Authors: Dahlia West
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction
Hawk Red Cloud’s large 6’3” frame filled the mirror in front of him as he scrubbed the engine grease out from underneath his fingernails. It was a never-ending job, but it was one he didn’t mind. In a past life, the engine grease was other men’s blood and though that had never seriously bothered Hawk, he had never enjoyed it either. He much preferred taking apart engines and putting them back together in perfect, working order.
Once he was satisfied, he shut off the tap and turned on the shower beside him, letting the water heat up. He stripped out of his black t-shirt, black jeans
, and heavy, steel toed boots. The last thing to go was the rubber band that held back his hair at the nape of his neck. As he tossed the accessory onto the sink ledge, his shiny black hair fell down until it was just touching his shoulders.
It wasn’t nearly as long as it had been in his
past life, before the Army had made him chop it off per regs. The uniform, the brutal, punishing torture that had been disguised as training and the food, which had been, unbelievably, worse, had not bothered him nearly as much as the loss of his hair. Losing it had put him in a very bad mood for a very long time.
His perpetually bad mood had at least ensured that no one in Basic fucked with him. He had always known that, deep down, even his Drill Sergeant had been just a little afraid of him. This had the unfortunate side effect of Hawk always being given more laps, more push-ups
, and more KP duty than anyone else. But at age 18, when he’d enlisted, Hawk was already used to being the target of other men’s ire. He had always been large, well-muscled, and tall. Occasionally other men’s initial fear of him morphed into jealousy, which often manifested as anger. As a younger man, Hawk had escalated these conflicts as often as he could. Now that he was older, he took it more in stride.
The water was hot and felt good against his sore muscles. Hours underneath custom cars and trucks could make you wonder if pretzels had it easier. He washed his hair and toweled it dry. When it was just barely damp, he combed it back into his usual short ponytail and secured it again with the band.
The early July night was hot but there was a nice, steady breeze. Hawk swung his leg, clad in black cargo pants, over his black and chrome Harley and settled into the seat. His large, black boot started the engine, and his black t-shirt stretched over his well-defined chest as he turned the bike toward the street.
He never really stopped to wonder if his trademark, all-black attire was a bit of comical overkill. The truth was black hid stains of all kinds: grease, dirt
, and blood, the last of which Hawk had seen less of since discharging from the Army. But, hey, Friday nights at Maria’s bar on the edge of town were unpredictable. Plus Hawk was good at a lot of things, but laundry wasn’t really one of them. If people mistook his practicality for attempting to exude a menacing persona, well, that was their problem.
Maria’s bar was named for a tough-talking, no-nonsense, platinum-haired blonde. What Maria’s razor-sharp tongue couldn’t take care of, her shotgun usually did, not that Hawk and the boys let her have much use of it these days.
Since coming back home to Rapid City and settling down, the boys from Hawk’s old unit had adopted Maria’s place as a second home. And although Maria was about as tough and independent as a woman, hell
, could possibly be, she wasn’t stupid by any means. She knew it didn’t hurt to have five ex-Special Forces acting as unofficial bouncers for the bar.
Even on nights the men didn’t make an appearance, the mere threat of being hunted down by a Sioux tracker, a world class sniper, a demolitions expert, a medic-turned-cop who looked like he knew more about dishing out damage than fixing it, and a pain in the ass cowboy was often enough of a deterrent. If it wasn’t, the offender was usually very drunk or from out of town.
Hawk entered the bar and scanned it. He veered left where a wisp of a girl was balancing a tray full of drinks with one arm and resting her hip against the table.
“This is your last round,” the girl told two bleary eyed men, both of whom looked like they’d misplaced their razors.
“Aw, come on now, darlin’,” one argued. “Still early.”
“And you’re already drunk,” the girl replied, shaking her head.
She set down a beer, and the man who had spoken took hold of her wrist.
“Not so drunk we can’t keep ‘em hard,” he informed her. “Whaddaya say? Little threesome? Play nice and we’ll give you a big tip.”
As Hawk got closer to the table, he assessed the situation. As he was weighing the options, the barmaid simply shifted her feet and yanked hard, pulling her wrist in the direction where the patron’s thumb and fingers met, the weakest part of the hold. She broke free easily. At the same time, out of the corner of his eye, Hawk saw a beast of a man, only one scant inch shorter than Hawk himself, rise from his chair across the bar.
But it’s not even midnight yet
, Hawk thought to himself. He still needed to lose at pool to Shooter, trade jabs with the Cowboy, and find himself a suitable female to burn off all his excess energy.
Hawk stepped up to the waitress, slid his arm around her waist, and leaned down to kiss her on the side of the head.
“How’s it going, Slick?” he asked with a smile, keeping his gaze on the two men across from them.
She leaned into him, her smaller body tucking into his, and sighed. “Fine,” she told him.
