Book: Tough and Tender (Bad Boy Romance Box Set)

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CHAPTER ONE

TRISH

Three weeks earlier in Panama City, Florida...

I frown at my reflection and lean closer to the mirror to apply a coat of bright pink lipstick. Between the heavy makeup and false eyelashes, I barely recognize the face looking back at me.

“I bet if you lost ten pounds you’d bring in more bucks,” says a surly voice from behind me. “You should lay off the potato chips and donuts.”

I turn to glare at my brother. He is casually sprawled out on my hotel bed, watching me get ready for work as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

“Go to hell, Ty. And get your dirty boots off my bed.”

He doesn’t move and instead takes a long drag on his cigarette. He blows the smoke in my direction, knowing this will piss me off.

“Do you really have to smoke in my room?” I ask, waving a hand to thin out the smoke floating toward me. “You know how much I hate the smell. Now I’ll reek like cigarettes and so will my clothes.”

“Since you’re working in a bar, you’ll be stinking to high heaven by the end of the night anyway. What fucking difference does it make?” 

I let out a tired sigh. He is probably right. It didn’t mean I wanted him smoking in my room. Truth is, I don’t want him in my room period, smoking or not.

My brother is a jerk.

The less time I spend with him, the better off we both will be. All we do is argue constantly when we’re together anyway. 

I smooth down the short blue jean skirt that barely covers my butt and plump up my white bikini top one more time. My boobs look pretty good I think, and they’re all mine. Not that the customers will care one way or the other. All that matters to them is cup size.

Fake or not.

The bigger and bouncier, the better.

Placing a red, white, and blue cowboy hat on my head, I turn this way, and then the other, checking out my reflection in the mirror one more time. I need something else to give the outfit a little more jazz. Maybe a pair of dangling hoop earrings.

The sexier I look, the more tips I will make.

A sad fact of life.

“What do you think about the hat?” I ask Ty. “You know how bikers love anything patriotic. It’s a nice touch, don’t you think?”

He grunts. “I doubt the hat makes a damn bit of difference one way or the other. As long as they can see your ass cheeks and tits, it won’t matter what you’re wearing. You could have a paper bag over your head and they wouldn’t care. T and A is the name of the game. Everything else is decoration.”

“Why do you always have to be so nasty? The owner of the bar told the girls to show up every night looking halfway respectable. This is the best I can do with what I have to work with.”

Ty lifts his eyebrows. “If that is your best, then you need to do better,” he says. “In any case, don’t come back tonight without five hundred bucks in your pocket. We’ve got bills to pay.”

I shoot him an incredulous look. I hope he is kidding. I know he isn’t.

“Five hundred? Are you crazy? I can’t make that much money as a beer bucket babe. Not even during a bike rally. You know all of our money comes from tips. Bikers can be tight-fisted.”

He taps his cigarette on the white plastic ashtray sitting on the bedside table. Stray ash floats to the floor and melt tiny holes in the carpet. He doesn’t even notice.

“That’s because you’re lazy,” he replies. “I’ve heard some of those girls make five thousand bucks a week at the bike rallies.”

I shake my head and sit down on the foot of the bed. 

“Maybe at Sturgis, South Dakota, or Daytona Beach. The Panama City Bike Rally doesn’t draw half the crowd of those rallies. I’ll be lucky to bring in two hundred a night at the most.” I glance around the room. “Have you seen my black boots? They were on the bed.”

“Yeah, I threw them on the floor. They were in my way.”

I look down under the dingy bedspread and reach for the knee-high leather boots. I tug one on and then the other. My feet are aching before I even pull up the zippers.

The boots, with their three-inch spiked heels, are incredibly painful to stand in all night. If I had it my way, I would be working in a pair of worn-out tennis shoes. Too bad old shoes aren’t considered sexy.

When I start to stand up, Ty suddenly reaches over and grabs my upper arm. He squeezes until I yelp.

“Stop it!”

I tug at his hand. It doesn’t budge.

“Let me go, Ty.”

I turn my head away from the stale smell of cigarettes and alcohol on his breath. By tomorrow, a big purple bruise will appear and I’ll have to cover it up with makeup. Bruises aren’t a turn on and will make me look cheap.

“I said five hundred,” he warns. “And I don’t want to hear any excuses from you. Frankly, I don’t give a flying fuck what you have to do to make it either. If you can’t bring in the money opening beer bottles, then find another way. Show them your tits if you have to. You like to put on airs and act all high and mighty, but you ain’t too good for that. Don’t forget where you came from. A two-bit meth whore, that’s where.”

I know arguing with my brother won’t do any good. The only reason he dragged me along with him on this trip to Panama City is because he thought we would have an opportunity to make some extra bucks.

For me to make some extra bucks, it turns out. Not him.

Easy money, he had said. Piece of cake.

Yeah right.

Easy for him to say that, too.

