“How about a drink, Ms. Caine?” His smoky voice wrapped around me, whispering of mystery and power.
I nodded because my voice failed. I knew I should run from him—he was dangerous. But somehow, when he looked at me, I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
He moved like he owned the place. People melted away around us until we were isolated at the bar.
Who was this man?
A tough-looking brunette bartender swung over. “What can I get you, hon?”
I tended to drink like my folks had: whiskey, add one glass. Panicking, I tried to think of a fancy alternative and managed, “A Manhattan?”
“Two,” Jaxson echoed.
She nodded and grabbed a lowball glass, eying Jaxson with a raised brow.
I caught my reflection in the mirror behind the liquor bottles. I was grossly underdressed in my wrinkled sundress, and my hair had seen better days. I was obviously small town in the big city, all the while standing next to the hottest guy in the bar.
God, how could a man like that stomach being seen in public with a bedraggled girl like me? Embarrassment bored through my remaining confidence like a swarm of termites.
Why, for heaven’s sake, had the cop recommended this place? There was something almost magical about the atmosphere. It had to be insanely exclusive, and I couldn’t be more out of my element.
I made a couple of stealthy adjustments to my dress and looked up. Half a dozen women were shooting daggers at me with their eyes, probably wondering how I had the gall to be with him—the man the whole place seemed to revolve around.
Like a slap in the face, that hardened my resolve real fast.
I’d been attacked by some kind psycho super-soldiers the night before, and I’d killed one of them. I could handle a couple of bar bitches. I tossed my hair to let them know that I’d killed better folk and that I could wear whatever I damn well pleased.
Then I gave the one on my left the look.
To my surprise, she backed off with a shocked expression, then quickly averted her eyes.
Chicago was so weird.
I looked up at Jaxson and froze. He was studying me. Intensely. Heat warmed my cheeks, and I lowered my eyes, just like the woman had.
The bartender slid a couple Manhattans in front of us, and I welcomed the interruption. I took a sip and savored the sweet and smoky flavors, delighting in the way the whiskey warmed my stomach, then followed Jaxson to a table. Several women shot inviting glances at him, but he didn’t seem to notice.
He wouldn’t notice you, either, if you weren’t a witness.
I adjusted my hair—my best characteristic—as I sat. For a second, Jaxson’s full lips twitched downward, as if somehow, my hair was an insult.
I buried my face in the menu to hide my shame. Whatever moment of confidence I’d experienced at the bar was over—clearly, the only reason he’d brought me here was to buy my cooperation.
Well, he’d soon learn that my cooperation had a steep price.
The menu was all small plates, so I didn’t feel overly embarrassed when we wound up practically ordering one of everything, along with another round of drinks.
Soon enough, a waitress swept over with plates of bacon-topped figs, charred brussel sprouts, and endive cups filled with some kind of cheese and herbs. By the time I was halfway through, I was thankful I was wearing something flowy and comfortable.
I kept trying to get tidbits of information out of Jaxson, but he delayed or deflected, instead responding with prying questions I didn’t want to answer. Stymied, I mostly kept my head down and focused on the food.
Just sitting across from Jaxson was intimidating. I could feel everyone’s eyes on us. He drew attention to himself like a black hole, all the light and color of the room swirling around him, slowly being pulled in.
So was I.
He was beyond eye candy with his sleeves rolled up, lightly circling the rim of his glass with his thumb and index finger. I’d never seen a man built like him before. So much strength, tightly bound. His jaw set as if he were holding back a great force in his chest.