Badd Kitty, страница 1
Copyright © 2018 by Jasinda Wilder
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Also by Jasinda Wilder
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“Yo, Kitty—that couple at table six is asking for more mayo, and thirteen needs refills all around.” Sebastian Badd—everyone familiar with him called him Bast—my boss, tossed this at me as he passed me on his way back behind the bar. “Also, you’ve got food up.”
I was at the service bar, waiting for Lucian—the second youngest Badd brother—to make my tray of drinks. I had a table I needed to greet still, another table to check on, food up in the window for two different tables, and now the refills to get and the mayo…I was buried. I’d been in the bar serving since eleven this morning, and now it was past nine at night, and I was exhausted. The tips had been stellar, so it was worth it, but still.
I glanced at Bast as I arranged the drinks on the tray as Lucian finished preparing them. “I’m swamped right now, Bast. Can you run the food and grab the mayo?”
“That sounds hard,” he said, in his deep, growly voice, only barely suppressing a smirk. “You gonna split your tips with me if I do?”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Sure—how about a quarter of one percent?”
“Make it two-thirds of a percent and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
I snorted, pulling a wrinkled, crumpled five-dollar bill out of my apron, wadded it into a ball, and threw it at him. “There, that should cover it.”
Bast chuckled as he retrieved the wadded money off the floor. “You need a math refresher if you think five bucks is three-quarters of a percent of what you’ve made today.”
I laughed, balancing the tray on my shoulder. “You know, I’m not sure I could figure out three-quarters of one percent. I can do waitress math, but that’s about it.”
Xavier, the youngest of the eight brothers, was sitting at the booth nearest the entrance to the kitchen; that booth was the permanently reserved as a “Family Booth,” and nearly always had someone sitting in it: an off-duty Badd brother, or one of their wives or girlfriends, and/or kids.
“How much have you made so far?” Xavier asked.
I did a rough estimate. “Umm, probably around four hundred.”
Xavier didn’t even have to think. “Three-quarters of a percent of four hundred dollars is three dollars.”
Sebastian laughed. “Thanks, Professor.”
Xavier, as usual, totally missed the sarcasm. “You’re welcome. And I’m not a professor, yet. I have three more semesters until I finish my masters, at which point I would be eligible to teach at a university.”
Sebastian, Lucian, and I all laughed. I delivered the drinks to the correct tables, greeted the new four-top, and took drink orders, checked on seven and five, and then swung by three and eight, the tables to which Sebastian had delivered food. Shoot—the mayo! But Sebastian had done that too.
Finally, for the first time in over two hours, all my tables were either good or waiting for food—which meant I could pop into the kitchen and take a moment to breathe. Entering the kitchen, I tossed my tray on the silver metal table between me and the line cooks—Jason, Alejandro, and Big D. I allowed myself to collapse forward against the table, resting my head on my forearms. The familiar sounds of a restaurant kitchen washed over me as I closed my eyes and just breathed, shifting my weight from one tired foot to the other.
“La Gatita está muy cansando, creo,” Alejandro said, a playful grin cracking his sun-weathered Columbian features.
I nodded, mentally translating his Spanish into “The kitten is very tired.” “Yeah, you could say that.”
Big D—a six-foot-six black man built like an industrial refrigerator, who would be terrifying if he wasn’t one of the sweetest, kindest, and most gentle men I’d ever met—pulled two chicken tenders and a small handful of fries from the fryer baskets, tossed them on a plate, and slid the plate to me. “I made extra,” he said, in his voice like velvet and syrup. “You oughta eat.”
I accepted the food gratefully, scarfing it down with as much lady-like grace as my famished state would allow. “Thanks, Big D,” I said, offering him a smile.
He just nodded. “You got someone walkin’ you home?”
I shrugged. “It’s not far. I’ll be fine.”
He just frowned at me. “Nah. I’ll walk you.” He took this job very seriously, never letting me walk home alone after a late shift, even though he had a thirty-minute bus ride and a ten-minute walk to get home himself. “Pretty young thing like you, somebody gon’ snap you up if we don’t keep an eye on you.”
Jason was the newest addition to the Badd Bar and Grill kitchen; he was nineteen, a recent transplant to Ketchikan from way up in Gnome, wore his long brown hair in a loose ponytail, and seldom spoke. “I could walk you home sometime, if you wanted,” he said, smiling shyly at me.
Alejandro and Big D both chortled, because Jason was five-ten and weighed maybe a hundred and thirty soaking wet, and was as gentle as a kitten—and just as adorably clueless.
Jason sighed. “I did take three years of Kung Fu, you know.”
Big D just clapped a hand the size of a bear’s paw on Jason’s thin shoulder. “You come by my place sometime, young’un. We’ll lift some weights and my lady will feed you—get some meat on those skinny bones of yours.”
This was not an idle offer on Big D’s part—he was generous to a fault, willing to help anyone out, and had a habit of taking younger guys under his wing. Despite being one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met, he was not someone you’d even consider crossing, and this was not just due to his size, but his demeanor of calm confidence that somehow contained a veiled hint of past darkness.
