By Kristen Ashley
Grand Central Publishing Copyright © 2013 Kristen Ashley
All rights reserved.
The next morning I was sitting at my computer in my home office.
I should have been working. I had three deadlines over the next two weeks and I'd barely begun the work. I was a freelance editor. I got paid by the hour and if I didn't work that hour, I didn't get paid. I had a mouth to feed, my own. I had a body to clothe, a body that liked all sorts of clothes, it craved them, so I had to feed the habit or things could get nasty. I had a cosmopolitan addiction, and cosmos didn't come cheap. And I had a house I was fixing up. Therefore, I needed to get paid.
Okay, that wasn't strictly true. I wasn't fixing up my house. My dad did some of the work. My friend Troy did the rest. So I should say that I had a house I was guilting, begging and emotionally blackmailing others into fixing up.
But still, it needed fixing up, and cabinets and tile didn't march from Cabinet and Tile Land into my house and say "We want to live with you, Gwendolyn Kidd, affix us to your walls!"
That only happened in my dreams, of which I had many, most of them daydreams.
Like right then, sitting at my computer, one heel on the seat, my chin to my knee, my eyes staring out the window, I was thinking about my Mystery Man, the Great MM. I was daydreaming about changing our first meeting. Being smarter, funnier and more mysterious. Being more alluring and interesting.
I'd hook him instantly with my rapier wit, my flair for conversation, my ability to discuss politics and world events intelligently. I'd tell my humble stories of expansive charity work all wrapped up with enticing looks that promised a lifetime of mind-blowing orgasms, making him declare his undying love for me.
Or at least tell me his name.
Instead, I was drunk when we met, and definitely not any of that.
I heard my doorbell go, a chime then a clunk and I started out of my elaborate daydream, which was beginning to get good.
I got up and walked through my office into the upstairs hall making a mental note, again, to call Troy and see if he'd fix my doorbell for a six-pack and a homemade pizza. This might mean he'd bring his annoying, whiny, constantly bitching new girlfriend though, so I changed my mind and decided to call my dad.
I got to the bottom of my stairs and walked through my living room, ignoring the state of it, which was decorated in Fix-Up Chic. In other words dust rags, paintbrushes, power tools, not-so-power tools, cans and tubes of practically everything, all of it jumbled and covered in a layer of dust. I made it through the area without my hands going to my head, fingers clenching my hair and mouth screaming, which I counted as progress.
I got to the entryway, which was delineated by two narrow walls both fit with gorgeous stained glass.
Two years ago, that stained glass was my undoing.
Two years ago, approximately six months and two weeks prior to meeting my Mystery Man, I'd walked one single step into this ramble and wreck of a house, saw that stained glass, turned to the Realtor and announced, "I'll take it."
The Realtor's face had lit up.
My father, who hadn't even made it into the house yet, turned his eyes to the heavens. His prayer lasted a long time. His lecture longer.
I still bought the house.
As usual, I should have listened to my dad.
I looked out the narrow side window at the door and saw Darla, my sister's friend, standing out there.
Shit, shit, shit.
I hated Darla and Darla hated me. What the hell was she doing there?
I searched behind her to see if my sister was lurking or perhaps hiding in the shrubbery. I wouldn't put it past Ginger and Darla to jump me, tie me to the staircase and loot my house. In my darker daydreams, this was how Ginger and Darla spent their days. I was convinced this was not far from the truth. No joke.
Darla's eyes came to me at the window. Her face scrunched up, making what could be pretty, if she used a less heavy hand with the black eyeliner and her blush, and if her lip liner wasn't an entirely different shade as her lip gloss, not so pretty.
"I see you!" she shouted.
Then I went to the door because Darla would shout the house down and I liked my neighbors. They didn't need a biker bitch from hell standing on my doorstep and shouting the house down at ten thirty in the morning.
I opened it but not far and moved to stand between it and the jamb, keeping my hand on the handle.
"Hey, Darla," I greeted, trying to sound friendly and pretty pleased with my effort.
"Fuck 'hey,' is Ginger here?" Darla replied.
Totally spent her days looting.
It took effort but I stopped my eyes from rolling.
"No," I answered.
"She's here, you better tell me," she warned then she looked beyond me and shouted, "Ginger! Bitch, if you're in there you better come out here, right fuckin' now!"
"Darla!" I snapped. "Keep your voice down!"
She craned her neck and bounced on her toes, yelling, "Ginger! Ginger, you crazy, stupid bitch! Get your ass out here!"
I shoved out the door, forcing her back and closed it behind me, hissing, "Seriously, Darla, shut up! Ginger isn't here. Ginger is never here. You know that. So shut up and go."
"You shut up," she shot back. "And you get smart. You're helpin' her ..." She lifted her hand, pointed her finger at me, thumb extended upward and then she crooked her thumb and made a gunshot noise that puffed out her cheeks and made her lips vibrate. I would have taken a moment to reflect on how good she was with verbal sound effects if the serious as shit look in her eye wasn't scaring the crap out of me.
