Wow. That really did make sense in a twisted way.
“That’s a lot of work.”
“Blake’s just killing time until he finishes his degree anyway,” he said. “He’s got big plans. Doesn’t really matter where he works while he pulls it all together, so why not take a job close to Danielle? Of course now he’s got her where he wants her.”
I wanted to ask him more, but that’s when we pulled up to the bar, which was hopping even though it was a Wednesday night. The Moose was a rough-looking two-story building about twenty miles downriver from Callup. It had a big, double-decker porch on the front and looked like something straight out of the 1880s, which wasn’t entirely inaccurate. That’s when it was first built.
Originally it’d overlooked the river. The north fork had jumped its banks a while back, though, and now the building was half a mile away. Joe turned off the truck and looked in the rearview mirror, a shocked expression coming over his face. Then he made a disgusted, choking noise.
“Oh my God. Are they naked back there?” I asked, my voice a horrified whisper.
Joe burst out laughing and shook his head with a wink.
“Naw, just messin’ with you,” he said. “It’s all good. Let’s go inside and have some fun.”
An hour later I had to give Joe credit, because he knew how to show a girl a good time. First up, he’d introduced me to Teresa Thompson, declaring, “This is Blake’s friend. She’s scared because she’s a little drunk, and doesn’t want you to think she’ll be a shitty employee because of it.”
I’d started stammering, wondering what the hell I’d ever done to piss him off. Teresa just smiled and told me to sober up before I showed for work the next day and we’d be fine. I floundered some more, talking about school and wanting to do a good job. She told the bartender to give me drinks on the house, saying, “Welcome her to the Moose family right, Connor.”
Now I found myself dancing with Danielle in the center of a small dance floor while a local band played classics, wondering why the hell I’d been so dead set against bars. Were there a bunch of rough, tough guys in here? Definitely. But I had Blake and Joe watching my back, and while they weren’t quite as scary as Puck, they were more than enough to ward off any unwelcome attention.
Not that I got a lot.
Even dressed in my best, I was nothing compared to Danielle. Don’t get me wrong—I know I’m a pretty girl. But she has something going for her that I couldn’t beat. Boobs, specifically. Her plentiful cleavage was well and truly on display. Even wearing my lowest-cut V-neck T-shirt, I had nothing but mosquito bites on her.
Usually I liked that—I was all about keeping a low profile. Tonight I was feeling a little needy, though . . . Fortunately Joe came up behind me, sliding his hands around my waist and down to my hips. I felt damned good about myself after that, because there were lots of women scoping him out. He still only looked at me.
The band started playing some slow, soulful song that Regina loved—“The House of the Rising Sun.” I swayed back into him, closing my eyes and leaning my head back against his shoulder. The room swirled around me, but I didn’t care because his arms were strong and I felt safe.
That’s when it struck me.
I was in the middle of a bar. Drunk. A big, powerful man was holding me close to his body and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel scared. Except that wasn’t entirely true, because when Puck Redhouse had held me like this I hadn’t felt scared, either. I still remembered sitting in front of him out by the bonfire, realizing that so long as he had me, no other man could claim me for the night. I didn’t mind that later on I’d be getting naked with him.
Of course, that was before he’d nearly destroyed me by saying I was a bad lay. Then he’d saved my recently abused ass, so I guess after that we were even? Either way, in Joe’s arms I felt better than I’d felt in a long time so it was a good night.
Maybe losing my job wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
I opened my eyes to find Puck himself staring at me from across the room, eyes burning like coals. I shivered, going liquid instantly. God, seeing him did it every time. What was wrong with me? Puck wasn’t even handsome—not like Joe. He was too imperfect, with a ragged scar that cut across his face and a nose that had obviously been broken more than once. Everything about him was rough, almost brutal, and while I knew he wasn’t that much older than me, there were ten lifetimes reflected in his gaze.
Puck was taller than Joe, although he wasn’t quite as bulky. That didn’t mean he was small, just that he didn’t make his living hauling ore in a mine. Joe’s skin was darkened slightly by the ground-in dust and dirt of the deep earth, while Puck’s was deeply bronzed from the sun and the wind, and maybe a hint of some ancestry that wasn’t on the white side.
I felt my nipples tighten as he stared me down, drinking deeply from his brown beer bottle. What did he think of me cradled in Joe’s arms, leaning back against another man almost dreamily? I couldn’t quite read Puck’s expression. It wasn’t friendly. Nope, not even a little. For a second I almost wondered if he’d challenge Joe. I shook my head, wondering where that particular thought had come from.
When I blinked he was gone and I wondered if I’d imagined the whole thing.
“Hey, bitch,” Danielle said, breaking the spell. “You ready for a bathroom break? I gotta pee like a Russian racehorse. Come with me or I’ll get all sad and lonely and then I’ll have to cry by myself in the ladies’ room . . . and you know what that does to my mascara. We can’t go there.”