Authors: Jayne Kingston
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction
Saving the Best for Last
George thought he’d seen it all in thirty years of tending bar. Then Red started coming into his place every Friday evening. She was certainly a creature of curious habit, but he didn’t give her much thought until she came in after-hours one night, naked under her winter coat and hoping to catch him alone.
Sarah had been playing a dangerous game, and she knew it. But she couldn’t make herself walk away without taking a chance on the sexy bartender who’d been pouring the beer and sparing the judgment the past few months.
Ellora’s Cave Publishing
Saving the Best for Last
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Saving the Best for Last Copyright © 2012 Jayne Kingston
Edited by April Chapman
Cover design by Syneca
Photography by VishStudio/Shutterstock.com
Electronic book publication March 2012
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SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
George caught a glimpse of his wristwatch as he turned off the motor on the glass washer and thought,
Almost time for Red
. With not much else happening on a slow night in January, he’d been mesmerized by the near-scalding water running off the pint glasses like water off a duck’s back as he stood them next to the sink to dry. The small group of early-twenties servers playing pool and country songs on the jukebox had just been up for another pitcher. The two guys at the bar—sitting a safe two stools apart, staring at
playing silently on TNT—had been nursing the same drinks for a while.
He thought it funny that bartenders in movies were always polishing glasses. Any barkeep worth his salt knew you never went near a clean glass with a towel. And real-life bartenders were rarely just hanging around, doing all that polishing and smiling, waiting to dispense wisdom to their forlorn patrons. Bullshit about sports and current events, yes. Fix your life, though? Forget it. Not that he hadn’t wanted to teach the occasional guy a thing or two in thirty years on the job. That kind of lesson often involved physically throwing them out the back door, taking them down the alley under the broken lamp over the back of the dry cleaner and dispensing advice by way of a couple of good closed-fisted hits to the mouth.
He took a still-hot glass from next to the sink and drew a Guinness from the tap. He’d caught the time too late for the beer to be room temperature the way Red liked, but the heat of the glass would take the edge off the cold. He wasn’t out to impress her so much as keep her coming. No matter what her motives were, she’d been showing up like clockwork every Friday night for the past four months, if his memory served him right. It hadn’t taken long for word about why she was there to spread.
He’d thought her pickin’s were going to be nil until the servers arrived, saying the restaurant they worked for had all but closed early due to slow business. She’d already been picked up on previous, separate occasions by the two guys at the bar—Terry, a regular, and a big blond George didn’t know by name—and apparently, she didn’t “do” repeats.
The door opened and she stepped inside, bringing the crisp smell of winter and a brief, biting draft with her. She shivered, offering a him a small smile and a quiet thanks. George nodded and set the beer in front of her usual seat at the empty end of the bar.
Blondie waved as Red shucked her mittens and coat. His smile fell, and George knew from previous experience that she hadn’t so much as looked at him. Terry shook his head and went back to picking at the frayed edge of the paperboard coaster under his Scotch. One of the servers caught her scent like a stray downwind of a pedigree bitch in heat and came to the bar, pulling a handful of bills out of his pocket as he did. Not taking his eyes off her, he ordered a pitcher his table didn’t need, peeled off an extra ten and offered to pay for her beer.
It happened that fast every time.
“I miss that mustache you used to have. You looked like the Marlboro man.” Melissa leaned on her elbows over the bar, giving George an eyeful of the breasts that had, as far as he could tell, held up well through one husband, two children and thirty years.
He would know. He’d seen the original, pre-baby versions up close and personal back when handsome studs still sold cigarettes from billboards and magazine ads, free love was still mostly free and he’d been a very young man reveling in the hedonism of the times.
He’d come a long way in the three decades since his first foray into the wild world of bar life as a wide-eyed seventeen-year-old kid. He’d sown his share of oats, worked his way up from busboy to bartender to eventually buying the business and the building from its original owner. He married his college sweetheart and raised a son—who’d recently graduated college and was already doing very well for himself as a programmer for an internet conglomerate in California. He and his wife had divorced as amicably as was possible a few years earlier, and he’d come full circle to living in the apartment upstairs.
And while he didn’t revel quite as wildly as he once had, he did enjoy the perks of owning a respectable bar in a still-thriving middle-class neighborhood—a free drink when he wanted one, staying up all night and sleeping late guilt free, and the attentions of an attractive female patron when the opportunity arose.
“Yeah, then that son of a bitch Selleck came along and did it better,” he sighed. “How was I supposed to compete with that guy?”
Smiling, Melissa rolled her eyes and parked her bottom on a stool. George all but groaned. She and her husband had been friends of his since high school, but her penchant for pulling up a seat and rehashing the past could be exhausting.
“Where’re you ladies off to after this?” he asked, cutting her off at the pass. He poured the four martinis he’d just mixed for her and her friends—evenly, on the first try—set the shaker aside and reached for a clean pint glass.
“We might not go anywhere, Georgie. You know we always have the most fun hanging around here with you.” She hunched one shoulder and got a funny look in her eyes. “Plus,” she said, tipping her head in the direction of her table, “Andrea’s divorce was final last week.”
He put on his blandest face.
“Don’t,” he warned, pouring Red’s beer in anticipation of her arrival.
Four months she’d been coming into his bar and had never struck out. Not once. He wondered if her streak was ever going to end. It was going to be interesting to see if she ever did.
Melissa leaned forward conspiratorially, pulling him back into the conversation.
“Her ex-husband was a total troll.”
“‘Liss,” he said, sterner this time.
“I’m just sayin’ you might be interested in helping her get over the post-divorce hump.” She grinned, arching a suggestive eyebrow on the word
He just stared her down as he put Red’s beer on the back bar without looking.
She tilted her head again, curiously this time. “How long has it been?”
“Not long enough.” It hadn’t been that long, but the way she’d asked had his hackles up.
Annoyance at her matchmaking melted into something that felt a little like guilt when her expression turned sympathetic. He knew her intentions, misguided as they were, came from the heart. The last thing he needed was her help getting a date, especially a date with someone as freshly divorced as a week ago.
“All right, I’ll drop it,” she caved, took up her drink when he slid it across the bar to her, picked up a second and headed back to her table while he followed her with the others.
He delivered the drinks, thinking himself wise for not giving Melissa a definite no when Andrea gave him a long look and a rather naughty smile. Still, he was relieved for the distraction and the boost of testosterone to the estrogen-heavy room, when Terry and a couple of the partners in his law firm came through the door.
He poured three Scotches, all neat, and let himself get caught up in a debate about college versus pro basketball they must have been having before they arrived. Between the discussion, the table of women and the group of servers from the week before—whose number seemed to have doubled—he didn’t realize anything was amiss until the end of the night when the forgotten Guinness on the back bar caught his eye.
Red hadn’t shown.
* * * * *
He’d just finished washing the last of the night’s glasses when the door he hadn’t yet locked opened.
“You’re late,” he said, turning off the motor on the glass washer.
“I was hoping to catch you alone,” Red answered, standing just inside the door.
The look on her face made him straighten and take notice. He’d seen it before, although never directed at him. It was the one that said, “Hold on to your hat, buddy, it’s your lucky day.”