- Series: Brewing Love , Book 2
- Release Date: September 18, 2017
- ASIN: B0756JSWGH
- Genre: Contemporary Romance
- Available Formats: eBook, eBook and Paperback
Liam Dempsey isn’t long for Antero. The bar where he’s been working is going downhill fast, and it’s time for him to move on. Even if moving on means moving from Colorado to Utah and leaving his sister and fledgling brewery behind. He’s not interested in forming any attachments before he leaves in a month, but after a sexy hook-up with his sister’s friend, he finds himself unsure where his future stands.
The last thing Ruth Colbert needs is something else on her plate. She has a restaurant to run, a chef to replace, and a cranky twelve-year-old to raise, but a steamy night with Liam was just what she needed. The only problem is, now she wants more, if only she could find the time for him. Just when things seem to be working out and she can see a possible future with Liam, someone from her past shows up to throw another wrench into everything.
Liam Dempsey surveyed the crowd filling the Black Mountain Tavern. It was early May, and the last weekend before the resort closed down for the season. It had been a good year for skiing, but they wouldn’t stay open much longer. Even if the snow stuck around, the skiers usually didn’t. This might be one of the last weekends when he stood to make a fair amount of money.
Right now, the bar was packed with the edgiest of winter-sports types, all of them with their own dreams of X Games glory. Ice climbers, back-country skiers, half-pipe boarders–all getting their last adrenaline shots until rock-climbing season began. Hell, some of the people on the dance floor even jumped off mountains with wingsuits. Maniacs, all.
But maniacs who liked to tip any bartender who could supply them with an obscure craft brew or the most lethal Moscow mule. Liam was their main man, and his ample tips reflected his skills.
He regarded the packed dance floor with a brief flash of nostalgia. He’d miss these guys when he shook the dust of Antero from his heels in another month or so. Of course, he had a lot of work to do before that happened.
He’d spent the previous night helping his sister Bec bottle a particularly nice red ale at the brewery they owned, a task that had taken them a lot longer than he’d anticipated. He’d gotten maybe four hours of sleep before he’d had to drag himself out of bed and in to work. Another thing he’d miss—that rush from creating something new, something that would make people sit up and take notice. But the red ale was Bec’s beer—he was just helping out. In fact, most of what they put out now was Bec’s beer. His own stuff was pretty much a thing of the past.
He’d miss Antero Brewing, too, but maybe not as much as he once would have.
He didn’t begrudge Bec her success. She was a genius brewmaster, and she deserved all the success and praise she was getting. After he left, she’d hire some eager young brewer to do what he was doing now without losing much. He appreciated all the things they’d been able to do, but he didn’t have much of a role to play there anymore.
He’d miss Black Mountain Tavern more, to tell the truth. He’d tended bar there for over a year, and he liked the place. Or he’d liked it until he’d started seeing telltale signs that the bar was headed for the skids after the new owner took over—forgotten repairs, reduced menu, general neglect. He’d started asking around about bartender openings a couple of weeks ago. Lucky for him, he’d found a place in Park City that needed not just a bartender, but a manager. He’d be moving on in another month or so when the new bar opened. Quick and painless.
Landing on your feet. Always leave them wanting more.
A couple of women leaned against the end of the bar, trying to get his attention. He headed their way after delivering the drinks he’d just mixed for a trio of sunburned guys who were either boarders, or weirdly dressed skiers.
The women were probably over twenty-one, but he carded them anyway. Letting a woman know she still looked eighteen was never a bad idea. They leaned over the bar in low-cut, Spandex tops that gave him a great view of their cleavage.
“What can I bring you ladies?” He switched on his bartender smile.
One of them—the one with the blonde ringlets—gave him a slow smile. “What’s good?”
“We’re known for our craft beer. The list of drafts is on the blackboard, and we’ve got more by the bottle. If you’ll tell me what kind you like, I can make some recommendations.” He managed to turn up the wattage on the smile. Anemic smilers did not get great tips.
The hennaed redhead pushed out her lower lip in a pout, leaning forward a little more to show him her rack. “I don’t like beer. All those carbs.”
Liam thought about pointing out that the carb level of beer could be balanced by the vitamins it provided, and that some research suggested it lowered cholesterol. But he suspected that would be irrelevant to his current audience.
“We also have a small wine list and lots of mixed drinks. Let me get you a bar menu.”
He started to turn away, but stopped when the blonde put her hand on his arm. “What do you like to drink? When you’re off duty.” Her eyes widened slightly as she studied him.
