A sweet southern voice laced with Texas twang came through the speakers.
“Watch out, Levi’s a real sucker for a true southern girl,” Justin said. A few of the guys at the table whistled and Levi followed their stares over his shoulder towards the bar. He could not believe his eyes. The singer stood on the corner of the bar in a black tank top and low hip-hugging jeans that revealed a glimpse of her stomach. Long legs were accentuated by the fit of her jeans and red cowboy boots. Levi stared at her like a deer caught in headlights. She hopped off the bar and worked the crowd better than any entertainer he had ever seen.
“Sydney,” he whispered when those familiar light gray eyes locked on him. A smile crossed her face. The auburn haired beauty from his childhood made her way through the tables towards him. “Eye on the prize,” he reminded himself.
Damn if she wasn’t getting a reaction out of him. Desperately, he tried to remember the pact he’d made ages ago. Sydney sat on his lap, plucked the cowboy hat from his head, placed it on her own and wrapped an arm around his neck as she sang. Her body pressed against his. Focusing on anything other than the feel of her ass against his lap, the curve of her breast pressing into his chest and the sweet magnolia scent wafting off her skin was impossibility. After the longest minute of his life had passed, she winked, slowly slid off of his lap and headed towards the stage. Wolf whistles filled the air as she finished the song.
“Well, that’s definitely the best entertainment we’ve seen all evening. Seeing a woman have that kind of effect on Levi is worth a round of beers. I’m buying. Earth to Levi…” Justin nudged him. “Might want to wipe the drool from your chin and put your eyes back in your head.”
“I don’t believe it,” Levi murmured, staring after her.
“Believe what?” Justin asked, looking puzzled. “Game face on, Levi. Fans approaching.”
A few bar patrons asked for autographs. Levi never turned away fans, though he hoped to finish before Sydney disappeared from view. The band began to play again, but a male voice came through the speakers. Levi flicked his gaze up to the stage, located his hat and watched as it moved towards the bar.
“Excuse me guys, time to go fetch my Stetson.” Levi rose from the chair but lost sight of her as he made his way through the crowd. As he leaned against the bar, he spotted Dusty Hart, another face from his childhood, at the opposite end.
“Syd, get your ass back here already. Did you fail to notice the people three deep around the bar?” Dusty yelled out.
“Jesus, Dusty, no need to go birthin’ any cows.” A familiar, feminine voice answered back. Levi chuckled. She was still full of piss and vinegar. Glancing down the length of the bar, he caught a glimpse of Sydney’s long legs as she swung them over the bar, before dropping down into the trenches. Captivated by her movements, he watched as she took drink orders, tossed empty bottles over her shoulder to the trash, and made her way down the antiqued pinewood separating them. After all these years, it was harder to deny the attraction he had for her. Sydney continued towards him, exchanging drinks and money faster than he had ever seen.
“Hey angel, can I have my hat back?”
Those beautiful eyes met his and a sultry smile that promised nothing but trouble crossed her lips. “Are you kidding? I’ve got Levi McKenna’s hat. You know I could make a pretty obscene profit off this hat.”
“But you won’t,” he said, turning on the smile his assistant referred to as a real lady killer.
“That smile might work on them Hollywood girls you’ve been hanging out with, but I am immune to your charms, Mr. McKenna.”
A voice called out, “Hey Sydney, how about a kiss?” Though the tone in the man’s voice was playful, Levi’s jaw tightened. A slow intake of air eased his tension.
“You’re in the wrong place, mister. A few clubs downtown might be able to give you the action you’re looking for.” Sydney looked at Levi and rolled her eyes. “Some people. So, back to the hat, what makes you think I won’t sell it?”
Trying to hide her discomfort, Sydney pushed past the remark but not before Levi saw it. “Call it a hunch.”
“I guess we’ll just have to see about that, cowboy.” She handed a few beers across to a waitress, then turned and blew him a kiss. “I might just hang on to it as a memento.”
“Fine by me,” Levi thought, looking around. Dusty was no longer in sight. “So where’d the big man run off to?”
She jerked her head towards the opposite end of the bar. “Busy, but I’ll get him. Dusty, you got a guy down here wants to talk to the owner.”
“So deal with him,” Dusty yelled back.
“He doesn’t want to talk to me.” She winked at Levi.
Dusty’s voice grew louder, laced with irritation. “Well, why the hell not? You’re nicer than I am and much better to look at. Just take care of it, Syd.”
Levi watched the ease with which Sydney switched discussing fashion or sports, depending on who she served. The woman’s love and ability to talk about both made for a combination Levi found intoxicating and damn sexy. Of course, he had always found her an enticing little package. Nothing compared to southern charm in his books, and she had it in spades. Even the curses dripped with it as they fell from her tongue.
“Dusty, get your ass down here already!”
“God damn Sydney, you’re an owner. Tell the guy to get over it or take his macho bullshit out of here.”
Levi could hear the frustration in his friend’s voice, but knew he wouldn’t leave Sydney to deal on her own. An exasperated sigh escaped her and Levi had to forcibly bite his tongue. Dusty slowly moved in their direction, stopping occasionally to refill drinks.
“So what’s the deal, guy? Too macho to deal with Sydney…” Dusty’s voice trailed off as recognition slid across his face and his good-humored personality took over. He chuckled, “When the hell did you get to town?”
Levi studied his watch. “About four hours ago.”
“Here for the rodeo or slumming?”
“Rodeo. A few of the guys are at the corner table.” Levi looked towards the stage when the band began to play again.
“So, I need a rodeo in town before I can get your ass out here for a visit?”
“Hardly. Just been busy.”
“So I gathered. I follow the news. Movies, women and bulls leave little time for much else.”
“Can’t believe everything you hear or read, man. You know that.”
“True,” Dusty looked past him with a hunger in his eyes. Only one thing in the world, so far as Levi knew, elicited such a reaction from his friend. Dusty’s wife, Becca, stepped up next to him with a tray full of empty glasses. She still looked at Dusty as though he were the only man in the room. When she leaned over the bar to give Dusty a kiss, a pang of longing for what his friends shared crept up before Levi could stop it. “Becca, you’re as beautiful as ever. When you planning on leaving this lug and running away with me?”
“Why? You plan on growing up and settling down in the near future?” she asked, hugging him. “It’s good to see you, Levi. Where is she, Dusty?”
“Follow the trail of drooling men.” His tone held irritation, but Levi didn’t blame the guy. His sister had always been eye catching. Dusty turned back to him. “We make more money the nights she hops behind the bar. Damn guys ogle her like she’s serving them naked, though. It’s disgusting and yet, it’s hardly the worst part.”
Before Levi could ask what could be worse, Justin strolled up and slapped him on the back.
“Justin, this is Dusty Hart, the owner of the bar.”
Justin shook Dusty’s hand. “Hey man, the singer is hot. I bet she makes you a lot of money in this joint.” Ignorant to the expression on Dusty’s face, he turned back to Levi. “We’re thinking about checking out some of the casinos, you game?”
“Nah, I think I’ll hang here and catch up with y’all later.”
“Mind if we take the limo?”
“Go ahead. I can catch a ride or call a cab.”
Justin’s exaggerated wink before he left could only mean one thing—he suspected Levi’s reason for staying. Levi shook his head as Justin walked away. “Sorry, Justin’s mouth rarely checks with his brain first.”
Dusty shrugged. “No problem. So you’re gonna hang around?”
“Until you get sick of me or kick me out.” He settled onto the nearest cowhide barstool. “So what’s worse?”
A female voice came over the microphone and Dusty looked to the stage where Becca now stood.