Betting the Bad Boy (Behind the Bar)

By: Stefanie London

To the real Naked Pirouette legend…thanks for reminding me why I don’t drink tequila.

Chapter One

Noah Reid looked despairingly at what could have been a perfectly decent latte, but instead resembled the creation of a manic toddler. There were two shots of vanilla syrup, a shot of hazelnut syrup, and more sprinkles than should be legal on something that wasn’t fairy bread.

“What the hell is that?” Paul Chapman peered over the counter with a look halfway between confusion and horror.

“A cupcake latte.” Noah dumped the sugary monstrosity down the drain. “I shit you not.”

The sprinkles released their dye on contact with the water in the bottom of the sink, making it look like a unicorn had vomited.

“I don’t even know what to say.” Paul leaned against the bar and shook his head. “What did you ask her to do?”

“The same thing I’ve been asking all of the other candidates—make me their specialty.” Noah scratched the back of his head. “The sprinkles were out because Libby had been experimenting with that confetti martini recipe.”

Paul grinned at the mention of his fiancée. “I’ll tell her to be more careful with locking up her ingredients next time.”

“Do that.” Grabbing the nozzle, Noah washed the rainbow water down the drain and wiped the sink with a piece of paper towel. “But I’m considering giving this girl the job because she was by far the best person I’ve interviewed.”

“How is that possible?”

“Well, the first guy almost burned himself on the steaming wand.” Noah had intervened as soon as he’d noticed and likely saved the guy from a nasty injury. “The second person argued with me that the correct pronunciation of espresso included an x.”

“Did you tell them an expresso is a fast train, not a coffee?” Paul shook his head, laughing.

“The next guy seemed promising…until I called his old boss. Turns out he lasted three months and then was ‘asked to leave’ after repeatedly hitting on one of the female staff members.”

“So Cupcake Latte Girl might get the job?” Paul nodded slowly. “What will Des say about that? I can guess, considering we had to argue with him to even stock the syrups in the first place. He thinks sweet coffee is an abomination.”

“It is. If customers want some pumpkin spice bullshit they can go elsewhere,” Noah grumbled.

“That’s the difference between you and Des, mate. He saw the extra income and was happy to eat his words,” Paul pointed out. “That’s commercial thinking.”

“So what you’re saying is that he doesn’t stick by his principles like I do?”

Paul chuckled. “That’s one way of looking at it.”

“Well, unless this last person is a winner, we’ve got our girl.”

“You’ll just have to hide the sprinkles, no big deal. It’ll work out—Des trusts your judgment.”

Des Chapman was Paul’s older brother and the owner of First, the bar-slash-restaurant where they both worked. The three of them were best friends and they formed the entirety of the First management team: Des oversaw the operations and finances, Paul managed the bar, and Noah was the head barista who also inducted and trained the new hires. But Des was currently sunning it up on a babymoon in Hawaii with his wife, Gracie. And since Paul was knee-deep getting his mixology school off the ground, Noah had stepped into Des’s shoes to play boss for a month.

But the next four weeks were about more than Noah keeping the lights on in Des’s absence. It was a test. An opportunity for something more. Soon Des would expand his business with a second location, and he’d been dropping hints that he wanted Noah to manage it. But that meant expectation, and the need to make a decision weighed heavily on his shoulders. Because working for Des making coffees and training staff was one thing. He made enough to be totally self-reliant, which was priority number one. And he loved his job—loved working with the new hires who were always excited, loved teaching people how to improve their skills, loved chatting with his regular customers.

But running a venue—with all the admin, longer hours, and extra responsibilities—was a level of commitment that already made him feel boxed in…and he hadn’t even said yes. Not to mention the fact that his first task of hiring a barista was proving to be more difficult than it should be. But that would all be part of his job permanently if he said yes.

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