Captivated: An Anthology

Captivated: An Anthology

by Megan Hart, Tiffany Reisz

Paperback(Original)

$11.95

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373622474
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 10/28/2014
Edition description: Original
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Megan Hart is the award-winning and multi-published author of more than thirty novels, novellas and short stories. Her work has been published in almost every genre, including contemporary women’s fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense and erotica. Megan lives in the deep, dark woods of Pennsylvania with her husband and children, and is currently working on her next novel for MIRA Books. You can contact Megan through her website at www.MeganHart.com.

Tiffany Reisz is a multi-award winning and bestselling author. She lives in Kentucky with her husband, author Andrew Shaffer. Find her online at www.tiffanyreisz.com.

Read an Excerpt

"The usual?" The Thursday night bartender grinned at Colleen. He'd already filled her glass three-quarters with amber liquid and pushed it across the polished wooden bar toward her. He added a separate glass of seltzer water with a twist of lime, just the way she liked it.

Jesse, she thought as she brushed the dampness from her shoulders where the snow had melted. That was his name. "Thanks, Jesse."

Jesse's eyes narrowed for a moment. He looked her over and, coming to some sort of conclusion, said, "How about an order of onion rings?"

"I… Yes. Sure." Colleen bit back her initial protest, imagining how good something greasy and fattening would taste. It was exactly what she needed right now, but wouldn't have thought of ordering until he suggested it. "That would be great."

"You got it." Jesse rapped the top of the bar with his knuckles in a staccato pattern, then turned to take another order.

He'd leave her alone. And alone was what Colleen wanted to be. So a few minutes later when a man in a business suit slid onto the stool beside her, she just stared at him when he delivered his pickup line.

The man stared back, rakish grin fading. "I said—"

"I heard you," she interrupted. "But I already have a drink."

The businessman tugged at his tie. "So it's like that, huh?"

"It's not like anything," Colleen said quietly.

"Hey, I'm just trying to be nice."

Colleen half turned away. "So then be nice."

When he put his hand on her elbow, his fingers pinching just a little too hard, she shoved it away. The businessman looked surprised. Then pissed. He put both hands up and backed off, but not before muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "Crazy bitch."

"Is there a problem?" Jesse balanced a platter of onion rings on his palm before setting it in front of her. "Hey, buddy. You got a problem?"

"No. Not at all." The businessman took his drink and slid down to the other end of the bar where an attractive brunette and her prettier friend were laughing as they took a cell phone selfie.

Colleen pushed her whiskey glass to the side to make room for the food. The liquor sloshed, splashing her a little. She used a napkin to wipe her fingers and looked up to see Jesse staring at her.

"You okay?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."

Jesse didn't leave, though there were people waiting to be served. He studied her in silence for a few seconds longer than seemed necessary. "Can I get you anything else?"

"Nope." Colleen gave him a small smile as she lifted an onion ring toward him. "This should do it."

"Did he bother you?"

Surprised, she lowered the onion ring without biting it. "I can handle myself. It's okay."

At the sound of raucous laughter, Jesse looked down the bar. The businessman was now taking a picture with the two girls. Jesse looked back at Colleen with a frown. "I know you can. I've seen you. I just wanted to be sure."

"You've seen me, huh?" She sipped some seltzer and dipped a ring into the horseradish sauce, but didn't bite.

"You come in here every Thursday night," Jesse pointed out. "I'm not saying we get a bunch of jackasses in here or anything, but there are some nights it feels like I'm Pinocchio on Pleasure Island."

Colleen laughed. The giggle slipped out of her, unbidden and certainly unexpected. It turned the head of the businessman at the end of the bar, who glared at both of them before turning back to his new friends. Colleen didn't let it get under her skin. She'd dealt with much worse.

"Bonus points for that reference," she said to Jesse.

"Been watching a lot of Disney movies, what can I say?" Jesse shrugged, leaned on the bar and grinned. Over his shoulder, he said to John, the other bartender, "Can you take care of that guy over there? Yeah, the one giving me the death stare."

John nodded and moved to handle the other customer. Colleen bit into her onion ring and gave Jesse the side-eye. It didn't seem to bother him, and his widening grin didn't seem to bother her.

"You're too old for Disney movies," Colleen said.

"Never too old for Disney."

"Too young for Pinocchio, then. You're more the Hercules and Aladdin era, aren't you?"

"I have all the classics," Jesse said. "My kid loves them."

She couldn't conceal her surprise. Jesse had been working on Thursdays for at least six months, but this was the first time she'd heard him mention a child. Of course, there'd never been reason for her to ask him if he had kids. Or anything else about him, really. They'd never had more than the most casual conversations, which had never seemed rude until just now.

