Every Little Thing

Page 19


Unlike Dahlia, I had no idea what the landscape was like out there now, and I didn’t want to end up going through hundreds of men.
Dahlia didn’t mind that aspect of it. In fact, she preferred it. If ever there was a woman who feared commitment more, I had yet to meet her. It surprised me because she was such a warm, protective, thoughtful, loving person. Any man would be lucky to have her, and I’d known men over the years who had tried and failed to pin her down, to make her theirs.
I didn’t see any guy succeeding in the future, either.
Well maybe one particular guy, but that was a long shot.
Like Jessica when she arrived in Hartwell, I’d recognized the emptiness in Dahlia—the sad loneliness inside of her that I was amazed no one else seemed to see. I’d tried to befriend her in her first week as the owner of the gift store her great-aunt had once owned, but Dahlia had wanted nothing to do with me. Then one night I’d been putting out the trash and I saw her stumbling down the beach with a bottle of gin in her hand. To my horror I’d watched as she dove right into the water for a swim. By the time I got to her she was drowning, but I was trained in first aid and managed to resuscitate her.
That night after a trip to the emergency room she’d told me her story, and my heart had broken for her. I’d made a vow to help her start fresh in Hartwell. And she did. She’d stopped drinking, she started seeing a therapist, and she eventually started dating. However, she’d never been in a relationship and she didn’t want one, to the despair of the men around us who drooled over her Marilyn Monroe figure, luscious thick dark hair, and gorgeous blue eyes.
What neither Jess nor Dahlia realized was how similar the pain they shared was. They hadn’t told one another their stories yet, and it wasn’t up to me to share. I was impatient for them to do so though, because I thought that maybe they could find solace in one another. A comfort that, try as I might, I was unable to give them.
“Where did you go?” Dahlia waved a hand in front of my face, yanking me from my musings. “You’re not really worried about online dating, are you?”
“A little,” I admitted. “I haven’t dated in a while.”
“Bailey.” She gave a huff of laughter. “You are the most sociable, confident, outgoing woman I know. You’ll be fine.”
“I’ll take you out,” Ollie, one of Cooper’s bar staff, called down the bar from where he was pouring a draft beer. He threw me a flirty smile, surprising the heck out of me. He’d worked for Cooper for a little over a year now and not once did he give the impression he found me attractive. Of course I was, more often than not, accompanied by Tom when I was in the bar.
“Excuse me?” I thought I’d misheard. Dahlia and Jess laughed beside me.
“You heard me.” He grinned and winked at me. “I know how to show a girl a good time, Bailey.”
If rumors were true then he wasn’t lying. But I wasn’t Dahlia looking for dinner and good sex. I was searching for the man I’d marry. “I have no doubt.” I grinned because as much as I didn’t want to have sex with Ollie, I was flattered he wanted to have sex with me. “However, I’m a woman, not a girl, and I’m looking for more than a tussle in the sheets. But thank you.”
“Oh,” he groaned, “that ‘I’m a woman, not a girl’ line just makes me want you more.”
We laughed as Cooper rolled his eyes at his employee. “Then you’ll just need to keep wanting,” he called down to him and then nodded at a waiting customer. “Stick to pouring drinks for now, Casanova.”
Ollie just laughed, winked at me, and returned to work.
I was smiling, my mood lifted by his flirtation, when I caught sight of Vaughn just a few stools down from us at the end of the bar. He was staring, expressionless, at Ollie. As if he felt my gaze, he flicked his to me.
It was a shock to see him in the bar. As far as I was aware he only ever went into Cooper’s before opening.
“How long have you been sitting there?” I drew Jess and Dahlia’s attention to him, too.
“Too long.” He spoke to Cooper. “The usual, please.”
“Surprised to see you here when the bar is actually open.” Coop poured expensive scotch into a tumbler with ice. “Everything okay?”
I studied the two men, wondering how a friendship had developed between people who were so vastly different.
“It’s been a long day.”
Vaughn looked worn out and I almost felt sorry for him.
“Coop, you going to let him sit in Old Archie’s stool?” Hug, one of the regulars, shouted from across the bar.
I tensed, as did my friends.
Old Archie had been a regular at Cooper’s for a long time. He was the most functional alcoholic I’d ever heard of, let alone met, but an alcoholic he was.
Until his partner, Anita, was diagnosed last year with cancer. Old Archie had pulled himself together to take care of her, and that included staying sober. Everyone was proud of him, and sorry for the hard journey he and Anita were currently sharing, and in reverence to that no one had sat in his stool since.
However, Vaughn, being unfamiliar with the tale of the stool, didn’t know that.
Cooper glowered over at Hug. “My customers can sit wherever they please.”
Vaughn looked over at Hug, too, saw the hostility in the big man’s face, and calmly got up to sit one stool down, and closer to us. “Better?” he asked flatly.