Copyright © 2017
“You’d have better luck picking up a pig in a barn!”
Willa Thompson took a deep breath and pushed the asshole’s jeering voice down in her memory. She refused to acknowledge the echo of his laughter as it rang through her mind. That infuriating, horrifying incident had been almost a week ago. She hadn’t spoken to him since. Though she had to admit she didn’t know how long she’d be able to keep it that way. The ass did work two cubicles over from her.
I wasn’t even talking to him.
No, she’d been on her cell in the breakroom, talking with her best friend. Stupidly thinking it was safe to quietly talk about a good-looking man she’d seen a few times in a nearby café. Asshole had picked up on a few key words in their conversation, had begun laughing, and loudly called out to her.
Willa ground her teeth and wiped her sweaty palms on her favorite jeans. This is ridiculous. What will this even prove?
She looked up at the flickering neon sign over the building before her. It was taunting her. Daring her to step inside, step into a world she’d only read about in novels. She’d never even set foot on this street before, and now she was about to enter an actual biker bar.
The rumbling roar of a motorcycle engine startled Willa, pulling her gaze away from the sign and over to the parking lot she’d just crossed through. She watched as a large man in an actual leather vest parked his fiery-themed motorcycle just a few feet away. He popped a cigarette in his mouth before he even got off the bike, and she looked away. Please let there be someone more my type in this place!
Then again, Willa thought to herself as she took her first step inside, was that even possible?
Her brown eyes went wide as the combined scents of tobacco smoke, strong alcohol, and sweat assaulted her nose. There were bodies squeezing together everywhere. Women wearing more makeup than fabric were grinding into men, and other women, on what Willa presumed was the dance floor. All three pool tables were occupied by mostly large, leather-clad men with too many tattoos or piercings. A few had skinny females curled around them while they played.
In fact, all the women Willa could see were significantly thinner and more culturally attractive than she herself. She swallowed, choking on an intake of breath. I knew that would happen. She hadn’t come to this bar to blend in. She’d come to prove a point. To prove to herself, if no one else, that she could, in fact, still pick up a man when she tried. Never mind the kind of man she usually sought never seemed to look twice at her anymore.
It’s not impossible for a man to be interested in me. I’m not hideous.
Sure, she was overweight. And she didn’t often feel particularly pretty. She wasn’t disgusting, either. She hoped.
Willa did her best to disguise her nerves and walked straight up to the bar. Most of the tables she could see were occupied, and since she was there alone—and wanting to be noticed—she figured sitting at the bar better suited her needs. She only hoped no one saw her fumble in her attempt to situate herself on the classically round barstool.
The scent of alcohol was, of course, stronger at the bar. But the stools on either side of her were vacant, just as she’d been counting on, and quick glances to either side assured her the people nearest her hadn’t paid her any attention. Yet. That was fine. She needed a drink before she was ready to begin her self-assigned mission, anyway. On her third attempt, she successfully waved the bartender over and ordered a rum and Coke.
Figuring that putting her back to the majority of the people in the bar would be counterproductive to her goal, Willa took a gulp of her drink and swiveled around. Nearly slamming into a broad-shouldered mountain of a man in the process.
“Oh!” Willa exclaimed, jumping in her seat. “I’m so sorry!” She barely noticed the chill of the drink as a few droplets sloshed over the side and onto her hand.
The man she’d just about kneed in the groin had straightened to an impressive height and was blatantly raking his piercing emerald gaze over her. Her mouth went dry. This guy was built. Muscles bulged from beneath his black t-shirt, curving down his bare arms and disappearing beneath the belt over his black cargo pants. All that muscle and black clothing was like something out of a military movie. Combined with his thick head of shaggy black hair, Willa was absolutely not sorry to have earned this man’s attention. Not even for a moment.
Those emerald eyes were focused on hers when a corner of his lips twitched in a brief grin. His nostrils flared with a visible breath and he said, “You’re forgiven.”
Goosebumps raced up Willa’s arms as a delightful chill shot down her back. That grin. That voice. This was the man she wanted. This was the man who could convince her she was still a desirable female. Get real, Willa. Men like him don’t even try to remember women like you.
“Didn’t mean to make you spill your drink,” the gorgeous stranger said, apparently oblivious to her distracted thoughts. She was working on corralling her tongue when he reached out, gently pried the glass from her hand, and set it on the bar behind her. The action brought him several inches closer. She could smell him now. His scent was surprisingly fresh for being found in a biker bar. She had to resist the urge to press her nose to his neck for a better whiff.
The next thing she knew, he’d grasped her wrist and was using a napkin to gently wipe the spilled alcohol off her hand. Willa could feel the contained strength in the fingers loosely holding her hand in place, yet it felt as though he were barely touching her. The contrast was appealing and the contact had her heart beating faster.
“Y-you really don’t have to—”
He lifted his stare back to her eyes and words failed her. “I insist.” Had his voice really come out in a sort of deep, vibrating purr, or was her imagination kicking into overdrive?
Willa swallowed heavily and prayed she wouldn’t stutter when she next opened her mouth. “I’m Willa, by the way.”
Those lips lifted in another grin, this one lingering several seconds, and he deposited the napkin back onto the bar. He refrained from releasing her wrist. “Ryker,” he said.
Ryker. It was different, but not off-the-wall kind of different. It was sexy.
Her belly did a clumsy summersault at about the same time as she let her lips lift in a smile of her own. “Do you … come here often?”
Oh my God, Willa. You came here to pick up a guy, yes, but you don’t have to be so cliché about it!
Ryker’s smile returned, lasting this time. It lightened his already breathtaking eyes and eased the intensity of his features without taking away any of his heaping sex appeal. Willa doubted she’d ever even spoken to a man this mouthwatering before. And she likely never would again, either.
“Not often enough,” he said, a trace of amusement in his deep, rumbling voice. He gave a tug of her wrist and added, “Come sit with me. The bar’s no place for a beautiful woman.”
Willa was sure her expression gave away her shock. Had he just asked her to sit with him? Had he just said she was beautiful? Surely this was some sort of joke. Did he have a hidden camera on him? Or maybe he had some friends egging him on, daring him to flirt with the lonely woman at the bar until she figured him out?
“I … would love to,” she said, despite her fear. She didn’t really see how this was anything more than a drunken bet or a prank, but she had to test it. Just in case. There was always the chance that he’d been drawn in by her deliberately paired siren-red nails and lips. A choice she was extra glad she’d made now, as the red so deliciously complemented the green of his eyes.
He grinned and helped her off the stool, releasing her wrist only in favor of resting his palm at the small of her back. The heat from his touch seared through her as if she were naked. Willa gulped and clung to her glass, her purse slung over her opposite shoulder. It would not do at all to be daydreaming about getting naked with a man this godly when she suspected she was being pranked.
Ryker led her to a table near the back, just behind a rowdy group of twenty-somethings. He guided her to the farther bench, slid in, and tugged her down beside him.
Her heartbeat doubled.