BOOK TWO:

You Know

    it's Love

Will her heart follow the rules?

I have three rules for dating:

1. Always be my best self
2. Don’t put out too soon
3. Stay the hell away from anyone like my ex-husband—including liars, cheaters, guys with more looks than substance, and (especially important) bartenders

Everyone says you “just know” when you meet the one, but the only thing I know is New York men are the worst. So when Myles, the cocky, tattooed bartender at my brother’s bar starts hitting on me, it’s a hard pass, thanks. I won’t make that mistake again.

Besides, I have enough going on with my ex trying to run my vintage clothing store out of business. So what if I’d rather be selling my own designs? I have bills to pay.

But it turns out Myles is good at more than just looking sexy while pouring drinks. He knows how to save my business, and that’s an offer I can’t refuse. Everything else he’s offering? Not interested—not in the slightest. Not even if he could be the best mistake I ever make…

 

You Know it's Love Excerpt

Chapter One

This was the absolute worst choice in underwear. I don’t know who invented the G-string, but he should be shot. And yes, I’m quite certain it was a guy.


I wiggle my butt on the bar stool, trying to reposition or somehow dislodge said undergarment, but with no luck. A quick glance around the bar and I can see it’s quiet, so I twist in my seat, reaching back behind me. I tug at my dress, trying to get a grasp of the flimsy lingerie through the fabric. Why is this so—


“You okay there?”


Shit.


I freeze, one hand grasping my underwear through my dress, the other on the bar giving me the leverage I need to reach back.
There’s a chuckle from behind me, and I turn slowly to see a bartender leaning forward on his hands against the bar, the corners of his eyes creased in amusement.


Fuck it. I’m already halfway there now.


With one final yank I reposition my lingerie and straighten up, giving the bartender an embarrassed smile. “Sorry. Underwear mishap.”


“Ah.” He grimaces on my behalf. “Drink?”


My gaze flicks to the door and back. I’m waiting for a date—someone I matched with on Tinder—and a drink would definitely take the edge off. But this isn’t my usual bartender.


I’ve chosen this particular East Village bar, Bounce, because my brother Cory owns it. I always meet my dates here to keep things low-key. Exposed brick walls, red vinyl booths on one side, long bar stretching the other side, small dance floor near the back, low lighting. It’s a bit of a dive, but it’s fun and cozy, and most importantly it’s familiar ground. It’s always easier to meet someone new in a place where I already feel comfortable. If the wheels fall off and the guy turns out to be a psycho, I’ve got Cory—or the bouncer, Jimmy—to help me out.


And, you know, Cory gives me free drinks. What else are big brothers for?


“Where’s Cory?” I ask, scanning the bar.


The bartender rolls his eyes, leaning back and folding his arms. “Of course, you’re here for Cory. That’s who the underwear is for.”


I stifle a snort. No, I’m not wearing a thong for my brother. But I know he picks up his fair share of girls here, so I’m not surprised by this guy’s response. “Uh, no. Who are you?”


He gives me a wide grin. “Myles.”


“You’re new.”


“Yep.” He raises a tattooed arm to drag a hand through his hair. “Started last week. So, what are you drinking?”


“Just a vodka soda, thanks.”


He nods, reaching for a bottle of Absolut. Then he does that cheesy bartender thing that they all do when they think they’re hot shit: he tosses the bottle up in the air so it spins, then catches it with a flourish.


I run my eyes over him as he pours my drink. He’s about five-foot-eleven, early-thirties, lean and slightly muscular without being ripped. His eyes are gunmetal-blue, his nose strong with a little upturn at the end. It makes his face look almost boyish, despite the scruff along his jaw. He has a sleeve of tattoos covering his right arm; mountain ranges and trees on his bicep, which fade down his forearm into a map, with a compass that wraps around his wrist. My gaze lingers on it before moving to his hair—chestnut brown and shaved close on the sides, but longer in a mess of curls on top. Just the right length for tugging on, I register absently.


He slides my drink across the bar. “So you’re not here for Cory. I’m guessing… date?”


