THE DOORS TO Whiskey Bro’s blew open and Dixie Whiskey, Bullet’s youngest sibling, barreled toward him with that look on her face. Her long red hair hung loose and wild, and in her cutoff T-shirt, skinny jeans, and black boots, she looked like a force to be reckoned with. There were very few things the ex–Special Forces biker couldn’t handle, but today of all days he didn’t have the patience to deal with whatever had crawled up her ass and died. Not after the fucked-up, restless night he’d had.
Dixie crossed her arms, her fingers drumming annoyingly on her tatted-up forearm. The smirk she was wearing told Bullet this could go one of two ways. She needed him to do something he would not want to do, or she was about to give him shit.
He stopped wiping down the bar and tossed the rag on the counter behind him. “What’s up, Dix?”
“You look like hell.”
He poured himself a shot of bourbon.
“You’re drinking on the job?”
“You see any customers?” At six five and two hundred and forty pounds, it would take a hell of a lot more than one drink to affect him. He downed the shot, set the empty glass in front of him, and placed his hands flat on the bar, letting the burn soothe the demons of his past.
Locking eyes with Dixie, he said, “Did you come here to give me shit?”
Dixie held his gaze. “Nightmares, up all night fucking some girl you can’t remember, or was someone in trouble?”
He’d taught her never to back down when she was just a lanky redheaded pistol with a big mouth and not enough sense to know when to shut up. He’d had to teach her to be tough so she wouldn’t get herself in trouble. She hadn’t changed much, except now she wasn’t scared of anything. Including him.
He picked up the shot glass and turned to wash it out. “Whaddaya need?”
“I need you to behave when Finlay Wilson gets here.”
Bullet stifled a curse. “Finlay? The catering chick from Tru and Gemma’s wedding?” How many Finlay Wilsons were there in Peaceful Harbor, Maryland? It wouldn’t matter if there were a dozen. This Finlay had already gotten Bullet’s attention—and blown him off, which was probably a good thing. She was sweeter than sugar and had no business agreeing to help them expand their family-run bar to include lunches and dinners. She belonged in an ice cream shop like her sister, Penny, where she could flash that sparkling smile for friendly families. She’d be eaten alive in a place like Whiskey Bro’s.
“One and the same,” Dixie said.
“That tiny flick of a woman does not belong in a bar. Especially my bar. Don’t you have someone else to harass?”
“First of all, we’re all equal partners in this place. You, me, Bones, Bear, Mom, and Dad. So cut the bullshit about it being your bar.”
He gritted his teeth. Technically she was right. They were all equal partners on paper, but it didn’t quite work out that way in real life. Bear had run the bar after their father’s stroke and had also taken over their family auto shop across the street when they lost their uncle. Bullet had stepped in five years ago and had taken over the day-to-day responsibilities of the bar, so Bear could cut back to part-time. Dixie ran the books for both their family businesses, waitressed at the bar, and had recently taken charge of the expansion of Whiskey Bro’s kitchen. But his younger brother, Bones, a doctor, hadn’t ever gotten his hands dirty inside the bar. Not that Bullet cared about that. Bones would jump in if asked, but Bullet didn’t ask for help. Had never asked for it a day in his life.
With one fucking exception, but he wasn’t going there now.
He pushed the harsh memories aside and focused on Dixie’s narrowing green eyes. The bar might be as much theirs as it was his, but he was the one who was there every goddamn day.
“Don’t fuck this up, Bullet, or I swear I’ll make your life a living hell. She’s agreed to work with us for a month, and we need her if we’re going to pull this off. She knows about menus, hiring kitchen staff, and health regulations.”
“She doesn’t belong in a place like this, Dix. She’s not like us.” Finlay looked like a frigging angel with her silky blond hair and innocent blue eyes. It was that innocence that had flipped some switch inside Bullet and made him want to sin her up and protect her at the same time. Fucking Finlay Wilson. The wedding was four weeks ago, and he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her since. If she wasn’t starring in his X-rated fantasies, she was flitting about town in those frilly dresses she wore, spreading smiles like fairy dust.
“You didn’t seem to mind that when you hit on her at the wedding.” She arched a brow. “Or did you think I didn’t notice the way you were watching her every move when Bear and Crystal also decided to tie the knot? Sidling up to her every chance you got during the reception, like a puppy chasing a treat?”
Bullet scoffed. He’d been looking at her long before Crystal and Bear’s impromptu proposal and subsequent wedding the day Tru and Gemma got married. “She’s a hot chick. So what? I didn’t want to marry her—just have a little fun.”
“Then you shouldn’t mind seeing her in here for a few hours a day while we pull things together.”
“It’s a mistake, Dixie.” He moved around the bar and stood beside her. “A pretty little thing like her is just asking for trouble in a place like this. Why are you so hung up on hiring Finlay anyway? Did you even check with our club members to see if anyone needed a job?”
