I love my job. Seriously, I do. I don’t have any grand ambitions to do something else with my life, which is pretty unusual. You know, a lot of bartenders are just doing this until something better comes along. They want to be lawyers, or actors, or musicians . . . that whole deal. But not me.
I’ve been a bartender since I was twenty-one—officially, that is. Before that, I worked at my grandfather’s place in a tiny little map dot in North Carolina. My job description was waiter, but I took my share of shifts behind the bar, too. I knew enough to watch out for the kind of people who might be tempted to turn us in, and the locals didn’t care how old I was as long as I kept pouring beer and whiskey.
When Gramps had a heart attack and sold the bar to my uncle, he offered to let me stay on, but I’d decided that it was time to move on. I left North Carolina and headed south, mostly because I’d heard that the theme parks in central Florida were always looking for bartenders. But when I stopped for dinner in Savannah, I met a girl . . .
All the best stories start that way, don’t they?
Anyway, I ended up staying in Savannah and finding a job. The job lasted longer than the girl did, sadly. One bartending gig led to another and another until I realized I’d been in Savannah for twelve years. By then, I’d scored a prime role here at the Gwynn Regal, climbing the ladder to a spot where I could pretty much choose my own shifts, was known to the best customers and had the freedom to change the drink menu whenever I felt the urge.
Which brings me to why I was strutting through the lobby of the Gwynn at seven on a Thursday evening, my mind a thousand miles away. I’d just finished working on the specialty cocktails for the upcoming weekend and was heading toward the office of the food and bev manager to drop it off. But I wasn’t sure about the last entry on the list; I’d decided to add a caramel apple mule as a nod to the change of season. But maybe that was the safe choice. I frowned at the paper in my hand.
And then—whoomph! Something hit me—and I realized it wasn’t a thing but a someone. All I saw was a blur of arms and legs flailing. Realizing it was a woman, I dropped the paper I’d been reading and tried to grab her before she fell.
But it was too late. I missed her arm, and then her legs went out from beneath her, and she hit the marble floor.
“Oh, fuck.” I dropped down to kneel next to her, frowning as I stared into her eyes which were huge and scarily unfocused. “Are you all right? Hey, uh, miss! Can you hear me? Can you see me?” I snapped my fingers. “Hey, are you hurt?”
Her forehead wrinkled, and I felt a little bit of relief since this seemed to be a reasonable reaction. Then she spoke, and my relief evaporated.
“Hey there, hot stuff. What’re you doing Saturday night?”
“I’m fine. Seriously, I’m really all right.”
The woman I’d accidentally bowled over was sitting on a stool at my bar, holding a bag of ice wrapped in a thin white towel against her head. She lowered her eyes, and a tinge of pink colored her otherwise pale face. She was clearly mortified by having fallen. Despite my repeated requests that she allow me to call an ambulance—which was backed up with even more insistence by the hotel’s legal team, who saw a lawsuit under every rock—she’d even refused to see the house physician.
“I just bumped my head,” she muttered now. “It’s no big deal, aside from me being embarrassed.”
“No reason you should be.” I shrugged. “I’m the one who bumped into you and knocked you over. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“I stopped walking and turned around without any warning,” she countered. “Even you had been watching, I would’ve run headfirst into your—um, you.” She closed her eyes. “Crap. This night has been a disaster from the moment I got out of the car.”
“Uh, okay.” I didn’t know what to do with that. I was aware that a woman in a situation like this probably needed some consoling, a shoulder to cry on, but I didn’t have the first fucking clue how to comfort. My experience with women was only in working with them or fucking them. Aside from that, females as a species were foreign to me.
So I did what I knew how to do: I turned around, picked up a glass, filled it with ice and then added soda water and a twist of lime.
“Here you go. Try this.” Another thought occurred to me, and I reached under the bar to find the small first aid kit we kept there. “And don’t tell anyone I’m doing this, but take this ibuprofen. You’re going to have a hell of a headache.”
“Thanks.” She held out one small hand, and I dropped the pills into her palm, watching silently as she popped the meds into her mouth and gulped the soda water. “This is perfect. Seltzer with lime is my favorite non-boozy drink.”
I grinned. “Happy to help.” I swiped a towel over the already pristine bar top to kill time for a moment before I spoke again. “Do you have . . . a husband? Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Roommate?”
She squinted at me, and I wondered if the dim lights of the bar were hurting her eyes. “Um, I share a house with a friend. Why?”
“Because I don’t want you to go home to bed by yourself.” I realized how that sounded. “I mean, you shouldn’t. You probably have a concussion. Someone needs to watch you.”