She was a good-looking woman. So was her friend. Both of them were well above the age of consent, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’d picked up a willing tourist for a little after-hours recreation.
But he wasn’t feeling it this time. Staying up for most of the night with the red ale had tapped his energy supply. Even for willing ladies.
He managed to keep his smile in place. “I’m a beer man myself, so what I like probably wouldn’t appeal to you. Let me get you that menu.”
He picked up a menu from the other end of the bar and returned it to the two clearly miffed women. He couldn’t blame them. After all, they’d just come across one of the few men on the Western Slope of the Rockies who wasn’t up for a little slap-and-tickle in his off-duty hours.
He poured a few more beers and mixed a couple of margaritas. The evening was winding down, and the tip jar looked a little lean. Apparently, he hadn’t been dispensing charm with his usual generous hand, and nobody had wanted to talk about craft beer much, either.
Don’t let yourself go slack. You still need to pay your rent for another month.
Someone raised a hand farther down the bar, and he headed in that direction, ratcheting up his smile again. Another chance to do his thing. Showtime.
There was a break in the crowd and he recognized the person who’d signaled him: Ruth Colbert, his sister’s part-time employer and full-time friend. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Ruth at the tavern before, but then, she was a single mother who probably didn’t go out much.
Although, now that he got a good look at her, he wasn’t entirely sure why she wasn’t here a lot more often on dates. Ruth was hot. She wore a denim shirt over a well-fitted T-shirt and a turquoise and silver choker that accented the slender column of her neck. Her short, dark hair looked slightly mussed, as if she’d just dragged her fingertips through it.
Something about the way her hair hung around her face made him want to slide his own fingers through those silky strands.
Which, now that he thought about it, was sort of a weird thing. He’d just backed away from a pair of agreeable ladies who’d angled for a little quality time with the bartender. And now he was getting turned on by mussed brunette curls. Losing your concentration, Liam.
Ruth watched him with a slightly concerned look. Given that he’d been frozen in place as he studied her hair, she had a right to wonder just what the hell he was thinking about.
“Hi.” He slid a napkin in front of her. “Out for the evening?”
She nodded. “It’s been a while. I thought I’d see what’s going on in Antero nightlife these days.” She took a quick survey of the tavern. “The crowd seems to have gone down. Last month you were bursting at the seams—almost literally.”
“It’s close to the end of the season. We’ve still got the diehard extreme sports guys, but most of the others have taken off for places that actually have spring.”
She gave him a dry smile. “We have spring. There’s that fifteen minutes every June.”
He chuckled. “Oh yeah, that pause between snowstorms. What can I get you to drink?”
“You have any of Bec’s stuff?”
“Nope. So far Bec’s mainly supplying Wyatt. Once she ramps up the production, she’ll probably start selling to Black Mountain and any of the other locals who are interested.” Wyatt was Bec’s significant other. He was part owner of a successful restaurant—correction, “gastropub”—in Denver, although he was getting ready to sell it. At the moment, his pub sold everything Bec produced.
“Okay, give me whatever you think is good.” Ruth shrugged. “I trust your judgment.”
“I can probably be trusted to choose a good beer. And a few other things.” He gave her a quick grin before heading for the taps. He had a nice chocolate stout from Fort Collins that people seemed to like a lot. He poured a pint, then headed back.
Ruth had turned so she faced the room, her elbows resting on the bar. Not much was going on at the moment—a couple of pool games and some people trying to dance in the corner. The jukebox was barely audible above the clamor of the crowd.
She glanced up at him, her eyes suddenly dark in the dim light, almost the color of the chocolate stout he was setting on the bar in front of her. Shadows played around her cheekbones, emphasizing the elegant lines of her face. She took the stout, her hand sliding against his for a moment, then took a sip.
“Good. Lots of depth. Hints of chocolate, but it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the taste.”
He nodded as his pulse accelerated slightly. “Yeah, they’re a new place. They do good stuff.”
She licked a drop of foam from her upper lip, and suddenly a flash of heat moved through his nether regions.
Where the hell did that come from? Earlier in the evening, he could have sworn he was too tired to feel anything below the belt.
He took a closer look at Ruth. Her dark bangs had drifted across her forehead, shadowing her eyes. In the dim light of the bar it was difficult to tell for sure, but he thought he saw a flush of pink across her cheeks. Normally, her complexion was slightly dusky, burnished by the sun. Like most people in Antero, she spent a lot of time outside.
