“Really? Jesus, freakin’ Christmas.” The red taillights of the last bus of the night seemed to mock me as they faded into the gloom. It was snowing for real now, and big flakes hit my face as I shivered and tugged my hoodie around my body. The cotton material was thin and not made for winter. But I didn’t own a winter coat, and I hadn’t thought I’d need one either. The plan was never to stay in this little dumpy town in the middle of nowhere. I should have been gone by now; lying on the sunny beaches of California, drinking Mai Tais and working on a tan.
I glanced back toward the Rusty Spoon diner. My shift there had just ended, and Ralph, the owner, didn’t like employees hanging around once our work was done. He was a suspicious bastard, and he assumed everyone wanted to steal from him. Maybe I wasn’t the best waiter in the place, but I was no thief. I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to put up with Ralph much longer. But then Tim had ditched me, and I no longer had a choice. In fact, my sucky job was about the only thing I had going for me right now.
My feet and back ached, and I itched to go home and crash at my motel. I considered hitching, but there weren’t many cars out at the moment. Not to mention, with my luck, I’d probably end up grabbing a ride from a serial killer who’d chop me up and serve me for his holiday meal. I shivered again as I glanced back toward the restaurant. If I stayed out here, I’d freeze to death. Since there were no more buses tonight, the only real option was walk, or go back in the warm diner.
I chose the latter.
When I returned through the doors, my co-worker, Patty, frowned. “What are you doing back here?”
“Missed the bus.” I moved past her toward the coffee brewer. My fingers were frozen, and I needed something to warm me. “Ring me up for a coffee, would you?”
“You bet.” She punched some buttons, and the drawer opened with a ding.
I dug a dollar out of my pocket and handed it to her, while also balancing my cup under the spigot where the coffee poured out. “Can I catch a ride home with you after your shift?”
She snorted. “Honey, I don’t get off till ten in the morning. You plan on hanging around that long?”
I shrugged and blew on the hot coffee. “Beats walking.”
“Ralph ain’t gonna approve.” She lifted one brow. “You and I both know that.”
“Would he prefer I freeze to death out there?” I scowled.
“Probably.” She cackled and moved to greet a couple who’d just come in the doors.
She led them to a table, and I watched them. The guy was attentive to his date, hovering and making sure she was comfortable as she slid into the booth. He seemed truly engaged with her, as if she was important to him. I wondered if they were married. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to belong to someone like that. To have someone truly care about me. My parents never had, and Tim sure as shit hadn’t. He’d run out on me in the middle of the night the minute he’d found out I was pregnant.
Fucking loser alpha.
I touched my stomach self-consciously. My employer and co-workers didn’t know I was knocked up. I’d only found out myself a few days ago. I’d then made the mistake of telling Tim, mostly because I was so surprised. We’d always used protection, so I wasn’t sure how it had happened. But that was when he’d bolted. Probably just as well since a jerk like that wouldn’t make a good dad anyhow. That would teach me to be honest with the guy I was in a relationship with. If you could even call what we’d had a real relationship. The sex had been pretty good, but we’d argued a lot. Why had we stayed together so long? Desperation? No better opportunities? I wasn’t sure.
I stayed behind the counter and leaned against the ice machine. The front doors opened and a gust of chilled wind blew into the diner. The alpha who walked in had dark eyes and hair, with just a tiny bit of silver at his temples. I’d seen him many times before. He always sat by himself in the corner and ordered the same thing every time; fried eggs, crispy bacon and black coffee. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, he always got the same meal.
Patty was busy with several tables, and it occurred to me if I wanted to mooch a ride from her, I might earn brownie points by helping her out some. She’d probably take me home anyhow, but this way I didn’t feel as beholden. I didn’t like owing people things. Then they thought they had power over you, and I didn’t care for that feeling at all.
I grabbed an order pad from under the counter, along with a menu. As I approached the alpha, he held my gaze without blinking. I smiled a greeting. “Welcome.”
I led him to a booth and attempted to hand him the menu. “Coffee?”
“Yep.” He didn’t take the menu from me. “I think we both know I don’t need that.”
I wiggled the plastic coated menu in front of him. “I thought maybe you’d want to try something different today. It’s the holiday season. You should live a little.”
“Is that right?” He arched one brow.
He was attractive. I mostly knew he was older than me because of the dusting of gray at his temples. But the tanned skin of his face was smooth, and I assumed he had a nice body from the way the material of his jeans clung to his firm ass and muscular thighs.
I shook myself. I was supposed to be taking his order, not ogling him. “Maybe some pumpkin-spice waffles, or our special Christmas omelet?” I gave him another smile.
He chuffed. “Tell you what? How about you put some cream in my coffee for a change?”
I frowned. “Wow. You’re a real thrill seeker.”
His lips twitched, but his gaze remained blank. “Yep.”
Since he didn’t make any move to take the menu from me, I gave up and went to get his coffee, and put his usual order in. He grunted when I set his java down in front of him, and then he pulled out a paperback, sliding down in his seat to wait for his meal. I left him, unsure of why he intrigued me so much tonight. Maybe it was because I wasn’t actually on shift right now, and so I had extra time to just watch him.
“Hey, thanks for grabbing Graham for me.” Patty bustled up to me and grabbed the orange juice from the under the counter fridge. She poured two glasses and returned it to its spot. “He’s a good tipper. You’ll be happy.”
