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Fighting for Irish
A Fighting for Love Novel
By Gina L. Maxwell, Liz Pelletier, Ross Zentner
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Gina L. Maxwell
All rights reserved.
Two months later ...
Aiden scanned the room of the rowdy backwoods bar and studied the various stages of inebriation of its patrons: drunk, really drunk, and totally shitfaced.
The crowd had hit its peak, but Kat MacGregor, who went by the ill-fitting alias Sydney Carter, kept pace between the bar and her tables without any problems.
Since finding her, Aiden had gotten himself hired as a cooler for the bar and allowed to put together a small team. It had only taken a couple days of observing the damage caused by nightly bar fights to sell Lou on the idea. Especially since they were getting paid just as shitty as the rest of the employees. The bar owner ended up making out in the deal, since he didn't have to keep replacing beer glasses and tables.
Aiden had called his good friend and old teammate, Xander James, and soon after, Xan had loaded up his worldly possessions and Aiden's other bike and driven down to become part of the team and "find his next adventure."
Aiden had recruited Johnny Anders and a couple of Johnny's buddies to round out the team. Now, on any given night, Lou's had two coolers working the floor. Usually three or four on weekends, depending on when the full moon came around because the crazy seemed to flow like the beer on those days.
The hardest part had been teaching Johnny and the others the difference between a bouncer and a cooler. They kept thinking that their job was to step in once an issue became a problem, which was the job of a bouncer.
Coolers were proactive. They did their best to contain things before they became problems, ensuring the bar stayed busy, if a little on the rambunctious side.
Xan and Aiden had to shadow them the first couple weeks to show them what they were supposed to look for as coolers. Once they got the hang of it, though, there was a lot less broken shit to clean up at the end of the night. Not that a night at Lou's Riverview was anything close to calm and uneventful, but it was a lot less volatile than before.
And if he could make Kat's environment a little safer for now, then he was satisfied.
"Same shite, different night, eh mate?" The British-accented voice of Xander crackled through the comm-link in his ear. Aiden had ponied up the cash for those babies, which had been the deal clincher for Lou. So long as his backup could hear him if he needed them, he didn't care.
Every Friday night was the same. When the people of Alabaster blew off steam from their workweek, the bar became a hotbed for trouble. Emotions ran high, fueled by pitchers of beer and rounds of shots. The entire scene was underscored by the classic rock and country music blaring through the sound system.
"Always is," he said absently as Kat whooshed by holding a tray of bottlenecks.
Barely turning his head, he followed her with his eyes. The swing of her hips and curve of her ass damn near hypnotized him. Kat made waitressing look like an art form, simultaneously weaving her way through the crowd, delivering trays of drinks, and beating back the locals with her sharp wit and even sharper tongue.
As he moved through the land of the inebriated, he searched for signs of trouble and kept one eye on the spunky redhead. She knew how to handle herself and, unlike the other waitresses, never called on the coolers for help. But that never stopped him from intervening. There was always a bad apple in the bunch that didn't use the sense God gave him.
If he noticed a potential threat, he'd move in and take care of it before it escalated. If his presence alone wasn't enough, a well-worded threat against the family jewels usually did the trick. Around these parts, the "family" kind was all they had and they tended to prefer them intact.
The first time he'd run interference for Kat with a less-than-polite customer, she'd stared at him incredulously. He'd only managed to stare back, unable to find his words with those light blue eyes turned on him, before she spun on her heel and stormed off. That happened a few more times: him stepping in, an awkward staring contest, and a silent retreat.
Then, one night after he'd "escorted" a guy out in a chokehold for grabbing her ass, she stalked up to him outside with narrowed eyes and fists planted on slender hips. "I can take care of myself."
Aiden crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't doubt that."
"Then knock it off. The other coolers aren't as meddling as you. Dealing with a certain amount of crap gets me decent tips. You scowling at every customer who looks at me wrong is cutting into my bottom line, buddy."
Aiden hadn't considered that the waitresses got tipped better if they let the men flirt or paw at them. He scowled. He didn't want to hurt her financially, but there was no way he was backing off. "How much would you say you lose every time I interfere?"
She threw her hands in the air, clearly frustrated. "Five, ten, twenty bucks? How the hell should I know?"
He nodded. "Then I'll give you twenty bucks every time I keep some asshole's hands off you."
Her brows drew together and the starch left her spine. "I don't want your money, Irish." He liked the way his name sounded on her lips. Or his nickname, anyway. Just like she used an alias, he'd stuck with his old nickname from his fighting days. Xander was the only one there who knew his real name — and his secrets — and he intended to keep it that way.
"Are you listening to me?" she asked. "I want you to back off."
