Jakob Larson was going to be the death of me.
Beneath the dim amber lighting in the bar, he was six feet of sin wrapped in darkness. The sleeves of his leather jacket hit him at his wrists. A pair of sinuous tattoos slithered out from them like twin snakes, black ink whorling over pale skin. He tilted his head down to catch whatever his biker buddy was trying to say over the thumping music. Another tantalizing hint of a tattoo peeked out above his collar.
I stared at his wide back like I had x-ray vision, wondering how much of his skin was covered. Whoever needled all that ink into him was one lucky bastard. To be bent over him for hours on end, his big body laid out beneath me…God, it was hot in the bar tonight.
My gaze drifted back up. Jakob’s dark blonde hair was cropped close at the sides and longer on top. The lower half of his face was almost entirely obscured by a beard. I’d never been a massive fan of facial hair, but he kept his trimmed and neat, which made me wonder if the rest of him was just as well-groomed.
No one would ever call him a pretty boy. His features were too stark for that. He looked like the by-blow of some cruel Norse god. With cheekbones cut at sharp angles, lips set in a hard line, and heavy brows forever pulled down in a scowl, he had what my friend Livvie called resting “Fuck You” face.
Still, he held a kind of carnal appeal. He moved with the intrinsic grace of an athlete, like someone who had pushed their body to the limit, learned just what it was truly capable of, and now it performed for them in a way that was damn near preternatural compared to the rest of us mere mortals. Except he wasn’t an athlete; he was a fighter. There was a notch halfway down his nose from a past break. His knuckles bore the scars of a man who liked to hit things with his fists. Larger men gave him a wide birth as they moved through the crowd, parting around him like a tide for Moses. Even standing still, he projected an aura of something barely contained and half-feral.
I read somewhere that women know within five minutes of meeting someone whether or not they’ll sleep with them. With Jakob, you needed all five of those minutes to decide if the risk of fucking him was worth the reward. I couldn’t even look at him without picturing him naked, biceps straining as he rose above me, abs contracting as he thrust inside. I usually didn’t go for the whole alpha male vibe – too many guys that projected that aura were possessive, borderline abusive douchenozzles – but Jakob seemed to be the exception to my rule. I blamed my inner cavewoman. He was the kind of man that made her sit up and take notice.
Him big. Make strong babies. Protect cave. Bring home mammoth for dinner.
It made me feel marginally better that I wasn’t the only one staring. Three women about my age at a nearby table kept cutting glances at him. A few more on the dance floor sent him come-hither looks.
The sound of an angry voice rose above the music. I pulled my gaze from Jakob and saw two large men facing off over a pool table. Like the rest of our patrons, they were members of the local biker gang, The Kings of Kearny. Both of them were older, one a dark-skinned black man, the other a red-headed white dude wearing sleeveless leathers that left his prison tattoos on full display. It was too loud in here to catch their words, but their body language told me they were a heartbeat away from coming to blows.
Nina, my fellow bartender, stepped beside me and stood on her tiptoes, trying to get a better look. At five foot nothing, it wasn’t going to happen. She swayed a little to the left, trying for a better angle. Her long dark hair was loose tonight, and it fell in a cascade over her shoulder. Like me, she wore all black, the standard uniform here at Charley’s Bar and Grill.
Because it hid the bloodstains, we joked.
“Who’s yelling?” Nina asked. It was a testament to her looks that even while frowning, she was stunning. With a whip-sharp sense of humor, light brown skin, cheekbones I would kill for, and full lips that seemed forever on the verge of a smile, it was no wonder she was the top tip earner on staff.
I laced my fingers together and bent over. “Here, I’ll give you a boost, and you can see for yourself.”
Anyone else would have told me to shut the hell up, or that I wasn’t as funny as I thought I was, but Nina grinned and lifted her foot toward my hands, calling my bluff. I unlaced my fingers and took a quick step back. No way in hell was I touching the bottom of her shoe. It was past midnight, and the floor behind the bar was sticky with spilled liquor and covered with tiny shards of glass, some of which must have lodged into the soles of her high tops.
“Coward,” she said.
“Dwarf,” I shot back at her.
