I stared at him a moment, actually stopped in the middle of the floor behind the bar, and stared at Nick. “Tequila is a dirty whore,” I told him.
A low, husky chuckle slipped out of him. “I’ve heard that before.”
My lips split into a smile.
Jax’s hand wrapped around mine. “You’re coming with me.”
My gaze went from Jax’s face to where his hand closed around mine. “Going where?”
He didn’t answer, but gently tugged me along, walking me past the apron and toward the exit of the bar. More curious than annoyed, I let him lead me down the hall to the office. He pulled me inside, shutting the door, and I remembered the last time he’d done this. He’d kissed me, but it hadn’t been a real kiss.
Jax didn’t let go of my hand as he leaned against the edge of the desk, and he didn’t say anything.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the next and tried to pull my hand back, but he didn’t let go. “What?”
“I want to take you out on a date Sunday.”
“What?” I hadn’t expected that. Nope.
A grin flashed across his face. “A date. You and me. Sunday night. Not at the Waffle House.”
My ears were deceiving me. There was no way he was saying what I thought he was.
“There’s this new steak house in town. Only been open a year or two, but everyone loves it,” he continued as he watched me. “I can pick you up at six.”
“You . . . you are seriously asking me out on a date?”
“I seriously am.”
Two things were happening inside me. One was the rush of warmth that was whipping everywhere, lighting me up from the inside. The other was icy disbelief. I didn’t understand why he was asking me out, unless it was some kind of weird, pity date.
My stomach tumbled.
Oh my God, it was a weird, pity date.
“No,” I said, pulling my arm. He didn’t let go, but I also wasn’t going to be a part of this. “I’m not going on a date with you.”
His hand slipped off mine and slid to my wrist. “I think you are.”
“No. I’m not.”
“You’ll like their steaks,” he continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “They have a great filet.”
“I don’t like steaks,” I lied. I loved red meat, all kinds of red meat. I was a meat girl, meat and more meat.
He arched a brow as his thumb smoothed over the inside of my wrist. “Please tell me you like steaks. I don’t know if we can be friends if you say you don’t.”
I almost laughed, because that was ridiculous. “I like steaks, but—”
“Perfect,” he murmured, tipping his head back. “Did you bring any dresses with you? I’d like to see you in a dress.”
I did bring summer dresses and the appropriate shrugs with me to hide the scars, but that was beside the point. “Why do you even want to go out with me?”
“Because I like you.”
My heart jumped in my chest, and if it had hands, it would have been clapping happily. “You can’t like me.”
“I’ve already told you that I want to f**k you. You can’t forget that.”
Holy crap. “I kind of blocked that out.”
He laughed deeply, clearly amused. “You can’t be surprised that I like you.”
“Fucking and liking are two different things.”
“Yes. And no.” His eyes locked with mine. “Are you saying no because you don’t think you’re pretty?”
Holy crap on a Conquistador.
I tried to pull back this time, digging in my feet, but his arm curled, keeping me in place. Panic dug acid-tipped claws into my skin. My chest rose with a deep breath and I forced my eyes to narrow, giving him the most bitchtastic look I could come up with, anything to take attention off how he’d hit my rejection right on the head.
“I know,” he said again, tugging me forward as he spread his legs. I ended up between the V of his thighs. Close, too close to him.
I didn’t understand that statement, so I continued staring at him with my bitchy glare. “Let me go.”
One arm slid around my back and he kept moving his thumb up the inside of my arm. The touch, his closeness, all of it was doing strange things to my body. My knees were going weak while every muscle was tensing. “I already knew about the pageants,” he said, keeping his gaze on mine. “Before you showed me the picture and the trophy last night, I already knew.”
There were no words.
“Your mom used to talk about it a lot, tell us how pretty her baby is. Not used to be, but is.”
I was going to kill my mom.
“Clyde would talk about it, too,” he went on, having no idea that I just added Uncle Clyde to my murderous list, and then I’d have to off myself for last night, because I’d done the same thing. “He wasn’t a fan of the pageants or the way your mom paraded you around. Neither was your dad, right?”
Clyde had hated the pageants, but my dad . . . “I don’t know,” I heard myself saying. “Dad never said anything to Mom.”
“I think he talked to Clyde.” Jax smiled a little. “You know what I said last night about the whole pretty thing? I wasn’t f**king around. That’s why I’m taking you out.”
Then his arm curled even more, and I was chest to chest with him. The contact sent a shock wave of sensation swirling through me. His head dipped, his mouth inches from mine. My free hand ended up pressed against his chest.
I couldn’t breathe.
I didn’t care.
“You didn’t kiss me last night,” I said, and then I wanted to kick myself in the lady parts.
His eyes narrowed slightly. “Fuck no, I didn’t.”
A pang lit in my chest. “Then why do you want to take me out?”
Jax stared at me a moment, and then his features returned to the lazy, relaxed look that was somehow incredibly sexy and nerve-racking. “Honey, I’m not going to do anything with a girl who’s drunk, especially you. No way in hell. When I said you were safe with me, I wasn’t bullshitting around. I even told you that last night.”
