Authors: Tess Oliver
SWEET TALKIN’ SCOUNDREL
Copyright© 2016 by Tess Oliver
Cover Model: Graham Nation
Cover Photographer: Justin Forsyth
Cover Image: Love N. Books
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All Rights are Reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Table of Contents
The driver lifted
his eyes to the rearview mirror. “Are you here in King’s Beach for a vacation?”
I stared out the window and wondered what person in their right mind would travel to King’s Beach for a vacation. The lopsided, weather worn buildings lining the street looked just one step above a pile of rubble. The only plant along the mile long stretch of town was a fake fern and cluster of plastic daisies someone had taken the time to dig a hole for on the bus stop corner. More than half the shops had boarded up windows and crumbling facades. One place, a nautical decor store, had made a valiant effort to look inviting and
by hanging a massive shell chandelier in the dusty front window. The owners had even slapped on a fresh coat of sea foam green paint to the otherwise shabby exterior to make it stand out, which wasn’t much of a feat considering how sad the rest of the storefronts looked.
I caught short glimpses of the beach between the buildings. The gray sand and murky water didn’t look any more inviting than the dreary town.
I looked back up at the driver’s reflection. Martin, the guy behind the wheel, was waiting for my response.
“No, I’m here for a job.”
He laughed. “Here? Ah, that’s why you’re having me drop you at Lottie’s Bar. She’s hired herself a new server.”
“What? No. The job is on one of the private islands.” I didn’t feel the need to tell him any more. If I was going to pull off this disappearing act, I needed to keep things to myself.
“I was told Lottie’s was where I would find the interisland airline office.”
“Airline office?” Another good laugh. I was providing plenty of entertainment for my driver.
He stopped the car in front of a small building with dirt crusted windows that made the other dreary shops along the street look as if they belonged on Fifth Avenue. Interestingly enough, it was the only place on the street that seemed to have customers. Of course, it
a bar. And since it was the most crowded place in town at four in the afternoon, it said a great deal about the locals.
I paid Martin and he hopped out and pulled my bags from the trunk. A thunderous roar of shouting and cheering rattled the windows and front door of Lottie’s Bar.
Martin ignored the ruckus and placed my two bags on the cracked sidewalk. “When you get inside, ask for Dax. He’s the airline manager.” Another laugh. Martin seemed to have a lot of inside jokes to keep himself amused.
“Thanks so much.” I watched him drive away as I steeled myself to walk into the noisy bar behind me. I was at the start of my new beginning, a completely new beginning, and I was nervous as hell. My nose tickled and I scrunched it. For some people, nerves showed up in a tick in the eyelid or cheek. For me, it was my nose. I’d had the nervous twitch since childhood, a childhood that by almost every single account was highly unusual. My mom and dad, who I adored, were far better at adventure and archaeology than they were at being parents. Not many kids could say they took their first real step deep inside an ancient tomb at the base of a pyramid.
I turned around, bent my knees and picked up a bag in each hand. The chorus of shouting inside continued as I walked to the door. My hopes that the interior would be far more charming and inviting than the outside were dashed the second I stepped into the dimly lit room. An odd, unpleasing mixture of odors filled the air, with the two most discernible being beer and sweat. The yelling or cheering, it was hard to discern which, was concentrated in one dense circle of patrons standing in the center of the room. Tables and chairs had been hastily pushed aside to make room for some kind of spectacle or event. Whatever it was, the onlookers were extremely enthusiastic. I glanced around, looking for anything that might point me in the direction of the airline office. There was no sign, no window, nothing remotely close. The longer I stood in the bar, the more ridiculous the notion became that the place had anything to do with an airline let alone an office.
The spectators momentarily parted just enough to allow me to see a man’s fist, completely smeared in blood, fly through the air, eventually falling out of sight. The sickening sound of flesh and bone being pounded followed, helping me fill in the rest of the picture. I swallowed back the bitter taste in my throat and was once again reminded of the gross fried chicken they’d served on the plane.
A woman with an impressive pile of yellow curls pinned on top of her head looked up from her task of wiping off the counter. Her eyes squinted through the bright blue frames of her glasses. Once she was able to focus, she waved me over.
I took just two steps when a loud, simultaneous gasp sucked the noise from the room. Bodies jumped out of the way as one of the fighters was thrown out of the circle. I stumbled back several feet as the shirtless man, who was more ink than skin, slid across the faded tile floor and into the bags I’d left behind.
