It was the first night Elliot had had off in two months. Sandy had agreed to let him off if he made sure Jason could cover for him. Elliot had no doubt Jason could cook everything on the menu just as good as he could.
Elliot hadn’t been out to a bar or club in over a year, but he needed to get away from what was happening at the restaurant. He picked a place in Lexington that he’d found online. They had a band that covered older country bands like Alabama, Brooks and Dunn, and Restless Heart.
It was the end of the second week in August and hot as Hades every day. The business had continued to be busy at the restaurant because people were going to the lake every day of the week just to get a little reprieve from the heat. Cara, Megan, and Sarah were going to be leaving in a few days to go back to school, so Sandy was going to start hiring and training new people next week. Elliot was not looking forward to working with new people. More importantly, he was not ready for Cara to leave. Every day they grew a little closer. He could feel her resolve not to like a man falling away and he wanted so much to move past this deceitful time and move on with their lives. But, it was not time, not yet.
With a hotel secured for the night not far from the bar, Elliot drove to the venue. He could hear the band playing as soon as he pulled into the parking lot. They were playing a Brooks and Dunn song. The place was packed, and several people were dancing. Elliot bought a beer and moved to a spot where he could watch the band.
A few women turned his way and gave him a curious glance. He smiled and walked on. One of the things Elliot had learned from Dana and Mark was to find all the exits and the best vantage point to watch your back. As long as there were people looking for his alter ego, Jenna, he would always be in danger. The possibility of his father figuring out that he was living as a man was pretty slim, but even the slimmest of chances was still a potential reality.
The band went through a few Keith Urban songs and Hank Williams Jr. There were a lot of people dancing, and Elliot was itching to get out there. He loved to dance, but was always a little scared of letting his guard down. When the band started playing “Play Something Country” by Brooks and Dunn, Elliot found himself caught up with a group line dancing.
The band played a few more good line dancing songs before switching to something slow. Elliot had no more than got back to his beer when one of the girls who’d been checking him out when he came in took him by the hand and pulled him out on the dance floor.
In the time Elliot had spent living as a man, he’d only let himself think about holding a woman a few times. This hot woman with long dark hair and dark blue eyes was pressing herself against him, making him wish he were just a regular guy who could take this girl back to his hotel for a night of wild sex. That just wasn’t an option he felt he could take a chance on, but he let himself enjoy holding her through the slow dance. When the song was over the girl went back to her friends. They whispered and giggled. Elliot suspected they were discussing the size of his bulge, which he kept moderate for just such an experience. The girls were probably looking for a stallion and classified him as a pony.
Elliot went back to the bar and got another drink. He almost spit out his beer when he heard a voice behind him. “Well, you really might not be a queer after all,” Steven said.
Turning in surprise, Elliot frowned. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Partying,” Steven shouted over the noise of the bar. “I love this band. I talked Sandy into letting me off early to come out to see them.”
The band started playing Alan Jackson’s song “Good Time” and the girl, Beth, Elliot had been dancing with came over and grabbed his hand. “Come on, Elliot,” she said and started pulling him toward the dance floor.
Elliot handed his beer to Steven. “Hold that for me would ya,” he said and let the girl pull him out onto the dance floor.
Following into line with the girls, Elliot started dancing in between Beth and one of her friends. They kept him out on the floor for two more songs before he insisted he needed to get his beer before his friend drank it. Elliot was surprised to see Steven standing by the bar still holding his beer. “Thanks, man,” Elliot said taking the beer and taking a long pull on it.
“I’m quite impressed,” Steven said. “Looks like you got you a little hottie interested in you.”
Elliot raised his beer to Beth, who smiled and waved at him.
“You might just get you some tonight,” Steven observed and took a drink of his beer.
“Hey, dude,” Chase said coming up and clapping Steven on the shoulder. He stopped short when he saw Elliot. “What’s up?” Chase asked Elliot offering him a fist bump.
“Having a good time,” Elliot said, bumping his fist against Chase’s. Now he was even more suspicious about why Steven was at this particular bar. “What about you?”
“Oh yeah,” Chase said. Elliot heard a little slur in his voice. Chase grabbed Steven’s shoulder and said, “You need to come back to our table. The view’s getting good.”
“Okay,” Steven said and looked back at Elliot. There was something about Steven’s smirk that Elliot didn’t like. “Catch you later.”
