Read an Excerpt
A Made in Jersey Novel
By Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Tessa Bailey
All rights reserved.
It was the type of place Samantha Waverly usually avoided.
Precisely why she was going in.
As always, when Sam encountered a dose of inconvenient nerves — a frequent occurrence of late — she reached into her brown leather satchel and ran a thumb over the spiraling metal holding her sketchpad together. By the end of summer, she'd have calluses on top of her existing calluses. Ones wrought by hours of holding pencils and charcoal. Or joy wounds, as she secretly referred to them, since they'd been formed doing what she loved. Drawing.
The urge to whip out her sketchpad and illustrate the dilapidated bar across the street was fierce, but night had fallen and standing by herself in the strange neighborhood of Hook, New Jersey too long didn't seem wise. What was the name of the bar? She squinted through the darkness at the worn, unlit sign. The Third Shift.
Lordy, the place was a dive. Even an inexperienced bar patron, such as herself, knew the neon bar signs were relics from the eighties. The music followed suit, a young Springsteen crooning about being born to run from inside the small establishment, masculine voices chanting along, occasionally stopping to cheer, presumably at the baseball game also being played at full volume, loud enough that Samantha could hear it thirty yards away.
She just prayed their air conditioning worked. Beneath her feet, the concrete still retained the day's excessive warmth, making her shift side to side in her sandals. After the mere five-block jaunt from the bus station, sweat already beaded her forehead, humidity curling the ends of her hair.
The busted door opened and slapped shut, two men in cut off T-shirts splitting a match to light their cigarettes. One nudged the other, both of their attention cutting to where she stood.
"Who's 'at?" one called.
Who's that? It was the kind of question one asked when one was acquainted with every single soul in town and expected to know her, too, as soon as she stepped from the shadows. From what little her stepbrother, Renner, had told her about Hook, the majority of its residents had been born at the local hospital and rarely, if ever, left town. Samantha, on the other hand, only had the weekend. An unexpected turn of events.
She'd been one bus stop away from Hook when the text from Renner hit her phone. Negotiations have been extended. Won't be in Jersey until Monday. Make yourself comfortable at the apartment. Frankly, she'd been relieved instead of irritated. Anything to put off the meeting with Renner, the man she considered her closest family member. So close, she'd stopped calling him her stepbrother long ago, referring to him only as "brother." That closeness hadn't saved her stomach from being tied into knots on the ride from Manhattan. And the combination of having them loosened, while landing in such an unfamiliar place ... made Samantha feel like stretching her legs a little.
Or a lot. Depending on your definition of stretching. Samantha's life was her job and she loved, adored, celebrated her fulfilling profession as a children's book illustrator. Colors and shapes flitted through her mind, sending tingles to her fingers. She'd filled every corner of her life with work, and she preferred it that way. After all, drawing, unlike people, couldn't abandon you when the going got tough.
She might never cross paths with anyone in Hook again after this. Maybe that possibility accounted for the excitement prickling up her spine.
She'd left the bright lights of Manhattan for adventure ... in the sleepy factory town of Hook. Ironic, sure. But to Samantha, it made perfect sense.
Curling her right hand around the strap of her satchel, she trudged across the street, lifting a tentative hand to wave at the smokers. Maybe if she pretended she belonged, they would just go with it. "It's just me. Sam."
The men traded a glance. "Sam who?"
"Antha." No reaction. "Sam-antha," she mumbled, sliding into the bar. Apparently she couldn't be in a new town longer than ten minutes without earning her usual reputation for bad jokes.
Hoping her embarrassment would subside once inside the loud, anonymous bar, Samantha cleared the threshold ... and saw that dream crumble. She was given no time to savor the cool wall of air inside The Third Shift, before every head in the place turned in her direction.
"Who's 'at?" someone asked, just above the din of baseball and Springsteen.
Forcing her shoulders back, Samantha scoped a seat at the bar and made a beeline for the rickety stool. She climbed onto the creaking wood, satchel hugged tight in her lap. With her head down, she could see perspiration rolling down her chest and disappearing into her cleavage — courtesy of the heat wave bearing down on the Northeast — and rifled through her bag for tissues. When she located them, she shot the other patrons a look, praying they'd gone back to their conversations and she could mop up her sweat in relative privacy. No such luck. Everyone still stared at Samantha over their beer bottles, men and women alike. Not in a hostile way. More in a did-an-alien-spaceship-just-land-outside kind of way.
She started, losing her grip on the tissue packet, which hit the floor with a smack, her attention flying to the older gentleman behind the bar. The bartender, Sam. "Um. Er —" Her gaze fell to the closest glass sitting on the bar, property of the woman to her right. "I'll have one of those ... a martini ..."
