He slid his gaze over her curvy body. Her uniform, consisting of a white blouse, black skirt and tights, revealed rounded breasts, a narrow waist and inviting hips. Her legs weren’t bad, either.

She set another glass of water on his table.


“How are you liking it here?” he asked.

She hesitated and met his gaze. “It’s good so far. I’ve been out of the country for a year. I’m re-acclimating to being an average American again.”

“You don’t look average to me,” he said. “What were you doing out of the country if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Disaster relief.”

“Ah,” he said with a nod. A do-gooder. Perhaps that accounted for her other-worldly aura. “How’s the transition going?”

“Bumpy,” she said with a smile that made him feel like he’d been kicked in his gut.

He didn’t make a habit of picking up cocktail waitresses, especially those who worked for businesses he owned, but this one intrigued him. He wondered if she was the kind of woman who would be impressed by his wealth. Just for fun, he decided to keep his identity a secret a little longer. He liked the idea of not dealing with dollar signs in a woman’s eyes. He’d been featured in the Atlanta magazine often enough that he could rarely meet someone without them knowing way too much about him. Way too much about his business success, anyway.

“I don’t see a ring on your finger, Bella,” he said.

Her eyes showed a trace of sadness. “That’s right. You don’t.”

“Would you like me to give you a ride home? I think my SUV may be better able to take on a snowy road.”

Her eyes widened slightly in surprise and he watched her pause in a millisecond of indecision. “I’m not supposed to fraternize with the customers.”

“Once we step outside the door, I won’t be one any longer,” he said, familiar with the policy.

She looked both tempted and reluctant. “I don’t even know your name.”


“Michael. I’ll hang around awhile longer,” he said, amused that she’d almost turned him down. He tried to remember the last time that had happened.

Watching her from his corner, he noticed a man reaching toward her. She backed away and the man stood. Michael narrowed his eyes.

The man reached for her and pulled her against him. “Come on baby, you’re so hot. And it’s cold outside…” The man slid his hand down toward her bottom.

Already on his feet, Michael walked toward Bella and pushed the man aside and into a chair. “I think you’ve had too much.” Glancing around the room, he saw the bar manager, Jim, and gave a quick curt nod.

Seconds later, Jim arrived, stumbling over his words. “I’ll take care of this Mr.—”

Michael gave another curt nod, cutting the man off mid-sentence. “Thank you. Perhaps your staff needs a break.”

Jim nodded. “Take the rest of the night off,” the manager said.

Her face pale, Bella hesitated. “I—”

“I’ll give you a ride whenever you want to go,” Michael said. “I can take you somewhere quieter.”

She met his gaze and he saw a glimmer of trust in her eyes as if she felt the same strange sense of connection with him he did with her. She paused a halfbeat, then nodded. “Okay.”

An hour and a half later, Bella realized she’d told half her life story to the hot man who’d rescued her at work. She’d told him about how her Aunt Charlotte had raised her. She’d even vaguely mentioned being a failure at her love life. Every time she thought about Stephen, a stab of loss wrenched through her. She knew she would never get over him. Never. The worst though, was her crushing guilt over not being with her aunt while she suffered through the cancer treatment.

Although she hadn’t mentioned any names, she was appalled at how much she’d revealed. “I’ve done all the talking,” she said, covering her face. “And I can’t even blame it on alcohol because, except for that first mangotini, I’ve been drinking water. You heard enough about me a long time ago. Your turn. Tell me why this has been a rotten day for you.”

“I can’t agree about hearing enough about you,” he said with a half smile playing over his beautiful mouth. It occurred to Bella that his mouth, his face, should have been carved in marble and exhibited in a museum. She glanced at his broad shoulders and fit body. Perhaps his body, too, she thought.

“You’re very kind,” she said. “But it’s still your turn.”

He gave a low chuckle, his dark eyes mysterious. “Not many people have described me as kind. But if you insist,” he said, lifting his own glass of water to take a drink.

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