“I hate this place,” Celia sighed, wiping her brow. “Viento Frio might be the worst place in the galaxy.”
And to be fair, she wasn’t exaggerating. Viento Frio was a monstrosity of arrogance and greed, a sign that rich men thought they could conquer whatever they pleased. Lacking any humility, someone had thought to bring supermarkets and lawns to the middle of the Mojave Desert, ignoring the screaming winds and blistering sun that made the surroundings look like Mars. The feasibility of the project should have been questioned from the very beginning. However, someone had demanded it be done anyway.
A small group of tacky buildings had quickly been propped up by questionable contractors, and a few naive souls had been lured away from busy Southern California to come move to the ‘up-and-coming community’. There had even been a half-hearted attempt to make a public swimming pool for residents to cool off in when the temperature hit one hundred and twenty degrees. However, the lack of shade around the pool made it more like a pot ready to boil lobsters.
Just as quickly as it had sprouted, however, the project was abandoned. The developers quickly ran away to easier places to work, like Florida, and time all but stopped for the brave souls who had tried to tame the desert. The town began the same slow wither into madness that affects everyone who stays too long in the summer sun.
Celia’s parents had been two of the hapless souls led to the promised land of Viento Frio. Tired of the stifling congestion and greed of Los Angeles, they had drifted across the barren wastelands towards a small tin trailer to call their own. Soon after came their small convenience store, another trailer parked in front of their first, that was stocked with all the necessities a small, barely functioning town would need. Last of all came Celia, the first and only child born into Viento Frio’s dusty roads.
The trailer her parents had turned into a convenience store over twenty years before was cramped and hot, but Celia had been proudly running it herself ever since she had graduated from high school two years before. It was filled with items that no one ever bought, as the half-dozen regular customers never needed more than cigarettes, coffee, and cheap sunglasses. The unusually high meth consumption of the town prevented most inhabitants from having the inclination or money to buy much else. However, since the next closest store was over two hours away, Celia’s parents liked the idea of being prepared in case anyone had an emergency. So, the shelves groaned under cans of baby formula, blankets, guides to venomous snakes, and other assorted, useless goods.
“I hate this place,” she repeated again.
As Celia managed to shove the heavy case of soda onto a low shelf at the back of the shop, she felt a familiar vibration coming through the thin floor. Soon the roar of motorcycle engines could be heard as they came down the lonely freeway, filling the still air with noise and chaos. What had begun as only low rumbling began to coalesce into a distinctive, steady buzz outside of her store. The trailer shook as the motorcycles turned from the road onto the dry patch of ground that served as the store’s parking lot.
A hive had arrived.
She liked to call biker gangs (or ‘motorcycle clubs’ as the more organized groups tried to brand themselves) hives, because the way the engines rumbled and the bikers swirled along the road reminded her of bees. She never told them that though, as she didn’t think the gruff bikers would appreciate being compared to the mindless, sterile drones of a bee queen.
That’s not to say she didn’t like the bikers. They were actually some of her favorite customers; tough but fair, they didn’t try to get discounts on candy bars like the coked-up truckers did. Truckers were crass and always trying to look down her shirt or get her to ‘sit on their lap just a moment’ like they thought they could fool her into thinking they were Santa Claus. If Santa Claus existed, Celia figured he wouldn’t smell like oil and lube and be selling drugs out of the back of his truck…unless something had greatly changed since she was a child.
No, bikers weren’t like that. They were certainly foul-mouthed and quick-tempered, but they had their own samurai-like code, and for the most part they weren’t going to make a lady uncomfortable in her own store. They were good tippers too, knowing her family’s business was always on shaky economic ground. They’d leave a twenty-dollar bill sitting on the counter after a whole crowd of them had come in for cold sodas, tipping their hats to her as they left to go God-knows-where. The crusty old bikers had quite a soft heart underneath, and she always liked when a group came in to the store.