“It’s Micky and Rob,” a deep voice tolled from behind us.
I glanced over my shoulder to see Tiny, the third bartender on shift tonight, frowning out into the crowd. His dark eyes were troubled. A slight flush appeared in his olive skin, blood pumping with adrenaline, readying him for a possible fight.
Tiny was one of those ironic nicknames. He was a behemoth of a man. Well over six feet and broad as a barn door, he doubled as a bouncer when we needed him to. He wasn’t supposed to be on shift tonight, but Andy, one of our other coworkers, had offered to swap with him. Friday night was when we raked in the most cash, and since Tiny’s wife had gotten laid off, they needed the money more than Andy did.
“Hey, man, can I get another beer?” a woman called to him.
“Yup,” he said, moving toward her, his eyes still on the crowd.
The good thing about our bar was that Charley, the owner, was a biker himself. The Kings of Kearny took care of their own. It was in their self-interest to keep the peace in here, so whenever a fight broke out, it was usually quashed before any lasting damage could be done, to the combatants, or the bar.
Tonight proved no different. The red-head, Micky, barely had time to shove Rob before three men intervened. Jakob was one of them. Unfortunately for him, Rob was already swinging for Micky, and he got in the way of the punch. I grimaced when the blow landed. It would have laid me out flat, but it only snapped Jakob’s head around to the side. The entire bar went quiet as everyone tensed against the threat of more violence.
Jakob’s resting Fuck You Face now had a hint of murder in it. He spat out a wad of blood and turned back to Rob. “I’ll give you that one for free.”
Rob had fifty pounds and several inches on Jakob, but he instantly backed down. “Shit. Sorry, man.”
“You two done here?” Jakob asked, looking between him and Micky.
The men nodded and went back to their pool game.
The entire bar let out a collective breath.
“The Viking strikes again,” Nina said.
“Why is everyone so afraid of him?” I asked.
A guy nearby hailed her, indicating another round.
“One sec, Bill,” she said, grabbing glasses for him and his buddies. She sent me a look as she poured. “I keep forgetting you’re new here.”
“Three months is new?”
She barked a throaty laugh. Several men turned to look at her. I couldn’t blame them. I was mostly heterosexual, but every time she laughed, a little shiver ran through me.
“Honey, three years is still new in this town,” she told me. She finished pouring and handed the pints over to Bill with a megawatt smile. “Thanks for being patient, sweetie.”
The grizzled old biker went pink in the cheeks. “No problem, Nina.”
He tipped her ten bucks for her trouble. I really should smile more.
“Can I get some ice?” someone asked from behind me.
I turned and saw Jakob settling his large frame onto one of my empty barstools. His left cheek was red and starting to swell. The scowl on his face made him look more unapproachable than usual, not an easy feat. This was only the third time he’d spoken to me, and of course he had to be pissed off when it happened. So much for my hair-brained idea to hit on him tonight.
“Sure thing,” I said. We kept stacks of clean towels on a shelf beneath the bar top. I snagged one, filled the middle with ice, and tied off the extra cloth. With one final tug on the knot, I handed it over to him. “Here you go.”
He grabbed my wrist.
His skin was warm, hand callused, fingers long enough to wrap around my arm. Yes, I wanted this man to touch me, but that desire was now warring with my irritation over him laying hands on me without asking first.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I said.
He pushed up the sleeve of my t-shirt with his other hand, revealing the tattoo it hid. It was a stylized AC-130 gunship flying in front of a skull.
“You’re ex-military?” he asked.
“Yes.” Demonstrating one of the skills I learned when I was in, I wrenched my arm up and around, breaking his hold on me. “And if you ever grab me like that again, I’ll call in a favor and have a Maverick dropped on your house.”
His pale blue eyes rose to mine, glinting like chips of ice in the low light. “That’s a big ass bomb.”
“I don’t fuck around,” I said, holding his gaze. “You want your ice or what?”
In answer, he reached out and snagged it from me. “Air Force?”
I nodded. “Aerial gunner.”
He looked me over like he was trying to picture it. I prepared myself for a sexist comment.
“Sorry for grabbing you,” he said.
