##Chapter 1: Lola
"Hey," Carmen calls out as she rushes past with a tray loaded down with food, "you've got a new table in the back."
I give her a nod and continue preparing a bill for a customer. "Thanks for the heads up."
"No problem." She throws a sassy smile over her shoulder. "He's hot with a capital H." To emphasize the comment, she uses one hand to hold up the large circular tray while fanning herself with the other.
I lift a brow.
Here's the thing you need to know about my cousin-while I love her to death, she isn't overly picky when it comes to men as proven by a long string of ex-boyfriends that goes way back to high school. There are so many, they could start their own club if they wanted.
So...do I think her assessment of the situation will turn out to be accurate?
Nope. Not even a little.
As soon as I'm finished, I tear off the piece of paper from my notepad and beeline toward the couple before laying the check face down on the table.
"Thanks for coming in," I tell them. "Have a great night."
They smile in return, telling me to do the same. They're regulars at Taco Loco. Even though I only work part time, I see them here at least once a week. The guy is usually a good tipper. The girl...not so much. I'm lucky if she leaves ten percent.
Here's hoping that he'll be the one taking care of the check today.
I glance at my watch and huff out a breath. Only three more hours until my shift ends for the night. As much as I'd love to fall face first into bed and sleep for a solid seven hours, that's not going to happen. I have a ton of homework to plow through and a marketing test to study for.
Whoever said there's no rest for the weary was spot on. I'm only twenty-two years old and already mentally and physically exhausted.
The grind, unfortunately, is all too real.
And from what I've discovered, it never ends.
Just as I swing around, ready to head to the table in my section that was seated a few minutes ago, my gaze lands on the trio occupying the booth and my feet grind to a halt.
Oh, fuck no.
For a second or two, I remain frozen in place before slowly retreating, not wanting them to catch sight of me. I almost roll my eyes at such an absurd thought. Like they would glance up long enough to notice their waitress?
The guy and two girls are much too wrapped up in one another to pay attention to the people around them. I quickly scan the crowded area before beelining to the kitchen where I find Carmen loading entrees from the long stretch of silver counter onto her serving tray.
"How would you like to do a favor for your favorite cousin?"
"I have a favorite cousin?" she asks, grabbing plates and strategically placing them on the massive platter. "Wait a minute-is Valeria here? I must have missed her."
"Ha-ha, very funny." When she grins, I say, "I need you to take the table that was just seated. I'll love you forever if you do."
"Don't you already love me?"
"We're talking forever," I say, impatient to secure her agreement. "Promise."
"Which table? The one with the hot guy?" She glances at me with a furrowed brow. "Why? What's the problem?"
I jerk my shoulders and try to keep my response casual. "Who said anything about a problem?"
With her attention focused on me, she searches my face with more care. "Do you know them or something?"
"Ummm..." I wave a hand. "Not really. I've met the guy a couple times." There's a pause before I reluctantly admit, "We don't exactly get along."
"What? I can't imagine that happening." She feigns shock by widening her eyes. "You've got such a sunny disposition and are so easy to get along with. Who wouldn't like you?"
With a scowl, I give her the finger. José, one of the line chefs, smirks before setting another plate under the lamps.
"As much as I wouldn't mind waiting on that hottie, I can't. I've got three tables left and then I'm out of here." She gives her booty a little shake. "We're heading to a couple of the clubs downtown. You should join us."
"Can't. I'm here until close and then I have a ton of homework to finish up."
"Sucks to be you, girl."
Sometimes, it really does.
My teeth scrape across my lower lip. If there's one thing I loathe, it's asking for help. I'd much rather suck it up and do what needs to be done, no matter how painful, challenging, or time consuming. That being said, when it comes to dealing with Asher Stevens, I'm willing to make an exception.
I steeple my hands together. "Please? Just take this table. I'm sure they'll be quick."
If they can stop making googly eyes at each other long enough to order their food and eat.
Her expression softens as she shakes her head. "Sorry, I really need to get home and shower before I head out tonight. If I didn't already have plans, I'd stay. I could use the extra money."
Once she loads up the rest of the food, she swings away without another word.
It's just my luck to get stuck dealing with that guy after an already long day. I don't have much in the way of patience left. Although, that doesn't seem to matter when it comes to Asher. All I have to do is look sideways at him and my irritation skyrockets through the roof.
With no other options available, I straighten my shoulders.
Maybe I'm worrying over nothing.
So what if we've had two explosive run-ins?
That doesn't necessarily mean he'll recognize me. Asher is a major player on campus. Every time I catch sight of the guy, there are different girls hanging all over him. Western is a large Division I college and there are a ton of athletes who go on to play professional sports, but only a select few are treated with his celebrity status.
It's a little sickening.
All right, maybe more than a little.
I spend the next thirty seconds giving myself a silent pep talk before forcing my feet into movement. The smile pasted across my face feels brittle as I stalk through the dining room before grinding to a halt in front of their table.
Just like when I caught sight of them a few minutes ago, they're all wrapped up in each other. It takes effort to swallow down the acidic taste of bile rising in my throat. If I'm not careful, I'll spew chunks everywhere.
It's doubtful that would be appreciated.
Which makes it tempting.
"Hello," I mutter. "My name is Lola and I'll be waiting on you today. Can I start you off with something to drink?"
The girls barely glance at me. They're way too busy pawing the six-foot, golden-haired man sprawled out in the semi-circle booth between them.
Like a sandwich.
He stares straight at me as a slow smile spreads across his handsome face. It's obvious that he remembers our encounters.
He only reinforces that suspicion by saying, "If it isn't taco girl, my favorite waitress. What a surprise to find you here."
My jaw locks as I grit my teeth. Keeping the faux smile firmly in place is no easy feat, especially when all I want to do is bear my teeth and growl.
"How about we skip the pleasantries, and you tell me what you want to order?"
The last time he showed up here with a group of friends, I might have called him a dick in front of my uncle and ended up getting my ass chewed out. I have zero interest in being treated to another lecture. Plus, my tía and tío have been good to me. I don't want my behavior to be a reflection on their restaurant. Trust me, I was obsessively checking Yelp reviews after the incident occurred.
So...if that means I need to be cordial to this knuckle dragging jerk, then that's what I'll do.
But that doesn't mean I have to like it.
Or that it'll be easy.