Copyright © 2015 Michelle Woods
All rights reserved
All rights reserved
Kelsey Cane rolled her eyes for the fifth time tonight, her patience wearing thin as she tried not to glare at the idiot who was hitting on her after she’d already shot him down three times. His name was Kelvin or maybe it was Clive; Kelsey paused trying to remember before deciding it really didn’t matter what the hell his name was because there was no way in hell she would ever take him up on his offer.
Clive leaned forward, his breath reeking of whiskey as he breathed on her. His eyes were slightly unfocused and he swayed a little, catching himself with a hand on the wooden bar next to them. The movement stirred the air, sending a waft of his sweet-smelling cologne her way and Kelsey took a step back from the man, trying to hold her breath for a second to recover from the headache it was giving her.
Tally, the bartender, raised his brow at her in question, asking if she wanted him to intervene. Kelsey shook her head slightly, letting out the breath she had been holding because she was beginning to get lightheaded. She inhaled and let out a slight cough when the heavy smell assaulted her again.
Ugg––why did some men think they could mask their body odor with cologne? It didn’t make the BO go away, it only added another scent to the mix. She felt her stomach turn and she tried not to inhale too deeply lest she vomit at his feet from the stench.
Kelsey, at twenty-four, was the youngest of the three Cane sisters who owned Tricky Bitches. Being the youngest sucked, mostly because they treated her like she was still fifteen. Kelsey was frankly sick of everyone treating her like she was still a gangly teen when she wasn’t. It was why she didn’t want to enlist Tally’s help to get rid of the man in front of her, because if she did her sisters would insist that she stay home rather than help with the bar.
Kelsey wasn’t going to let that happen. She’d fought too hard over the past six months to show her two older sisters that she wasn’t a child anymore and they could stop protecting her from everything. It was great that they loved her so much but it had become annoying when she was sixteen and it wasn’t any better now that she was twenty-four.
She knew that it all stemmed from her being very ill when she was twelve. Most illnesses now were quickly fixed with a shot or a pill but hers had been a rare heart condition that no one in the four different clinics her parents took her to could figure out. Kelsey knew that if they hadn’t taken her to the city to the hospital there for testing, she would have died from the heart malformation. Thankfully they had and her heart issue was corrected once her parents were able to afford the costly medical procedure.
It had taken them five months to gather the credits for the simple procedure and during that time she’d been bedridden. Her twin sisters, Greta and Hanna, were eighteen at the time and had helped pay for the operation by working themselves half to death. Kelsey had been unable to do anything to help because they were scared anything physical would make her heart decide to give out.
For a twelve-year-old, it had been a long and very boring five months. After the operation, going from the sickly member of the family to a more normal part of it had not happened the way she’d wanted it to. Her sisters had never lost their overly protective streak when it came to her.
Their parents had died in a shoot out three years later when Kelsey was fifteen, leaving her care to her then twenty-one year old sisters. Their parents’ untimely death had made her sisters’ need to protect her go into overdrive. At first it hadn’t bothered her but as she got older, it had become an issue that caused quite a few rows between them.
Kelsey sighed, rolling her shoulders to relieve the tension that had settled there, thinking back to three years ago when her sisters had opened Tricky Bitches. Greta had a brilliant idea to broker a deal with the Blue Bandits’ vice president for protection of the bar. Kelsey was proud to say that it had worked out well for both them and the Blue Bandits.
Kelsey shifted from one foot to the other as she thought about the fight she’d had with Greta and Hanna last week before she began working here. It hadn’t been pleasant. She could still remember yelling at them that she wasn’t sick and she was just as tough as they were.
Hell, likely tougher. She’d had to be otherwise they would have smothered her spunky nature by now.
Kelvin, or Clive, or whatever the hell his name was, leaned closer to her, forcing her mind back to the present. Kelsey almost choked on the smells that floated over her mixing with the smells of the smoky bar. Almost gagging, Kelsey felt her eyes beginning to water and took another step back from the man, trying to get far enough away that she wasn’t bombarded by his awful smell.
“Beeeauty.” He drew out the word, a lopsided grin on his face, revealing stained yellow teeth. “You and me should go somewhere private and get better acquainted.”
