Authors: Sophia Henry
I'm not usually the type of bartender to eavesdrop on conversations, but because of my proximity to customers, I can't help but hear some of them. It sounded like Officer Jackweed and his mother were arguing. At least, I assumed the woman was his mother, because she was definitely older than him, and she'd slammed him for dropping the f-bomb in front of her.
Not that my own mom would have cared. My mom had been using every inappropriate word in the English language for as long as I could remember.
“What do you recommend, Indie?” the woman asked, glancing at me before dropping her eyes back to the menu.
“Um, well,” I said, faltering. How did the cop's mom know my name? Had he told his mom about me?
“She read your name tag. Don't get your hopes up.” Officer Taylor nodded at my chest.
Warmth rushed into my cheeks as I skimmed my fingers across the badge pinned on the right side of my shirt. Name tag, duh. Stupid overactive imagination. Of course he hadn't told his mom about me. He probably hated me.
The silly disappointment I felt was short-lived, lasting only until his snarky comment hit home.
“Well, the beef brisket is a customer favorite, but I'd recommend the ribs. I mean, everyone loves a pig, right?” I cocked my head to the side, pleased with my joke.
The cop's lady friend choked on the swig of beer she had taken. She raised her hand and patted her chest.
“You okay, Mom?” he asked, clapping her on the back.
his mom. I knew it.
Taylor's mom nodded. “Went down the wrong pipe,” she squeaked out before coughing again.
“Should I give you another minute?” I asked. I wanted to slink away. I shouldn't have said that in front of his mother. I wasn't a confrontational person. What was it about him that brought out that side of me?
“No, no. We're ready,” she said and coughed one last time to clear her throat. “I'll take the ribs.” She winked at me, then bit her lip to keep a smile away.
The cop's mom was pure awesome.
“And for you?” I coughed my own smile away as I lifted my chin and focused my attention on the officer.
“I'll have the same thing. I love pigs.” He held out his menu, a smug smile spreading across his face. “With fries, please.”
“Oh, good lord, Jason,” his mom hissed, emphasizing her annoyance with an eye roll.
Jason. Officer Jackweed had a first name.
“TouchÃ©.” I nodded as I plucked the menu from his hands, spinning away toward the safety of my computer. If I didn't know better, I'd think the cop was flirting with me.
It took every ounce of willpower I had not to look over at Jason. Thanks to his mom, I now knew the name of the infuriating, hot, jerky, muscular, arrogant, sexy man I hadn't been able to get out of my head since I saw him at my brother's game.
My head snapped up, breaking me out of the fog of thoughts I'd disguised while inputting the dinner order. How long had Kristen, a server who went by her initials, KK, been calling me?
“Yeah. Sorry. What?” I couldn't get the right word out.
Get it together, girl. Stop thinking of Jason's buff forearms.
“Did you make that Bloody Mary for table thirty-three?” KK asked.
“Table thirty-three?” I glanced at Jason, whose eyes caught mine, then shook my head and looked at the tiny printer on the end of the bar, buzzing as it spewed orders the servers had punched in from the dining room computer.
Damn. Bloody Mary for table thirty-three. Four ales, two reds, and a Weizen for various other tables.
Time to get my head back in the game, especially since the printer wouldn't stop. No looking at Jason until I had to check on how his meal tasted. Usually, I wasn't easily thrown, especially by a guy.
It's because he's new in town. That's his intrigue. His mystery.
The drink orders never slowed, and I turned my focus back to my customers at the bar and in the dining room. On busy nights, I usually had a second bartender helping with the madness, but Stacy had called in sick at the last minute and I hadn't found a replacement. I couldn't even be angry with her, since she was three months pregnant. I knew how fast morning sickness came on, and how there was no working around it some days.
I'd been so busy filling drink orders and waiting on my customers at the bar that I hadn't even had a chance to check on Jason and his mom. Thankfully, a porter had brought out their meals. At my first free moment, I wandered over to Jason.
“You scared off your own mom?” I asked, nodding to the empty chair next to him.
