YOU DID IT!!! You all got me to 3500 likes on my Facebook page!! So as promised here is Chapter one of Always Yours! Release Date coming Summer 2014.
**Please remember this chapter is unedited and subject to change before publishing**
“Ugh, I’m going to kill her!” I screeched into the phone. “No, I will not calm down! This is the third time in two weeks she has called in sick, Shay, I can’t keep covering for her like this.” I quickly got off the couch and headed towards my bedroom, stripping off my comfy t-shirt and sweat pants while keeping the phone close to my ear. Shay was trying to keep me composed – but I’d had it with Tammy. I hired her four months ago so I could have a night away from the bar every week. I love running Maggie’s Place, it’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was fourteen, but I needed to have time for myself every once in a while as well. I relied on Tammy to run the bar when I wasn’t there and she did a fantastic job….. when she actually showed up to work.
“Alright, Shay, make sure the bar is fully stocked,” I said as I turned on the shower, “I’ll be there within the hour.” I hung up the phone and waited for the water to heat up.
Shay was my top bartender as well as my best friend. I met her the day after my mom and I moved in with Royce, my step-dad, when I was twelve. Shay lived across the street from us and was new to the neighborhood just like me. We instantly became inseparable and the moment we both turned eighteen, Royce hired us on at the bar. We started out serving tables but quickly made our way behind the bar. Royce taught us everything he knew about bartending and we both caught on quickly. When Shay and I were together behind the bar, it was like a scene straight out of the movie “Cocktail.”
I begged and pleaded with Shay to take the supervisor position but she turned me down. She didn’t want the commitment or the responsibility that came with the title. Shay was the most laid back, fun loving person I knew. She always had a smile on her face and always saw the optimism in a situation—I was the complete opposite of her. Even though we looked like we could be sisters, our personalities were far from it.
After a quick shower, I dried my short dark hair, applied a small amount of make-up and got dressed in my tight, black, Maggie’s Place t-shirt and dark wash jeans. Grabbing my purse, I headed down to my car and headed out for yet another night of work.
When I pulled up it was just past 7pm and the place was already packed. I got out of the car and cursed Tammy for calling in sick again. Damn her! We were always busy on Friday’s but something told me tonight was going to be extra demanding.
Before taking my place behind the already packed bar, I went to the office to discard my coat and purse. I was surprised to see Royce sitting behind the desk when I opened the door. His head shot up from the document he was reading the moment I stepped through the threshold. Besides me, Tammy was the only other person that had access to the office. She always stood clear of it when Royce was around, so I’m sure he was shocked to have someone barge in on him like this.
“Hey, Care-bear, what are you doing here? I thought you had the night off?” he asked, seemingly surprised at the sight of me.
“I was supposed to,” I replied as I hung my stuff up on the coat rack, “but Tammy called in sick….again.” My tone was full of annoyance and I wondered if he noticed.
“Well, you’re the manager now. What are you going to do about it?” he asked as he tapped his pen on the desk. He was staring at me with his eyebrows raised, the look in his mature eyes telling me “I told you so”.
Royce never cared too much for Tammy. With his uncanny ability to read people, he knew she wasn’t right for the job, but he wanted me to learn for myself that you can’t always trust a resume. But, being as stubborn as I was, there was no way I would ever admit that hiring her was a mistake, even though it clearly was.
“Don’t give me that look, Royce, and don’t you dare say I told you so,” I said as I placed my hand on my hip. “It’s not fair. You’ve been around so long that you can decipher a person’s flaws after just one conversation. Her resume was impressive and you know it! If it wasn’t for her lack of commitment, she would be a great fit here.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest as I pretended to pout, still not wanting to fully acknowledge the fact I was wrong.
He started to laugh, “Hey, now! Age has nothing to do with it young lady. People are like open books, all you have to do is look at the pages to read them.” He placed his arms on top of the desk and leaned onto them as he continued, “Tammy was five minutes late to her interview—that should have been your first red flag. When you asked her about her weaknesses, she couldn’t admit to any—that was your second flag. She’s self-involved. She only needed some time to show her true colors,” he said matter-of-factly, “and you, Cara, needed time to learn that just because something looks good on paper, doesn’t mean it’s always the right fit. And vice versa.”
