Summary: A NYC barman views his mind reading as an isolating cancer, until he meets the lonely 28yr old trying to escape her heartbreaking reality. Edward has had a life full of harsh lessons. He trusts nobody. Bella is faced with an uphill battle in her day-to-day existence. She never complains about the hand life has dealt her, including when a beautiful boy treats her badly, because she doesn't believe she deserves anything better. AH ExB

I do not own Twilight. I wish I owned Edward though. No copyright infringement intended.

Welcome. The idea for this first chapter has been floating around in my head for 8 months. I figured it was time I got it out. I've labeled this hurt/comfort in case I don't cut the grade for angst. Consider yourselves warned that hurt = pain, so don't complain when I do painful things to our favorite couple. That is my plan.

Also, if you aren't a fan of the f-word, then stop now. Bella has a dirty mind. She doesn't swear that often out loud, but she wants to.

One last thing… I'm over "ripping foil packets" during lemons and since this is FICTIONAL my Fanella and Ficward are disease and baby free. That's not to say I condone unprotected sex. Readers remember: if it's not on, it's not on! But, our couple won't be ripping foil anytime soon. Got it?

A big thank you to Project Team Beta. The amazing mcc101180 and SqueakyZorro made this much easier for you to read. Thank you.

So let the journey begin…

Stolen Secrets and Shattered Dreams

Chapter One – Sugarlips and Cupcake

Bella slumped against the steering wheel and wanted to let the tears she had been fighting all day erupt. Instead, she took a moment, breathed deeply and tried the ignition one more time. Nothing. Her truck had finally died.

Useless rusty hunk of junk.

Why me?

Why today?

I've done nothing but give you a good life. Start, damn you.

She cursed her old truck. Today had been the day from hell. Her boss was out of town at a conference on the West Coast, and that meant an endless list of tedious jobs for her to complete. James was as demanding as they came, but when he was away from the office, it was almost as though he would wrack his brain to come up with a list of things to occupy his PA. Heaven forbid she actually had an easy day in the office and didn't earn her salary in blood, sweat and tears.

Bella had driven to all five New York boroughs, and that was just since lunchtime. The last errand she'd had to run was collecting the latest piece of "modern" art for his stupid collection.

Modern art? More like collectable crap.

Bella hated modern art—well, she did now that she spent too many afternoons wrestling delicate and usually oversized objects to get them into the back of her pickup—a pickup that no longer worked.

On a normal day, her truck's death wouldn't have been a problem. She usually took the subway to work and only drove it on the weekends. Today, however, she had to run so many errands for James that she drove into the city from Queens. He hated unnecessary expenses, so the thought of catching several taxis and charging her boss would have not been worth the third degree she would have gotten when he returned. Knowing this painting was taller than her and had pieces of nightmarish knitting-gone-wrong stuck all over it, she saw no other way of getting it to the office than in the back of her pickup. However, if James found out she risked one of his precious pieces in the open-air tray, she would surely have been looking for a new job.

Again, on a normal day, she would have grabbed her cell phone and called a tow truck, but as the asshole had called her twenty-three times before lunch, her cell battery had died half an hour ago. It had been so long since Bella had used a pay phone she wasn't even sure they existed. Looking up and down the street from the cab of her truck, she spotted a phone booth on the next corner.

Please not be vandalized.

Bella grabbed her purse and dumped the contents of it onto the seat next to her. She knew she had spent her last ten dollars buying lunch. Her hope was that somewhere in the depths of the Tardis she carried on her shoulder each day lay a couple of long forgotten quarters. It was payday tomorrow and with her father's medical bills mounting up, she rarely made it through the week with money to spare.

A dime and two nickels later, she realized she would have to rely on the kindness of strangers in order to make her call. If it wasn't for the stupid "painting," she would have abandoned the rust bucket until the weekend, but the thought of wrestling the artwork onto the subway gave her an instant headache.

Jumping from the protection of her truck out into the cold February weather, she scanned the street for a shop that might give her money. It always amazed Bella how many "trendy" galleries were located in buildings that had seen better days. Out of all the galleries she'd visited, she actually didn't mind this one, with the exception of the snooty receptionist. The Lower East Side was better than some of the other places she's traipsed to in her travels for James' art obsession. The gallery had closed up as soon as Bella had left since she was their only client for the day. The sandwich shop her truck had died outside of looked like it only opened during lunchtime, and at a quarter to five on a Thursday afternoon, there was no chance anyone would still be inside.

