Bittersweet seraphim, p.24
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.24

           Debra Anastasia
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  “Great, Jack.”

  “On the mark as usual.”

  “They like ’em.”

  “Fine. You win. I never tried one before. Why don’t you give me something I’d like?”

  He nodded as he accepted her challenge, already lining up three more glasses. He filled all three with an assortment of colorful liquids. He added various girly frills, like umbrellas, paper parrots, and fruit garnishes. “You’ll love these,” he purred. “Especially since I’m giving them to you.”

  Holy crap. He was sex in a bucket. The way his mouth moved was sin.

  “So what do I call these things?” Emma asked. She waved a hand over the drinks, then stuffed it back in her pocket when she realized it was shaking.

  “This one is the Buttery Nipple.” He ran his index finger across the rim of the glass. “The pretty one is a Screaming Orgasm. And this last one, especially for you, is a Long, Slow Screw in Jack’s Bed.”

  “The first two I know I’d like,” she said, praying for a poker face. “That last one sounds chock full of diseases.” Emma juggled the drinks and left her money on the bar. She could feel him watch her walking across to her friends. They clapped when she put the drinks on the table without spilling any.

  “Can a girl get a little help next time?” She sat and pointedly selected the Buttery Nipple. Jack’s attention was like another person at the table.

  Shannon leaned over to Karen. “I think she did fine. You know, Butch, I’m getting the impression this isn’t your first time drinking.”

  “It’s not mine either,” Karen declared as she selected the Jack’s Bed drink. She took a small sip and groaned. “This is the best drink I’ve ever had. Too bad I’m driving tonight.”

  She slid it over to Emma. But Shannon intercepted it and sampled, moaning. “Holy shit, I think that’s made from liquid lust. I love it.”

  She offered a sip to Emma, who shook her head. She focused on trying to ignore Jack the bartender, still feeling his gaze on the nape of her neck. She was hyper-aware of every move she made.

  Shrugging, Shannon finished off the Jack’s Bed and shared the Screaming Orgasm with Karen. Karen slipped Emma more money.

  “Go get more of those.” She pointed to the now-empty Jack’s Bed drink. “And also, I need a Coke or something.”

  “Really? I have to do it?” she protested, searching their faces for mercy.

  “Yep,” Karen said. “That way you’ll get exactly what you want. It’s your birthday!”

  Emma rolled her eyes and went to the bar. Jack was smoking again and laughing loudly with three bleached blondes. Loose whores, Emma thought. Then immediately followed with, How dare I? I don’t even know them. She was stupidly, unfoundedly jealous. She waited a few minutes while Jack took his sweet time flirting as he replenished their drinks.

  When finally he turned to her, her happiness was ridiculous. The way he looked at her made her mouth go dry. She grabbed one of the empty glasses and sucked an ice cube out, trying to get some moisture before he made his sexy way over to her. The cube slid down her throat, and all at once she was choking on it. She tried not to let her eyes bug out, totally mortified as she began to flail.

  Jack vaulted the bar, set one hand between her breasts, and whacked her back with the heel of his hand, hard. The ice cube shot out like a rocket. Emma began coughing, doubled over with an excellent view of Jack’s tremendously beat-up motorcycle boots.

  In an instant he hopped back over the bar and poured her a glass of water. Emma wanted to drown herself in it. Had she really just tried to die a most undignified death in front of the wickedly gorgeous bartender? The sluts at the end of the bar were snickering. Shannon and Karen appeared her sides.

  “You okay? Damn, girl.”

  Emma nodded.

  Karen rubbed her back, making a fuss. “Can’t have your birthday be the day you cork off on us!”

  “I’m fine. Really.” Emma coughed a little more and sipped her water. She shot a look down at the bitches, this time forgetting to chastise herself in her head.

  Shannon gave their drink order, and Emma recovered enough to help carry the drinks back to the table. She wanted to be stubborn, but now her only drink option was the Long, Slow Screw in Jack’s Bed. And, okay, it was amazing. She had no idea where he’d hidden the alcohol, but the liquid tasted just like salted caramel. It instantly became her favorite drink of all time.