I couldn’t help but crack a smile at his words, even though he was trying to teach me a lesson. Royce was an amazing mentor and father. He always let me make my own mistakes, but the best thing about him was even though he knew I was making them, he was always there to help me clean them up. Even though he was just my step-dad, he was a better father to me than my real dad. He had owned this bar for over fifteen years and renamed it Maggie’s Place, after my mom, the day he proposed to her. The bar meant the world to him, but my mother and I were his life. I only know because when I was little, he made sure to tell me every night before I went to bed just how lucky he was that we found him.
Royce was the hardest worker I had ever known and he demanded nothing less of his employees. He used to tell me all the time, “Success only comes to those who are willing to work hard for it.” He believed in those words so much that he hung them on the wall in the office. When I was little, I used to always roll my eyes when he would say that. But, as I got older, I realized just how true the words actually were. I knew the statement all too well lately and Royce never once took it easy on me because I was his step-daughter. I had been busting my ass every day in this bar since I was eighteen and this past year it paid off when he promoted me to manager. It was my home away from home – without it, I would feel lost and there was no way I was going to let Royce down. He was counting on me to take over in a few years when he retired and there was no way I would let this place fail. Success was my only option and I knew it was going to take hard work to make it happen and I was determined.
“Fine, I was wrong, Tammy was a bad choice. Are you happy now?” I huffed, completely despondent about owning up to my error. I couldn’t stand the fact that my first new hiring as a manager had gone over so poorly.
“As a matter-of-fact, I am. Now, maybe next time you hire someone you’ll take the time to read their resume as well as their personality.”
“Jeez! Alright, old man, I get it! I won’t be so eager next time,” I said with my hands in the air in a defensive manner, “So…do you want to go ahead and tell Tammy the bad news?” I asked him cautiously, even though I knew exactly what he was going to say.
“Care-bear…” he warned, as he tilted his head at me, “you got yourself into this mess. So I think it’s only fair that you get yourself out of it.”
“Ugh! Fine, I’ll take care of Tammy tomorrow,” I said dejectedly.
“That’s my girl. Now get to work. Shay is probably freaking out with how busy it is.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m going,” I snickered before turning around. “Have a good night, Royce,” I said, waving over my shoulder as I headed out of the office.
I made my way back to the front of the bar, pausing for a moment at the two-way swinging door. I peered through the small port-hole window and looked out over the chaos. I couldn’t believe how busy we were tonight.
The four pool tables that lined the left hand side of the bar were all occupied and swarms of women were crowded around one table in particular. I noticed the group of guys playing all had on the same dark t-shirt. It was a uniform of some sort but from where I was, I couldn’t make out what the writing on the back said. They must be pretty important if they were drawing that many women in.
Shaking my head, my eyes made their way over to the dance floor that was jammed packed with bodies as the DJ pumped out dance track after dance track. The square bar that took up most of the room was lined with people all waiting to be served. It was then that I noticed Shay. Her long black hair was pulled up into a messy bun on top of her head and a few stray tendrils were falling out in the back. When she turned around, I could see the stress in her chocolate brown eyes. She was flustered and I immediately felt guilty for stopping to take in the surroundings when she desperately needed me out there. Pushing my way through the door, I quickly took my place behind the bar with her.
A rush of relief spread across her face as I approached. “It’s about time!” she shouted over the loud music, as she filled five shot glasses with tequila. “It’s insane in here tonight. I’ve had to let the waitresses make their own drinks because I couldn’t keep up.”
I took another quick glance around the bar. People were shouting and waving their arms, trying to get our attention so they could be served. “Well, at least with this many people here, tips will be good,” I said as I gave her a smirk. Shay just laughed and rolled her eyes at me, returning her attention to the patrons throwing orders at her.
Focusing my attention on the other half of the bar, I quickly started filling orders. Soon Shay and I were into our usual rhythm, tossing and twirling bottles of liquor, giving everyone at the bar more than just drinks—we gave them a show. It was our job to entertain while bartending and it was what Maggie’s Place was famous for.
