Man of the Month 9
I wear designer suits on my body by day and gorgeous women on my arm at night. Some might call me arrogant, with my chiseled jaw and my dark blue eyes. Add in my money and I can get any woman I want.
Now, I want her.
The night I spent with Selma has lived in my most erotic dreams. And ever since she swept back into my life, with her flashing eyes and delicious body, I want nothing more than to make sultry new memories.
But with an election coming up, and an office I want to fill, it isn’t the right time to get involved with a free-spirited girl with a wild streak. A girl who doesn’t abide by the rules. A girl who could get me noticed in all the wrong ways.
A girl who makes me crazy … in all the right ones.
Now I’m going to have to decide: Walk the straight and narrow? Or have the hottest, wildest affair of my life with the sexiest woman I’ve ever known?
All Night Long is Story # 9 in the Man of the Month series.
All Night Long - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 05/29/2018 Story Type Book Series Man of the Month Place in Series Story #9 Genre Contemporary Romance
More About This Story
When a group of fiercely determined friends realize their beloved hang-out is in danger of closing, they take matters into their own hands to bring back customers lost to a competing bar. Fighting fire with a heat of their own, they double down with the broad shoulders, six-pack abs, and bare chests of dozens of hot, local guys who they cajole, prod, and coerce into auditioning for a Man of the Month calendar.
But it’s not just the fate of the bar that’s at stake. Because as things heat up, each of the men meets his match in this sexy, flirty, and compelling binge-read romance series of twelve novels releasing every other week from New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner.
“With each novel featuring a favorite romance trope—beauty and the beast, billionaire bad boys, friends to lovers, second chance romance, secret baby, and more—this series hits the heart and soul of romance.” —New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips
“Verdict?” Selma Herrington asked as she tilted her head to better display her newest tattoo to Elena Anderson. A recent addition to the waitstaff at The Fix on Sixth, Elena also happened to be the owner’s daughter. More importantly, over the last few months, Selma and Elena had bonded over a mutual love of whiskey, flea markets, and romance novels.
At ten in the morning, The Fix hadn’t yet opened, and it was just the two of them in the cavernous bar. Later, at lunchtime, the place would start to fill, and when the evening rolled around, it would be jam-packed with all the customers who’d come to watch this week’s Man of the Month contest for Mr. August. Selma knew that Elena’s father, Tyree, and his three partners had started the contest as a way to draw interest to the bar and increase revenue. And though Selma didn’t know the details, considering how packed the bar was on alternate Wednesdays—and how many new faces she saw every time she walked through the doors—she was certain the plan was working spectacularly.
So far, she’d only seen two of the Man of the Month contests, but she was determined to come tonight because she’d heard from her brother Matthew that one of their high school friends, Landon Ware, was entered. A cop, Landon didn’t seem the type to reveal his abs on a stage, and Selma couldn’t help but wonder if something else was going on. Recently, when she’d been in the back talking to Tyree about his order for two more cases of bourbon, she’d noticed Landon with Taylor, a regular who also acted as the show’s stage manager. Maybe she’d find a moment to catch up with him before tonight’s contest.
Right now, Selma stood at the long, polished oak bar beside Elena, who was rolling silverware into napkins. She added another roll to the pile, then focused more intently on Selma’s shoulder. “Oh, that’s nice,” she said, her voice rich with genuine approval. She used a finger to pull the strap of Selma’s black Free-Tail Bat Bourbon logo tank top to the side to better reveal the pattern of retro-style starbursts that exploded over Selma’s pale skin. “This is what? Your seventh tat? When did you get it done?”
“Eighth,” Selma said, running her fingers through her dark, choppy-cut hair that she’d recently tipped with cobalt blue. “And a couple of days ago.”
“Catalyst?” Elena asked with an impish grin, her chocolate-brown eyes dancing with merriment. A tall black woman with pixie-style hair, perfect skin, and high cheekbones, Elena was stunning enough to be a model. And, in fact, Selma was trying to convince Elena to do a photo shoot for Selma, so that she could use the images in an upcoming Bat Bourbon ad campaign geared toward women.
Or she had been trying to convince Elena. Since Selma was on the verge of selling Austin Free-Tail Distillery so that she could dive into other adventures, the challenge of advertising her small-batch whiskeys was soon going to be someone else’s problem.
Still, Elena would look damn good on a billboard fronting IH-35.
Frowning, Selma pushed the random thoughts from her head. “Sorry. Mind wandering. What were you asking me?”
