FINALLY! Max is getting his love story. Are you ready for a silver fox to find love? Spoiler alert: Faith is not ready for Max to find love. No, she thinks he should stop butting his nose in her business. I wonder who’s going to win this battle of wills 😉
What’s that? You need more before you can make up your mind? I aim to please! Here’s the first chapter to whet your appetite:
“I don’t want to go,” Ollie says in that whiny voice teenagers around the world have perfected.
I nearly snap at him. Oh boy, do I want to snap at him. But a good mother does not snap at her son, and I do try to be a good mother. Instead, I take a deep breath and find my inner calm before responding.
“And I didn’t want to give up all my friends and my job to move to Milwaukee, but here we are.” I guess I didn’t find my inner calm after all.
Ollie comes to a screeching halt. Or as much of a screeching halt as a lanky, hasn’t grown into his long limbs yet, fifteen-year-old can come to. “I’m sorry, Ma. I didn’t mean for you to lose everything and move us here. I was only trying to help.”
Sigh. Oliver Benjamin Bakker is always ‘only trying to help’. But how can I berate him for having the biggest heart in the world? I can’t, is how. I don’t understand how I and my jerk of an ex-husband, Silas, created the most perfect creature in the world, which is exactly what this boy with puppy dog brown eyes, shaggy brown hair, and freckles galore is, but we did.
“Stop it, Ma.”
“Stop what?” What am I doing wrong now?
He bumps my shoulder. “You know what. The whole mushy look you get on your face right before you try to hug me to death.”
“Me? Hug you to death?” I mock before I throw my arms around him and try to do that very thing he hates.
“Ma, we’re in public.” He may complain, but he does wrap his arms around me and squeezes me back. My boy may be fifteen, but he’s not afraid to show his mom a little love. This right here is why I work two jobs and run around playing taxi for him.
“Can we go inside now?”
“I thought you didn’t want to go,” I tease as I release him from my hug of death.
He scoffs. “Even seeing your boss and all his weirdo friends is better than getting mauled to death in a parking lot.”
To say my son is not a fan of my boss is a vast understatement. It’s a shame since my boss at McGraw’s Pub, where I’m currently working as a cleaner, is a sweetheart. Unfortunately, he calls all the women in his life darling, which my boy takes offense to. Ollie’s convinced my boss, aka Pops, is hitting on me all the time. As if I have time for a relationship.
“You ready?” I ask as I grasp the handle to the door of the pub.
The pub is closed to the public tonight so we can celebrate Suzie and Grayson’s surprise wedding. Suzie is the best friend of Pops’ daughter, Hailey. She and Grayson eloped this weekend to Las Vegas. Actually, Suzie didn’t know what Grayson had planned. The two weren’t engaged as far as I know, but he swept her off to Vegas for Labor Day weekend where he ambushed her with a completely planned wedding. Only a former soldier could possibly plan and execute a romantic elopement without crazy girl Suzie catching on.
“You’re doing it again,” Ollie whines.
“Getting the mushy look on your face. Do you need another hug?” he asks despite his nose scrunching in distaste. I should probably hug him to tease him. Lucky for him, there’s no time as some of Suzie’s friends have arrived and are waiting to enter behind us.
“Hi, Faith!” Phoebe smiles in greeting. As usual, the woman looks like she just stepped off the runway in Paris. You would never guess she’s a private investigator at the PI firm Hailey and Suzie own together. I look at her wrap dress and high heels, and then down at the black slacks and blouse I’m wearing. I fiddle with the hem of my blouse. It’s one of my nicest, satin with a plunging neckline, but should I have worn a skirt?
“I love this shirt.” Phoebe fingers the sleeve of my blouse. “It looks great on your figure. I can’t wear a plunging neckline without worrying about giving people an unintended peep show.” She motions to her more than abundant breasts. Lucky her. I was apparently last in line when they were handing out curves.
Her fiancé, Ryker, puts his arm around her shoulders and tugs her near. “You look beautiful, Princess,” he whispers before kissing her forehead. She practically melts into his side.
