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By the time they stopped again, Joey’s ass was numb. She climbed off the bike and took a few awkward steps, then stopped and stretched. Dean had parked at the end of a row of motorcycles outside this dive bar a few miles outside of Silver Springs, Nevada.
“Looks like your people are here,” she said, nodding to the bikes.
“Can’t fault their taste in rides.” He paused to admire the bike next to his. It was also a Harley, but more of a chopper than his, with tall handlebars and a low-slung seat. “But I thought we were here looking for yours.”
Joey smirked. “Maybe we’re related.” She took off the helmet and ran her fingers through her tangled hair, grimacing at the sections that were stiff with dried blood. Hopefully no one noticed before she could get to the bathroom to rinse it. It was a great day to not be a blonde, but then again, she considered most days to be that.
They went inside, and her worries about unwanted attention dissipated. The bar was dimly lit and full of smoke, the epitome of a hole–in–the–wall biker bar in practically the middle of nowhere. Eyes stinging, she left Dean at the bar and headed for the bathroom to clean up. Standing in front of the sink, she grimaced at her bedraggled reflection in the mirror, then bent over to splash some water on her face and try to get her head under the tap. Doing so put her face way closer to the dingy sink than she would’ve liked, but she managed to rinse the worst of the blood from her hair. When she was finished, she finger-combed it as best she could and went back out to the main room.
Dean seemed to have made friends with the bartender, who was flirting openly with him. Joey hated to break it up, but her rumbling stomach wouldn’t be denied any longer. She climbed up onto the stool beside Dean’s and plucked the laminated menu from his hand without preamble.
“Do you have anything that isn’t deep–fried or swimming in cheese?” Joey asked, glancing at the bartender over the single page menu.
The woman snorted softly and shook her head. “Not really.” The ring piercing her lip glinted in the light of one of the neon beer signs over the bar. Joey wasn’t sure if her short, spiky hair was tinted blue at the tips or if it was just a trick of the light.
“I’ll have a chicken sandwich, no mayo, no cheese.” Joey passed the menu back to Dean, but he tucked it back into the holder on the bar without a second glance.
“You want fries with that?” the woman asked, smirking like she already had an idea what the answer would be.
“Sure,” Joey said, both to defy expectations and because she was ridiculously hungry. Regeneration consumed a lot of calories, and she had barely had anything to eat that day to start with.
“Burger for me,” Dean said. “Just slap her cheese on mine, I don’t mind.” He winked at the bartender, drawing another smile from her before she turned to put their order in the system. The fact that they even had a system was rather impressive for a dive like this.
“I’ll throw a twenty in the tip jar if it’s fast,” Joey called after her, but got no response.
Sighing, Joey spun on her stool and leaned back against the bar, resting her elbows on it as she surveyed the room. The bikers were mostly at tables scattered around the room, though a few of them were playing pool. One or two of them met her eyes, and she nodded politely but didn’t maintain eye contact for long.
She dug out her phone and skimmed through the information her father had sent. It wasn’t much, but there were photos and brief dossiers for the Silver Springs pack Alpha, Mike Conroy, and his wife Tina. Joey scanned the room again. None of the bikers matched Mike’s photo, and the bartender didn’t resemble Tina at all, but according to Adelaide’s records, Mike had owned this bar for fifty years. It made sense that he might not manage it himself anymore to avoid rousing suspicions about his age, but it was the only address in the file. She’d already tried the phone numbers; all of them were out of service.
“Can I get you a drink while you wait?” the bartender asked.
“Yeah, I’ll have a beer,” Dean said.
Joey spun back around. “Coffee,” she said, with the sudden interest of a woman who’d been running without her one true vice all day.
“That’ll take a bit. I’ll have to make a pot,” the woman said, her tone implying that it was way more effort than she’d like to expend.
“I’ll wait. Please and thank you.”
The bartender nodded and fetched Dean his beer before wandering down the bar to get the coffee pot going.
“You sure this is the place?” Dean asked, turning sideways on his stool. He sipped his beer and scanned the room casually.
“Positive,” Joey said, drumming her fingers on the bar. She waited for the bartender to wander their way again and asked, “Is Mike around?”
The woman’s eyes narrowed faintly. “Who wants to know?”
“A paying customer?” Joey asked, locking eyes with the woman. “Tell him Josephine Grant is here.”
The bartender held her gaze, then shrugged and took her phone out of a pocket. Her thumbs tapped rapidly at the screen. Joey wasn’t sure if her name would mean anything to him. Her mother’s would have, but “Adelaide Grant’s daughter” didn’t have much of a ring to it.
The bartender’s phone chirped, and her brow furrowed before she looked up from it. “He wants to know if you’re”—she cleared her throat and made air quotes with one hand—“of the San Diego Grants.”
Joey grinned. “Yes, yes I am.”
The dark-haired woman tapped at her phone again, and it chirped a few seconds later. “He’ll be out in a minute.”
Joey turned and met Dean’s eyes, still smiling. He smiled back and lifted his beer in salute, then looked up at the television above the bar. Finally feeling like things were starting to go her way, Joey hopped down from her stool. “I’m gonna see if the jukebox has anything good on it.”
