“Two whiskeys, darlin’” a man called out. Savannah smothered a weary sigh and turned, pasting a cheerful smile onto her features.
“Right away, sir,” she told the man, even though he wasn’t sitting in her station. The roof top bar catered to the wealthy business people that worked in Manhattan’s business district, stopping by the exclusive restaurant for an overpriced drink and some networking before heading home.
This was Savannah’s second job. Sort of her third, if one counted attending college classes this afternoon. But thankfully, she was almost finished with design school. Graduation was only a few short weeks away. As she headed to the bar to put in the order for the whiskeys, Savannah reminded herself that she had only three more weeks and then she’d walk across that stage and get her degree. It had taken her a few extra years to finish because she’d had to work her way through college. But she’d done it! She was almost there! She even had a job offer from one of the most prestigious firms in the city and she couldn’t wait to finish studying her craft and start actually doing the work instead of just learning about it!
Oh, the thought of having only one job, of sleeping in on the weekends instead of rushing off to one of her part time jobs. Or finishing her day at five or six and relaxing during the evening hours. Oooh! Maybe taking an aerobics class! Yes, the sweet life she was going to have! All of that would happen in just a few short weeks!
“Thanks Mike,” she smiled to the bartender as he put the drinks on her tray.
“No problem, Savannah,” he grinned as she picked up the tray and carried the drinks back to the customers.
“Here you go,” she greeted the two men as she placed their drinks on the table with a smile.
“Thanks, honey,” the other man replied.
Savannah ignored their leers and moved to the next table, surveying each drink to ensure that they were full. It wasn’t too busy tonight, but she knew the bar would be packed later on. Friday nights were always busy. Thankfully, the tips were great and she preferred busy nights, because there were more customers. That meant more tips and more money to help pay her rent!
Just a few more weeks and she’d have a full time job, she reminded herself. Just thinking about that job offer made her mouth salivate at the salary the interior design firm had offered. With that much money, she could pay her rent, her utilities, buy food, and…gasp…have money left over to put into savings! Savannah had been working towards this moment for so long, it was hard to believe that she’d finally made it!
Well, almost made it. She still had her final exams to get through. Then graduation. Just three short weeks!
Prince Gaelen el Raminar, Crown Prince of Izara, stepped into the elegant restaurant and eyed the crowd. His team of body guards did the same, then nodded towards a table in the corner that they deemed safe enough. Gaelen headed for it, feeling the other patrons glance in his direction, but he ignored them. He’d lived with inquisitive glances like that all his life and had learned to pretend they weren’t happening. If he glanced even casually towards anyone, that person might feel brave enough to approach him. Then his guards would have to intervene, the others in the crowd would see the tussle and…well, the stares and curiosity would only get worse after that. It was best to pretend he was just an average guy.
Okay, so pretending he was average was impossible, and not just because of the guards. He was at least a head taller than most of the men in this bar. Plus, he actually worked out. Hard! Some of the men in this place might work out, but as he surveyed the crowd, he doubted any of them put much effort into their routines.
Which was good, he thought. Sometimes, an idiot got a bit too drunk and wanted to challenge Gaelen. It never got that far though, his guards were much too protective to let a drunken idiot get close enough.
But it wasn’t just the guards, his height, or his brawn that set him apart from the other patrons. The people here were fighting the financial wars, battling in the trenches so to speak, trying to make their first million or perhaps even their first billion. Gaelen was well beyond that mark. In fact, he owned the building and the bar here on this roof. Hell, he owned several buildings in this city, although not many people knew that. He was in charge of the financial health of his family, as well as that of his country. As Minister of Finance for Izara, as well as crown prince of the same, he had a great deal of power and wealth, far beyond anything these people could imagine. Far beyond what all of the magazines estimated when they did their annual rating of the ten richest people in the world. He always chuckled when his assistant handed him that list. It was so far off, it was pointless.
But if the world needed to categorize someone’s wealth, then he didn’t mind those magazines doing their best. Whatever helped them sleep better at night, he thought as he settled into his chair, turning so that his back was to the wall and he could watch the room. He was meeting a potential business partner to discuss a project. Unbuttoning his jacket, he loosened his tie and “relaxed” against the back of the chair.
Thankfully, a waitress immediately made her way through the thick crowd. She smiled welcomingly at him and he felt as if one of his generals had just kicked him in the gut! Damn, she was beautiful! Her soft, whiskey-blond hair was pulled back into a thick braid, although small wisps had wafted around her heart-shaped face. Perfectly curved eyebrows lifted in inquiry, but he could only stare into those lovely brown eyes! They were mesmerizing! Angled slightly upwards at the ends, but big and wide, sparkling with curiosity.
And her mouth! Damn, her mouth was wide and full. It was the kind of mouth that an old time actress would use to entice! But her nose…he almost laughed when he looked at her nose. It was cute, almost countering the sensuality of that mouth!
