I love that she’s not afraid to eat in front of me. I love that she enjoys food. Suddenly, I want to feed her. Not just Jake’s notoriously greasy fare, but lobster from the wharf, crab legs dipped in butter, the tiramisu from Jordan’s Inn.
There’s a spot of honey on her bottom lip, and her tongue darts out to catch it. She stops with a second cheese ball halfway to her mouth. “Do you always look at girls the way you’re looking at me?”
“How am I looking at you?”
Her pink cheeks flare brighter. Christ. “Like . . . like I’m your dinner.”
Behind the bar, Jake freezes in the middle of pouring a beer, then he puts the glass down and folds over in a full-on belly laugh. Asshole.
I’m saved from answering when her phone buzzes. She digs it out of her purse and fumbles with the screen, entering her passcode twice before it unlocks. As she reads whatever message was waiting for her, it’s almost like watching her transform into a different person. Her smile falls away, and all that bubbly energy dissipates.
She puts the phone back into her purse and avoids my gaze. “Excuse me,” she whispers. Then she slides off her stool and disappears into the crowd.
Am I supposed to go after her? Jesus. I don’t even know her, but she’s been drinking and I think she was here alone. It’s not really my business if she left, but I can’t help but worry.
If I could just stop thinking about the sadness behind her smile . . .
It’s the sadness that gets me. It’s what draws me in, what makes me curious, and what makes me want to stay the fuck away. I turn my back to the bar so I can ignore Jake watching me. The crowd is thinning a bit, but there’s still no sign of Nic. If she was just using the restroom, she’d be back by now.
She’s not coming back, and I need to accept that and get my ass home.
When I turn to set my glass down, I find Ava standing in front of me with folded arms and a disappointed scowl. “What did you say to the new girl?”
I frown. “Nothing. She got a text message and left.”
“You didn’t ask where she was going?”
“She didn’t really give me the chance.”
“Men,” she mutters. She shakes her head before meeting my eyes again. “She’s in the bathroom. Pretty upset.” She shrugs. “But I guess it’s only your job to hand the drunk girl more tequila, not to check on her when shit goes down.”
I flinch. Ava’s known for being a ballbuster, but only when guys deserve it. I’ve never had the pleasure of having her disapproval directed at me. “What’s wrong with her?”
I get another classic Ava eye-roll. She reaches under the counter and hands me a magnetic sign. “Just go check on her.”
Fuck. I have to do something. I push away from the bar and weave my way through the crowd to the women’s restroom. There’s a line, but I step to the front of it and stick my head inside the men’s room. “Anybody in here?” When there’s no response, I close the door and cover the Men’s sign with the magnet that reads Women’s. “There you go, ladies! This is now the women’s restroom. The other one’s closed.”
There are a few grumbles, but the line shifts to the other door. My sister, Shay, thinks the need for the sign is hilarious. She’s never hesitated to use the men’s room before waiting in line for the women’s, but most women aren’t like my sister.
I weave my way around the line to step into the women’s room. There are two women washing their hands at the sink who frown at my intrusion, but I smile as if I visit the women’s room all the time. When they finish, I close the door behind them and lock it. I go to the last stall—the only one still closed—and put my hand on the door. “Nic?”
She sniffles. “Yeah?”
Jesus. I never intended to spend my night in the bathroom talking a strange woman down from some sort of emotional breakdown. What the fuck do I think I’m doing? “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Just . . .” She draws in a shaky breath. “I’m just having a bad day.” The lock slides open, and I move to the side as she steps out of the stall, her mascara smeared down her face, her eyes so damn sad.
And fuck, it’s not my problem, I don’t know her, and I’m probably the world’s biggest fool for thinking I can fix this, but I know there’s no way I can walk away from her tonight without trying.
“Oh, hell,” she mutters. She sweeps past me and puts her purse on the counter while she runs the water hot. She grabs paper towels from the dispenser on the wall, wets them, and washes her face. When the worst of the makeup streaks are gone, she looks at me in the mirror.