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





For the past hour, I followed Sam’s advice by flirting with the ladies and downing never-ending shots of tequila. I’m doing my best to have fun and it just isn’t working. Time after time, my eyes wander across the room to search out Trish.

I wonder if she has been watching for me too.

Who knows?

The girl is too damn hard to figure out. I’m not sure I have the time or patience to try.

When I see her glance my way, I throw an arm around the girl standing next to me. I don’t know her, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Instead of pulling away, the blonde looks up at me and giggles.

It was a dick move even for me, and I don’t know what made me do it. Guess I wanted to gauge Trish’s reaction.

Her face drops when she spots me. I can’t tell if she’s disappointed to see me or upset about another girl hanging onto my side.

I’m already regretting my impulsive action when a customer approaches Trish. He looks vaguely familiar. Something about the way he moves or his haircut.

I can’t place him. I know it will bother me until I figure it out. Too bad he isn’t wearing a leather cut. The patches would tell me immediately which motorcycle club he rides with.

While I’m racking my brain trying to remember where I’ve seen him, he casually reaches into Trish’s tip jar and takes out her money.

What the fuck!

I drop my arm from the blonde’s shoulders and start pushing my way through the crowd of men packed in like sardines around the stage.

“Hey babe! Where are you going?” the blonde calls out after me in a confused voice.

I ignore her and keep moving.

So this must be the guy, the man who left bruises on Trish’s arm.

Things are about to get fucking real.

He doesn’t have a clue I’m coming for him.

If he did, he wouldn’t be so stupid. I’m still pushing through the crowd when he grabs Trish by the jaw and holds her face tight in his hand. Her expression says it all. She’s terrified.

I’m not close enough to hear what he’s saying. Whatever it is, it will be the last thing the motherfucker ever says to her.

Fury boils up inside me. This man made a big mistake showing up here.

It feels like it takes forever to reach them, though I know it is only a few seconds. Trish sees me right before I wrap my arm around his throat from behind and jerk him up, lifting his feet completely off the ground. Her eyes widen as I squeeze with all of my strength.

He immediately lets go of her face. I apply more pressure. He gasps and pulls at my arm.

“Drop the money, motherfucker!” I yell.

He tries to pry my arm from around his neck. His face is turning red.

“Drop it, I said!”

His left hand opens and the wad of dollar bills fall to the floor. He kicks back at me and struggles to break free. I’m much bigger and stronger, so he doesn’t stand a chance. Plus I’m energized with anger now. I can play this game all night.

“Stop it, Jesse!” Trish yells. “Please stop!” She runs around the big cooler of beer and pulls at my arm too.

Why the fuck is she telling me to stop?

The bouncers watching the room suddenly notice the commotion and three of them rush toward us. One grabs me around the chest to hold me back while the other two wrench my arm from the asshole’s neck.

“He stole her tips!” I yell.

The bouncers don’t let go of me. Instead, they turn to Trish.

“Is that right?” one of them asks.

She hesitates for a long moment then nods without looking at the bastard who robbed her. “Yeah, he took all of the money in my tip jar.”

The bouncers turn me loose and grab him by the arms instead. “Let’s go, buddy. The night is over for you.” 

“You stupid fucking bitch!” the guy spits out. “You’re going to regret this!”

The bouncers tighten their grip on him in case he’s thinking of breaking free and going after Trish again. There isn’t any doubt he is angry enough to do her bodily harm given half a chance.

She opens her mouth and starts to reply when Roger comes barging over, interrupting her.

“What the hell is going on over here, Jesse?” he asks angrily. He waves his arms around and points to the stage. “I’m up there on the stage trying to run a damn contest, and I see you and this guy brawling over here like a couple of high school kids. You know I don’t put up with any biker fights in my bar. Not even from you. We go way back, but if you’ve got a beef with somebody, you better take it outside and as far away from my club as you can get. The ‘no fighting’ rule includes the parking lot, too.”

I hold up my hands. He keeps sputtering and I know better than to interrupt.

“I’m not letting my place turn into no damn Waco with motorcycle clubs shooting and stabbing each other. I can’t have that kind of publicity. It’s not worth losing my liquor license over.”

“Calm down, Roger. This isn’t my fault,” I explain. “That asshole stole Trish’s tip money, and I made him give it back to her. By excessive force. That’s all. I’m not trying to start any trouble.”

He glances over at Trish. “Is that what happened?” he asks.

She nods vigorously. “He was only trying to help me out. I’m sorry if it caused a disturbance.”

He still looks doubtful. “My customers know better than to steal tip money. In all of my years running this place, I’ve never had that happen. What’s really going on? Honey, if this guy is your pimp, then I don’t want no part of it. My bar isn’t that kind of establishment. You seem like a sweet gal and all, but it might be best if you pack up your stuff now and leave.” He nods to the bouncers and turns to walk away.

I grab his arm.

“Whoa! Hang on a damn minute,” I say. “Don’t blame her. You’re punishing the victim here. She didn’t do anything wrong.”

He looks back and forth between us. “Ah, shit! I need a cold drink. It’s hot as hell in here with all these bikers.” He takes off his baseball cap and wipes the sweat dripping off his bald head then signals to the bouncers. “Get that fucker out of here and make sure he never comes back in. That goes for his friends too, if he has any.”

