by Kate Squires
Available at Amazon !
From the author of That Kiss, and That Promise, comes another tale of romance and excitement!
Sydney Baxter likes her independence. She’s strong willed, determined, and well aware that her judgment, pertaining to men, cannot be trusted.
When she meets a very sexy Ryan Underwood, she instantly becomes mesmerized. Unable or unwilling to shake her fascination with him, she sets out on a course that could possibly leave her vulnerable…again.
From uncertainty, to volatile situations, many obstacles stand in the way of her road to happiness, but Sydney’s past is the biggest one.
Is Ryan’s seemingly nice-guy image genuine? Can she trust him, or will he leave her even more damaged? Despite their ups and downs, can Ryan show her he’s not like all the rest?
It’s finally five o’clock. I’ve been counting the minutes until my stressful time in front of my office computer ends, and I get the weekend all to myself. I look two cubicles over to my right to see if Georgia has finished whatever it is she’s been working on for the last week. As I stare in her direction, I notice others in our large, but segmented room, gathering their things in haste to go home to their lives. I finally see movement from Georgia’s workstation. She peaks her head out from around the gray wall that divides us. Her long, blonde curls tumble off her shoulders, and we make eye contact. I smile knowingly, and her expression mirrors mine. I know exactly what this weekend will hold for us, and I just can’t wait to get it started. I stand and walk toward her.
“Are you ready to get out of this stuffy office attire and hit the bar?” I ask, with my purse slung over one shoulder.
“God, yes,” she says in her small, squeaky voice, then exhales loudly while sagging into her chair. “Mr. Hicks is killing me with all this extra paperwork. I swear, he could hire two more people to help, and we still wouldn’t be able to get it all done.”
I nod, understanding how she must feel. Georgia gathers her purse from the desk drawer, pushes her glasses farther up her nose, and stands shakily. Neither of us has had much time to stretch our legs today. As she smoothes her skirt down toward her knees, Mr. John Hicks comes strolling by.
“Georgia,” he bellows. “Did you get all the papers done that I laid on your desk?”
“Y—yes sir, I did.”
“Even this stack over here?” He plops down a thick stack of type-written paperwork on the edge of her already piled up work station. Her body slumps slightly at the sight of the massive mound in front of her. “I’ll need this done immediately, Everett.” His expression is almost one of amusement, as I’m sure he knows, this could take her all night.
“But Mr. Hicks, I was just about to leave. Can’t I start on this Monday?”
He rubs his chin and seems to contemplate his answer.
“Well, I suppose it isn’t anything that can’t wait.” He walks closer to her and puts his arm around her shoulders. “But, you’ll owe me one.” He winks, and I almost audibly gag. As he walks away, I turn to face her.
“Why the hell are you putting up with shit like that from him? He’s a disgusting pig! You need to tell him to back off!”
“Sydney, I can’t. I need this job.”
“There’ve got to be other jobs that don’t include a boss who feels the need to put his paws on you.” The look on my face must be one of disgust because she wrinkles her nose.
“I know. I don’t like him much, but this job pays well and…” She shrugs her shoulders.
I roll my eyes. She’s never been the aggressive type, and she tends to let people walk all over her. I think that’s why we’re friends. I’m here to be her backbone, and she’s here to make sure I don’t do anything reckless.
“Let’s just get out of here,” I say, as I toss my long, brown hair behind me.
We walk toward the elevators, press the down button, and step inside.
“I really need to have a good time tonight,” she says.
“Me too. Of course, we always do,” I remind her.
She nods her head, in agreement, and the elevator descends.
Georgia and I walk through the entrance to The Rusty Nail, and the familiar smells hit me. A combination of old wood, leather, and sweaty dancers. Hmm, it smells like a good time, as usual. We wait our turn, to pay the five dollar cover charge, and start looking around for a seat. The décor is rustic. The walls are lined with old looking barn wood, and horse tack hangs all around. Neon beer signs are the only modern looking things in here, besides some of the bar-goer’s non-traditional dress. As we walk a little way in, the main bar is to our right. I chuckle inwardly, as I recall some of the early days of trying my hand at drinking. The thought of it makes me glad I don’t do that too often. The large dance floor is in front of us, though we have to wade through a sea of tables and chairs to reach it. It’s surrounded, on three sides, by patrons sitting on bar stools. They watch the dancers twirl and stomp, as they rest their drinks on the railing in front of them. Beyond the dancers is the stage. Many local bands have played on it; some of which I know on a first name basis. There’s a small booth to the right of the stage. It’s painted black, and a DJ sits waiting for the band to take a break. Like the bouncers and barmaids that work here, I know him by name, and he knows exactly what I want to hear without a second thought. While I take in the sights and sounds, Georgia points in the direction of two open stools. We walk quickly, as seats in this very large, but very popular place, are hard to find.
