Copyright © 2013 SE Jakes
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Hey, can I grab a Jack and Coke?”
Lucky looked up into the face of the man who’d placed the order and nodded. “Coming right up.”
The guy did a double take. He was good-looking, but Lucky had immediately pegged him for straight. He waited a beat, but the guy suddenly reached across the bar for him, saying, “Josh? Holy f***—is that really you?”
Lucky put his hands up and backed away.
The name Josh didn’t set off any alarm bells, but Lucky would be lying if he hadn’t thought about a moment like this constantly. Some days he looked over his shoulder more than others.
Tonight, his defenses had been down. His gut told him to move this away from the bar, take it outside so Emme wouldn’t see it happening. He pushed out, calling, “Taking ten,” and didn’t wait to hear her agree.
The big blond guy followed him. When Lucky turned to face him under the lights in the adjacent alleyway, he noted the guy looked like he’d seen a ghost. “How the hell did you escape?”
“I’m not Josh,” he said.
“You’re Josh Kent. Come on, I’d know you anywhere,” the guy started again, softer this time, like one might talk to a wounded animal. He kept his hands to himself, tucked them into his jeans pockets to make himself appear less threatening.
But Lucky was threatened. Half of him fought a tremble but the other half was ready to throw down. Instinct made him react, forced him to keep a wide berth between the two of them. “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
But he persisted. “Josh, it’s Nate. We served together.”
Served together. He’d long suspected he’d been in the military, but he played dumb instead, hoping it was all a case of mistaken identity. “Served drinks?”
“In the Navy.”
“My name’s Lucky, not Josh. Sorry.” He went to turn away but Nate grabbed his upper arm forcefully and spun him around.
“Four years, Josh. We all thought you died. We watched you…we watched you die and now you’re hanging out bartending?” Nate let go of him, put his hands up as if apologizing. “If you don’t remember…”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lucky pushed at him, his palms against the big guy’s shoulders, and Nate stumbled back.
“Strong as ever, you dumb f***. Why the hell are you hiding here?”
“You need to leave,” Lucky said, but Nate was charging for him, angry now. He braced but Nate stopped when another man stepped in between them.
That guy was also big and broad, and for a horrible second, Lucky thought he was on Nate’s side. But he put himself in front of Lucky and told Nate, “You need to back off.”
“You don’t understand—I know him,” Nate said.
“He doesn’t know you. He’s said so. Chalk it up to a case of mistaken identity.”
“It’s not,” Nate insisted. “I’ll leave now—but I’ll be back with proof. You’re Josh Kent.” He pointed at Lucky and then stormed off.
Lucky walked over to the nearest car and sat on the hood. Sweat trickled down his back and he took a deep breath. He’d built a web of lies about who he was. All this time, he hadn’t told anyone he couldn’t remember shit about his past. And really, how would they know?
He didn’t tell them because they’d make him deal with it, and he was pretty damned sure he didn’t want to go there again. Ever.
“He scared the hell out of you,” his savior said, his voice rough. So was his hand that reached out to touch him, but the good rough that made Lucky feel something. The calming hand rested on the back of his neck, centered him, allowed him to simply bow his head and take a deep breath.
The hand remained there for what seemed like hours but was really just minutes. He finally raised his head and the guy’s hand slid off.
Lucky missed the contact. “I’m okay. I’ve been fighting a flu,” he lied, because that’s apparently what he did best. “Thanks for that—I just wasn’t up to dealing with a stalker.”
“Is that what he was?”
He looked into the pale blue eyes that seemed to want truth and barely managed, “Yeah.”
“Well, any employee of my family’s bar is typically like family.”
He blinked. “You’re Dashiell.”
In all these years, he’d never met Emme’s brother, an award-winning photographer. Emme said he always avoided being photographed himself, just let his work speak for him. There were a lot of his prints around Lucky’s apartment, haunting pictures of people and places in third-world countries. Lucky was always drawn to them as though he’d been there, looking over his shoulder as the pictures were taken. Like he had a connection to Dash, which was ridiculous.
“I’ve seen your photographs. Great stuff.” He sounded like an idiot. Blamed Nate for riling him up and tried to calm down. “Emme always brags about you.”
“She’s good for that,” Dash agreed. He wore his blond hair long, tied back. The stubble on his face looked like it would be rough too if Lucky rubbed his hand against it. There was a scar on his chin that Lucky wanted to trace down to his neck. Looked dressed down, like he’d blend in anywhere. But he was just handsome enough to be memorable.
Lucky didn’t know why he did that—catalogued people quickly, studied, looking and assessing for strengths and weaknesses—but he did it all the damned time.
You were in the Navy.
“Speaking of Emme, I need to get back in there.” Lucky slid off the car, and Dash put a hand on his shoulder, as if to steady him. Whether he’d needed it or not, he liked the way it felt.