“You know, sometimes I forget that you have so much Dad in you, it’s like beating my head against a brick wall.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“That you’re as hesitant to hire outside the family as he is. That you think if someone’s not in the club or one of us, they can’t do shit.”
“Jed’s working here, isn’t he?”
Bear had recently given up bartending and was now designing motorcycles for the elite Silver-Stone Cycles. For the first time in the history of the bar, they’d been forced to hire outside the family and outside their motorcycle club, the Dark Knights, which was as solid as family. Although Jed Moon, who was not only their new part-time bartender but also worked as an auto mechanic for the shop, was Bear’s new brother-in-law. So technically, he was family. Finlay Wilson was not. Finlay Wilson was trouble waiting to happen.
“Give me a break.” He shook his head. “We always hire family first.”
“Yeah? Well, which of our club members do you think knows how to run a restaurant? Gutter, the home repair expert? Or maybe one of the Bando brothers, who pour concrete for a living? Do you realize Finlay went to one of the best culinary schools in Boston? She’s worked in a restaurant, and she’s run her own catering company for years, and soon she’ll be opening a catering company right here in town.”
He didn’t give a rat’s ass about her credentials. If anything, she was overqualified. But the thought of her flouncing around the bar with a bunch of horny, drunk guys going after her made Bullet’s blood boil. The fact that she was not his to worry about did not escape him. “We’re offering sandwiches and fries, not gourmet meals.”
“Which makes her the perfect person for this job. She knows how to keep costs down, and she’s from Peaceful Harbor. She’s putting down roots here, which means she’ll want to see the business do well—so it doesn’t reflect poorly on her. What do you have against Finlay, anyway?”
“Against her? Nothing.” Though he’d like to be buried deep inside her. “But she’ll get eaten alive in a place like this and she’ll go cowering out the door. Then we’ll be left trying to figure shit out anyway. Besides—”
The creak of the front door opening drew their attention. Bullet looked over his shoulder, meeting the innocent blue eyes of the angel peeking in at them.
FINLAY SMILED AND waved as she slipped into the dingy bar. “Hi. Am I interrupting?” From the scowl on Bullet’s face, she was not only interrupting, but she’d somehow pissed him off. Well, good for him. Let him be angry, the big, tattooed bully. What kind of man comes up to a woman at a wedding and says, Hey, sweetheart, whaddaya say I take you for a ride on the Bullet train?
She smoothed her sundress over her hips, trying to gather her wits about her. Bullet train. She had no doubt he had a train in his pants. The man was larger than life in too many ways to count, and when he set those cold, dark eyes on her, she swore they ignited right in front of her. Lordy, now my pulse is racing. She’d been thinking of that flash of heat ever since the wedding, and she couldn’t deny that it scared her and turned her on in equally frustrating measures. If she were honest with herself, she’d thought she was too damaged after losing Aaron to ever feel this type of spine-tingling excitement over a man again—and the fact that she felt it around a guy like Bullet scared the heck out of her. But this was not the time for honesty. She needed to pull herself together so she didn’t make a bad impression.
Dixie pushed past her massive brother to greet her. “Not at all! I’m glad you made it in.” She gave Finlay a quick hug and then glared at Bullet. “Right, Bull? Aren’t we glad she made it in?”
He lifted his chin in a half-cocked greeting before stalking around the bar and busying himself pulling bottles from shelves. Was he upset that she’d refused his magical penis ride? If so, he was going to have to get over it, and fast.
“Don’t pay attention to him. He had a rough night.” Dixie waved a hand as if Bullet didn’t matter.
Finlay forced a smile, knowing the big oaf mattered a heck of a lot. She’d grown up in Peaceful Harbor, although she was several years younger than the Whiskeys and she hadn’t known them then. She’d moved back into town two months ago, hoping to put down roots near her sister, Penny, after leaving to attend college in Boston nearly a decade ago. Penny had filled her in on the Whiskeys when she’d accepted the catering job for their friends’ wedding. Apparently, the Whiskeys and their motorcycle gang owned her small hometown. Only, according to Penny, it wasn’t like the stories she’d heard about bikers causing a ruckus or scaring people. No, the Whiskeys were known to be good folks, and apparently their gang was more of a club. She didn’t know the difference, but understood that they protected the community, keeping crime down and helping with bullies—except, apparently, for their own big, pushy son. From what Penny had said, they might look intimidating, but beneath all those tattoos and dark leather, they were kind, caring, generous people. She’d noticed that at the wedding, and in the weeks since, as she’d seen Dixie, her other brothers, and their parents around town. They were all as nice as could be. The jury was still out on big, bad Bullet.
But if she was going to spend any amount of time in his presence, he needed to respect her. This was why Penny had pushed her to take this job, wasn’t it? Because she’d been hiding behind her past, living a safe, comfortable, lonely life for so long she’d all but forgotten how it felt to be hit on? And how to handle it. Well, that ended now. She straightened her spine, the way she’d learned to do in culinary school, when top chefs came in to teach and they’d ream the students for the smallest errors. There was no room for thin skin in catering—and she’d be darned if she’d let Bullet Whiskey intimidate her one bit.
