"What's your name, honey?"
The waitress tapped on the counter with long, red nails and stared her down. "Got a last name, sweetie?"
Selene chewed the inside of her lip and wished for the millionth time that she looked too mean for anyone to want to start a conversation with. But this redheaded waitress was practically oozing curiosity, and if she was to have a hope of getting this job, Selene was going to have to play the game. She threw the waitress the unfamiliar though practiced fake surname. "Morris."
"Selene is a pretty name. Whatcha doin' in this tiny old town, Selene Morris?"
"Looking for a job."
Her thin red brows were nearly lost in her hair. "Really? You came all the way to Moonrise, Ohio for a job? Honey, this is not the place to look for a life. You should go to--"
Selene jumped with a reflexive start she was sure would never leave her at the sudden new voice, quiet though it was. The new woman was a tall, austere lady with hair pulled back so tightly it looked painful.
The redheaded waitress straightened and sent the older woman a salute. "Just keeping her company until you got here, Mrs. G." She sent a bright, toothy smile Selene's way and left the two of them alone.
"Follow me," the woman said. No hello, no handshake, nothing.
Selene clasped her hands tightly around her handbag and trailed behind the boss, her stomach tight. Since she'd arrived in town two days ago she hadn't met a friendly person. Oh, Lora pretended to be friendly with her toothy grins and jolly voice, but Selene had lived with a brutal man for close to half her life. She wasn't fooled.
The older woman pushed open her office door and motioned Selene inside, her face blank, her eyes shuttered. "Sit down."
Selene eyed the office while the owner of the cozy bar and grill settled behind her desk and began to shuffle papers. The office was neat as the house Selene had run away from and about as cold as a finger that had been chopped off and stuck in a deep freeze for a few years.
Selene jumped. "Selene. Selene Morris."
"Why are you here, Ms. Morris?"
Selene kept her face carefully blank. Why did everyone keep asking her that? She tried for a casual shrug. "I'm looking for a new start." Partly true.
"How did you hear about us?"
Sensitive after years of reading the slightest look, Selene knew the woman wasn't asking how she'd found The Crescent, the charming bar and grill. No, she was asking how Selene had found the town. "I knew someone who used to live here." Total lie.
The woman seemed to know that. She half smiled. "Really?" She marked something down on a piece of paper, a quick, hard slash that reminded Selene of a particularly unhappy elementary school teacher. "Age?"
She thought about lying but didn't see the point. "Thirty."
Her potential employer pursed her lips. "I have to say, this town doesn't really ... welcome new people. You'd be much better off to go to the big city, where you can hide yourself in the sea of people and find a waitressing job in seconds." She stood, her manner final. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing for you here."
Selene swallowed the sudden rising tears and the constant panic. She couldn't find another town, or city, or anything. She was nearing the end of the meager savings she'd managed to hide over the last couple of years, and her old car was running on dregs. "Please, reconsider. I need this job. I..." She pressed the back of her hand to her lips, unable to continue. Oh God, will life ever get better? Ever?
But there was no softening of the woman's features. "I'm sorry."
She had nowhere to go. She couldn't afford another night at the little motel she'd found on the edge of town. She couldn't run any farther. She'd come halfway across the country to find this place.
She sat back down and stared at the older woman. "I'm not leaving without a job."
Surprise lit the woman's features, the first real emotion she'd shown. "But I'm not offering you a job. Please do leave, Ms. Morris, at once."
The woman appeared to be at a loss. She frowned, pursed her lips, then eyed the closed door. "I'll have to have you removed, and you won't want that."
Selene pressed her lips together. "Then have me removed, because that's the only way I'm leaving this place." She leaned forward, desperation giving her courage. "But I'll camp out in your parking lot, I'll hound you every single day, and I'll make you wish you'd simply hired me to begin with."
Mrs. G, as Lora had called her, wasn't one to be intimidated or bullied into anything. Her smile was cold, thin, and somehow dangerous as she advanced on Selene. Once she'd gotten over her surprise, she seemed almost eager for the confrontation Selene would rather have avoided. "Oh, I doubt that." She turned her head to the side and sniffed, wrinkling her nose. "Fear comes from your pores, heavy and sweet. Old fear, like you've--"
The hard, masculine voice cut through the air like a whip, and Selene nearly fell out of her chair in her haste to get away from it. But it was not him, her hideous ex-husband. The stranger in the doorway was as different from her ex as a man could possibly be.
That calmed her a little. Still, she stood almost behind Mrs. G, clutching her bag and looking, she was sure, like a frightened mouse of a woman.
"What does she want?" he asked Mrs. G, as though Selene wasn't even there.
"This is Selene. And she wants a job." The older woman snorted. "I've told her she'll find nothing here and she was just leaving." She looked pointedly at Selene. "Weren't you?"
Selene's tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth and for the life of her she couldn't pry it loose. The man now looked at her, turned his beautiful, strange eyes her way, and she could do little but gape.
He was too beautiful for words. Once, a lifetime ago, she'd fancied herself a painter. She would have painted this man over and over and over, as long as he would have let her.
He wore his hair a little on the long side, and it looked touchably soft and silky. There was a messiness to it that made her want to slide her palm over it and see if she might straighten out the rebelling locks.
He was somewhat tall but not overly so, his body compact and muscled as opposed to the lean slimness of her ex. But then she realized there was one thing the two men had in common. Danger.
It covered this man like a cloak, and he wore it well. Even Robert would have second thoughts about tangling with this man.
She wasn't sure what it was about him, but this man was dangerous.
But his eyes. His eyes were wild and almost nonhuman. Exotic looking with their slight tilt, it was the color that held her spellbound.
They were light, very light, with the black pupil standing in stark contrast. His brows were dark, his lashes long, and she'd never in her life imagined such striking eyes.
She realized the room was dead silent, and her face began to burn. They'd think she was simpleminded. "I need this job," she blurted.
He stared at her for a long moment. She didn't mind. It gave her an excuse to stare back. Finally, he sighed and glanced at Mrs. G. "Give her the job."