“What do you want to drink?” I shout over the loud country music, which comes from the stage.
“Um…the usual,” she states, and I nod.
I make my way through the crowd of people, sometimes I have to shimmy sideways through them. Finally landing in front of a barmaid, I order two drinks. As I wait, I keep my eyes focused straight ahead, hoping none of the single men that surround me have had a glass of courage yet. She hands me two bottles. I give her some cash and head back over to Georgia. I smile as she fidgets on the stool. Abruptly, she turns to look at me.
“There you are! Let’s dance!” She dashes toward the hardwood dance floor and finds a spot. I barely have time to set the bottles on the rail before I join her.
We shuffle, pivot, and stomp our way through three songs in a row. Sweat is rolling down my brow, and I feel a line of it trickle down my nonexistent cleavage. I love dancing, but hate my new, altered look after one too many songs. We exit the dance floor to take a drink.
“How is it that you never look as bad as I do when you get done dancing to that many songs?” I ask her.
She laughs. “I don’t do it as vigorously as you do, Sydney. But then again, your dancing looks way better than mine.”
I give her an I-don’t-think-so look, and we open our bottles of water.
Georgia and I don’t make a habit of drinking alcohol at The Nail, as it’s been nicknamed. It’s too easy to wake up in a place you don’t want to be. We come here almost every weekend, sometimes twice, with one goal in mind: dancing. Occasionally, one of the regulars will come up and ask one of us to do a couples dance with him. His only intent is to dance. It’s relaxing to know that I can come out, have fun, and not feel like I have to fend off any would-be suitors. Soon enough, Mike, one of my usual partners, appears in front of me.
“Hey, Sydney. How are you?”
“Hi Mike! I’m great. You?”
“Can’t complain. Wanna dance? It’s a waltz.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” I say with a smile. I take his outstretched hand, and follow him to the outside couples ring.
In the Sweetheart hold, he leads me into the choreography. He’s aware I know the steps, but it’s a gentlemanly thing to take control of the woman. I don’t mind, but this is the only place that I’d let a man control me.
We finish, and as if on cue, Mike thanks me kindly, and reserves another dance with me for later on. He walks me back to my seat, and leaves to find his next partner.
“I love to watch you dance,” Georgia says.
“It’s a lot of fun,” I say, grinning from ear to ear.
As the night goes on, sometimes we get up and dance, other times we just observe and discuss the others on the dance floor. People watching can be very entertaining. Then, Georgia’s elbow jabs into my side.
“Ow,” I say, as I look at her, and then in the direction she’s looking. There, standing at the entrance, is a newcomer to our bar. He’s tall with a muscular frame, and sandy brown hair that sticks out slightly from underneath his black cowboy hat. He’s wearing a fitted black T-shirt, which seems to accentuate his physique. The sleeves are rolled up a bit, exposing his obviously hardened biceps. His blue jeans hug his nicely shaped backside in a very appealing way.
“Where the hell did he come from?” I ask, mesmerized.
“I don’t know, but he sure is nice to look at.”
I look at Georgia. I’m puzzled.
“I didn’t realize I said that out loud.”
“Yes, but you only said what everyone else was thinking.” She sighs with apparent appreciation for the fine specimen that just graced this place. “Wouldn’t it be great if he knew some of the dances?”
“Yeah,” I snort. “I’m not sure I’d remember to breathe, let alone dance.”
We giggle, and look away, trying not to stare.
Soon, a good couple’s song comes on. It’s a swing. I glance around the room for any sign of Mike. I’m disappointed to observe him leading some woman, a regular, onto the dance floor. My shoulders slump slightly. As Mike passes by us, he gives me a sympathetic half smile, and shrugs. I think he knows I’m disappointed.
“How ‘bout the next one?” he mouths.
I just nod, in agreement.
We watch the couples twirl by, then suddenly see the new guy step onto the dance floor with a very beautiful blonde woman. She’s tall, like him, and she too is dressed to show off her perfectly sculpted body. I haven’t seen her here before either, and wonder if they came in together. They face each other, and begin. He spins, and twists her all around, while adding his own flare. She doesn’t miss a step. Holy hell, they‘re terrific dancers. They easily steal the show, as they seem to capture everyone’s attention. It looks as though they might already know each other because it’s obvious they are in sync, as she follows his lead like she’s done it forever.
The song ends, and another begins but the world’s perfect couple exits the dance floor. I nonchalantly watch them head for the bar.
