M r. Always-Pays-Cash-And-Tips-Well. Bella St. Clair spotted the hot, sophisticated dark-haired customer in the back corner of the packed Atlanta bar. He’d been there four of the ten nights she’d worked at Monahan’s. Always polite, he’d chatted with her a few times, making her feel like a person instead of just a cocktail waitress. Despite the fact that in terms of romance her heart was deader than a doornail, and she was distracted about her aunt’s latest problem, Bella felt a fraction of her misery fade at the sight of him.

He gave a slight nod and she moved toward him. “Good evening. How are you tonight?” she asked, setting a paper napkin on the table.He hesitated a half beat then shrugged. “I’ve had better,” he said.

A shot of empathy twisted through her. She could identify with him. Her aunt’s business had been turned over to the bank one month ago today and Bella knew it was at least partly her fault. “Sorry,” she said. “Maybe the atmosphere here will distract you. A jazz artist will be playing in a little while. What can I get for you?”

“Maclellan single malt whiskey,” he said.

She lifted her eyebrows at the expensive beverage and nodded. “Excellent choice for either a rough night or a celebration. Can I get you anything to eat with that?”

“No thanks. Rowdy crowd tonight,” he said, nodding toward the large table in the center of the room. “Must be the snow.”

She glanced toward the curtained windows in dismay. “I’ve been so busy since I arrived that I didn’t notice. I heard the forecast, but it’s rare to get the white stuff here. Think it’ll be just a dusting?” she asked hopefully.

He shook his head. “We’re already past a dusting. The roads should be covered in an hour.”

“Great,” she muttered. “My little car is gonna love this trip home.”

“What do you drive?” he asked, curiosity glinting in his dark eyes.

“Volkswagen Beetle.”

He chuckled. “I guess that’s better than a motorcycle.”

She felt a bubble of gallows amusement. “Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll be right back with your whiskey.” She got his drink from the bartender and made her way through the crowd, carefully balancing the glass of whiskey on her tray. Heaven knew, she didn’t want to spill a drop. The stuff cost fifty bucks a shot.

She wondered what had caused her handsome customer the pain she glimpsed in his dark eyes. He emanated confidence and a kind of dynamic electricity that snapped her out of the twilight zone she’d been in for the last month.

She set the glass in front of him. “There you go,” she said, meeting his dark gaze and feeling a surprising sizzle. She blinked. Where had that come from? She’d thought all her opportunities for sizzle had passed her by.

She watched him lift the glass to his lips and take a sip. The movement drew her attention to his mouth, sensual and firm. She felt a burning sensation on her own lips, surprised again at her reaction.

“Thanks,” he said.

She nodded, transfixed.

“Hey babe,” a voice called from behind her. “We want another round.”

The call pulled her out of her temporary daze. “Oops. Gotta go. Do you need anything else?”

“Water when you get a chance,” he said. “Thank you very much, Bella,” he said in a voice that made her stomach dip.

She turned around, wishing she knew his name. “Wow,” she whispered to herself. Based on her reaction to the man, one would almost think she was the one drinking whiskey. Crazy, she thought, and returned to the rest of her customers.

Another dead end. Sometimes it seemed his life’s curse was to never find his brother. Too restless to suffer the stark silence in his luxury home, Michael Medici settled back in his seat in a corner of the crowded popular bar, one of several he owned in Atlanta.Michael usually craved quiet at the end of the day, but tonight was different. The din of Atlanta’s young crowd buffeted the frustration and pain rolling inside him.

Michael spent the next hour allowing himself the luxury of watching Bella. After the disappointing news from the private investigator, he craved a distraction. He wondered if he would ever find out what had truly happened to his brother all those years ago. Or if he was cursed to stay in limbo for the rest of his life.

Forcing his mind away from his frustration, he watched Bella, enjoying the way she bit her pink mouth when she met his gaze. Feeling the arousal build between them, he toyed with the idea of taking her home with him. Some might consider that arrogant, given he’d just met her recently, but Michael usually got what he wanted from business and the opposite sex.