“You did?” All I remembered was Jax jerking back, but he had been talking while I was knee-deep in freak-out mode and about to hurl. “Oh.”
“Oh,” he murmured, and then he rocked my world. “And I remember you telling me I was your first kiss. That shit in the office earlier doesn’t count, but I’m going to be your real first kiss. After I take you out on Sunday.”
My mouth dropped open. I was back to freaking out, because he’d known about my years as a pageant queen, and needing to get away and being turned on. Yes, I was turned on. I might be very inexperienced for obvious reasons, but I recognized what my body was going through. Which wasn’t good, because there was no way I could explore any of that with him and I didn’t plan on being around long enough to give either of us time.
“Actually . . .” His head dipped again and his chin grazed my right cheek. “I want to kiss you now.”
Jax felt it. “And I think you want me to kiss you. Correction. I know you want me to kiss you.”
I shuddered this time, nearly overcome by the heaviness in my br**sts and the sharp whirl of tingles down below. My hand fisted in his shirt. He couldn’t kiss me. I couldn’t go out with him. This wasn’t why I was here.
Why was I here again? It didn’t matter. The reason had to be dumb.
He made a deep sound in the back of his throat that really twisted me up in delicious little knots and now it was his lips sliding over my cheek, following the curve of the bone, heading straight for—
The office door burst open. “Jax, are you—whoa. Not expecting that.”
I jerked at the sound of Uncle Clyde’s voice and started to pull away. Jax let me get turned around, but he didn’t let me go. His arm was still around my waist.
Clyde looked at me and his gaze moved over my shoulder. I could feel the heat of Jax behind me, and then Clyde looked at me again.
He smiled a big, toothy smile.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” he said, smoothing his hand over his apron. “Not at all.”
I had to do damage control. Stat. “It’s not what—”
“We’re going out on Sunday,” Jax announced to my disbelief. Then he pulled me back against his chest, into his heat, and I almost died right there. The way my heart sped up, I was sure that was going to happen. “I’m taking her to Apollo’s.”
“Good choice, boy, very good choice.” Clyde sealed the comment with a nod of approval.
I had to get out of here. This time when I pulled free, Jax let me go. I stumbled forward, shooting him a look over my shoulder.
I stomped off, passing Clyde, or trying to pass him, but he looked down at me and he also winked. “Good choice, baby girl, very good choice.”
There were simply no words.
Heading back out to the bar, I drew in several deep breaths. Hands shaking, I ignored the looks Roxy and Nick shot my way as I grabbed my apron. Tying it on, I hurried onto the semi-busy floor before Jax made his way out.
He wanted to kiss me.
He wanted to take me out to get steaks at Apollo’s.
And Uncle Clyde approved.
Oh dear Lord in heaven, how in the world did I end up where I am? But I had done the right thing by getting out of that room, and I was going to do the right thing by not going out on a date with Jax. I needed a broken heart like I needed my mom being in a bigger mess than she was already in.
My step faltered at that thought, and I almost dropped the basket of fries I’d grabbed from the window on the head of the guy I was carrying it to.
The older man looked up, the skin around his eyes crinkling. “You doing okay, girl?”
I nodded, recognizing the man. He was in his late fifties. A regular. In the bar every night I worked, even the busier nights when the crowd was younger, like tonight was getting. “Mind is all over the place, Melvin.”
“Know the feeling.”
Placing the basket on the table, I smiled. “Need anything else? Another beer?”
“No, sugar, that’ll be all for now.” When I started away, he stopped me by placing his hand on my arm. “It’s good to see you here, doing what your momma should be doing.”
My jaw opened, but I had no idea what to say to that or how to feel about everyone knowing who I was. Then again, it wasn’t a secret. He patted my arm and then turned to his fries, which were smothered with Old Bay Seasoning.
Okay. Tonight was going to be weird. My life was weird. And dumb—couldn’t forget dumb.
Pivoting around, I saw Jax swaggering behind the bar. He looked smug. Pleased. Wholly confident. His gaze cut in my direction.
I whirled, aiming for the front of the floor to check the tables that didn’t need to be checked. The bar picked up, and I only went behind the bar to relieve Nick, and then I took my lunch, and it was weird taking a lunch late at night. I wasn’t hungry, still full from the grease-capades, and I didn’t want to hang out in the bar or in the kitchen, considering Clyde was already probably planning my wedding.
It had stormed earlier in the day, but it had eased off when I stepped outside. The air was still thick with humidity. Walking aimlessly around the building, I lifted my hair off my neck and wished I could wear ponytails on nights like this.
I like you.
I said I wanted to f**k you.
My knees wobbled a little, and I wondered how weird would it be if I just smacked myself in the head.
I’d taken two more steps when I saw the shadows clustered around the Dumpsters pull away and become thicker, solid. My heart stuttered as I backpedaled a step. The unexpected movement stirred tendrils of unease. Spinning on my heel, I headed back toward the front of the building. It was probably someone back by the Dumpsters relieving himself or doing something else nasty, but I picked up my step. A basket of fries would be good about right now.