“Wow, they were really good, eh, Sydney?” Georgia says. But I’m still in awe over the display I just witnessed.
“Huh? What? O—oh, yeah…great dancers.” I stutter.
“Syd, what’s wrong with you?”
I snap quickly, out of my self-pity, and swivel my head to look at Georgia.
“Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m just pissed that Mike didn’t ask me to dance first, that’s all. He knows I like that one,” I grumble petulantly.
A new song begins. It’s a Cha-Cha. I don’t bother to look around for my usual dance partner because he knows, he owes me. Soon enough, Mike comes slinking guiltily toward me, and requests I join him on the dance floor. I comply, and he leads me to our usual position.
As we begin, I notice the newcomers are out dancing, but not with each other. Puzzled, I stare at the man as he twirls his new partner, all the while I’m trying to work this out in my head. Then, unexpectedly, he looks up, and his eyes meet mine. I’m unable to look away. While we both continue dancing with our partners, I watch as the corners of his mouth turn upward ever so slowly, in a very sexy smile. His eyes are mesmerizing, and almost seem to sparkle. It feels as though everyone’s dancing in slow motion. Is he flirting with me? I’m not sure. Just then, I trip over Mike’s foot, and almost face-plant. I don’t actually hit the ground, but I stumble enough to break the optical hold I have on Mr. Beautiful. I’m sure I look ridiculous, as I attempt to right myself.
“Oh, Sydney! Are you okay?” Mike asks. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to trip you.”
I’m jolted back into the here and now, as I step out of the way of the other dancers twirling around us, and brush myself off.
“Yes, I’m fine. It’s okay, Mike. It happens.” I’m hesitant to look back in the direction of the mysterious smiling man. “I’m gonna go back to my seat.” He nods, and follows me. When I subtly glance over where I last saw the man, he’s gone. I hope he looked away just before my clumsy maneuver, but I’m guessing he had a front row seat. I’m mortified.
“Jeez, Syd. Are you okay? I saw you almost fall,” says Georgia.
“I’m fine. Really!” I realize immediately, I’ve just snapped at my best friend, and feel terrible about it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bite your head off. It’s just that I feel like an idiot.”
“No worries. Most of the people out there right now will be drunk, and falling soon because of it,” she laughs. She’s right. I just wish that he hadn’t seen the whole miserable ordeal.
As the night wears on, I forget about the incident, sort of, and we continue with our fun. I haven’t seen Mr. Beautiful since, but it’s probably for the best, as I’ve embarrassed myself enough for one evening. The DJ plays a song. It’s a Two-Step. I do not Two-Step. That’s one dance where there are too many variables left to chance. I know the basic footwork, but the man can lead the woman into any number of twists, turns, and complicated maneuvers. That leaves me open to looking stupid, and I just refuse to go there. Mike even knows better than to ask me to do that dance. Not that he hasn’t tried, but I say no every time.
“May I have this dance?” asks a voice from behind me. Startled, I look at Georgia. Her eyes are big, and her mouth has fallen open at the sight of whomever she’s looking at. Oh, shit. I turn around on the stool to see who just spoke to me. I swallow hard, when my eyes, once again, land on the glinting blue eyes of Mr. Beautiful himself. I’m momentarily struck dumb. I quickly recover, and find my voice, though it’s shaky.
“Uh…excuse me?” I manage to squeak out.
He chuckles slightly.
“I asked if you’d like to dance with me. It’s a Two-Step. You know how to Two-Step, don’t you?”
Is he kidding me? This gorgeous man is asking me to go out and make a fool of myself. What the hell do I say to that? How can I refuse him? I’ve been ridiculously entranced, and on some level, fascinated by this very attractive god-like creature. But I don’t want to humiliate myself any more. How do I tell him, no, in a nice way?
What did I just say?
“Great!” he says, with a big, beautiful, all-teeth-showing grin, which would warm any girl’s panties.
I blush furiously, and feel the temperature in the room rise. He takes me by the hand. It’s warm, and his grip has a masculine feel. It’s not sweaty like Mike’s hands tend to be. I look back at a wide eyed Georgia and she shrugs. He leads me to the outside couples ring. Stopping in an empty part of the floor, he turns to face me.
“I’ll start out going backwards, okay?”
I nod, and we position our arms. My right hand in his left, and his right hand at my waist. My left hand finds his rock hard shoulder to rest on. I smile apprehensively.
“Ready?” he asks, looking down at me.
My eyes are probably wide open, in an I-can’t-believe-I’ve-just-agreed-to-do-a-Two-Step kind of way.
