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British Invasion

Tracy’s assessment sounded a little harsh, but Juliette had to concede that her friend was probably right. At least mostly. Juliette was interested in guys and relationships — and sex — just like any other healthy American girl, but her jewelry was really, really important to her and having her own successful line was a lifelong dream. She didn’t see any other way to make that happen without some serious commitment, which is why she was about to take a huge leap and open her own store. She’d gotten word just last week that her small business loan application had been approved, so now she was charging full steam ahead. She’d found a perfect place in Chelsea and put down a deposit, with the aim of opening the store in less than three months. The sheer idea of being a business owner made her giddy with excitement whenever she thought of it, and she thought of it constantly. It also put a knot of nerves in the pit of her stomach, because like anything that’s worth doing, it was risky. She’d gotten a great rate on the loan but it came with scary terms. If she defaulted even once the bank took over the store and Juliette would be bankrupt. But she shoved aside the fears and focused on the positive, devoting all of her free time to her jewelry and her store, leaving precious little time for anything — or anyone — else.

She waved as Tracy walked out the door, leaving her as the sole bartender on duty for the remainder of her shift that wouldn’t end until midnight, some six hours away. She sighed and began putting away her freshly washed glassware, turning her back to the main room as she stocked the shelves. But when she turned back around, she was no longer alone.

Tracy was right about one thing — the guy was gorgeous. At least six foot one with a killer body, sky blue eyes that a girl could drown in, silky blond hair, sensual lips . . . it was all she could do not to just stand there and stare with her mouth hanging open. But Juliette was a professional and very good at her job. She slipped on a warm, welcoming smile, took from him the empty glass he was holding, and set a fresh napkin on the bar in front of him.

“Good evening, sir.”

“Good evening. I’d like a — ”

“Talisker, isn’t it? Neat?”

Without awaiting his answer, since she knew that’s what he drank, she set aside the empty and took a fresh glass as well as the scotch bottle from their places on the shelf. She poured his drink and set it in front of him.

“Would you care for a water back?”

“Please.”

As she poured the water she could feel his eyes on her but she dared not look up until she was finished. It probably wouldn’t make for a great first impression to drench him down the front of his shirt, though the thought of such a disaster still brought a smile to her lips.

Setting the water beside the whiskey, Juliette asked Mr. Hunk if he’d like the drink on his tab.

“I would, thank you,” he replied, his focus still on her. Then, as if on impulse, he stuck out his hand and introduce himself.

“Oliver Daniels.”

“Juliette Duval,” she replied as they shook.

Strong hand, she thought, just before they released. Beautiful, long fingers. The kind that could do a lot of damage to the pulse points on her body . . .

“You’ve got an impressive memory,” he was saying. “I’m quite certain I wouldn’t recall what anyone drank, especially with all the customers you must see on any given week.”

Juliette smiled and thanked him. “I’ve seen you a few times before and you’ve got good taste. I don’t mind a scotch myself from time to time.”

He raised a surprised eyebrow. “Indeed?”

“Sure. I took a trip to Scotland a few years ago and loved the distillery tours and learning what goes into making good scotch. I tried a few and found myself appreciating their differences.”

“So you’ve grown to acquire a taste.”

“A little bit, anyway. I’d like to learn more.”

He propped one arm atop the bar and leaned his weight against it, bringing him in closer. “In that case,” he said, “you need someone who can help you develop your palate.”

He said nothing more than that, a harmless little comment, really, but suddenly — as if an invisible hand had reached out to flip a switch — the room began to hum with an undercurrent of sensuality. Juliette felt it all the way to her bones. The potency was unnerving. It was one thing to carry on a harmless flirtation, but this was somehow . . . different. She couldn’t exactly say why, except that without even realizing how it had happened, the discussion had grown from a seemingly innocent one about scotch to something that caused unexpected stirrings of arousal to pulse through her veins. Where in the world had that heat come from? Was it maybe related to his comment about palates, which were related to tongues, which definitely could —

Shaking her thoughts back to reality, Juliette grabbed a damp towel from the sink and focused her attention on wiping down the bar.

“I’ll have to look into it,” she said vaguely, determined not to let on where her mind had just been. She’d probably scare the poor man away.

