From now on, Closing Time and the other blog will be hosted by WordPress–but on my website. This free WordPress blog will no longer receive posts. Please make a note of it in your blogrolls and bookmarks.
From now on, Closing Time and the other blog will be hosted by WordPress–but on my website. This free WordPress blog will no longer receive posts. Please make a note of it in your blogrolls and bookmarks.
My apartment is filled with the mouth-watering scent of fried onions, toasted bread, and coffee. Bless him, Damon remembered the coffee.
“Everything okay?” he asks as I step through the door.
“Yeah. I…John took care of it.” Heat fills my face as I recall why John felt the need to take over my normal duties today. Does everyone know Damon stayed the night? Do they think I slept with him? I’m not sure how I feel about my subordinates knowing about my sex life. It’s never been an issue before, to be honest.
Right now, though, I’m more interested in the eye candy cooking in my kitchen. Cooking! If he cleans, too, I’m locking him up forever.
Damon is leaning over a cast iron pan on the stove, scraping the remnants of egg white into it. Though I smell onions, I can also see peppers and something red—maybe tomatoes—already sautéing. His biceps flex as he stirs the eggs into the vegetables.
Casanova. The name seems wrong now. I admit it was a snap judgment on my part, especially after the way he reacted to me throwing myself at him last night. If he truly was a Casanova-type, he’d have taken what was offered and run before the afterglow subsided. I’m suddenly in the rare position of having to reevaluate someone’s theme song.
Muscles bunch along his back and my eyes are drawn to the dip in the center, leading down to his perfectly rounded ass. He looks completely comfortable in my kitchen, as though he belongs here.
Where the hell did that thought come from? Of course he doesn’t belong there. He’s a means to an end. A physical end.
“I have class in an hour, so you’ll have to eat on your own.” His voice commands my attention and I drag my eyes from his backside to his face. He’s scooping the eggs onto a plate. Laying it on the placemat with a folded napkin and fork, he scoots around the counter to place a quick kiss on my lips. “I’ll stop by tonight, if it’s okay.”
“Yeah, of course.” Amazing that I have a college degree, given the amount of words I’m able to string together with him around. Not that he seems to notice.
“I also want Sunday afternoon. I know the bar’s closed, so you have no excuse.”
“What are we going to do?”
“It’s a surprise. Just agree to go with me.”
It sounds an awful lot like a date. The small voice reminding me that it’s “just sex” is getting quieter. I can hardly hear it anymore.
And that is a scary thought.
I agree, but my insides are churning.
He leans down and gives me a lingering kiss this time, and my body doesn’t really have time to react to the warmth and meaning behind the gesture before he grabs his coat and opens the front door.
Gina is standing there, her key in hand.
“Oh, hey!” She graces Damon with a brilliant smile.
How the hell does she look like a supermodel this early in the morning? She’d probably claim she just threw on the first clothes she came across, but she’s put together like she has a personal stylist. Graphic print tee-shirt, designer jeans, and heels. Heels, at nine in the morning. I narrow my eyes at her, but wait until she’s said goodbye to my unintentional houseguest and the door’s closed behind his retreating form.
“Where have you been?” My tone is harsher than I intended, probably due to the confusion still roiling through me.
“I stayed with a friend, since I figured you needed some privacy.” She winks at me, ignoring my glare. “And I was right, too. He did stay.”
Turning to my coffee is my answer. I don’t really want to talk about it. When I hear faint notes of Lady Marmalade coming from her direction, I ball up my napkin and hurl it at her.
“Is there any more of that?” she asks, unfazed, pointing to my mug.
“I’m not sure how much he made.”
“He made it?” Her eyebrows rise nearly to her hairline.
“He made the eggs, too, but I’m not very hungry. Do you want them?”
“Are you kidding? They smell fantastic.” Without waiting another second, she grabs my fork and digs in. “And they taste even better. Are you sure you don’t want these?”
