Authors: Debra Salonen
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Historical, #Adult, #Dentists, #Motorcycles, #divorce, #Transportation
Jack watched Kat carefully for her response.
“I’ve never done that before.”
“Would you be interested?”
“Do you mean I’d drive you around in my car?”
Jack shook his head. “On my bike. You could give me a running history of the area and tell me where to go.”
Kat frowned slightly as if thinking over the proposition. “When?”
“Tomorrow? If it doesn’t rain.”
“Well, I don’t have my kids tomorrow…so I suppose I could. But I couldn’t do it free.”
“Of course not.” He did some quick math. Eight hours. Forty dollars an hour seemed fair. He quoted her the price.
“Seriously? Deal.” She flashed a bright smile then continued with what she’d been doing.
He wasn’t an impulsive kind of guy, but in two days he’d made some impulsive gestures. So far, he was pretty satisfied with them. He only hoped this would prove equally smart.
After all, there had to be worse things than riding around the mountains with a beautiful blonde on the back of his motorcycle.
If you’re a first-time visitor to Sentinel Pass, welcome! If you’ve read the first two books in this series,
Baby by Contract
His Brother’s Secret,
and are dying to find out which member of the Wine, Women and Word Book Club gets to tell her story next, I won’t keep you waiting. It’s Kat.
Katherine Petroski may be a two-time loser at marriage, but she’s a firm believer in the power of swoo…I mean
After all, she has two amazing kids to show for her mistakes. Her only regret is not loving their fathers enough to stay married. She’s not going to make that mistake again. Even when she accidentally sleeps with a handsome biker who turns out to be an orthodontist from Denver.
Jackson Treadwell is determined to prove he’s not a stuck-in-a-rut prude with no sense of adventure. He buys a Hog, takes a leave of absence from his practice and heads for the hills…the Black Hills. His first night in Deadwood he manages to scratch “instigate a bar fight” off his to-do list. And although he doesn’t realize it at the time, he also crosses off “meet the girl of my dreams.” Literally.
I must thank my brother-in-law, David Salonen, and his amazingly tolerant wife, Karryn, for bringing to my attention the power of “swoo.” Karryn, I’m glad you ducked too late. Dave, long may the Swoo be with you. And thanks also to Dave Meek and Tom Salonen for giving me an inside glimpse at the Sturgis Bike Rally.
For up-to-the-minute insider information on what’s happening in Sentinel Pass, a Black Hills photojournal and contest opportunities, please visit my Web site, www.debrasalonen.com. Or write me at P.O. Box 322, Cathey’s Valley, CA 95306.
Debra comes from a long line of storytellers. At slumber parties, her mother would enthrall Deb’s girlfriends with stories of growing up on the prairie near Pierre, South Dakota. (For you
purists, that’s pronounced Peer.) One goose-bump-inducing story involved unearthing a casket of a pioneer woman in an unmarked grave. Deb had no problem picturing her mother sitting in the dark, guarding the poor woman’s remains while Grandpa Bagby rode back to town for the sheriff. It was a better story than the one involving rattlesnakes…. Nobody got any sleep on the nights she told
1098—MY HUSBAND, MY BABIES
1104—WITHOUT A PAST
1110—THE COMEBACK GIRL
1196—A COWBOY SUMMER
1238—CALEB’S CHRISTMAS WISH
1279—HIS REAL FATHER
1386—A BABY ON THE WAY
1392—WHO NEEDS CUPID? “The Max Factor”
1434—LOVE, BY GEORGE
1452—BETTING ON SANTA
1492—BABY BY CONTRACT
1516—HIS BROTHER’S SECRET
SIGNATURE SELECT SAGA
BETTING ON GRACE
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
1114—ONE DADDY TOO MANY
1126—BRINGING BABY HOME
1139—THE QUIET CHILD
To Wanda Ottewell,
for listening to my characters with such an open mind, and for providing a safe environment for risk-taking.
patted the bulge in her front jeans pocket. Not bad for a Wednesday, but nothing compared to what the regular servers would make that weekend when the town of Deadwood, South Dakota, filled with people celebrating the Days of ’76—a yearly commemoration of the gold rush–era town’s founding. For a week every July, thousands of people came to the Black Hills to see the rodeo, show off their Harleys and drink gallons of beer at Pop’s, the popular Main Street saloon where she was filling in for a friend.