“I hope they spend money like water,” she murmured, looking at the empty cash register in the corner. She hadn’t had a customer in two days.
With some eagerness, Celia stood up from her struggle with the soda crates to peer out the window. However, as she looked out the dust-encrusted back window, she was greeted with quite a surprise. She didn’t see the normal group of pudgy, middle-aged guys with enormous mustaches and smelly vests.
No, this group of bikers was made up of about a dozen men forming a sea of muscled slabs of pure testosterone, barely concealed behind straining crisp white t-shirts and black leather jackets. It took many open miles to reach this outpost, but each man had perfectly tussled hair as he popped off an expensive looking helmet; shades of beautiful golden, auburn, and black locks shone in the sunlight like it was a shampoo commercial for the United Nations of Bikers. Celia was mesmerized by how clean the guys looked too, with no road dust or grit visible anywhere. The air even seemed to have a faint smell of citrus and mulled cider wafting through it, as the guys milled outside.
“There is no way I can smell them from in here. I must be hallucinating. Can you get so turned on that you hallucinate?” Celia mumbled to herself. She considered how long it’d been since she’d had a date. Months. Years even? So it was possible that the rush of blood to her lower body was, in fact, making her dizzy.
As she watched open-mouthed, the group of beautiful men began to tromp towards the wooden steps leading to the door of the trailer. Realizing she was soon going to see them in person, Celia scurried from the aisle and went to the front counter fluffing her hair as she went. Her long, straight black hair never really got any volume, but it was worth a shot, especially with the Dream Crew wandering in. She considered unbuttoning her shirt to show some cleavage, then looked down to find herself wearing a boring, slightly stained t-shirt.
Dammit, I need to start dressing up for work, she groaned inwardly.
Before she could fuss further, the store’s flimsy screen door swung open, and the trailer began creaking in protest as beefy men poured in. Broad shoulders made their way to the chip section, and firm butts wandered over to the ice cream cooler. Everywhere Celia looked there were rippling, stacked bodies that belonged on magazine covers. Her eyes swung around wildly, trying to take it all in, and she briefly worried about giving herself eyestrain.
“Ma’am, do you have any maps of the county around here?” a low, gravelly voice said, very close to her left ear. The voice was rough with a sweet note to it, like it was made from rock sugar.
Celia pried her eyes off the jean-clad rears in front of her and turned to find the biggest biker of all leaning over her counter, his thick arms supporting a chiseled, angular face. His eyes were so brown they were almost black, like pools of slick oil. And much like oil, they gave Celia the impression that it would be very easy to lose her balance if she spent too much time staring into them.
“Sure. I have several roadmaps here,” Celia casually said, pointing to a stack of cheap decade-old maps beside the register. She tried her best kept her voice light but disinterested, playing coy with the man.
The biker flicked his dark eyes to the maps, taking in their yellowed pages with a single glance, then looked back at Celia. He drummed his fingers on the counter, letting the florescent lights over the register catch the golden rings he was wearing. The rings were intricate bands of woven gold with diamond accents. And as Celia stared at them, she could have sworn that the diamonds were faintly pulsing.
She opened her mouth in surprise, but the biker cut off her before she could say anything. “That’s not really what I’m looking for,” he growled. “I want something that shows old mining trails and back roads. Places where the boys and I can really test the limits of our bikes.”
He openly ran his eyes up and down her body as he spoke, a smug smile on his lips. She kept her face impassive, continuing to play it cool. She didn’t want the guy to know she was practically turning into a pile of goo just by standing near him.
“I don’t have anything like that. Folks around here just memorize those trails; we’re not really the type of people to write things down.”
Celia was avoiding the silky blackness of his eyes as she spoke, instead taking in his dark bronze arms and the elaborate geometric tattoos that covered them. The swirling, repeating patterns moved up his arms and disappeared under the sleeve of his tight shirt, but she thought that it probably continued onto his shoulder and back as well. It was like stained glass on skin, a beautiful work of art that belonged in a church somewhere and not on the rippling muscles of this bad boy.