Elliot watched them walk away toward the other side of the club. The restrooms were on that side, and Elliot decided he should check them out and see if he could see how many of Steven’s posse was with him. Elliot moved through the crowd keeping eight to ten people between Steven and himself. From his position, he could see Steven and Chase sitting down at a table with about five other guys. It was entirely too weird that they showed up at the place he’d picked to go for a relaxing night. Being relaxed just went out the window.
In the restroom, Elliot stepped in a stall and text Sandy while he used the restroom. He asked her about what Steven said. She texted him back that what Steven said was more or less the truth, but she’d overheard Megan and Cara talking about going to Lexington tonight. Sandy said she thought they were going to meet some of Megan’s friends and go out dancing.
When Elliot came out of the restroom, he looked out over the crowd. What were the possibilities that Megan and Cara would be coming to this bar? Elliot started for his spot on the opposite wall. When the band started playing their version of “Footloose” Beth hunted Elliot out of the crowd and pulled him over to where Beth’s friends, Emma and Zoey were waiting with none other than Megan and Cara.
“Oh my God!” Megan shouted and wrapped her arms around Elliot. “What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here? What are you doing here?” Elliot asked in stunned surprise.
“Cara said she heard about this bar and thought we ought to check it out,” Megan shouted in Elliot’s ear.
Cara seemed genuinely surprised to see him, but Elliot was having a hard time believing it. But, Jason had been the one who mentioned this place and then Elliot had looked it up online. Jason could have told Cara too. Elliot had to wonder if Jason might be trying to play match maker.
“You guys know each other?” Beth asked in surprise.
“We work together,” Megan said pointing between Cara, Elliot and herself.
“No shit!” Beth laughed. “And you didn’t plan on coming together? Sounds like fate.” Then she screamed, making everyone jump. “Oh my God! This is my favorite song. Come on, Elliot!” She grabbed Elliot and pulled him out to dance with her to Trace Adkins “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”
“Come on, Cara,” Megan said and pulled Cara out on the dance floor with them.
Before Elliot knew it, the girls had pulled in a couple more guys, and all them were dancing every song. A slow song came on, and Beth pulled Elliot out on the floor again. “I think I might have some competition,” she said into his ear.
Elliot’s gaze shifted guiltily toward Cara, who was watching them dance. “What makes you say that?”
Beth pulled back and looked at him. “Come on, Elliot. A blind person could see the looks that have passed between you and Cara. You guys have some serious chemistry.”
“I don’t know about all that,” Elliot said with a little bit of a southern drawl.
“Whatever,” Beth said rolling her eyes.
“It doesn’t matter. Our boss doesn’t like people to date that work together, and she’s going back to college in a couple of weeks,” Elliot said, but his gaze strayed to Cara again. His mind drifting back to the times they’d danced in secret at Cara’s house. They never risked it at his house. The chance of his father catching them was too great.
Beth studied him for several minutes. “You can’t let stuff get between you and love.”
Elliot looked down into her blue eyes that were suddenly sad. “Trust me, I know. I think you were here trying to get her out of your mind, just like I’m here trying to get my ex out of mine.” She looked over his shoulder at Cara sitting at the table they’d managed to get for their group.
“You should dance with her next slow song,” Beth said.
The band took a break, and the DJ played some fast, hard dancing songs. When the group came back, they played a few fast songs before picking a slow one. The singer said, “We’ve been watching people hooking up and having fun all night, so let’s get down to some really slow, getting close songs.” The band started playing Alabama’s “Feels So Right.”
Beth grabbed Elliot’s hand and pulled him over to Cara. She said, “He wants to dance with you.”
Elliot blushed blood red. When Cara didn’t move right away, Beth grabbed her hand and pulled her up. “Come on. You know you want to.” She pushed them out onto the floor together.
“She’s right,” Elliot admitted. “I did want to dance with you.”
Cara nodded just barely. “Yeah.” She swallowed nervously.
The next song was “Remember When ” by Alan Jackson and Elliot pulled Cara closer. He remembered their beginnings, and he wondered if she was thinking about Jenna. He had no idea how he would tell her that Jenna was dead. That part of him was long gone. This song almost made him want to cry for all they’d lost, but Cara would probably freak out, wondering what the hell was wrong with him.