“No problem.” Graham. It suited him. It was a solid, steadfast name, and he seemed like that kind of man. “What’s his story?”
Holding the glasses of O.J. she paused. “You mean Graham?”
“Yeah. He keeps to himself I notice.”
She shrugged. “All I know is he’s a regular, and he tips well. That’s good enough for me.”
She left me and I refilled my coffee as I studied him. Everybody had some kind of story. Some were happy, some depressing. But nobody got away with having no story at all. Graham was an alpha, and of an age when usually he’d be settled with kids. But he’d never brought anyone in with him.
Had he loved and lost? Had he never bothered to seek out a mate? That was pretty unusual in our alpha omega society. Almost everyone eventually broke down and gave in to the pressure of procreating. I frowned and glanced down at my own stomach. What the hell was I going to do with a kid? I could barely keep myself fed.
The bell near the kitchen area rang, making me jump. I checked and saw it was Graham’s meal sitting under the heat lamps. I grabbed his food and the coffee pot, and carried everything over to him, setting his eggs and bacon carefully on the table. “Any ketchup or hot sauce?” I asked, refilling his coffee with my other hand.
He shook his head. “No, thank you.” He hesitated and then he said, “Don’t you usually work the earlier shift?”
Surprised he knew that, a little flutter when through me. “Um… yeah. I already worked today.”
He frowned. “You’re just hanging around longer because you love it here so much you don’t want to leave?”
I laughed, feeling heat rise from my neck to my face. “I missed my bus.”
He nodded. “I see.”
“It was the last one of the night. But it’s a little cold to walk, so I thought I’d come back where it’s warm, and grab a ride from Patty when her shift is over.”
He picked up his fork, but still he hesitated. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t she take over for you at the end of your shift?”
“Which means she won’t be out of here until around nine tomorrow morning?” His eyes narrowed. “You’re staying here eight hours for a ride?”
I lifted my chin. “Hey, it beats freezing to death.”
“Don’t you have a friend you can call?” He cleared his throat. “What about that loud-mouthed alpha who sometimes visits you on your shift?”
I laughed. “Loud-mouthed?”
“He’s not quiet.”
“No. That’s true.” I found it interesting he’d noticed Tim, and who had what shift, when he always had his nose buried in a book. “You’re an observant guy.”
“I used to be a cop. Old habits die hard.”
“So why can’t your buddy give you a ride?”
I didn’t want to tell him my personal business, so I made something up. “He had to drive to the next town over to visit his mother.”
“He’s visiting his mother?” He sounded skeptical.
“Sure. Why not?”
He snorted and scooped a forkful of eggs into his mouth. As he chewed, he watched me intently. Once he’d swallowed he said, “I can give you a lift.”
Surprise rolled through me and I grimaced. “Oh, no. That’s not necessary.”
“Really? You’d rather stay here another eight hours than accept my offer?”
Pulling my brows tight, I said, “I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
“It’s no bother.”
“How can you know that? You don’t even know where I live.”
“Your boyfriend’s car is kind of flashy. I’ve seen it parked for almost a month over at the Wagon Train Motel. Unless he’s been meeting someone else there, I assumed that’s where you two live.” He took another mouthful of eggs, and then washed it down with coffee.
My face felt hot, and I inched away slowly. “I don’t know.”
“It’s just a ride. I’m not a serial killer.”
My laugh was way too loud. “If you were, it’s not like you’d announce it.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He went back to eating.
I walked away, feeling confused. It wasn’t as if I wanted to hang out here for hours on end. I desperately wanted to shower and put my feet up. But I felt weird accepting a ride from a customer. As Patty walked past, I grabbed her elbow. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
She stopped, her shoes squeaking on the tile. “Sure. But make it quick, I’m busy.”
“Is Graham like… a good guy?” I let go of her arm.
“What?” She frowned.
“I mean, has he ever done anything weird? Or has he ever made you or any of the staff uneasy?”
She laughed. “No. He’s been coming here for years and he’s never been anything but pleasant.”
“Don’t they always say it’s the quiet ones?”
“I’m sure there are usually warning signs. So far, all I’ve noticed about him that’s unusual is he tips well compared to the other regulars.” She raised her brows.
She frowned. “Why? Did he do something?”
“No. Not at all. He offered me a ride home.”
She smiled. “Aww. He’s such a sweet heart. You should take him up on it.”
“You think so?”
“Why not? You’re gonna regret it if you let him leave. I can guarantee, around the five hour mark, you’ll wish you’d said yes.”
I sighed. “God, I would kill to rest my feet.”
“Exactly.” She smiled. “Tell him yes.”
“Maybe I will.” I tore the check from the pad and headed toward Graham. As I set the bill on the table, he looked up from his book. My stomach tensed nervously. “Does your offer still stand?”
He nodded slowly. “Of course.”
“You sure? I don’t want to put you out.”
His gaze softened. “It’s no trouble. I promise.”
“All right.” I laughed awkwardly. “Then I’ll just ring you up, and when you’re ready, I’m ready.”
He snapped his book closed and tucked it in his back pocket. Then he pulled out his wallet and tossed down some cash. I picked up the money, and he slid from the booth. “I’ll meet you outside.” He sauntered toward the door and I watched him leave.
Patty walked past, her arms laden with plates of food. “Good decision, kid. See you tomorrow.”
I cashed out his ticket, noticing the amount left over was indeed a generous tip. I tucked it in my pocket and zipped up my hoodie. Then I made my way out into the freezing night.
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