Hopeless: Chapter 2

Bailey

It’s been two weeks since Beau Eaton snuck into my bar in the middle of the day. Two weeks since I took one look at him and almost dropped the glass in my hand. He’s hard to miss with his broad shoulders and tall, well-built frame, and long legs that have him a head above most men who walk through that door. Light brown hair, a little too long, flops over his forehead, the perfect frame for silver-gray eyes. Even slightly unkempt the way he is right now, Beau Eaton is fucking hot. Totally intimidating.

And hot is one thing, but Beau is nice too. And funny.

A true triple threat—or at least he was.

He’s never treated me like I’m wearing a scarlet letter on my chest, even when others have. I only know him from the bar, but he’s never held my family’s reputation against me. He’s always offered kind words, a polite touch on my elbow, and a generous tip at the end of the night.

But he’s still the town prince, and I’m still the town trash.

He’s the hero, and I’m the bartender.

He’s an Eaton, and I’m a Jansen.

And yet, he’s here every damn day since the afternoon he walked in looking like a caged animal who broke free.

Here every damn day drinking with fucking Gary.

The first day started out sweet enough. He was endearing, if I’m being honest. But for the past two weeks, his presence has slowly morphed from light to dark, gathering itself into an ominous storm cloud.

It’s getting to where he’s making everyone around him uncomfortable. You can sense the electricity in the air, like lightning ready to strike.

I’m feeling fed up with him too. He’s reminding me of my dad or my brothers, and I have sparse patience for that kind of toxicity.

He comes in mid-afternoon and nurses his pints, quietly simmering. I swear I watch his frustration bubble to a boil right before my eyes. His hand stays clamped around the glass, and he takes tight sips from it with white knuckles.

I’m almost positive he’s going to shatter it one of these days. He seems too big, too strong, too angry to be squeezing something that fragile so hard.

When people talk to him, he runs his tongue along the backs of his teeth like he’s trying to keep from biting them or something.

“So, what’d you do when you spent those two weeks stuck in the desert?”

My jaw clamps at Gary’s words. I know he means well, but he’s not reading the room right now. Not reading Beau. Must have missed the way he went taut and never relaxed again when a booming thunderstorm rolled through not thirty minutes ago.

Yeah, Beau looks ready to burst tonight, but Gary hasn’t noticed.

“Tried to stay alive,” Beau bites out. There’s a tremor in his voice—a quality that reminds me of a dog when they growl at you. It’s a warning to back away.

But Gary is too damn drunk to notice.

“They say you missed your flight on purpose to stay behind and save that journalist. That’s some real hero complex shit.” The words overrun each other, emerging in a sloppy jumble.

Beau just stares at his pint, gazing into the golden liquid. They’ve already talked about this subject, but alcohol makes a person repetitive. I know because I’ve spent years studying drunk people. I’m an expert.

“Imagine where your life would be if you hadn’t.”

My lashes flutter shut because my gut tells me a line exists, and Gary just stepped right over it.

Or right into it.

Beau’s thickly corded arm swipes out, knocking both their glasses onto the bar floor. Beer sprays across the smattering of patrons seated nearby, and if not for the music blaring at this point in the night, I’m certain The Railspur would be dead silent as they watch the altercation unfold.

Beau stands so fast his stool topples behind him with a crash. Gary looks instantly terrified. “Imagine where your life would be if you didn’t sit here drinking and embarrassing yourself every fucking day, Gary. Ever think about that?”

His chest heaves, the splatter of liquid making the cotton of his T-shirt stick to his clearly defined pecs. Only someone who grew up in the household I did could be smack dab in the middle of a moment like this and be checking a guy out.

Beau isn’t my dad, though, and I’m not worried the way I would be if I were in the house I grew up in.

“Beau,” my voice comes out clear, not a single waver to it.

“All alone every damn day, a young girl as your best friend. Seems a little pervert—”

“Beau Eaton, shut your mouth and get your ass outside.”

His head swivels, gray eyes latching onto mine like he just noticed my presence. Like he didn’t expect little Bailey Jansen to be the one barking at him.

He straightens, but I don’t care how tall he is.

He doesn’t scare me.

Not even when he’s like this.

I point to the emergency exit that leads to the patio, and my hand doesn’t shake at all. I’m not nervous. I’m pissed off.

Beau turns stiffly, striding around the end of the bar, past the server station, and straight out into the fading light. If I didn’t know how many drinks he’s had, I wouldn’t notice the slight stagger in his steps or the way he leans on the door just a little heavier than necessary.

