I’d never been attracted to the glamorous lifestyle that the men in my family liked to lead, but I was getting increasingly pissed off about the aura of shit my life had taken on in the past year. Except for the brief respite when I’d worked for my old pal in New York, all I knew were hard hotel mattresses, moldy showers that ran hot one minute and then cold the next, and a dark cloud of loneliness that followed me wherever I went. I’d forgotten what it felt like to call a place home. That’s what happens to a man on the run. The only thing that starts to feel familiar is the road.
That and the haze of alcohol-induced sleep. No matter how small and how remote the place, I could always find one local bar full to the brim every night with men like me. Lonely bastards whose life had slipped away from them, searching for some kind of escape. Sometimes there were women, too, but they were a rare sight, and usually not the kind of girls I like to get involved with.
It had been too damn long since I’d had a woman in my arms.
Sighing, I flicked my fingers at the bartender. He strode over to me and lifted his eyebrows, thick and bushy like his beard. “Another one?”
I gave a nod and waited while he poured another shot of whiskey. It was my drink of choice. The cheap kind burned my throat, like what they had here, but that was how I liked it. There wasn’t much these days to remind me I was alive, and while the booze numbed my brain, it made my body buzz with an electricity I rarely felt anymore.
“Here you go, man.” The bartender slid the drink across the stained oak surface. “Listen, where you from? I’ve never seen you around these parts before.”
I tried to remember where I was this time. Somewhere deep in the South. Mississippi or Tennessee, maybe. Someplace called Carlsville.
“I’m from a lot of places,” I said, tipping the whiskey down my throat. It was harsh, trailing fire down into my belly. My skin began to buzz, the way it did after I’d had a few shots. It reminded me of my old life, the one I’d been chased out of, and the way I used to have a drink or two before a big assignment in order to calm my nerves. “I’m from nowhere.”
The bartender barked out a laugh. “I see. Well, you sure as hell don’t sound like you’re from here.”
No, that much was true. I was letting myself get too lax if I wanted to slide around unnoticed. I put on my best Southern drawl and slid the empty shot glass across the bar. “Well, ya’ll don’t seem too busy. How about another drink?”
The bartender blanched at the sudden change in my voice, and I had to stop the smirk from cresting my lips. I still had it. After all this time, my accent skills were still on point. I needed to remember that if I wanted to blend in. If someone came behind me, looking for a scowling tattooed guy from the northeast, I didn’t want to make it easy for them to sniff out my trail.
I already stood out without bringing attention to the fact I was an outsider. At six foot four, I towered over most people. And when I wore t-shirts, my intricate tattoo sleeves caught most people’s eyes. Add in a northern accent in these very southern states, and I stuck out like a very sore thumb.
The bartender poured the shot and handed it over before moving down the bar to a shouty old man who was sloshing a pint of beer. The gray-haired hunched figure was alone, just shouting to himself about crooked politicians and global warming. That could be me in forty more years of this lonely rambling lifestyle. Sighing, I swirled the shot glass and watched the dark liquid spin. It looked like a whirlpool, the kind that would pull everything down into its depths. That was what my life felt like right now, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I didn’t yet know how I could change the course my life had gone. It had been taken from me, and I had no idea how to get it back.
As I took the last shot of whiskey, the front door of the bar slammed open, letting in a gust of wind from the storm raging on outside. Hurricane Lucy had trampled the Eastern seaboard, and while Tennessee was landlocked, it was still getting leftovers from the storm’s wrath.
I twisted my head over my shoulder to check out the newest arrival. It was something I always did. I hated having someone at my back I couldn’t see. My glance caught on a thin yet curvy female figure, a shivering girl with wet hair clinging to her stark white face. She trembled as she glanced around the bar and hugged her arms around her body. She wasn’t wearing a coat, which struck me as odd on such a cold and rainy night, but it wasn’t any of my damn business.
I’d learned not to talk to girls in bars like this. They were almost always someone’s wife or girlfriend, and while I could take almost anyone in a fight, I didn’t like leaving behind a mess.
“Help.” Her voice shook as she choked out the words. “Someone please help me. I need somewhere to hide. Please.”
No one else in the bar seemed to see or hear the woman. Frowning, I hopped off the barstool and turned toward her. When she saw my movement, her eyes lit up. But then she took in my massive frame, my tattoos, and the light in her eyes dimmed just a bit.
“Naw, man,” the bartender said from behind me in a low whisper. “You don’t want to get involved in this.”
The girl’s eyes turned up to my face, and my breath shuddered in my lungs. Even though she looked like a drowned rat, I hadn’t seen a woman this gorgeous in a long-ass time. Her eyes were a deep green, like the color of grass on a warm summer’s day, and her flushed cheeks accentuated her heart-shaped face. My eyes moved down despite my internal command to stop them, casting a furtive glance at the way her wet shirt clung to her breasts. I could see her nipples erect and hard underneath the thin material, and I felt a twitch in my pants, a reaction I hadn’t had in a very long time.
“You need some kind of help?” I asked, stepping forward before I could fully think things through.
She flinched, but she didn’t take a step back. Eyes gazing up at me, she looked so innocent and scared, and my gut clenched tight. This girl was in trouble, and I already knew I’d do whatever it took to get her out of it. The loneliness and aimlessness I’d felt for far too long flittered away with just that one look at her eyes. I had a mission.
And deep down I knew, getting involved in this whole thing, whatever it was, would probably come back to bite me in the ass.