“Who you texting?”
I lean over the bar across from Claire, making her jump at the sound of my voice. She had her full attention focused on her phone and she quickly looks back down at it.
“She’s worried about you?”
A smile tugs at her beautiful lips and she looks up at me under her dark lashes. “She wants to know how I went propositioning you.”
I snatch her third shot glass for the night away and put it under the bar. “Given that you were successful, I’m cutting you off.”
“Why’s that?” she asks, making a cute frowny-face.
I lean in so we’re mere inches apart, tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear, and say, “Because I want you sober enough to remember every single thing I’m going to do to you tonight.”
I hear her draw in a breath and watch as her eyes darken even further. I pull back and grin. “So what did Kara think about your decision to proposition me?”
“She thought it was a great idea.”
I bark out a laugh. “Yeah, right.”
“I did tell you she’s been encouraging me to…broaden my horizons.”
“Come on, Claire. There’s no way Kara thought this was a good idea.”
She shrugs, making it clear her best friend doesn’t approve.
“Kara’s never been my biggest fan,” I say, saving her the admission.
“Well, you’ve always been a bit of a jerk,” she says with a crooked smile.
I can’t help but tease her. “Can you imagine what would have happened if I’d been nice to you before now?”
“Well, rest assured I’m about to start being very nice to you, so you’re going to find out.”
I watch her throat as she swallows, pleased at how I affect her. She doesn’t meet my eyes as she says, “You’re almost done here, then?”
“We’re about to start closing up and cleaning soon.”
“Anything I can do to help?” she asks, blushing.
I grin at her poorly concealed impatience before looking first at Mike and then at Ally. “We should have it sorted, but I’ll let you know if anything comes up.” I can pretty much guarantee something will be coming up if I stand around much longer studying Claire and imagining what sorts of fun I could show her.
It’s after two in the morning by the time I’m even close to being done with the cleaning. Since Rufus, the owner, trusts me implicitly, I’m the one in charge of most of the closing shifts. There is always a lot of work to be done, but the boss has a list of things that needs to be crossed off, making it easy to work through everything quickly and efficiently. It’s the only time I don’t mind being organised. Closing properly means the opening shift staff are better prepared.
I ask Mike to do the mopping and Ally to wipe down the benches and the tables and the bar stools.
After being continually distracted by the fact Claire is standing at the bar without underwear on and that she reapplied her pink lip gloss when she went to the bathroom earlier, I decide to put my distraction to work. Since she’s asked me several times if she can help, I ask her to clear the dishes out of the sink and fill the dishwasher. She calls me a taskmaster, but I can tell she’s happy to help.
I actually love managing. Aside from the extra cash it affords me, I enjoy motivating people. Not that most of my staff need motivating. The people I work with like their jobs, and I hope I’m at least part of the reason why. I try to keep things fun and easy while still getting the job done.
Over the past year, Rufus has dropped plenty of hints about wanting to sell up and retire. I know the boss would be a happy man if I bought the place, but I don’t have that kind of cash. I’ve been saving up for my world trip for a while now and buying a bar is well and truly out of my budget. Besides, as much as I love the bar and my job here, I love it because I know I can walk away from it at any time. It’s never going to keep me locked down. I don’t owe anyone anything but a couple of weeks’ notice if I want to leave. I like that feeling. It makes me comfortable. If there is ever any stress, or I decide I don’t like what I’m doing, I can just leave.
Claire, on the other hand, has devoted her life to stress and hard work. Well, until now, apparently.
Once I’m satisfied I have almost everything covered, I send Ally and Mike out the door. But not before Mike can tease me about wanting to be alone with Claire.
Unfortunately, it didn’t escape Mike’s notice just how hot Claire looked tonight, or that I had my tongue down her throat while we were supposed to be working. My bartender has been pestering me all night with questions about whether Claire is my friend or girlfriend or something else entirely?
“Let’s just say I’m into her and that’s all you need to know,” I told Mike after it became apparent the questions would never end.
It was the first time I’d ever decided not to use Austin as a reason why a guy shouldn’t pursue Claire.
She must have heard my answer because she stopped what she was doing and looked over her shoulder at me, giving me a smile that was both sweet and sexy all at once.
As I finally lock the door behind Mike and Ally, I’m extremely aware of the fact that I’m now alone with Claire.
She exits the kitchen just as I walk into the bar area to go look for her.
“It’s late,” she says.
“Are we alone?”
“Are we going to talk now? Or are you going to give me a ride home?”
Her eyes keep darting between me and the floor, and she keeps shuffling from one foot to another, obviously nervous.
Normally, I’d find her nervousness adorable, but I’m feeling nervous too, my heart beating fast and my whole body uncomfortably hot. The way she affects me has always been over the top and tonight is no different. Well, except for the fact that I’m actually going to get to act on years of pent-up lust tonight.
The thought makes my blood rush so fast I can hear the swoosh of it in my ears.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I ask, needing to convince myself that this is really happening.
“I wouldn’t have put myself out there tonight if I wasn’t. The first time you turned me down was bad enough.”
“I’m just trying to do the right thing by you.”
“Funny. I never pegged you as such a do-gooder, Dylan James.”
“You bring out the do-gooder in me in a way no one else does.”
“I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.”
“Be flattered. You should definitely be flattered.”
Her smile is tight. “So, are you done trying to do the right thing by me now?”
“I can honestly say there’s nothing right about the things I’ve been thinking about doing to you for the past few hours.”
Her mouth forms a cute little O.
We’ve slowly been moving closer to each other as we’ve talked, and now she’s finally standing within reach. The memory of how hot her mouth was on mine is enough to jerk me into action and reach for her.
“Wait,” she says, putting a hand on my chest. “I still don’t understand why you suddenly changed your mind about all this.”
“Life is too short to have regrets.”
“Are you telling me that not sleeping together would be something you’d regret? Because earlier you seemed more than a little bothered by the idea of what this might do to your friendship with Austin.”
“That thought still bothers me, but I’m no longer prepared to let it stand in my way.”
“And is that because you want me?” she asks, her voice low and husky and yet kind of shaky, too. “Because you want this? Or is it because you’re worried that if you don’t do this, someone else you don’t approve of will?”
I can’t help but chuckle. “Are we talking about the big-brotherly chore thing again?”
“Please don’t make fun of me.”
“I’m not making fun of you, Claire,” I say, caressing her cheek with my thumb. “This isn’t a chore to me. I just need to know you’re only looking for fun.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have come to you if I was looking for anything else.”
Despite the fact I should have expected her to say that, and even though it’s exactly what I needed her to say, her words cause my chest to ache and my stomach to tighten. I don’t understand my response, so I just accept it as one more thing Claire can do to me that no one else can – just one more effect she has on me that I don’t understand.
Because of the way she turns me inside out and because of the part we’ve played in each other’s lives for the past nine years, I know that the only chance we have of not shooting everything to hell in a handbasket is to be completely honest with each other.
“Do you remember Austin and I talking about the world trip I’ve always wanted to take?” I ask.
A/N: Thanks for reading! 🙂 Please like, share or leave a comment if you enjoyed the chapter, or please just keep reading.