Will he let go of his past to let her love in?
I didn’t plan to fall in love with my boss. Cory Porter is six-foot-six of muscle and I fell for him the day he gave me a job in his bar. Too bad he’s twelve years older than me and treats me like a little sister.
Anyway, I’ve got other things to worry about–like saving my favorite animal shelter and fostering an anxious pup called Pretzel. The only problem is, I’m not allowed to have dogs in my apartment…
I shouldn’t have suggested Josie and Pretzel stay at my place. I’ve been fighting feelings for that woman for five years. She’s too young, too much my employee, and way too sweet for a guy like me.
But the more time we spend under one roof, the harder it gets to keep my hands off her–especially when she’s bent over on her yoga mat in our living room. Can’t a guy catch a break?
I know it’s selfish of me to act on this. I’m a committed bachelor like my father and will only end up hurting her. But now that I’ve let Josie in, can I become the man she deserves?
Follow an animal-loving bartender and her hot, protective boss as they finally give into the attraction between them in this emotional and steamy romantic comedy about healing the past to let love in.
The Love You Deserve - Excerpt
There are four million men in New York and I was foolish enough to fall for my boss.
Okay, wait. It’s not as scandalous as it sounds. That probably conjures images of some stuffy guy in a suit who owns a global corporation, while I’m a lowly assistant who’s twenty-five years his junior, trying to climb the corporate ladder.
But it’s nothing like that.
Cory Porter owns Bounce, a bar in Manhattan’s East Village, where I’ve been a bartender for five years. I’m not twenty-five years his junior, just twelve. And I’m not trying to climb anything.
“Bud Light, please.”
I blink, fixing my attention on the customer in front of me. Black cap, brown, shoulder-length wig, black T-shirt. Even if he didn’t have the Wayne’s World text on his hat, I’d get the reference.
“Sure thing,” I say, reaching for a bottle and popping the top. “Excellent costume.”
“Thanks.” He takes the beer, letting his gaze slide down to my chest. It lingers on my breasts, which I intentionally push together so they threaten to spill out of my low-cut Lycra bodysuit. When his eyes finally come back to mine, his mouth tilts in a sleazy grin and he hands me a twenty. “Keep the change, gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” I try not to grin too hard as he walks away, swapping his twenty in the register and adding the large tip to my jar behind the bar. I wouldn’t normally dress—or behave—like this, but dress-up trivia nights are always a great opportunity for extra tips. Tonight’s theme is movie trivia, and I’m giving all my tips to the animal shelter where I volunteer. If I have to dress as sexy Catwoman for a few hours to help one of my favorite places in the city, I’m all for it.
Besides, it’s not just me. Camila also dresses sexy for the tips. Hell, she dresses like that even when it’s not trivia night.
I wipe the bar, letting my gaze drift across the crowd. I love working here. It’s rustic and kind of a dive, but it’s fun. Cory’s kept the decor pretty minimal: low, warm lighting, exposed brick walls, red vinyl booths, a long bar stretching the left side, and a small dance floor near the back. I found this place five years ago when, after foolishly following my boyfriend to the city from Austin, we had a messy breakup and I wanted to drown my sorrows. The bar owner was super nice—okay, hot—and even though he didn’t need another bartender, he didn’t hesitate to offer me a job when I mentioned I was looking. I might have only been twenty-two, with zero bartending experience, but he took a chance on me and I’ve been forever grateful. Now, I split my time between bartending full time here and volunteering at Animal Oasis, a shelter in the Seaport District. One day, if I’m lucky, I’ll land a paid job at the shelter.
“You should take a break,” I hear from beside me. I turn to see Cory, all six-foot-six of him, dressed as Thor—the short-haired version. And boy, is he wearing his costume well. He’s got the body armor plate, the wrist-guard things—I don’t even know what they’re called, but they make his biceps look damn good—and the red cape. His dirty-blond hair and short beard perfectly suit the Chris Hemsworth coloring, but trust me when I say that Cory is way hotter.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed; women are trampling each other to get him to serve them tonight. Although that happens most nights, regardless of what he’s wearing.
I shrug. “I don’t need a break.” The more time I spend on breaks, the fewer tips I’ll make.
Cory’s hazel eyes travel over my body, and for a split second I think he’s checking me out. But his brows tug together into a frown and he shakes his head, turning down the bar to serve a group of women. I try my best to ignore the disappointment that bleeds through me.
Of course, he wasn’t checking me out. Despite how I feel, we’ve never had that kind of relationship. In the five years I’ve worked at Bounce, he’s treated me more like a little sister than anything, which is hardly surprising—I’m nine years younger than his actual sister. He looks out for me, worries about me, makes sure my customers don’t get too rowdy. That’s nice, but it’s not exactly what I want from him.
A couple hop onto the barstools in front of me, and I smile at the familiar faces. The woman with pink hair is Cat, Cory’s younger sister, and the bearded guy with a sleeve of tattoos is Myles, her fiancé. He used to be a bartender here before we hired Camila and Levi. I always liked him—despite the fact that he was a big flirt—because he was respectful and kind. Cory, on the other hand, took some time to warm to him.
I glance at their costumes. They’ve really gone all out. Cat looks awesome in a Cinderella dress, and Myles… appears to be in drag.
“Hey, Josie,” he says, tugging off his red wig and lifting a tattooed arm to scratch his scalp. “Man, that thing itches.”
I fight a snicker. “Myles, why are you dressed as Ariel? Why not Prince Charming?”
