Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere by Dahlia Bliss

(Here is a preview of the next Dahlia Bliss book, Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere. Let me know what you think)

When a dating coach meets a waitress at a convention, sparks fly, but life throws many obstacles in their path towards love

CHAPTER 1
The jet lag meant my charm was running on fumes. Norwich. London. Dallas.
‘Are you with the convention?’
Her voice made me look up. Amused and challenging at the same time. The universe often challenged these small pockets of quiet contemplation. Sitting down and being quiet was a confrontation.
She cleaned the counter with a towel bunched into a ball of cloth. The raised knuckles on her right hand and the flex of lean muscle in her forearms caught my eye. Her green eyes peered at me with curiosity, highlighted by the spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose and the thick ebony hair trying to escape the tight grip of her hairband.
The distraction that she afforded was unmeasured. A restlessness dogged me, and even arriving a day before my part of the Better Men Project Seminar, keen to enjoy the atmosphere, did not ease it. It was more like arriving to give a terrible diagnosis.  Amusing.
‘I am.’
She sighed with something extra in it that made me smile. She shook her head and my eyes fell back to the page. The breadth and curve of her shoulders drew my attention again as she went back to the kitchen. Imagining the flex of muscle beneath her uniform distracted me further.
She returned with a fresh pot of coffee. There was a roll to her hips that made the muscles in my chest and neck hum with interest. A tautness in the midsection and thighs strained the skirt they made her to wear.
‘I wonder if you have more to offer on the subject.’
She chuckled as she refilled my cup. A scent carried from her skin to my nose, mingling with the coffee that she poured and the faint memory of peppermint on her breath when she spoke.
‘I do, but the hotel doesn’t encourage such blunt exchanges of opinions with its guests.’
Her eyes glanced upward, took me in as my stomach fluttered with anticipation.
She met my smile with a roll of her eyes.
‘So, you’re asking my permission or you’re being covert?.’
She wiped the table with a slow drag of the cloth, using it as a reason to stay there. The coffee was strong and it saturated my senses with each sip. My voice was soft, reflecting the playfulness that had stirred in me. No promises, no expectations, but a chance to have fun with someone. At least to make a single serving friend.
‘Are you allowed to sit down?’
She shook her head, lowering her eyes, but there was a challenge there. I pointed past her to the patio area and asked if I could smoke out there. She nodded as I stood up.
‘Come on, we can talk out there.’
She went to return the pot to the kitchen as I went outside.
Her footsteps scuffed along the concrete as I lit up and she came outside to stand beside me.Up close, there was the warm bouquet of her skin, green tea and cinnamon. She took the cigarette, then she lit it, her hands touching mine so, but the song of her touch made something shift in me.
Callused skin on her elbows, ashen against the black ink of her tattoos. Punches raised her knuckles, strength in her forearms. The worked out body that came from using it, moving it in a way that tested you. Each look was a challenge, sometimes playful, sometimes serious. My finger drew up to point them out to her.
‘That doesn’t come from wiping tables. The elbows, too. What is it, Muay Thai?’
The corners of her mouth twitched as she brought the cigarette to her mouth and took a shallow drag.
‘You think you’re smart, don’t you?’
I shook my head as I turned to face her.
‘I could pretend to be stupid, but it wouldn’t make you feel better. When’s your next fight or do you take a class?.’
She tilted her head to her left and narrowed her eyes.
‘Eight weeks.’
I leaned forward and held the cigarette down by my side as I whispered to her.
‘What did you want to say to me earlier?’
She squared her shoulders and darted her eyes away from me.
‘I would go off on you about the men’s rights movement, but it seems kinda rude now.’
A last drag and a raise of my eyebrow.
‘If I’m offended, that’s my choice not yours.’
She looked behind her and swore beneath her breath. She asked if we could continue our chat later.
I let her enjoyed watching how she moved. The customers were wearing the passes of attendees. Returning to my table, my cup still sat on the saucer and when I picked it up. The sound of men offered hope. Part of me still missed it.
I watched their faces and saw them file out of the seminar as they reacted to the other waitress when she came over to wait on a small group of them. One attendee leaned forward and put his hand on top of hers. She flinched.
I walked over to them and asked them if they were here for the seminar.
One of them shook his head in a slow, mocking gesture as he glanced at the waitress with a pinched expression.
‘ It’s a conference about Excellence In Masculinity.’
I nodded as I took them all in. I could see their flushed faces and the way their chests rose. They lost these boys who had a measure of self-esteem back.
They always reminded me how much more drunk you would get if you stole from your parent’s liquor cabinet as opposed to when you were old enough to buy your own. I asked open questions, and when the waitress asked for their order, I put it on the card as I brought another chair over to their table.
As we sat there, I saw one of them refer to his tablet, exchanging tight glances with some others at the table. He held the tablet up, showing me the profile picture.
I nodded and the table’s demeanour changed. The man who had touched the waitress peeked back at her and smiled.
‘I’ve got  game.  Did you see me anchoring her?’ he said.
I gave a small nod and I looked at her as the waitress I had been speaking to refilled the coffeepot as she looked at me with a curious expression on her face.
‘I did, but you missed out there.’
He leaned forward, eyebrows drawn, keen for my insight as I sat up and put my shoulders back.
