“Thanks for taking my shift tonight, Marc.” I tossed the bar towel I’d been using into the bin under the counter and slapped my co-worker on the back. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem, dude. I’m never gonna turn down a Saturday night gig—the tips alone make it worth the trouble.” He cocked his head. “But I don’t remember you ever missing sweet hours like these. Must be some hot chick, huh?”
I grinned. “Something like that . . . but then again, not exactly.” I paused. “I mean, yeah, I’m going to be with a woman tonight, and sure, she’s beautiful, but it’s not, like, a date. We’re just going somewhere together.”
“Uh-huh.” Marc folded his arms over his chest. “I saw a tux hanging in the back. It’s yours, isn’t it? Guy doesn’t usually put on a monkey suit for a casual evening out with a friend.”
“I guess it’s a little more than that,” I conceded. Marc was a decent sort and a hard worker, but even so, I considered my next words carefully. I knew Coral had downplayed the importance of her role at the event tonight, but I didn’t want to say anything that I shouldn’t. What if I told Marc I was only pretending to be her romantic interest, and somehow, he mentioned it to someone else . . . and some reporter got hold of the story? Coral would be mortified.
And that idea made me very uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure why, exactly, except that for the most part, I was generally a decent man. Or at least I thought I was. At any rate, I wasn’t going to risk saying anything that might put her in a bad position.
“She’s . . . someone new in my life, and I haven’t said much to anyone.” Well, that part was undeniably true. “And tonight, she has something important to go to—a big deal, you know? She asked me to go with her.” I rolled one shoulder. “That’s why I’m going to wear the tux.”
“Hey, man.” Marc grinned at me. “That’s good stuff. I’m happy for you.”
I shook my head. “Don’t start planning my bachelor party, buddy. It’s not that serious. For now, it’s just . . . fun.”
“Oh, yeah?” He waggled his eyebrows. “Where I come from, a man doesn’t put on clothes like that for fun.”
I sighed. “Marc, my man, you’ve got a lot to learn. Unfortunately for you, I don’t have time to teach it tonight. I’ve got a lady waiting on me.”
The Hyatt was only a few blocks from the Gwynn, and on another evening, I might have walked. It was a beautiful night for early autumn in Savannah; the air was cool but not cold, and the stars were just popping out as I exited the hotel where I worked and walked to my truck in the employees lot.
But I didn’t want to hoof it ten blocks in my fancy clothes and dress shoes. Not that they were that uncomfortable, but I wanted to make sure I looked good for Coral.
Why did that matter? Hell if I knew. I’d never done anything like this before. When I went out with a woman, it was because I was attracted to her. Because I wanted to know her better—or maybe just because I wanted to see her naked. I didn’t overthink it. I spent time with a lot of different women, and we always had a pretty good time before we parted on friendly terms. More than once, one of my former lovers would stop by the bar for a drink, just to say hello.
But the woman who’d run smack into me and then knocked her head on the floor and passed out . . . she wasn’t like any of them. I couldn’t put my finger on it. She was pretty in a genuine and fresh sort of way. Even all dolled up to meet her would-be date—Dr. Dopey, I chuckled—she had something that shone through everything else. Not to mention, I was pretty sure she was rocking a sexy bod. I’d done my level best to keep my eyes on her face, but yeah, I’d snuck a peek.
It was more than that, though, more than just her looks. She was funny. And then there was her . . . what had she called it? An unfortunate tendency to babble. Well, yeah, she did talk a lot. Fast and furious, my gramps might have said. And she blushed, too. Matter of fact, watching those full cheeks slowly turn red had been kind of sexy. Made me wonder how far down the color went . . .
I gave my head a little shake. Tonight wasn’t about putting the moves on another willing woman. Tonight was all about Coral, about making sure she had a guy on her arm who she could trust. I wanted her to end the night feeling good about her big night.
She’d texted me her room number earlier, so it didn’t take me long to make my way through the lobby and to the elevator. When I stood outside her room, I felt a weird kind of nervousness, like someone picking up his date for the prom. I fiddled with my sleeves and smoothed the front of my jacket before I knocked on the door.
From within, I could hear what sounded like a bunch of female voices. And my knuckles had no sooner touched the smooth wood of the door that those voices rose to what some might call a squeal.
The door whooshed open, and before me stood a gorgeous woman with golden hair done up in some fancy ‘do. She was wearing a dark blue dress that showed off a killer body, and her wide eyes—huge and brown—were alight with curiosity.
“Ohhhhh.” She grinned, and those eyes danced. “Oh, yes, you’ll do. You’ll do very well.”
I cocked my head. “Okay. Umm . . .” Craning my neck, I tried to see beyond her into the room, looking for Coral. “Maybe I’m not in the right place.”
