Tavia O’Brien stood in the shadow of a store’s awning with her back pressed to the cool brick of the building. The sun beat down relentlessly and the heat washed back up off the pavement in suffocating waves. The bike rally was just starting to rev up and the crush of Harleys and people only added to the ambient heat that was beginning to make her nauseous.
Drinking her icy sport drink, she fanned with her free hand, but it only stirred more hot air into her face. Coming to the rally had seemed like a fun idea when Jensen had invited her, but now that she was in the middle of it, she wished she was back home.
There were no familiar faces in the crowd and the bikes weren’t that impressive when they were all crammed into the streets, revving and spewing a cumulative cloud of noxious fumes, which the breeze insisted on carrying to her nose.
Slipping into a super skinny alley between shops, Tavia breathed deeply, sucking in as much of the cooler, fresher air as she could. Jensen had slipped into the crowd and she’d lost sight of him—not that she was overly worried with keeping him in her sights in the first place.
The cool shade of the alley almost demanded that Tavia close her eyes and enjoy it for a moment. As she stood there listening to the din of the rally, she relaxed somewhat.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
The deep voice startled Tavia and she jumped, dropping her drink, as her eyes flew open and she stood straight. For a second, she didn’t recognize the burly man blocking the entrance to the alleyway. Then she realized it was Daric Miles, one of the sexiest hardbodies she’d ever met.
Fiddling with her hair self-consciously, she stammered, “Hi. Hello. Yeah, fancy meeting you here, too. I didn’t know you would be here.”
Daric handed her the drink she’d dropped. “A few of us come down to every rally, to represent the club, you know. It was my turn to be here this time.” He chuckled.
“Oh. Who else came with you? Anyone I know?” She knew a few of the Black Mountain Bikers, but not all of them. The club had members from three states and their headquarters was just up the mountain a ways from the nightclub/bar that Tavia and four of her friends had opened last year.
“I don’t know if you know Marcus Crowley and Pinner Collins—they live in North Carolina and volunteered to come down with me. Both members for over five years now. Good guys.” He held Tavia’s gaze, smiling.
Becoming unnerved at his dead-level stare, Tavia nodded, trying to think of something to say. “Pinner’s a strange name.” Of course, there were quite a few strange names in that club, she’d noticed—probably nicknames, she thought.
“Yeah. He was a semi-pro wrestler before he joined up with us. I don’t even know his real first name.” He slid his thumbs into the front belt loops of his well-worn, form-hugging jeans and said, “Why are you here? I didn’t know you rode.” He let his eyes roam down her body and back up it again slowly.
“I don’t ride. Well, I don’t ride my own motorcycle; I came with a…whatever Jensen is.” Tavia laughed. What was Jensen to her, anyway? Not a lover; not really just a friend, either. A friend with occasional benefits? Yeah, that was more like what he was to her, but she was suddenly too shy to say such a thing to Daric. She didn’t want him to think she was in a serious relationship with anyone and leave. That is, if he was getting ready to make a move on her—and she hoped that he was getting ready to make a move on her. Daric looked delicious.
“So, you’re here with an on-again-off-again boyfriend?” For the first time, he looked back at the ever-increasing crowd of people and motorcycles in the street behind him.
“No! No. I mean, he’s not my boyfriend at all. I just thought this sounded like fun when he mentioned it and I decided to have some fun while I was off work for a few days.” She chuckled and fanned her face with her hand. “Actually, I kinda wish I’d stayed at home now. I was not prepared for this kind of heat.”
“It’s not like Tennessee mountain heat, is it?” He stepped into the shaded alleyway with Tavia.
“Not at all.” She didn’t mind sharing her shade with him at all.
“You wanna go somewhere and cool off? There are plenty of places. I’ll buy you lunch. How’s that?” He grinned and waited for her answer.
Tavia’s heart fluttered and another heat flushed her cheeks. He was making a move, she was sure of it. He wasn’t just being nice. He could’ve passed her by and she never would have known he was anywhere in Florida. He would have been swallowed by the crowd.
“Sure. Thank you. I don’t know my way around. I’ve never been here before.”
“That’s pretty inconsiderate of your man to just leave you standing here in an alley beautiful and alone and unprotected like that. Maybe someone should help him brush up on his manners after the rally.”
“No. I told you, he’s not my man. Just a friend, kinda. Not even really that.” Tavia followed Daric to the end of the alley.
He nodded and gave her a thumbs-up over his shoulder.
The sidewalk had become a swamp of sweaty, nearly-naked people when they stepped out of the alley. Staying close to the wall, Daric extended his hand behind and wiggled his fingers at her. With all the noise, she had to guess at what he wanted because there was no way of hearing him above the screaming, undulating crowd and the barrage of Harley engines.
Taking his hand lightly, she was shocked when he tightened his grip and pulled her forward, closer to his back. He essentially cleared a path as they walked and she followed him easily two blocks down the street.
Around the next corner, still hugging the bricks, Tavia noticed that the crowd had thinned considerably and the noise had been damped considerably. Somewhere up ahead, she heard the unmistakable throb and riffs of AC/DC.
Daric pulled her alongside him as soon as the path was clear enough to do so. “The Ragged Diner up there with the speakers outside is where we’re headed. Best food and booze in town, in my opinion and the air is always turned down to about sixty.”
“That sounds great right now. I’m ready to go stand in a freezer for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if my skin started dripping onto the concrete.” They both laughed.