the door, scanning the crowd for trouble out of habit. Some nights,
the torqued up, liquored up patrons could turn on one another like
snapping dogs -- a possibility that justified having a second bouncer
-- but tonight they were content to be entranced by the dancer/bartenders,
enticed enough to buy them drinks, tantalized enough to make passes
that never succeeded. The girls knew the drill: flirt but don't
fall. Every guy who walked through the door, of course, assumed
that he'd be the exception, and so they were happy to stand in line
to get in, just for the chance of seeing and talking to the dancers.
It was the source of Bad Reputation's recent success.
took another glance across the room, and in the sea of faces, one
leapt out at her. He wasn't entranced -- far from it. If anything,
he looked bored. He didn't nod his head to the music, but sat against
the wall with a kind of stillness, the dim lighting shadowing his
deep set eyes. The beginnings of a beard darkened his jaw and encircled
his mouth. And it was a beautiful mouth, she couldn't help noticing
even from this distance.
bar, the noise of the crowd spiked as Kayla and Belinda danced together.
It was then that she saw it.
A head shake. A faintly supercilious look that spread across his
face as he took in the scene.
flashed through her. On its heels came her innate practicality --
a bored guy wasn't going to stick around and buy drinks, and he
sure wasn't going to recommend the place to friends. Part of the
path to success was sending everyone out happy and ready to return.
Maybe she needed to do something about him.
then, he turned and looked at her. The eye contact shivered through
her veins, stopping her dead. Those eyes pulled at her in a way
that made everything recede until she was only conscious of them
and of the sudden thud of her heartbeat in her ears.
Then someone at the bar rang the cow bell signifying a tequila shot
and she snapped out of it. Magic eyes or no, he was just another
customer, and the thing to do with customers was jolly them into
spending money. She hooked a circular tray from behind the bar and
walked toward him.
she drew, the more clearly she could see his face, the black brows
and the slashes of the high cheekbones that gave him something of
the artist-in-a-garret look, an impression enhanced by the white
poet's shirt he wore. His hair appeared disordered, as though he
raked his hands through it regularly. But it was his mouth that
drew her, full and sculpted with equal parts humor and anticipation
hovering around the corners.
her head an impatient shake. This wasn't about getting distracted
by a pretty face, it was about turning a wall sitter into a paying
customer. It was time to pull out the charm, blast him with sex.
He'd be buying drinks before he knew what hit him. Three, she decided,
looking at him under her lashes. He'd buy at least three before
he walked out.
stopped and fixed him with a sultry smile. "Welcome to Bad
Reputation, sugar. What's your pleasure?"
* * * * * * * *
blinked. She was his pleasure, if he was honest, though he had a
pretty good idea that she wouldn't be all that impressed with that
response. He'd watched her move across the room in a lithe, flowing
walk that managed to be far more provocative than any hip sway might
be. Why she'd decided to come his way, he wasn't sure, but he was
certainly interested in finding out. Up close, she was everything
the glance from afar had promised and more. In another century,
she would have had men dueling over that aristocratic beauty, vying
to tease a smile from that wide, mobile mouth with its full lower
brow arched as she looked down at him. "I get the impression
from the way you were looking that we're not doing a very good job
smiled. "Quite the contrary. I'm very entertained right now.
And I'll take a beer when you get a chance. You have Guinness?"
Guinness, at least not yet. We've got Bud, Bud Light, Miller, and
then," Shay said. She was in a whole different class from the
rest of the bartenders in the place. Whoever had hired her had known
what they were doing.
over to collect bottles from the shelf behind him, setting them
on the tray. "Is this your first time at Bad Reputation?"
nodded, watching her. She had the kind of face that sucked a man
in, that made it impossible to look away, because the minute you
did, you started wondering if anyone could really be that beautiful.
"Just stopped by to see if what I've heard was true."
Not just beauty, he thought. Sex. Something in the curve of her
lips and the tilt of those dark eyes suggested abandonment, disregard
for rules. Come with me, they said, and I'll show you things you've
never even thought of.
what had you heard?" The brunette propped her tray on the shelf
and looked at him under her lashes.
curved. "Something about half-naked women dancing on the bar."
you've got to admit, they're on the bar and they're dancing."
