BILLIE PUSHED THE tray of drinks she was carrying high over her head as she weaved through the crowd, skirting the packed dance floor at the Roadhouse, her family’s biker bar, where she’d worked since she was old enough to earn a buck. She and her younger sister, Bobbie, had grown up in the rustic dive, hanging out while they did homework and washing dishes when they were shorthanded, because that’s what the Mancinis did. They got shit done and had one another’s backs. Much like the sea of guys who were there every night wearing black leather cuts—vests with the Dark Knights motorcycle club patches on them. Her father was the vice president of the club, and the bonds of that brotherhood were unbreakable.
She approached the group of good-looking out-of-towners wearing khakis and dress shirts by the pool table who had ordered the drinks and was acutely aware of their slick-looking buddy eyeing her up as he waited for his turn at pool. They grew ’em big and strong around Hope Valley, Colorado, where ranches and livestock paid the bills for most families. Billie had a thing for calloused hands, scruffy faces, and no-bullshit men who had no use for suits and ties. But summertime brought all kinds of mountain-loving tourists to their small town.
“Drink! Drink! Drink!” a group of women chanted.
Billie looked toward the commotion and saw three busty women standing shoulder to shoulder, each cradling a shot glass between her breasts. Devlin “Dare” Whiskey licked the swell of one of the giggling blonde’s breasts, and she shook salt onto the wet spot. You’ve got to be kidding me. As the girl handed the shaker to the girl beside her, Dare licked the salt off her breast and wrapped that big ornery mouth of his around the shot glass. He tipped his too-frigging-handsome face back as he downed the shot hands-free. Well, his hands weren’t actually free. As the girls whooped and cheered, he hauled that blonde into a kiss, then made his way to the next giggling girl and repeated the whole damn thing.
Billie and Dare had been best friends when they were growing up, along with their other best friend, Eddie Baker. The three of them were inseparable. They’d earned the nickname the Daredevils by the time they were seven years old because they were always racing or trying to do risky stunts on their skateboards, dirt bikes, and anything else they could find. They drove their parents crazy, but instead of dissuading them, their parents made sure they learned how to do those things safely. Their stunts got riskier as they got older—skydiving, cliff diving, drag racing, and just about anything else that would give them an adrenaline rush. Even though the Daredevils’ motto was “The right person always wins, not the best person,” because they considered themselves equals on all levels, she and Dare had still always tried to one-up each other with new challenges, while Eddie’s love of technology had taken over. They all had their thing. When Eddie became enthralled with making videos and movies, opting out of many of their stunts in lieu of videoing them, they supported his love of movies in every way they could, doing anything he asked. Dare was into classic cars and motorcycles, so they went to all the classic car shows, and motocross was Billie’s passion. She’d become a pro racer at eighteen, and Dare and Eddie had cheered her on at nearly every race.
They’d had a lot of laughs, despite Billie and Dare fooling around one time the summer before he left for college. There had always been something dark and electric between them, as if they were twin flames. Even back then he was rugged and muscular, cocky as hell, and boy could he kiss. But that’d been a one-time thing, and although their relationship had gotten a little awkward for a while, they’d moved past it and had remained stunt besties into adulthood, when she and Eddie, who had always been a grounding force in her life, began an ill-fated year-long relationship.
They’d remained the Daredevils—unbreakable and unstoppable—until six years ago, when Eddie was killed during a stunt gone wrong, and their lives had never been the same. Dare had begun taking his stunts to terrifying levels, and Billie had let go of that dangerous lifestyle and everything that reminded her of it. Including Dare. The trouble was, Dare was always around, and just the sight of him rattled the chains that kept her skeletons in the closet.
A round of cheers pulled Billie from her thoughts as Dare did the third shot. He glanced over, his eyes locking on Billie as he plucked the glass from his mouth. A cocky grin curved his lips, and he raised his brows in that way he had that said, Come here, sugar, and I’ll do you so good you’ll never forget me.