“It’ll be fine,” she assured Dixie, and walked directly behind the bar to the mountain of a man who was trying his best to ignore her. Every step made her heart beat faster. Holy moly, she hadn’t remembered him being that tall. She was only five three, but even though she had heels on, he was well over a foot taller than her.
She reached up and tapped Bullet’s shoulder. It was like tapping stone covered with a black leather vest. He turned slowly, his broad chest and massive arms suddenly taking up all the extra space. She stared up at him. His dark beard and eyes gave him a menacing look. She swallowed hard, steeling herself to say her piece. In the next second those angry eyes turned even hotter and hungrier than they’d been at the wedding.
Her traitorous insides flamed.
Oh boy. She was in way over her head. This man probably got everything he wanted from women with that look. He cast some sort of spell with his leather wrist cuffs, scary-looking silver and black rings, and go-ahead-just-try-to-mess-with-me attitude.
Forcing her sternest expression, she said, “Bullet, if we’re going to work together, I expect you’ll let what happened at the wedding go and get behind me on this project.”
He cocked his head, his lips curving up in a wicked smile that brought goose bumps to her entire body as he said, “I’m happy to get behind you anytime, sweetheart.”
“Bullet.” Dixie glared at him.
Finlay felt her jaw drop open and snapped it closed. She needed the money from this consulting job to help get her catering business off the ground, and she really liked Dixie and the rest of the Whiskeys. She felt good about helping them and couldn’t let this Whiskey scare her off.
“First of all, I am not your sweetheart, and if you think for a second that your dirty talk will scare me off, you’re wrong.”
He leaned in so close she could smell alcohol on his breath. “You haven’t begun to hear dirty talk, darlin’. And scaring you is the last thing I want to do. But you working here is a mistake.”
The front door swung open and two loud-talking, burly men walked in. They wore grungy T-shirts and jeans, with black leather boots, much like Bullet’s. One had scraggly gray hair pulled back in a ponytail. The other was bald and broad, with tattoos on both arms. Finlay was so far out of her element, she could no longer see it. But she wasn’t about to admit that. She felt Bullet watching her intently and tried to school her expression. Once again, she gathered her courage, realizing that if she had any hope of earning Bullet’s respect, she had to prove she wasn’t the mouse he seemed to think she was. She’d done enough bartending when she was in college to make ends meet, and she could make drinks in her sleep.
She spun on her heels as the men sat down at the bar and flashed them her warmest smile. “Hi, y’all. What can I get for you today?”
They glanced at Bullet, who chuckled.
“What will it be? Beer, bourbon, or Biker’s Poison? Knuckleheads?” When they stared at her, dumbfounded, she set her hand on her hip and smiled at Dixie, who was clearly getting a kick out of her little show of authority. “Shy boys, huh? How about I surprise you?”
She turned, and Bullet grabbed her arm, glowering at her again. Whatever amusement had caused his chuckle was flat-out gone. She looked at his hand on her arm and smiled. “I’m sorry, Bullet, but you seem to think manhandling me is an appropriate way to get my attention.” She peeled his hand off and placed it by his side. “Now, if you’d like to say something, feel free while I mix these good men their drinks.”
With her heart in her throat, she grabbed two lowball glasses and a bottle of tequila while Bullet breathed fire beside her.
“This is my territory,” he seethed.
“Hm. Seems you’re a bit possessive about your space.” She pointed to a bottle of Kahlúa. “Can you please hand me that, and the ouzo?”
Teeth clenched, he handed her the bottles, and she began mixing the drinks. This time the chuckles came from the other men. She couldn’t see Dixie, but she heard the heels of her boots clicking along the hardwood toward the kitchen. She reached in front of Bullet to grab two napkins and grazed his stomach, which earned something between a grunt and a dangerously sexy sound she didn’t want to think about.
She set the drinks on the bar and wiped her hands on a towel that was hanging beneath the counter. “Two Boot Knockers just for you two beautiful men.”
Stepping closer to Bullet, she crooked her finger for him to bend down so she could speak quietly. To her surprise, he did, and she said, “I’m really not comfortable with territories. It feels outdated. Like women being seen and not heard.”
Bullet rose to his full height, face pinched tight.
She patted his chest and, in her sweetest voice, said, “You do your job and I’ll do mine. But there will probably be occasions when I need to get behind the bar, or you need to get into the kitchen. Think you can handle that?”
One of the men at the bar lifted his glass and said, “This is the best drink I’ve had in a long time. I can handle this pretty lady making my drinks.”
Finlay batted her eyelashes just for dramatics, enjoying the irritated look on Bullet’s face. “Thank you. I’m pretty good behind the bar. Oh, and in the kitchen,” she added with a smile.
She felt something thundering against her palm and realized her hand was still over Bullet’s heart. She lowered her hand, and he growled something indiscernible.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with Dixie.”