Sable Castle jerked her wrist quickly, sending the bottle of vodka twisting around her hand in a flashy spin before she poured a shot in the glass waiting on the scarred bar. She set the glass in front of one smiling guy before moving on to the next customer in line. Northern Alberta was in the middle of a summer heat wave and people were flocking to any place with air conditioning. Add to that the fact that it was Friday Happy Hour at The Zodiac, and the pub was hopping.
The hair on the back of her neck stood up sharply and instinct made her glance toward the door at the exact moment he stepped through it, entering the noisy pub. Mick Jagger’s complaining about not getting any satisfaction faded into the background, along with the dozen or so customers standing directly in front of her vying for her attention at the oak bar.
Her mind went blank and her hands stilled as she let her eyes roam over him in appreciation.
He radiated ‘bad ass’ with rough stubble along his jaw and shaggy midnight hair that brushed against the back of his neck. He had the air of a guy that knew how to show a girl a good time, and did so on a regular basis.
Looking him up and down, she took in the faded jeans and tight black T-shirt that covered a body good enough to eat, or at least nibble on.
She unconsciously licked her lips and brought her gaze up to his face only to find him watching her, a small smile twisting his lips. A fire started in her belly, bringing long dormant needs awake with a roar. Unable to tear her gaze away, she watched as he moved toward the bar, toward her, until the crowd shifted and the spell was broken.
With her cleavage baring tops and tight jeans, Sable might play up the image of the ‘bad girl bartender’ but it was mostly an act.
She had no problems flirting with customers and talking to anyone about anything under the sun when she was behind the bar. That was her job.
But when a man like that came around, a man that made her heartbeat pick up and her mind slow down, she had to fight not to morph back into that thirteen-year-old that had worn a C-cup when all the other girls were still stuffing their training bras. The one that had learned at an early age that boys, and men, were more interested in what was under her clothes than what was in her head.
A boisterous voice called her name and she glanced at the twenty-something hottie with the gaudy paper hat perched on his head.
“What can I get ya, cutie?” she asked him.
With a flip of her tousled curls and a saucy wink at the Birthday Boy, she forced herself to focus on work. She’d been joking with them for the last half hour or so while they hung out in front of her bar, and took turns ordering drinks and hitting on her.
This new shade of “Rock Star Red” lipstick was doing the trick tonight. The men were lining up and she could see her tip jar getting fuller by the hour. They flirted outrageously, and while none of them made her heart skip a beat, she still enjoyed every minute of it. Not much in life could feed a girl’s ego like a line-up of men panting after her.
These boys were out to have a good time and she accepted, even reveled in, the fact that she was part of the entertainment.
“How about a kiss?” the Birthday Boy asked, a silly grin on his face.
“Sure, honey. What the Birthday Boy wants, the Birthday Boy gets,” Sable said with a smile as she turned to grab a bottle off the back bar amidst the hoots and hollers his friends let loose.
She slapped a shot glass on the bar, filled it with Cinnamon Schnapps and Baileys before sliding it across the bar to him with a wink.
“Here’s a sweet Cinnamon Kiss from me to you.”
The group laughed and slapped him on the back as he saluted her with the shot before tossing it back. The ribald comments and laughter made it clear the pub was full of playful men tonight.
Her grin widened. The night was bound to be a challenge, and all she could think was, bring it on!
A deep voice interrupted the laughter.
“Whoever said ‘Ask and you shall receive’ should’ve told you to be more specific when asking a lady for favors.”
“Gage! You made it!” The Birthday Boy cried out in surprise.
“Of course I did. I told you I would, didn’t I?”
Sable watched as the men embraced fiercely, their affection for one another obvious. She felt an unusual shyness slip over her at the sexy stranger’s appearance and glanced around for a distraction.
Katie, the waitress working the floor, stood at the other end of the bar with an impatient expression on her face, so Sable walked down to that end and filled her order while the group of men greeted the late arrival.
Awareness flowed through her as she heard his deep voice return greetings with natural warmth. She continued to sneak peeks at him as she worked and felt her confidence, and her heart rate, surge when she caught him watching her too.
She knew she was pretty, men hit on her all the time. Mind you…they were usually too young, too old, or too married for her tastes. Mental note: Check out his left hand!
Typical of most things in life, the men she liked, the ones that made her think naked thoughts, never hit on her. And since she didn’t believe in wasting her time dating someone for the sake of dating, she’d reached the ripe old age of twenty-nine without ever having a ‘real’ relationship. Not that she was a virgin. She’d had lovers. She’d just never had a boyfriend.
She’d just finished putting Katie’s order together when she heard one of the guys in the birthday group suggest they go to the back, where the pool tables were, for an impromptu tournament. Everyone in that group shuffled away amidst a chorus of challenges issued and bets being made.
Everyone except him.
He leaned casually against the bar and watched her move back in his direction.
The fire in her blood spread, and she fought the old urge to hunch her shoulders and slouch. Instead, she put an extra swing in her hips and pasted a saucy smile on her face. She was not that overdeveloped teenager anymore. She was a woman. One that knew how to use her looks to get what she wanted.
“Hi there,” she purred, stopping directly in front of him. Glancing down, she quickly checked out his bare ring finger. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Bottle of Bud, please.” A small smile lifted one corner of his mouth as he let his gaze roam over her body. The appreciation in his eyes made it clear that while some men might like the anorexic model look, he definitely enjoyed the sight of a woman with a bit more to her.
Dressed in a filmy rayon blouse that clung to her full breasts before flowing softly about her trim waist and a pair of tight jeans that stretched to cover her rounded hips, Sable knew she looked sassy, sexy, and all woman.
She pulled his beer out of the cooler and turned back in time to catch his gaze on her ass. Exhilaration coursed through her body, making her nipples tighten and her cheeks flush. She welcomed the rush of sensations, and didn’t try to hide it.
A smile played at her lips and she quirked an eyebrow at him. “Anything else?”
He looked into her eyes for a long moment before replying. The answering flash of desire in his chocolate eyes made it clear he understood the loaded question.
“Not right now, thanks.” He winked, tossed a bill on the bar, grabbed his beer, and walked away.
Sable was glad he didn’t look back. Her knees had grown so weak at the reflected heat in his gaze she had to clutch the bar to stay upright.
“Whoo hooo, Sable?”
An unadorned female hand with neat trim nails waved in front of her face, bringing her back to the here and now. Her boss was standing right next to her.
“Huh?” Sable stared blankly down at the tiny woman.
Dressed in a business suit with her blonde hair pulled back in a meticulous French twist, Miranda Grey looked out of place. Behind the bar of a neighborhood pub that catered to the blue-collar crowd, she was like a mouse at a catnip convention.
“Oh!” Sable snapped back to the present. “Sorry, Mandy, what was that?”
Miranda was more than just The Zodiac’s owner; she was also Sable’s best friend. The open expression of amusement on Mandy’s face at the moment made Sable think she wasn’t hiding her feelings well at all, and Mandy’s words confirmed it.
“You look like you just got hit by a truck. What’s up?”
While Sable didn’t have many friends, the ones she did have, she trusted implicitly. So she blurted out her feelings without hesitation. “You know how I’ve never understood it when men I barely know call me Trouble?”
“Yes.” A tiny frown furrowed her brow.
“Now I understand why.”
Miranda followed her gaze to where the stranger was chalking a cue. “He called you Trouble?”
“No. He is Trouble!”
“Ahhh.” Miranda’s head cocked to the side and she eyed her curiously. “Why?”
She turned to her friend with a devilish smile. “Because he makes me wanna be bad.”