Jesse laughed at her expression. She blushed, the flush creeping up her throat and all over her face, impossible to hide. Rosy cheeks always gave away her emotions. didn't know. I mean, didn't think," she stammered.

Jesse pushed upward with his hands, straightened and knocked on the bar again, rat-a-tat tat like a drumbeat. "Her name's Laila, and she's eleven. She claims she's getting a little too old for Disney movies, but I've convinced her that her old man needs an excuse to keep watching them."

"You don't look old enough to have an eleven-year-old," Colleen said. He couldn't be more than what, twenty-three? Maybe twenty-four, tops. A decade younger than her, at least.

Jesse stepped out of the way so John could get to some of the bottles on the top shelf behind him. He gave John a nod to acknowledge that it was time for him to get back to work. Still, Jesse took the time to give Colleen another slow smile that she supposed melted the panties off lots of ladies. She countered with another dip of onion ring.

"I'll be forty," he told her.

"What? Wait. No way!" she called after him. Patrons' heads turned for the second time that night.

"Eventually, if I'm lucky!" Jesse said over his shoulder and started taking orders at the bar's far end.

Colleen shook her head and caught John's eye. "Guess he showed me."

John, who'd been working at The Fallen Angel for as long as Colleen had been coming there, and probably for almost as long as the bar had been open, rolled his eyes. "He's a smart-ass and he's twenty-eight. You need something, hon? Another drink?"

"Another seltzer when you get a chance." She wiped her mouth with a napkin and emptied her glass to wash away the burn of horseradish.

John took the glass and filled it, then nodded at the untouched whiskey. "Freshen that for you?"

"No, thanks."

"Just let me know if you need something, hon." With that, John moved off to attend to another customer.

There was a reason why Colleen came to this place every week instead of visiting different bars. Or simply staying home, which was really where she wanted to be. She came to The Fallen Angel because they knew her here. Nobody ever made her feel as though she had to "pay rent" by buying more than her single drink. And they left her alone, mostly.

Except for Jesse.

He wasn't a bother. The opposite, as a matter of fact. He was…attentive wasn't quite the word Colleen was thinking of, though he was. It was more than that. He was considerate. Accommodating. Solicitous. As with the onion rings, he seemed to know what she wanted before she'd thought of it. Unlike John, Jesse didn't bother to ask her if she wanted her whiskey refreshed, though he filled her glass of seltzer once more without waiting to be told. The attention was just enough, and not too much.

At the end of the night, right before she pulled out her wallet to pay her check, he brought her a small dessert cup of chocolate mousse topped with a swirl of heavy whipped cream.

"On the house," Jesse said before she could protest. "Eat it. Trust me, you'll like it."

It was the second time that night he'd made an assumption about what she'd like. It wasn't a question of whether she would like it. It was that he seemed so sure of what she wanted that it became difficult for Colleen herself to be sure. She pushed the mousse away with her fingertips the way she'd earlier pushed the glass of whiskey.

"No, thanks." She handed him a twenty. "Keep the change."

Jesse caught up to her at the doorway. He came around the bar and tugged her by the sleeve. She yanked her arm free of his grip, which wasn't tight or hurtful yet still forced her heart to thump-thump-thump and her throat to close.

"Sorry," Jesse said. Colleen didn't say a word. He let go of her immediately and took a step back. "I just wanted to say…I'm sorry. I thought you'd like the dessert. I mean, who doesn't like chocolate? Unless…you're not allergic are you? Shit. I'm sorry, Colleen. I didn't think about that."

She could've been out the door already, into the dark street and heading for home. She cast a wary glance around the bar, but it was getting late, and on a Thursday the crowd was thinner than it would be on the weekend. Nobody was paying attention to them. Even the businessman had long gone.

"I'm not allergic."

"Oh. Okay." He smiled, gaze holding hers. "You don't like chocolate?"

"I like chocolate a lot. Who doesn't?" Colleen drew in a small breath to keep her voice steady. "I just don't like it when someone thinks he knows better than I do about what I want."

It was the wrong thing to say, or maybe the right one, because at her words, Jesse's gaze shuttered at once. His mouth thinned. He took another step back. So did she.

Then she pushed through the door and out into the cold winter night.

"Don't tell your mom. She'll kill me for letting you eat that for breakfast." Jesse pointed at the small cup of chocolate mousse he'd brought home from work last night. Hey, he'd paid for it. He wasn't going to toss it in the trash just because his friendly gesture had been thrown back in his face, as if he'd been some kind of dick instead of a guy trying to be nice.

Laila rolled her eyes. "Duh."

"Hey, kid, I thought we had an agreement. You don't tell your mom when I let you stay up too late or eat crap for breakfast, and you don't bring me any of that vegetarian business she tries to send over this way." Jesse scrubbed at his face, bleary-eyed. The coffee couldn't brew fast enough. Six-thirty in the morning was too damned early when he'd only gone to bed at four.

