Though the crowd swelled early,
the tavern air stilled
as the cool night waned. People huddled together in small clusters, talking in more and more hushed tones- save for the few people who’d imbibed too much.
Darcy, alone, swirled the remains of her too-warm ale and took a small, bitter sip. She hadn’t really wanted to drink ale so much as not to be alone with her thoughts. She didn’t regret breaking things off with Ian at all, but every now and then ‘alone’ crossed the line to ‘lonely’. She missed her parents and old friends more at holidays and special days and found the bustle of strangers gave slight comfort. She ran a finger through warming condensation on the old wood of the bar. The punchline of a joke across the room put a slight smile on her face.
One of the men further down the bar finished his drink and stood, stretching, “Well, unlike you, I need sleep. Hard to stay this handsome without it.”
Darcy looked at him and ranked him as a stunner. The African American man had a gorgeous grin, as attractive to Darcy as his muscled forearms. Darcy speculated to herself that he must sleep a lot, if that was what he attributed his looks to. Dude was fit.
As he tossed cash down on the bar in front of his friend, he looked around carefully. “I got this. It’s almost the 4th. Happy Birthday, Man. G’night.”
Darcy turned her eyes to the seated man, an even more stunning, scruff-faced guy who offered a wry grin and a tip of his glass to his departing friend.
“NIght, Sam. Thanks.” His accent was American, with a hint of Brooklyn.
The floor boards squeaked as the first man strode past. He winked at Darcy, grinning as he noticed her ogling him and then his friend. She ducked her head. Darcy cut another glance at the seated man. Handsome. His leather jacket creaked as he lifted his mug to full, sensuous lips. He had nice hands, strong and capable looking. She nibbled at one of her own lips as naughty fantasies flitted across her mind’s eye.
After the bell on the door quieted, Darcy shifted down and turned towards the handsome stranger. “Is today your birthday?” Her face burned as her impetuous actions caught up with her. She held her breath, waiting to see if he would welcome her query or not.
He looked at her in a friendly manner, shook his head, and kept his voice low. “Nope. It’s not quite midnight yet. Tomorrow.” He shifted on his stool, averting his handsome face, cautious.
Darcy giggled, “Born on the 4th of July? Who are you? Yankee Doodle? Captain America?” She felt anxiety charge the air between them as he tensed. His blue eyes went wide for a second before he shook his head unconvincingly. Darcy sucked in a quick breath. “Wait. What? Get out!” She studied his face carefully and nodded, recognizing the truth of her random guess. “Oops. You’re pretty nice looking for the world’s most wanted man.”
His eyes crinkled for a second as rueful amusement showed clearly. “Please, don’t tell anyone…”
She snorted, “I don’t think the crime of wanting to help people and save the world is all that bad, Birthday Boy.” She liked the half smile she’d put on his face. The desire to see a full smile and hear him laugh put a twinkle in her eye. Goals.