Chapter 3 — Winner Takes All

For those who missed the first installment, I’m giving myself incentive to finish the editing and formatting of this book and get it out the door. I’m publishing a chapter twice a week until this book is all set for publishing.

Chapter 3 – Rash Decisions

Javier. His name was as hot as his body. A swath of curly black hair, olive skin, chiseled features and hazel eyes that were devastatingly honest.  OK. Tina wasn’t sure she could explain what made eyes devastatingly honest. She only knew that his were, that his eyes seemed to betray his every secret.

Every inch of his taut body, his perfect smile, exuded confidence. But his eyes revealed a hint of nerves, a hint of vulnerability, a whiff of someone who wanted to be wanted. And she found that extremely attractive. The bartender had tried to challenge him, had given him a look, one Tina hadn’t quite deciphered, but one that was clearly a play for dominance, a harkening to some past grudge. But Javier had shot the man a dismissive look, the look of an alpha who would not be challenged. The bartender had blinked, looking away first.

She tried to appear neutral, calm, but feared she was ogling. Hot as hell and honest eyes. A combination she couldn’t resist. Still, she’d already made one mistake by judging a book by it’s cover. Quentin had been hot on the outside, but a hot mess underneath. She didn’t trust her instincts entirely tonight. She didn’t want to go two for two in the wrong man arena in a single night.

She gently dabbed at her forehead with a bar napkin. She’d started to sweat. “Could I get a water, too?” she asked the bartender. He nodded, and squirted water into a low glass with a couple of ice cubes.

“First time here?” Javier asked.

She nodded. “Yep,” she said. “And if my date had brought me here, I might not have walked out before we’d even had a chance for dinner.”

Javier’s eyes widened and his mouth twisted to the side, seeming to wonder if she was joking.

“I’m serious,” she assured him. “Awful date. I left, but I was hungry, and I heard the music. The smell was so heavenly once I stepped inside, I knew I had to stay.”

He chuckled. “I like a woman who’s decisive.”

“You’d be one of the few,” she said with a light tone but knowing the sting of how true that was. She knew what she wanted, and what she didn’t want. Men rarely appreciated a woman who knew her mind and made quick decisions. Though, they lauded men who did the same. She sighed and swallowed down the glass of water. It was refreshing. She should probably have one more before returning to her wine. A little of each would ensure she wasn’t too tipsy. Even though she thought ride share services were pretty safe, she didn’t like getting into a stranger’s car if she’d had too much to drink. People took advantage, sometimes.

“Well, I’m glad he didn’t bring you here, because he would’ve been mighty upset with me for luring you onto the dance floor.”

Tina let out a light laugh. So, he thought he would have lured her away from her date. That was cocky. But a glimpse of his dimple when he smiled made her heart thud harder, and her body inch closer. She couldn’t help but lean in, taking in his musky scent. He may have been right. He might have lured her away from Quentin if he’d looked at her like that and flashed that dimple. Tina sucked in a breath to center herself and motioned to the bartender for some more water.

“I guess it’s a good thing he didn’t bring me here, then. I certainly think I’m having more fun without him.” Though, if he’d brought her here, he’d have been a different kind of guy. Probably the kind of guy she would’ve been too busy having fun with to notice Javier.

Javier’s piercing hazel eyes stared at her, as if she was a puzzle he needed to solve.  Tina wanted to lose herself in his eyes alone.

“Do you come here much?” she asked.

Javier laughed, a hearty, robust laugh as if this was the funniest thing in the world. “Truthfully, I used to wish I’d never have to see this place again.”

She stared at him, her turn to try to piece together his puzzle. “Why wouldn’t you want to come back?”

“My family owns it,” he said. He inclined his head to the girl who’d been so helpful to her tonight. “That’s my sister, the hostess, Josefina. My father’s had this place for 20 years. I used to work here when I was in high school.”

So the girl looked young because she probably was. A family business. His sister. Tina eyed Javier closer now, searching for the resemblance. Definitely their coloring and their hair. Also they each had really graceful noses. Not too pointy or angular. Perfect curve. He had dimples, though, and the sister didn’t. “Your sister’s nice,” she said. “She was telling me about your father. He sounds like quite an industrious man, pulling himself up from very little and starting this place. Recovering from that devastating fire, the kind that would have crushed most people, and rebuilding. Just amazing.”

Javier grimaced, and she realized this was probably not the first time someone had said something like this to him. He must have felt compared to his father, and not in a good way. She got that. She’d been compared to her mother at times. The drug addict whore. Sure, one was a downward shift and the other was upward, but regardless of up or down, an unwanted comparison was still just that: unwanted.

“So, I take it you’re not part of the family business?”

He shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “I branched out, did my own thing. Got a degree at an Ivy League, and my dad still thinks I’m going to come back here to run this place for him.”

She looked around. It was a lovely place. “Well, if that’s not you, I wouldn’t worry about it,” she said. “People are always looking for you to do what suits them. And if that aligns with your goals, then Ace Boon Coon. But if not, then they can go to hell. You gotta live in your own skin every morning, not them.”

Javier’s mouth was a full grin. “I’ll have to tell my father your advice. Though, Ace, boon coon? I don’t think I’ve heard that one before.”

