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Most people in the small town of Hagerstown, Maryland said that Blackie McCassey's heart was as dark and cold as his name; if he even had a heart, that is.
Others claimed he was more dangerous than all the hell-raising McCassey cousins in Washington County put together, including his two younger brothers, Rebel and Judd.
Blackie knew there were even a few who thought the time he'd spent in prison would never be enough for all the havoc he'd wreaked throughout the county in his thirty-nine years.
He may not give a damn what anyone thought, but Blackie was smart enough to admit they were all right.
Aside from the years he'd been locked up, Blackie had spent his entire life in the small western Maryland town--much to the chagrin of most of its residents. Those who didn't know him steered clear of the six-foot-seven powerhouse who'd not only lived up to, but had surpassed his bad reputation.
Blackie didn't give a damn about that, either.
He didn't even mind being nicknamed 'The Devil'. The name that had been given to him a long time ago fit him well; better than most people knew. He enjoyed knowing no one wanted to come near him. The more people that avoided him, the happier he was.
And that included women.
Blackie never had a hard time getting a woman when he wanted one, preferring the kind who stayed in his bed just long enough for him to find his release. Females of any other kind were nothing but trouble, so it made him happy that most of the ones he wasn't related to kept their distance.
All except one.
Swiveling on his barstool, Blackie came face to face with Angel Shelby. As a kid, she'd been arough and untamed tomboy, dogging the heels of her older brother, Digger. Now twenty-seven, she was the five-foot-five, fearless, walking invitation for trouble who worked the late afternoon and evening shift in Digger's bar.
"Hey, Angel Face."
Blackie liked Angel. She wasn't what he considered a 'typical' woman; one who caused a man more grief than she was worth. And she was hot. Hot enough to make a man imagine what it'd be like to take her to bed.
Angel received more than her share of attention from men. She wasn't skinny and didn't have a boyish figure like his sister-in-law, Gypsy. Angel had curves in all the right places, but probably didn't weigh more than a hundred and forty pounds. She didn't put on airs or act better than anyone, either, and she treated everyone she knew, blue collar or white, with the same amount of respect.
Sometimes, he almost forgot she was female.
Angel set an ice-cold bottle of Budweiser on the long, rectangular, mahogany bar in front of him and smiled; her greenish-gray eyes, as always, exuded mischief. He smiled in return when she reached out and plucked the half-smoked Marlboro from between his lips, took a long drag, and released the smoke in rings.
She returned the cigarette and winked. "It's last call, bad boy. How come you're just rolling in?"
Blackie used an oversized, rough, and weathered hand to brush away the few tresses of his wavy, thick, waist length dark brown hair that had fallen into his face. Absentmindedly, he stroked the equally dark Fu Manchu mustache, a trait that not only added to his menacing presence, but made him look every bit the part of an outlaw biker.
Turning his head to the left, Blackie glanced at the blue and red neon Miller Lite clock hanging on the far wall. Having no idea it was so late, he was surprised to see that it was one-thirty in the morning.
"The boys and I just got done paintin' the inside of the garage. My apartment above it smelled too much like fumes to sleep in tonight. I'm just in here lookin' for somethin' to do."
Collecting a few empty bottles from the area where Blackie sat, Angel turned and threw them into a large garbage can. Before coming to stand in front of him again, she reached under the bar and pulled out a cold longneck for herself. After removing the cap, Blackie watched as she pinched it between her thumb and middle finger just before raising it to ear level and snapping. The beer cap sailed across the room with amazing accuracy and landed in the same bin where she'd just tossed the bottles.
Apparently satisfied at having made her shot, she took a long swig from the bottle and set it next to his. "Your cousins, Brady and Kane, were in earlier," she told him. "How'd they get out of painting?"
"Them two fool around too much to get any damn work done. Their job tonight is to hang around and keep an eye on things since we had to leave all three bay doors open."
Angel laughed. "Well, they were half lit when they left, fighting over who was going to drive. Oh! That reminds me..." She reached into the back pocket of her skintight blue jeans and pulled out a set of keys. How she was able to stuff them in there and not be uncomfortable, Blackie would never know. "You can take these with you when you go. I think they're Kane's."
The keychain sporting a picture of a naked woman revealed that they did, indeed, belong to Kane. Understanding now why Brady and Kane had shown up at the garage without Kane's truck, Blackie shook his head in disgust and shoved the keys into the pocket of his black leather jacket.
"You ain't usually here this late. Where's Digger?"
"We had some trouble earlier this afternoon," she said without elaborating. "He went down to the sheriff's office to press charges and I stayed to cover his shift."
Trouble was an everyday occurrence at Digger's, but it was odd that her brother would leave Angel alone to close the bar. He didn't even like her working late at night.
"He comin' back?"
Her gaze swept over the one waitress and handful of customers left in the bar, then at the clock. She shook her head. "Doesn't look like it."