“Never count your tips before last call,” Becky Jennings, her mentor in the bartending/waitress business, had once told her. A flat night of tips could make the time seem endless.
Bec, who decided she needed another day at home recovering from gallstone surgery, was a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, fortysomething gal who took no crap from anyone. Kat often wished she could be more like her, but she didn’t have the height, weight or metabolism for it. A couple of beers was usually enough to put Kat under the table, which was why she didn’t drink.
She’d made that mistake twice in the past and had two unplanned but gorgeous mistakes to show for it. Her sons, Tag and Jordie. The true loves of her life. At the time of their conceptions, she’d have given that title to their fathers, but neither Pete Linden nor Drew Petroski had lived up to their promises. They’d married her—once her father mentioned the word
—but neither marriage had lasted. For reasons she was beginning to think might be linked partly to her parents’ divorce when she was six.
Jordie’s age, she thought with a sigh. Jorden Petroski. The sweetest, most eager-to-please kid on the planet—just like she’d always been. Eight-year-old Tag, on the other hand, was tough. Because he had to be. That was her fault, too.
“Hey, Kat, I need another beer,” a voice boomed from a table in her section. “And give this guy a shot of Jäger. He’s a virgin.”
The man doing the ordering was Brian Whitlock. A regular. He drove a rig for Black Hills Moving and Trucking. About ten years older than her thirty-one, he lived near Nemo with his wife and three little kids. But he spent the better part of his life—and most of each paycheck—in one of the many bars and casinos along Deadwood’s main street. The person he was ordering a shot for was a stranger. Clearly a R.U.B., an acronym that stood for rich, urban biker.
In this case, the man fit the name completely. His leather chaps were too pristine to be more than a week or two old. His expensive lace-up boots showed dust but no real scuffs. A hint of silver was evident in the sideburns showing beneath his do-rag, which was black with orange skulls on it.
When he’d first walked into the bar, she’d given him a quick assessment—an acquired skill and necessary survival tactic in this business. Mid-thirties. No wedding band. She put his height at six feet, weight in the 180 range. Maybe less. The pecs and biceps displayed by his spanking-new black T-shirt told her he wasn’t a weight-lifter. There was clear definition and form, but no look-at-me bulk. The logo on his shirt told her he knew how to use the Internet because she’d ordered one just like it for her stepbrother. Those shirts wouldn’t be available locally for another week and a half, when the 2008 Sturgis Bike Rally started.
Like Deadwood’s Days of ’76, the rally drew all kinds of people from all over the world. The bikers brought their own brand of craziness, but their money was a boon for the Hills’ economy. Quite a few came early and stayed for both events.
“Coming right up.”
She slipped behind the made-to-look-antique bar, since Guy, the bartender, was playing dice with a couple of regulars while waiting for the night to pick up. Guy was a decent fellow, retired from some branch of the armed forces and big enough to keep order when things got rowdy. He acknowledged her with a nod as she filled the shot glass.
She inhaled a lungful of smoke-tainted air as she headed across the room. She wasn’t surprised to see the R.U.B. watching her—she’d chosen to wear her Victoria’s Secret push-up bra and low-cut tank top for a reason.
As Pete—ex-hubby number one—so eloquently put it when she’d unloaded Tag and his camping gear at his father’s house in Rapid City, “I see you’re wearing your Tits for Tips outfit. Ya should’ve gotten that boob job when I offered. Then you’d really haul in the cash.”
Pete prided himself on being a breast man. Why he’d dated her was still a mystery—given the fact she was a modest B-cup. She’d turned down his offer of breast enhancement because she was still nursing his son at the time he offered. By the time Tag was done nursing, Pete had found himself a new, more generously endowed woman. Apparently a divorce was cheaper than surgery.
