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Authors: Ellie Danes,Lily Knight

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BOOK: The Windfall
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She smirked and patted my chest with her fingers, turning to leave the room. “You’ve got a deal. See you later, dear.”

I watched her leave the bedroom and pull the door closed behind her, frustration building in my chest. While Mom seemed to really be enjoying herself, I was starting to feel a little bit of a push from both my aunt and my uncle to get a move on with my life. So far, my uncle came home every day with a tidbit on how to apply for this or that job, and it seemed my aunt was trying to make some kind of love connection for me. It was kind of exhausting. I knew they meant well, but it was just a little overwhelming. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do, and I certainly didn’t want to get involved with anyone right now with everything I already had on my plate. Not that I’d even know how after being on my own for so long, taking care of Mom, and working numerous jobs to make ends meet. Any attempt at a love life had taken a serious back seat to reality.

After a quick shower, I grabbed the papers Aunt Sophie had left and the car keys to the rental and walked downstairs and headed outside toward the car. I needed a little privacy and somewhere to gather my thoughts. I’d passed a place on my way out here, a little hole in the wall grille near the beach, with a sign that boasted the best steak sandwiches around. That sounded like a good place to unwind and also avoid the constant encounters I was now starting to have with my aunt and uncle. It would give me time to think. I needed a break.

I climbed in and started the engine then pulled the car out of the drive and started back down the hill, some of the tension easing as I put some distance between myself and the house. If only they knew the real reason we were there and how I really didn’t need a job or even to search for a house if I didn’t really want to. I had more than enough money in the bank to buy any house I wanted, though I was still going to be cautious about it. I’m certain it would take a lot of frivolous spending to zip through two billion dollars, but I didn’t want to blow the money on something I wasn’t sure about.

I turned the car out onto the main highway in the direction I’d been before, retracing my route. It was a little farther down the road than I’d remembered, but it wasn’t long before I had found the small grille and a parking space in the semi-full lot, more cars than I had expected for the time of week. Something about the place made me miss my bar back home. I hadn’t even had the chance to really get a good feel for being the owner before I was forced to make the hard decision to leave. And after a few days out here, I didn’t really know if I even wanted to go back.

As I started to roll the windows up on the rental, I couldn’t avoid noticing a man and woman arguing near a car parked in the corner of the lot, a heated battle raging between them. Their conversation floated into the car via the rolled down windows. Immediately, I became concerned. The guy was a foot taller than the woman — maybe more — and three times her size, though she looked like she was holding her own against him.

“You can’t leave me, babe. There’s no one else out there who can do the things I can do for you. Think of your future, your father. I can give you the world. Come on back to me, babe, and we will make this work.”

“Why can’t you grasp this concept? I don’t want to make this work, Tim,” the woman replied, her arms crossed over her chest. I couldn’t get a good look at her face, but her body language appeared as though she was ready to bolt at any second. “You’re drunk. Come inside and let me get you a burger before you go, then don’t ever come to my job again. I mean it. We are over. Done.”

The man — Tim, I presumed — shook his head wildly. “No. I don’t want a damn burger. I want you.” That’s when he took a step forward, anger radiating off of his body. I immediately cut the engine and jumped out, not seeing the situation ending in a calm, rational manner. The guy was pissed and I knew the girl was probably in some big trouble, or was about to be.

Grabbing the top railing of the fence that likely separated the employee parking lot from the customer’s, I hopped over it and strode toward the couple. I could lend some assistance and get the woman out of the bad situation. I just hoped I didn’t get my ass kicked as a result.

Chapter Nine

Emma

“Tim, please calm down. I’m sorry you aren’t happy with my decision, but it’s my decision and, frankly, it’s the right one. We are just not right together.”

“I don’t want to hear that!” he shouted, causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end. He was drunk and extremely angry, nothing like the man I had dated just a few weeks prior. And in a flash, I found myself wondering if I would have ever seen this man had I stayed with him and continued our relationship. This Tim was pretty scary.

