Jolanda is willing to do whatever it takes, even face off against the Bering Sea, to raise the money for a balloon payment on her father’s house. She challenges Keller and wins a bet to get on the recently inherited crab fishing boat, forcing the young captain to buck tradition and superstition. Will his season be doomed or will he end up with the ultimate catch?
Keller looked up into the bartender’s face and his wide smile. Good to know that Keller wasn’t the only one who reacted to her like that. Still he couldn’t bring himself to face her. Not after the argument on the boat.
“I’m not here to pour ’em, Ralph, I’m here to drink ’em. I’ll have a draft, please.”
By the sound of the bar stool scraping against the gritty hardwood, she was just a few stools to his left.
Her voice sounded cheerful, but he could sense that layer of exhaustion he’d seen in her eyes that morning. “Can I put in for an order of the crab nachos too?”
Keller picked up his cup and sipped. The coffee was cold and seemed heavier, bitterer than it had a few moments ago. Because of his guilt?
He heard the heavy glass sliding against the mahogany. Her barstool rattled as she slid off, but he kept his gaze on the drink. One look in her eyes and the façade that had al-lowed him to dismiss honor would crumble.
“Is it that easy for you to ignore me now?”
He lifted his chin and glanced in her direction. “I didn’t hear you come in.” How did the lie slip by his lips so effortlessly?
Her chest heaved slightly and a grin pushed up her cheeks. Great. She didn’t believe him. She leaned back against the bar, close enough to him he could smell the fruity perfume she wore. Or was that her shampoo? Her long hair was now freed from the clips and the hat she wore earlier. She’d pulled it over the shoulder closest to him. “So which one of these yokels did you hire?”
“What are you waiting for? I figured you’d pull out by the end of the week.”
What could he say? The weight of the phone in his hand gave him a thought. “I have a call into Reese. I’m hoping he’ll come up.”
“I didn’t know that was an option. I mean when I heard he wasn’t captaining the Melbourne, I assumed he’d given up fishing.”
He shook his head. “Can’t believe everything this rumor mill spits out. His wife’s expecting. He wanted to take some time off to be with her and the baby.” Yeah, some time, like the rest of his life.
“Reese is going to be a daddy?” Her laugh sounded al-most musical. “That’s wonderful. He’ll be such a good father.”
That grabbed Keller’s attention. “How do you know that?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe I don’t. But, you sort of get to know the guys who come into the cannery. He always seemed kind-hearted.”
His brother was that. And if Keller asked, Reese would answer his call.
“Don’t you think it’s unfair to ask him to miss the birth of his first child? But then, I guess you don’t care too much about those kinds of things.”
Though he’d seen and interacted with Jo before, it wasn’t until last night that he’d felt he got to know her at all. “Why would you say that?”
“This is a small town. And maybe you guys think you breeze in and out without making a mark on us locals, but when you get drunk in here you talk. And what you say to one person becomes common knowledge along the gossip chains.”
“I want my brother to be home when his child comes.”
“But not more than you want to fill your boat on your terms.”
“No. Family comes first.”
Since his father died with no one from his family around him, but he couldn’t say that. “Let’s just say I learned that lesson the hard way. Okay?”
“Is that why Brie left you?”
How did she know about that? Yeah. Right. Gossip chains.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Oh. I touched a nerve.”
“I’m not having this discussion with you.” He motioned to the bartender. This time he ordered the whiskey he’d held at bay earlier.
“Watch it, Kell. Don’t get drunk again and make promises you’re not willing to keep.”
At her prodding, the guilt bubbled into acidic anger, pressing against the back of his throat and giving him the worst heartburn he’d experienced in a long time.
“Your nachos are up, Jo,” Ralph said.
“Thanks. I’m going to take them over to the booth.”
As she crossed the bar, Keller could feel her presence pull away from him. He hadn’t felt such a connection to anyone in a long time. Not since Brie. But Jo was different. She stood tall. Pushed buttons. Made him look in the mirror and examine who he was.
He picked up the shot and took a small sip, just enough to quiet the whispers of guilt. How dare she even think she knew what went on between him and his former fiancée? How dare she be right?
About the Author:
Constance Phillips lives in Ohio with her husband, daughter, and four canine kids. Her son -- now on his own -- is planning a wedding, confirming that romance still lives and breathes.
When not writing stories of finding and rediscovering love, Constance and her husband spend the hours planning a cross-country motorcycle trip for the not-so-distant future…if they can find a sidecar big enough for the pups.
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