Sasha is working in her bar when a disheveled man and his daughter come in. They’re broke and needing a bit of help, which Sasha is happy to give. She’s not looking for anything in Ben, but she’s never been able to resist someone who looks like they’re in trouble either. While he and his daughter have a meal at the bar, they get to know each other, and Sasha comes up with a solution that might just work for both of them. All Ben has to do is take a chance on something new with a perfect stranger.
Sasha was just finishing making up her first White Russian of the evening when she spotted him at the end of the already overcrowded bar. It wasn’t his red and white Cardinals jersey that set him apart in the sea of red. It was a sports bar in Phoenix, after all. It was the tiredness in his crinkled brown eyes, the few days old beard on his tanned face and the weary slump to his shoulders. In the throng of after work office types, he stuck out real well. He wasn’t checking out her short shorts or the size too small tank top that came as part of the uniform for the bar, like so many of the other men did. He wasn’t even looking at her. She came up to him, ignoring the half-hearted flirting of her more familiar patrons.
“Thirsty?” she asked him, setting a napkin down in front of him.
He looked up at her, his eyes registering her with interest. But just as quickly it was dismissed and he looked around the bar. “Busy tonight,” he commented, his voice soft and barely audible over the cheer of a touchdown.
“Game’s on,” she explained, though it was hardly needed. He had a Warner jersey on, for crying out loud. She had the same one in her closet at home.
He was silent for a few more seconds. She flipped her brown bangs, damp from the heavy heat, out of her face. She was about to walk away to tend to an actual customer when a patch of bright red curls popped up from underneath the counter next to him.
“Hey, sweetie,” Sasha said as she leaned on the bar, drawing closer to the little girl. Poor thing, she looked just as tired as her father. The man put a protective arm around the girl’s narrow shoulders. She noticed that the jersey was worn in the sleeves. Obviously worn.
“Just some water please,” the man said, bringing her attention back to him. She nodded. The girl started to say something, probably to ask for more, but the man’s long fingers tightened on her shoulder. With a nod she complied. Sasha frowned and looked closer at the girl. She was clean but obviously hungry, if the quick glances she kept giving the cheeseburger down the bar meant anything. She barely looked like the man next to her but she wasn’t afraid like she had been kidnapped or anything. Maybe they were just passing through, but the bar was a bit outside of any normal driving route. She shook it off and brought back waters for both him and the little girl.
“Sure you don’t want anything else?” she asked as she put two straws down in front of him. “We’ve got great burgers and hot wings. And pretty much anything else you can think of. Our cook, Maurice, is pretty good at making lots of things.”
He shook his head no as he put a straw in the little girl’s water and handed it to her before dealing with his own.
“Daddy...” the little girl started. He frowned down at her and shook his head.
Sasha had seen enough. With a roll of her eyes she leaned toward the little girl. “It just so happens that tonight kids eat free,” she told her, keeping her eyes off the dad. It wasn’t, and she was sure he knew that. But she wasn’t about to let a little kid go hungry. “So what can I get you, sweetheart? Anything you want.”
The little girl’s face lit up with the prospect. “Anything?” she asked. Sasha nodded and got out a pad of paper.
“Cheeseburger. And...” she looked up at her dad. Sasha could feel him watching her but she continued to ignore him. Screw good service, the kid needed food.
“Extra cheese?” Sasha asked her. The girl quickly nodded. “Pickles, mustard, onions okay?”
The girl scrunched her face.
Sasha had to laugh. Girl after her own heart. “Just ketchup and extra cheese?” The girl’s red curls bobbed as she nodded. “French fries?” Again the girl nodded.
“What would you like to drink? We’ve got soda, milk, orange juice, limeade, milkshakes. I make a great Shirley Temple,” Sasha asked.
She girl pursed her lips. “What’s that?”
The girl nodded.
“It’s really sweet. It’s got Sprite and grenadine, which is kind of a juice blend, in it. And it comes with a cherry. I think you’d like it,” Sasha told her.
The girl thought about it for a moment before nodding. She looked up at the man now, knowing that some parents preferred that kids not drink soda. She felt a little silly, since she probably should have cleared it with the girl’s dad first, but, damnit, kids were her weak spot. He was watching her, his gaze soft, considering. “Sure you don’t want anything?” she asked him.
“Is it a dads eat free day too?” he asked her, his voice low, sarcastic despite the hope she heard in it.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Could be. So what would you like?”
He blinked at her, obviously not expecting that response. Then his face darkened. “I don’t want your charity.”
She laughed. She probably shouldn’t have, but she couldn’t help it. “Sit and eat. Don’t let your pride keep you from eating. If you have to square it up, go with the idea that I’m hitting on you. Or chock it up to a Warner discount.” A man behind her cheered. “So what’ll it be?”
The man stared at her. She blew out an impatient breath before he nodded at her. “Same thing,” he told her quickly.
“Beer instead?” she asked. He nodded.
She gave him a fast smile before she put in the order for Maurice. She made sure to add a chocolate chip cookie sundae to the order. No kid could resist those. Hell, she couldn’t most of the time either.