I take a sip of vodka. “Yeah.”


His eyes move to my bare shoulder and trail over my own tattoo—a bunch of wildflowers done in black outline—then back to my face. “Well, he’s lucky.”


“I’m sorry—” I set my glass down in disbelief. “Are you actually hitting on me, right before a date?”


“Maybe.” He shrugs, flashing me a grin that’s all teeth.


I stare at him, trying to suppress my smile. As much as I want to be irritated by his confidence it’s quite disarming, and I just shake my head with a little laugh.


“First date?”


I nod, chewing on my straw as a ripple of unease runs through me. This is always the worst part, right before you meet. They seem okay on an app with a handful of photos and a funny bio—then you meet them in person and realize they’ve got a voice like Mickey Mouse or a penchant for threesomes and you wish you’d never left the house.


“How’d you meet?”


Jesus. I’m really getting the third degree from this guy.


I huff an uncomfortable laugh. “Don’t you have other people to serve?” I say, glancing along the bar. But there are only a few others, all with drinks in their hands. When I look back at Myles he gives me a smug grin and I sigh. “We haven’t met yet. Not in person.” I pick up my drink and take a long sip. “I found him through a dating app.”


“Right. Real long-term potential there, then.”


I lift a shoulder. “You never know.” But I kind of do know, really. Because I’ve been on a million of these things and I’ve yet to meet anyone halfway decent.


“Well,” Myles says, taking a dishrag and wiping down the bar, “I’ll be here, when the date’s over.” He gives me another cocky grin and I arch an eyebrow. He’s certainly sure of himself, this one.


“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say wryly.


He pauses, and the smile fades from his face as he studies me. “Seriously, though, if the guy’s a creep and you need rescuing, give me a wave.”


“Uh… thanks.” I’m taken aback by his sudden sincerity, then his lips tip back into a cheeky smile and I chuckle.


Pulling my compact from my purse, I do a final check of my reflection. My chin-length ash-blond hair is straightened, my brown eyes framed by dark winged liner, my peaches and cream complexion painstakingly perfected by foundation, contouring, blush, highlighter and every other known product under the sun—all so I don’t look like I’ve got makeup on at all.


Snapping the compact shut, I glance up to find Myles looking at me. His gaze flits to something over my shoulder.


“Hey. I’m Simon.”


I turn to see a tall, lean guy with light brown hair leering at me, and my heart sinks. It’s not that I have an issue with brown hair or lean builds—they really do it for me, actually—it’s the leering. Gross.


No, I tell myself, straightening up in my seat. I’m too quick to jump to conclusions about these guys before I even say two words to them. You can’t tell what a person is like by their first impression. Maybe he’s got some kind of eye disorder or facial tic.


I force a smile and extend my hand. “I’m Cat.”


He takes my hand, his gaze stuck fast to my breasts. That is some serious eye problem he’s got there.


Myles is still hovering behind the bar and I glance at him with uncertainty. He’s regarding Simon through narrowed eyes, his arms folded across his chest. Then his gaze swings to me and he raises his eyebrows.


I turn back to Simon, trying to push away the feeling of disappointment weaving through me.


“Let’s get a booth,” he says, finally looking at my face.


I hesitate, glancing back at Myles, wondering again where Cory is. I’m not sure I want to sit in a dark booth with this guy, and while Myles did offer to help me out, I don’t actually know him. “Why don’t we have a drink here first?” I gesture to the bar and Simon shrugs, sliding onto a barstool beside me.


“Jagerbomb,” he says to Myles.


I can’t stop the snort that comes from my nose. I mean, come on. Everyone knows only a douchebag orders a Jagerbomb. At seven o’clock. On a Tuesday.


But the snort comes out louder than I’d intended, and when Simon gives me a strange look I quickly cough, patting my chest for effect.


Myles bites back a smirk as he reaches for a glass, cracking open a can of Red Bull and upending it into a glass, then placing a shot of Jagermeister on the bar. We both watch in mild disgust as Simon drops the shot into the glass of Red Bull and throws it back.


