Holly sat at her desk in the bar’s only office and stared at the monitor. Her sister, Ivy, had told her to set up a business plan for the first quarter of the new year. Holly was a little embarrassed that her younger sister had to tell her to do something as basic as making a business plan, but that’s what it had come to.
The bar had originally been their uncle’s. He’d offered it to Holly for pennies on the dollar so he could retire, and she’d jumped at the chance, renaming it Holly’s. She’d gone to business school and had always wanted to open a place of her own. The bar with the attached two-bedroom apartment upstairs had seemed like a dream come true, but now it was more a nightmare than anything.
In an attempt to bring in more customers, she’d hired a contractor to remodel an empty back space into an inviting patio. She’d envisioned an upscale summer menu and specialty cocktails. When the contractor absconded with her savings, she was left with an empty space, an empty bank account, and a headache the size of Oklahoma that refused to leave. She didn’t like to admit how over-the-top devastated she’d been with the contractor’s behavior, but it had hobbled her and she hadn’t known how to deal with it. Paychecks had been late, and some employees quit, which left her scrambling to handle everything as best as she could.
Everything had suffered in the following months. Customers stopped coming in, which meant money wasn’t flowing like it should. And she’d been forced to rely heavily on Ivy, who was gracious enough to not point out how terribly Holly had failed in her quest to make the bar into something better.
On Christmas Eve, something amazing had happened. A woman who Holly was certain she’d never seen before yet looked so familiar came into the bar and stopped a fight before it even started. Then she ordered a ginger ale and tipped Holly several hundred dollars before offering to send two men who were looking for jobs in Holly’s direction. The day after Christmas, the two men came by: Jack, who agreed to be the bouncer, and Vaughn, who wanted to tend bar.
She liked Jack.
She was secretly crazy about Vaughn.
There was something about him that was dangerous to her sanity and her future plans. She wanted him more than she’d ever wanted anyone, but she was doing her best to keep him at arm’s length. The last thing she needed was to get romantically involved with the sexy guy who had a thousand-watt smile and muscles for days.
She knew if she just kissed him once that she’d be toast, so she was adopting a strict no-touch approach to the man.
Sighing, she sat back and rubbed the space between her eyes just as there was a knock at the door. “It’s open.”
The door swung open, and Vaughn stepped into the office and shut the door. He sat across from her and said, “The bar’s closed up.”
She glanced at the clock on the monitor and realized it was later than she thought. “I’ll handle the cleaning. You can take off.”
“The cleaning’s done.”
Her brows rose. “You did it?”
He nodded. “Me, Jack, and Ivy.”
“Wow, thank you.”
“You don’t need to thank me. It needed to be done, so I did it.”
“Well, I’m going to say thanks anyway. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I wanted to talk to you.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
She was aware she was staring at him, but he was too damn sexy for his own good. His hazel eyes appraised her, and it took all of her willpower not to focus on his lips.
“I heard you’re working on a plan for the next few months. I wanted to help.”
She arched a brow. “Brought many bars back from the brink of bankruptcy?”
He shook his head. “No, but I do know business, and you clearly need some help.”
She bristled at his words but couldn’t argue at how right he was.
“The patio’s killing me. It’s unusable right now, and I don’t have the funds to fix it. I need to bring in customers to bring in money so I can fix the patio, but the patio was supposed to bring in customers.”
“I’m pretty handy with a hammer.”
Her brow arched. “You want to remodel the patio?”
“I can at least make it usable. You might want to move on, though.”
She blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I’ll work on the patio, if that’s what you think will really help you, but you’re living in the past. You got scammed and it sucks, but wallowing in how much you lost isn’t going to make things better here.”
She opened her mouth to tell him to get out of her office, but she didn’t. He was right, even if he was being blunt.
“Do you have any siblings?” she asked.
“I have a younger sister named Violet.”
“Are you close?”
“Yes. She still lives at home with my parents.”
“Ivy’s put her life on hold for me. I never meant for the bar to suck the life out of both of us, or to push her dreams aside for my own.”
“Then don’t let it.”
“I think that’s easier said than done.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. What’s your plan for the new year?”
She looked at the monitor. “A weekly quiz night. We won’t get revenue from the game, but it’ll come in with snacks and drinks. If I make it Friday nights, then I can just have Ivy play on Saturdays only and not during the week. That’ll help her get back some of the time she’s been giving so willingly to me.”
“Cool. What else?”
“Darts competition one night a week. My uncle used to host them, but I took the darts down to paint and never put them back up. They’re in storage.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“And a themed dance night, like 70s or 80s, disco or country. Mix it up.”
He smiled, a little half curve at the corner of his mouth, and it made her stomach flip.
“That sounds really good, Holly.”
She breathed out a sigh of relief. She hadn’t realized how much she’d cared that he liked her ideas, or why it even really mattered that he did.
“I have another suggestion.”
“Oh?” she asked.
“Rethink the patio.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re focusing on that a lot.”
“You have an idea in your head. I’m just suggesting that you could do something else with the space.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Think about rethinking it, or think about thinking about it?”
“Yes.” She smiled when he laughed.
“I’d like to walk you home.”
“That’s not necessary. I live upstairs.”
“I know how close you are, but I still want to walk you there.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Why?”
“Let’s just say I’m being chivalrous, but mostly I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight if I’m not positive you made it safely to your place.”
It had been a long, long time since someone cared whether she was home safe or not, aside from Ivy. Vaughn was as sweet as he was sexy, and that was a potent combination.
Saving her work, she turned off the computer monitor and grabbed her coat. “I’m ready now.”
“I thought I might have to argue with you.” He stood and opened the door, and she followed him out after turning off the light.
“I can let you be chivalrous.”
She locked the bar and he walked her to the back, where she rested her hand on the railing and put one foot on the bottom step before turning to face him.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Good night, Vaughn.”
“Good night, Holly. Sweet dreams.”
She walked up the steps and unlocked the apartment. Before she shut the door, she looked at the bottom of the steps and he was still there. True to his word, he watched her until she was in the apartment, and then he waved and walked away into the darkness.
She turned the deadbolt and leaned against the door. It was tempting to call out to him and ask him to come back and join her, but she knew she couldn’t. She’d just hired him; it would be a mistake to get involved, even if he was amazing and sweet, and mouthwateringly sexy.