“Wait!” I exclaim. “I only know the basics. Please don’t do anything fancy.”
He smiles. He has a very nice smile.
“I promise. Nothing fancy.”
Reluctantly, I nod, and we begin to move. We‘re going in a counter-clockwise circle, and I’m trying hard to concentrate. In fact, I’m looking at our feet, trying to make sure I don’t screw up. He removes his right hand from my waist, places his fingers under my chin, and lifts my head so that I’m looking at him. I gasp slightly at the contact.
“Eyes up here,” he says, fixing his intense gaze directly into my eyes, and pointing with the same two fingers, to his face. When he has my attention, he replaces his hand. Staring nervously into his kind eyes, our feet step to the rhythm. Quick, quick, slow, slow, over and over again. For the most part, he takes it easy on me, but there are a few times when I almost lose the rhythm, and mess us both up. Luckily, he’s very patient, not to mention he leads very well. By the end of the dance, I’m grinning broadly. I’m doing it. I’m actually doing a Two-Step. My heart is racing, at the thought of the song coming to an end. The nerve-wracking Two-Step is almost over. But then, our time together is almost finished too. That thought is sobering.
“Thank you very much for the dance,” he says, as the song ends. Then he gently lifts my hand to his mouth, and plants a soft kiss on the back. His lips linger there for longer than is customary. When he lifts his eyes to meet mine, my heart races again. I feel my cheeks heat.
“You’re welcome.” My response is breathy. And with that, he walks me off the dance floor, bows his head slightly, and disappears into the crowd.
“Sydney, you were doing a Two-Step.” Georgia looks shocked. “And with that gorgeous man, no less!” She pauses to let me speak, but I think I’m in shock too. “Sydney!” she shouts, to get my attention. I immediately snap out of it.
Her expression begs me for details. I reluctantly smile.
“He’s a great dancer. He leads well too.”
“So, are you going to dance with him again, or did you at least get his number? What’s his name?”
His name. Shit, I never got his name! How stupid. I cover my face with both of my hands.
“It never crossed my mind,” I say, my voice muffled.
I shake my head.
“Oh, it’ll be okay. Maybe he’ll ask you to dance again. You can ask him then.” She slings one arm around my shoulders, trying to console me.
The rest of the evening flies by, but we don’t see the mystery man again. I chuckle slightly when Georgia suggests that maybe he’s the male version of Cinderella. But my pessimistic side kicks in, as I arrive at the conclusion that the tall woman he danced with first, may have taken him home. After all, why would he want me when he could have her?
It’s very late when I drop Georgia off at her apartment, and then drive to mine. We don’t live far from each other, so the commute is short. I turn the key in the lock, and open the door. Almost immediately, I hear the tell-tale sounds of claws hitting the ceramic tile floor. A black, shadowy figure leaps out of the darkness, onto my chest.
“Sequoia! Hi, girl. Did you have a good evening alone?” I ask my over exuberant German Shepard mix, as she licks the sweat of the night from my face. My ever faithful, non-human best friend, is always happy to see me. “Do you want to go outside, girl?” I open the door, and she dashes through it. I’m exhausted, and in desperate need of a shower. A few minutes pass before Sequoia is scratching at the door, wanting to come back in. After doing so, I head straight for my bedroom. My friend joins me, as we sit together on the bed.
“Hey, girl,” I say, as I pet her soft fur. “I danced a Two-Step tonight. Yeah, can you believe it? Me, Two-Stepping my ass off. Would you ever have thought it was possible?” She tilts her head to the side, and licks my cheek. “I know what you’re thinking. There must have been some extraordinary circumstances that lead me onto the dance floor for that.” I snort. “Would you believe it was a handsome face, and a cowboy hat?” She tilts her head the other direction, and lets out a quiet whine. “I know, I know, don’t worry. I won’t get caught up like that again. I think we’ve both learned a lesson from that, don’t you?” Sequoia places her paws across my lap, laying her head on them. “Yeah, never again,” I whisper.
After a few more minutes of quality, canine time, I hop in the shower. She waits for me on the bathroom floor, as usual. Lying down, she faces the door, as if to guard it. As I wash, I recall the events of the evening. I roll my eyes, as I remember the mystery man’s face, and my strange fascination with him. I’ve seen handsome men at The Nail before, so why on earth does he still haunt my recent memory? Lots of men ask me to dance, never to be seen again. What makes this one so special? I’ve got to get him out of my head. Chances are good, I’ll never see him again anyway, and I’m glad. Men are all the same, and I don’t need that kind of drama in my life. I rinse, dry, and after getting dressed, the dog, and I snuggle under the covers, and drift off to dreamland.