Chapter One

The purple-colored gum made a loud thwicking sound as I entered Lou's Diner.

Every customer looked my way as I stepped on the black and white tile. But after nine straight hours of walking around with the synthetic rubber chewing piece fused with the sole of my shoe, I was used to it. I moved right along, thwicking all the way to the back room to set down my bag.

"Hey, you're a minute late," the short-haired blonde behind me said. "I'll be right back—have to go check if Hell really froze over."

I sighed for what must have been the three-thousandth time that day. "Ashley, I'm not in the mood."

"I can see that." She tucked the empty serving tray under her arm and looked me over. "What happened? Bad day?"

"Monstrously bad," I said, tempted to collapse into the chair behind me. But it was my shift and Lou didn't exactly pay me to sit around moping, so I shook my head with enough force to send waves of black hair flying in all directions. "It's okay though," I added whilst shaking. "I'm fine."

"Right." Ashley threw me a shifty glance before turning back to the diner. "Feel free to take five, though," she continued as she went. "Lou's busy talking to somebody."

I stabilized my head, feeling a bit dizzy. "Who?"

"I don't know. Some guy." She stopped to turn her head, revealing a sly smile. "He's cute. You should check him out."

"Ha," I replied to her retreating back. Cute guys were the last thing on my mind. In fact, cute guys were nothing but trouble.

I frowned. If I had learned anything that day, it was just that—bothering with guys was a complete waste of my time.

"Or maybe this is all just a waste of time," I muttered to myself, grabbing my notepad and pen before adjusting my nametag. On my way out of the room to start my shift I passed Brooke, another waitress who worked at the diner. Although we weren't particularly close—mostly due to Brooke's inability to show emotion—even she noticed something was off.

"You look like someone just told you your pet rabbit died," she commented in her flat voice. I acknowledged the statement with a small shrug, continuing on my way. If only the day's events were just as easy to shrug off. Instead, they seemed to float with me as I milled about, taking and delivering orders.

"Excuse me," a man with glasses said as I passed his table. "I didn't order this."

"Oh," I muttered, taking the basket of nachos from him. "Sorry, sir." Mentally, I slapped myself. It was the third time in a matter of forty-five minutes I'd mixed people's orders.

As I went back to correct my error, Ashley hooked me by the arm and dragged me over to where Brooke stood near the back door.

"Guess who just walked in," Ashley said, her eyes pointed behind me. Without checking, I knew.

"Again? They were just here yesterday."

"Yeah, well, you know how much they love us."

My stomach started to sink faster than the Titanic as I realized what this meant.

"Just get it over with," Ashley said, giving me an encouraging pat on the shoulder. "The sooner you do, the sooner they'll be gone."

I stole a glance over at the booth where they sat. We called them the Lumberjerks—two burly, flannel-covered men who frequented the diner, always sitting in the same booth by the door. And if that booth was taken, they would give the occupants dirty looks before going outside to smoke. By the time they came back inside it was always vacant.

They were the physical embodiment of everything a woman could possibly hate in a man—rude, sexist, careless pigs. We took turns waitressing them, sharing the load instead of dumping it all on one person.

And now it was my turn to take one for the team.

"Good luck," Brooke said, and although there was no feeling in her voice, I knew she meant it.

Nodding once, I gave the nachos to the correct customer, got the other guy the food he actually ordered, then forced myself to the booth where the Lumberjerks sat.

"Adelaide," the one on the right, Tim, said. The way he drawled my name always sent a shiver zigzagging up my spine, and this time was no different. "How are you, sweetie?"

"I'm fine," I said coldly. "What do you want this evening?"

His small eyes traveled up and down my figure, eventually settling on the scowl that creased my face. "I think you know what I want."

"Hate to break it to you, but I'm not on the menu."

Tim looked mournful. "That's a real shame. I wouldn't mind a taste."

My blood ran cold while my face turned hot. "Give me your order," I said.

Larry, the one on the left, let out a high-pitched laugh. "You're always so up-tight, darling. Relax."

The hand that held my pen tightened into a fist, and for a fleeting moment I wondered how the writing utensil would perform as a weapon.

"Just give me your order."

"What's wrong?" Tim asked, scooting to the edge of his seat to close distance between us. "You look like you could use some cheering up."

"Yeah," said Larry, grinning wide at Tim. "I bet you know exactly how to cheer her up, huh."

My eyes left the two men to travel around the diner. They found Brooke and Ashley, both at either side of the room. Brooke's eyes rolled slightly while Ashley just shook her head in disgust.

"Come on. Give us a smile."

My attention turned back to Tim, who was demonstrating with his bearded face how one performed a smile. The expression did little to soften his mean appearance.

