The worst date of my life didn’t start out so bad.
When I spotted him across the room, I couldn’t believe it—my mom had actually set me up with a stellar guy. Which was something of a surprise. My mom’s idea of the perfect man was light years from mine. But tonight’s guy, Charlie, was hot. It wasn’t so much his looks as the confident air he had about him—the way he wore a suit reminded me of James Bond. He owned the look in a totally understated, badass way. Although he wasn’t GQ handsome, the combination of his confidence and height made him more appealing to me than any model. Height was an important checklist item. Most men were shorter than me and seemed intimidated by my five-foot-ten frame.
But then not much daunted Charlie, as I later found out.
“Jessica?” He stood and offered a well-manicured hand.
“Yes, so that would make you Charlie?”
“Guilty.” He gently squeezed my hand as he gave me the once-over. His smug little grin made me think he didn’t mind the view. Holding onto the back of his chair, he gestured to the vacant one across the table. “Sit, please.”
Charmed, I took a seat and we exchanged smiles, although mine felt a little awkward. I looked around at the other diners and slyly scoped out their plates. I was starving. “So what’s good here?”
“No need to worry about ordering.” He leaned back in his chair, totally comfortable with his surroundings. “I’ve already taken the liberty of ordering for both of us.”
“But…” I trailed off as the waiter approached with our dinner salads. Okay, then. Granted it was a little high-handed, but I was determined to make the most of the situation. I gritted my teeth, picked up a fork, and dug in. “So tell me about yourself.”
Charlie smiled charmingly over his salad. “What would you like to know?”
“Um, how about what you like to do for fun?”
“Well, I’m what some would call an adrenaline junkie. I’ve scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. The sound of the wind and the taste of the air so high above the rest of humanity really makes you feel alive. Of course I climbed it without a guide. Only weak excuses for climbers use Sherpas. And just last month I surfed the Banzai Pipeline in Oahu. My third day there, I caught a thirty-foot wave and rode it over…”
He continued to drone on about his accomplishments, but I was too busy resisting the urge to stab my eye with my fork to pay close attention. And here was the drawback that always came with my mom’s setups. I should’ve known he was too good to be true.
Of course he didn’t seem to be interested in anything about me at all. At every turn he managed to slip in some outrageous claim about himself. I’m pretty sure over our entrees—which was a fish pairing and I hate fish, ugh!—he told me he’d testified in front of Congress on the same day he’d rescued a baby seal. Although given the amount of wine he downed, it was hard to believe he could walk in a straight line on a Saturday night, let alone climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Whatever snow job he gave my mom, it obviously hadn’t been the truth. Captain America wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him on the ass. How had he managed to hide his utter douchiness? I certainly hadn’t detected it from across the room. But once he opened his mouth… Whatever it was, I had to change my inner jackass radar and maybe buy my mom one, too. I didn’t want to ever do this again.
When the bill thankfully arrived, I expected at least some modest tussle over who would pay. I mean he was so macho and all. Not that I was going to let him; I didn’t want even the hint of “owing him” at the end of the night. I just wanted to get the heck out of there and forget Captain Douche and his amazing conquests.
But there wasn’t a tussle.
Charlie made a big production of patting his shirt pockets. “Oh, dang it. I can’t find my wallet.”
So he was either the world’s biggest cheapskate—he did drink two fairly expensive bottles of wine after all—or his master plan was to owe me at the end of the night.
Not in this lifetime.
I put my pleasant—if slightly irritated—fake smile on and paid the bill. I could not wait for the evening to end. He, of course, insisted on walking me to my car. Which was where my historically awful evening got worse.
“I insist. It is, after all, the gentlemanly thing to do.” He bowed low enough that he lost his balance and tipped forward, coming within kissing distance of the pavement. Although it could’ve been the breeze that pushed him off center.
I grabbed his right arm and helped him back up. I looked around the dark parking lot. No one—even the street off the lot was quiet. Great. I really couldn’t live with myself if I let this asshat drive home. There were innocent people on the road, after all. “Hey, Charlie, did you drive yourself here?”
“Nope. Had my secretary drop me off. Did I tell you I’m a lawyer? I’m this close to getting partner.” He held his fingers up for my inspection.
I had a feeling they weren’t as close together as he thought. “That’s great. Well, here we are.”
I stopped next to my car and Charlie crashed into me.
“But you’re right. I do need a ride home.”
Oh Lord, here it comes.
