Jill Shalvis

Serving Up Trouble

A book in the Men in Uniform series, 2002

Chapter 1

She’d always been happy enough. Well, if not happy exactly, then…content. But deep down, Angie Rivers knew some thing was missing from her life; she just couldn’t put her finger on it. Why should she, when she had a fine job, a fine apartment and fine friends.

Fine everything, really-unless she thought about it too hard, as she some times tended to do.

In any case, the niggling remained a mystery.

Until Monday.

By the time her break came she was already tired from waiting tables, but she had to get to the bank. She’d written her rent check, along with a check for what could be termed a luxury item-an artist’s easel. Her first and, as a budding painter, she was very excited about it.

Racing down the block in the warm California sunshine, she dodged bikers, in-line skaters, scooters…it was Monday, for God’s sake. Why weren’t people working?

If she didn’t have to work, what would she do? What a delightful dilemma to face. She’d kill herself if she strapped on a pair of skates, but…a day to sit in the park and sketch? An entire day to stand in front of her new easel and paint? Mmm, nice fantasy.

Inside the bank, she hit the midmorning crowd. And a very long line. With a sigh, Angie pushed up her glasses and looked around at the people waiting ahead of her. As was usual for this upscale area of South Pasadena, everyone was dressed for success. Even the bank tellers.

She tugged at the skirt of her waitress uniform, knowing few would understand that she did love her job, hard as it was. There hadn’t been money for college when she’d graduated high school seven years ago, despite her parents’ hopes and dreams of her becoming a doctor or lawyer.

Sweet, but unrealistic. Angie hadn’t been the best high school student, hadn’t played sports or had a good hobby, either, mostly because she’d always worked to help her parents make ends meet. She hadn’t minded, though some times she wished they’d really see her, her, Angie Rivers, and not just what they dreamed Angie Rivers to be.

Disturbingly enough, her parents’ expectations only seemed to get more unrealistic the older they became. Why hadn’t she become successful? Rich? Well connected?

Married with brilliant children?

She didn’t like to admit that she’d dug in her heels and purposely become the antithesis of their out-of-reach expectations. But that’s what she’d done.

She had goals for herself-they just didn’t match anyone else’s. She wanted to paint. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of money in that, unless she found some superb talent from deep within. Oh, and she’d also have to die, as most artists made all their money posthumously.

The bank line she’d chosen still hadn’t budged, and there she stood, with only seven minutes left on her break. Craning her neck, she saw an older woman at the counter, doling out change to the teller. One coin at a time.

Behind her was every mother’s night mare. A young punk, wiry and dressed for a ghetto fashion show, paced edgily, muttering to himself. He looked like a simmering pot ready to explode.

The man in front of her had a swagger. A sort of I’m-God’s-gift-to-women swagger. Angie could easily overlook his cheap, light blue suit and tacky tie as she appreciated-and remembered with vivid clarity-the pain of never having the in clothes.

She was still feeling that pain.

What she couldn’t ignore was the way he invaded her space and kept winking at her.

“Come here often?” he actually asked her, brushing his shoulder against hers.

She didn’t answer, hoping he’d give up if she didn’t encourage him. His hair had been slicked back with enough gel to grease a pig. His breath was hot and smelled like tuna.

“Is the sun shining?” he wondered. “Because I can’t see anything but stars when I look at you.”

Angie tried a vague smile-why was the line still moving so slowly?-and turned her back to him.

With or without the tuna breath and bad pickup line, she wasn’t much interested in men. Her ex-fiance Tony had been no better than her own parents when it came to seeing her, understanding her, and she was tired of that, thank you very much.

She was who she was. A great waitress. A wanna-be artist. She was fine, darn them all. Fine just as she was.

She peered behind her and saw that Mr. Edgy had gotten worse. His fists were clenched, his jaw tight. Pure fire and hatred sprang from his eyes, and though she couldn’t understand his mutterings, the tone was universal.

And dangerous.

Angie had heard of highway rage, but this waiting-in-a-terminally-slow-line rage was new to her, and a little scary. Shivering, she turned sideways, feeling sandwiched by desperation.

In the next line over stood another man, and this one looked as impatient as she felt. Arms crossed, feet tapping, mouth turned downward in a frown, he embodied the man on the move. Only he was the most heart- stopping man on the move she’d ever seen.

He looked out of place. Not because he was tall, leanly muscular, and gorgeous to boot. Not because he’d disregarded the up-and-comer Southern California look for a simple blue T-shirt tucked into perfectly soft and faded 501s. It was that he made everyone around him look as if they were playing dress-up.

He scowled at his own unmoving line, all testosterone and barely contained power as his searing light brown gaze scanned the large, hustling bank.

Just looking at him made Angie felt a little breath less. She stood up taller, wondering what he thought when he looked at her. She knew what she thought when she looked at him. Whoa, baby.

He had sun-kissed hair cut short to his head. His rugged, athletic physique said he could have graced any men’s magazine he wanted, and he didn’t so much as give Angie a cursory glance when his eyes care fully and purposely surveyed the room.

Check your ego at the door, Angie.

The bank clerk called for the next customer with all the cheer of a woman facing a bikini wax. Mr. Tacky Suit swaggered up there while Angie willed the line to keep moving.

Two minutes left on her break.

One minute.

Then-finally-it was her turn. With a sigh of relief, she moved across the tile floor toward the distracted-looking teller. The woman had a beehive hair style that looked as if maybe she’d worn it for the past fifty years, and fuchsia-pink lipstick. She glared at Angie as if it were her fault she had to deal with slime buckets in light blue suits.

Later, Angie would marvel at how quickly it all seemed to happen, but for now, time shifted into slow motion. One minute she was glancing at her watch and handing over her signed check, and the next, Mr. Edgy had grabbed her arm from behind.

“Hey-” she started, annoyed, only to swallow the words when the tip of a knife appeared in front of her eyes before settling against her neck.

“Give me all the money in your drawer,” he said to the startled teller while still holding on to Angie. “And don’t even think about the panic button.”

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