Every bar was the same. Didn’t matter if it was a high-end joint in the city, a pub in a strip mall, or a strip club on the wrong side of town. There was always that one guy. This one had been eyeballing Honey Harrison for the past two hours, waiting for the right moment to ask the question. By now, she was used to them and wondered which one it would be.
Where you from?
What’s with the tattoos?
You got a boyfriend?
“So, what’s your story?”
Ah. She grinned to herself. A new take on Where you from? Honey rimmed the glass in front of her with sugar, added two limes, and then plopped the impressive cocktail on the tray in front of her. “That’s last call.”
She gave a nod to the waitress before turning to the man sitting at her bar. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Coach House was winding down. The band had packed up their gear and were enjoying a few well-earned brews, while most of the customers were waiting on cabs or heading out into the snowy November night.
“I don’t have a story,” she replied. No biting rejoinder or sarcastic answer. He seemed nice enough, and, well, she was tired. The guy was a regular and came in every Wednesday night with a bunch of his pals for the beer, the band, and a few rounds of pool. Tonight, he’d come solo, most likely because of the holiday, and he’d been nursing a large draft for most of the night. He seemed nice enough, but Honey wasn’t interested. And if she was? It wouldn’t work. Nice and Honey didn’t fit. She needed an edge.
That was if she was looking—which she wasn’t—not really. Not in Crystal Lake, anyway. This town was full of nice people, genuinely nice people. And that went against everything she’d learned in her nearly twenty-five years on earth. In her experience, if someone was nice to you, they wanted something.
“Everyone has a story.” He smiled, looking hopeful. It was a nice smile. A vanilla smile. The guy had good teeth. She’d give him that.
“Look, Ben,” she began.
“What?” Now she was distracted.
“My name is Glen.” Again with the vanilla smile. “But hey, Ben…Glen… I can see why you’d get them confused.” He winked. “My wife used to do that all the time.”
“Wife?” she said sharply. That was a line she didn’t cross.
Glen’s face fell. “No. I mean, I’m not married anymore.”
“So you’re divorced.”
“No. Not yet.” He was stumbling over his words.
“You’re still married, then.”
“I guess. Separated. On my way to divorce.” Glen looked down, so she didn’t outright dismiss him.
Honey wiped a few glasses and put them away. She grabbed his empty and set it on the tray and then leaned on the bar. “What happened?” She was curious. People fascinated her. She’d spent her entire life studying people. Interactions. Reactions. One of the realities of being on her own a lot as a young child. She looked to others to fill the void.
“She cheated on me with my boss.”
“Your boss? That’s low.” Movement caught her eye, and Honey straightened when she spied Nash Booker making his way over. He stopped to chat with the guys in the band, and a quick glance around the bar told her all the ladies were turned in his direction. She couldn’t blame them. She might not like Nash Booker all that much—most days, he rubbed her the wrong way—but he was one hell of a specimen. He definitely had an edge.
The man was tall with broad shoulders, and every single pair of jeans he owned cupped his ass like an old friend. He had thick dark hair, intense eyes that were set perfectly among his masculine features. He wasn’t a pretty boy, but those lips of his… They deserved more than a second glance. His wardrobe consisted of black or white T-shirts and plaid button-ups. He favored Doc Martins and leather. He was 100% male and about as far from vanilla as Glen here was from landing a date with Honey.
The guy was trouble, but trouble was something Honey could handle. She just didn’t want to handle his kind of trouble. The kind that would kick a girl in the ass if she wasn’t careful. She worked for the guy. No way was she going there.
Not that he’d tried anything. She bit her bottom lip and absently ran the cloth along the bar. Was it weird that he hadn’t?
Nash glanced up suddenly, and her breath quickened. She didn’t need a mirror to know her cheeks were flushed. Jesus. She needed to get laid. Honey turned back to Glen and considered asking the man up to her room. But dismissed it almost immediately. Aside from the fact she was pretty sure the sex would be bad since you needed chemistry to come close to orgasm, she would hurt him. And he was so goddamn nice.
“Where are you from?”
God. Really? They were going to do this? “You can’t tell from my twang?”
Glen’s smile widened. “Well, I know you’re from the South, but where exactly?”
“Everywhere,” she replied, already done and bored with this conversation. She wasn’t usually so curt, but she was tired and didn’t feel like faking it anymore. She glanced at her watch. “We’re closing soon, Glen. You best drink up.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Honey smiled. Poor Glen might be a tad too enthusiastic, but there was something about him that tugged at her heartstrings. Maybe it was because he reminded her of herself—the good part of her, anyway. Always on the outside looking in. Always searching for something and never finding it.
Which was why she’d come to Crystal Lake in the first place.
Nash swung behind the bar and disappeared down the small hall that led to his office. He’d been all over the place tonight because they were short-staffed. Tiny was sick, and they’d only had one server on the floor. He’d helped in the kitchen and behind the bar when it had gotten busy. Then he’d done what he did best--he’d chatted up the customers and charmed the hell out of all of them. It was one of the reasons they kept coming back. The guys liked him, and the women liked him more.
Honey’s cell phone vibrated, and she scooped it out of her back pocket, frowning when she saw the name of the caller. Her finger hovered over the screen for a few seconds, and then she hit Decline, worrying her bottom lip and wondering if she should have just answered. She knew her cell would ring later, just like she knew she was only prolonging the inevitable. Simone was relentless that way. She wasn’t keen on Honey being in Crystal Lake and had been pretty vocal about it.
