Ride Me Hard by Shari Slade
Publication Date: May 1, 2015
When a big scary biker shows up at Jimmy's Diner fifteen minutes before the end of my shift, covered in tattoos and looking at me like I'm on the menu, I should flip the open sign to closed. But I don't, because I'm too used to doing what I've been told. Too used to working and struggling and surviving to do anything different. A closed sign wouldn't stop him anyway. He's here to collect a debt. And I'm the only one left to pay.
Author's Note: Ride Me Hard is part one in the Devil's Host MC serial.
Twelve hours into what should be an eight-hour shift and my new uniform still feels foreign on my body. Scratchy and wrong. Unpleasantly damp. Yesterday I’d worn jeans and a Jimmy’s Diner T-shirt. Tonight, I’m packed into a polyester dress that looks like it came from a catalog full of naughty Halloween costumes—1950s Pinup or Sexy Soda Jerk.
I tug at the powder-blue skirt barely covering my ass and adjust the ruffled apron. Who thought white aprons were a good idea in a restaurant full of ketchup, jam and gravy? Jimmy Jr. The idiot.
Hot coals have replaced the muscles in the small of my back; that’s the only explanation for the searing pain that radiates with every wobbly step I take. My new management-issued shoes are as ridiculous and nonfunctional as the dress, strappy black Mary Janes with pointy toes, pointier heels, and some kind of no-skid treatment on the soles. Thank God for small favors.
The whole tacky getup cost eighty bucks. Cheap, but still too rich for my blood. The cherry on top of one very shitty sundae. At least they’d take it out of my check in installments, because I’d barely made a quarter of that tonight, proving once and for all that waitresses are invisible no matter what they’re wearing. Jimmy’s Diner is invisible too, now that the new bypass is finished and the truckers can barrel past town doing eighty miles per hour.
The locals coming in for early bird specials aren’t going to cut it, and no sexy gimmick will replace the volume of being on a high-traffic truck route. Short of throwing up a roadblock and diverting traffic, Jimmy is fucked.
I dip my hand into my apron pocket and stroke the tiny wad of singles, reassuring myself it’s still there. Five to shove in the coffee can I keep under the sink and then…not even enough to fill a gas tank, let alone make a dent in the weekly rent my landlord is salivating over. He’s already looking for any excuse to eject me from the little garage apartment his new wife wants to use for a craft studio.
I’m pretty fucked too.
It’s not like I’m working here by choice. If this job bottoms out…I can’t even think about that particular dead end. Instead I focus on the present…fifteen-minute increments. I can survive anything for fifteen minutes. I know that from experience.
Fifteen more minutes without a customer and I can lock the doors, kick off these torture devices, and finish the last of my side work.
I pull out the tiny funnels and the big buckets of salt and pepper to do the most boring sand art ever. That’s my life. Boring, painful, and thanks to the bypass and circumstance, cut off from the rest of the world.
I can hear my cousin Harry singing in the kitchen, and I know he’s mopping up. He always sings while he mops. Humming along with him at the end of a shift makes me feel like a part of something. Not a family exactly, but something.
I wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for him. Not that he’d done much other than tell Jimmy I needed work. Sometimes not much is all it takes to make a difference.
Fifteen more minutes and he’ll haul the trash out to the dumpster and lock the back door behind him. If I time it right, we can leave together. I poke my head through the window where he sets the orders as they’re finished. “Can you give me a ride home tonight?”
“I don’t know, Star. I’ve got stops to make.” He twitches and wipes sweat from his neck with a bandanna before swishing dirty water over the floor again. Like I don’t know about his stops late at night? Probably to see the same people that sometimes pop into the diner, also twitching and sweating. Looking for pills or meth. I’m not sure. I don’t even really care as long as I don’t have to walk home alone in the dark.
“But—” Harry spins around with the mop like he’s twirling a lover and bumps the prep table. Three beer bottles crash to the floor, and I notice a fourth is clutched in his hand along with the mop handle. I decide not to argue with his weak excuse or to remind him we’re family—no matter how distant. It’s not worth it.
“That’s okay, Harry. I can walk just fine.”
Sure I can. It’s only fifteen minutes to get home. I hobble back to my shakers.
A bark of laughter, deep and rough, startles me from behind, and my first thought is son of a bitch because if that’s a new customer wanting dinner, all my fifteen-minute plans have turned into an hour at least.
“Looks like you’ve got a little hitch in your giddyup, sweetheart. Why don’t you bring me a menu and come sit on my lap?”
I whirl around to tell him right where he can put a damn menu, and my breath catches.
I can’t process all of him at once. He’s that big. He is scruff and muscle and a white T-shirt tucked into dusty jeans. He looks weathered and road weary, like most of Jimmy’s clientele, but…more. Everything about him is intense. His knife-blade cheekbones. His heavy brows.
His blue eyes flash icy heat, and some animal instinct tells me this man isn’t looking for sass, that if he finds it, he might do something about it, something I won’t like at all.
He’s made himself comfortable in the booth with his leather jacket tossed on the opposite side along with a sleek black helmet. I’m pretty sure there’s a motorcycle parked out front now to match his accessories. If only I’d heard the rev of an engine and the spray of gravel, but I was too busy humming and watching the clock. A warning would’ve been nice. I might have locked the door a few minutes early, even if it did mean Jimmy would dock my pay.
No. I wouldn’t have locked a customer out. But I’d have braced myself better.
His hands are massive and flat on the tabletop. Tattoos crisscross his blunt knuckles, the ink broken by spidery scars. It takes my brain precious seconds to decipher the blue-black loops and whirls as letters.
It’s like he’s put them there for inspection. But not the “clean enough for supper, ma’am?” kind of inspection, the “how much damage do you think these can do?” kind.
A lot of damage. That’s the answer. A lot. Those are knuckles that have been through walls and windows. Flesh and bone.
I want to say we’re closed, but Jimmy’d can my ass for turning away a paying customer. I want to run back to the kitchen and get Harry to tell him to take his business elsewhere, but Harry isn’t any match for this man. And I’m frozen in place anyway. I can’t peel my eyes away from his hands.
I stare harder, and it hits me that the letters over his knuckles form words.
Some fear inside me eases, because that’s almost romantic. Lost souls and lone wolves. Desperadoes. If he were really terrible, he wouldn’t have to advertise. The truly dangerous men blend in.
“Not much of a talker, are you?” he says.
I try for caustic, but the words slip out as half whispers. “Not when I don’t have anything to say.”
He laughs again, only softer this time. More smug. “I can respect that.”
Him respecting anything about me seems like the most ridiculous thing yet. Even sillier than me standing here for long minutes without taking his order. My gaze drifts up his colorful forearms, across his chest, and over the hard pecs I can make out through thin cotton. His neck, corded with muscle and more ink, flexes under my scrutiny.
Everything about him is hard, except for his mouth.
His lips look soft. And pinker than they should be. A sensual mouth, curled into a smile that says I know everything you’re thinking, and yeah you’re exactly right. A smile that says test me, please. A smile that says I’m hungry and you look like cake.
Fuck me. I want to be cake.