The bar was packed when Desiree strolled in. She wove between tables to make her way to the one empty stool near the taps that a man had just vacated. Men turned in their seats to watch her. Firm, luscious breasts were accented by a snug, low-cut T-shirt. Tight jeans showed off her tight ass and shapely legs. A belt cinched her small waist. And her hair . . . a wavy tangle of ebony that fell partway down her back, mesmerized.
She sat on the stool and looked up and down the bar at mostly male patrons. Jude’s Drafts and Grub was an upscale neighborhood hangout. Small, local breweries supplied beer, local wineries were touted, and a chef ran the kitchen. Jude hired musicians on Friday and Saturday nights. Tonight, groups and couples crowded the booths and tables.
Desireee motioned to him for her usual—a Stella. He brought her a tall, cold mug and she dangled her payment playfully from her fingertips. He cocked a brow. What was this? Game night? With a grin, she pushed it across the bar to him. No tip. Never a tip. And that would be the last money she spent. Every beer after that would be sent by men who wanted to get in her pants.
He never made small talk with her, didn’t want to. He had no respect for a woman who’d spread her legs for a few free drinks. He turned to put the money in the cash drawer, and his ankle stung from his newest tattoo. The Fool, dressed like a jester. Follow the true path.
As usual, when the stool next to Desiree opened, a man at a nearby table came to claim it. When Jude frowned, Desiree met his gaze and looked thoughtful. The man came in often. None of the waitresses liked him. His hands were too free. He was a cheap tipper. And his comments bordered on inappropriate. But Desiree welcomed him with a smile.
Food and drinks came and went. The man bought Desiree two more beers, and then they stood to leave. She looked at Jude, and he shook his head no. Not this one. But she leaned into the man and left with him anyway.
She was a grown woman. She could do as she liked. But an hour later, she was back at the bar, propped on a different stool. A hand imprint glared red on her right cheek. She motioned for another beer.
When Jude placed her Stella in front of her, she grimaced. “You were right. The man’s a brute. He wanted to take what was already on offer. When he got rough, my husband had to send him away.”
“Your husband?” Jude’s hand rested on his hip, close to the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Her sins multiplied in his mind.
She lowered her eyes, avoiding his gaze. “He came home from overseas, paralyzed from the waist down. There are certain things he can’t do. He understands. So, I meet those needs on Friday nights.”
A revelation. She wasn’t the low-class whore he thought she was. Thou shalt not judge.
He couldn’t squelch his curiosity. “You still live with him? You take the men home to your place?”
“He’s my husband, the man I loved before he left. I cook and clean for him, laugh and cry with him, but on Friday nights, he stays in his room with the door closed. He heard the slap through the wall and pounded on it with his fist, told my guest to get out before he came in and shot him.”
“And the guy left?”
“Couldn’t pull his pants on fast enough. He’s only brave when he’s hitting a woman.”
Jude stared. He wasn’t sure what to think. He pictured the signs of the zodiac tattooed on his buttock. Libra. The sign of the scales. His scale was bouncing between right and wrong, black and white, blending to gray. Her needs hadn’t been met. “So, you’re back. Better luck this time.”
And then, instead of sliding money across the bar to him, she took his hand and placed a folded piece of paper in it.
“I only sleep with men who buy me a drink, so I’m not paying you. This is my address. When you’re finished here, come and see me.”
He blinked. Lots of women had pressed their names and numbers in his hand before. Sinners. But Desiree was different. She should find someone else to hook up with. “We don’t close until three. After clean up, it’s usually five by the time I leave the bar.”
“Good, I’ll get some sleep and be ready for you. Here.” She tucked a key on top of the note.
He shook his head. “I don’t do one-night stands. You need to find someone else.”
“I want you. Let yourself in. My bedroom’s the first door on the left.” And she stood and left.