Faking It For Mr. Right, page 1
Faking for Mr. Right
Copyright © 2019 by Penny Wylder
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Books By Penny Wylder
With a sigh, I lean farther over the puddle that used to be our back floor. Some days my job isn’t too bad—it pays the bills, at least. But some days it makes me want to throw in the towel, quite literally, run out into the parking lot and scream. Today, unfortunately, is one of the latter. I sop up the worst of the spill, courtesy of a couple and their brood of five children. The youngest were cute, but the oldest entertained themselves by having a mini food fight.
My arms ache and my back twinges, but I keep scrubbing until the floor shines. Bob won’t have it any other way, and I know I can’t leave this restaurant until I can see my reflection in the floor. My boss is nothing if not a micromanager. And tonight we’re busier than usual, thanks to Amy Bletcher’s wedding. That woman has more best friends to invite to her wedding than I’ve met in my entire life.
But that’s what happens when you grow up in a small town and never branch out, like me. Amy’s one of the many who got out, headed to the big city and lived up her life. Seeing all her city friends, extravagantly dressed and rolling into town for her big wedding just makes me question my life choices all over again.
But it’s not like I really had a choice. And besides, there are things I love about my small-town life. My best friend Devan. Our friendship. Being close to nature. It’s beautiful here, when I get the chance to enjoy it.
Lately, though, that’s been less and less often. My work schedule has taken over my life. Even between Devan and I, we barely make enough to cover rent from month to month.
I sigh and throw in the towel—literally. I’m going to need another one to finish cleaning up this sloppy mess.
As I’m climbing to my feet, I feel my phone buzz in my pocket. I head into the back room before I answer; Bob doesn’t like it when we take phone calls while on the floor. Not that any of the usual crowd would mind. But I have a feeling that tonight, with all these well-dressed New Yorkers in town, Bob will want all of his staff on our best behavior.
When I’m safely inside the kitchen, half-deaf from the rattle of plates and pans in the sink and the whistles of the chefs as they fry up meals, I answer the phone.
“Melanie?” The voice on the other end of the phone is so croaky I can barely recognize it.
“Devan?” I ask, only after checking the caller ID. “You okay?”
“No,” my bestie groans into the receiver. “I think I caught that cold Giovani had last week.”
I grimace, remembering how one of our bartenders infected the majority of the kitchen staff after a particularly gruesome coughing fit. Bob reluctantly sent him home, though only after the rest of us complained that we didn’t want to catch the plague.
Too little too late, I guess. I rub my neck subconsciously and pray I haven’t caught it too. Then my eyes land on the schedule pinned to the wall beside me, and I realize why Devan’s really calling. Her shift starts at 6pm, right when mine is supposed to end. “You should stay home,” I tell her.
“Bob will kill me,” she protests, but I cut her off.
“I’ll cover your shift.”
Her breath hitches over the line. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve got this, honey. Besides, the last thing we want is you bringing Amy Bletcher’s entire wedding party down with the flu a day before the big bash.”
She laughs, which turns into a hacking cough that makes me grimace. “Thank you,” she finally manages, her voice more of a wheeze than anything.
“Stay in bed, watch some crappy movies,” I say. “I’ll bring home some of Carl’s chicken noddle soup tonight when I’m off.” When I finish at midnight, since Devan’s working the closing shift. I’ve already been on my feet since my shift started this morning. They throb at the very thought of an extra five hours of standing. But what am I going to do? Make my bestie work while she’s dying?
I take a deep breath, wish Devan a long restful night, and hang up the phone. My arms and my neck ache from scrubbing the floor on top of carrying all the trays I’ve been balancing all day. All my body wants to do is beeline home and collapse face-first onto my couch.
At least I’ll make a little extra cash today, I try to reason with myself. Maybe when Devan’s feeling better she can cover one of my shifts and I can splurge on a massage or something. The one spa in town runs a special discount on Tuesdays.
Forcing a picture of that into my mind, I summon all my remaining willpower and reach for another rag to finish mopping up the spill. As I do that, though, I lean into the sightline of the bar staff. Mistake.
“Mel! Grab those cocktails for table four?” Giovani, patient zero of this flu epidemic nods at a tray of drinks waiting on the bar top. All martinis, and at least six of them. Great. Heavy and easy to spill.
“That’s Beth’s section,” I protest.
“I know, but she’s been in the bathroom for the last ten minutes and her table is giving me the evil eye,” Gio protests, doing his best puppy dog eyes. “Please?”
With a sigh, I reach for the tray. “Fine, but make Anthony finish mopping that spill, will you?” I toss the rag back onto the counter.
“Sure, sure,” Gio responds, already turning away to listen to a man in a three-piece suit who’s yelling an order across the bar top. I’m 99.9% sure he didn’t even hear me.