Ha, that so wasn’t happening in this lifetime, bud, she mentally informed him, wishing she could say it out loud but knowing she’d better not.
“I’m working and you need to go sleep off the drinks, Clive,” Kelsey told him, not wanting to draw this out anymore. She’d already tried the nice brush-off three times, it was now time to be a bit blunt.
“Clive, who’s Clive?” he asked, his face contorting into a confused expression.
Whoops, guess that wasn’t his name.
Kelsey almost allowed her mirth to get the better of her but managed just barely to hold the snicker inside. Her eyes toured the bar, taking in the bodies crammed into it like sardines packed into a can. It was busy tonight just like it was every Friday night and Kelsey knew Tally was swamped at the bar and her standing here with this loser wasn’t helping him. She needed to wrap this up before he told her sisters that she didn’t help him handle the rush and she ended up getting booted from bar duty again.
“I was sure that’s what you told me your name was,” Kelsey told him looking up at him with an innocent smile. She didn’t want to encourage him to start up again so it wasn’t a big one. “I have to go help Tally at the bar, it’s getting busier. Have a nice night,” she informed him before moving around him without looking back to gauge his reaction to her walking away.
She really didn’t care how he reacted but she didn’t want to cause trouble the first night she was in charge of the bar. Greta and Hanna would likely have to be called to straighten things out with the Blue Bandits MC for the trouble they needed to break up and they would never let her in here to help again. They’d only allowed it this time because she had insisted that if they didn’t, she would take the credits she’d earned from the profits of her share in Tricky Bitches and use them to open her own bar.
She could do it too. This place made a very tidy profit being the only bar in town besides the local bondage club, which wasn’t for everyone. Kelsey felt a blush steal over her cheeks because thinking of that club made her feel embarrassed. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would go to a club to have sex, but she knew that’s what happened there.
Shaking her head to dislodge the thoughts that swirled around in her mind about the other bar in town, she didn’t pay attention to where she was going. She was walking through the crowd to the other end of the counter to help Tally serve drinks when she almost walked into a man standing near the bar.
She tried to make a quick course correction and only succeeded in almost falling on her ass. If it hadn’t been for the hard male arms that shot out to catch her against a thick chest, she likely would have ended up on the floor in an embarrassing heap. As she landed against him, her brain popped out a single thought. At least he didn’t stink like three days of body odor mixed with heavy sweet-smelling cologne.
He actually smelled really nice. Inhaling deeply, Kelsey smelled leather, a faint hint of motor oil, and sandalwood mixed with a rich masculine tone that made her head spin. She heard the dark rumble that rose from the man’s chest as he steadied her.
“Not that I mind being run over by such a beauty, but you might want to pay more attention to where you’re headed, sweetness.” Kelsey looked up, seeing his hard lips curling up into a smile.
Kelsey felt her cheeks warm. Did she really have to be so damned clumsy? She never really outgrew that awkward clumsiness like most people did in their teens.
Nope, lucky her, she got to carry that over into adulthood where she proceeded to humiliate herself on a regular basis by tripping over her own feet and running into things and people. Like right now. Of all the ways to meet a nice-smelling, good-looking man, she had to almost run him over. Kelsey extracted herself from the man’s arms, standing on her own feet and trying to gather what was left of her dignity.
“Sorry, I was focused on helping Tally and wasn’t paying attention,” she managed to utter without stuttering or sinking into the floor in a puddle of embarrassment.
“No problem, darlin’. I love jerking random women into my arms at every opportunity,” he replied, his grin showing perfectly white teeth under a thick brown beard that was trimmed neatly.
Kelsey couldn’t help but feel a shiver of desire slide over her as she tentatively smiled back at him. She knew he was just being nice but she couldn’t help wondering if he’d be good in bed. Down girl, she scolded her runaway libido.
“Okay, um––I gue–– thanks for saving me,” Kelsey found herself saying and wanted to roll her eyes. Why was she always so awkward when talking to a man she found attractive? It wasn’t like she hadn’t dated or had sex. She’d done both but she was never good with talking to the men she felt attracted to until she got to know them better. She was never quite sure how to talk to a man until she found something in common with him.