The next business over looked like some kind of bar or nightclub. The heavy black wooden door was closed, but the neon sign above it shone brightly with the words BE BAR. On closer inspection, Bella saw a flashing neon sign amongst the beer and liquor ads that covered up most of the windows, which indicated they were open.

Here goes nothing.

Once through the heavy wooden door and into the warmth, Bella stumbled down the half dozen steps as her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. She had expected the place to reek of stale smoke and day-old beer, but instead there was a faint hint of something herbal. Incense maybe, though it seemed out of place in this kind of establishment.

The bar had an old-world feel to it—lots of polished wood and mirrored shelves. It reminded her of a saloon she'd visited with her parents on a holiday in Arizona once, but an up-market version. The floor was carpeted, and in the light, she couldn't make out the color. A couple were at the bar ordering drinks, and a few other patrons were spread around. The wall to her left was lined with cozy booths, and in front of them were a few mismatched tables and chairs. To her right was an empty space that she guessed could be used as a dance floor, since in an alcove near the entrance to the bathrooms stood a jukebox right out of the 1950s.

Soft music was playing, and although she didn't recognize the artist, Bella liked it. She felt a calmness wash over her for the first time all day.

Please may someone be kind and give me money to make a call.

Bella walked up to the high mahogany bar and waited. She watched a lean blond bartender as he stood at the other end of the bar. He winked when their eyes met briefly.


Closer to her, with his back turned toward her, stood another barman. He was tall, clearly over six feet, and in the dim light of the bar, had wild dark brown hair that seemed to have a will of its own. He wore dark burgundy jeans that Bella noticed fit him a little too well.

Oh my! Cute ass.

Tucked into his snug jeans was a tight black t-shirt that had the word SUGARLIPS blazoned across his broad shoulders in metallic red print. He appeared to be doing some kind of stock take of the waist-height illuminated bar fridges. Every few minutes, he would bend over and peer into the glass fridge door, probably counting. This was why Bella noticed how well his jeans clung to his ass and thighs.

Oh yeah, count that one next, baby.

He would suddenly straighten, and then jot something down on a notepad.

Oh yeah…

Fuck. I don't have time for this, as enjoyable as you are.

If someone steals that ugly canvas my life will be over.

Realizing he wasn't going to turn around anytime soon, Bella spoke.

"Excuse me?"

His piercing eyes immediately flicked to a clear section of mirrored wall between the liquor bottles, standing neatly in rows on the glass shelves above the bar. She met his gaze but had to look away. The intensity with which he was staring at her sent a shock wave through her system.

Whoa. He's just some guy. Just breathe.

Bella tried to breathe normally while she ran her fingers along the inside of the brass handle that ran the length of the bar. Her lunch on the run hadn't really agreed with her, so maybe that explained why her insides were churning. She had expected him to address her by now and glanced back into the mirror. Annoyance creased her brow when she saw that he had bent over again and was counting bottles of Stella Artois.

What the?

"Excuse me," she said louder.

Taking another minute to finish counting, he slowly rose and gazed at her in the mirror once more. When his eyes met her annoyed glare, a lazy smirk crossed his lips, making one side of his mouth rise up a little higher than the other.

Cute ass or not, I don't' have time for this, buster.

Bella felt confused.

He's seen me.

He's heard me.

Why the fuck isn't he serving me?

She longed to be home and out of her charcoal suit and matching heels. Bella didn't particularly like business attire but wore it to keep her job. After her day, all she wanted was to soak in a warm bath with her book. Before she could voice her complaint about him ignoring her, a slurred voice from the end of the bar near the jukebox spoke.

"Sscchhgalipssss, I can sssee the bottom of my glassss. Thas snot ssuppossed to be," the blond gent, dressed in a stunning three-piece suit, managed to say.

The dark-haired barman responded immediately. He grabbed a bottle of amber-colored liquor from the top shelf and strode toward the inebriated man.

What the fuck?

I was next.

Am I invisible?

