Don’t Forget Me
Nando Avrogado was hiding. Granted, the Dew Drop Inn didn’t provide much in the way of cover, although it was dark enough to make identifying anyone pretty challenging unless you were less than six inches away. Granted, Nando himself, at six three and a hundred eighty-eight pounds, was somewhat difficult to hide, even when he wasn’t in uniform (as he wasn’t at the moment). Nonetheless, he was hiding. From Francine Richter, five three and a hundred five.
It was embarrassing. It was nothing a mature adult male of twenty-eight should be doing.
He should just get over it. He knew that. He should just head down the street to the Faro tavern, where he usually hung out, and take his punishment, whatever that punishment turned out to be—tears, curses, possibly violence. It wasn’t exactly his fault that Francine hadn’t understood the meaning of their goodbye date the way she was supposed to. It sure wasn’t his fault that she’d been leaving messages on his voice mail for the past two days.
Except that it was his fault. Sort of. He’d tried to make it clear throughout their handful of dates that nothing more serious was on the horizon for them. That they weren’t going to hook up for the long term. That they were just having some temporary good times.
And in reality, the times hadn’t even been all that good after the first couple of dates. He had to admit that, for the most part, he’d just been going through the motions. Francine was okay. She didn’t natter too much. She looked good. She was…a decent kisser. Not bad exactly, but not good either.
Nando sighed, taking a sip of his lukewarm beer. If he were honest, it wasn’t Francine who’d been the real disappointment. He was the one who wasn’t measuring up to expectations, Francine’s for sure, but his own too. Given his lack of enthusiasm, maybe it was just as well that they’d never progressed beyond a few hot make-out sessions on Francine’s couch.
Of course, if he were honest he wouldn’t be sitting in this dive, drinking beer that tasted like dishwater. He’d be down the street with his friends at the Faro, drinking some honest brew and dealing with Francine when and if she showed up.
He rubbed his eyes and fought back the impulse to groan in frustration. God, he was tired. And it wasn’t just the hours from his job as a Konigsburg cop. During the last few months he’d seemed to fall into a rut that just got deeper and deeper. Same people, same problems, same everything. When had this feeling started anyway? And why? He’d gotten all the things he’d once thought he wanted in his life—full-time appointment to the Konigsburg police force, a decent place to live away from his parents (sharing an apartment with his brother Esteban, but doing that wasn’t such a bad deal), an active social life without being tied down to anybody.
Yeah, right. It was that “active” social life that was the problem. Maybe he should try deliberate celibacy rather than the unintentional kind for a while. See what it felt like to not hit the clubs on his night off. The whole excitement-of-the-chase thing was getting very old. And truth be told, the chase hadn’t been that exciting for a long time. Eighteen months, in fact.
Don’t go there. It’s over. No matter how much you wish it weren’t.
“Geez, where’d you hide the body? You look like a man at a wake.” His brother Esteban slid onto the stool next to him, waving a hand toward Ingstrom, the bartender. “What are you doing here anyway? I thought you did your drinking at the Faro these days.”
“I could say the same thing about you.” Nando took a disgruntled pull on his beer. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in this dive before.”
Esteban cleared his throat. Ingstrom, who owned the Dew Drop Inn as well as being its bartender, was standing across from them behind the bar. He scowled at Nando before turning to his brother. “You want beer or wine?”
“Lonestar,” Esteban said hastily. He was the assistant wine master at Cedar Creek Winery, which meant he routinely avoided the wine-in-a-jug served by the Dew Drop Inn. “You still haven’t explained why you’re here,” he continued as Ingstrom headed back down the bar. “I haven’t seen you in the Dew Drop for a couple of months. Why aren’t you at the Faro watching Deirdre Brandenburg serve beers like every other red-blooded man in town?”
Nando shrugged. “Deirdre’s attached to Tom Ames. If I start ogling Deirdre, he’s likely to put Ipecac in my beer. Besides, the Dew Drop’s closer to home. I didn’t feel like walking.”
Esteban smirked. “Yeah, those three blocks will really do you in. Especially with the temperature hovering in the high seventies.”
“Get stuffed,” Nando muttered, but his heart wasn’t in it.
Esteban turned, resting his elbows on the bar behind him as he surveyed the room. “You trying to avoid your latest fling? I’d say that’s a heavy price to pay for romance gone wrong.”
Nando studied his younger brother with hooded eyes. Esteban looked like a linebacker, which he’d been in high school, or like someone who bench-pressed wine barrels, which he also did frequently. He wore his hair almost as short as Nando’s, even though the management at Cedar Creek wasn’t as stiff about hair length as Chief Toleffson was at the cop shop. But he made up for the hair with the luxuriant moustache that curved around his mouth. His skin was darkened from working in the vineyards—just like their father.
“What would you know about romance gone wrong?” Nando grabbed a handful of peanuts. “I haven’t noticed you tearing up the town with anybody since you broke up with Dawn Benavidez. And that’s been over three months, bro.”
Esteban shook his head. “Nice try, but we’re not switching the subject of this conversation to me. Are you or are you not trying to avoid Francine Richter?”
Nando blew out a breath. “Maybe.”
“Right.” Esteban shook his head. “You don’t think that’s a little pathetic? Hiding out in a joint like the Dew Drop just to avoid a woman you dated for a couple of weeks?”
Nando ran his glass through the circle of condensation on the bar. “I can drink where I want, bro. Who knows? Maybe I’ll check out the talent around here this evening.” There had to be some. Even at the Dew Drop.
Ingstrom set Esteban’s draft on the bar with a clink. “Stay away from my barmaids, Avrogado, they got work to do.” He stomped back to the other end of the bar.
