Making a case for love
Struggling law student Bailey Sinclair is working two jobs to make ends meet on the night a charismatic stranger walks into her bar. The attraction between them is instantaneousand explosive. Until Bailey discovers that her anonymous hunk is none other than Justin Lawson, one of the richest, most hotly pursued bachelors in all of Baton Rouge.
Justin is thrilled to discover that the woman managing the bar at his family's celebration at the Lawson mansion is the intriguing beauty he hasn't been able to forget. Now all he wants is to lavish Bailey with gifts and his passionate attention. But she's too proud and independent to accept his helpand determined to make it on her own. They may come from different worlds, but doesn't Bailey realize there are no obstacles to love if she's willing to trust him with her heart?
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The stack of overdue notices glared accusingly up at Bailey from the backdrop of her wobbly kitchen table. Credit cards. Car payment. Student loans. Overdraft fees. They all read the same: "Dear Ms. Sinclair: Overdue. Demand for payment. Respond in ten days." One after the other. What was not in the pile was what she needed mostthe scholarship letter that would pave the way for her to return to law school in the fall.
She'd applied for every scholarship that she could conceivably be eligible for but had yet to receive a positive response. For years she'd put her life on hold for her family. This was her time, but now with the fall semester beginning in just over four months, her goal of completing her law degree was becoming more of a dream than a reality.
Bailey stuck the notices back in their envelopes and stared out of her third-floor apartment window at the approaching dusk that had turned the horizon into a soft rosey hue. She drew in a long breath. Sitting there wishing things were different wasn't going to get the bills paid. She had a job to get to, and her shift at the Mercury Lounge would not wait for her. She pushed back from the table, and it rocked in response.
The Mercury Lounge was the hub for the who's who of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On any given night the patrons ranged from the average customer to politicians, business entrepreneurs, and entertainment and sports figures. She enjoyed her job. Meeting new people, listening to their stories and their problems fed her legal mind, and, of course, there were the regulars who came in to simply get free advice. Too bad that enjoying what she did for a living wasn't enough to keep her afloat.
Fortunately, she had her side hustle with her best friend, Addison Matthews, whose business was catering parties for the rich and fabulous. The extra income certainly helped, but it was no longer enough.
Addison swore that if Bailey would loosen up and give a play to one of those sexy, wealthy men that were always hitting on her, she could put an end to the demand notices and collection calls and return to school. Not to mention the perks of having a man to warm that big empty bed of hers at night. Bailey had stopped listening to Addison. She knew all too well what running after money could do. It destroyed lives, and the trait ran in her family like a string of corrupted DNA, and she vowed to break the chain. That meant doing it on her own no matter how difficult that might be.
Bailey grabbed her purse, a light jacket and her keys then headed out, hoping on her way downstairs that her ten-year-old Hondathat was five years old when she bought itwould start, just as the ringing of her cell phone slowed her steps. She glanced at the name on the face of the phone. Her sister Tory. Her stomach knotted.
"Hey, sis." She threw up a silent prayer. "What's up?"
"Hi, Bailey. I know you're probably getting ready for work."
"I'm on my way out the door."
"Um, you know I hate to ask "
"What is it, Tory? What do you need?"
"You don't have to say it like that," she whined petulantly.
Bailey silently counted to ten. "What do you need, sis?"
"I'm behind on my rent."
"I just had more expenses than I thought this month."
"More shopping and partying."
"That's not fair!"
"How much, Tory?"
Bailey's jaw tightened. She did a quick calculation in her head. Giving her sister twelve hundred dollars would dig deep into her savings, set her back on her own plans. But Tory was her younger sister, and she swore when their mother died that she would take care of her sisters, no matter what. "Fine. I'll put a check in the mail."
"Thank you, Bailey. I really appreciate it. I swear I'm going to do better, sis."
"Sure. Listen, I gotta go."
"Okay. Thanks again. Love you."
"Bye, Tory." She disconnected the call, and her shoulders slumped.
