Jax stared at me a moment, and then his hands slid off my shoulders, down my upper arms, leaving a trail of shivers in their wake before he dropped them completely. “You know, if you knew me better, you wouldn’t have to ask the question.”
“I don’t know you.”
“Exactly.” He stepped around me and headed back out to the bar, leaving me standing in the hall, more than a little confused.
Of course I didn’t know him. I’d just met him yesterday, so what the hell? It was just a question. I turned, flipping my hair back over my left shoulder. I breathed in. Then I breathed out.
I had a problem.
Well, I had lots of problems, but I also had a new one.
I wanted to get to know Jackson—Jax—James better and I shouldn’t. That should be the last thing I wanted, but it wasn’t.
Bartending was hard.
Because of basically growing up in bars, I’d avoided them once I’d left home and it had been years since I’d really been inside one. Back in the day, I knew how to make most mixed drinks just from seeing them done so many times, but now? I officially sucked at it. Like sucked hard-core. On almost every mixed drink, my eyes were glued to the cocktail menu taped near the serving well.
Luckily, Jax wasn’t a dick about it. When someone came in, which they started to do around three, one after another, and they ordered a drink that sounded like a different language to me, he didn’t make it hard for me. Instead, he stepped back, giving soft corrections if I reached for the wrong mixer or poured too little or too much of a liquor.
Having worked as a waitress, I knew I could smile my way through about every mess-up. With old and rheumy-eyed men, it worked even better.
“Take your time, sweetie,” one older man said when I had to toss his drink since I wasn’t good at free pouring and probably poured enough liquor to kill the dude. “All I got is time.”
“Thank you.” I smiled as I redid the drink, which was a simple gin and tonic. “Better?”
The man took a sip and winked. “Perfect.”
As he stepped away, heading to a table near one of the pool tables, Jax moved in from behind me. “Here. Let me show you how to free pour.” Reaching around me, he grabbed one of the shorter glasses and then picked up the gin. “Paying attention?”
He was standing so close to my side I could feel his freaking body heat. He could be talking about how many times Mars circled the sun for all I knew. “Sure,” I murmured.
“We don’t really use jiggers, but it’s pretty simple. Basically, for every count, you’re pouring a quarter ounce. So if you’re pouring one and a half ounces, you’re going to count to six. For a half ounce, you’re going to count to two.”
Sounded easy, but after pouring a couple of them, I still wasn’t pouring the same amount with each count, and all I was doing was wasting liquor.
“It only gets better with practice,” he said, propping his hip against the bar top. “Luckily, most of the people are beer folk, straight-up shots, and a few of the simpler mixed drinks.”
“Yeah, but someone’s going to come in here asking for a Jax special, and I’m going to look like an idiot,” I said as I wiped up the liquor I’d gotten on the bar.
Jax chuckled. “Only I make that, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
I pictured him offering that drink to girls he wanted to lay, and then was immediately disturbed by how much I didn’t like that image. “Well, that’s good to know.”
“You’re doing fine.” Pushing off the bar, he placed his hand on the small of my back as he leaned in, his lips dangerously close to my ear, causing me to stiffen as he spoke, and warm air danced over my skin. “Just keep smiling like you are, and any guy will forgive you.”
My eyes popped wide as he sauntered off to the other end of the bar, leaning down on his folded arms as one of the guys at the bar said something to him.
I think I forgot how to breathe while I stood there, staring at the back of a fuzzy white and balding head of some guy.
There was no doubt in my mind that Jax knew how to bring the flirt. As I pushed away from the bar top, clearing my face of what I hoped wasn’t a stupid grin, I chanced a look down the bar.
Jax was laughing. He had this deep, unfettered laugh, where he’d raise his chin and let loose the deep, rumbling sound like he didn’t have a care in the world. The sound pulled at the corners of my lips. Whoever he was talking to looked about his age, which was a mystery age currently. The guy was also attractive—dark brown hair, a little longer than I’d like, but not as long as Jase’s. From what I could see, he was also broad in the shoulders.
Hot guys always flocked together, and there had to be some kind of scientific evidence supporting this fact.
Roxy arrived at the start of the evening shift, and she was yet another surprise. I wasn’t the tallest girl around, coming in around five and seven inches, but she was a tiny thing. Barely crossing over five feet, she had what looked like a mass of chestnut hair streaked with deep red piled into a bun atop her head. She was rocking Buddy Holly black frames that added to the impish cuteness of her face, and was dressed much like I was, in jeans and a shirt. I decided that I immediately liked her, mainly because she was wearing a Supernatural T-shirt with Dean and Sam on it.
Her wide eyes flickered over me as she crossed the bar, and Jax quickly tagged her, motioning her over to where he was still leaning against the bar. Whatever he said to Roxy caused her to glance in my direction.
I hated being the new person.
When he was finally done with her, he went back to his conversation with the other hot guy. I forced myself to take a deep, calming breath. Meeting people for the first time was . . . hard. Teresa probably never saw that side of me because we quickly bonded over our mutual disinterest in music appreciation, but typically, I wasn’t good at meeting people. As pathetic as it sounded, I always worried if they were busy wondering about the scar on my face, and I knew they would, because I would. It was human nature.
As she came around the bar grinning, I wondered if people could actually see her behind the bar. “Hi,” she said, shoving out a dainty hand. “I’m Roxanne, but everyone calls me Roxy. Please call me Roxy.”
“Calla.” I shook her hand, laughing. “Nice to meet you, Roxy.”
She slid her purse off her shoulder. “Jax says you go to college at Shepherd, studying nursing?”
My gaze flickered over to where he stood. Damn, he worked and talked fast. “Yeah. You’re at the community college?”