"My apologies, Carlisle. I was momentarily distracted." As he said this, his eyes flicked to Bella, then back to the three fingers of liquor he was pouring into the man's glass.

"Join me for one, Sscchhhgaa?" the drunk slurred.

"I think I will."

He half turned to grab a shot glass off the bar behind him, and quickly filled it from the same bottle. Bella watched dumbfounded as he leaned one arm on the bar top while he raised the shot glass to chink with his drunken companion's. He seemed completely unconcerned by her annoyed gaze—a gaze that she hoped was burning a hole in his temple.

"Hey?" she said, resting her hands on her hips. "Are you seriously just going to ignore me?" Bella's patience was wearing thin, and she could hear her own annoyance in her voice.

Don't mess with me, buddy. Today is not the day.

Pausing with the shot glass almost at his lips, he glanced at her. Raising one eyebrow, he nodded his head up toward the bar behind him, almost dismissing her, before his eyes met Carlisle's again, and they downed their poison simultaneously.

Bella's mouth dropped open.

Are you for real?

Fucking hell.

Looking at the wall of glass where he had clearly indicated to her, Bella's eyes scanned for the answer to this surreal infuriating experience. She only wanted a couple of lousy quarters for God's sake. Still confused, Bella turned to the blond barman who was now wearing the biggest shit-eating grin. Under different circumstances, she would have swooned a little if a guy like him flashed his pearly whites at her like that, but right now, these two were getting on her nerves.

Is this a piss off the customer competition, and I'm first prize?

Massaging her temples, Bella tried to calm down before looking at the blond imploringly.

Rudeness never gets you anywhere.

Be nice—even though I want to stab one—or both—of these punks.

The dark-haired guy laughed out loud, and when Bella looked back at the blond, he was laughing too.


"Sorry, darlin'," Blondie drawled. "But, you're breakin' all the rules. We only got three."

He also inclined his head up toward the bar wall.

"Rules?" she repeated.

Bella jumped slightly when the smoothest voice she'd ever heard spoke softly beside her. Mr. Tall, Dark and Annoying was leaning over the bar to her ear.

Back off, buddy.

"Yes, rules," he said quietly.

She eyed him with annoyance, taking a step back.

Oh, you're talking to me now?

How nice…I still want to stab you. And, stop smirking at me!

That guy was getting under her skin, and she didn't like it. Well, maybe she did like it a little, but the fact that she liked it also annoyed her.

Focus! He's not cute. He's annoying.

"What? You've never come across rules before?" he asked. He'd moved away from her and was leaning his hip against the bar fridges and polishing a glass now.

"Well, of course, I have," she gritted out.

"Good. Should be easy for you then." He paused, letting his eyes wander slowly over what he could see of her above the bar. "You don't come across as the type who likes to…break rules." The smirk was back, taunting her.

You did NOT just check me out, Mister!

Not the type to break rules.

Fuck you!

Okay, so I never break rules, but how dare you assume that? I don't wear these clothes because I actually like them.

You don't know me!

Bella didn't know who the hell this guy was, but if the shop next door had been opened, she would have stormed out at once.

Fuck you and your smug-ass rules.

Bella looked toward the door and the glow of the flashing neon through the little window. Even their stupid sign seemed to be giving her the finger. It was just too far to walk with that ridiculous painting, and she was tired from her demanding boss's never-ending requests.

"Fine. What are the f…" She bit her tongue, holding back the curse she wanted to give him. Taking another breath, she tried again. "What are the rules?" she asked, trying to force her lips into a smile.

The smug bastard had crossed his arms over his chest. This drew Bella's gaze to his biceps, which seemed to pop out at her. His tanned arms were lean yet defined. She could see the hint of a vein snaking up the back of his hand and twisting up his forearm.


For some bizarre reason, Bella wanted to trace its path with her fingertips or maybe her tongue.

Hmm…lick him.

What the fuck?

Stop that, he's annoying as shit.

Focusing back on his face that she now couldn't deny was gorgeous - even though she desperately wanted to—she waited.

"Rule Number One: Leave your troubles at the door."

"What…" she started in a high-pitched tone, but was stopped by one long, raised finger. She frowned at his audacity to silence her in such a manner.

