I’d jumped from the bed, literally, and nearly ate the floor. I had no idea how I grabbed fresh clothes and made it through the shower, washing away the grossness of the tequila yuck that seemed to have bled through my skin, without sitting down in the tub and crying over the pain behind my eyes and all the dumb, dumb things I’d done and said the night before.
Jax was awake when I shuffled out of the bathroom, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he walked into the bathroom with his own toothbrush, which he’d stashed there after the second night of staying in this house.
When he’d come out, his hair damp from obviously splashing water over his face and head, I was sitting on the couch and quickly averted my gaze, staring at the spot on the floor where I’d cuddled the bottle of tequila.
The tequila bottle was mysteriously absent. I hope it crawled back into whatever hole it was birthed from.
I’d tried to kiss him and he’d jerked back from me.
God, someone shoot me now.
I couldn’t look at him. Could not do it. Not even when he said my name.
“How are you feeling?” he asked when I didn’t answer.
Lifting one shoulder, I studied my purple toenail polish. “Like crud.”
“I have a cure for that.”
What? A semiautomatic weapon?
“We’re going to indulge in the official breakfast of champions for hangovers.”
Brows knitting, I lifted my head. He was grinning at me like I hadn’t gotten trashed the night before and tried to molest him. “What?”
I stared at him, blinking slowly, and then I looked away, feeling my cheeks heat under the makeup I wore. “I don’t want to eat. I don’t even want to think about food.”
“You think that now, but trust me, the grease will do wonders for your stomach. I know. Have had a lot of practice at it.”
Shaking my head, I stood, now staring at the window. “I really think I just need to go back and take an eight-hour nap before I head into the bar tonight. And I think you need to leave. Not to be rude—”
“Don’t do this,” he said, and he was right beside me. I hadn’t even heard him move. “Don’t, Calla.”
My gaze shifted to his chest. How could he look good in the same damn shirt he’d slept in last night? I wanted to scream it wasn’t fair. “Don’t what?”
“Be embarrassed,” he said softly.
I squeezed my eyes shut, wrinkling my nose. “Easy for you to say.”
“Nothing’s easy for me to say. You have no reason to be embarrassed. You drank last night. You had fun, or at least you did up until you got sick—”
“Thanks for reminding me of that,” I groused.
“It’s common. Hell, do you know how many times I’ve found myself curled around a toilet swearing I’d never drink again? You don’t even want to know the horror stories I could share.”
But I bet he’d never tried to kiss a girl and gotten rejected, either.
“Calla, look at me.”
Hell to the no. “Like I said, I’m really tired and could really go for a nap.” Or a lobotomy. “So, if I could do that, it would be great.”
“Honey, don’t.” Two fingers curved around my chin, and there was no fighting when he lifted my gaze to his. I sucked in a breath, feeling a little dizzy again, and I wondered if there was still some tequila in my system. “You’re not going to listen to me, so this calls for drastic measures.”
I opened my mouth, but then Jax stepped back, dropping his fingers. Maybe a second passed and he dipped down. Before I could move or process what he was doing, he slipped one arm behind my knees and the other around my waist, and I was suddenly in the air, pressed against his chest.
“What the hell?” I shouted, grabbing on to his shoulders as he turned around. “What are you doing?”
Looking down at me, he took a deep breath. “When I was fourteen, I drank beer for the first time. Drank way too much at a buddy’s house and spent the entire night circling the toilet.”
I glanced around the bedroom. “Okay.”
“Did that so many times when I was kid, you’d think I’d learned my lesson,” he continued, watching me. “Then when I got back from overseas, some nights whiskey was all that got me to close my eyes for a few hours.”
My body stiffened even more. Whiskey. God, I hated whiskey, but I really wasn’t thinking about my mom. I couldn’t imagine the kind of things that kept him awake at night.
“Even when I came here, it was a whiskey and . . . well, anyway, the point is, I’ve spent many nights and days regretting what I did. But what you did last night and even though you feel like shit right now, you didn’t do a damn thing you need to regret.”
Deep in my chest, my heart clenched as our eyes locked. “What . . . what else did you do?”
Something flickered over his features, and he shook his head. “Let’s get going.”
I frowned at the abrupt change of topic. “Where?”
“Taking you to Waffle House.”
“You don’t have to carry me!”
He grinned down at me. “And you don’t have to shout.”
“Put me down!” I shouted again, making my own temples pound.
Ignoring me, he headed for the door and then stopped, backtracking to the kitchen. “Grab your keys and sunglasses. You’re going to need both.”
I glared at him and he grinned at me. “Jax, come on.”
He lowered his head, speaking in a low voice that caused my toes to curl. “Honey, you can argue and shout all you want, but I’m still going to carry your ass out to that truck, put you in it, and we’re going to Waffle House, and you will eat fried eggs, bacon, and a goddamn waffle.”
