Tyler smiled at me, and I melted. “It’s okay if you were. I was just thinking about you.”
“And there we have it,” Liam said. “Told ya, love.”
Tyler’s gaze left me and targeted Liam, a line between his eyebrows forming. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Liam, but if you want to leave here with both arms, stop.”
“I’m just having a go at you, mate. You make it too easy.”
Jack’s chair whined against the floor as he leaned forward. “Liam. Enough.”
Liam held up his arms. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to get her to take a trip with me. I don’t think it’s Colorado she’ll miss.”
Three lines on Tyler’s forehead deepened when his eyebrows pushed upward. The crew shifted in their seats, uncomfortably witnessing the exchange.
“Another round!” Jubal said, lifting his half-empty glass. The rest of the crew lifted their glasses and hollered their agreement in unison.
Tyler leaned in, lowering his chin as he stared at Liam. “What are you doing, man?” He took the tone he did with Taylor when he was disappointed in his behavior.
Liam smiled his most charming smile. “I’ve tried, mate. She doesn’t want me. I’m an excellent wingman. Ask Jack.”
All of Jack’s teeth gleamed when he smiled. “Truth.”
One corner of Tyler’s mouth curled up, and then he looked at me. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, a man I vaguely remembered stumbled into the table.
“Maddox!” he slurred, slapping Tyler’s shoulder. His fingers curled over the top of Tyler’s flannel shirt and dug in.
“Look!” he said, spittle flying from his mouth when he spoke. “It’s the girl who kicked me in the balls!”
“Todd Mercer,” I said, his clue helping me recall. “I’d love to do that for you again.”
A sour look came over his face. “Ellie, right?”
Tyler shrugged away from Todd’s grip and sighed. “I’m busy, Mercer. I’ll kick your ass later.”
“Why?” Sugar asked, exasperated. “You get your ass kicked every time, Mercer. Every. Time.”
Liam’s eyes sparked, amused. “You kicked him in the balls, Ellie?”
“I was trying to keep him from getting killed by Tyler.”
Todd’s nose wrinkled. “What does that even mean? Speak English!”
“Move along, Mercer. Your balls will thank me,” I said.
The crew chuckled, and Todd stood up tall, puffing out his chest and suddenly lucid. “You’re pretty fucking mouthy for a seasonal whore reduced to begging locals for drinks.”
After a short stunned silence, chairs squealed against the floor as the Alpine Hotshots rose to their feet. Todd scanned the crew, taking a step back.
The crew’s faces were severe, none more menacing than Tyler’s.
“It’s okay,” I said, standing. I leaned across the table, tugging on Tyler’s shirt.
“The fuck it is,” Tyler said, glowering at Todd.
“No need to be rude, mate,” Liam said.
“Maddox,” Jubal said. He shook his head. “We’re having a good time, and this drunk idiot isn’t going to ruin it for everyone.” He pointed at Todd. “Get the hell out of here. Final warning.”
Tyler glanced at Liam. “Keep the girls over there.”
Todd opened his mouth to speak, but before he could form another word, Tyler lunged at him. Suddenly, the entire bar was a swarm of violent commotion, swinging arms, yelling, and entire groups of men moving one way or the other as they shoved against one another.
Liam pulled Jojo close and stretched his arm across my chest, angling his body in front of us for protection but clearly entertained.
“No!” Jojo yelled as a table buckled and crashed to the floor. “Oh, Daddy is going to be so pissed.”
Jack was standing on a chair, directing whoever was at the bottom of the pile. Cat, Sugar, and Puddin’ were tossing anyone who wasn’t a hotshot out of the mound of thrashing bodies like toddlers eagerly searching a toy box.
Tyler’s head popped up from the sea of chaos for a brief moment. I escaped the safety of the wall just in time to grab his shirt with both fists. Just as Tyler landed a devastating blow to Todd’s jaw, he noticed I had hold of him and hooked his arm around my shoulders, ducking and dodging the various fighting groups until we were safely in the alley.
“You’re shaking,” he said, reaching for me.
I pushed him away. “Mercer could barely stand, and you attacked him.”
“Ellie … no one was going to let him say that and walk out of there. I was trying to knock him out before anyone else got ahold of him.”
“Oh, so you were doing him a favor,” I deadpanned.
He shrugged. “At least he didn’t get kicked in the balls.”
I paused and then looked down, unable to stop from smiling. The rest of the crew burst from the door, half of them laughing, the rest pulling their still-swinging brothers out.
Liam and Jojo were holding hands, the fight giving them an excuse to break the personal boundary barrier. After a few drinks, one touch was all it took for most, and Jojo couldn’t have been happier.
Fish frowned. “Wick’s not going to let us back in until next season. Some of us live here.”
“I’ll talk to him,” I said. “So will Jojo.”
They all grinned, patting and hugging me as they passed. “Thanks, Ellie,” each of them said. “See you next season.”
Liam kissed my cheek, winking at Tyler. “Take care, you two. Quit fuckin’ around, would ya?”
I glanced up at him, appreciative. He hadn’t given up on me. No matter what I said or did, he was right there, waiting to take care of me.
Jack patted Tyler on the shoulder, and the crew walked out to the cars parked in the street, chatting excitedly about the brawl.
Tyler waved to them and then turned to me, beginning a full minute of silence in the alley in front of Turk’s. I folded my arms across my middle, feeling the sweat on my skin chill in the autumn air.
“You cold?” Tyler asked. “My jacket is in the truck.”
I laughed out loud, holding my hands out to my sides and letting them fall to my thighs. “I guess. I’m just as surprised as you are.”
“Watts said he asked you to go on a road trip with him.”
“Is that the only reason?”
His shoulders sagged. “It doesn’t matter what I do, does it? I just can’t…” He gestured to the space between us. “Get past whatever’s in the way.”