His Forever Girl

By: Liz Talley


TESS ULLO SLID ONTO a stool and knocked her knuckles against the weathered bar. “The usual, Ron. Stat.”

The bartender with ripped biceps and a sweet smile sauntered over. “That kind a day, hon?”

“God, yes.” Taking Granny B to the doctor and running all the errands the older woman had piled up on her list wasn’t for the faint of heart. Tess’s Italian grandmother wasn’t of the sweet variety—more like the salty-with-a-side-of-vinegar kind. For seven hours, Tess had “helped” her grandmother find a bath mat the perfect shade of periwinkle. All that running around came after hearing Granny B tell the technician doing the mammogram about her sex life with Tess’s long-departed grandfather. Tess would never look at the picture of the stern-faced man dressed in his Navy uniform in quite the same way. Scarred wasn’t even the word for what she felt. “Took Granny B out today.”

“Yikes. I’ll make it a double,” Ron said with a twinkle in his eye.

Tess gave a wave to Petra Ostrav who worked in the paint department at Tess’s family company. The diminutive woman sat close to her lover, Paola, a beautiful Chilean dancer who headlined at a top-notch gentleman’s club. Otherwise there were not many patrons on this late Monday afternoon. Maybe it was the weather—misty rain fell outside the open plantation windows of the bar located not far from the French Quarter in the Marigny district. Or maybe the small crowd was because it was Lent and the devout were being, well, devout.

Two-Legged Pete’s was a regular joint for the employees of Frank Ullo Float Builders—owned and operated by Tess’s father—so she usually knew someone when she dropped by. Of course, she’d been a more frequent patron at Pete’s recently since Mardi Gras was over and she’d stopped seeing her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Nick. She’d caught him with Merri Wynn right after Christmas. Nick had defended himself by claiming they weren’t exclusive, but Tess didn’t care. Still felt like a slap after they’d spent the previous weekend talking about a possible future together.

Her phone buzzed and she slid it from her purse. The text was from Gigi Vastola, her best friend.

Can’t get away from the office. Sorry, babe.

Damn it.

Tess had wanted some girl time with her bestie, but she understood. Gigi worked with a law firm on Canal Street, climbing the ladder toward partnership, which meant her friend often got trapped after hours preparing cases. No biggie. They’d catch up later. Tess would have one drink then maybe head to spinning class…or home to watch The Bachelor.

The door opened and Tess caught the movement out of the corner of her eye. She cocked her head and looked—like everyone else in Two-Legged Pete’s—at the man in a raincoat shouldering his way in. A navy suit and a conservative tie showed beneath the black trench. He sported a fresh haircut and had a jaw of granite.


But very out of place for a casual joint like Pete’s.

Tess snuck a peek at her middle-of-the-week jeans and long-sleeved sweater. Although the sweater had a pinprick dot of bleach on the hem, the bright green made her eyes look deeper. And she’d worn her UGG boots so she didn’t look totally sloppy.

Jeez. Why was she taking stock of herself? Because a good-looking dude walked in? Or maybe it was because Granny B had pointed out she needed to do something with her hair and wear more flattering shoes.

She glanced at the table of women who looked like bank tellers. Every woman stared at the guy, too. One woman tucked a curl behind her ear, and another wiped the mascara shadow from under her eyes.

Even Ron sucked in his gut.

The stranger nodded at the bartender, who in turn gave him a quite charming smile. The man slid onto a stool three down from Tess as Ron flew toward him like a magnet toward a metal pole.

“Hello, there,” Ron said, showing his dimples.

Good Lord.

“Hey,” the man said, reaching into the open coat for what she presumed was a wallet. “I’ll take a J.B. and Coke, easy on the ice.”

Ron lifted an eyebrow. “J.B., huh? My kind of man.”

Tess snorted. She couldn’t help it. She hadn’t seen that kind of bad flirting since Gigi got drunk and tried a top-ten list of bad pickup lines on every man at the Columns on Valentine’s Day. Okay, that was only a month ago, but still Ron not only took the cake…he’d already licked the spoon.

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