She sat in the far corner of the bar facing the door, sipping her third appletini. Alice usually didn’t drink on the nights she worked. She chose to keep her wits about her instead. But this particular night was slow every year. Even the most faithless husband spent Valentine’s Day with his wife, covering his guilt with candy and flowers while dialing Alice’s number in his mind.
The door opened and two men walked in. Even though a whoosh of cold air followed them, she instantly warmed. The darker man walked up to the bar and leaned aggressively into it, making himself impossible for the bartender to ignore. The taller blond man stood a few steps back scanning the dark corners like a watch dog. Pieces of rain hung in his hair and glistened on the shoulders of his leather jacket.
He stopped when he saw her and reached his hand to touch his partner’s arm, a line of silent communication, then made his way over.
“How ya doin’, Alice?” The corner of his mouth lifted in a half-smile. He was golden and sweet like honey. She moistened her lips, tasting the appletini. She just knew he’d taste so smooth going down.
“How do ya think I am, Handsome Hutch?” she slurred. “I’m alone in this dive on a rainy Valentine’s Day."
“Slow night?” Hutch sat across from her, eyeing the empty glasses on the table.
“Tonight’s for lovers,” she responded.
The dark haired man came over and leaned his hip against Hutch’s chair, bracing his arm comfortably across the back. As she looked at them her words echoed in her head.
“Louey said he hasn’t seen him in days. That weasel really must be holed up this time,” he said to Hutch. Then to Alice, “Hey there, gorgeous.”
“Hey yourself, Starsky.”
“Looks like you’ve been doing some drinking,” Hutch said with more concern than judgment.
Alice looked at her glasses as if seeing them for the first time. Her pale cheeks blushed pink.
“Ah guess ah have.” Her shoulders gave a slight shrug.
“How about we take you home,” Hutch suggested gently.
“Good idea,” Starsky agreed.
Alice knew it wasn’t a proposition. Not that she would have turned them down. She just knew them too well.
“That’s okay, fellas. My car’s just out front.”
Hutch reached over to place his hand on hers. It covered her fingers completely. “Give me the keys, sweetheart. You go with Starsky and I’ll follow.”
She looked into his blue eyes and felt herself floating. She could never say no to him. “Sh. . . sure, doll. That would be nice.”
Hutch helped her from her chair and guided her out the door with a steady hand on her elbow. A courtly consort. She wished she could tell her mother, twenty years in the grave, that not all knights wore shining armor. Some came in leather jackets and jeans.
Hutch had followed the Torino as Starsky drove to her apartment, but must have fallen behind at some point because they arrived ahead of him by a full fifteen minutes. When he finally came, he kissed her on the check then whispered “Happy Valentine’s Day” as he squeezed her hand. Then he followed Starsky out the door.
Alice didn’t wake up until past noon the next day, the ache in her head rudely reminding her of why she preferred ginger ale to gin. Good thing Hutch had laid the keys to her Volkswagen bug out on the table, saving her a flustered hunt. Another Valentine’s Day gone. She heaved a sigh of bittersweet relief. She believed in love, just not for her, she reminded herself as she headed out the door. She might be a romantic but she was also a realist. It was how she survived. Then her eyes welled up at the sight of the red roses blanketing her front seat.