He arches an eyebrow. “Thankfully, no. Judging by the clientele today, I’m not sure that would be my scene,” he says, which earns a small smile from me. “I’m here on business actually,” he adds. “My company runs a charity on the side to fund small local farmers in need of subsidies. But we like to visit the farms before we hand out the money, to ensure they’re legitimate.”

“Do you get a lot of illegitimate farmers gaming the system?” I ask, arching an eyebrow.

He laughs softly. “You’d be surprised how many desperate people are willing to try just about anything to game the system.” He leans forward, confidential. “We had one so-called farmer in Wyoming apply. When I visited the facility, all I found was a heap of fallow fields filled with weeds and a single barn where he was growing marijuana.”

I burst into laughter. “So, not exactly the kind of farm your company funds, then?”

“Not quite.” We share smirks. He shrugs. “But my work takes me to other more interesting places. It’s nice sometimes to escape the city, visit quieter towns.” His gaze jumps around the bar again. “Although, not all small towns are quieter than the city, I must admit.”

My cheeks flush, mostly from embarrassment for my town this time. “We aren’t always this bad,” I say. “Most of the crowd is in town for that wedding I mentioned earlier.” My expression shifts to a grimace. “Although, I gotta admit, at least this is more entertaining than night after night of a totally deserted restaurant, or the same regulars who come to drown their sorrows at Monday afternoon Happy Hour. Trust me, that is a depressing scene.”

Xander laughs. “I can imagine.”

“I doubt you can,” I counter. Then I sigh. “I’d kill for the chance to travel like you do. Or even to experience big city life for a while. Small towns can get so suffocating.”

“The city’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” he promises. Then his eyes light up, as if an idea has just come to him. “What are you doing later tonight? I can’t help you travel too far, but we could go for a drive. Maybe it will help inject a little country charm into my life. Or at least get you out of your small-town doldrums for a minute.” He leans forward across the table, and I can’t help it. My body moves almost without my deciding on it, leaning in toward him in response. His eyes fix on me, and I can feel the look he’s giving me burn all the way through to my heart, as if he’s seeing straight through my defenses to the nervous, heart racing core of me. “Besides,” he says, his smile widening. “I like you. And I think you like me, too.”

My cheeks turn even brighter red, if possible, even though they probably already resemble a stop sign. But already my mind leaps to a few places I could suggest we drive. Places I haven’t visited in months. Not with how hectic my schedule has been lately. “Yeah,” I manage, before I clear my throat to get the tightness out of it. “Yes. I would love that.”

“Good.” He winks, and leans back in his seat. So do I, fighting the disappointment that crests inside me. “What time does your shift end?”

“Midnight,” I respond with a grimace, expecting him to turn me down. But he just nods, not even thrown at all by the late hour.

“Perfect. I’ll pick you up then.”

I laugh, and slide to my feet. “Alright. It’s a date.”

2

Melanie

I can’t remember the last time I went on a real date. Then again, I’m not entirely sure that agreeing to go for a drive in the middle of the night with a hot out of towner after working a double shift counts as a date. Am I crazy? Is this a bad idea?

I text Devan and tell her sorry, I’m not going to be able to bring home soup after all. From the bathroom during my shift break, I give her a quick update of the night’s proceedings.

Does he give off serial killer vibes? is her first response.

I can’t help but burst out laughing. No, but I mean… a successful serial killer probably wouldn’t give off enough vibes for anyone to tell, right?

Do you think I’m nuts for agreeing to go out with him?

I linger at the sink, washing and rewashing my hands until Devan sends a response. Only because you’re going to be beat after a double shift, she finally answers. Just text me where you’re planning to head, and let me know when you make it home safe, that’s all I ask.

Of course, I answer, smiling to myself. And honestly? As tired as I feel… I think adrenaline is waking me up enough for this date.

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