Like hell he would. "Can't."
"What do you mean you can't?"
He couldn't tell her that any more than he could back off like she wanted. Couldn't tell her that his reason for leaving his home on the South side of Boston for Bumfuck Nowhere had started out as a favor owed to a friend and ended up as something else entirely. That from the moment he saw her, his promise to make sure she was okay for her sister's peace of mind came second to his own inexplicable need to watch over her. To protect her.
Fighting the urge to pull her into his arms and chase away the ghosts he saw in her eyes, Aiden shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. "As long as I'm around, no one touches you without an invitation." Unable to help himself, he lowered his head and whispered in her ear. "No one."
She jerked back with a barely audible hitch of breath. A flash of something he couldn't identify crossed her face, and then she darted back inside. After that, she never spoke to him again other than a quick thank you with her eyes whenever he helped her. Nonverbal communication was fine with him, so he always responded with a look of his own, hoping it said, you're welcome, and not, Goddamn you're gorgeous, or, I'd give anything to bury myself in you for a night. Since she hadn't hauled off and kicked him in the junk yet, he figured he'd done okay so far.
Every day, though, it was getting harder and harder to disguise the heat he suspected simmered in his eyes when he locked sights with her. He couldn't help it. He liked to think he was a decent guy, but he was far from a damn saint. Her pixie-petite frame and subtle curves were highlighted by her short and tight uniform, and it was all he could do to not mentally undress her.
And then mentally fuck her.
"Irish," Xan said through the comm-link. "You got sights on the shit brewing over by the billiards?"
"How many times have I told you we call it 'pool' on this side of the Pond? You sound like an ass."
"Right, and you sound so bloody intelligent with your wicked smaht accent, ya feckin' Southie."
"Better than being a Yorkie, douchebag."
Some friends drank beer and hugged. Some beat on punching bags and gave each other shit. Aiden and Xan didn't hug.
He located the two already in a heated argument, but his phone vibrated on his hip before he even took a step in their direction. Shit. Very few people had his number. Fewer still whom he could blow off. Checking the screen, he swore under his breath at the text.
"Xan, I gotta make a call. Think you can handle this one solo?"
"Look who you're talking to. Of course I can. I can handle anything." Xander was known for many things. Modesty wasn't one of them. "Go take your call, but hurry it up. I want to chat up this lovely bird who keeps shagging me with her eyes."
"This might shock you," Aiden replied as he made his way to the back office, "but your sex life isn't my top priority."
"Neither is yours. You need to stop fucking around and tell —"
"Shut it, Xan." Closing the office door behind him muffled most of the noise from the bar. "When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it."
He turned off his comm-link and pulled it from his ear to dangle over his shoulder. Aiden hated these calls. They reminded him of things he tried to forget. Like the current double life he was leading.
After a couple of rings, a male voice answered. "Hey, O'Brien."
"How's it goin', Jax?"
"It's been better, man. Between stress from work and planning a wedding, V's a little more high-strung-OCD than normal. Add in worrying about her little sister, and I'm strongly considering putting an ad in the classifieds for an old priest and a young priest, Exorcist style."
Aiden grinned and leaned his hips back on the edge of the paper-covered desk. "So you're hoping an update will help soothe the beast, is that it?"
"I'm willing to try anything at this point, but I figured I'd call you before the newspaper. So what's going on in Alligator Alley? Tell me you two eloped and are making babies on a beach somewhere."
"I thought you wanted good news."
"Are you kidding? That'd be awesome news. Then we'd be brothers through marriage and we could build the first Irish-Hawaiian team in MMA. Just think how cool our banner would be. Our logo could be a pineapple with a shamrock cut out of it."
Aiden dragged a hand over his face. He'd almost forgotten how exhausting Jax could be. To outsiders, Jax seemed deceptively calm and laid back, but those lucky enough to call him friend knew the guy had boundless energy that he put into three things: fighting, surfing, and his relationship with Kat's older sister, Vanessa. Beyond that, Jax was the kind of man you could count on when the shit hit the fan.
Which was why Aiden was in his current situation. He owed Jax. A lot.
He didn't know the specifics of Kat's situation except that she'd asked Vanessa for help with something major before disappearing from her last known place of residence. They'd hired a PI, who'd managed to locate her in Alabaster, but Vanessa wasn't convinced she wasn't still in trouble of some sort. That's when he'd gotten the call from Jax, asking him to head down to Louisiana for a couple weeks to see what Kat was up to and if she was okay.
But a couple weeks was going on three months of watching out for Kat, whether she liked it or not. He periodically reported in to Jax or Vanessa to maintain the ruse that he'd stayed for them and not for reasons of his own he didn't care to examine.
