Hot buttered rum standal.., p.21
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       Hot Buttered Rum: Standalone Romance (Silk Stocking Inn Book 4), p.21

           Tess Oliver
 

  “Then this weekend will be the perfect start for you to come up with a whole new list of traits. I think you might surprise yourself if you look deep inside your heart. Do you play pool?”

  I thought about the community center at the apartments my mom and I had moved to when I was a teen. The pool room had been one of my favorite hangouts. And Joe, an old salty guy who loved to talk about his grandchildren but who rarely got to see them, taught me how to play and play well. “As a matter of fact, I do. But it’s been awhile. Used to be pretty good though.”

  “I imagine it’s like riding a bicycle. Finish your frittata, get dressed and meet me downstairs.” She left the room before I could even come up with a reasonable protest.

  Chapter 6

  I stared down at the jeans and blue t-shirt. Everything fit as if Coco had taken my measurements on arrival. She’d even left me a great fitting pair of black leather ankle boots. They had thick rubber soles that looked a little badass. I loved them instantly.

  I walked downstairs. Coco met me on the landing. She’d braided her thick, dark hair and she’d added a giant pair of hoop earrings to the look. It was all pretty Woodstock-like. “You remind me of my mom,” I said as I reached the bottom step.

  “Do I? Then I can only assume she is a bright, beautiful and lovely woman.”

  Coco’s confidence was catching. I was suddenly feeling less deflated about the David disaster and my silly, misguided choices.

  I held out my arms. “How do I look?”

  “All eyes will be on you when we walk through the door.”

  I laughed off her comment. Coco was the type of person who would steal every gaze and every ounce of attention in a crowded room. There just wasn’t any way I’d be noticed behind her illuminating presence.

  “I will tell you this, you are a genius when it comes to picking jeans. Do you know how many pairs I have to try on or ship back to the company until I can find the ones that fit well? Seriously, jean selection is a modern woman’s worst nightmare. And boom you throw a pair on the dresser, and they fit as if a professional tailor sewed them on me.”

  “No sense in wearing a pair of jeans unless they make your bottom look spectacular.” She lifted her finger and circled it, motioning for me to turn around. I faced away from her. “Mission accomplished. I think there will be more than the usual number of spectators around the pool table tonight.” She grabbed a sweater out of the entryway closet. It looked a little old fashioned for her, but somehow, it worked with her dress. “Shall we go?”

  “Let the adventure begin.” I said.

  ***

  The parking lot in front of the Hanky Dory, a shallow, squat building with tinted front windows and the distinctive smell of beer and the bass guitar thunder of rock n roll floating around it, was filled with an array of vehicles, ranging from luxury sedans to jeeps and motorcycles. I glanced quickly at the line of motorcycles but I hadn’t noticed enough about the one that the giant with the brown eyes and great shoulders had been riding. I had no idea if he was inside or not.

  I followed Coco and her plate of cupcakes up to a long bar counter. Metal stools were lined up in front of the bar. The rest of the place went along with the utilitarian look of the stools. With such an underwhelming and small exterior, it was surprising to see just how deep the building stretched. After a room of mismatched tables and chairs, a wide arched doorway led to a much longer room that had a line of pool tables down the center. The dark green and blue felts of the pool tables, glowing beneath the rectangular overhead table lights, were the only pops of color in the whole place.

  Coco turned to me. She had to speak loudly over the music blaring down from the overhead speakers. “Would you like something to drink?”

  I was just about to open my mouth to say white wine, but the word beer came out instead. It had been awhile since I’d had a foamy mug right from the bar tap. At some point in my efforts to grow up and become a woman, I’d convinced myself slugging back beer was gauche. But I was standing in a place where the only person I knew was a mysteriously complex woman, who I’d only met a few hours earlier. I wouldn’t have to fend off any haughty, scolding looks from David or judgmental sneers from his uptight friends. A beer sounded delightful, and if a beer moustache was gauche then I was happy to wear one.

  Hank was just as Coco had described. His meaty hands looked as if he could not just rip the phone book in half but turn it into confetti as well. And the oversized fists were just the tip of the Hulk doppleganger iceberg. His jaw looked as if it contained iron teeth, and his neck was as thick as my thigh. At the same time, he had a kind, almost gentlemanly quality in his face.

  He leaned over the counter and took the plate of cupcakes. It was quite a sight, a menacing, monstrous sized man, holding a plate of pink frosted cupcakes. Coco had piped a yellow sunflower onto each little cake. They would certainly be the hit of the birthday party.

  Hank poured wine for Coco and slid me an ice cold mug of frothy beer. Coco was drawn away by an older man, who looked quite possibly as if he was someone she’d known a long time. I stayed at the bar, hugging the counter like a wallflower, working on my foam moustache and avoiding eye contact.

  The room was filled with patrons. Just as Coco had mentioned, a lot of them looked as if they’d driven in from nearby cities. I’d lived not far away for several years and had never heard one mention of the Hanky Dory. But then, I’d somehow fallen into David’s world of more appropriate places to hang out.