It’s not hard to imagine Ryker is a big, badass bounty hunter. He’s at least six and a half feet tall and is built like a Mack truck. His entire body telegraphs menace. If it weren’t for the soft looks he shares with Phoebe, I’d be more than a little apprehensive of the man.
Behind them, Ollie feigns gagging at their display of affection. I roll my eyes at him, but secretly I’m relieved he’s not obsessed with girls yet. I know the phase will come when girls and teenage hormones will overtake him. And I’m not looking forward to the day.
“Pops is going to love this top,” Phoebe says with a wink as she strolls past us into the pub.
I ignore her comment. Pops’ daughter and all her friends have been pushing Pops and me together since my first day of work cleaning at the pub. No thanks. One teenage boy at a time is enough for me. Never mind how my skin erupts in goosebumps every time his bright blue eyes gaze at me.
“Come on.” I motion for Ollie to proceed me into the pub. “Let’s get this over with.”
Although we’re one of the last to arrive, the pub isn’t overly crowded when we walk in. Suzie and Grayson are standing in the middle of the room next to a table of gifts. Two older couples are standing with them. This must be the parents. Judging by the screeching, someone’s mom is not happy they eloped.
At a table to the right, Suzie’s uncles are congregating. Actually, Lenny, Barney, Wally, and Sid aren’t her uncles. In fact, they’re no one’s uncles as far as I can figure. From what I’ve gathered, the four men are former Army buddies of Pops who helped raise Hailey after her mom took off.
Pops is in his usual position behind the bar. He looks up as we walk in and aims a smile our way. “Spitfire, you made it.”
I nearly turn into a puddle of goo when he calls me spitfire. I know it’s stupid. I’m a forty-five-year old woman, I shouldn’t be going all gooey over a man calling me spitfire – especially not my boss. But he calls every other woman in the world darling. Not me. For me, he has a special nickname. Having a man who looks like Pops direct his attention my way causes parts of my body I thought had died off from lack of attention to wake up.
If you look silver fox up in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Pops. His hair may be silver, but it looks lush and soft. I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like if I ran my hands through it. His gray-tinged beard makes him look distinguished even in his standard uniform of jeans and a t-shirt with the logo for McGraw’s Pub on it. The t-shirt is stretched to the max over his shoulders and biceps. He may be in his mid-fifties, but he hasn’t let his tall physique go. My fingers itch to touch those hard muscles. But it’s his eyes that ensnare me. They’re bright blue and when he looks at you, you feel like you’re the only person in the world who exists for him.
I wave. “Hi!” Great. I sound like a total dork.
“Faith!” Suzie calls and draws my attention away from the silver fox.
The red-headed firecracker rushes to me and throws her arms around me. Or, I should say, she tries to throw her arms around me. I may not be tall at five-six, but Suzie barely passes the five-foot mark. I’m not sure why she’s clinging to me, though, it’s not like we’re close friends.
“Save me,” she whispers.
“In-law or parents?” I ask. I have some experience with judgmental in-laws. According to them, it’s all my fault Silas left me and my son. As if there’s ever an excuse to leave your child.
“Parents,” Suzie whispers. “My in-laws are the bomb.”
“Lucky you,” I mutter before clearing my throat. “I have a present for you.” And the dorkiness continues. Of course, I have a present for her. It’s her party.
“Grayson,” Suzie shouts and waves her brand-new husband over. “Come here.”
He grins at the two sets of parents before sauntering our way. He may only be an inch or two taller than me, but his broad physique screams soldier who can take care of business.
“Now I know where your crazy comes from,” he says as he takes Suzie’s hand in his.
She huffs. “Who are you calling crazy?”
Grayson opens his mouth, but I lift the gift bag and shove it in their faces before he can insert his foot. “Happy marriage!”
Suzie bounces on her toes and snatches the bag from me. “Thank you!”
“It’s no big deal.”
Despite working two jobs, I’m not exactly flush with cash. Things would be much easier if I could find a job as a paralegal. But law firms do background checks on their employees, and I can’t chance my name popping up on someone’s computer. Thus, a cleaning job and a filing job. Together I’m earning barely half of what my previous paralegal position paid.
