Serving Trouble (Second Shot #1) - Sara Jane Stone

Chapter One

“I DROVE TO the wrong bar.”

Josie Fairmore stared up at the unlit sign towering above the nearly vacant parking lot, her cell phone pressed to her ear. Nothing changed in Forever, Oregon. Everything from the people to the names of the bars remained the same. The triplets, who had to be over a hundred now, still owned The Three Sisters Café downtown. Every car and truck she’d sped past had the high school football team’s flag mounted on the roof or featured on the bumper. And her father was still the chief of police.

Nothing changed. That was why she’d left for college and never looked back.

Until now.

She’d blown past the Forever town line ten minutes ago. She’d driven straight to the place that promised a rescue from her current hell. And she’d parked under the sign, which appeared determined to prove her wrong.

“Josephine Fairmore, it is ten thirty in the morning,” Daphne said through the phone, her tone oddly stern for the owner of a strip club situated outside the town limits. “The fact that you’re at a bar might be your first mistake.”

Damn. If the owner of The Lost Kitten was her voice of reason, Josie was screwed.

“When did they take the ‘country’ out of Big Buck’s Country Bar?” Josie stared at the letters above the entrance to the town’s oldest bar. She twirled the key to her red Mini, which looked out of place beside the lone monster truck in the lot. She should probably take the car back to the city. The Mini didn’t belong in the land of four-wheelers, pickups, and logging trucks. The red car would miss the parking garage.

But I can’t afford the parking garage anymore. I can’t even pay my rent. Or my bills. . .

“Big Buck gave in three years ago,” Daphne explained, drawing Josie’s attention back to the bar parking lot. “He decided to take Noah’s advice and get rid of the mechanical bull. He wanted to attract the college crowd.”

“He got rid of the bull before I went to college.” And before his son left to join the United States Marine Corps. She should know. She’d ridden the bull at his going away party.

With Noah.

And then she’d ridden Noah.

“Well, Buck made a few more changes,” Daphne said. “He added a new sound system and—”

“He changed the name. I guess that explains why Noah came home.” She glanced at the dark, quiet bar. The hours posted by the door read “Open from noon until the cows come home (or 3am, whichever comes first!).”

“He served for five years and did two tours in Afghanistan. Stop by The Three Sisters and you’ll get an earful about his heroics,” Daphne said. “But from what I’ve heard, Noah didn’t want to sign up for another five. Not after his grandmother died last year.”

“You’ve seen him?” Josie looked down at her cowboy boots. She hadn’t worn them since that night in Noah’s barn. She’d thought they’d help her land the job at the “country” bar. But now she wished she’d worn her Converse, maybe a pair of heels.

“Yes.”

“At The Lost Kitten?” Why, after all this time, after she never responded to his apologetic letter, would she care if Noah spent his free time watching women strip off their clothes? One wild, stupid, naked night cut short by her big brother didn’t offer a reason for jealousy.

But the fact that I told him I love him? That might.

“No. I bumped into him at the café.” Daphne hesitated. “He didn’t smile. Not once.”

“PTSD?” she asked quietly. She couldn’t imagine walking into a war zone and leaving without long-lasting trauma. The things he probably saw . . .

“Maybe,” Daphne said. “But he’s not jumpy. He just seems pissed off at the world. Elvira was behind the counter that day. She tried to thank him for serving our country after he ordered a burger. He set a ten on the counter and walked out before his food arrived.”

“He left his manners in the Middle East.” Josie stared at the door to Big Buck’s. “Might hurt my chances for getting a job.”

“I think your lack of waitressing or bartending experience will be the nail in the coffin. But if Noah turns you down, you can work here.”

“I’d rather keep my shirt on while I work,” Josie said dryly.

And he won’t turn me down. He promised to help me.

But that was before he turned into a surly former marine.

“You’d make more without it,” Daphne said. “Or you can tell the hospital, the