Taking two steps toward the blond, who was watching their exchange like it was the US Open, he pointed to a brass plaque in an alcove above the cash register.

"Rule Number Two: Always—always address the staff by name."

He walked back and stood tall before her with his arms spread out wide, his hands resting on the edge of the polished wood.

"And, Rule Number Three: Just be."

"Just be?" she repeated skeptically.

"Yes, just be."

"Be what?"

"Yourself." His answer was so matter-of-fact it annoyed her again.

"Myself? That's a stupid rule."


"Well, that's easy. It shouldn't be a rule."

"Is it?" His eyes never left hers the entire time, and she was finding it increasingly hard to maintain eye contact.

"Yes," she said defiantly.

God, you are so annoying…and gorgeous…but mostly fucking annoying!

"I don't believe you. I don't think you're being everything you want to be right now," he challenged her.

"Like you would know?" she snapped. Bella was never rude. In fact, she would usually describe herself as painfully polite to the point of being bland. This man before her, however, was making her lose control.

"As a matter of fact, I usually do know." He smirked again.

That smirk is not going to get you in my pants, Mister. Go away.

"Well, you're wrong because I am being me." She glared at him now.

"No, you're not," he contradicted her. "You're pissed off, and you want to tell me to fuck off." His smirk turned into a grin when he said the last part.

Bella's eyes widened ever so slightly. She could feel her body heat from embarrassment. She did want to tell him off. She also wanted to smack that grin off his pretty face, and then maybe, just maybe, kiss it back on again.

You do NOT want to kiss his arrogant ass!

Suddenly, he barked out a short laugh before containing himself once more. Standing there, smiling at her broadly, he said, "Oh, I can't wait for you to just be. This will be fun."

His laughter and the ease with which he fit in his own skin made Bella uncomfortable and self-conscious, not to mention even more annoyed.

How do I just be?

Oh my God, he's fucking right… it is hard.

I can't just be. I can't just lean over and kiss this infuriating creature. Or can I?

"So, before we go any further, you have to tell me to get fucked," he said, utterly serious.

"No," she retorted horrified. "That'd be rude." Bella looked away. She couldn't do this. As annoyed as he was making her, she couldn't be rude to a perfect stranger. Or just kiss him for that matter, regardless of whether that was what she wanted to do or not.

You are not kissing him.

But, look at him…

He waited for her eyes to return to his before he raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders at her. "Well, if that's what you want to be… if you want to be rude… then do it."

"No, I can't."

Goddamnit, if I don't want to, you bastard.

"Who says you can't? I'm telling you to, and in here…" he gestured to the four walls "…we play by my rules."

Bella went to speak but realized her answer would only win his argument for him. Her thoughts flashed to her life, her work, her friends, the library, back at college. She then thought of her parents and how they had admonished her for a lifetime when she let her emotions control her behavior growing up. Hell, her father still did when she acted anything but proper and polite in public.

He smiled. "Let me guess… 'society' expects you to be polite and good. Is that what you were going to say?"

Is he reading my mind? Holy shit.

"No," she lied. "I was going to say…"

"Your parents?" he finished for her.



Bella narrowed her eyes at him, but he continued, undeterred. She didn't like feeling out of control.

"Well, in here, your parents don't make the rules. I do. So, just be. Be rotten drunk to forget," he said, pointing to the man holding up the end of the bar. "Be a woman when you've obviously got a dick," he said, pointing behind her.

Shocked by his statement, Bella followed his finger and looked over her shoulder. In the first padded booth against the far wall sat a large Native American guy. Under normal circumstances, he was probably good-looking, but sitting there dressed to the nines in his mother's Sunday best made him awkward at best. His attempt at applying makeup was garish and heavy-handed. Bella had to make a mental note to contain her gasp of horror. She stopped herself and really looked at the young guy. Despite his Dame Edna-esque appearance, he looked happy and gave her a little smile and wave.

The barman pointed to a woman two booths up typing madly on a laptop with a pink cocktail within reach. "Or be the inspired, creative author. Out there, she's a mother of six boys, chained to the sink or mini-van. Never a moment to herself."

Bella could see the passion rolling off the woman. Her tongue clamped between her teeth as she typed furiously, occasionally smiling to herself, before sipping her drink.

