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Tristanâ€™s stomach twisted in knots as he pulled into the parking lot of Jacksonâ€™s bar and manoeuvred his old truck into the space next to a shiny, black and chrome Harley. As he sat in the near darkness of the truckâ€™s cab, trying to build up his nerve to get out, two tough-looking bikers strode past and headed for the entrance. Winding down the window, Tristan inhaled deeply to determine the menâ€™s species. They were both wolves and they looked familiar although he couldnâ€™t place where heâ€™d seen them before. He was sure they didnâ€™t belong to the Wolf Creek pack. The first was tall with long, dark hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. His friend was a short, balding man with a ZZ Top fashioned beard. They were dressed from head to toe in black leather. Looking down at his dark grey knitted sweater and black jeans, Tristan began to have second thoughts. His plan to get away from Wolf Creek for a couple of hours, to hang back with a beer or two and maybe get laid, didnâ€™t seem like such a great idea anymore. He was way, way out of his depth here.
He would have been more comfortable going to Jessieâ€™s Dancehall, but that wasnâ€™t an option anymore. Pete had bought Jessieâ€™s right after Evelyn had burned the place to the ground and it was still some weeks off from its grand re-opening. Not that it would make any difference to Tristan if the bar was open or not. He knew as sure as shit that the moment he stepped through the doors and ordered a drink, Pete would be hot-footing it to the phone to call Jared and he couldnâ€™t be dealing with his brotherâ€™s over-protective crap right now. He wasnâ€™t hurting anyone. He just wanted a fricking beer.
Why his brother got so upset about his drinking, Tristan couldnâ€™t understand. Okay, so he might have been overdoing it before theyâ€™d moved into Nateâ€™s old ranch house, but it wasnâ€™t like he was an alcoholic or anything. Heâ€™d had a lot on his mind back then. His pop had just died and he and Jared had moved to a small town where they didnâ€™t know anyone. Tristan had missed his life in the city. He still did. He didnâ€™t feel like he fitted in around Wolf Creek. Heâ€™d made a couple of friends, but otherwise he was pretty lonely.
Tristan had driven out to Jacksonâ€™s to have a couple of drinks because heâ€™d heard the bar was gay friendly and that a lot of local wolves hung out there. But looking at the clientele that were entering the bar in steady numbers, he wasnâ€™t so sure heâ€™d heard right. The place was not what heâ€™d imagined it to be. Heâ€™d expected something like Jessieâ€™s. Somewhere relaxed, maybe a small dance floor off to one side with Carrie Underwoodâ€™s dulcet tones humming out of the jukebox speakers. Yeah. Wrong.
Tristan yelped and slid along the bench seat away from the open window, his breath almost as fast as his elevated pulse. A broad, muscular man was standing next to the truck, his thumbs tucked into the belt loops of his jeans. A cowboy hat was pulled low over his eyes. Tristan had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadnâ€™t heard the guy approach. Dumb. He needed to be more careful. Discreetly, he sniffed the air between them and caught the scent of hay, sweat and cologne. Underneath was the rich, earthy tone of wolf.
"Jesus, you scared the living crap outta me."
The wolf shrugged an apology. "You plan on sitting there all night or are you going to grace us with your presence in there?"
"Uh, yeah. I was just about to go in."
The guy nodded to the bar, but didnâ€™t make a move towards it or take his eyes off Tristan.
"Right, yeah, letâ€™s go." Tristan slid back across the seat and reached for the door handle. On impulse, he pulled off his sweater and tossed it on the passenger seat. The plain white T-shirt wasnâ€™t that much of an improvement, but at least he looked less preppy.
The wolf was still grinning when Tristan stepped out of the truck. "First time here?" he asked as they set off together.
Tristanâ€™s first instinct was to lieâ€”to pretend that he came here all the time. No big deal, just another night out at his favourite bar. But there was no point frontingâ€”hell, the guy could be the owner of the place for all Tristan knew. He nodded instead and, as he followed the wolf to the door, he opted for honesty.
"Yeah. Itâ€™s, uh, not what I thought it would be."
The wolf chuckled. "Yeah, canâ€™t say as itâ€™d be my first choice of watering holes either, but needs must. Nameâ€™s Brandon, by the way. Brandon Delaney."
"Tristan Ambrose." They shook hands then Brandon pulled open the bar door and led the way inside. Tristan turned Brandonâ€™s name over in his mind. It was familiar, but just like the two bikers out in the parking lot, he couldnâ€™t place how he knew it.
As they made their way to the bar, Tristan tried really hard not to meet anyoneâ€™s eye. In Jessieâ€™s, heâ€™d shot his mouth off a time or two when some of the locals had pissed him off and heâ€™d ended up in more than his share of fist fights. It had been nothing he couldnâ€™t handle, but he didnâ€™t think heâ€™d get away with his wisecracks here. Some of the men were scary as hellâ€”far from your average rednecks.
Brandon walked right up to the bar like he owned the joint and planked it on an empty stool. Tristan took the seat next to him and studied the wolf out of the corner of his eye. He was good-looking, a bit older than the type Tristan would normally find attractive, but yeah, he had promiseâ€”strong, wide chest, lean stomach and long legsâ€”none too shabby. When the bartender approached, Brandon turned to Tristan and damn if he didnâ€™t catch him checking out his ass. The sexy grin that seemed a permanent fixture on his face widened.
"What do you want?" he asked, leaning closer so that only Tristan could hear. "And I mean to drink. Itâ€™s pretty obvious what else youâ€™re looking for."
Heat rose in Tristanâ€™s cheeks, but he didnâ€™t avert his gaze. It was what he wanted, after all, and Brandon didnâ€™t seem bent out of shape that heâ€™d been checking him out. He left the comment hanging and said, "Whatever youâ€™re having."
Brandon shrugged and turned back to the bartender. "Two Cokes, please."
The bartender nodded and started to fix the drinks, but Tristan didnâ€™t miss the expression of distaste that flashed across his face. He couldnâ€™t say he blamed the guy. He was rocking the same expression himself.