“Who was that?”
Shit. Honey nearly jumped out of her boots. She looked at Nash and cleared her throat. “Wrong number.”
The look he gave her spoke volumes—no way did he believe her—but at least he didn’t call her on it.
“Glen, buddy. Do you want me to call a cab?” Nash leaned against the bar, invading her space. She arched a brow and pointedly waited for him to move. But he didn’t take the bait, and she was stuck inhaling his scent, which, by the way, was as intriguing as the rest of him. Why the hell did he have to smell so damn good?
“I already got one coming, Book.”
Nash slapped Glen on the shoulder. “Good. You got plans for the holidays?”
Glen shrugged. “Dinner with family. Football. The usual. What about you?”
“Sounds about right. Ma will be cooking up a storm for sure.”
Honey was still eyeing up Nash, waiting for him to move, so she was startled when Glen touched her arm. “What about you, Honey? What are your plans for Thanksgiving?”
She swung her gaze to Glen and shrugged. “Same,” she replied, avoiding Nash’s gaze because she’d learned early on that his bullshit meter was bang on. And right now, she’d just served up one hell of a plate of bull.
“So you’re headed south?”
Time to nip this in the bud. “I’m headed somewhere.” God, she hated lying. She felt like she was five years old again, standing in the front of Miss McDougal’s class and telling anyone who would listen that Santa Claus was her daddy.
“Damn, Book. Honey has got to be the most mysterious female in Crystal Lake.”
“Think so, Glen?”
“You both need to shut up.” Honey looked at Glen. “And you need to go home.” Her heartstrings were done being pulled. Glen had now crossed into the river of annoyance, and she didn’t have the time or patience for it. Chastised, Glenn fell silent.
“He’s right.” Nash pushed off from the bar and leaned across her to grab up the empty trays. Nash looked at her, his deep brown eyes way too focused for her liking. “You’ve been here for six months, and I don’t feel like I know you any better than the day you walked into this bar.”
“That’s how I like it,” she quipped, trying to make things light even though something had changed. Nash Booker looked serious.
She grabbed Glen’s tab and, after ringing it in, slid over the change from his fifty. He winked at Honey like they were sharing a secret or something and made a big show out of leaving his ten-dollar tip on the bar.
“Makes me wonder is all.” Nash leaned in close and surprised the hell out of her, his warm breath tickling the side of her neck. Did she stop breathing? Maybe. Was she able to hide the fact her entire body shuddered like a freight train coming in hard with all brakes fully engaged? Probably not.
“Wonder what?” she asked haltingly.
“Makes me wonder what you’re hiding.”
Honey locked eyes with Nash, her gaze saying the words her mouth couldn’t seem to form. Back the hell off.
“You ready, Nash?”
Honey’s eyes fell away as Booker’s flavor of the week slid up to the bar. Jade Daniels was recently divorced, and she’d made it all but impossible for Nash to ignore her. She was nice enough, but geez, a few days ago, Honey had had to work to convince the woman that Canadians did not live in igloos during the summer. Hell, the border was less than a day’s drive from Crystal Lake. It would be a no-brainer for most people. But then, it wasn’t her brains Nash was after. The woman had a body like Monroe and a mouth like Jolie.
“Let’s head out.” Nash reached into the front pockets of his jeans and tossed a set of keys at Honey. “You mind locking up? Tiny usually does when I can’t.” He paused. “You know the code for the back door right?”
“Sure.” She lived above the bar, so it wasn’t a big deal. Half the time, she helped Tiny anyway. It wasn’t as if she had a busy social life or anyone waiting for her upstairs.
“I’ll see you Saturday.” Nash nodded to the few patrons left in the bar and headed out into the snow and cold with his hot date.
Right. The Coach House was closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. With a sigh, Honey reached for her cloth and began to clean. About an hour later, the last customer got his butt into a cab, and she locked the door behind him. She turned off the main light switch and headed for the stairs that led up to her apartment.
Once inside, she stepped out of her boots, undid the knot at the back of her head, and let her hair fall free. She flopped onto the threadbare sofa that had come with the place and tried to ignore the wire that poked her side. The windows rattled and moaned, protesting the wind and snow, and she burrowed deeper, reaching for the knitted blanket she’d brought with her.
She picked at the worn threads, rolling the softness between her fingers as memories washed over her. Her mom had made this for Honey when she’d been a little girl. She’d taken her to the local Walmart and let her pick out the pink, purple, and yes, black. Even as a child, the dark side had called to Honey. It had been a good day. She smiled sadly. There hadn’t been many of those.
Honey closed her eyes and shut out the lonely, quiet space she called home. She tried not to think about the fact she’d be stuck here for two days while everyone she knew would be nestled in the warmth of their families, sharing turkey, ham, and all the fixings.
She tried not to think about Nash and Jade and all the sex they’d be having.
She tried not to think about how long it had been since she’d had sex. About how long since she’d connected to another human being. Maybe she never had.
Most of all, she tried not to think about the Blackwells.
She tried and subsequently failed in epic fashion. Which meant dawn was breaking when she finally fell asleep.