"I'll give you more than a smile if you don't hurry up and order," I snarled, but my threat only achieved more laughter.

"Well, aside from your attitude, I must say that you're looking fine tonight, Adelaide," Tim said. He was always the bolder of the two—the one who slid the obnoxious comments and innuendos. Larry mostly served as his personal laugh track.

"Give me your order."

"Ha," Larry spurted. "Just give it up, Tim. You ain't gettin' anything out of her tonight."

"Out of her?" Tim said, speaking as if I wasn't standing eleven inches away. "I was more focused on getting something in her."

"That is enough," I commanded over the hoots of laughter they both shared over Tim's junior high wit. "If you don't order now, I'll have you thrown out." They were big men, and the diner didn't exactly come equipped with bouncers, but if he was fed up enough Lou could be mean with a bat.

Their roars of laughter fizzled to light chuckles before Larry finally conceded. "Two iced teas, please."

The last syllable barely left his mouth when I walked off, not even bothering with my usual waitress spiel of Will that be all? or Your order will be ready shortly and certainly not Thank you! Wanting to have this over and done with as soon as possible, I retrieved two tall glasses, filled them to the brim with sweet tea, balanced them on a tray and started back.

Then, just as I was about to reach the Lumberjerks' table, it happened.

Someone tall and dark-haired came out of nowhere and barreled right into me, flipping the tray from my hand and the drinks on my outfit. I yelped as they spilled down my front like waterfalls. A blink later and I was covered in iced tea and goose bumps. The glasses lay in thousands of tiny pieces at my feet; the tray had managed to spin on its side and rested with a loud clatter by the man with the nachos.

I stood still, trying to absorb more than just the liquid seeping into my clothing. My brain, recovering from the shock, chugged to figure out what had just happened. By the time it did, a second had passed and it was already too late.

"Hey!" I shouted, turning completely around in time to see his figure slither out the door.

On any other day I would have accepted this hit-and-run as another one of life's little gems and silently cleaned up the mess. Unfortunately for the boy who ran into me, this was not an ordinary day. It happened to be a very bad day—one of the worst days I could recall in recent memory, one bad thing tumbling in after the other in a sort of mad sequence. When I'd arrived at the diner I was beat. After dealing with the Lumberjerks I was irritated.

Now, after that cute stunt, I had reached my boiling point.

My gaze snapped to the window where the culprit was mounting a motorcycle.

"Adelaide," Ashley began, her voice echoing around the silent diner. But I was already whipping around to go after him.

If only I'd remembered the newly wet floor.

My feet slid out in front of me, leaving my bottom to bear the impact. As I sat there in the puddle of tea and melting ice, I couldn't figure out which hurt the most: the sting reverberating around my bum or the stares and chuckles courtesy of a few customers, mainly the Lumberjerks.

"Are you okay?" someone asked as the laughter subsided. Clinging to what little dignity I had left, I stood up with as much grace as one who's just fallen flat on their behind could, and marched straight out of the place.

"Hey you!"

I pointed a sharp dagger-like finger at the boy, who stared calmly back, sliding on his helmet. His face, from what I could see of it, appeared blank and uninterested.

"Well?" I prompted, but he just stared at me. "Look at what you did to my uniform!"

A set of frosty blue eyes flicked across my stained pink dress, and although the helmet covered most of his face, I could just tell he was smiling. My fists clenched, cracking a knuckle in the process.

"Why did you—"

The sound of an engine sprang to life, cutting off my question. I took a step back. Conversely, the boy kicked forward and started rolling away.

Shoving a deep gulp of air into my lungs, I started charging after him.

"How can you be such a jerk? All I want is an apology. That's all!" I shouted above the engine. "Is that really asking for too much?"

He glanced at me for a second, blinking once.

"Is it?" I demanded, my voice growing ragged from the workout this jog was giving me. "Have you no common decen—"

A sharp rev of the engine cut me off again as we reached the exit of the parking lot. There were those smiling eyes again. He was enjoying this.

"Can you at least spare me a minute?" I asked, trying a more civil route. In the pause that followed, he turned his eyes away to watch the headlights of cars speed by, ignoring me.

And that did it.

Cracking the rest of my knuckles, I opened my mouth to release ten hours worth of rage.

"You know what? You are the biggest douchebag I have ever met!" I screamed with all my strength, successfully snatching his attention from the oncoming traffic. "It's bad enough that you crashed into me, soiled my uniform, and humiliated me in front of a restaurant full of people. Now you mock me? What breed of human are you, anyway?"

Still no answer, but his eyes remained glued to mine.