The band switched back to upbeat songs, but when Elliot pulled back and looked down at Cara, he could see the confusion in her eyes. He knew she felt the same attraction he did, the one that brought them together in the first place. But, she didn’t understand having these feelings for someone she thought was a man.
Out of the corner of his eye, Elliot saw Steven stalking them. He was watching what they were doing. Elliot twirled Cara making her laugh and then pulled her close. “Steven and his group are here,” he said in her ear.
Her eyes went wide. “You’re not serious.”
“I am,” he motioned his head in Steven’s direction and swung her around as they danced so she could see him. “I think he followed you and Megan here.”
“That son-of-a-bitch,” she growled.
“Yeah,” Elliot agreed. “Were you two driving back to Salt Lick tonight?”
“No, Megan said we’d get a hotel,” Cara said, looking over Elliot’s shoulder.
“I don’t think that’s safe,” Elliot said. “What about staying with her friends?”
“They all live with their parents,” Cara said.
Elliot looked over at Megan who was giving them a questioning look. He turned to Cara. “I’ve already got a hotel not far from here. You guys come stay with me.”
“I don’t know,” Cara said, clearly nervous and not confident of his intentions.
Elliot put his hands on the back of her shoulders and pulled her close as the next slow song started. “You guys will be safe with me. It’s got two beds. The two of you can sleep in one bed. I’ll sleep in the other, but I’m afraid they will follow you if you go somewhere else.”
Cara looked at Megan and said, “I’ll talk to her.” The next song started. It was “What Might Have Been,” by Little Texas and Cara leaned into Elliot, putting her head on his shoulder. They swayed together. Cara was thinking about Jenna and how even if they found her alive now, she would be a different person and there was no way of knowing if they could be together again.
Elliot was thinking about the fact that he was so different now and wondered if they had a chance to make it. Would Cara be able to get past his changes and the deceit he’s had to maintain these past months? Only time would tell.
“This is our last song of the night,” the lead singer said. “I hope tonight has been as magical for you as it has been for us. Thank you for coming out.”
They proceeded to play “The Keeper of the Stars” by Tracy Byrd, and Elliot had to wonder if God, or whoever ruled the Universe didn’t have a hand in Cara and him finding each other again. They’d known each other all through school, but it was their sophomore year before they admitted their feelings for each other. Now, after so much time apart and so many changes, here they were dancing. How could they having this chance be for any other reason than the Fates wanting them together?
When the song ended, Cara and Elliot went over to Megan and told her what they suspected was going on. Beth offered to let Megan and Cara come home with her, but Cara said, “Elliot isn’t any safer by himself than we are. There’s seven of them.”
“The three of you may not be any safer together,” Beth reasoned.
“True,” Elliot agreed. “But I’ve got some friends who are not far that I’ll text and have them on guard in case something goes down.”
Elliot had already planned to call Mark and let him know about this development. He’d been suspicious of Steven and Chase because of their connection to Sam Nelson, who the FBI believed was higher up the Cobra command than they initially thought.
Beth motioned for Emma to come into the conversation. “We’ll follow you guys to the hotel then head to my house. Emma’s dad is a night watchman at a factory. We can get him on the phone and keep him on the phone until all of us are safe.”
“That’s a good plan,” Emma said.
The six of them walked out to the parking lot together. Elliot was parked pretty close to Beth. Emma and Zoey had ridden with her. Megan and Cara were parked in the back of the lot, so Elliot gave them a ride to Megan’s car. Everyone was leaving at the same time, so there was a certain amount of confusion. Elliot noted that Steven, Chase, and their group were parked in the back of the lot too. Elliot decided to make sure that Steven knew that Elliot was watching him, so he waved and hollered. “See ya Monday!”
Steven didn’t wave back and looked completely pissed off.
Whatever their plans had been, they were messed up now because he was here.
As promised, Beth followed them to the hotel. Elliot’s room was inside, so they didn’t have to wait for them to get in the room. Megan made Beth promise to call her as soon as she was home safe. Elliot watched the road and the parking lot for Steven or Chase’s trucks but didn’t see them. He would stay on alert tonight. He didn’t trust Steven not to mess with them. He’d set the alarm on the truck before they went into the hotel and when they got to his room, Elliot would go to his alarm app and set the volume for extremely high. If someone tried anything with that truck, the alarm would wake up everyone in the hotel. He just had to pray some stray cat didn’t jump on it.