Covering All the Bases (For the Love of the Game)(2)

By: Jody Holford

“Can I get another rum and coke, Lee?” she asked in a sugary voice.

The bartender shot a glance toward Isla, but she lowered her gaze and focused on tightening her grip around the mug. If she held it hard enough, maybe the heat would invade her body. Somehow, she figured it would take a lot more than liquid or a hot guy to rid her of the chill that had taken over the minute she landed in Nashville. Alone.

As the blonde flirted with Lee, Isla thought about how ill-prepared she’d been to take off at a moment’s notice. Her best friend, who also happened to be her assistant, had packed a carry-on for her, booked her flight, arranged a car, and even tied up loose ends while Isla had tried to get a hold of her brother and her father. Neither of them was available.

In hindsight, she realized she’d completely taken advantage of Addie’s innate kindness and need to care for people. I’ll bring her home something special. Nashville was on her friend’s list of must-visit places.

“Come dance with me?” The blonde’s sultry, seductive voice bit into Isla’s musings. Saying it over the music lessened the power of her advances. In your opinion. For all you know, Lee here thinks her advances are plenty powerful enough.

Sometimes she hated her own brain. It was a nonstop freight train of random emotions and thoughts.

“No thanks,” Lee said.

Through lowered lashes, Isla saw the woman actually pouted. The bartender had poured the drink and crossed his arms over his chest, accentuating the sharp groove of muscle along his biceps. Were those triceps? Does it matter? She should know, though, since she spent her day in the vicinity of very well-sculpted people.

None of them affected her nerve endings like the man tending bar. She could almost understand the blonde’s reluctance to give up. A curved line of ink peeked beneath the cuff of Lee’s T-shirt. Yeah. Another time? She might pout, too.

“Pretty please?” Blondie asked.

“I’m working,” he replied.

“Not like you need to be behind the bar,” she pushed. Isla tried not to roll her eyes and caught the woman’s glare when the bartender glanced back at her again. “No one is going to mind if you steal a dance.”

Bartender Lee pushed her drink toward her and leaned in. “Sorry, not interested. This one is on the house, but it’s the last one of the night.”

Without waiting for a response, he straightened and came back to Isla. He looked down at her hands and then covered them with his around the mug. Isla’s eyes widened, and her tongue felt thick in her mouth. The warm water had done wonders, but his touch shot fireworks over her skin, and she forgot that she was not only cold but damp from the rain.

Nodding like he’d confirmed something, the bartender removed the mug of water. “That’s better. Your fingers aren’t icicles anymore. Now, what can I get you, Red?”

“Red?” she muttered.

He grinned. “Your hair?”

She touched a warmed hand to it. Right. Red, as in her hair. Which was probably a frizzy mess. Though she’d call it more of an auburn, but she stopped herself from pointing that out. Grief had shut down her ability to think. At least, that’s what she thought was wrong with her. She’d never lost anyone before. Her mom didn’t count, since she’d just left, not died. Did she even have a right to feel sad? Didn’t seem to matter—she felt it anyway.

Guilt filtered in between the grief at the memory of arriving too late to say goodbye to the grandfather she hadn’t known.

“Are you okay?” The bartender leaned on the bar, folding his arms on the top and gazing directly into her eyes.

Good question. “I, uh…not really. But yes. Thank you for asking. Can I get a gin and tonic? With some lime, please?” Not warm, but it was strong.

He held her gaze a moment longer, like he was looking for something, and then turned and got her drink. Isla dug her phone out of her purse and checked it. No calls. No texts.

When she’d received the phone call from her grandfather’s wife—his fourth, whom Isla had never met—it hadn’t occurred to her not to try to get to Nashville in time to see him. He hoped you’d come, but he asked so late, I’m not sure you’ll make it. Can you get away? Cordelia—what an old-school name—had asked with a wealth of emotion. Isla had said yes before she gave it any thought. She didn’t regret coming, but she wished her father or brother would return a damn call. Surely Cordelia had phoned them as well.