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Hearts at Play

By:Melissa Foster


Chapter One


KAT BURST THROUGH the stockroom doors of Old Town Tavern, nearly plowing into Brianna.

“Jeez, Kat. What the hell?” Brianna Heart had been working since noon, and she had another two hours to go before her ten-hour shift was over. She didn’t have the energy for Kat’s drama. Not tonight, when she still had to muster the energy to pick up Layla, her five-year-old daughter, from her mother’s house, get her to bed, and then make invitations for Layla’s birthday party.

“Patrick Dempsey is here. I saw him. He’s sitting at a table in the bar. Oh my God—he is even hotter in person.” Kat flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder and tapped her finger on her lip. “I wonder if he’s looking for a date.”

“Kat.” Brianna shook her head. “You’re crazy. You always think you see famous people. Not a lot of famous people are clamoring to get into Richmond, Virginia.”

“Bree, I’m telling you. I think I need to change my underwear.” She looked at Brianna and furrowed her perfectly manicured brows. “Oh, honey. Here. Let me help you with your hair. You could be the prettiest bartender slash waitress out there and you know it. Well, besides me, of course.” She began fluffing Bree’s straight, shoulder-length brown hair.

Brianna shook her head. “Please. If it is Patrick Dempsey, I’ll be the last person he’s looking at.” She wiped her hands on the little towel she kept looped over her belt at all times—because she didn’t have time to breathe, much less go searching for something to dry her hands on.

“Oh, come on, Bree. Don’t you want to get out of this place? What better way than with a famous sugar daddy?” Kat looked at her reflection in the glass and flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder again.

“Ugh. No, thank you. The last thing Layla needs is that kind of lifestyle, and the last thing I need is to stand in the stockroom talking about fictitious people. I love you, Kat, but I gotta get out there.” She patted her back pocket. “I need the tips. Layla’s birthday is coming up.”

“I can’t believe she’s going to be six. Gosh, that went quick. What does she want?”

“A puppy, a kitten, a bigger bedroom.” Brianna sighed. “But I think I’m gonna get her a winter jacket. Kill two birds with one stone.” She winked as she headed out of the stockroom and up to the bar. A quick scan told her that Patrick Dempsey was definitely not there. She snagged the empty glasses from the bar and wiped it down.

Mack Greenley, the manager of the bar, sidled up to Brianna. She’d worked for Mack for the past five and a half years, and though she was twenty-eight and he was only thirty-eight, he’d taken her under his wing as if she were his daughter.

“Booth.” Mack was a big man with a mass of brown hair and a thick, powerful neck.

“Got it.” Bree wiped her hands on the towel, grabbed an order pad, and went to the only occupied booth in the small bar. It was Thursday night at seven o’clock. Another half hour and the bar would be packed for Major League Baseball playoffs. Brianna focused on her order pad, thinking about Layla’s birthday and wishing she could afford the time or money to get her a pet, like she wanted. But as a single mother, she couldn’t balance working fifty hours each week with taking care of Layla and a pet. It was just too much. She pushed the thought away and feigned a smile.

“Hi, I’m Brianna…Bree. What can I get you?”

The guy in the booth lifted his head in her direction, and Brianna’s breath caught in her throat. She felt her jaw go slack. The man’s thick, windblown dark hair looked as if someone had just run their hands through it. While kissing his glorious lips and feeling that sexy five-o’clock shadow on their cheek. Jesus, he does look like Patrick Dempsey…on steroids.

“A sidecar and a glass of water, please,” he said.

Brianna couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t even close her damn mouth. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

He cocked his head. “Are you okay?”

Are you kidding me? Does your voice have to be so damn smooth and rich? That’s so unfair. She cleared her throat. “Yeah, sorry. Long day. One sidecar coming up.” She cursed at herself all the way back to the bar.

Kat grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the sink, their backs to way-sexier-than-Patrick-Dempsey steroid guy. “I told you,” she whispered. “Jesus, you’re lucky. What are you gonna do?”

Brianna looked over her shoulder at the handsome man. Trouble. That’s what she saw. She’d known men like him before. Hell, that’s how she ended up with Layla.

