The sun had gone down by the time I pulled into the Well’s parking lot at half past seven, but the stars weren’t out yet. The night had that in-between feeling where it hadn’t cooled off and it wasn’t dark yet, but both of those things were around the corner. Brody, who sat in my passenger seat, leaned forward, straining against his seatbelt, and peered up at the wrap-around porch of the bar. Roughly two dozen people milled around the outdoor smoking tables, and five or six of them looked to be in line to get into the bar.
That the place was busy on opening night was a good sign.
I swung the truck around and reversed into a stall on the other side of the lot. Gone was the old gravel that used to bite into the tires and prove a bit of a nuisance to bikes. I’d seen more than a handful of guys dump their brand-new Harleys because of loose gravel. Poor bastards. Now, everything was fresh with new blacktop and clean, yellow-painted lines. Four handicap parking stalls sat right in front of the porch steps. The porch itself was nicely lit, with hanging lanterns on each support beam and string lights from rafter to rafter.
“The place looks busy,” Brody noted.
“Sam must have her hands full,” I said.
Brody unclipped his belt and got out of the truck. He stretched, cracked his back, and shot me a stern look over the hood. “No funny business tonight, Abel. Jackson isn’t going to stand for anyone fucking with Sam’s grand opening. She’s been waiting too long, and we all worked too hard to make this happen for someone to go spoiling it with a quick temper.”
“Why are you telling me?”
“Because you’re the loose cannon. And because Jackson asked me to tell you to stay in line.”
I scoffed. “If he was so worried, he should have told me not to bother coming.”
Brody hooked his thumb back at the truck as we crossed the lot and climbed the stairs. “Maybe you should wait in the truck with that attitude.”
As soon as my boots struck the top step, a hush fell over the crowd milling about the porch. Lips stopped puffing on cigarettes and instead formed words spoken in whispers to those close by. Heads turned to watch me and Brody approach the hostess, a young, dark-haired girl with rosy cheeks and perfect teeth. Last I saw her—before the fire—she’d had braces. I couldn’t remember her name for the life of me.
“Good evening,” she said cheerfully. “Go on in. The others have already arrived and are at the large table by the fireplace. By the way, the bar looks awesome. For a minute there I didn’t think I’d ever get my old job back.” She laughed and tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ears. “Thank you for rebuilding it. I know it was for Sam, but still… the rest of us are happy to be back.”
Brody tipped his head to her. “It’s good to see you back where you belong, Amber.”
She fidgeted behind the podium and giggled as Brody gave her a friendly smile.
“The girl likes you,” I told him.
“I’ve known her since she was seven,” Brody said.
“I wasn’t implying anything, just pointing it out. You made her blush.”
Brody rolled his eyes. “She’s not even legal drinking age yet. She should keep her eyes on the young and stupid ones.”
“You check at least one of those boxes.”
Brody chuckled and shoved me through the front doors of the bar.
Eyes looked up from plates and landed on us. People twisted on bar stools and shot us suspicious looks over their shoulders. Our reputation had taken a dive because of Walter Bates, but I had assumed that here, in the place we had all built with our bare hands, we’d have people in our corner.
It was beginning to make a bit more sense why Jackson didn’t want us riding up on our Harleys. These people reeked of judgement.
I kept my voice low. “Maybe Jackson was right to be concerned.”
Brody stopped and tucked his hands in the pockets of his jacket as the attention of everyone in the building lingered on us. “Like I said. Best behavior. We’ll have an audience all night long, and the last thing the Devils need is the good people of Reno thinking we’re the monsters Walter Bates wants them to believe we are. In other words,” he added with a sharp, side-eyed look, “take it easy on the beers.”
We pushed into the bar, and I tried to ignore the dirty looks we got from married couples with sticks up their asses and old geezers who’d lived in Reno their entire lives. Instead, I paid attention to how good the place looked with people inside it.
The Well felt alive again.
The fire, started by Walter Bates while Sam was unconscious in the old apartment that used to be on the second floor, had decimated everything except the old stone fireplace in the middle of the structure. Sam had been heartbroken, and Jackson had promised that we would rebuild the bar in all her glory.
It had belonged to her father, after all. It had always been more to her than just a bar. It was home. It was her father’s legacy.
Looking around, I knew the old man would be proud of his daughter if he were here today to tell her so. Old black and white images had been framed and hung on the walls. Each one was of a different motorcycle from a different year. There was the occasional shot of an old car and some pictures of Reno when the city first came to be, but for the most part?