Nando took a quick survey of the Dew Drop’s barmaids, the most prominent one anyway. Ruby looked more like a biker chick than usual. Tonight she had on a leather vest that was zipped partway up her sizeable chest and blue jeans that showed a roll of white flesh at the waist. Her magenta hair was caught in a banana clip that looked perilously close to slipping out. Every man in the bar was trying not to look down her cleavage, knowing the instant retribution that followed. As if she sensed she was being watched, Ruby caught Nando’s eye. Her lip twisted in a world-class sneer.
“Now going after that really would be pathetic,” he muttered.
Esteban nodded. “True that. So why can’t you just tell Francine it’s over? Fun while it lasted, time to move on and so forth.”
Nando grimaced. “Because I’d rather not get into one of those discussions where you end up either making somebody cry or making somebody mad enough to bean you with her purse. If I stay out of her way long enough, she’ll get the message.”
“And that way you just come off as a jerk instead of a sleaze.”
Nando gritted his teeth. “You could put it that way.”
“You know, bro, sooner or later all this bad karma you’re building up with women is going to come back and bite you on the ass.” Esteban took a long swallow of Lonestar.
“What are you, some kind of wine-making Buddhist now?” Nando shook his head. “This doesn’t qualify as bad karma. So I don’t like talking about ‘relationships’ with women. Name me one man who does.”
Esteban shrugged. “I’m just saying if all the women you’ve screwed around with over the past few months ever got together, you’d be a dead man.”
Nando rubbed his eyes again. The vision of all his recent exes getting together, possibly with automatic weapons, was not altogether comfortable. “Yeah, well, I’m thinking of cutting back. Maybe putting the brakes on the relationships for a while. Take a breather from women.”
“You?” The corners of Esteban’s mouth curved up. “You’re giving up women? Maybe I should spread the word. I could sell tickets.”
A slight prickle of unease slid down Nando’s spine. He wasn’t that much of a womanizer, was he? He never used to think of himself that way. Of course, that was before the major fuck-up of his love life. “Do not spread the word.” He gritted his teeth again. “This was just between the two of us. And I haven’t decided for sure what I’m going to do. Just thinking about it.”
Esteban nodded, still grinning. “Right.”
Nando drained the rest of his beer. Screw it. “I’m going down to the Faro, see what’s going on. You want to come?”
“Maybe later.” His brother peered toward the far corner of the bar where Britney Collins was seated with a couple of her girlfriends.
Nando rolled his eyes. Clearly, he wasn’t the only Avrogado who had females on the brain. “Good luck with that.”
He dropped a handful of bills on the bar, then pushed back, dodging around a couple of protruding rear ends to get to the door. Among other things, the Dew Drop was short on open space, particularly since Ingstrom had added some extra tables in the middle of the room. Nando ran through the bar’s very own obstacle course, then opened the door to the street.
It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the early evening light. People still strolled down Main, ducking into the few open stores. Mid-March wasn’t a great tourist time in Konigsburg, but they got some families who filled up the motels and bed and breakfasts for Spring Break. He settled his Stetson on his forehead and started up the street toward the Faro.
Ahead of him the crowd parted for a moment and he saw a swing of long dark hair reaching down below a woman’s shoulders. Nice. For a moment, he concentrated on her as she walked up the street in front of him, wondering what she’d look like when she turned around. You could never predict exactly how attractive someone’s face would be based on her back side.
Nando grimaced. He really needed to stop ogling women. Particularly if he wanted to take the whole celibacy thing seriously. Besides, if anyone ever heard him talking about faces and back sides like that, he’d be banned from the female sex for life. Which you would richly deserve, and which might not be such a bad thing.
A couple walking in front of him turned in to one of the candy stores and he got a better look at the woman up ahead. Silken dark hair, slender waist, long, long legs that showed off well in her white Capri pants. Nando finally gave in and checked her behind. More than respectable. The whole package was superlative, in fact. Always assuming the face matched.
What the hell are you doing? You’re supposed to be giving this up. You know it won’t go anywhere.
Nando shook his head. Going cold turkey was going to be a lot harder than he’d thought. On the other hand, he couldn’t go on indefinitely moving from woman to woman like some deranged honey bee, could he? Time to start being selective. Time to learn how to pace himself.
Time to grow up. More than time, if he were honest. He grimaced. That one hurt, largely because it was true.
Ahead of him, the woman slowed alongside Docia Toleffson’s bookstore. Slowed and then stopped, staring in the window. After a moment, she waved at someone inside. Nando let his own pace slow down so that he wouldn’t pass her just yet. He really wanted to see her face.
The door to the bookstore flew open, and Docia Toleffson herself stepped out, all six feet of her—maybe seven feet if you counted that pile of red hair on top of her head. She grinned at the stranger and then extended her arms to give her a hug. As she did, Nando got his first look at the woman’s face.
His heart stuttered and then promptly dropped to his shoes. Oh god, of course. I really had this coming.
“Kit,” Docia was saying. “Kit Maldonado. Where have you been keeping yourself? Allie said you were coming back this week. Oh, it’s so good to see you!”
Kit said something back, but Nando didn’t hear it. He was too busy stepping backward into the doorway of another shop where he’d have some cover. The last thing he wanted right then was a conversation with Kit. Hell, he didn’t even want her to see him just yet. Not until he figured out what exactly he was going to say to her. And how he was going to say it. And what it would mean.
Kit Maldonado. Here. Back in Konigsburg.
For a moment he swore he could almost hear Esteban laughing. The force of karma had just sunk its teeth firmly into his ass.
Meg is giving away a copy of Don’t Forget Me to one lucky winner.
a Rafflecopter giveaway