I couldn’t believe my life and my luck.
A long time ago, I’d realized that when I miraculously beat breast cancer at the age of nineteen, I’d used up all of my good fortune and lucky breaks. From there on out, I never complained when things didn’t go my way because I knew I had to be grateful to be alive at all.
Sure, I’d landed a sweet publishing deal at the age of twenty-one, but in my mind, that too was linked to my cancer. I’d started writing romance as a way to escape during chemo and radiation treatments, in the aftermath of surgeries and during hospital stays. My agent didn’t exactly exploit my disease to help land my first contract, but she was savvy enough to know that stories sell, and playing up the fact that I was a young cancer survivor definitely didn’t hurt.
Even my best friends came into my life because of my breast cancer diagnosis. We all met at a volunteer rally for Young Survival Coalition, and we’ve been joined at the hip ever since. I love Celeste and Sabrina. They’re the sisters I never knew I needed.
But there are a lot of other things that haven’t gone my way. For instance, I have a chronic case of the talkies, as Sabrina calls it—I go off on long and involved rambles, babbling while the people around me blink and try to find an excuse to get away. Also, when I’m with anyone outside of my closest friends and family, I’m the most awkward person on Planet Earth. Maybe in the Milky Way.
So was I surprised that this evening had gone the way it had? That instead of enjoying a promising meet-cute date with the hematologist, I was sitting at a bar, pouring out my troubles to a bartender whose name I didn’t even know?
Nope. That sounded about right.
He was cute, though. The bartender was, I mean. His hair was long, which was something I didn’t usually like in a guy. It was a light brown, and he had it tied back now as he moved around behind the bar. His eyes were a rich, deep chocolate, and I didn’t miss how steady they were on my face as I spoke. He wasn’t looking over my shoulder or even dipping his attention to check out my body. That was a nice change.
“All right,” he was saying now in response to my confession of social ineptitude. “So you’re this famous author, and you need a date to a movie premiere, and . . . what happened next?”
I wanted to throw myself onto the bar and bury my face in my arms, but that felt a little too far over the drama line. Instead, I shifted the ice I was holding to the back of my head and shivered as a droplet of water snaked down my neck.
“My friend Sabrina is a doctor here in Savannah. She works at the hospital in the oncology department, helping with clinical trials and treatments for breast cancer.” I bit my lip and took another deep breath. “She offered to set me up with this guy who just moved to Savannah. He’s a hematologist. She said he was super nice. I was all excited, thinking he might work out to be the perfect date. I had it pictured in my head . . . you know, he’d be all gentlemanly and kind, and I’d be comfortable enough not to be so very . . . me.” I grimaced. “And at first, it was fine. It was wonderful! He chose an amazing restaurant in this beautiful hotel, and he was at the table waiting for me. I made it to my seat without tripping or landing on my ass. All good.”
“You set the bar kind of low, you know.” Bartender Dude interrupted my flow. “If a great start to a date is getting to the table on your feet.”
“You don’t know my life,” I replied darkly. “The stories I could tell you . . .” I gave my head a small shake and winced again. It really did hurt every time I moved my head. Or my eyes. Ugh. “Anyway, then we ordered appetizers—or rather, he did—and right after the waiter walked away, Dr. Dopey made his pirate remark. He said—” I closed my eyes. “He told me that he’d looked me up and saw that I wrote pirate romance. And he kind of chuckled like—you know, isn’t that cute? So fucking patronizing.”
I felt the same fury rise in me that I’d experienced at the table. Dr. Dopey wasn’t the first person to sneer at my romances, but my tolerance for that kind of condescending shit was just about at an end.
“He sounds like his name should be Dr. Dick.” Bartender Dude scowled. “I mean, what the actual hell? You’re a published author who has fucking movies made out of your books. The asshole is probably just jealous of you.”
I managed a smile. “That’s really sweet, but he didn’t come across like he was insecure at all. He started pretending to talk like a pirate. He asked me if I wrote stories with peg-leg kink, or if the parrots could talk in my books. I tried to explain to him nicely that he was way off, that real, historical pirates weren’t anything like what we know from movies, but he just kept on going and going . . .” I gulped. “Until finally, I let go. I basically word vomited all of my research, and even when he tried to interrupt, I just ran right over him. I ended up by telling him that his attitude toward my work and my craft was insulting. I said, um . . .” I hunched my shoulders forward and dropped the melting ice pack on the bar. “I told him that he was a misogynistic literary snob, the worst kind of human to ever walk the earth.”