Pete was taking Tag and Tag’s half brother, Aiden, camping at Deerfield Lake until Sunday, but he’d called that morning to say he was running late and needed Kat to deliver Tag, instead of his picking up their son on the way to the lake as planned. This meant Kat had had to dress for work earlier than she would have preferred, drive to Rapid, drop off her son, then take the I-90 to Sturgis to straighten out the mess regarding her vendor-booth application—which she’d just learned had somehow gotten lost—before heading to Deadwood. More driving, more gas.
Kat’s other son, Jordie, had left earlier that morning to attend a Native-American powwow with Char, her good friend and fellow member of the Wine, Women and Words book club. Unlike Pete, Char had picked up Jordie. Right on schedule.
“Here you go, gentlemen,” she said, carefully setting down the glasses within their line of vision but not so they could be knocked over too easily. Both patrons appeared to be about halfway down the road to drunk.
The R.U.B.’s gaze moved from her chest to her face. His eyes, which were an interesting shade of gray, seemed a bit out of focus, but he blinked twice and smiled. “Thangs.”
didn’t come out right, but his voice was pleasant—deep and cultured. And his smile was almost as sweet as Jordie’s, only this guy’s teeth were toothpaste-commercial white and beautifully aligned. It was a little early to tell, but she was afraid Jordie’s were going to turn out as crowded and misaligned as Tag’s. She and Pete argued about the inevitability and cost of orthodontia nearly every time they saw each other.
“I’m not really one, you know. A vershin,” he said. “Eggcept where this stuff is concerned.” He brought the glass to his nose and sniffed. “Urgh.” He paused a moment as if debating whether or not to drink it, then he let out a sigh.
He ran the words together, then downed the drink in one gulp.
When he looked at her, his pretty gray eyes twinkled. She tried to convince herself it was the booze making them water, but then he winked. Maybe he wasn’t as drunk—or as much of a R.U.B.—as she first thought.
That was when it struck her that he was actually rather handsome. A second later a cannon-fire warning sounded in her head.
Swoo alert. Duck, lady, duck.
The last was an inside joke only her friend Libby would have gotten, but Lib understood better than anyone the power of
—a made-up word Kat’s mother had used to explain why the women in Kat’s family were drawn to downright awful choices in men.
“Some people might call it charisma, but that’s a little fancy for the spell certain men can cast over us. Might be we’re genetically susceptible to faulty pheromones,” her mother had theorized—too late to do Kat any good.
By the time Kat understood the power swoo had on her, she was pregnant a second time and saying “I do” with Drew Petroski—the cutest, most immature outfielder she’d ever had the misfortune to play softball with.
She shifted sideways and leaned down to pick up the man’s empty glass. She noticed his gaze followed the lace that peeked above the dip in her neckline. “That’s nine seventy-five,” she told them. “The beers are half price because of happy hour.”
She braced herself for a ten and a “keep the change” from Brian, but to her surprise the stranger fished a twenty from the hip pocket of his new-looking jeans and dropped it on her tray. “The rest is yours,” he said, his words overly correct, as though he was trying to act sober for her benefit. “For providing yet another rule-breaking, risk-taking, fantasy-living step toward reinventing myself. Y’know what I mean?”
Not even close.
“Sure. Thanks.” She had no idea what that speech was all about, but he wasn’t the first drunk to think he’d found the road to enlightenment through an alcohol-induced haze. “Another round?” she murmured, backing away so fast she bumped into two people making their way toward the door.
“Oops,” she said. “Sorry.”
A man and a woman. Both in leathers—broken in in a way the R.U.B.’s weren’t. The man—a big, burly guy with thick, fat fingers sticking out of black leather demigloves—steadied Kat with both hands, acknowledging her apology with a low grunt. The woman apparently thought her man’s sweaty, unpleasant touch lingered a millisecond too long, because she shoved Kat back toward the table she’d been serving with a powerful straight-arm.
“Back off, bitch,” she snarled, her bloodshot eyes squinting lethally.
Kat managed to keep her balance, but her hip grazed the back of the chair occupied by the big tipper. “Sorry,” she told him.
“Don’t apologize to that pretty-boy biker wannabe,” the woman growled. Her voice held the same two-pack-a-day roughness Kat’s mom’s had held—before her diagnosis of throat cancer. She didn’t smoke anymore, but she didn’t talk much, either, thanks to the valve in her windpipe.