So, instead of congratulating her on the only real talent I suspected she had, I whispered, "What?"
She dropped her hand, got up on her motorcycle-booted toes so we were eye to eye, and said in a soft, scary voice, "D-e-a-d, dead. You and her, you don't get smart. You get me?"
Then I asked a stupid question because the question was asked often and there was always only one answer. The answer being yes.
"Is Ginger in some kind of trouble?"
Darla stared at me like I had a screw loose. She lifted her hand, did the gun thing with the sound effect, finger pointed at my head. Then she turned around and walked swiftly down my front steps.
I stood on my front porch staring at her. My mind absently noted that she was wearing a tight tank top, an unzipped, black leather motorcycle jacket, a short, frayed jean skirt, the wearing of which was a crime in several states for a variety of reasons—both fashion and decency—black fishnet stockings and motorcycle boots. It was around forty degrees outside. She didn't even have on a scarf.
The rest of my head was caught up with my sister and Darla's sound effect.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
As I drove, I kept trying to tell myself this was a good plan. Knowing that my first plan, the one where, after Darla left and I went back into my house, I walked directly to the phone and called my father, was the right plan and this plan was garbage.
But my father and his wife, Meredith, had disowned Ginger a while ago. It was approximately ten seconds after they came home from a vacation to Jamaica and lost their happy, island holiday mojo when they saw their daughter. She was on her knees in the living room, her head between the legs of a bare-chested man, his jeans opened, his head lolled on the back of the couch because he was passed out. Ginger was so whacked on whatever she was taking she had no idea her activities were getting her nowhere.
And, incidentally, the living room was a disaster, as was the rest of the house.
As you can probably see from this story, I was loath to bring my father into another situation involving Ginger. Especially since this wasn't the worst story I had, it was just, for Dad and Meredith, the last. They were currently living a carefree, Ginger-free existence and I didn't want to rock that boat.
Therefore, I didn't call Dad.
Instead I thought of Ginger's boyfriend, Dog. Dog was a member of a biker gang and Dog was as rough as they come. But I'd met Dog. I liked Dog. Dog was funny and he liked my sister. She was different around him. Not a lot, but at least she was palatable.
Okay, so Dog was likely a felon. As ironic as it was, he was a good influence on Ginger and those didn't come around very often. As in never. Not in twenty-five years. So, since I was getting the hint from Darla, Ginger's one and only friend, that Ginger's trouble was a little worse than normal, I needed firstly to do something about it. Secondly, since this was Ginger, call in reinforcements or better yet, lay the problem on their door.
I drove to the auto supply store on Broadway and found a spot on the street. Even before I knew Dog, and thus figured out this was probably a front for a biker gang's nefarious dealings, I knew about this store.
It was called Ride, and I'd shopped there mainly because I could find an excuse for shopping anywhere. But Ride was awesome. It had cool stuff in there. I bought my windshield wiper fluid there. I bought new car mats there last year and they were the bomb, supreme car mats, the best I'd ever had. And when I was in my twenties and going through one of my many phases, in an effort to pimp my ride, I went there and bought a fluffy, pink steering wheel cover and a glittery, pink Playboy Bunny thingie to hang from my rearview mirror.
Everyone knew Ride had a triple-bayed garage in the back but it wasn't for normal cars and motorcycles. It was for custom-built cars and motorcycles, and it was world famous. They built cars and bikes and they were extremely cool. I'd read an article in 5280 magazine about the place. Movie stars and celebrities bought cars and bikes from there and, from the pictures, I could see why. I wanted one but I didn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars so that was a bit down on my List of Things I Want, right under a Tiffany's diamond bracelet, which was directly under a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes.
I got out of my car and walked down the sidewalk to Ride hoping my outfit was okay. I'd put my hair in a girlie ponytail at the top back of my head, I was wearing low-rider jeans, low-heeled boots and my biker jacket. Mine wasn't like Darla's. It was a distressed tan leather, had a bit of quilting around the high waist, was lined with short, warm fur and had a six-inch tuft of fluffy fur at the sleeves. I thought it was hot and the deal I got on it was hotter. However, I wasn't sure about the fluffy fur. I didn't think bikers were concerned with animal rights. I thought they'd think it was an affront to their brotherhood and they might garrote me.
Welp! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I straightened my shoulders, walked into the cavernous store and turned direct to the long counter at the front. It held one cash register even though sometimes the place could get packed. Since I didn't have his cell, my intention was to ask if someone there knew how I could get hold of Dog. I didn't expect to see tall, broad, inked-to-the-max, long-blond-haired Dog standing at the other side of the counter. There was one big, rough biker guy on his side of the counter, three on the outside, and all of them turned to me the minute I walked in.