Aiden shoved his hand into his jeans pocket. "I wish I could help, but there's nothin' new to report here. Same old, same old, you know?"
"Well, I guess that's better than the alternative of finding out she's still in trouble," Jax said. "Listen, I also wanted to tell you that I'm taking V on a cruise tomorrow. We'll be gone two weeks. She needs to unplug and unwind before she has a total meltdown. I'm concerned for Kat, too, but my first priority is my fiancée and I'm confident you can handle everything out there until we get back."
Aiden nodded. "She's been out here for six months without any issues. Odds of anything happening are practically nil, so just worry about your girl. I got things over here."
"So the big day's coming up, isn't it?"
Jax's heavy sigh came through the tiny speaker loud and clear. "I'm not sure. She's already canceled it and changed the date twice. This cruise was actually supposed to be our honeymoon. She keeps pushing the wedding back with excuses about work or not having things ready, but I know better than that."
"I didn't peg her for a cold feet kind of girl."
"It's not about that, brah. She keeps hoping Kat will answer her calls and agree to come to the ceremony."
Aiden swore something stabbed him in the chest at hearing that. He was so close with his sisters. He couldn't imagine not being at their weddings. Colleen was his Irish twin, which meant they had the same birth year. He'd been born in January and she in December. Growing up, she often played the role of "mom" to him and their baby sister, Mary Catherine, when their mother was at one of her two jobs. And outside the house, Aiden protected and looked after his sisters.
They'd forever been the Three Musketeers, them against the world. Or what was their world, anyway. It'd been hard distancing himself from them over the last several years, even though it was for their own good. But if he ever had to completely sever ties, it'd be devastating.
Aiden rubbed a hand over his mouth. "I'm sorry to hear that, man. Hopefully a few more calls to Kat about wedding stuff will do the trick."
"I have a better idea. Sweep her off her feet, whisk her to Hawaii, and we'll have a double wedding. I hear they're all the rage."
"Yeah, right. So not happening, brah," he said, adding a mocking tone to his friend's Hawaiian term.
"Okay, fine," Jax said. "Jokes aside, though, man. As far as V knows, Kat has a real bad history with men. I don't know her, but I know you. You're a good man, O'Brien. You'd treat her well, and she might even remind you you're not the piece of shit you think you are. Who knows, you might even fall in love."
Aiden pushed off the desk and clenched the phone hard enough to do some damage if he kept it up for long. "I can't have that, Jax. You know that."
"That's where you're wrong," he said meaningfully.
"Killing my best friend's sister doesn't exactly make me the lovable type."
"Everyone deserves to be loved, O'Brien. Even you. You're just too lost in the past to realize it."
Unable to get past the tightness in his throat to say anything else, Aiden disconnected the call. He couldn't deal with the shit in his head trying to get out right now. It was almost closing time. He needed to focus on getting through the rest of the night, and then he'd go home and work out till he passed out or at least became too tired to think. Total physical and mental exhaustion was his only option for self-medicating anymore.
As he entered the main area of the bar, he saw Kat arguing with a customer. Pushing his way through the crowd, Aiden approached the four men in the booth, placing himself between the mouthy one and Kat. The table quieted as he planted his feet and crossed his arms.
Pinning the drunk with nothing more than a hard stare, he directed his question to Kat. "What's the problem?"
"He's just arguing over his tab," she said. "It doesn't require your services, Irish."
Aiden nearly smirked. She was so proud, this one. He liked that about her, though, and she was right. She could take care of a squabble over a bill. Giving her a quick nod of acknowledgment, he moved out of her way but stayed within earshot.
"Speaking of servicesss," the man slurred, "what do you charge for your serviccces?"
Kat shook her head and made a clucking sound with her tongue. "Come on now, Karl. Didn't your mama raise you to never ask a lady about her business unless she offers first?"
"My mama run off when I was little, but my daddy taught me plenty on what to do with da ladies." The group of men erupted in laughter and elbowed one another in the ribs.
"I'll just bet," she said. "Look, why don't you pay for the seven rounds you and I both know you ordered, and I'll get you one last round on the house."
Karl narrowed his eyes, a sneer twisting his lips, and leaned in. "I tell you whut. I'll pay for the six rounds I know I ordered, and instead of a free round, you can show us your titties."
Aiden's body shot bowstring tight. In one stride, he reached the booth, yanked the bastard out by the front of his shirt, and held him so his toes barely scraped the floor.
Excerpted from Fighting for Irish by Gina L. Maxwell, Liz Pelletier, Ross Zentner. Copyright © 2014 Gina L. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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