Bikers and Pearls by Vicki Wilkerson
Who said tempting a sweet Southern belle would be easy?
When rebel biker Bullworth Clayton gets tangled up with pastel-and-pearls-clad April Church, sparks fly. Sure, April would clearly rather work with anyone else, but if teaming up with Bull means a successful charity event for a sick little boy they both care about, then so be it.
April is baffled at how drawn she is to the leather-wearing, tattooed Bull—he just doesn't fit with her simple, safe, country-club life. And as much as the handsomely rugged man tempts her, she still can't shake the images of the tragic motorcycle accident from her past, which left her scarred and her father broken.
Bull tempts her to don a pair of leather pants and go for a ride with him, while April desperately tries to resist her attraction to the wild side and keep her exploits hidden from her small town. Will they be able to navigate their differences and find a middle road to love?
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About the Author
Vicki is a native of the Charleston, South Carolina, Lowcountry and loves to share her enchantment with the area with readers through her writing. Even in childhood, she enjoyed penning stories and poems—no doubt fueled by her grandfather's enthusiasm for telling tales himself. Where else—but in the South—could one find the interesting blend of salt water, eerie swamps and unique people? She devotes much of her time to exploring and researching the region—all while looking for that next idea for a book, a setting or a character. As a native, she understands the subtleties of the dialects and unwritten traditions that make the Lowcountry truly distinctive, and she brings that understanding to her books to create authentic Southern stories.
Vicki admits that she is a recovering teaching professional. When the school bells ring in the fall, she gets both reminiscent and twitchy. In her spare time, she loves traveling, spending weekends at her family's lake house, playing golf and cooking (with lots of wine).
Read an Excerpt
Bikers and Pearls
By Vicki Wilkerson, Libby Murphy
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Vicki Wilkerson
All rights reserved.
Motorcycles were everywhere. April Church had never seen so many in one place in her entire life. Row after row and side by side, they had been lined up like opposing armies. Was there some kind of biker rally in town that she didn't know about? No. That couldn't be. Surely, something like that would have been announced in the Summerbrook Gazette.
She looked for a well-lit parking spot near the door of the buffet steakhouse, but after circling the bikes three times, she finally squeezed her car into the last space at the rear of the dark lot. Motorcycles flanked both sides of her car. Flames embellished the tank of the bike immediately to her left and razors decorated the one to her right.
She was trapped.
Trapped like she had been in her father's car the night he'd accidentally hit a motorcycle — the night the dead man's "pack" had surrounded them like wolves. And here she was again, encircled by bikes. She looked toward the building. In that steakhouse were the same kind of people who had left her father with a limp, bound to a cane for the rest of his life.
Why on Earth did she tell Mr. Houseman that she'd go to the meeting? Well, for many reasons, but the most important was Ben. He was special. Every time he saw her, he gave her a hug. Started out when she first helped him learn to climb a tree when the Humanity Project volunteers built his home. When he dropped down from that tree and into her arms, he also dropped into her heart. Ever since that day, he drew pictures of trees and gave them to her as gifts. Yep. He was special, and she had to do something to help the little boy's parents with the mounting medical bills. Mr. Houseman was her mentor at the Humanity Project, and she owed him, too. She also thought about Miss Adree, the sweet, elderly lady in her condo building who taught Ben music lessons every Thursday evening. April loved picking up the little guy and remembered Miss Adree doing the same for her when she was a child. It was time to return favors.
Inside would be all the civic-minded organizations from town that were helping Ben, including the Summerbrook Ladies League. The bikers were probably at the restaurant for a completely different reason — some ride or party they had to plan. She glanced around at all the motorcycles again. There were so many.
Taking a deep breath, she gingerly opened the car door. But before she got the chance to put her foot on the asphalt, the painted flames on the motorcycle next to her pitched — almost imperceptibly at first. Or perhaps she was simply denying what was happening.
Down it went. The mirrors tilted and flashed the light of a distant streetlamp over the body of the beast. Stop! Somehow, it appeared to have picked up momentum on its way to its death. And then it crashed against the pavement, the clang grating up her spine as it hit. No! She couldn't have touched that bike. She had been so careful.
As she stepped outside the car, a shiver iced down her spine in a cold gust of March air. The motorcycle lay there like a fallen soldier. The crash had amputated its rearview mirror, which was now in the middle of the lane. She looked all around her.
For a brief moment, she thought about bolting. But she'd never do that. She worked at a local insurance company as a risk assessment manager. Assessing her own risk, she determined that she was in real trouble.
She knew she could analyze her way out of this. Maybe she could set the bike upright again and no one would notice. That might work.
Fighting some awful thing inside that wanted to paralyze her, she drew up every bit of her strength, bent down, and grabbed the handlebars. With her eyes closed, she strained and jerked with all her might. But the beast wouldn't budge.
Maybe she could at least fix the mirror. Though her hand shook — probably from the cold — she picked it up and tried to attach the cracked piece to the bent chrome on the side of the bike. She pushed and twisted and rocked the thing. Nothing worked. Now what was she to do?
She could call the police. But it wasn't a traffic accident. She still didn't believe that she'd touched the bike. No matter. What could she do but try to find the owner and tell him? Dread rose up in her. She would offer the biker her insurance information, and she could let her company argue the claim later. And if the bike's owner grew angry with her here, she assumed the bystanders in the steakhouse would provide some protection.
