Friday, May 22, 2015

WASTED, Whiskey Nights #1, Read Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 1
Sex on the Beach


“You want Sex on the Beach?”
“I beg your pardon?” Her large, dark eyes focused on my face as she glanced up from the glowing screen of her cell phone.
I grinned. “The drink, not actual…you know. Sex on the Beach is today’s two-for-one special.” I motioned toward the framed chalkboard hanging on the wall with the daily special neatly printed in fluorescent colors.
“Oh.” Her lips curved into a smile once she realized she’d misunderstood me, not that I wouldn’t be willing to give her both, the drink and the sex. There weren’t any beaches in Tennessee, but hell, I’d be willing to drive over to the coast. “Sure,” she agreed.
It was early yet, and there weren’t many people sitting at the bar. I clicked my tongue and pointed at her. “Be right back with the best Sex on the Beach you ever had.”
Moving over to the liquor, I filled a glass with ice and poured in all the ingredients, resulting in a drink the color of a sunset. I added a lemon wedge on the edge of the glass, tossed in a maraschino cherry, and poked in a straw.
I set the glass in front of her, and her plump red lips encircled the straw as I patiently waited on the verdict.
Pushing silken tresses the color of dark chocolate over her shoulder, she straightened on her stool. “You’re right. That is the best Sex on the Beach I ever had.”
A victorious smirk shot across my face.
“It’s also the only one I’ve ever had,” she added, looking way too smug as she cut her eyes at me.
I shrugged a shoulder. “Still counts.”
Moving down the bar, I picked up an empty glass, wiped the bar clean, and stuffed a not-too-shabby tip in my pocket. Spanky Dewberry, my manager as well as the owner of Spanky’s, came out of his office and walked briskly toward me. He was a short man with a wide girth. As he strode down the main aisle that separated two sections of tables and approached the bar, I waved. “Hey, Spanky, what’s going on?”
He smoothed a wrinkled hand over the shiny bald spot on the top of his head and combed his fingers through the white tufts of hair that sprang out on the lower half of his scalp. “I see you’ve met Lexi.”
I pointed to the only patron sitting at the bar. “This is Lexi?”
Upon hearing her name, she stood and held out her hand. “Lexi Swafford.”
I shook her hand, noticing that it was soft and warm. “Mason Cambridge. Nice to meet you, Lexi.”
“Likewise.” Her pouty lips curved into another smile, and her straight white teeth contrasted dramatically against her deep red lips.
She turned to the owner. “Your bartender was just trying to convince me that he could give me the best Sex on the Beach I ever had.”
“He tries to convince all the ladies of that, but they ain’t buying what he’s selling.”
“Spanky,” I protested in mock horror, “how can you do that to me? Besides, she’s already admitted that I did give her the best Sex on the Beach she’s ever had.”
“Only because I have nothing to compare it to,” she interjected, holding her finger in the air.
 Spanky chortled as he leaned against the bar. “Y’all can work it out later. Lexi’s gonna help out with the bar, so I need you to teach her everything you know about bartending.”
“Oh.” I was a little surprised, not that he asked me to train her because I trained all the bartenders and bar backs, but I hadn’t realized he was hiring. “You got it.”
He turned to Lexi. “You can start as soon as you finish your drink, or you can wait until tomorrow. Your call.”
“I’ve got nothing better to do. May as well start tonight.”
“If y’all need anything, holler. I’m going back to the office.” He waddled away. “Oh, and the drink’s on the house,” he called over his shoulder.
“Thank you!” Lexi called, taking another sip.
“She’s in good hands, Spanky.”
He waved an acknowledgement without turning around.
“So,” I drawled out, turning my attention back to Lexi, “it looks like it’s me and you tonight.”
“You didn’t know when you crawled out of bed this afternoon it was going to be your lucky day, did you?” Her sexy lips smirked.
“No. First, Sex on the Beach, and now I have someone to scrub the floors and haul the ice. I think I’m in love.”
“Again?” a male voice asked.
We both looked up as one of Spanky’s regular patrons grabbed a seat a couple of stools down.
“Hey, bud, what’s going on?” I leaned over and bumped fists with him before turning to Lexi. “Lexi, this is James Hawkins. Everybody calls him Hawk.”