Two hours later the lounge had quieted and Juliette came around from the bar to make a sweep of the area and clear empty glasses from the tables. She’d noticed that Oliver had set a new world record for slowest consumption of a beverage and was just now finishing the last of the Talisker. Perfect timing. Ignoring the memory of the sensually charged atmosphere between them a couple of hours ago, she adapted a professional demeanor and approached his table.

“May I clear this away for you?”

He was staring intently at his Blackberry and didn’t at first seem to notice the question. Juliette waited several seconds but still he said nothing.

“Mr. Daniels?”

At last he looked up, frowning. “Sorry. Did you say something?”

“I was wondering if you’d like your drink refreshed.”

“Oh, right. Yes, I’ll take another. But make it Perrier, please, with a wedge of lime.” His focus returned to the Blackberry as his frown grew deeper. She wondered what it was that had him so troubled, but clearly he wasn’t in the mood to share. She began to walk away when the sound of his voice stopped her.

“Juliette?”

She turned. “Yes?”

“Listen, do you happen to know of a translation service that might still be open?”

She glanced up at the small clock on the wall. It was half past eight. “I’m sorry, Mr. Daniels — ”

“Oliver.”

She smiled at the correction. “I’m sorry, Oliver. There are several translation services in the city but none of them keep very late hours.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.” He shook his head and gave her a wry grin. “If only I’d paid more attention in French class.”

“Your document’s in French? The one you need translated?”

“Yes,” he said, the faintest note of hope in his voice. “Do you know someone who could help?”

“Sure,” she nodded. “I can.”

He looked at her as if she’d just told him she could save his baby from a burning building. She saw the quiet hope reflected at her through his eyes. He held out his Blackberry.

“I’ve got the document opened now,” he said. “The e-mail on the screen. It’s from a client of mine in Paris who refuses to send anything in English. Usually it’s not a problem for I’ve got a translation service around the corner from my office in London, but he’s got a last-minute request so he sent me this note just now. God only knows what he’s doing up at this hour. He’s eccentric, to put it mildly. But since part of the reason I’m in New York is to conduct some business for him, it’s actually rather important that I know what he’s asking me.”

Juliette took the device from him and scrolled through the e-mail. Piece of cake.

“I’ll only be a moment,” she said, placing both the Blackberry and his empty glass on her tray. She walked back to the bar and stepped into a room that was just behind the main bar area. Extra stock was kept in there – backup bottles of the most popular liquor, various mixers, and a basket with lemons and limes — but there was also a laptop hooked up to a laser jet that was used to print daily drink menus, the bartenders’ schedules, or anything else that they might need. On purpose the laptop was positioned in such a way so that any of the bartenders needing to use it could also keep their eye on the bar. But right now was a perfect moment because the lounge was quiet. Juliette set the Blackberry beside the laptop. She read through the e-mail and then her fingers flew over the keyboard as she translated the document. Minutes later she was finished. She set the document to print and fixed Oliver’s Perrier, then brought both the drink and the document to his table.

“Here you are,” she said, setting down both items before him.

“You’re finished already?” He didn’t bother hiding the shock in his voice.

“You indicated it was of some urgency,” Juliette replied, struggling to keep a smile from her face. He was clearly impressed.

She bade him a good evening and walked back to the bar, already looking forward to telling Tracy how she’d made a mark on Mr. Hunk, when suddenly the very man was standing at the bar.

She turned with a start. “Did I . . . forget something?”

“Not at all,” he said. “On the contrary. It was I who forgot my manners just now, by not thanking you for the translation.”

Juliette waved a hand in the air, wanting to be breezy, although secretly she was thrilled. What a gentleman he was! So polite. And Tracy was right about that accent. Divine. “It was nothing, really. I’m glad I could help.”

He paused before responding, his eyes leisurely traveling the length of her body, re-igniting the heat in the room. “Are you — ” He cleared his throat and started over. “That is, will you be working this Sunday?”

“I am, as a matter of fact.”

“Perfect. Then I shall see you then. I’m returning to London.”

“So soon?” Careful, Juliette. Keep that flirty tone out of your voice.

“It’s a quick trip this time. But I’ll be back.” He smiled and gave her a parting nod before returning to his table. Juliette watched him go, trying really hard not to notice how deliciously his taut butt fit in those faded jeans he wore, and then trying really hard not to look forward to seeing him on Sunday, and failing miserably at both attempts.

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with my webmaster, Alla. {photo credits: Alessandro Bologna}