One stormy night could change everything…
I have no idea why Raven Youngblood hates me. From the moment I met her at the bar where I used to hang, she’s given me the cold shoulder.
Now that I opened my own bar along with my two buddies, they’ve hired her to bartend for us. Even though I’m technically her boss, she still gives me the evil eye. But the more she throws hate my way, the more intrigued I become.
A storm’s coming, and she and I are stuck here at the bar alone. Maybe I’ll get to the bottom of her issues with me. Maybe I’ll change her mind.
I should never have taken the job at the bar co-owned by the guy I need to avoid. But I can’t help myself. I’m drawn to Easton Moreau like hot fudge to vanilla ice cream.
He looks just like my toxic ex, though he’s nothing like him. Easton is good and kind and even hotter than him. I’ve been trying to avoid unhealthy patterns since I left him. Besides, with the side job I’ve taken to pay off my sister’s debt to some seriously shady people, my life’s too messy to think about romance.
But we’re stuck here together, alone. And I’m not sure how much longer I can keep up this act.
Welcome to Destiny Dunes, where the only thing hotter than the Florida sun is the romance between this resort’s employees. Each book in this steamy series focuses on your favorite romance tropes. Once you enter the gates of Destiny Dunes, you’ll never want to leave!
“It’s not a hurricane,” says one of the bar’s locals as I pass by him.
I come to a stop, looking the man in the eye. “Are you sure about that? Because the weather guy says it’s a possible tropical storm.”
“They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” the guy says, waving me off. “Trust me. I’ve lived here my whole life. They do it for ratings. We might get a little sprinkle later, but it ain’t gonna be no hurricane.”
There aren’t any hurricanes in Louisville where I come from, so I don’t know much about them. I already earned the nickname Code Red for shutting down the bar early last week at the threat of a tropical storm. Our clientele is a local one, probably because our bar isn’t as spiffed up as some of the tourist traps with T-shirt shops attached to them, so they didn’t appreciate me kicking them out. A few haven’t come back.
Chapman and Logan are both gone, purely by coincidence. None of the three of us likes leaving me alone in the bar. I had zero restaurant experience prior to the day I slapped down my life savings along with the loan I got from my grandmother to buy into my part of the bar.
But on this particular stormy night, Logan is taking his girl, Piper, out, and Chapman is being wooed by a rep from a local brewery. I’m in charge of inventory and purchasing, so it should be me getting wined and dined tonight. But this is a guy Chapman knows from Big Fish Pub where he used to work. So, I’ll concede that Chapman earned his night out.
I head toward the bar with my gaze planted on the lovely Raven Youngblood. Her straight, auburn hair falls over her slight shoulders onto her Beach Bums T-shirt. I’m fully aware that she is required to wear the shirt sporting the name and logo of the bar I partially own, but I can’t help the sense of pride that makes me stand taller when I see her in it. Too bad she one hundred percent hates me.
I walk behind the bar with a stack of ones and offer them to Raven. “Your ones, Miss,” I say with what I hope is a charming smile.
She opens the register, pulls out some bills, and hands them to me. We make the exchange without her giving me a hint of eye contact, which is nothing unusual.
That’s been her game since the day I met her. When Logan told me he’d hired her, I split my time between being shocked and annoyed. This is a girl who not only doesn’t give me the time of day, she won’t even look at me. I first made her acquaintance at Big Fish Pub where Chapman and Logan worked with her. She’s never liked me, and I have no clue why not.
Dismissed, I head to the back room and sit down in front of the computer, but I’m not focused on the spreadsheet in front of me. Why doesn’t she like me? I’ve thought about asking, but I don’t want to seem like a desperate prick. The only time she talks to me is to give me the days she can’t work. She has some mysterious job somewhere else that I have to schedule her around a couple of nights each week. I asked once what her other job was, and she just looked at me like I was a nosey bastard and then walked away.