"Olive or twist?"
A laugh trickled past Samantha's lips, but the bartender only cocked an eyebrow.
His hard tone had Sam shifting in her seat. "You know that joke. Charles Dickens walks into a bar ..." She swallowed hard when the man only stared. "A-And the bartender asks if he'd like an olive or twist —"
The older man walked away before Samantha was finished explaining. Feeling a flush rise clear to her hairline, she attempted to hide the dangling sentence with a cough, but if the sympathetic glance from her seat neighbor was an indication, she'd had no success. Okay. New tactic.
Samantha slid off her seat to retrieve the dropped tissues, staying hidden way longer than necessary. "Come on," she whispered. "You're a twenty-five-year-old woman in a bar. Stop telling stupid jokes and you'll have a chance of appearing normal." Nodding once for good measure, she straightened — and whacked her head on the bar. "Son of a bitch."
Melting back into her seat, trying desperately to pretend there wasn't a throb at her right temple, Samantha took a long sip from the rim of her martini. And so it was through blurry vision and bluebirds circling her head that Samantha saw Goliath.
Were her eyes playing games with her? She closed the left one, trying to narrow her vision from double to single, but Goliath remained, the width of his shoulders taking up two seat lengths on the opposite end of the bar. If she weren't watching closely, she would never have believed how the wood actually sagged beneath his elbows as he leaned forward ... watching her? Watching her.
A drop of sweat slid down between her breasts. She heard, felt, sensed the drop of moisture absorb into the material of her bra. The slow motion glide of it caused a quickening sensation in her stomach, and suddenly, there was no baseball or classic rock. Just her breath, her heartbeat. The large man pinning her under a look, making the air conditioner useless for all the heat generated by his ... interest.
Could she even call it that? He wasn't smiling, was giving no indication he planned to approach her. And ho-boy, that was a definite frown moving over his craggy features. Yes, craggy. He wasn't a good-looking man. Nope, he was not. He resembled a villain from a gladiator movie. The one everyone fears and who never gets beaten ... until the underdog steps in and saves mankind, standing over the fallen behemoth while dust settles around them.
Samantha had removed her sketchpad and a pencil from the satchel before her brain registered the action. Draw him. She had to draw him. Just the bare bones, so she could fill in the rest later, when she got back to Renner's place. Angling her body so the surface of her pad couldn't be viewed by the surrounding patrons, Samantha outlined Goliath, shading his cheeks to indicate the blood of his enemies. She penciled in battle armor, leather crisscrossing his barrel chest, so tight the straps risked snapping in half with one swing of his sword. He would have hair beneath that leather ... hair everywhere. The thought made something unexpected sink in her belly.
Right. Add the hair later.
Unfortunately, the same hot slide occurred below the belt when she moved the pencil to form his thighs. Sturdy, rough-hewn legs. Big enough to support two people with no resulting exertion ...
A glance from beneath her eyelashes made Samantha aware of Goliath's change in demeanor. He still frowned, but not at her. At someone behind her. More than one someone, it sounded like. Were they talking to her? When someone tapped Samantha on the shoulder, she shoved the sketchpad into her bag and looked back. Two toothy grins greeted her. They were attached to the men she'd passed on the way in, and while part of Samantha wished they'd leave her in peace with her sketchpad, another part hoped one of her jokes had finally charmed someone.
"So, Sam-antha. Haven't seen you in here before."
Behind her, Samantha heard a glass hit the bar. "Can we buy you that drink?"
"Uhhh." She glanced at the woman beside her for help but only got an amused shrug before her potential ally went back to watching baseball. What did it mean when someone accepted a drink from a man in a bar? Would she be obligated to have a conversation with them? What if they asked her to list her top five favorite Springsteen songs? She could only name two. "I guess —"
"All right, you two knuckleheads." A new voice joined the scene, reminding her of a rusty anchor being dragged up the side of an ancient boat. "Fuck off."
* * *
Unbelievable. First, Duke couldn't get a damn moment of peace in his house, now his only refuge, The Third Shift, had been invaded. Was it so much to ask in life for a sporting event to go uninterrupted by a woman? Granted, the doe-eyed brunette hadn't asked for his assistance — and she was a far cry from the four sisters terrorizing his household indefinitely — but an interruption was an interruption, no matter how you sliced it.