I shake my head. “Go ahead.”
While she eats the breakfast Damon made, I try to process what happened in the last twelve hours. Kissing him is like nothing I’ve ever known, and he seemed to be just as affected as I was, yet when he saw my hesitation, he stopped. We slept on the couch, curled up, all night. He made me breakfast in the morning, and didn’t mind that I ran out for a few minutes. Nothing about him makes sense!
Dammit, why can’t he act like a normal guy, like all those heat-seeking jerks I see at work every night?
**Author’s note: I tried to find a decent version of the original Lady Marmalade by LaBelle, but all I could find were live versions. If you still want it, here it is: Original Lady Marmalade by LaBelle on Midnight Special.
Am I sure? I hesitate.
Just sex, I remind myself. Opening my mouth to answer in the affirmative, Damon nods, a knowing smirk on his lips.
“Let’s just eat something and go from there,” he says. “There’s no need to rush.”
My libido would disagree. At the same time, part of me is relieved. It’s not like me to jump into bed with a guy after knowing him less than a week. It’s not like me to jump into bed with a guy after knowing him a month. Of course, it’s also been so long that I can’t recall the last guy I was with.
Casanova leads me to the kitchen stool and starts digging through my refrigerator like he lives there. I can’t help but watch him, bemused. I’m still hungry for him, and staring at his backside isn’t helping. Lord, help me, he is put together well.
To distract myself, I get up and grab some plates and forks while he starts putting plastic containers of food in the microwave.
“What did she leave us?”
“Looks Italian. Cheesy pasta and some meatballs.”
My mouth starts watering. Gina’s a fabulous cook, and when she decides to do Italian, she puts Mario Batali to shame.
We carry our food to the sofa and, turning on the TV, I hand Damon the remote.
“I’m never home to watch it, but I never got around to cancelling my cable. Anything you want to watch…”
He smiles. “And if I want to watch you?”
“Then you’ll get bored, because I’m going to be eating.” I shrug as though it wouldn’t faze me if he watched, but inside, my stomach is flipping, despite my hunger. Damn his charm.
Luckily, he chooses a movie and digs into his own food. As I exhale, I hear him chuckle.
“Nothing,” he says, but I can see he’s smiling. “Is this okay?” He motions toward the screen.
The Princess Bride. “Sure, it’s one of my favorites.”
“My parents used to watch it with me when I was a kid and I loved it. The swashbuckling, the adventure, the Fire Swamp…” He continues to surprise me.
The aroma of oregano and marinara sauce is too much to deny and I have to keep from shoveling the ziti into my mouth. I hadn’t realized how much I needed food until now. The tangy cheese and sweet tomatoes mix well with the oregano and parmesan sprinkled on top. The Bigger the Figure jumps into my head; I wonder if Damon would still be interested if I ate the way I wanted to—all Italian, all the time.
After we finish eating, he pulls me close to watch the rest of the movie. It feels natural to snuggle into his warmth, and I curl my feet up beside me, leaning into his side. He drapes his arm around my shoulder and lets his fingers brush back and forth on my upper arm. The casual movement is deceptive—both soothing and tantalizing in one.
Bright sunlight assaulting my eyelids wakes me, and I sit up quickly. I’m still on the sofa, but I’m alone. Stretching, I look around the apartment, wondering when I fell asleep and whether Damon stayed all night.
“Good morning, gorgeous. Coffee?” His voice sounds from the kitchen, answering my unspoken question.
He looks like a freakin’ model this morning, all smiles and his shirt off. My eyes pause at his bare chest, and my mouth drops open. His shirt off? Maybe I’m still dreaming.
And he’s still looking at me. Oh, right. “Coffee would be great.”
“And breakfast? Eggs? Bacon? Toast?”
Yup. I’m still dreaming.
“Eggs and toast. No bacon—I don’t eat meat on Fridays.”
Panicking, I search for a clock that tells the correct time. Eight-thirty!