I check the weather app on my phone and I’m starting to think that local guy may be full of shit. I can’t close the bar again. I’ll have too much egg on my face if it doesn’t even rain. But I can make sure the staff gets home before any bad weather comes in. It’s not packed in here tonight. I can get my butt out there and pour beer. Chapman is supposed to be coming back after his night out. I text him.
Are you coming back soon?
No response. Son of a bitch.
I head out to the dining room and go table to table letting everyone know the kitchen is closing. No one has any final orders, so I head back there. “No more food orders,” I say to Sammy, the one kitchen guy left tonight. “Head out when you’re ready.”
“You don’t need to tell me twice.” Sammy’s a transplant too. I feel seen.
I head out into the dining room and grab Kinsley, the last server on duty. “You can go ahead and leave.”
“I’ve still got to do my side work.”
“I’ll do it for you. Just go. I’ll make sure you get your tips from these last few tables.”
She narrows her gaze at me. “You know, if it were Chapman saying this, I wouldn’t believe him. But I think you really will.”
I cock my head to the side. “Of course I will. I would never steal your tips.”
She kisses me on the cheek. “You really are a doll, you know?”
I give her an aww shucks smile and then glance over at the bar. I catch Raven looking away from me, grabbing glasses off the bar. Great. Now she looks at me. That’s just what I need—Raven thinking I’m hitting on the staff.
I walk over to her. “Why don’t you go ahead and get out of here.”
“Are you closing early?”
“No, but I can handle everything from here.”
She puts her hand on her hip. “There’s like four tables of people left. Who’s going to get them drinks?”
She purses her lips at me. “You know how to tend bar?”
“No, but how hard can it be?”
She huffs a humorless laugh while she submerges glasses into dishwater, and I know I’ve completely said the wrong thing.
“I’m not saying what you do is easy. I’m just saying I think I can handle it.”
She points at a table. “She’s drinking Manhattans and she’s drinking Sea Breezes. Do you know what’s in both of those?”
“Well, no, but I’ve got Google.”
She rolls her eyes at me like I’m the biggest idiot on the planet and goes about her business.
“Seriously, I can handle it. We’re supposed to get bad weather.”
“I’m not leaving until these people leave,” she says.
“You think I’m that inept, don’t you?”
“I think you’ve never tended bar.”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask her why she has such disdain for me when Kinsley comes up to the bar. “I need three pale ales and two margaritas.”
I turn to Kinsley. “Seriously, I’ve got this.”
“You so don’t got this,” Kinsley says to me.
“I freaking do. Now go.”
She tosses up both hands and takes her apron off as she heads toward the back. I just stare at Raven while she sets two glasses on the bar. “Do you think I should close?”
“This isn’t my bar.”
“I’m asking for your opinion.”
“I wasn’t hired to make your decisions for you. If you want to kick these people out you can. But I’m not leaving unless they go.”
“Because I’m not answering to Chapman and Logan when they ask me why I went home early when all it was doing outside was sprinkling.”
“But I’m telling you to go home.”
She just keeps going about her business.
“What, you respect them and not me?” I hear how desperate it sounds the second it rolls off my tongue.
“Do you really want me to answer that?” she asks as she pulls a beer from the tap.
There’re so many things I want to say to her right now, but I bite my tongue and head to the tables. “It’s last call,” I announce to each of them.
“It’s only nine-thirty,” says one of the guys at table six.
“The weather’s supposed to be getting worse.”
“It’s not even raining,” a girl at the next table says.
“We’re going across the street next time,” one of the guys says.
I walk to the last table. “It’s last call. Can I get you ladies anything?”
The dark-headed one squeezes her boobs together, setting her elbows on the table. “How about your number? I might need you to come over later and keep me safe during the storm.”
Safety. I look up at the windows, realizing I need to get those boarded. “Excuse me,” I say, and head outside, getting started. This place is old and shitty, and we haven’t had the money to get storm windows yet. So we’re still using the makeshift boarding system that was here when we bought the place. It definitely needs upkeep.