Jason grinned. “You mean it? I’ve always wanted to go to a gym, but I wouldn’t know where to start, and I feel like other guys would tease me for it.”
Big D grabbed a ticket as it spat out of the printer, reading it over before handing it to Alejandro. “We both open on Friday. You come with me after we’re done, and I’ll show you some things.”
Alejandro spoke while fixing the salad that was the only item on the ticket—a bar food order. “Hey, I like to work out too, Big D. Why you never invite me, huh?”
Big D rumbled a laugh. “I seen your setup, ‘Jandro. You got more iron than I do, son.”
Alejandro put the finishing touches on the salad. “Then you both come to my place and we all lift the weights together, sí?”
I took the salad from Alejandro after washing my hands. “I’ll take it out. I need to check on my tables anyway.”
I closed out three tables in the next fifteen minutes, and finally had time to roll some silverware and do some of my other side work while my drinks-only tables worked on their beverages.
Despite needing the money, I was half hoping the bar would die out soon so I could go home; I’d worked doubles the two previous days as well as today, but I had tomorrow off. When I’d done as much of my side work as I could do
I was ten minutes from the official end of my shift when the hair on the back of my neck prickled, and an odd shiver ran down my spine. I was wiping down a table that had just cashed out and left, and slowly straightened and turned to see what had sent that shiver through me.
The front door was propped open, and three men walked through it—although swaggered is the better term for how they moved. Heads high, shoulders back, arms swinging loosely, their gaits slow and lazy. I gaped at them as they spread out in the entrance of the bar, eyeing the interior for a good place to sit.
They were identical triplets, and each of them was utterly jaw-dropping. Six feet four, easily, if not six-five. It’s easy to talk about solid muscle, but these men took the concept to a whole new level. I was the head waitress for Badd’s Bar and Grill, and I was close enough to the eight Badd brothers after a year and a half of working for them that I thought of them as almost like family; my point here is that the Badd brothers—especially the older four—were some of the biggest, most powerfully built, and, honestly, sexiest men I’d ever met in person. Each of the brothers was fit to the point of absurdity, and Bast, Zane, and Bax, especially, were built like professional athletes. So monster physiques didn’t faze me very much, until now.
These three triplets…
I was fazed.
Very, very fazed.
Bast was six-four and I knew from overhearing his conversations with Bax that he weighed somewhere around two-forty. These men had to be packing at least twenty pounds more than that of solid, lean muscle. It was mind-boggling. Yet despite their insane muscle mass, none of them lumbered around like a muscle-bound juice-head. They moved with lithe, easy, catlike grace. Like Zane, in some ways. They had a similar look in their eyes as the combat-hardened former Navy SEAL, and moved with the same intimidating assurance of their own prowess and power.
They were blond-haired and blue-eyed, with square-jawed, hard-hewn features. The first through the door had his hair cut short enough that it stuck up in natural spikes, and was clean-shaven. The second was similar, though his hair was longer on top and slicked straight back, also clean-shaven. The third had hair long enough to sweep over his head and drape in front of his face, with a short, neat blond beard. Each wore faded, well-worn blue jeans over battered, scuffed, dirty, square-toed cowboy boots, plain black leather belts, and T-shirts printed with various logos—the first through the door wore a shirt featuring a parachute with wings that said “California Smokejumpers,” the second bore the logo of the US Forest Service, and the third, worn by the triplet with the beard, wore a baseball T-shirt with a professional rodeo logo on it.
They stood together for several moments, three pairs of mammoth arms crossed over enormous chests, surveying the bar, and then swaggered as a unit toward the table in the back nearest the currently empty stage. They sat down so they could all put their backs to the wall and face the bar. They didn’t speak to each other as they waited, seemingly content to just sit in silence.
I hesitated, wishing, oddly, that there was someone else to pass the table off to. I’d cut both the other waitresses already, though, so it was just me in the bar, and the guys, but I wasn’t about to look weak or scared in front of the Badd brothers. I’d worked my butt off to win their respect and affection, and I wasn’t about to lose it by wimping out just because I felt a weird frisson of unease in the presence of the newcomers. The Badd brothers—and their significant others—were not easily impressed, and their respect was definitely hard-won.
Why was I being such a wuss? It was just a few guys. After waitressing for years in bars, restaurants, and clubs, I’d dealt with pretty much every kind of clientele there is: burly, loud-mouthed bikers, grouchy but lovable regulars, handsy frat boys, sloppy club lushes, and everything in between. These three were nothing I couldn’t handle.
I’d hesitated too long at the service bar, though.
“Problem, Kitty?” Lucian asked, as sharply observant as ever.
I shook my head and shouldered my tray of drinks. “Nope. I’m good. Just spacing, I guess—I’ve had a long few days.”
Lucian glanced at me, and then the table of muscular blond gods, and then back at me. “I can take eleven if you want.”
