“Yo, Bobby! There’s some fine ass looking woman outside trying to get in,” I heard some guy yelling from inside. The double glass doors may have been locked but they were hardly soundproof.
I smirked. Not because some douche thought I was hot, but because I was anticipating the disappointed look on Bobby’s face when he came out from the back and realized the fine ass woman was just me.
I saw his head pop out from the beer cooler, his eyes squinting. It was gorgeous out, but the sun was probably blinding him considering he lived the life of a mole…or a bat. Whatever. Either way, owning a bar meant Bobby rarely saw daylight.
“Here, let her in.” He tossed the keys to the other guy. So far this mysterious stranger had stayed just far enough in the shadows for me to make out zip about him, aside from the fact that he was tall. Really tall. And broad.
“You know her?” The guy shook his head. “I need to get out more.”
Meanwhile, I was out and it was getting fucking hot out here.
Finally the door opened.
“About time,” I mumbled as I burst in past him and went straight for the back of the bar where Bobby was busy fumbling around with one of the beer taps.
“I thought you were coming by earlier. What happened?” He wiped off the tap and threw the rag onto the counter behind him.
“For starters, you took the wrong keys when you left last night and I had to spend two hours hunting down my set of spares just so I could start my truck to get here.” I tossed a bundle of keys at him. “Must be nice having roommates who leave the door open for you.”
He grinned. “Probably helps that I keep my car keys with the bar set as well.” Just then the other guy came up beside me and slid the lanyard holding all the bar keys across the bar top back to Bobby.
“Yeah. Probably.” Bobby made me crazy sometimes. I was about to tell him so for the millionth time when I noticed the other dude just leaning up against the counter beside me, watching Bobby and me interact.
“Please don’t tell me you’re dating this guy.” He pointed at Bobby when he said it, an expression of disbelief to go with it.
“Ew.” I made a face. “I wasn’t going to.”
Bobbly laughed. “I keep forgetting you two haven’t met. Derek, this is my sister. Joss, meet Derek.”
The previous look of disbelief was still there as he shifted his gaze back and forth between myself and my brother, only now it was accompanied with a touch of surprise. “You two are related?”
“Believe me, I’ve had my doubts about it, too.” I shook my head. I’d yet to see any resemblance between Bobby and me either and there were days I wondered if my mother’s jokes about the milkman had been all that funny. “So, Derek, is it? Don’t you think it’s a bit early in the day to be getting shitfaced?”
“I thought we talked about not judging my customers,” Bobby said dryly.
“And I’m not here for some unofficial happy hour.” Derek nodded over at the adjoining room where half of the floor had been pulled up. “I’m his contractor.”
“Oh. You’re that Derek.”
“That Derek? What does that mean?” His brows were knitted in confusion.
“Just means she thought you were an asshole before she met you and now she’s feeling stupid about it,” Bobby piped up from behind the counter where he was now putting away a tray of clean glasses.
“I didn’t think you were an asshole. I just…didn’t understand what was taking so long.” Up until recently my brother’s bar, The Flying Monk, had been fairly small, but with business doing well, he’d been ready to expand the place. So, he’d acquired the adjoining store and then hired Derek, apparently, to do the build for him. Which was all fine and good, but in my defense, Bobby had hired me to do a job as well, and I couldn’t do shit until Derek was done. Also, it was worth mentioning that I’d pictured Derek to be about twenty years older and a hundred pounds heavier…you know, like every other contractor I’d ever dealt with. But apparently my brother had access to the special ‘contractors-who-could-easily-pass-as-Ryan-Gosling’s-body-double’ pool when he did his hiring.
“You didn’t under – “ Derek straightened up from where he’d been comfortably leaning against the counter and started walking toward his mini construction zone. “Come here. I’ll show you what’s been taking so fucking long.” He kept mumbling as he went. “Understand what’s taking so long. You’ll understand in a minute…”
Next thing I knew I was standing in a pile of rubble, but I still didn’t get what I was looking at.
