Rich, overgrown frat boys in slick, overpriced suits. Come the zombie apocalypse, these guys will be the first to get bitten.
“Come the zombie apocalypse, we’ll have no one to charge exorbitant prices for fancy whiskey tastings.” So sayeth Gideon, my coworker and closest pal. Apparently I had muttered that observation out loud.
“You don’t think zombies can appreciate the finer things?”
Chuckling, he strokes his hipster beard. I’m not a fan, but I love the guy anyway.
“I think our awesome palates will be worth jack in the new world order. It’ll be kill or be killed, Trin. But you already look like Lara Croft in your”—he waves a hand over me in my cat-suited glory—“whatever this is. I’ll just cower behind you seeking your badass protection.”
This yields a laugh from me, which is in short supply these days. Thirty-four years old and I can’t seem to get anything firing on all cylinders: my career, my love life, even my family relationships. I think of my sister, Emily, and feel a twinge of too-familiar guilt. She’s going through a contentious divorce from her asswipe of a husband. I’m trying to be supportive, but the urge to scream I told you so! is the devil on my shoulder.
I measure one-ounce pours into lowball glasses for the second round with the bachelor party. Whiskey tastings are very fashionable with the overgrown frat boy set these days and I should be glad, because I’m a niche girl in a niche industry. A black woman in a very white, very male field. The looks I get when I enter a tasting room usually range from huh? to disgust.
My sister doesn’t understand my career choice. I may as well be “peeing standing up,” she tells me. Sure, this job means that I’m more likely to buddy around with guys—definitely less drama—and I have to say I enjoy not having the drama that seems to follow my sister around.
However, I wouldn’t say no to a little excitement . . .
I glance over at the bachelor party to find him looking at me: Hottie Brit. I immediately avert my gaze, but not before I catch a smug lift at the corner of his mouth. He thinks he’s got me.
They’re all annoyingly good-looking, even the guy who looks like a WWF wrestler. Grant, I think someone called him. The brothers Max and James Henderson I’ve met before when I used to bartend in the Gilt Bar upstairs.
Max is a divorce lawyer, so I’m guessing some of the others are in the biz. When they walked in, I noticed the chatty Brit first because who wouldn’t? The cheekbones are young Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The hair is late Harry Styles. The suit is . . . I don’t know anything about suits, but this one is clearly expensive. Shiny, too, like shark hide. I imagine if I touched his arm, I’d come away with some slimy protective coating.
Then he opened his mouth, the first word out of it piss.
I didn’t hear the accent until he amended to urine, pronounced your-ine. Kudos for making piss sound exotic.
He appears younger than the rest of them, whether it’s attitude or the way they dote on him indulgently. Like he’s the crazy loon in their care, the little brother that needs to be watched like a hawk because you never know what he’ll do or say next. I’ve lived most of my life playing caregiver. I certainly don’t need that dynamic with a man.
Pity, because I could come from listening to him talk . . .
The night proceeds per its billing. Whenever I stop off at the bachelor party’s table, I’m treated to another Shakespearean soliloquy from Hottie Brit.
The latest: “Leather and tar? Love when my drink tastes like the bottom of a biker messenger bag.”
Max mouths I’m sorry every time, but I don’t mind—you quickly develop a thick skin working in bars—and I especially don’t mind when Max drops a couple of C-notes on me just before he leaves with the group.
“We had a really nice time, Trinity,” he says. “And sorry about Lucas.”
I assume Lucas is the British guy. “Not a problem. Glad you had fun.”
He squints, looking a little pained. “We’re now headed to meet up with the bachelorettes for Abba night. The fun is only beginning.”
My laugh is real instead of the fake one I manufacture for most customers. Max Henderson would make someone a nice husband, and being in the divorce business he’d probably know how to make her a nice ex-husband as well. Hottie Brit—Lucas—looks over his shoulder as the party troops out, but I’m already turning away.
Not falling for your cheekbone glimmer.
“Taking a break,” I tell Gideon, who waves me away. It’s early July, and in evenings past, I would’ve headed out to the alley, not to smoke, but to inhale some fresh garbage-tinged air while checking my Insta and centering myself for the rest of my shift.
Not tonight, though. Not for weeks since it happened.
Standing safely inside near the back office, I shoot a message off to my nephew Chase: Wassup?
I get an eye roll emoji back. I think. Because he loves my nineties throwback references. I think. Five minutes of dueling emojis later, I return and my jaw drops at the sight of who’s sitting at the bar.
Hottie Brit has returned. Or never went away.
Before he sees me, I take a moment to watch him unobserved. Long fingers are wrapped around a pint glass, which we don’t see a lot of down here. The Library is a fancy cocktail kind of place. That too-long-on-top dark hair is mussed, as if he had to abuse it to temper his energy. A small scar bisecting his eyebrow makes him a little less pretty and a lot more interesting.
The air around him thrums even as he sits still, like a Broadway musical might break out any moment.
