One for the Road is Here!
One for the Road is officially here! The third book the Barflies series dropped yesterday, and I am so stoked to finally be able to share it with everyone. There has already been so much love for Zach and DeeDee going around, and it’s a total honor to get to contribute to the romance community during a time when the joy and sense of respite it brings is more important than ever.
I have a whole week packed with festivities ahead! As usual, I’ve got a handy dandy little schedule to help keep track of what’s going on:
We’re starting today off with a sneak peek of the first chapter! Keep on reading to check out the beginning of this friends to lovers romance.
You can find the whole book on Amazon here!
Chapter One: Zach
GARNISH: an addition made to an alcoholic drink to enhance its presentation
“Esti. It’s locked.”
I pause where I’m pulling a crate of lemons off the shelves and turn to face DeeDee. We’re gathering garnishes from the bar’s walk-in fridge so she can get her station prepped for tonight’s shift. The chilled air has already raised goose bumps on my skin, but that’s not enough to stop the rush of heat that comes from being this close to her in a cramped, dim space—even one that’s filled with crates of fruits and vegetables.
“Locked?” I ask, turning to face her and hoping against hope that the heat hasn’t risen to my face.
She yanks on the handle again, but nothing happens. I watch her throw her weight against the door next, grunting with the effort. The thing doesn’t budge. She gives up and leans her back against it instead, crossing her bare arms over her chest and blowing a lock of candy pink hair out of her eyes.
“Locked,” she repeats.
Don’t look down. You are a gentleman. Don’t look down.
My grip tightens on the lemon crate. There’s no way she won’t notice if I let my eyes drop to her cleavage, but damn it, with her arms crossed like that, it’s like being told there’s a world famous celebrity across the street and forcing yourself not to turn your head.
Yes, DeeDee Beausoleil’s chest has celebrity status in my world, and probably the world of anyone who’s ever met her. DeeDee herself holds something of a celebrity status around Montreal. Not a day goes by at this bar where I don’t watch someone new walk through the door only to fall under her spell in five seconds flat.
She’s arresting. Intoxicating. Electrifying. Whatever you want to call it, she’s got it. Trademark bright pink hair and a diamond stud in her nose, husky laugh that always sounds like the start of a crazy adventure, the damn cutest Québécois accent I’ve ever heard, and curves that do not quit: she’s—
I catch myself just before my eyes drop from her face, jerking back like I’ve been caught sneaking in somewhere I shouldn’t be.
Of course, I send the lemons tumbling out of the crate and onto the floor.
DeeDee cackles, a throaty, smoky sound that has me ready to tip another crate of citrus fruit over if she gets any closer.
She steps closer.
“You dork. What did you do that for?”
She nudges a lemon with her toe, and I focus on the tip of her black, non-slip sneaker instead of the goose bumps on her midriff. DeeDee’s other trademark is crop tops, and even in the relentless frigidity that is late March in Montreal, she’s still got her stomach—and electric blue belly button ring—on display more often than not.
Do. Not. Look.
Normally I’m not frothing at the mouth like this. Normally we’re friends—good friends, friends who’ve known each other for two and a half years. We have regular human conversations. We send each other text messages. We make jokes and pull faces whenever I walk past her station behind the bar. We cheer each other on when we’re dealing with the occasional shitty customer and high five when we make big tips off the good ones. She’s the only person I know who can make an eight hour shift fly by and leave me wishing it were longer.
Being around DeeDee makes every colour in the world seem a little brighter, bolder, and more beautiful. Normally that’s enough to stop me from wishing for more. Normally I can function—or at least pretend to function—around her, but when she’s three inches away in an enclosed space with just one fluorescent light bulb casting shadows on her skin, when her shivers are just begging for someone to wrap their arms around her and pull her close...
“Zachy Zach, what’s the matter with you?”
I raise my eyes from her foot, doing my best to block out any distracting curves on the way up to her face, and find her staring at me with an eyebrow raised and her mouth pursed in a suspicious grimace.
“I, uh, just figured that since we’re apparently stuck in here, we should give ourselves something to do.” I gesture to the fallen lemons.
To my surprise, she raises a finger and jabs it straight at my face, shouting “HA!” before another throaty laugh bursts out of her.
“What?” I demand. “Did you have a better idea for how to fill the time we’re stuck in the fridge?”
That came out wrong. Or right? No. Wrong. Definitely wrong.
She keeps laughing to herself as she makes her way back to the door and reaches for the handle.
“Joke is on you, mon ami. I can’t believe you fell for that. Everyone knows it doesn’t lock from the inside.”
Everyone does know that. Restaurant safety 101: ensure employees can’t get stuck in the fridge.