“You’re welcome. I’m Hammer, by the way, and you are?” he asked, his head tilted slightly, gazing down at her with those perfectly white teeth still visible. She noticed that he had little crinkles around his eyes when he smiled and knew that he must smile a lot.
“Kelsey,” she said, feeling a little less like an out of place shoe and more like the confident woman she was. “It’s nice to meet you, but I really do need to help Tally.”
She motioned with her hand towards the bar and took a step closer to it. Hammer nodded and she moved around him headed over to where Tally was setting up shots for a group of men behind the bar. She was just lifting the fold up to step behind the bar when Hammer called out to her.
“It was nice to meet you too, Kelsey.”
Kelsey’s lips lifted in a little grin as she stopped next to Tally, asking what he needed. He rattled off three drinks and Kelsey got to work making them. After that she was kept busy helping Tally, mixing drinks and serving them up. It wasn’t until three hours later that she even had the chance to think about Hammer again.
She was wiping down the tables as they prepared to close up shop for the evening. It was three am and she was dead on her feet, having worked since five that afternoon. She felt as if she were being watched and glanced around to see why the hairs on the back of her neck were raised. She spotted Hammer sitting in a booth a few feet away with his long legs propped on the table in front of him watching her. She drank in the sight of him.
Her eyes landed on the hard thick muscles in his arms that she hadn’t gotten a good look at when he’d caught her earlier. Kelsey enjoyed that view for a moment before she followed the line of his shoulder up to his face. Seeing the sly smile curled on his lips beneath his beard, she knew he must know exactly what she’d been staring at. Turning away to wipe down the next table, she tried not to peek up at him while she finished cleaning up.
Kelsey wondered what club he belonged to as she absently continued clearing the empty beer bottles and the trash from the remaining tables before wiping them down. She knew he was wearing a cut but the few moments she’d spent staring at him hadn’t been enough for her to focus on the emblem that would let her know which one.
As she was finishing up the last table, she dropped the empty glasses into the tub she’d set on the table nearest the bar so she wouldn’t have to carry the heavy thing very far. Kelsey was about to lift it off the table when strong male hands were suddenly lifting it. Kelsey looked up to see to whom those hands belonged, finding Hammer grinning at her.
“Where’s it need to go?” he asked when she only stared at him.
Kelsey felt heat enter her cheeks. Shaking her head at her gawking, she turned and headed towards the bar, calling over her shoulder, “Follow me.”
“Sure thing, darlin’,” Hammer said, carrying the tub behind the bar and into the back room. Kelsey didn’t worry about being alone with him because Tally was still back here cleaning the dishes. Tally looked up; seeing Hammer, his brow rose and Kelsey shrugged.
“I thought everyone was gone?” Tally asked, holding the dishrag he’d been using to clean the bar glasses.
“Everyone except Hammer is,” Kelsey replied.
“Well, I don’t know why you locked up with him still here.”
“Shit, I knew I forgot something,” Kelsey said, realizing she’d never locked the front door. Damn it, why hadn’t she remembered that.
“I’ll get it. Kelsey, can I talk to you for a second first though?” Hammer asked, a small sexy grin curling his lips.
“Sure.” Kelsey followed him to the door to the back room, standing there while he watched her. His eyes were intense as he gazed at her and Kelsey couldn’t help shifting slightly because it made her a little uncomfortable.
“I was thinking I might like to get better acquainted and wondered if I could have your number?” Hammer asked.
Kelsey wanted to jump up and down while pumping her fist in the air because Hammer was seriously hot and he’d just asked her if he could get her number. She wasn’t a beauty, she knew, decently pretty sure, but nothing like Hanna and Greta.
They were both stunning with perfectly shaped bodies to go along with their perfectly symmetrical faces. It was actually annoying how gorgeous her sisters were because when men met them they almost fell over themselves to ask them out, but she normally had to work hard to get one to even notice her. Hammer must have a thing for clumsy women, she thought with an inner snort of laughter.
“Sure,” Kelsey finally replied, containing her excitement by taking the phone he held out to her and entering her number. He grinned brightly, taking his phone back before he winked at her.
“Great, I’ll call you soon, darlin’,” he declared, before he turned, exiting the back room. “I’ll lock up. Night, Kelsey.”
