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Anton: A Chicago Blaze Hockey Romance by Brenda Rothert (1)

Chapter One

“Whas’ good here, doll? Sides you, a course.” A drunken customer leers at my tits as he slurs his words.

“The water’s delicious,” I respond.

He cackles and leans over the bar. “Gimme ‘nother Mich Ultra.”

“Another pussy beer, comin’ up.” I grin at him.

He lowers his brows. “What’d you say?”

“I said coming right up.”

“Mia, I need that mojito!” yells Lana, a waitress at Lucky Seven, the bar I’m tending singlehandedly on a busy Friday night.

I ignore her and get the Mich Ultra. I always serve my customers first, because they’re tipping me, not their waitress. Lana’s a bitch, anyway, and mojitos take forever to make.

After filling two more orders, I start the mojito. I’m crushing the mint when a loud wave of laughter pours into the already loud bar, bringing with it a burst of chilly November air as the door is held open for a dozen women to walk in.

It’s a bachelorette party, the bride decked out in a crown of bows and a hot pink boa. I can’t help smiling at the look of absolute joy on her face. It reminds me of the way I felt before my own wedding eight years ago. Little did I know then what I huge mistake I was about to make.

A fresh-faced woman from the party approaches the bar and asks for ten shots of Fireball. When she reaches into her purse, I stop her.

“First round’s free for bachelorette parties,” I say.

“Are you serious?”

“Yep.”

“Oh my God, that’s so nice!”

I just smile because I can’t tell her the real reason the owner of the bar, Janice, gives the first round free to bachelorette parties. Janice was the seventh wife of Mike McGill, an obnoxious dick who owned a sports bar in the south side of Chicago called The Penalty Box. I never knew him, but from what I’ve heard, he regularly beat the shit out of her. When he dropped dead of a heart attack, Janice burned all his prized sports memorabilia and renamed the bar Lucky Seven. Janice says the least she can do for a woman about to get shackled to a man is give her a free drink. Can’t say I disagree.

“Hey, can I get some service?” a woman yells from the end of the bar.

I look up and then walk in the other direction to help someone else, because fuck her. Janice told me on my first day here eight months ago that she wanted me to be salty. Pushover bartenders lose her money, she said. And again—works for me. Nothing turns my stomach like letting someone walk all over me. My husband has done enough of that to leave me feeling ground into the dirt.

As soon as two people get up from their seats at the bar, a tall man in a suit grabs the back of one and pulls it out. A pretty brunette slides onto the seat and he hangs her coat on the back of her chair before sitting down himself.

“What can I get you guys?” I ask them.

“What would you like, babe?” he asks her, his eyes warm.

As she thinks about what she wants to order, I look at them both during the few seconds of silence. He’s handsome—clean-shaven with short blond hair and crinkles at the corners of his eyes. She sits close to him, her dark hair over one shoulder.

“I’ll have a margarita, please,” she says. “On the rocks.”

“Guinness for me,” the man says.

I nod and as I’m turning to fill the order, she leans over to kiss his cheek. They seem so happy. He seems thoughtful. I’m guessing they haven’t been together very long.

I’m working from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. tonight. At ten o’clock on the dot, Janice comes out from her office in the back and joins me behind the bar.

“Take a break,” she says, pulling up the sleeves of her shirt.

“You sure? I’m slammed.”

“I’ve got it.”

“Damn, girl.” A male voice says from the other side of the bar. “You’re like a fresh Oreo cookie, ain’t ya? Double stuffed.” He eyes my tits and grins.

Being biracial, I’ve heard all types of words meant to denote my skin tone, even if in this case he’s commenting about my breasts more so than my mixed skin tone—a combination of black and white.

I’m damn proud of my heritage though and as I’m about to tell him to fuck off, my boss beats me to it.

“The fuck is wrong with you?” Janice demands, eyes narrowed. “Get your ass out of my bar!”

He draws back, shocked by her reaction. “Hey, I didn’t mean—”

“Well then you shouldn’t have opened your redneck mouth! You’ve got ten seconds to move your ass before I grab my shotgun.”

His mouth drops open and he takes off. Janice shakes her head.

“Prick,” she mutters.

I know better than to thank her. I have before, and she silenced me with a sharp comment every time.

“Sure you want me on break?” I say instead.

“You already wasted your first minute standing here.” She glares at me and then takes an order from one of the waitresses.

I walk back to the supply room where employees take their breaks. The wood-paneled walls are lined with cases of alcohol, but there’s a space carved out for a small table with three chairs around it. Janice’s late husband didn’t allow breaks, and that was one of her first rule changes when she took over.

My green canvas backpack hangs from a hook on the wall, my worn, wool winter coat over it. I fish through the bag until I find my macroeconomics textbook and the Ziploc baggie with a peanut butter sandwich inside.

I’ve got fifteen minutes to read up on how interest rates affect the economy. It’s not remotely interesting, but I have a test tomorrow. I’m twenty-nine, but it’s nights like this I feel nineteen again, holed up in my dorm room studying while others are partying.

If I could go back, I’d do things much differently. But like my grandma always said, life only has one gear—drive, so I keep moving forward, the only way I can go.