“And miss out on the amazing tip I’m sure I’ll get from them?” I rolled my eyes with a sarcastic huff. “Not on your life, pal.”
“You wouldn’t be stereotyping our customers, now, would you, Kitty Quinn?” Lucian teased.
“Me? Stereotype someone? Why, I never!”
Lucian just quirked an eyebrow in that expressive way all the Badd brothers had. “You called me Legolas for the first three months you worked here.” With exotic features, long brown hair, and a mysterious aura to him, Lucian definitely resembled, in my mind, the character from the JRR Tolkien novels.
I laughed. “I still think of you as Legolas in my own head.”
He tossed an ice cube at me, bouncing it off my tray and into my apron pocket. “Go serve those meatheads.”
I walked away, tossing over my shoulder, “Now who’s stereotyping?”
I dropped off the round of beers and shots to thirteen and then, with a deep, fortifying breath, headed to table eleven.
“Hi, I’m Kitty. You boys want to see some menus, or are you just drinking?” I said this with my best, brightest, and fakest smile, and a pleasant lilt in my voice.
All three pairs of vivid, intense blue eyes locked on me. I was immediately struck by a sensation of being a deer trapped in a clearing surrounded by hungry wolves. I clutched my tray in front of me, arms crossed over it, waiting for one of them to answer me.
“Just drinking,” said the one in the rodeo shirt.
“Speak for yourself, dick,” the smokejumper shirt said. “I’m eating.”
“Yeah, I’m hungry too,” said the US Forest Service shirt.
The first to speak rolled his eyes. “Fine. Menus then. What-the-fuck-ever.”
“What’s good here?” asked Smokejumper.
“Everything is good, but we’re pretty famous locally for our burgers and our fish and chips.”
“What kinda fries you serve?” he asked. “Those stupid little stringy ones, or the real fries, the thick ones?”
“Actually, we have both,” I answered. “Shoestring or steak cut.”
He nodded. “Killer. Are the burgers actually any good, or are you just trying to sell me on them?”
I only partially suppressed a frown. “Well, it is my job to sell the food here. I eat here sometimes myself on my days off because the food is actually good. The burgers are hand-pressed fresh every morning. The specialty, and what I’d recommend, is the Get In Here burger. It’s two, one-third pound patties pressed together around a slice of aged cheddar, topped with bacon and house-made jalapeño mayo. After it’s grilled, the cheese is melting out the sides of the burger, and if you like spicy stuff, the mayo packs quite a punch. It’s amazing. Created by our very own Xavier Badd,” I said, pointing at Xavier, who was still sitting at the family booth with a laptop and a stack of textbooks.
“That sounds pretty tits, actually,” Smokejumper said. “I’ll have that.”
Sounds pretty tits? What kind of chauvinistic horse crap was that? I stomped down the urge to sigh and roll my eyes at him, and instead forced a smile on my face. “And to drink?” I asked. “All Alaskan Brewing Company draft pours are three dollars between ten and close.”
He nodded. “The Alaskan Amber, then.”
I went through the same rigmarole all over again with the other two, because they weren’t paying attention—their gaze was focused firmly on a pair of barely twenty-one girls who’d come in dressed—or rather undressed—to attract maximum male attention. The entire time I was giving my spiel to the other two brothers, however, the first had his eyes
I tried to ignore him, but he made it hard. He had a ghost of a grin on his face, and his eyes were—like his brothers’—a shade of intense, neon cerulean that was so bright they were almost hypnotic. And he wasn’t subtle with his gaze, either—as I spoke to his brothers, I felt him eyeing me up and down, felt his eyes watching my face, my expressions, my lips. I saw him out of the corner of my eyes the whole time, blatantly staring at me.
When I was done taking their order, I glanced back at him. “Didn’t your mother teach you it’s rude to stare?” I asked, trying for a careful balance that was neither rude nor flirtatious.
He did the thing with his eyebrow that all the Badd brothers do, and it sent my stomach tumbling in weird flips. “No, actually. She left when we were seven.”
I could only blink at him for a moment, waiting, I suppose, for the just kidding; it never came. “Oh, I—um. I’m sorry about that, then. But this can be your lesson: it’s rude to stare at people.”
He just kept smirking, his expression amused. “Is it? People stare at me all the time.” He winked at me. “And I bet they stare at you, too, beautiful. You’d think you’d be used to it by now.”
He just complimented himself and me in the same breath? Full of himself, much? Jeez.
Flustered, I just let out a little sigh as I turned away. “I’ll be back with your drinks in a minute.”
“Take your time, sweetheart,” Smokejumper said. “I’ll just be enjoying the view from here.”
And yes, I felt his gaze on my butt the entire way from the table to the point-of-sale computer where I rang in their order. Lucian poured their beers and I dropped them off, promising their food would be out soon, and then left to make the rounds of my other tables. I did my best to ignore table eleven, and the one man in particular, but it was difficult. He would catch my eye every now and then, and he would grin at me in a confident, suggestive way that implied he knew exactly how charming and heart-stopping that grin was.