Authors: Anne Rainey
Tags: #Romance, #Blackwater
Two months earlier
Lucy’s hands trembled with nerves. She took a deep breath and tugged at the hem of her dress. She’d come to the Blackwater Bar and Grill for two reasons. First and foremost, to help Sarah. Her coworker and friend had fallen flat-on-her-face in love with one of the restaurant’s co-owners, Brodix Jennings. Unfortunately, Sarah had written a revealing article about Brodix, one that had appeared in the local newspaper for which Lucy and Sarah both worked. Brodix hadn’t spoken to Sarah since.
Of course, her friend had known that putting Brodix’s painful memories of his time in foster care in the article was going to cause problems. After all, he’d shared them with Sarah in private. To get the article on the front page, however, Sarah had been forced to use at least some of Brodix’s life with her readers. Fortunately, it seemed Sarah’s strategy had worked. Lucy looked around at the crowded room and knew that Sarah’s article had made the reopening of the Blackwater Bar and Grill a huge hit. Whether the horde of new customers was enough to get Brodix to forgive Sarah still remained to be seen.
The other reason she’d decided to come to the restaurant was a little more personal and a whole lot scarier. She’d heard the Jenningses were looking to hire live music for the Blackwater, and Lucy had gotten it into her head to audition. She’d never actually sung for a crowd before. No doubt she’d freeze up the instant she opened her mouth. What had she been thinking? Then again, her dream of singing for an audience might never happen if she didn’t take a chance, right?
To add to her nervousness, Brodix’s brother Reilly Jennings, also a part owner, kept sending heated glances her way. Lucy hadn’t expected Reilly to pay her any notice. When Reilly had approached her and Sarah earlier, he’d offered to seat them at his table. Of course, after Sarah had introduced them, Lucy had gotten a bit tongue-tied. Oh, she knew exactly who Reilly was. The same Reilly Jennings she’d had a crush on in high school. Back then, Reilly had never noticed her. She’d been way too shy and awkward.
Damn if he hadn’t aged well. A white T-shirt conformed to the shape of Reilly’s upper body, the short sleeves stretched over his muscular biceps. A pair of old jeans molded to his thighs and ass, and his rumpled dark brown hair and piercing green eyes gave him a devilish air. He towered over most of the other men in the restaurant and put every single one of them to shame with his fierce masculinity.
To her surprise, in the time Lucy had been sitting with Reilly, she’d noticed him glancing at her whenever she turned her head. It made her hyperaware of her skimpy outfit. The dress was a freaking work of art, but there wasn’t a lot to it. She’d gotten lucky the day she’d found it at the consignment shop. It was a black strapless number put together in the most erotic way, with little cutouts down the front, stopping just below her navel. It was wild and uninhibited, which was fitting, since that was the way she felt tonight. And maybe it was working—Reilly couldn’t seem to keep his gaze off her.
“So, where’s your brother Brodix?” she asked. “I’m surprised he isn’t here.”
“He’ll be here.” He looked down at his watch, then said, “Not sure what’s keeping him, but he wouldn’t miss the reopening for the world.”
As Lucy stared at the tall, dark-haired cutie next to her, something inside her body stirred to life. Lucy recognized the feeling as desire, but she’d thought herself incapable. Surely it’d been snuffed out long ago.
She took another sip of her cosmopolitan and said, “So, are you pleased with the turnout?”
The Jennings bunch was the talk of the town, thanks to Sarah’s write-up. Heck, Sarah had made the five brothers sound like hometown heroes and their adoptive parents like saints.
“Well, I’m not real crazy with the way Sarah used Brodix’s past in the story. Our days in foster care are not for public consumption.” A muscle in his jaw twitched, letting Lucy know just how distastefully he viewed the whole thing. “But she made the bar and grill sound like a friggin’ local landmark. We’ve never had this many customers before. Not even when Dad ran the place. In the end, I’d say it all worked out.”
She smiled. “Yeah, well, the story
hit the front page, and it coincided nicely with the grand reopening of the restaurant.”
He nodded. “It does my heart good to know there’s a line of customers waiting to get in.” He glanced around the room. “I’d say the family business is safely out of the red.”
The deep timbre of his voice turned Lucy’s insides to molten lava. Earlier, as he’d approached her and Sarah at the bar, he’d taken her breath away. Just as the thought flitted through her mind, his brow arched up in inquiry, as if he could read her so easily. As if he knew what she was thinking. Heat crept into her face.
She sat up a little straighter and stared at her friend out on the dance floor. Since Brodix had yet to show up, Sarah had accepted an invitation to dance from another man. Lucy shook her head. Sarah always appeared so self-assured, independent and ready to take life by the horns. If only a little of that would rub off on her, Lucy would be a happy camper.
Needing a moment to regroup and catch her breath, Lucy stood and asked, “You wouldn’t happen to know where the ladies’ room is, would you?” He smiled and pointed to the far right of the room. Lucy thanked him and headed off.
She’d made it only about halfway when a big, burly man came up to her and grabbed her arm. Lucy stiffened. “Excuse me?”
“You’re a hot little number, aren’t you?”
Ew, as if the nasty attitude wasn’t bad enough, the amount of alcohol on his breath would kill her. She tried to yank her arm back, but his fingers tightened. “I’m not interested, pal.”
“That’s not what that dress is saying, little girl.” He stepped closer. “I watched you shake your ass when you walked in. Don’t act like you don’t want it.”
Uh-oh, things just went from nuisance factor to full-on scary. Fear skated down her spine as she tried to put some space between them. “Let me go,” she ground out as she brought her knee up. Damn, she missed his crotch by mere inches.