He isn’t the one standing on his feet for fourteen hours straight a night. My official title at the Silver Shark Saloon is a "beer tub babe." A cute name for girls in sexy outfits who spend the night popping the caps on beer bottles as fast as they can while flirting and teasing with the customers for tips.

My hourly wage, if it can be called that, is a measly two dollars and thirteen cents. The real money comes from working the customers for dollar bills. A five if I’m really lucky.

I hate the job.

It disgusts me to have to put up with drunken bikers eyeballing my body like I am less than nothing, talking about my tits and whispering filthy comments in my ear.

Telling me what they want to do to me and asking what my nightly rate runs. Or, if they are really cheap, my charge to go behind the building for fifteen minutes.

I’m not a hooker. As far as I know, none of the girls are.

Not that this makes a difference. The men seem to think we’re all for sale. As if everything in the world is right there for their taking, to be bought and sold during the bike rally.

Whatever they want or need.

The more I know about bikers, the less I like them. 

“I told you already, Ty. I can’t make that much money tonight.”

Sure, I know we are running short on funds. What else is new? We are always low on money. God forbid Ty would go out and do something worthwhile for a change to make some cash. Why was it all up to me?

Ty gives my arm one last tight squeeze then slams his fist against the headboard. I can’t help but flinch. His moods are so unpredictable and keep me on edge.

“Shut up!” he yells. “I’ve already told you a hundred times. We need the damn money so you’re going to put your sweet ass to work and make it. Remember how I took you in when you had nowhere to go? And look at how you repay me, by giving me a hard time when I ask you to do one little thing.”

“I’m working, aren’t I? I just can’t make that much.”

“Yes, you can. It’s time you start earning your way around here. I’m sick of hearing your complaining. You’re beginning to sound just like that worthless piece-of-shit mother of ours. Always whining. Why she couldn’t do this, or couldn’t do that, while she let her kids almost starve to damn death. It’s time to grow up, Trish. Face the real world.”

His words sting more than I let him see.

“I’m not like her.”

My voice sounds much softer than I mean for it to. I hate myself for sounding weak. Never in a million years will I turn out like my mother, an addict and a sorry excuse for a parent.

“Really?” he answers sarcastically. “Then start acting like it. Everybody needs to pull their weight around here, and that means you. Me and the boys are doing everything we can to put the Liberators back together, so I don’t need your shit right now. Got it? If you’re not willing to contribute, then you can just get the fuck out. I don’t have time for this.”

“Where will I go?”

The words slip out before I can stop them. His threat scares me. With no money, family, or friends, I don’t have many options.

“Well, that’s your damn problem, isn’t it? When you get it figured out, you let me know. In the meantime, don’t come back here until you have a wad of fucking cash in your hand. You understand? I’m not running a damn charity. Get out of my sight.”

“Gladly.”

Grabbing my purse, I hurry out of the hotel room. Once outside the building, I head down the street in the direction of the Silver Shark Saloon. Luckily the bar is close enough for me to walk to so I don’t have to bum a ride from Ty or one of the other motorcycle club members.

As I walk down the crowded Panama City beach strip, past the numerous tattoo parlors, candy shops, and t-shirt tourist traps, his threat is still on my mind.

Where will I go if he throws me out?

This is a good question, one that I don’t have an answer to.

Ty never lets me keep more than a few dollars of the money I make with the odd jobs I pick up here and there. Usually it goes to booze or spare parts for the motorcycle. Never for anything I want or need. The last two months has been absolute hell living with him and the rest of the Liberators.

To make things worse, we’re always slipping around trying to keep a low profile since the FBI is still looking for Big Roy, the President of the MC.

In a way, I hope the Feds find him soon. The man gives me the creeps. I see the way he looks at me when he thinks I’m not paying attention. If he ever corners me or catches me by myself, I am in deep trouble. There’s no doubt in my mind.

I’m not even sure Ty would stand up and protect me if it came to that. I don’t kid myself where my older brother is concerned. I know he doesn’t care about me.

Not really.

The only reason he took me in was because the few Liberators that are not in jail needed someone to help cook and clean up after them. Most of their old ladies split after the Feds raided the club and arrested most of the crew. The ones that are still hanging around can’t even make decent coffee, much less an edible sandwich.

On the other hand, Ty did take me in when I had nowhere else to go, and my brother is the only real family I have left. In my way of thinking, this must count for something. 

Our mother isn’t technically deceased, though she might as well be. Between the drinking and the meth, she is more dead than alive. For years, I tried my best to take care of her. When the abuse, drugs, and constant stream of men coming in and out of the house became more than I could handle, I split and never looked back. 

I ran from one living hell straight into another.

Occasionally at night when I’m all alone, I dream of a normal life.

A life with a man who cares about me. A little house with a yard, and maybe someday a couple of kids. A dog would be nice too, a yellow Lab that likes to chase tennis balls.

For now, it is all just a distant dream.

Someday, somehow, I will find a way out.

Too bad for me, it won’t be today.

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