All I want to do right now is sleep.
Unfortunately, it’s looking like that isn’t going to happen for a while yet.
I was so close. So close. Literally turning the OPEN sign off and about to lock the door.
Instead a blast of cool air hits me in the face as a blur of stripes and color blows by me.
I shoot a look of disbelief at Jax who is behind the counter finishing the deposit.
“I want to speak with Lucas!” the tiny red-headed whirlwind demands. She seems a little unsteady on her feet.
Jax is wearing a surprised expression that I’m sure mirrors mine.
“Uh. Hi, Riley.”
“Jax.” She sways a bit and sniffs importantly, raising her chin. “I would like to speak with Lucas.”
“He’s not working tonight, darlin’” I offer when Jax remains silent, just staring at her with a bewildered look on his face.
She turns her attention to me and stumbles with the momentum.
My chuckle is cut short when Jax glares at me.
“Where is he? Let’s go find him!”
“Well. She’s feisty,” I comment.
“Not usually,” Jax frowns.
He rushes around the counter, wraps an arm around her waist and guides her to one of the couches. He’s murmuring something to her but it’s to quiet for me to make out what he’s saying.
“Mace, can you grab some water for her?”
I’m man enough to admit I grab a bottle of water and then promptly make myself scarce, letting Jax deal with the drama out front.
I’m allergic to drama. Something more than one woman in my past has abruptly discovered. Unfortunately, she’s family, slightly removed, so while I don’t feel the need to jump right into the fray, I’m also not inclined to totally bail. I don’t know Riley well and the Abbotts are basically persona non grata but Riley’s never shown up on our doorstep drunk before either.
Eventually Jax comes to find me in the break room. He’s rubbing one hand over his hair, a concerned expression on his face.
“She caught the fiance cheating,” he informs me.
“Damn. Poor kid.”
“Look, she’s not ready to go home and I don’t think she should be left on her own. But she can’t stay here obviously.” Jax winces, running a hand through his hair again. “We need to take her somewhere the paps aren’t going to find us. The last thing she needs is to be all over the gossip sites drunk and jilted.”
“We? When did I get dragged into this? Doesn’t she have a girlfriend she can call?”
Jax just glares at me silently.
I sigh, resigned to my new plans for the evening. “Fine.” He knows I’ve got the perfect place.
We finishing closing up and then hail a cab across town. If we’re in for a night of helping to drown some sorrows it seems smart not to have a car with us.
Riley is a chatty little thing, at least when she’s a little wasted. According to Jax, who has had more interactions with her than I have, she’s usually kind of shy and sweet. His word, sweet. I roll my eyes. That’s a shit storm waiting to happen.
We pile out of the cab in front of my family’s pub, O’Neill’s. It’s trivia night so it should be busy enough for us to blend in, but mostly full of regulars. People who know me and my family and won’t feel the need to call any paparazzi. Hopefully. Most the people here find it amusing I’ve somehow achieved tangential celebrity status and would much rather give me a hard time than feed into that nonsense.
They keep me grounded.
Tommy’s working the door and grins when he sees me. “Hey, man. How you doing?” I lift my chin in greeting, clasping our hands as if we’re going to arm wrestle and slap him on the back.
Riley’s still talking non-stop although I’m starting to get this is half the alcohol and half nervous energy. She smiles widely at Tommy and starts peppering him with questions, some of which seem relevant, questions about the bar, how long he’s worked here, if he likes it, but others make my head spin with the random landing pads. Does he prefer hockey or baseball? Has he seen the new James Bond movie? Has he ever done a walking tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation? Apparently they’re great. Really informative.
I smile apologetically at Tommy, but honestly, she’s growing on me. And watching Jax both try to distract her from Tommy and keep her at a respectable distance is quickly turning my night around.
We finally make it inside and I see a flash of familiar, but unexpected, honey blond hair behind the bar. I tell Jax to grab one of the open tables and I’ll grab a pitcher of beer.
It’s about the crowd I expected, slowly clearing out for the night. I rest my elbows on the bar, eyes following the gorgeous blond working behind it. I’ll be honest, mostly I watch her ass. Hey, I’m a guy. And Hunter has an amazing ass. Lush and curvy, encased in a pair of well worn jeans. Years ago she let me tattoo that ass. Back in her wild child days.
