Chapter One ~ Payback

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Amelia

The early December wind isn’t that cold, but still makes me shiver as I stare at the sign above the door of the bar. Odin’s. For a crazy second I nearly run back to my car and get the hell out of here, but it’s like I’m frozen on the sidewalk.

When I was offered this bartender job the other day, it all seemed so easy. But it hadn’t been nine at night then, and now, in the dull glow from the streetlights, the bar’s giving off a sinister vibe.

Right. Sometimes having a vivid imagination sucks. There’s only one reason I’m here. My dad’s face fills my mind, and even though he’s been dead for ten years, my throat closes and there’s a familiar crushing sensation in the middle of my chest.

Not now, Amy. I drag in a deep breath and force the memory to the back of my mind. I can’t meet the owner of Odin’s with red eyes. I’m supposed to make him trust me, or at the very least think I’m so dumb that it doesn’t matter what anyone says in my hearing.

That shouldn’t be hard. Guys always take one look at me and think I’m dumb as shit until I put them straight. Not this time, though. This time I’ll take it, if it helps me bring down the bastards who were behind the murder of my dad.

For about the hundredth time since Rex got in contact with me a week ago to tell me about this job, I remind myself this is a once in a lifetime chance for payback. I’m not going to screw it up.

I push open the door and step inside. It’s packed with guys showing muscles and tats, but they don’t faze me. Until I was thirteen, I grew up surrounded by tough bikers, and I always thought they were part of my extended family.

Yeah, some family the Silver Wolves turned out to be. I paste on a bored pout and saunter over to the bar where Tod, the guy who interviewed my boobs the other day, is grinning like a thirsty dog.

Asshole. Sure, I’d worn a low-cut top deliberately, but he might’ve at least made the effort to look in my eyes when he was asking me questions.

Whatever. It obviously worked, since here I am.

“Hey,” he says, his gaze running over me. Disappointment flashes across his face when I don’t whip open my short leather jacket and give him another eyeful of my cleavage. Not likely. That ploy served its purpose as far as Tod’s concerned. He ushers me behind the bar, and I ignore the suggestive comments and leers directed my way by some of the guys.

They can look. They can even flirt if they like, but there’ll be no touching if they want to keep their mating tackle intact.

Tod shows me where I can stash my purse in a small room behind the bar, and tries to help me off with my jacket. I give him a sweet smile and shrug out of it myself, and he doesn’t seem to care that my shirt buttons all the way up to my throat.

“When do I meet the boss, then?” I throw another smile Tod’s way and he smirks as though he thinks he’s getting some tonight. With luck, Gage Reynolds will be just as easy to wrap around my pinkie. He and Tod are cousins, after all, so I’m hoping douchebag runs in the family.

“He’ll be down in a while.” Tod squeezes by me, managing to cop a full body rub, and the only reason I don’t stab the heel of my boot through his toes is because I can’t afford to be fired before I’ve even started. “Lemme give you a lesson on how to handle the pumps.”

“No need. I told you I’m experienced.” True enough. My impressive list of part-time jobs since leaving school mainly consists of waitressing by day and bartending at night, with the occasional detour into fast food outlets. Casual shift work suits me just fine. I don’t want to get tied down in a nine-to-five job when my real career plans, which don’t involve working for anyone else, might blossom at any moment.

“I’ll bet you are.” Tod leans in close, clearly thinking his innuendos are the smartest things ever. I take a mental breath, count to ten, and remember why I’m doing this.

For you, Dad.

***

Gage

I drag my fingers through my hair and glower at the paperwork covering the small dining table. Even after five years of owning Odin’s, keeping the books up to date drives me nuts. Somehow I thought that side of things just took care of itself, until granddad died and left me his pride and joy, which included this apartment upstairs.

Running the bar had never crossed my mind before then. I always thought I’d end up helping my older brother Zach in his garage. Not that I’m complaining. It’s cool having my own business.

Except for the fucking paperwork.

I glance at my watch and frown. Guess I should go downstairs and meet the new girl Tod hired the other day. He usually clears stuff like that with me first, but apparently this girl’s tits were irresistible, even though he knows about my no-screwing-the-staff rule. Don’t want any of that shit on my doorstep.

The bar downstairs is packed with the usual Friday night regulars, and I lean against the frame of the door that leads into the back room, where the guys are playing pool, and I survey my turf. Tod and my sister Kat are working the bar. There’s no sign of Amelia Davis. Has she packed it in already?