She rolled her eyes and turned away, focusing on giving the customers their drinks and trying not to think about how spot-on that arrogant biker’s silent message was. He was the only man who had ever ignited a fire deep inside her. They hadn’t even gone all the way that hot summer night all those years ago, and she still got turned on just thinking about his hands on her.
Irritation climbed up her spine, and she spun around to head back to the bar, but Mr. Slick-Out-of-Towner was right there.
“Anyone ever tell you that you look just like Bridget Moynahan?”
Only every swinging dick in this place. “I’ve heard it a time or two.” She tried to step around him, but he blocked her path, stepping closer.
“You’re a lot hotter than she is.” He put his hand on her hip. “What’re you doing later?”
Billie quickly sized him up. She was five seven, even taller with her boots on, and this douchebag was maybe six feet. She narrowed her eyes and lifted her chin, catching movement in her peripheral vision as she said, “Not you.” She shoved his hand away as Dare closed the distance between them, looking like a bull ready to charge. She got right in Mr. Slick’s face, her voice deathly calm. “Touch me, or any other woman in here without her permission, and you’ll be lucky if you can crawl out the door tonight.”
“Come on, baby, you know you want me.” Slick ran his hand down her arm.
“Really, dude?” She sighed, as if bored, and in the next second, she grabbed his hand and twisted his arm inward, while bending his hand back. He doubled over in pain.
“Jesus, fuck.” His knees buckled, and he sank toward the floor.
Every Dark Knight in the place was on their feet, and Dare was at the head of the pack, as Billie glared down at the kneeling jerk with a smile. “Aikido. It does a body good.” She seethed, “Now get your sorry ass out of my bar. You hear me?”
“Get the fu—”
She bent his wrist further, and he cried out. “Yes, ma’am. I’m leaving right now,” she said calmly. “Let me hear it before I break your wrist.”
“Fine,” the guy gritted out, and she wrenched his arm higher. “Yes, ma’am! I’ll leave!”
She let go of his hand and blew past him, glowering at Dare as several Dark Knights followed the guy toward the door.
Dare fell into step beside her. “You okay?”
She scoffed. He knew better than anyone that she could take care of herself, and if she ran into trouble, Bobbie knew how to use the shotgun they kept behind the bar. “Fucking fantastic. You can go back to the girls who get off on being saved.” She strode behind the bar and put the tray away.
Bobbie sidled up to her with a teasing smirk. “You’ll never get a man if you keep hurting them.”
Billie gave her younger, fair-haired sister and roommate a deadpan look. Bobbie laughed and went to deliver drinks to a table. Billie turned back to the bar as cheers rang out by the mechanical bull. She looked across the room and saw Dare climbing onto it, eating up the attention, but his gaze skirted over those eager women’s heads, and he winked at Billie.
“Did you two ever hook up?” Kellan grabbed a bottle from behind her and started making a drink. He was a part-time bartender and law school student, with deep dimples and a sunshine-and-whiskey personality—always in a good mood but tough when he needed to be.
We’re not going there. “What is this, Gossip Central?”
“I’m just curious. I think you’d make a great couple. You’re both badass.”
“I hope you make a better lawyer than matchmaker.” She nodded toward his customer, who was watching him intently, as if he could make him move faster. “I think he wants that drink you’re holding.”
As the night wore on, the bar got even more crowded. Billie went into the stockroom to restock the liquor, and when she came out, Dare’s groupies were waving money, egging him on as he climbed onto the bar and began dancing to “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” The man was two-hundred-plus pounds of hip-thrusting, tongue-wagging sex on legs. Bobbie and Kellan were dancing behind the bar as they served drinks, and while most customers were enjoying his show, there was a handful who looked shocked and slightly appalled.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” Billie mumbled as she set the bottles down and scanned the crowd for Dare’s brothers, who could usually help wrangle him in. But Doc and Cowboy were nowhere to be found. She spotted his cousin Raleigh “Rebel” Whiskey and held her palm up, giving him a Do something stare.
Amusement rose in Rebel’s eyes. He shouted, “Good luck,” and took a swig of his beer.
Was she the only sane person in the bar? She stomped over to Dare. “Get off my bar!”
