Home > Worked Up (Made in Jersey #3)

Worked Up (Made in Jersey #3)
Author: Tessa Bailey

Chapter One

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.

“What’cha havin’?”

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.

“What’s funny?”

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.”

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