  Chapter 39

  Jack leaned down to catch his breath. He wiped up the small puddle of water from her ejected ice cube and couldn’t believe his adrenaline rush. Saving her had felt like so much more than knocking her on the back. He stood and watched her. When that girl had found her way into Hades, the whole room changed. Such a rush of déjà vu. He knew what color her gray eyes would be before she looked at him. And he was positive what her lips would taste like.

  It made no sense at all. She wasn’t his type. He liked his ladies dirty and rough. She was all sunshine and goodness. Her friends kept calling her Butch, and it frustrated him. Her name was…was…just at the tip of his tongue. He made himself scarce so he could settle his nerves. He went to the storage room behind the bar and crouched down, wiping his hands on his jeans. Something poked him in the hip as he bent, and he pulled the girl’s ID from his jeans pocket. He remembered asking her for it, but had no recollection of putting it there.

  He knew her. She was so important. He just didn’t know why. He scanned her ID, and her name was Emma. Of course it was. This couldn’t get any weirder. He dreamed of that name nearly every night, waking up screaming it as if it were his last breath. He’d lost quite a few girlfriends because they were sure he was cheating on them with “Emma.”

  Just now, when she’d been choking, he panicked. There’d been such a splitting pain in his chest when she couldn’t breathe, he barely remembered what to do. He’d been operating on instinct then. Goddamn if he didn’t do the Heimlich at least twice a year. Drunk people sometimes forgot to chew. He kept his first aid and CPR current for precisely that reason.

  And now he wanted to dash back out, hop the bar, and cuddle her to his chest. It made no sense. He held her ID up to a light so he could read the rest of it. She lived an hour away and was in her early twenties—explained why he’d never seen her before. Her regular haunts must be good distance away. Her friends made her laugh, and they’d been on it when she started choking, so she had good people, it seemed. He looked at the picture again: Long blond hair, gray eyes, and something familiar he couldn’t put his finger on. But he wanted to desperately. He stuffed the ID back in his pocket and tried to steady himself as he returned to his spot behind the bar.

  The front door opened and a cold rush of air charged in. Jack groaned. The local rich boys were home from college. They were all self-entitled pricks, and of course, they made a beeline for the table of pretty girls. Shit.

  The tallest was also the loudest—their names were interchangeable: Brad, Dom, Breck. They sucked monkey nuts.

  “Hey, old asshole! Get us a pitcher over here, stat!”

  Jack was immobile as he watched one sling an arm over Emma’s shoulders.

  “Get a move on, wouldja?” from the peanut gallery was enough to get him moving again. He filled the pitcher with beer and let the foam slop around as he slapped it on the bar. He looked their way and pointed at it with both hands before folding his arms over his chest.

  “Come on, bar monkey, earn your tips!” one of the interchangeables taunted.

  Sighing heavily, Emma stood and came to the bar. “Sorry about them.” She picked up the pitcher.

  “Interesting friends you girls have.” Jack suddenly felt a bit of shame at his less-than-professional job. He mostly enjoyed bartending, but he now had an overwhelming desire to impress Emma.

  She sighed. “You know what? We hardly know them, but now we’re big buddies…I think they’re already drunk.”

  He just wanted to keep her. It was insane. “They’re lucky to sit with you,” he said

  She blushed, and it killed his balls, but the blonde bimbo crew catcalled him again so he left her to her peers and whipped up some Midori Sours for them. He pretended to listen to their chatter while keeping an eye on Emma. The men were trying their best to impress, but it was rather clear the girls not enjoying their company.

  Jack refilled the pitcher once but determined he wouldn’t do it again. He didn’t like how loud they’d gotten. Emma went over to play pool, and the tall loud one jumped up to follow her and stumbled. Jack couldn’t listen to the bimbos anymore, so he moved to the center of the bar. He watched as Emma plucked a pole from the wall and chalked it up. The tall one tried to put his arms around her.

  “Let me show you how to play! Come on!”

  Emma shook her head and racked up the balls instead.

