What an asshole!” Dana Anders huffed in exasperation to her boss and best friend, Zoe Jackson. The fact that she was referring to Zoe’s brother-in-law, Asher, didn’t concern her in the least. If there was one rule in this world, it was that you always had your friend’s back, even when it got tricky. “Since when is it acceptable to ask a woman if she shops in the teen plus-size section? He certainly knows how to multitask because he got in a dig at both my height and my weight.”
“I swear, I don’t know why he acts like that towards you.” Zoe grimaced as they both watched Ash walk out of Zoe’s Place. Dana had been the manager of the popular hotel coffee shop for several years now, and it was the best job that she’d ever had. She loved meeting all the new people that passed through the luxury Oceanix-Pensacola Resort as well as chatting with the regulars who came in daily. She was a people person, so the work suited her perfectly. At least it had until the moment when Asher decided to relocate from the Oceanix-Charleston to their Florida location. Dana normally got along with everyone—she had really never met anyone who didn’t like her, so at first the animosity Asher leveled her way was puzzling. Then it finally began to piss her off. What had she ever done to the man to deserve his scorn? It was as if he’d decided within an instant of making her acquaintance that he didn’t like her, and his attitude toward her had only gotten worse. But the most galling part of the entire situation was that although she gave as good as she received where he was concerned, she could admit, just to herself, that she was wildly attracted to the jerk. A humiliating fact she prayed he never discovered.
“Because he’s compensating for his shortcomings by being a turd,” she snapped. “I know the man is your brother-in-law, but I think you would have to agree with me on this one. He’s never had one civilized word to say to me. What is his problem?” Dana inwardly winced when her question came out sounding more hurt than ticked off. The last thing she wanted getting back to Ash was that his behavior was hurting her. Well, that and the fact that she dreamed of him ripping her clothes off and taking her on the counter of the coffee shop. She suspected her boss would not approve of that particular fantasy either, although she was certain that Zoe and her husband, Dylan, had probably succumbed to it more than once. Speaking of Dylan, he was another Jackson brother with whom she hadn’t particularly bonded. Although in their case, the verbal sparring was more like that of siblings, rather than the more insulting variety she participated in with his brother.
Dylan had thought that Dana was a bad influence on Zoe when Dylan and Zoe had finally started to date after years of platonic friendship. In the end, though, Dylan had married the woman he loved, and since the wedding he had mellowed a lot. Nevertheless, he still went through the motions of arguing with Dana just for fun. It was something they both enjoyed.
Zoe laid a hand on Dana’s shoulder and squeezed it in commiseration. “I honestly don’t know,” she admitted. “I’ve asked Dylan about it more than once and he says that it’s really out of character for Ash. He’s normally very charming where the opposite sex is concerned, so we’re both rather puzzled over it. Maybe I should talk to him,” she began, before falling silent as Dana vigorously shook her head.
“No way. I won’t let him have the satisfaction of thinking he’s getting to me. Imagine how much that discovery would thrill him. You never give a bully that kind of power.”
Zoe picked up the latte that Dana had made for her earlier and took a sip. “So what are you going to do then?” She gave her a look full of sympathy before adding, “I can tell that he’s hurting your feelings. I’ve wanted to beat the crap out of him myself even though he’s not saying that stuff to me.”
Stiffening her spine, Dana brushed a hand down her black apron and tossed her head defiantly. “It’s about time I started fighting fire with fire. If he can come into my place of business and insult me every day, then maybe I need to level the same treatment at him.”
Zoe gave her a skeptical look before asking, “What exactly does that mean? You two already bicker when he’s here. It’s not as if you’re just standing around taking it from him.”
“True,” Dana agreed, nodding, “but he gets the last word in because he is free to walk out the door whenever he wants. Since I’m always in the middle of my shift, I can’t exactly follow behind him.”
“You could signal me if I’m here so that I can take over for you,” Zoe suggested helpfully. Dana thought to herself—not for the first time—that she’d hit the lottery in the boss department. Not many business owners would volunteer to cover for their employee so she could follow a customer out the door to continue an argument. Especially when she was now related by marriage to the other person. Zoe rocked, as a friend and as a boss.
Giving her first real smile of the day, Dana shook her head. “That’s not necessary, but I absolutely love you for offering. No, what I had in mind was to give him a taste of his own medicine. He orders lunch and coffee from here almost daily. So from now on, I think I’ll make that delivery myself instead of having one of the girls take care of it.”
Dana saw the exact moment that the lightbulb went on above Zoe’s head. Her friend’s lips twitched before a loud giggle escaped. “That’s rather brilliant, I have to admit. You’re gonna bring the battle to his doorstep. Crap, I’d love to be around to see that the first time. He won’t be expecting it.”
“No, he won’t.” Dana offered an evil grin. “Of course, it’ll only be a surprise once, but if I play my cards right, it’ll make such a big impression that he’ll think twice about opening his mouth to say anything to me other than a polite ‘How are you today?’”
Cringing slightly, Zoe looked at Dana before saying, “I feel as if I should warn my husband out of loyalty. I mean, it is his office that you’re declaring war on.” When Dana narrowed her eyes at her friend, Zoe laughed and held up one hand. “All right, my lips are sealed. I’m sure Ash will tell him all about it after your first delivery anyway. Plus, Dylan’s brother seriously needs to learn some manners.”