Amanda Martin pulled her car into the parking lot. She stared at the small building that served as the local watering hole before she turned off the ignition and slumped back in her seat.
Cheated on again. This must be some kind of record.
So far, the only two serious relationships she'd had were colossal failures. It took her first ex all of six months to jump into another bed. Well, that she knew of anyway. Chances were he'd cheated long before coming clean, telling her he just couldn't see himself with her forever. As if she were deficient or something.
She'd convinced herself that Scott, her most recent of disasters, was different. He was charismatic and sweet. Okay, so the sex wasn't mind-blowing, but they'd had it on a regular basis. So what the hell happened?
She'd caught the bastard in bed with another woman.
His secretary. Jesus.
She snorted in disgust. She didn't know if she was madder that he'd cheated on her or that he'd turned her into a cliche. She figured she should be way more pissed off about the cheating. The fact that she wasn't meant she'd wasted the last year of her life on average sex with a guy she didn't really care about. Wouldn't that make her family proud?
And now here she sat in all her pathetic-ness, feeling sorry for herself.
In the parking lot of a bar in Nowhere, Texas.
What the hell am I doing?
Amanda liked the stability of a steady relationship. The idea of bouncing from man to man just didn't appeal to her. But maybe Sam was right. Maybe it was time for her to change her ways. Shake things up. Maybe a one-night stand was just what she needed. After all, she was young and relatively attractive.
She could do this, couldn't she?
Right. Time to buck up or shut up.
The gravel crunched under her boots as she made her way across the parking lot. Two cars flanked the front door and she breathed a sigh of relief that the place wouldn't be overly crowded. She tried to act casual, stopping just inside the door to let her eyes adjust to the light--or lack thereof.
The smell of stale beer and peanuts hung heavy in the darkened interior. Tables were spread around the perimeter of a small, open area she assumed was used for dancing. The jukebox belted out an old Hank Williams tune while its neon glow permeated the light haze of cigarette smoke. The other side sported a shuffleboard table and a pool table, along with several stray chairs turned this way and that. The bar ran the length of the back, with doors on each end, one marked Private and the other indicating restrooms beyond. She sauntered toward the bar, the butterflies in her stomach the only betrayal of her nervousness.
Two men played pool, swaying and obviously drunk, and eyed her curiously as she slid onto a bar stool. They both wore jeans that had seen better days, worn through the knees and streaked with dirt. Their grease-stained T-shirts and ball caps made her wonder if they'd rolled out from underneath a truck before walking in here.
The taller of the two offered her a calculating smile, showing off the yellow stain of his teeth. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
"What'll ya have, miss?" The bartender asked, keeping a purposeful eye on the two playing pool.
"Whiskey. Straight up." She'd gone for confident, but ended up just sounding cheesy. All she needed was to fist bump the bar and she'd be in an old Western.
"Whiskey. Right," the bartender said with humor in his voice. "You're not from around here, are you?"
Thank you, Captain Obvious. "No, I'm just here for the week. I've got a place not far from here."
"I see," he said, raising his brows in surprise. "So, what brings you to our fine establishment?" He slid a drink to her.
"Fine, huh?" Amanda looked around. "Guess I was lucky to find a seat," she joked.
He flashed her a gorgeous smile. Stretching his arms out, he indicated to the rest of the room. "You just missed the rush. Ten minutes ago we were packed to the gills."
The mischievous gleam in his eye told her he was lying. He was working for what would probably be the only tip he saw all night. Amanda laughed, swirling the amber liquid around in her glass before taking a sip.
"Name's Jacob, but most folks just call me Jake."
"Nice to meet you, Jake."
He considered her a moment. "You got a name?"
She laughed again, blushing. She really needed to work on her flirting skills. "Amanda. My name is Amanda."
"Nice to meet you, Amanda." His gaze darted to the two men slowly approaching the bar.
"Yeah, Amanda," the taller of the two said, "it's very nice to meet ya." He took the bar stool to her left while his buddy chuckled and stumbled to the seat on her right. They stunk of alcohol and cigarettes, the combination making her eyes water.
Oh, this was a very bad idea.
"No trouble in here tonight, boys," Jake warned. "Back off."
"Aw, we don't want no trouble, Jake. We just wanna talk to the li'l lady here." The man to her left reached out to touch her hair.