Oof, she thought. She had always loved a guy with tattoos.
She couldn’t help but think about what he must look like naked. Nothing but muscle and beautiful ink, he would be one heck of a sight. And the idea of all the hotness settling between her legs? Good lord, the thought alone was making her lady bits pulse.
The man noticed her staring and smiled slyly, a sexy lopsided grin that had likely brought trouble to hundreds of girls before. He was well aware of how good he looked. And she was clearly not hiding how turned on she was.
“So, if you don’t have a map, perhaps you could recommend a guide?” he purred to her, leaning further over the counter. “Maybe you are free to show us around these parts? There is a lot we want to see.”
“I’m busy,” she said, shaking her head.
“Come on, you can’t say no to me,” he replied. He probably meant it to be playful, but it seemed too close to a threat.
Celia took a step back and set her face into its patented ‘bitch mode.’ Her former enthusiasm for the visitors was rapidly leaving. These guys were hot as hell, but they must be stupid to think she’d be going anywhere with them, let alone into the forsaken deserts around Viento Frio. That’s how girls got murdered, or sold into some sex ring. No thank you.
Celia’s lips set in a firm line, and she furrowed her dark eyebrows dangerously. She didn’t like these men thinking she was some sort of easy target. “No.”
Her tone packed the punch she intended, because the store suddenly went silent and cold. She could feel a dozen set of eyes swing around in unison to watch her stare down the bronze god before her.
Let them stare, Celia thought. I have all damn day to stand here.
“Yo, Xarax, I think we’d better head out,” called a blonde biker from near the ice chest to Celia’s right.
Xarax? What type of name is that? she wondered idly. A code name?
The silence broken, the other men began to murmur their consensus and shuffled towards the counter with all their various goodies. Xarax nodded slowly in agreement and slid his upper body off the counter, never breaking eye contact with Celia. His smirk was still there, but she thought she saw a new glimmer of emotion beginning to show in his eyes. It was either respect or amusement, but she couldn’t quite tell which.
Celia didn’t dwell on it though and just turned to the register to begin ringing up the piles of purchases building on the counter. The guys were ravenous by the look of it – thirty bags of chips, two-dozen ice cream bars, and more sports drinks than she cared to count. It was all topped off by a large stack of dirty magazines with oily babes on the cover.
“For the articles?” she asked dryly, ringing up the magazines while trying not to look at the glistening boobs plastered all over.
“Nope. For the tits,” replied a redheaded cutie with the name ‘Daks’ embellished on his motorcycle jacket. He was standing next to the blonde man who had broken the tension. The blonde had the name ‘Murrat’ embroidered on his shirt with an arrow pointing towards his face. She assumed that was his name.
I take it that he is not the Brainiac of this crew, Celia thought, shaking her head.
The names stuck in her mind; they were unlike any road names she had heard before. She had seen all sorts of motorcycle clubs roll through, and they all had nicknames for each other. Some guys had funny names like ‘Roadkill’; other guys had intimidating names like ‘Killer’ and ‘Big Creep.’ None of the names she had seen so far had been like these guys’. She made a note of it, as she did most things out of the ordinary in the small town.
“You guys have a good day and a safe ride,” she called as she finally got the last purchase rung up and pushed into the group’s greedy hands. They overpaid by at least double and refused to take any change as they all shuffled out the door clutching their bags of food. Xarax stood by the door counting off all the guys and making sure they had everything they needed. When the last one had exited onto the porch, Xarax turned and gave Celia a final grin.
“You have a nice day. Maybe we’ll see more of you soon,” he said playfully before stomping out the door. “Try not to think about my tattoos too much.”
“Whatever,” Celia replied to his departing back, her cheeks reddening.
The truth was, she already couldn’t get him out of her mind.