He was spending too much time looking at her again. “You still taking care of that goat herd?”
One of her dark eyebrows arched slightly. “It’s my brother’s herd, but I help out some now and then. Mostly I just make cheese out of the milk.”
“You do that every day? Must be a bitch.”
She gave him a half smile. “Sure. Every day. The goats don’t take any days off, so neither do I. Most days, we make the cheese as soon as we get the milk. It’s not that bad.”
“I can take a couple of days off every once in a while. As long as Bec or somebody else can make the cheese while I’m gone.”
“Does an evening at the tavern count?”
She grimaced. “These days, an evening at the tavern is almost like a week in the country.”
He shook his head. “Tough life, running a restaurant.”
She took another swallow of her beer. “Tough life, tending bar and making beer.”
He sighed. “It is that. Maybe we both need some time off. Kick back and take a while to contemplate the rhythm of the stars.”
“This is about as close to time off as I get. No star-contemplating in the near future. Carol’s spending the week with her grandparents, so I get a night at the tavern.”
Which probably means she won’t have to be home tomorrow morning.
He had no idea where that particular thought had come from. Except, he did. Straight from that below-the-belt surge.
“Sorry we’re not more entertaining tonight. It’s a little late in the season. You missed the guys dancing on the rafters.” He tried to tamp down his less-respectable thoughts.
“Oh, it’s entertaining enough.” She glanced toward the minuscule dance floor, where a couple was testing the limits of what you could do while vertical. “Bec said you were looking for another job.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Black Mountain looks like it’s headed for hard times. I figured it was time to make a jump. Maybe see what other towns have to offer.” He wasn’t sure why he wasn’t telling her about the job in Park City. Maybe because he’d told Bec to keep it quiet. He needed to hang onto this job for the rest of the month to have enough money for the move, and the owner of the tavern wasn’t exactly the forgiving type. If Stanton found out he was leaving, he’d be out of a job sooner rather than later.
And maybe he just didn’t want to admit he was already getting ready to pull up stakes, that he was as much a short-timer as any of the snowboarders on the dance floor. Ridiculous. The new job’s a step up from bartending and fetching and carrying at the brewery.
He gazed at Ruth’s profile as she watched the dancers. Long, straight nose and those spectacular cheekbones. What was wrong with the men of Antero? Why exactly weren’t they clamoring to take Ruth Colbert out for a night on the town?
Why aren’t you?
Because he was too busy for anything else at the moment. Because he was too tired for a booty call.
Jesus, you sound like you’re a hundred years old.
She glanced back at him again. “Do you ever get tired of this?”
He frowned. The woman was a mind reader. “Bartending?”
“No. Just…this kind of night life. You must see it every evening.”
“Sometimes. Watching other people have a good time can get a little monotonous. Particularly in a town like Antero, where most of the people are on vacation. The level of desperation can get pretty stark if they don’t feel like they’re having the optimum amount of fun.”
Her full lips edged up slightly. “I can sort of sympathize. Isn’t that what they call FOMO? Fear of missing out?”
He grinned. “Maybe. These young whippersnappers and their dadburn slang.”
She gave him another of those enigmatic smiles. A series of stupid come-ons ran through his brain. Are you interested in a good time? I’m a good-time expert. Want to have a good time with me?
What the fuck is wrong with you, Dempsey? Your brain has gone on furlough.
Clearly, he needed to get his head examined.
“How long does this go on?”
For a moment, he wasn’t sure what she meant, but figured she must be talking about the tavern. “We close at two on weekends. I’m off at eleven, though. I worked the afternoon shift, too.”
She looked back at him, those miraculous dark eyes like a rich porter. “You’re off in another fifteen minutes?”
“A little less. Since my relief showed up a half hour ago.” He took a quick breath. “You have any plans for the rest of the evening?”
She glanced at her almost-empty glass of stout. “Not exactly.”
“Want to taste some outstanding red ale?”
He shrugged. “Bec’s. We just finished bottling it this morning. But there’s still some in the barrel.” Bec had planned on taking that barrel to Wyatt, but Liam didn’t figure the two of them would be drinking enough tonight to cause any problems.
“Sure.” Ruth drained her glass. “Lead on.”
“Let me clock out.” He pulled off the bar apron, heading for the store room where the time clock was. Bec was in Denver with Wyatt. That left an empty brewery with lots of nooks and crannies.
Not that they’d end up there, necessarily. Unless they wanted to.
The evening suddenly seemed full of possibilities, all of them interesting.