Rough Ride Romeo by Lori King by Lori King - Read Online

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Rough Ride Romeo - Lori King

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lost.

Chapter 1

The sound of an engine shattered Roman Freemont’s peaceful snoring, and he choked on an inhale fumbling awake. His mouth tasted like shit, and his tongue felt like it had been sanded down with fine grit sandpaper. The haze in his vision could have been his hangover, or a thick fog bank, but considering the height of the sunshine beating down through the windshield, he was more apt to assume the former.

Shoving a hand through his shoulder length brown hair, he encountered something sticky matting the ends of several pieces, and grimaced. It wasn’t like this was the first time he’d slept off an all-nighter in his truck, but this wasn’t even the first time this week. He could already feel Drannon and Vin’s disapproval, and he hadn’t even seen them yet this morning. Hell, the sensation was strong enough that the hair on his neck prickled.

Rubbing at his nape with one hand, he searched the scattered contents of his old Chevy pickup for his cell phone. As usual, its battery was completely dead, but he figured there were a dozen messages from the ranch already filling his inbox. He tossed the useless gadget into the glove compartment, and climbed out of the truck, stretching his long, lean form as he went. Drinking and cavorting were the only medicine for the aches in his soul, but he could use some aspirin for the twinges in his back right about now.

A quick glance around the parking lot of Mick’s Watering Hole assured him that there was no one watching his walk of shame. There were half a dozen vehicles on the far side of the lot, but they all stood empty, their owners off doing their business somewhere along the six block town of Montford, North Dakota.

With no one watching, he made his way across the empty lot to the convenience store next door. His head was pounding, and he could still taste the bitters from last night’s beer. The small bell attached to the glass door sounded like an air raid siren, and he groaned softly.

Morning Romeo. Amelia Dewitt called out from her stool behind the register.

Roman Freemont, you look like shit. Brandon Bowers rested his hip against the countertop and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses, but Roman knew they were taking in his hangover and cataloguing it in detail. Lately it was Roman’s natural state.

Well good morning to you, too, sunshine, he retorted, heading straight for the cold case at the back and snagging a large bottle of pop. Caffeine would help him face the day while it was too early to drink.

Bran didn’t respond to his comment, but Roman could tell he had something he wanted to say just by the way his jaw ticked. Ignoring his friend for the moment, he placed a bottle of aspirin on the counter next to his soda and gave Amelia his most charming smile. And how are you this fine morning Amelia?

Better than you are I s’pose, she answered with a playful wink. Her graying hair was wound in a tight bun atop her head, and her plastic framed glasses perched on the end of her nose. She was a comforting staple in small town Montford, and one of the nicest people Roman knew.

I’ll admit I’m feeling a bit low this morning, but it’s nothing a hard day of work won’t cure. Roman responded.

Day’s half gone already, son. You’d better get a move on if you’re planning on accomplishing anything before the sun goes down. Handing him his change, she planted herself back on her stool and rested her elbows on the counter. Before Roman could respond, Bran laughed.

No worries there, Amelia. Romeo here wouldn’t know hard work if it bit him in the ass. Still laughing at his own joke, Bran slapped Roman on the back hard enough to bring a frown to his face.

Kiss my grits, Officer, he snapped, throwing back the aspirin and taking a big swig of soda to wash it down.

That’s Sheriff Bowers to you, Freemont. Bran said sternly. To a stranger it might have sounded like the two men were at odds, but that was the absolute furthest thing from the truth. A couple of decades ago, Brandon was one of Roman’s best friends. He could remember being called the three musketeers—also along with his younger brother Hawke, all over their small town and out into cattle country. Hell, they’d gone camping and fishing every weekend together until they forgot about everything but girls.

Irony seemed to be waving a red flag at Roman as he stood there in the small shop. Now he was the one hell-bent on screwing his way into an early grave, and Brandon was walking the fine line of the law.

Whatever you say, Sheriff. Roman drew out the last word pointedly. You’re right about one thing, Amelia, I need to get my ass in gear. Good to see you Bran, do be careful when you take that stick out of your ass tonight after your shift. He turned and gave Bran a hefty slap on the shoulder before marching toward the doors again.