Goldie stepped back a little, giving me space to come inside. “You’re Sexy Bartender Dude, right? Coral’s date?”
“Oh. Yeah.” I wasn’t sure whether or not I was relieved that this was the place. The woman standing next to me was still drinking me in like I was an icy Coke and she’d been hiking in the Sahara. For a minute, I’d wondered if she’d thought I was a stripper-gram. “Is she . . . here?”
“She’s still in the bedroom with the hair and makeup people. She told me to let you and tell you to sit down, make yourself comfortable.”
“Uh, thanks.” I glanced around what I now saw was the living room of a large and sumptuous suite, the kind that a guy like me couldn’t afford in a million years. I’d seen the inside of something similar at the Gwynn, but only when I happened to be running a tray of cocktails up to a private party.
“I’m Sabrina, by the way.” The blonde smiled. “Coral’s one of my best friends.”
“You’re the doctor.” I pointed at her. “The one who picked her up at the hotel the other night.”
“Yes.” She sighed, dropping into a chair. “What a mess that was. I totally misread the hematologist. I thought he and Coral would hit it off, but apparently, I’m not cut out to be a matchmaker.”
“Hey, it all worked out.” Gingerly, I sank onto the sofa and tried not to be drowned by the pillows that covered it. “She met me and ended up with a much better date for tonight.”
“Good looks and humble, too,” Sabrina quipped. “But I have to agree. At least for now. I don’t know you, and neither does Coral—not really. So tonight, you better remember to be on your best behavior. She’s . . .” Her voice trailed off as she stared beyond me. “Coral is a sweetheart, in case you didn’t pick that up yet. She’s a hopeless romantic—for everyone else, that is. I’ve known her since we were nineteen, and during all that time, she’s ducked love and relationships and even casual flings. She pushes Celeste and me into dating people, but she doesn’t even look at guys for herself.”
“Oh.” There was no way I could’ve known any of that, but still, I wasn’t exactly surprised. Coral definitely gave off a vibe of vulnerability and . . . innocence? That wasn’t quite the right word. But she didn’t seem to be naïve, either. She was tough, as evidenced by the way she’d stood up to Dr. Dopey when he’d insulted her career.
“I’m not saying you’re not a good guy, Bartender Dude,” Sabrina added. “Just that I don’t know for sure that you are, and Coral means a lot to me.”
“To us.” The door to what I assumed was the bedroom opened, and another woman in a fancy dress came out. She was a looker, too, with light brown hair that hung in waves around her bared shoulders. She perched on the arm of Sabrina’s chair and crossed her arms. “I’m Celeste. You must be Bartender Dude.”
“Usually people just call me Dax.” I shot Celeste a smolder, but it didn’t seem to faze her. She only blinked once as she stared me down.
“Whatever Sabrina was saying about how you need to treat Coral—that goes double for me. Coral is the best person I know.” She patted Sabrina’s shoulder. “No offense, sweetie. I love you, too.”
“None taken. I’d have said the same thing.” Sabrina studied me. “So, Dax, the bartender dude, do you think you’re up for tonight? You know you have to be a gentleman, but at the same time, you need to make it clear to the world that you’re absolutely besotted with Coral. You need to touch her, but not in a creepy way. You need to, like, stare at her when you think no one else is watching, because there are going to be cameras there and reporters—”
“And her publicist needs tonight to go perfectly because it could impact the negotiation of her next contract,” Celeste finished. “Can you do this? Can you be the man of Coral’s dreams for the whole world to see without making her uncomfortable?”
I opened my mouth to respond—and what I was going to say was anyone’s guess, because these two women were making me nervous on a scale I’d never experienced.
But before I could say a word, the bedroom door opened again, and this time, I recognized the woman who sauntered out. But only barely, because even the dressed-up version of Coral Jennings that I’d met the other night wasn’t anything like the vision who now stood before me.
She was wearing a long body-skimming gown made of some kind of shimmery silver material. A slit in the skirt revealed one tanned leg, and the neckline hugged her tits like a pair of loving hands. Her short dark hair was tousled in a way I bet had taken a long time just to make it seem effortless.
But it was the eyes that got me. It had been those eyes that pulled me in when we’d first met, and now they were accentuated in some way that made them seem even bigger and deeper, gray like the ocean in the middle of wild storm. Those eyes made it impossible for me to speak for a moment . . . hard to even breathe for several seconds.
This version of Coral was anything but vulnerable. Her gaze wandered over me and then returned to my face with a slight smile before she spoke.
“All right, ladies. The pre-date grilling of Dax the bartender dude is officially over. You’ve had your fun . . . and now it’s my turn.”
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Twelve is coming next Friday, November 12th!
(Ooooh, how is that for synchronicity!)
And we’ll find out what happens at the movie premiere!
What about Celeste?
Her romance is revealed in
which is part of the holiday benefit anthology
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