His gap-toothed grin was sheepish. “It’s okay. So are they? Your eyes,” he added meaningfully.
She grinned for the second time that day. “Yes, they’re real. And I really am sorry. Uh…can I buy you a drink? You know, as an apology.”
Biker Boy took a step back and swept his beady blue gaze over her. “Don’t you have someplace to go?”
“Not until the tow truck driver shows up for my car.” Even then, she had no particular destination in mind, but she’d worry about that later. From now on, she was going to make her own rules. Carly’s Law, she thought, with a mutinous lift of her chin, would be to live life as it comes, and do it with gusto. Provided she could shelve the guilt plaguing her, she might even be able to start living by her new laws. Once she decided what they were, of course.
She stooped to gather her dress, then smiled up at Biker Boy. “Do you have a name?” she asked. She didn’t think he’d appreciate the nickname she’d given him, but the faded Harley-Davidson motorcycle T-shirt was rather telling.
“Benny,” he said, flashing her a grin again.
“Well, Benny,” she said, tossing the train over her arm. “I have a drink waiting for me at the bar, so unless you plan to join me, you’ll have to excuse me.”
She marched back inside the barroom and headed straight for the bar and the lone drink waiting for her on a paper napkin. With a little concentration and ingenuity, she managed to climb onto the bar stool despite the weight of her dress. She set her bag in front of her, reached for the glass and took her first very un-ladylike drink of straight Scotch.
The fiery brew instantly seared her throat. Her stomach roiled, then ignited into a ball of flame. What had the bartender given her? Lighter fluid?
She coughed, sputtered, then wheezed out a breath. Undaunted, she downed another fraction of whiskey. The second drink felt no better than the first.
Benny and his friend approached her, occupying a bar stool on either side of her. “This is Joe.” Benny introduced his friend with a crook of his thumb. “He thought your eyes were fake.”
Carly looked over at Joe. He wasn’t quite as homely as Benny, but someone needed to have a serious discussion with him about personal hygiene.
“Are you a mechanic by any chance?” she asked, wondering how anyone could have that much grease under his fingernails and not spend his day beneath the hood of someone’s car.
Joe grinned. Joe had all of his teeth, she noticed. “I fix lawn mowers.”
Carly nodded, then took another drink of whiskey. Too bad, she thought. Maybe she could’ve gotten him to take a look at her car and figure out why it had died.
By her fourth attempt at the Scotch, she’d started to feel just a teensy bit numb. Numb was good. Numb didn’t allow room for guilt or regrets.
Someone fired up the jukebox again, and a series of alarms sounded, followed by the mellow strum of an electric guitar. Benny signaled for the bartender, who took his sweet time. “What’ll it be boys?” she asked them, flashing Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome a grin that only made his frown deepen.
“I thought I told you one drink,” he said, his voice a heck of lot smoother than the alcohol he served. He flipped the cap off two bottles of beer and set them in front of Benny and Joe.
“Give her a break, Wilde,” Joe said. “She’s waiting for a tow truck.”
Wilde looked at her with hard eyes. “She doesn’t belong here.”
“She has a name,” Carly said before draining her glass. “And it’s Carly. And Carly wants another—” she pointed at her empty glass, trying like the devil to remember what she’d just ordered “—another one of these.”
Those dark chocolate eyes narrowed, but she ignored that and concentrated on his face. He has a nice chin, she thought. Strong and square. And those eyes. A soft sigh escaped her lips. A woman could easily get lost in all that intensity.
A series of little tingles skirted along her spine, then spread outward over her tummy, making her feel warm and cozy. If this was the way alcohol made people feel, no wonder such a large majority of the population imbibed on occasion.
Wilde braced his hands on the bar and leaned forward. She watched in fascination as his biceps strained against the fabric of his white T-shirt. The urge to trace her fingers along all that muscle was strong. Too strong, she thought, and frowned. Funny, but she’d never once considered doing that to her abandoned bridegroom.
“Don’t you have someplace else to go?” he asked, his deep voice as intoxicating as his eyes, no matter how disagreeable his attitude. Well, not exactly disagreeable, she amended, but he wasn’t the most friendly person she’d ever met.
She let out another little sigh and propped her chin in her hand and looked into eyes filled with distrust. “Not for the moment.”
“Isn’t someone wondering where you are?” he asked, looking pointedly at her wedding dress.
She ignored the reminder of her current state of shame and traced her finger along the rim of her empty glass, still wishing she could do the same to those incredible biceps and corded forearms.
“Oh, I’m sure they’re all quite curious.” Curious, concerned and disappointed in her. She’d never done anything remotely irresponsible in her life…until now.
The Rolling Stones began singing for a little sympathy for the devil. “Don’t you have any music from this century on that jukebox?” she asked him, anxious to change the subject. She didn’t want to start thinking about what she’d done or about the people she’d hurt by running off like a big fat coward.
“You want Top Forty, Princess, you’ll have to go to City Lights.” He slapped a damp towel on the bar in front of her. “I’d be more than happy to call you a cab.”
She ignored his blatant hint to leave and turned her head to the side, resting her temple against her fist. She let her gaze wander over the dozen or so patrons in The Wilde Side before looking back at Wilde. “I bet if you smiled more, you’d attract a lot more customers.”
He pushed off the bar, taking his damp rag with him, but not before giving her a look that said he didn’t appreciate her free public relations consultation. When he returned, he set the drink in front of her, and shot Benny and Joe a warning look before moving down the bar a few paces.
A warning about what? she wanted to know.
Benny leaned forward, bracing his big beefy elbows on the bar. “You from around here, Carly?”
She took a sip of her Scotch, keeping her gaze on Wilde. Using long, slender fingers, he gathered empty glasses from the bar and set them in a tub of soapy water. He turned, and she caught a glimpse of his backside, admiring the way the soft denim hugged his body. The man definitely wore his jeans well.
She looked at Benny. “I’m sorry, did you say something?”
“Are you from around here?”
She shook her head. “Nope.”
“Just passing through?” Joe asked before lifting the bottle to his lips.
She frowned and thought for a minute before nodding slowly. “That about sums it up,” she said quietly.
Benny turned, leaning on the bar, and looked down at her. “So, uh…where’s your groom?”
“I don’t know,” she said around the sudden tightness in her throat. “He’s probably being consoled by our families and friends because of what I did.”
Carly’s frown deepened. Because she’d panicked, she’d hurt people, and that bothered her more than her uncertain future. Family was still important to her, and heaven knew she had more than her share of family to go around. She’d been selfish and irresponsible, and the guilt weighed heavily upon her shoulders.
How was she going to break rules if she couldn’t do it without harboring guilt?
She sucked in a deep, shuddering breath and looked up at Benny. And then she burst into tears.
Rule 2: A lady will always strive to maintain a hint of mystery.
COOP SLID A pilsner glass over the scrub brush inside the metal tub of hot soapy water. He concentrated on twisting the glass over the scrub instead of allowing his gaze to drift back to the platinum bride with the chickie-boom curves and eyes the color of the Mediterranean Sea at sunset.
She was trouble. The kind of trouble a guy like him enjoyed and could easily be attracted to if he’d let himself get involved.