Chase Cade is as untethered as a kite without a string.
The minute she drives past the “Welcome to Maybelle” sign after six months traveling, she knows the quaint little town is something new entirely. It’s more than the good food and welcoming people — with the exception of the gruff bartender she meets her first night out.
Aden Riveau couldn’t be more rooted in Maybelle if he were an actual tree.
In a town that caters to tourists, his bar is the only place the locals have all to themselves. Everyone knows him and he knows everyone, and nothing spoils his peace more than having to deal with nosy, gawking tourists who don’t stick around.
She’s only in Maybelle for a vacation, and he’s never taken a vacation in his life. He can’t stop thinking about how different she is, and she can’t stop trying to figure him out. But her reservation has an end, and his never will, unless he can find a way to pour his heart out.
“Do you think I could get into your secret bartender society now?” she asked with a small, fleeting smile. “Since you kind of just poured out your heart to me?”
Aden looked down at her, his grip relaxing on the railing, the lines at his mouth growing shallower and then all but smoothing off his cheeks, only to reappear suddenly around his eyes as he grinned. “I don’t know, the dues are pretty high,” he warned her.
Holy fucking shit, she thought, her brain flushed of all ability to function. That smile was not the smile of a boring, humorless cynic. It was… it was transformative, like using the flash on a camera so that an image which would be bleak and all shadows without it became colorful and saturated. Her knees locked so that she wouldn’t tip over.
“I’m a pretty good negotiator,” she promised, her brain still mush.
And then he chuckled, a little rumbly sort of thing like a muscle car idling on the street outside, and her heart turned over hard, because that smile and that chuckle were the first time he’d reacted positively to her, untainted by his grumpy attitude. It was… beautiful, and her brainless mind whispered, unable to help it, “But your ex, it is over?”
“It’s definitely over,” he declared in that same rumble as his chuckle.
Shivering again, her brain still too tipsy to overanalyze anything, she lifted her hands to scrape up the plaid fabric of his shirt slowly, bumping over the pockets on his pecs. She gripped the muscles right next to his neck and rocked up on the toes of her wedges as best as she could. Her eyes fell again to his mouth, and she kissed him.
She was expecting him to hold her at bay or turn his head, not feeling what she was.
But those hot, rough hands cupped the back of her head, squishing the tips of her ears heedlessly, and a thick tongue licked her bottom lip. On a soundless gasp, she caught it, and the kiss became a wet surge of tongues back and forth between their mouths. Her body stumbled against his and he took her weight. Their arms tangled together and her thighs trembled from the effort of keeping her balance on her wedges, but she didn’t care.
Her exes were also steady, reliable men like Aden, but it had left them dull, their kisses without spirit. Aden kissed like a man who was just as lost in the moment as she, that crooked nose blowing hot blasts against her cheeks as if he were a galloping stallion.
The minutes tumbled one past the next until she grew dizzy from not being able to take in enough air. Then she stepped back with a gasp, their mouths pulling apart so suddenly that they hung open. Aden stared down at her, his lips parted and his breaths quick. “Wow,” she breathed in appreciation, “was that your first kiss post-ex?”