  “You’re going to choke that rag to death, I think,” noted a voice in front of him.

  He kept his eyes on Emma while he released his grip. “You need a drink, princess?” Jack glanced at his knuckles, which had been white, and then at Shannon.

  “You have a few roofies back there I could slip these guys? If these crotch lobsters would just leave already, we could get back to having some fun.” She tapped her glass. “I’d love whatever you gave us before—the salty caramel one—and one for Emma too.”

  Jack whipped up two more and handed one to Shannon. “I’ll deliver this one.” He carried it out from behind the bar.

  Emma’s mean game of pool was pissing off the tall one. He tried harder and harder to get her attention—and then gave up. As Jack crossed the room, he began accusing her of cheating. She sank one after another, and when she sunk the eight ball, he had a full-out fit.

  “Son of a bitch! I want a rematch. That’s just fucked.” He came closer and closer to Emma, spitting with his words.

  Jack set the glass down on the pool table and staggered a bit—a flash of Emma lying on top of it, her arms reaching out to him, was so real he was momentarily blind with the vision.

  Emma tried to back away from the tall one, but the wall stopped her. “No. I’m good. I want to get back to my girls.”

  “The Hell with that. You’ve got to rack them again.” He pointed at her with the pool stick.

  The man hadn’t really been violent—yet. But something deep within Jack began to burn. Only later, when he was explaining the situation to the police, did Jack realize he’d had no real reason for teaching the tall one what his teeth tasted like.

  Jack pushed on the tall guy’s chest and slid between him and Emma. Jack was smaller, but he’d never lost a fight in his life. And there’d been a shitload of them. Besides, standing in front of Emma felt like the most important thing he’d ever done. Jack didn’t warn the guy or threaten him, he just punched him so goddamn hard he went down like a sack of bricks.

  He felt Emma grab his shoulders. “Stop, Jack. Don’t kill him!”

  He turned, knowing it would be a while before the guy was able to stand.

  He wanted to apologize, to double check that she was okay, but standing this close to her, he could only do the most amazing thing. He leaned down to kiss her lips.

  Emma had never felt a kiss in her toes before. But damn if her knees didn’t go all weak. He wrapped his arms around her and made sure she stayed standing, splaying his hands across her back.

  She needed to breathe a moment—and find out if this desperately good kisser was also a murderer—but instead she grabbed two fistfuls of his long brown hair. For a moment she saw him in the sunlight, in some sort of drink-inspired daydream. He was tan and smiling in a bed in the middle of the woods. It made no sense at all.

  She pulled away to make sure she was still in the bar. The mirage had been so lifelike. His sexy eyes were half closed, and he gave up a deep, grumbly laugh.

  “Do I know you?” she asked. It felt like she was missing something vital, just out of her reach.

  “Feels like we should, doesn’t it?”

  Emma felt a flash of panic as Breck’s pals made their drunken way over to the result of the fistfight—or beat down. “Brad and Dom, get Breck and take him home,” she instructed. “He was being a bastard.”

  Jack turned around lazily, and he made sure Emma stayed behind him. Brad helped Breck to his feet as Dom promised to call his father the senator, the chief of police, and God. Jack scratched his nose with what Emma believed was his middle finger. At that point the bouncer, who had kept to himself until now, came and stood next to Jack.

  “Hey,” Jack said casually to him, but his eyes never left the rich boys as they stumbled out of the bar. Once they’d gone, Jack nodded at the bouncer as he called the cops.

  Then Shannon and Karen were once again on either side of her, prattling on about the fight and her amazing, f-ed up birthday. They pulled her out of the bar before she could exchange another word with Jack, though she did manage a meaningful parting glance. Police lights decorated the parking lot as Karen hustled them all into her car.

  Chapter 40

  Emma was disoriented being in her parents’ house instead of her apartment in the city. It was stupid o’clock in the morning, and all she could think about was the dirty-sexy bartender. She worried he’d been arrested after punching Breck. Talk about a twenty-third birthday to remember. Considering all she’d drunk, she should be sleeping off the alcohol in her system. Instead she had a little trouble breathing every time she thought about the kiss Jack had planted on her.