"As if my day couldn't get any worse… you just had to act like an inbred bastard, didn't you?" I continued, the flare in my cheeks intensifying with each word, my heart pounding so hard I could feel it rocking my entire body. "I already stepped into a fucking puddle of gum permanently stuck to my only pair of sneakers, received two failing grades, nearly burned down the school in Home Ec, and, to top it all off, the guy I've been madly in love with for years is going out with the school skank! But no, that just wasn't enough, was it?"

I proceeded to let out a cross between a groan and a howl, squeezing my eyes shut, willing this whole scenario to disappear. But when I opened my eyes again he was still there, with those same smiling eyes. We stared at each other for what had to be the longest second on record.

Then, something low surfaced from beneath the dark helmet.

His voice.

"Take a breath," he said, the way a psychiatrist would instruct a hyperventilating patient. It was said softly—smoothly. Yet the three words still carried a hint of sarcasm. Matched with his eyes, I was sure he was still teasing me.

Finally a break in the traffic arrived. Before shoving off and riding into the unknown, the boy took one last look at me and winked. Then he flew away into the darkness, his motorcycle so loud it ripped the air to shreds.

I followed him with my eyes this time. Sure, I was certifiably insane at that moment, but not enough to trail after him through a busy intersection. Even if I could somehow catch up to him, it wasn't like I'd be able to get anything more than an eye spasm.

Feeling the lowest I'd felt all day, I walked reluctantly back to the diner, knowing that whatever awaited me inside would not be pleasant.

"Sinclair! Get this mess cleaned up! Don't just leave it sitting there!"

Not surprisingly, I was correct. There stood my red-faced boss Lou, aiming a chubby finger at the accident. Although a fury still burned beneath the surface of my drying skin, I knew better than to snap at him.

"I'm on it," I replied in a carefully crafted tone. Ashley and Brooke swooped in wordlessly, handing me a mop and a broom. Meanwhile the Lumberjerks chortled pleasantly from their booth like two middle-aged women at a beauty parlor.

"Sweet pea, need some help?" Tim asked.

"No thank you," I answered through gritted teeth, mashing the mop against the floor much harder than necessary.

"Hey, what about our drinks?" Larry asked.

"They're right here on the floor if you want them."

Both men chuckled, their hearty laughter reaching every corner of the diner. "Gotta love her spunk."

I held in a sigh and mopped up all the iced tea, clenching my jaw as the Lumberjerks did a play-by-play of the accident.

"…wham!" Larry exclaimed, clashing his hands together like cymbals. "Fuck, even I'd never do that to a lady."

"Especially one as lovely as our Adelaide," Tim agreed, and I could feel his eyes on my back as I knelt down to sweep the glass shards into the dustpan. I turned a deaf ear, not wanting to hear any more of their chatter. Half the diner watched me as I cleaned the mess so I put them on ignore, too, fantasizing that I was all alone. And I felt alone until Ashley came over and handed me a Wet Floor sign.

"Thanks," I said, half-heartedly propping it up and wishing I'd acknowledged the fact earlier. The dull ache in my hindquarters was a kind enough reminder.

"Hey." She knelt down beside me, her shiny green eyes looking squarely into my brown ones. "There is a bright side to all this. At least you didn't get glass stuck in your butt."

I laughed a little. "Right." Wanting to change the subject, I nodded in Lou's direction. "What's got Lou all worked up?" I asked. He was standing behind the counter, brushing a hand down his face with closed eyes.

Ashley sighed, getting back to her feet. "It was that guy. You know, the one that ran into you."

My left eyebrow raised, involuntarily. "The one he was talking to? The 'cute' one?" I'd only gotten a split-second look at the boy's face before he decided to play body-bumper-cars with me, so I still didn't know if he was my definition of good-looking. Not that that mattered, anyway. Once someone mercilessly crashes into you without so much as an apology, all thoughts of attraction kind of go out the door.

"Yep. Sure made a great first impression on you, huh?" she joked. I shot her a death glare before she could laugh.

"What'd he do to Lou?"

She shrugged. "No idea. But you know Lou. Forget to put a ketchup bottle on a table and he spontaneously combusts."

I nodded, standing up to dump the broken glass into the garbage. Lou did have a bit of a temper—especially when alcohol was involved—but I'd never seen him so quietly angry. Personally I thought it was worse than his more showy expressions of rage. At least then I always knew what made him mad. Looking over at him now, watching his face scrunch like a squeezed sponge, I couldn't figure out what had set him off.

No doubt that guy did it, though. I'd only met him for a minute, but it appeared he had a talent at pissing people off.

As I went back to re-attempt the Lumberjerks' iced teas, with my right shoe thwicking all the way, I couldn't help but shake my head.

Cute guys. They were nothing but trouble.