The Well was now a biker bar.
A classy one, though.
Sam had agreed to make this place our clubhouse, but she hadn’t bent when the boys all pushed for a masculine setting. She still wanted the bar to be welcoming to anyone and everyone. She wanted all her old regulars back.
I wondered if they would return, or if seeing us here on opening night had put a sour taste in their mouths so wretched, they would never set foot in the Well again.
In front of the fireplace, Jackson and the rest of the Devil’s Luck lounged comfortably on leather-bound chairs with arm rests and high backrests. They looked like the sort of thing that would have surrounded King Arthur’s round table, and for some reason they looked like they belonged right here in the middle of the Well. As we approached, Jackson lifted a beer to his lips and saw us coming over the rim of his glass.
He set it down hard, stood up, and greeted Brody by clasping his forearm, pulling him in, and clapping him hard on the back. He did the same to me seconds later.
“Not bad, huh?” Jackson asked, turning and holding his arms open, gesturing at the bar. “Everything came together better than I thought. Sam has a better eye for this decorating shit than I realized.”
Suzie, who sat under Mason’s arm at the table, rolled her eyes. “Told you so.”
He hushed her over his shoulder before inviting us to sit. Two pitchers of beer sat in the middle of the table beside a low-burning candle, which I realized as I sat down was battery operated. Sam was no doubt wary of having any open flames from here on out, and for good reason.
Knox poured Brody and me a beer and slid our glasses to us.
While I savored the delicious foam at the top of my glass, Brody gave me a cautionary stare.
“Live a little, Chips,” I said, using his club name. “One little beer won’t push me off the deep end.”
Mason made an uneasy sound in the back of his throat. Sitting across from me, he leaned against the high back of his chair and drummed his fingers on the table. “One is where it starts. Tonight is important to Sam. Let’s not forget that.”
Suzie, sitting on Mason’s right side, nodded resolutely. “Absolutely. She’s got a lot on the line tonight. Her regular customers are important to her and if one of you throttle-happy bruisers ruins this for her?” She smirked as she looked around the table at us. “Well, you’ll have me to answer to.”
Jackson rolled his eyes.
Luckily for him, Suzie didn’t notice.
I was about to defend my honor when Sam popped up at our table with a fresh pitcher of beer in one hand and a giddy grin on her face. She damn-near vibrated with enthusiasm as she set the pitcher down. “Good turn out, don’t you think? I can’t believe how many people came. I really wasn’t sure if they’d show. I mean, I know we handed out hundreds upon hundreds of flyers, and the half-priced drinks sure helped, but look around… they weren’t too scared to come here.”
Jackson stood up and kissed her cheek. “I told you it would go well.”
“They’re a bunch of fools,” I said. “They still think we’re the bad guys, Sam. No matter which way you spin it. You should’ve seen the looks Brody and I got when we came in the front door.”
Sam planted her fists on her hips. “I don’t think it’s foolish for people to be wary of you. Reno hasn’t been the same since, well, since you know who showed up.” Sam looked around nervously. I wondered why she didn’t want to use Bates’ name. Maybe she feared it would make people uneasy. “If we can prove with time and consistency that the Well is just as safe for people as it was before it burned down, all of their worries will eventually go away. We just have to be patient, that’s all.”
“And on our best behavior,” Jackson added.
Sam gave him a sweet smile. “Exactly. Anyway, I’d better get back behind the bar. Wave me or one of the girls down if you need anything.”
Sam slipped away, and the rest of us looked at each other across the table. I couldn’t be the only one feeling squashed under an invisible thumb with all these new expectations. We were the Devil’s Luck, for fuck’s sake.
Consistency, let alone easing worries, were not our strong suits.
They weren’t mine, at least.
I drained my beer, waited until conversation amongst the guys was ripe and engaging, and poured myself another. Brody didn’t notice, and neither did Jackson, and within the next two hours I’d managed to put just as many back as my fellow club members. The pleasant buzz of liquor in my head made it easy to ignore the curious glances from strangers at other tables. Let them be curious.
“Where’s Carrie tonight?” Suzie’s cheeks were rosy and her eyes glassy. She’d had a few drinks of her own, it seemed, and it was starting to show. “I thought she was going to join us.”
Tex shook his head. “She’s at the station reviewing files with the lawyer.”
“Still has her head buried in the books, trying to weed out the bad cops?” Mason asked.
Tex nodded, and he looked proud. “Yep. Stubborn woman. But if anyone can do it, she can.”
