Beneath Winter Sand(5)

By: Vickie McKeehan

It wasn’t even midnight yet and Hannah’s aching dogs were beginning to cry foul. She’d been busy from the minute the doors opened around three and hadn’t even sat down for longer than five minutes, let alone taken her mandatory break because of the crowds and the demand.

Three hours ago, she’d formulated a simple strategy to get her to closing. To keep the tips coming in, she plastered a smile on her face, ignoring the pain in her feet, and made the most of the packed house. As long as the drinks flowed, her tips were on a record track to put a huge dent in her expenses and she didn’t intend to let it slip away because her feet hurt.

Thank goodness the place had a no smoking policy nowadays. If not, her sinuses would be on fire after hours breathing in the secondhand smoke. She understood the new rule was a departure from what the previous owner had allowed. Some of the customers let her know about the change by grumbling loud and long whenever she got within ten feet of their table, giving her an earful about how much they didn’t appreciate the directive.

But the new proprietor, Durke Pedasco, held firm. If a person wanted a smoke now, they had to partake in the habit by stepping outside in the alleyway or linger along the front entrance. No exceptions.

That was fine by Hannah. She liked being able to breathe clean air and encouraged Durke to stick to the law, which the other owner had obviously chosen to ignore.

Hannah’s eyes scanned the room, looking for anyone who needed a refill. Not for the first time tonight, they landed on Caleb Jennings, sitting at one of the tables with his family. The two had been eyeing each other all night. She in her short black skirt and white blouse, and he, wearing a brown wool pullover and a pair of tight, light-colored jeans that made his ass look firm and hard. No doubt from all that physical labor he did at The Plant Habitat, she mused.

In case he needed another beer, she walked over to where the group sat near the fireplace, huddling around a table. They’d been there for most of the evening, politely ordering, and not once all night had they harped about the new smoking policy. That went a long way in Hannah’s book.

“You guys need anything?” she asked.

Landon Jennings called out over the din, “I’ll try an order of those wings. They look fantastic, much better than the crap McCready used to serve in here.”

“They seemed to be very popular tonight. How many? You can get a half order or the full dozen.”

“Give me the twelve-piece variety, the hotter the sauce, the better. Add some fries to that. We can all share. I think that should hold us until we ring in the new year.”

“I’ll take another beer,” Cooper said as he came up with Fischer in tow.

Drea drained her glass. “I’ll have more of the chardonnay. That has a lovely flavor and nothing like that house wine Flynn used to serve.”

“I’ll be sure to mention it to Durke,” Hannah said, reaching to pick up Caleb’s empty bottle of beer and found it still half full. She swirled the liquid contents around. “Looks like you’ve been nursing this one for several hours. It’s bound to have gone flat. Want me to bring you another?”

Just to keep her at the table a little longer, Caleb nodded in agreement. “Sure. That’d be great. I think maybe this time I’ll try one of the local craft beers.”

“Which one?”

Caleb made her go through the list until she got almost to the end. “I’ll take that one.”

“No problem. While I’m in the kitchen, I’ll bring you guys out a fresh order of chips and salsa. By the way, any drinks you order from this moment forward are on the house until after midnight. Thane Delacourt just phoned Durke to let everybody know Isabella went into labor this afternoon.”

Fischer held up his phone. “Oh jeez, thank goodness. She was two weeks overdue and Thane’s been driving everyone nuts. That man’s been on edge every one of those extra fourteen days. I haven’t even checked my messages for hours. Maybe I should see what’s going on.”

Hannah lightly elbowed Fischer in the ribs. “What’s going on is simple. Pelican Pointe’s population increases by one. The Delacourt family gets a new baby to ring in the new year. Anyway, Thane wanted to buy everyone a drink. So…”