Angel finished the last of her beer and threw the bottle into the trash. Then she unplugged the television and turned on the lights to let the stragglers know it was just about closing time. There were a few groans of disappointment, but no one gave her any trouble.
Fifteen minutes later, the only people left inside were the waitress, the dishwasher, Angel, and Blackie.
"You staying or going, Blackie?" she asked as she untied and removed her apron, setting it on the bar. "I need to lock up."
The question took Blackie by surprise. Just the fact that Angel didn't seem interested in throwing him out told him something wasn't right. She knew Digger had a strict policy that everyone except employees had to be out of the bar by two a.m., no matter who they were. If she was willing to let him stay, there had to be a damn good reason.
Digger was an old friend of his, the best friend he had outside his family, which made Angel his friend, too. He wasn't leaving until he found out what the hell was going on, and made sure she'd be okay alone.
Not wanting her to know he was suspicious, Blackie said, "I'm leavin'," and watched her reaction closely.
In typical Angel style, she shrugged like it was no big deal. "Suit yourself."
She swiped his nearly empty beer bottle and trashed it. Keys in hand, she walked to the front door and held it open. "Now get the hell out of here so I can close up."
Blackie didn't miss the slight quiver in her voice, and he knew her mind was on other things when she stopped paying attention to him. He took off his jacket, revealing his only two tattoos. A red and black devil the size of a grapefruit on his left bicep and a golden handled black dagger on the inside of his right forearm, stretching the eighteen inches from his elbow to his wrist.
Setting the jacket next to her apron, he leaned behind the bar, grabbed the closest fifth of whiskey he could reach, and walked toward the door. "I'll catch you later."
Staring past him into the parking lot, Angel didn't say anything about the bottle in his hand, or that he was wearing nothing but a sleeveless white undershirt; two things she surely would've made smartass comments about had she not been distracted.
"Yeah, see ya," was all she said as he left.
Out in the parking lot, Blackie waited until he heard the deadbolt on the door being turned before he walked around to investigate. He knew there had to be someone, or something, out here. The Angel Shelby he knew didn't spook easily. She had the balls to back up every comment that came out of her big mouth, and was brave enough to face anyone or anything that got in her way.
Wondering if all this had something to do with the trouble Angel said they'd had earlier, Blackie headed around to the side of the building, his steel toe work boots making very little sound as he walked across the gravel.
Away from the shadows cast by the tall streetlights illuminating the bar, Blackie leaned his back against the concrete block wall. Lifting his right leg, he bent it at the knee, pressing his foot flat against the building.
After uncapping the whiskey bottle and taking a long, slow drink, he closed his eyes and listened. It was a trick he'd picked up early on in prison, learning that you may not always be able to see your enemy in the dark, but you could always hear them.
Ten minutes passed before Blackie heard the footsteps.
They were faint, as though someone was doing their best not to be heard, but they were there, and they were close. Sounding as if whoever it was was headed toward the back door, Blackie opened his eyes and crept along the wall until he'd reached the end of the building. Peering around the corner, he spotted four average sized men approaching the rear entrance. Watching, he waited to see what their intentions were. When one pulled a handgun from the inside pocket of his jacket, Blackie stepped out into the open and whacked him on the back of the head with the whiskey bottle.
Immediately unconscious, the man's deadweight hit the ground with a thud. With one powerful swing of his arm, Blackie tossed the bottle to the opposite side of the parking lot where it shattered the instant it made contact with the gravel.
"That was impressive, farm boy," said one of the three men coming toward him. "But I hope you're ready to die ... you can't take all three of us at once."
Blackie was about to correct the thug standing in front of him, assuring him that he could, indeed, take on the three of them with no problem. But before he had the chance to open his mouth, he heard a familiar voice. "Boy, you have no idea who you're standing in front of, do you?"
Glancing to his right, Blackie saw his two younger brothers, Judd and Rebel, walking toward him. Tilting his head up toward the night sky, Blackie rolled his eyes and wondered why Judd had to have such a big mouth
"Yeah," said the man, "three dirty farm boys."
By the time the first man threw a punch, the brothers were ready to fight.
The three McCassey's made light work of stopping the would-be-attackers. Blackie flattened the one who'd taken a swing at him with a quick left hook; Rebel and Judd each laid out their men with one-two punches--a fist in the gut followed by one to the jaw.
As the strangers lay panting and groaning in the dirt, the McCassey brothers stood side by side. Blackie could've handled the three men with no trouble, but it was nice knowing Rebel and Judd had his back.
Even if he hadn't always appreciated them.
Only ten months apart, those two had been more trouble than they were worth when they were younger--with all the beating they did on each other. But at thirty-four and thirty-five, they now were as close as brothers could be.
Rebel, the youngest, was part owner of McCassey's Garage, where Blackie and a handful of their relatives worked as mechanics. Reb had a certain quality that just made people want to follow him, reminding Blackie of the Pied Piper. Blackie hadn't understood it until a few years ago, but now had a healthy respect for whatever it was that made his youngest brother a born leader.