Kelsey stood staring at the door he’d exited for a moment before she allowed herself to do a happy little jig. Excitement coursed through her because it had been a while since she’d been asked out by anyone. She twirled around pumping her fist in the air, letting out a little crow.
“You know that’s not going to go over well with your sisters, right?” Tally asked when she’d finally stopped dancing around. Kelsey felt some of her enthusiasm dwindle at that but she refused to allow his words to completely dampen her spirits.
“It’s none of their business,” she snapped, before walking over to the bin Hammer had set on the counter for her to begin throwing away the trash and empty bottles.
“That don’t mean they aren’t going to give you hell about going out with one of them bikers, Kells,” Tally informed her.
She knew he was right; they were so beyond overprotective it was ridiculous. Kelsey felt the rest of her joy drain away as she realized that she was likely going to get into another fight with them over this and sighed. She was tired of the way they treated her. She wasn’t a teenager anymore and they needed to allow her to live her life but convincing them of that was not going to happen overnight. She’d taken the first steps but she knew she still had a long road ahead of her.
Feeling a bit bummed, she finished helping Tally clean up. When they were done, Tally walked her to her car and she headed back to her apartment. Kelsey was so tired by the time she entered her bedroom that she didn’t even bother to shower, just pulled off her shoes and shucked her pants before falling on the bed in an exhausted heap. She was asleep in seconds, her last thought that she couldn’t wait for her first date with Hammer.
Kelsey woke to a pounding on her door. Lying on the bed, she moaned. Ugg, that must be Greta or Hanna. No one else would be pounding on her door at ten thirty in the morning. Letting out a little huff of annoyance, she rose from the bed. Walking to the dresser she grabbed a pair of shorts, slipping them on.
Two days ago, Hammer had called to ask her to go to a bonfire party with him tonight. Kelsey had agreed which was likely why one or both of her sisters were at her door. She wanted to growl in frustration.
When she’d told them she couldn’t work tonight, they’d demanded to know why. She’d told them she had a date and when they wouldn’t stop asking her question after question she’d finally told them where she was going and with whom. It had not gotten better after that.
Greta had freaked, commanding her to call him and cancel.
Ha, as if!
She was not canceling her date because her sisters didn’t like the fact that she was going out with a Blue Bandit. Exiting her bedroom and walking towards the door, she felt her head pound when the banging started up again. Gritting her teeth, she stomped to the door, her hand snatching it open, her glare directed at Greta who stood on her doorstep.
“What do you want?” Kelsey asked snidely, her hand holding the door open but blocking Greta from entering.
“Why are you being so difficult?” Greta snapped back, her glare just as hot as Kelsey’s.
“Because you have no business treating me like I’m twelve,” she told her sister before stepping back, headed to the kitchen to get some coffee.
Err––she really hated having to fight with Greta. Hanna was at least halfway reasonable, but Greta was like a mule and she never listened.
Entering the little kitchen, she walked to the counter hitting the button on the coffeemaker to make herself some coffee. She had a feeling she was going to need it in order to deal with this conversation.
“I know you’re not twelve, Kelsey, but that doesn’t mean I think you dating a biker is a good idea,” Greta told her as she entered the kitchen, sitting down at the table along one wall. “Grab me a cup too,” she said when Kelsey poured coffee into her mug.
Kelsey wanted to growl and refuse because her sister was a pain in the ass. Instead she grabbed another mug and filled it, then carried them both to the table, giving one to Greta before sitting down across from her. Taking a long sip of the coffee, she let out a blissful sigh. She loved the thick rich taste of the expensive fresh grounds she ordered from over in Red Devils territory.
“You didn’t grab the cream?” Greta asked, a frown on her face.
“You know where it’s at, Greta, get it yourself. I don’t know why you insist on ruining perfectly good coffee with that stuff anyway.” Kelsey wrinkled her nose because adding anything to coffee this good was a travesty. Greta grunted, standing up to grab the cream from the fridge before taking her seat again. She poured a ton of cream into her coffee, making Kelsey cringe a second time because that was just nasty.
“You’re really cranky this morning, aren’t you?” Greta commented.