  “Well, here’s a pretty new face at the Hanky Dory.” I turned around and came face to face with a tall, blue eyed man. He was clean shaven, just a little too clean for my taste, but he had a nice smile and expensive shirt. He held out a hand. “I’m Derek.”

  I pulled my hand from my beer. “Emmie. Oops, sorry, my hand’s cold.”

  He held it longer than necessary. I gave mine a little tug to let him know it. He released me reluctantly. A dash of his aftershave wafted my direction. The fragrance reminded me of the one David used. The poor man was trying to turn on the charm and sparkle in his very blue eyes, but he’d made the fatal mistake of splashing on the wrong aftershave.

  Derek leaned casually against the counter. “I was just looking for someone to play pool with. Do you play?”

  “A little.” I had to admit, the clacking sounds of the cue balls ricocheting off each other sent a warm fuzzy sense of nostalgia through me. I quickly jumped into a mind debate about whether or not I wanted to spend the next thirty minutes having to make small talk and flash friendly grins at a man, who, just by the way of his dress shirt and expensive aftershave, had quickly morphed into David’s twin. But then, it was Saturday night, and I’d be long gone from the Hanky Dory by tomorrow.

  “Actually, a game of pool would be nice.”

  “Great.”

  Chapter 7

  I picked up my beer and managed to catch Coco’s attention long enough to incline my head toward the pool tables. She winked to let me know she understood.

  I followed behind my new acquaintance and noticed that his fancy shoes looked brand new as if he’d just pulled them from a box. He was definitely a spiffy and polished man.

  There was an open pool table at the rear of the room. Benches and side tables had been set up along the stained plaster walls to accommodate spectators and people waiting for the next open table. One obscurely placed table sat in the darkest corner. Someone with an impressive shoulder span was sitting at the table with a pitcher of beer. Not wanting to stare, I didn’t look long enough to see the person clearly. Two other men, early twenties at the most and dressed in off-the-rack business suits with ties removed and collars unbuttoned, sat on the closest bench watching us with interest.

  “I think those people were waiting for this table,” I commented as Derek pulled a cue stick off the wall rack and handed it to me.

/>   He tossed only a cursory glance at the two men sitting on the bench.

  “They were, but when I saw you walk in, I decided I wanted to invite you to play.” He looked boldly down at my snug fitting jeans. “Something told me, watching you bend low over a pool table would make this whole Saturday night just that much better. So, I passed them a twenty to let me have the table.”

  I bristled at the inane attempt at flirting or dirty talk or whatever the heck the jerk was attempting. And his arrogance at passing around money to get what he wanted made me think, again, of David. Another unlikable trait.

  “What are we playing for?” I asked coldly.

  Derek rolled his jaw back and forth in thought. “I was hoping we could get creative. If you win, I’ll buy you dinner. And if I win, I’ll still buy you dinner, but then you’ll come to my place for a drink and whatever.”

  My hand shot out with the cue stick. “Nope, don’t like those stakes at all. Find someone else to play with.”

  He forced a laugh. “Just kidding. Really. Let’s play. No bet. We’ll just get to know each other over a friendly game of pool. I can even give you some pointers. I’m really good at making sure your body and aim are just right.”

  I stared at him for a second. “Rack ‘em. I’ll break.” I headed to the cue rack for a piece of chalk and rubbed it on the tip like a pro.

  My sudden confidence seemed to throw him off guard a bit. He stood frozen to the spot for a second before circling around to the end of the table to rack the balls.

  “This should be interesting,” a deep and somewhat familiar voice rolled out from the shadowy corner table.

  I turned that direction.

  The man at the table leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. It was him. It was the biker. He’d removed his padded leather motorcycle jacket. My question about where the shoulders ended and the jacket began was answered. It had been all man under the leather. His black shirt was stretched to capacity over a massive chest. The less than wholesome neck tattoos that I’d glimpsed above the collar of his coat were only the start of a myriad of ink art that covered both his arms. The dim glow of light from the pool area illuminated his face just enough for me to see it clearly. He was extraordinarily handsome in that dangerous, antihero sort of way.

  “What are you referring to?” I asked, trying to quickly regain the composure I’d lost at seeing him.

  “Referring to?” he laughed. “I like the way you talk, library lady. Bet it sounds especially hot over a pillow.”

  The tiny cube of chalk I’d been grinding ridiculously hard on the tip of my cue stick rolled from my fingers and bounced across the floor, landing, naturally, right in front of his big black motorcycle boots.

  “Emmie, let’s get started,” Derek said with a scowl shot in the direction of our shadow lurking spectator.

  “Be right there.” I looked toward the corner table and the rogue piece of chalk. “Would you mind pushing that back this direction? And try not to pulverize it with those monstrous looking boots.”

  He stared down at the chalk.

  “Emmie, they’re ready to break,” Derek huffed.

  The biker lifted his face. Something about the artificial lighting in the room made some of his tattoos look as if they were vibrating with life. “If I kick it that direction, then I won’t have the pleasure of watching you walk over here in those skin tight jeans. A big improvement from the dress, by the way. Knew you were hiding something incredible under all that fabric.”