“Oh, shit! I have to go downstairs.” I yank on my sneakers without socks and take the steps as fast as I dare, jumping over the last few to the landing. The humidity in the air slams into me, even this early in the morning, but I keep moving. Swinging my body around the corner, my heart stops as I see the delivery truck pulling away.
“Hey! Wait!” I shout, running after it.
The driver either doesn’t hear me or ignores me. My steps slow and I stand there, staring after it, panting. Damn, damn, damn.
“What are you doing up?”
I turn to see John standing in the door of the bar.
“What do you mean, what am I doing up? It’s delivery day. I’m always up. What are you doing here?”
“I figured you’d be too tired this morning, so I signed for it.” He winks.
“Oh.” I feel silly now, and I’m not really sure what to do. “Thank you.”
I’m not used to feeling useless. In fact, I’m usually the one making others’ jobs obsolete, so this is an entirely new situation for me. Not that I ever questioned John’s competence, but it never occurred to me to ask him to do some of these things for me.
“So, is he still up there?”
Glancing over my shoulder as if he’s behind me, I answer, “Yeah. He’s making breakfast.”
“Then what the hell are you still doing here?”
Closing time comes a lot faster than I’m prepared for. Self-doubt rears its ugly head and I wonder what possessed me to try and play this game. Damon’s still sitting on his stool, watching me while I go through the motions of cleaning up. Gina’s gone up already, I guess, since she’s disappeared. John keeps giving me looks in his not-so-subtle way, urging me to get the hell out of there. But it’s like my shoes have lead lining the soles.
“Lucia, if you don’t want me to stay, just say so.” Damon’s wearing a wry smile on his lips.
“What are you talking about? Of course I want you to stay.”
He looks pointedly at my hand, still scrubbing the surface of the counter with a rag.
“You’ve been staring into space, cleaning that area for about five minutes now.”
When I look down, it’s as if it’s not really my arm. The movement is foreign, detached. And it’s still moving, though I have no earthly idea why.
Embarrassed laughter bubbles up as I drop the cloth and pull my hand back. With a deep breath, I meet his eyes. Decision made.
“No. Let’s go now.” I search out John and make eye contact. “You’re okay to finish up?”
The look John gives me tells me how stupid that question is and I meet Damon by the door.
“Are you sure?”
I place my hand on his arm. Just sex, I remind myself.
We climb the stairs to my loft without speaking, and with each step my heart pounds harder against my ribs. The beats remind me of a Color Me Badd song from the early nineties. Physically shaking my head to keep I Wanna Sex You Up from taking hold in my thoughts, we reach the top.
Damon’s hand rests in the curve of my lower back, and though it might be considered a way of urging me forward, I get the impression it’s more a matter of contact for him. Almost like he needs to touch me, physically. Like how I need him to touch me.
The keys in my hand don’t want to cooperate and it takes me a second to get the right key in the lock, and another second of fumbling to get the door open. I blame the fact that he leaned forward and inhaled near my hair—I can’t get over how in tune I am to this guy’s movements.
Once the door is open, I holler, “Gina,” but there’s no answer. I walk to the kitchen area and flip the lights on, glancing at her “room.” Her bed’s empty and the bathroom door is open, indicating she’s not in there.
Finding ourselves alone snaps the control I had. Insecurities are ruthlessly squashed as I take in the sight of Damon, politely surveying the apartment. My eyes wander over his broad shoulders, the way his shirt clings to his biceps, how his jeans show off the curve of his as—
He clears his throat and I look up to see his amused expression.
“Are you hungry?” he asks.
Hell, yeah. Somewhere in my lust-clouded brain I realize he’s holding a piece of paper toward me.
“Gina left some food for us in the fridge,” he continues. “I’m not going to ask how she knew I’d be here.”
Oh. He meant actual food. Well, I still have other things on my mind.
