Chapter 1 : Tempting the Serpent
Growing up, the last thing I expected was to own a bar. Hell, the last thing I expected was to be stuck still living in this shit-hole town, but unfortunately, fate had decided that was to be my future. When my old man passed away, his pride and joy, the Viper Bar, was gifted down to me—including all of his shitty ass debt.
My best guess was he had no one else who knew how to run the damn place. It wasn’t exactly what someone would call a dive bar, even though the characters who often graced it would claim otherwise.
Wiping down the slick bar tops, sighing as I looked around at the shit-hole I now owned.
My bar, with its matte black walls, tattooed celebrity art, and crimson leather upholstered seats, was something to admire. It had a way of drawing in, not only the shittiest of people but the wealthiest of people, too—something I had never thought possible.
At least, not in this city.
If it weren’t for Dahlia, my main bar b***h, and Damian, the ever-so-delicious security guard, I probably would have f*****g lost my mind by now.
They had practically become my family, now that my dad was gone.
“Raven!” Dahlia called, causing me to glance toward the end of the bar where she had stopped, her hands on her hips as she stared at me.
I had gotten lost thinking about everything piling up while wiping down the bar that by the time I glanced down, you could f*****g reapply your damn lipstick in the reflection.
“Yes, your majesty?” I replied, a smirk lingering on the corner of my lips that made her eyes roll.
Dahlia was my best friend and a badass. She was gorgeous with jet-black hair, sultry blue eyes, and curves to die for, but she wasn’t to be underestimated. I had seen this girl take down men twice her size, and trust me, she was the one left standing.
“Can you cover me while I grab some more beers from the back?” Dahlia focused on downing a row of tequila shots before sliding them down the bar to someone, winking at the patron. “God knows I can’t ever get manly help with that shit.”
“Sure.” I laughed, watching her place the liquor bottle back from where she had pulled it. “Maybe one of these days we can get more help here, preferably the kind that involves shirtless tattooed men with muscles for days.”
Her brow raised, and she flipped her hair over her shoulder before turning toward the cooler. “Babe, the day that happens maybe I’ll find me a husband.”
Laughter escaped me watching her saunter away toward the back, but it was short-lived as a heavy metal card slammed down onto the bar, followed by an order. “Whiskey on the rocks.”
Staring at the forty-year-old man in a tailored gray suit, his expensive cologne wafting around me, I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “Slam that card any harder and it may snap.”
A smirk tugged at his lips for a moment as I reached out, grabbing his card as I slid it through the machine, holding onto it for his tab for the night. I had honestly thought about stealing some of these cards to help pay off bills, but of course, I wasn’t that kind of woman. Though, I doubt they would have missed the money if I did.
Grabbing a glistening lowball glass from behind the bar, I flipped it onto the shiny top, causing the thunk of the thick bottom of the glass to add to the cacophony of sounds within my bar. Dropping a chilled sphere of ice into the cup, I pulled a bottle of whiskey from behind the bar to toss and pour into it. The warm, amber liquid cascaded over the ice cube as it filled. Something about watching the warm liquid run over the smooth curves of the ice made it appear sexy.
“Here you are.”
“Thanks.” He nodded, his eyes lingering on me for a moment more as he lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip before turning toward the lounge area of the bar.
The moment he sat down with a few others I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like if I had left this place. If I had just set a match to this bar, collected on the insurance, and disappeared from everyone.
Unfortunately, though, it was the last thing I had of my father. And the sentiment behind the damn place was instead going to be my ruin instead of my saving grace.
“Annnd I’m back.” Dahlia walked up behind me with a case of beer balanced between her hands, each brown glass bottle clanging against one another. “Sorry it took so long. These were way in the back. We’re gonna need to buy more from a supplier, Rave.”
Great… add that to the list of bills coming out of my ass. I had way too many at this point. The tower on my desk would soon topple over and eventually fill my whole office and bar.
“Okay, I’ll make a note,” I replied with a forced smile. “Thanks for letting me know.”
“Anytime.” Dahlia went to work putting the beer away while I took another order.
Finishing up with a bit of cleaning, I watched as a man—who looked to be in his thirties—walk in with two others. He was sexy as hell in a tailored black suit with onyx-hued hair that was longer on top and shorter on the sides. He ran his slender fingers through his hair, letting a gold signet ring on his left little finger shine in the lights. It drew my attention for a moment before I peered up to take in his dark and brooding gaze.
It had been a while since I’d seen a sexy man walk into my bar, and damn those eyes could f**k me alone with the way he seemed to gaze around like he owned the place.
He sat down at one of the tables in the back, shrouded in darkness over the other tables illuminated by the bar lights. His long, slender fingers grabbed the lapels of his suit coat as he tugged on it to adjust it as a cunning smile tugged at his full lips.
