Pretend It's Love(8)

By: Stefanie London



“If you don’t guess then I won’t tell you my name,” she threatened, smiling.

“I’ll have to call you Tiger then.”

“Tiger?” She threw her head back and burst out laughing. “Why on earth would you call me Tiger?”

“We had a cat called Tiger growing up. He was ginger and his fur was exactly the same color as your hair.”

“Great, so you’re telling me that I remind you of an old cat.” She tried to sound offended, but her eyes sparkled and amusement bubbled in her voice. “That’s charming.”

“I’m calling it. Bartender one, Tiger zero.”

“My name is Libby.” She extended her hand over the bar. “Don’t call me Tiger.”

“Paul.”

A zing of electricity rocketed through him as her small palm slotted into his. Her skin was smooth and creamy, but she had a handshake as firm as any guy he’d ever met. It was the kind of handshake that warned him not to underestimate her.

“So this isn’t your bar?” she asked, releasing his hand.

“Nope.” He busied himself with wiping down the countertop. “My brother runs this place.”

One of the waiters came past and handed over an order slip. Two boutique beers and a house G&T. Boring.

“It looks like he’s doing well for himself,” Libby said, sipping her drink.

Paul bent down to the fridge below the bar and pulled out two beer bottles. He popped off the caps and set them down on a tray. “We got a write up in Gastronomy Magazine recently. They called us one of Melbourne’s up and comers.”

“Really?” Libby raised a brow and nodded her head. “That’s quite an honor. I’m surprised you could squeeze me in tonight. My grand entrance notwithstanding.”

“Week nights are still a little slow,” he replied with a smile. “But we’re packed on Fridays and over the weekends now. We had a queue right around the corner last Saturday.”

The article had been a huge win for First and reservations were up all around. They’d had to hire two new waitresses to keep up with the demand. Paul felt a surge of pride run through him, despite the fact that it wasn’t a win for him personally. But he wanted First to succeed. His brother deserved it.

“Hey, man. Don’t tell me you’ve resorted to hitting on girls who can’t run away.” Noah appeared at the bar and winked at Libby. “I left some paperwork in the back office. Have you got the key?”

“I’m perfectly comfortable here, thank you very much.” Libby said primly, sipping her drink.

“If he’s hassling you, just call out.” Noah came around the bar and dug his elbow into Paul’s ribs. “Although we never seem to get any complaints, do we? The ladies love him.”

“What the fuck?” Paul muttered under his breath, glaring at his so-called friend as he dug the keys out of his pocket.

“Relax, she knows I’m joking.” Noah grabbed the keys from Paul’s hand. “Gee, can’t take a little friendly ribbing tonight, can we? This is payback for always stealing the pretty girls in high school. That was uncool, and you know it.”

“That was years ago.” Paul turned to Noah so Libby couldn’t see his face. “Are you going to hold that against me forever?”

As Noah sauntered off, Paul turned and caught Libby watching him closely, her hazel eyes sweeping over him in unconcealed analysis. What did he care if she believed that he was a shameless womanizer? It’s not like he’d see her again.

But the very thought made his stomach turn.

“It’s amazing how one little article can make such a big difference,” she said, graciously turning the conversation back to the bar. “You know, this is exactly the kind of place that would be perfect for my cocktails.”

Topping the gin off with tonic water, Paul grabbed a slice of lime from the dish in front of him and wedged it onto the glass’s rim. He signaled to the waiter to come and collect the order.

Libby looked at him expectantly. There was something about her sincere face and those beautiful, intoxicating eyes that made him want to help her. He knew little about her business and nothing about her personally, but she stirred in him some basal desire to protect.

“You should talk to my brother.” He hunted around for the business cards that Des had recently ordered but couldn’t find them.

“That would be great.”

He grabbed a napkin and a pen. “Here’s his name and number. He’ll be in tomorrow morning.”

She plucked the napkin from his hand and finished the rest of her drink before fishing around in her bag and pulling out a lipstick and mirror. A woman with blue hair came up to the bar and placed a hand on Libby’s shoulder, her face creased with concern.

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