The crunch of breaking bones assaulted Logan's ears as his fists pounded into his opponent's battered face. The man was experienced and had put on a good fight but Logan was tired and wanted to get the hell out of the ring and down a beer.
Logan muttered under his breath and landed a right hook on the big man's jaw, making him hit the mat like a stone. The crowd cheered and whooped as Logan raised his hand in a semi-appreciative wave of acknowledgement. He made his way through the cage door, jumping off the platform instead of walking down the few steps to the floor.
The usual pats on the back and comments like 'great fuckin' fight, man' followed him as he walked toward the bar where his precious Molson awaited him. Logan's forearms hit the worn wooden surface and he took a long enough swig of the amber liquid that he had to catch his breath when he was done.
"Good show, Logan."
Logan may have owned the bar but Jack Gardien was the man behind its success. He was a large, burly former Canadian wrestler whose unpleasant physical appearance was belied by the heart of a poet and the brains of a Ph.D. Jack had taken Logan's meager little backwater saloon with the very original name of 'The Bar' and turned it into the largest and most successful cage fighting and mixed martial arts arena in Canada and probably the United States. Fighters came from all over to compete in the tournaments and the championships they received from The Bar were a genuine boon to their careers.
Logan found solace in this place after a much too long career that included everything from mercenary for hire to businessman. He was shrewd with his money and had saved up enough over his excruciatingly long lifetime to not have to worry about his income another day as long as he lived. So he'd come back to Canada and opened this place with the hope that he could stay here in peace, avoiding the ghosts of his past.
He fought for the fun of it and to keep himself sharp. But he also knew that the chance to kick his ass drew guys here by the hundreds. So he put himself in the ring as the ultimate 'undefeated' prize. One or two had come perilously close to beating him but, in the end, it was Logan walking upright out of that cage. Today, however, he didn't want to be upright much longer. He wanted a beer and his bed.
"Thanks, Jack." Another long drink. "Good night?"
"Yeah. Tourney's completely booked. We've been in the black for six months straight and that exhibition fight you're doin' next week is oversold."
"What would I do without you?"
"The same thing you're doin' now. Drinkin', fightin' and fuckin'."
Logan smiled, reached over and clapped his hand on Jack's massive shoulder.
"You should do more of the last one, old man."
"I'm doin' just fine, thanks Logan."
"One of these days, you're gonna find the right man, Jack."
"Oh, I can find the right man, just not the right gay man."
"You'd think with all the fresh meat jamming this place all the time, you could find someone that operated on your frequency."
His friend leaned over the bar and sighed. "Well, if I looked like you, I could have my pick of the litter, boss. But the only ones that seem to hone in on my gaydar are bears and freaks. You'll have to excuse me for not screwing anyone that shakes his ass in my face."
Jack reciprocated Logan's earlier pat on the shoulder. "Unlike you, of course."
Logan chuffed. "I do not screw anyone, Jack."
"I'll bet you a case of Molson that the next woman who walks through that door will be in the back room with her panties around her ankles within an hour."
"I have self-control."
As Logan spoke, Jack watched the front door swing open. The woman who sashayed into the bar was equal parts sultry and stunningly beautiful. She was dressed simply in jeans and a close fitting sweater that seemed to have been knitted by the wool gods to show off every spectacular curve of her body.
"Correction, boss. Make that twenty minutes."
Logan noticed that Jack was no longer looking in his direction. He followed Jack's gaze and turned around to observe one of the most striking women he'd ever seen enter his bar. For the first time in a long while, Logan was rendered speechless.
"Close your mouth, Logan, you're gonna attract flies."
He wanted to reply, but before he could utter the smart ass comeback, the woman turned her head and caught Logan's eye. The side of her exquisite mouth rose in a sly smile. She turned her body toward him and walked directly toward the bar. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. As she approached, Logan tried his best to remain nonchalant and in control. Her scent wafted to his nose and he took it deep into his lungs. It was earthy and natural with a hint of sweetness. So fucking good.
Control, goddammit. He did not want to lose another bet to Jack.
She leaned against the bar and he watched from the corner of his eye as she smiled at the burly bartender.
"That's a pretty strong drink for a young lady."
"Well, sir, it would seem I'm neither that young nor that much of a lady, so I think I'm okay."
Jack's deep laughter made Logan's chest rumble. He kept his stare focused on the cage. She turned around and joined Logan's position with her back against the bar.
"So, this the good action in town?"
Logan nodded his head.
"You a fighter or a bystander?"
"I fight sometimes."
"Yeah, you look like you could do some damage."
They stood for a few more minutes watching the fight unfold. All eyes were on Marie and Logan could see several of the men screwing up their courage to walk over and talk to her. Say something, idiot.
"You, uh, new in town?"
She tilted the shotglass and he watched as she downed the whiskey effortlessly. Oh, to be that glass.
"Just traveling through on some business. I'm here for a few days and thought I'd check out the local scene."
"Ain't much of a scene, I'm afraid."
Her chuckle wasn't girlish but deep, rich and throaty.
"Yeah, I gathered that. My options are either here or the Quickie Mart where I can watch the teenage boys bum cash off of people."
"Don't knock it until you've tried it."
Marie let out another laugh. Fine, Jack could win the bet.
"I don't see you as the Quickie Mart kind of guy."
"Appearances can be deceiving."
"I can agree with that."
Logan was about to ask about her business when he heard his name being shouted over the loudspeaker.
"Wolverine! You've been challenged!"
The crowd erupted in applause.
