“Good evening, Dr. Wyatt,” Jeannie Kaufman said as the man slid into his usual seat at the end of the bar. It was a busy Friday night, and he sat as far away as he could get from the other patrons at Trenton’s.
“Jeannie,” he said in his usual brusque tone.
But this time she heard something tight in his voice.
Dr. Robert Wyatt was an unusual man, to say the least. His family owned Wyatt Medical Industries, and Dr. Wyatt had been named to the “Top Five Chicago Billionaire Bachelors” list last year, which probably had just as much to do with his family fortune as it did with the fact that he was a solid six feet tall, broad-chested and sporting a luxurious mane of inky black hair that made the ice-cold blue of his eyes more striking.
And as if being richer than sin and even better-looking wasn’t tempting enough, the man had to be a pediatric surgeon, as well. He performed delicate heart surgeries on babies and kids. He single-handedly saved lives—and she’d read that for some families who couldn’t afford the astronomical costs, he’d quietly covered their bills.
Really, the man was too good to be true.
She kept waiting for a sign that, underneath all that perfection, he was a villain. She’d had plenty of rich, handsome and talented customers who were complete assholes.
Yes, he was distant, precise and, as far as she could tell, completely fearless. All qualities that made him a great surgeon. But if he had an ego, she’d never seen it. He came into the bar five nights a week at precisely eight, sat in the same spot, ordered the same drink and left her the same tip—a hundred dollars on a twenty-dollar tab. In cash. He never made a pass at anyone, staff or guest, and bluntly rebuffed any flirtation from women or men.
He was her favorite customer.
Before he’d had the chance to straighten his cuffs—something he did almost obsessively—Jeannie set his Manhattan down in front of him.
She’d been making his drink for almost three years now. His Manhattan contained the second-most expensive rye bourbon on the market, because Dr. Wyatt preferred the taste over the most expensive one; a vermouth that she ordered from Italy exclusively for him; and bitters that cost over a hundred bucks a bottle. It was all precisely blended and aged in an American white oak cask for sixty days and served in a chilled martini glass with a lemon twist. It’d taken almost eight months of experimenting with brands and blends and aging to get the drink right.
But it’d been worth it.
Every time he lifted the glass to his lips, like he was doing now, Jeannie held her breath. Watching this man drink was practically an orgasmic experience. As he swallowed, she watched in fascination as the muscles in his throat moved. He didn’t show emotion, didn’t pretend to be nice. But when he lowered the glass back to the bar?
It barely qualified as one, and a casual observer would’ve missed it entirely. His mouth hardly even moved. But she knew him well enough to know that the slight curve of his lips and the warming of his icy gaze was the same as anyone else shouting for joy.
He held her gaze and murmured, “Perfect.”
It was the only compliment she’d ever heard him give.
Her body tightened as desire licked down her back and spread throughout her midsection. As a rule, Jeannie did not serve up sex along with drinks. But if she were ever going to break that rule, it’d be for him.
Sadly, he was only here for the drink.
Jeannie loved a good romance novel and for three years, she’d imagined Robert as some duke thrust into the role that didn’t fit him, nobility that hated the crush of ballrooms and cut directs and doing the pretty around the ton and all those dukely things when all he really wanted to do was practice medicine and tend to his estates and generally be left alone. In those stories, there was always a housekeeper or pickpocket or even a tavern wench who thawed his heart and taught him to love.
Jeannie shook off her fantasies. She topped off the scotch for the salesman at the other end of the bar and poured the wine for table eleven, but her attention was focused on Wyatt. She had to break the bad news to him—she’d be gone next week to help her sister Nicole with the baby girl that was due any minute.
This baby was the key to Jeannie and her sister being a family again. Any family Jeannie had ever had, she’d lost. She’d never met her father—he’d left before she’d been born. Mom had died when Jeannie had been ten and Nicole…
It didn’t matter what had gone wrong between the sisters in the past. What mattered was that they were going to grab this chance to be a family again now. Melissa—that was what they were going to call the baby—would be the tie that bound them together. Jeannie would do her part by being there for her sister, just like Nicole had been there for Jeannie when Mom had died and left the sisters all alone in the world.
In an attempt to demonstrate her commitment, Jeannie had even offered to move back into their childhood home with Nicole. It would’ve been a disaster but Jeannie had still offered because that was what family did—they made sacrifices and stuck together through the rough times. Only now that she was twenty-six was Jeannie aware how much Nicole had sacrificed for her. The least Jeannie could do was return the favor.
Nicole had told Jeannie that, while a thoughtful offer, it was absolutely not necessary for them to share a house again. Thank God, because living together probably would’ve destroyed their still-fragile peace. Instead, Jeannie would keep working nights at Trenton’s—and taking care of Dr. Wyatt—and then she’d get to the house around ten every morning to help Nicole with the cooking or cleaning or playing with the baby.
Jeannie might not be the best sister in the world but by God, she was going to be the best aunt.
That was the plan, anyway.
The only hiccup was sitting in front of her.
Wyatt didn’t do well with change, as she’d learned maybe six months into their partnership, as Jeannie thought of it. She’d gotten a cold and stayed home. He’d been more than a little upset that someone else had made him a sub-par Manhattan that night. Julian, the owner of Trenton’s, said Tony, the bartender who’d subbed for her that night, had gotten a job elsewhere right after that. Jeannie knew that wasn’t a coincidence.
Maybe half the time Dr. Wyatt sat at her bar, he didn’t say anything. Which was fine. But when he did talk? It wasn’t inane chitchat or stale pick-up lines. When he spoke, every single word either made her fall further in love with him or broke her heart.
“So,” he started and Jeannie knew he was about to break her heart again.
