Asa (Marked Men #6)


by Jay Crownover

CHAPTER 1

Asa

Not too long ago when I watched a girl purposely get as drunk as this pretty one did, I would’ve moved in for the kill. I would have taken her home, taken her to bed, and not felt guilty at all about knowing that she was making choices without all her cylinders firing. I used to never let an easy opportunity pass me by, and I never felt bad that my actions weren’t exactly going to win me any awards for morality. I used to like it when things were handed to me with no effort on my part, and I liked it that when I walked away, I could always brush off any kind of responsibility for wrongdoing and put it on someone else. Accountability was a foreign thing, and back in the day I avoided it like I owed it money.

But times had changed and somewhere between dying on a hospital bed and coming back to life and seeing the last chance I had at any kind of normality flicker in and out of my little sister’s eyes, the barest hint of a conscience had woken up inside of me. Now, when I watched this very pretty drunk girl, obviously out of control, obviously looking for trouble, I wanted her to know how heavy an anchor regret could be. I still wanted to take her home and take her to bed, only I understood the connotation was different. Now that sliver of conscience was poking at me to do something I had never done and pretend that I was chivalrous and save her from herself.

No one would ever call me altruistic or considerate, but if I didn’t step in, the beautiful redhead was going to get herself into a whole world of hurt. I knew from firsthand experience that some hurt and some mistakes could weigh you down forever. Carrying the load was exhausting and she deserved better than that, even if at the moment she seemed to have forgotten it.

I wiped my hands on the bar towel that was hanging loosely from my belt in the back and lifted an eyebrow at my cocktail waitress, Dixie, who was watching the same show on the dance floor that I was, with wide eyes. It was a Saturday night, so the bar was pretty full and there was a live band playing on the tiny stage, but pretty much every pair of eyes in the place was trained on the way the redhead was moving across the dance floor. I knew I should have cut her off, she was a lightweight as it was, but her big, chocolate-colored eyes were so sad, so tormented, I had a hard time telling her no. Now that I could actually feel shit like empathy and compassion, I knew that I had overserved her, which led up to the virtual striptease that was now happening in the middle of the dance floor.

“You think all those guys trying to grind on her would flip out if they knew she’s more than likely armed?”

Dixie’s voice was laced with dry humor as she took the Jack and Coke I mixed for her order from me.

“When a girl is clearly intoxicated, looking for a good time, and just happens to look like her, a bullet isn’t very much of a deterrent. I’m gonna go pull her out of there. After you drop that off, will you watch the bar for a second?”

She lifted her own eyebrows back at me with a grin. “Are you sure you want to do that? That’s like a pack of jackals circling a fallen gazelle. It might get ugly if you go and ruin all the fun.”

The band that was the live entertainment for the night switched to a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” and the girl in the center of the storm suddenly turned and locked her eyes on mine. Somewhere in the middle of all her bumping and grinding, she had lost her shirt, so all she had on was a skintight tank top that wasn’t doing much to cover her up. Her rich auburn hair had fallen out of its ponytail and was sticking to the sweat on her chest and neck, while her eye makeup was smeared under her dark eyes. Her chest was rising and falling from exertion as all her flawless, exposed skin gleamed with a sheen of perspiration. She looked like something out every wet dream any guy had ever had or a real-life Victoria’s Secret model using this no-name bar to strut her stuff instead of a catwalk. She was going to cause a riot, and I think somewhere under all the kamikazes fueling her blood at the moment she knew it. I could see it as she stared defiantly at me across the space that separated us.

“I’m okay with ugly; I’m not okay with her being in the middle of the carnage.” I shouldn’t care. Shouldn’t be concerned. The redhead was more than capable of taking care of herself, and like Dixie had mentioned, she was probably packing, but I couldn’t stop the surge of protectiveness that floated to the surface when a clumsy frat guy put his hands on her tiny waist and drew her back to his chest.

She didn’t struggle at first, her senses and reflexes obviously dampened by the steady stream of alcohol she had been swimming in all night.

Dixie left to deliver the drink and came back around the bar with a sigh. “I can’t wait until Rome hires his friend to hang around and do security stuff on the weekends. I love this place, I love my job, but watching you guys have to tangle with drunken hotheads all the time is getting old.”