Now & Forever

By: Cynthia Dane

Seven Years Ago, Part 1

James Merange dragged himself to the closest bar that was half-empty and still looked like it had a decent selection of bourbon. Never thought of myself as a bourbon man, but today is totally a bourbon day. Five hours. That’s how long his meeting with his father’s business associates had taken. Now that James was out of business school, he was expected to start carrying his weight in his family. That’s what happened when he was born the only son to the traditional Meranges, let alone was the only child.

James was not a traditional kind of guy, however. But what else was he supposed to do with his life when he had no driving need to do something great? Guy in my frat wanted to be an artist… so he became a pretty good artist. Fuck you, Feldman. Why couldn’t James have some talent? He had all this money to throw at it!

The bar was sophisticated, but none of the “top shelf” products on display screamed they were worth their weight in gold. Good. That meant James could spare himself more networking and hobnobbing with the kind of knobs his father preferred. When he left the meeting twenty minutes ago, Albert was still going on about taking his business associates to a lounge. No, no, no. The only time James went to lounges was if his friends were going along. It was the only way to assure a half-decent time.

At least there wasn’t a damn soul in the room, aside from the female bartender standing on the other side of the circular bar, cleaning glasses and facing the beer bottles on the shelf. James was so relieved to have an empty bar to himself that he courted serious fantasies of drinking his glass of bourbon and scrolling mindlessly on his iPhone. He had downloaded a new game that promised hours of mindless entertainment. Candy Crush. Yes, that was its name.

Yes, give me the booze, give me the NO BLASTED MUSIC ON SPEAKERS and give me bright colors and cartoon characters. It worked in Japan. About time America got with the program.

He had barely sat down when the female bartender rounded the corner and approached him with a smile.

The most gorgeous smile he had ever seen.

James knew he had been working too hard and too long when he swore he saw an angel descend from heaven and grace him with her presence. Booze. Give me the booze now. With any luck, James would soon be too drunk to give a shit that his brain, heart, and cock were telling him to marry the woman before him.

Years later, he would struggle to put into words what attracted him first about Gwenyth Mitchell, the only woman to knock him off his feet and step on him before he could get back up again. James had encountered his fair share of gorgeous women over the years. His undergrad years were nothing but a steady stream of pussy, most of those girls never standing a chance at dating him. Marriage? Yeah, right.

Yet why did he feel like he looked into the eyes of his future wife that night?

“What can I get you?” She spread her arms before him, fingers gripping her side of the mahogany-topped bar. “You look like you could use something strong. Long day at work?”

She asked the usual questions any good bartender looking for a tip relied on. But there was a tone to her voice that made her spunkier, more genuine than the common bartender fishing for tips. Had she felt it too? This instant connection that would end with her agreeing to go out with James? If he built up the guts to do it…

“Got any bourbon?” Amazing. His voice hadn’t squeaked like he was a pubescent idiot.

“Bourbon? Oh, we got tons.” She tossed errant strands of blond hair behind her ears. That loose bun wasn’t going to get her far that night. Or was that the plan? Part of her flirtatious game? James was already losing this game, and he wasn’t used to losing.

To anyone but the perfect opportunity, anyway.

“What brand’s your poison?”

James asked for something dark and velvety. The bartender turned around to grab it, showing off her toned ass in the black jeans she wore like they were a second skin. James gawked at both cheeks as they flexed in denim. As long as he checked himself before she turned around again…

“What’s your name?” he asked, before realizing that might have been the wrong thing to say. A woman like this? She was used to being flirted with every day.

Top Books