is a STANDALONE contemporary romance that will give you all the feels, and have you craving more.
“Good morning.” I waved as I breezed through the doors of Anchor Bay Brewing Co. I’d been employed here for the last year. I started out as a server, and I was slowly working my way up the ladder. My boss, Jackson, was sitting in a booth in the corner with a pile of papers and a mug of coffee in front of him.
“Morning.” He waved without looking up. I silently wondered if he slept here again last night. He always seemed to be here when I came in, and I’ve never seen him leave in the evening.
“What’s the special today?” I mused as I poked my head into the kitchen. It smelled like seafood, and my stomach rolled. I’d stayed out with friends last night and my body was reminding me that I wasn’t twenty-five anymore.
“Clam Chowder,” he mumbled before finally looking up. When our eyes connected, he must have seen my discomfort. “You ok?”
“Yeah.” I took a few deep breaths. “Too much tequila last night.” He chuckled as he shook his head.
“How do you plan to manage my bar if you feel like that?” He scribbled something down on the paper before turning in his seat to face me.
“I’ll be fine,” I sighed as I grabbed a clipboard from the table he was sitting at and shuffled behind the bar. I was now the bar manager and it was my job to do liquor counts every morning before the place opened for lunch. I’d been working overtime lately, but it didn’t bother me. I’d told Jackson when I first started at the bar that I’d work as much as he needed me to. I didn’t have any family left, and only a few friends. They worked at the bar too, so I wasn’t really missing much. He’d joked one day saying that I was married to the bar just like him.
“If you need a breather, just let me know.” He smiled and got that look in his eyes. I never could pinpoint what it meant, but every once in a while, he would look at me like I was someone else. I always brushed him off. They say everyone has a twin. I must be a twin of a friend of his or something.
“Thanks,” I called as I stepped behind the bar and squatted down in front of the liquor racks. I went to work lifting bottles and making notes of the levels. I counted kegs, made note of what we were low on, and checked the wine racks. Wine wasn’t a big seller until the winter came. Our custom craft beers were where the money was at. Jackson’s best friend Eli made his own beer. We sold it here on occasion, and that brought in the crowds.
When I was finished making my lists, I knew I needed to find him so he could place the order for next week. Jackson was good about staying on top of things. He was good at a lot. I knew he loved the bar, and I felt bad for him. He seemed to put everything into the place, but he never seemed to leave. Sometimes I wondered if he ever did. Did he go out with friends? Did he date? I’d never seen a woman come in here for him or hear him talk about one. It was a shame too. Jackson was everything a woman would want when it came to looks. He was tall, at least 6’4”. He had broad shoulders and a lean waist. He wore shirts that fit snugly across his chest and arms every day. His thighs were muscular and thick, and his hands… I sometimes wondered what it would feel like to have him touch me.
I’ve watched him since I first started working here, but he’s never looked at me as anything other than an employee. My best friend, Jules, says she thinks he might be gay. I don’t think so though. He just seems sad.
I shook my head to clear the thought before I went to find him. I didn’t want my feelings to play across my face when we were talking. I grabbed the clipboard and headed to his office. It was the only place he’d be when he wasn’t camped out in the corner booth. “Jackson, I…” My words got stuck in my throat when I rounded the corner. His door was open, and his back was to me. His bare back I might add. He was wearing jeans, and in the process of pulling a t-shirt over his head.
“What is it?” He glanced over his shoulder as if I hadn’t just walked in on him.
“Here.” I thrust the inventory sheet in his direction as I tried with everything in me not to blush.
“You can just lay it on my desk.” He pulled the shirt down as he motioned to his mahogany desk in the corner. I swallowed as my eyes zeroed in on his abs. The muscles bunched under my stare. “Thanks.” He released the material and pulled at his chair. “Anything else?”
“Nope. I’ll be setting up the bar schedule for next week, then I’m heading out to the beach until my shift later.” I bit down on my lip to keep from blushing again as I scurried out the door. I thought I heard him say something, but it was so quiet I didn’t stick around to ask.
The sun felt heavenly today on my tired muscles. Staying out with Jules last night had been a mistake, but she’s been determined to hook me up with someone. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but I’m not really looking for a man right now.
After finishing the schedule for next week, I decided to bring a blanket out on the beach and just lie in the sun. It felt good to relax, and I knew that it was going to be a long night tonight at the bar. It was Saturday, after all, and the weather was beautiful. Whenever it was a nice night, the deck area would be packed and patrons would end up staying late into the night. It was good for tips and business, but by the time I poured myself into bed it wasn’t long before I’d be getting up to come back.
“This seat taken?” Her voice sounded like she was barely alive as I blinked up against the sun. I knew who it was without opening my eyes, but I needed to know if she looked as bad as she sounded.
