Trouble, Part 1

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The first time he ever walked into my bar was thankfully not the last. Back then he'd been a stranger and when he'd strolled through the door, I admit to being a little suspicious. He'd looked shifty in that black sweatshirt, hood over his head, and his thumbs poking through holes purposely torn into the sleeves.

Even Miranda, my second-in-command, had taken notice of him. She settled her chin against my shoulder and managed a small, sarcastic laugh. "Emo. Two o'clock."

He'd taken off his hood then. And instead of the pierced, pale, and heavily make-upped visage I'd expected, there was a handsome young face with pale green eyes and auburn hair too natural to be dyed. I had the sudden urge to run my fingers through the soft strands and I wondered where the sensation had come from.

"Hmm, yum," Miranda commented.

I couldn't help but notice her tone had changed. I glanced back over at my shoulder as she pulled back, then swatted her perky butt cheeks with my towel before she got too far away. "That's why you shouldn't stereotype sweetheart," I lectured, choosing not to tell her I'd made the same call. I'd chastise myself later because I knew better too.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed him settle himself at the middle of the bar. I poured one of my regulars another draft; the mid-forties sports fan was too busy watching the football game on the television overhead to say thanks. But manners didn't matter to me when he and all his buddies were good tippers. Besides, I wasn't his mother.

The rest of my patrons were well handled by my girls, the five of them bustling around behind the bar and pouring drinks the way they were supposed to, just like I'd taught them. I was mostly just backup, making sure they got the tips they deserved.

However I was the one to saunter over to the newcomer, claiming him before any of my girls could. He seemed relaxed and carefree, not here to drown his sorrows over something or waste time getting stupid-drunk. Hard to read, sure, but he was also the kind that made me want to know exactly what he was thinking. I liked a good mystery, a challenge for my wits. I imagined he was just passing through town. He looked the type to pass through quickly, like a gypsy. But I'd been wrong about him before.

"Whatcha having sweetheart?" I asked, laying on my Southern accent thick.

He thought for a moment, the freckles on his fair cheeks squishing together as he scrunched his face up in silent debate. It made him look inquisitive and wise, despite his young features. "What's your special?"

For some odd reason when he spoke, I felt calmness sweep over me. It was as if I was sitting on the comfiest porch swing back home, the wind blowing my hair and the chimes around in circles. Grasshoppers sang in the thick grass and the smell of good, home-cooked food was trailing through the window. The montage went through my head and settled in, making me blink when I remembered I was at my bar.

"Mmmm..." I purred, almost sleepily. "Lemon drop shots for a buck tonight. Domestics on draft for two-ninety-nine. And of course, Island Long Islands is our special recipe."

"Sounds good," he said, sending warmth down my spine, as if the breath leaving his lips had been inches away from my skin.

"Which one?"

He grinned and it was the good-ole boy charm that simply oozed from him that made me smile back. I wondered if I should have asked for identification – he did look awfully young – but I was finding it difficult to even envision myself saying no to him.

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