I turn away from the bar with the tray balanced across my arms. The room seems to have gotten even more crowded while I was in the back, but I navigate across it sideways, dodging the rowdiest of the patrons. “Sorry. Excuse me. Coming through.”
Some people move out of my way, but most ignore me entirely. It makes me wonder if maybe I wouldn’t enjoy life in the big city after all. Is this how everyone there acts?
One guy starts to shout at another, something about the Patriots and Deflate Gate. I roll my eyes, trying to shift out of their way. That’s when another man, full beer in hand, stumbles into my side, hard.
I shift to brace myself, grabbing the other side of the tray with my free hand to steady it. But my foot lands right in the spill I was trying to mop up earlier. The last thing I see is a sea of backs turned toward me. Nobody even notices. Then my knee hits the ground, and the tray follows a split second later with a deafening crash. Martini glasses shatter. Gin and olives pool across the floor in a sticky mess that immediately starts to reek of Christmas.
I groan, rolling away from the broken glass before I try to ease to my feet. Dimly, I’m aware of shouting. A couple people ooh and ahh. The guy who crashed into me, on the other hand, just glares.
“Watch where you’re going! Christ, this is going to stain. Do you know how much this suit cost?” He shakes a soaked arm at me.
I clamp my mouth shut, resisting the urge to point out that at least gin is a clear liquid, and it probably won’t show up on his black su
“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, my voice drowning in the noise of the bar, and the curses of other patrons shoving out of the way of the broken glass.
That’s about when Bob finds me. It must have taken him this long to elbow through the crowd, because I know he’ll have heard the crash from wherever he was standing. The man has the ears of a bat, and they’re constantly tuned to listening for any hints of his staff making mistakes.
Right now, I’m directly in his line of fire.
“Melanie, did you do this?” Bob’s voice is low and quiet, which some people might mistake for not being as dangerous. But Bob yells when he’s just annoyed or irritable. When he goes quiet like this, you know you’ve really fucked up.
“I’m sorry. It’s so crowded; someone bumped into me and I lost my balance—”
“You’re paying for these glasses,” Bob interrupts me. “Out of your paycheck. Plus the drinks themselves, since now the customers who ordered them will need to wait even longer to be served.”
My stomach sinks. So much for making a little extra by taking over Devan’s shift tonight. But what am I going to do, argue? I’ve seen people get fired from here for less. And in a town this size, there aren’t exactly ample job opportunities to go around. I can’t afford to blow this one.
“What about my suit?” yells the man responsible for making me trip in the first place. “I’m going to have to pay to get this dry cleaned now, and express the job if it’s going to be ready for the wedding I’m attending tomorrow. You really need to train your servers to be able to handle a crowd.”
My manager bobs his head to him, practically bowing. “I am so sorry for the inconvenience, sir. I’ll make sure our server covers any expenses for the suit as well.”
“I’ll need at least $300,” the man replies. “Not to mention the inconvenience of the whole mess.”
My stomach churns now. “But—”
“Of course. I’ll take it out of her tips,” my manager says, speaking loudly over me. I only have $42 in tips so far today, and I’m unlikely to make that much all evening. Or even in several evenings.
I can’t help it. Tears start to burn at the corners of my eyes. It’s not fair. He’s the one who made me trip. But before I can argue my case, another man steps between me and my manager.
“You realize you’re the imbecile who tripped into her in the first place, don’t you?” the newcomer says, and my heart skips a beat. It’s like he read my mind.
The angry man bristles. “Excuse me?”
“I was standing right here,” the newcomer answers calmly. I can’t see his face from where I’m crouched behind him. All I see is a tall man with dark hair, wearing a dark gray suit that looks even more finely tailored than the angry guy’s. “You practically shoved the lady over, then you want her to pay for the inconvenience of your inability to hold your alcohol?”
The angry man’s face turns red. “Listen here, I don’t know who you think you are—”
“Someone who understands common courtesy to waitstaff,” the newcomer answers with a dismissive tone, before he turns to my manager. I catch his face in profile now—a sharp jawline dotted with stubble, a long aristocratic nose and a flash of dark gray eyes, nearly the exact same color as his suit. “I’ll pay for the damaged glasses and the drinks,” he says, withdrawing a wallet from his pocket and counting out bills. “But I believe you ought to treat your own staff with a little bit more respect.”
My manager’s eyes nearly bug out of his head at the sight of the amount of $100s crammed into the man’s wallet. He doesn’t even protest the comment about treating his staff better. Bob just nods his head like a puppet with a broken string, accepting all $400 he’s handed, when I know damn well those glasses aren’t worth even $10 a stem.
Before anyone can say another word, the man turns to the angry guy and tosses another $300 at the man’s feet. “I’m sure you can find a cleaner to fix that bargain basement jacket you call a suit for this price,” he says before he turns on his heel to face me, leaving the other two gaping behind him.
