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       Last Resort, p.8

           Jill Sanders
Luke spent the next couple of hours in his hotel room. He was staying in a small place just outside of town. His laptop keys clicked as he answered emails, moved his schedule around, and sent a dreaded email to his father. He clicked the send button and less than five minutes later his cell rang. Knowing it would be his dad, he closed his eyes and sighed. He’d really hoped to put him off for a few hours.

  “Hi, Dad,” he answered and held the phone away from his ear, waiting for the explosion he knew was coming.

  An hour later, with his ear ringing and his head pounding, he showered and dressed to go to Cassey’s place. He knew his father wouldn’t like the update he’d sent, but he had no idea the old man would threaten to disinherit him if he didn’t make this deal happen. Why was Cassey’s property so important?

  He had more questions now than when he’d been given the assignment, and he knew only one place to get some answers.

  As he walked down the boardwalk towards The Boardwalk Bar & Grill, he looked at the other business along the way. There were souvenir shops, small food vendors, an ice cream parlor, even a tattoo shop. Each place had small-town charm. However, some of the businesses sat empty, and their dark windows hung like a cloud over the otherwise happy boardwalk. Cassey’s was the largest building and lot along the mile-and-a-half-long strip and the best located. There were tables and chairs sitting outside surrounded by bright flowers in colored wood boxes, making the small patio area look secluded and romantic. Since the weather was turning colder, there weren’t any customers dining outside.

  When he walked in, the place was almost packed again. If she was struggling with nights like this, he wondered how it used to be and where all her money was going. He knew she had a loan out on the place, but he’d checked the records, and the payments were low enough that she could easily covered them with the traffic she was having. Maybe she owed her family?

  He walked up to the bar as Wendy smiled at him. Tonight her top was even lower than the night before and still he found her ample cleavage lacking.

  “Back again.” She smiled as he nodded. “What’ll you have, sweetie.”

  “Rum and Coke.” He turned to look at the place as she went to get his drink. The huge room was separated into two sides. In the back was a stage area with a large dance floor. The dance floor was separated from the dining area by a small half wall. There were two steps leading down to the area, and he had no doubt that the area packed out on nights they had live music.

  The other side was the dining area with the bar to the side. There were tall booths that lined the wall and tables in the middle of the floor. The cream-colored tablecloths, along with the lighting and flowers on each table, gave the place an almost rich look. He had to admit, she’d done a great job making the two halves work side by side.

  Half an hour and two drinks later, he watched Cassey walk down the stairs. Tonight she wore a silver skirt that hugged her in all the right places. Tall black boots went all the way up to her thighs, and she wore a long net shirt over a silver tank top that flowed just past her belly. She wore silver earrings and jewelry that sparkled in the light. Her long hair flowed down her back in tight curls that looked soft enough to bury his face in.

  She walked up to him, and he felt like his tongue had grown three sizes.

  “Evening.” She smiled and nodded to Wendy, who quickly produced a can of Coke. Cassey leaned on the bar next to him and took a sip.

  “You look…amazing,” he finally said. Then he pulled her closer and she heard him sniff her neck and hair, no doubt smelling her rich perfume she enjoyed to indulge in. She tensed for a split second, and then relaxed into the embrace.

  When she pulled back, she heard Wendy sigh. “You’ll excuse me; I have to make my rounds. Wendy…” She waited until her friend walked over. “Get Mr. Callaway anything he wants.” She turned and started her nightly ritual. It was still early and the band had yet to show up. She knew it would be an hour before the hectic scurry started. The large back doors opened to the alleyway so that equipment coming and going didn’t disturb the diners.

  As she walked around the tables, she noticed that there were regular customers scattered around the room. That always made her happy, but new customers were the key to her business. Tourists made up at least seventy percent of the revenue. And in the last few months, she was seeing those numbers dwindle.

  By the time she had made it around the room, her feet hurt from her new three-inch high-heeled boots. Oh, they were totally worth the slight pain, but she had to admit she couldn’t wait to slide them off and sink down into a nice hot bath.

  Late nights had been part of her life since opening the place, and her body was used to the hours. She had more energy than most people did between the hours of seven and one. But it still took a full can of Coke to keep her going; her long-time addiction to the drink helped her mentally get through the later hours.

  But tonight she had the extra weight of wondering what would happen after she locked those doors. Looking across the room, she saw Luke leaning against the bar, watching her. The heat that had come from his eyes earlier had seared her. She couldn’t remember ever having been looked at like that before. There had been no doubt what he wanted when he saw her walk across the room towards him. She thought that if he could have, he would have marched her up those stairs and back into her apartment. Images of him touching her, what he’d do to her, had flashed into her head ever since they had made their arrangement.

  She’d had several relationships in the past, and most had ended amicably. The longest had been Bill, lasting all of five weeks. She knew she had commitment issues. Hell, who wouldn’t after living through the horror of her early childhood? She always pulled away before getting too close. She supposed it was because she didn’t trust herself to be…well…herself around men.

  During any relationship, she would see subtle changes in herself and immediately call it off. They had never been major changes, just little things like using his type of toothpaste instead of hers. Most people would simply overlook things like this, but she couldn’t.

  She watched Luke turn around and start talking to Wendy. She knew Wendy had gotten her hint about keeping her hands off. They’d been friends ever since she’d hired her that first week. Wendy was one of the only women outside of her family she actually trusted. When she’d heard that Wendy had a similar story to her own, the bond had grown fast and strong.

  Luke laughed at something Wendy said, and the sound reverberated through the room. His rich voice was easy to pinpoint in the crowd.

  Just then, she received a text saying the band was in the alley, waiting for her to let them in. Walking over to the back doors, she opened them and saw Mike. Mike was the epitome of 80s throwback. She was sure that there had been a time when he had been in many young girls’ dreams, but the years hadn’t been kind to his hairline or his waistline. But he was a legend for his voice along the whole coastline, and his band played all the right songs and knew how to pack in a crowd.

  “How’s it going tonight, Cass?” He shifted the large speaker he was holding to hug her.

  “Great. We’re all ready for you. Tyrone even tells me there’s a line growing outside.” She propped open the doors to let the rest of the band and all their equipment in.

  Less than an hour later, the music started pumping and the crowd was packed in tight. Cassey leaned back against the bar and smiled over at Luke.

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