Her features didn’t seem like they should quite fit together. But taken together, they formed an image that was startlingly lovely. This woman might almost appear adorably gamine, if it weren’t for that sensuous mouth!
“What can I get you to drink?” she asked.
Gaelen focused on that mouth, forming salacious images of what he’d like to do to that gorgeous mouth. Or more specifically, what he’d like her to do with that mouth! And just as fast as those images flashed behind his eyes, his body reacted. He was shocked at his undisciplined reaction to her, wanting to roar at her to stop. And yet, logically, he knew that the beautiful woman hadn’t actually done anything. She’d merely asked what he’d like to drink. The woman was simply doing her job and he was ready to yell at her for it? Ridiculous.
Obviously, he’d paused too long, because when his eyes moved back to hers, he realized that she was nervous, those brown eyes wary now.
“I apologize,” he told her, wanting to ease her tension so that she would smile again. “What would you recommend?”
Instantly, her wariness evaporated and her mouth curved upwards. Gaelen caught the mischievous glint to her eyes as she said, “The bartender has several delicious cocktails available. Would you…?”
“Just bring me your favorite,” he replied, thinking to further ease her nervousness with a friendly gesture.
Her suddenly bright smile should have warned him, but he was just too relieved that she was clearly relaxed. “Absolutely,” she replied as she quickly turned, obviously eager to get away from him.
Gaelen watched as the lovely woman headed for the bar. She was too thin, he thought critically, wondering why women wanted to starve themselves. Didn’t they know that men wanted a woman he could hold onto? Her butt was pretty damn nice, but if she gained a bit of weight, it could be magnificent! Her waist was small…too small. His eyes narrowed as he watched her twist her way through the crowd.
If Gaelen hadn’t been watching so intently, he might have missed the man’s lascivious glance at that same butt he’d been watching. But while he’d only been looking, another man at his table reached out and squeezed that pert derriere as the beautiful waitress passed by.
Gaelen stood up, ready to tear the man’s hand off for daring such an inappropriate gesture. But the waitress must have anticipated the assault because she grabbed the man’s fingers and twisted. Hard! It happened so quickly, he almost missed it. In fact, even the man’s companions missed her maneuver, although they didn’t miss the man’s expression of pain.
The woman continued on her path towards the bar while the man shook his fingers out, glaring daggers at the waitress. The others in the group obviously asked the guy what had happened, but the man just shook his head. Gaelen surmised that the guy probably wouldn’t continue his pathetic attempts to assault the pretty waitress, but he’d keep an eye on him, just in case.
Sitting back, he watched the crowd, irritated that the pretentious group was blocking his view of the waitress. He should be appreciative of the success of the bar since it had been a risky move, building a bar in this area of the city and so high up. Most bars were located at street level in order to catch people who were casually walking by.
Instead, he just wished everyone would go away. Go someplace else so he could be alone with the waitress with the gorgeous eyes and enticing mouth.
“I apologize for my lateness,” a shorter man blurted as he approached the table, interrupting Gaelen’s watchful gaze. Irritated, Gaelen focused on the man he’d come here to meet, although he kept an eye on the woman with his peripheral vision. The man moved forward, extending his hand in greeting. “It’s an honor to meet you, Prince Raminar.”
Gaelen stood and shook the offered hand, assessing and calculating. “You’re not late,” Gaelen replied. “My previous meeting let out early.”
“Oh! Well, that’s good,” the shorter man replied, obviously feeling a bit awkward. “I’m Scott Benson. And I understand that you need…” The man stopped in mid-sentence when Gaelen’s eyes moved to something behind him. Turning, the shorter man watched in horror as the waitress approached their table.
“Here you go,” she announced with a challenging grin as she set the garish orangish-pink drink complete with a matching umbrella on the table in front of Gaelen. She turned to his companion. “And what can I get for you?” she asked.
Gaelen stared at the drink for a long moment, then threw back his head, laughing with delight at her outrageousness. He laughed so hard that even his very well disciplined security team turned to glance in his direction instead of looking outwards for danger.
She rocked back on her heels as he tried to control his laughter and he knew that she was as delighted with herself as he was. Damn, he hadn’t laughed like that in a long time. There hadn’t been any reason to laugh! But this woman, with her sparkling eyes and her insulting drink had broken through his grief, touching him with her humor.
The other man stared at him, then at the drink on the table, not sure what was going on.
When Gaelen got his amusement back under control, he looked at the woman who had a self-satisfied grin on her pretty features. He looked at her carefully, his lips still curled and his heart lightened. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.
