The Love Wager by Lynn Painter




            “Can I get a Manhattan and a chardonnay, please?”

            “Sure thing.” Hallie glanced over her shoulder as she handed one of the bridesmaids a Crown and Coke, and—wow—the dude shouting his order over the way-too-loud version of “Electric Slide” was very attractive. He was obviously in the bridal party, all tuxxed-up and looking fancy, and even though she’d sworn off dating, Hallie couldn’t help but appreciate the dimples and the Hollywood bone structure. “You want that with bourbon?”

            He leaned on his forearms and stretched a little closer to the bar as the hotel’s ballroom hit peak noise level. “Rye, please.”

            “Nice.” She reached into the gray plastic bucket and pulled a California bottle out of the ice. “Interested in trying it with orange bitters?”

            His dimples popped and he raised his eyebrows, his blue(?)—yes, blue—eyes squinting. “Is that a thing?”

            “It is.” She poured the chardonnay and set the glass in front of him. “If you’re not a moron, you’ll love it.”

            He coughed a laugh and said, “I consider myself to be generally non-moronic, so hook me up.”

            Hallie started making his drink, and she kind of felt like she knew the guy. He seemed familiar. Not his face, necessarily, but his voice and super-tall height and twinkly eyes that made him look like he was down for any wild adventure.

            She glanced at him as the dance floor’s disco lights lit up his dark hair. Shaking the mixer and straining the Manhattan into a glass, she struggled to come up with it; think, think, think. He was looking back in the direction of the head table when it finally hit her.

            “I know how I know you!”

            He turned back around. “What?”

            It was so loud that Hallie had to lean a little closer to him. She smiled and said, “You’re Jack, right? I’m Hallie. I was the one who sold you the—”

            “Hey!” he said, smiling, but then he set his hand on hers and gave her hard-core eye contact as he leaned closer and said, “Hallie. Listen. Let’s not mention—”

            “Oh. My. God.” A blonde appeared beside him—where did she come from?—and her eyes narrowed as she looked at Hallie and said, “Seriously, Jack? The waitress?”

            “Bartender,” Hallie corrected, having no idea why she felt the need or what was up Superblonde’s ass.

            “You leave me alone for ten minutes—at your sister’s wedding, for God’s sake—to canoodle with the waitress?”

            “Um, I can assure you there was no canoodling,” Hallie said, painfully aware that the woman’s loud voice was drawing a lot of attention. “And I’m a bartender, not a waitr—”

            “Can you just shut up?” Superblonde said it through her nose and with the last word pitched an octave higher, like she was a Kardashian.

            “Would you relax, Vanessa?” Jack said through his teeth, glancing over his lady friend’s head as he tried to get her to quiet down. “I don’t even know her—”

            “I saw you!” She was near-yelling as the DJ switched to “Endless Love,” which did zero to mute the outburst. Where is the damn “Macarena” when you need it? Superblonde—Vanessa, apparently—said, “You were leaning in and holding her hand. How long has this—”

            “Come on, Van, it’s not—”

            “How long?” she shrieked.

            The guy’s jaw flexed, like he was clenching and unclenching his teeth, and then he said, “Since this morning.”

            Vanessa’s mouth dropped open. “You were with her this morning?”

            “Not with me with me,” Hallie said, looking around, horrified by the implication. She worked part-time at Borsheim’s on the weekends. The guy, Jack, had come into the store that morning, and she’d helped him find a ring.

            And not just any ring.

            The ring.