“Not yet,” I laughed and she groaned. Her mess of red hair hung down almost covering her face, and her sunglasses covered the rest.
“Why did you do this to me last night?” she whined as she plopped unceremoniously onto the blanket beside me.
“Do what? Pour tequila down your throat?” I laughed lightly as I thought back to our evening out. I hadn’t planned on drinking anything, but Jules was three sheets to the wind when I arrived at the club.
“It’s all your fault. You shouldn’t have let me drink so much,” she complained as she lowered herself to match my position.
“Next time I won’t come then, how’s that?” I mused. I knew she was kidding, but I still felt the need to mess with her.
“What? No!” She started to sit up but stopped and smashed her head between her hands. “Fuck! That hurts,” she grit out.
“You’re a mess,” I laughed. “Listen, maybe next time you should wait for me before you start pouring drinks down your throat. What were you thinking anyway?”
“I wasn’t. Well, maybe I was. I don’t know. I met this guy…” she started but I stopped her.
“No, no guys.” I shook my head.
“Why? You haven’t really dated anyone since I met you, and that’s been three years.” She rolled her head in my direction and even though I wasn’t looking at her I could feel her stare burning into the side of my head.
“Haven’t found anyone worth my time,” I shrugged. “I want whatever happens next to mean something. I don’t want a fling,” I murmured. The truth was, I wanted someone who didn’t know I existed. He was perfect in my eyes, but off limits.
“Not worth your time, or not Jackson?” She pressed her lips together and waited. I’ll give her credit, she knew me better than I know myself.
“He’s my boss, Jules. Never gonna happen. He doesn’t even look at me like I’m a woman. I’m his bar manager, that’s it,” I sighed. The more I said the words, the more they hurt. The worst part was that if Jackson asked me on a date, I’d give up my job for him. I’d move on to something else, because he was that perfect. It didn’t matter though because no matter what I did, he didn’t see me that way.
“Just because he’s your boss doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with him.” She laughed and then gripped her head again. “Remind me to stop doing that,” she growled.
“Fun?” I scoffed.
“Yeah.” She shrugged lightly. “Maybe taste test the new beers together, do a few shots. Who knows, he may get a little tipsy and open his eyes.” She elbowed me. “He’d be blind not to notice you, Tessa. You’re beautiful.”
“Right,” I mumbled. “Beautiful.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t think I was pretty, I just didn’t think that Jackson saw me like that. He hardly ever looked at me when we were having meetings let alone when we were working. He busied himself around the bar, and I either worked in the back or was stuck serving drinks too. The most eye contact we had was when I needed to ask him to change a keg for me.
“You’re the kinda beautiful that the rest of us wish we had. Hair to die for, long tan legs, and boobs.” She gripped her chest through her t-shirt. “He’s an idiot and he’s blind,” she grumbled.
“Sure, ok,” I laughed. It wasn’t really funny, but Jules had a way of making me forget about what I really thought and believe her instead.
“So about tonight.” She grinned and propped herself up. “Meet me at eleven?”
“What?” I sat up to match her pose.
“We talked about this last night, remember? Going back? Meeting the guys from last night in a private booth?” She let her sunglasses slip down her nose. “You are not flaking on me.”
“I don’t think I’ll be out by then.” I shifted on the blanket. “I don’t think my body can take another night like last night either.”
“Fine, midnight then.” She grinned.
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll text you when I get out. If I can make it, I will. I’ll at least give you a ride.”
“You’ll be there, or I’ll tell Jackson that you want to hump him in the storage closet.” She laughed, cursed her head again, and stood up. “Later.” She waved before walking away and giving me a chance to rebuke her.
Great. Now I had to figure out a way to meet her. I knew I had to go. It wasn’t that she would say something to Jackson, that I knew was her teasing. It was that I needed to make sure she didn’t go home with some idiot. Jules was carefree, the exact opposite of me. I’ve been told I was that way when I was younger, but I don’t remember any of it. It’s buried in my head somewhere, and one day I hope to recall it. She’s so free all the time, and I yearn to be like her.
Does having everything you desire make your life perfect? Does having a perfect life mean you’re happy?
I had a perfect life once upon a time. It was the life I deemed myself deserving of. I had a wife, a child, a successful business. I was happy, but I was also blind.
I didn’t see my faults until it was too late. One moment changed it all. It changed me and cost me everything. Everything I thought I needed to find happiness disappeared, and nothing else mattered.
All that I need is to get a few of the pieces back. Pieces of my perfect forever are the only thing that can make me whole again.
She attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Elementary Education with a minor in Mathematics.
She currently lives in Central New York with her husband, two children, two dogs, and three cats. When she’s not writing she can usually be found at the dance studio, soccer field, or one of the many other places that she plays ‘Supermom’.
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