When he’d walked into the bar about an hour before, I wouldn’t have thought this was where the situation was heading. After he sat there drinking beer after beer, I finally said something to him and ended up taking my lunch early to get him outside so I could call him a cab. He was in no shape to drive. But, instead, he started hounding me about us getting back together. No matter how many times or how many ways I tried to make him understand, I had no idea how to get him to see that it wasn’t going to happen.

He took a step toward me and I stepped back, the look in his eyes giving me cause for concern. I was contemplating making a beeline for the back door to the bar when I caught a blur from the corner of my eye. A tall man hopped the fence into the employee parking lot with ease. As he walked through the shadows of the side of the building heading our way, his strides were sure and confident. I noticed him approaching, but was too concerned about Tim’s behavior to really take my eyes off of my crazy ex-boyfriend. Crazy being the operative word. So, I was a bit relieved to see the stranger getting closer from the corner of my eye, worried at just what Tim would do since I wasn’t caving to his demands.

“Whoa, buddy,” tall, dark, and maybe a little bit crazy said, holding up his hands as he stepped in between us facing Tim. Tim stopped his advance and stared at the stranger. “Get out of the way, asshole. This has nothing to do with you.”

“Okay, name calling not necessary. But, dude, you look like you could use something to eat,” the stranger continued, ignoring Tim’s words, his easy tone never slipping. A bit of my worry started to fade, glad that someone had stepped in before Tim did something he would regret. I didn’t think he would ever hit me, but the wild look in his eyes made me question that thought. This guy seemed to know what he was doing, and I was more than grateful to have him here right at this moment. “Why don’t we go inside and I’ll buy you a burger.”

“You need to get out of my way,” Tim tried again, his eyes blazing with anger as he pointed a finger in the guy’s face. “This is between me and my girl.”

“I’m not your girl,” I reiterated from behind the stranger’s broad back. “We’re over, Tim, get used to it,” I blurted out, realizing the moment the words left my lips that I was adding fuel to the fire. But for some reason, I felt safe standing behind this guy. My eyes traced up from his black converse to the way his jeans fit just right across his ass to his thick, brown hair curling over the tips of his ears. I suddenly wanted to run my fingers through it. An odd thought considering the current situation.

“Emma,” Tim growled, breaking me from my trance as he took a step toward me, my savior still braced between us. “You will always be my girl. I’m not letting you go like this.”

The stranger was right there, once again, blocking Tim from reaching me. “I’m gonna have to ask you to leave the lady alone now. It’s clear she doesn’t want to talk about it today.”

“Or any day,” I muttered. I was so done with Tim. This was the last straw, him showing up like this, embarrassing me at work, and scaring me to boot.

The stranger ignored my words as he took a step forward, causing Tim to back up this time. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed such a thing was possible, given how angry Tim had been. This guy had just earned his meal on me, no doubt about it. “Why don’t you go home and cool off, get something to eat. Ladies don’t like bullies.”

Tim shifted his stance and looked around the guy and at me, his eyes hardening. “Are you sleeping with this idiot? Is this why you broke it off with me?”

“What?” I asked, surprised. “I don’t even know this guy, you dumbass,” I barked.

Tim growled and walked away before I could answer his question, leaving me there in the parking lot with my own personal hero. I couldn’t believe that guy. Really? Cheating? Like I had time. He’d been the one to ruin this relationship, not me. I watched as he got into the car he shouldn’t have been driving and then peeled out of the parking lot, triggering a slew of horns honking as he cut several cars off in traffic. I hoped he didn’t kill himself trying to get home, or someone else.

I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to calm myself in the aftermath. When I opened my eyes, I was face to face with my protector. I just stood there, staring. Not that I meant to stare, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d only gotten a quick glimpse of his face in the shadows as he put himself between Tim and me. I stared at him for a moment, certain I’d seen him somewhere before and trying to place where that had been. It was easy to see why Tim might have thought I’d be sleeping with the guy; he was like the poster boy for sexy as hell. Angular features, strong jawline covered with a neatly trimmed beard, that just curly enough hair I had already wanted to run my fingers through and dressed casually in a faded Batman T-shirt and worn jeans. He kind of reminded me of some of the college students I had classes with. I must have looked like an idiot standing there staring, because he quirked up one corner of his mouth, shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and just looked at me. That’s when it hit me.

