A homeless guy taking refuge from the cold at the far end of the bar with a shot of Fireball whiskey, two twenty-somethings who looked like they’d accidentally wandered into a war zone, and Wayne, Flotsam and Jetsam’s answer to Norm from Cheers.
Yep. Another hopping Tuesday night in Sunset Park West, Brooklyn.
“That’s it for you.” Brooke Worthington snatched away Wayne’s empty beer bottle before he could ask for another. “Time to go home. Is your wife on the way, or should I get you an Uber?”
“Uber,” he croaked, his breath smelling like stale cigarettes and his preferred brand of cheap beer.
Her shift couldn’t end soon enough.
She grabbed a towel and a spray bottle of disinfectant from beneath the bar and started to scrub the scarred oak surface. “Go to the bathroom and freshen up. I’ll take care of the car.”
He let out a loud burp and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Gross. “Thanks, Brooke. You’re too good to me.”
“Don’t I know it.” She waved him away. “Go. Before I change my mind and call your wife.”
“You wouldn’t.” He teetered on his stool, grabbing the bar rail to keep from falling.
She arched a brow at him. “Wouldn’t I?”
He eased himself off the stool with all the grace of a spastic walrus and tottered toward the bathroom. Brooke went back to the task at hand, holding her breath against the strong smell of the disinfectant.
Probably a holdover from all the time she’d spent sitting in hospital rooms, waiting for Mallory to finish chemo or radiation. To this day, she associated the smell of ammonia with sickness. Ammonia and anxiety, with a side order of dried blood and unwashed feet, saturating the air like an old sponge. It gave her the willies.
A deep, husky voice conjured images of naked bodies, sweaty and entwined, stopping her rag mid-swipe. Had it been so long since she’d had sex that some random guy’s Barry White impression was all it took to shift her brain into bad porno mode? She mentally tallied up the days, which quickly multiplied into months. And months. And months.
Yep. It had.
She raised her head, ready to feast her eyes on the holder of the voice that had her girly parts doing the Macarena, and her breath caught in her throat. If she hadn’t been holding on to the bar for dear life, she would have crumpled onto the beer-stained floor like Wayne almost taking a header off his barstool, except she would have been more of a puddle of lust than a drunken heap.
Tall. Christ, he was tall. Probably six-one or six-two, and every inch of him long, lean, and lip-smacking. She let her gaze linger on his magnificently manly chest and impossibly broad shoulders before traveling up to his chiseled jaw, dotted with the perfect amount of sexy stubble. Dark hair fell in waves over his brow, and piercing Paul Newman blue eyes stared out at her from under sinfully long lashes.
Figures. The first guy worth a second, third, and fourth look to walk into Flotsam and Jetsam, and she was up to her elbows in cleaning solution.
“Do you have a phone I could use?” He shoved his hands in the pockets of his cashmere coat, which he wore over a crisp, white button-down shirt that looked right at home with his pleated charcoal dress pants. “I left mine back at the office.”
“Uh, sure.” Phone. Shit. She’d forgotten Wayne’s Uber. She threw the towel in the sink, squirted some hand sanitizer onto her palms and reached for her cell on the shelf behind the bar. “Just let me take care of something first.”
“No problem.” Tall, dark, and scruffy sat his oh-so-fine butt onto the stool a few feet down from the one Wayne had vacated. Sexy and smart. Another plus in Mr. Almost Perfect’s column. Almost because in Brooke’s world, no one was the total package. Everyone had warts. Some more than others.
“Can I get you a drink while you wait?” She tapped the Uber app on her phone and entered the required information. Type of vehicle, pickup location, destination—which she unfortunately knew all too well, having requested rides for Wayne more times than she could count. “On the house.”
“Are you sure this place can afford to give booze away?” His eyes darted around the virtually empty bar. “Your boss might not approve.”
She lifted a shoulder. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
“Then I’ll take a Macallan. Neat.”
“You’re kidding, right?” She closed the app and slid her cell across the bar to him. “I’ve got Dewar’s and Johnnie Walker Black.”
“Make it a Johnnie Walker.” He ran a hand through his thick, disheveled locks, pushing them off his face for a nanosecond before they flopped back over his forehead. “Is it always this dead in here?”
