his old lady. Trouble is, Thorn can’t just pretend. He wants Cassidy, and every scorching touch tells him she feels the same. But acting on their hottest fantasies could leave them both exposed . . . even if nothing else has ever felt so real.
Cassidy Ryder swung the bat, testing the weight and reach, as she marched around the line of motorcycles. Wrinkling her nose, she ignored the sharp, pungent smell of marijuana drifting across her path.
Huddled in the shade beneath the building’s eaves, men with greasy hair and beards puffed on tightly rolled joints and eyed her with mild curiosity. As long as she stayed away from their well-loved bikes, they’d let her move on without interference.
Her body trembled with suppressed fury. She almost wished they’d try to stop her. Anything to give her a reason to release the pressure building inside. With a snort of derision, she straightened her back and stalked into the Skull and Bones Bar.
The thumping beat of Kid Rock blasted from the speakers, competing with the rowdy conversations shaking the large, smoky room. Though mostly rural, Sand County had a law against smoking in any public establishment. In pure defiance, a blue-gray haze hovered around the dim bulbs spotlighting the long shelves of liquor and above two pool tables in the back.
She hesitated. Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, she ignored the tall, lanky bartender strolling along behind the counter and heading her way. The rest of the crowd ignored her entrance. Did they often see people carrying a bat into the place?
She didn’t care. Time for someone to listen to her.
With a swing of her whole body, she brought the bat down, sweeping several glasses from the long bar. The loud pops and tinkling of broken glasses immediately quieted the room just as Kid’s “American Bad Ass” faded out. Several of the leather-and-denim clad men stood and stepped toward her.
She lifted the bat for another swing.
“Damn it to hell! Wait!” The bartender slid over the top of the counter to stand in front of her. “What the hell are you doing?”
Speaking of badass, with his broad shoulders and tats down both arms, he’d draw anyone’s attention just by entering a room. But add in the dark hair cut tight on the sides, long on top and brushed back to his nape, he especially caught the eye of every woman in the place. She’d noticed too, but she had more important things on her mind.
Her arm muscles tensed as she pulled her weapon higher over her shoulder.
He stopped a bat length away and raised his hands. “Cassidy . . .” He hesitated as if he waited for her reaction to the name. Was she that forgettable? She’d been there several times over the last month, to drag her brother back home. When her eyes narrowed, he continued. “Whatever has you riled up, can we talk about it?”
Emphasizing each word, she pointed the bat as if it were a finger. “I came in here yesterday and asked, real polite, if you or anyone here had seen my brother. Each one of you looked me in the face and lied. This morning, I get a call, telling me he was seen yesterday, hanging out back, talking with Stonewall.” She glanced around, keeping the bartender in her peripheral view. “Where’s the bastard? I want answers about my brother’s whereabouts.” Proud of how her voice remained even and carried across the room, she jutted out her chin. What would they lie about next?
The Brothers of Mayhem Motorcycle Club never took kindly to threats. She didn’t care. Violence was the only way they would respect her, and she was prepared to do more, if that’s what it took to bring her little brother back home. Storm had never stayed gone this long.
“Put the bat down before you get hurt.” The bartender’s soft command sounded so reasonable.
Screw reasonable. She’d been fair and understanding for the last three days while she searched for Storm. Her patience had disappeared with the only member of her family worth a damn. No way would she fail him again.
“I will when you—”
Brawny arms wrapped around her chest and squeezed. She gasped for breath as someone hauled her against his chest and off her feet. The bartender grabbed the bat from her loosened grip and threw it to the side. It hit the floor with a loud clanking.
“Little girl, we don’t know where your brother’s at. We didn’t lie about that.” The deep voice of the club’s VP, Mac McGee, came from above her head as he squeezed again in warning. “Maybe I need to teach you some fucking manners.”
She squeaked from the pain, her ribs near the breaking point. With little blood circulation reaching below her waist, her kicks were no more than taps to the mountain restraining her. She pushed at the tight arms as her head dug into his sternum.
“Please,” she pleaded with a hiss of precious air.
“Mac, let her go. I’ll handle her.” The bartender rested his elbows on the countertop behind him, crossed his long legs at the ankles, and waited.
The big guy released her so quickly she barely caught herself before falling at their feet. Asshole. Taking cautious breaths in case of a cracked rib, she regained a little of her composure.
Handle her? In his dreams. Shoulders thrust back and head held up, she asked, “Where’s my brother?”
The bartender sighed in frustration. “You’re the most hardheaded woman. Mac told you yesterday, and today is no different. We have no idea where your brother is.”
Then it struck her what the big guy said a moment earlier. She turned and looked into the angry bloodshot eyes of Mac. “What did you mean when you said ‘We didn’t lie about that’? What did you lie about?”
With a shake of his massive, shaggy head, the big guy reached for her, but the bartender knocked her to the side and stepped between them, one arm out to keep her back. “Go on. I’ll take it from here.”
“Never could stand bossy old ladies,” Mac drawled with a sneer.
She leaned over the bartender’s arm and shouted, “Who are you calling old lady? I’m no one’s old lady! You old fart!” She knew what he meant, that it had nothing to do with age, but with belonging to someone. At the age of twenty-one, she refused to let anyone call her that. At sixty-one, she would damn well still refuse.
“Who would want you as their old lady, with that bitchy attitude,” Mac said, more as fact than a question. “You need your ass beaten.” Then he walked away as he raised one finger in her direction.
“Yeah, but at least I look human and not like a grizzly bear, what with all that fur on your face!” How lame.
She really needed to shut up before they got tired of her mouth. As a kid she’d grown up around surly men like Mac, but her father’s reputation had protected her from worse. Besides, what about her promise to be a good girl? Her foster mother tried her best to teach her self-control. Yet Cassidy often let her temper get the better of her. Remembering how her hissy fit had caused her brother to leave home in a huff the other night, a sharp pain roiled in her stomach.
As she opened her mouth to apologize, the bartender’s hand cupped the back of her head, clutched a handful of hair, and twisted. At the same time, his other hand covered her mouth.
“Shh,” he said softly. Concern darkened his blue eyes as he shook his head.
Bending her back, he caused her to lose balance but held her tight. Her feet remained on the floor as he aligned his body with hers, almost touching his nose to hers.
“If you don’t shut your trap, you’re going to get more than you asked for,” he whispered. “Your brother isn’t here. He’s turning eighteen in a couple days, right?” Without giving her a chance to answer, he added, “Then he’ll be an adult. At least one who can vote and die for his country. So, I think it’s in your best interest to go home. When he’s ready to talk, he’ll show up.”
She wasn’t sure why it happened. The last few days had been stressful. She wasn’t one of those girls who did it at the drop of a hat, but her eyes welled with tears.
“Ah, shit. Don’t do that,” he said between gritted teeth. He moved his hand from her mouth, pressing her cheek to a broad shoulder as he lifted her upright.
Unable to stop, she dug trembling fingers into his leather vest and sobbed.
Why is he being so nice?
The strong hand in her hair remained, but the other one rubbed and patted her back. He acted as if he had all of the time in the world while she bawled like a little kid.
“Shh. Everything will be okay.”
She glanced up and her heart skipped a beat. The guy had a gorgeous smile; there was even a dimple beneath the stubble on his face.
A gravelly voice nearby said, “Get me a beer, Thorn, before you fuck her.”
Her body stiffened.
Stonewall had arrived.
her high school sweetheart and lives in Alabama.