He turns to me, wiping his mouth. “So, it’s really nice to meet you,” he says, giving me a genuine smile. This time he’s focused on my face, and I feel a little wave of relief. Maybe I did judge him too soon.


Myles is still right there, third-wheeling our date, so I shoot him a look. He frowns, throwing the dishrag over his shoulder as he saunters off to serve another girl who’s taken a seat along the bar. I hear him say something to her and while I don’t catch the words, I catch the tone. It was the same one he was just using with me, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes as I turn back to Simon.


“It’s nice to meet you too.” I shift on the stool. “It’s always a bit weird meeting someone new like this.”


“I know, right?”


We sit in silence for a moment, and Simon picks up one of the cardboard coasters off the bar, fiddling with it. It occurs to me for the first time that he might be nervous and I feel a stab of guilt for my earlier judgment.


“So, um, how was your day?” He asks, his gaze meeting mine again. “You work in a shop, right?”


“Yes.” I smile. “Well, I own the shop. It’s called Loved Again, a couple blocks down from here. I sell vintage clothes along with some of my own designs.”


“Right.” Simon nods. “That sounds interesting.”


He focuses back on the coaster and I take a second to size him up. Good height, not unattractive, full head of hair. Shame about his crap choice in drinks, but I’m sure we can work on that. There’s a faint flicker of hope inside me, like there always is at this point in a date. Is there a chance this could be something?


He glances up at me, his eyes tracking over my face. “You know,” he says thoughtfully, “you look a lot like my favorite porn star.”

Right. Well. Maybe not then.


“Do you have a Pornhub profile?”


I rub my temples, releasing a long, resigned breath. “No, Simon. I don’t.”


He leans forward, leering at me again. “We should set one up for you, make some videos together. I’d be happy to help.”


Despite this undeniably generous offer, I shake my head, pressing my lips together to hold in a frustrated scream.


I always do this. I want to give guys the benefit of the doubt, and they turn out to be awful. I need to trust my gut response and stop being so damn nice.


I glance down the bar to where Myles is standing, watching us with interest. I might have only known him for five minutes longer than Simon, but suddenly his presence is making me feel safe. His eyebrows lift in question and I grimace in response. Then he gives me the tiniest nod, appearing in front of us again, somehow interpreting my silent cry for help.


Thank fuck.


“Excuse me, miss?” Myles leans on the bar, giving me a meaningful look. “You have a phone call.”


I muffle a laugh. Is that the best he could come up with? Honestly, who would be calling me here, rather than on my cell? What is this, 1995?


But it’s the only exit strategy I have right now, so I play along, making my eyes wide. “Really? Who is it?”


“Uh…” His gaze slides left, then right. “It’s your mom. She’s in the hospital.”


“Oh.” I raise a hand to my chest, glancing at Simon. I’m expecting him to be a bit suspicious of this blatant charade, but he’s staring at me with the most dim-witted expression that I almost burst out laughing. Somehow, I manage to contort my face to appear apologetic. “You don’t mind, do you? I wouldn’t normally do this, but…”


“It’s quite urgent,” Myles continues, his eyes dancing as he gets into character. “She fell down fifteen flights of stairs and broke eight bones. The doctors are saying that if they don’t operate now—”


“Okay, thank you,” I say hastily, glaring at Myles. “I’ll take the call.” I hop off the barstool, making another regretful face at Simon. “It was great to meet you. We can, uh, do this another time?”


He gives me a nod, his uncomprehending eyes following me as I snatch up my purse and hurry behind the bar and around the corner, out of sight.


I lean back against one of the refrigerators, chuckling to myself. Usually when I need Cory to help me out he just tells the guy to leave. That was quite creative.


Myles appears out back a moment later. “He’s gone. You okay?”


“Yeah.” I exhale with relief. “He asked me if I wanted to make porn with him.”


“Shit.”


“I know.” I contemplate Myles for a second and a laugh bubbles up my throat. “Fifteen flights of stairs? Really?”


