Author: Christie L. Kraemer
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
Justin Anderson and Diane Wallace have both travelled rocky roads in their relationships. Patience and willingness to try again might just be the cure for their ‘never again’ attitudes.
Justin Anderson is recovering from a nasty divorce. An ex-wife who never has enough support income and precious little time with his daughter fill most of his days. When he spies an attractive, self-sufficient older woman, he is intrigued. But can he convince her not all guys are animals who need to be locked up?
With a gentle push from their bartender friend, the two face more intrigue than either thought possible in such a small town. However, each terror filled moment proves to provide the glue that brings them together.
Justin glanced anxiously at Mark.
"Don't worry," Mark leaned his lanky frame against the counter, "she's just having a bad day. Got a genuine flake of an ex-husband who's convinced she still loves him. Hell, he thinks every female he talks with falls in love with him. Guess he's bordering on the edge of stalking lately. Their divorce has been final for two years, but he won't accept she's moved on because she didn't jump into another marriage. If you're interested, really interested, have patience. Diane's worth the wait."
"Then why haven't you two…" Justin blushed letting the thought die. "Listen, I'm sorry. It's really none of my business."
"You're right. It is none of your business. But there's no secret about it. We dated once and realized we didn't want to ruin a good friendship. Diane's like the sister I never had. She's level headed, has no problem telling me when I'm being an ass and I do the same for her. I really think you two would get along. Let me try to talk to her again. You in a big hurry?" Mark nodded to the cocktail waitress waving to get his attention. "Gotta actually earn my pay. Be right back." He headed toward the waitress station at the end of the bar.
Justin turned his glass of beer around with his fingertips. He'd been coming into this club for about seven years and hadn't been attracted to most of the ladies who frequented the place. Diane's confidence first grabbed his attention. Her poise and overall demeanor spoke to the fact she was probably older than most of the bar's regular clientele. Justin smiled. I think confidence is as sexy as a great figure. He peered into his beer as though it were a crystal ball. The amber liquid was slightly cloudy and he couldn't tell anything except he was getting close to needing another beer.
~ * ~
Diane slipped off her barstool and marched toward him. This is ridiculous. She shook her head slightly. He's no different than any other man. The dive-bombing butterflies in her stomach threatened to destroy her bravado.
As she drew closer, she realized he was younger than she'd assumed. Make that young man. He puts his jeans on one muscular tan leg at a time. The closer I get, though, the more I can see I was right about his incredible physique. His plain cotton shirt strained over well-formed chest and arm muscles developed by hard physical work, not hours in the gym with weights. The spicy scent he wore sent Diane's hormones stampeding. God, this isn't fair. He smells yummy! She took a deep breath. I'd better do this before I lose my nerve.
Justin jumped when the five-dollar bill slapped down on the bar beside him. He snapped his head around to face flashing, fiery brown eyes.
"I believe this is yours. I pay for my own drinks. You'll need this later when the young ladies begin to arrive. I understand they require lots of these," she picked the five off the bar and waved it in the air, "to keep them interested."
Justin opened his mouth to reply, but Diane had turned on her heel and marched away, leaving him with his mouth gaping. He snapped his jaws closed and watched the rhythmic sway of her hips as she moved away from him. Whew. What a spitfire! Justin leaned back in his chair. She's going to be a challenge and I love challenges. He turned to face a smirking Mark.
Mark swept his arm in the direction of Diane's disappearing back, "I see you've met my friend, Diane Wallace. What do you think? Worth waiting for?"
Justin turned his glass. Looking at Mark, his eyes twinkled as he answered, "In every man's life there's one challenge he feels destined to take. She's mine. She's confident, takes nonsense from no one, including you, and she's a woman, not a girl, unlike most of the others who sit on the barstools in this place. I like older women. They don't need a man in their life."
Mark took a bar towel and absently wiped at invisible dirt. "Well, you're right on all counts. But be careful what you wish for because she has the ability to sting like a scorpion."
