N. K. Corbett
“Hey, you, girl. Wake up.”
With a groan, I rolled over on the seat and pulled my jacket off my face.
It took me a moment to remember where I was. Then I saw the scowling face of a train conductor glaring down at me, and I remembered.
“This is the last stop. You need to get off,” he said impatiently.
Looking around, I noticed that the rest of the train car was deserted.
“Okay,” I grumbled, getting slowly to my feet. My limbs groaned their protest after hours of sleeping in such an uncomfortable position.
I slung my backpack, which contained all my worldly possessions, over my shoulder and allowed the conductor to usher me toward the exit.
When I was finally out on the platform, it occurred to me that I didn’t know where I was. After things went south in my last city, I just packed up and hopped on the first train out of town.
“Excuse me, sir, what city is…?” But the conductor had already closed the train doors behind me. With a honk, the train pulled out of the station.
“Thanks for nothing, asshole,” I muttered under my breath, looking around.
I had absolutely no idea where I was at, but I started walking down the street. It didn't look like a big city, more of a friendly small town.
That’s at least the vibe I got, looking at the small cozy houses with their white fences.
As I walked, the wind seemed to pick up, and the cold autumn air made me shiver and hug myself a little tighter.
There was something funny about this town, something in the night air that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Then again, maybe I just wasn’t used to small towns like this. For the past six years, since I’d left my last foster parents on my 18th birthday, I’d been flitting around from city to city, never staying anywhere long.
I’d work odd jobs, just enough to pay the rent. But somehow, I never seemed to be able to stay long. Sooner or later, I’d always be forced to leave and go to the next city.
Maybe a small town would be a nice change, I thought as I pulled my jacket tighter around me in the chill.
Right now, I needed to find somewhere to stay, since it would be too cold to just find a bench.
I kept going down the dimly lit streets, looking for something. If there wasn’t a motel, at least this place should have a bar where I could find some warmth and maybe a drink or ten.
It was Friday night—well, Saturday morning, by this point—and the young adults of this town must have had somewhere to go to get their drink on.
Suddenly, I felt it again; the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
I turned around quickly, staring into the darkened hedge behind me.
My stomach turned over, and I felt my heart rate increase. I could have sworn I saw…
No, that was impossible. I shook myself and scanned the hedge carefully again.
For a moment, I thought I saw a pair of yellow eyes, like the eyes of a wolf. But I must have imagined them.
We were in the middle of a town, albeit a small town. There were no wolves lurking in the shadows.
Shaking my head to clear it, I continued walking up the main street.
As I walked, I started to notice the scenery change.
Instead of the small, cozy family houses, the buildings got a bit bigger and looked more like apartments. Soon I was walking down a street lined with clothing stores, shoe shops, and exactly what I was looking for.
From the looks of it, it was the only one around. It had a big red neon sign out front that said, “Sam’s Bar,” and I heard music spilling from the open front door.
I sighed, relieved to find some warmth in the cold, and headed inside.
As I pushed open the door, I couldn’t help but notice what looked like long gouges in the wood near the handle. They looked like claw marks.
I guess sometimes wild animals need a drink, too.
The moment the door closed behind me, I was immediately hit with the scents of beer and cigarette smoke.
Some people would be disgusted, but I’d worked so many bar jobs in the past six years that it felt almost like home. Inside, it looked pretty much like every other bar.
The interior was dimly lit. Tables were scattered all over, with small candles placed in the center of each of them.
The place was full of life, and the atmosphere was buzzing. Guys and girls were having fun, drinking, laughing, and singing along to “Life Is a Highway.” I smiled a little. The place had a good feel.
Behind me, a gust of wind blasted through the door, shoving me stumbling into the room.
I shook my head, laughing to myself as I imagined how ridiculous I’d looked, tripped by thin air.
As I recovered, the room fell suddenly silent, and I found every single eye in the bar focused on me.
Damn, have you never seen a girl walk into a bar alone before? Jesus, get a life.
I gave everyone my best death glare, but they kept staring until I stomped over to the bar and sat down, far from anybody else.
I smiled at the bartender and said, “Give me a beer, please.”
The bartender smiled back, kindly, and handed me a bottle of beer. I had no idea what kind it was, and I didn’t really care.
“Sorry about the stares, miss. We aren't used to seeing new people in town. Everyone knows everyone, so the youngsters here haven’t learned their manners yet.” His voice wasn’t as dark and gruff as I had expected, but actually rather calming. I found myself smiling again.
