A Dive Bar Novel
By Kylie Scott
Release Day: April 17, 2018
Given his well-earned bad boy reputation, Eric is having a tough time scoring.. When single Jean moves to town, she seems heaven sent by the sex gods. Only problem is, she not only wants nothing to do with him, but it turns out that she’s pregnant.
Starting over in a small town, Jean is determined to turn her wild lifestyle around and be the kind of mother she always wished she’d had. Since local bar owner and all round hottie, Eric Collins, is now determined to steer clear of her pregnant self, it should be easy. When she goes into labour during a snow storm and her car slides on some ice, it’s Eric who comes to the rescue.
There seems to be a bond between them now, but is it enough? And can Eric give up his manwhore ways to be the man Jean needs?
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“Face it, Eric. You’re a fuckboy.”
I turned away from the shapely ass I’d been checking out, and frowned. “Jesus, Nell. That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
“No, not really,” she said, smoothing a loving hand over her small baby belly.
I fixed my gaze on her face, ignoring everything and anything to do with her midsection. I did not want to know anything about her pregnancy. Not that I wasn’t happy for her and her husband. We’d all gone to school together and been friends a long time, after all. But for lots of really good reasons, me and babies didn’t mix. Every time I saw Nell’s bump, it worried me. I said a little prayer to please let her and the baby be okay this time, and then did my best not to think about it again. Not to remember the baby we’d lost last year. There were things much more happiness-inducing going on in the bar area than falling into grief and regrets again.
“… I don’t even need to look to see. That’s how predictable you are. I can tell when a hot woman walks into the bar just by seeing your eyes light up like a cat that’s spied a mouse.” She paused, then ranted, “Eric? Eric!”
She cocked her head. “You’re not even listening to me, are you?”
“Of course I am.” Mostly. I was sort of torn between outrage at Nell’s insinuation, and an itching desire to follow the perfect behind. Didn’t make Nell right, however.
“This is what I’m talking about,” she said. “Your attention span makes a gnat look gargantuan.”
“Calm down. I said I was listening to you.”
“So what did I just say?”
“Well, basically you said that I’m a douche,” I said. “Which hurts.”
Nell crossed her arms. “Oh, really? Now you’re pretending you have feelings?”
“Of course I have feelings.”
“Sure you do. And why do I think you’re a douche?”
“Ah…” I stared off over her shoulder, catching sight once more of the back of the particularly lovely looking female being shown to her table by Lydia. Lydia was the third owner of the Dive Bar, along with me and Nell. But back to the far more important babe: long brown hair hung down to her shoulder blades and a shapely ass swayed with every step. Goddamn. Summertime with all the skin on display was pretty great. But then again, winter with its tight jeans and sweaters, like my new about-to-be-best-female-friend-with-benefits had on, was also pretty fucking awesome. Too bad I could only spy on her from behind. I wonder what her rack was like. Not that I was fussy. Full, generous, slim, pert, soft, firm; it was all good. It’s like I always say: life is like taking off a girl’s bra. You never know exactly what you’re gonna get, but however it turns out, it’s basically awesome.
“Eric?” Nell picked up a knife, immediately dragging me out of my daydreams. She started tapping it against a cutting board all impatient like. “I’m waiting.”
“Women and stuff,” I said, the obvious answer. Generally, it was always one or the other. “You think I’m a douche because of women and stuff.”
Her eyes narrowed. “‘And stuff’?”
“Am I wrong?”
Phew. “Okay then.”
“Seriously, Eric. One day you’re going to wish there was more to your life than the next piece of ass.” She stopped cutting to gesticulate with her hands, one of which was still alarmingly wielding the knife. “I mean, the closest you’ve ever come to a long-term relationship was with Alex, and that was only because Joe stole your online identity to woo her!”
“Ha. Ha.” I bet Nell had planned that line a week ago, and was just waiting for a chance to wheel it out. “Can I get back to work now?”
“Whatever.” She slapped the knife down. “You’re a lost cause. I give up on you.”