"Hey, Dog," I called on a smile, walking toward him but stopping dead when his eyes sliced to me.
His eyes narrowed and his face didn't get near to hiding the fact that one look at me made him extremely pissed off.
"Do not shit me," he growled. I took the nanosecond before I peed my pants to try to remember the moves I'd learned in the one half-hour self-defense class I took.
When I made no response and didn't move, Dog repeated, "Do not come in here and fuckin' shit me."
"I'm not shitting you," I told him because, well, I wasn't.
His brows flew up. "That cunt sent you?"
Uh-oh again. Dog was using the c-word. I suspected that the c-word wasn't worda non grata in Biker Club Land like it was in the rest of the English-speaking world but still, it said a lot.
Before I could speak, Dog did. "She sent you. Jesus, Gwen. You got one warning, woman. Get your head outta your ass, turn that sweet tail a' yours and get ... outta ... here."
Wow. Dog thought I had a sweet tail. He was scaring me but he wasn't entirely unattractive so I thought that was kind of nice.
I focused on the matter at hand, took a deep breath and walked forward. All of the bikers went on alert or, more accurately, scary biker guy alert, so I stopped moving.
Then I said to Dog, "Ginger didn't send me."
"I'm bein' cool with you, babe, go," Dog replied.
"No, really, she didn't. Darla came around this morning and she freaked me out. She did this." I lifted my hand up and did the gun thing with the sound effect thing and my gun blast was nowhere near as good as hers but I forged ahead. "She seemed serious so I thought I'd check in with you, make sure Ginger is all right."
"Ginger is not all right," Dog returned instantly. "Ginger is far from all right."
I closed my eyes. Then I sighed. I did the sigh thing loudly. I was good at that since my sister made me sigh a lot and I had practice. Then I opened my eyes.
"I take it you two aren't together anymore," I surmised.
"No, babe, we are not," Dog confirmed.
"What'd she do now?" I asked.
"You don't wanna know," Dog answered.
"Are the police after her?"
I studied him. Then I asked, "But that's not why she's in trouble?"
"Ginger's got all kinds 'a trouble, babe. But if the cops are after her, that's the least of her worries."
"Oh boy," I whispered.
"That's about right," Dog remarked then his eyes shifted over my shoulder.
I was turning to see what he was looking at when I heard a deep, gravelly voice ask, "Who's this?"
Then I saw him.
I wasn't into biker dudes but I could seriously make a turn to the Harley side for this guy.
He was tallish. He was broad and ripped and there was no "ish" about either of those. He had a lot of tattoos up his arms and neck that I instantly wanted to examine, up close, to the point of cataloguing them and maybe writing books about them. He had salt-and-pepper hair, mainly pepper, black pepper, and it was long with a bit of wave but not too long or too wavy. Ditto with the pepper in his salt-and-pepper goatee that hung a bit long at his chin in a biker way that was mammoth cool. His cheeks were a couple days' past needing a shave, which looked good on him too. He had spikes of pale radiating in the tan skin around his blue eyes.
There were only two words to describe all that was him: Biker Yummy.
"Hey," I whispered, and his eyes went from over my shoulder, looking at Dog, to me and my whole body did a shiver.
Then his blue eyes did a body scan and it shivered again.
They locked on mine and his gravelly voice growled, "Hey."
"Tack, she's cool. She's with me," Dog stated. My body did a lurch and I turned to see he was around the counter and heading my way.
"I am?" I asked, and Dog's gaze pinned me to the spot and said without words, "Shut the fuck up!"
I shut the fuck up and turned back to Biker Hottie.
"Sheila know about her?" Biker Hottie asked.
I turned to look at Dog who was standing next to me. "Sheila?"
"How many bitches you need?" Biker Hottie went on.
"She's not my woman, brother, she's a friend. She's cool," Dog answered.
"All right. So who is she?" Biker Hottie, otherwise known as Tack, pushed.
"Her name's Gwen," Dog answered. Tack looked at me and I froze.
Then I watched his lips move to form my name softly.
I'd always kind of liked my name. I always thought it was pretty. Tack saying it made me freaking love it.
"So who are you, Gwen?" he asked me directly.
"I'm, um ... a friend of Dog's," I told him.
"We established that, darlin'," he informed me. "How do you know my boy here?"
"She's Ginger's sister," Dog said quickly. Tack's entire, powerfully built frame went wired instantly and it was so damned scary, I forgot how to breathe.
"Tell me she's here to drop the money, brother," Tack whispered in a voice that was as scary as the way he was holding his body, if not more.
"She and Ginger aren't tight," Dog explained. "Like I said, she's cool. She's good people."
"She's blood of the enemy, Dog," Tack whispered.
I didn't want to be blood of the enemy, not anyone's enemy, but especially not this guy's enemy. He was hot but he was also freaking scary. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Mystery Man by Kristen Ashley. Copyright © 2013 Kristen Ashley. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.