“Can I get a lift home? Or better yet, I’ll go home with you. We’ll save gas that way. It’s better for the environment.” He sent me something I thought was supposed to be a charming smile but came off looking more like a leer.
“Uh, no. Thanks. Not tonight.” Or ever. I barely held in my shudder.
“Come on, baby. You were feeling the same vibes I was. You know you want me. Why deny it?”
There were times for the polite dismissal, but this definitely wasn’t one of them. “Because I don’t want you. This date sucked and I’m going home. Alone.”
“Playing hard to get, huh? That’s okay. I love some slap with my tickle.” Charlie pressed in close and trapped me against my car.
Freaked out, I struggled against him but his arms were like tentacles, sliding all over my body and impossible to get away from. My heart raced and a litany of oh my gods ran through my head. I tried to bring my knee up but he blocked the movement and pinned my legs with his so I couldn’t move.
Suddenly he didn’t seem very drunk.
“No, Charlie. Stop!”
But he didn’t seem to be interested in my objections. His slimy lips moved down my neck, leaving a trail of saliva like a slug. He stopped at my cleavage and buried his face between my breasts.
Shuddering with disgust, I grasped for my purse dangling from my wrist, but it fell to the ground and my can of pepper spray with it. Panicked, I did the only thing I could think of.
The sound was loud, piercing, and terrified.
Because I was. He was too big to fight off. He was going to rape me in the parking lot and there was no one around to help me. Oh God.
He didn’t budge an inch, aside from his hands that continued to slide over my body. His breath was heavy and putrid against my face. My skin crawled from the combination.
“No. Stop. Get off me!” I struggled as much as I could with his big body sandwiching me against the car. “Stop. No!”
And then suddenly he was gone.
I was afraid that I’d dreamed it—gone to that safe place in my mind—but the muffled thumps and curses definitely weren’t part of my happy place.
“When a lady says no, she fucking means no.” My white knight gave Charlie one last brutal kick to the ribs, then stepped over his body and slowly approached me.
Our corner of the parking lot was dark, so I couldn’t see him very clearly. I just knew he was big—built like a linebacker, way over six feet tall—and had possibly saved my life. He stopped a few feet away from me, his hands raised as if to show me he wasn’t a threat.
“You okay?” His voice rumbled in the darkness, a deep baritone.
My eyes darted from my white knight’s dark outline to where Charlie slowly inched away. “I—uh… Yeah. Mostly. I think.”
“Good.” He turned slightly and watched Charlie stagger to his feet and stumble away. “Do you guys live together?”
“Will he be waiting for you at your house?”
“Oh, no. This was our first and last date.” I pushed my bangs off my forehead with a shaky hand. “A very bad blind date.”
“No shit.” He jerked his chin in a masculine head nod. “Well, have a good night.”
With that, my white knight turned and walked away in the same direction Charlie had gone.
“Wait.” I couldn’t just let him leave. I had to do…something. The guy had saved me from being raped and now he was just going to walk away?
He stopped and turned to face me slightly. I still couldn’t see him clearly but I could tell from the way he rolled his shoulders that he was impatient.
“Can I buy you a drink? To say thanks?” To be honest, I wasn’t sure why I’d said that. All I knew was that my heart was still racing from the almost assault and I had adrenaline running through my veins. I wanted—needed—to do something.
He silently studied me. I wasn’t sure if he could see more of me than I could see of him. But he just stood there and stared. After what felt like eons I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Just one drink? I really don’t want to be alone right now.”
He shook his head. “Phone a friend, princess. I took care of the asshole. Go home.”
His rejection stung. What a fucked-up night. First I endured the longest dinner ever with a self-absorbed asshole who almost raped me in the parking lot, and now I’d apparently thrown myself at a completely unwilling man. Maybe this was a sign from above that it was time to stop dating.
“Look, I’m not trying to jump your bones. I don’t want to be alone right now, and it’ll take too long for one of my friends to show up.” Great, now I was sniffling and holding back nervous tears.
He paused for another uncomfortable moment, then grunted. “You’re paying?”
Shocked, it was my turn to stare at him. “I…uh, yeah.”
“Fine. Let’s go.” With that he turned and walked away.
I stood frozen for another few seconds. I guess I was supposed to follow him. I looked around for my purse, which had fallen during my tussle with Captain Douche. Rescuing my Chloé bag from the dirt, I took a few stumbling steps after him.
Why was I even doing this? Adrenaline sang through my veins and pushed the question from my mind. I just knew I felt safe with him and I was scared. Besides, he’d made it more than obvious he wasn’t all that interested in anything more.