“No problem. I kind of just stumbled into town and figured it seemed nice enough. Though you do lack signs and motels.” I took a good sip from the bottle before setting it back down on the bar. The cold beer did wonders for my mood, and the warmth of the room had already eased my chill from my little walk.
I felt the stares at my back again but kept acting like they didn’t bother me.
Neither the stares nor the feeling that everyone in the bar was listening to my conversation with the bartender were going to ruin my little time-out after the long journey.
“Yes, we’ll have to look into that for the next visitor coming along. Name’s Sam and this—this is my place.” He gestured around the bar with an arm as he spoke.
“Nice to meet you, Sam. Kiarra Belle.” I raised my beer in a small salute, before taking another sip and another look around.
The other customers had gone back to their conversations, but there was no more happy singing along, only tight and forced smiles and quiet whispers while they all sneaked peeks at me.
I shrugged my shoulders and turned back to Sam.
“Say, Sam, you don’t happen to be a bartender short?”
It took four more beers before I finally convinced Sam that I was serious about the bartender job.
He gave me a look that clearly said he didn’t believe a girl could handle being behind the bar at his place.
I took great offense at that. It wouldn’t be my first bartending gig— wouldn’t even be my second. I’d been a bartender on and off in different towns since I had turned eighteen.
Yeah, I was technically not allowed to be behind the bar back then, but I had a pretty decent fake ID that had convinced the shady dives that they could hire a girl with a great rack without trouble from the authorities.
That didn’t seem like it would work for Sam, though.
He was reluctant, to say the least, but I talked him into letting me demonstrate my skills.
I stood behind the bar, ready to show him how to throw around a bottle or two. I’d taken off my jacket earlier; luckily, I was wearing my standard black jeans and a black off-the-shoulder crop top, so I pretty much looked like I belonged there.
“All right, Belle, show me what you’ve got.” Sam leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.
He looked amused, probably thinking of all the ways I was going to fail. I flashed him a dazzling grin and turned around to the computer screen hanging on the wall, picking my music. When “Pour Some Sugar on Me” started blasting, I started swaying my hips, chuckling to myself. If this song didn’t get you into a party mood, we couldn’t be friends.
First thing I did was grab one of the square napkins with “Sam’s Bar” stamped on it.
I placed it on the top of my other hand, flipped the hand and placed down the napkin on the bar. I picked up a glass, threw it in the air, caught it, and set it down in the center of the napkin.
I continued on my little journey and went to grab the bottom shaker, flipping it in the air, grabbing it with the other hand and going for the ice cubes.
At this point, I was very aware of all the stares. No one was hiding their amusement or curiosity anymore, and I didn’t care. I loved performing, and that’s what this was, a performance.
Every twirl, every movement was a well-rehearsed dance, and this was opening night.
I glanced at Sam as I picked up the top shaker and I couldn’t help the small laugh escaping me.
Sam looked a bit surprised but not fully awed yet.
Okay, Sam, I get it. It takes more to make your jaw drop. You got it…
I threw the bottle into the air, catching it on the back of my hand, balancing it there for a moment before throwing it upward again catching it in my hand this time.
Now I heard a few cheers, and I couldn’t help but laugh and sway my body to the music.
I stretched out my arm, letting the shaker drop, and caught it with my other hand, before snagging the bottom part of the shaker with the ice and clapping the halves together shaking the contents for a few seconds before finally pouring the liquid through the small opening so no ice followed it into the waiting glass.
I turned to Sam with a smile and slid the cocktail toward him.
“One vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, sir,” I gave him a playful wink and just couldn't help the laugh that followed as I saw the sight in front of me.
It took Sam a few moments to gather himself, but when he did, he shook his head and started laughing like a wild man.
The whole bar joined in, and the room filled with laughter. Everyone had enjoyed the show.
After calming down, Sam walked up and grabbed the drink, took a big gulp of it, and turned to me.
“Okay, 007. When can you start?”
I smirked triumphantly as I heard the bar’s door open again behind me.
“I’m not really that picky about my work schedule,” I said “I like to work, and the last bar I worked at was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So how about I come in tomorrow night?”
Sam gave me a distracted grin and turned his attention to someone behind me.
I felt a burning sensation all over my body, and a shiver ran down my spine as I felt a body move closer to my back.
“Alph… I mean Aidan, how are you?” Sam asked the newcomer, his expression suddenly apprehensive.
What the fuck was my body doing? It seemed to be freaking the fuck out at this Aidan person’s presence.
I turned around to see what the hell was happening and felt my breath catch in my throat.
Standing behind me was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
And he was staring at me like I was the only person in the entire world.
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