Gideon squints to tell me Hottie Brit is out of here the minute I say the word. I smile to let him know I’ve got this. Maybe HB didn’t stay for me, though deep down I know that’s not true. My pulse picks up at the thought. It’s been awhile—a long, lonely while—since anyone this attractive has hit on me.
I’ll let it buoy me and fuel a few British-accented fantasies later.
As soon as HB sees me he switches off his phone and places it facedown on the bar. I’m oddly touched.
“Hello, again. Lucas Wright at your service.” He offers his hand, curiously formal.
I’m stunned enough into grasping that hand, its warmth life affirming and not a little zingy. “Trinity Jones. Literally at your service.”
He smiles. Charmingly crooked, it lights up his eyes, his cheekbones, and my very neglected lady parts. His irises are the blue of a curaçao cocktail, one with a sting in its tail.
He still hasn’t released my hand. “I’m not really a whiskey drinker, hence my—”
“Resistance to the tasting?” I finish for him.
“People usually make fun of things they don’t understand, right? Give me a nice pint any day.” His self-deprecation throws me for a second, and while I try to measure how calculated it is, he leans in slightly. “Does this mean we can’t be friends?”
My attitude toward him is far from friendly. Not exactly hostile, but something more discomfiting: a wriggle in my stomach and a lurch in my chest. The first I attribute to attraction, the second . . . I’m not sure yet.
I release his hand. “I’ve no doubt a guy like you has plenty of friends.”
“You can never have enough friends, Trinity.”
“Or friendly bartenders to unload your troubles on.”
He flicks a glance to Gideon, who’s watching us from a semisafe distance, ready to lunge into action at the first sign of trouble. “Now Treebeard over there doesn’t look so friendly.”
Treebeard? That’s perfect. I can’t wait to tell Gideon. “Just protective. We look out for one another here.”
HB holds up his hands, palms facing me. “I’ve been warned!” Then he waves at Gideon, who hipster-scowls back. The exchange makes me smile, but I turn away to grab a bar towel before Lucas can see it. Can’t make it too easy for him.
“So, Trinity, I have a proposition for you.”
“Uh-huh. Now, I imagine you get this a lot, working here.” He waves around, somewhat effusively. This guy has an entertainer gene. Probably can sing and dance as well.
“I’ve had a few . . . propositions.”
“I bet. Slimy, handsy old geezers incapable of making eye contact and drooling all over the bar.” He makes a point of looking at a spot two feet south of my face.
I point at my chest. “Uh, my tits are up here, asshole.”
He grins. “Just taking the lechery to its logical conclusion. The lecher so drunk he can’t even lech right.”
“Don’t think lech is a verb.”
“Is when I do it.”
This makes no sense, but I laugh, the sound unrestrained and genuine, and catch Gideon out of the corner of my eye. He disapproves. Whatever. I can laugh at funny, hottie, nonsensical Brits if I want to. It’s not as if I’m going to let him banter his way into my bed. It’s just nice to be the target of an attractive guy for once.
“So, Trinity, about this proposition.”
“Hmm.” I’m not quite ready for us to go there when I’m rather enjoying the chase.
“Do you do private tastings?”
Disappointment chills my gut. HB had been doing so well.
Maybe he needs inspiration. “I’m always up for spreading the love of hard liquors.”
He nods. “That’s brilliant. Because I know a woman who would really, really dig you.”
My brain screeches to a halt, stutter-steps forward, and knocks against my skull. Ouch.
“Right. Now, she’s a bit stroppy, and it’s sort of weird, as she’s the ex-wife of one of my friends, but we’re still friendly even though I hate picking sides, especially when mates are involved. Anyway, you’re exactly her type and I told her I’d set something up and—”
He stops speaking because I’ve poured three quarters of a pint of ale over his head.
“Hey!” He stands dramatically, shaking his head like a dog coming out of water—also dramatically—which results in sizable beer droplets landing on a glaring guy two stools to his right.
“Pervert!” I manage to splutter.
“How am I a pervert?”
“Your proposition to a woman you’ve just met is a . . . threesome?” I think that’s what he offered, but the minute it leaves my mouth the doubts set in.
Lucas leans over the bar and grabs a towel, a fluid move indicating that this is not the first time someone has unloaded a glass of alcohol over his head. “My proposition to a woman I’ve just met is a business one. A lawyer colleague is looking to set up an after-work event for women in the legal profession and I thought this might be a good suggestion.”
I freeze, horrified by every word and my actions of twenty seconds ago. “But you said she was my type.”
“Right. Badass professional who knows her stuff.”
Rolling right over the compliment, I struggle to defend myself. “I thought—”
“That I was coming on to you? And using another woman as a tactic? To set up some sordid encounter?” Each question raises the stakes, shooting the situation to a pyramid of idiocy with me sitting as queen in a throne on the top.
Oh God oh God oh God. How could I have gotten the signals so wrong? But the banter and the smiles and the eyes. I could also ascribe it to my frame of mind these last couple of months since The Incident. I’m easily spooked and ripe for disappointment.