“Pay as I go.” He took the beer as he leaned back from the bar and muttered, “Shame.”
My brow arched up. “Shame?” Seriously doubted that was his name or something. “I’m sorry?”
The guy took a long swig of his beer and his brows knitted. “It’s a shame.”
I glanced around, not sure what he was talking about and wondering if he was already drunk. I hadn’t had to cut anyone off yet, and I really wasn’t looking forward to that moment. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Jax stop and angle his body toward us. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not really following.”
With the hand holding his beer, he made a circle in the air around about where my head was. “Your face,” he clarified, and I sucked in a sharp breath. “It’s a shame.”
Every muscle in my body locked up as I stared at the guy. Somehow, maybe because I’d been so busy running back and forth, I’d done the impossible. Forgotten about the scar. That wasn’t an easy thing to do. Not only had the scar cut into my skin, it had sliced deep, becoming a very tangible part of me. I knew it was visible, even with the Dermablend, just faded into a thin cut, but I had forgotten.
Taking another deep swig of his beer, he continued. “I bet you were really hot one time.”
That statement stung. Oh yeah, it was like stepping on a pissed-off hornet. It shouldn’t bother me, some random ass**le’s opinion, but the sting coursed through me. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. It had been so long since anyone even commented on it. Probably because people who knew me, who weren’t shocked by the scar, always surrounded me when the makeup faded after a long day.
“Get the f**k out.”
I jumped at the sound of the deep voice growling behind me and turned. Jax stood there, his eyes flashing and jaw tight, set in a hard line. Dumbly, I wondered why he wanted me to leave. I hadn’t done anything, and it wasn’t like he didn’t realize my face was slightly on the disfigured side.
But he wasn’t talking to me.
Of course not.
Jax was staring down the guy on the other side of the bar, and then he was moving forward. Slamming one hand down on the bar top, he launched up over the bar, landing nimbly on the other side, inches from the guy.
“Holy crap,” I whispered, eyes wide.
I’d never seen anyone do something like that. Didn’t even know it was possible. Jax hadn’t even hit a bar stool. It was like he propelled himself over the bar all the time. Maybe that’s what he did during downtime, winging himself back and forth over the bar.
Pearl stopped in the middle of the bar floor, staring at Jax, and she didn’t look too surprised, which I found odd. His buddy at the table stood. The rest of the guys at the table were twisted in their seats, faces set, but not with curiosity. More like they were ready to jump to their feet any second.
Jax snatched the bottle out of the guy’s grasp as he slammed a hand in the middle of the guy’s chest, knocking him back several feet.
“Whoa, man, what the hell’s your problem?” White Shirt asked, catching himself.
“I said, get the f**k out of here.” Jax got right up in his face, and him being a good head taller than the other guy, it was pretty impressive. “Right this f**king second, you wannabe f**king gangster.”
“What the f**k? I didn’t do anything wrong.” White Shirt shot back. “Just trying to get a drink.”
“I don’t give two f**ks what you were trying to do.” The muscles in his back rippled under his shirt. “All I care about right now is you getting the f**k out of the bar.”
“Man, that’s messed up.” White Shirt Guy cocked his head like he was about to throw down, which by the sound and look of Jax, I was going to say would be a very bad idea. “You can’t just kick me out for that shit.”
And White Shirt Guy pointed right at me.
My stomach tumbled again, and before I realized what I was doing, I’d reached up, pressing my fingers against the slightly raised line on my cheek. I jerked my hand away.
He wasn’t done. “What did you expect, man? Not my fault she’s Mona’s daughter. Ain’t like you can’t notice her face—”
“Finish that sentence and I’ll f**k your face up so badly you’ll be seeing double for the rest of your life, ass hat.”
Oh God, this was getting out of hand. I stepped against the bar top. “Jax, just drop it. Not a big deal.”
The White Shirt Guy’s face flushed a deep pink. “Aw, bro, you’re really starting to piss me off.”
Thank God his friend was up and standing beside them now because Jax didn’t seem to hear me. “Come on, Mack,” Jax’s friend said, catching him by the arm and not too gently leading him to the door. “Get the hell out of here before Jax lays into you.”
“What the f**k?” Mack exploded, causing me to jump again, and the muscles to tighten in my neck and back. “You’re not on duty, Reece, so you can—”
“On duty or off, you might want to rethink that sentence.”
Ah, so Reece, his friend, was a cop. Hands shaking, I smoothed them down my thighs, hoping this whole scene would be over soon. Everyone in the bar was listening over the music, watching the confrontation go down. That made everything so much worse.
Jax stalked them toward the door, his hands clenched into big fists at his sides.
“You f**ked up,” Mack said, stopping at the door, having to get one last word in. “You think you got trouble now? You ain’t seen shit, you mother—”
“God, you guys never f**king learn,” Reece muttered, shoving Mack out the door, and as he disappeared into the night, Reece glanced back at Jax. “I’ll make sure the piece of shit gets out of here.”
“Thanks,” Jax muttered, wheeling back around. His gaze landed on me.
“Was it because of Mona?” Pearl asked in a low voice, and that answered why she wasn’t surprised when Jax had vaulted over the bar. “Did she—”
“No,” he growled, heading around the bar. “Watch the bar until Roxy gets off break.”
Confusion pulled at Pearl’s lips, but she nodded as she smoothed a hand back over her blond hair. “Got it.”