“Hey, Gage.” The breathy voice pulls me from my thoughts, and I give the blonde who’s clutching my arm a cursory glance. Can’t remember her name, but she gives great head. “You okay?” Her hand slides down my torso and rubs across my groin.

I push her hand onto my thigh. It pisses me off when chicks grab my junk without invitation. She doesn’t take the hint.

“You work too hard,” she purrs, going up onto her toes and rubbing herself over me. “Haven’t seen you all week. I know just what you need to unwind.”

I’m almost tempted. “Maybe later.”

“Sure.” She grips my arm harder. Christ her perfume’s strong. I try not to breathe it in and start to turn away from her. “Fancy a drink, Gage?”

She really can’t take a hint. The thought of hooking up later is no longer even half tempting. I’m not that desperate for a blow job.

Rowdy laughter erupts from the back room, and I pull free from her grasp. Not that I’m expecting trouble, but sometimes non-regulars need a reminder of just who owns Odin’s. I swing around and stop dead. Strolling toward me, grasping a handful of empty glasses and beer bottles, is the sexiest chick I’ve ever seen.

It’s like I’ve been punched in the gut, and all I can do is drink in the sight of her knee-high boots, black fishnets, and short leather skirt. Her messy, copper-blonde hair frames her face, and her lips are full and inviting. But bizarrely, it’s her black sleeveless shirt that snags my attention. It hides everything, when I expected cleavage, and somehow the combination of fuck-me-now legs and don’t-touch tits strikes me speechless.

She tosses her head, clearly not giving a shit about the coarse comments following her, and catches my gaze. For a second I think she’s going to stumble, but instead she gives me an oddly furtive once-over, before I block the door and she has no choice but to stop.

“Coming through.” There’s a husky edge in her voice that dives straight to my dick. Fuck, no. She raises the glasses and gives me a half smile that doesn’t do anything to kill the graphic image of me shoving her up against the nearest wall. She’s obviously Amelia Davis. Who the hell else can she be?

This chick has got to go. Any girl that works in the bar is hot—my sister excluded, of course. It’s a job requirement. But I don’t want one who can give me a hard-on just by standing there.

Instead of telling her that, I step back to let her pass, and it’s got everything to do with wanting to see how cute her ass is as she walks on by. I swallow a groan. It’d be funny if it weren’t so inconvenient.

“Thanks.” She tosses the word over her shoulder, along with another lingering glance. She takes in my leather vest, and her smile freezes as if she never even noticed it before. Her cheeks go pink, and why that’s a fucking turn-on I don’t know, but instead of looking me in the eye again, she speeds up and disappears behind the bar.

I let out a breath and scan the room to make sure no one saw the effect she had on me. It’s like she was full of electricity, sending shockwaves through the air. I grin at the image, which is fucking insane, but also weirdly accurate.

Shame I have to fire her. On the upside, at least it means I have a chance of screwing her tonight.

***

Amelia

I dump the bottles in the trash in the room behind the bar and take a deep breath. My cheeks are still burning, and I resist the urge to press my hands against my face. Or escape out the back door. That’d work, too.

For almost an hour I’d collected the empties and wiped down tables, and despite some dirty comments, no one had tried to grab me. Maybe it’s a house rule, but it kind of surprised me.

Whatever. I can’t believe the only guy I looked at twice is a Viking Bastard. What are the chances? I hope he’s not Gage Reynolds because that’s just going to be awkward as hell.

“Amelia.” Tod leans into the small area. “Come and meet the boss.”

No way. My stomach churns, and I risk patting my cheeks, which are as hot to the touch as I feared. There’s still a small chance that the guy I all but drooled over in public isn’t my temporary boss.

I’m not holding my breath, though, which as just as well, since the guy behind Tod with his arms folded across his impressive chest is, of course, him.

He looks nothing like his cousin. For a start, he’s got to be six feet tall, and his dark brown hair isn’t nearly as long as most bikers I’ve known.

Stop. Staring. I blink a couple of times and pretend I can’t see his gorgeous brown eyes or the hint of a smile playing about his kissable lips.

Tod slinks back to the bar, and there’s nothing for it but to brazen it out. Gage probably didn’t even notice me giving him the eye a couple of minutes ago, not with that blonde dripping all over him.

“Hey, Amelia,” he says, and his voice is all dark and throaty and sends shivers racing over my arms. This isn’t supposed to happen in real life. Except it is, and I literally have no idea where to look because he’s taking up all the space.