  There was just something about him. She kicked off her covers and twirled her long hair into a bun. It smelled like the smoke from his cigarette. She opened her old bedroom’s balcony doors and stepped out in her bare feet. She shivered in her flimsy sleep T and low-slung flannel pants.

  Ignoring the cold, she leaned on the railing, touching her lips again. The flashes of him were what didn’t make any sense. Like they’d been that way before. Which was impossible—she’d remember him. A lot.

  An orange, glowing firefly caught her attention. Then she clearly heard someone exhale. He stepped out into the light seeping from her second-story bedroom. Jack.

  Her heart dropped its panties.

  “Hey, stalker. Not in jail?” She loved teasing him. His smirked response let her know she was onto something.

  “Not yet. Am I a stalker if I’m returning your ID?” He reached into his jacket pocket and held up her driver’s license like a winning poker card.

  “Yes. I don’t even remember leaving without that…It doesn’t even have this address.” She wished she sounded even a little offended instead of delighted.

  “Googled you. Figured you were at your parents’ for the holidays. Happy birthday, by the way.” He gave her body a deliberate onceover.

  “Whatever. Are you okay? Did the cops come?” She shivered and rubbed her arms.

  He slipped her driver’s license in the pocket of his jacket, put his cigarette in his mouth, and tossed the jacket up to her. She leaned over and caught it. As she retrieved her license, her fingers brushed a box, and she pulled out his smokes.

  “You can wear the jacket for a minute, if you’re cold.” His brown eyes sparkled.

  “Thanks.” She slipped it over her shoulders and held out his cigarettes.

  “You can toss those down. I’m assuming you don’t…” He held out his hand.

  “Smoke? Never. Hate the habit. It kills, you know.” She held the railing as a wave of dizziness swept through her.

  “One can hope.” He seemed to tense as he watched her wobble. “You all right?”

  She nodded and shook her head. She’d already choked in front of sex-on-a-stick here. She wasn’t about to pass out.

  She pulled a few cigarettes out of the box and crumbled them, letting the dried leaves fall to the ground like snow.

  “Knock it off,” he growled.

  But when she checked, his face was playful. She pulled out another handful. He stubbed out the smoke he’d been nursing and eyed the tree next to her balcony. When he grasped the fi
rst branch and pulled himself up easily, she knew she was in trouble. She grabbed another batch and crumbled them.

  “That’s almost a full pack!” He climbed the tree like he’d done it a million times.

  “I’m doing you a favor!” She was laughing and squealing now.

  When he hopped onto her balcony, his presence was palpable.

  “Be careful,” he told her. “You might just need to be spanked for this, pretty child.”

  His mouth and that pet name exploded in her brain like a gunshot. They were someplace smoky and desperate. She was chained to something and very afraid of him. Her balance left her, as if her body were trying to recreate the scene in real time.

  Before she hit the decking, he had his arms around her and eased her to the floor.

  “Come back to me, Emma. Come back.”

  She opened her eyes and groaned.

  Super handsome was so worried. She wished she could stop feeling like a fainting pansy, but the words he strung together were haunting. She flailed against him.

  Wings, tattoos, God? None of this made any kind of sense.

  She felt something cold on her forehead and fluttered her eyes open, horrified to find she was crying—and back on her bed.

  “What’s going on? Do you get seizures or something?” He was holding a hand towel from her bathroom on her head. She could feel its ruffled edges.

  She shook her head. “It’s you. Your words.”

  “I’m sorry. Do you need me to leave?” He stood, looking so sad.

  The thought of Jack leaving made her cry harder. Her heart was blazing. She sat up and pulled the wet towel from her eyes.

  “Come here.” She patted the bed and held his rough hand.

  He touched her cheek. “Quit passing out, please.”

  Threading her hands behind his neck, she pulled him against her chest. He hugged her awkwardly at first, but then melted into her as she hugged him hard, trying to pull him into her body, let her heart touch his to put its fire to rest.

  “What is this?” She needed to know if he felt it too.

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