Love’s Last Call (Ladies of Jezebel’s Series)

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The Story
Excerpt
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The Story Behind the Story
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The Story

Lucy York is an aspiring mechanical engineer working as a shot girl serving watered-down drinks to drunken frat boys at Jezebel’s Bar & Lounge. The job isn’t so bad—it pays her bills, and she’s managed to make a surrogate family for herself at the bar. But now she’s ready to spread her wings and fly north to attend a university and, maybe, distance herself a little from the all-consuming social scene at Jezebel’s.

Then her boss hires a new bouncer, Norm, a literature dork who seems like everything a bouncer shouldn’t be: tall, gangly, sweet (and, you know, named Norman). But as she gets to know him, ol’ Norm turns out to be everything Lucy never knew she wanted and the best friend she’s ever had. He’s not a bad bouncer either.

One obstacle to their happily ever after: the owner has a strict no-dating rule for employees. If anyone at Jezebel’s finds out she’s dating a bouncer, Lucy will lose her job, her surrogate family, and the money she needs to go to college.

But, if she loses Norm, is she losing her best chance at happiness?

Excerpt
Chapter One

Sweet Christ on a bike, Lucy hated St. Patrick’s Day at the bar. She dodged a crowd of braying frat boys and re-adjusted her hold on a tray of Jell-O shots. St. Patrick’s Day meant a huge mob, mostly from UCLA. Every drunken college kid, seemingly within a hundred miles, had packed the place from wall to wall. Almost three hundred sweating, stinking, immature cavemen swilling cheap beer and leaving crap tips as they groped her. All packed into one bar.

Oh, joy. Oh, rapture.

As a shot girl for The World Famous Jezebel’s Bar & Lounge, part of her job description included dressing like a skank, and tonight she was in top form. The bar hosted a St. Patrick’s Day theme night every year so, of course, all the shot girls had to wear something appropriate for the occasion. Wonder of wonders, Lucy had managed to find a “Sexy Leprechaun” outfit online. Her top was low, her skirt was short, and her grandmother would have died to see her dressed this way.

A perfect outfit, in other words, to help her hawk the noxious test tubes and Jell-O shots on her tray. Outfits like this paid her community college tuition.

A table of frat boys signaled to her and, with a sigh, she stretched her lips into an unfelt smile and battered her way through the crowd. When she got to their table, she set her tray down and bestowed a flirty smirk on the group at large. “Hello, boys. Interested in some shots?”

The frat boys, all five of them, laughed like this was the height of wit.

She kept her smile pinned in place and waited.

One guy slapped money on the table as he gave her a lascivious once-over. “Test tubes all around, gorgeous.”

“All right then.” She stuffed the money down the cleavage of her shamrock-patterned bustier then fished out a shot. “Who’s first?”

More laughter and back-slapping followed, but, at last, the one who had paid volunteered. He was chubby and stank of sweat. She pushed him into his seat and set one high heel on his chair so he could get an eyeful of her cleavage as she bent over. One of the other kids at the table tilted over to look up her skirt, but she always wore shorts underneath her outfits. She was desperate, not stupid.

Resuming her business, she lifted her patron’s hands to her waist and was gratified when they actually stayed there. The kid tipped his head back and she poured the alcohol down his throat. He crinkled his nose as he swallowed, and she climbed off him.

The next one in line grabbed her wrist, leering as he tugged her nearer. “Want to see my Lucky Charms, baby?”

So original. Ignoring his remark, she quickly served the rest of the table in the same way, and only one tried to cop a feel. Mr. Lucky Charms. She laughed and flicked his hands away from her ass. “Sorry, that’s not on the menu tonight.” Or ever. At least he’d spared her the “magically delicious” tag-line that other guys had used earlier.

“Ah, come on, blondie.” He made to grab for her again, but she twisted away.

“Well, unless you guys want some more…?” she asked once she stood at a safe distance.

The frat boys grimaced as one man and even the guy who’d been trying to score waved that offer away. Dollar test tube shots, or tooters, were not as a rule the tastiest drinks on earth.

