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Cross Your Heart

By:Zoey Parker

Chapter 1


Croak



“I’ll tell you one thing,” Jax growled, setting his mug of beer down on the table and letting out a raucous burp. “If that smug son of a bitch ever tried to pull some bullshit like that on me, I’d beat his ass six ways ‘til Sunday. He’d end up in a hospital, sucking on a goddamn feeding tube.”



Laughter burst out from my brothers gathered around the booth we were sitting in. It was me, Jax, Big Tuna, Crash, and Steezy, lazing around and throwing back beer like it was going out of style. Shots of whiskey littered the tabletop, too, just in case one of us felt like mixing up the alcohol every once in a while.



The bar was dim and grungy, exactly the way I liked it. The way I liked everything, really. I preferred my hands to be greasy, my women to be dirty, and my liquor to be straight. Simple man, simple tastes. Don’t fuck it up and I won’t have to fuck you up. That’s what I’d said to every bartender in this county at one point or another. Needless to say, they quickly learned to get my orders right.



“Jax,” I drawled, “you walk around actin’ like you got balls of steel. But I saw your old lady reamin’ you out just last week, and you just stood there and took it, you poor sap. Couldn’t even get a word in edgewise. She owns your ass.”



Jax scowled, but the others doubled over, laughing even harder. I took a sip of beer and chuckled to myself as he turned ten different shades of red. He wanted to retort, but he knew I was a damn sight smarter than him and he’d never win a war of words. He knew what I was saying was true, too. He’d gotten wifed up recently and the ugly bastard was having a rough go of it.



Married life wasn’t for everyone. Damn sure wasn’t for me. The mere thought of an old lady bearing my ink made my skin crawl. My bike was for me and me alone. I didn’t plan on ever sharing it with some broad perched on the back and chirping in my ear about what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go. The way I saw it, this life was about staying away from all that shit. No sir, I wanted no part of it. I’d rather stick to my liquor and my one-night-only women. They were both dependable, in their kind of own way.



I saw Steezy snorting with laughter into his drink on the far side of the booth. He was a fresh-faced teenager, barely tall enough to throw his leg over a bike, much less know anything about fucking women, but he walked like he was the biggest swinging dick around. I liked him in spite of it. He would eventually grow into the attitude, and the kid was sharp enough to pick up on things real quick. I’d never had to explain anything to him twice.



Still, I’d be damned if I was gonna let a prospect get away without a little bit of hazing. Call it part of the process. We’d all been there before. Jax, Big Tuna, Crash, and I had all come up together, going through initiation around the same time and getting our chops busted on the regular by the grizzled old vets who made up a big chunk of the club membership. Going through the hell they liked to impose on new recruits made us closer than kin. We were more than comrades; we were brothers.



“Steezy, what are you laughin’ at, greenhorn?” I snapped. I kept my face deadly serious. Let him sweat a little bit. He went whiter than a ghost at the sudden, unexpected attention. He froze with his mug halfway to his mouth, eyes fixated on me. “You ain’t been close enough to fuck a female with a ten-foot pole,” I finished. “And that ain’t for lack of trying, neither.”



The laughter went up one more notch, this time at Steezy’s expense. His cheeks burned and I could see him wilt a little in his seat. The boys on either side of me busted up, hooting, hollering, and smacking the table with big, goofy smiles plastered on their faces. We were more than a little drunk; well, they were, at least. Ever since I’d started drinking at the tender age of twelve, I’d always had to take my time getting going. Alcohol just seemed to work slower on me.



“I’m just playin’ with you, kiddo,” I said after a long pause. I shot him a wink. “No reason to look like your dog just got run over.”



In spite of the teasing, I wasn’t a malicious kind of guy. The kid just had to learn his place, that’s all. It’d come in time. Cockiness turned into confidence if a man had it tested enough. Steezy had all the makings of a strong Inked Angel, and I had no doubt that he’d turn out fine. Matter of fact, more than fine. It was good to have promising talent in the pipeline.



“Lemme out. I gotta hit the head,” I said. I swept a hand through my hair as Big Tuna slid out of the seat to let me stand up. He was still chuckling with that foghorn bass voice of his, shaking his head and wiping a tear out of his eye from laughing so hard.

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