This past week was Crank’s publish-a-versary! It doesn’t seem like Walker Gibson and Sienna Landry hooked up two years ago, but they did. ☺ I love these two characters. Walker’s broody, frustrated self getting all tongue-tied at the southern girl and her sassy mouth (and great swing – ha!).
Anyone up for a read of Chapter One? Let’s do it!
And, if you haven’t read this, it’s free in KU and available on Audible.
“I’m not taking you to the hospital.”
Peck teeters on the edge of one of Crave’s billiard tables. He sways back and forth, his sneakers squeaking against the cheap wood over the chatter of the patrons of the bar. “You don’t think I can land a back flip off here?”
The truth is I’m pretty sure he could. My cousin has the reflexes of a cat. The problem is he also has nine lives, and I’m sure he’s used up eight of them already.
“The question isn’t if you can land it. It’s how bloody the end result would be,” I say, taking a sip of beer. “And I’m not trying to splint a head wound. Can you even do that?”
“You could. Look at my arm.” He holds his left forearm in front of him, his watch catching the light from the new fixtures above. “This is some of your best work.”
Memories of splinting Peck’s arm with nothing but a belt, a bar towel, and a Playboy rush through my mind, as does loading him into the back of my truck for a quick trip to the emergency room.
“I really think I can do this,” Peck insists, working his shoulders back and forth.
Downing another drink, hoping I’m good and hammered before Peck attempts this disaster, I look across the table. My older brother, Lance, is watching me as he brings an Old-Fashioned to his lips. We exchange a look, both of us waiting for Machlan to catch wind of Peck’s antics and throw him out of Crave. Again.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Peck asks. “Another broken arm? I mean, I think I can get the rotation fast enough to not land on my head.”
“I think it’s your turn to take him to the hospital,” I tell Lance.
He coughs, choking on his drink. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“Remember how hot that nurse was last time?” Peck asks, wiggling his brows. “Actually, that kind of makes me want to go for it now just in case she’s on duty.”
“She’s not,” Lance chimes in. “I think she was fired after the Hospital Administrator found her fuck-foundered in triage three the night of your broken arm.”
“Peck! Get your fucking ass down.” Machlan’s voice rips through the bar, booming over the crowd.
Everyone quiets a few notches, not quite scared of my younger brother, but not willing to test his boundaries either. His reputation as a man you don’t want to tangle with without a small army definitely helps his cause when it comes to managing his bar. Peck, on the other hand, just rolls his eyes.
“Just one jump, Mach! One. Uno. I got this.” Peck gives Machlan his best shit-eating grin before looking at me and Lance. “If he throws me out, I’ll be back in a couple days. Hell, he threw me out on Tuesday and I was back on Thursday for corn hole.”
“I think that just means you’re in here too much,” Lance offers.
Peck starts to respond but his attention is redirected as Molly McCarter saunters by. The dim lighting does nothing to hide the exaggerated sway of her hips or the way she licks her lips as her sight sets on me.
Bracing for what may come out of her mouth, I fill mine with alcohol.
“Hey, Walker,” she says, stopping at my chair. Her hands rest along the top rung, her fingertips sliding across the back of my neck. “Hey, Lance.”
Lance tips his glass her way.
“I was thinking,” she purrs, “my car is way overdue for an oil change. Maybe I could bring it to Crank sometime this week, Walker? Do you think you could fit it in?”
“I’m pretty full this week,” I lie, ignoring her thinly veiled offer. “See what Peck has available.”
A huff whispers through the air and she pivots on her heel. “Thanks anyway.”
“I can get you in …” Peck’s voice drowns into the Crave chaos as he follows her towards the bar.
He tails after her, all but drooling, as she slides onto a bar stool. Her gaze flicks to mine, her knees spread just a little farther apart than a lady ever should. Then again, no one has ever called Molly a lady.
“Ever fuck her?” Lance asks, downing the rest of his drink as he turns back to me. “I’ve been tempted to a couple of times and did get a decent blow job one Halloween when she was dressed up in this nurse outfit.”