“What’s with all the pipes?” They looked like they were sprouting out of the ground every two feet like some sort of iron weeds. It was obvious what the problem was, but simply conceding that Derek had a point and that it was clear to me now why the renovations weren’t moving at the speed of light just seemed like a missed opportunity for easy entertainment. So, I kept my face blank and, using my most matter of fact voice, said, “I thought this was going to be a dance floor. Won’t those fuckers be a little hazardous for dancing? I mean, the word lawsuit is basically flashing in my mind as we speak.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Derek do a double take between myself and the flooring. His hands came forward to gesture something and then fell to his sides before he even got started. Finally he managed to formulate some words.
“It’s not like I put them there!” His one hand made a reappearance as he waved it at the minefield of pipes before us. “I’m trying to get rid of them all!”
My lips gave way to a crooked grin as I reached up to pat his shoulder. “Damn, getting you riled up is way too easy. Almost takes the fun out of it.”
His face fell. “You were fucking with me.”
“I was fucking with you.” I stepped further into the wreckage. “But seriously, what is all this shit? What was this? A gym shower room or something?”
He chuckled. “Close. Dog spa. Fucking mini bathtubs everywhere. Took me three days just to get them all out of here.”
“What did you do with them?” I had a sick addiction to other people’s trash. Not like, gross trash, but basically anything I could repurpose in some way. For some reason mini-bathtubs just screamed gardening to me.
“Right now they’re all loaded up in my trailer. Haven’t gotten much farther than that. Been too busy here.” I felt his hand touch my elbow. “Come on, we better get back to solid ground. I can still hear you saying the word lawsuit in the back of my mind.”
I laughed. “If I promise not to sue anyone, can we talk some more about those tubs? Because I could totally take them off your hands. You know, as a favor to you. My way of making it up to you for hassling you about how long you’re taking with this job.” The words were practically shooting from my lips at high speed in hopes that I could get Derek to take me up on my offer before we reached my brother again.
“Why would you do that exactly?” Judging from the suspicious way his eyes were squinting, Derek hadn’t bought it.
“I told you, to help you out.” I shrugged my shoulders, demonstrating how meaningless it all was, but in reality I was frothing at the mouth. I wanted those tubs. I wanted them bad. It had taken me all of thirty seconds to envision my backyard lined with those suckers all filled with dirt and fabulous little veggie plants sprouting over the top. Oh, and herbs. Fresh herbs. Yes. “I mean, look at the mess in there. When will you possibly have the time to deal with them yourself?”
Just then Bobby showed up again. “Them what?”
“Them tubs.” Derek nodded toward what was left of the dog spa. “Apparently your sister is itching to make a dump run.”
It was all over now.
“Yeah, right. She doesn’t even know what that is. Unless she thinks of her garage as a dump.” Bobby lifted his brows and nodded to himself. “And some days it looks like she does.”
“Would you stay out of this?” I refused to even face him and instead kept my eyes locked on Derek. “I’m serious though. I want the tubs. What’s it gonna take?”
What had started out as curiosity had quickly turned to pleasure. “What are you? One of those hoarders or something? You know, they have professional help for people like you. There’s no shame in it.”
I could hear Bobbly laughing behind me but continued to ignore him.
“I’m not a hoarder, you jackass. I just like to recycle.”
“Is that what you’re calling it? You know, denial will be your biggest obstacle in reaching a successful recovery.” Derek’s blue eyes were sparking with pure delight, taunting me. If he hadn’t been a complete stranger I would have slugged him for it. And here I had felt bad for screwing with him earlier.
“That’s fine,” I nodded. “It’s cool. Go ahead and make fun of me. But this job is going to take you a while, so I’m going to have ample opportunity to come back and torture you. And now that I know you’re down to play, I’m not going to go so easy on you.”
Derek smirked and glanced past me, over at my brother. “Should I be scared? Because that sounded like maybe I should be scared.”
“To be honest, I got a little scared for you.” They were both having way too much fun on at my expense, which Bobby apparently realized when he saw me scowling at him. “Hey want to sample some booze and call it a truce?”
