***The Bachelorette Party, Lucky Wolf Casino, near Sebida, TX***
Jack sat in the darkened security control room of his grandfather’s casino. Just a few miles outside of Sebida, Texas, the place had been one of the early Native American casinos. The old man had worked hard to make it a success and to provide jobs and security for his people.
The man was gone now. Dead. Over a year now. And soon this place would be too. No matter how he crunched the numbers, it did not add up. Between the money that his grandfather had siphoned off to pay the ‘good’ sheriff’s extortion, the economic downturn, and now this new virus, there was just no way that this place could stay open.
But that would not be his decision to make either. Only two days left to fulfill the stipulation in his grandfather’s will. And the only woman that interested him was HER granddaughter? “Damn the old man,” Jack cursed as his gaze shifted from one video screen to another.
Reb should have been here by now. His friend had promised to do him this one last favor and make those final upgrades to the security system before he and Stacey Reynolds headed back to Arizona. It was all his fault anyway. How was he to know that his friend had a thing for older women? Or that Stacey Reynolds would capture his buddy’s heart and soul? That was the problem. “All my rowdy friends have settled down,” Jack hummed as the door finally opened. “About damned time.”
“If you’re singing, I’ll just head back out the door,” his friend teased as he slid into the chair next to him. They worked in companionable silence for a couple of minutes, scanning each of the screens as they switched between cameras. “It all seems quiet to me. So, who went pissing in your beer?”
Jack shook his head at Reb’s frank assessment of the situation. “Fuck off.”
“It’s that damned deadline, isn’t it? How long you have left? A month, now?”
“Two days.” Jack was not even surprised that his friend knew exactly what had gotten in his craw. When you had been through the shit they had been, when you relied upon one another to have your back in some of the hottest spots on the globe, you got to know a person. Really know them.
His friend had gotten it right. But not for the reason that everyone thought. Jack did not want this place because of the money. Hell, it wasn’t making any these days. But he refused to make cutbacks or lay people off. Let the elders make those tough calls. Jack was not even sure that a casino was the right choice for their people. At least not anymore.
Maybe back in his grandfather’s time? He’d listened to the old man justify his decision often enough. Feeding the white man his own medicine with ‘firewater.’ Taking back money and resources stolen from their people. But the truth was it was often the women and children that suffered from the poor choices made by their mostly male clientele.
Not his problem. Not now. Sure, if he was desperate, he could come up with a bride in about ten minutes on the internet. His grandfather’s will only stipulated that Jack had one year from reading the will to marry to inherit the casino, the trailer, and all other assets. But at this point, those were more likely to be debts anyway.
But that was part of the problem. This place was the only real home Jack had ever known. Since his mother’s drug overdose, when Family and Children’s Services had traced his grandfather and dumped that scrawny, messed up little kid here with the man he did not know, this place was all he had.
Maybe he should just hop in ‘his baby’ and take to the road. Leave it all behind. Goodness knows there were as many bad memories in this backward little hellhole as there were good. But Jack had seen far more of this fucked up world than most people ever did, and for all the bad, this was the only place that felt like home. Or at least came close.
That was the other thing – he wanted what Reb had. What his cousin Rex had found, what his friend Ryan had too. Hell, even Mercy. It went far deeper than some damned stipulation in the old man’s will that Jack had one year to marry and settle down, or he lost the casino. Even before his grandfather’s death, Jack was tired. Tired of the Army. Tired of traveling. Tired of killing. Tired of watching other people die, friends and enemies, but especially the innocent. Jack was just fucking tired.
And all he wanted was someone to come home to. Someone to hold, someone to protect. Someone that made all those fucking years of fighting and death mean something. As old-fashioned as that sounded, he wanted someone who needed him.
Just as much as he needed her to hold him. To erase the bad memories and tell him it would be alright when he woke from one of those dreams. Someone soft and frilly to cuddle up with on long winter nights. Someone to lay out in the field with on hot summer ones, just holding hands and watching the stars.
Was that too much to ask of the universe? It seemed that it was. Now, in two days, Jack would lose what little stability he had always known. This place.
Not that he really blamed the old man. Joe Greywolf had his grandson’s best interests at heart. He had just wanted to see him safe and settled down with a wife and family of his own. Given their family history, Jack could understand that.
After all, Joe had himself been torn from his family before he could even remember them. While the great state of Texas might have had reasonable legal justification when it came to his alcoholic father and sick mother, Joe would never forgive them for separating him from the older brother that he had not been reunited with for over four decades. If that were not bad enough, he had been placed with predominantly white families, losing all connection to his Native American roots. Ironically, it was Joe’s desire to reconnect with his heritage that had led him to his older brother.
Of course, Joe’s broken marriage, his grandmother’s hatred, his mother caught in the middle of her parents’ bitterness, and the years of alcohol and drug abuse that followed had left their scars on the old man’s soul too. He had blamed himself for his daughter’s troubles. Even though his ex-wife had done all she could to keep him from communicating with their child.
Jack shook his head, trying to clear the old memories. Now that Reb was here, maybe he should go out for a drive. Clear his head. Try to figure out what next.
“Damn,” Reb’s curse brought him back to the moment.
“What? What is it?” The past few months had not been easy. He and the casino had come up against the crocked sheriff of Sebedia country, the illustrious Earl Kerr. Accidents and trouble had begun to haunt them. That was one of the reasons he had brought in Reb.
“That damned bachelorette party. I warned Stacey it was a bad idea. But she insisted that the girls have as much of the whole wedding experience as she could manage. Given the times we live in and that they have less than a week until the big day. Laura and Mercy can’t drink, of course. Stacey has nursed one beer all night. One of Mercy’s friends has stuck to coke, but that little lady by the jukebox looks three sheets to the wind.”
“And that could spell real trouble if anything happened,” Jack finished the statement for him as he glanced at the video feed.
Her. Why the fuck did it have to be her? Here? Now? He had hoped like hell that he could manage to sneak out of this damned town without seeing her again. Hell, he had managed somehow to live here almost a year and never run into the girl. Until yesterday.
“Shitpisscockcuntmotherfuckinsonsofbitches.” He shifted in his chair at the new tightness in his jeans. Damn, she might be drunker than a skunk, but she was his personal wet dream in the flesh. Long waves of honey-blond hair. Tall as a drink of water and curvy as the good ole Mississippi. And that confection of frills and lace that flowed around shapely calves had him wondering what she wore underneath. It would be too much to hope for a garter belt and silk stockings?
“Call Chet. Make damned sure he doesn’t serve her anymore. I’ll go see what I can do about finding the little lady a ride home.”
“Who knows? Maybe your luck is about to change, buddy?”
Jack shook his head; he had no intention of getting into the dark depths of his family history. Even with his best friend. “I think there are enough alcoholics in my family tree as it is, Reb.” But damn it, why did the first woman that he had been genuinely attracted to in years have to be that one?