His voice was now right next to her ear, as he must have been leaning over the bar closer to her again. She wasn't sure if she wanted to turn around and face him or not. "Or be the girl that kisses the bartender she hardly knows."

Bella gasped and jumped back away from him. She was scared she might actually do what he suggested if she stayed that close to him. He smelled good, too good, and it made her panic.

How the hell do you know I want to kiss you? Or touch you or even… STOP!

Swallowing hard, she tried to think of something to say. She was a terrible liar at the best of times and was too rattled by him to even dream of getting away with one now.

"Not everything is about sex, you know," she said, looking nowhere in particular.

His eyes lit up at her words. "Really?" The smirk was back in full effect.

"Yes, really," she snapped.

"So, are you going to tell me that you haven't thought anything sexual at all since walking in here ten minutes ago?" The smirk was gone and replaced with an intense stare.

Fuck my life!

He was daring her to admit what had passed through her mind. She mentally tallied how many sexual thoughts she'd had about him.

Yes, I think you're sexy.

Yes, I thought about kissing you.

Okay, licking you, too.

Plus, touching you and what your ass looks like.

Okay, so maybe I want to know how you would feel pressed up against me, kissing me and exploring my curves.

FUCK! Stop it! You're not supposed to be thinking about sex, remember?

His eyes darkened, and she watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard.

"No, I haven't," she lied, feeling the heat flood her face.


Immediately, he turned his back to her and bent to start counting the brightly colored fizzy bottles of alcohol in the next fridge.

Bella gripped the handrail tightly. Her frustration at his annoying attitude was starting to take on a sexual edge. Her mind flicked to the last time her orgasm had been about what she wanted, about her being herself sexually. Sure, the last few times had been about her because she'd given them to herself, but she couldn't remember ever going after a guy just because she'd wanted to. These thoughts tinged her mood with a hint of sadness and regret. She always seemed to be pleasing someone else in every aspect of her life.

Fuck, he's right. I don't know how to just be.

"Listen," she said quietly, the defeat evident in her voice. "I just need a couple of quarters."

She watched his shoulders deflate with a sigh as he shook his head slowly. "And, I thought you were going to be a fast learner," he said, facing the mirror.

He looked over his shoulder at her and raised an eyebrow.

Bella was lost. Talking to this guy was like an emotional roller coaster.

Who knew getting a quarter would be this much work?

Or such a mind fuck.

"Rule Number Two—that one's easy at least," he hinted. She watched a slender finger reach over his shoulder and tap the shining letters across his back.

"You seriously expect me to call you that?"

Reading the letters made Bella suddenly think about kissing him again.

Turning slowly, smirk back in place, he answered, "Yep."

"Your name is Sugarlips?" As she said it, she couldn't help the small smile that crossed her lips. The thought of this gorgeous, sexy, infuriating creature answering to Sugarlips greatly amused her. He smiled back at her.

"You don't believe me?"

"No, I don't," she challenged. The melancholy from early was fading away.

In a flash, he had crossed the space between them, leaning over the bar again, mere inches from her face.

"Well, why don't you taste them to see if it's true?" His pink tongue sneaked out and slowly wet his bottom lip.

Holy mother.

I think my panties just disintegrated.

Bella's mind immediately pictured feasting on his gorgeous, wet, plump lips with a hint of stubble tickling her face, then neck and the tops of her breasts, as he would surely work his way down her.

FUCK! You're thinking about sex with him again.

Get a grip… what I'd like to grip.

STOP IT! What is wrong with me?

Bella tried to focus on the bar in front of her, but it was obvious that his words had gotten to her. As she battled to control herself, she was annoyed again at the power this stranger held over her.

"Do you just assume that every woman who walks in here wants to kiss your ass?" she snapped, angry that he happened to be right.

He laughed again, and she found herself fighting another smile when she watched his mouth because she wanted to stay mad.

"I didn't actually think you wanted to kiss my ass. It's cute, I know." He winked at her. "But, if that's your thing, I'll happily oblige." He stuck his hip out and playfully slapped his own butt.

He's killing me.

Yep, I'm going to die all for two motherfucking quarters!

How the hell does he know I think it's cute?