He got to his knees and shook his head in what seemed like an attempt to clear away the
. The motion caused a disgusting mix of sweat and blood to spray through the air.
I lunged forward and snatched my bags back before they could be hit.
With some effort, he pushed to his feet. In the midst of it all and even with a swollen lip and bloodied chin, he managed to shoot me a flirtatious wink before launching himself back into the circle of spectators.
It took me a second to recover, then I hauled my bags toward the bar. The woman, Lottie, I could only assume mostly because she looked like a Lottie, motioned down at my bags. “Are you just stopping on your way through town?” She had no choice but to yell. “Sorry about the noise. It’s Fist Fight Friday. What can I get you?” She picked up a glass from behind the counter, but I waved no at it.
I leaned over to avoid shouting. “I’m looking for the airline office.”
She bent closer. A round pink seashell dangled from her ear as she turned it toward me to let me know she still couldn’t hear. I inched close enough to see the thick powder on her skin. Her flowery perfume was actually strong enough to break through the heavy stench in the bar.
The yells behind me morphed into a round of cheers. “The winner!” a voice called out.
I sucked in a breath and shouted toward Lottie. “I’m looking for the airline.” Naturally, the entire place had fallen as silent as a morgue right in the middle of my sentence. I didn’t need to turn around to know that I’d gotten the attention of everyone in the place.
Lottie spoke through her laugh. “Guess you’re looking for Dax.”
“Yes, that’s the name.” I lowered my voice considerably.
Lottie pointed past my shoulder. “He’s right over there.”
I glanced back at the cluster of exhausted fight fans. People were slowly peeling away from the group, revealing the two contestants. One dazed man with blood pouring from his nose was being hoisted to his feet by several spectators. In the center, the man who had flown into my bags, pushed to his feet. His naked chest was a collage of sweat, blood and tattoos. He swayed like a tall tree ready to fall with one good chop of the ax. But even with some jumbled brains, a fat lip and a gash in his chin, he was wearing a smile. A slim red head jumped out of nowhere and threw her arms around his neck, nearly knocking him off his feet.
Even with my scant knowledge of Fist Fight Friday, I easily deduced that he was the winner and the man being dragged to a chair, the loser.
Lottie’s non-specific point across the room made it impossible to know which person was the pilot. I scanned the bar patrons. One of the spectators, a big shouldered man with graying sideburns and a thick moustache, looked like the kind of man who could fly an airplane.
I looked back at Lottie. “Is that Dax?” I motioned toward the man with gray sideburns.
“No, that’s Bob, the police chief. Of course, we only have a three person police force, but we call him chief just to let him know he’s important.” She bent over the counter and lowered her voice. “He’s afraid of flying.” She straightened. “Hey, Dax!” Her sudden return to high volume startled me.
I followed the direction of her gaze. The red head was still clinging to the fight winner, seemingly oblivious to the fact that blood was smearing on her green sweater.
It took the winner a second to focus. “What do you want, Lottie?”
“You’ve got a passenger,” Lottie called back.
The sudden metallic and salty taste of the rancid air in the bar let me know that my mouth had dropped open. “God, please let him just be the ticket seller,” I muttered.
Lottie laughed. “Ticket seller, plane mechanic and . . . pilot. He’s kind of a one man airport. You look as if you could use a glass of wine.”
“Make it a double. If there is such a thing.”
The one man airport said something to the woman wrapped around him. She pouted and hopped up to kiss him, but he pointed to his mouth, as if a swollen, bloody lip needed mentioning.
She untangled her arms from around him and walked away with a nice smear of blood on her otherwise crisp green sweater.
My bloodied pilot took several unsteady steps before finding his rhythm. I looked over at Lottie as she handed me the wine. “I guess I should be glad he was the winner.”
“Haven’t seen him lose one yet. How do you think he keeps that pretty boy face of his so spectacular.”
“Be right with you,” Dax mumbled without moving his mouth. He held his chin up as he talked, but it did nothing to keep the blood from trickling off his lip.
“You’re getting blood everywhere.” Lottie shoved a towel in his hand as he stepped around to the backside of the counter. “Just what do you think the health department would say if they walked in here right now?”
He pressed the towel against the cut on his chin. “Now, Lottie, you and I both know the health department wouldn’t dare take one step in this place.”
She fisted him on the shoulder, and he winced in pain. “Good, I hope that hurt.”