“Hi, Hawk.” She shook his hand.
“Lexi.” He nodded a greeting.
“Hawk’s a firefighter here in the great city of Creekview. So if you ever catch a skillet full of bacon on fire and accidentally throw a pitcher of water on it, he can help you out.”
“And you’re speaking from experience?” Lexi asked me, her daintily plucked eyebrows arched in question.
Hawk chuckled. “Let’s just say there’s a reason Spanky doesn’t let him in the kitchen.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t want to waste my winning personality on chicken fingers and cheese sticks.” I picked up a coaster, tossed it in the air with a spin, and let it land on the bar in front of Hawk. “You want your usual?”
“Yep. You know me.”
I grabbed two bottles of beer, positioned the cap of one bottle just below the other, and slammed one bottle down on the bar to pop the cap off the other. “You are pretty predictable.” I set the open bottle of beer on the coaster in front of Hawk.
“How’d you do that?” Lexi sat up a little straighter as she took notice, her brow furrowed.
“Oh, no.” I waved my hand at her. “If you want to know my secrets, you have to share yours.”
“Your secrets aren’t that interesting.”
“Then why do you want to know them?” Amused, I awaited her answer, but she abandoned her question and went back to sipping her drink.
When she didn’t take the bait, I turned my attention back to Hawk. “So how many cats have you rescued this week?” I asked, propping my arms against the bar.
“No cats, which is a good thing since I’m highly allergic to them. It’s actually been pretty quiet. Put out a brush fire and responded to a few wrecks, none of them too serious.” He took a long swig of his beer.
“So basically you’ve been watching movies and working out?”
“Pretty much. I’ve been off the last couple of days, but it’s back to work tomorrow. Got a bunch of kindergarteners coming by for a tour.”
I laughed at the thought of Hawk being overwhelmed by dozens of kids asking a million questions. “You better prepare yourself,” I warned. “Why is the fire truck red? Can I drive it? Why is a fire hot? How do you fill your truck up with water?”
Hawk took another swig and set his beer on the coaster. “Or my personal favorite: My mom said she wants to date a fireman. Will you go out with her?”
“A kid actually said that?” Lexi asked.
“Oh, yeah. They have no filters.”
“Well, what did his mom look like?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but based on the kid….” He scrunched his face.
“So what you’re trying to say is he was one of the ugliest kids you’ve ever seen?” I asked.
“That wasn’t exactly what I was trying to say, but it would be an accurate statement.”
“That’s mean,” Lexi admonished us.
I pointed to Hawk as I looked at Lexi and shook my head. “It’s not like he told the kid he was ugly.”
She frowned. “Guys are so….”
“Oh, like you’ve never seen an ugly kid.” I spotted other customers walking toward the bar, and I grabbed a couple of coasters and spun them in their direction. “Ladies, how are y’all today?”
“We’re fine, Mason. You?”
“The only way I could be any better would be if I’s on that side of the bar having a drink with you two lovelies.”
After serving their drinks and ordering their food, I walked back over to Lexi.
“I’m almost finished,” she assured me. She took another sip. “I rarely drink, so I didn’t want to drink it too fast.”
“Rarely drink? And you want to be a bartender?”
“Drinking’s not a requirement,” she shot back.
Hawk drained the rest of his beer as he stood, pushing the stool back with his movement. “Lexi, when it comes to Mason, you’ve got to give as good as you get.” He set his empty bottle down and fished money from his pocket. “Keep the change.” He nodded at me, and then pivoted around and faced Lexi. “Guess I’ll see you around?”
“I’ll be here.” She gave him a smile and watched as he walked out of the bar.
“You ready?” I asked, drawing her attention back to me.
“I’m ready.”
When she entered the bar area, I admired her tight-fitting jeans and her snug jersey-style tee shirt. I went over some of the bar back duties, like washing glasses, cleaning the bar, restocking items, and replenishing garnishes.
“So how long have you been bartending?” she asked as she sliced lemons.
“For about six years. Spanky gave me a job as a bar back when I was eighteen. After a few months, he let me start bartending.”
“How did you know that’s what you wanted to do?”