He repositions his wig, feigning indignation. “What, you don’t think I can pull it off? Just because I’m a guy, I have to be a prince?”
Cat giggles. “Amber chose our costumes and he didn’t have the heart to tell her no. Ariel is her favorite.” She leans in to plant a kiss on Myles’s scruffy cheek. “You can totally pull it off, baby. Amber loved it.”
I laugh. It’s sweet that Myles would do that for his daughter, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to a bearded, tattooed Little Mermaid.
“The usual?” I ask, already reaching for the whiskey and vodka as they both nod.
“Will you be at our anniversary party here in a few days?” Cat asks.
I nod as I pour their drinks. “Yep. What anniversary is it again?”
Cat and Myles share a secret look before she says, “The anniversary of when we moved in together. One year.”
I smile. I’ve never known anyone to throw a party for their moving-in anniversary, but that’s really sweet.
“Hey, sis.” Cory rounds the bar and slings an arm over Cat’s shoulder in a half-hug. He looks at Myles, hesitating as he takes in his costume, and they do that head-nod thing that guys do instead of saying hello. Then he bends down under Cat’s barstool, and my heart gives an excited kick. That can only mean one thing: Cat brought her dog, Stevie.
I slide their drinks across the bar and step around to the other side, dropping beside Cory. “Hi, Stevie!” The little pug abandons Cory’s outstretched hand for mine, and I grin. “Hey, girl,” I coo, as she wriggles out from under the barstool and lunges at my legs. I gather her up into my arms and squeeze her warm body, rising back to my feet. Then I shower her with affection, which is only returned double. Dogs are the best.
“She loves coming in here to see you,” Cat says with a chuckle.
Cory huffs as he straightens up. “What about me?”
“I give the best cuddles,” I joke, scratching under Stevie’s chin. When I lift my gaze, Cory is watching me, a tiny smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. He’s got such a soft spot for Stevie.
“Your costume is awesome,” Cat says as I reluctantly deposit Stevie back under her stool and scoot around the bar again.
“Thanks.” I grin, but Cory mumbles something I don’t catch under his breath.
Cat glances between me and Cory. “What?”
“Well, you know.” He wanders back behind the bar. “Every dude in the place is leering at her.”
Annoyance prickles up my spine. This isn’t the first time he’s said something like that about my dress-up choices, and it seems a little hypocritical given the way he’s been mentally undressed by every woman in here tonight.
“Um, Cors?” Cat gives him a funny look. “Why are you talking about her like you’re her overprotective big brother?”
“Or her boyfriend?” Myles chips in, eyebrows raised smugly.
“What?” Cory’s cheeks color. “I’m not. I just think, as her boss, that she should dress appropriately.”
“You know I can hear you, right?” I wave a hand in Cory’s face but he ignores me.
“Oh come on.” Cat motions to Cory. “As if your costume isn’t designed to make women ogle you. Talk about double standards.” She glances at me and I send her a grateful smile. At least someone has my back.
I square my shoulders and arch an eyebrow at Cory, wondering what his comeback will be. But before he can say anything there’s a tap on the microphone, signaling the start of the first trivia round.
Eddy runs our trivia nights. He’s twenty-three and a pretty mediocre bartender, but he’s surprisingly great at this. I think it’s the only reason Cory keeps him on.
Myles and Cat turn to join in the trivia questions as a redhead in a black Playboy bunny costume approaches the bar. I can’t decide if it’s a Bridget Jones tribute, or if she thinks Playboy is a movie.
“Hi,” I say, smiling. “What can I get you?”
Her gaze flits over my shoulder to where Cory is serving a round of beers. “Um…” She bites her lip, issuing an awkward laugh. “I hope this isn’t weird of me to ask, but that bartender—is he single?”
Ah, here we go. This is the first time I’ve been asked this question tonight, but it will not be the last. We need a sign or something. Maybe I should wear a T-shirt that says, Yes, my boss is single. Or a sandwich board; that would make it pretty clear, right?
“Yep.” I adjust my cat ears, attempting to suppress the jealous twinge in my gut. This woman is beautiful and, given half the chance, I’m pretty sure Cory would happily head home with her tonight.
“Oh, great.” Her eyes brighten and she leans forward to speak in a conspiratorial tone, apparently sensing some kind of sisterhood between us. “I’ve been in a few times but I haven’t had the chance to talk to him. He’s always talking to other women. My friend said he’s a total player.”
I frown. I hate when women call Cory a player. He’s a committed bachelor, sure. And he definitely gets through more than his share of women. But the word “player” makes me think of guys who string women along, who play them off against each other. Cory might get around, but he’s not the kind of guy to mislead or manipulate women. Not like my ex.
“He’s not,” I say. “He’s a good guy. But he doesn’t do relationships.”
“Fine by me.” She gives a wink that makes my stomach roll. Her gaze darts behind me and I glance over my shoulder to find Cory.
Ugh, may as well get the inevitable over with.
“Cors,” I say, stepping aside, “can you serve this lovely lady? I’m going to clear some tables.”
His gaze swings to the redhead. “I sure can. What can I get you, gorgeous?”
He reaches for a bottle and she gives me a secret thumbs up. I return it as if we’re the best of friends and I haven’t just set her up with the guy I want for myself. Why did I do that? I should have told her he’s married. With three kids.
Cory places her drink on the bar and she lets her hand linger on his. “I’m Rachel.”
“Cory,” he replies with a grin. “Great costume.”
I ignore the sharp twist through my middle as I go to refill a few drinks and try to make some more tips. It’s going to be a long night.
© 2022 Jen Morris