I take the note from him and set it on the counter without looking at it. Raising my face, I step closer, reducing the space between us to centimeters. I’m close enough to tell he’s stopped breathing, and my mouth goes dry as I smell his cologne. Clean, masculine, not cloying like some men’s fragrances. A twitch in his neck catches my attention and I lean forward to run my tongue along the area where his pulse races.
“Mmmm…” I hum as I savor the feel of him.
I don’t get much of a taste before his hands slide up my arms and one snakes into my hair, pulling my mouth to his.
The kiss is possession, pure and simple. Maybe not pure. My hands wrap around his neck to help support my weight—my feet aren’t doing their job anymore—though I have a feeling he wouldn’t let me fall.
He growls and I can feel the rumbling from his chest through mine. I caused that, and that realization creates a burst of confidence. Twisting my head, I deepen the kiss, and I’m rewarded by his hands inching down my back, splaying over my ass and hauling me tighter against him, before gripping my thighs and lifting my legs without seeming to exert much effort. He arranges them around his waist and braces me against the wall—all without breaking the kiss.
My whole body is tingling in anticipation of what he’ll do next, and he’s taken control from me in this position. The support from the wall allows him to use his hands for things other than holding me up…and he uses them well. They slip under my shirt and his palms heat my ribcage, his fingers wrapped around my sides, and his thumbs…
Dear God, his thumbs. They’re tracing the underwire of my bra, and my body is responding to the teasing, urging him to explore further. But he’s taking his time.
I pull back from the kiss to unbutton my shirt for him, hoping he’ll take the hint and move faster. His expression is intense, but even when I pull my shirt open, he keeps his eyes on my face.
Reaching one hand up to brush my cheek, he asks again, “Are you sure?”
The next thirty-six hours fly by and before I know it, I’m decorating the bar to look like a soda shoppe from the fifties. Gina’s helping me and the two of us are running around like crazed people singing Doo-Wop at the top of our lungs. It’s a good thing we’re alone in here.
When we’re done with a particularly bad rendition of It’s In His Kiss, she asks, “Has he called yet?”
Part of me wants to pretend I don’t know who she’s talking about, like I haven’t thought of him at least once an hour since the date. But I know it won’t fool her one bit.
“No, and I don’t expect him to, necessarily. It’s only been two days.”
“You could always call him.”
I consider myself to be a fairly independent woman, all for women’s equality and rights and stuff, but the thought of calling him first makes me cringe. I know. It’s hypocrisy, but it’s still the way I feel. For all my feminist beliefs, I like chivalry.
“Yeah, I could,” I answer noncommittally.
She drops the subject and we go back to hanging cardboard jukeboxes and record covers on the walls. A few songs later, we’re done.
“Not bad.” Gina surveys our handiwork and nods.
I have to agree. If nothing else, the party atmosphere is there. Now, we just wait until the bar opens.
Later that night, the place is hoppin’. Everyone seems to like the new theme, and people sing and dance to the music I grew up on. It’s a blast. I half expected Damon to show up, but it’s midnight and he’s not here, so I’m guessing he won’t come. I tell myself I don’t really mind, but even I don’t believe me.
John and Ashley are handling the bar well, so I sneak into my office, grateful to get off my feet for a few minutes. I’m glad it looks like Ashley will work out because I did not want to train someone else, and it’s obvious I can’t do it all myself, nor can I ask John to pick up all my slack. Not without making him a full partner and I don’t think either of us wants that.
I lean my head back on my chair and put my feet up on the desk, just listening to the music filtering into the room. I’ve always loved the music of the fifties and I’m not sure if it’s because our mother made us listen to it all the time or because it’s just that good. For a moment, I let my body sink into the soft leather cushions of my desk chair.
When was the last time I had a night off when the bar was open? I couldn’t remember.
A knock sounds and I nearly fall on the floor trying to sit up and look like I was doing anything resembling work.
John’s head pokes around the door. “Luce, there’s someone here to see you.”