Don’t be going too fast now, Romeo, or I won’t have a chance to admire that fine backside you’re planning on working, Amelia called out giving him a wave, and laughing. He blew her a kiss as he stepped back out into the blinding sunshine.

It was already hot outside, and he could feel the sweat and grime from the night before clinging to his skin as he fidgeted and stretched taking in the small main street of Montford. The town consisted of about ten thousand people nowadays, but it wasn’t so long ago that it was pea-skin small and barely kept up with the couple dozen businesses that occupied the main thoroughfare. It seemed as if the whole town took a breath and then multiplied all at once. Before you knew it, they even had their own big box store down the highway a bit. He’d recently heard that a popular fast food joint would be coming to town, but until he saw the arches, he wasn’t buying the story.

With a snap and a crack, his back twisted and he sighed in relief as the tension eased out of his cramped body. It was past time he went back to sleeping in a bed rather than slumped on the bench seat of his pickup, but he’d be damned if he’d drive drunk again. He was tired of the lectures every morning from the peanut gallery. Between his three brothers, Drannon, Vin, and Hawke, and Drannon’s fiancé, Lacy, he had to relive his mistakes almost daily anymore. After their makeshift mama-bear Marilyn told him she was too disappointed in him to even comment on his state last time, he couldn’t even bring himself to face her anymore. A quiet voice in his head reminded him that if he wasn’t drunk it wouldn’t be a problem, but he hushed it real quick. Life was meant to be lived, damn it. He was just enjoying it with a beer in his hand, that’s all.

Taking another swig of his pop, he headed back to his truck with his beat-up straw hat pulled low over his brow to block the cheerful sun. The familiar scent of tobacco and animals filled his nose as he planted himself in the driver’s seat and shoved the keys into the ignition. Throwing the gear shift in the general direction of drive, his heart nearly burst from his chest when his truck rolled backward into the parking stall behind him instead of easing forward out of the lot. The sound of grinding metal was followed by a loud crash and a woman’s scream.

Chapter 2

Oh snot.

Horror washed over Roman when he twisted around to find a woman standing just inches from the tailgate of his truck. Thankfully, she looked unharmed, but she also looked pissed off. By the time he’d thrown the door open to get out, she’d darted around the truck and was in his face.

What the hell do you think you’re doing? You just ran over my bike! she yelled, slamming her palm against his chest and knocking him off balance as he tried to stand up. He landed on his ass on the seat with his legs spread off kilter, and her right between his knees glaring daggers at him from her cobalt blue eyes. Rich, brown hair was tied back in a messy braid, and a pair of aviator sunglasses sat on top of her head, but it wasn’t her shades that drew his attention. It was her fury, and the frustrated anguish that filled her curses. "God damn it! Why the hell weren’t you...how the hell did you...damn it!"

Lifting his hands in an attempt to calm her, he murmured, Easy there, sweetheart—

Don’t start that country boy charm shit with me, bucko. I’m not buying it. You just wrecked my bike, and you’re going to pay for the damages, she snapped, poking her finger into his chest. Standing in front of her now, the size difference between them was more obvious. At just over six feet, Roman was fairly average height in this part of the country, but this little biker chick was more than a half foot shorter than he was, and based on the way her jeans and t-shirt clung to her body she was perfectly molded underneath.

I’m not arguing that a bit, Miss... he paused hoping she’d fill in the blanks, but she just spun on her heel and headed back to where her bike was still stuck under the back end of the truck.

Dropping to her knees, she ran her hand over the handlebars which were now slightly twisted. Oh Hal, my poor baby. Damn country folks don’t even know how to drive in an empty parking lot. I can’t believe with all of this space around him he couldn’t even manage to...damn it all to fuck.

Well she certainly has a colorful vocabulary, he thought, and an oddly personal relationship with her motorcycle. The bike didn’t look terrible, but then again, it was hidden in the shadow of the truck. Reaching for his keys, he stepped closer to her, and said, If you’ll just scoot over some, I’ll pull forward and we’ll see what the damage is. I’m awfully sorry about running over your bike, but—

But what? But it was somehow my fault that you backed over the one and only vehicle besides yours in the whole parking lot? she demanded.