“Happy St. Paddy’s Day, boys.” She waited a beat then, as Mr. Lucky Charms ogled her again, she slid away. “Holler if you want more shots.”

She stalked off, pounding the floor with each angry step. Cheap bastards. If they groped her she should at least get a tip. Probably decided the grope was my tip. She hoisted her tray onto her hip and scouted the bar for more likely prospects.

A table of three guys waved her over and she went. The biggest one gave her a thorough once-over then licked his lips. “Hey, sugar, want to see where I’ve hidden my Lucky Charms?”

With a supreme effort of will, Lucy managed not to groan. It’s gonna be a long night…

***

It is going to be a long night. Norm fisted his hands on his thighs and flopped against the passenger seat as traffic, despite his own fervent wishes to the contrary, continued to inch along. But then, the universe never was very accommodating.

Norm’s roommate, Zack, swore gently as he drove, stamping his foot on the accelerator when traffic picked up, then thumping his foot on the brake when traffic slowed to a crawl twenty feet later. Cars clogged the streets and half-drunk pedestrians in green risked their lives careening through traffic to get to the other side.

Why did the party girl cross the road?

To get to the good booze, of course.

Norm glanced at the dashboard clock. Six minutes until his shift started. He fussed with the collar on his bowling shirt, smoothing his palm over the “Jezebel’s” logo on his right breast pocket. The shirt’s fabric was stiff and laced with that distinctive new clothes smell. Lifting his sleeve to his nose, he winced as he also caught the faint scent of diesel too. This was one of the perils of bumming rides from Zack: Norm ended up smelling like a gas can.

Hopefully, Norm’s own car would weather this latest trip to the mechanic without needing to be put down. Of course, Norm didn’t know yet how he would pay the mechanic’s bill when he was still in the hole to Zack for rent money. Nervous energy popped inside him, like oil sizzling in a hot pan, and Norm yanked again at his shirt collar. Please, let this job work out.

“You nervous?”

He glanced over at Zack then shook his head. “What’s to be nervous about?” Even as Norm said the words, his gut coiled with sick tension. I’m an idiot. There’s no way I can do this job. But he had to do this job. His employment prospects had crumbled to this or working fast food at a theme park. And that was the lowest of the low when it came to dirty, tiring, and demeaning work.

Zack’s old Mercedes continued creeping down the busy streets of Hollywood. Norm scanned the curb for somewhere Zack could park to let him out. Five minutes until his shift. Trying to drum the anxiety out of his body, Norm tapped his foot against the ragged carpet of the car.

“I feel so proud.” Zack’s voice went all mock-quivery, as if he were about to cry. “Like I’m sending my kid off to kindergarten or something. This is definitely the best career opportunity you’ve ever had.”

“For me? Or for you and your drinking problem?” Four minutes.

“For me, of course.” Zack darted him a sideways glance and tightened his fists on the steering wheel. “I understand none of the other jobs were really your cuppa, man, but we’re treading a thin line here. I can’t cover another month of rent on my own.”

Norm gusted out a deep breath. “I understand, Zack. I’ll pay you back out of my first paycheck from the bar.” And I’ll just sell my body or something to pay the mechanic’s bills for my car. Tension clotted underneath Norm’s sternum, and he pressed a fist there to ease the ache.

Violently pink neon flashed “Jezebel’s” across the windshield and Norm pointed. “There’s the bar. Hey, there’s a space — someone just pulled out.”

Zack jerked the wheel hard over and rolled to a stop by the curb in front of Jezebel’s.

“Thanks. I should be off at two.” Norm pushed his door open and climbed out.

“Later, Bates.” Zack gave a small salute then drove away, shoving the nose of his beat-up, brownish Benz into the flow of traffic. Much honking ensued, but Zack got his way and the Benz rolled on, always the winner in these automotive gladiatorial contests.

Norm turned toward Jezebel’s. His new place of employment. And his very last hope.