Tina grinned at him. “It’s just something we used to say when I was a kid. Maybe it’s a DC thing. But, if it was all good, it was ace boon coon.”

Javier nodded, his smile wider. “I like that. I’ll have to remember that.”

She laughed. “And remember that you get to be you, regardless of what other people want.”

Javier nodded. “I got it,” he said. “I was never going to delete my goals for his. But, tomorrow I’m starting something new, taking a big risk. It’s a big change, and if it doesn’t work out, I know I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Tina winked at him. “Then make sure it works out,” she said. “Besides, what was the point of going to an Ivy League if they didn’t teach you the first rule of new endeavors?”

He raised an eyebrow and leaned in. “And what is that?”

“When you walk into any room, you gotta own it. Not, smug, asshole own it. But ‘I’m here, and I will stay here,’ own it. ‘I’m me and you don’t have to like me, but you have to show me respect’ kind of own it.”

He raised a hand to his chin, nodded. “That, I’ve heard.”

“Good,” she said. “And rule number two is, treat everyone with respect. You never know when you’ll need their help.”

“Good advice,” he said.

Tina’s phone started chirping. She frowned, reached into her purse, and peeked at it. It was her alarm. She needed to go. She looked at Javier sheepishly. “I’m going to turn into a pumpkin if I don’t get home.”

Javier turned his wrist to check the time on his watch. A Rolex, Tina noted. He didn’t seem the big spender type, dressed casually in jeans and a Henley shirt. “It’s only nine o’clock,” he said. “Not even close to midnight.”

He flashed his dimples, as if he knew men with dimples were her weakness. She stood and shook her head. “I’ve got a big day at work tomorrow,” she admitted. She shouldn’t even have agreed to go out with Quentin. Sunday night was supposed to have been her down time, but he said he was traveling for the next three weekends, and she’d thought sooner would be better than later. She’d been right. She could’ve been fooling with that trifling man for three more weeks, if she hadn’t gone out with him tonight and realized he was a complete dick. “Think of me as Cinderella with a much earlier curfew.”

He chuckled. “How about I give you a ride home, then?”

Tina raised an eyebrow. A ride home. She wanted to let out a low whistle. She refrained. Oh boy. If he took her home, with the slight buzz she had from the drinks and her total lack of man time in the last couple of years, she would be totally his. She knew she should say no, but those eyes. Damn those eyes.

“I won’t bite,” he said.

Damn. Now, she could only imagine his mouth on hers, peppering her with kisses, slowly trailing down her cheek, to her neck, and then a playful bite. A nip that made her insides clench.  She shook her head. What the hell was wrong with her? She couldn’t let a stranger take her home, no matter how good looking he was. “I don’t give men I’ve just met my address.”

He nodded. “Good idea” he said. “You can’t be too careful.” He looked around. “How about I walk you out? No addresses. I’ll just accompany you outside to your car.”

That was an offer she couldn’t refuse. “Sure,” she said, as she stepped off the bar stool.

She felt Javier place his hand in the small of her back, as they walked together out of the restaurant. Once outside, the temperature was bearable, having cooled by the sun going down. They walked down the street a bit, as she used an app to call for a ride home. The app said the car would be there in four minutes. She showed Javier the countdown time on the screen.

He nodded. “So, what’s so important tomorrow that you have to get home when it’s just barely gotten dark?”

Tina grinned at him. “A promotion,” she said, then shook her head, rolled her eyes. “I shouldn’t even have said anything. I don’t want to jinx it.”

He laughed. “Didn’t you just tell me to make sure things worked out?”

She laughed with him. “Aha, using my own words against me.” She raised an eyebrow. “Fair enough. I’ll make sure things work out, and when they do, I’ll come back tomorrow for a victory dinner.”

He grinned. “Definitely come back for a victory dinner,” he said. “My treat.” He placed a hand on her arm, his fingers feeling fiery warm, as he traced the length of her forearm.

 Tina swallowed as she gazed into his eyes, which had taken on a slightly golden tint in the low light. For once, she was at a loss for words. She just nodded

Javier leaned in and pressed his lips to hers, and her whole body felt like it was melting into him. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight. He pulse quickened and she could feel the wetness swelling in her. She pulled away, because she hadn’t had a good romp in too long. Her panties were wet and she needed to get herself together, or she’d succumb to him right here on the street, or worse. “The car will be here any minute,” she said.

Javier shrugged. “You could always cancel it. Let me take you.” His eyes were locked on hers, and he licked his lips. That tongue looked so scrumptious, so long, so agile. She wondered if he knew how tempting he was.

Just then, a silver Camry pulled up. That was the car. “Too late” she said. Though, thank God, was more like it. She had been thisclose to cancelling it and letting Javier take her home and do whatever the hell he wanted to with her.

Javier walked over to the car, and pulled the back door open for her. “Milady,” he said, motioning to the car, as if he were her own personal valet.

“Thank you,” she said, as she slipped inside the car. “And I’ll see you tomorrow, for my victory dinner.”

Javier nodded, and leaned into the car, “Even if it’s not a ‘victory,’” he said, lifting his hands to form air quotes, “Still come back. I’ll buy you dinner either way.”

She winked at him. “You’ve got a deal.”

Javier closed the door, and the car drove away.