“Nothing. He wants a sidecar. You take it to him.” Brianna handed her the pad and went to help the woman she and Kat called Red—a slutty redhead who spent every Thursday night trolling the bar for men.

Brianna focused on making Red her cosmo. The din of the customers fell away. Her mind circled back to the Patrick Dempsey look-alike’s voice. It was so…so…different from any other man’s voice. He didn’t speak as if he were rushed, and he looked at her eyes instead of her breasts, which was also different from most of the male customers at the tavern. She started when Kat touched her shoulder.

“Bree, come on. You do it. I can’t take him from you. He’s probably a big tipper. Look at that jacket.”

Brianna glanced at the brown leather jacket hanging on the end of the booth. “It’s okay. You go. I’m good.” She handed Red a cosmo.

“Do you know who that is?” Red lifted her glass toward the handsome man.

Bree shrugged. “No idea.” But I’m sure he’ll take you home.

“I think that’s my date,” Red said.

Isn’t every man? Brianna watched Kat bring him his drink. Her crimson lips spread with a flash of her sexiest smile. Brianna knew Kat’s next move. The hair flip. Then she’d touch his shoulder and…She watched Kat throw her head back in an exaggerated laugh. Brianna sighed and turned away. He’s probably an ass. She’d made it this long without a man dragging her through emotional hell; she wasn’t going to cave now. She pulled her shoulders back and rotated just in time to see Red sliding into the seat across from him.





ALL HUGH BRADEN wanted to do was disappear in the fog of a few drinks, then go back to his house and chill. Instead he was stuck waiting for a blind date, and with a race around the corner, there’d be no drinking for him. A beautiful woman with the most contemplative eyes and the sweetest face he’d ever seen had taken his drink order. At least he could look forward to seeing her when she brought it to him. He had planned on ordering seltzer water, but one look at her and he was unable to remember what he wanted. Sidecar came off his lips like he ordered it all the time, and he’d had a sidecar only once—and that was several years ago. Now he’d have to stare at the damn drink all night.

It had been a grueling day. Hugh didn’t know why he’d let his agent talk him into the stupid photo shoot, and just as he’d anticipated, it had been a painful few hours. They’d taken the photos at the track and had scheduled another shoot for Saturday morning. The photographer was cool enough, but fake smiling and posing in positions he’d never stand or sit in made his already sore body ache. Ever since he won the last three Capital Series Grand Prix races, he’d been hounded by the media. Damn sponsor obligations. As much as he was thankful for the sponsors, he rued the attention, and he needed another racing magazine cover like he needed another expensive car or another house.

A blond waitress set his drink on the table. “Hi. I’m Kat. Enjoy your sidecar.”

Really? This is definitely not my night. “Thank you.” He peered around Kat, looking for the dark-haired beauty who had taken his order. Bree. He spotted her taking a drink order from a stocky blond man in a flannel shirt. The first thing Hugh had noticed when she’d taken his order was that she looked as if she was thinking about a hundred things and taking his order was white noise to her internal thoughts. In the space of a breath, she’d struck him as interesting, beautiful, and intense in a way that had nothing to do with sexuality— which in and of itself struck him as strange that he’d notice something like that. But he had. And now he was unable to look away as she moved from one customer to the next, focused and efficient and completely oblivious to him.

Hugh had picked the Old Town Tavern to meet the blind date because it was out of the way. A little bar with a smaller restaurant. The last thing he wanted to deal with was another group of sex-craved or money-hungry women eyeing him like they hadn’t eaten in a month and he was a big juicy steak. He’d hoped he could go unnoticed. When Brianna had finally lifted her eyes to his and her jaw dropped open, he’d worried that she’d recognized him. But she’d ditched him and sent Kat as a replacement. Hell, she hadn’t even taken a second look. He might not want to be recognized for who he was, but being noticed as a man rather than a race car driver and then rejected by Brianna was a whole different story. This was definitely not his night.

He’d accepted the damn blind date only because his buddy and crew chief, Art Cullen, had claimed he had the perfect woman for him—smart and beautiful, and best of all, she had no clue who he was. Now, as an overdeveloped redhead slid into the booth across from him, he questioned that decision.

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