Once I’ve done the best I can with the boarding we have in place, I head back inside and notice we’re down to just a couple of tables left. I walk to the bar. “Did they cash out?” I ask Raven.
“I ran their cards.”
“Thanks. Did anybody leave a decent tip? I told Kinsley I’d save them for her.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll get your girlfriend her tips tomorrow.”
She grabs a rag and walks out from behind the bar to a table and wipes it off. I walk over to her. “Kinsley is not my girlfriend,” I say, which is stupid. I probably need to let Raven think I am into Kinsley. Not that she’d be jealous or anything. Raven seems impervious to me no matter what I do. I don’t know why I care so much. Actually, that’s a lie. I know exactly why I care.
“Whatever. It’s none of my business.” She goes to the next table.
The women at table seven flag me down, and I go over and take their credit card. I run it and bring it back to them with their slip, and they get chatty with me. They’re both flirting, and I wonder what the end game is here, because there’s only one of me and two of them.
“We’d love to get to know you better,” one of them says and the other one nods in agreement.
I gauge the two of them and then glance over at Raven who is wiping the table next to us. “You ladies better get home before the storm comes in.” I indicate the window where hard pellets of rain are starting to beat down through the half-ass boarding system.
“You should come over,” one of them says. “You could help us with our storm windows. Especially the one in the bedroom.”
Raven lets out a snort, and I turn my head to find her lifting a chair up onto a table. We usually don’t do that until everyone is gone, but I don’t argue because we do need to get out of here.
“You ladies be safe.” I go over and help Raven with the chairs.
“You’re free to leave,” she says. “If you give me your key I’ll lock up.”
“Of course I’m not gonna leave,” I say, setting a chair down on the table.
She walks to the next table and I follow her. “Don’t wanna miss your opportunity with the twins over there.”
“Those girls don’t look like twins to me.”
She gives me a look. “I wasn’t talking about the two women.”
I look at the one woman’s boobs which are ready to drop out of her shirt at any minute. Part of me wonders if Raven is a little jealous. I would think she was if she didn’t hate me so much. “Like I’d leave you here to close by yourself to go have a three-way. You must really think I’m an asshole.”
She keeps her mouth shut, lifting a chair.
“I need another beer,” shouts one of the guys at the last table of people left. Raven just lifts her eyebrows at me. I walk over to him. “Man, we need to close. The storm’s starting to come in. You guys should get somewhere.”
“We are somewhere,” the other guy says.
“Seriously. It’s starting to come down out there. Why don’t you guys get on home. I’ll bring you your check.”
“We don’t want a fucking check. We want another beer.”
I run my hand through my hair, because I’m really not a guy who likes confrontation. Chapman is a six-and-a-half-foot wall of muscle, so guys usually aren’t stupid enough to pick a fight with him. Logan is a little smaller than me, but he’s fearless and has been known to sucker-punch guys twice his size. I’m somewhere in between the two of them, but I’m a pacifist. I blame my parents. Neither one is a risk-taker. They both have spent their lives with their heads down, keeping the peace.
“Look, man. I don’t want a bunch of shit. I just want my staff to get home.”
“Aren’t you the one they call Code Red?” one of them asks. “Didn’t you close the bar down last week when it started sprinkling?” They have a hefty laugh at my expense.
Raven walks over and slaps down a piece of paper. “Here’s your check. I’d like to get home sometime in the next century.”
“I’d like to take you home,” one of them says, eyeing her like a piece of meat.
“Why don’t you guys go ahead and get out,” I say, my blood starting to heat up.
“Is this your boyfriend?” one of the guys asks like I’m not even standing here.
Raven holds out her hand. “Just give me your damn credit card so I can get you guys cashed out.”
The one sitting closest to Raven grabs her hand and pulls her down onto his lap. She’s a really small girl—I doubt she weighs a hundred pounds—and he jerks her around like she’s a ragdoll and not a full-grown woman with strength and choices. The rage that flies inside me is something I don’t recognize.
