by Mari Carr
Cocktales, Book One
Stephanie Harper is perfectly happy co-owning Books and Brew, where she slings drinks and entertains her friends with cutting wit and a cynical take on love. She’s convinced she has no time for anything deeper than sex; she has a business to run, after all. And her thrice-married mother has proven happy every after doesn’t exist.
Jarod Nolan begs to differ. Chance has him running into Steph—and giving her a ticket—one morning, but it’s fate that finds him in her place of business that same evening. A sizzling one-night stand ensues, and although Stephanie escapes before he wakes the next morning, Jarod is already sure she’s worth the chase.
Steph’s more than willing to party naked with the hot cop, but she’s adamant they’re driven by lust, not love. Jarod is prepared to prove otherwise, even if it means giving up one of the things he and Stephanie do best…
What’s that old saying? Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder?
Stephanie rubbed a weary hand over her face. The Romantic Hearts book club meeting was in full-swing as she dropped off the second round of Screwdrivers. She wasn’t sure what book they were discussing, but it must have been a hot one. The ladies were animated and laughing loudly over a certain racy passage.
It was only seven o’clock, but she felt like she’d been on her feet for years rather than a few hours. She was still stewing over the parking ticket in her pocket. She’d never met a more arrogant, condescending police officer in her life. She had half a mind to storm over to the police department and file a complaint against Detective Nolan.
The only thing holding her back was that ultimately she had been wrong. She should have known better than to do something so stupid. Her day had been one long string of bad luck. It only stood to reason that the first time she’d ever double-parked in her life, she’d block in a freaking cop. Murphy’s Law was having a lot of fun at her expense.
She hadn’t told the other girls about the ticket upon returning to the bar because she was equal parts irritated and embarrassed. She’d just carefully stepped over the mat, put the liquor bottles on the counter and gotten to work.
Surprisingly Thursdays were pretty good days for them, business-wise. In addition to the book club meeting, there were quite a few regulars who came to have a drink or two and unwind with a newspaper or the newest novels.
Speaking of regulars, Stephanie took a detour to a chair in the corner. “You need me to freshen up your drink, Elias?”
Elias Clark was Books and Brew’s most loyal patron. He came in two nights a week—Thursdays and Saturdays—and he always followed the same routine. He’d claim his chair in the quietest corner of the shop, drink two scotch and sodas—never more than two—and read the newspaper. Then he’d find Jayne and she’d talk him into buying a new book.
“Thank you, Stephanie. I believe I am ready for my second glass.”
She picked up his empty tumbler and started to walk back to the bar, but Elias stopped her with a question. “You okay tonight? You seem tired. That’s not like you. You’re usually the life of this place.”
She smiled at his compliment and shrugged easily. “I’ve had a long day.”
A very long one, she thought.
“Perhaps you could take off early?” Elias suggested. “Go home and rest. I bet the other ladies wouldn’t mind covering for you.”
Stephanie glanced around the shop. Jayne was leading the book discussion, while Sophie and Jordan were helping various customers, either by finding books or serving drinks.
She shook her head. “Only a few more hours until closing time. I’ll be fine ’til then.”
Elias gave her a friendly smile and she felt grateful for his concern.
She was halfway to the bar when she spotted a familiar face walking through the front door. She stopped in her tracks. Detective Nolan sauntered in like he owned the place and the temper she’d managed to subdue all afternoon flared hot once again.
He glanced around the bar quickly, looking over at the boisterous book group as he took a seat at the end of the bar. His gaze missed her completely.
Suddenly she felt as if the clouds on her lousy day had lifted and she’d been granted a bit of good fortune. She’d had hours to fume about the detective’s behavior and, as always happened, she’d thought of a million clever, cutting things she could have said to him after she’d driven away. She’d been pissed off about missing her opportunity.
A smile crossed her face. Time for round two.
She walked toward him.
As if sensing sudden danger, the detective turned, his gaze catching hers as she approached. She enjoyed the myriad emotions that covered his face in the few short steps it took her to reach him—surprise, annoyance, anger and, finally, was that regret? The last pulled her up short for a moment, then she drew near.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t De—”
The detective grabbed her shoulders, pulled her toward him and cut off her words with a kiss that left her stunned motionless for a full thirty seconds.
What the hell?
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