by Myla Jackson
Charli Sutton rushed around the bar, filling drink orders, cleaning tables and suffering the pinches and flirtatious remarks normal for a shift at the Ugly Stick Saloon. Cowboys could get downright rowdy some nights, and tonight was no exception.
She had a lot of thinking to do and working at the Ugly Stick didn't allow much time alone to process everything going on in her life.
After she'd dropped her second bottle of whiskey while filling an order, her boss, Audrey Anderson, yanked her into the storeroom. "Charli, what's wrong with you?"
"I don't know." Charli let out a long sigh and pulled away from Audrey's grip. She walked the length of the storeroom and back. "I'm sorry, I'll pay for the bottles. You can take it out of my paycheck. I just can't concentrate on work."
Audrey shook her head. "Forget the whiskey. Maybe you should take the night off."
"No!" Charli stilled and her hands drew into fists. She couldn't leave. Connor Mason might show up. To make the decisions she needed to make, she wanted all the time she could get with the man. "I really need to work."
"Honey, you look exhausted. Between dating Connor during the day and your after-hours rendezvous with your crew of bad boys, I'd say you're burning the candle at both ends. If you're not careful, your butt's gonna get burned. Are you getting any sleep?"
Unable to keep up the façade, Charli's shoulders dipped and her throat thickened. "No." She sat on a stack of boxes full of liquor. "Even when I do have time to sleep, I can't stop thinking. Five days have passed since the last time I saw either Connor or my so-called bad boys. I don't know what I did wrong." She buried her face in her hands, despair dragging her down.
Audrey's brows rose into the strawberry-blond hair hang down over her forehead. "Aren't you the girl who was complaining there wasn't anything to do in Temptation, Texas?"
With a snort, Charli looked up. "Yeah. A million years ago."
"Darlin', that was only nine days ago." Audrey propped a hand on one hip. "Didn't you discover plenty was happenin' in this little corner of our world?"
"Sure, as long as I had company." Charli waved her hands wide, staring around at the boxes of supplies. "Now, nothing. I'm back to square one. Connor hasn't been by in five days, I haven't gotten a note, text, call, or fly-by from my mystery cowboy or even one of his crew of hotties."
"Does Connor know about your mystery meetings? Did you tell him?" Audrey asked.
"Are you kidding? He's an all-or-nothing kinda guy." Charli jumped up and paced to the end of the room and back again. "If I told him anything, he'd be out of my life faster than I could say, See ya." She tipped an imaginary cowboy hat and sighed.
"Do you want to be with Connor?"
"I don't know," Charli wailed, warmth flowing throughout her body. "I've only been on one date with the man, talked to him once in the bar and once at Ed's house. I've kissed him three times. What's to know?" Except those kisses had been...well...hot.
"And Mystery Cowboy...no wait...you were calling him Original Sin...Hmm..." Audrey tapped a manicured nail to her chin. "No news on who he is?"
"None." Charli's heart ached. What had she done to piss off all the men in her life? "And no way of contacting him."
Audrey's eyes narrowed. "He called you on your cell phone. Did his number show up on your caller id?"
"Blocked Sender." Charli leaned her forehead against a shelf. "I'm so screwed." The irony hit and she raised her head. "Strike that, I'm so not screwed. Four nights of unprecedented sex, then nothing for five days. One date with a man who wants to get to know me before we have sex , then he doesn't ask me out again." Charli banged her forehead against the shelf, hoping the pain would help her to focus on what was important. No luck.
"What is it you want out of a relationship?" Audrey asked.
Charli straightened. "Sex!"
"More sex!" Charli spun in a circle, her arms splaying out, hitting the boxes stacked on the shelves. She came to a stop, grimacing, knowing what her friend was going to say before she even opened her mouth. Yeah, it was time for the truth to be revealed.
Audrey's lips twisted and she asked exactly what Charli expected, "And after you've had sex?"
Charli stared into a corner, without really seeing the broom and mop hanging there. "Someone to talk to. A man who'll stick around long enough that I can get to know him." She glanced at Audrey. "Am I asking too much?"
"No, honey, you're not." Audrey pulled her into hug, her hands stroking the back of Charli's head.
Sinking into the warmth of Audrey's body, Charli didn't want to move, didn't want to come out and face reality. But she had to. She needed to get back to work. "I feel so crappy," Charli said into Audrey's shoulder. "What do I do?"
Audrey sighed. "You are in a pickle, aren't you, sweetie?"
"I've burned up a brand new set of batteries in my vibrator." Charli pushed away from her friend's warmth, her gaze dropping to her own boots. She almost wished the floor would open up and swallow her, so that she didn't have to face a room full of men, none of which she gave a damn about. "I can't live this way."
Grabbing her arms, Audrey turned Charli to face her. "Baby girl, it's time you turned the tables on those men."
"What do you mean?"
Audrey balled a fist and punched the air. "Fight fire with fire."
Charli stared wide-eyed at Audrey, trying to make sense of what her boss was telling her. Finally, she threw her hands in the air. "I don't have a clue what you're talking about."
"If you want those men to make a move, you need to make one of your own."
Make a move? Her shoulders sagging, Charli moaned. "I have no way of getting hold of Original Sin. He shows up when he wants and doesn't leave a calling card."
"Then screw him.” Audrey frowned. “Go for the bird in hand. You know where to find Connor."
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