“Cheers to that.” Suzie lifted her half-empty beer glass. Her grip was tight but her balance off, and it swayed in her hand, some of it sloshing onto the table when her brother slammed his glass against hers. She laughed loudly and sipped foam from the back of her hand while more onlookers turned and watched her.
A group of five men at a nearby table watched Suzie and bowed their heads together, talking amongst themselves while shooting glances in her direction. I had half a mind to say something, but my head was buzzing and Brody’s warning was still ringing in my ears.
So I turned away and finished my beer.
Suzie hiccupped and looked around at us. “When was the last time we all went out for a night like this? I can’t remember, for the life of me.”
“That’s because we’re always slumming it at Grant’s,” Gabriel said.
“Slumming it?” Grant asked sharply.
We all laughed. Grant’s place was nicer than all of ours combined. His inheritance from his wealthy parents had set him up with an overflowing trust fund that he’d used to buy real estate and grow his wealth. The place he owned here in Reno was one of many across the country, but all the others were rented out by long term tenants. His house was a sprawling work of art, and we all reaped the benefits of having such a nice place to crash and work in the shop.
Suzie snickered. “Speaking from experience, Grant’s place is glorious. Especially the guest bed. And the shower.”
She bit her bottom lip and looked up at Mason, and the pair of them shared something that went unsaid. Jackson finished the rest of his beer, likely to avoid thinking about his sister getting intimate with the vice president under Grant’s roof.
Just then, one of the five men from the nearby table stood up and approached us. He went right up to Suzie and tipped his head toward his table.
“Hey, do you want to join us?” He nodded at his buddies, who all waved and smiled at her, before he looked cautiously around at us like we were rabid dogs tied up with unreliable chains.
Suzie blinked up at him. “Huh?”
“Our table,” he said. He was a big guy with broad shoulders, a five o’clock shadow, and long legs. He wore cowboy boots and a denim jacket full of rips and holes. “My buddies and I might be more your speed.”
“My speed?” She arched an eyebrow. “Oh sweetheart, thanks but no thanks. These are my friends. And if you’re worried about me? Don’t be. They’re more afraid of me than I am of them.”
The club sat in silence staring up at the asshole who’d made assumptions about us, just like everyone else in this bar tonight.
He didn’t so much as glance at us. “Are you sure?”
I was on my feet before I noticed I’d moved. “She gave you your answer. Cut it out with the hero bullshit. She’s just fine sitting here with us.”
Chair legs squeaked across the hardwood floors, and I didn’t bother looking to his friends, who I knew had gotten to their feet.
Jackson hung his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fucking balls.”
Brody stood and chuckled good-heartedly. “Gentlemen, gentlemen. There’s no need to get your panties in a bunch. Suzie here is Jackson’s sister. She’s hell on wheels and is true to her word. You might think you want her company, but trust me, she’d chew you up and spit you out faster than you could blink.”
Suzie leaned forward in her chair. “Yeah. What he said.”
Mason groaned. “Here we go.”
The men gathered near our table. “Maybe she doesn’t know what’s good for her,” one of them said.
“We’re just concerned for you, miss,” another added.
“These dogs don’t belong here.”
“You should keep better company than the likes of them.”
I stepped between the table and the men, planted a hand in the middle of one of their chests, and shoved him hard. He stumbled, caught his hip on the corner of his table, and stopped himself from falling with sheer luck. When he regained his footing, he pointed an accusatory finger at me.
“You’re all the same. Fucking Devils. Fucking scum!”
I tried to stop it from happening, but my lips peeled away from my teeth in a wolfish grin. “And yet you’re the bastards causing problems tonight.”
A hand closed on the back of my neck. Jackson’s voice was cold and steady, and full of fury. “Enough.”
The man I’d shoved rolled his neck. “Yeah, bitch. Listen to your master.”
Jackson growled. “Steady, Snake. Don’t rise to the bait. They’re just—”
I snapped. The bar erupted with shouts as I charged and took the first man down with a wrap-around tackle. We landed hard, and within seconds I was being wrenched to my feet, spun around, and clocked across the jaw. Blood filled my mouth with the taste of copper and I swallowed it. I didn’t want anyone to have to scrub blood stains out of the nice new hardwood floors.
The fight lasted seconds.
Jackson managed to pry me off one of the guys, and Mason got between me and another one, and everyone broke apart, breathless and charged.
Jackson shoved me toward the doors. “Either take yourself out, or I will.”