The Merciless Travis Wilde

CHAPTER ONE

FOR AS LONG as Travis Wilde could remember, Friday nights had belonged to his brothers and him.

They’d started setting those evenings aside way back in high school. Nobody had made a formal announcement. Nobody had said, “Hey, how about we make Friday evenings ours?”

It had just happened, was all, and over the ensuing years, it had become an unspoken tradition.

The Wildes got together on Fridays, no matter what.

Always.

Okay.

Maybe not always.

One of them might be away on business, Caleb on one coast or the other, dealing with a client in some complicated case of corporate law; Jacob in South America or Spain, buying horses for his own ranch or for El Sueño, the family spread; Travis meeting with investors anywhere from Dallas to Singapore.

And there’d been times one or more of the Wildes had been ass-deep in some bug-infested foreign hellhole, trying to stay alive in whatever war needed the best combat helicopter pilot, secret agency spook, or jet jockey the U.S. of A. could provide.

There’d even been times a woman got in the way.

Travis lifted a bottle of beer to his lips.

That didn’t happen often.

Women were wonderful and mysterious creatures, but brothers were, well, they were brothers. You shared the same blood, the same memories.

That made for something special.

The bottom line was that barring the end of the world and the appearance of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, if it was Friday night, if the Wildes were within reasonable distance of each other, they’d find a bar where the brews were cold, the steaks rare, the music an upbeat blend of Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen, and they’d settle in for a couple of hours of relaxation.

This place didn’t quite meet that description.

It wasn’t where the Wildes had planned on going tonight but then, as it had turned out, Travis was the only Wilde who’d been up for getting together at all.

The original plan had been to meet at a bar they knew and liked, maybe half a dozen blocks from his office, a quiet place with deep booths, good music on the speakers, half a dozen varieties of locally-brewed beer on tap and by the bottle, and steaks the size of Texas sizzling on an open grill.

That plan had changed, and Travis had ended up in here by accident.

Once he knew he would be on his own, he’d driven around for a while, finally got thirsty and hungry, stopped at the first place he saw.

This one.

No deep booths. No Willy or Bruce. No locally-brewed beer. No grill and no steaks.

Instead, there were half a dozen beat-up looking tables and chairs. The kind of music that made your brain go numb, blasting from the speakers. A couple of brands of beer. Burgers oozing grease, served up from a kitchen in the back.

The best thing about the place was the bar itself, a long stretch of zinc that either spoke of earlier, better days or of dreams that had never quite materialized.

Travis had pretty much known what he’d find as soon as he pulled into the parking lot, saw the dented pickups with their rusted fenders, the half a dozen Harleys parked together like a pack of coyotes.

He’d also known what he wouldn’t find.

Friendly faces. Babes that looked as if they’d just stepped out of the latest Neiman Marcus catalogue. A dartboard on one wall, photos of local sports guys on another. St. Ambrose beer and rare steaks.

Not a great place for a stranger who was alone but if a man knew how to keep to himself, which years spent on not-

always-friendly foreign soil had definitely taught him to do,