Damn she was a squirrelly one. There was something about the fire in her eyes and her fierce temper that clashed with the frustration and sorrow in the slump of her shoulders. She was more than just angry over the accident. Something else had this strange woman upset.

No. It was absolutely my fault. I was just going to say, I happen to know a mechanic that can fix it for you. I’ll cover the cost, of course. He tried to relax all of his body so that he didn’t seem threatening in any way. For some reason, he really wanted her to trust him, and give him a chance to make things right. He wanted to protect her from whatever demons were haunting her.

The moment the thought raced through his brain he tossed it aside. That was the silliest thing in the world. He had no interest in getting involved in anyone else’s demon hunting. He had plenty of nightmares riding around with him every day. No, he was just offering to take care of this because it was his responsibility as a human being. He’d caused the damage, and he’d fix it.

What happened here?

Bran’s deep voice made Roman groan and lean his head against the door of the truck. Just what he needed.

This dumbass just backed over my bike! the petite little hellion said, tugging at the saddlebag that was caught on his trucks trailer hitch. If you smashed my laptop I’ll rip your balls off and feed them to you.

Her threat made him grimace, and cover his family jewels as he exchanged a sick look with Brandon. Shoving his hat back out of his eyes, Brandon bent to take a look at the motorcycle and then shook his head. You sure did a number on it, Romeo.

Romeo? Is that your name? Officer, I want this man arrested, or fined, or something.

Bran was clearly fighting back a grin as he nodded. It’s Sheriff Bowers, ma’am, and this dumbass— Bran gestured to Romeo—is Roman Freemont. I certainly understand why you’re upset Miss…

This time she didn’t leave the opening hanging. Scott, Franki Scott. And I’m way more than upset.

Well Miss Scott, you certainly have a right to be a trifle irritated, but as I heard it, Romeo was offering to pay for the damages already, and as the accident didn’t cause any bodily harm, I won’t be arresting anyone. I’ll be glad to take a report, and you can file with your insurance company—

There’s no need for all that. Roman interjected. I’ll gladly pay for the damages. I’m truly sorry Miss Scott. It was my fault. I was distracted, and I wasn’t thinking clearly.

She studied him for a moment and then turned back to Brandon. Sheriff Bowers, surely there’s something more you can do. This was clearly negligence on his part.

Ma’am, most accidents are negligence on someone’s part. Roman is offering to ante up, and I don’t see any need to make the situation a bigger deal than it already is. Besides, he happens to be related to the best mechanic around here, and you won’t find anyone better to fix your bike back up.

I’m not from around here, Sheriff. I can’t just drop my bike off and pick it up in a week, she argued.

I assumed as much. Brandon said, earning a sharp glare from Franki. He smiled back at her and gestured to the mashed bike. Minnesota plates.

Her irritation seemed to ease a bit at his response, but she was still furious, and Roman wanted nothing more than to make her smile.

Where are you staying, Franki? I can drop you off and take your bike home to my brother, Roman said with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

A deep wrinkle appeared in her brow, and she reached for it, rubbing at the tense muscles. I’m not, or not yet. Hell, I don’t know yet. I just got here.

What brought you to Montford? Brandon asked cordially, bending to collect a Styrofoam container from the concrete a few feet away.

It was obviously Franki’s breakfast by the smell, and Roman felt even worse when he realized how close she’d been to the bike. He could have killed her. Horror rippled through him making his stomach twist, and he instinctively reached out his hand to rub her shoulder. He wasn’t sure if he was trying to comfort her or himself, but when she shrugged him off, it set his nerves on edge. Damn it, it wasn’t like he’d been aiming for her bike.

Lost in his own thoughts Roman almost missed the way Franki paled at Brandon’s question, but he couldn’t miss the way she sidestepped it. If you’ll just point me in the direction of the nearest motel I’ll check in and then meet you at the mechanic’s. I hope you have a thick bank account, mister, because you’re paying to have this job rushed.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to delay you from wherever you needed to be. The words tasted sour because they were a bold-faced lie, but Roman gave her a bright smile anyway.

Brandon turned to Roman, and widened his eyes just a smidge, "Well now, it just so happens that Romeo also owns a guest ranch where you can make yourself comfortable while you wait.