“Barboy,” I responded, a warm flush rushing through me as I watched his lips turn up into a broader, crooked smile. Wow. That was one seriously hot smile.

“Emma, I’ve called the cops,” Chris called from the back of the building with a frying pan in his hand and a nervous look on his face.

“No, you haven’t,” I sighed, wiping my hands on my apron but never taking my gaze from barboy. There was no way Chris would have called the cops. If he had, then the owner, Sam, would show up and start asking questions. We liked to keep to ourselves, keep Sam out of the place as much as possible.

“Okay, so I didn’t,” he said, looking at the stranger with a narrowed gaze. “But . . . do I need to hit
him
over the head with this?”

My head swung rapidly toward Chris and I shot him a look of disbelief. “No!” I laughed, turning back to see a wide-eyed stare on barboy’s face. “No, you need to fry him up the best burger on the menu . . . on me. He might have just saved my life.”

Chris’ eyes narrowed. “It sounds like there was some trouble out here and he was directly involved. I can’t have that on this property. Sam will have a duck fit.”

We all knew Sam didn’t like riffraff around the bar tarnishing the name of his fine eating establishment. Chris had been appointed the unofficial watchdog, so to speak. Anyone who looked suspicious or like they might cause any kind of trouble, Chris had no problem throwing them out. We just didn’t call the cops.

“He didn’t cause any trouble,” I said again in a firm voice, giving Chris a stern look. “And he’s not going to. He just got rid of our trouble without even taking a swing, Chris. That has to mean something.”

“I would like that burger, though,” barboy supplied, a touch of twang in his voice that I recognized from our brief encounter in Atlanta. “I hear you make some of the best.”

“Not some . . .
the
best,” Chris corrected, shoving a hand through his thick hair. “Fine. If Emma vouches for you, then you must be okay. Come on in and we’ll get you fixed up.” Chris disappeared from sight, leaving us alone once again in the bright sunshine.

I turned back to my knight-in-faded-Levis, finding him watching me intently. “Emma, is it?” he asked with that sexy as hell smile of his.

I nodded, not really sure what to say. I could hardly believe barboy was standing in front of me.

“Well, Emma, are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” I replied, fidgeting with the edge of my apron, suddenly nervous under his intense stare. “Thank you for stepping in. He’s not usually like that, at least, not that I was aware of.”

He didn’t seem to believe me but I didn’t expect him to. If he hadn’t come along, I wasn’t so sure Chris could have hit Tim over the head in time. “Come on inside. We’ll get you something to drink to go along with that burger. If you don’t mind the company, I haven’t had my lunch yet either. You can tell me what brought you from Atlanta to Malibu.”

“I definitely don’t mind,” he responded as he followed me inside through the kitchen and out to the main dining area. I chose one of the empty tables near the back that we rarely sat anyone in. It was a pretty busy lunch crowd, Betty running her tail off to cover for the both of us until I finished my break.

He sat down and I reached behind the bar, grabbing two bottles of water from the cooler before handing one to him. “Water okay or do you prefer something a little stronger?” I asked.

“Water is great.”

“Here,” I said. He took it and I sat down across from him, feeling nervous once again.

“So this is a pretty cool place,” he said, looking at the memorabilia from the bygone beach era as he cracked open his water and took a long swig. “How long have you worked here?”

“Three years,” I supplied as Chris delivered two burgers with a grin before disappearing back into the kitchen. The aroma caused my stomach to rumble now that all of the mayhem with Tim was in the past. “It’s not a bad job most of the time.”

Tall, dark, and dreamy smiled and a flutter in my stomach caught me off guard, surprised at how attracted I was to him. When I had been in Atlanta, I thought it was just my jetlag that had me out of sorts for the short time I’d been around him. After all, hadn’t I just sworn off relationships for a while after my failure with Tim? Was I really already considering this guy?

BOOK: The Windfall
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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