When he reached the sidewalk and stopped to wait for me, the street light illuminated my white knight. Make that dark knight. His dark leather jacket gleamed softly in the harsh overhead light. But the white patch stretching over his large upper back was clearly visible—“True Brothers” —as were the two grinning skulls beneath. So he wasn’t just a guy in leathers—he was one of those kinda bikers.
Uncertain in light of this discovery, I hesitated. What was I doing? Was I really going to go to a bar with a biker?
He turned to look back at me and my jaw dropped. He was gorgeous. His long hair fell past his chin. He gave an impatient head toss and I could finally see the planes of his face in the stark overhead light. His razor-sharp cheekbones, long sideburns, and facial stubble reminded me of a younger Hugh Jackman. But bigger. Huge. In my heels, I’d barely reached his chin and that was a first for me. My earlier fear about his biker status dissolved. Even without that gorgeous face, I’d been intrigued. Now I was spellbound.
I practically ran the distance separating the two of us. Eager much? I was only slightly out of breath when I reached him.
“Where do you want to go?” I puffed while trying to sound disinterested.
“I was heading over to the Mineshaft when I heard your scream.” He jerked his head toward the most notorious bar in all of Reno, about a block down from the parking lot.
I’d heard stories about the Mineshaft. I don’t think any Reno native could say they hadn’t. The True Brothers’ hangout was the kind of place my mom had spent my entire teenage years warning me about. More specifically, about all the ways she’d kill me if I ever stepped foot inside. I was pretty sure the threat still held true ten years later.
“You could always head back to your car and go home, princess. No need to dirty yourself on my account.”
The edge in his voice had my back bone straightening. “Or maybe it’s you who’s afraid to be seen in a respectable bar? Still have nightmares from the last time you were thrown out?”
Okay, that obviously wasn’t the smartest thing to say to him. Seriously, who baited a biker in a dark parking lot? But something about his standoffish attitude just raised my hackles. Plus a guy who’d step up for a total stranger was somewhat trustworthy. Right? Maybe?
“You should be more careful, princess. The last guy who insulted me is still picking asphalt out of his back.”
I took a deep breath and tried for a bored expression while my insides quivered. He was scary, but in an oh-so-hot way. I was so screwed up in the head.
“In my world, the one buying gets to pick. And I say we go to the Vine,” I said, referring to the classy restaurant I’d just left. They had a respectable bar area, and it was so much safer than the Mineshaft. It was nice to know I still had some self-preservation instincts intact. “I don’t have all night, slick. You coming or what?”
After another long look at me, he turned and walked toward the Vine, leaving me to follow in his footsteps. Again. With a slightly frustrated huff, I chased after him. When the hell did I turn into a leper?
I mean don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m the most gorgeous woman to ever live, but I’m not a total dog, either. I know for a fact my long blond hair and curvy figure have attracted more than my fair share of attention. Especially at work. I spend a ridiculous amount of time fending off horny tourists and businessmen at my job as a front desk clerk at the Mother Lode Casino. And that’s while wearing their ugly-ass uniform. But when I was all dolled up for a date—like tonight—I looked good, dammit.
Screw this. I’d buy him one drink as promised then get the hell out of there. I still had some self-respect.
As we approached the restaurant, my eyes were drawn to the motorcycle at the end of the lot. It wasn’t difficult to picture him straddling the powerful bike. Even through my irritation over his treatment, the mental image was still powerful enough to get me excited. There was something insanely hot about a bad boy on a bike. Especially this one.
I followed him to the front of the building where he pushed through the double sets of doors. He didn’t even pause to check to see if I was following him. His attitude was starting to irk me.
More than a little annoyed, I trailed behind him as he plowed his way through the crowd gathered around the maître d’s stand. Afraid to lose sight of my guy, I stayed glued to his back and gave half smiles of apology to the people he mowed down. I was relieved when he stopped at the bar.
“Bushmills Black Bush. Neat. And a—” He threw a look at me over his shoulder.
“Whatever’s on tap.”
He raised an eyebrow at me. I gave him a wide-eyed innocent look back.
He let out one of those annoyed man grunts. “And a light draft beer.”
When the bartender plunked down our drinks, I dug through my purse for some cash, but stopped when I felt a hand on my arm.
“Don’t worry about it.”
I looked at him, nonplussed. This was the whole reason we were here, after all. Of course I was buying the round. And then I was getting the hell out of here.