“Yeppers peppers.” Reaching up, she adjusted her glasses. “Nothing as cool as nursing. Working toward a computer graphics degree.”
“That’s pretty damn cool. You can draw, too?”
She nodded. “Yep. Drawing and painting kind of runs in the family. Not the most lucrative career choice, but it’s something that I love to do. Figured taking it into the graphic design world would be better than choosing the life of a starving artist.”
“I’m jealous,” I admitted, brushing my hair over my left shoulder. “I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, but I can’t even draw a stick figure without it looking half stupid. Two things I generally lack—art and talent.”
A laugh burst from her. “I’m sure you’re talented at something else.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Does talking and not knowing when to shut up count?”
Roxy laughed again, and I saw Jax glance at us. “That is a true talent. I’m going to drop off my purse. I’ll be right back.”
When she came back, we worked the bar together and, like Jax, she was supercool and patient. The customers loved her kooky sense of humor, which included doodling on the napkins she gave out, and apparently had to do with her T-shirt choices. It seemed like a lot of people rolling in checked out what her shirt said before they even placed an order.
The bar wasn’t too busy, but as Thursday evening rolled on by, the seating area filled up, and because I was slow, I moved out from behind the bar.
Jax caught my arm. “You’re forgetting something.”
The half grin appeared as he turned his hand around my arm, tugging me toward him. I bit down on my lip as I stumbled forward, having no idea what he was about. I got close to him, close enough that when he reached down to a cubbyhole, his arm brushed my thigh.
“Got to wear an apron when you’re out there.”
My brows rose as I stared at the half apron. “Seriously?”
He jerked his chin at Pearl.
I sighed when I saw she had one tied around her waist, and then snatched it from him. “Whatever.”
“It goes great with your shirt.”
I rolled my eyes.
Jax laughed. “Let me help.”
“The last time I checked, I can tie an apron without—” I gaped at him. Somehow the apron was back in his hand and his other hand landed on my hip, startling me. “What are you doing?”
“Helping you out.” He bent his head toward my left ear, and I immediately turned my cheek. “Jumpy?” he asked.
I shook my head, finding that I had no idea how to form syllables, and that was embarrassing.
Without saying a word, he turned me around so my back was to his front, and then he slipped an arm between his waist and mine. I didn’t dare move.
“You can breathe, you know.” His arm trailed across my lower stomach, setting off a chain of flutters, as he spread the apron.
“I’m breathing,” I forced out.
Amusement colored his tone. “You sure about that, honey?”
Pearl entered the bar just then, carrying a tray of clean glasses. She arched her brows in our direction. “Getting hands-on, Jackie boy?”
“Jackie boy?” I mumbled.
Jax chuckled not too far from my ear. “Tying knots is hard.”
“Uh-huh,” replied Pearl.
“And I like getting hands-on with her,” he added.
My face felt like I’d been baking in the sun by the time he finished, which was an absurdly long time if you thought about it. When I felt the final tug of the knot being secured, he gripped both sides of my hips.
Holy sparks in a room of flammable material.
“All good.” His hands slid off my hips, and then he was giving me a gentle shove toward the exit to the bar floor. “Have fun.”
Shooting him a look over my shoulder, my lips pursed as he let loose that damn laugh that I decided that I did not, under any circumstances, find sexy. Nope. Not at all.
It was totally sexy.
Helping work the floor with Pearl, taking bar orders, and running food from the kitchen wasn’t bad. Wasn’t sure what it meant when it came to tips, and since I wasn’t really employed, there was no hourly wage, so I hoped it didn’t mean suck.
Mindless work, but I didn’t think about much of anything as I zoomed back and forth, and I could almost pretend that I had chosen this job out of want and not need. The only thing I couldn’t help wonder about was Mom, where she was and if she was okay. It was a familiar worry I’d spent many years obsessing over until I could practically feel the ulcers forming in my belly. I wasn’t going to do that again. At least that’s what I told myself, but if I was being honest with myself, and who wanted to do that on the regular, I knew better.
I dropped off a plate of wings at a table I was guessing was full of off-duty cops or army guys, based on their nearly identical buzz haircuts. And holy billy goats, there were a lot of yummy-looking guys sitting there. The hot guy Jax had been chatting with earlier had joined them, and I was a little nervous approaching their table since I was busy picturing each of the guys in different uniforms and liking what I saw in my head.
“Thanks,” one of the guys said as I placed a truckload of napkins on the table. Up close, he had the most amazing blue eyes.
I smiled as I clasped my hands together. “Need any refills or anything?”
“We’re good,” another one spoke up, grinning.
Nodding, I quickly skedaddled back to the bar to relieve Roxy for her break. I had no idea how Jax looked like he just arrived, full of smiles and energy, even though he’d been here as long as I had. Working a kink out of my neck, I headed to where a guy who couldn’t be much older than me was waiting. The day had been long and flip-flops were so not appropriate for bar work, causing my feet to ache, but I didn’t want to complain.
The cash in the pocket of my apron helped keep my lips in a smile formation.
“What can I get you?”
He rubbed a hand across the front of his oversized white shirt as his gaze quickly shifted away from me. “Uh, how about a Bud?”
“Tap or bottle?”
“Bottle.” His gaze swung back to me as he hitched up his baggy jeans.
“Coming right up.” Turning, I stepped around Jax and grabbed a bottle. When Mona’s got busy, it had to be crazy behind here, and I was kind of, surprisingly, excited about the prospect. There had to be a sort of Zen in being that busy. Heading back to the customer, I popped the lid, smiling as a little cool air rolled up from the open neck. “Tab or pay as you go?”