“Great. Just what I needed.” She sounded defeated, and for some reason, I found myself feeling like I wanted to fix that.
“I can call you a cab to get you home. Courtesy of the Gwynn. You shouldn’t be driving.”
“Since I don’t have a car—or a license, for that matter, you’re probably right,” she returned. “But I can’t take a cab home. I live in Burton. It’s like fifty miles away from here.”
“Okay.” I crossed my arms over my chest, regarding the woman before me again. She was what my Gramps would’ve called a pretty little thing, short and slim, but now that she wasn’t lying prone on the floor, passed out, I noticed the swell of her breasts under the rust-colored dress she wore. It was tighter at the waist and then had one of those little skirt deals. I couldn’t tell right now, but I wondered if she had a decent ass to go with the rack.
Her black hair was short, and the front of it was just now sticking up in the air as she’d run her fingers through it more than once. Her skin was still a little pale; even the slight blush from moments ago had disappeared. Huge eyes that were the most interesting shade of gray-blue dominated her face, and their expression was bleak.
“Okay,” I repeated. “So tell me to mind my own business, but why are you here at this hotel without a car? You already said you’re not staying here.”
“No, I said I hadn’t checked in. Yet.” She held up on finger. “I was just about to do that when I wound up on the ground.”
“Oh, right.” I nodded. “Are you in town on business?”
She sighed. “Not really. I was meeting someone.”
My eyes narrowed. “You were? So is whoever you were meeting wondering where you are now?”
“No. I did meet—him.” She shifted a little and began to wrap the ice pack more securely in the towel.
I began to suspect where this was going. “So you met a guy, and you were on your way to get a room, huh? For the . . . two of you?” I raked my gaze over her again. Could she be a pro? It didn’t seem like she was, but then again, every now and then, we got high-priced call girls—escorts—here at the Gwynn. It was policy not to encourage such things, but at the same time, we didn’t make a big deal about it, either.
“No, not for the two of us. God, no.” She wrinkled her nose. “He wasn’t interested in me. I was walking away from him when I bumped into you.” She gnawed at the corner of her lip. “I ruined it tonight. It was my one chance, and I completely screwed it up. If only he hadn’t brought up pirates.”
I began to wonder if maybe I should have pushed harder for this chick to get checked out by a doctor. “Uh, well, yeah, that would be . . . weird, I guess. Right?”
“He thought he was bringing up a topic I’d find interesting.” She gingerly positioned the ice on her head again. “But I have an unfortunate tendency to . . . babble. Especially when the topic is related to my work.”
“You work with pirates?” This wasn’t so odd as it might sound to someone from any place but Savannah.
“No, not exactly.” Her eyes darted up to me for a moment. “I write about them. Not all of the time, but my most recent series involves them.”
“For real? You’re a writer?” I leaned on the bar, interested. “What’s your name? Would I have heard of you?”
For the first time since we’d crashed into each other, she smiled. “Unless you read historical romances—the kinds of books with covers that feature shirtless men and women with heaving—uh, bosoms—probably not. Although you might have seen ads for a movie made from one of my books.” She paused before adding, “My name’s Coral Jennings.”
It didn’t ring a bell. But then, I didn’t go to the movies very much, and when I did, it was always to see sci fi or fantasy films.
I shook my head. “Sorry. I’m not a big romance fan, though.”
“Oh, it’s not a big deal.” Coral waved her hand. “Most of my earlier books were made into series on TV, but I’ve had three that were films.” She lifted one shoulder. “My fourth one opens on Saturday night. The premiere is here in Savannah. Which is why I was at the restaurant tonight, meeting Dr. Dopey.”
“Okay, that needs more explanation.” I rested my elbows on the edge of the bar. “Who is Dr. Dopey, and why does he have anything to do with your movie?”
Coral rolled her eyes and then winced. “Ouch. That hurts. Remind me not to do it again.”
“Will do.” I waved my hand. “Come on. Start talking.”
“Fine.” Her chest rose and fell on a long exhale. “My agent and my publicist said that I have to have a date for this movie premiere. They’re negotiating my next book contract with the publishing house, and if I can sell myself as more than just your run-of-the-mill romance author, they have better standing to get me a sweet deal. Or so they tell me. My publicist is feeding the local media this story about my big romantic life. Which is a huge joke, because I’m boring, awkward, and hopelessly single.”
I couldn’t help chuckling. “Aw, it can’t be that bad.”
Coral snorted. “Trust me. It’s worse.”
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Ten is coming next Friday, October 29th!
And we’ll find out what happened on her disastrous date.
What about Celeste?
Her romance is revealed in
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