BACHELOR PARTIES WERE the worst. Stella Krane couldn’t understand why guys needed a wedding in order to go to a bar, drink their asses off, flirt with strangers, and talk about it for the rest of their lives. Remember when…? It was like a rite of passage for uptight businessmen. Real men took it to a hotel room, hired strippers, and fucked the hell out of them in ways their pretty little wives wouldn’t ever let them. She cringed at the thought. She wouldn’t want a man who did that. God, what was going on with her?
There was a time when Stella had dreamed of being someone’s pretty little wife, but that was before Carl Kutcher. Her gut twisted with the realization that he was getting out of jail in four days. The man had stolen every dream she’d ever had—and who knew when he’d steal her life. She no longer held on to the fantasy of a doting husband, a few kids, and a white picket fence. Now she was just happy to be alive.
“Hey, sweetheart, how about a little sugar with my drink?” drunken asshole number six asked as he leaned over the bar. He was with the bachelor party and had been drinking for the past few hours. Five guys with wedding rings pawing, groping, leering, making lewd comments, and trying their best to live out a stilted fantasy.
Stella eyed his wedding ring. Damn, she needed to get off tonight—and she wasn’t thinking about getting off work. It’d been too many months since she’d gotten laid, and she’d had it up to here watching everyone else play out their dirty fantasies. She longed for the feel of a man’s hands on her ass while his cock drove hard and deep inside her, allowing her brain to escape reality for a while. Stella wasn’t really a one-night-fuck type of girl—but right then, boy did she wish she were. She missed the feel of a hard chest pressing against her and the deep, naughty whispers of a man telling her how much he wanted her. She’d never been that down-and-dirty girl until Kutcher. He’d sparked a side of her that she hadn’t known existed, a dangerous, rebellious side that turned her on in ways she never imagined possible. But that was before things went bad and Kutcher showed his true colors. The bastard. She refused to even think of him as Carl anymore. Now he was just Kutcher. Kutcher had taught her many things, like that men pretty much suck. They lie, cheat, and sometimes…they beat the hell out of you.
She narrowed her catlike green eyes at the mildly attractive, dark-haired sure thing before her and practically purred, “How about I get you another drink and you go home and fuck your wife’s sugar-coated pussy?”
Jaw slack—check. Eyes wide—check. Oh, look, a bonus. Mr. I Want Some Sugar backed away from the bar.
Some days she felt like a babysitter and a whore at once, but hey, working at a bar in New York City might not be like running her own interior design business in Mystic, Connecticut, but it kept her alive. She missed Mystic. She missed the harbor, the safety of the small town, her friends. She missed her mother most of all. Her mother was battling cancer, but like everything else in her life, she’d had to sever all ties with her mother in order to keep her safe from Kutcher.
Stella had lived in Mystic her whole life. Until Kutcher. Fucking Kutcher. Slick-tongued, hard-bodied, and unfortunately, hard-fisted Kutcher. She’d dated him for only a few months before he showed his true colors. His possessiveness knew no boundaries, and she’d barely escaped with her life. No, this might not be Mystic, and she might have had to leave everything she knew and loved behind, but at least she’d survived—even if she had to spend the rest of her life pretending to be someone she wasn’t.
She felt the eyes of the man at the end of the bar on her again. He wasn’t part of the bachelor party—at least that was a plus. He’d come in an hour ago, ordered a Jack and Coke, and hadn’t moved anything but his piercing blue eyes—which had tracked her every move—since. He wore an expensive suit coat over a white dress shirt open at the neck, exposing a swath of sexy chest hair. Perfect for running her fingers through when she straddled him.
What had Kutcher done to her? How had she gone from being a proper Wesleyan girl to a slutty-minded runaway? She’d met Carl Kutcher at a party for one of her interior design clients. He was tall and dark with a trim beard, eyes as black as night, and a quiet confidence that gave him an aura of importance. Stella had learned too late that there were two sides to the man who seemed too good to be true. He moved like the sea, calm and alluring one minute, angry and dark the next. His moods changed with the wind, and when they did, he left no room for escape.
Stella pushed thoughts of Kutcher away and tried to concentrate as she served up two more drinks, feeling the heat of Mr. Blue Eyes rolling over her breasts as she leaned down to wipe the bar. Hell if it didn’t make her entire body go hot. She’d been through enough over the past few months and knew better than to let a man intimidate her, but every time she tried to meet his gaze, she couldn’t do it. He was intimidating, in an edgy sort of way. Everything about him, from his thick dark hair and chiseled features to his iridescent baby blues, screamed sex, power, and intensity. Even his scent was musky and sensual, like liquid amber. She’d like to roll around in his scent, revel in the feel of his big hands on her breasts, her rib cage—
What the hell am I thinking?
