The fact was, we were so damn close to turning a profit at the distillery, we could taste it. With our next batch nearing age, we’d have a new lot to send out to distributors at the end of next month. Hopefully, from there we could finally make Wilder Whiskey a household name.
My brother and I drank our beers, but it didn’t take long for him to be distracted by what he called “the local talent.”
“You’re seriously going to ditch me for the same girls you’ve been running game on since high school?” I asked when he told me he was going to the back room to play pool with Lacy Danvers.
“First of all, I don’t need game,” he said. “Look at me.”
I shook my head. His arrogance never ceased to amaze me.
“Second, the last time Lacy Danvers was on the roster was junior year. Not sure if you remember, but she got knocked up after high school and married that prick from Hill Crest.”
Hill Crest was a rival school a county over. The same school that beat us in the playoffs our senior year. We were still licking our wounds from that loss over a decade later.
“She’s divorced now and back with her parents,” he explained. “She could be the one that got away, brother.”
“I doubt that,” I said. Duke hadn’t so much as mentioned the girl in ten years. There was no point in arguing the fact that as soon as Duke sealed the deal with Lacy, he’d be on to the next.
That was where he and I differed. He had the attention span of a gnat when it came to women. I, on the other hand, was monogamous to a fault. Sometimes I wished I could be more like Duke with his one-night stands and not giving a shit. I guessed he was more like Mom in that way, able to just shut it off. Hell, he could probably leave Shady Grove just like Mom did and never even glance over his shoulder. Lucky for me, he’d stuck around. After a day like today, I wasn’t sure I could handle all this on my own.
“She could be your sister-in-law,” Duke said as he slapped a hand on my back.
I laughed. “I’ll get the invitations made up.”
“Before you do that, why don’t you head on over there and take care of that problem we talked about earlier.” He nodded in the direction of one very sexy brunette saddled up to the oak bar. “Might turn your Monday around.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head as he walked away. As soon as he was out of sight, I glanced over my shoulder and caught Charlotte’s reflection in the mirror that hung behind the bar. Even in the muted lighting, I could see the blue of her eyes. I watched as she took a drink of the clear liquor she had poured over ice, her finger skillfully keeping the lime wedge that floated on top from slipping against her lips.
Man up. You’ve got nothing to lose.
She already hated me. The way I saw it, the night would either end with her still hating me—or maybe, just maybe, we’d make peace. My dick perked up in interest. On top of that, I’d come up with a very interesting proposition for her, and I was hoping like hell that I could make her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
I stood up from my seat in the back corner and walked over to her. “Figured you for a fruity drink kind of girl.”
“Do you know how many calories are in those fruity drinks?” she replied, not looking over. In my peripheral vision, I could see her reflection looking at me.
“You surprised me with the straight vodka.”
“How do you know this isn’t just water?”
“By the way you pursed your lips when you swallowed, like it burned going down. There are much better things you can put in your mouth.”
That got her attention. Those blue eyes snapped to mine and widened as I leaned in a little closer.
“I could help if you’re looking for something a little . . . sweeter.”
Charlotte didn’t nod, but she didn’t shake her head either. I took her lack of response as a yes, and wondered for a second exactly what I could get away with.
What if I just went for it and closed the gap between us? What if I pressed my lips against hers and slipped my tongue into that smart little mouth?
As tempting as the notion was, I raised a hand to the bartender instead. “Two glasses of Wilder,” I told him. “Neat.”
I placed a hand on the back of the empty barstool next to her and waited for her to nod her okay before I sat down.
“Whiskey?” she asked when the glasses were placed in front of us.
“Best whiskey in town.”
“You’re telling me that this isn’t going to burn like the vodka?”
“I’ll guarantee it.”
“And what makes you so sure?” she said, leaning over toward me. Her eyes were a little glassy, making me wonder exactly how much of that vodka she’d had to drink.
“Because I made it.”
“Sure, you did.” She scoffed, clearly not believing me. When I raised my brows to challenge her skepticism, she said, “You’re serious?”
“Not a fan of liars. Definitely not one myself.”
“Okay then.” She picked up her glass and sniffed at the rich amber-colored liquid. “Let’s just see.” She lifted the glass to her lips and took a small sip.
I did the same, knowing what to expect—the smooth oak finish, the rich vanilla undertones, the sweet aftertaste that made you want to go back for more. As I swallowed mine, I waited anxiously for her reaction.
“Not too bad.”
She was cagey, careful not to let me know exactly how much she liked it. But when she took another sip, I knew we had a new fan.
“Can’t believe you ever doubted me.”
We sat there for a moment, just looking at each other. While she was still wearing the same clothes from this morning, something was different. Her hair was smoother, her makeup a little darker. The pink polish that I’d noticed on her nails had been replaced with an almost black color.
“How was your day?” I asked.
“Great. After dealing with Wayne, I spent the day at the salon.”
“You met Audrey?”
“I did.” Charlotte gave me a slightly crooked smile. “Don’t I look fantastic?”
While I didn’t miss her normally biting tones, I could tell she was a little drunk. Especially when she attempted to bat her now fuller lashes at me.
Damn, she’s a cute drunk.
“Fantastic. You wanna split a pizza?” I asked, determined to get some food in her before the liquor took over completely.
“Yeah, as in pepperoni, cheese, sauce . . . You’ve had it before, right?” When she answered me with an eye roll, I said, “And don’t give me that too many calories bullshit.”
“Well, it is.”
I silenced her with a finger against her pouty lips. “We both need dinner. Humor me. One slice.”
I let my finger linger in place for a moment. When her lips puckered slightly against my skin, I had to will my cock into submission. Not yet, pal. I dropped my hand from her mouth.
I wasn’t the kind of guy who took advantage of a girl who’d had too much to drink. Before I made a move, I’d get some food and water in her. The last thing I wanted was her doing anything she’d regret.
“Fine,” she said. “Pizza does sound pretty good.”
“That a girl.”
• • •
One pizza later, the two of us were sitting at a small table at the front of the bar. While we’d kept our conversation light so far, I couldn’t help but think of all the questions I had for Charlotte. My interest in her went far beyond looks.
“I learned a little bit about you today,” she said.
“Don’t believe everything you hear.” I was pretty sure my reputation in this town was golden, but you never know what’s said behind closed doors.
“All good, I promise.”
“What did you hear?”
“You’ve got a lot of fans,” she said with a smile. “Of the female variety.”
“I don’t know about that.”
I tried to keep to myself and ignore a lot of the attention younger women throw my way. But I could have gone on for days about how doing the right thing hadn’t always panned out the way I’d hoped. Didn’t keep my mom around. Or Sarah.