“Yes, I am. I wonder why? It couldn’t be that my sister decided to wake me by banging my door down when I have only had about four hours of sleep, now could it?”
“Oh, stop. How was I to know you hadn’t slept last night? You weren’t working.” Greta sipped her cream while glaring at Kelsey over the top of her cup.
“You know I have terrible insomnia. You should have waited till at least eleven thirty to come over here to bang on my door.” Kelsey took another sip of her coffee loving the bitter flavor as it hit her tongue.
“Sorry, I didn’t think about it,” Greta said, her look sheepish. Kelsey knew that her sister would have waited till later if she’d thought about it before she came over but she wasn’t feeling very generous this morning so she glared at her.
“Why are you even here, Greta?” she demanded, seeing her sister grimace.
“You know why I’m here, Kelsey. I don’t know why you think going to this party tonight is a good idea. Bikers aren’t someone you want to mess around with, Kells.”
Kelsey ignored her sister and carefully set down her cup, her patience wearing thin. She understood that Greta meant well but she was sticking her nose where it didn’t belong again.
“I don’t really care what you think, Greta. I’m a grown woman and I was asked on a date and I intend to go. Nothing you say this morning is going to change my mind so this conversation is useless.” Kelsey leaned back in her chair running a hand through her light red hair, her fingers catching on a tangle making her realize she needed to brush it.
“Why must you be so stubborn? You know that dating a biker is bad news. Are you just trying to be rebellious?” Greta asked.
“Rebellious? Really, Greta? I thought you said you knew I wasn’t twelve,” Kelsey grumbled, her head starting to ache again and her eyes burning from lack of sleep. She hated the insomnia that kept her up to all hours. It worked well when she watched the bar but otherwise it was a pain in the ass.
“What else am I to think, Kells? You’re going out with a biker for goodness sakes.”
“Yes, I am and it has nothing to do with being rebellious and everything to do with the fact that he’s hot and he asked me out.” Kelsey gritted her teeth trying to hold on to her temper, which threatened to explode. She was so done with conversations like these. When would her sisters learn that she wasn’t a damned kid anymore?
“He’s hot and he asked you out? Those are the only reasons? Kelsey, it could be dangerous. These people aren’t nice and they have a whole other type of life than we do. It’s not okay for you to moonlight in their world just because he’s hot.” Greta was leaning forward with her hands on the table, her face red and her eyes narrowed as she spit the words at Kelsey.
“Greta, that’s utter hogwash. Yes, they’re different but I like him and he has been nothing but a gentleman the two times I’ve been around him. Just because they have different rules doesn’t mean that they’re dangerous. Besides, if you thought they were so awful why did you bargain with them to protect the club three years ago when we opened it?” She didn’t want to argue with her sister anymore over this but she really didn’t understand why she was so upset over her dating Hammer. She did know that she liked him and she wasn’t backing down from her choice to go out with him tonight.
“We bargained with them because they were dangerous, Kelsey. That’s why I don’t want you to do something stupid. These are hardened men who end up killing people more than once a week and you want to go off with him like he’s just a fluffy teddy bear you can parade about with,” Greta practically screamed at her, standing to her feet before she began pacing in Kelsey’s small kitchen.
“Geez, Greta, first of all most of those people are trying to kill them. Secondly, I don’t think they’re going to shoot me at a damned bonfire party. And I know he isn’t a fluffy teddy bear, he’s a man. You have to stop assuming that I am a kid in over my head. I’m a twenty-four year old woman and I can take care of myself,” Kelsey told her, realizing that her sister was so insistent because she was really scared that something bad would happen to her. It made the anger she felt over her big sisters’ interference lessen some.
“You can’t know that for sure and there are other bad things they could do to you, Kelsey. I just want you safe.” Greta looked at her imploringly.
“I know that, Greta, but I’m still going. I’ll be careful and if I get into trouble I will call you and Hanna or Tally to come get me. That’s the most I’m willing to give you so take it or leave it.” Kelsey sliced her hand through the air to let her sister know she was serious and crossed her arms, leaning back in the chair waiting for her sister to respond.
Greta nodded, but she didn’t look happy about it. “All right, but I still think it’s a bad idea.”