Laila kicked her feet against the rungs of her stool and licked chocolate from her spoon. "Mom says next year I can stay home by myself until it's time for school."

Jesse, who'd decided he couldn't wait for the rest of the pot to fill and had begun to pour coffee into his mug, looked up. The coffeemaker hissed and spit on the hot plate until he put the carafe back. "What? Are you kidding?"

"I'll be twelve, Dad." The weight of tween scorn should've burned him worse, but Laila added such a sweet smile that Jesse was only a tiny bit stung.

"Twelve's old enough to stay home alone?"

"Mom says if I prove to her I can get up on my own with the alarm and not need her to wake me up, sure. I got up on my own today," Laila said proudly.

It would make his mornings a lot less groggy, that was for sure. But it would also mean a lot less time with his daughter. Jesse frowned. "So…she's going to stop dropping you off on the way to work?"

"Dad," Laila said, exasperated. "Pay attention! Yes, that's what I mean!"

"But not until next year."

"Yeah, when I'm in sixth grade." Laila finished the last of the mousse and dumped the container in the garbage, then rinsed the spoon before putting it in the dishwasher. That was a trick her mother had taught her, that was for sure.

"Let's worry about it when you're in the sixth grade, then, okay?" Jesse yawned and finished pouring his coffee.

He added sugar and cream from the fridge, peering inside with an internal sigh. Empty. He needed to get to the store in the worst way, something he could easily do after dropping Laila at school, if he could stay awake long enough.

"Can I watch The Little Mermaid again?"

Jesse put the cream back in the fridge and yawned again until his jaw popped. Plopping his kid in front of cartoons was definitely a no-no according to her mother, who didn't even have cable television or the internet at home. But it would buy him another hour of sleep and a shower before they had to leave for school.

"Dad?"

"Yeah. Sure. Go ahead." Too much planning to do on less than three hours of sleep. He could mainline this coffee and it still wouldn't wake him up enough.

He ended up snoozing on the couch while Laila watched the movie, waking only in time to get her out the door. No shower first, so he pulled a knit cap over the mess of his hair and headed out into the world looking like, as his kid said, a hobo.

The drive to school was both eternal and too short. It took forever because he was tired and wanted to get back home so he could slide back into bed and get a few hours' sleep before he had to get up again. But it was not long enough, because it was time with his daughter, who filled it with stories about school and her friends and her thoughts on life. Always entertaining, usually surprising.

"And that," she told him as she opened the car door, "is why me and her aren't friends anymore."

"She and I," Jesse corrected automatically. He hadn't really followed the story of Laila and her no-longer-best friend Maddy, but understood enough to realize that whatever had gone down had been the fifth-grade equivalent of World War III. "And listen, she's your friend. Can't you work it out?"

Laila gave him a heavy sigh and paused, the backpack he couldn't believe she was strong enough to carry still on her lap. "Dad, you don't get it. She took my favorite pen! And lied about it!"

It was the lie that had made the crime unforgivable. He could see that. Still… "People make mistakes, kiddo."

"If she lies about a pen, what else would she lie to me about?"

She was too smart for him, the best of both her parents multiplied by ten. "True. But that doesn't mean you can't forgive her."

"I can forgive her," Laila said darkly, her brow furrowed. "That doesn't mean she can still be my friend."

With that, she got out of the car. Ignoring the impatient moms in minivans behind him who barely stopped to let their kids roll out before they sped off to Pilates or hot yoga or whatever the hell they were in such a rush to get to, Jesse watched her until she got through the school doors. Then he gave each of the scowling minivan moms a cheery salute, using all his fingers when he really wanted to use only one.

He still needed food. An egg sandwich and another tall coffee tried to woo him into the local 7-Eleven, but he reminded himself of his credit card bill, due next week, and the upcoming tuition bill for Laila, due sometime next month. The rattle under his car's dashboard helped remind him, too, that his baby had just over a hundred thousand miles on her, and she had to last him another year or so before he could think about replacing her.

It was going to get better, he reminded himself. Private school for his kid was important to her future, and sacrificing for her was worth it. At home, a few more hours of sleep and a shower put some lightness into the day. So did the dogs in the shelter where he volunteered. Playing with them never failed to brighten his outlook. His time there finished, Jesse headed back to his car, pausing to look at the gray sky. It looked like snow. Smelled like it, too. He was looking forward to a good winter storm. Which meant he definitely had to get something in his fridge.

He didn't usually shop at this market, but this place was conveniently close to the Angel. Armed with his reusable bags from the trunk, the list he kept updated on his phone and the small accordion file of coupons he collected from the bar's Sunday paper every week, Jesse grabbed a cart and hit the aisles.

And there she was.

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