By: Jayne Blue

Tate rolled his eyes. “Shee-it. Bad news, man. You tell her that’s not our gig anymore?”

Chewing the side of my mouth, I nodded. “Yep. She was just . . . uh . . . a little more persuasive than most people.”

Tate laughed and whistled low. “I kinda figured. You let her down easy or did she find your soft spot?”

Shrugging, I laid my hands flat on the table. Then I flipped the picture of Doug Ridley. He wasn’t a bad-looking guy. A little skinny with a dopey grin on his face as he posed against a shiny red Corvette.

“Pretty boy,” Tate said, leaning over to get a better look. “Drugs? Horses?”

“Who fucking knows. I told her I’d see what I could find out but that she shouldn’t get her hopes up.”

“Yeah. Be careful. Our luck he’s mixed up with assholes we don’t need to be around right now.”

I tapped my fingers on the table and nodded. Tate was right. We’d gotten out of the shakedown business when Colt took over. Ever since we’d faced threats from other clubs who wanted to fill the void in Lincolnshire. Sometimes, it felt like the only difference between our legit interests and what we used to be was a detailed tax return. But yeah, if Doug Ridley was mixed up with someone hostile to the club, all bets were off.

“Well, a phone call or two won’t do any harm,” Tate said. “And maybe earning a little gratitude for your trouble might not be the worst way to spend your time.”

Tate’s comment was harmless, but still, the hairs on my neck stood on end and I had to fight the urge to curl my fists. What the fuck? We were talking about a girl I hadn’t seen for fifteen years, had no claim on except for one wild night when we were eighteen, and yet I wanted to knock the filth straight out of Tate’s mouth.

I think he saw something flash in my eyes because he cleared his throat and made some excuse to get the hell out of there. “Yeah,” he said. “Just lemme know if you need any help with that. I’ll catch up with you tonight after I swing by the gym.”

Nodding, I raised my hand in a wave as he stepped around the table and headed out of the room. Yeah. What could it hurt to make a few phone calls on Nicole’s behalf? I pulled the phone out of my back pocket and dialed Rick Malloy’s number. Rick ran The Shires, a seedy bar on the east side of town. Rick knew pretty much everything about everyone in this town. Though none of the names on Nicole’s list meant anything to me, they might to Rick. He answered on the second ring and agreed to meet me an hour later.

By the time I got to The Shires, I had three missed calls on my phone. Nicole’s number popped up. I felt like shit for not answering, but until I had a bead on who or what her brother might be mixed up in, I didn’t want to let her down.

At not even noon, Rick’s bar wasn’t open to the public yet. That didn’t stop a few drunks from congregating near his dumpster. I pulled a couple of twenties out of my back pocket and gave them to the guys, telling them to beat it. Yeah, I know I’m a sucker for doing it. Chances are they were going to drink or shoot up with what I’d given them. But I’ve been down on my luck plenty. Sometimes it just takes one good day to turn shit around. Plus, it got them the hell away from The Shires. If Rick told me shit I didn’t want to hear, at least they wouldn’t be around to repeat it or even know that I’d come asking.

Rick stood behind the bar with a dingy towel over his left shoulder. I waved my hand to decline the shot of bourbon he offered me. It wasn’t even noon yet, after all. I slid a hundred-dollar bill and Doug Ridley’s picture across the bar to him. No point in not getting right to it.

“You seen this kid hanging around?”

Rick pulled his reading glasses out of his pocket and palmed the C-note. “Shit. He looks like about a hundred different douchebags, Brax. What’s so special about this one?”

Dammit. Ricky knew better than to ask. The thing was, I had kind of a soft spot for the guy. Back in our shakedown days, he’d earned the wrath of our former prez more times than he deserved. And when shit went down and Colt took over, Rick got caught in the crossfire a little. But he kept his mouth shut and his head down and for that alone, I owed him.

“He’s just important to someone who asked me a favor. Do you recognize him or not?”

Ricky cocked his head to the side and a sly smile played at the corners of his mouth. Motherfucker. I reached into my pocket and slid a fifty across the bar. “Don’t push your luck, man.”

Ricky laughed and took the money. “Yeah. I think the lighting just got a little better. He does look a little more familiar than the hundred other douchebags.”

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