Bailey arrived at the Mercury Lounge, and the instant that she stepped through the doors she felt the energy and knew that it would be a busy night. Busy was good. Busy meant plenty of customers and lots of tips. She finger-waved and lifted her chin in salute to several of her co-workers as she strolled through the lowest level of the tri-level venue. She still had about an hour before her shift started and plenty to do until then.
Although she was originally hired as a mixologist three years earlier, the owner, Vincent Mercury, "saw something" in Bailey, and when an opportunity presented itself, he offered her the assistant manager spot with a nice bump in her salary. Combined with her duties of running the bars, things started looking up for her financially. That all changed, with one thing after the other.
"Vince in back?" Bailey asked Kim, the Friday night hostess.
"He went upstairs to check on the setup in the private dining room. We have that party tonight."
Bailey squeezed her eyes shut for an instant. She'd totally forgotten. "Right." She should have come in earlier. "Guess I'd better get busy." She continued on toward the back offices tucked along a narrow corridor. She dug her keys out of her purse and unlocked her makeshift office that had been transformed from a storage room that was about a half inch bigger than a walk-in closet. The tight space was big enough for a desk the size of a small kitchen table, two chairs and a six-drawer file cabinet. She'd had the room painted white and hung a floor-to-ceiling mirror on one wall to give the illusion of space. A couple of potted plants, two wall paintings and a framed photo of her and her siblings made the space cozy without feeling overcrowded.
Bailey unlocked her desk drawer, put her purse in and locked it again. She opened the cover of her laptop and powered it up. The first thing that she needed to check was that all the staff that was scheduled for the night shift was accounted for and had not called out. Then she had to plan the scheduling for the week, verify the details for an upcoming local company luncheon and approve an order for linens that was requested by the floor manager. By the time she was done, it was about fifteen minutes before her shift at the bar was to begin, but she wanted to make a quick stop up to the private dining room and make sure that Vince didn't need her for anything before she got behind the bar.
The private dining room was on the third level. One wall was glass and looked out over the city's horizon. The space seated fifty comfortably, and for bigger events one wall retracted to join the next room that could accommodate another one hundred guests.
When Bailey got off the escalator the waitstaff was fully engaged in preparation. She spotted Vince on the far side of the room, giving directions while checking his clipboard.
"Hey, looks like you have everything under control," she said, sidling up to him.
He barely glanced up at her over the rim of his glasses. "There's always something that doesn't get done," he said, and his tone clearly relayed his annoyance.
"The centerpieces were supposed to be crystal goblets with white orchids floating in water." His brow cinched as he ran his hand through his golden-blond hair.
Bailey looked at the centerpieces, which were lovely but clearly not what Vincent requested. Instead, they were long-stemmed calla lilies in slender vases. And she realized immediately what the issue was. Even though the centerpieces were beautiful to look at, the size and type of flower obstructed the diners' views of each other at the table. Bailey folded her arms and tried to think of an option.
"I have an idea." She didn't wait for Vincent to respond. She began giving instructions to the staff to take the centerpieces off the tables, load them onto a cart and two of them were to come with her to the basement storage room. She pulled out her cell phone and called Addison.
"Hey, Addie, listen, we're in a bind. Remember those goblets that you used for your last catering job?"
"Yep. What's up?"
"I need to use them for tonight. We still have them in our storage room here at the Mercury Lounge."
"Sure. Not a problem. You didn't need to call me for that."
"I wanted to make sure it was okay."
"Listen, I appreciate you being able to hold on to my stuff for me. With the catering jobs getting bigger and bigger, I'm running out of space in my apartment. Even though it's been more cost-effective to purchase what I need instead of renting, it's taking a toll on my square footage." She laughed.
"I hear that. Anyway, thanks, girl. Gotta run."
"Talk to you later."
Once they reached the storage room in the basement, Bailey instructed the staff to box up the vases after removing the calla lilies. She laid the plants out on a long table, found a pair of scissors and started cutting the lilies down to size. Shortly after, the lilies were floating in the goblets and were being placed back on the tables.