“I’ll be right there.” Shuffling papers around, I stack and restack until he leaves. I’m not sure why I need him to think I’m in here working. I just do.
I take a deep breath and stand up, brushing my Capri pants free of lint. That’s another thing I love about the fifties–the clothes. Capris, bobby socks and saddle shoes (or in my case tonight, tennis shoes), a button down, short-sleeved shirt, and my hair in a ponytail. Though I know I still look my age, I feel like a teenager again. It’s a good feeling. Maybe I should do themed-parties more often—they’re fun and they seem to bring people in, too. As I step back into the fray, my mind starts working out the different themes I can put on. Decade-related music like tonight, Halloween-themed, various sports themes, the possibilities are endless. And I probably have enough different music to cover each one.
John catches my eye, nodding toward the far corner of the bar. My gaze moves in that direction and my breath catches.
Okay, that teenager feeling I just had from the clothes? Yeah, that washes over me again. I’m over thirty years old and insta-giddy, for cripes’ sake. I’m happy to see him at the same time as berating myself for getting that fluttering in my belly. Act like an adult, for the love of oldies music! Trying to look nonchalant, but pretty sure I’m failing miserably, I walk over.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he says, and then smiles as he looks over me. While his eyes work their way back up from my toes, I ignore the rush of warmth in my limbs and my now-racing pulse. I roll my eyes.
“Does that work on other girls?”
He chuckles. “Usually.”
“Modest, too.” Against my better judgment, I smile. “So, what can I get you?”
“Do you really want me to answer that here?” His expression turns wolfish and the heat in my body sears me from the inside.
Oh, he’s good. I remember my resolve from two days ago. There is no reason I should ignore the attraction I have for him. It’s just sex, and he seems like he’d be good at it. Actually, I think he’d be better than good. Hell, he turned me to mush with a single kiss, so my imagination goes on overdrive. I can flirt with him, turn the tables and get him all hot and bothered, too. There’s nothing stopping me.
Except that little voice in the back of my head suggesting that I can’t keep emotions out of this.
“I’ll just have a beer for now. But later…” he winks and I tamp down the voice in my head.
I have no desire to get hurt, but I’ve been alone for a while. At least Casanova seems to overlook my natural awkwardness in date situations.
That’s it. I’m going to flirt shamelessly. It’s time for me to cause him some difficulty concentrating.
I fill up his glass, and glance at him from under my lashes making sure he sees me doing it.
He raises one eyebrow.
Does he know what I’m doing? Probably. I suppose that makes it fun, too, wondering if I can get him off balance when he knows I’m trying.
When I bring his drink over, I let my hips sway a little more than usual and casually flip my ponytail back over my shoulder.
The corners of his mouth are twitching, but he’s making a valiant effort not to smile.
I lean forward, bending over the bar. “Can you stay until after close?”
“Good. Then I’ll show you my place.” I wink and turn back to my other customers. A few seconds later, I glance at him and he’s watching me with a bemused expression. Seeing that he’s watching, I pretend to drop something and reach for it, bending at the waist instead of crouching down like I normally would. There. Hunger flares in his eyes and I feel triumphant. It feels good to be wanted, and there’s a bonus that the guy doing the wanting is also delicious.
Now, I just have to get rid of my nerves before I take him upstairs.
Closing Time will resume it’s normal, weekly schedule starting Tuesday, December 14 (that’s tomorrow). In addition, you can now subscribe to the story on your Kindle!
See you soon!
The first few trivia questions fly by. As soon as Jeopardy is done reading each one, John and I scribble our answers and tend our customers. I’m dying to know how many John’s got right, but I resist looking. I’m doing pretty well so far—of eight questions, I’ve only missed two. Under any other circumstances, I’d be at roughly fifty percent, and the rest of the questions would be obscure sports trivia from the 1960s. But tonight, I have this inexplicable feeling that John’s luck has run out.
Unless I just jinxed it.
