Conrad Bastian pulled up and parked at Shade’s, the local gathering place and all he could think about was poppin’ a cap on a cold one. The engine clicked and pinged when he shut it off. He sat takin’ just a second to breathe and relax. Getting out his truck, a layer of dust clung to his skin. Worn and dirtied boots hit the gravel, and he pulled off his straw Stetson wiping his brow, the heat bordering on the doorstep of the devil’s den. Smacking the hat on his knee, he watched the dust of the day scatter on the wind taking with it some of the stress that lingered. A cold one sounded damn good to Conrad.
Blinking neon of Shades Bar greeted him, the closest thing the town of Mariette had for country dancing. If a ten-foot by ten-foot space could be considered a dance floor. Most everyone came for a beer and food, except for days like today, when folks came to mingle, catch-up or hook-up. To let off a little steam.
The menu was decent. Listed were great burgers made from homegrown cattle. Crowded as usual on a Friday night. The taps flowed with the best brews his small town had to offer and all the regular domestic beers that were American staples. He was partial to his friend’s stout. Con sat on a wooden stool, that was just vacated, at the bar and took his first breath of peace.
“Johnny,” he called over the din of Keith Urban and stomping feet. He lifted his hand to get the owner’s attention. Con smiled when Johnny, the owner and his best friend, bumbled a glass almost droppin’ it. “Can I get the Cast Iron Burger and a pint of the stout?”
The chin lift then a nod he got allowed Con to lean on the bar with his elbows and settle in for a while. With his hands on the back of his head and the much-needed time apart from his father, he was finally able to relax since the rooster sounded off that morning. Even with all the noise, the music blaring and the voices laughing or singing to the song on the jukebox he zoned out.
“How’s it going, man?”
Con sat up with a start. He took the beer from his friend taking his first swallow. “It’s going.”
“You could say that if every machine thinking it was time to take a break did so by breaking down. Yeah.” He took another swallow. “Of course, Dad thinking each was my fault added to a spectacular time.”
Johnny wiped the bar and then pulled a couple beers.
“Hey, Lydia,” Con said to the waitress when she brushed her hip against him.
“Hey, Con.” She smiled and her gaze ran over him.
He’d taken her to bed a few times. It was good. It scratched an itch as the saying went, but didn’t do much more.
“You dancing later, honey?” she asked.
“I might be.” He didn’t think he’d stay long enough for her to get off her shift. He was tired as hell, but he might consider it.
She smiled, and took the beers from Johnny and quickly delivered the drinks as Con looked on over his shoulder.
Johnny shook his head and smiled at the backside of his waitress with a more familiar glint in his eyes.
“You know that can’t end well. You haven’t seen her crazy like I have,” Johnny said.
Johnny had dated her for a while, but it hadn’t worked out. He didn’t talk about it much and never said what happened, but she was still at Shade’s waiting tables so it couldn’t have ended all that bad for him. He’d never been proprietary over a woman before and that included Lydia. It was the only reason Con had been with her. Otherwise, loyalty trumped having sex with your best friend’s girl.
“Were you able to fix any of them?”
“Huh?” Con said. “Oh yeah. Some. A couple others, I gotta order parts for. I don’t expect to see anything until next week, which brought on a shit storm once again from my dad.”
Johnny shook his head. Con had shared with Johnny most of what had been going on, so he’d heard just about everything when it came to Conrad’s dad.
“Not much I can do about him being an asshole these days.”
“That is a true statement.” Johnny tapped the bar and moved off to help a customer.
Conrad couldn’t blame his Dad. Ever since Con’s Ma died last year, his Dad had been swallowed up by grief. He blamed everything under the sun for his foul mood except the one thing that he clung to like it was his only source to keep living. He wouldn’t let the grief go. It was chewing him up and taking everyone around him with him.
The other bartender dropped off Con’s burger, and he practically ate it whole. The beer went down good too. He ordered another one and then left enough to cover the bill waving to Johnny. He got another chin lift and went in search of a corner booth where he could watch what progressed to be a very sexually charged night at Shades. Dancing wasn’t on his agenda, just watching. He didn’t have time for a woman. There was enough to do on the farm that kept him busy. His dad needed all the help he could get. As it was now the damn man had alienated almost every one of the hands and half the people in the county. But even though commitment wasn’t on the horizon, he sure as hell could do for a quick how-you-do with a beautiful, willing woman.
Searching Con saw a couple get up that seemed glued to one another, and Con sat down as they exited the bar. They looked like they would have a fine time that night as the man’s hand went to the woman’s ass, his finger’s gliding down close to something indecent as they skimmed just under the edge of her dress. Con smiled and tipped his hat a bit lower so he could watch what was happening on the dance floor without too much attention. Just watching the couple leave had him adjusting himself under the table. Skin to warm skin, making the woman shiver.
Con blew out a slow breath. Maybe he did need to find a willing woman. One for only tonight, though.
Lydia came over and gave him another beer, and he settled in. He saw a couple sweet little innocents go by, but neither captured his attention. He tried not to laugh when they smiled and thrust out their breasts, preening what God gave them for a man to consider.
A slow song came on, and the heat on the dance floor jumped another ten degrees as bodies got closer, hotter, and the liquor started unlocking doors to inhibitions. The scent of sweet feminine musk filled his nostrils as things began to get crazier and more wanton. Writhing hips, swaying arms joined the fray as women and men got closer, their bodies aligning to reach the full potential of what the public dance floor allowed. No line dancin’ at Shades. There wasn’t enough room. They pushed the limits of what was acceptable, and he enjoyed every minute of the show.
Another fast song came on, more women took to struttin’ by his table, but Con kept to himself.