The sound of someone hitting the bar top with their hand to grab my attention brought me back to reality. I cleared my throat. “Yeah?”
“Need to close my tab now, baby girl.” The man licked his lips, teetering slightly, smelling of alcohol and piss.
I smirked, grabbed the heaviest glass I owned in the damn joint, and slammed it onto his hand, causing his knuckles to crack beneath the pressure.
“f*****g HELL!” the man screamed.
“You’re lucky I’m in a good mood and didn’t break your f*****g fingers.” Eyes on me, I watched the man in the tailored suit smirk while he talked to the two other guys with him at the table.
“What the f**k, b***h! I just wanted to close my tab! Jesus—Christ!” The man yanked his hand from beneath the glass and shook it out.
My dark gaze locked with his. “Rule one, don’t call me baby girl. Rule two, don’t be a f*****g asshole. Didn’t your mother teach you damn manners?”
I closed his tab, while he rubbed the back of his hand in pain. After I watched the sorry excuse of a man leave, I turned my attention back to the table in the darkness with the three men at it.
The other two men weren’t half bad either. One had medium-length blonde hair with steel-blue eyes to die for when they hit the light just right. The other guy had short auburn hair and emerald-hued eyes reminding me of a deep dark forest. They were f*****g gorgeous men with tattoos peeking from their shirts, making me wonder if they covered their whole bodies or just small parts of them.
I f*****g loved tattoos.
Something about the pain centered me when I needed it. The adrenaline and endorphins of the needle going into my skin made me feel alive. I never understood how some people used numbing cream before getting ink done. I craved the pain, the tickle of the vibrations in my bones from the thrum of the tattoo gun, and the raw burn of the scratching against my skin as it laid art.
The table beside them cleared out, and I saw the opportunity to get closer. I wanted to know what they were talking about. I craved hearing what the man in the black suit sounded like. Was his voice dark, low, and alluring? Was it a voice you could sink into like a black cup of coffee with some sugar, cream, and a bit of dark spice…
The curiosity in me wanted to know more, and I wasn’t quite sure why considering there were men who came in here all the time. But regardless of that, I moved closer.
When I reached the table, I slowly leaned over it to wipe the other side of the smooth, ring-stained surface. His eyes scanned over my body like a predator about to pounce on his prey. A sensation ran through me that made my thighs clench together.
Why did this stranger looking at me with such an intense gaze make me feel so… alive?
Slowly, my gaze ran up from the table to his, taking in the way he leaned back against the booth with his arms spread along it. The tip of his thumb played with the golden signet ring on his pinky, while he licked his lips and watched me.
The collar of my crop top had fallen enough to show off my red lace bra, and his eyes wandered down to take a peek. He likes what he sees. The thought made me bite my bottom lips as a smirk fell across my lips. I pressed my breasts against the table, shifting my hips in my tight black jeans to draw his attention while I wiped down the booth.
He shifted his chiseled jaw, as I glanced back up at him. His body readjusted in the booth as he turned his gaze from me toward the men in front of him. “Let’s get down to business.”
Realizing he was no longer interested I continued cleaning, but only because I wanted to hear what they were going to discuss.
“What are we going to do about the hit put out on Marcello?” The auburn-haired guy leaned his elbow on the table and gestured with his index finger.
“Giovani has that covered,” the dark and mysterious man replied, his voice low as if honey dripped from his full lips.
“All right, what about the business partner who won’t pay out?” I watched the auburn-haired man lean back against the booth with a sigh, resting an arm along the back of it.
“I can handle it,” the blonde piped in, pulling a blade from his pocket as he flicked it open.
My mystery man quickly glanced from the man across from him to me as he raised a brow in question as to why I was obviously ease-dropping.
Closing my mouth, I pretended to ignore what they were saying as I quickly went back to what I was doing. It was clear these men were dangerous and the last thing I wanted was to piss them off, but I was so intrigued by them I couldn’t help but be curious.
“Send Dragon out first, and then you can play with him if that doesn’t work. I don’t need him dead; I just want his money,” the dark and sexy man said in that f*****g enticing tone again.
“I’ll get in touch.”
I didn’t even know his f*****g name, and I wanted him. The more I heard them talking about these… business partners, the more I wanted to figure out how to partner with them. Maybe if I drew more of the main guy’s attention, he’d offer something to me.
With one last lean over the table to show off my breasts to the man I wanted, gaining a dangerous smirk from him, I slowly stood to walk back to the bar with swaying hips until I was firmly behind the wooden barrier with Dahlia again.
The moment I turned to face him though, he was on his feet taking long strides toward where I was standing. His eyes never drifted from mine as that smoldering gaze of his made my heart beat just a little bit faster.
‘f**k,’ I thought as I watched him get closer.
I’d played a dangerous game with this man, and now I was slightly hesitant about what he wanted. Not that I would back down. I never back down from a challenge.