Thank God for that.
Baby hormones made Nell even scarier than usual. Just the other day, she’d ripped me a new one for breathing too loudly. Now she was calling me a manwhore. Talk about unfair. Sure, I’d slept with a number of women. I liked women—a lot. But there was more to me than just my sex life. It kind of did hurt that one of my oldest friends, who I’d been through some serious shit with, didn’t share that opinion.
Anyway, forget Nell and her bad mood. There were more pleasant duties to attend to on the restaurant floor. Being that it was midafternoon, things were pretty quiet. No one was waiting for me to fix them a drink at the bar. Taka, the waiter on duty, stood behind the counter, busy folding napkins and cleaning cutlery and shit. I was good to go.
“I’ve got this, Lydia. You should take a break,” I said. “Get off your feet for a while.”
She gave me a knowing smile before smacking me hard in the chest with the menu. All that stuff about women being soft and sweet was such bullshit.
“Sure, Eric,” she said. “Just don’t scare her away.”
“When have I ever scared a customer away? Hell, my personal magnetism is the only thing that keeps this bar afloat.”
No answer. Instead, after a long look, Lydia turn on her heel and headed out back. Probably off to discuss my inadequacies with Nell. Where to bury my body in the woods and things like that. This was the problem with co-owning a business with two women. Being the only one with a dick, I got blamed for everything. A stock delivery arrived late—my fault. The register acted up—also my fault. Someone broke a nail or some shit—me again. All this attitude thrown my way, despite me faithfully keeping my word and not sleeping with any more of our waitresses. Yes, employees were off-limits. Fine with me. Things tended to get awkward when it was time to move on. Didn’t matter that I was always up front with things being about a good time, not a long time.
So no messing around with the staff. Female customers, however, were another matter entirely.
“Hey there,” I said to the curvy brunette.
The woman gave a slight smile, not even meeting my eyes. Her features were strong yet stunning, a long straight nose and a heavy jaw. Not pretty, exactly. But striking, despite the shadows under her hazel eyes. Probably midtwenties.
“I’m Eric.” I handed over the menu with an easy smile. “Welcome to the Dive Bar.”
“Hi,” she murmured, immediately checking out the menu while I continued to check out her. No wedding ring. Lots of curves. A blue sweater stretched beautifully across her tits. Definitely more than a handful there, thank you God.
“Let me guess.” I braced my hands on the back of the empty seat opposite her.
“Let you guess what?” she asked without looking up, disinterested.
“What makes you think I’m drinking?”
“Why else would you be in a bar?” I countered, waiting for her, pleading with her to look at me. It was hard to dazzle her with my winning smile if she wouldn’t even face me.
“Well, you also serve food and I happen to be hungry.”
“Good point. So you’d just like some ice water or something?”
Finally, her gaze shifted from the menu to me and stuck. Blue eyes took me in, looking over every inch with interest. The faintest trace of color lit her cheeks. Excellent.
“All right, go for it,” she eventually invited. “What’s my drink?”
“Well … you’ve got an understated kind of style,” I said, flexing the muscles in my arms just enough to catch her attention. It was pretty much the main reason I rolled back my button-down shirt’s sleeves. A subtle, yet important part of the show. “So first off, I’m thinking you’re into the classics. A martini or an old-fashioned, maybe?”
“No?” I let my gaze wander over her, trying to take in every detail and not get stuck staring at her breasts. It wasn’t easy, but fortunately I’m big into self-discipline. Eyes up. “Maybe you’re more of a straight down the line kind of girl. How about a beer?”
A hint of a smile crossed her lips. “I don’t mind beer. But that’s not what I was going to order.”
“Mm, a challenge. I like a challenge.”
“God. I’m really not a challenge.” She exhaled. “I take it this is your trick, guessing what people drink?”
“Usually I’m pretty good at it.”
“Sorry to ruin your winning streak.”
“Nah, that’s okay.” I grinned. “Mom always said I needed to be put in my place pretty often or my ego got out of hand.”