“She's using the restroom.” Jason took a sip of his beer. “Are you gonna throw sarcastic comments at me all night, or talk to me?”
“What do you want to talk about?” I asked, filling a pint glass with red ale.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Not a question I'd expected.
“How is that your business?”
“You smell like a dude,” he blurted out.
I curled my fingers around the glass, which had almost slipped out of my hand. “Excuse me?”
“Shit. I meant you smell like men's cologne,” Jason said, backtracking. “It wasn't an insult.”
“I like the smell of men's cologne better than perfume.” I set the first pint aside and began filling a second.
“Why'd you skip the boyfriend question?”
“Because it's not your business.”
Jason leaned in, his voice low. “It is if I want to ask you out.”
“You what?” I readjusted my grip on the glass and pushed the handle of the tap back to stop the flow of beer.
“I think we should hang out.” Jason wiped his mouth with his napkin and tossed it onto his empty plate.
“That's the best you can do, copper? I thought you were smoother than that.” I winked and walked away, carrying the beers I'd filled to the end of the bar for a server to pick up. Then I made a Moscow Mule and checked on a few other customers sitting at the bar before printing Jason's check and placing it in front of him.
“Will you please go on a date with me?” Jason asked, not missing a beat.
My heart pounded against my chest. I was both flattered and frustrated by his persistence. “You expect me to say yes, don't you?”
“It's obvious that you like me.” Jason's blue eyes twinkled, catching light from the pendulum fixture hanging over the bar.
“I like looking at you,” I countered, “but your personality leaves a bit to be desired.”
“Really?” The skin around his eyes crinkled when he smiled.
“Let's pretend I'd ever say yes. Where would a cocky cop take someone on a first date?” I couldn't wait to hear what he thought was fun.
“It's a surprise.”
“You ask me on a date and you don't even know where you're going to take me?” I lifted his plate and wiped crumbs and condensation off the bar with a towel. “That's sad, copper.”
“Why would you assume that?” he asked, his tone indignant.
“Can I be honest?” I asked. Time to strike the final blow. Though Jason had my insides flipping like no one ever had before, now wasn't the right time to start dating. I had a million things to worry about before opening up my heart again.
“Please.” He nodded.
“You moved to a small town to be a cop and coach hockey.” I paused. “You sound like a total bore.”
Jason didn't have a snappy comeback and I wondered if I'd taken it too far. It was meant to be a joke, but maybe I'd hurt his pride by pointing out the obvious. Bridgeland wasn't a hotbed of crime. Seemed like an easy gig.
His silence persisted as he reached into his back pocket and retrieved his wallet. Finally, he caught my eyes, though the spark from before had dimmed. “Then you shouldn't be afraid to say yes.”
He had a point.
Before waiting for me to respond, he continued. “Do you work on Monday night?”
“I'm off, butâ” I paused to mentally check my schedule. And Mom's schedule. And D's schedule. Someone had to be home with Holden.
“I'll pick you up at seven thirty,” he said.
“I didn't say yes.” I spun around, flustered by his presumption. My grip tightened on the plates I'd picked up off the bar, and the pounding of my heart increased.
A multicolored scarf flashed in my peripheral vision, alerting me to his mom's return.
Jason glanced over his shoulder. “Can you drop the attitude now that my mom's back?”
I spun to face him and squared my shoulders. “I didn't have an attitude.”
“There was definite attitude, dear,” his mom said as Jason held the chair steady so she could hop onto it.
“See?” Jason nodded toward his mom. He might as well have stuck his tongue out and sung, “Na na na boo boo.”
“I never said you didn't deserve it, Jason,” his mom told him as she straightened the bright scarf at her neck.
A mom that put her son in his place was a perfect mom in my book. Other than my own, Tim's mom was the only one I had any experience with. And her little Timmy-wimmy could do no wrong. Even after he'd knocked me up and left me to raise the kid by myself so he wouldn't mess up his football scholarship.
“Indie, this is my mom, Sharon Taylor,” Jason said, introducing us.
When Sharon reached out, I took her hand and shook it. “I hope you liked everything, Ms. Taylor. Thanks so much for coming.”
