Beautiful Sacrifice (Maddox Brothers #3)(4)

Taylor winced at my reaction. “A straw?” He loosened his grip. “Please?” he asked.

I slowly pulled one from my apron and handed it to him. Then I spun around and checked on the rest of my tables, one after another.

Don finished off his cheesecake and left a twenty on the table, as he always did, and the author left twice that. The hotshot crew’s signed receipt was merely rounded up to the next dollar.

I tried not to wad it up and stomp it into the ground. “Dicks,” I said under my breath.

The rest of the afternoon was nonstop, not unlike any other afternoon since the Urbanspoon app had decided to put The Bucksaw Café on the foodie map. As the hours passed, I served more firefighters and hotshot crews, and they all left decent tips, as did the rest of my tables, but I couldn’t shake the bitterness for Taylor, Zeke, Dalton, and Trex.

Fifty-one cents. I should hunt them down and throw the change at them.

The streetlights shone down on those walking past the diner to the two-story country-western bar four buildings down. Young women, most barely twenty-one, trotted along in groups, wearing short skirts and tall boots, as they enjoyed the summer night air—not that August had the corner on skin-baring clothes. Most locals would shed their layers for anything over forty degrees.

I flipped the sign on the door, so the word Closed faced the sidewalk, but I leaped back when a face loomed over me from the other side. It was Taylor, the hotshot crew guy and piss-poor tipper. Before my brain had time to stop my expression, I narrowed my eyes and sneered.

Taylor held out his hands, his voice muffled from the glass. “I know. Hey, I’m sorry. I was going to leave cash, but we were called out, and I forgot. I should have known better than to come into town while we were on call, but I was sick of the food at the hotel.”

I barely recognized him without the seven layers of grime. Wearing clean clothes, he could have been mistaken for someone I might actually find attractive.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, turning for the kitchen.

Taylor pounded on the glass. “Hey! Lady!”

Deliberately slow, I faced him, craning my neck. “Lady?” I nearly spit the word.

Taylor lowered his hands and then shoved them in his pockets. “Just open the door, so I can tip you. You’re making me feel bad.”

“You should!” I spun around in a huff to see Phaedra, Chuck, and Kirby behind me, all far too amused with the situation. “A little help here?”

They all shared the same smug expression, and I rolled my eyes, facing Taylor once again.

“I appreciate the gesture, but we’re closed,” I said.

“Then I’ll tip you double when I come back.”

I dismissively shook my head. “Whatever.”

“Maybe I could, uh … take you out to dinner? Kill two birds with one stone.”

I arched an eyebrow.

Taylor glanced from one side to the other. Passersby were beginning to slow, so they could watch our exchange.

“No, thank you.”

He puffed out a laugh. “You’re acting like I’m a weapons-grade * here. I mean, I might be—a little. But you … you’re … distracting.”

“Oh, so it’s my fault you didn’t leave a tip?” I asked, touching my chest.

“Well … kind of,” he said.

I glared at him. “You’re not an *. You’re a cunt rag.”

Taylor’s mouth slowly turned up into a broad grin, and he pressed both palms against the glass. “You’ve gotta go out with me now.”

“Get the hell out of here,” I said.

“Falyn!” Phaedra screeched. “For God’s sake!”

I reached up and switched off the outside light, leaving Taylor in the dark. The mop and yellow bucket I’d just filled with soapy hot water before I had been so rudely interrupted was still waiting.

Phaedra clicked her tongue at me and then took my place at the front door, turning the key in the lock until it clicked before letting the metal fall into her apron. Chuck ducked into the kitchen while Kirby and I cleaned the dining area.

Kirby shook her head as she swept under table six. “You’re going to regret that.”

“Doubtful.” I reached into my apron and popped a large chunk of bubble gum into my mouth.

Kirby’s face fell. I couldn’t tell if she felt sorry for me or if she was just tired of arguing.

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