He couldn't help but notice this particular disruption was ... pretty. Too pretty for him. Not that her appearance mattered one way or another to Duke. Facts were facts, though. She had a way of moving. Long, graceful moves that ran smack into uncertainty. As if she kept forming courses of action only to change her mind halfway through the execution stage. Ask him why he'd taken the time to form such a detailed observation and his answer probably wouldn't make much sense. Unfortunately, noticing her way of operating had led to ... other observations. Impolite ones that would've surrounded the freckles on her cheeks with pink instead of flawless ivory.
Good thing he wasn't looking for a woman. Not for one night. Not for nothing.
With resolve firm in his mind, Duke focused on the problem at hand. Namely, the issue distracting him from America's game. The two men harassing Doe Eyes were machinery mechanics who worked under him at the factory, and after his brief directive to fuck off, they wasted no time shuffling away, beer bottles held up like little white flags.
"No problem, Duke."
He grunted, watching them enviously as they rejoined their friends in front of the giant flat-screen. At least someone would get to watch baseball now, huh? As for him, he appeared to be stuck. For as long as Doe Eyes graced The Third Shift with her not-from-around-here presence, that is. Because if it wasn't the knuckleheads looking to purchase her drinks, it would be someone else. And after he'd watched her flounder over a simple drink order and whack her noggin on the bar, he figured she deserved some peace and quiet.
Which she would get, so long as she let him watch the motherloving game.
Duke grabbed the closest stool, flipping it around and repositioning it behind Doe Eyes. Trying not to wince over the loud creaking as he climbed on, Duke crossed his arms and went back to watching the game, bottle of Bud in hand.
He should have known the silence wouldn't last. It never did.
"Did you just ... set yourself up as a roadblock?"
Duke grimaced into a sip of beer. Damn. She just had to have a sexy voice to match the smooth, tidy curves of her figure. He didn't want to notice ... but as she spoke her tits swelled against the dress's neckline, still dewy from being outside in the high temperature, and heat trailed like fingertips down his belly. "Seems that way."
She opened her mouth to speak then shut it — damn near ten times — before finally addressing him again. "You're being very presumptuous, Duke." Her drink remained untouched on the bar. "Do you do this type of thing often?"
As if she'd misplaced something, she glanced in several directions, including toward the ceiling. "Should I be flattered?"
Duke had four divorcee sisters living under his roof at the moment, so he knew goddamn well when the subject needed to be changed. "What were you doing earlier? In that book of yours."
Her hesitation was brief. "Sketching you as an evil gladiator villain."
The bottle of Bud paused halfway to Duke's mouth. Wasn't every day someone caught him off guard, but this pretty girl whose voice oozed education, this girl with the stubborn — and ... fuck it, cute — nose, had unsettled his stomach ever since gliding into the bar. Like a bad omen. He should go back to his end of the bar and stop feeding this unusual curiosity she'd inspired. Yeah, that's exactly what he should do. "Show me."
She chewed her upper lip a beat then straightened her shoulders, pressing those perspiration-slick tits against the already-stressed buttons of her dress. For one fleeting moment, the fog of arousal enveloped his brain, making him wonder if his command of show me had been misinterpreted. For the love of everything holy, this — this — was his worst nightmare. Sprouting wood in The Third Shift during a baseball game like some horny kid ordering his first beer.
As Doe Eyes rooted through her bag for the book, Duke did something for the first time in his life. He watched the game without really seeing it. The effort to keep his gaze off her jiggling breasts and pressed-together knees as she went through the bag garnered all his concentration, blurring the action on the screen like it was happening under a foot of water. When she finally pulled the book out, Duke slowly returned his attention to her, watching her down the neck of his Bud as he sipped.
"Would you say you offend easily?"
Mouth full of beer, Duke shook his head.
Still, she hesitated. "Really I didn't even get started — "
"Let's see it." When she bristled at his tone, Duke sighed, knowing he needed a new tactic if he wanted his curiosity appeased. "What's your name?"
Now, why the hell did her name make his cock feel chafed inside the denim of his jeans? Somehow it did, though. Made him think of her naked on dark blue, silk sheets, high heels dangling off her toes before falling, knocked free by a man's thrusts. His. Goddammit, this wasn't convenient whatsoever. The sooner she moved on — went back to whatever upscale neighborhood she'd come from — the better. "Look, Sam." She tilted her head over the nickname, sliding thick chocolate hair over one shoulder. "You can't just tell a man you drew him as an evil gladiator villain and not cough up the goods."
Duke swallowed when a light came on in her eyes, a corner of her mouth ticking up.
"Because it sounds badass." Duke realized he was massaging his right knee — the old injury tended to act up when he sat too long. "Most men would have a hard time being offended by someone drawing them that way."
Excerpted from Worked Up by Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2016 Tessa Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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