“On Tuesdays in January, yeah.” She snagged a fresh towel, sprayed some disinfectant on it and gave the bar top another wipe down. “Hopefully business will pick up once the new Fairway opens down the street.”
“New Fairway?” He picked up her phone and started to dial. “I didn’t know they were setting up shop here.”
“They’re breaking ground in the spring.” She stowed the disinfectant under the bar and wiped her hands on the towel before chucking it into the sink with the first one. “What are you, some sort of supermarket groupie?”
“Not exactly.” He frowned at the phone.
“Straight to voicemail.” He slid it back to her. “Better than the alternative, I suppose.”
“What’s the alternative?” She stuck her phone in her bra.
He grimaced. “You don’t want to know.”
“I can call you a cab. Or get you an Uber.” Like Wayne. Where was he, anyway? His car should be pulling up any minute.
“How about that drink first?” He smiled, showing two rows of blindingly white, perfectly straight teeth that had no doubt made some orthodontist a fortune, and a set of dimples guaranteed to drive women crazy.
“Coming right up.” She plunked a rocks glass down on the bar in front of him and took the bottle of Johnnie Walker from the shelf behind her. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
The expensive haircut. The crisply pressed pants. The whole Macallan thing. It all reeked of the island. This guy was a Manhattanite through and through. Besides, if he were from the neighborhood, she’d know. One advantage of tending bar—pretty much everyone over the legal drinking age stopped in at some point or another.
“You could say that.” Mr. Manhattan propped his elbows on the bar and leaned in so she could smell his cologne, orange and cedar, with a hint of patchouli.
No doubt. A city boy. Probably worked on Wall Street or at some Park Avenue law firm. Normally, she avoided his type like the Ebola virus. Rich and entitled, like her father. Like every one of the boys in her snobby, suburban high school. That’s why she’d escaped to the cultural melting pot that was Sunset Park.
So why did this guy press all her sexual hot buttons? Was she that desperate to end her cold streak? Heck, even her baby sister was breaking out of her safety zone and dating one of the doctors at the clinic where she volunteered. Mommy and Daddy approved, of course. But at least she was getting some action. That was a hell of a lot more than Brooke could say.
She measured two fingers of scotch into his glass. “So, what brings you to Brooklyn?”
“Work.” He didn’t elaborate, just sipped his scotch. Even that was a turn-on, the way his Adam’s apple bobbed in the smooth, strong column of his throat. “What about you? What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
She bent over and rested her forearms on the bar, bringing her face inches from his. Her pathetic attempt at flirting—not exactly her strong suit—for once seemed to be paying off. Heat crackled between them, and she fought the urge to see if his jaw felt as deliciously rough under her fingertips as she imagined. “Who said I was nice?”
“Hey, Brooke.” Leave it to Wayne to pick the most inopportune moment to reappear. A streamer of toilet paper trailed from his shoe. Talk about a mood killer. “My Uber here yet?”
She extracted her phone from between her breasts and swiped the screen. “Looks like he’s pulling up now. Silver Toyota Prius.”
“Thanks.” He took his coat from the back of his barstool and toddled toward the exit. “See you tomorrow, doll.”
“Not if I see you first,” she quipped to his back as he vanished through the door.
Her mystery man studied her over the top of his glass. “Friend of yours, Brooke?”
Her name rolled off his tongue and over his full, kissable lips like sweet, syrupy music, an aphrodisiac that had her body humming like a tuning fork. “Regular. And thanks to him, you’ve got an unfair advantage over me.”
He tilted his head to one side. “How so?”
She stuck her phone in the back pocket of her suede mini skirt. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
“Eli.” Again, he didn’t embellish, and she liked that. Short. Simple. To the point.
“Last call,” she announced loudly for the sake of the three lost souls left in the place, not counting her and her new friend Eli.
He tapped the rim of his glass. “Might as well hit me again before you throw me out.”
She poured him two more fingers of whiskey, nodding to the twenty-somethings on their way out before turning her attention back to her intended target.
“I could use some company while I clean up. It gets awfully lonely around here after closing time.”
Ohmigod. Did she seriously just say that? No one would ever accuse her of being shy, but sexually aggressive wasn’t in her wheelhouse. What had come over her? It was like aliens had taken over body. Horny, sex-starved aliens.