“It was all wonderful. The ribs were an amazing recommendation, and that raspberry beer is delicious.”
“Glad I could help.” I picked up Sharon's plate. “I hope you join us again.”
Before I walked the dirty dishes back to the kitchen, I turned to face Jason again. “My number's in there.” I nodded at the black case that held the check. I'd jotted it on a cocktail napkin and slid it in before I lost my nerve.
I'd been asked on dates at work before, but I'd never said yes. I wasn't even sure what it was about the cop that made me agree. Maybe it was how he acted with his mom. How he'd helped her onto her chair, spoken kindly, and looked at her with total respect and devotion. I hoped Holden would look at me like that someday.
“Do you want another drink, Mom?” Jason asked.
“I'm good, sweetheart. I want to get to the car so you can fill me in on everything that happened while I was in the restroom.” Sharon rubbed her hands together.
I didn't hear the rest of the conversation as I strode away, letting my other customers know I'd be right back.
Once I'd pushed through the double doors into the safety of the kitchen, KK stopped me.
“You've been in la-la land all night. Is it because you were waiting on panty-dropping-sexy Officer Taylor?”
“What?” I played dumb as I deposited the dirty dishes in the sink in the back of the kitchen. I couldn't argue with the description. At all.
“Let me know if he has fur for those handcuffs, would ya?” KK said to tease me as she opened the fridge that stored premade dinner salads.
“Dude. His mom is out there.” I felt my cheeks burn as I peered through the window to the bar area. Thankfully, Jason and Sharon had already left.
KK was by far my favorite server at Peak City. Whether she was starting an impromptu dance party, or flirting with numerous customers, the girl was fun and lively, and she always said what was on her mind.
The kitchen door swung on its hinges and almost smacked me in the nose. I staggered back a few steps.
“Holy! Sorry, Indie,” Auden, KK's best friend, apologized after she'd pushed through.
“No problem.” I pointed behind me with my thumb. “Your crazy friend is getting a salad.”
“Hey, bitch-ass.” KK appeared, balancing two salads and a basket of rolls on her tray.
“Can I have one of those?” Auden reached for a roll.
KK dodged her, easily shuffling to the side to protect the basket. “Get a few and grab some ranch. I'll be there in a minute. I just picked up a table.”
“You can sit at the bar and keep me company if you want,” I offered.
Auden nodded and headed back to the huge drawer that kept the dinner rolls warm.
I still had no clue how Auden pulled off waltzing in and grabbing rolls from the kitchen of a restaurant she didn't work at. Last year, Pat, Peak City's owner, had tried to steal Auden away from her job at Johnny's Diner with the lure of rolls and ranch on every shift. Auden always refused to leave Johnny's, but took Pat up on the rolls and ranch part, helping herself whenever she came to visit.
“How's Charlotte?” I asked, when we were back at the bar, and turned on scalding-hot water to wash pint glasses. On a normal night, my shift would be ending soon, but I had to stay until closing, since I didn't have a second bartender. Maybe I could get Pat to take over the bar. But probably not.
“Weird. It's pretty and clean. I'm like, what is this magical place?” Auden joked as she tore a roll in half.
“Big difference from Detroit, eh?”
“Huge. But I can't complain. Because Aleksandr is doing amazing.” Her eyes lit up when she talked about her boyfriend. “He's already the Aviators' leading goal scorer. I know it's only a month into the season, but still.” She shrugged. “Hey, can I grab a Pepsi?”
Without waiting for my response, she jumped off her chair.
“Auden!” I held up a pint glass and the pop-gun from under the bar. “I got it.”
She stopped midstride and her lips rolled into a guilty smile. “Crap. Sorry, Indie. I'm so used to doing it myself.” Auden slithered back onto her chair.
“No worries.” I smiled and filled up the glass. “Do you do that at other restaurants?”
“No!” She laughed. “Okay, once. Sasha and I were eating at this place in Charlotte, and the drink station was right behind our booth. Why would I bother the waitress?”
“You're a freak,” I joked, and handed her the Pepsi.