“What is it with you and nurses?”
“Think about it: they’re smart, make good money, work a lot so you have free time, and they’re used to getting dirty,” he smirks. “It’s like a straight shot to my dick.”
“And they’re good with needles, have access to medicines that can make you lose your mind, and I’ve never met one who didn’t have a warped sense of humor,” I counter. “They set off my crazy radar.”
Lance laughs. “Did that radar just start working? Because I distinctly remember you getting balls deep with some psychologically-challenged women. One in particular.”
“Are you feeling froggy tonight? Because if you keep that mouth runnin’ like that, I’m about to knock those glasses off your face.”
I’m kidding. More or less. The problem is Lance knows it.
“Oh, go to Hell,” he laughs.
“Already there, brother. Already there.”
He takes his glasses off his face and places them on the table. “I usually look at your life and think I’d hate to have it. But after the day I had today, I’d trade you places.”
“What? Did the high school kids refuse to learn about the American Revolution?” I laugh. “You have such a cush job.”
“I’m a professional.”
“A professional bullshitter, maybe.”
He makes a comeback, but it’s swallowed in the roar of the crowd as a popular song blares through the overhead speakers.
Crave, an old brick building along Beecher Street, is longer than it is wide, and pulses with the noise of the crowd and music. Alcohol ads, high school sports schedules, and a giant cork board adorn the walls. The latter is a good read and filled with letters and notes from one townsperson to the next. Affairs have been called out, coon dogs found, marriage proposals made, and entire conversations about who is working what shift at the factory have taken place on that thing. It’s been a mainstay of the bar since our uncle founded it almost fifty years ago. When our younger brother, Machlan, took over Crave thanks to Uncle George’s failing liver, he extended the wall of corkboards all the way to the door.
“That’s new,” Lance says, moving over one seat closer to me. Motioning to the phallic design made up of yellow rubber duck Christmas lights on the wall between the pool tables, he laughs. “Let me guess: that’s Peck’s handiwork.”
“Naturally. Machlan wasn’t thrilled, but Peck rallied the masses and they convinced him to keep it.”
“It is nicely done,” Lance says, chewing on the end of his glasses. “I can see the art in it.”
“Fuck. I should’ve been an artist if that counts as art.”
“Apparently things didn’t go well with Molly,” Lance says, twisting in his chair.
“She’s never gonna give Peck a chance.”
At the sound of his name, Peck walks through the front door. He stops just inside, the glow from the exit sign giving his mop of blond hair a pinkish hue.
Peck makes a beeline for our table, a look etched in the lines on his face that sends a ripple of concern up my spine. After growing up with him and then working with him for the last few years, I can read him like a book. Something is wrong.
“What’s going on?” I ask, scrambling to my feet as he gets closer.
“Walker, man, you need to get outside,” Peck says. “Someone just bashed the front of your truck.”
“What?” I hiss, sure I misheard him. “Someone did fucking what?”
“Yeah, man. You need to get out there.”
Blood ripping through my veins, I plow my way through the bar. Machlan lifts his chin, sensing something is off, but I shake my head as we pass. I know he loves a good fight, but this one is mine.
Lance is on my heels as we make our way through the crowd. “Who did you piss off now?”
“Someone who wants to die, apparently.” My fingers flex against the wood of the door, the warm summer air slamming my face as I hit the sidewalk. “You sure you don’t want to stay inside? I think getting into a street fight is against your teacher code of conduct.”
“Fuck off,” Lance chuckles. “I’ll have Peck hold my glasses and I’m in.”
“You, my brother, are an intelligent heathen.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. I think.”
The top of my black pickup truck comes into view, sitting beneath one of the few lamps lining Beecher Street. There are two people standing on the sidewalk next to my truck.
“Do we know them?” I ask Peck through gritted teeth.
“I promise you we’ve never seen them before.”
“So it’s not …” Lance doesn’t finish his sentence. “Holy shit.”
The two women turn to face us and I think all of our jaws drop. The first is tall with jet black hair and a strong, athletic build. It’s the second one who has me struggling to remember why we’re out here.