After a second, the angry man bends down to scoop up the cash, carefully avoiding shards of broken glass. I barely even notice, because I’m too busy staring up at the face of my savior.
He is hot.
Cheekbones that could shatter those same martini glasses I dropped. Eyes that pierce right through me. He offers me a hand up, and when I place my palm in his, his warm fingers wrap around mine strongly, lending my body the heat from his own. I feel a tingle race up my arm, along my spine and spreading out to the tips of my toes. My heart kicks into high speed, racing as I reach standing and gaze up at the man. He’s at least a head taller than me, but something about the way he gazes down at me makes me feel as if we’re just inches apart.
I guess we are. I take a slow breath and step back, my face flooding with heat. “I’m sorry,” I burst out. “You didn’t have to do that for me.”
He smiles, slow and sly. “Stop apologizing for things you aren’t responsible for,” he says. Then he winks. “And I can’t abide watching anyone being shamed for honest, hard work. Least of all a beautiful woman such as yourself.”
My cheeks flush with heat. I swallow hard, feeling my throat constrict and release with the motion. Something about standing so close to this man makes me -aware of every movement in my body—my hands hovering at my sides, my body angled toward his. Can he tell how much he’s affecting me?
Judging by the way his sly smile widens, I’d guess so. His gaze drips down over me, and I can tell he’s assessing me, checking me out. It gives me the confidence to do the same, enjoying the sight of his muscular form. That suit fits him well enough that I can tell he’s built beneath it. Probably has washboard abs and the kind of pecs you could crack an egg against.
My stomach tightens once more, for an entirely different reason this time.
“Are you alright?” he’s asking me, his voice lower now, almost concerned. He reaches for my hands again and turns them over. I don’t realize what he’s doing until he says, “You didn’t touch any of the glass, did you?”
I blink, coming back to myself. For a second, it felt like I was alone with this tall, dark and handsome savior. Now I remember we’re standing in the middle of a crowded restaurant, and I have even more work to do at the moment. “No, I’m fine,” I blurt, dusting my skirt off and glancing over the man’s shoulder at my boss.
To my surprise, Bob isn’t glaring at me or mouthing at me to get back to work. He’s still standing there grinning at his fistful of cash. Even the angry man has stormed off, hopefully to go and clean his suit instead of continuing to drink the beer he’s clearly had enough of.
“Um, I should get back to work though,” I stammer, reluctantly. “Thank you so much for what you just did. Seriously.”
The man shakes his head. “Believe me, it was nothing.” He steps back, giving me space, but the air just feels cold and empty where he’d been standing a second ago. As if there was an electrical charge between us, one that I miss the second it breaks. Then he flashes me another grin. “Come by my table when you have a moment. I’d like to get to know you a little better…?”
“Melanie,” I reply, catching his drift and offering a hand.
He grips my palm once more, and I wish I could keep my palm trapped between his strong, capable fingers for longer. But he lets me go all too soon. “Xander,” he replies, and points toward a corner table. “That’s me.”
“I’ll come by in a few,” I promise, and stand stock still, watching him effortlessly weave away through the crowd. People shift out of his way without even seeming to realize it, as if they too can sense the aura of confidence oozing off of him.
“Melanie.” My boss is glaring again, and I jump back to attention. “Come on,” he snaps, nodding toward the floor. “Before someone steps i
I leap toward the bar and grab a broom and dustpan, along with the cloth from earlier. It takes me a good fifteen minutes to finish wiping up everything—more than a few shards of glass skittered away through the crowd of bar patrons, and I have to crawl between legs to finish sweeping.
When I’m finally done, I return to the bar to dump the glass shards, wring out the cloth, and grab the food waiting under the warmer for my own tables, which I’ve been neglecting. With a few more apologies for the wait to my annoyed customers, I drop off their food, then slip away to swing past Xander’s table.
He has a book propped open on the table in front of him. A glimpse of the cover makes me smile. I recognize the author, a nonfiction comedic author I love to read. “That one is great,” I comment as I pause beside him.
He folds the book facedown onto the table with a grin. “I preferred her last one at first, but this one is growing on me.”
“Just wait for the ending,” I promise. Then I smirk. “But no spoilers.”
“Naturally.” His smile widens, and he pushes out the chair across from him.
After one last nervous glance around the bar, I perch on the seat. “I can only talk for a second,” I say, well aware of what Bob will do if he catches me sitting here.
Xander catches my drift, and glances over my shoulder. “Will your manager relax if I pay him off again?” he asks, and I can’t help it. I burst into laughter.
“Got to be honest,” I say. “I’ve never seen a customer call Bob out on his shit so effectively.”
Xander shrugs. “What can I say? It’s a gift.” His eyes flash. “I recognize invaluable people when I see them. And I understand what makes the less talented ones tick.”
PENNY WYLDER SERIES:
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