Beautiful Sacrifice (Maddox Brothers #3)(2)

The spot fires had been particularly relentless that season, and it seemed like the Forest Service had dispatched their interagency crews from every district, some as far as Wyoming and South Dakota. Colorado Springs had been hazy for weeks. The smoke from the fires in the north had turned the afternoon sun into a glowing bright red ball of fire. We hadn’t seen stars since before my last paycheck.

I greeted the men with a polite expression. “What are we drinking?”

“You sure got pretty hair,” one of the men said.

I lowered my chin and cocked an eyebrow.

“Shut the f*ck up and order, Zeke. We’ll probably get called back out soon.”

“Damn, Taylor,” Zeke said. His frown was then targeted in my direction. “Get him some food, will ya? He gets cranky when he’s hungry.”

“I can do that,” I said, annoyed with them already.

Taylor glanced up at me, and for just a moment, I was captured by a pair of warm brown irises. In less than a second, I found something familiar behind his eyes. Then he blinked and returned to his menu.

Although usually cute, mostly charming, and always with a respectable amount of muscles, men who blew through our town with a dusting of ash on their boots were only to be admired from afar. No self-respecting local girl would be caught dating one of those fascinating, brave tanned young men for two reasons. They were seasonal, and they would leave you behind, pregnant or heartbroken. I’d seen it so many times, and not just with the hotshot crews, but with the airmen passing through, too. To the young men my father referred to as vagrants, the Springs was a buffet of young girls just desperate enough to be fooled into loving someone they knew wouldn’t stay.

I wasn’t one of them even if, according to my parents, I was the most educated whore in Colorado Springs.

“Let’s start with drinks.” I kept my tone pleasant and my mind on the decent tip the hotshots would usually leave on the table.

“What do you want, Trex?” Zeke asked the clean one.

Trex looked at me from under his damp tendrils, all emotion absent from his eyes. “Just a water.”

Zeke put down his menu. “Me, too.”

Taylor glanced up at me again, the white of his eyes practically glowing against the dirt on his face. The warm brown in his irises matched the buzzed hair on his head. Although his eyes were kind, the skin on both of his arms was crowded with various tattoos, and he looked like he’d been through enough to earn every one of them.

“Do you have sweet tea?” Taylor asked.

“Yes. Sun tea. Is that okay?”

He nodded before expectantly watching the man in front of him. “What do you want, Dalton?”

Dalton sulked. “They don’t have Cherry Coke.” He looked up at me. “Why doesn’t anyone in the whole goddamn state of Colorado have Cherry Coke?”

Taylor crossed his arms over the table, the muscles of his forearms sliding and tightening under his ink-covered skin. “I’ve accepted it. You should just accept it, man.”

“I can make you one,” I said.

Dalton tossed his menu on the table. “Just bring me a water,” he grumbled. “It’s not the same.”

I took their menus and leaned in toward Dalton’s face. “You’re right. Mine is better.”

As I withdrew, I heard a couple of them giggling like boys.

One of them said, “Whoa.”

I stopped at Don’s table on the way back to the drink station. “You all right?”

Don hummed, “Yes,” while chewing on his steak. He was nearly finished. His other plates, all but the cheesecake, had been scraped clean.

I patted his bony shoulder and then made my way around the bar. I filled two plastic cups with ice water and one with sweet sun tea, and then I began making Dalton’s Cherry Coke.

Phaedra pushed through the double doors and frowned at the sight of a family standing near Kirby’s podium. “There’s a wait?” she asked. She dried her hands on the dishtowel she had tied around her waist as an apron.

Phaedra had been born and raised in Colorado Springs. She and Chuck had met at a concert. She was a full-fledged hippie, and he tried to be one. They would sit in on peace rallies and protest wars, and they were now the owners of the most popular downtown café. Urbanspoon had listed The Bucksaw Café as its number one pick for lunch, but Phaedra would take it personally when she noticed waiting customers.

“We can’t have great service and no wait. Busy is good,” I said, mixing my special cherry syrup into the Coke.

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