Happily married with two young sons and a baby daughter, Rebel may be a family man, but he was still a damn good fighter. One that Blackie, who enjoyed nothing better than a rough fight, would think twice about crossing.
Mostly a follower, Judd was the complete opposite. He and Rebel may have a lot in common as far as looks, height, and weight, but that's as far as their similarities went. With his quick temper, Judd was much more like Blackie. The two also used to share the same views on women, but since spending time around Gypsy, Judd, the single, full-time tow truck driver, had softened a little.
"What the hell are you two doin' here?" Blackie asked as he bent down and pulled a wallet out the unconscious man's back pocket. He removed the small wad of cash from the billfold and stuffed it into his back pocket, then filtered through the rest of the wallet until he found the State of Maryland driver's license. Blackie said the name William Ramsey over and over in his head, swearing it sounded familiar.
Judd chuckled as he and Rebel backed up to lean against the building. "Gypsy gave us the third degree for coming home without her oldest brother. She's afraid your brain cells are going to die if you sleep in a room full of paint fumes. I tried to tell her you don't have many brain cells left, but she insisted on having you there, anyway. We came to get you so we don't have to sleep in Outlaw's doghouse."
Blackie ignored Judd's playful insult and almost laughed, imagining the scene at Rebel's house when his wife saw only two McCassey brothers instead of three.
Gypsy was one of the few exceptions he'd made where his opinion of women was concerned. She was beautiful, accepting, and had always referred to him and Judd as her brothers, dropping the 'in-law'.
What did make him laugh was the picture that popped into his mind of his brothers fighting Rebel's huge German Shepherd for sleeping space.
"Never mind us," Rebel said impatiently. "What the hell is going on here? Where's Digger?"
"That's a good question. Angel said they had some trouble earlier and he went to the sheriff's office to press charges. He ain't come back yet. She seemed kinda spooked at closin' time, so I hung around."
Rebel ran a hand through his shoulder length, jet-black hair. "What do you mean he's not back? How long could it possibly take to file charges?"
"I don't know, little brother, I ain't usually the one doin' the filin'."
Judd picked up the unconscious man's gun, emptied the ammunition, and tossed it all into the woods. "Where's Angel now?"
"Inside. Let's go. We better check on her."
"Not so fast, farm boys."
All three McCassey's turned in unison, spotting the man standing just a few feet away with a nine millimeter aimed at them. Blackie looked at each of his brothers, shrugged, then took a step forward. Quick as lightning, he slammed his size fourteen-booted foot into the man's groin. He dropped the gun, which Judd immediately grabbed and tossed into the woods. With a pained grunt, the man crumpled in a heap at Blackie's feet.
"Don't fuck with the McCassey brothers, asshole," Blackie warned, kicking him in the ribs a few times to make sure he stayed down. "And we ain't farm boys."
When he went to kick him again, Rebel grabbed Blackie's arm. "He's had enough. We need to check on Angel."
At the sound of her voice, Rebel, Judd, and Blackie turned and looked behind them. Angel stood just inside the backdoor with a sawed-off shotgun aimed at the men on the ground, who were just beginning to stir.
Blackie slowly reached out to take the gun from her, but she raised her elbow and nudged his hand away. "Thanks, guys, but I can handle it from here."
She probably could handle it, which was what Blackie was afraid of. "Are these the bastards who were givin' you trouble earlier?"
"A few of them," she told him, lowering the barrel of the gun, pointing it at the crotch of the man whose head Blackie had broken the whiskey bottle on. "Boys, meet William Ramsey. My ex brother-in-law."
Judd's mouth fell open. "Ex?"
Rebel's wasn't far behind. "Brother-in-law?"
That's why the name sounded familiar, Blackie thought. It was so long ago he'd almost forgotten that Angel had been married. If he remembered correctly, she'd only been seventeen, and the marriage hadn't lasted more than a couple of months. Neither she nor Digger had ever mentioned what happened.
All Blackie knew was that Digger had closed the bar one day and took off to southern Maryland. He'd returned with Angel, but no one saw her until two weeks later when she showed up to work the day shift.
"What are you doing here, Willie? What do you want?"
"What the fuck do you think I want, bitch?"
Willie let out a loud grunt when Blackie kicked him hard in the stomach, and started wheezing when one of Blackie's size fourteens put pressure on his throat.
"You ain't exactly in the position to call the shots here, asshole," Blackie whispered in his best you're-about-to-suffer-my-wrath voice. "And watch your language when you're talkin' to the lady."
Ignoring both Rebel and Judd's raised eyebrows at his use of the word lady, Blackie turned to Angel. "What's he want?"
"Revenge," Angel explained.
"For what I did to my--" She stopped suddenly and raised the gun until it was only inches from Willie's face. "Husband."
"Christ almighty, Angel," Judd said quietly, "what the hell did you do?"
"I'll tell you what she did," Willie offered, "she killed him. That bitch murdered my brother in cold blood."