  I stared down at the chalk and considered leaving it right where it lay. Unfortunately, I was one of those pathetic nerds who, if I sharpened a pencil and some errant shavings fell next to the trash can instead of inside of it, I’d drop to my knees to pick up each piece, no matter how small.

  Derek was getting hot under his designer shirt collar while he waited for me, but my attention wasn’t on my pool partner. It was on the giant filling up the dark corner of the pool hall with his cocky grin tilting up the side of his moustache and brown eyes that, I hated to admit, had me slightly mesmerized.

  I lifted my chin. If he wanted a show, then I was going to damn well give it to him. I swayed my hips and strode toward him. As expected, he stared at me, not missing one swing of my hips. I looked down at him for a long moment, bent down to the floor to pick up the chalk and then turned around directly in front of him. The magic jeans were giving me all kinds of confidence and I had no idea why, except that I felt pretty darn good in them.

  I glanced at him over my shoulder. His gaze was riveted to my bottom. I cleared my throat. He lifted his dark brown eyes to my face.

  “Was it all you anticipated?” I asked.

  “More than you know, sweetheart.” His expression softened some and something about the way he was looking at me made my throat tighten. For the briefest second, I felt as if I was looking at the man who could steal my heart and keep it forever.

  I dragged my gaze from his and faced the pool table. Derek looked about ready to walk.

  “Are we playing or are you going to waste time with ‘easy rider’ over there?”

  “Well, Emmie,” the biker spoke from behind. The way he said my name, with his whiskey toned voice, made my body flush with rosy warmth. “Are you gonna play?”

  I sashayed to the table and added a little more sway to my hips just to give him another look. I stood behind the table end. I shot a quick, sharp glance at Derek, then leaned confidently over the table and shattered the neatly arranged triangle of balls.

  Chapter 8

  After a few semi-skilled shots, I managed to lose some of the fluster I was feeling, not because of my partner’s serious scowls but from the man hiding in the shadows, seemingly watching my every move.

  Derek’s neck seemed to grow a darker red as each one of my stripes rolled obediently into a pocket. Several shots in, all the skills and moves Joe had taught me came flowing back. Word of a woman trouncing Derek, who was, by most standards, a good player and apparently had a reputation of always winning, had traveled all the way up to the bar. Even Coco had coasted in temporarily to watch me play. Then she’d left with a wink and a wave good-bye.

  By the time the black ball rolled merrily into the pocket, Derek looked ready to chew off the end of his cue stick.

  And, all the while, I’d taken more than my share of opportunity to catch the approving gaze of the spectator at the corner table.

  Derek laughed in a tone that was anything but amused. “All right, did Larry hire you? That’s it. You’re one of those pool sharks, one of those two-bit hustlers who pretends they can’t play to win money.”

  I raised a brow at him as I let the end of my cue stick rest on the ground. I was afraid if I didn’t, I might swing it at the idiot. “First of all, there was no bet, remember? You were going to teach me pointers?”

  That comment earned a good round of laughter from the people who had gathered to watch. It only made the red on Derek’s neck rise up to his face. He’d added a bit of a nostril flare to his expression.

  “I’m not a pool shark or hustler, and I’m definitely not two-bit. In truth, I haven’t picked up a pool cue in at least five years. Far as I’m concerned, this was just a warm up game.” More laughter and the red in Derek’s face was reaching the part in his hair.

  “Bullshit. You’re a lying bi—” Before he could finish, the chair behind me scraped the floor. All eyes in the place, and especially Derek’s, which were now bulging in fear, had focused on something behind me.

  The red in Derek’s face drained away. He gripped the pool cue as if it was his only defense. I turned around, and a breath caught in my throat. He looked even bigger than he had out in the fog. He stepped out from the shadows. I was certain I heard more than one stunned gasp circle the room behind me.

  His hard, dark stare was focused on
Derek as he walked toward the table.

  He stopped just a few feet short of my sore loser pool partner. “Good thing you decided not to finish that sentence.”

  Derek lifted his shoulders as high as they would go, but he still looked comically insignificant next to the biker. “Yeah? Why don’t you mind your own damn business.”

  With that comment, Derek had, at least, distanced himself from the David comparison. David would have already shuffled off on his loafers without looking back. Although, what Derek made up for in courage, he obviously lacked in common sense.

  The sudden tense quiet in the pool hall had alerted Hank, the owner. He was the only other human in the place who could rival the biker in size and overall scariness. He looked none too pleased with the scene that met him in his pool room.

  Onlookers parted as the giant owner lumbered to the pool table. “Damn it, Beck, don’t you go starting anything in here.”

  I realized I’d already memorized the set of the man’s shoulders and the way the head of the ink snake on his neck moved as he flexed his arms and wrists, but it was the first time I’d heard his name. Beck. It fit.

  “Not starting anything, Hank. This suit with the aftershave that smells like someone’s ass is proving to be a really bad loser. He needs to apologize to the woman for being such a dick.”

 
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