As my mother would say, “You’re a fool, Zachary Joseph Hastings.”
She would also probably be echoed by my two sisters. It’s a favourite phrase for all three of them.
DeeDee cracks the door open an inch and turns to warn the kitchen staff that she’s exiting. The sudden view of her tight black pants has me letting out a sound similar to someone getting punched in the stomach. I cover it up with a cough.
A fool, indeed.
“This is what you get for not appreciating my meme,” DeeDee calls over her shoulder. “Now you have to pick those lemons up and cut them for me.”
She steps out into the kitchen. The sounds of clinking dishes, chatting cooks, and a hip hop anthem blasting on the stereo seep into the fridge before the door swings shut. I’m engulfed in silence again, alone save for the faint buzzing of the bulb above my head.
I’m still standing there, thinking about how cute her accent sounds when she says ‘appreciating’ when the meaning of her words catches up with me.
“Right. That meme,” I mutter as I crouch down and start gathering lemons.
I love memes—possibly too much. In addition to working at Taverne Toulouse, I’ve been running an ecommerce business from home for over a year now, and the single biggest threat to my productivity is the way being on the internet gives me constant access to memes.
I stand by my fixation. Call me crazy, but I believe memes are one of the most undiluted essences of our culture there is. When the anthropologists of the future are trying to piece together what exactly the hell happened to our society, I’d bet everything I own they find the answer in memes.
Plus, memes are hilarious.
I get the lemons all gathered up into their crate and head out, calling “Door!” so I don’t accidentally slam anyone in the face as they’re rushing by with an armload of appetizers. I nod to the two cooks on duty as I pass by. It’s still early in the night, and they’re both busy working their way through prep tasks.
“Here you are, Mademoiselle Beausoleil.”
After making my way down the short hallway between the back and front of house, I drop the crate onto the lacquered surface of Taverne Toulouse’s giant three-sided bar. DeeDee turns from where she’s sliding pint glasses onto their shelf and gives me a look that’s the definition of unimpressed.
“Those don’t look chopped, Monsieur Hastings.” Her accent makes her miss the ‘H’ in my last name.
“I’ll get on it.”
“Good.” She makes a show of tossing her hair over her shoulder. “And maybe next time you will be nicer about my memes.”
“I’m always nice about your memes!”
She shakes her head. “You don’t think they make sense.”
I rest my elbows on the bar. “Well, it’s just sometimes they’re a little confusing.”
She brandishes a pint glass at me like it’s a weapon. “Whatever, bro. English is dumb and confusing.”
Then she reels something off in French too fast for me to be sure I follow, but I think it’s along the lines of, “And it’s not my fault my brain operates at a higher level than yours.”
“The pizza one was funny!” she adds, switching back to English for me.
“You sent me the ‘Ermahgerd’ girl when I told you I didn’t know what kind of pizza to order last night. I think I was justified in asking what that means.”
A sly grin spreads across her face. “How about asking what that memes?”
I do my best to look scandalized, but I can’t help laughing even as I place a hand on my chest like I’m offended. “Oh, DeeDee, that was so bad I don’t even know if it counts as a pun.”
“See!” She waves the pint glass around some more. “You’re mean!”
I can’t help myself. “No, I’m meme.”
“Tu es fou!” she shouts, calling me crazy. “Tu es complètement fou!”
“What’s all this revelry?”
I look over my shoulder to see Monroe, the owner of Taverne Toulouse, striding out of the hallway. She grabs a spot beside me, hiking herself up onto a stool. Even from that vantage point, she’s still way shorter than me. She’s way shorter than most people, but that doesn’t stop her from being one of the biggest badasses I know. She went from being the underpaid and overworked manager of a grimy student bar slowly going out of business to buying the place for herself and turning it into a Montreal nightlife Mecca—at just under thirty years old.
“Zach is being mean to me!”
Of course, dealing with her insane staff is probably the hardest part of Monroe’s job.
“I am not!” I turn to Monroe and put on a fake whiny voice. “DeeDee tried to lock me in the fridge.”
Monroe gets in on it, tutting and shaking her head. “DeeDee, what did you do to poor Zach?”
“Poor Zach?” DeeDee shelves the last pint glass and puts her hands on her hips. “Poor Zach? Everyone is always going on about poor Zach. Just because he looks like a cute little farmer—”
“How many times do I have to tell everyone?” I cut in. “I grew up in a small town, not on a farm.”
“You do wear a lot of flannel,” Monroe points out.
“Flannel is not just for farmers! Kurt Cobain wore a lot of flannel. Flannel can be grunge. Flannel can be lots of things!”