“You’re bribing me with alcohol? Have you met me?”
“I have. This is a coffee flavored liqueur.” Damn, if ever there was a type of booze that might be of interest to me. “The rep brought it in as a sample. Guess it’s new so they’re pushing it on everyone.”
“And now you’re pushing it on me?” I pulled up a stool and had a seat. “Okay, one tiny little sample. But mix it in with something. I don’t want that shit straight.”
Derek had a seat beside me, but gave Bobby a dirty look when he held the bottle out toward him. “Yeah, I’ll pass. Pretty sure men aren’t allowed to drink anything with the world liqueur in the name.”
I shrugged. “I don’t see why that would be a problem for you.”
He clutched his chest dramatically. “Damn, girl.”
Meanwhile, Bobby still seemed to be pleasantly entertained by our antics from his side of the bar.
“Here we go. One coffee flavored girly drink and one very manly beer.” He set both down in front of us. “Now then, I’m going to finish doing inventory in the cooler. Try not to kill each other in my absence, would ya?”
I watched him disappear in the back and then took a sip.
“Damn, that’s tasty. Now if only it came caffeinated.”
Derek chuckled. “You’re one of those, huh?”
I didn’t follow. “One of what?”
“You know, one those people who think enough coffee can take the place of sleep.”
“I happen to know for a fact that it can.” I took one last drink and then pushed the glass away even though it was still filled three quarters of the way. I’d never been a big drinker. Even less now. “Speaking of, I think I’ll hold off and have the real deal when I leave here.”
Derek didn’t seem to be making much headway with his beer either. Probably a good thing considering he was working with power tools.
“What brings you down here today anyway? I mean, I’ve been on this job for a month now, and you don’t seem to make a regular appearance.”
I’d completely forgotten. “Shit.” I jumped down from my barstool and went to walk around the bar. “Bobby! I totally spaced it, but I’ve got all your stuff in the back of the truck. It’s all wide open. We should probably go unload it before someone else comes along and does it for us.” I turned back to Derek. “And you’re right. I don’t come out this way much anymore, but while you’re working on fixing up the new space, I’m working on stuff to fill it with. Brought the first load of tables and chairs today.”
Bobby came out of the cooler a second later. “Ready?”
“I’m waiting on you, asshole.”
“Well, let’s do this then.”
Together the three of us headed for the front door and outside, where my old Bronco was parked on the curb. The back door was still open, revealing several chairs and tables I had skillfully crammed back there. Thankfully everything seemed to still be just the way I had left it. Of course, it would have taken some serious skill to untangle everything I had so carefully fit together like a 3D puzzle in my trunk.
One by one, I pulled each piece out and handed it off to the guys.
“Wow. This is nice. You did this?” Derek was inspecting my work on one of the chairs.
“Yup.” I handed him a second one.
“Maybe sometime you could come over to my place and check out my bedroom. I could show you some stuff in there I think you’d really like.” It was obvious the second he quit talking that hearing the words out loud hadn’t sounded quite the same as it had in his head.
I lifted my left brow suspiciously. “I don’t know, are you about to bribe me with a piece of candy to take a ride over there in your sketchy looking van?”
He laughed, clearly embarrassed. “Yeah, that didn’t come out right. What I meant to say was, I just picked up a whole set of bedroom furniture at another job. It’s old and worn, but it’s solid wood with some amazing detail work on it. I think you could really turn it into something beautiful. If you wanted to.” Then he turned back, glancing up the side of the street lined with cars. “Oh, and I drive a truck. Not a van. But I do have a box of Mike and Ikes in the glove compartment I’d be willing to share if that sweetens the deal any for you.”
“That actually doesn’t hurt.” I unloaded the last of the pieces, a table, and jumped out of my Bronco just as Bobby came back for another set of chairs, leaving Derek and me to bring in the table together.
Once everything was set up inside, it only seemed natural to take a seat and have a test drive of the new furniture.