I wonder if he'd let me slap it?


He watched her intently. His eyes were peering into her soul. Bella wondered if he really was reading her mind, but that was impossible. Maybe he was just that good at reading people. Given the scrutiny with which he was looking at her, she'd be surprised if he didn't know her bra size.

"Okay to answer your question seriously, no, I don't just assume that. And, by the way, that's the last question I'm answering until you follow the rules."

Bella thought about trading in the red hunk of junk parked outside that had put her in this predicament. If she had a sensible, reliable, fuel-efficient car, she wouldn't be here right now enduring this torture.

He went back to counting the drinks in the next fridge. Just the thought of calling him Sugarlips made her smile again. She wondered at how something so silly and innocent was actually powerful enough to lift her mood even though she wanted to fight it. She wondered what this place would be like fully packed on a Friday night.

Would everyone be smiling when they ordered their drinks just because of rule two?

"Excuse me, Sugarlips…"

He turned instantly to face her again. "Yes, Dollface."

"Dollface?" She rolled her eyes, but her smile was still in place.

He shrugged. "Well, since you're using my name, I had to call you something. Otherwise, it'd be rude of me." There was that smirk again.

You cheeky fucking bastard. Let's play, shall we?

"If you think I'm going to tell you my name, you're wrong."

Bella was actually starting to enjoy this. He was still insanely annoying, but his playfulness was contagious. He irritated her and got under her skin like nobody else, but he also made her smile and feel strangely free.

"Suit yourself. I quite like Dollface, so it doesn't matter to me."

Bella tried to hide her amusement because she knew that would only encourage him more.

"Sugarlips, I need a couple of quarters for the phone."

Sugarlips moved back close to her and was leaning on the bar again.

"Wow, I don't even know your name; first it's sex and now you're asking me for money." He stared at her for another moment.

She didn't back down but maintained eye contact, even though it was nearly killing her to do so, and fought the urge to think about sex with him again.

God, you're gorgeous.

"So, what do I get for my quarters?" he asked, deliberately licking his lips.

Shit a brick!

You are NOT kissing him for a quarter.

No. No. NO!

Bella's eyes were glued to his mouth. She tried to contain the shiver of excitement that ran down her spine. It would be so easy to lean forward a little and let her lips touch his. Softly. Tasting. Teasing.

Does he really taste sweet?

She desperately wanted to find out, but then he would win this battle of whatever the hell this was.

Narrowing her eyes at him, she spoke quietly. "Nothing."

"Well, I'm not giving you any quarters."

"Fine." Looking down the bar, she found the blond barman still glued to their exchange. He had finished polishing the glasses and pulled up a stool to just sit and watch their interaction.

"Can you please turn around?" Bella asked him.

"Anything for a pretty lady," he replied.

Bella watched as he stood and turned toward the mirrored bar wall, revealing the word CUPCAKE across his back. Unable to contain herself, Bella threw back her head and burst out laughing.

"Oh, come on." She looked between the two smiling men. "Sugarlips and Cupcake?"

The blond—well, Cupcake—walked up to her now.

"Darlin', are you laughing at my name?" he questioned with a serious look. "Don't forget Rule Number Three. I happen to want to be called Cupcake. I like it."

Bella bit her lip in an attempt to stop laughing. Of the two, he seemed sweet, and she didn't want to offend him in any way. Before she had the chance to ask Cupcake for her quarters, three young girls approached the bar. They were giggling and happy and had obviously been here before.

"Hey, Cupcake," they said in unison.

"Ladies, long time no see," he replied, grinning at them from ear to ear. "Will it be the usual, or are you feeling game to try one of my new creations?"

The girls all gushed over him and began ordering fruity cocktails that Bella had never even heard of before. Watching him pulling various bottles of alcohol from the bar, she realized it was going to take a while, and that left her with no other option than to return to Sugarlips for her quarters.

When she turned back to him, she found he was standing watching her intently.

What would I give you for a couple of quarters?


"So, Sugarlips, how about them quarters, huh?" She smiled, genuinely this time.

"Car trouble?" he asked.

"How the hell do you know that?" Bella was starting to get concerned about this guy.

"You're parked out front, right?"


