Home > Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(9)

Magical Midlife Madness (Leveling Up #1)(9)
Author: K.F. Breene

“It’s never mysterious,” Niamh answered. “They leave so they don’t have to listen to him.”

Some things you just couldn’t argue with.

“How’s this Pinot Noir?” I pointed at a name I didn’t recognize. “Is it like a Chianti at all?”

Austin’s gaze was still sharp, but for a wonder it softened. His frame followed, the muscles melting back into his shirt. With a sigh he straightened up. “No. It’s more like a Merlot. That’s your thing? Subtler wines?”

“For reds, yes. I was in Italy for a week and it changed my life. Why punch me in the face with your wine when you can caress me, know what I mean?”

His pupils dilated slightly, and for the briefest of moments, a look of pure, primal hunger raced across his face. It was gone so fast I wondered if I’d imagined it. My belly fluttered, only this time it wasn’t in fear.

I frowned at him, my response to the unexpected sensation.

He frowned back, probably wondering what my problem was.

Social-awkwardness, hard at work.

I dipped my eyes back to the wine list.

“Yes, I do,” he said quietly, and turned away.

“Paul, is there a reason you came in tonight?” Niamh called as Austin landed a glass in front of me.

“He just broke up with his girlfriend, give him a break,” Austin said to Niamh, a grin tugging at his lips.

“I’d give him a break if he was on the beer, fallin’ around the place, legless,” she replied. “But when he’s workin’, he needs to function.”

Austin turned with a wine bottle in hand. “You scare him.”

The red wine curled around the base of my glass and kept rising.

“Wait, wait.” I held out my hands to stop the pour, used to getting a sample taste to see if I would like it. “No, why…”

I sighed as the liquid closed in on the top of the slim glass. There was no room to swirl. I wasn’t a connoisseur, but everyone knew you had to swirl red wine so as to look mildly important. Matt had made a big thing out of it.

“Here you go.” Austin winked at me.

Paul finally handed over Niamh’s drink as I tasted the wine. It was bitter, and the vinegary punch at the end made me scrunch up my nose.

“Ugh.” I shivered, my mouth now tasting like garbage.

“That good, huh?” Niamh grinned at me.

“No, thank you.” I pushed the glass across the top of the bar. “How about a Coors?”

Austin homed in on the wine. He lifted it to his lips, the top lip a bit thinner but no less shapely than the full bottom lip, and sampled. His brow furrowed. “What’s wrong with it?”

I lifted my eyebrows. “You have, like, twenty tasting rooms up and down that main drag. Have you not been in them?”

He looked at me for a silent beat, as though he had a defense at the ready but couldn’t use it. “No,” he finally said.

I shook my head in disbelief. “It’s nothing. Just not my thing. I’ll go for a beer, please.”

Niamh clasped the edge of the bar with an evil smile. “How will he learn if you don’t speak your mind?” she asked me.

Austin’s brow pinched. He gestured for me to go on. “What’s the problem? Give it to me.”

I sighed, realizing they weren’t going to let me out of this one.

“Well…honestly, it’s not a very good bottle. It’s inexpensive, right? Which I’d expect in many dive bars, don’t get me wrong. I usually don’t order wine in a dive bar. It’s just that you’re in a wine town, so I figured it would at least be decent. That was my bad. I assumed. Second, it’s been open for a long time. It’s gone off.” I shrugged. “I was hoping to try something from one of the local vineyards. It’s okay, though. Coors will be fine.”

The guy next to me whistled, his overgrown mustache flaring with the sudden breeze. “And that’s why she’s divorced,” he said.

Austin’s shoulders swiveled. His left hand darted out so fast I couldn’t even get out a surprised “oh!” His fist smashed into the hairy man’s face with such force it knocked the guy off of the stool. His back slammed into the ground, followed by his head. His nose spurted blood instantly.

“Oh my God!” I jerked and turned, pushing into Niamh.

She shoved me back onto my stool, clearly unconcerned.

“What just happened?” I whispered so as not to screech. I’d seen a few fights in my day, but I’d never seen someone punched with such force. “Seriously, what…”

“He disrespected a lady in my bar, and he was served a warning never to do it again,” Austin said. “Do you want to try a different wine? I have a more expensive one.”

The man got up, cupping his face. With bleary eyes, he gave Austin a somber look. Right before he hurried for the door, he shot me a death stare.

Prickles of unease worked through my body. I’d seen that look before. Although none of this was my fault, I’d just created an enemy. A possibly dangerous enemy in a very small town.