“What prompted the starburst tats?” Considering the relatively short time they’d known each other, Selma and Elena had grown incredibly close—at least by Selma’s regimented definition of closeness. Close enough that Selma had confided that all her tats had been impulse ink—though Selma had never gone far enough to share the impetus behind those impulses. Not a single one was planned, and as far as Selma was concerned, none ever would be.
“I was poking around in Room Service,” she told Elena now, referring to her favorite eclectic thrift store. “And I saw the pattern on some vintage dishes. I liked it, so I popped into True Blue Tattoo on Airport Boulevard and had it done on the way home.”
She didn’t mention that she’d bought the dishes, too. Nor did she mention that seeing them had sent little stabs straight into her heart. She didn’t recall much about her early years, but she did remember eating grilled cheese sandwiches with her brother off of her grandmother’s starburst pattern plates.
The memory had been lost until the moment she’d seen the dishes, and then it had all rushed back. The smell of the bread in the pan, the sizzle of cheese melting against the hot skillet as it drizzled from the edges. The way her grandmother hummed “My Darling Clementine” as she cooked. Matthew’s incessant, stupid knock-knock jokes.
Those rare glimpses into a lost past were too precious to lose. And so Selma had done what Selma always did; she’d made a memory. This time, by marking it on her shoulder so that her grandmother would always be with her.
Elena, of course, knew none of that. Mostly because Selma had never even told her friend that she was adopted, much less that her birth mother had abandoned her ten-year-old daughter and eleven-year-old son in Lakeline Mall with nothing but a pair of matching backpacks with notes pinned to them.
No way would she share that. There were limits, after all. And getting too close only made things complicated. And painful.
“Is that why you popped in this morning? To show me?” Elena pushed the pile of napkins closer to Selma. “Or did you come to help?”
“Actually, I came to talk to your dad.”
“Partly.” Selma had founded Austin Free-Tail Distillery on a wing and a prayer just over five years ago, and it had grown into a small batch distillery with a nationwide reputation. Named in honor of Austin’s famous colony of Mexican Free-tail bats, the distillery’s various small batch varieties included Bat Bourbon and Dusk Flight Rye.
Before Free-Tail had exploded onto the scene, though, The Fix and its owner, Tyree Johnson, had been consistently loyal and supportive, going so far as to host a tasting event for her and the company long before anyone in Austin—or the country—had a clue who she was.
“To be honest,” Selma told Elena as she helped roll the silverware, “I wanted to tell him my news and ask his advice.”
“News? Did Free-Tail win another award?”
“No, but thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Now I’m dying of curiosity. Hang on.” She walked the length of the bar to the small section that opened. She didn’t bother with that, though, just slipped under, then pulled down two highball glasses and held them up to Selma. “I have a plan to ply you with alcohol so you’ll tell me before you tell my dad. Too early for bourbon?”
“Ply away. And you know how I pay my bills these days. As far as I’m concerned, it’s never too early for bourbon.”
Elena put a golf ball sized ice cube in each glass then poured them both a pre-lunch appropriate shot. Instead of sliding the glasses across the bar to Selma, though, she held onto them as she slipped back under the bar, then headed for one of the two-tops. She plunked the glasses down, then dropped into a seat. “Okay. Tell.”
As a rule, Selma wasn’t one for obeying orders, but she’d been wanting to share with Elena for days, and she’d been hoping that her friend would be at the bar this morning. “Well, the truth is, I’m moving to Scotland.”
Elena had just lifted her glass, but now she put it back down without taking a sip. “You’re what?”
Selma tilted her head and eyed her friend. There wasn’t a thing wrong with Elena’s hearing.
“Wow,” Elena said, and now she really did take a sip. “When did this come about? Have you thought it all through? How are you going to run the distillery?”
Selma bristled, and for a second, she considered backing away from the topic altogether. But she knew Elena didn’t mean anything bad, even if she did sound a little too much like Selma’s adoptive mother. And for years Allison Herrington had been insisting that Selma was the best little girl in the world. Or, rather, she would be if she’d stop being so damned impulsive.
“Of course I’ve thought it through. I have a temporary gig lined up over there, and after that’s done, I can use the cash to fund about a year of traveling around Europe. Maybe even tag on Asia or Australia.”
“Yeah, but Scotland? Who’s going to run Free-Tail? And where is this all coming from? I mean, it’s one thing to decide to drive to Montana for a concert.” Something Selma had recently done, to Elena’s amusement. “But it’s another thing altogether to up and move to another country.”
Selma just shrugged. Her friend wasn’t wrong. But Selma liked to keep moving. She wanted adventure. New scenery. And since it wasn’t going to come to her, she had to go to it.
