“Lucas, get in here.”
Luke Small wrinkled his nose at the cigarette smoke wafting from his father’s office and steeled himself for the inevitable confrontation. His father, Bruce, had opened the diner, Small’s Landing, or just the Landing for short, soon after being discharged from the Marine’s.
“Good morning, Dad.”
“Did you get the silverware rolled last night like I asked?” Bruce never bothered with pleasantries, or really, to say anything pleasant at all.
“You know I didn’t. You had me doing inventory of the freezer until midnight and then kicked me out so you could go to the bar.” Manny, the chef, had offered to do the freezer inventory since that was part of his job, but Bruce would have none of it.
“How the hell do you think you’re going to run this place one day if you can’t even roll the damn silverware? I’ve always known you were a good for nothing little fag. Thank God I didn’t fork out the money for you to go to college.” Bruce’s speech was punctuated by streams of smoke coming out of his nose. With his red, angry face, it likened him to a cartoon character.
“For the last time, Dad, I’m not gay. And if you would give me a key, this wouldn’t be an issue.” Luke tried not to let his father see how the constant rejection stung. His father had made the ‘fag’ accusation since he was a teen; so much so that Luke started to believe it and experimented with guys. While he enjoyed men, he was definitely preferential to women. Unfortunately, despite his deep baritone voice, his height, dimples and baby face made him look like a stereotypical twink. This made finding a man’s company easy, but women tended to assume that he was friend material only. Not that he had many friends.
“Anyone that looks like you has to be gay. I always told your mother that letting you cry when you broke your arm was going to make you a wimp. And until you show me that you’re management material, you’re not getting a fucking key.”
“I was four for goodness sakes! And I’ve been managing this diner for the last six years.”
“Bullshit. Once you’re man enough to move out on your own, I’ll think about giving you a key.”
Luke took a deep breath. He was 26 years old and stuck under his father’s thumb. Because Bruce wouldn’t pay for college and Luke couldn’t get student loans because of the profitability of the diner, he didn’t have a degree. Since he had always worked for the diner and his father damn well wasn’t going to give a reference, he had no job history for a resume. No one wanted to hire a 26-year-old with no degree and no resume. At least, not for anything that would pay enough to pay for an apartment. His father barely paid him enough to get by, forcing him to continue living at home.
Luke decided to concede so he could walk away. “You’re right, Dad. I’m going to roll the silverware now.” He rolled his eyes as he turned and walked out of the smoke-filled office, ignoring the satisfied grunt that he heard behind him.
Amy Rice put the finishing touches on the spreadsheet she was working on, saved it and emailed it to her boss. She was an administrative assistant for TradeLend, a large corporation employing more than 1000 people in her area. She was just a number, but she was good at what she did, so she felt fairly secure in her position.
Her computer locked and e-reader securely tucked into her purse, she took the long elevator ride down to the lobby and walked the two blocks to her favorite diner. She was looking forward to a Cobb Salad, sweet tea and losing herself in the historical romance she was reading.
A sweet tea appeared in front of her as soon as her butt hit the chair and she smiled appreciatively at Luke, her favorite server. She’d harbored a crush on him for the longest time, until her best friend, Alice, had laughed and informed her that he was most definitely gay. Oh well, at least she didn’t have to worry about sucking in her stomach or making sure her top wasn’t showing too much cleavage. Not that she dressed provocatively at all, but her generous breasts- the bane of her existence- had minds of their own.
“Thanks, Luke. I think I’m in the mood for the salad today.”
“You’ve got it, Sugar.”
She was pretty sure that he knew her name…he must have heard Alice say it 100 times, but she never minded his endearments. In the South, they weren’t taken as condescending or sexist. Well, most of the time.
As soon as he walked away, she dove into her story and barely registered when he returned with her food a few minutes later.
Luke watched the expressions flit across Amy’s face as she absently ate her food while reading whatever it was that she was reading. He had a feeling she had no idea how sexy she was. He’d heard her tell her brash friend that she knew she was nothing more than average, if not chubby. If average meant slightly short, curvy, brown hair and brown eyes, then yes, she was. But that was just the surface. She had beautifully pale skin, sparkling eyes, perfect curves and an adorable cupid’s-bow mouth. She always wore her hair back, but it looked silky-smooth. He was fascinated by the scar that went from just under her left ear down along her jaw. It wasn’t blatant, but he could definitely see it up close. He respected that she didn’t go to great lengths to cover it with concealer.