Once we were all caught up and the orders started to even out, I decided to make my way around the rest of the bar. Royce always taught me that even the smallest interaction with a customer would keep them coming back – and he was right. Maggie’s Place had so many regulars that I couldn’t keep them all straight—I knew their faces but not necessarily their names. I quickly made my way around the bar, clearing beer bottles and making small talk.
Glancing back at the bar, making sure we weren’t getting behind again, I noticed a large group of guys occupying the tables next to it. My mouth fell open at the sight of them. Every single one of them was insanely hot and well built. Their matching navy blue t-shirts read “Firefighter Academy” across the back in white bold letters and I instantly recognized them from earlier in the evening. They were the reason so many girls had been piled around the pool tables earlier. Women always gravitated to the men with a toned physique and a sexy smile—I saw it almost every night working here. But put a label like the word “firefighter” on their back? It was like a drawing a moth to a flame.
I tried so hard to peel my eyes away from the sexy display before me, but it was no use. I was now the moth fluttering her way closer to the flickering glow. Placing the tip of my thumb between my teeth, I scanned their faces one by one—my eyes falling upon the most prominent pair of spellbinding baby blues I had ever seen. The next few moments passed as if they were happening in slow motion.
I watched him, captivated by his every move, and the corners of my mouth slowly turned upward. His beautiful smile was contagious and I couldn’t help but giggle to myself while watching him. He was by far one of the most attractive men I had ever seen. He ran his hand through his short, light brown, shaggy hair as he leaned back in his chair. Lifting his beer bottle to his lips, he took a sip as his gaze roamed over the crowd. Suddenly, our eyes locked. I watched, paralyzed, as his infectious smile fade little by little. His bright eyes darkened as they moved up and down the length of my body, leaving a trail of heat everywhere they landed. By the time they met up with mine again, I was a hot mess.
No man had ever made my heart race like this, not just by looking at me! Shay would probably call my reaction ‘love at first sight’ with all the sappy romance novels she reads, but I knew better. ‘Love at first sight’ only happened in romance books and fairytales; this was reality—my reality, and it was far from a fairytale. Not to mention I didn’t even know this guy. Shit, he could be a serial killer for all I knew and I was gaping at him like some hopeless romantic!
What am I doing? This isn’t me! I’m not that kind of girl!
My heart started to race and I felt all the blood in my body rush to my cheeks. Completely mortified, I quickly looked away. I began searching for any open beer bottle or empty glass I could find, trying to make myself look like I was actually working. Finally spotting some on the table next to me, I pick them up and set them on my tray. I silently berated myself for being such a nutcase as I made my way back over to the bar and tried to push all thoughts of Mr. Baby Blues from my mind.
I was rendered useless the rest of the night. I dropped two beer bottles and an entire bottle of vodka within the two hours I had been here. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see were his intense baby blues staring back at me. As much as I fought it, as much as I hated it, his irises were engrained in my sight like the bright light of a flash after having your picture taken—except these spots weren’t going away with time….. they were getting brighter.
Grabbing my bag of Cinnamon Bears from behind the counter, I popped one into my mouth. Something about cinnamon always calmed me down when I was anxious. It was the only thing that worked when I was pregnant to reduce my nausea and calm my nerves. Ever since, I’ve always kept a stash with me. Mr. Baby Blues was having an uncanny effect on me for some reason and, since I was going to be stuck here with him more than likely for the next four hours, I was going to need all the cinnamon I could get.
“Cara?” I heard Shay yell, snapping me from my thoughts. I spun around just as her hands cupped her mouth and she continued to shout, “I need some Jose Cuerrrrrvo over here!”
With Shay’s words, the whole bar filled with cheering and hollering. Whenever one of the bartenders yelled that expression, it was a chance for free shots and the customers loved it. Instantly, a huge smile spread across my face as the sounds of Tracy Byrd’s “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo” started to play over the speakers.
