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Hopeless: Chapter 18

Bailey

Bailey: Take tonight off. Go to bed early. I’m fine.

Beau: No, thanks.

Bailey: Seriously, you can’t stay up late with me and then wake up an hour later doing your thing.

Beau: My thing?

Bailey: 2:11

Beau: Bailey, you do your thing, and I’ll do mine. And mine includes sitting at your bar, so you aren’t alone.


The knife slices through the lime, and a fresh wave of pain hums through my veins as the citrus juice hits my paper cut. But I don’t even flinch.

I can feel Beau’s eyes on me from where he sits at the end of the bar, and I’m sure if I show an iota of pain, he’ll call 911 to have me airlifted to the nearest hospital. We may be on tense terms right now, but he’s still here, guarding me like a German shepherd, ready to leap to my defense.

I’m also not oblivious to the fact Gary is watching us, drunken interest all over his face.

My head shakes as I recall the conversation Beau and I had the morning after … whatever that was. The morning I’d woken up alone in his bed and gone searching for him.

“I’m sorry I took advantage of you.”

Those were his first words when I found him in the kitchen.

My eyes bugged out at hickey I’d left on his neck—the one that’s still there today, although more yellow and less purple. I didn’t know what to expect him to say in that moment. Because the night before he’d looked down at me, hands on his head, with the most confusing mixture of lust and rage on his face. Then he left without a single word, and my heart dropped. I wanted to follow him, and yet I knew he needed space and control.

“You didn’t.”

“It’s my job to keep you safe. And that includes from me.”

“It’s literally not.”

“We agreed we wouldn’t cross that line. We laid everything out. I want you to stay in the house, but if you hear me in here … you can’t come in.”

I tried not to stare at the way his back strained against the T-shirt he still wore from the night before as he bent down and slid his new double-walled socks into his new Blundstones. He expected me to just lay there and listen to him panic?

“I’m not going to stay here.” I lifted my chin, forcing myself to appear prideful in a way that was a complete mismatch for how I felt inside.

And he didn’t even bother glancing at me when he said, “You can stay in the house, or I’ll pay to have your trailer equipped with air conditioning. Your call.” Then he slapped the door frame and left the house.

That was two days ago. Two nights of me waking up at 2:11—exactly—and walking across the hallway. Two nights of me wrapping my hand around his doorknob because I couldn’t handle listening to him shout.

And then stopping.

We made a deal, and I know all about people not respecting your privacy. This last incident wasn’t the first time my brothers ransacked my space searching for something.

For the last two nights, I’ve reminded myself that Beau is a grown-ass man, capable of making grown-up decisions and setting grown-up boundaries.

And my job as a fellow grown-up is to respect those boundaries.

Which is why I go back to my room, pull my pillow over my head and try not to hear him. But it’s impossible. It’s stressful. And even though the heat isn’t keeping me awake anymore, the anxiety of knowing he’s right there and all alone is worse than sleeping in the Boiler.

I slice through the next lime and cut a line through the middle of the wedge so it can rest on the edge of a cup. I’m just exhausted enough that I don’t stop the knife in time before it continues its motion right over my finger.

“Fuck!” I toss the knife and instantly lift my finger to my mouth.

“You okay?” I can hear the alarm in Beau’s voice as he shoves his stool away and pushes through the small wooden doors that divide the space between patrons and staff. He looms over me and reaches for my wrist, rotating my hand to inspect the damage, which is limited.

“I’m fine.” I try to tug my wrist free. “It’s not the first time I’ve cut myself, and it won’t be the last. Go sit back down.” I yank again, avoiding his gaze as I bring my finger back up to my mouth. As I stem the light trickle of blood, I turn away to grab the first aid kit we store behind the bar.

With it laid out in front of me, I rifle through the contents, looking for the correct Band-Aid size.

“Let me,” Beau says in a soft voice. It’s a fucking punch to the gut. When he’s all stoic and removed, it’s easier to be irritated with him.

I let out a heavy sigh and finally tilt my head, gazing up at him. Genuine concern fills his silver eyes, along with something else. Paired with the way his tongue darts out over his lips, he appears almost nervous.