“I dig it.” Bobby nodded, peering around the room from his spot. “They’re comfy enough, but not bulky. Nice to look at, but not girly. These will work. How many more you got coming for me?”
I shrugged. “Depends on how much room you’ll have over there and how much of it will be designated for a dance floor. I did score three different pub style tables and barstools when I went garage sale-ing last weekend, which I think will go really well up along the wall. So, you know, those for sure.”
He ran his hand across the table’s surface. “And this shit is waterproof, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Obviously.”
Derek chuckled. “I’m starting to see that brother sister thing. It’s actually pretty clear now.”
My attention shifted back to him as he said it. When our eyes met, he flashed me a smile. Not a cocky, hey baby what’s happening smile, but a genuine, sweet and almost familiar smile that gave me the tinglies in the pit of my stomach. For a moment I thought maybe the sushi I had for lunch had given me food poisoning. Then I remembered what those feelings were. I was attracted to him. Fuck around.
“Well, I think I’m done here.” I stood up from my chair rather abruptly.
“When can I expect the next load?” Bobby asked, tipping his seat so far back, two of the legs were no longer touching the floor.
“When you have some solid ground to put it on.” I tipped my head at Derek. “So, hurry that shit up, would you?”
He grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Hm. Alright then.” I turned to make my exit.
I looked over at Bobby. “What?”
He was thoroughly amused with something. “No, it’s just Joss is going to be pissed when she realizes I still have her keys.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a key chain that appeared to have a spoon dangling from it amidst the keys.
“What the fuck is that?” I reached for them to have a better look.
“She wasn’t kidding about liking old shit and finding new ways to use it. Guess she scored a whole silverware drawer at some yard sale a while back. You don’t even want to know all the different things she’s made out of forks and spoons. Pretty sure my aunt has a necklace and earing set that could come in handy the next time she goes camping.”
I laughed, flipping the spoon around in my fingers. She had a quote stamped into the medal.
“I shall not weep. I shall not disappear in sleep. I shall not accept defeat. Not as long as I have promises to keep.” I glanced back at Bobby. “What does that mean?”
He shrugged. There was no sign of the previous lighthearted grin. “Just means I should probably get those keys back to her before she leaves.” Bobby stood up and held his hand out.
I dropped my arm to my side, keeping the keys out of his reach. “I’ll go catch her. I was going to ask her about something anyway.”
Bobby made a face like he wasn’t happy, but he didn’t argue. “Cool. But hurry. She really needs those.” He nodded toward the door, but I was already on my way.
I caught Joss just as she was locking up the back of her Bronco and preparing to climb into the driver’s seat.
“I think you forgot these.” Standing behind her I dangled the set of keys over her shoulder.
She grabbed them and spun around slowly. Suddenly we were standing closer than I’d expected.
“No problem. Hey, about that bedroom furniture. Did you want to come by and take a look at it sometime?” I was smiling. I could feel it. It wasn’t intentional, it just kept fucking happening.
“Sure.” She sounded hesitant, but for some reason that didn’t stop me from pushing the issue. After all, it was strictly a business deal from which we both stood to benefit, right?
I leaned my head back slightly in the direction of my truck. “I’ve got some time right now…”
“Now works.” As soon as she said it I had to run down the list of things I had to do that day. Now was not a good time, which Bobby would likely confirm if I consulted him. Of course I didn’t plan to. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder what parts of my body were currently not on speaking terms. Clearly my mouth had been communicating with some part other than my brain when it opened up.
“Cool. I live just up the road. You wanna just follow me up there?”
Joss made face. “I thought I would have access to Mike and Ikes.”
She caught me completely off guard. “Oh. Well, yeah, you can obviously ride with me. I didn’t think you’d be comfortable with that.”
“Dude, I’m going to your house to check out your bedroom. Getting a ride sort of pales in comparison.” She smirked. “Besides, Bobby seems to think you’re okay.”
“Bobby likes everyone.” I said it slowly. I knew I wasn’t helping my case.
“I know.” She pointed up ahead. “So, which one’s yours?”