“Bitch,” he spewed out as his other hand whipped up as if to smack her across the face.
Lucy braced herself for the blow, but it never came. Without warning, he released her, and Reilly stood next to her, his eyes blazing with fury. “Apologize to the lady.”
Mr. Stinky had the bad judgment to laugh and spit on the floor in front of Reilly. Sure, the guy was twice his size, and that wasn’t easy considering Reilly wasn’t a small man.
“Not the best choice you could have made,” Reilly bit out. Then he grabbed the man by his shirt and started hauling him toward the door. When he began to struggle, two other guys appeared at Reilly’s side. Together they all but dragged the drunken idiot out the door.
Lucy smoothed a hand over her arm. She looked down and frowned. “Great, that’s going to leave a bruise. What a jerk.”
A blonde waitress moved up next to her, a look of concern on her face. “I saw Reilly hauling some guy out by his shirt collar. Are you okay?”
Lucy waved away her concern. “Just some drunk idiot who wouldn’t take no for an answer and thought he could help himself.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not surprised. That guy has been getting progressively more annoying with each drink. I was about to notify one of the guys when I noticed Reilly already had the situation under control.”
Lucy could still feel the man’s touch on her skin. She tried to suppress a shudder. “I don’t think he’s going to feel too good when he sobers up tomorrow morning.”
“Serves him right, you ask me.”
Lucy nodded and started for the restroom again when Reilly reappeared. His brows scrunched together as he looked at her arm. “Did he hurt you?”
His gaze swept over her, and Lucy warmed instantly. The soft concern in his gaze caused her heart to do a cartwheel. “Come on, you look like you could use a few minutes of peace and quiet.”
Lucy hesitated a moment, unsure if she should go off with him. But she trusted Reilly. She’d seen him around town, remembered him from high school and had tried to get up the nerve to approach him, but she’d always been too shy. This was her chance to get to know the gorgeous man a little. Dare she?
She took his hand and let him link her fingers with his. Without another word, he led her to the back of the restaurant. Once they were alone in a back corner of the kitchen, Reilly stopped and turned toward her. “Still need to use the restroom?”
She bit her lip and looked down at the floor, suddenly finding the white linoleum fascinating. “I’m fine, thanks.”
In the brighter light of the back room, Reilly could see Lucy’s features better. Ah hell, she was even prettier than he’d first thought. She stood shorter than him by a few inches, with straight, dark hair that hung well past her shoulders. The purple streak going down one side stirred something in him. “I like the purple,” he murmured, touching the shiny strands with his index finger.
“Thanks.” She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “It’s temporary. Just for fun.”
The perfection of her oval-shaped face appeared free of makeup, or else she wore very little. Just a touch of gloss to her full pink lips that was practically begging to be licked away, and maybe a little mascara, giving her eyes more of an exotic appearance. Her sexy siren’s dress covered a body made for sin. Lucy possessed a youthful glow that had tugged at every molecule in his being the instant he’d seen her walk into the restaurant.
She stared at him as if she wasn’t sure what to make of him, though. Not good. When his gaze caught on the reddened blotch on her arm, he frowned. “Damn it, I should’ve hit the ass.” Reilly really wanted to punch the bastard even now, but the jerk was already in the cop’s capable hands. He’d gotten lucky in finding Brian Delany, an old high school buddy turned police officer, having dinner at the restaurant. Brian had gladly escorted the drunk to his cruiser.
Reilly touched the mark on her forearm and rubbed back and forth, hoping to ease the pain. When their gazes connected, he leaned in closer until he could smell her pretty, feminine scent. Without thinking, he said, “You handled yourself pretty well back there.”
She blushed at his praise, and for a moment, Reilly didn’t think she was going to say anything. “Not as well as I should’ve,” she complained. “If you hadn’t come along, I’m not sure what I’d have done.”
He cocked his head. “What did he say to you, anyway?”
She smoothed a hand down her dress. “It doesn’t matter.”
She bit her lower lip, and Reilly decided he’d let the jerk off way too easy. “I have a feeling he wanted more than a dance from you.” She turned her head away, avoiding his gaze. Reilly cupped her chin and gently forced her to look at him. “Lucy?”
Lucy squeezed her eyes shut and nodded.
“Well, he’s gone now,” he told her, hoping to reassure her. “And he won’t be back.”
“I’m glad.” She looked around nervously. “Is it okay for us to be back here? Will we be in anyone’s way?”
He chuckled. “Hey, I’m part owner of this joint, remember?”
She slapped her forehead. “Duh, of course. I guess I’m a little rattled.”
“You have a right to be.”
“What did you do with him anyway?”
“Let the police take care of it.” He shoved a hand through his hair. “I have a feeling it’s not that guy’s first brush with the law.”
Reilly moved a step nearer and grasped her by the waist. “You have something on your cheek.” God, it was agony being so close to her and unable to do more than touch.
“Yep.” He leaned slowly down, giving her ample time to pull away and call a halt. When she didn’t, Reilly touched a stray eyelash on her cheek and lifted it to his mouth. “Make a wish,” he softly ordered.
A secret little smile curved her lips upward an instant before she closed her eyes and blew. Reilly lifted back up, his gaze riveted to her. Her lips were parted, unconsciously inviting him to taste her. Christ, he wanted to. More than he’d wanted anything in his life. Too fast.
Dude, let the woman breathe.
“What’d you wish for?” he asked in an effort to cool his raging hormones.
She blinked and stared up at him. “Huh?”
“Your wish,” he reminded her.
She touched a finger to her lips. “Oh. I-I can’t tell, or it won’t come true.”