With the devil on his heels, all Logan wants for Christmas is a moment of peace found in the bottom of a whiskey glass, but Sherry, the woman serving in this run down tavern, offers more than drinks. What begins as night of shared loneliness is twisted by déjà vu and unexpected memories of forgotten past lives. But as the pieces come together, all that’s certain is the gift of love neither is willing to give up. But will their new love be enough when the devil catches them and the truth is revealed?
Rural area of New York State, December 24, 2006
Logan Anderson walked into the bar with no expectations. It was just another night on the run and his only hope was to find a little peace in the bottom of a whiskey glass. He slid onto a barstool and motioned to the bartender.
“Set me up. Wild Turkey and keep it flying.” To make his point he laid a hundred dollar bill on the smooth wood of the bar.
The man nodded grimly, as if he could imagine Logan’s weight as he hauled his unconscious ass out at two a.m.. Still, with the c-note in his hand, he seemed willing to help a stranger forget.
Thank God for greedy men. Without them, his only source of comfort would have been shut off long ago. But with their aid, he was guaranteed a bit of solace in every town he passed through. This would make town seventy-two since the bank heist that had gone wrong.
Gone wrong… that was like calling a nuke a teapot.
His brother, Owen, had talked him into joining the gang at the last minute because of his special magic with a particular style of vault. The big surprise came when Owen betrayed him, intending to let him take the fall. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also framed him for shooting the guard.
And like an idiot, the kind of idiot only an adoring little brother can be, Logan had walked in and almost taken the blame, making their plan complete. But the stupidity hadn’t stopped there. Oh, no… it had become much worse before he’d finally escaped.
They’d cornered him and the last guard, trying to force him to do their dirty work. He wouldn’t. He refused again. But the guard panicked and grabbed for his sawed-off. As they fought over the weapon it discharged.
In all his days he’d never seen anything as terrible as the way the blast hit Owen’s son, Benny. Yet, as horrific as it was, the boy hadn’t died right away.
Which was the only reason Logan was still alive.
He’d managed to run while Owen was still trying to save Benny’s life. The head start hadn’t been much. Now not only were the FBI after him but so were Owen and his friends. Of the two, Logan preferred running into the FBI by about a million. His brother’s thirst for blood was only tempered by his idealistic view of justice. And in this case, justice was Logan being tortured for eternity or worse.
The bartender lifted the drop panel of the bar and let a pretty, bleached blonde wearing an apron take his place. With a pat to her ass, he ducked out, grabbed his coat and left in a hurry. The man’s rush was suspicious.
Logan’s gaze darted to the door and windows. He couldn’t help but wonder… Was this the night Owen would catch him? Was this the night he would pay for his crimes?
“What can I get for you, honey?” The barmaid’s sultry voice cut through Logan, leaving him hot even on the cool winter night.
His gaze caught hers and fell into her lovely, dark, lager-colored eyes. That rich brown was comforting and gentle. “I-” The low gravel of his voice stuttered over the words. “Where’d he hurry off to?” He jutted his chin toward the door, toward the rumble of the departing vehicle.
“Oh, Harvey? His wife’s expecting. He’s off in a rush every night now-a-days.” She leaned forward against the bar, casually letting her blouse gap just enough to show the rise of her breasts.
Logan sighed in relief and perhaps a touch of anticipation. Harvey wasn’t a threat, and this lovely woman might be on the menu.
“You didn’t say. Can I get you a refill?” She reached up and released her pale ponytail. The swing of hair fell to her shoulders with a feather-light breath of movement. The contrast to her dark eyes and smooth skin produced an almost unearthly appeal. For just a moment, the play of light and shadow tricked his eyes, revealing another woman so similar the image had to be imagined. A girl named Sarah. The dancing of her hair flowed with both shadows from the bar as well as the red glow of some imagined fire.
He met the barmaid’s amused gaze and realized he’d been all but mesmerized by the simple motion of her hair. “Please. Turkey, straight up.” Jeez, he was acting like a country bumpkin. He’d be surprised if he managed to get the drink without blushing, or drink it without choking.
“Relax, honey. Tonight should be a quiet one.”
He glanced around the bar and saw that the room bordered on empty, but was that what she meant? It never hurt to push for details. “What do you mean?”
“The tavern next town over is having a Christmas shindig so most of our regulars are over there.”
“Christmas…?” Shit, he’d forgotten what day it was. Today was Christmas Eve. “So you have to work the holiday?”
“Don’t have to, but I don’t have anything better to do.” There was no disappointment in her tone, as if she was used to being alone.
“No family. I had one once, but it didn’t take.” Her gaze swept away from his, flowing over the room and settling on the sink of dirty dishes halfway down the bar. “I’d better get those taken care of before they turn to cement. If you care for company, you can slide down with me.”
If he cared for company? Usually the answer would be no, but the thought of drowning his memories alone on Christmas Eve left him hollow…lonely. He picked up his glass and slid from the stool, moving to the one nearest the sink.
She’d already shed her long-sleeved blouse, leaving her appealing top covered in a thin camisole and the too large apron. The round tops of her cleavage rose above the camisole and her nipples were obvious, hard pebbles above the edge of the apron.