I glanced at her profile as she concentrated on the lemons. Her dark hair was pushed behind her shoulders, and her softly rounded cheeks made her seem young, though I imagined that she was probably older than she looked.
“It’s not that I wanted to do it.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I just needed a job, and over the years, I’ve figured out what people want. So I give it to them, and they give me a good tip.”
“And what do they want?” Her hands stilled, and she studied my face as she waited on my answer.
“Most of them just want someone to talk to, somebody that they can tell how their day went or talk about their problems. Basically, they just want someone who will listen.
“If they’re with someone else and they’re in deep conversation, then they may want nothing more than someone who can give them service when they need it and get their drinks right. I like to keep things interesting by adding a little flair like the trick with opening the bottles.
“When you’ve done it long enough, you get a feel for how to treat each customer, and of course, we have a lot of regulars, so that takes the guesswork out of it once you get to know them. The bottom line is they have to leave feeling better than they did when they got here, and I don’t mean from the alcohol.”
She went back to cutting lemons. “So you have to know how to read people?”
“You definitely have to be a people person if you want to make good tips. If you come in here scowling because you’ve had a crappy day, you’re gonna drag them down with you, which will definitely affect your tips.”
Business picked up, and I trained Lexi on as many things as I could. Since Sex on the Beach was our daily special, I taught her how to make one, and every time one was ordered, I let her fix it. We were pretty busy for a Thursday night, and by the time we closed and got everything cleaned and stocked, we were both exhausted.
“My feet are killing me,” Lexi complained as she sat down at the bar. “If I had to carry one more bucket of ice….”
I plopped her share of the tips down on the counter. “You have to look at it like this: the more ice you carry, the more tips you’re making.”
“It’s hard to remember that when the pain is so intense it’s shooting up my legs.”
I sat on the stool beside her. “Give me your foot.”
“What? Why?” She shook her head. “There’s no way I’m giving you my foot.”
“Why? Does it stink?”
She smacked me playfully on the arm. “No, it doesn’t stink.”
“You have ugly feet? Crooked toes? Warts?”
I patted my leg, motioning for her to lift her foot and rest it on my thigh.
“Fine,” she said, finally obeying, “but I’m keeping my socks on.” I untied her shoe and removed it, letting it drop to the floor. She wore black socks with pink polka dots, and I cradled her small foot in my hands as my thumbs stroked the bottom of her foot, working small circles over the surface.
She moaned in delight. “That feels so good.”
“So you still want to be a bartender?”
“I never wanted to be a bartender.”
“Spanky kidnapped you, tossed you over his shoulder, and forced you to work for him?”
“Of course not.”
I waited for her to elaborate, but instead, she closed her eyes, enjoying the massage. “Ow,” she screeched, jerking her foot and laughing. “That’s the best kind of hurt.”
I lightened my hold and grinned as she relaxed her foot again. “Not the best kind,” I countered.
“Is that why you do well in tips?”
“Is what why?”
“Because you flirt and charm the ladies?”
I chuckled, amused by her assessment. “I told you that you have to be a people person to do this job well.”
She switched feet, and I removed her other shoe and massaged her foot. She groaned as I worked the pain out.
“Maybe you should’ve been a massage therapist,” she said with her eyes closed.
Her comment amused me. She wasn’t the first woman to tell me that I was good with my hands. “So do you live around here?”
“I used to. My father was transferred when I was twelve. I always told myself that I would move back one day. I just graduated from college a few months ago, so here I am.”
I stopped stroking her foot and glared at her like she was crazy. “You graduated from college and you came here to get a job as a bartender?”
“Not exactly.”
She wouldn’t be at the bar long. Nobody spent all that time and money going to college, so that they could bust their ass serving people behind a bar.
“How long have you been back?”
“I just rolled into town today.”
“You already got a place to live?”
“No. I’m staying at the hotel down the street until I can find something.” She straightened up and pulled her foot out of my lap.
Standing, I retrieved her shoes and handed them to her.
“I tried to find a one-bedroom apartment before I came, but I didn’t have any luck. I thought it might be easier once I got here.”
“Housing around here is a little tight right now. They opened that new customer service center on the edge of town. The place is huge, which is good because they’ve brought a lot of new jobs to Creekview. The downside?”