My eyes narrowed. God, he was freaking high-handed.
There was a sparkle to his deep brown eyes. “And maybe even a slice of apple pie, if you’re a good girl and you stop arguing with me.”
“I’ve never had apple pie,” I blurted out.
Standing in the middle of the kitchen, cradling me in his arms like I weighed nothing—and I most definitely weighed something—his mouth dropped open. “You’ve never had apple pie?”
His brows rose. “Why?”
“I don’t know. Just never tried it.”
“That’s so . . . so un-American,” he said, and I rolled my eyes. “Are you a terrorist?”
“Dear God,” I muttered and started to wiggle to get free.
Jax tightened his arms. “Honey, you kill me. Really, you do. Never been drunk. Never been to the beach. Never had an apple pie? We’ve already scratched one of those things off, and we’re about to mark off another one.”
I figured this was not a good moment to share the fact that I’d never been to a Waffle House, either.
His grin was back, and there was something utterly disarming about it. “Stick with me, babe, and I’ll change your life.”
Katie’s words rushed over me. Your life is going to change. I stopped thinking, at least for a little while, and I stopped fighting. I reached over, grabbing my keys and my sunglasses. I slipped the latter on.
What Jax didn’t know was that he’d changed my life already, even if it was just a little bit, but what he did knowingly do was carry me out of the house, put me in his truck, and drive my ass to Waffle House.
“So, Jax took your cherry?”
The margarita glass almost slipped out of my hand as I turned to where Roxy stood. Behind her, Nick was staring at us. It was probably the first time since we’d met that he’d actually shown any interest in Roxy or me. Then again, when you say things like ‘taking cherries,’ it tends to get people’s undivided attention.
“Oh my God, this is such a perfect conversation.”
My cheeks were warm as I glanced back to where Katie was sitting. “This is not the perfect conversation.”
Her heavily lined eyes widened. “Were you a virgin? Like in past tense?”
The guy beside her turned and looked at me. I was seconds away from screaming. “Roxy is talking about being drunk. I’d never been drunk before. Last night was my first time. Jax took my—”
“I took what?” Jax appeared out of freaking nowhere.
Katie leaned forward and her boobs almost popped out of her halter and blinded me. “You took Calla’s cherry?”
“I took . . . what?” He blinked and then looked at me, head tilted to the side. “Is there something about last night I don’t remember? Because honey, I’m going to be seriously disappointed if that happened, and I don’t recall it. Like really f**king—”
“No!” I shrieked, causing several heads at the bar to whip my way. “She’s talking about never drinking. Not my . . . you know . . .”
“Cherry?” supplied Roxy as she straightened her glasses.
Oh God . . .
Jax stared at me a moment, jaw working, and then he turned to Nick, saying something in a low voice that I prayed had nothing to do with me.
It had been hard to sit through breakfast with him without feeling like a dumbass for last night, but he didn’t bring anything up, and the slice of apple pie that I’d eaten was freaking delish.
“Oh.” Katie looked disappointed. So did the guy. “Well, hell, never mind. Back to the pole for me.”
I watched her jump off the stool as she winked at us and then sauntered through the crowd.
“But it wasn’t her only cherry I took,” Jax announced.
Oh double God . . .
Roxy’s head whipped toward him, an eager look creeping onto her pretty face. “Do tell?”
Nick turned around again.
A sexy, lazy grin appeared on Jax’s lips. “No. She never had apple pie. I changed that this morning.”
“You’ve never had apple pie?” she exclaimed.
“Here we go again,” I muttered.
Jax wasn’t done. Nope. Not at all. His eyes met mine, and something in them caused a shiver to go low in my belly. “I also broke her into Waffle House.”
My mouth dropped open. “How did you know I’d never been there before?”
“Honey, I know things.” Our gazes held, and yep, that shiver increased, because he was saying something entirely different that had nothing to do with Waffle House, tequila, or apple pies.
But definitely had something to do with cherries.
“Last night was the first time you got drunk?” Nick spoke, surprising the hell out of me.
Roxy nodded as she headed for a girl who was waving her hand like she’d been standing there for ten minutes when it had only been like ten seconds.
“What did you drink?” he asked.
“Tequila,” answered Jax, winking at me. “She was liking some tequila.”
Nick’s lips pressed together. “That’s some strong shit.”
“Well, I’m never, ever drinking again,” I told him, heading for where my apron was stashed. With all the seasoned bartenders behind the bar, I needed to be out on the floor helping Pearl since Gloria was MIA.
Nick nodded. “Okay.”
There was a tiny movement in his lips, like he was so close to smiling. “Gotcha.”
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.”