Something strange passed across her face. “Sounds like a good mom.”
“She’s a great mom. But let’s get back to talking about you,” I said, following my script. Women usually ate this smooth shit right up. Yet something in her gaze made me hesitate. “If you’d rather I just took your ord—”
“Absolutely not.” She gave me a teasing smile. “You promised me a magic trick, now you need to deliver. What did you say your name was?”
“I’m the owner here.” It was only partly a lie and it made me look good. Successful.
“You are?” Her brows arched in surprise and she gave the place a looking over, taking it all in. I waited patiently. We’d worked damn hard to turn the dump into the cool bar and restaurant it was today. Raw brick walls and shining dark wood. Mirrors lined the wall behind the bar along with neat rows of bottles. Big windows to let in the light and some metal industrial touches.
“It’s a great place,” she said. “You must be very proud.”
“That I am.” I offered my hand and she slipped her slender, warm fingers into my palm. “Nice to meet you…”
“Jean. What a lovely name.”
Still holding onto my hand, she shrugged. “My mom was a David Bowie fan.”
“Can’t beat Bowie.”
“No, you can’t.”
“Guess that makes you the Jean Genie.”
“Ha. Yeah.” She gave another of those ball-tightening chuckles. I could happily listen to her do that all day long. Except suddenly the happy fell from her face. “It was her favorite song.”
Shit. Damn. I softened my tone. “Your mom passed?”
She blinked. “No.”
“Sorry.” She shook her head, looking flustered. “Both of my parents are alive and well. I just meant it was her favorite song when I was young. That’s all. Nothing else.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“Hmm.” Her gaze fell to our still embracing hands and at roughly the speed of light the slight pressure of her grip and the warmth of her skin were gone. “Crap. I didn’t mean to paw at you.”
“Pawing is altogether encouraged.”
Startled laughter burst out of her. “Look at you with the long hair and that face and everything. You’re a hell of a flirt, Eric.”
“Thank you very much. You’re rather easy on the eyes yourself.” I smirked. “And I still owe you a trick.”
“Right, my drink,” she said, shoulders slouching as she relaxed. “Guess away.”
“Okay.” I squinted at her, searching for inspiration and trying not to get too distracted wondering what she’d look like naked and lying on my bed. It wasn’t easy. But like I said, self-discipline. “I’m going to say a black widow.”
She blinked. “A what widow?”
“A black widow. Blackberries, silver tequila, lime juice, and sugar syrup,” I said. “I think that’s what you should order.”
“And why should I order that?”
“It’s sweet but with a kick.” I gave her my best grin. “I think you’d like it.”
“So this has nothing to do with you suspecting me of murdering any husbands?”
“No, of course not.” I laughed. Then stopped. “Oh, man. You’re not married, are you? I mean, you are single, right?”
Her mouth opened, but nothing came out.
Shit, shit, shit.
“Relax, Eric.” Jean tucked in her chin, looking over the menu again with a faint frown. “I’m single.”
“Good.” I exhaled, smiling once more. “That’s good. Otherwise, asking you to dinner tonight would have been all sorts of awkward.”
She said nothing.
No matter. We could get back to that later. “I’ve never seen you in here before. Are you a local or just passing through?”
“Actually, I just moved to the area,” she said. “Today, in fact.”
As much fun as a one-nighter could be, I’d been thinking lately about perhaps getting more serious with someone. Maybe. Just to try it out, at least. It was entirely my idea; it had nothing to do with Nell’s daily lecturing.
The truth was that I was getting close to thirty. And a lot of heavy shit had gone down last year. It had been hardest on Nell most of all. But she’d bounced back, happily pregnant and with the right guy this time, Pat. It didn’t really make sense that I would be still struggling with it all.
Probably what was getting to me was just the fact that Joe was settling down with his new girlfriend. Joe, my brother. My younger brother. Who had never even been popular with the ladies, for fuck’s sake. Ever since Alex had come to town, however, he’d been walking around smiling like he’d won the jackpot.