Grabbing the tequila by the neck, I tossed it high into the air, making it flip over and over again before reaching around my back with my other hand and catching it. Spinning around in a circle, I tossed the bottle to Shay and she gracefully caught it and started spinning it in her hand. Picking up another bottle, I climbed on top of the bar. Everyone already had their heads titled back and their mouths open, anxiously waiting to be picked for a free shot. I looked over at Shay as she climbed up on the other side of the square bar. I strategically scanned the crowd, looking for people that seemed sober enough to handle the shots. After picking out the patrons that would be on the receiving end of my tequila bottle, I looked over to Shay to let her know it was time. She nodded back and we started dancing our way down the bar, filling people’s mouths with tequila as we went.
When we finally met in the middle, we jumped down from the bar and ventured out into the crowd as the song continued to play. Purposely avoiding the right side of the bar, I headed left so I wouldn’t have to run into Baby Blues.
As the song came to an end, Shay and I met back up in front of the bar for our final little two-step. The whole bar exploded into cheers as the song changed. Before we could jump back behind the bar, the sound of deep bellows and loud roars caught my attention. Turning my head, I realized the commotion was coming from none other than the group of drop dead gorgeous firefighters. They were all jumping up and down in the air, their fists pumping to the beat of Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark.”
Hastily, I scanned the group of men, looking for him – but he was nowhere to be found. The rest of the group was thoroughly entertaining to watch though. They had the attention of every single person in the bar and women were starting to form a circle around them as they sang the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
Leaning up against the bar, Shay and I laughed at how ridiculous the group was acting as they screeched and wailed, “FIIRREE” into their invisible microphones. Just as the first chorus of the song was ending, I was startled by an unfamiliar presence behind me. Shivers ran up my spine as I felt a warm breath graze my ear. As soon as I heard the deep, haughty voice, I knew exactly who it was.
“Didn’t anyone ever teach you that it’s rude to stare, Princess?”
My heart pounded in my chest as I spun my head round abruptly, coming face to face with Mr. Baby Blues himself. His magnetic smile made me weak in the knees, but the term of endearment he used made me sick to my stomach. That was the one word that I despised.
The memories that were brought to the surface at the mere sound of it made my stomach churn. Although, hearing it from his lips somehow minimized the ache that usually hit me so powerfully. I was so enthralled with this man that the horrible visions of my father and Lance never even entered my mind. Nevertheless, there was no way I was going to let this stranger see how much him or his words affected me. Rolling my eyes, I released a heavy, exasperated sigh as I turned and squared my shoulders with his.
“I am not a Princess,” I warned him sternly, pushing my finger into his chest. “Don’t ever call me that again!”
I could tell he was taken aback by my outburst. “Whoa! I didn’t mean any harm,” he cautioned, placing his hands in the air defensively. “But you do have a problem with staring,” he chuckled, raising his eyebrows at me.
There was something about this guy that pushed all of my buttons. He was so arrogant and, even though he had every right to be with how attractive he was, he was pissing me off.
“And you apparently have a blatant disrespect for personal space,” I snapped back as I crossed my arms over my chest, turning my nose up like I was better than him. Why was I being so mean?
His smile faded a little and I started to feel terrible for being such a bitch to him. After all, I was the one that couldn’t keep my eyes to myself. Embarrassed yet again, I lowered my head in humiliation. What’s the matter with me? I’m acting like a complete nut job in front of this guy.
Just as I was about to walk away, I felt his finger under my chin. Lifting it, he tilted my head so I was looking into his sparkling eyes—my stomach filled with butterflies from his touch.
“I like it better when you’re staring,” he stated, the laugh lines on his face framing his perfect smile.
Lowering his hand from my chin, he winked before he started to walk away and my whole body tingled with excitement. How could a complete stranger have an effect on my body like this? I should’ve diverted my eyes elsewhere as he passed, but I just couldn’t. I was the moth, yet again, as his toned and muscular physique pulled me in and kept me in a trance.
As I roamed over his body, I couldn’t help but notice the bicep tattoo that was peeking out from under his sleeve. I couldn’t make out what it was because he was moving too fast. I kept admiring him, my thumb pressed against my lips, as he joined his friends. Glancing back at me, he began jumping up and down with the rest of the group, belting out the words to the song and fist pumping to the beat—now he was the one staring. Shaking my head in a mixture of disbelief and amusement, I flashed him an awkward smile, then turned and walked away—heading straight for my stash of Cinnamon Bears.