Before I cut through the small wooden push gate to follow Beau, I glance back at Gary.

“Too far?” he asks, averting his gaze.

My lips flatten against each other. “Yeah, Gary. Too far.”

He swipes a hand through his thinning hair and drops his head, hand tapping over the keys he laid on the bar the minute he sat down. “I’ll catch a cab.”

I respond with a firm nod before shoving out the door onto the darkened patio. The summer storm caused everyone sitting here to flee, their forgotten glasses now partially filled with rainwater.

I can still smell the storm. And Beau. Pine and lemon mingle with something deeper, more sensual. Tobacco maybe, like a cigar.

He’s slumped against the outer brick facade of the train station-turned-bar. As I approach, he shoves his fists into the pockets of his jeans, chin dropped almost to his chest, eyes fixed on the sneakers he’s always sporting.

They feel out of place for him—too white and shiny, too pristine.

“You can’t pull that shit in my bar,” I say.

He scoffs, still refusing to meet my gaze. “Your bar, huh?”

“Yes, Beau. My bar. My place. The only place in this town where people don’t treat me like shit. I bust my ass working here. I bust my ass trying to make customers like me. And behind that wood is my bubble. Gary isn’t perverted, he’s fucking lonely. And he’s one of the few people who is consistently kind to me. So, if you think you can waltz into my bar acting like an untouchable asshole and scaring all my regulars away with your antics, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Now his eyes are on me, a little unsteady but narrowed. “Untouchable asshole?”

“Yes.” I cross my arms, like they might give me some protection from him. He looks a little wild tonight, a little dangerous—not like the happy-go-lucky guy we all thought we knew before his last deployment.

Silvery light plays off his features, his tan skin and luminous eyes almost glowing as he stares me down. The only thing that moves between us is his chest, rising and falling in time with mine.

But I don’t drop his gaze. I’m so over men trying to intimidate me. And it feels wrong on him, so I don’t let him have it.

After our staredown moves from a heated moment into awkward territory, he blinks away, jaw flexing.

“Did I embarrass myself?” His voice is all gravel and rumbles over my skin.

“You did. But the good news is your last name is Eaton, so everyone will forgive you and go back to kissing your feet the minute you walk in there and flash them a smile.”

“Bailey, what the fuck? Did you really just say that to me?”

“Yes.” My head tilts. “Because it’s true. All I had to do was be born into my family and everyone looks at me like they’re waiting for that part of my genetics to rear its ugly head. Like I’ll go from hardworking and polite to a hillbilly criminal mastermind in the blink of an eye just because my last name is Jansen.” His brow furrows deeper the longer I talk. “So, yeah. I think you’re gonna be fine, even though you embarrassed yourself.”

“That’s not true.”

“What part?”

“People thinking that about you.”

“Ha!” The laugh lurches from my throat, sharp and lacking any humor. “That is adorably naive,” I say, shaking my head in disbelief.

“Well, I don’t see you that way.”

I swallow now, eyes flitting away. It’s true that Beau has always been kind to me—to everyone. Maybe that’s why this new version of him pisses me off so much. “I know.” I shoot him a grateful smile. “You’re one of the good ones, Beau. That’s why you can’t keep doing this.”

“Doing what?”

“Sitting at my bar and drinking yourself into a sullen stupor every night.”

A quiet keening noise escapes him as his head rolls back and forth against the wall, hands coming out of his pockets to scrub at his face. “It helps me sleep at night.”

“What?” I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. Somehow, that’s not the response I expected.

It’s painfully honest.

“The alcohol. It helps me fall asleep. I go home to the ranch and crash. I haven’t been sleeping well these days.”

My stomach drops at his admission.

“You telling me you drive like this?” My finger waves up and down him, catching on the bulge of keys in his front pocket.

His wide eyes plead with me, desperate and forlorn. I feel monumentally stupid for assuming he was different from Gary. That he’d be in control enough to get himself a cab rather than get behind a wheel in this state.

I was foolish to fall for the chucklehead good-guy act when he’s clearly drowning. I can see him sinking right before my eyes. And I want no part in that. I can’t afford to be taken down with him.

“Beau.” I step forward, right up to him. He tenses, but I’m too pissed off to have many boundaries right now. And I’ve always felt more at ease around him than most people. He’s always had a way of making me feel like that, which is why I don’t think twice about shoving my hand into his pocket and wrapping my fingers around his keys.