“They’re attracting people to the city and housing is being snatched up like free beer at a frat party?”
“Exactly, which is good for the bartending business.”
“But bad for someone who’s just rolled into town hunting an apartment.”
“They’re building some new apartments near the customer service center, but I don’t think they’ll be ready for a few more months. You can probably call them, though, and get yourself added to their waiting list.”
“They have a waiting list?” I could hear the disappointment in her voice as she realized getting an apartment might not be as easy as she thought.
“That’s what I hear from my customers, and believe me, I hear just about everything here: who’s sleeping with who, who got in a knock-down drag-out, who filed for divorce, etcetera, etcetera. Gossip spreads faster than the warmth from a swig of whiskey.”
“I’ll have to check it out in the morning.”
“You know, I just happen to be looking for a roommate. If you want to stay with me while you find a place or while you wait on one of those new apartments, you’re welcome to. The rent’ll be cheap, and I might even throw in a foot massage here and there.”
“A foot massage, huh?” She cocked her head in thought. “That’s mighty tempting.”
“It’s just a thought.” I scanned the bar one more time to make sure everything was in perfect order.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She stood up, and we both scooted our stools up to the bar.
Fishing my cell phone out of my pocket, I asked her for her number, dialing it as she told me. It started ringing. “Now, you’ve got my number. Call me if you want to move in.”
“Let me tell Spanky we’re leaving, and I’ll walk you to your car.”
I walked briskly toward the office, knocked on the door, and popped my head in. “Hey, Spanky, I’m fixing to walk Lexi out. You ready to leave?”
“You kids go on. I’m going to stay a little while longer.” He took his glasses off and laid them on the desk. Then, he leaned back and folded his arms behind his head, his chair squeaking with the movement.
“Okay then. See you later.”
“See ya.”
 I met Lexi back at the bar and walked her to her car in the dimly lit parking lot. “See you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mason.”
“For what? Sex on the Beach?”
“It wasn’t very good, but I do appreciate your effort.”
I chuckled at her unexpected response. “Ouch.” I playfully pushed her shoulder. “You know it’s okay to admit you like being on the beach with me,” I teased.
“Are you one of those guys?” she asked.
“I don’t know who those guys are, but I can guarantee you that I’m not one of them.”
She grunted. “We’ll see about that.”
The only thing I knew as well as bartending was women. I studied her face. Her eyes were concealed by shadows, and I wondered what guy had broken her heart.
Clenching my jaw, I slightly shook my head as a realization hit me.
I probably was one of those guys.

Chapter 2
Devil’s Handshake


My alarm went off promptly at eight o’clock. I’d wanted to take a steaming bath when I’d gotten back to the room last night, but since the room’s cleanliness wasn’t quite up to par for me, I’d opted for a shower, instead. After settling into bed, I’d propped my computer across my lap and searched online for the apartment complex Mason had mentioned. The idea of being in a brand new place that hadn’t been occupied previously appealed to the OCD side of me.
After making a quick phone call, I arranged an appointment with the apartment manager for a walk-through of the model apartment. I showered and dressed, and then I packed my things and checked out of the hotel. An hour and a half later, I pulled into the gravel parking lot and parked in front of a modular building the complex was using as a makeshift office.
An attractive woman greeted me from behind a desk, her gray roots marring her well-groomed appearance. Upon seeing me, she pasted on a bright smile and rushed around the desk as if a celebrity had just sashayed into her little corner of the world.
“You must be Lexi,” she said, making the handshake last a little longer than normal.
“I am.”
“I’m Lisa. I talked to you on the phone. So you’re interested in the one-bedroom?”
“Follow me.” She exited the office and navigated her spiked heels carefully through the large gravels until we crossed the parking lot and walked through the main entrance of the apartment building. A small lobby neared completion, and we turned into a hallway, passing unpainted sheetrock.
Approaching the first door, she wrapped her hand around the doorknob and paused. “All the floor plans for the one-bedrooms are identical. I think you’ll find it spacious and comfortable.” She pushed the door open, and I followed her into a decent sized living room.
