Once inside, she closed the door and leaned her forehead up against it. She could not stand her father's former friends. She always felt that they had been instrumental in encouraging her father to gamble way over his head, but she had no proof.
Taking in a ragged breath, she moved over to the stack of empty boxes and started ripping them apart and flattening them out to be recycled. It seemed like a good way to redirect her feelings.
She heard a knock.
"You okay?" Nick's voice rumbled.
She went to the door and opened it to see Nick frowning at her. "I'm taking care of the boxes."
"Isn't that something you can do later?"
She shrugged. "Why put off until later what you can do now?"
"Those old guys bother you?"
"The Steeplechase Three?" She gave a shaky laugh. "I can't stand them, but they always behave themselves."
"They remind me of snakes."
"I get the shivers when the tall one winks at me."
"In other words, he's harassing you."
She rolled her eyes. "Most men wink at barmaids."
"Shall I scare the daylights out of him?"
"Right," she countered with a touch of sarcasm.
"Don't you think I'm intimidating?"
"You got the muscle and the height, but you're always smiling at people and showing off that cute dimple in your cheek."
Nick frowned at his reflection in the glass-fronted refrigerator door. "Cute dimple?"
"On the left side." She stopped stamping on a box and reached over. "Right there." She touched him and felt a shimmer go up her arm. She stifled a gasp.
For once, Nick's smile faltered. "Are you ... afraid of me?"
Yes! "No!" She quickly recovered by reaching over to put another box down on the floor and squash it. "My mom is more intimidating than you."
Nick laughed. "She's quite a lady."
"Yep. She's a real lifesaver." Callie felt the emotion closing in on her again. How did she get so lucky? She had the best mom in the world. It choked her up to see her mother waitressing the tables like a pro.
Nick sat down on a rickety old chair. Callie realized he must be tired, what with driving her around and working at the service station, too. "Anyhow, if those guys do bother you, let the rest of us know."
"Winking is not a punishable offence." She sighed and glanced at her watch. "Eight o'clock. That's it for the free beer."
"Jules told me you've pulled in quite a bit of cash."
"Yep. It worked." She didn't feel any better than she had before. Ken was dead. Butch had left. Still, there was a slight chance that she could keep her father's place going.
"Hey, the jukebox is playing one of my favorite songs."
Callie listened. "That's an oldie."
"It's a slow oldie. Let's celebrate and dance."
"Dance?" Her heart started pounding. Dancing with Nick would be risky. "I've got two left feet."
"Any woman who can spin me around like you did has to have some natural rhythm."
"Karate is not like dancing."
"Sure it is." He stood up and held out his hand. "I'll show you."
Callie's mouth went dry. "Honestly. I really don't know a thing about which foot goes where."
"I lead, you follow. It's easy. And I don't bite."
But you kiss! Callie put her fingernails to her mouth.
Nick grabbed her hand. "None of that nail nibbling. Let's have a little fun."
The warmth of his hand tingled all the way up her arm. She went along with him, though she thought it might be easier to face a gang of hoodlums.
"Lock the storeroom door," he reminded her.
She blinked. How could she forget that detail? Because of him she seemed to have a brain made of pudding.
With the music blaring away, Nick drew her out into the center of the floor. Several other couples were already there, so Callie didn't feel too conspicuous. However, as soon as she moved into the circle of Nick's arms, she knew she had made a terrible mistake.
He swirled her around, then he tipped her over--very gracefully. They glided all around the floor, dipping and swaying to the music until the other couples moved out of the way so that Nick had more room to maneuver her.
Breathless, she gazed up at him. "Tell me you're a magician."
"Nope. I took dance classes. Of course the instructors told me I had some natural rhythm in me." He tipped her over again and lifted her up as if she weighed as much as little Buchette.
The song ended and everyone clapped. Callie blushed to the roots of her scalp.
That's when she saw Ralph Vernon. Neatly dressed in khakis and a blue blazer, he stood at the bar and lifted his glass in a salute. "Thanks for the free beer Officer Turner. Funny seeing you dance with the man who got me out of jail when you were the one who put me in. I guess the law makes strange dance partners."
Callie lunged toward him, but Nick latched onto her and would not let her go.
"Innocent until proven guilty." Nick whispered a warning.
Callie yanked herself away from Nick's grasp, but when she did his right hand came down upon her shoulder.
"Being tried for assault and battery is not worth it." He muttered softly in her ear.