His gaze searches my face as his hand wraps around my wrist again, this time more gently, guiding my finger from my mouth. It strikes me this might be the first time we’ve made eye contact in the past couple of days.

Since Harvey put the announcement in the paper, all eyes have been on us, but our eyes haven’t been on each other.

I blink away, not wanting to stare for too long. Because if I do, my body will react. I’ll step closer and—

“It doesn’t look too bad.” Beau furrows his brow as he assesses the world’s most inconsequential cut.

“That’s what I told you,” I reply through gritted teeth.

He seems amused by my annoyance, which just annoys me more.

Deft fingers pull the Band-Aid from its wrapper, and he places it with meticulous care. I can’t help but be entranced by him—so big and gruff yet so gentle.

He wraps the sticky ends together and delicately presses my hand between both of his. Making a little Bailey hand sandwich. “There.”

Despite all my self-talk about being an adult, I can’t bring myself to meet his gaze, so I mumble, “Thanks,” and turn away to resume work.

He lingers for a moment, then slowly moves away, back to his seat.

Back to his tea.

Back to watching me like a hawk.

And when Gary slurs, “Trouble in paradise?” I reply with a perky, “Never,” and go back to cutting limes. Because after a week spent applying for other jobs, I’m still getting nothing more than a pitying look and a polite, “We’re not hiring right now,” even though the job is listed online.

When we made this bet, I knew my reputation might be beyond saving. I knew that he was wrong and I was right. I knew I’d probably “win”—whatever that means.

But winning has never felt worse. Because I know my place in Chestnut Springs, and spending time pretending it’s at Beau Eaton’s side just makes it hurt more.


The quiet buzz of my phone vibrating beside my mattress wakes me.

It’s 2:00 a.m. and the urge to shut my phone down, roll over, and go back to sleep is strong. But the extra eleven minutes won’t make a difference. No matter how I spin it, I’ll be tired tomorrow.

It’s agonizing to hear Beau struggle only a few feet from where I’m lying.

At 2:11, we’re both haunted. Me, by the way I felt captured in his hold, coming apart above him while he whispered my name against my hair. Him by … well, I’m not entirely sure. But I can guess.

Either way, I want to rewrite 2:11 into something different for us. We’re stuck together in this little arrangement, and it doesn’t need to be this awkward.

Or maybe it’s just me being awkward because I can’t masturbate without thinking of that night.

“Okay,” I grumble to myself and shake away the arousal that sweeps through me every time I recall the way he gripped my hair while he kneaded my ass. I’ve never felt so needed. “Let’s do this.”

I roll from my bed, grab the bag I set near the door, and pad across the hallway, checking my watch.

2:02.

I knock on his door firmly but with a measured pace, wanting to wake him up while avoiding any sense of urgency that will freak him out. Beau doesn’t need any extra freaking out—he already does that on his own.

It occurred to me today, as he tended to my finger and then sat vigil while I finished out my shift, that he’s become hyper-fixated on taking care of me.

But who is taking care of him?

I hear rustling and knock again.

2:03.

“Beau, get up.” I keep my voice light and airy.

“Bailey?” He’s up and at the door like a shot, ripping it open. My mouth goes dry when he towers over me, wearing nothing but his boxers.

I secretly hoped he’d be naked again. No one has ever looked as good naked as Beau Eaton.

“What’s wrong?” His hand lands on my shoulder, drawing me close as he leans out the door and checks both directions of the hallway, assessing for danger.

I place a gentle palm against his chest and give it a reassuring pat. “Nothing. Let’s go.”

His chin drops now as he looks me over. “Go where?”

“Swimming.”

His face scrunches in confusion, hand still branding me where his fingers curl over onto my back. “What time is it?”

I check my watch. Again. “It’s 2:04.”

“Why would I want to go swimming now?”

My head tilts as I consider what to say to him next. “Because it seems a lot more fun than hitting 2:11 and screaming in your bed. For both of us.”

His hand drops from my shoulder and his eyes trace my features in the darkened hallway. His gaze is steely in both color and intensity, more than I can withstand.

I turn and wave a hand over my shoulder. “Let’s go, soldier. I’m not even planning on wearing a bathing suit.”


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