His body is rigid. His muscles coil, but he makes no move to stop me. The jangle of metal between us has me looking up into his eyes for a sign I’ve taken things too far.

I angle my face up to his and get caught in his thrall for a moment.

I only see those moonlit eyes and the way his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows.

“I’ll make you a chamomile tea,” I say, breaking the tense silence between us. “Helps with sleep. But you need to promise you won’t make a scene like that again.”

He nods and drops his head. “I promise.”

The tension between us evaporates as he follows me back into the bar. Prying eyes stare at him as he stands, swaying on the spot, like he’s going to be the one to clean up the shattered glass.

“Sit your ass down, Eaton,” I grumble as I do it instead. The last thing I want to clean up is his blood.

I can tell he’s ashamed. And he should be, but I will not pile on his punishment. He’s beating himself up just fine already. Instead, I prepare him a steaming mug of tea, wipe up the beer he spilled, sweep the evidence of his outburst into a dustpan, and carry on with my night like he isn’t here.

I refill the tea.

He drinks the tea.

We don’t talk, but he watches me, spinning the mug between his broad palms. I feel the outline of his keys in the back pocket of my jeans.

Pete, our cook, walks out of the back at 10 p.m. “You all good out here, Bails? Kitchen’s closed.”

I scan the bar. It’s busy for a Monday night, but manageable. We’re only open for two more hours anyway. “Yup. All good here,” I reply, giving him a brief thumbs up.

Pete returns the motion with a smile and heads out the front doors. He got hired from the city, which means he doesn’t automatically hate me. Which makes working with him a breeze.

When I check Beau’s tea again, he stops me. “So, he leaves, and you’re here alone for the rest of the night?”

I shrug as I take his mug to add water. “Yeah. I’m a shift manager now, so if it was busier, I’d have kept a server on, but I cut her early.”

He rests his forearms on the bar, pads of his long fingers pressed together like he needs something to do with them. “But you’re alone? You shut down alone?”

Steam rises as hot water pours from the dispenser.

“Correct.”

As I slide the mug across the bar top until it bumps into the tips of his fingers, I try to remember how many refills I’ve done since the tea is looking awfully watery.

I crouch down and rummage through the box of tea on the bottom shelf. The Railspur isn’t a big tea place, but I find another bag of chamomile and drop it into the mug, making a mental note to have our general manager, Jake, order more.

When I tie the string around the handle, Beau doesn’t move his palms from around the cup, like he’s desperate to soak up the heat.

“Does the manager know this?”

“Jake? Presumably. He makes the schedule. Never met the new owner, totally hands-off investor. So as long as the place is making money, I doubt they care either.”

His brow furrows. “That’s not safe for you. What if something happens?”

My fingertips brush against his hand as I complete the knot.

I peek up now, lifting one eyebrow. “Like some guy pitching a fit and knocking beer all over the place?”

He glares at me, and I try to keep from smirking at him.

With a nonchalant shrug, I answer the question. “I deal with it.” Like I always have. I’ve been looking out for myself for as long as I can remember. It doesn’t feel like such a hardship anymore. Just reality.

The only thing Beau gives me in response is a hard stare and a grunt.

But he doesn’t leave. He drinks tea at my bar for the rest of the night. For two hours, he sits there, keeping watch. And when I kick everyone out at midnight and shut things down, he stays behind, silently guarding me.

“Are you sober?” I ask as he walks me through the darkened parking lot to my car.

“I’ve been drinking fucking chamomile tea for two hours. I’ve never been more sober or hydrated in my life.”

I suck in a deep breath and pull his keys from my back pocket, holding them out to him on a flat palm. “Don’t pull that shit on me again, Beau.”

His throat works as he reaches forward and swipes the keys from me. “You’re not how I remember you, Bailey.”

I let myself smirk now because, of course, we all change. I couldn’t stay that frozen, terrified little girl forever.

I wanted to change.

“You’re not how I remember you either, Beau.”

His eyes shift back and forth between mine, like he’s searching for something in them. “What days do you work?”

I snort, glancing down to pull my own keys from my purse. “What days don’t I work?”

“Okay, what nights do you work alone?”

“Sunday through Tuesday,” I reply, zipping my bag.

Beau nods and says a terse, “Okay,” before spinning on his heel and giving me his back, looking every bit the military man he is. Head held high, shoulders perfectly straight.

Like he’s some sort of knight in shining armor.

One who starts pulling up a stool every Sunday through Tuesday to drink chamomile tea until midnight, so I don’t have to close by myself.


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