Monroe crosses her arms and pretends to appraise me as she taps her chin. “I think it’s the combination of the beardy thing and the flannel. It’s just very...wholesome. Not that that’s a bad thing!”
I attempted to grow a beard so everyone would think I look like less of a benevolent farmhand. I can’t manage much more than some blond scruff, and apparently it’s not having the intended effect.
“This bar is a hostile environment today,” I accuse.
“Oh, come on.” Monroe scoots herself off her stool. “You two know you’re both the shining stars of the staff. Now play nice while I’m gone. You’re closing together, aren’t you?”
I nod as DeeDee gasps and starts clapping her hands.
“We are?” She does a little wiggle to the rhythm of the indie rock anthem pumping through the bar’s sound system, and I have to avert my eyes. “Oooh, this is going to be fun! We haven’t closed together in so long, Zachy Zach!”
I cut down my hours at the bar a few months ago, after my ecommerce business started taking off. In truth, being here tonight is going to mess up my whole schedule for the week, but Monroe needed someone to pick up a shift, and I’m not really one to say no to a friend in need. Plus, DeeDee’s right: we haven’t closed together in so long.
Monroe laughs. “Glad to see you’re best friends again.” She pulls her phone out of her jacket pocket and swears. “Shit. It’s later than I thought. I’ve been locked in the office training Lisanne on manager stuff all day. It’s like a time warp in there.”
“Gotta get home to the hubby?” DeeDee jokes.
“He’s not the hubby.”
DeeDee winks. “Not yet.”
We all know it’s only a matter of time before the power couple of the century gets hitched. Monroe’s boyfriend is almost as big of a workaholic as she is, but I’m sure they’ll fit a wedding in there somewhere.
We say our goodbyes, and DeeDee and I settle into getting our stations prepped. We duck and weave around each other while tossing out jokes and friendly insults, falling into the comfortable co-working rhythm we have down to a science. I get the lemons sliced before doing a final sweep of the seating area, checking the mismatched coffee tables, leather couches, and clusters of chairs for any stray napkins or spilled drink residue that might have been missed.
I know she had a lot of people help her bring it to life, but as the mastermind behind the overhaul of Taverne Toulouse’s decor, Monroe really is a genius. The new space has held onto Taverne Toulouse’s signature dive bar charm with things like our neon ‘Please don’t do coke in the bathroom’ sign and the infamous graffiti wall covered in years and years’ worth of drunken signatures and pictograms, but the space has been classed up with her additions.
The swank new bar station, casual furniture arrangements, and yards and yards of string lights casting a warm glow over it all make evenings spent at Taverne Toulouse feel like hanging out in your trendy friend’s living room. It’s the kind of place you go to kick up your feet and let loose for a while, to sit back with friends or party until last call on our tiny dance floor. It’s the kind of place you can waste time without feeling like it’s wasted, and the whole city knows it. We’ve been packed every weekend since the reopening.
“Duh duh, duh duh. Doot doo doot doo doo.”
DeeDee sings out the instrumental opening of the Sheepdogs song that just came on, loud enough for me to hear her all the way across the room. I look over to the bar and see her doing some kind of hair-flipping, hip-shaking routine that stops me dead in my tracks.
If there’s music on, DeeDee’s dancing. It’s an unwritten law of the universe. She might just be tapping her foot or nodding her head, but if there’s a beat, she’ll be moving to it. More often than not, she’ll be doing an all-out performance that’s enough to knock the wind out of anyone who might be watching—but that’s the thing: she does it whether anyone’s watching or not.
When DeeDee dances, she does it for herself. Sometimes I’ll come around the corner and catch her spinning around with her hands thrown up and her head thrown back, and I swear it’s like I’m watching the surge of the sea, some eternal pattern filled with power and purpose and a meaning too deep and secret for any one person to grasp.
Then she’ll catch me looking, and the spray of the tide pulls me in, pulls me closer, pulls me down into something I can’t find the will to escape.
“Hey, pervert. You think this is a free show?”
Ah, there we go. Magic moment over.
“I thought it was an appreciation dance for me cutting your lemons.”
“That was your, uh...What is the word for when someone does something bad so you make them do something for you?”
I move closer to the bar and squint while I think. “Punishment?”
She bobs her head. “Yeah. The lemons were your punishment.”
She plucks one of the slices out of the garnish station and sucks it between her teeth.
Another DeeDee quirk: she loves lemons. I’ve seen her go through an entire lemon’s worth of wedges in one shift.
“Good thing I cut extra for you.”
“Aww.” She bats her eyelashes after tossing the rind into the trash. “You know me so well.”