‘Don’t approach someone who’s at work, when it’s a customer service gig.’
He spluttered.
‘ Anchoring creates good associations ‘
I raised my hand.
‘Sure it is, if they’re free to choose not to interact with you. She’s at work, mate. That takes away her choice.’
He lowered his eyes and his lips moved against his teeth as he struggled to maintain his composure. I reached out and touched his right arm as I told him to look at me.
‘Let go of the need.’
He sat up, his eyes wide. I locked eyes with him.
‘What’s your dream for yourself?’
His eyes shifted up and left as he sat there. His friends were all focussed on my actions as I fixed my gaze on his face and kept my hand near his arm.
‘I want to start my business.’
I nodded.
‘What does that feel like for you?’
He spoke about how his dad ribbed him for college. I saw him wince when he mentioned it, and I touched his arm again.
‘You hold on to that, don’t you?’ I said. ‘Your dad’s disapproval.’
He nodded before I thumped the table, which made him jump as I told him to let go of it.
He blinked as he sat back in his chair.
The smile on the guy’s face was worth the approach. He reached out his hand and I took it, giving a light but firm handshake. His palms were damp and embarrassment flushed his face while his eyes were bright.
We continued to chat as they ate. Then as the waitress cleared the table, they asked if I would join them but I waved them off, explaining that I had been on a lengthy flight.
They went back in and I wished them well, returning to my table. The waitress came back over with a pot of coffee.
‘What did you do?’
She poured.
‘Managed their expectations, you could say.’
She looked back to where they had been, then returned her attention to me again. I noticed that she had applied some lip gloss.
‘I didn’t get your name.’
I raised an eyebrow.
‘John.’
She grinned, biting her lip as she finished pouring my coffee.
‘Andrea.’
She narrowed her eyes.
‘You went to say something to me earlier?’
Her face went red as she rocked back on her heels.
‘I had this entire thing prepared about how exploitative and aggressive the men’s movement is.’
I picked up my coffee cup and looked at her.
‘I’d like to hear it, Andrea.’
She shrugged, trying to hide her discomfort. I remained seated, and she was about to speak when I heard her colleague call her name. She gave me a regretful smirk before going over to her.
I returned to the book but kept glancing up at her, feeding a tension that made my muscles strain with arousal until I could no longer sit still. I stole one final glimpse before swallowing my desire and heading up to the peace of my room.
The quiet was very little solace. My limbs buzzed with caffeinated energy that I knew I would need to burn off. I changed into shorts and ventured down to the hotel gym.
I set the bar up on the squat rack and loaded plates onto either side. I wanted to feel the resistance, to get into my body so I could burn away the excess.
Slipping a towel around my neck and dipping beneath the bar, I balanced it between my shoulders as I pushed upwards from my heels and lifted it free of the rack. I took a careful step back as I felt the weight and kept my core tight, before bringing my butt down to my heels with a smooth exhalation of breath.
I grunted as I rose back up, driving from my heels to keep my form. At the top of the movement, I finished my breath, so it connected me to it, and then I repeated the action.
Six repetitions later, I stepped towards the rack and replaced the bar before walking around a bit to get the blood back into my legs and recover. When I went into my second set, I breathed through it. By the last repetition, I could feel the pressure of my body resisting. It was on unsteady legs that I finished the final rep. I took it back to the rack and my hands shook while I stripped off the plates.
I stood there stretching when Andrea walked past.
I smiled as she turned to look at me. She shook her head, grinning, then moved on through the hotel. I laughed before I resumed my stretching and then walked over to the chest press machine. I did two sets on my chest, though I would have preferred a dedicated bench, but I still got a good workout from it.
I went out for dinner, having come in a half day before I’d needed. A bookstore browse which turned into an hour long cup of coffee with a book. I found a small steakhouse where I ate at a corner table as I read and enjoyed a porterhouse, a baked potato and a glass of cabernet.  My cab pulled up outside the hotel. The attendees were meeting up for the evening.
One guy waved to me. I raised my hand, walking over to them.My legs were aching but I sucked in a deep breath as I went over.
‘How was the afternoon?’ I said.
He nodded and his friend reached his hand out.
‘Are you coming out?’
Looking past them, I saw that Terry was there, in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He had the platinum bracelet on his wrist he’d shown off the last time we had worked together.
He called them names when the doors were closed. He saw me and I watched the corners of his mouth flicker downward before he came over.
‘Hey asshole.’
I smiled as I asked the guys about their day. Terry had already done his part, so tomorrow I knew I wasn’t working against anything. He still had the night to fire them up though, and he always put up his peacock feathers whenever we worked together. He had made the less palatable traits of his personality generate an income. He would still bitch about missed auditions when he was an actor who believed himself capable of playing over one part.
Terry looked at them, then at me.
‘The minibus will be ten minutes. There might be room.’
He corrected his posture and I saw his chest puff out a little. I shut my eyes and took a slight breath before I told him I would see him there.
I went with a black shirt and trousers, with polished boots.
When I came downstairs, I went straight out to the minibus. I sat next to the adolescent man I’d spoken with earlier, Ben and we talked more about his plans and dreams. He asked a lot of questions about England, which I obliged him until we hit the city centre, when nerves stole his attention.

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