Eli jerked his head toward the end of the bar, where the homeless guy was fast asleep with his Fireball. “What about him?”
“There’s a shelter a few blocks over. I’ll have a cab drop him off.” She took a shot glass, filled it with a liberal portion of Jägermeister and lifted it halfway to her mouth. Nothing like a little liquid courage to unlock her inhibitions. “So, what do you say? Are you in a rush to get home? Or can you help a girl out?”
“Well, when you put it that way…” He clinked his glass with hers. “Far be it from me to abandon a damsel in distress.”
Eli Ward smiled as he sipped his crappy scotch. Poor quality of the booze aside, things were definitely looking up.
Not hard, considering how his day had started.
His morning joe—black with two shots of espresso—all over the front of his gray and white pinstripe Robert Graham dress shirt? Check. His driver out sick and not an empty cab to be found in SoHo during morning rush hour? Check.
And then, the trifecta. The rancid cherry on top of his shit sundae.
They’d lost the East Harlem project, the latest in a series of business disasters for Momentum Development. An old sugar refinery in Dumbo. A former elementary school in Stuyvesant. An abandoned warehouse in Flatbush. All snatched from under him at the eleventh hour by his biggest rival in the New York City real estate game, Noel Dupree.
Somehow, some way, Dupree was getting the best of him. Eli had made an art of flying under the radar with his projects until it was time to go public. And that meant working with only the most circumspect, trustworthy people. His vetting process was extensive. But not for the first time he wondered if Momentum had a mole. It was the only explanation he could think of for Dupree’s recent successes.
Which was why he’d played it closer to the vest with the East Harlem project. The only people in on it were Eli and his best friend and business partner, Simon Adler. Eli had even left his totally trustworthy PA Ginny out of the loop to be on the safe side.
And, in all likelihood, that meant only one thing. His best friend and business partner was selling him out. Exactly how and exactly why, Eli didn’t know. But he was going to find out.
To do that, he needed some space. Otherwise he ran the risk of either tipping Simon off that he was wise to him or punching his face in.
So, he’d run—told a shocked and confused Ginny to cancel his meetings and hopped on a subway to anywhere, winding up thirty minutes from Manhattan in Sunset Park. Which, according to the charming, attentive, and extremely attractive Brooke, was soon to be the site of a new Fairway. What developers like him referred to as a green shoot, a harbinger of gentrification and increased property values.
He logged that fact in his brain and moved on to more pressing matters. Like the fetching female across the bar.
He sat back and studied her as she moved about the room, wiping down tables, pushing in chairs, sweeping the floor. Not his usual type, for sure. Instead of sharp angles and hard edges, she was soft and warm and inviting, with curvy hips and a J-Lo booty he was dying to get his hands on. Raven hair fell in lush, dark waves to her shoulders, framing a face that housed a sensuous mouth begging to be kissed.
And to top it all off, like a red, ripe cherry perched on the seriously scrumptious ice cream sundae his day had transformed into, she had absolutely no freaking idea who the hell he was. No clue he was a member of the Forbes 400. No chance she was after him for his money or his social status. She was just a woman—a damned attractive woman—who seemed like she wanted him as much as he did her.
She caught him staring and gave a thick, throaty laugh. His dick twitched in his pants. Fuck, she was a walking, talking wet dream.
His for the taking. No strings attached. The perfect end to an imperfect day.
He knocked back the rest of his shitty scotch, thunked the empty glass down on the bar, and slid off his stool. “Need a hand?”
She shook her head, sending her blue-black tresses swaying around her face like a velvety curtain. “I’m almost done. Have to count out the night’s receipts—what little there are—and lock them up in the office safe.”
She swapped the broom for the cash drawer and motioned for him to follow her down a narrow hallway off the back of the bar. She stopped in front of an old-fashioned wood-paneled door with a frosted glass window, took a ring of keys from the belt loop of her super short mini skirt and inserted one into the lock. “Here we are. My home away from home.”
She pushed the door open and flicked on a grainy fluorescent light overhead. He trailed in after her. When he could drag his eyes away from the seductive sway of her generous ass in the skintight mini, he saw she wasn’t kidding about the home away from home thing. The office was like a combination kitchen, bedroom and workspace, complete with a microwave, mini fridge, and futon in addition to the traditional desk, chair, and filing cabinets.
