Rough, Chapter 1

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Copyright 2018 by Gem Frost.


"He's a little rough around the edges."

I snorted as I cleared an empty beer mug off the bar's shining mahogany surface. "That's a hell of an understatement, Jenny. He's an asshole."

"I'll admit he's kind of, well, rude." Jennifer Stanton, owner of O'Reilly's, poured a Guinness stout and slid it over to me. "But at least he tips well."

"The last time he was in here, he reduced Tiffani to tears. Twice. Just because a guy's a generous tipper doesn't give him the right to pick on the staff, or to put his hands all over them."

"Hands? Ha." Jennifer deftly put together a classic martini-Beefeater gin and dry vermouth, with an olive-and handed it to a guy at the bar, flashing her warmest smile. She was an older woman, her once-dark hair streaked with silver, and her smile made people feel at home. "That, at least, is not one of his issues. Haven't you heard? The man's a monk."

I stole a surreptitious glance at the guy. He was alone-he was always alone-and I'd never seen him hit on anyone, so maybe Jenny was right. Maybe he was celibate. But if so, that seemed like a terrible waste, because he was really something to look at. He wore a black Led Zeppelin t-shirt and tattered jeans that clung tightly to his muscled frame, leaving nothing to the imagination-and when it comes to hot guys, I have a hell of a good imagination. He was broad-shouldered, slim-waisted, and long-legged, a combination that would ordinarily have made me very eager indeed to take that Guinness over to him.

But he'd been coming into O'Reilly's pretty regularly for about a month, and I'd already had enough encounters with him to know that I didn't want anything to do with him. He was entirely too much like his favored drink... dark and bitter.

"What's his name? Does he even have a name?"

"Not sure of his first name," she answered, "but his last name's Riddick. The girls call him Big Dick."

I choked on air. "Because..."

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Sawyer. I told you, he's a monk. If he's packing a big one, none of us have seen it. Big Dick's a reference to his personality, not his equipment."

A chuckle escaped me. "It suits him."

"Look," she said, giving me her patented stern-yet-fond Mom look, "someone's got to take that Guinness to him. None of the girls want anything to do with him, so it needs to be you."

My own mother died fifteen years ago, when I was only sixteen, and you'd think I'd be immune to the Mom look. But apparently I wasn't, because I sighed, and put the mug onto a tray, along with a couple of other drinks. "Fine," I grumbled.

What the hell. At least he tips well.

I made my way slowly around the room, dropping off some girly drinks (a strawberry daiquiri, a sangria, and a Blue Hawaiian) and flirting with the ladies who'd ordered them along the way. Women aren't my thing, but flirting helps increase the tips, so I've learned to fake it pretty well. At last I paused by Big Dick's table.

He looked up at me, silent and unfriendly as always. Up close he was so stunning he almost took my breath away. His eyes were the dark, fathomless blue of the Atlantic, his overgrown hair Kahlua-brown. His chiseled jawline was covered with dark stubble, so thick it could almost be called a beard, as if he'd forgotten to shave for the past week or so. It suited him.

He looked like the baddest of bad boys, as hot as a July day in hell, and despite myself I could feel my heart pounding, could feel the beginnings of lust swirling down my spine and gathering deep in my gut.

Down, boy, I told myself firmly. After all, he might look like a male model, but he was the devil incarnate. Besides, if Jenny was right, he was celibate, which meant he wasn't my kind of guy at all.

Maybe he's married, I thought, and snuck a look at his left hand. But it was free of a wedding ring, or even the telltale dent of one that had been removed. My heart pounded a little faster.

"Your Guinness, sir," I said, and placed it in front of him.

He didn't bother with thanking me, just lifted it to his lips and took a long sip. I should've been relieved-because with this guy, a stony silence was preferable to speech-but I don't appreciate being treated like part of the furniture by my customers. And I especially resented being ignored by this gorgeous man, for reasons I didn't care to examine too closely. I couldn't resist tweaking him, just a bit.

"Having a nice evening, sir?"

He lifted his eyes to mine. They seemed a deeper blue than ever, like storm-tossed ocean waves. Dark... and dangerous.

"It was okay," he rumbled, in his low baritone, "until you started talking."

Jesus Christ. This guy is definitely well-named. What a big dick.

"Sorry, sir. Didn't mean to disturb you." I plastered on my Customer Service Smile. In my line of work you learn to smile even while the bar patrons are kicking you in the teeth. It sucks, but it's part of the job. "How is the Guinness?"

"Not interested," he said, and looked down, staring into the dark depths of his drink.

I frowned, confused. "Sorry?"

"I've seen how you work. Flirting. Like with those women over there. But with men, too. Not interested. I'm straight."

The way he talked was odd, like he spat out barely enough words to get his meaning across. As if he couldn't be troubled to bother creating coherent sentences. But peculiar though his syntax was, the sparse words were enough to annoy me. I could feel the Customer Service Smile slipping and my hackles rising.

"Asking how your drink is," I said through my teeth, "is not flirting. It's basic courtesy."

He didn't bother to look up and meet my eyes again, just stared morosely into his drink.

"I don't like basic courtesy," he said. "Leave me the fuck alone."

The Customer Service Smile had completely faded by this point, and so had the heat in my gut. I'd been right, I thought. This guy was a world-class asshole. No wonder he was always alone. Who'd want to hang out with this jerkwad?

I pressed my lips together, turned my back on him, and stalked back to the bar.

"The next Guinness he orders," I informed Jenny, "is going straight into his hair."

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