Dean nodded absently, eyes glued to the ball game. Joey rolled her eyes and ambled over to the jukebox. Normally she’d shy away from touching anything with buttons before eating, but the jukebox was clearly a treasured object. It was, hands down, the cleanest thing in the joint. She thumbed through the song list and was digging her wallet out of her pocket when a hand slapped a dollar on top of the jukebox.
Joey looked over her shoulder and up, up, up at the tall man in biker leathers that was encroaching on her personal space. He was built like a brick wall, and his nose looked like he’d hit one a few times.
“This one’s on me, baby doll.”
The scent of whiskey and motor oil invaded Joey’s ultra-sensitive nose. She did her best to tune it out. It helped that the air was also saturated with cigarette smoke. She never thought she’d have a reason to be grateful for such a thing.
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve got it covered.” Joey lifted her wallet demonstratively and turned back to the jukebox.
He caught her arm. “Aw, come on. Play Jay a song.”
Joey shot him a glare. “I’m going to be playing your balls like castanets if you don’t take your hand off me.”
He leaned in. “That’s okay, baby. I like it a little rough.”
She jerked her arm from his grasp and snatched the dollar out from under his other hand. After feeding it into the jukebox, she scanned back through the list of songs for one she remembered seeing. Smirking, she tapped the number in and hoped there weren’t too many songs in the queue. To her surprise, the one that was playing cut off and her track began playing immediately. She pivoted to the opening strains of melodic country guitar, swinging her denim-clad hips to the music and smiling up at the big biker. He smiled back, so clearly he didn’t recognize Jimmy Buffett’s “Asshole Song.”
When the chorus came around, Jay’s features turned stormy. He started to turn away, then changed his mind and made a grab for Joey.
She ducked under his arm and danced out of his reach. His buddies were laughing, but it only seemed to make him angrier. Face flushed and hands clenched into fists at his sides, he took a menacing step forward.
This time, Joey let him come, shifting her weight between her feet. There was a rhythm to a fight as sure as any dance, and after the last twenty-four hours, she was more than ready for some action. Never mind that this wasn’t the ass she actually wanted to kick; he’d do for now.
Jay swung a meaty fist in her direction. She dodged, grabbed his arm, and twisted it behind his back. Jay went up on his tiptoes, and Joey kicked the back of his knee. Both knees buckled and he sank to the floor with a sharp cry that silenced his buddies’ laughter and brought them to their feet.
Joey leaned over his shoulder and growled, “No means no. Asshole.”
The music played on in the background, the cheery melody at odds with the biting lyrics. The bikers converged, surrounding her.
Joey glanced between them, but one grabbed her from behind before she could fully assess the threat. Smirking, she jerked her head back and was rewarded with the satisfying crunch of a breaking nose. The guy released her and staggered back, but another biker swung a pool cue at her. She ducked the swing, gave Jay’s arm a final twist, and shoved him away.
The next time the thug with the cue swung at her, she caught it and yanked hard, surprising him with her strength. He stumbled forward. She decked him. He lost his grip on the cue, and she cracked him on the head with it. The biker went sprawling, and she spun to confront a third biker that came at her with a growl. The light glinted off the blade of the knife in his hand.
“Well, this escalated quickly.” She waited until the biker slashed at her, then smacked his knife hand with the stick. The knife clattered to the dirty floor. She kicked it aside. “Dean! A little help?”
“You’re doing fine,” Dean said from his barstool, popping a peanut in his mouth. “Watch your back.”
Joey barely had time to register the warning. Another biker grabbed her from behind and hauled her backward until they both crashed into the jukebox. The instigating song played on, but the glass face covering the menu boards shattered noisily. Annoyed, Joey dropped the pool cue and hooked one foot behind her assailant’s knee. Gravity pulled her down and to one side so she could get one arm free from his grasp. She pounded her fist against his crotch, and he released her instantly.
Joey sprang away from him as he dropped to one knee. She skittered to one side, bouncing on the balls of her feet as Jay and the guy with the bloody nose advanced on her again.
“What’s going on here?” A booming voice cut through the chaos, and a hush fell over the room. If it’d been a movie, the music would have cut off with a jagged rip of the needle across the record. This time, it just kept playing.
Joey looked up and found Mike Conroy himself frowning at her. He was a tall, imposing figure with a full head of silver hair.
“Nothing at all,” Joey said. “Just a friendly disagreement. Right, Jay?” She flashed the burly biker some teeth and batted her eyes.
Mike was not amused, but the weight of his gaze shifted to Jay. “Tell the lady you’re sorry.”
Joey blinked. How long had he been watching?
As for Jay, his jaw tightened, and he lifted his chin. He was a man unaccustomed to contrition, proud and brash. Joey knew the type. Still, after brief internal struggle, he said, “I’m sorry.”
Mike clapped him on the shoulder. “Rita! Get Jay another beer. The rest of them… Christ, get them some ice packs and hope they can salvage their dignity.” His eyes shifted to Joey. “Let’s chat in my office.”
Thanks for reading! Grave Threat is coming to Amazon in June, 2018! Stay tuned to the newsletter for release announcements or follow me on BookBub.