“How did this come about?” Elena asked.
“Do you remember me telling you about Sean O’Reilly?”
“Is he the one you met when you flew off to backpack around Scotland after college?”
“The same. Although it was more during college. Or, technically, it was after I dropped out.”
Elena leaned back with an amused expression. “And? How does he fit into the picture now?”
“I’m going over to Scotland to work in a couple of his distilleries.” She’d met Sean more than a decade ago after she’d left college life behind. She’d been making A’s in all her classes, but the whole learn-shit-through-books thing really hadn’t jelled with her. So she’d decided that rather than learn about Lord Byron and Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson and so many other Scottish poets from some grad student standing in for a professor in Austin, she’d fly to the source and learn as much as she could on her own.
She’d formally dropped out on a Friday, and the following Monday she boarded a plane with a backpack, a phone, a credit card, and absolutely no agenda whatsoever. It had been heaven. She’d explored the cities and towns, she’d talked to locals, she’d read poetry on a bench in Edinburgh Castle. She’d crashed in hostels and made friends with other students.
Best of all, she’d met Sean. He’d lent her twenty pounds when her credit card had been declined, and when she’d paid him back the following day, he’d used the money to buy her a variety of Scotch whiskies for her to taste. She’d known a bit about spirits—she’d played around with distilling in college—but back then she’d mostly been a wine girl. But with Sean, she’d discovered not only a taste for Scotch, but that she had an excellent palate. So good, in fact, that Sean had offered her a summer job in his distillery in the Highlands.
She’d taken it, on the condition that he understood it wasn’t permanent. She’d come to Scotland to explore, and that’s what she’d intended to do. But she hadn’t been averse to taking a job to fund a few further adventures.
She’d ended up in his bed with the same caveats. Her trip to the Highlands was all about fun, and a good time was all she’d been looking for.
After two months, she’d learned more than she ever expected about Scotch and quite a bit more about having fun in bed.
Elena’s brow furrowed. “So, is there something going on between you two?”
“Definitely no.” Back in the day, Sean O’Reilly’s thick Scottish brogue had tickled her senses, making her think of hot men in kilts and the seductive historical romances that had helped her survive those horrible years before Mom and Dad had adopted her and Matthew. They’d shared good times in bed and an interest in fine whisky, but that had been all. He’d been her tasty morsel years ago, but Selma made it a point to never look back. Why would she when the world was filled with such a variety of delicious opportunities?
“Does he know that?”
Selma laughed. “Duh. Have you ever known me to be coy? Besides, he told me he’s engaged to a local girl. But he assures me that I won’t lack for hunky Scottish companionship.”
Elena rolled her eyes. “Highlanders and what’s under their kilts aside, why on earth are you going all the way to Scotland to work in a distillery when you own an up-and-coming one right here?”
“Well, yeah, that’s kind of the rest of it. I’m selling Free-Tail.”
Elena almost knocked over her glass. “You’re selling Free-Tail? Now? You’re on the brink of breaking out. Restaurants in over a dozen states stock your bourbon. Why on earth would you do that?”
“Exactly my question.”
The deep voice came from the opposite side of the cavernous bar, and Selma twisted in her chair to see Tyree Johnson eating up the floor as he crossed to them in long, measured strides. A tall man with a shaved head, a neatly trimmed beard, and skin as dark as Elena’s, Tyree seemed to fill the room. His broad chest and shoulders would have been intimidating were it not for the genuine kindness that seemed to roll off him.
“Tell me I’m hearing things.”
“You’re not,” she said firmly. “This is the best decision. My decision.”
She watched as his eyes met Elena’s. For two people who hadn’t even met until a few months ago, they shared a lot of the same mannerisms, not to mention similar features. But what made Selma smile as the two shared a glance was the deep affection she saw in Tyree’s eyes. This time last year, he hadn’t even known he had a daughter. Now, just the expression on his face revealed how much he adored her. Not to mention Elena’s mother, Eva, with whom he’d fallen in love all over again after a separation of more than twenty years.
If she weren’t so flustered about both their negative reactions to her new life plan, Selma would actually be feeling a little gooey at the moment.
As it was, she felt on pins and needles. Like she had to justify her decisions. Which, of course, she didn’t. But apparently she was going to anyway, because she tapped the table top for their attention. “Hey,” she said when they looked at her. “Don’t bring me down, okay? I know what I’m doing, and I’m ecstatic about this offer. I’m going to make a ton of money on the sale, the brand I built will live on, and I’ll have the freedom to do cool things. Like go work for a few months in Scotland. Then maybe work in a winery in France. Or take painting lessons. Or learn to sail in Monaco and practice my French in Nice. The whole world becomes my playground. How is that a bad thing?”