I didn’t move as I watched Jax stalk around the bar, stopping at the entrance. He motioned at me. “Come here.”
My heart was pounding, and I didn’t want to move forward, because he sounded and looked pissed, and I wasn’t sure if he was mad at me. After all, he’d relented quickly on the whole idea of me working here, but that didn’t mean he was pro Calla. Considering a fight had almost broken out the first night I was working probably wasn’t good.
“Come here,” Jax demanded again, voice hard as slate. “Now.”
Breath lodging somewhere in my throat, my feet moved toward him. As I passed Pearl on the way out, she sent me a concerned look. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but still, none of this was good.
He clasped my hand, pulling me the rest of the way out from behind the bar. “Not right now.”
It took a lot in me, but I clamped my mouth shut as he led me back down the hall, toward the office. Opening the door, he hauled me inside, and my stomach was somewhere around my toes as he slammed the door shut. I tried again, but when he wheeled on me, his hand still around mine, all the words died on the tip of my tongue.
Our gazes collided for a fraction of a second, and then I dipped my chin to the left and drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry about what happened out there. I—”
“Are you f**king apologizing?”
My gaze rose to his. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, the guy was a dick, but he—”
“You’re f**king serious?” His eyes were so dark I wondered how they changed color like that. “You have no reason to apologize for that f**king ass**le.”
“It’s my first night and you had to kick someone out.”
“I don’t care if it was your first night or your tenth night, someone acts like that, then they’re out. No second chances.” He was staring down at me, and the look in his eyes was so intense it was like he could see right through me.
“You’re not mad at me?”
“What?” His eyes widened as his hand slipped up to my elbow. “Why in the hell would I be mad at you, Calla?”
I shook my head. Thinking about it, it did sound like a stupid question.
His eyes narrowed. “You can’t be serious.”
Suddenly, desperation to be out of this room, or at least change the subject, washed over me with the force of a tidal wave. “He said something about trouble—Mack did. Was he talking about Mom?”
“That doesn’t matter right now.”
I thought it did. “Then why am I back here?”
“I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
The words repeated themselves through my head. He wanted to make sure I was okay and that . . . that was sweet.
“You did nothing wrong out there,” Jax went on as he squeezed my arm gently, reassuringly. “I’m pissed because that was utter bullshit.”
“Yeah, well, it was, but . . .”
He cocked his head to the side. “But what?”
Warmth crept into my face, and I took a step back, going as far as I could with his hand around my elbow.
“What, Calla?” He reclaimed the space, the tips of his boots brushing my toes.
I took another step back, and I was against the wall, back flush with it, and he was still right in front of me. The entire length of my body shimmered with awareness. I started to look away, to turn my head.
Like the night before, two fingers curled around my chin, forcing my face straight on with his, and it was with his head lowered near mine. And his mouth . . . it was inches from mine.
“You don’t believe what he said, do you?” His voice was deceptively low, soft.
My throat dried.
He let go of my arm and pressed his hand against the wall, beside my head, keeping the other one at my chin. “I can’t believe this shit.”
I blinked. “It’s not like I have a low self-esteem. I just believe in reality—like I’m Realistic Rachel.”
“Realistic Rachel?” His brows knitted as he mouthed the words again silently.
“Yeah,” I breathed. What I was about to say was true. “I know what people see when they look at me. Most people don’t say anything because they’re not jerks, but I know what they see. It’s been that way since I was ten years old. And there’s no changing that.”
Jax stared at me, his full lips slightly parted. “What do they see, Calla?”
“Do I really need to spell that out?” I shot back, irritated and frustrated and about a thousand other things. “I think it’s pretty obvious.”
His eyes searched mine. “Yeah, it is obvious.”
Even though that’s what I’d been saying this whole time, hearing him agree still felt like a punch to the boob. I wanted to look away, but he wasn’t allowing it. “I think I need to get back out—”
His mouth landed on mine.
Oh my lawd . . .
There was no warning, nothing that would’ve given away what he’d been about to do. One second I was talking, and then the next, his warm mouth was on mine.
Jax kissed me.
My brain short-circuited the moment it fully recognized that Jax was kissing me—that, in fact, his lips really were on mine.
And it wasn’t just a peck on the lips.
No, it wasn’t deep and there weren’t tongues involved, nothing like the kisses I read about in romance novels, the wet kind that seemed a little gross to me, but I imagined, if done right, would have me dropping my shorts like no tomorrow, but this kiss . . . it was real.
His lips were melded to mine, and I was awed by the way they felt. They were soft, but firm, and I didn’t know one thing could be both. They followed the curve of my lips, as if he were just mapping them out.
My arms were frozen at my sides, but I could feel my body start to lean forward, off the wall and toward his. Our bodies didn’t connect, though, which was probably a good thing.
I was already only seconds away from combusting.
Jax lifted his head from mine, and I realized then that my eyes were closed. Even so, I could feel his gaze on my warm cheeks, on the tip of my nose . . . my lips.
“You kissed me,” I whispered, and yeah, it was a stupid statement, but I was feeling pretty stupid.
“Yeah.” His voice sounded deeper, gruffer. Sexier. “I did.”
I forced my eyes open and was staring at an unofficial member of the Hot Guy Brigade.
He leaned in, his arm against the wall taking his weight as he dropped his hand from my chin. “I don’t kiss girls that I don’t find hot as hell or beautiful. So, you get my point?”
There were fuzz balls in my brain. “You kissed me to prove a point?”