Shaking my head, I hand Adam his drink.
“Can I get you anything else, hon?”
“Nah. Thanks, Luce.”
“The categories for the third round are…” Jeopardy’s voice booms over the sound system. “Music, Movies, TV, and History.”
“Yes,” I hiss, with just a little fist pump down by my hip. Music, movies, and TV are three of my favorite—and best—categories.
John saunters over. “You’re goin’ down, Luce.”
“Not a chance. Were your ears open? You know I’ve got this.”
He chuckles. “I heard history. We both know how good you are at that subject.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “I should have never told you about that. I almost failed because I didn’t turn in the homework, not because I didn’t know the material!”
Throwing the towel in my hand at his head in a last attempt to distract him, I stick my tongue out. Then we get serious and refocus on the question Jeopardy is repeating. I almost missed it because he walked over to tease. Oh, it. Is. On.
Luckily, he didn’t try his fragile luck to distract me again. The game ended and we tallied our scores.
“What’d you get?” he asked, a confident smile on his face.
He held out his paper for me to see. “Twenty-nine.”
For a second, my brain doesn’t work. Then a slow smile spreads across my face. His expression turns wary. “What’d you get?” When he repeats his question, he’s no longer smug. He’s nervous.
“Thirty.” I barely contain my desire to jump in place. After all, we have customers to serve. But my competitive spirit is vindicated. For tonight, anyway.
He snatches my paper to check my answers and when he realizes I’m not lying, he reaches into his back pocket.
“Nicely done.” With a bow, he hands over my twenty dollars, and the irrepressible—and contagious—smile is back on his face.
For the next hour, we are back to our normal camaraderie and even Adam joins in for a little while before he says good night and goes home. I’m glad I saw even a ghost of his former happiness tonight. He’s not in the best place and I worry about him.
Gina comes out of nowhere and takes the stool Adam vacated.
“So, how’d it go?”
No preliminaries, no pleasantries, like “hello” first. Heaven forbid she beat around the bush a little.
I shrug, hoping she gets the hint that I don’t want to talk about it.
“How’d what go?” John asks.
“Oh, Luce had a date today.”
That’s all he needs to hear to give her his undivided attention. “Really?” He turns to me. “You didn’t mention anything.”
“I can’t imagine why.” I paste an innocent look on my face and my voice drips with exaggerated sweetness.
“That’s okay,” he says. “I’ll just get the who and when and how from Gina.” Plopping his elbows on the bar, he settles in for a long chat.
Rather than listen to them gossip about me, I move to the other end of the bar and take care of his customers. If I protest, they’ll never let it go. If I act like I don’t care, maybe they’ll be gentle.
Ashley comes over, her eyes glued to John and Gina, whose heads are close together. They occasionally glance over at me, but I’m getting suspicious about how long it’s taking to discuss my life. Gina didn’t have that much information to begin with.
“Who’s that?” Ashley asks.
“Oh.” Her face falls and she gathers her customers’ orders without another word.
A small voice in my head urges me to tell her they’re just friends, but another part of me thinks it might be better if Ashley lets go of her crush. I sigh, wondering when life got so complicated.
John strolls over close enough for me to hear him humming.
I can feel my eyes rounding and I snap my gaze to my sister. She winks at me and slides off the stool, leaving.
With dread, I ask John, “What did she tell you?”
“She saw you kiss him.”
My cheeks are on fire. I can even feel it in the tips of my ears.
“Casanova? Really?” he continues with a hint of sarcasm.
I can’t meet his eyes, which is enough answer for him.
“Well, if you need a night off, just let me know. But Luce—” He waits until I look at him. “—be careful.”
“I know what I’m doing.” And I hope to God that’s true.
“Just stretch first so you don’t pull something.” His dimples show as he gives me a cheeky grin.
It’s times like these that make me wonder why I love him so much. Yet I can’t keep my lips from twitching. Jerk.