Anyway, whatever the cause, I’d been feeling a little … I don’t know. Not lost. Just the thought had been hanging around in the back of my head. It didn’t seem as bad an idea as it would have a few years ago. Actually, this could be perfect. I drank in Jean’s stunning face and gorgeous curves. We could hang out together, catch some movies, do couple shit. Hold hands even. It would definitely show Nell I wasn’t some shallow fuckbot.
But I was getting ahead of myself.
“Where are you from originally?” I asked, getting back into the conversation.
“Yeah? You ever go to the Night Garden or Emory’s?”
Delight lit her face. “I love Emory’s, best club in town.”
“Passed through there a few years back on my way to Miami,” I said. With that energy and edge, I figured she might be from the party crowd. “Good atmosphere and the DJ was something else.”
“My friends and I used to go dancing there every Saturday night.” She stared off at nothing. “Those were the days.”
“Hey, just ’cause you moved to Coeur d’Alene doesn’t mean your life’s over. This town is awesome, plus now you can come hang out here. We have live music most weekends,” I said. “You’d be very welcome.”
No response for a moment. Then she quietly said, “I’ll be around.”
Taka seated some customers at a table nearby, pausing to give me an amused look. Typical. They’d all have to wipe those smirks off their faces once they realized I was boyfriend material. Taka, Nell, Lydia, the whole lot of them.
“So, Jean.” I braced my hands on the back of the chair opposite her, leaning in a little, trying to get her attention. It worked, her gaze snapping back to me. “Can I make you a black widow? On the house, of course.”
“Is that how you make money?”
“No. That’s how I make friends.”
She snorted. “I’d love a black widow. But can you make it virgin, please?”
“You want it without the tequila?” I asked, surprised. Being anti-alcohol seemed like the kind of thing she might have mentioned earlier, given the topic of our conversation.
She didn’t get a chance to respond.
“Jean.” Andre wandered up to the table. Giving me a slap on the back before giving her a friendly smile. Too friendly. And how did he know her name? Warning bells went off inside my head. Because despite Andre being over a decade older than me, women loved the guy. “How are you doing? I’m free now if you’re ready?”
“Ready for what?” I asked, irritation edging into my voice.
“I’m moving into one of the apartments upstairs,” Jean said, fingers clasped together on the table.
“You are?” My brows rose.
“That’s right,” said Andre. “You two are going to be neighbors.”
“Huh.” I tried to keep my face blank as my brain scrambled to catch up. Hell no being my first and foremost reaction. Next door was a little too close. I’d only just tuned in to the idea of having a girlfriend, let alone the thought of having her right there next to me.
“Now there’ll be me, you, Jean, Joe, and Lydia all up there.” Andre rubbed his hands together, all happy like. Fair enough. He owned the building and turning the upstairs into apartments last year hadn’t been cheap. “That’s all of the apartments rented.”
“Great,” I mumbled.
Jean just nodded, going back to looking over the menu.
“You said you were hungry. What can I get for you?” I asked, shaking off my suddenly sour mood.
“Everything here is good,” said Andre. “Especially the pizza. I haven’t had lunch yet, mind if I join you? I can show you around and help you unload your stuff after, if you like.”
“That’d be good,” said Jean. “I definitely need food.”
“I can help too.” I stepped back, unhappily making room for the man. “Probably Boyd or Taka as well. We’re not that busy.”
“Thanks,” she said.
Dammit. Andre might have been one of my oldest friends, but this was not part of the plan. Cock-blocker. First they’d be all chatty and shit, sharing a meal. Then bam … they’d be having sex. This was not okay. I wanted to have sex with Jean. And be the one to listen to her talk and get to eat with her, etcetera (insert boring boyfriend stuff here).
“I’ll have the potato, caramelized onion, and bacon pizza, please,” she said.
“Vegetarian for me,” added Andre. “And a beer, thanks.”
“Sure thing.” I slightly narrowed my eyes at the bastard. Not that he noticed.