She waited patiently, rearranging the stemware that hung below the bar in front of him. He’d talk when he wanted and not a moment before.
Had he lost a patient? That she knew of, he’d only had two or three kids die and those times had been…awful. All he’d ever said was that he’d failed. That was it. But the way he’d sipped his drink…
The last time it’d happened, she’d sobbed in the ladies’ room after he’d left. Below his icy surface, a sea of emotion churned. And when he lost a patient, that sea raged.
After three years of listening to Dr. Wyatt pour out his heart in cold, clipped tones, Jeannie knew all too well how things could go wrong with babies. That was what made Jeannie nervous about Nicole and Melissa.
“I heard something today,” he went on after long moments that had her on pins and needles.
She studied him as she finished the lemons and moved on to the limes. He straightened his cuffs and then took a drink.
She fought the urge to check her phone again. Nicole would text if anything happened and there’d been no buzzing at her hip. But tonight was the night. Jeannie could feel it.
Wyatt cleared his throat. “I was informed that my father is considering a run for governor.”
Jeannie froze, the knife buried inside a lime. Had she ever heard Dr. Wyatt talk about his parents? She might’ve assumed that they’d died and left the bulk of the Wyatt Medical fortune to their son.
And who the heck had informed him of this? What an odd way to phrase it. “Is that so?”
“Yes,” Dr. Wyatt replied quickly. That, coupled with the unmistakable bitterness in his voice, meant only one thing.
This was extremely bad news.
Jeannie had been working in a bar since the day she’d turned eighteen, three whole years before she was legally allowed to serve alcohol. She’d been desperate to get away from Nicole, who hadn’t wanted Jeannie to get a job and certainly not as a bartender. She’d wanted Jeannie to go to college, become a teacher, like Nicole. Wanting to own her own bar was out of the question. Nicole wouldn’t allow it.
After that fight, Jeannie had moved out, lied about her age and learned on the job. While pouring wine, countless men and women poured their hearts out to her. In the years she’d been at this high-priced chophouse, she’d learned a hell of a lot about how the one percent lived.
But she’d never had a customer like Robert Wyatt before.
Wyatt finished his drink in two long swallows. “The thing is,” he said, setting his glass down with enough force that Jeannie was surprised the delicate stem didn’t shatter, “if he runs, he’ll expect us to stand next to him as if we’re one big, happy family.”
Wiping her hands, she gave up the pretense of working and leaned against the bar. “Sounds like that’s a problem.”
“You have no idea,” he muttered, which was even more disturbing because when did precise, careful Dr. Robert Wyatt mutter?
His charcoal-gray three-piece suit fit him perfectly, as did the shirt with cuff links that tonight looked like sapphires—he favored blues when he dressed. The blue-and orange-striped tie matched the square artfully arranged in his pocket. It was September and Chicago still clung to the last of the summer’s heat, but the way Dr. Robert Wyatt dressed announced that he’d never stoop to sweating.
She could see where the tie had been loosened slightly as if he’d yanked on it in frustration. His hair wasn’t carefully brushed back, but rumpled. He made it look good because everything looked good on him, but still. His shoulders drooped and instead of his usual ramrod-straight posture, his head hung forward, just a bit. When he glanced up at her, she saw the worry lines cut deep across his forehead. He looked like the weight of the world was about to crush him flat.
It hurt to see him like this.
If it were any other man, any other customer, she’d honestly offer him a hug because Lord, he looked like he needed one. But she’d seen how Wyatt flinched when someone touched him.
“So don’t do it,” she said, keeping her voice low and calm.
“I have to.” Unsurprisingly, he straightened his cuffs. “I won’t have a choice.”
At that, she gave him a look. “Why not?” He glared but she kept going. “For God’s sake, you have nothing but choices. If you wanted to buy half of Chicago to raise wildebeests, you could. If you opened your own hospital and told everyone they had to wear blue wigs to enter the building, there’d be a run on clown hair. You can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone you want because you’re Dr. Robert freaking Wyatt.”
All because he had looks, money and power.
All things Jeannie would never have.
His mouth opened but unexpectedly, he slammed it shut. Then he was pushing away from the bar, glaring at her as he threw some bills down and turned to go.
“Dr. Wyatt? Wait!” When he kept going, she yelled, “Robert!”
That got his attention.
When he spun, she flinched because he was furious. It wasn’t buried under layers of icy calm—it was right there on the surface, plain as day.
Was he mad she’d used his given name? Or that she’d questioned his judgment? It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to buckle in the face of his fury.
She squared her shoulders and said, “I have a family thing next week and I’m taking some vacation time.”
Confusion replaced his anger and he was back at the bar in seconds, staring down at her with something that looked like worry clouding his eyes. “How long?”
She swallowed. She was taller than average, but looking up into his eyes, only a few inches away… He made her feel small at the same time she felt like the only person in his universe.
He’d always leave her unsettled, wouldn’t he?
“Just the week. I’ll be back Monday after next. Promise.”
The look on his face—like he wouldn’t be able to function if she wasn’t there to serve the perfect Manhattan to the perfect man—was the kind of look that made her fall a little bit more in love with him while it broke her heart at the same time.
“Will you be okay?” she asked.
Something warm brushed over the top of her hand, sending a jolt of electricity up her arm. Had he touched her? By the time she looked down, Robert was straightening his cuffs. “Of course,” he said dismissively, as if it was impossible for him to be anything but perfectly fine. “I’m a Wyatt.”
Then he was gone.
Jeannie stared after him. This was bad. Before she could decide how worried about him she was going to be, her phone buzzed.
“ try these out It’s time!” read Nicole’s message.
“It’s time!” Jeannie shouted. The waiters cheered.
Dr. Wyatt would have to wait. Jeannie’s new niece came first.