Melt For Him(4)

By: Lauren Blakely

He tipped his head to the back entrance of the Panting Dog. “I own this place,” he said, and that tripped a switch in her memory. Jamie had once said that she wanted to hook up Megan with her boss, who was super hot. Jamie was right—Becker was smoking. “Speaking of, can I interest you in a beer? All locally brewed and all named after dog breeds. In addition to klutzes, I happen to be a big fan of dogs.”

She laughed. “Dogs are cool. So’s beer.”

“We have wine, too, if that’s your thing.”

“And why on earth would I drink wine when you have microbrews named for dogs? How about a Chihuahua?” she said with a smile. “I’ll take my chances even though I have no idea what kind of beer the Chihuahua gave its name to, but those are some seriously fine-looking little dogs.”

“One raspberry ale coming up for the woman who doesn’t like crowds, who thinks bras suck, and who believes owls have deeper meanings.”

Whoa. In five minutes he already knew more about her than most people did. And she’d been trying so hard to keep everyone out.

Chapter Two

Perhaps retreat had its rewards after all. Look what it had brought tonight in the form of Megan. She was devastatingly beautiful and had a lush little body he could wrap his hands around, but looks alone had never done him in. The fact was, she had a dry sort of charm and a bit of an edge, like she was the kind of woman who didn’t take shit from anyone. And there was something else, too. Almost a distance, as if she had walls up.

He understood walls. They made sense to him. They protected him from getting too close.

That’s why he told Megan he owned the bar but said nothing of his work moonlighting as the local fire captain. It was the truth, but it also guaranteed she wouldn’t be into him for the whole stereotype. He’d been there, done that, had an ex in Chicago who’d been far too interested in the job title and parading around the fireman she’d nabbed, like he was some sort of trophy. With Megan, he was Becker the bar owner, and he liked the fact that she was new to town, so there was no history, no expectations. She wasn’t a local, so she thought of him only as maybe someone she wanted to spend the night with, because that’s what he wanted, too. The way she’d said “Mr. Becker” sure as hell made him think about lifting her up and hitching those legs around his waist.

He walked quietly into the noisy bar and poured the beers, including a porter—dubbed the Great Dane—for himself. He returned to the back porch, drinking in the view along the way. The glow of the streetlamp along with the crescent moon bathed her face in soft light as she swiped a finger across the screen of her phone. He could tell she was reading a book rather than texting, and there was something hot about a woman who didn’t need the distraction of checking her online status or sending emoticon-laden messages in a spare moment, but who instead chose the company of words to pass the time.

He joined her, and she tucked her phone away.

He handed her the beer. Their fingers touched, and she tilted her head, meeting his eyes. She didn’t look away, just held his stare head-on, without shyness, without fear, and so he leaned closer to her and said, “To anti-crowds.”

They clinked glasses.

“So you don’t like crowds, but you own a bar. What’s that all about?”

“Ironic, isn’t it?” he said and raised one eyebrow playfully. Then he shifted to a more serious tone. “I’m fine with people. I just don’t like scenes. But I like it when people are happy, and most people seem happy enough in a bar, especially this kind of a microbrewery in this kind of a town,” he answered, giving her the simple truth. He might not have that kind of lightheartedness in his life, but he could serve it up. That was as close as he could get to it.

“And they’re happy, but you’re not with them.” The noise of a busy evening of drinking filtered out, along with the sounds of the Black Keys on the bar’s sound system, as Megan took a sip of the beer.

“So it seems.”

“Do you wish you wanted to be a part of it, though? Do you wish you wanted to be in the middle of all that?” She leaned forward, waving her hand in the general direction of the Panting Dog, all while keeping her eyes fixed on him, as if she were keenly interested in his answers.

“Maybe someday,” he said truthfully and was surprised at his ability to answer honestly. Not that he preferred lying; he simply preferred not answering. Only one person in town truly understood—his good friend Travis, not just because they played poker together every week and worked together on many shifts, but because Travis knew the same pain he did. He’d lost people close to him in the line of fire. Literally. They’d connected over that—a fireman’s way of life, and a man’s need to keep some things to himself.

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