She was pretty sure that her landlord, Mrs. Fairly, wouldn’t be thrilled with a midnight romp in her basement bedroom. Stella wasn’t exactly the quietest of lovers. She’d been lucky enough to find a place to stay where she could pay cash for rent and didn’t have to provide her social security number for the lease. She had to be completely untraceable, which meant no credit cards, no checks, and never using her ATM card. Fucking Kutcher had tracked her down everywhere she went, which was why she’d finally left Mystic and come to the Big Apple to disappear.
So far so good.
A large hand landed on the bar just beneath her chest, fingers splayed. No wedding ring, soft, unmarred hands, manicured fingernails. The hand of a wealthy man, that much was for sure. Her eyes traveled up to a thick, masculine wrist, suit jacket stretched tight across flexed biceps, to the piercing blue eyes she’d been fantasizing about. Her breath caught in her throat at the intensity of his stare. He circled her wrist with his index finger and thumb, drawing her eyes downward and sending her heart into panic mode. She’d been here before, restrained by Kutcher, unable to break free.
She forced her mind to function and pulled her arm free, rubbing it as if it had been burned.
“Sorry, darlin’. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” His deep voice slithered over her skin as his gaze softened, penetrating in a different way. Not intense and threatening, but the kind of heated gaze that felt safe and seductive at once.
Stella swallowed her initial fear, gathering her wits about her. She wasn’t a meek girl. At five foot five, a hundred and twenty-five pounds, she was curvy and solid, and until Kutcher, she’d had the confidence to match her strong body. Now it took a few minutes to reclaim that confidence. She hated that even after a few months Kutcher’s memory could still swamp her.
“Just one of those nights.” With her words his eyes went from seductive to assessing, his dark brows knitted together, and he lifted his hand from the bar and rubbed the sexy scruff peppering his chin. A slight smile curved his full lips as he glanced over his shoulder at the loud bachelor party, then turned and lowered his voice.
“Yes, I can see it is.” He held up his glass. “When you have time?”
“Sure.” She picked up on a faint Midwestern twang that came and went and pictured him in tight jeans, cowboy boots, and a Stetson. She turned to mix his drink, thinking about the man behind her whose eyes burned a path through her back. She wondered what he did for a living, dressed like that and alone at a bar on a Friday night. A man with eyes like Chris Pine’s, a face like Channing Tatum’s, and a voice like melted chocolate, which made her want to lick him from head to toe. Unaccompanied on a Friday night? Gay? No way. Not with the way he’d been eye-fucking her all night. Freak? Probably.
On that lovely thought, she turned and pushed his drink across the bar. “That’ll be—”
He placed his hand over hers, stopping her cold and making her body hum and rattle with fear in equal measure.
“I know how much it is, darlin’. Thank you.”
She withdrew her hand from beneath his, instantly missing the connection. It’d been too damn long. She just might have to break out her battery-operated boyfriend tonight and satisfy the itch she’d been ignoring since arriving in the city.
He handed her a twenty. “Keep the change. You’re new here.” He sipped his drink, eyes locked on her.
She worked the register, trying not to think about the man behind the generous tip. Yeah, right. She wiped the bar to give her hands something to do besides wanting to touch his again, and eyed him warily.
“I started a few weeks ago.”
“That explains it. I’ve been in and out of town the last few weeks. Where’d you work before this?”
She leaned one hand on the bar, finding her confidence once again. It came and went like the wind these days, and she was glad when it decided to blow back in. The guy’s eyes turned sultry, and a rush of excitement heated her insides. It’d also been a long time since she’d been properly flirted with.
“Around,” she answered, toying with him.
A blond guy leaned in over Midwestern hottie’s shoulder. “Can I get another gin and tonic, please?”
She took his glass and turned away to mix the cocktail.
“She’s so fucking hot,” the tall blond said. Stella hoped to hell he wasn’t talking about her. She’d heard enough about her ass, her tits, and her fuckable mouth for one night.
She handed him his glass and he shoved a ten across the bar with a wink. A fifty-cent tip. Jesus Christ. She used to earn six figures, and now she was schlepping drinks in a bar for peanuts.
The familiar mantra played in her head like a broken record, giving her strength and perspective.
At least I’m alive.
I’m alive. I’m alive. I’m alive.
LOGAN WILD COULD watch the sassy bartender all night long. He was a regular at NightCaps, his buddy Dylan’s bar and his go-to place after a long week of tracking down cheating spouses, embezzlers, and thieves. He hadn’t been interested in getting laid when he’d come into the bar. Two busty blondes had satisfied that urge earlier in the week when he’d been in Memphis working on a case, but now he was reconsidering his evening plans. There was something about the sharp-tongued brunette with plump lips he’d like to see wrapped around his thick cock and eyes that said “fuck me” and “don’t touch me” all at once.
