PhD student and part-time waitress Judy loves all things nerdy. Especially that Sherlock Doppelganger who keeps coming into the restaurant she works at. How do you keep it together when someone as sexy as him him calls you ‘darling?’ Still tormented by her abusive ex, Judy isn’t sure she’s built for romance. Is Max’s easy-going and forgiving nature enough to convince Judy to give love another chance
Video game coder and part-time recluse Max promised his family he was getting out and meeting people after his move from London. That pretty waitress is ‘people,’ right? Alone in Ashville after a bad breakup, Max isn’t sure the college town is the right place to be. Are Judy’s bad jokes and geeky passion enough to convince him his heart is in Illinois?
One steamy night together might not be enough.
Welcome to the Hearth and Forge, a farm-to-table restaurant on the edge of Ashville, Illinois. Brigid, Norse goddess of hearth and forge, runs the restaurant. Her husband, Bress, god of harvest and husbandry, runs the farm. They give aid to any who ask for it. Just be careful what you ask for—it may not be what you want. But it will be what you need. With two gods in residence, the Hearth and Forge is a beacon to gods, fairies, demons and other magical creatures as well as humans. It’s a place for good food, great company, and a bit of adventure.
Judy worked her way through the throngs of customers with a grin. Halloween. Costumes. Candy. No holiday compared. Not even Christmas.
She wished she were at home where she could have worn the full Batman costume for all the kids that would knock on the door; it wasn’t right without the cape. Plus, she wouldn’t have to watch Cora stick her butt out in her French maid get-up.
As if on cue, Cora leaned over a table to show off what little cleavage her push-up bra gave her, and stuck her butt out into the aisle right as a group of men in their early twenties neared.
Judy shook her head as she checked on her diners and surveyed the restaurant. Antony was having a grand old time flirting with all the women who came in wearing costumes; the retired Army Colonel enjoyed a good flirt as much as Gabe. Gabe was busy flirting with the table full of old ladies who came in to gossip under the guise of a book club meeting.
With a smile, she turned her attention back to her customers.
She got to the first table and was surprised to see Max. Why do I remember his name? She took a deep breath and put a smile on, hoping it was a friendly smile, and not flirty. Judy Lindholm doesn’t do flirty.
The smile spread to a grin when she saw the mismatched plaid he wore in every layer; yellow plaid dress coat with green-and-red plaid pants, a red-and-black plaid bowtie, and a black and white plaid shirt.
“I see you’ve gone plaid,” she told him with a laugh. “I’m glad you didn’t over-shoot us by a week.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, darling.” He winked up at her and smiled as he set his hat on the seat next to him. “You’re the first to get the joke. Nice job on the Batman costume.”
Judy’s heart hammered in her chest and her cheeks got hot. “Thank you.”
“But no cape?”
She shook her head. “It gets in the way. Looks like I’ll be your waitress again tonight.” She listed the specials, grateful to get it done with no slips of the tongue like the first time he’d come in. “Can I get you anything right away?”
“Seems like a good day for the mutton stew. What do you think?”
“Sounds perfect. What would you like to drink?”
“Just water for now, thank you.”
She stared down at the tablet and tapped in his order. “Sure thing. I’ll have that to you in a minute.”
Judy returned with his water a moment later and set it down. “Your stew should be up in a bit.”
She wanted his stew to take its time being ready, but unfortunately, it was always ready. She felt like she could talk to him for hours on end. That morning, she’d caught herself fantasizing about him. And it hadn’t been a daydream she’d ever share with her mother.
He nodded. As she turned to go back to another table, her knuckles rapped on the glass and knocked it over.
“Whoops.” Max slid to the far end of the bench before the water ran off the edge of the table and righted the glass.
“Oh, crap! I’m so sorry!” Judy tugged the rag free from her belt and got to work trying to stop the flow. Water seeped past her and dripped onto the seat anyway, and Max grabbed a napkin to help soak it up.
“Just a bit of water. No worry.”
Judy glanced around to see who was closest and caught Gabe’s attention. The Latino made his way over and glanced at the table.
“You know, the agua goes in your mouth, not all over the table, right?” he asked with a laugh as he pulled out his own rag. He helped wipe it up, then reached for the glass. “I’ll get a fresh glass for you.”
“Thanks, Gabe.” Judy turned her attention back to Max and chewed on her lip, her brows drawn together. “I’m really sorry.”
“Water dries.” Max smiled, though Judy figured he’d never be back after her fumble.
She sighed. “I’m still sorry.”
They stared at each other for a long moment until Judy felt her cheeks heating up again. Judy ducked her head and turned back to the other table, took their orders, then sought refuge in the break room for a few minutes to re-center herself.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Cam, the bartender said, letting the door shut behind him. “Why do you think you’re stupid?”
“The cute guy at table ten—the one who looks like you-know-who? I—”
“Did he insult you? I’ll—”
“No, he didn’t insult me.” Judy made a face. “I knocked his water all over the table.”
“Well, I guess it’s official, then.”
“He’s a Hearth and Forge regular.” Cam shrugged. “Look at the bright side—it wasn’t his food.”
“Yeah, but then we kind of just stared at each other and it was awkward, and I liked it and I hated it, and—”
“Wait, did you say he’s cute?”
Judy stared at the blond. “No?”
“No, no… you did.” The smile spread slowly across Cam’s face. “You think he’s sexy, don’t you? You have a crush on him.”
“No, I don’t.” But she denied it too quickly.
“Yes, you do. You think the guy dressed all weird is cute.”
“He’s not dressed weird, he’s gone plaid.”
Cam stared at her.
“Honestly, haven’t you ever seen Spaceballs?” She shook her head as she continued. “And you have a job to do. Drinks to—I have a job. We have jobs to do. We should do them.”
Cam laughed and gestured to the door. “You go right ahead. I need a smoke break. Go get ‘im, Batgirl!”
Judy rushed past him and back out into the kitchen to check on orders. “Crap,” she muttered when Cam was out of earshot. “I do have a crush.”