For a moment, Tyree said nothing. Then he pulled a chair over from a nearby two-top. As he sat, he rested his hand on hers, his big palm completely covering her smaller one. “It’s not,” he said. “And I’m glad to hear that you’ve thought this out.”
“I have,” she said, probably a little defensively. “I never expected Free-Tail to grow so big so fast. I’d always assumed I’d have the freedom to walk away for a few months, take long vacations, all that kind of thing.”
Tyree nodded slowly. “Makes sense. At the same time, it’s a testament to your talent that it has grown so fast. You’ve built the distillery into something to be proud of.”
“And I am proud of it. Just like you’re proud of The Fix.” She looked around the bar, with its rustic Texas interior. The cavernous main room that played host to dozens of strategically placed tables. The long bar and the wall of glass shelves that displayed an array of sparkling bottles filled with liquor, including bottles from her own distillery.
Tyree had renovated the property and opened The Fix on Sixth about six years ago, and the place was really turning into an Austin staple. Selma knew it had been touch and go for a while, but now that the bar was running a bi-weekly calendar guy contest, she was pretty sure they were firmly in the black. She hoped so; she loved the bar and would hate to see it close its doors.
And to be brutally honest, once she sold her distillery and moved to Scotland, Selma knew she’d miss this place. But that didn’t mean she wanted to be locked to it anymore than she wanted to be locked to her own business.
“You did an amazing thing here,” she told Tyree. “You wanted to save this place so badly, and you managed to pull it off in a big way.” Recently, the bar had run into financial trouble. The calendar contest had been part of an overall plan to turn the bar’s financials around.
“We’re not quite there yet,” he said. “But I think we’re on track.”
“I’m sure you are,” Selma said. “And after fighting so hard for what you built, I can see why you think I’m nuts. But I’m not ready to settle down yet. Not with a man or a career.” She lifted a shoulder. “I’m a leaf on the wind, and I want to see where the breeze takes me next. Besides,” she added with a smug smile, “the offer is from a huge publicly traded company that owns a lot of labels. They’re going to keep my brand alive and pay me really well.”
For a second, she thought Tyree might argue, but then he nodded. “Fair enough.”
“Does that mean you’ll help me?”
His mouth curved down into a frown. “Not sure how I’m supposed to do that,” he said. “But if I can, I will.”
“That’s why I came here this morning. I need to find an attorney to handle the sale of the distillery. And everyone I’ve talked to suggests the same man. I wanted to find out who you’d recommend.”
“Well, I’m not sure who you’re being referred to, but if it were me, I’d talk to Easton Wallace.”
Selma’s cheeks almost cracked from the force of maintaining her smile. “Actually, he seems to be the perennial favorite. I’ve heard rumors he’s going to run for election in the next judicial race. Considering how popular he is, I’m guessing he’s going to win.”
Across the table, Elena leaned forward. “But he’s not popular with you?”
“Oh, no, it’s not that. Easton’s great.” She felt the warmth creep up the back of her neck and hoped that she wasn’t turning red. Since she so rarely blushed, the possibility was especially mortifying. “It’s just that we knew each other back when he was in law school. And I know that he works out at Matthew’s gym,” she added, referring to her brother and the local gym he owned. “And I figure it might be simpler to have an attorney you don’t know in real life. I mean, I’m opinionated. What if he doesn’t agree with the deal points I want to raise?”
That was a legitimate concern, but she was more afraid of not being able to pay proper attention to the legal issues. Selma had a strict no-return policy with men. But she’d walked away from Easton far too early in the game. She knew that because even after all these years she hadn’t forgotten him. Not him or all the wicked things he’d done to her body on their one night together.
Tyree waved her concerns away—or, rather, he waved her concerns about legal disagreements away. “Not an issue. Easton’s as professional as they come. He’ll tell you his opinion, but he’ll also fight for the deal you want so long as it’s legitimate and legal. I’ve hired him for a number of things. Trust me, he’s the man you want.”
That, of course, was the trouble. She still wanted Easton. She’d been left with a perpetual itch that needed scratching. An itch that was surely the by-product of her too-hasty departure. But still persistent enough that she was tempted to break her own rules.
Because when you got right down to it, if she was about to haul herself all the way to Scotland, then maybe—just maybe—she owed herself one hell of a send-off.