The woman, who was only a few inches taller than Kat, but a good hundred pounds heavier, took a breath, making her ponderous breasts strain against the American-flag tank top. “God, I’m sick of all these weekend warriors showing up thinking they’re cool because they can afford to buy a Hog off the showroom floor,” she said in disgust. “It’s even worse at the rally. That’s why Buster and me came early.”
Buster, who was bald beneath the black scarf tied tight to his large, square head, looked slightly embarrassed. “Let’s go, Mo.”
As in one of the Three Stooges? Kat thought. No. Too fat for Moe.
“Mo? Are you sure? She looks more like Curly,” someone said, voicing Kat’s thought.
Kat covered her lips with her free hand to keep from laughing. Any response on her part would only add fuel to the fire. She just hoped the heavyset woman in question hadn’t heard—
“Why you smart-ass, little shit. I was riding bikes when you were still sucking teat. What are you? A lawyer? Tax accountant? Some kind of desk jockey, I know that much.”
The man turned sideways to the table so he could see the woman more clearly. He started to stand, but Kat put her hand on his shoulder and pressed downward. This tiff was on the verge of becoming a fight, and no one came out ahead when that happened.
“Oh, come on, folks,” Kat said, keeping her voice light. “Let’s not go there. Name calling doesn’t make anyone feel better. Mo, right? Short for Maureen? I have an aunt Maureen.”
“Who the f—”
“Hey. Watch your language. There’s a lady present.”
The words were so outdated, Kat had to laugh. “Listen, John Wayne, thanks for standing up for me, but I hear that word about nine thousand times a night.”
“Are you sayin’ I ain’t a lady?” Mo asked. Her fists, each of which easily made two of Kat’s, started bouncing around her sides. She gestured behind her for backup and nearly popped Kat by accident.
Kat dodged the blow, then had to scramble to keep from getting mowed over by the guy she’d been protecting from a pummeling. “Listen, you obnoxious cow, you can’t just throw your considerable weight around and threaten hardworking barmaids who are trying to keep the peace. You’re a disgrace to that flag, which, by the way, was never meant to be worn as bra. Half the stars are—”
Whatever slight he’d intended was stopped by a set of leather-encased knuckles that glanced off his elegant cheekbone. Kat had witnessed enough bar fights to know that if the giant biker had been sober, the punch would have broken the R.U.B.’s nose and maybe a couple of teeth. As it was, the impact sent the unsuspecting fellow straight into Kat’s arms.
Her serving tray, which she’d tucked under her arm, hit the floor with a loud bang. Mo gave them all one last sneer, then grabbed Buster’s meaty arm and split. Seconds later, the roar of a Harley outside shook the windows.
The sound made the man, who had Kat partially pinned against the table, lift his head. “Are they gone?”
In a heartbeat, she realized two things: his anatomy fit hers almost perfectly and his was the sneaky kind of swoo—you didn’t know how powerful it was until you were leveled by it.
With a harrumph of disgust—at herself, not him—she pushed him back. “What kind of idiot picks a fight with drunken bozos three times his size?”
“Were they really that big?” he asked, gingerly rubbing his jaw. “I left my glasses in my motel room.”
She looked at Brian, who let out a raucous hoot, then yelled something about the size of the stranger’s
Kat shook her head in disgust. “Do you need an ice pack for that?”
“I don’t think anything is broken.”
“Well, the night is young. Sit down. I’ll get you some ice, anyway.”
She was gone before Jack could tell her not to bother. He was staying just up the street and was pretty sure he could walk back to his motel without help. Not that he didn’t appreciate the concern he’d read in her pretty blue eyes, but this was his first bar fight.
One more thing to cross off the list, he thought, trying not to smirk. Smirking hurt. He might even wind up with a black eye. If he did, he’d use his digital camera and e-mail a shot of it to Jaydene, his ex-fiancée. Petty, sure, but a part of him wanted to show her proof that he, Jackson Boyd Treadwell III, wasn’t a stuck-in-a-rut orthodontist with no sense of adventure. He could walk on the wild side when he wanted to. He’d simply been too busy going to school, then establishing his practice, to have time to experience any such recklessness.