He opted for the futon, taking a seat and crossing an ankle over his knee. “Nice digs.”
She sat behind the desk and started sorting the cash from the drawer. “I spend enough time here. Figured I might as well make it comfortable.”
“You own this place?”
“Manager. Bartender. Jack of all trades. It pays the bills.” She stuck the money in an envelope, sealed it and scrawled something across the front. When she was done, she crossed to the safe and knelt to dial in the combination. The door swung open, and she shoved the envelope inside. “There. All set.”
She slammed the safe shut and stood. “I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh?” One corner of his mouth lifted in a half-smile.
“Not that kind of surprise.” An adorable flush crept across her cheeks and one finger toyed with the shiny silver infinity knot that hung between her breasts. His seductress was nervous. Somehow that only served to make her more appealing.
She crossed back to the desk, opened the bottom drawer and produced a bottle of dark, amber liquid with an all-too familiar label.
“I thought you said you didn’t carry Macallan.”
“We don’t.” Two shot glasses joined the bottle on the desk. “This is my boss’ private stash.”
“Won’t he notice it’s been raided?”
“He won’t miss a couple of shots.” She poured two fingers in each glass then added an extra splash for good measure. “Besides, he owes me. I’ve covered for him twice this week.”
She came around to the front of the desk and handed him a glass. He smelled then sipped the top-shelf whiskey, taking in only enough to cover the surface of his tongue, then swirling it in his mouth before swallowing and sighing contentedly. “Now that’s how scotch is supposed to go down. Smooth, no burn.”
“You’ve got expensive taste.”
“I know what I like.” He repeated his sip, swirl, and swallow ritual.
“Is that so?” She took a healthy gulp of scotch and set her glass down on the desk behind her. “See anything else you like?”
“Maybe.” He snagged her hand, pulling her down onto the futon. She landed half in his lap and half on the seat beside him. The half in his lap pressed against his crotch, making his disobedient dick twitch again. He polished off his drink faster than good scotch deserved, ditched his glass and ran a hand up the smooth, pale skin of her leg, stopping just under the hem of her skirt. “Tell me you want this as much as I do.”
“I want this as much as you do,” she echoed in breathy whisper.
His fingers toyed with the lacy edge of her panties. “Last chance to change your mind.”
She sucked in a breath. “Thanks, but no thanks. Carry on.”
He lowered his face to hers and spoke next to her ear, ruffling the tendrils of hair at the base of her neck. “Good answer.”
He kissed the side of her neck where it met her shoulder, sucking her silky-soft skin into his mouth. She tasted of vanilla and honey, like a rich, exotic confection from some upscale bakery. The sweetness lingered on his tongue and made him hungry for more.
Her head fell back, lifting her beautiful breasts, bringing them that much closer to his greedy mouth.
“Really good,” she moaned, echoing his sentiment.
His lips found hers in a kiss that was equal parts desperation and desire. He wanted to devour her right there on the narrow futon in her cramped office.
With a frustrated groan, Brooke straddled his lap, placing her hands on the sides of his face. She deepened the kiss, holding his head at the perfect angle for her to ravage him. He let her take control. Hell, he more than let it happen—he loved it. Loved that she was as wild for him as he was for her. Loved the way she ground against him, making him groan and beg her not to stop.
When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he flipped her onto her back. “My turn.”
Bracing himself on one elbow, he used his free hand to hike her skirt up.
He traced the strip of seafoam green silk and lace of her thong with his index finger to where it disappeared between the two luscious globes of her ass. “Damn.”
“What can I say?” She arched into him, thrusting the sweetly curved mounds of her breasts into his chest. Her nipples strained against her shirt and poked at his pecs. “I’m a sucker for naughty lingerie.”
So was he, when she was wearing it. Not that she’d be wearing it for long. Christ, she was as wet as he was hard. He sank a finger into her sweet depths to the knuckle, mimicking what he’d soon be doing with his cock.
She moaned and clenched around him. Her eyes fluttered closed and her lips parted on a soft sigh.
“I spoke too soon.” He added a second finger and pumped them in and out, spreading her wide. “This isn’t good.”
She tensed beneath him, and he lowered his mouth to hers, doing his best to kiss her doubts away.