He shook his head and muttered not so quietly. "Ah fuck."
"I'll take care of it, boss." Just as Jack raised his hand to give the emcee a signal to knock it off, Logan interrupted with a wave of his own hand.
"Forget it, Jack. They come here to kick my ass. Might as well get their money's worth."
Logan turned to Marie and paused, allowing himself to drink in the depth of her eyes.
"Been a pleasure, Marie. Hope to see you back in before you leave town."
She nodded and watched as Logan finished off the last of his beer and put it back on the counter. Logan sighed and turned around, walking slowly to the cage as he twisted his neck back and forth, working out the kinks.
Marie spent the next several minutes observing Logan in the ring. It was obvious to her he was holding back. She began to wonder what it would be like to spar with him. Fight someone with his abilities, his knowledge…his passion. When she spotted him at the bar, it took her a second to find her composure. James Logan Howlett was much more striking in person even from twenty feet across a crowded room; the picture in his dossier didn't do him justice. His eyes were dark and piercing and his face reflected a man with a very long and detailed past. Logan wasn't exceptionally tall but he was solid and well built. He wasn't just the mindless animal that Erik portrayed him to be. He was witty, savvy enough to run a successful bar and his familial interaction with the bartender told her that Logan was trusted and respected.
She watched as Logan dodged his opponent, allowing the man to get in a few good shots now and then. Logan could have pounded the man into oblivion but he didn't. He was letting the poor guy get his money and bragging rights worth. That wasn't the trait of a soulless killer or someone who was out for their own glory. Something told her that there was much more to this assignment than she was being told.
She turned to face Jack. "Little girls' room?"
The big man pointed to his right and there she saw a door with a sign that read, 'Beauties'.
"Just watch yourself, miss. This crowd can get a might handsy."
Marie downed another shot of whiskey and walked to the bathroom, weaving her way between men of all shapes, sizes and odors. One or two managed to cop a feel as she went by but she restrained herself from kneeing them in the balls. She entered the small, dimly lit bathroom and paced quickly back and forth in the cramped space.
In the last ten years of these assignments, she'd been a machine. Get the details, observe the mark, find the best way to complete the job and, within no more than a day or two, she'd be on her way home. It was business and Marie had never allowed herself to complicate things by empathizing or getting to know her target more than necessary to achieve her objective.
But here she stood in a tiny ladies' room in a bumfuck Canadian bar wanting to get the hell out because she actually found herself attracted to the man she'd been sent to kill. It had never happened before and the sensations and emotions that surged through her were as foreign as absorbing a power for the first time. It's not like she'd been a nun. She'd been with men before and she'd certainly been able to conduct her business even when the mark was some handsome stud. So why the hell was she struggling so much with this assignment and what was it about this guy that was getting her all hot and bothered? Why was the way he spoke to her, his mannerisms and willingness to get his ass kicked by strangers getting to her?
She spun around and looked at herself in the mirror.
Marie often referred to herself by her codename to get in the right mindset. She hated the name with a passion, especially because Erik and Victor said it with such reverance; as if she was the otherworldly being that deserved worship. It reminded her that she was a weapon. Something to be used and feared. Something deadly.
"Focus. You don't know this guy. He's a mark. A target. Get over the fact that he's got a body made for a serious fuck. That's not what you're here for."
Marie stepped back and closed her eyes, setting herself back on course for the task at hand; killing Logan.
Logan had watched as Marie made her way to the bathroom and almost jumped out of the cage when he saw a few of the assholes touch her behind. He was getting protective over a woman – a complete stranger - he'd just talked to for a few minutes? Get a grip Howlett. Maybe Jack was right and he just needed to get laid.
He ducked another punch just in time to see Marie emerge from the ladies room and come face to face with a large patron. Logan twisted to the side, effortlessly dodging his opponent and saw the man close in on her quickly. If the crowd wasn't so deafening, he could have heard what the asshole was saying but he did see Marie's jaw set and knew whatever the man was doing, it wasn't good.
Logan turned back, landed a solid blow on his challenger's cheek and the man fell flat on his back. Before the guy hit the floor, Logan had already rushed out of the cage and was pushing his way through the congratulatory pats on the back to get to Marie's side. Halfway there, he saw her grab the man's arm, twist it behind his back and slam him into the wall. The man was at least two feet bigger than her but she managed to hold him firmly and when he pushed back against her, she pushed his arm up higher and slammed her foot into the back of his knee. When Logan came on the scene, the unfortunate soul was writhing in pain on the ground and on the verge of tears.
A lady who could take down someone that size in less than two minutes was no ordinary businesswoman. It couldn't be a coincidence that a woman with her fighting skills just happened to walk into his bar.
Marie's eyes rose up to meet Logan's piercing gaze.
"I guess I don't need to ask if you're okay."
She smirked. "Got it taken care of, thanks."
"Yeah, you did."
"So, you win the fight?"
"Great." Marie started walking back toward the bar. "Well, I should probably get going…"
Logan interrupted. "You want to get something to eat?"
She stared at him for a moment. "I didn't think there was even a restaurant in this town."
"There is but it ain't open until morning. I got some leftover steaks and plenty of beer at my place though."
She paused and then smiled. Jesus, even her teeth were beautiful.
"I live just up the road, we can walk it."
"Lead the way…Wolverine."
It was his turn to smile and she felt her chest constrict at how it lit up his face. Stop it Rogue. Focus on the job.
Jack nodded and watched as the two of them walked out the back door. He laughed softly to himself.
"Gonna have to remind Logan to pick me up a case of Molson."