their jokes with one another weren’t exactly PG. That was okay; I wasn’t a prude, and it was clear that they all had the kind of friendship that thrived on slightly dirty humor.

In between checking on them, keeping their drinks filled and removing dirty plates and glasses, I made sure everyone at the bar was happy, too. Once I’d caught up, thanks to the help of the sexy soldier who’d stepped up, it wasn’t hard to get into a rhythm and keep all of my patrons smiling.

After the group from West Point had paid their check, each of the men made a point of thanking me for taking care of them—and even better, when I began clearing some of the glasses away ahead of our busboy, I found that they’d left a tip that was more than generous. Of course, I’d share that with Rhonda, but it was enough for both of us to feel very appreciated.

Neal, our busboy, appeared at my elbow as I reached for another mug. “Sorry, Lark. I was working on clearing out the booths and wiping them down. I figured we can close down that section if you want. Anyone who comes in from this point on will want to sit at the bar, I bet.”

I nodded. “Yep, that sounds good. Thanks, Neal.” I lifted the tray I’d filled already. “I’ll drop these off in the back.”

“Thanks for the help.”

After I’d deposited the first wave of dirty dishes with the dishwashers, I slipped back behind the bar. Usually, things began to slow down at this point in the evening. I’d be able to coast until last call, just filling drink orders and closing out tabs. Glancing down the length of the bar, I counted three couples, two women who’d come in about an hour ago and were probably about to call it a night . . . and the same guy from the bachelor party group who’d lent me a hand.

Frowning, I narrowed my eyes, trying to ignore the way my heart had begun to thud against my ribs. I’d thought all the officers had left at the same time, but apparently, I was wrong. What was interesting was that this man, in addition to his help earlier, also happened to be the one who’d proudly proclaimed himself as the only unattached dude at the table as well as the one who’d ordered the local brew and told me that he was stationed at West Point.

He was watching me, his gaze unapologetic and admiring. There wasn’t a lot of room for doubt about why he’d stayed or what he was looking for. Whether I picked up on what he was laying down or chose to ignore it was up to me. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for one of my customers to hope that I might be interested in a little harmless one-night fling after I’d closed, but I was the one with the power to say yes or no. I made certain of that.

I took my time deciding tonight, checking in on my other customers first. I refilled a couple of wine glasses, took an order for fries and delivered the check to the two women who were finishing up. Once I’d made sure everyone else was covered for the moment, I paused in front of him.

“Are you lost, or did your buddies ditch you?” Resting my folded arms on the edge of the bar, I leaned forward under the guise of resting both my back and my feet. If this position also offered someone a tempting view of my boobs where my neckline dipped, that was just a happy accident.

The dude did not disappoint. His gaze wandered down to check me out before returning to my eyes—just as I’d hoped it would. The smile he gave me was full of lazy promise.

“Neither.” He answered my question with a single word. “Just wasn’t in the mood to go home yet. I thought I’d hang around and sample some of your stuff.” Before I could call him on that cheesy line, he quickly added, “The local beer, I mean.” Then he winked at me.

I had to give him props—this guy was good. He was playing with me, testing me out to see if I was game for . . . what? A little fun flirtation to round out the evening? Or was he hoping for more?

And if it were the latter, was I down for that? Maybe. Some nights, I was down to burn off a little sexual energy with someone who was a good bet—someone who understood the drill. No expectations, no sappy romance, no repeats.

The men from the Academy who hung out here on occasion were good for that, usually. Most weren’t looking for love or anything even resembling commitment, so that meant we were on the same page. I had standards, of course; I didn’t sleep with married men (and yes, it was easy to tell who they were) or anyone who gave me a wiggins vibe. I always made sure someone else knew who was coming home with me, for my own safety as well as for the guy’s peace of mind. In this day and age, I was well aware that there were women just looking to cash in, and soldiers were especially vulnerable. An accusation of non-consensual sex could ruin a career in the Army.

The man currently watching me with one raised eyebrow seemed to check all the necessary boxes. I knew he was single—his buddies had verified that for me through their conversation—and he didn’t seem to be looking for a love connection. He’d been decent enough to jump in and help me without making a big deal of it. Plus, he was the hottest opportunity to walk into this bar in many a month. His body filled out the jeans and Henley nicely, his clean-shaven face was angular and interesting, his lips were full and intriguingly sensuous . . . and the eyes tracking me held just enough promise to tempt my active libido.

I made my decision swiftly, letting one side of my mouth tip upward in a smile that answered him. “What can I get for you? I mean, while you’re waiting to sample the really good stuff?”

He smirked and tapped the card in front of him, the one that listed our local brew offerings. “I think I’ll start with this one—it’s called A Monument to All Your Sins. Have you tried it?”

“Are you kidding? Of course, I have. The name alone was enough to pull me in.” I turned to find his beer in the cooler. “Two Villains is actually an awesome brewery if you haven’t been to it yet. It’s totally worth the trip to Nyack.” Popping the top, I slid the bottle across the bar.

“I’ll have to get down there and check it out.” He wrapped one hand around the beer and extended the other toward me. “I’m Nolan, by the way. Nolan Shaughnessy.”

I hesitated only half a beat before I took his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You already know I’m Lark.”

“Do you have a last name, Lark, or is that it? Like Cher or Madonna?”

I rolled my eyes. “Pirillo. Lark Pirillo. I don’t claim any similarities with Cher or Madonna, thanks.”

Nolan still held my fingers captive in his. “Nice to meet you, Lark.” He didn’t drop his eyes from mine for a solid moment, and between our locked gaze and his touch on my hand, I could feel my body beginning to sizzle like a live wire.

Finally, I cleared my throat and tugged away from his grip. “Better enjoy that beer while it’s still cold.”

He took a long gulp, even as he continued to watch me. “What time do you finish tonight?”

“I’m closing, and last call is midnight. With any luck, I’ll be out of here by twelve-thirty.”

Nolan used the back of his hand to wipe his mouth. “Do you have any objections to me waiting around to see you out after you’re done?”

I wanted to laugh. “Oh, you’re such a gentleman, huh? Just want to see me to my car? How chivalrous of you.” Irony filled my voice. “And then what? You’ll kiss my hand, hold the door and watch me drive me away before you go back to your lonely barracks?”

He leaned up and lowered his voice. “There isn’t a damn thing wrong with being gentlemanly, Lark. But if you want me to lay it out plain—okay. I’d like to wait for you to finish work so I can go home with you, and when we get to wherever you live, I’m not looking for tea and cookies.” He eased back slightly, and some of the intensity left his tone. “As far as chivalry . . . my definition of the word is making sure the woman I’m with comes before I do.” Nolan paused to let that sink in before adding, “Twice.”

My mouth went dry, making it hard to swallow. “Okay. Wow. Laying it out plain is now my favorite thing ever.”

He grinned at me. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

I needed to get back to work—the fries one couple had ordered were ready to be delivered, and another pair of customers were looking at me pointedly, probably wanting to settle their tab.

“You’re sure you don’t mind waiting for me to be done?” I had another solid hour before closing, though if everyone cleared out soon and no one else came in, I might be able to leave right at midnight.

“Nope.” Nolan lifted his beer. “I’ll just enjoy this. Take your time.”

I gave him a brief nod and went back to work, but even as I smiled and chatted and made nice with the last few customers, my body was buzzing and my mind was still on him.

Midnight couldn’t come fast enough.

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