“Huh.” Bartender Dude smirked. “Sounds like he got a little of what he deserved.”
“But he didn’t even react. It was like what I said didn’t bother him one bit. The risotto he’d ordered arrived, and he started eating it. So then of course I felt guilty, and I tried to apologize, to explain, and he ignored me. That was when I knew I had to get out of there. So I told him my sister was broken down on a country road. And I don’t even have a sister. Not that he’d know that. Or care.”
“Why the hell did you feel guilty?” Bartender Dude looked aggravated. “You didn’t do anything wrong. He did.”
“Well, maybe,” I hedged. “But still. I was there to basically ask him to do me a favor, to go to this premiere with me. I was hoping we’d get along well enough that he’d seem as though he liked me on the big night. And then I threw that chance out the window, and now I’m back to square one.” Sighing again, I nudged the sopping mess of ice across the bar. “I’m done with this, thanks. And thanks for listening. I’m going to call my friend Sabrina and see if she can come pick me up. I can crash at her house tonight.”
“Hold on a sec.” He put one of his large hands over mine. “Let’s think about this. You really need someone to be your date on Saturday at this important event, right?” He rolled one shoulder. “I could do it.”
“What?” I stared at him stupidly. “What do you—I mean, why? You don’t know me. I don’t even know your real name, Bartender Dude.”
“Bartender Dude?” He raised one eyebrow.
“Sorry. It’s the storyteller in me. I have to call everyone something, and if I don’t know the actual name, I come up with one as a placeholder. That’s yours.”
“Oh, okay. Got it.” He stretched his arm toward me, holding out his hand. “I’m Dax Turner. Also known as Bartender Dude, I guess. And yeah, I don’t know you, but you seem like a nice person, and you need this one favor. I knocked you over. This is the least I can do to make amends.”
“You don’t have to make amends . . . Dax.” I tried his name on my tongue and found I liked it. “It was an accident, and like I said, it was just as much my fault. You don’t have to go out of your way to do this.”
“But maybe I want to.” He studied me now, his close perusal making my face go hot again. “I’m an adventurous guy. I like to try new things. And I’ve never been to a movie premiere before. Sounds like a blast. Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll be your date.”
I blinked. “I can’t believe this. Maybe I actually hit my head harder than I thought. This could be a, like . . . a coma fantasy. I’m really laying in a hospital bed, and none of this is real.”
Dax chuckled. “If that’s what’s happening, what do you have to lose? Just say yes.”
I tried to think through all of this rationally, tried to come up with a reason I shouldn’t do this. “How do I know you’re not a serial killer, or a kidnapper, or . . .” My eyes widened. “A vampire?”
Dax leaned forward and rested his forearms—his very muscled, very sexy forearms if we’re being specific—on the bar. “You don’t, but since we’re going to be together in a public place at the premiere, I think you’ll be safe from all of those dangers.” His eyes were filled with amusement as he straightened and reached to his back pocket. “And here’s my ID, just to prove I’m who I say I am. You can always call the hotel and confirm that, too.” He slid a card over to me. “Here’s the number.”
“Hmmm, okay, well, it all seems in order.” I was so flustered, so completely out of my depth. I just needed to get back to someplace familiar and comfortable and process this whole crazy evening. “Uh, I’m staying at the Hyatt on Saturday. Checking in that day, and the hair and makeup people are coming there to make me look presentable. You should—I mean, you could come over there. The limo will pick us up at the hotel at seven and take us to the theater.”
“All right. Sounds good.” Dax nodded. “You should give me your cell number, too, and I’ll give you mine. Just in case anything changes and you need to get in touch.”
“Yeah, sure.” I reached for my phone. “I need to call Sabrina, anyway.” I recited my digits to him and then carefully added his number to my list of contacts.
“How did you put me in there?” He was smirking again, and the expression on his face shot something hot and unsettling straight to my core.
“I’m sorry?” My finger hovered over Sabrina’s name as I prepared to call her.
“I want to know if I’m in your phone as Dax or Bartender Dude.”
I was aware that my face was flaming red as the tip of my tongue darted out to run over my dry lips. It was as if he knew what I’d typed into my contact info next to his phone number.
“That’s definitely for me to know—and you to never find out.”
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Elevn is coming next Friday, November 5th!
And we’ll find out what happens between Coral and Dax . . .
What about Celeste?
Her romance is revealed in
which is part of the holiday benefit anthology
Get your copy now–this is the final week!