T H E B A R N E X T D O O R
Sometimes you take the shot, and sometimes the shot takes you.
As the manager of Montreal’s most infamous dive bar, Monroe—and it’s just Monroe, thank you very much—is used to serving up her signature pearls of wisdom alongside an array of shots, pints, and pitchers. In fact, she thrives on it. Taverne Toulouse is a mighty ship, and she its fearless captain, trusted by patrons and bar staff alike to steer them through choppy waters.
If only she’d been given a little warning before a full-on tsunami swept in next door.
Julien Valois’ wining and dining empire is making waves. The next item on his agenda is opening a trendy lounge right next to Monroe’s beloved Taverne Toulouse—one that’s meant to run the dive bar out of business so he can buy up that property too.
His plans did not include falling for a five-foot-nothing brunette with an impressive vocabulary and an even more impressive ability to manhandle drunk frat boys twice her size.
They’re rivals in every sense of the word, but when Monroe and Julien are in a room together, the battle lines fade away. Their defences lower, their hearts get louder than their heads, and the burn between them goes down like just the right shot—intense, intoxicating, and able to sweep their priorities away with a single taste.
Until reality decides to slap up a big ‘For Sale’ sign and force them remember those priorities all too clearly.
E X C E R P T
“This wall,” he says, knocking on the plaster beside him, “is my dilemma.”
We’re silent enough now that I notice the thumping of the music in Taverne Toulouse for the first time. If I strain my ears enough, I can hear people laughing. I can imagine Dylan singing rap songs to himself in the kitchen. I can see DeeDee dancing around behind the bar in her crop top, pouring shots and giving her famous order for anyone leaving to do ‘one for the road.’ I can picture Zach staring at her like she’s the sun.
And here on the other side, I’ve just spent a half hour piling up boxes with a man who has a dangerous ability to make me forget about all of them.
That wall is my dilemma too.
Suddenly everything shifts back into perspective. He’s a threat again, something I have to outsmart and overcome. So many people are depending on me doing just that. I tell myself to pretend he’s a drunk at the bar and I’m convincing him to go for a glass of water instead of another whiskey.
“Can you even change your plans this late in the process?” I ask. “You’re already getting tiles delivered. Things seem pretty...final.”
“They are.” He sighs and reaches up to scratch the back of his neck. “It would be one hell of a headache to change everything now.”
Sweet Jesus, let him put his arm down. I can’t think with his shirt riding up like that.
A thought seems to strike him, and he laughs to himself. “I feel like you’re my bartender right now.”
I glance around us. “This is hardly a bar.”
“Then let’s go to one.”
He pushes off the wall. “Let me buy you a drink. I owe you at least one for all your help tonight.”
“I should get home.”
The response comes out like a reflex, an innate defense in the face of imminent danger. Being alone in a booth with Julien Valois at this hour of the night has to be the definition of imminent danger.
“I probably should too,” he tells me, “but...”
His fingers brush over his chin like he can tell exactly what he does to me, like he’s charging his facial hair up with its mystical beard powers.
“...I would really like to get a drink with you.”
Say no. Do it. Just grab your dolly and walk out of here like a boss.
But then again, he does have information I could use, and he seems to be in the mood to give it. If he’s planning to start hiring in June, I’m going to have to work a lot faster than I thought to convince Fournier I can turn things around. Even if Julien doesn’t seek him out, Fournier will no doubt present him with an offer to sell if I don’t get my ass in gear first. I need to be prepared for anything. I need to know exactly what’s going on next door.
I tell myself that’s why I’m agreeing as I hold up a finger and answer, “One drink.”