Moving away, he continued to wipe the bar as he gravitated toward Diane.
"You're a real piece of work, Diane. Personally, I like Justin. He's a helluva guy who'd treat you with respect. You know, that stuff Timmy hasn't got a clue about? Got to go. As you can see, the place is beginning to get busy and I have customers who need me."
Mark picked up his pace as the crowd started gravitating through the doors. The cocktail waitresses were congregating near the register, placing drink orders while the bar filled with townies and kids from the nearby college. The volume on the jukebox had amplified in relation to the volume of increasing chatter in the room. A blue haze of cigarette smoke curled toward the ceiling coloring the room in a muted glow. The happy buzzing of voices swelled as time drew closer for the band to play.
Diane picked up her glass and swirled the contents in the bottom. The frenetic atmosphere crackled, raising the hair on her arms. A stream of cigarette smoke blown her direction triggered a coughing fit.
A stocky man reeking of Jade East cologne and wearing multiple gold chains accenting a three-piece white suit suddenly occupied the barstool next to her. His dark dyed hair was heavily sprayed to hold a style he should have quit wearing in the seventies. Chain-smoking, he kept blowing smoke in Diane's direction.
"Hey, gorgeous, how about letting me buy you a drink?" An ugly sneer covered his puffy face.
"I buy my own drinks," Diane half turned toward the stranger just as he blew another stream of smoke in her face. She closed her eyes against the acrid stream and wrinkled her nose at the stale smell invading her senses. He reached out a nicotine-stained finger and touched her nose.
"You have a cute little nose," he said.
Grabbing his finger and bending it toward his arm, Diane glared at him. "I will break every bone in your body if you touch me again. Do I make myself clear?"
Wrenching his finger free, he smiled widely, revealing yellow tinted teeth. "You're quite a little pistol, aren't you?"
He turned to the bar and waved his hand at Mark. "Hey, bartender, bring the little lady a drink!"
This idiot isn't listening. She snatched her purse and jacket and slid off the stool. Her nose tingled in identification of the spicy aftershave she noted Justin was wearing.
"Gosh, honey, I'm so sorry, but you know Dave when he starts talking about fishing. A man could lose an ear. Want to dance to this song?" Justin stood wearing an apologetic smile and lightly touching Diane's elbow.
"Look, bud, I don't know what your game is but I'm buying the lady a drink. Take a hike." The Retro Man moved to get up.
Diane slipped her arm through Justin's, "I'd love to dance. Hey, Mark! Will you put my things behind the bar?"
Mark snatched Diane's purse and jacket set them on a shelf under the counter.
"Bartender, give me a gin martini, very dry. Oh, yeah, shaken not stirred." Retro Man swiveled his barstool to face the quickly filling dance floor.
Mark prepared his drink and set it on the napkin.
"Bitch," Retro Man muttered as he turned and grabbed his drink.
"What did you say?" Mark's eyes flashed.
"How does a young punk like him rate with an older broad like her?" Retro Man scoffed.
"I suspect he treats her like a lady."
"Hell, any broad who comes into a bar is looking for one thing and one thing alone, you know what I mean?" he sneered in Diane's direction.
"Yeah, I do. And I think you'll be a lot happier heading down to Club Nouveaux," Mark picked up the drink he'd just placed on the napkin and motioned to the door.
"You can't kick me out," Retro Man started to protest. "I haven't done anything."
Pointing to a sign taped at the center of the bar mirror, Mark read out loud. "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." Turning to the man he added, "I have just exercised my right. There's the door. Don't bother coming back." He nodded to a video camera in the corner, "we have your picture. I'm letting you know you've been permanently barred. Now take your money and go!"
Grabbing his bills from Mark's hand, Retro Man turned toward the dance floor. He glared at Diane and Justin smoothly flowing together to the slow music.
"This isn't over yet," he muttered. "We will meet again, little lady."