I listened to her as she moved from room to room, touting all the benefits. The apartment was more than adequate, even though I would have preferred a few upgrades, such as granite. Following her back to the office, she pulled out a drawing of the finished complex and pointed out the clubhouse and pool.
“How long before it’s finished?” If it wasn’t too long, then the wait would be a minor inconvenience in exchange for an apartment that had never been occupied.
“About four months.” She sat ramrod straight in her black suit, her hands clasped together, resting on the desk. “Would you like to complete an application? We’re filling up fast.”
My decision was already made. “Yes.”
Shuffling through one of her desk drawers, she pulled out the form and pushed it across the desk. She grabbed a pen from a black ceramic coffee cup, clicked the top, and handed it to me.
“I’ll go ahead and add you to the waiting list. Once your application is approved, I’ll notify you, and if you like, we can give you updates via text or email. Just mark your preference on the application.”
The form was fairly brief, which I appreciated. I quickly filled it out and passed it back to her.
She handed me a business card. “I’ll give you a call either today or tomorrow and let you know whether it’s been approved. If you have any questions in the meantime, give me a call.”
“I will. Thank you.” I shook her hand and left.
I had some time to kill before my shift started at Spanky’s. I’d been thinking about Mason’s offer to room with him until my apartment was ready, and while it would be a bit awkward, it seemed like the easiest solution.
Pulling over into a strip mall parking lot, I grabbed my cell phone, took a deep breath, and dialed his number.
The phone rang several times, and I had decided he wasn’t going to answer when I finally heard his hoarse whisper over the speaker. “Yeah.”
“Mason?” I could tell I had woken him.
“Sorry to bother you. It’s Lexi.”
“Lexi, hey,” he said, his voice perking up.
“Are you still looking for a roommate?”
“I am. You need a place?”
“I went and looked at that apartment complex you told me about yesterday, and I’m on their waiting list. They said it would be about four months. You care if I stay there until my apartment’s ready?”
“Not at all. When do you want to move in?”
“Would now be too soon?”
He chuckled gruffly. We quickly agreed on the price, and he gave me directions to his apartment.
Ten minutes later, I knocked on his front door. When he pulled it open, the first thing I noticed was his bare chest, nicely muscled with a sinuous tribal tattoo that flowed over his left shoulder and down his arm and the side of his torso. Despite his disheveled appearance, he was still devilishly handsome. He ran his long fingers through his silky hair, and it fell back into place, brushing against his shoulders. An endearing grin shot across his face, and dimples softened his angular cheeks.
“You move fast, don’t ya, love?”
I smiled, unable to stop my perusal from dipping to the V lines that disappeared into low-riding jeans. “Being homeless is an amazing incentive.”
He held his hand out, and I shook it. “Congratulations, we’re now officially roommates.” Opening the door wider, he waved me in. “Welcome home.”
I started to pick up my suitcase, but he stopped me. “I’ll get that.”
“Thank you.” Waltzing into the apartment, I looked around. It was fairly nice in an extremely masculine way. The walls were bare, but the furniture was stylish, even if it was coated in a light layer of dust. A bar separated the kitchen from the living room, and an assortment of liquor bottles filled the top of the refrigerator.
“Your bedroom’s across the hall from mine. It’s an en suite. Do you have furniture?”
I followed him down the hall, his bare feet silent against the carpet. “No, I’ll have to buy some.”
“There’s a furniture store about a mile from here. They have a decent selection, and the prices aren’t too bad.”
Mason entered my bedroom and set down my suitcase. He motioned toward a door. “Bathroom’s in there. You’ve seen the living room and the kitchen. There’s a half bath in the hallway, and a washer and dryer just off the kitchen. Feel free to look around. I’m going back to bed. I can still catch a nap before my shift.”
“Thank you, Mason. I appreciate this.”
“No problem.”
He went to his bedroom and shut the door behind him, leaving me the freedom to explore. The bathroom was simple but clean, the closet spacious. I went to the kitchen and poked around in the cabinets, which only had the bare minimum, a few canned goods and some crackers. The refrigerator was stocked with beer, a carton of eggs, condiments, assorted juices, a lemon, and miscellaneous sandwich stuff. An outdated loaf of bread lay on the counter.