She moved at record speed as the night wore on, dodging offers of sexual escapades with married men like bullets and always with a smart-ass retort. But she wasn’t hardened, not like most of the sharp-witted women around New York City. She held her head high, like she wouldn’t take shit from anyone. But as soon as those big talkers turned their backs, he swore he saw her exhale and her body become less rigid, more feminine. Not that she wasn’t feminine when she was talking smack. With a body meant for loving, a mouth made for kissing, and hands that gripped a glass with surety, she was a fine mix of strength and delicacy.
He didn’t know why he was assessing her so intimately. Usually Logan was a one-hit wonder kind of guy. Meet ’em, bang ’em, leave ’em behind. The pattern worked well for him over the past thirty-two years, and he was in no hurry to change it. He’d seen too many guys fall into marriage only to hire men like him a few years later to catch their wives with the gardener or the UPS guy. Monogamy was for the birds, and he didn’t fucking care to tweet.
One of the drunken douche bags from the bachelor party was at her again. He’d heard her shut him down earlier, but the guy had had plenty more to drink, and he was leaning across the bar, reaching for her.
She stepped back, lowered her adorably pointed chin, and as she’d done earlier, purred another effective slap. “Hands off, hot stuff. I don’t think your wife wants you coming home with fingerprints.”
“It’s not your fingers I’m interested in.” He leaned both forearms on the bar.
She tossed the hand towel she was using to wipe the bar over her shoulder and walked away. Asshole followed her as she moved to the far side of the bar.
Logan sat up a little straighter, his eyes tracking the guy step for step. Years as a Navy SEAL had taught him how to smell trouble a mile away, and this guy smelled rotten. He didn’t like the look in the guy’s eyes. Logan gripped the edge of the bar and set one foot on the floor.
She called to the bartender at the other end of the bar. “JJ.”
JJ looked over. She nodded her head to the side.
Logan had seen her do that earlier, right before she headed to the ladies’ room. Apparently so had the asshole who wasn’t interested in her fingers. Logan’s hands fisted as he rose to his feet. At six foot three, he had a clear view of the dark-haired guy who was still watching her out of the corner of his eye as she headed for the stairs that led down to the bathroom. He felt a strong hand on his wrist and turned, his muscles taut and ready for a fight.
His buddy Dylan Bad narrowed his dark eyes and leaned across the bar. Where the hell had he come from? Logan’s eyes slid to the swinging door to the stockroom, still moving from Dylan’s entrance.
“Careful with that one, Logan.”
He didn’t need or want the warning. For a second he wondered if Dylan wanted that sexy little bartender for himself, before remembering that Dylan didn’t dip the pen in the company ink, which meant there was something he knew that Logan didn’t. Not for long. He’d deal with that later.
Logan shot back the same dark stare. “Noted. See the guy trailing her? He’d better be careful of me.” He wrenched his arm free and shook it out. Like a dog with a bone, he headed down the stairs with tunnel vision.
Logan pushed through the throngs of twentysomethings gathered in the stairwell, passing handsy guys with their bodies pressed against scantily clad women and groups talking and drinking while eyeing each other up. The ladies’ room was to the left of the staircase, men’s to the right. The sassy bartender and the asshole were nowhere in sight. A chill ran down Logan’s back. He opened the men’s room door, peered inside. The guy wasn’t there. Logan’s pulse ratcheted up a notch. His muscles corded tighter as he pushed open the women’s room door and took an earful of shit from the women inside as he scanned the tight space, coming up empty again. Motherfucker.
He pushed through the crowd to the narrow hallway that led to the alley behind the bar. The Emergency Exit Only sign was still hanging loose. Goddamn Dylan. The alarm had been broken for a month. He knew Dylan was busy, but at the moment he didn’t care. Logan was seeing red as he pushed through the door and heard shuffling and muffled pleas. He stalked down the dark alley, following the sounds. He was upon them before the whites of the bartender’s terrified eyes came into focus. Her attacker had her against the wall, trapping her with his hip. One hand fumbled with the waist of her jeans, while the other held her shoulders pressed against the bricks.
Hatred burned in Logan’s veins. In one swift move, Logan grabbed the man by the back of his shoulders and tore him off of her.
Her attacker turned. “What the—”
Logan threw him against the brick wall. He crumpled to the ground but got up fast, coming at Logan with his arms flying. Logan was quick, dodging his fists with ease and landing a hard right to the guy’s jaw, then a left to his gut. The guy’s back met the brick wall with a thud.
“Get inside,” Logan commanded the bartender as he grabbed the guy’s shoulders and threw him down to the pavement, pressing his knee to his sternum.
The idiot tried to get up, but Logan was too powerful, driven by adrenaline and a past filled with too much death. He pinned his arms to the ground with his knees and cocked his fist. The guy’s eyes were wide with fear. Blood dripped from his nose and lips. Logan saw the eyes of the men he’d killed on his SEAL missions and the eyes of the man who’d killed his father.
Logan wasn’t saving his country, and he knew there was no saving his father.
This asshole wasn’t worth going to jail for.
“Come into this bar again,” Logan seethed, “and you won’t walk out.”