Baylee Breaking - Contemporary Romance
“Chase, I hate to tell you this, man, but you're screwed.” Those were the words with which Jordan Miller greeted his best friend and client when he walked into the Greene County courtroom that fateful April morning.
Chase raised one dark eyebrow at his attorney.
“You got the ball buster.”
Chase closed his eyes in disgust. The one judge I most hoped to avoid, the Honorable Brenda McMillan, a radical feminist who seems to live for putting men in their place. No matter the facts in the case, she always managed to find the man in the wrong and rake him over the coals. This was not likely to be an exception.
The two men took their seats at the front of the courtroom. Surely for something as simple as an uncontested divorce, the ball buster would not feel the need to live up to her reputation. Right?
* * *
Three hours later, Chase knew how wrong he'd been. The proceedings had given a new definition to the word ‘screwed’.
“I can't believe she awarded Candace the whole house, both cars and half of my retirement,” he groused as he and Jordan stalked across the parking lot. Instead of getting into his – her car – he meandered to the playground beyond. “What the hell is that about? Candace cheated on me!”
“Be glad she didn't make you pay child support too,” Jordan replied, still looking a little shell-shocked.
“I'd have appealed that! There's no way I'm paying support on someone else's kid.” Chase sank into a park bench under the shade of a fragrant pine. A chilly wind blew through the perfumed branches, but the sweet scent brought no comfort. He tried to shore up his anger. Better anger than grief. But it was no use. Despair chewed on his guts. After ten years of marriage, the last thing he had expected was to find himself single, homeless and broke.
“You know something, Jordan?” he asked, his voice flat and dark.
His friend nodded sympathetically. “You've had a hard couple of weeks, Chase. Why don't you come over tonight? Jenn's making one of her gourmet dinners and, well, she said I should invite you.
Chase smiled without humor. “Tell Jenn I said thank you, but no. If I have to watch you two being happy together, and her pregnant too, I think I might just be sick. I need to be alone, Jordan.”
“I hear ya,” his friend said, smoothing down an errant blond curl. He stood. Then, without warning, Jordan laid a hand on Chase's shoulder. “Promise me you won't do anything stupid,” he said in a low, intense voice.
“I'm not going to let that bitch win,” Chase replied.
Jordan looked at him a moment, nodded, and then walked away. Chase gulped. Anger wavered, died. Looking to Heaven, he asked aloud, “What the hell am I going to do now?”
Eighteen months later
There she is. She IS working today.
Chase made his slow way through the bookstore, the patterned carpet muffling the sound of his boots as he made a beeline straight toward his target. From the back she didn't look like much; petite, slender and fragile, her wavy brown hair hanging loose nearly to her waist.
“Excuse me,” he said.
She turned. “Yes?” Then she recognized him and scowled. “Oh, it's you again. What do you want?”
Despite her less than welcoming reply, the girl whose name tag read Baylee never failed to make Chase's heart pound and heat rush to his groin. Striving for objectivity, he assessed exactly what about her features seemed so appealing. Is it her tiny stature and waif-like appearance? Is it her full pink lips and dainty, slightly pointy nose? Is it the pale, faintly blushing pink of her skin? All possible. But what really captured him was her eyes: huge brown pools that seemed to hold a depth unthinkable in one so young. And she was young. Pushing the limit of too young for him, but in life experience must be nearly his contemporary, if her spirit rang true.
“I was wondering if the book I ordered came in yet,” he said, leaning his hip against the counter in what he hoped was a casual gesture. Right, man. You weren't good at casual BEFORE your life fell apart.
Chase angrily squashed down the arguing voice. I don’t want to think about that. So, I’m divorced. So what? Lots of people are and it’s been more than a year. I should be getting over it by now. I am, if my interest in this pretty sales clerk is any indication. But how does one start over after so many years thinking life was going to be a certain way? No, starting over is wrong. I’m a different man than I was before I found out my childhood sweetheart and best friend was actually a slut who'd been sleeping with another man behind my back.
Bayle punched the keyboard on her computer, her attention focused on the screen. Chase continued ruminating.
No more of that, man. It's over. Candace is gone, long married to her private investigator partner and the mother of his child. And if you don't want to end up alone with no family of your own, stop obsessing and get out there.
“Of course, your book hasn't come in,” Baylee said, turning to give him an uninviting glare. “You ordered it the day before yesterday. I promised to call you when it arrives, and I will. Now if you don't mind, I have work to do.”
“Don't be unfriendly, ma'am,” he urged. “I won't hurt you. I'd like to talk.”
“Talk?” She raised one eyebrow and furrowed the other. “I have no time to talk. I'm working.”
“How about when you get off? I could take you out for a drink, or some dinner…”
Something flashed in her eyes. If he didn't know better he'd say it looked like desperation. Or maybe despair. Whatever it was, it was intense. “I. Don't. Have. Time. For. Men.” Baylee enunciated clearly. “Now that we understand each other, will you please wander off, or do I have to call the manager?”
“I'm going, I'm going. Jeez, don't be so touchy. I wasn't hurting anything,” he griped.
Her gaze softened a fraction. “I know, sir, but I wasn't kidding. I don't have time for anyone. Seriously. You're wasting your effort.”
“Thanks for being honest, Baylee,” he said ruefully. “Here's my card. If you ever find time and you want to take me up on drinks… or dinner… or talk, call me.”
She gave him a sad smile and returned to stocking the bookshelf, her back to him.
Stung by her dismissal, Chase quickly left the store.
* * *
As soon as she could no longer feel his eyes on her back, Baylee turned away from the bookshelf and regarded the object in her hand. The little card, printed on black paper with a pattern of white music notes, read ‘Chase Milligan, General Manager. The Music Room Club and Bar’. Baylee's eyes widened. So, my persistent suitor runs one of the hottest up-and-coming clubs in the Dallas night scene, does he? She recalled hearing that it offered fun, drinks, and music in a friendly, classy environment. I haven’t gone out in ages, so if I’ve heard of it, it must be a big deal. Of course, my best friend’s husband works there. According to Stella, her husband’s place of business boasted three different rooms: one for local jazz bands, one for karaoke, and one for country and western artists. As manager of such a place, Chase must earn a decent salary. He’s also influential, deciding which acts will be allowed on the coveted stages.
Baylee gulped. If Shelby ever found out she had shot down a man like Chase Milligan, her ass would be grass. As if it's not already. If Chase knew one thing about your life, he'd run for the hills. Quit daydreaming and get back to work. It didn't occur to her that when she had thought about him, it had been his first name running through her mind, along with the image of his auburn-haired, green-eyed gaze.