“Black widow? Virgin?” Her eyes sparkled, the lines of her face softening again.
It should be noted that the softening only happened when she looked at me. Maybe I wouldn’t drop Andre’s beer on him after all. We’d see.
“You got it,” I said, writing up the order. “Be right back with the drinks.”
I handed the food order over to the kitchen and headed for my bar. In an hour or two, Vaughan would be in for the busier night session. For now, however, the space was mine, all mine.
When we first came up with the idea to open the Dive Bar, everyone involved knew exactly what they wanted. Nell would rule the kitchen, Pat would help put up the money but otherwise stick to his tattoo parlor next door, and I’d be in charge of the bar. Of course, running the place had been a hell of a lot more work than any of us anticipated. Lydia bought out Pat and took over running the restaurant floor. A great move. But Nell still loved the kitchen, and I stuck with the bar.
It was my thing. What I was good at and where I felt I belonged.
The original long wooden surface still had the names and crap carved into it from back when the place really had been a dive bar. I grabbed a cloth and gave it a quick polish. Forget Jean and her pretty rack for a minute, time to get the bar all cleaned up before the night began. Neat lines of shining bottles, gleaming taps, and racks of glasses. Probably didn’t say much about me, now that this bar felt like home. But I loved it anyway.
Over at their table, Andre and Jean maintained a steady stream of conversation. I kept a close eye on them. On a scale of one to ten, I’d give the smile on her face a six. Seven at most. It was polite, friendly. Nowhere near as warm and inviting as the ones she’d given me. Tens all the way. Thank fuck for that.
With ease, I threw Jean’s cocktail together. Muddling the blackberries and squeezing the lime. Measuring the sugar syrup. It kind of killed me not to add the tequila. It was like asking Vincent van Gogh to hold off on the color blue the next time he painted the stars. To tell John Bonham to go easy on the skins next time he played “Moby Dick.” Though yeah they were dead. But you know what I mean … just wrong. I gritted my teeth and added some soda water and an extra splash of lime to try and balance the tequila’s absence.
As I poured Andre’s beer, I let my mind wander back to Jean. Maybe we would date. Seriously. She was hot, nice, no obvious signs of crazy. Except maybe that crack about murdering her ex-husbands. Most importantly, I was pretty damn sure the woman was into me. Come to think of it, having her living close by could be a good thing. I worked weird hours sometimes. It’d definitely save me from having to do any extra driving. I wondered what Mom would think of Jean. I’d never taken a girl home to meet Mom, but maybe with her I would. In your face, Nell.
Drinks ready, I stepped out from behind the bar. Only weirdly enough, Nell was suddenly rushing out of the kitchen.
“Jean, is that you?” she called. “My god! Why didn’t you tell me you’d arrived?”
I froze. How the hell did they know each other? This was not good.
“You looked busy, I figured I’d wait.” Jean glowed, happy as anything. Her smile dial had just hit eleven.
Nell waited in front of the table as my-still-maybe-but-perhaps-now-possibly-not future girlfriend got to her feet. Next came lots of hugging and happy feminine squealing noises. Damn. Wonder if Nell told her anything about me? Maybe this situation could still be salvaged.
“I’m so glad you moved to town,” said Nell. “This is going to be great.”
“I hope so.” Jean sighed.
“It will be. You’ll see. A whole fresh new start.”
* * *
Then the two women separated, giving me a perfect profile of Nell’s baby bump. But way worse was Jean’s matching one. The woman was pregnant. Very much so. The martini glass slipped from my numb fingers, smashing when it hit the hard floor.
“Holy shit,” I mumbled to no one.
Kylie is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. She was voted Australian Romance Writer of the year, 2013 & 2014, by the Australian Romance Writer’s Association and her books have been translated into eleven different languages. She is a long time fan of romance, rock music, and B-grade horror films. Based in Queensland, Australia with her two children and husband, she reads, writes and never dithers around on the internet. You can learn more about Kylie from http://www.kylie-scott.com/