Picking up random bottles of liquor from the top of the fridge, I read the labels, amazed at his vast selection of rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and the list went on and on.
The washer and dryer were tucked in a closet, a row of nearly-empty wire shelves over them. I found a small utility closet beside them, which held an iron and ironing board, a broom, a vacuum cleaner, a mop, and a bucket.
With plenty of time before my shift started, I decided to check out the furniture store. I found it easily, and Mason’s assessment had been accurate.
I quickly decided on a sleigh bed in deep mahogany with a matching dresser and nightstand. After selecting a lamp, I paid for the furniture and set up delivery for the following day.
Pleased with my selection and glad to have that task crossed off my list, I went back to the apartment and realized that I didn’t have a key. I knocked on the door, hoping that Mason was awake by now.
He pulled the door open almost instantly, and I was a little disappointed that he was wearing a shirt this time. “My bad.” He pulled a loose key out of his pocket. “I forgot to give you this.”
He dropped the key in my palm, and I immediately put it on the ring with my car keys.
“Guess I’m official now.” I entered the apartment, and he closed the door behind us.
“I was fixing to make myself a drink,” he called from behind me. “Want me to show you how while I’m doing it?”
“You drink before you go to work?” I asked, surprised.
“It’s just one drink, and if we split it, it won’t even be that much alcohol. Come on.” He passed me and went to the kitchen.
Interested in seeing what he was concocting, I trailed along and leaned against the kitchen counter as he started grabbing the appropriate ingredients.
He explained each step as he made it, and when he finished, he poured us each some in a glass of ice. “Normally, it’d be garnished with a lime wedge, but I’m a little short on limes at the moment.”
The drink was an odd mixture of sweet and tart. “What’s it called?”
“Devil’s Handshake.” He turned and began putting all the ingredients up. “You like it?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Yeah, it’s smooth, isn’t it?” I took another drink, wanting to associate the flavor and texture with the name of the drink.
“That’s the egg white. Although, when we’re making drinks at Spanky’s, we use powdered egg whites, so we don’t have to worry about salmonella.”
“How many drinks do you know how to make?”
He turned and shot me a grin. “A bunch.”
“Do you ever mess any up?”
He cocked his head and raised his eyebrows, looking at me as if I were insane. “No, I never mess any up. I pride myself on delivering the best damn drink possible.”
“Like your Sex on the Beach?”
He drained the rest of his drink in one long gulp.
“You want to ride to work with me?” I asked.
“I would,” he answered with a lopsided grin, “but I have a date tonight.”
He put his glass in the sink. “And don’t wait up for me.”
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
“See you at work.”
He left the kitchen, and I sipped my drink until I had finished most of it. Pouring the rest out, I loaded our dirty dishes in the dishwasher and wiped off the counter before heading to my room.
I unzipped my suitcase. After hanging up my clothes and neatly arranging my extra pairs of shoes in the closet, I unpacked my makeup in the bathroom. As the time for my shift approached, I finished getting ready and drove the short distance to work.
When I arrived, Mason was already behind the bar, charming customers and whipping up drinks. I had a few minutes before my shift started, so I took a seat at one of the small, empty tables in the dining area and watched him.
Since it was Friday, patrons lined up along the bar, talking and laughing and ordering quite a few drinks. Their eyes focused on Mason as he tossed bottles behind his back, catching them in the opposite hand. He twirled tins and spun bottles, and I quickly found myself mesmerized by him. He was more than just a bartender. He was an entertainer, and the patrons loved him. No wonder Spanky spoke so highly of him.
When it was time for my shift to start, I immediately began stocking. My muscles were sore from carrying buckets of ice the previous day, but the bar was buzzing with activity, and I didn’t have time to dwell on it.
The daily special was draft beer, and Mason put me to work filling icy mugs while he handled the cocktails. While I wiped the counter, I heard shouts and whistles coming from the customers. I turned to see Mason with a row of glasses lined up on the bar. He had several tins stacked into each other and poured five different shots at the same time, the liquid landing in the glasses in a rainbow of colors.
Transfixed, I stared at him. Having spent four years in college, I’d been to my share of bars and parties, but I’d never seen anyone do that little trick. When he finished, the buxom blondes sitting in front of him clapped voraciously. They loved him.