Long, blonde hair with faint streaks of purple and the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen, she assesses me in the hazy streetlight. She doesn’t make a show of looking me over like most women do, batting their eyelashes like some damsel in distress. There’s something different about her, a quiet confidence that makes her almost unapproachable.
Unapproachable, but still hot as fucking hell.
My gaze drifts down her ample chest, over the white lace fabric of the top that hugs the bends of her body. Cutoff denim jeans cap long, lean legs that only look longer next to the Louisville Slugger half-hidden behind her.
It takes a ton of effort, but my eyes finally tear from her body and to the body of my truck. Sure enough, there’s a rip across the grill and a broken headlight that looks an awful lot like a slam from a baseball bat. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed in my shop, but that’s not the point. The point is the disrespect.
“Either of you know what happened?” I ask, leaning against the hood. They remain silent. The only response is a dashed look between them.
Settling my scrutiny on each one individually, watching them squirm, I save the blonde for last.
“Did you see anything?” I ask, turning back to the tall one.
Her weight shifts from one foot to the other as she runs a hand through her shiny hair like we’re talking about coffee or having a beer later. “Me? No. I didn’t see a thing.”
“Really? You were standing out here just now and you didn’t see anything?”
“No,” she smiles sweetly. “Nothing at all.”
Peck steps between us and inspects the damage. When he turns around, he bites the inside of his cheek. “If I were a betting man, Walker, I’d say it looks like someone walloped Daisy with a baseball bat.”
The blonde lifts a brow, something on the tip of her tongue that she holds back.
“You got something to say?” I prod.
“You named your truck ‘Daisy’?”
Her eyes narrow, almost as if she’s taunting me. That she has the guts to challenge me combined with those fucking blue eyes throws me off my game. “I did. Got a problem with that?”
“No. No problem,” she says, twisting her lips into an incredibly sexy pout that I want to kiss off her goddamn face. “Just never met a man who named their truck after a flower.”
“Me either. Now, before I go calling the Sheriff about this, I’m gonna give you two a moment to consider telling me what happened. And,” I say, cutting off the blonde, “I’ll give you a piece of information before you decide what to say. Doc Burns’ office has cameras installed that will show everything. Just let that sink in a second.”
Their eyes go wide as they instinctively move together into a protective huddle. The tall girl points to the blonde who responds with a frantic whisper. She’s guilty as hell.
On one hand, I want to break her down and get inside her in ways she’s never dreamed. On the other, I can hear my brain issuing an alert to back away slowly.
The longer they confer, the more time I have to watch. The blonde controls the conversation, the other deferring to her as they talk amongst themselves. It’s hot as hell.
The light bounces off the wounded plastic of the headlight and draws my attention back to the fact that Daisy is damaged, and in all likelihood, one of these two did it.
“You really calling Kip?” Peck whispers. “He’s not gonna do shit about this, you know.”
“He might throw them in the back of his cop car and fuck their brains out. Especially the blonde,” Lance whistles. “Can you imagine her in handcuffs? Shit.”
The thought shoots a flame through my veins that catches me off guard. The vision of her bound up with one of these assholes at the helm irks me. Bad. “You two stay out of this. Let me handle it.”
The sound of metal pinging against the ground rings through the air. The girls jump, the blonde leaping away from the aluminum bat as it rolls across the sidewalk and lands in the gutter with a flourish. Her eyes snap to mine, guilt etched across her gorgeous face. “It was an accident.”
“How, exactly, does a baseball bat accidentally strike the front of my truck?” I ask. “Did it just hop over there and smash itself into my headlight?”
“Well,” she gulps. “I …”
“She was imitating her brother,” the dark-headed one says. “So we stop using pronouns, I’m Delaney. This is Sienna.”
“I’m Walker. That’s Peck and Lance.” I rest my attention on Sienna. She’s leaned against the grey car, her arms crossed over her chest. “So?”
“I was swinging the bat,” she says, “while Delaney puked over there and it slipped out of my hands.”
