But I did have better things to look at.
Every so often, I stole a quick glance at Jax. He was leaning against the far corner of the bar, ankles crossed and arms folded across his chest, and his head was tilted toward the TV screen hanging from the ceiling.
When we’d left the office, he explained that I’d be on his schedule, which apparently started at four in the afternoon and ran to closing. Why he’d been in the bar this early today, I had no idea. He worked the busiest nights—Wednesday through Saturday night, ten-hour shifts.
Way past my normal, boring bedtime of like, eleven, but I could do it. I had to do it. I didn’t have time to waste trying to get a job at Outback like he suggested.
As I kept stealing quick peeks, I tried once again to figure out his age. I could’ve just asked him, but I wasn’t sure if that was my business. He couldn’t be much older than me, but there was something about him that screamed maturity. Most twenty-one or so year-olds I knew could barely make it out of bed in the morning, including myself, but he had this air of confidence and know-how that I thought would come with someone older—someone with a lot of responsibilities.
I glanced around the bar, seeing that it was still empty, and it struck me then, something that was right in my face. My gaze flickered back to Jax, his hair now dried and not styled, and the deep-bronzed brown waves fell this way and that all around the crown of his head.
He was running the bar.
It had to be him.
Granted, I hadn’t met anyone else besides Pearl. I had seen the schedule in the office and there were two more bartenders, a Roxy and a guy named Nick. Another server who worked only Friday and Saturday nights named Gloria, and then there was a Sherwood who worked in the kitchen with Clyde.
Maybe I was wrong and it was one of them, but I had a feeling I wasn’t, and I had no idea what to think about it. But I was curious. Why would he invest so much into Mona’s?
Out of my control, my gaze drifted from where his hair was trimmed neatly above the back collar of his shirt, down the length of his back, and then lingered on the well-worn, faded jeans.
God, he had a nice ass. A freaking work of art. Even though his jeans were nowhere near tight, but the general form—
Jax unexpectedly twisted his neck, glancing over his shoulder at me, and I was staring at him. Like totally staring at him.
One side of his lips curled up.
He’d caught me.
Heat swept over my face as I hastily looked away, stringing together a buttload of curse words. I wasn’t checking him out. I didn’t need to be checking him out. I mean, I spent a lot of time checking out guys, because checking them out never led to anything.
It never could.
“What’s next?” I asked, clearing my throat as I washed my hands before I ended up with lemon-juice-covered fingers all up in my eyeballs.
“We don’t have a bar back, so every day we’ve got to make sure the bar’s stocked. We also need to do a stock count. That’s already been taken care of today, but I can show you where it’s at. I’m sure it’s changed since you’ve been around.”
A lot of things here had changed since I’d been around. As I dried my hands off, I wondered if Mom had ever done a real stock count. “Who’s been running the bar?”
The line of his back stiffened, and then he turned fully toward me. “I need to show you where we keep everything. Beer is kept chilled, off the kitchen. Liquor is back in the stockroom.” He pushed off the bar top and headed out, leaving me no choice but to follow him down the hall.
As he stopped in front of the door near the office, I flipped the heavy length of hair over my left shoulder. “I know it’s not Clyde.”
He fished out a key ring. “Not sure what you’re talking about, hon.”
I frowned as he unlocked the door. “Who’s been running the bar? Keeping track of everything?”
The door swung open. “See this clipboard?” He jerked his chin at where it hung next to the stocked shelves. “Anything that gets taken out of here, gets marked. Anything. This is also the same sheet we do inventory on.”
I quickly glanced over it. Seemed pretty self-explanatory.
“The same with the walk-in. Everything is in good order in here, so it’ll be easy to find.” He turned then, ushering me out of the room, but when he started past me, I got in his way.
“Who is running the bar, Jax?” I asked again, and when his gaze shifted behind me, eyes narrowing slightly, my suspicions were confirmed. “It’s you, isn’t it?”
He didn’t say anything.
“You’ve been running the bar and that’s why it’s not a complete crap hole.”
“Complete?” Brown eyes landed on mine.
I ducked my chin to the left. “It’s nothing like it used to be. Things are organized and clean. Mona’s is making money.”
“Not a lot of money.”
“But it’s doing a hell of a lot better in just a year than it had for years,” I pointed out. “That’s because of—” My words got stuck in my throat as his hands landed on my shoulders. I swallowed.
He dipped his head, his gaze following mine as he spoke quietly. “It’s not just because of me. We have a staff that gives a shit, and Clyde has always given a shit. That’s why we’re doing better. It’s been a group effort. Still is a group effort.”
Our gazes were locked head-on, and like last night in my mother’s kitchen, I was stunned into silence at his proximity. I didn’t like anyone getting this close, enabling them to see beyond the makeup.
“We’ve got better crowds coming in now,” he continued, and his stare alone refused to allow me to look away or hide. And damn, that was majorly uncomfortable considering I was the bomb diggity when it came to hiding. His voice dropped even lower. “Off-duty cops. Some students from the local community college. Even the bikers who do come in don’t cause problems. Without the shitty people Mona had in here, even though the crowd can get a little sketchy at times, it has gotten better.”
“Obviously,” I murmured.
His impossibly thick lashes lowered, and then so did my gaze—lowered right about to his full lips. God, how did he get a mouth like that? That half grin appeared, causing my entire face to warm. “Interesting,” he said.
I blinked. “What’s interesting?”
“Me?” I tried to step back, but the hands on my shoulders tightened. “I’m not interesting at all.”
His head tilted to the side. “I know that’s untrue.”
Why did it feel like the weight of his hands on my shoulders was possibly the most pleasant thing I’d ever felt? Although he was only touching me there, I felt the exquisite heaviness all the way through my body.
Oh whoa, this was bad.
“It’s not,” I whispered finally, and then the verbal diarrhea was back like Montezuma’s revenge. “I’m the most boring person to ever live. I haven’t even been to a beach or to New York City. Never taken a plane ride or even been to an amusement park. I don’t do anything when I’m at school and I . . .” I trailed off, blowing out a breath. “Anyway, I’m boring.”
One brow arched up. “Okay.”
God, I needed to find a needle and some thread for my mouth.
“But we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that, too.” Humor shone through his warm eyes, and as close as we were, I noticed the darker flecks of brown near his pupils.
I tried to step away again, but didn’t get anywhere. My chest rose sharply on a deep inhale. “Why do you care so much about this bar?”
It was his turn to blink. “What do you mean?”
“Why have you put so much effort into it? You could be working at a better place, probably dealing with less stress than running a bar you don’t own.”
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.