Satan walks into my bar and crooks his finger at me.
I pretend not to see. Wyatt Winters can flag down someone else to serve him. I don’t care if tonight is make-or-break time for the historic restaurant and bar I own, and this New Year’s Eve fundraiser party is my last hope. I will not consort with the devil.
He’s handsome, all right, with his thick wavy dark brown hair, sensual lips, trimmed beard, and a body that looks like he spends too much time at the gym. But that is all cancelled out by his smug attitude. Wyatt moved to town a month ago, buying the abandoned house on the top of the hill with a landlocked lighthouse. It was originally owned by an eccentric recluse, who died before I was born. People say it’s haunted. I hope the ghosts keep him up at night.
Seriously, why does Wyatt keep showing up at my beloved Horseman Inn? Over the last month, he’s ordered every beer I have on tap and criticized the quality at length, as well as complained about the chill in the room and, of all things, the name of the place. It’s historic! The inn dates back to 1788 when it used to be a stagecoach stop.
I slip behind the bar and fill another round of drink orders for the table of middle-aged women excitedly anticipating our guest of honor, my famous actress friend, Harper Ellis. She’s the only reason we have a crowd tonight. My younger brother provides chill background music on his acoustic guitar. The bar is packed, the back room is half full, and people are helping themselves to appetizers in the front dining room and bidding on the silent auction items. It’s early yet, so I’m thrilled with the crowd. Thank you, Harper.
Harper and I grew up together here in Summerdale, New York, a lakeside community about an hour and a half outside New York City. It’s a unique place, originally founded by hippies as a kind of utopia. Crime is low and quality of life is high—our unofficial motto. Actual motto: Peace for all sheltered within. Anyway, it’s an awesome community for those of us not about to go bankrupt. Harper offered to help me out, but I’m not going there for several reasons. Most importantly, I don’t want money to come between us.
I hope she gets here soon. I scan the back room quickly and catch the eye of the one man who sets me on edge like no other. No beer for you. I take the tray of wine and two dirty martinis to the women sitting at a long rectangular table across from the man I refuse to acknowledge. I serve the women their drinks, keeping my back to Satan.
“When does Harper get here?” Tammy, a brunette in her fifties, asks.
Her four friends look to me eagerly.
“Any minute, I’m sure. She’s probably caught in city traffic.”
“I’m the current high bid on the lunch with her,” Tammy says. “Fingers crossed!”
I smile. It was nice of Harper to throw that lunch in there, considering she’s such a private, shy person in real life.
Tammy’s friends chime in with their hopes for winning an autographed picture of Harper or some of the other items she donated from her old TV show. She was so generous with her contributions, but I need her here in person.
“I’ll let you know as soon as she arrives,” I say.
I wave to my two best friends, Jenna and Audrey, mingling in the front room. They’re opposites physically—Jenna is tall and lean with blond hair that barely touches her shoulders; Audrey is short and curvy with long black hair. The four of us—me, Harper, Jenna, and Audrey—used to spend all our time together as kids. Then Harper left for Hollywood, and life happened for the rest of us. Jenna and I recently moved back to town. Audrey never left.
I send them a questioning look. They’re looking out for Harper.
Jenna shakes her head. I suppress a sigh and turn to head back to the bar.
“Cindy, over here,” a deep baritone voice calls out.
I stiffen and slowly turn to Wyatt. “It’s Sydney,” I say through my teeth.
He cups a hand by his ear. “What?”
I exhale sharply and cross to his corner table tucked in the back. He’s around my age (I’m twenty-eight), wearing a black and white checked button-down shirt with a tan sport coat and jeans. His long legs are stretched out under the table, crossed at the ankles. Dark brown leather