“I know what you think but I am going and you being a pain over it isn’t going to do any good. Let’s talk about something else. What happened at the bar yesterday? Hanna left a message but I didn’t call her back,” Kelsey asked, trying to get them on another subject rather than end up rehashing the argument they’d just had.
“Oh, she was talking about those three idiots who got into a bar brawl. She thought it was hilarious. I however don’t. They busted three tables and took out two of the strobe lamps. Don’t ask me how they managed that, those things are embedded in the walls and normally almost impossible to break but somehow they managed.”
“They broke the strobes? That’s not good, those things are expensive.” Kelsey frowned, watching Greta as she sat back down with a heavy sigh.
Her shoulders slumped as she seemed to collapse in on herself. Greta was the worrier and it showed in the way she took everything so seriously. Hanna on the other hand was a bit of a cut up and she rarely, if ever, took things seriously.
Kelsey worried about them both for very different reasons. Kelsey wasn’t sure that Greta wouldn’t cause herself to have a heart attack from all the stressing she did over the smallest things. Hanna, on the other hand, could walk right into danger and get hurt because she never worried about anything. Kelsey didn’t know which was worse, but she didn’t give either of them a hard time about it like they did her.
“I know, but they were hauled out by Bull and a few of the other Bandits MC members because Tally called them while I tried to break it up. Hanna thought that was funny as hell too because Bull told me that I was stupid for trying to break up a bar fight and that next time I should just call them. Can you believe that?” Greta asked, her nostrils flaring, her eyes narrowed and her fists clenched on the table.
Kelsey couldn’t help the smile that teased at her lips because Greta hated Bull and had from the moment she met him. Kelsey wasn’t sure why but they really rubbed each other the wrong way. It was funny that Greta got so mad at him for a perfectly reasonable statement.
“Well, honestly he wasn’t wrong. You could have been injured trying to stop them. It’s why you brokered that agreement with them in the first place,” Kelsey told her and lifted her mug before standing to walk to the sink to rinse it out.
“I’m not going to let them destroy my bar while I wait on the Bandits to get there. They were breaking stuff and it needed to stop,” Greta growled.
“Yes, but were you able to stop them?” she asked, turning to look at Greta who pursed her lips and crossed her arms.
“No,” she replied, her brow furrowed.
“Exactly, so next time he’s right, don’t try to prevent it. That’s why we made the deal with their club after all. Did they make them pay for the damages?” Kelsey asked, turning on the water to wash the mug and the plate she’d left in the sink from the night before.
“Yes, they have a week then the Bandits will collect according to Burner.”
“Who’s Burner?” Kelsey asked, having never heard that name before.
“Huh, oh, he’s some new guy who showed up with Bull to break the fight up. Seems to be in charge because the others deferred to him. He’s new though, neither Hanna nor I had ever met him. He’s intense too. Scary,” Greta informed her but Greta thought nearly every man in the club was scary so Kelsey didn’t put much stock in him being frightening.
“Gotcha. Well that’s good that they have to pay for it all because otherwise we’d have to eat the loss. That would suck cause those lamps are like six thousand credits a pop because they’re hard to find and there’s a limited supply,” Kelsey muttered.
“Yeah, I like having the backing from them because everyone knows not to pull any bullshit because if they do, they’ll answer to the Bandits. It’s nice not to have to worry about the idiots who get drunk and do stupid shit like those three men last night.” Greta smiled at her as she set her own mug into the sink for Kelsey to wash.
“Well why were you trying to break up the fight then?” Kelsey shook her head.
“I don’t know, I was just trying to get them to stop breaking stuff and it took them like thirty minutes to get there because they weren’t nearby. Then Bull was being an asshole as usual so, you know.” Greta shrugged as she leaned on the counter beside her.
“Greta, sometimes you aren’t very logical, you know that, right?” Kelsey asked, snorting out a laugh.
“Yeah, well neither are you. Going out with a biker,” Greta shot back, her arms crossing and her body tensed.
“Not that again. Stop, just stop.”
“Fine, but you brought that one on yourself,” Greta complained.
“Yeah, I know,” Kelsey sighed, as the two of them started to chat about what they would do about the broken strobes until they were able to be ordered. They’d have to find another lighting source or that part of the club would be too dark.