"I don't know what I'd do without you," Vincent said, his gray eyes crinkling at the corners with his smile. He gave her quick kiss on the cheek.
Bailey blinked in surprise. "Drive yourself crazy." She patted his shoulder. "I have to get downstairs. My shift has already started."
"Thanks again," he called out.
She waved away his thanks and hurried off, pushing the impromptu cheek kiss to the back of her mind.
By the time Bailey returned to the ground level, the line for the early diners to be seated had grown. Every stool at the bar was taken, and the two bartenders were working their magic.
Bailey came around to the entrance of the bar. "Hey, Mellie, hectic already, I see," she said and took her black apron from the hook and tied it around her waist.
"Girl, you would think this was the last stop in town," she joked. She poured a splash of top-shelf rum over ice, dropped in a slice of lime and spun away toward her customer.
Bailey took a quick inventory of supplies and made sure that the snack bowls on the counter were freshened and full. Then she went to work, mixing and joking with the customers. She loved the teasing games she played with them, especially her regulars. It was all harmless fun, and it made the evenings fly by. And, of course, there were the more serious-minded conversations on politics, religion, cheating spouses and significant others and the customary legal questions. It all came with the territory.
She'd been going nonstop for about an hour when two seats in her section opened. One was quickly occupied. She took a cloth from beneath the bar counter and walked over to her new customer. She did what she always did: wiped down the counter, placed a bowl of snacks on the bar, shot him with her best smile and took his order.
"Welcome to the Mercury Lounge. What can I get for you?"
Carl Hurley scooped up a handful of nuts and tossed them in his mouth. He chewed slowly. "I'm actually waiting on my buddy until our table is ready. But how 'bout a Corona while I wait?"
"Not a problem."
She turned away and went to get the beer and a glass. When she returned, the empty seat was occupied, and the two men were in an animated conversation. She was all ready to get into her routine when he turned and looked at her. Something hit her, like a flash or a shock or something; she couldn't be sure. And for a moment she didn't breathe when the light caught in his eyes, and he smiled. Not a full smile but halfway, just the corner of his mouth. She blinked and placed the bottle of beer and glass in front of her customer and forced herself to concentrate.
"Good evening. And what can I get you?"
The dark of his eyes moved really slowly over her face, and every inch that was exposed to his perusal heated. The pulse in her throat tripled its beat.
"Hmm, bourbon. Neat. Four Roses."
"Coming right up." She spun away, and her knees were gelatin-shaky. She drew in a breath and scanned the shelf for the bottles of bourbon, missing them twice before she recognized them for what they were. At least the glasses were right in front of her. She brought the glass and the bottle of Four Roses bourbon and placed the glass in front of him. "Say when."
The warm brown liquid slid from the mouth of the bottle into the wide opening of the glass with a bare splash. The heady aroma aroused the senses.
Bailey took her eyes away from what she was doing, and her gaze bumped right against his. She lightly ran her tongue across her bottom lip as she watched him bring the glass to his nose. Inhaled. Nodded. Took a sip. "Perfect."
"Let me know if you gentlemen need anything else." She managed to tug herself away from his magnetic pull.
"You okay?" Mellie asked as she dumped glasses in the sudsy water.
"You seem distracted. Not your usual bouncy self."
"I'm good. A few things on my mind, that's all."
Mellie studied Bailey for a moment then shrugged. "Cool. I'm going to take my break as soon as things slow down."
"Wow, that guy down on the end is hot," she said under her breath.
"Your customer. The one with the open-collar white shirt, no tie. Don't tell me you didn't notice."
Bailey's heart thumped. "I try not to."
"Girl, you must be angling for sainthood. Give me a minute with him." She slid her eyes in his direction.
Bailey sputtered a laugh. "You need to stop."
"And why would I do that?" she teased, emphasizing every word.
Bailey shook her head in amusement and went back to work.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good book and good read!