I wish I knew you better. I wish I knew everything.
I don’t say it. I never do. I let the opportunity float right by us and get swept away, just another magic moment I didn’t have the guts to seize.
I lost count of all those missed moments a long time ago.
The sound of the door opening cuts through our momentary silence. DeeDee’s co-bartender for the night, Renee, calls out a greeting, and DeeDee rushes over to hug her and start chatting away.
The next few hours pass by in a steady rhythm I’ve come to know as well as a favourite song. Even on the nights we’re totally swamped, the staff at Taverne Toulouse always have time to joke around and tease the shit out of each other. I laugh more at this place than anywhere I’ve ever worked before, and the people I spend my nights laughing with have become so much more than coworkers. We’re like a big family of misbehaved cousins that still somehow manage to successfully operate a bar together every night.
As the shift winds down, the kitchen closes and the other staff trail out until it’s only me and DeeDee left on the clock. We’re waiting on a big group clustered on a couple couches to finish their last round before we close up.
“Ben là. We used to be on close all the time together,” DeeDee muses as I help her put some clean glasses away behind the bar. “It feels like it’s been forever. I missed you.”
Her voice softens, and she gives me a small smile. If I didn’t know better, I’d even call it shy.
I lower my voice to the same level. “I missed you too.”
She pauses, a glass still in her hand, and I stop moving on my way to grabbing another one. It might just be the dim lighting, but I swear her eyes have gone all big and wide, her warm brown pupils flaring with surprise.
But I’m being insane. My heart’s hammering in my chest, getting carried away just like it always does. I shake my head and clear my throat as I pick up a new glass.
“Yeah, I’m, uh, not working too many of the long shifts now that my business is picking up speed,” I comment as I avoid her eyes.
She slaps me on the back, and all my senses go on high alert at the contact. “Soon you will be a millionaire.”
“I’d settle for making enough to get my own apartment.”
“Why would you want to leave Paige? Paige is so cool!”
“Paige is cool,” I reply, referring to my roommate, who works as a DJ, “but I’m almost twenty-three. Feels like I should be getting my own space soon. I don’t want to be one of those people who has to live with roommates until they’re, like, thirty.”
DeeDee scoffs. “Everyone has roommates when they’re twenty-two. You’re so young! You have time. Maybe Paige will get famous and let you live in her fancy condo or something.”
“Ha. Yeah. Maybe.”
I force a laugh, but I can’t help the sinking feeling when she talks about my age. I’ll be twenty-three in a few months, and she’s only twenty-five, but sometimes I think she sees me as a kid.
“Ah, enfin! I think they want the bill.”
DeeDee jerks her head toward the group of customers, who are scanning the room like they want my attention. I head over and get them all settled up. Once they’re gone, we finish our final tasks together and joke about all the ways we used to pass the time during the long closing shifts while waiting for the stragglers to head out.
“Remember when we used to do the origami competitions?” DeeDee asks.
“Yeah, and you always beat me.” She can make swans out of napkins. I can make lumps. “Do you know how many YouTube tutorials I watched? A lot, that’s how many. I swear the whole world is trolling me. There’s no way you can actually make that stuff out of paper.”
Her laugh follows me down the hall as I take the garbage out. When I get back from dropping the trash bags in the dumpster behind the bar, she already has her coat on.
“You good to go?” she asks.
“I’ll just grab my jacket.”
Once we’re out on the sidewalk, DeeDee gets the door locked up while I take a few deep breaths of night air. Taverne Toulouse is on Avenue Mont-Royal, one of Montreal’s best streets for eating, shopping, and sitting in bars. Everything on our block is closed for the night, but there are lights and people swarming around farther up.
“It’s actually kind of warm out.”
For the end of March, which is still a winter month in Montreal.
“Ouais, I think all the snow will be gone after this weekend.” She tucks her keys into her pocket and smiles at me. “I can’t wait for summer.”
She is the summer. With her candy-coloured hair, bright brown eyes, and jacket hanging open to reveal a sliver of bare stomach, she’s all heat and sunshine and ice clinking in glasses filled with something sweet. Sometimes I think her parents must have made up a last name for her instead of giving her their own.
Beausoleil. Beautiful sun.
“Do you, uh, want me to walk you home?”
“Aww, that’s sweet.” She grins again. “I’m okay, though. I’m meeting X at a place up the street, and we’re going home together.”
The boyfriend who wears muscle shirts every day of the week and whose party trick is crushing beer cans against his forehead.
Another thing I’ve learned about DeeDee during the many hours we’ve spent at Taverne Toulouse together: there’s always a boyfriend.
Grab your copy of One for the Road here!