He grinned down at her, cupping his ear. “What’s that? You want me to shake my ass?” He turned his butt toward her and shook his infuriatingly hot ass, causing an uproar of cheers and laughter.
“Take yourself to the strip club down the road!” Billie hollered.
That cocky grin widened. “You want me to strip?” Hoots and whistles rang out as he whipped off his shirt and swung it around his head.
Billie put her hands on the bar. “Off, Dare! And I don’t mean your pants!”
A collective squeal rang out from the women he’d been with all night. Dare grabbed Billie’s arms, hauling her onto the bar. He wrapped his thick arm around her waist, gyrating against her, those piercing dark eyes reaching into her soul, reminding her of all the years they’d done shit like this and laughed all night.
“Come on, Wildfire, you know you want to cut loose with me.”
Her chest constricted at the nickname he’d called her since they were kids and had rarely used the last few years. But on the heels of that warmth came the sharp, painful truth. Her feelings for Dare were the reason Eddie was dead. She was the reason Eddie was dead. She stuffed those warm feelings down deep and sneered. “I want to cut something, all right. Put on your damn shirt, get off my bar, and take your showboating ass onto the dance floor.”
“Only if you’ll dance with me.” He tightened his hold on her, hips grinding, broad chest brushing enticingly against her, as women yelled, “I’ll dance with you,” and “Damn, look at those hips go!” Some guys had puppy-dog eyes that got them special favors. Dare Whiskey had about a hundred ways of looking at a woman to get what he wanted, and as he tilted his head, brow furrowing, eyes pleading, a seductive smile playing on his lips, Billie’s mind spun back to the last time she’d been sucked in by that look.
The night they’d hooked up—and he’d broken her heart.
She leaned closer, putting her mouth beside his ear, and promised, “One dance.”
The elated grin on his face almost made her feel guilty as they climbed off the bar, much to his entourage’s chagrin, and he reached for her. “Let’s dance, sweet darlin’.”
She tossed him a clean towel. “The only dance I’m doin’ is tending to customers while you wipe down that bar.” She felt the heat of his stare as she strutted into the stockroom with Bobbie on her heels.
“Why are you like that to him? He’s just having fun.”
Billie turned on her. “Because this is a business, and if someone gets hurt, we’re liable. Do you want everyone thinking they can come in here and do shit like that?”
“No, but it’s Dare. He’s always done it. I don’t get it.”
“There’s nothing to get. This is our family business, and it’s about time we stopped running it like it’s a playground.” Bobbie was an elementary school teacher, and she only worked part-time at the bar, while Billie managed it full time and took the business more seriously.
Bobbie crossed her arms with a pinched expression. “Can you just tell me why you’re such a jerk to him lately? I know things changed after Eddie died, but it’s like you’ve suddenly got no patience for him, and I’ve never seen him do anything but be your friend.”
Because grieving without him was more terrifying than any stunt, and every time I look at him, I remember the betrayal in Eddie’s eyes right before his fatal accident. But the more I push Dare away, the stronger he comes at me to rekindle our friendship, and that makes it harder for me to keep that wall between us. Basically, I’m messed up, because I want to tear down that wall as badly as I want to bolt in the other direction. She clamped her mouth shut before any of that escaped, letting the ugly truth continue eating away at her like a ravenous rat trying to gnaw its way out.
She grabbed two bottles of alcohol and headed back to the bar, catching sight of Dare dirty dancing with his groupies. I need to get out of this town. She’d told herself that forever, but she’d never leave. Traveling over the summers for her motocross races when she was younger had proven what she’d always known. She belonged in Hope Valley, even if it meant being around Dare Fucking Whiskey.
Pushing that thought away, she escaped to the one place she didn’t have to think—behind the bar. Unfortunately, Bobbie followed her again.
“Billie…?” Her sister lowered her voice, and a challenge rose in her eyes. “You’re not jealous of those women with Dare, are you?”
“Are you insane? Do you think I want to be a notch on his belt? It’s a wonder the damn thing hasn’t shredded.”
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