“This isn’t over!” the guy yells back at Trish as they drag him away. “I promise you. You ain’t seen the last of it.” He turns to glare at me. “You either, asshole! I know who you are. You better be watching your back!”

I don’t have a fucking clue what he is talking about.

“Sorry for getting all worked up.” Roger says, clapping me on the back. “The bike rally always makes me a little jumpy. The damn spring breaker kids are bad enough, but at least they don’t want to kill each other. Most of you bikers are carrying guns in your pockets and knives in your boots. I love the money you boys bring in, but damn I’ll be glad when this week is over.”

I try not to smile. He tells me this same story every year.

“You know you love us,” I say. “Admit it. The rally is the highlight of your year. Think of how boring life would be if we weren’t around to liven things up.”

He laughs, and I know all is forgiven. “Maybe you and the rest of your club,” he says. “Some of the other MCs, not so much. They’re all a bunch of assholes as far as I’m concerned. Like that guy.” He points to the man who is still fighting and struggling with the bouncers as they drag him toward the door.

“Do you still want me to leave?” Trish interrupts in a timid voice.

Roger turns to her and sighs. “No, honey, looks like it wasn’t your fault after all. Sorry the bouncers didn’t get over here sooner. I could use ten more of those guys.” He motions to the cash on the floor. “Gather up your money and hurry on back to work. The boys will be thirsty and wanting their beers now that the wrestling contest is over. Jesse, I’ll catch up with you later. And for God’s sake, try to stay out of trouble, will you? At least for a few more days?”

“Don’t worry, I will.” 

Roger isn’t listening. He is already walking away, muttering something to himself about fucking bikers.

Trish squats down and begins picking up the dollar bills off the dirty floor. I bend over to help her.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

I gently tilt up her chin. Her big brown eyes are pooling with tears that threaten to spill over.

“Did he hurt you? I saw him grab your face. You want me to go beat the shit out of him? Just say the word and it’s done.”

She sniffles and shakes her head, wiping away a tear with the back of her hand that is sliding down her cheek.

“No, I’m okay. Honest. Maybe a little shook up. That’s all.”

I hand over the money and help her stand up. “You want to tell me who that son-of-a-bitch is or do I have to go outside and pound it out of him? Either way, I’m going to find out. And after that, we’re going to have a real serious talk. I don’t want him messing with you again.”

A panicked look crosses her face and she touches my arm. “Please don’t do that,” she says. “I’ll tell you.”

I cross my arms, thinking this is going to be good. “Alright, let’s hear it then.”

She takes a deep shaky breath. “He’s my brother,” she finally says.

“Your brother?” I echo.

I’m stunned.

Whatever I was expecting her to tell me, it sure as hell isn’t this. I thought for certain the man was her ex-boyfriend. But her brother? This doesn’t make any sense.

“Are you shitting me?”

“No, it’s the honest truth.”

For some odd reason, I believe her. “What was your brother doing here? And why did he steal your money?”

She shrugs as if it’s nothing. Like it’s perfectly normal for a brother to rough up his little sister. I wonder what kind of a family life they must have had when they were younger to screw up their sibling relationship so bad.

“I owed him some money, so he came by to get it. It’s nothing.”

I don’t like the sound of this. At all.

“Does your brother normally take your money?”

She runs a nervous hand through her long hair. “No, not always. He’s just a little upset with me. Look, there’s no reason to make a big deal out of this. I’m fine, so you should let it go.” She looks up at me, pleading with her big eyes. “I’m asking you to just drop it. Okay?”

“You’re asking the wrong person, sweetheart,” I say. “I’m not a man that lets things go.”

Suddenly a thought occurs to me. Now things are starting to make more sense.

“He threw you out, didn’t he? You were staying with him somewhere, the two of you got into a fight last night, and then he kicked you out. Is he the roommate you had a falling out with?”

“Not exactly, but close enough, I guess.”

So I’m still not getting the whole picture. “How did you get the bruise?” I point to her left arm.

She glances down at the purple spot that is now carefully concealed with makeup. If I didn’t know it was there, I would have thought I imagined it.

“What are you talking about?” she asks. “What bruise?”

“The big ugly bruise on your upper arm where someone grabbed you. You think I didn’t notice it when you were asleep in my bed last night? I looked at every square inch of your luscious body, so you can bet I didn’t miss a thing. Especially not a nasty bruise.”

“It was a dumb accident. I’m clumsy and bumped it against the side of the bathroom door. You know how tiny hotel room bathrooms can be.”

She’s lying and still trying to protect him. This pisses me off more than ever.

“Is that right? Funny how those bathroom doors can jump out at you when you’re not looking. Your brother mentioned something else. He said he knew me. You want to tell me what he meant by that?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I was wondering the same thing. I doubt he meant anything by it. He was angry, so you shouldn’t pay much attention to what he said.”

“Maybe he knows me because of the Steel Infidels,” I suggest. “My motorcycle club. We might have run into each other at another bike rally or charity ride somewhere. I’ve met lots of bikers the past few years.”