He downed the whiskey in a valiant attempt to divert his attention from his tightening jeans. The burn passed and left him aching for her.
This time she didn’t bother to ask him if he wanted more. Instead, she opened a fresh bottle and set it before him. “So do you have a name? Or should I just keep thinking of you as ‘the sexy stranger with a dark past’?”
He usually made up a different name for every stop, but this once he wanted to leave his real name behind when he left. Leaving was inevitable. If he didn’t keep running, Owen would find him and end his chance to run, forever. “Logan.” He held out his hand, almost breathless in expectation of her touch.
She slapped her hand lightly into his with a sudsy, wet squish. “Oh, my God. I’m sorry.” She grabbed a towel and they shared a laugh while she dried him off. “I’m Sherry, by the way.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sherry.” And he meant every word. Her laugh had been pure pleasure. His own had been a shock. How long had it been since he laughed at anything or with anyone? How long would it be until he found another reason to laugh?
“Some pleasure,” she snorted with another chuckle. Then she turned back to her dishes and continued washing. She set the clean ones to the side to drain on a dish towel and Logan had the strangest inclination to dry them and save her the extra work.
Somehow he knew if he asked, she’d refuse with some light comment and he didn’t want that between them. So instead of offering to dry the upturned glasses, he simply reached over the bar, plucked up a dry towel and began to do the task.
The funny thing was that Sherry didn’t make any kind of joke or comment. She only gave him a heart melting smile and handed him the next glass.
The only other patron in the bar turned the old jukebox to play “White Christmas” and the moment drifted into the surreal. His heart was lighter than it had been in years and the melody crawled through him, coming out in a low hum, as he followed the music if not the words. As if Sherry understood how deeply he felt the emotion, she picked up the tune and sang in a low sexy whisper. Never had the song held so much promise as it did on this night. Even the rough voice of the old fellow rasping along with the jukebox didn’t dim his pleasure.
The song filtered down and fell into silence.
He met Sherry’s gaze for a moment and again her eyes offered a moment of surreal peace. Those dark eyes were soft and almost dreamy. Had she been lost in the song as he was?
Then the moment of connection broke.
The fellow who had played the tune for them waddled up to the bar. “Sherry, my dear, I believe I’ll be heading for home. Will you be all right here alone?”
By alone, Logan knew the fellow meant ‘alone with this stranger’ and he wasn’t offended. In fact he felt a bit guilty for being the only one here to keep Sherry from a nice non-working Christmas Eve. “If you’ve a mind to close, I can find my way down to the other tavern.”
“Not at all.” She reached over and patted his hand as he placed the glass he was drying upside down on the towel. “Don’t you worry any, Charlie. My friend here won’t be any trouble. You go on home to your kids. You know the grandkids will be waking you up in just a few hours for all the present opening.” She made a shooing motion toward him and Charlie cranked a hat down over his ears and headed for the door with a wave.
“Merry Christmas, Sherry and Sherry’s friend.” He pulled open the door, revealing the swirling snow outside.
“Merry Christmas, Charlie,” Sherry called back.
The door swung shut with a quiet clank. And they were alone.
She handed him another glass. “No need to close. I have nowhere else to be. You are welcome to stay as long as you like tonight.”
“I don’t mean to pry, but why is a beautiful woman like you alone on the holidays?”
Her eyes lit up. “You do mean to pry and as it turns out I’m not alone. Am I?”
“Guess neither of us are alone this year.” To Logan that was an unexpected miracle and he knew just how precious this moment of peace might be. “What do you say to relaxing together for the holiday?” He hesitated to speak aloud what his mind was whispering. “As if we were more than strangers, as if we didn’t just meet less than an hour ago.”
Sherry slowly continued to wash the dishes. The glasses were all done and the plates she worked through were set aside in a small draining rack. She waved his hand off when he reached for a plate to dry.
She must think him a fool, for such a childish suggestion. He should leave now. If he hurried he might beat the worst of the snow by heading south. As it was, his Harley wasn’t fit for the weather this far north.
His gaze followed the motion of her hands as they carried her washcloth, sliding through the water, over a plate in smooth, economical sweeps. Five circles over the top, turn the plate and wash two circles over the bottom, rinse and place it into the drain. Then on to the next plate. She hadn’t commented yet, but he could almost taste her rejection.
He didn’t meet her gaze, fearing that would trigger her refusal. He could continue the charade so long as she didn’t answer. Until she said no, he could pretend she might say yes.
He let his mind wander while his gaze remained on her hands.
What would her small hands look like enfolded in his, perhaps while they danced? Her nails were painted a pale pink. Folded over his tanned skin, or better yet resting against his chest or brushing over his jaw. He hadn’t shaved. Would she object if he snuggled his rough jaw against her soft cheek? Would she let him do more than dance? He took the fantasy one step farther and imagined kissing her.
He hadn’t kissed a woman in months. Not even a friendly peck on the cheek. Nothing but running and keeping his head down, trying not to be seen, not to be remembered.
What would it be like if she agreed to pretend with him? Would it be enough to get him through another year alone? Or would this game only make the coming loneliness worse?