He noticed the way her demeanor changed on the days when Danny served her. She seemed more uptight and nervous. More than likely, she thought Luke was gay, so she didn’t consider him a threat. Maybe he could use that as an advantage someday. Yeah, right. Like she would want to date a 26-year-old, live at home diner server. He rolled his eyes at his own stupidity and went to refill her tea. She didn’t look up, but her cheeks were red and he could see the heartbeat at her throat. He wondered what she was reading.
“Amy,” Alice called in a sing-song voice as she let herself into Amy’s apartment.
“Jeez, Alice! I gave you the key for emergencies, not to barge in here whenever you wanted.”
Alice laughed loudly. “Like you would ever be fucking some guy or running around with your snatch showing.”
Amy rolled her eyes. Alice was so beautiful with her tall, slim body, short, blond hair and large blue eyes. Unfortunately, she had the mouth of a sailor. A very drunk, very lewd sailor.
“What do you want, Alice?” she asked dryly.
Alice ignored Amy’s tone and bit into the apple that Amy was just about to snack on. “I have a blind date for you.”
“Alice, you know I don’t date, much less, blindly.”
“Yes, my dear, sheltered, little lamb. But those times are over. You can’t sit around doing nothing but reading that smut all the time.”
Amy gasped. “It’s not smut! Well…not all of it,” she said, blushing.
“Uh huh.” Crunch. “When’s the last time you spent a night away from your e-reader?”
Amy bit her lip as she thought. “You took me to the movies two weeks ago,” she said proudly.
Crunch, crunch. “I don’t count, sweetness. You and I aren’t getting into each others’ pants.”
“Fine. I don’t remember.”
“My point exactly.” She punctuated her point by making a perfect shot of the apple core into the garbage can. “That’s why I have a date for you. And don’t even try to argue.”
“How do you know this person?”
“He’s a friend of a friend.”
“Who is this ‘friend’? One of the guys you’re currently seducing?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. His best friend has been single for too long and he wants to hook him up with someone, so it’s perfect!”
“You expect me to go out with some guy you’ve never even met and know nothing about and you think it’s perfect?”
“Psh, who cares what he’s like? You just need to get over this fear of dating and get out there. Maybe get fucked, sucked and fondled. He’s just going to be your training wheels.”
“My training wheels? I may be a home-body, but I have dated and I’m far from a virgin. I just choose my men carefully.”
“Shut your trap and fuck your excuses. This is happening. I told him to meet you tonight at the Landing at seven, and then you’re going to see Slam play at the Bar.”
Amy sighed in defeat. There was no point in arguing more. If she resisted, Alice would drag her there kicking and screaming. She loved Alice and knew she meant well, but she could be such a bitch sometimes.
“Fine, but I’m not dressing like a slut.”
“Come on, I’ll help you pick something out.” Alice was really, really too giddy about this.
“Dad, I’ve worked 60 hours this week. I’m not covering the late-night shift, too.”
“Boy, you’d better watch your tone. I’m your father. I let you live under my roof and work in my diner. You’d better show some respect.”
Luke tried to keep his voice at a reasonable level, knowing there were customers within earshot that his father conveniently forgot about. “Dad, I show you nothing but respect. I let you run my life every damn day. I’m asking, this once, for the night off. Hell, it’s not even a night off since I wasn’t scheduled in the first place. I’ll stay until 8 and then I’m out of here.” He turned and walked away before his father could respond.
He was shocked to see Amy sitting at her normal table when he came through the swinging door of the kitchen. She normally only came in at lunch.
She jumped and looked up, relief and maybe worry passing through her yes. “Hey, Luke, how are you?”
“I’m okay. I’m surprised to see you here for dinner.”
“I-I’m meeting someone,” she replied, wringing her hands.
She looked especially tense. “Are you okay, Sugar?”
She smiled and barked out a single laugh. “I just don’t do this and I don’t want to do this.”