Before I could protest, he tipped his head at the bartender, grabbed my arm, and pulled me to the other side of the room. Not wanting to make a scene, I clutched my beer and followed. He stopped at a table in the corner, pulled out a chair, and sat. I stared at him for a moment, then shook my head and took the other chair.
We sipped our drinks in silence. I stared at my glass, watching the foam slowly dissipate. Very few American drinkers appreciated the head on a beer. But then again I really liked head. I smirked into my glass before taking another swig.
I blinked when my knight finally spoke. I thought maybe we were just going to do the silent, awkward thing. “I was thinking how much I like head.”
Now it was his turn to blink.
I enjoyed the moment before I lifted my glass in explanation. He shook his head and looked away with his own little smirk.
“So do you have a name?”
He turned back and gave me a lingering once-over. The heat of his gaze seared me from the tips of my breasts to the juncture of my thighs. His golden brown eyes raked over my body until I was sure there wasn’t an inch of skin he hadn’t covered. I felt exposed and turned on all at once. Taking my own survey of him, a quick glance at his lap told me he liked the view as well.
I shook my head and looked up into his fascinating eyes. “I, uh, what?”
“My name. Zag.”
He lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
Oookay. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Zag. I’m Jessica.” I’d been tempted to give him a fake name back, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to remember it later. Besides, I really wanted to hear him say my name.
I held out my hand and waited. After a beat, he took it. His hand was rough and calloused, but his grip was firm. Not too firm to make me uncomfortable, but not some wet-fish handshake. I’d once heard someone claim a handshake was an extension of a man’s cock. If that were really the case, Zag wouldn’t have any problems in the bedroom. My cheeks flushed at the dirty turn of my thoughts. Again. What was it about this man? He was like a walking advertisement for wicked fantasies. I couldn’t help myself.
I just knew Zag was watching me with those eagle eyes of his. I could practically feel them even though I kept my own glued to the tabletop. After a beat, from the corner of my eye, I saw him turn away.
What the hell was wrong with me? Was I looking for a happy ending for what had turned out to be a craptastic night? Or was I really into this guy?
I turned my head slightly and gave him another once-over.
His jacket had parted enough for me to see the grease-stained T-shirt underneath. And the ripple of abs beneath that layer. Oh, I was definitely into this guy. I’d always had a thing for bad boys but never could quite get up the nerve to pursue them. All that attitude wrapped up in such an attractive wrapper was more than a little intimidating for a good girl like me. Hell, I’d been the honor society president in high school, a good girl who didn’t lose my virginity until I was out of my parents’ house at nineteen. I was the poster child for following the rules. So why did I want to follow my badass biker home?
Because he was forbidden and hard in all the right places. Everything I wasn’t.
Zag took one last gulp of his whiskey, Irish and straight up—how gangster was that?—and pushed away from the table.
“Do you often save damsels in distress?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
“Wait. Can I buy you another drink?”
“Nah. I gotta head out.” He tipped his head in my direction. His hair fanned out and brushed the stubble on his jaw. “Thanks for the round.”
Panicked that he was going to leave before I got up the nerve to proposition him, I threw out the only thing I could think to say. “Wait. Can I get a ride?”
I immediately flinched. That had to be the stupidest thing I could’ve said. And so desperately obvious. I was pretty sure there had to be a blinking neon sign above my head: Hello, horny woman wants a “ride.”
Zag raised an eyebrow.
God, that was a sexy look.
“Cut the bullshit. I don’t have time for stupid games. Just say what you wanna say. I got business to handle.”
“I um, just thought it’d be fun to take a ride on your bike. Maybe not now. Just sometime, you know, when you find the time. If you’re free, that is. And don’t mind giving me a ride.”
A wave of mortification swept over me. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. The rambling words kept leaving my mouth in an endless stream of nonsense. Where were you when I needed you, brain? I didn’t just say that. The muffled laughter from the table next to us answered for me.
Dammit, just when I thought the night couldn’t get any stranger. This settled it. After tonight I was done with dating. With men. And possibly with ever leaving the safety of my home ever again.
But I felt something with him. A magnetism or a connection, whatever you wanted to call it. It was the reason I’d pushed him to have a drink with me. And I thought he felt it, too. But the silence from the other side of the table was telling.
I didn’t need a mirror to tell me my face was flaming redder than ever before. I dug through my purse for a crumpled bill to pay for our drinks. I couldn’t wait with this audience and my embarrassment to pay with a card.
“Sure.”Return to Ruthless