Dax stopped at the deep sink sitting below the decorative mirrors hanging on the wall behind the bar. It was hard not to be mesmerized by the sheer width of his tattoo covered shoulders. The muscles in his arms and back contracted and stretched as he leaned down to the spigot to wash his face.
He finished rinsing off the blood. As he looked up, he caught me staring at him in the mirror. Even though I could only see his eyes, I could easily imagine the cocky smile he was wearing beneath them.
I felt my cheeks warm as I pulled my gaze away from his naked back. I focused on my wine and waited for the bloodied and tattered man, the man who was eventually going to take me high above the Pacific and somehow deposit me safely on a private island.
I looked up as the spigot turned off.
Dax turned around. Lottie was right. Aside from the overlarge lip, the gaping cut on the chin and the swelling over his eye, he was movie screen perfect. But there was no question that an inordinate amount of trouble came with that face. He was one of those men who you spotted and allowed yourself the luxury to look at and daydream about just before the rational side of your brain kicked in to say ‘run—run like hell and never look back’.
I took a cold-milk-after-cookies sized swig of my wine and scrunched up my face as it burned going down. Something told me a few shots of tequila might have been a better choice. Self-preservation popped a notion into my head.
I scooted down to the end of the bar where Lottie had started cutting up limes and lemons. “Where is the nearest ferry service? I’ve just had a long flight, and I don’t relish the idea of climbing back on a plane. I think I’ll go by boat to the island.”
“Well, you’ll need to get a ride to the next town, Douglas Bay. They have a big marina. The ferry travels around to the islands twice a day.” She sucked on a slice of lemon and her mouth puckered from the taste. “That’s a sour one.” She dropped the rind onto a napkin. “Which island are you heading to?”
I’d been in such a mindless rush since I’d gotten the job offer, I hadn’t memorized many of the details. And the island had one of those names I just couldn’t keep solidly in my head. I dug in my purse for the slip of paper with all the information.
From the corner of my eye I could see Dax walking toward us. He picked up a bottle of beer on the way and popped off the cap. My fingers brushed a piece of paper, and I pulled it out. I was just about to read the name, but I paused and looked up at Lottie. She seemed to sense why I hesitated.
“Look, sweetie, you don’t need to worry about me telling anyone.” Lottie inclined her head toward Dax, who was busy guzzling the beer, which only added to my resolve to travel by boat. “Dax, too. We’ve had plenty of people pass through King’s Beach on their way to the islands in an attempt to make themselves scarce.” She winked. “If you know what I mean?”
It was hard not to know what she meant since she’d made it quite clear in her statement.
Lottie’s pile of blonde hair slipped back some as she lifted her face to Dax and shot him a conspiratorial wink. “See, Dax won’t say a word either.” She turned her attention back to him. “Your passenger says she’s going to take a ferry instead. She claims it has to do with the long flight here, but I think it has more to do with her not wanting to fly with a pilot who just had his head scrambled in a twenty minute fist fight.”
Dax stared at me and continued his brazen assessment as he took another drink. I rubbed my nose to stop it from twitching. He finished the last drop with a big sigh and plunked the bottle down on the counter. “She can’t take the ferry.”
“Why not?” I asked sharply. Lottie followed with the same.
“You’re going to Wildthorne Island, aren’t you?”
Lotties’ face snapped my direction. “Wildthorne Island? What’s a cute little thing like you going to do in that wretched place?” Her question and tone only added to my anxiety that I’d jumped into something without really thinking it through. Something I did often and something that had now left me with no choice except to run from my old life and find a new one far away. A job as tutor on a private island in the middle of the Pacific had seemed too good to be true, as if it had popped into existence just for me. But the look on the bar-owner’s heavily powdered face was making me double think it.
“I’m not sure if that’s the island.” I opened the paper, and there it was, in my own sloppy script, Wildthorne Island. I looked up at Dax. He certainly had the smug grin thing down. It was as appealing as it was smug . . . naturally.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“I was told to expect you. You’ll have to fly. Boats can’t get to the island. The shoreline is too rocky.” Dax headed around to the end of the bar and plucked a faded gray shirt off the last barstool. He groaned in pain as he pulled it over his head, streaking it with blood from the cut on his chin. He stared down at the mess and swiped at it with the palm of his hand. As he unfurled the cotton t-shirt over his tight pecs and rippling stomach, the words Pterodactyl Airlines appeared in big blue letters. Beneath the letters was a picture of a small white plane, the kind that looked more for decoration or display in a museum than actual flight.