“Humor me, Sweetheart. What is ‘this’?”
“Oh, a date. A blind date.”
“Ah, I don’t blame you. Let me guess, your friend, what’s her name…Alice, insisted?”
“You got it in one.”
“What time is he supposed to be here?”
She looked at her watch. “15 minutes ago.”
Luke cringed. Poor thing. This had to be a blow to the ego.
“I’ll give him a few more minutes.”
He resisted running a thumb over her flushed cheek. “I’ll bring you some tea in the meantime.”
She gave him a shy smile. “Thanks, Luke.”
He delivered her tea and watched the door closely from behind the counter where he rolled the silverware by rote.
30 minutes later, he saw her admit defeat when she put her head in her hands and moving her lips as if she were talking to herself. He decided then and there that he wasn’t going to let her go home thinking that she wasn’t worthy.
“I see the dreaded blind date didn’t show.”
“Yeah, I’m ticked off but relieved at the same time. I’m going to strangle Alice tomorrow, though.”
“Hey, I was going to go to the Bar to see a band tonight, would you like to join me?”
Amy looked surprised. “That’s where we were going, too. I was looking forward to hearing Slam play. Are you sure you don’t mind me joining you? I don’t want to cramp your style.”
“How on earth could you cramp my style?”
“Well, you know…never mind. I’d love to.” She gave him the first genuine smile he’d seen all night and he thought he’d never seen anything more beautiful.
“Let me just finish up and we’re out of here.”
Amy was so ticked at Alice that she could scream. On the other hand, she would much rather see Slam with Luke than some random ‘friend of a friend of a friend’. At least she knew that Luke wasn’t a threat. She could literally let her hair down and be herself. After what happened with her mom and step-dad, she was overly cautious around men.
As she drank the last of her tea, she heard raised voices from the back. The voices were muffled, but she thought she heard ‘worthless’, ‘don’t bother coming home’, ‘piece of shit’ and ‘or else’. She knew that the Landing was family run, but she had only seen the owner once. He projected a fake, jovial attitude, almost like a car salesman. A used car salesman that only stocked junkers and painted them so that they looked new. She shuddered. If she didn’t love the food and the service, he was enough to keep her out of there.
She watched as Luke came out of the back, his face pinched in anger.
“Luke, what’s wrong?”
He shook his head. “Just Dad being Dad.”
Her eyes widened and she pointed towards the kitchen. “Oh, goodness. Is your last name Small, too?”
“Yep, the other Small of ‘Small’s Landing’.”
“I had no idea. I thought you just worked here. So, you’re one of the owners?”
He barked a self-deprecating laugh. “No. But I don’t want to talk about that. Are you ready?”
She looked at him quizzically, but let the subject drop. “Sure. I walked here, do you have a car?”
“Yep. I can drive.”
He led her to an old clunker. “She’s not pretty, but she’s reliable,” he said with a fond pat on the hood.
“I like it. It has character.”
“That she does.”
The drive to the Bar was fairly silent, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. When they arrived, the line outside was wrapped around the building.
“I guess we hurry up and wait,” he said with a grin.
As they waited, more and more people began to join them and Amy wondered how they were all going to fit inside. The line started to move and people started pushing to get to the door. Luke grabbed her hand and pulled her along so that she wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.
When he didn’t let go, even when they were safely inside, she decided to just go with it. It was nice to feel as if she were on a date with someone she liked, even if Luke would never want her in that way.
Luke leaned in closely to speak to her. “What do you want to drink?”
“Rum and Coke, please.”
“You’ve got it. Stay right here.”
He reappeared about 15 minutes later with her drink and two bottles of beer. She reached into her pocket to pay him for the drink, but he waved her away. “You can get the next round.”
He sat down a lot closer than necessary, but she decided that it must be so that they could hear each other over the excitement of the crowd.
“Have you heard Slam before?” he asked.
“Not live, but I have their indie album.” Slam, oddly enough, was a blue-grass band with enough of an edge that it appealed to a much larger market than a typical band of that genre would.
“I’ve seen them live once. They’re awesome.”