She’d been standing with her tray tucked under her arm as she’d listened to his laughter, but with his words, those sparkling brown eyes widened. Softened. A pulse beat between them once. Then twice. The music faded. The crowd of strangers disappeared. In that moment, it was just this woman and a momentary relief from the grief that had been a constant companion for the past several months. “Thank you,” he repeated.
Those long lashes fluttered, hiding her soft, brown eyes for a moment before she looked back up at him. “You’re welcome,” she whispered back. “Would you like a glass of scotch?”
His smile widened. “That would be perfect.”
After that, the moment was gone, the noise rushed back to his consciousness and his whiskey-haired woman turned to his companion. Gaelen had no idea what his companion ordered because he was too entranced by the waitress, admiring the glowing highlights of gold, light brown, and champagne colors in her tresses. She nodded, then turned away, but not before she gave him another glance, her lashes veiling her eyes.
Gaelen ignored the other man as he watched her disappear into the milling crowd, noticing that she took a different route, a longer one, to get to the bar. He scanned the previous route and spotted the man who had assaulted her earlier. Signaling to one of his guards, he whispered his instructions. The guard glanced over at the man in question and nodded before moving into position.
Only then did he turn back to the other man. “I apologize. A business issue.”
“Not a problem.” Scott shifted slightly on his chair. “You hired me to ease the negotiations with Padar and this weekend is the first meeting between you and Sheik Santo el Fazir,” he began. “I sent you my notes about the issues confronting your country and Padar. Also, which positions I think you and Padar should discuss first, and I’ve added my ideas on how to get around the sticking points that have hindered conversations in the past.”
Gaelen nodded, having read through the notes. They were thorough and well thought out. Scott continued, although he paused when the whiskey-haired waitress returned with two more drinks. While the other man acknowledged the waitress with a polite nod when she placed his drink in front of him, the waitress shyly kept her gaze away from Gaelen. Unfortunately, he couldn’t say the same for himself.
Gaelen wasn’t as disciplined. He had never allowed distractions when it came to business issues. Especially not when the stakes were as high as tomorrow’s negotiations with Padar and that country’s bastard ruler, Santo. But there was something about this woman, something special. It wasn’t that she was more beautiful than the women he’d been with in the past, although she was quite stunning. No, there was something different, something more…present or mindful…in the way she moved. Or perhaps it was the look in her eyes, which whispered that she saw him, the man, instead of the title.
And there was desire! Damn, he thought, she was lovely, and the interest in her eyes, the curiosity when she glanced at him then quickly looked away, was enticing. It wasn’t the normal come-hither look that he’d enjoyed so often in the past. Women had been giving him those “come get me” looks for years. Some women were more direct and simply told him what they’d like. But Gaelen was a warrior at heart and preferred the hunt, the challenge. And he really liked this waitress’s pretty eyes as they moved over him every time she approached. The look was almost involuntary, as if she felt the pull of their attraction, but needed to pretend that it wasn’t there, throbbing in the air between them.
Was he going to do anything about it?
No. Unfortunately, this weekend was too important. Tensions between Padar and Izara had been simmering for decades and Gaelen needed to focus on hammering out some sort of agreement with the neighboring country. It was just the first step, but the hatred he felt for Sheik Santo was intense. They’d hated each other for so long, the animosity ran deep. If it was up to him, Gaelen would have told Santo to go to hell.
But logically, Gaelen knew that this move was the right thing for his people. It was what was best for the economy and the right move politically.
What Gaelen needed to accomplish was to ensure that the bastard Santo didn’t take advantage of his people anymore. The tariffs the ass had imposed on goods and services over the past few years had hurt the economies of several cities along the border with Padar. And he was sick of the pointless fighting, always instigated by the people of Padar who thought it was okay to….
Gaelen stopped the thought in it’s tracks, taking a deep breath to calm his sudden fury. Hell, he didn’t want to negotiate with Padar! He wanted to crush them. He wanted to look Santo in the eye and crush his bastard-soul into the dirt!
Scott was talking but Gaelen had tuned him out, needing to see his whiskey-haired waitress again. Looking around, he realized that the crowd had thinned. The post-work crowd had moved off, heading to their homes and their families. In about an hour, the dinner crush would begin and the bar would fill up with diners waiting for their table in the restaurant below. But right now, there was a lull and he spotted the pretty woman leaning against the bar, laughing with the bartender.
She must have sensed his gaze because her body stiffened and she glanced towards him. Once again, their gazes locked and he felt it. That zing. Like some sort of electric current. She felt it too, her mouth softening, her eyes lightening and, if he wasn’t mistaken, her whole body shifted, turning slightly towards him even as she continued to lean on the bar.
Someone walked between them and the connection was lost. Gaelen turned, struggling to pay attention to Scott. It was rude of him and he knew it, trying to push the woman out of his mind. He’d get to her later. Perhaps he’d dine with her. Yes, that could work, he thought. Dinner would allow him to get to know her better.