When the front door opened a gust of hot, thick air brushed up against him all the way in back where he sat. When the door slammed shut something shifted inside him. He could feel it, the atmosphere growing more intense like he could feel this invisible wall up against his skin making him come alive, but he was the only one to notice. Searching for the disturbance, he kept his eyes shaded. It wasn’t like he had any super powers, he was an ordinary man. It was something he’d never felt before, and that was why his eyes zeroed in on that direction. He nearly choked on his beer.
Just standing inside the door was what he’d call the closest thing to ethereal. The lights were hitting the small woman in all the right places. And she had a lot of right places. She wasn’t the typical Mariette resident either. The sun had lightened up most people’s hair, the farming community one that was outdoors most days. Not this girl’s hair. It was black as onyx straight as woven silk with what seemed to be a magical sheen that reflected the light that flashed in the room. It was smooth looking and long brushing the cherry brown skin of her breasts, the thin shirt she wore not giving him much use for his imagination. Her bra was a dark silhouette holding her ample breasts in such a way they invited a man to lean in and lick, making her skin tingle until she trembled with need, before going any deeper to pleasin’ her. The skirt that hugged her hips showed off her long legs, or they seemed long since most of them were exposed. And the heels? He wanted to see her in those, and only those. He watched as her head swiveled to take in the room and she found what she was lookin’ for, and then she smiled.
“Sweet Lord,” he whispered. If the package God shaped her into weren’t enough for one man, her smile would kill a man with his eyes closed it was so bright. In awe of this woman the heat crawling up his neck, more to do with wantin’ her than the heat stirring from the dance floor, Con took a deep sip of his beer and shifted in his seat, the pressure behind his zipper gettin’ mighty uncomfortable.
There was no doubt there was something special about this woman. He wasn’t the only one watching her. With hooded eyes, he observed her move with a fluidity somehow more panther-like than human and continued in the direction of a female friend. Thank the stars it wasn’t a guy, or he’d have to kill him. Just the idea of bein’ with her, Con was close to embarrassing himself.
When she reached her friend, she brightened the room with another smile. Whoever she granted one must be someone special because it was so genuine and pleased, that there was no question that she would pay that person the attention they deserved. He needed something like that in his life.
Con needed to fill the ache that sat deep in his chest, the memory of his mother haunting him everywhere on the farm. He missed her. This woman would be a good distraction. Or was she the type to settle in for the long haul? No one-nighters?
He wanted to be near her, so he abandoned his table and made his way over trying to make it look like he was going to order a drink. Con took in every detail he could of the woman. He’d wait to make his move. Let her settle in before he took a turn at lady luck.
As Conrad watched her with her friends, she touched as often as she could, laughed with an exuberance that made him smile into his beer. She swayed with the music when it was a song she seemed to like.
A few guys approached, but she shook her head and focused back on her girls, while he tried to keep in a snarl.
He picked at his beer label confused by his possessiveness and steered his thoughts toward his mom and dad and what they had with each other. There were always smiles and small touches they shared. The heated looks that his father would give his mother were uncomfortable for him, but something special to both of his parents, he knew, because his mother shared little things with him about her relationship. Con could see it in his parent’s eyes when they didn’t know he was looking. He just wished his dad could get past his grief and hold onto the good memories. They would always be special.
She could be his something special, he thought. Now what made him think that? He looked down at the scarred bar confused by his thoughts. Was he ready to settle down? Make a home? Have children? He shivered. Those kinds of thoughts were a little too deep for a Friday night. Tonight, was supposed to be a good time, maybe a dance, and some kissin’. And if he was lucky a good time, that ended in a quick kiss and a quicker exit the next morning.
His eyes took him back up to her face to get some semblance of control. He sucked in a breath when her eyes glanced over and held locked onto his own. He stopped breathing. Lydia forgotten, this woman was indescribable up close and he wanted her. Con had to have her.
Not taking his eyes off her—which she didn’t do either—the song changed to Heatwave by Florida Georgia Line.
“I’m sorry, what?” She said a little louder since someone chose that instant to laugh so loud it covered up his words. Her friends giggled which it made even worse. Conrad chuckled himself. She lowered her eyes to his lips, and he tried not to groan. He didn’t want to scare her away since she turned down all the men that had already approached her.
Con didn’t repeat himself just said, “Dance with me,” without givin’ her time to think about it, he took her hand, from her other hand he took her drink and set it down, and moved onto the crowded dance floor. It forced their bodies together, closer than a first dance would allow. Conrad was good with that. He slid his hand to her lower back, her shirt riding up, so he was lucky enough to touch skin. It was soft against his rough, worn hands. Con took her small hand in his own, hugging her until the absence of space made him lean in more. Her eyes flared with heat, and he took that as a good sign. When his nose brushed her ear, he inhaled the scent of jasmine that lingered in her hair. He couldn’t hold back a groan. God, what was happening to him? Why was his reaction to her so thrilling? He felt desperate to keep her close.
Looking down at the petite woman in his arms, her brown eyes dilated and the flecks of amber caught by the light flared. He blinked and pinched his lips together worrying what she thought of him. Did the dirty layers of farming on his skin bother her? Her fingers went up and gently rubbed the crease between his eyebrows. Then she smiled again, and his heart fell into her eyes. The song ended, and there was a slight lull between songs.
“My name’s Conrad.” His arms tightened around her.
Her lashes flickered down and then back up as Conrad’s heart started racing double time. Would she pull away and leave him? If so, he would have to follow.
When she looked back up at him with another brilliant smile and licked her lips, he almost whimpered, his need for this woman was so great. But then she spoke, and it was like magic had come down to touch his soul.
“I’m, Willow,” She said, and then took his hand and pulled him along toward her friends gripping him so, their fingers entwined, making certain that they wouldn’t be separated.
Conrad wanted to laugh, and was glad he came in for a beer.