She glanced over her shoulder to where the blonde was whipping her
hair to the music.
college girls having a wild night."
calling us girls?" She smiled, but her eyes narrowed a trifle
you, darlin'." He ran his gaze from her long, smooth legs to
the sleek curve of hip and waist, to the dark hair tumbling down
her back, and up to that fabulous face. "You're a whole different
class from girls."
buzz went through Mallory at his look, and she gave herself a mental
shake. She might be giving the appearance of flirting, but she was
supposed to be working a customer. It definitely didn't do to get
caught up in it. "And here I thought I'd heard about every
line out there."
didn't intend it as a line." His teeth gleamed, and something
of the pirate came out in him then. "Did you want it to be?"
first time in years, she found herself at a loss for words. To buy
time, she picked up her tray. "Let me go get you that beer,"
she said, and turned for the bar.
something worth thinking about, that he'd thrown her off her stride.
It wasn't just the good looks -- she'd had plenty of handsome men
come on to her. There was something about him, though, some command
of his surroundings that made him far more compelling than the usual
pretty face. To allow her system time to settle, she stopped for
a few more orders on her way in.
When she returned with his beer, he still sat loose and relaxed,
observing his surroundings with an almost purposeful air.
me?" she asked teasingly.
second was an eternity," he said dryly.
laughed. "I'll bet."
any good lines on the way back?"
jumped. She set a napkin down on the little shelf and placed the
beer on top. "I'm at work, sugar. We don't date customers."
On the other hand, she was beginning to wonder if it wasn't time
to reevaluate that policy. She stared at his mouth wondering how
you're allowed to tease but not to close on the deal?" he asked
in amusement, putting the mouth of the bottle to his lips to take
a drink. "You ought to at least come up with a way to let your
customers down easy, encourage them a little so you get a lasting
raised a brow. "And are you looking for encouragement? That'll
be three dollars, by the way."
probably not your target clientele, but yeah," he said, pulling
out his wallet.
a challenge. Mallory gave him a smoky look. "So you don't think
I can provide a lasting draw?" She was rewarded when his eyes
get the feeling you can pretty much do anything you want to do,"
he said, holding her gaze until she felt something in her begin
to heat and soften. "Then again, I haven't seen you up on the
bar. All I've seen are some harmless Britney Spears wannabes."
you haven't seen anything like me." The words were a challenge,
the tone a promise.
at her. "You're right. I haven't. For you, I'd make an exception
and stay. That's why you should polish up your shut down line. Teasing
is a tricky business. Sometimes people expect you to finish what
you start." He took another drink.
never start anything I'm not prepared to finish," she said
his head to one side and eyed her. "Now, that's a thought that'll
keep me awake tonight."
the other hand, flirting is just flirting. It doesn't mean I'm starting
twitched. "And it doesn't mean I'm not. You'll just have to
buy another beer and see how well I follow policy. Or buy two,"
she said, remembering her promise to herself.
then do I get to see you dance?"
don't dance," she said automatically.
his beer and set it down on her tray. "Can't or won't?"
You don't strike me as the type who would be afraid to be up in
front of a crowd."
that idea out of your head."
don't doubt you," he said agreeably. His smile grew wider.
condescension she saw? "I should take care of the other customers,"
she said at last. "Are you in for another beer?"
He eyed her assessingly. "I figure I'll stick around to see
if you get up there. Since you're not scared."
snatched at her control, but she held on. Mallory turned without
a word and went back behind the bar. Normally, the routine of drawing
beers and pouring drinks soothed her, but not tonight. She wanted
to wipe the smirk off his face. He thought he knew something about
her from a five minute conversation? He was dead wrong.
bang of three guitar notes heralded the start of INXS's "You're
One of My Kind" on the juke box. The monster groove bass line
begged her to move, and without thinking about it she found herself
up on the bar.
Back to Top