"Let's not with the touching, big man." Amanda veered away. There were some things she wouldn't stand for. Invasion of her personal space was definitely one of them.
"That's enough, Clete." Jake crossed his arms over his chest. "Not gonna say it again."
Amanda slammed back the rest of her whiskey, ignoring the fact that it fried a hole in her stomach as she signaled Jake for another. "Hey, Clete"--she looked him dead in the eye--"how about I buy you and your buddy a beer and you go back to your game of pool?" Then I can get the hell out of here.
"You're a mite more in'eresting than playin' pool, sweet thang." Clete weaved toward her.
Amanda boldly pushed at the man's chest. "While that may be so, I'm much more interested in being left alone."
"She's got a mouth on her, that's for sure." Clete's buddy leaned in until she could feel his breath on her neck.
Amanda's blood began to boil. She didn't need this shit. She was here to blow off some steam, not be harassed by a couple of smart-assed drunks.
"Get. Off." Amanda shoved her elbow into the man behind her. Having grown up with three brothers, she had no doubt she could defend herself, but she had enough common sense to know when it was time to go. Sliding off her bar stool, she reached into her pocket for cash to pay for her drink. She noticed Jake moving toward her side of the bar.
"Where you goin', li'l lady?"
She felt a hand slide over her ass. Amanda froze.
Oh, hell no.
Before she could stop herself, she balled up her fist and swung around hard. She made contact with the man's jaw with a sickening crack.
"Listen up, fuckwit," Amanda spat as she watched Clete fall from his bar stool and land on the floor with a thud. A mixture of adrenaline and fear caused her voice to quiver. "I told you not to touch me." She flexed her hand. Yep. That was gonna hurt in the morning.
Jake was there in a heartbeat, placing himself between her and the men. Better late than never, she supposed. His palms were up to each side, his dark eyes darting between them as if he wasn't sure who he needed to protect from whom.
Clete was still on the floor, his buddy laughing over him. "She sure showed you, Clete," his friend slurred.
"Shut up, Ernie." Clete glared at Amanda, retribution burning in his eyes.
That's it. She'd thought she would come here to unwind with a drink or two. Maybe find a gorgeous guy to have sex with. Now she was pissed, her hand hurt like the devil, and all she wanted was her couch and an ice pack. And maybe to kick Sam's ass for talking her into this little fiasco in the first place. And maybe another bottle of whiskey. She briefly wondered if Jake would sell her a bottle for the road.
A voice, low and full of menace, drifted from behind her just seconds before she felt him. Well, not so much felt as sensed. Like a rabbit would sense it was about to become coyote kibble. His heat penetrated her back. Amanda stiffened as she felt his hands move over the skin of her arms, hovering but not actually touching. "What the fuck, Jake?" he growled.
Amanda spun to look at the man behind her and came face-to-face with his pecs.
Her gaze roamed upward. He was well over six feet tall. Over six feet of powerful male. His black T-shirt strained against the pressure of containing all those muscles. Before she could stop herself, she leaned forward to take in his scent. Her head spun as the dizzying combination of leather and sandalwood drifted through her. She turned away before he noticed the heat that flooded her cheeks.
"It's under control, Joe," Jake snapped.
Joe pointed at the two drunkards. "You have one minute to get your shit and get out of my bar." He gently, cautiously, touched her arm. "Are you okay, slugger?" His mouth was so close to her ear she could feel his breath on her neck. His husky voice reverberated down her spine. The heady combination caused a reflexive shiver to run through her body.
His eyes narrowed dangerously on Clete. Clearly mistaking her reaction for fear, he growled, "Make that thirty seconds." He eased protectively in front of her.
Clete swore an oath as he pushed to his feet and stumbled toward the door. His friend followed close behind. Joe led her back to the stool she'd just vacated. "Here ... sit." His large hands engulfed her shoulders as he bent to look into her eyes. "Slugger?"
Amanda got her first good look at him. Her mind went blank. A strong jaw that narrowed slightly at the tip of his chin sported a dark five o'clock shadow. His lips were red and full and entirely too inviting. Jet-black hair fell in disarray around his face, thick locks waving across his forehead. And he had the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. Eyes that were narrowed in concern for her.
She cleared her throat. "Amanda," she rasped. Okay, so she could talk. Sort of. "I'm Amanda."
