Authors: Ashley McNiel
Something Worth Fighting For
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or anything else are just
“happy little accidents.”
Something Worth Fighting For
Copyright © 2013 Ashley McNiel
All Rights Reserved
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.
“Hey, come on in and have a seat, there should be a few empty ones to choose from. Lucky for you, you’ll probably get the best seat in the house today. What can I get started for ya’?” I rambled off as soon as the door to the empty diner slammed shut. That door had caused me to jump every damn time it closed for at least the first two weeks I worked here. Two years later it had yet to be fixed and our regulars knew to hold it.
Dropping the coffee pot back onto the warming tray, I wiped my hands on the dirty white apron tied around my waist. “Coffee, tea, juice, water?” I prompted after never getting a response.
“Coffee, black, and water please, ma’am.” A warm masculine voice with a thick, sweet like honey southern drawl called from somewhere behind me.
“Sure thing.” I pulled out one of the light blue ceramic mugs, making sure it wasn’t chipped or better yet still dirty, and poured the strong, dark liquid to the rim. “Do you want ice in your water, darlin’?”
“No ma’am.” I nodded in acknowledgement, grabbing a clear glass, filling it from the plastic pitcher sitting in the under the counter fridge. Tucking a stained menu under my arm, and balancing both glasses, which I could swear was a lost Olympic sport, I headed around the vintage style counter. The poor thing had obviously seen better years, it was cracked in as many places as the foundation the building itself sat on.
I finally laid eyes on him after as I shook my wild red hair out of my face. Immediately I felt like I had been punched in the stomach; as if the wind had been knocked out of me. Not exactly the way I thought love at first sight would have feel, but lust, definitely lust.
Even though he was sitting down I could tell he was tall, very tall, and would easily tower over me. His short black hair was cut neatly around his ears and neck. He had pale blue eyes I would have happily drowned in if he would let me. A strong jaw, plus perfectly sculpted lips, and to my dismay, wearing a Marines tee.
I muttered under my breath.
He was without a doubt the most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on.
“H-here you go,” I stuttered quietly, setting his drinks and menu on the table in front of him. Taking a deep, steadying breath, I began to speak again, “Let me know when you’re ready to order.”
“Thank you ma’am.” He nodded raising his eyes to meet mine. I knew I had made a mistake when our eyes connected. With a fair amount of certainty, the entire world stopped and started spinning in the opposite direction. A nauseous feeling was building in my stomach as I held my breath, and forced myself to walk away.
“Don’t think about him, do not even turn around. It was nothing. There was no connection, he’s just a customer, and you’re an idiot. I’m sure he has that effect on most sane, breathing women that have a pulse.”
I leaned against the counter with my back towards him trying my hardest to convince myself it was all in my head.
“You’re just overreacting. God, don’t be stupid, Ellie. Distract yourself. One, two, three, four...”
“Miss?” His voice stopped me at the number twenty-seven. Taking another deep breath, I pulled out my ticket book, and stood with shaking hands in front of him.
“What can I get ya’?” I managed to say without stuttering this time.
“Four pancakes, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, oatmeal. Do you have oatmeal?” He flipped the menu page. “If not grits will work although I really like oatmeal. Um.. toast, and a side of gravy.”
“It might have been easier if you told me what you didn’t want.” I laughed, writing it down. “And yes, we have oatmeal.”
“That’s a light meal.” He grinned with a hint of red in his cheeks.
“Impressive, I’ll put it in.” I clicked my pen closed. “My name is Ellie if you need anything just yell for me. I should be able to hear you over all the noise.” I teased, ripping the ticket off the book and clipped it to the wheel. I spun it around tapping the bell lightly as it rang out through the silent diner.
Shep grumbled from his stool in the corner, tossing back another swig from his flask. I sighed, knowing that as soon as he was finished cooking he’d drink himself back into oblivion. Not like it mattered, Shep wasn’t real pleasant company even when he was awake.
Turning on the small CD player I hid under the bar Mike Ness began crooning through the speakers. I swear his voice could cure cancer. There was just something about it that soothed my soul. Humming along, I swayed my hips back and forth, lost in my own little world as I wiped down the counter. The diner was usually empty at this hour of the morning. I needed something to keep me occupied, mostly to keep me from staring at the beautiful man sitting in the booth twenty feet away from me.
“Ellie, it’s too early for your chipper bullshit.” Shep grunted from the cook station, the scraping of his spatula against the griddle always got on my nerves.
“I am the ray of sunshine on your dark, tortured soul, Shep.” I smirked as I started to dry off clean coffee mugs, stacking them neatly for the morning shift.
“Sunshine my ass.”
“Um, Ellie?” The man asked quietly, raising his fingers in the air.
“Yes sir, what can I do for you?”
“Can I get some more coffee, please?”
“Absolutely,” I picked the coffee pot off the tray and refilled his cup, avoiding eye contact.
“Thank you.” He nodded, picking up the cup to take a drink.
“No problem. Your feast should be ready any minute.” I sat the pot back down and pulled one of the large round trays out as Shep started piling plates on the counter.