I felt eyes on me from around the room. I shook my head, lowering my heating face. While Austin had probably thought he was being sweet, I wasn’t a naïve twenty-something anymore, impressed by his show of masculinity. Violence bred violence. Austin wasn’t in any danger—he was clearly the dominant male—but that guy had looked angry enough to go for the weakest link. In this case, me.

Some of the people who’d witnessed the incident probably thought I was at fault. That I’d made Austin react the way he had. The guy with the newly broken nose certainly seemed to think so.

My instinct was to keep quiet. Like every woman I knew, I’d been taught to go with the flow. To suffer in silence. But guys like Austin needed to start thinking about how their actions affected others. Bad guys kept winning because good guys didn’t understand they were part of the problem.

So, despite the embarrassment of going against the grain, I spoke my truth.

“I’m really grateful that you tried to defend me,” I started. “But that guy is now humiliated. He’ll blame it on me, and if he gets drunk enough, I’ll be the one he gets his revenge on. You’ve just created a very dangerous situation for me. I know you meant well, and I thank you for trying, but often a man doesn’t account for how dangerous the fallout can be for the woman. Can you call me a cab? If he’s still out there, I don’t trust my chances.”

My stupid face was red, I could feel the heat, but I met Austin’s eyes, anyway. I expected indignation or sullen anger. I wouldn’t have blamed him for either. It couldn’t be easy to have your world view challenged with information you probably thought came out of nowhere.

But when I met those clear blue eyes, they weren’t brimming with anger, or even narrowed in annoyance. He didn’t open his mouth to berate me for my ungratefulness or shrug me off as a hysterical woman who didn’t understand the ways of the world. His intelligent gaze silently regarded me.

“Get her better wine,” Niamh said, her voice subdued to match the moment.

Austin nodded, the movement so subtle it was almost indistinguishable, and moved away.

“Fair play to ya,” Niamh said, nodding. “You’re exactly right. Some of these muscle-head nincompoops are no better than oxen. Good for a specific job, then better off put out to pasture, dumb buggers. Put them all in a pen and let them fight amongst themselves, I say. Let Darwin sort it out.

“But I better explain how this town works. This isn’t L.A. This is O’Briens, nothing but a speck on the map. The locals here all know each other. We all look after each other. Now, if that man beside you had been a Dick—a…tourist—Austin Steele would’ve made a very big blunder, yes he would’ve. But among the locals, if Austin Steele tells someone you are to be respected, then you will be respected. And that hairy sonuvabitch is definitely a local. If he’d shower once in a while, he might get some interest. He needs a pair of scissors and a razor, the dirty bastard.

“Now, of course you wouldn’t have known that. That’s why I’m tellin’ you. Don’t you feel bad for speaking up. As I said, you could’ve been in some trouble if that was a Dick. We get weird ones around these parts, and you’re not equipped to deal with it. You don’t realize yet that this place is full of opportunities for unmarked graves. That’ll come in time. For right now, you’ve given Austin Steele something to think about. So that was good. Keep that up. I like to see him on his toes. We have too many yes men around here, if you ask me. Spineless, all of ’em. Austin Steele has it too easy. I only play nice because he’s the keeper of the alcohol, you know what I mean.”

I wanted to ask why Austin held so much clout, whether she’d created any of those unmarked graves, and also why she kept saying his full name, but before I could get any of my questions out, he came back with a bottle of wine.

He lifted the opener, his bicep straining his shirt. As he turned the handle on the cork screw, he shifted his body slightly, giving me a view of his large, flexed shoulder. Another turn of the cork screw, and I got a full display of his popping pecs within his shirt. His cockeyed grin said he knew I was enjoying the show.

I grinned despite myself and then rolled my eyes at his antics. Niamh gave him a confused frown, although I wasn’t sure why.

“You’re tough,” he said as the cork popped out. His smile dwindled, noticing Niamh. A moment later, before he poured, he leaned toward me, his eyes piercing. “Please know that I would never intentionally put you in harm’s way. You will get home safely. I will make sure of it, myself.”

I was mesmerized by the fire in his eyes. By the absolute certainty in his tone. I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

He nodded then straightened, his message delivered. The show over.

I was still holding my breath. Warmth spread through my middle.

No one had ever made a fuss about my safety before. Not since I was a little girl. Matt had been nice enough through our marriage, but he’d never thought much about my being in danger, not in upper-middle class suburbia.

   
Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Magical Midlife Meeting (Leveling Up #5)
» Magical Midlife Love (Leveling Up #4)
» The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash
» Lover Unveiled (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1
» A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brothe
» Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)
» Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)
» Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)
» Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)
» The Bromance Book Club (Bromance Book Club
» Crazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club #
» Undercover Bromance (Bromance Book Club #2)