He shrugged his shoulders at her like it was all the explanation necessary. They stared at each other for another minute or two before he broke the silence.

"What do I get in return?"

"What do you want?" she asked, finally resigned to the fact that she was going to have to play by his rules.

"I want you to follow the rules."

"I can't. They're too hard," she admitted, although it pained her to do so.

He smiled at her warmly this time, no hint of arrogance under the surface. He was even better looking when his face wasn't plastered with that smug smirk.

"Ah, finally you're being honest. That's a start. Thank you." He leaned with his arms folded on the bar, bringing him down to her height. She could look him right in the eye.

"I'll make you a deal then. I'll loan you the quarters. You have to bring them back here tomorrow night after work, but before I do, I want you to think about what you want. What would you like right now to make you feel happy and free? Maybe it's something I can give you—maybe not—but I want you to think about it. Deal?"

Bella had to agree that this deal was a lot easier than what she had been expecting. She thought she would have had to kiss him for sure since he was so convinced that she wanted to. At his words, she felt a sense of relief and wanted to try what he had suggested.

"Deal. I'll bring the quarters back tomorrow night."

"Good. Close your eyes." His smooth voice and the unusual ambience of the place made it easy to do. Bella closed her eyes and held onto the brass railing to steady herself.

"Now, think about the one thing that would make you feel alive and free right now. Anything you desire, if everything were possible."

At the mention of the word desire, Bella's sexual thoughts reared again. She loved his voice. It was gentle on her ears, and she wondered if he could sing, too. Quieting her mind, she thought about what she wanted right now.

What would end the day from hell on a good note?

What do I want?

Oh God, yes, an orgasm.

But how…

Oh, from him. Yes, from this annoying sexy stranger. He can give me one and the quarters.

But where…

Somewhere I'd never do it. Where? Just be… Just feel…

Oh, yes, here…on the bar…in public…with his tongue.

Bella's eyes flashed open as the image of her sitting on the bar, her skirt hitched up, her knees spread open with her heels hooked into the handrail for support, while he buried his head between her legs, shocked even herself.

Sugarlips wasn't in front of her. He was standing at the open register, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose tightly. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at her. When their eyes met, Bella felt like she has been struck by lightning. She suddenly felt guilty for objectifying him like that in her mind. It wasn't right. She hated it when guys treated her like a sex object, and yet here she was doing the exact same thing. She wanted to apologize, but her voice was lost.

He walked over and placed the two quarters on the bar before her. In a husky voice he spoke, "There's a pay phone in the hall outside the bathrooms." He pointed to the door she had spotted earlier but wouldn't look at her. Something wasn't right. Something had changed since Bella had done what he had requested. Needing to escape, Bella flew toward the safety of the quiet hallway.

What is wrong with me?

Why did I think that?

Of course, I'd like nothing more, but that's just wrong.

I should say sorry, but he'll ask what for!

Making her call, she arranged for a tow truck to come. Luckily she had an emergency credit card at her place for occasions like this. Walking back out to the bar, she felt like a prisoner walking to the gallows. When she emerged from the hallway, Sugarlips was standing on her side of the bar. He was wiping down the polished wooden surface, but his movements were stiff and tense.

Bella stopped a few feet away and saw him pull out the little white hand towel that was stuffed in his rear pocket and spread it over the bar. Noticing her presence, he held his hand out to her.

"Come here," he requested.

Bella noticed that his voice was still husky and a little shaky. It was almost as though he was having the same difficulty forming words as she was. Placing her hand tentatively in his, she was surprised by her desire to entwine their fingers together.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

He looked at her for a moment before speaking.

"I didn't think you'd want to get your skirt dirty."


No… it's not possible.

"What do you mean?" Fear spiked up her spine.

"Well, if you want to sit on the bar while I do this, I think your skirt will get dirty," he explained.

Bella gasped and tried to pull her hand from his. He held on to her fingers and would not let go.

"What are you talking about?" she whispered, certain that she didn't want to know the answer, because it just wasn't possible.

"We can wait till the others leave, but I doubt they'll really care. I know you're in a hurry."

"What—are—you talking about?" she asked, now absolutely petrified.

Biting his lip, he looked at her from under his lashes.

"Giving you your orgasm."