“What’s your major again, Ellie?” Shep asked as he staked the last pancake on top.
“Double major, social work and music.” We had this conversation at least once a week. Shep was usually drunk or hungover every time he asked and never seemed to remember.
“What does that even mean?” Shep scoffed, his lips curling up in almost a look of disgust.
“I want to help children who are in difficult situations. Well that and I love music, I guess that goes without saying though.” I gave him a tight lipped smile as I took the plates and walked away.
“That’s a noble cause.” The man said as I started unloading my tray in front of him.
“Coming from a man in a Marines tee? Hardly.” I shook my head, laughing. “Unless you’re just one of those guys that wear them trying to pick up a base bunny.”
“Don’t let it fool you. I know a lot of people that could have used someone like you at a point in time. You will change lives, Ellie.” He gave me a wide smile that revealed his deep set dimples and admittedly caused my heart to skip a beat... or twelve.
“Thank you, um... I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Atlas Ryker, ma’am.” He wiped his hands on the napkin in his lap then extended it toward me.
“It’s nice to meet you Atlas, I’m Ellie Grant.” His hand was warm, calloused, and easily twice the size of mine. I marveled at the feel of skin on skin.
“I assure you the pleasure is mine.” He brought my hand to his lips, lightly kissing the back of it. I could have died, melted really, into a puddle of giddy, over the moon, glittery, rainbow colored girl goo. None of which would have been remotely normal or attractive.
Atlas held onto my hand for what seemed longer than necessary. I purposely focused on his forehead, there was no way I was going to make the mistake of eye contact again. “If...” I cleared my throat, pulling my hand away. “If you need anything just let me know.” I whispered and moved away as quickly as my unsteady legs would carry me.
“Stupid shaking legs,”
I admonished myself.
“Cocky, self assured bastard probably does this to every girl. Probably over there smiling at how stupid I look right now. I should smack that look right off his face...”
“Yes, sir?” I asked politely, his voice interrupting my internal dialogue.
“Can I get butter and syrup, please?”
“Of course.” Gathering the sticky syrup dispenser and packs of butter I carried them to his table. I stood there, just staring at the top of his head, not sure what to do or say next. My eyes wandered over his exposed skin, brown from the North Carolina summer sun, mixed with his southern accent, he was killing any resolve I thought I had.
“Thank you. Oh, one more thing?” His drawl made it sound more like
which caused me to bite my jaw in an ill fated attempt not to smile.
“Do you work this shift every day?” He smiled innocently at me as I bit my bottom lip, looking down at the floor. I was starting to get the feeling he was going to be hard to get rid of.
“For the most part. I guess you’ll just have to come in and see, won’t you?”
“Count on it.” He challenged, calling after me as I walked away with for the first time in awhile something to look forward to.
For the next two weeks Atlas Ryker came in every single day. I think he finally realized at the beginning of week three that I’m off on Sunday. I had to admit I was impressed by his persistence. The boy apparently liked a challenge or maybe it was just plain Marine stubbornness. Either way, he showed up at some point during every shift and like a fool, I waited for him.
This Saturday morning was no exception. It was close to five in the morning when he finally showed up. Just by the sound of his boots on the linoleum I knew it was him before he even said a word. “The usual Atlas?” I asked as the chair protested when sat down. He had taken to sitting at the counter this last week so he could talk to me.
“Yes ma’am, Miss. Ellie.” He grinned as I looked at him over my shoulder, my long red curls were hanging loose and untamed today. I kept having to push them away to see his face.
“You got it.” I returned his smile, pouring him a cup of coffee. “I was starting to wonder if you were going to show up today or if you got tired of me already.”
“I don’t think that could happen.” Atlas grinned at me as I blushed. “How was your day?” He asked as I leaned against the counter writing out his ticket and attaching it to the wheel. My palm hit the bell at least half a dozen times before Shep perked up.
“Not bad, long, but just the usual Saturday routine. Sleep, beach run, groceries, so on and so forth.” I pushed a tangle of red curls away from my face yet again. “What about you?”
“It’s better now.” He peered up at me through a frame of thick, dark, envy worthy lashes. His dimples exposed as he grinned. It still made me a little weak to see that smile.
“Why is that?”
“Because I’m here with you.”
“Oh...” I looked away to hide my yet again crimson face.
“Order up!” Shep slurred. I grabbed the plates two at a time, placing them in front of him, including butter and syrup.
“Thanks.” Atlas unrolled his fork from the napkin, digging into his eggs. “Can I ask you something, Ellie?” He spoke after swallowing.
“Sit with me?” Atlas looked up at me with a hopeful smile.
“Sure,” I said hesitantly, not sure I’d be able to deny him even if I wanted to. Sliding onto the swivel chair next to him, I tucked my legs underneath my bottom.
“Are you from here?” Atlas asked, eying me curiously.
“No,” I shook my head. “I moved around a lot until high school. My mom eventually decided to move back to Portland. I lived there through most of my junior and senior year. I came here for college.”
“It’s warmer? Less rain? Better people?” I laughed, shrugging. “What about you?”
“Nope, all my family lives in Texas.”