He’d only been here once before for his interview, during daylight hours when the bar was wan and empty, all Jezebel’s mystique ruined by the harsh revelations of daylight. But now night’s gentle glow had restored the bar its allure. Ghosted by light from other neon signs, the huge picture windows out front showed the place packed with people, a throbbing crush that swayed back and forth like a cresting green wave.

He tugged the heavy wooden door open and stepped inside. The laces on his Converses started glowing from a black light above his head. Loud music filtered down the short corridor. The bar had a live band playing most nights, and they took requests from the crowd in a fish bowl. Tonight a brunette on piano led the band with two guys on guitar accompanying her in a cover version of “My Sharona.”

A small podium/desk hybrid sat right inside the front door, manned by a burly black guy in a Jezebel’s shirt like Norm’s. The door guard began to say one thing then his gaze dipped to Norm’s shirt pocket and he changed whatever it was into a smile instead. “You must be the new guy.”

“Yeah, I’m—”

But the bouncer had already snatched at a small phone hidden by a rise in the desk. “Hank? Yeah. New guy’s here…OK.”

Norm’s fellow bouncer hung up then glanced at a point over Norm’s shoulder.

Am I invisible?

Then a cold gust of air at his back told him that customers had come in and he was blocking their way. He edged sideways, but the corridor couldn’t comfortably accommodate him, the podium, the other bouncer, and the four drunken college girls who tottered in. The feminine press of bodies should have been pleasant, but they all reeked of sweat and booze. One of the girls, a brunette with big teeth, quickly had her ID checked, paid her cover, and wobbled past.

She took two steps and tripped on her heels.

Norm reacted a beat too late in reaching out to catch her, and all he caught was a dusting of sweat as her length of damp hair extensions whipped past his arms. The girl landed in a spill on the floor and her friends all giggled.

He started forward to help, but the girls edged past him and hoisted their friend off the floor. The girl who’d done the face-plant shot him a look over her shoulder once she was upright. “Hey, Stretch, buy me a drink later?”
This flirtatious behavior left Norm distinctly bemused and set off another round of giggles from her friends as they towed the brunette inside the bar.

Norm swallowed, that familiar prickle of unease in his gut flaring to a full-fledged ache. What have I gotten myself into?

Reviews
Click the link to read the full review.

“I adored the way these two began to fall for each other….They flirt with language skills and impress each other with their esoteric knowledge. Cerebral sexiness….Serious geek sexiness….”
~Dear Author

“Such a cute and fun read–with so many awesome geeky-squee moments I totally lost count…I love it when books give us female characters who choose non-traditional career paths and hobbies, and Lucy fits the bill here….I can’t wait for the next book in this series.”
~Becky on Books Blog

“…what I loved about Love’s Last Call was how their inner geek-dom brought the two of them together. They love comic books and science fiction, and everytime Lucy brought up something else “nerdy” that she liked, Norm swooned a bit. I 100% approve bonding with other people over your nerdy loves. It makes me swoon a little too. Beth Matthews did a great job with the writing in Love’s Last Call.”
~Michelle on the Book Briefs blog

“Even a review of 30,000 words would not be sufficient to describe how much I loved Love’s Last Call….I want my own Norm- smart, good-looking, bookworm, (fine) nerd and writer!!! And he’s totally sweet and a keeper.”
~Read and Shelved

The Story Behind the Story

Once upon a time I was dating a bouncer for an LA club (still dating the guy, in fact, but he’s no longer a bouncer. ;P), and he would tell me all these interesting/funny stories when he got home from work. Gradually, I got the idea it might be fun to do a series set in a bar. And so the Jezebel’s series was born.

Trivia

*I sort of switched the personalities of my couple from real life. My hero Norm is a total lit dork like me, and Lucy is more of a social butterfly like my BF.

*Originally the first chapter of this belonged to an entirely different book and entirely different characters. But then I decided to peel the bar element out of that book and give the bar its own series.

*I went to Berkeley which has a great engineering program and a bunch of my swing dancing buddies were engineers so Lucy is loosely based on some of them too.

Research

*Dated a hunky bouncer 😉