“Hey, Super Star. What brings you to this side of town?” She grins, finally turning her attention to me.
I smirk. “Got sick of all the Cubs fans up there.”
“Damn right.” She nods. Then laughs out loud. “What can I get for you?”
“No kiss? What the hell? What kind of service is this?”
She laughs again, placing her palms flat on the bar and jumps up to reach across giving me a loud smack on the cheek. “Your dad’s going to be bummed he missed you. He took off early tonight.”
“What are you doing here anyway? Slumming it?”
“No, I just told your dad I could help out for the night. Brandy was feeling a little tired.”
I stiffen at the mention of my sister. Hunter covers my hand with one of hers. “Just tired.”
I blow out a deep breath. My sister Brandy was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. She’s been in remission for a while now but it’s still terrifying, at least for me.
“Besides, it’s fun to help out once in a while. I won’t be able to much longer.”
I grin at her. “Yeah? You opening your pastry shop soon?”
“Two weeks we have our soft opening.” Her smile could light half of Chicago. She inherited the bakery from her grandmother but it’s been closed for over a year as she’s sorted out the bills and debt and zoning crap. Grandma May was an awesome baker but she wasn’t very detail oriented. If she hadn’t been such a fixture in the neighborhood for decades she probably would have been shut down years ago.
“Congrats, sugar. That’s awesome. Make sure you send me an invite.”
She nods. “So. Drink?”
“Right. I’ll take a pitcher of Goose Island. Three glasses.”
“You got it.”
Hunter steps away and I scan the bar spotting Jax and Riley at one of the pool tables in the back. She’s seems a little more steady on her feet now. Adorably focused on lining up her shot then squealing in excitement when the ball bounces into a pocket. She draws the eyes of several folks in the bar but Jax doesn’t even seem to notice a soft, indulgent expression on his face, I’ve never seen before.
Well. That’s interesting.
She was cute, sure. A little skinny. But cute. Especially drunk off her ass like now. But she didn’t seem like the type Jax usually…. I guess Jax didn’t usually do much with the women in and out of his life.
I grab our beer and cross the room to join them. I half lean, half sit on a nearby stool. In the middle of the next ‘game’ Riley decides to check out the juke box, claiming she’s got mad song-choosing skills. I laugh at her antics but Jax seems to be veering wildly between being his typical flirtatious self, unnecessarily protective and just plain baffled.
I’ve decided despite the drama I see coming, I’m rooting for Riley. While she’s across the room proving her skills, I have a little fun.
“So, cheating fiance huh?”
He nods, eyes never leaving Riley and sips his beer.
“They live together?”
A flash of annoyance crosses his face. “I don’t think so. I’m not sure.”
“If they do, she’s going to need a place to stay tonight.”
“Hell.” I grin. “She can come home with me. Cute little thing.” Truthfully, Riley is not at all my type, which Jax is well aware. Little sprites like her make me feel like I’m going to break them.
“She’s not going home with you, Mace.”
“Why not? I got a perfectly comfortable bed.”
“She’s Luke’s cousin,” Jax growls. Dude literally growled at me.
Smirking, I point out, “She’s a grown ass woman.”
Jax stiffens beside me, finally turning to face me full on. “She’s not for you, Mace.”
I stand up, deliberately keeping my movements slow and relaxed. “Oh, I know she’s not for me.” I stretch my arms above my head, then reach for the remainder of my beer. “I’m not the one that keeps sneaking glances down her shirt.” I turn and walk away.
I’m still laughing when I reach the bar.
“You need another round?” Hunter asks. The bar is pretty empty at this point but there’s still a good forty minutes before last call.
“No thanks, sugar. I’m going to head home. Kick those two out whenever you need to okay?”
“They need to crash in the apartment upstairs?”
I shake my head. “No. They’ll grab a cab home. Jax isn’t drunk.”
“Fair enough.” She tilts her head, her ponytail swinging. “Good to see you.”
“You too. I’ll see you in a couple weeks for your opening, right?”
It’s hard to tell in the dim lighting but I think her cheeks get a little pink. She nods.
I stare at her another minute before pulling myself away and heading out.
Finally, I’ll get to sleep.
Somehow going home alone isn’t as appealing as it was a few short hours ago.
See Jax and Riley’s first meeting here and here.
Want more of Hunter?