“I think we’re gonna have to see your swing,” Peck chuckles.
Sienna rolls her eyes. “You do not need to see my swing.”
Imagining her ass popped out, her body moving for our benefit, seems like a fair trade for the hassle of dealing with this tonight.
“How else do we know it was you? It could’ve been Delaney and you’re just covering for her,” I explain, loving the frustration on her beautiful face. “Gonna need to see the swing.”
“Lance, call Sheriff Kooch.”
“Wait,” Sienna sighs. “It was an accident. I can cut you a check for the repairs but please don’t call the police. I … I can’t have a record. You don’t understand.”
Looking away, it takes everything I have not to laugh. The plea in her voice is so damn adorable it almost makes me give in. Yet, she hasn’t shown any remorse, and that’s something I can’t get to sit right.
Swiping the bat out of the gutter, I extend it to her. The air between us heats, our fingers brushing in the exchange. The contact is enough to have her eyes flicking to mine. The light above may be dim, but it’s bright enough to see the way her lids hood, her lips part just barely as she pulls her skin from mine.
A zip of energy tumbles through my veins and I remind myself I can’t tug on the bat and pull her into me. There’s no way I can cover her lips with my own, sliding my tongue across hers, making her attempt at resistance to this proposed swing futile.
Instead, I step back.
“Batter up.” Peck motions for her to go. “Let’s see it.”
“Are you really going to make me do this?”
“Did you really just smash the front of my truck?” I ask. “The answer is the same to both questions, Slugger.”
Her eyes narrow, but there’s a fire in them that turns me the hell on. She steps away from her friend, zapping all the power I held just a few seconds ago with the flick of her tongue. It darts out, rolling across her bottom lip as the bat comes over her head. Sticking her ass out, bending her knees, her eyes still locked on mine, she slices the bat through the air … and stops it at the last possible second before impact.
It’s everything I thought it would be.
“Any questions, fellas?” she asks, propping it up on one shoulder.
“I have one,” I say, forcing a swallow, trying to redirect my thoughts. “If you could stop it that fast, then why the fuck didn’t you do that the first time?”
“Very funny.” She tosses the bat into the back seat of the car and crosses her arms in front of her again.
“Can I ask why you have a baseball bat to begin with?” Lance asks. “Do you belong to some softball league or something? If so, I just took a huge interest in women’s softball.”
Sienna laughs as Delaney’s face turns red. “Delaney’s car is like a scavenger hunt. You can find anything in there. So while she got sick, I just rummaged around in the trunk, found the bat, and fooled around.” She looks at me, her eyes softening. “Are you going to be here for a while? I’ll go home and get the money. I didn’t bring my debit card with me tonight.”
It’ll cost fifty bucks to fix the damage and about an hour’s time. Definitely not worth her going out of her way tonight. But it is worth making her come around again and say she’s sorry. It might do her some good.
Might not hurt me either.
She clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth, the motion driving me crazy.
“Come see me Monday morning at Crank. It’s two streets over,” I say, gesturing to the north, before I can talk sense in to myself.
“Smart,” Peck whispers behind me, getting an elbow to the side from Lance.
Her jaw sets, a glimmer of resistance clouding her baby blue eyes. “I have plans Monday. I can try on Tuesday.”
The nonchalant attitude cuts through me, like her fuckup is no big deal. I wasn’t set on Monday morning, but I am now. “Monday or I call the Sheriff. Your decision, but make it quick. I got shit to do.”
“Fine,” she huffs. “Monday.”
“Fine,” I mock. “See you Monday morning.”
We start back down the sidewalk, her gaze heavy on my back. I pause at the bumper of their car. “Peck got your license plate number, so don’t think about not showing.”
“I did not,” Peck hisses, catching another elbow from Lance as their car doors open and slam shut.
“What the hell are you going to do with that?” Lance asks once we’re out of earshot. “Because I have a list of suggestions if you need them.”
As we get farther away, the air clearing of Sienna’s perfume, I realize it’s not suggestions I need. It’s a heavy dose of self-control.
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