North of Light(4)

By: J.M. Paul

“Dude.” My gaze pins him to the spot.

“Drink it. You’re the only one allowed to have this cocktail tonight.” His eyes sparkle with mischief.

“What is it?” I examine the green mixture with uncertainty.

“The perfect drink for you.” His dimples dent his cheeks.

“That’s not an answer.” I spin the glass around and try to decipher if he’s poisoned it since I’ve been such a bitch.

“It’s called The Grinch,” he says.

I narrow my eyes at him.

“The cherry garnish represents your shrunken heart.” He looks so proud of his joke that I could smack him.

“You’re not very good at your job, Butterball, or with people for that matter.”

That’s a total lie. No one in this place is in want for a drink because he’s fulfilled all the orders, and when he walks by, people immediately respond to him with cheers or high fives.

From the little time I’ve observed him, I can tell he’s the life of the party wherever he goes. It’s my job to study people, and I’m good at what I do.

He chuckles. “I’m the best bartender around, and my people skills are top-notch. The name’s Connor, by the way.”

“Congratulations. I didn’t ask for your name.” I arch a brow.

He shakes his head. “I like you.”

“I’m the bomb. What’s not to like?” Despite my effort to conceal it, the corner of my mouth twitches, and then I raise the glass to my lips to take a tentative sip. Cool melon liquor bounces around my tongue and warms my stomach as I swallow.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a drink, and I could use one, especially this time of the year.

“Exactly.” Connor runs the back of his finger down my cheek, and it startles me.

When I catch his eye, he’s gazing at me like he’s known me for years, not minutes. I’m not sure if it’s his voodoo bartender ways or if our connection is already that strong. Whatever it is, I like it, and I’m willing to admit to myself that I want more if it’s available.

It is the night before Thanksgiving, and a girl’s allowed to lose herself or act a little irrational before a hard holiday, isn’t she?

“I’m not usually this forward—or at least, not this quickly—but I was wondering if you’d like to …” I trail off because I’ve never asked a hot stranger to go out with me. The guys do the chasing because I’m all badass and shit. But, sometimes, it gets exhausting, acting like I don’t care about anything or ignoring what I want.

Connor leans closer. “If I’d like to what?”

I spin the stem of the drink he gave me around and around on the surface before I gulp down another mouthful for courage. Lifting my chin, I meet his stare. “If you’d be interested in grabbing coffee or something?”

The or something is left open to interpretation because, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what I’m asking for at this point.

“Are you asking me to get you a cup of coffee or if I’d like to go get coffee with you sometime?” He winks.

I release an exasperated rush of air, and he chuckles.

“Never mind.” I shake my head and look anywhere but at him.

“No, no, no. I’m sorry.” He stands tall and waves his arms toward himself. “Okay, okay. Ask me again.”

“Connor …” I groan.

If he’s going to be this difficult, maybe I don’t want to go out with him after all. I’m an independent twenty-two-year-old woman, and unlike most girls my age, I don’t need male companionship to feel complete.

Connor bends closer and waits until I finally meet his gaze. A genuine smile lifts the corner of his lips, and his jade eyes turn soft.

“I would love to get coffee with you. I’m pretty sure I’d love to do just about anything you want,” he whispers loud enough so that I can hear him over the music and laughter vibrating around us.

When I answer his grin with my own, we stay lost in that moment for several seconds, staring at each other, until an excited squeal interrupts us, and a body crashes into mine.

“You came!” a singsong voice says as arms wrap around me and squeeze.

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