Good Lord! Her name on his lips was like a caress that went all the way to her core. She went instantly wet. She clenched her legs together and took a deep breath.
"You okay, Amanda?" he prodded.
"Yes, I'm fine." Aroused. "Just pissed off." She shot a glare at Jake. "And where the hell were you?"
Jake's jaw clenched. "What do you mean--"
"Shut the hell up, Jake. What you need to do is thank your lucky stars you're my brother or I'd be kicking your ass all over this county, get me?"
Amanda couldn't hold in her surprise. "Wait. You"--she took advantage of the opportunity to peruse his delicious male body from head to booted toe--"are related to him?" She nodded toward Jake.
"Look Amanda, I'm sorry," Jake said. "No excuses. I should have thrown them out the minute they approached you. I don't know what got into them tonight. Normally they're harmless."
Her anger immediately deflated. "It's not your fault, Jake. I should have just walked away." She sighed. "I know better." She looked back to Joe. God, he took her breath away. Jake was cute, sure, in that boyish I-wanna-make-out-with-you-in-the-back-of-a-Chevy way. But this man, with his long legs encased in tight, faded jeans that seemed to bulge in all the appropriate places, was a work of art. Carved by the gods to bring women to their knees. And speaking of knees, the package he was sporting certainly made her want to get on hers.
He gave her a half smile and extended his hand. "I'm Joe. Owner of this bar and"--he waved his hand at his brother--"the better looking of the two."
Jake snorted something that sounded a lot like "You wish," as he brought around a towel full of ice for her hand.
She reached to return the greeting, remembering too late the punch she'd thrown. Joe seemed well aware of her discomfort, gently cupping her hand in both of his. "Vicious right hook you got there, Mandy."
"I have brothers," she said. As though that explained everything. At some point she'd regain her brain function. As soon as he stopped looking at her. And touching her.
Oh God, please don't stop touching me.
"Brothers who taught their sister how to fight?" His eyes danced with amusement.
"Overbearing, overprotective, and over-in-my-face brothers who wanted to make sure I'd never be taken advantage of." She smiled sweetly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause trouble."
Joe drew back in surprise. "I'm not entirely sure what happened before I came in, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't your fault." He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Wanna tell me what happened?" He took the ice pack from Jake and placed it delicately across the back of her hand.
She hissed as the rough towel scraped her sensitive knuckles. "It's no big deal. Couple of drunks getting handsy. It wasn't anyone's fault. It happened so fast. I overreacted."
"I'm sure you didn't overreact." Joe's voice turned hard again. "Those two are a pain in my ass." He shared a knowing look with Jake. "And they've just had their last beer here."
"They were almost a pain in my ass, too," she joked. "But I'm good. Won't be the first time I've nursed sore knuckles."
"You fight a lot then, slugger?"
She laughed at that. "Did I mention that I've got three brothers?"
He gave her a smile that had her nipples aching and pushing through her T-shirt. She squirmed in her seat, which only served to rub the seam of her jeans harder against her pulsating clit. She bit back a moan. So this is what it feels like to be aroused to near pain. She was close to throwing herself at him, audience be damned. Anything to relieve the tension building in her panties.
Joe noticed her distress. She watched as he slowly took stock of her. She knew the minute he saw the pearled buds of her chest, protruding shamelessly for his inspection. His jaw clenched and his back stiffened. She dared a quick glance at his lap. She hoped his back wasn't the only thing that had turned rigid. His eyes narrowed; his nostrils flared as if he could smell her arousal.
She watched in fascination as his gaze turned dark, smoky.
What would it be like to spend the night in the arms of a man like him? What kind of lover would he be? The thought caused her insides to turn to jelly. There was only one way to find out.
"Are you sure you're okay, Mandy?" His voice was hoarse. His fingers were stroking her palm as he continued to hold her injured hand. She desperately wanted him to be stroking her somewhere else.
It's now or never.
"That depends." Amanda gave him a seductive smile. "You wanna get out of here?"
Joe shook his head, his expression filled with genuine confusion. "Excuse me?"
Amanda felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. This man was a walking god and here she was, Miss Plain-and-Ordinary, propositioning him. What was she thinking?
She stood a little too quickly, causing her bar stool to wobble before righting itself again. "Never mind. Sorry." She threw two twenty-dollar bills on the bar. "This should cover it." She hollered thanks to Jake as she made her way to the door.