“You better fucking let go of her before I beat your ass to a pulp.”
The guy looks at the other one and they laugh. Raven seizes on the distraction and jabs the guy in the eyes with both fingers.
“Fuck!” he shouts as Raven scrambles out of his lap. “You fucking bitch,” he says, standing up.
I jump in between him and her. “Get the fuck out, man.”
The other guy stands. “Dude, let’s fucking go.”
The guy, who’s a few inches shorter than me, just stands there gauging me, and I hold his stare, hoping I’m ominous enough to make him cave.
The other guy grabs his arm. “Come on, man. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” The guy jerks his arm away from the other one, his pride bested by a woman.
The guy spits on the ground and then points at me. “I’ll fucking kill you next time I see you.”
“Cool,” I say as he walks out, because if he was going to kill me, this was his opportunity. When they get out the door, I walk over and lock it, exhaling a breath. Raven stands there like she’s frozen to the spot. She’s breathing pretty heavily, so I walk over to her. “Hey, are you okay?” I put my hand on her shoulder.
She jerks away from me. “I’m fine. Just…let’s finish up.”
“You can go.”
“Out there in the parking lot with them? I think I’ll take my chances in here.” She puts her hand on her forehead, looking visibly shaken. She walks over to the window, peeking through the boards.
“They’ll be gone in a few minutes,” I say.
“Can you guarantee that?”
“No, but I’m sure they don’t want to hang around here after the dude got humiliated by a woman.”
“I was defending myself.”
“Of course you were. I’m not blaming you for that. That was badass.”
“That was really stupid,” she says, sounding like she’s on the verge of tears.
“It wasn’t stupid. It was smart and brave. Sticking your finger in some guy’s eye can’t be fun. Have you done that before?”
“Just forget it. Let’s finish this up so we can get out of here at some point.”
I do want us both to get out of here, but I’m unsure about walking out to the parking lot right now. I took karate as a kid, but I haven’t used it since I was about twelve years old. I’ve never had to use it. I guess I’ve always kind of been the peacekeeper like my mom. But I wanted more than anything to pummel that guy when he put his hands on Raven the way he did.
Raven sweeps while I close out the register. Neither of us says anything as we work on the closing tasks. I try to ignore the sounds of the storm outside, the rain beating down and the wind howling. I can see the parking lot through a crack in one of the boarded windows. The two assholes are still sitting in their car just outside.
She walks up to the window with me. “They’re still out there?”
“I can’t believe this. They’re waiting for us.”
“Maybe they’re just waiting out the storm. It’s getting bad out there. It might be too dangerous to drive.”
“Crap,” she says and I can tell she’s scared.
“We’re all closed up here, the windows are boarded, and the door is locked.”
“What about the back door?”
“It’s locked. They can’t get in here.”
“So we’re stuck here?” she asks as if she’s just been handed a death sentence.
“Is that the worst thing ever? Look, that storm is bad. We don’t have to go out in it. And I don’t know what those guys are doing. Let’s just stay here till the storm passes. Once their car is gone, I’ll walk you to your car and you can get home safely, okay?”
She lets out a sigh, closing her eyes like she’s trying to come to a resolution.
The glass breaks on the window we’re standing near, and it startles us both so much that we jerk out of the way.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says, as we both view the glass on the floor and the rain coming in.
“Damn, these windows. We’ve got to prioritize getting a decent system in place,” I say to myself.
Another one bursts through, and it brings a whole piece of wood with it. “Fuck,” I say, wondering how many more are going to fly through. “Why don’t we go in my office. There are no windows in there. I think it was a storage closet before it was an office.”
She eyes me suspiciously.
“Or we can stay out here” I say as another one breaks through. “Fuck.” I hate that I doubted myself. This may be a hurricane for all I know and here we are right on the beach. “I should’ve closed an hour ago. Come on. Let’s go to my office.”
She doesn’t move.
“I’m going to my office. You should come.” I walk in there by myself, leaving the door open, hoping she’ll come to her senses.
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