Hawk figured that other than being supremely annoyed, she probably was fine. He stole a glance at the beast, who was now standing but not advancing toward them. Of the group of people who now comprised their little makeshift extended family, only two of them had ever killed a man up close and personal. Hawk was one, having knifed an Iraqi insurgent who’d come upon them during a stealth infiltration of an Al Qaeda compound. Hawk had punctured both of the man’s lungs and then slit his throat to keep him from sounding the alarm.
The other person with a confirmed edge-kill was the little barmaid tucked into Hawk’s side. Hawk harbored no delusions of grandeur on that score; Slick’s kill had been more brutal, more visceral, and ha
rder than Hawk’s had been. She didn’t even have the benefit of Uncle Sam’s training.
“Want a beer?” she asked him.
Slick reached out and snagged the beer she’d just put down in front of Mr. Handsy.
“Hey!” the man protested as she handed it to Hawk instead.
Hawk took it and grinned. Sarah Sullivan had sass. That was for damn sure. Sometimes he wondered how her husband kept his blood pressure in check in the face of all that sass. Turning to the man across the table, Hawk’s smile died, and he arranged his own features into a look of cold, hard menace. The man immediately sat back into his chair, shrinking away.
“Pay up and leave,” Hawk said evenly. “And don’t forget the big tip.” Without waiting for a response, Hawk gave Slick a final squeeze and left with his beer. He had no qualms about walking away from the two losers. He knew who had his back.
He crossed the bar and headed to his own table, taking up the empty chair. He sat down next to the beast, who lowered himself into his own seat.
“Thanks,” Chris “Shooter” Sullivan said. Hawk didn’t have to ask what for; he simply nodded.
“Slick’s got some new moves,” the large Sioux observed, taking a pull on his illicit beer. “Easy’s doing a good job with her.”
Shooter nodded and cast a glance at Jimmy “Easy” Turnbull who was on the other side of the bar, hitting on a petite blonde. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s good for both of them.”
Shooter had married Slick in the fall of the past year and this summer had set out to teach his wife some basic self-defens
e skills. But in the wake of everything his woman had been through, Shooter couldn’t bring himself to tussle with her like that. It didn’t help that long before they were even dating, Shooter himself had cold-cocked Slick, busting her lip open. Didn’t matter that it was an accident. Didn’t matter that Chris Sullivan would never intentionally raise a hand to a woman, maybe not even if his own life depended on it.
Chris had confessed to the men that he could not stop picturing his wife bruised and broken and had asked Easy to take over giving her lessons. Easy and Slick had once had an argument that ended with the two of them actually tussling on Easy’s living room floor (Slick coming out ahead on that one). Despite missing the lower half o
f his right leg, Easy was an ex-Army ranger and, if pressed, would still be deadly in a hand-to-hand combat situation. But he hadn’t hurt Slick, so everyone was reasonably assured that Easy would take care with her during their lessons. So far Slick had never looked worse for wear, just occasionally a little sore.
At the pool table, the Cowboy and his woman, Vegas, w
ere playing an intense game of Nine Ball.
“Who do you think?” Shooter replied with a smirk.
Hawk grinned. “What do you think she’ll make him do?”
Shooter shook his head. “I don’t know, but I hope it involves pink nail polish.”
Hawk chuckled. Mark “Tex” Marsten, whom Hawk often called simply ‘The Cowboy’, took his pool games with Vegas very seriously, and even though he occasionally resorted to cheating, Tex often lost to her. The stakes were often things like holding her purse while they went lingerie shopping. Hawk didn’t want to know what happened when
lost; it was probably better to not know for sure. Either way, Hawk was reasonably certain that on any given night, he could lift up Abby Raines’ skirt and find a red handprint on her butt cheek-- not that Hawk would ever lift Abby’s skirt.
Hawk gave Mark a lot of shit, because that’s just how things were between them, but in the thick of it, Mark kept his head down and his shit together and did anything and everything that needed to be done. Once when they were
in the thick of it, Hawk had been flanked by two men that he’d been forced to gun down on the road to Basra. Amidst the gunfire, he’d failed to hear the third man coming up behind him for a kill shot. Mark had unholstered his sidearm and tapped the third man in the back of the head before he could get his shot off.
Hawk would not repay his brother’s kindness by making a move on his woman.
Besides, Vegas might be smoking hot and fun to be around, but she was also sexually submissive, and Hawk didn’t play that way, with whips and chains and whatever else. Whatever the Cowboy did with Vegas, though, Vegas apparently loved it because she looked genuinely happy.
Slick and Shooter were happily married, and Tex and Vegas were happily...doing whatever it was they did. Those were the only two couples that Hawk had ever seen that had the potential to make it long-term. Hawk didn’t d
o long-term; he did short-term- often. He scanned the bar for his next Ms. Right Now.