Shadowboxer
life.
    She looked better than yesterday. Still worse for wear, still wary, but if you didn’t look too close in bright light, nearly normal. Must be makeup. Women were practically magicians with the stuff.
    “Nah, I’m good. Thanks.” I gestured with the beer. “Is Mia still in back?”
    “Yeah. Heard her and Carmine going at it pretty good. He really doesn’t want to give her back her job, but word is she can be awful convincing.” Without warning, she grabbed my beer and make a loud sucking noise over the mouthpiece, sliding her lips up and down in an obvious pantomime of oral sex. Or severe glass addiction.
    Frowning, I yanked back my beer. My perennially sore knuckles protested as I clamped my fingers around the neck of the bottle. I’d seen Carmine yesterday, and he had to be pushing sixty. Would Mia really do that just to hang on to her job?
    “Can I go back there? ” I had to fight to keep my voice even. “I need to talk to her.”
    Spiky waggled her brows. “Ooh, you into those ménage a twats?”
    I didn’t mean to laugh. Really, I didn’t. But before I could stop myself, out came a harsh bark that could’ve summoned seals.
    Mia appeared in the doorway, sleeves rolled up to reveal surprisingly muscled—and unblemished—arms. The hem of her Vinnie’s shirt flirted with her navel , riding up over her low-waist pants. The indentations of her hips also spoke of serious workouts, the kind not found in a Zumba class or on a DVD. The girl was seriously tiny. Seriously cut.
    Seriously fucking hot.
    She stopped dead when her gaze met mine. I seemed to inspire that reaction in her every time. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or if it annoyed me.
    “You’re still here?”
    “I am.” Spinning my bottle between my palms, I flashed her an easy smile. “Guess I’m awfully thirsty today.”
    Spiky grunted and sashayed away. Looked like I’d made another fan.
    “Get your job back?” I asked, half expecting her not to answer. She didn’t seem to be much of a talker, which put her firmly in the ninety-ninth percentile of most women I’d met. If she ever frivolously giggled or chatted about shoes, I’d start blowing my beer myself.
    “What’s it to you?”
    Ah, the million dollar question. “If you’re gainfully employed, maybe you’ll see fit to return my jacket sometime soon.”
    She lifted a brow. “I never said I wouldn’t return it.”
    “Then?”
    She strolled over to serve a pair of older guys who had ambled up to the bar while I waited. Much to my surprise, she chatted with them in an entirely natural way I wouldn’t have guessed she was capable of. So that meant I was the problem. For whatever reason, she closed down around me. At least she liked my coat.
    A vague itch settled between my sho ulder blades as she did her job. She still hadn’t offered to help me, yet she attended to every other customer promptly. By the time I reached the bottom of my beer, I was edging toward annoyed.
    Outside the ring, very few things bothered me. I endeavored to keep it that way. My dad thought I had my head in the clouds , or more succinctly, up my ass. I saw it as emotional management. What I didn’t dwell on couldn’t stress me out.
    Maybe that was my problem. I’d dwelled on Mia too much since yesterday. No wonder my head was starting to throb. The one above my neck in this case. The one below my waist had been on standby since I’d seen Mia in my jacket.
    She finally made her way back over to me long after my throat had dried to dust, and I’d resorted to tapping my thumbs against the bar. I wouldn’t report her. For all I knew, she was a masochist and got off on that kind of thing.
    I made a living out of waiting for an opponent to reveal his weakness before I struck. Mia wouldn’t knock me out of my rhythm.
    “Still here?” she asked over her shoulder, passing me to serve her latest patron .
    Almost happy hour and everyone was getting lubricated but me. “Yes.”
    “Still thirsty?”

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