The tension in my shoulders eased a little. “Just don’t do it again.”
“I won’t,” he said.
Weirdly, I believed him.
Another biker in my section lifted her glass in the universal symbol for, “I’ll have another.” I left Jakob to refill it. My shoulder brushed Nina’s as I walked toward the draft beer station.
“You’ll have to show me that move,” she said.
“Soon as our shift is over,” I told her.
There were risks that came with working around rough men and women, and I’d been teaching her some basic self-defense. It looked like tonight’s lesson would be on how to break holds.
“Here you go,” I said, passing the beer to the woman that ordered it. “On your tab?”
“Yup. Thanks, Krista.” She left a dollar on the bar for me before ambling away.
I scooped it up and went to the computer. Because Charley was a King, he let his fellow bikers keep running tabs that they didn’t have to pay off until the end of each month. I didn’t see the wisdom in the practice. Some of our customers ran up astronomical bills, buying rounds of shots they couldn’t afford, because, hell, they didn’t have to pay for them for another two weeks, maybe they’d find the money before then? But they rarely did.
Part of me worried that was what Charley wanted. He was one of the founding members of The Kings, along with Daniel King, the president and man the club was named after. I’d seen Daniel pay off the debts of his bikers when they couldn’t cover them, telling them they’d find a way to pay him back. It kept them loyal to him, indebted to him in a way that troubled me.
I turned toward the sound of my name.
Jakob leaned forward in his seat, the ice I’d given him pressed to his cheek. “Can I get an amber ale?”
“Sure.” I poured it out and set it in front of him, careful not to get too close this time.
“Why haven’t you applied to join The Kings?” he asked.
The Kings of Kearny Motorcycle Club only admitted members with prior military experience. Every single man and woman who wore their leathers had fought for this country. It was part of why the local cops gave them some leeway, and why a lot of the people in town put up with their bullshit. Jakob wasn’t the first person to ask me this question, but he was one of the few I wanted to answer.
“I didn’t come to Kearny for the club,” I said. “My grandmother is in a nursing home downtown.”
His eyes were steady on mine, his body still in his seat. Most people fidgeted when they sat down, but not him. He was like a wolf sighting a deer. This was one of the things that was so appealing about Jakob. When he spoke to you, it felt like you became his entire world. I could only imagine how well that focus might translate to sex.
“Magnolia Hills?” he asked.
“Let us know if you have any trouble with her there,” he said.
A frisson of unease slithered down my spine. “Why? Has there been trouble there before?”
He nodded and cut his gaze to the right, away from me, and I swear to God, it felt like the temperature dropped. Like the sun had just disappeared behind a cloud, snuffing out the warm rays he’d been basking me in.
“Uh…you care to elaborate on that?” I asked him.
His gaze came back around, and he shook his head. “What time do you get off?”
Beer in hand, he stood from his seat.
I blinked as he started to turn away. “Dude, seriously, you’re just going to-”
Yup, he was. Without a backward glance, he tossed some cash on the counter and disappeared into the crowd.
I shoved down my irritation and got back to work. My gran was the only person I had left in this world. Oh, my parents were still alive, but they were garbage human beings, and if I never saw them again, I’d count it as a blessing.
Gran was my maternal grandmother. She’d taken me in the first time my parents got busted for drugs – Dad for possession, Mom for driving under the influence, with me in the backseat – and never gave me back. Not that she ever had the chance. After their first brief stint behind bars, they skipped town. The only time we heard from them was when they needed bail money or briefly attempted to sober up.
I’m not saying all addicts are assholes. A lot of them are good people with a disease that can lead to them doing terrible things. My parents didn’t fall into that category. They were rotten even without the drugs or the booze. I learned that firsthand during one of Mom’s brief brushes with sobriety. She hit me for crying. Not a slap, or a smack, but a full-on punch to the gut. It actually worked; I stopped crying. Because I couldn’t breathe.
I was four at the time.
That was the last time Gran left us alone together.
So, yeah, to say that my grandmother meant the world to me would be a massive understatement. And Jakob just told me that the cognitive care facility it had taken me months to get her into might be shady.
Copyright © 2020 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.