Suzie removes the gift from the bag and her eyes widen. “These are way cool. Thank you!” She shoves the mugs at Grayson and hugs me again.
I pat her back. “Um, you’re welcome.”
When she releases me, it’s Grayson’s turn. “Awesome gift, Faith. Thanks.”
“It’s nothing.” I had two beer mugs engraved with the logo of Suzie’s microbrewery – Shorty’s Brewing Sensation. On top of owning the private investigator business with Hailey, Suzie brews beer. In fact, her beer is becoming quite popular with the local bars.
“Oh wow.” Hailey joins us and takes one of the mugs from Suzie’s hands. “These are cool. I wish I had thought of this.”
Hailey’s husband, Aiden, steps up behind her. “You want me to take our gift back?”
Hailey and Aiden look like they stepped off the pages of a high school yearbook. He’s the quintessential quarterback with his tall, fit body. While Hailey resembles the head cheerleader with her long, dancer body. Looks can be deceiving, though. He’s now a police detective, she’s a private investigator. From what I hear, they re-connected while Hailey was on a case and Aiden caught her snooping where she shouldn’t have been.
Suzie slaps Aiden’s chest. “No take backs, mister.”
I try to tamp down my jealousy as I watch the friends interact. It’s not their fault I had to abandon my friends when Ollie and I fled to Milwaukee. The police advised I cut all contact with them after we settled in, and, except for my best friend Valerie who I keep in touch with via social media, I’ve been a good girl and listened to their advice. I can only hope the people Ollie pissed off aren’t sophisticated enough to hack into my social media accounts.
I excuse myself and head toward the restrooms. I need a moment to myself before I let my jealousy consume me. When I exit the restroom, Pops is waiting on me.
He steps toward me with a predatory gleam in his eyes, and I freeze. His hand lifts, and he tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear. I inhale and his crispy, woodsy scent fills my lungs. I want to roll around in it.
“Thanks for coming, Spitfire.”
His breath on my skin causes my hormones to go wild. Calm down, hormones. I’m not a lovesick teenager. My hormones don’t care. My belly warms, and my breasts swell. Uh oh. Danger. I step back, but there’s nowhere to go. I’m cornered in the hallway with my back up against the wall – literally.
“Of course, we came, Pops,” I manage to say without sounding too breathy.
He growls. “You don’t call me Pops.”
I wrinkle my brow in confusion. “But everyone calls you Pops.” Oh shit. I slap my palm against my forehead when I realize what I’ve done wrong. He’s my boss. Of course, I shouldn’t act familiar with him. “I’m sorry, Mr. McGraw.”
His growl intensifies, and he takes a step closer until his chest is barely an inch from mine. My fingers itch to touch him, and I’m tempted to arch my back and rub my breasts against him. What is wrong with me? I’m not a hussy. Hell, since my ex Silas left, I’ve barely dated let alone touched a man. Why is this one causing me to act like someone I am most definitely not?
“I am not Mr. McGraw or Pops to you. You call me Max.”
“M-m-max?” I hate how my voice stutters, but I can’t catch my breath when he’s this close.
“Or darling or sweetheart or baby. I’ll answer to any of those names as long as you’re the one doing the calling.”
My eyes widen. “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to date.” Because, despite what I told Ollie, Pops has asked me out. I’m not exactly lying to my son. Asking someone out is not the same thing as hitting on them. I am a master at treading a fine line between the truth and a lie.
It’s a non-issue anyway. I’m not stupid. I’m not dating my boss. Besides, I’m in Milwaukee temporarily.
“Fair warning. I’m done waiting.”
“Ma!” Ollie shouts, and I tear my eyes away from Max’s blue gaze. “What are you doing?”
Lord save me from fifteen-year-old sons. “I’m fine. I’ll be there in a minute.”
He glares at Max who returns his glare with one of his own. While he’s distracted, I shove him and catch him enough off guard that I’m able to duck under his arm.
“I’m ready to go,” I tell Ollie, although we arrived less than an hour ago.
Before I can make my escape, Max yells, “See you tomorrow, Spitfire.” As if I need the reminder.