She slowly sipped her drink and declined his offer for another. She was buzzed and that was plenty. When the band took the stage, the crowd went wild and Luke pulled her in front of him so she wouldn’t get knocked over. She was only slightly shorter than he, so he was able to keep his arms loosely around her waist and his chin on her shoulder. She took the clip out of her hair so it wouldn’t poke him in the face and let her hair fall around her shoulders.
She thought she felt his breath on her ear, but again dismissed it as nothing and just enjoyed the feel of him. They swayed to the beat until the band took a break.
“I’m going to go get some water,” she told him, “can I get you anything?”
“The same, please.”
He couldn’t help but watch her ass in her snug jeans as she walked away. He loved that she had real curves. And that hair…he had to keep from groaning aloud when she took her hair out of that clip. The fresh scent of her shampoo combined with her own unique scent was intoxicating. He’d been very careful to keep his hips out of contact with her ass as he stood behind her. He might be small in most ways, but when fully erect, as he had been most of the evening thus far, he was way above average. Though most men would revel in having a dick that size, it wasn’t something that he was overly proud of. It was difficult to hide even in the loosest pants and the few women he’d been with had been intimidated and leery of it.
He kept an eye out for Amy to return and started to worry when he didn’t see her at the bar. This was where being short really sucked. He stood on his chair and scoured the floor, finally finding her pressed up against a very large man. He hopped down and made his way in her direction.
“You gonna’ dance with me, sweet thing?” he heard the man drawl.
“Maybe some other time,” Amy replied, “please excuse me.”
“Aw, come on sexy, don’t be like that.”
“I said, back off, asshole!” she growled and tried to shove the man off of her.
“Hey, she’s with me.”
The man glanced over his shoulder looking for the source of the deep voice. Finding no one, he continued trying to cajole Amy.
“Hey, leave her alone, buddy.”
Looking around again, the man finally noticed Luke and his face morphed into a sneer. Luke could smell the alcohol seeping out of the man’s pores.
“What’s a little sissy like you gonna’ do about it, huh?”
Luke was tempted to lay the man flat, which he was capable of doing, but that would eventually involve a police report and he was enjoying the evening to much to deal with that. Instead, he gestured to the bouncer who immediately came over.
“What’s the problem here?”
Amy chimed in. “He’s not taking no for an answer.”
“Jimmy, you’ve been warned too many times. Get out.”
Luke pulled Amy away as ‘Jimmy’ continued to argue with the bouncer.
“Are you okay, Ames?”
“Yeah. What a jerk. It was kind of an ego boost, though. That’s never happened before.”
He looked at her skeptically. “You’re kidding right? You’re gorgeous. Any man would fall over himself to get you.”
“That’s sweet of you to say. You’re such a good guy. Do you have a boyfriend?”
Luke groaned. “Let me guess. I’m short, thin, have somewhat of a feminine, baby face and these damn dimples, so you thought I was gay?”
Amy’s eyes were wide and shocked. “Well, no, but…”
“Alice,” they said in unison.
“I’m starting to think your BFF is a pain in the ass.”
“Oh, I can confirm that she’s a pain in the ass, but she means well. So,” she said hesitantly, “she was wrong?”
Instead of answering, he reached out to run his thumb along her scar, tilted her head and kissed her. Holy God in Heaven, the woman’s lips were soft. He groaned and put a thumb on her chin to gently tug her mouth open. He felt her gasp and then her hands were in his hair and she was sucking on his tongue. He pulled back and gazed into her half-lidded eyes, cradled her face in both hands and dove right back into the kiss.
At some point, the music started back up and they began swaying to the beat. There was no way she could have missed his erection now, but instead of backing away as he expected, she got even closer, ground her hips against his and moaned.
“God, Ames…” he whispered against her lips.
“I love when you call me that.”
Luke smiled widely and she licked each dimple before turning around and pulling his arms around her waist again.
Amy was in heaven. She had never felt so comfortable with a man before. She had waited for the anxiety to kick in when she found out that Luke was into her, but it never did. The way he looked at her made her feel cherished and beautiful. And the way he kissed her, oh. His kisses were all-consuming and quite literally, left her without breath.
As the band finished its final number, she turned back to Luke for another soft kiss. “I guess it’s time to go.”