When my shift was over and Mason delivered my part of the tips, I quickly crammed the money in my purse and left. My feet ached, and knowing that my furniture would be delivered mid-morning the next day, I wanted to get some sleep.
Back at my apartment, I took a hot shower, helped myself to a throw blanket and a pillow from the couch, and curled up on the floor of my bedroom.
Sleep came pretty easily, and in a matter of minutes, all conscious thought slipped into nothingness.
When I heard a thump in the middle of the night, my eyes flew open. I lay still, breathing quietly while I waited to see if I heard it again.
A muffled string of slurred expletives drifted down the hall. I jumped to my feet and listened at the door—more mumbling. Grabbing my robe from the closet, I wrapped it around me, tied the belt, and peeked out my bedroom door.
“Shit,” Mason muttered, followed by another thump.
I opened the door wider and ventured into the hallway, walking toward the source of the noise. The apartment was pitch-black, so approaching the end of the hall, I groped the wall, searching for the light switch.
Finally, my fingers found it, and I flipped it on about the same time that Mason plowed into me. His arm wrapped around my waist, though I wasn’t sure whether he was trying to steady me, him, or both of us. The strong scent of alcohol hung heavy in the air.
“Dammit,” he whispered as he stumbled forward, tried to straighten up, and fell backwards instead, bringing me with him as we landed on the floor in another thud.
I could feel my breasts pressed against his hard, muscular chest as his arm still held me firmly against him. His head was tossed back, his chin jutting in the air, a deep rumble of laughter reverberating through his torso.
He lifted his head and looked at me, his lips still curled into a grin. His eyes were the color of whiskey, which, considering he reeked of alcohol, seemed fitting. “Sorry, roomie,” he slurred. “What was your name again?”
“Lexi,” I ground out between clenched teeth as I scrambled to get off him.
He released a cry of pain.
Realizing that I’d accidentally kneed him in the groin, a flood of heat exploded in my chest and torpedoed up my face. “Sorry,” I mumbled, relieved when my knees firmly hit the floor and I could push myself to my feet.
He attempted to raise himself up on his elbows, failing miserably.
I maneuvered behind him, slipping my hands beneath his arms, and tried to give him enough leverage to sit up.
It worked.
“Can you stand?” If not, then he’d just have to sleep in the hallway.
After a lot of fumbling and with my grip firmly on his arm, he finally stood.
“You didn’t drive, did you?”
“No. I never drink and drive. My friend owns a caxi tab.” He stumbled a few steps. “A caxi tab.” He shuffled forward again. “A caxi….”
“A taxi cab,” I supplied, gripping his arm tightly.
“Yeah.” He pointed his finger in the air. “One of those.”
I pushed his door open and flipped on the light. With his arm draped across my shoulders, we staggered into his bedroom. He lurched across the floor and fell onto his unmade bed. Relieved to be free of his weight, I straightened and swept my eyes across the room. It was sparsely furnished with a bed and a chest of drawers. Some change, a photo, and an empty glass sat on a small table, which served as a nightstand. “You okay?” I asked, turning my attention back to him.
“I’m good.” He never opened his eyes, but a slight wave of his hand seemed to motion to me that I could leave. My eyes turned back to the photo, and letting my curiosity outweigh my discretion, I walked over and picked it up. A beautiful girl looked at me, her smile wide and her mouth slightly parted as if she were laughing. Mason hugged her to him, his profile facing the camera as he gazed at her.
Realizing I was invading his privacy, I quickly put the photo down and walked toward the bedroom door.
I didn’t know whether I was more surprised that he said my name or that he actually remembered it. I turned back to him. “Yes?”
He opened his eyes and smiled, a flash of dimples in his cheeks. “You remember how to make a Devil’s Handshake?”
I hoped he wasn’t about to order one. I didn’t know how much he had drunk while he was out, but the last thing he needed was more alcohol. “I think so.”
“Good. Tomorrow, you can look forward to a Sloe Comfortable Screw.”
I assumed that was the name of another drink. As I watched the roguish grin spread across his handsome face, I realized that I’d shaken hands with the devil today, but it had nothing to do with an alcoholic beverage.