All the air, as well. I hitch in a shallow breath and try not to stare at his patches. Or his abs. Definitely not any farther south…

“Hi.” I manage to sound bored, which is a huge relief. I have the crazy urge to tell him to call me Amy, like all my friends and family do, and I don’t know why, because that never crossed my mind when I had the interview with Tod.

Gage Reynolds is not, and will never be, my friend or anything even approaching that, so Amelia it is. It’s nothing to do with the way my name seems to roll off his tongue like spiced honey.

Get a fucking grip, Amy.

“Gage Reynolds.” He holds out his hand and for a second I stare at it. Is he for real? I have the scary conviction if I touch him I’ll spontaneously combust.

Before I can stop myself, I take his hand. His fingers wrap around me, and his thumb caresses my skin in a blatantly possessive gesture. The last of the oxygen disappears from my lungs, and I clutch his hand as though he’s the only thing keeping me upright.

Since when has my hand been an erogenous zone? I can’t breathe, I’m going lightheaded, and all I can see is Gage Reynolds smiling at me as though he’d like to eat me up and then come back for seconds.

This is so not right. Mortification shoots through me, and I tug my hand free. It’s only a small consolation when he appears as reluctant to release me as I am to escape.

Wait. What am I thinking? Gage Reynolds is the son of the man who killed my dad. It’s not my fault Gage is hotter than sin, but it sure as hell isn’t an excuse to dissolve into a hormonal mess every time I look at him.

My fingers are tingling from our contact, and I resist the desperate need to wipe my palm on my thigh. It’s bad enough he turns me on. I don’t want him guessing just how much he does, though.

“Sorry I wasn’t around to interview you the other day.” He looms over me, and I step back, until my back hits the wall of the small utility room. Instead of keeping his distance, he plants one hand on the wall beside my shoulder, and I have the terrible certainty he’s going to kiss me.

I want him to kiss me.

No. I definitely don’t. And if he treats all the girls who work here like this, which, per Rex, he does, then no wonder he can’t keep staff for longer than a week. I tilt my chin and try to ignore the sexy stubble covering his jaw, and the irresistible hint of leather and sandalwood that’s turning my brain to jelly.

Concentrate.

“You plan on interviewing me now?” I can’t believe how suggestive that sounds. I didn’t mean it to.

Didn’t I?

His slow grin leaves no doubt that he thinks I’m coming onto him. Shit. This isn’t going to plan at all.

“Guess that’s one way of looking at it.”

I know I wanted to get close to him, but this is crazy. “I’ve already been hired, remember?”

“How bad do you need this job, Amelia?”

The way he says my name kills me. And then his question manages to penetrate the fog of lust that’s trying to overrun my entire body. Is he suggesting I sleep with him to keep the job?

With any other guy, in any other job, my knee would be connecting with his nuts right about now. But even if I didn’t have an ulterior motive for being here, I’m not sure my survival instincts would’ve kicked in. Even though he’s not touching me, I like the way he’s looking at me, and that’s so sick I should probably hand in my cards right now.

Like that’s going to happen.

“Pretty bad.” We might both know what he’s implying, but that doesn’t mean I have to play by his rules. “Rent to pay, food to eat. The usual.”

Which isn’t a total lie, since my last bartending job ended a couple of days before Rex contacted me. Talk about good timing. Even though I have plenty of shifts at a local diner, it’s not enough on its own.

Gage narrows his eyes as though he knows I’m playing him, but he seems more intrigued than pissed off. “You live alone?”

I think of my mom and two younger sisters. Alone is something I’ve never been in my life. “No. I share with three others.” As if I’m going to tell him the truth. I don’t think so. He’ll reckon I’m weird if he knows I still live at home with my mom at the age of twenty-three.

Not that I care what he thinks. Obviously.

“Guys?”

Huh? “No, girls.” It’s stretching things to refer to my mom as a girl, but whatever. “Why?”

He shrugs. “No reason. How’d you know there was a job open here? I hadn’t advertised it.”

I shrug right back at him. “Word gets around.”

He looks as though he’s trying not to laugh. Why isn’t he a butt-ugly miserable bastard, like I’d imagined him to be?

He leans in close until his warm breath teases my cheek. Goose bumps chase over my skin but not because I’m cold. I fist my hands before I do something unforgivable, like grab his cut and haul him in for a kiss.

Then he speaks. “Guess I need to give you a personal tour. You up for that?”

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