Pretend It's Love(6)By: Stefanie London
“You can put me down now,” she protested, covering her face with the hand that wasn’t clinging desperately to him.
She hated heights, and he had to be at least six one…which would mean a painful landing if he dropped her. But he walked with her in his arms as though he was only carrying a bag of sugar. Confident, in control.
He probably thought she was a hot mess.
“Do you normally rescue clumsy girls in the street?” she asked as he stopped at the bar and set her down gently on a barstool.
“I’m a bartender; clumsy girls are my specialty.” He flashed her a smile as he reached over the bar and grabbed a pile of folded dishtowels. Placing them on the stool opposite her, he dragged it closer so she could rest her foot there. “You need to keep this elevated. I’ll grab you something cold to put on it.”
“You’re a regular first aid specialist,” she quipped as he came back with a bag of frozen peas.
“Our barista has a habit of burning himself, so we always keep these handy.” He placed the peas on her ankle and removed her shoe.
Each brush of his fingers against her bare skin made her stomach flutter. Talk about a real Cinderella moment.
“There,” he said, standing back and admiring his work. “Now how about that drink?”
“Thank you.” She chanced a look at him, and the dark stare sent shockwaves through her.
Oh yeah, this guy had lady-killer written all over him.
“So you’ve had a rough day?” he asked, heading behind the bar.
She sighed and checked out her surroundings. “The roughest.”
The bar was actually a bar and restaurant, the intimate tables obscured from the street’s view. Being a Tuesday night the room wasn’t especially packed, but they’d filled enough tables to take home a respectable amount, she suspected. The other barstools were empty, except for a lone beer drinker at one end.
“What’ll it be?”
How about you? Naked. Now.
“I’ll take you up on that Negroni. It’s been a while since I’ve had one.” Libby dug her hand into the bag on her lap, hoping to hell he couldn’t read her mind. She pulled out her phone and saw the four missed calls from her father. Ignoring them all, she texted Nina with a pleading request to come and pick her up.
“Now that’s a crying shame. I don’t get to make them too often, a lot of the ladies who come here either drink wine or vodka sodas.” He screwed up his nose and grabbed an orange from a container below the bar. “Pretty boring.”
“I’m definitely more of a cocktail girl.”
“Music to my ears.” He looked up, flashing her a brilliant smile that just about had her panties dissolving.
He deftly sliced the orange so a chunk of peel curled away from the flesh. Gin, Campari, and vermouth were added to a glass filled with ice and stirred. Then he ran the peel around the edges of the glass, squeezing it before dropping it into the sunset-colored drink.
Between his bartending skills and the way he’d carried her, Libby could tell this man was good with his hands…very good. A tingle ran the length of her spine, stirring her in all the right places.
“That looks delicious,” she said, hoping to hell he didn’t realize that she was referring to him and not the drink.
“It’s on the house.” He placed the glass in front of her. “On one condition.”
She sipped the drink and let out a small sigh as the perfect flavor danced on her tongue. An artful medley of sweet and bitter. “Which is?”
“You tell me why your day was so crappy…you know, other than crashing into me and breaking all my glasses.”
She flushed. “I’m working on a business venture, and it’s not going as well as I would like,” she said, fighting her natural desire to put on a confident face and sweep the bad bits under a rug.
He leaned forward, bracing his hands against the bar. “What’s the business?”
“I sell infused vodkas and cocktail mixes.” She took a sip of her drink. “Well, I was going to before all the places I’d lined up pulled out at the last minute.”
“No wonder you were walking like you had a train to catch.”
“I put my studies on hold to start up this business.” The words came tumbling out as though this gorgeous bartender had pulled out an invisible cork. “If I can’t make it work then I’ll have to go back to university. My father’s doing everything in his power to manipulate me into giving up…”
“Ah, family.” He laughed, the sound hollow. “They always complicate things.”
Libby nodded, looking down into her already half-empty glass. Warmth spread through her, loosening her limbs and her tongue, dulling the throbbing in her ankle. The Negroni was a serious cocktail and could do a lot of damage on an empty stomach.