He spreads his hands, a sheepish grin on his face. “It was all I could think of.”


“Well, it did the trick. Thanks.” I poke my head around the corner, then when I see the coast is clear I wander back out and hop up on my barstool again.


“Another drink?” Myles asks, reaching for the vodka.


“Yeah, thanks.” I pull my phone out—the one that, let’s face it, my mother would have called me on if she’d actually been at the hospital—and send a text to my friend Geoff. It’s too early to go home and I’m all dressed up. We should at least have a drink, if he’s free.


Cat: Disaster date. Where are you?


Geoff: Ugh, that sucks. Stuck at the shop but could meet you in the Village in an hour?


Cat: Okay, will head over soon.


I set my phone down with a weary smile, taking my drink from Myles. It’s a shame Geoff is gay, because he’s such a good guy. It would be so much easier if I could just shack up with him and call it a day.


Myles wanders down to serve a couple of guys and I lean on the bar, sipping my vodka, suddenly feeling tired. Not just normal, end-of-the-workday tired, but bone-deep, sick-of-dating tired. I’ve been on this treadmill for four years now, ever since my divorce. And it’s exhausting.


Okay, I know. I could just stop dating and focus on my work. I do love my shop and creating my own designs. But all around me I’ve watched friends meet great guys and settle down. I’m thirty-five now, and as much as it pains me to admit it, I want that too. I want a great guy who knows how to treat me well, and that takes a little work to find. But I’m sure he’s out there. Somewhere.
My phone buzzes on the bar in front of me and I reach for it, thinking it will be another text from Geoff. I unlock it and there, filling the screen, is a shot of someone’s dick.


Oh, not just someone’s—Simon’s.


A shadow falls across me and I glance up to see Myles. “You recovering okay?”


Mouth hanging open, I turn my screen to show him and he recoils with visible horror.


“Jesus. I don’t want to see that.”


“Neither did I,” I mutter, deleting the image. If only I could delete it from my brain.


I look at Myles again and he’s rubbing his chin, brows pulled together. “Does that happen a lot?”


I shrug. “It’s a good week if I don’t get one.”


Josie, another bartender here, wanders out from the back room. She gives me a little wave then turns to serve another group who’ve piled into a booth.


“Why do you do it?”


I look back to see Myles still studying me, and I give him a funny look. “Dating? Because I want to meet someone.”


“Come for a drink with me then.” That cocky grin is back on his face. “I have a break soon.” He leans forward on his elbows on the bar so we are at eye level, his gaze locked on mine. He might be cute, but he’s so damn sure of himself that I can’t help but want to take him down a peg.


I smother a smirk. “That’s very… sweet. But I don’t date bartenders.” This is true: my ex-husband was a bartender when we met and I’m not doing that again. I don’t have a lot of rules about guys, but staying away from those who share similarities with my ex is non-negotiable.


At that moment a guy strides into the bar; six-foot-six, disheveled dirty-blond hair, mischievous brown eyes. To most girls who come here he’s the hot bartender who will likely, at some point, bed them. To me, he’s just Cory: the older brother who always looks out for me. His gaze swivels in my direction and he grins as he lopes across the bar.


I turn back to Myles, sucking down the rest of my drink and hopping up off the stool. “And I especially don’t date guys who work for my brother,” I add, giving Cory a squeeze as he sidles up to me.


Cory’s eyes narrow as he catches the end of my sentence, his gaze darting between me and Myles. “New guy giving you a hard time?”


I glance at Myles and chuckle when his eyes widen and crimson streaks across his cheeks.


“Nah, he’s alright,” I say, offering him a smile. “He helped me out with a bad date earlier.”


Myles lifts his chin, his self-assured grin gone, but a more sincere smile passes over his lips.


“Thanks for the drinks, Cors.” I grab my purse, giving Cory a quick kiss before he ducks behind the bar. Myles waves as I head out, and I’m surprised to find myself smiling all the way across town.

© 2021 Jen Morris

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