Glancing around the dark lot, she noticed several other bikes with flames on their tanks. Great. Now she'd have a band of angry bikers come after her when she would announce that she'd knocked over a motorcycle festooned with flames.
Shaking her head, she tried to rid herself of the images of that night so long ago. But this was very different. No one had died. And she would accept complete responsibility, unlike her father, who'd blamed and angered the drunken bikers from Rebel Angels the night they'd played chicken with him.
Still holding the metal thing, she had an idea. The mirror was a totally different shape from the others around her, and it had a sticker with flames on the back. That would help. She'd find Mr. Morrow and a few of the people there for the fundraiser, and with their assistance, she'd approach the bikers with the mirror.
So she summoned all of her courage and bravely walked toward the entrance where a giant fake cow stood with an ominous look in his eyes. It watched her every step.
When finally inside, the scent of old coffee and burned grease assailed her. A gap-toothed hostess greeted April. "Welcome to Carolina Cow Steakhouse," she said in a particularly slow Southern dialect — the brogue of her small town.
Not immediately seeing the people from the Summerbrook Civic Club, she turned to the waitress. "Umm, I'm supposed to meet a group here."
The hostess perked up and smiled. "Are you here for Ben Evans's Leukemia Fundraiser, too?"
April nodded and glanced around again, still hiding the broken mirror behind her back. She spotted members of the motorcycle crew secluded away at a couple of tables in a shadowy corner. Oh, boy. In a few short moments, she'd have to face them and confess what she'd done. Well, at least they weren't going to be a part of the civic club meeting. After she gave them the broken mirror and her insurance information, it would all be over.
"You'll have to wait here a minute 'cause I'm moving everyone into the larger banquet room. Y'all have more people than we expected," the hostess said as she grabbed a few more menus and walked away.
April backed up against the wall to better hide the crooked chrome she held. Of all the stupid things that could happen.
With her free hand, she brushed at the pleats on her skirt to straighten them. Then she switched the mirror into her right hand and smoothed out the other side. Everything was under control.
"What do you have there?" inquired a low, masculine voice from above her head.
She snapped to attention like she was about to undergo a military inspection.
A handsome, muscular man in a black bomber jacket towered above her, larger than life. His shoulder-length hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail. Golden streaks highlighted his nut-brown mane. His indigo-colored eyes perused her face. "Is something wrong?"
She twisted the strand of pearls that draped from her neck between her fingers with her free hand. "No. Everything's fine," she said. It would be as soon as she could meet up with Mr. Morrow or some of the other members from the civic organizations.
"Then what are you hiding behind your back?"
He had seen. Oh, no. He had seen.
"Just a little mishap. I'm going to take care of it."
"You ride?" The left corner of his mouth curled up. "In a skirt?"
"No." She hoped her voice didn't sound strained. "No, I've never ridden on a motorcycle before," she said calmly.
He narrowed his eyes. "Then why are you walking around with a Harley dome billit mirror?"
That was a good question. Why was she? She held out the broken piece of the bike in front of her. "I don't know how it happened. I was opening my car door, and then —"
He took it from her, examined it, and gave it back. "Let me guess. It just fell." He tilted his head, exposing a strong, angular jawline. "All by itself."
"That's right. It really did happen that way. Exactly." He probably didn't believe a word she said. And she couldn't blame him. She heard unlikely stories like hers from claimants at the insurance company all the time.
"Ahhh, I see. Sure it did," he said. But the left side of his grin inched upward again. His eyes radiated light like the mirror in her hands. "Believe I know who owns that. 'Cause of the sticker on the back there." He nodded at the chrome and took a step toward her. "Won't be too happy, though. You want me to take you to him?"
A spicy scent replaced the old coffee and burned grease in the air. She looked around, half expecting to see one of the men from the Summerbrook Chamber of Commerce or the hostess with a can of air freshener. But April hadn't ever experienced anything like that fragrance — not on a businessman or from a can. "No, thank you. I'm meeting some people here for a fundraiser first. They'll help me."
"I know where they are, too. It's where I'm headed." He touched her elbow. A warm tingle ran up her arm.
"The hostess said to wait here."
"We don't have to wait."
"But —" Before she could protest, he placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her through the large, open restaurant and around a corner. With each step she took, her pulse beat faster.
They stopped at a door, which had a sign on it that read Banquet Room.
"You sure you don't want me to handle that for you?" He arched his brow and glanced at the mirror.
"No, thank you. I'm going to ask Mr. Morrow to walk back with me. To tell those people in the corner of the main dining area."
He opened the door. "Be my guest."
As soon as she walked into the room, she knew she was in trouble. The large table in front was filled with people sporting leather fringes, rivets, Harley insignias, and long hair. Motorcycle people. But what kind of motorcycle people were they — the weekender kind who had regular day jobs, like the safe ones they insured at her company? Or some other kind?
A guy with a Z Z Top-looking beard stood up and said, "Hey, that's my mirror."
The packed room became silent.
April wanted to sink through the floor. "I'll pay for it. I have insurance. I don't really even know how it happened."
The whole room stared at her like she was a liar. Trapping the mirror between her arm and side, she fumbled in her purse to get one of the copies of her insurance card she'd made at work in case she might ever have the need for it.
"She was probably standing there and it just fell over," said one of the bikers at the table.
All the people at the table laughed. She turned to see Mr. Morrow standing silently behind the lectern, looking at his notes. Why wasn't he backing her up? Surely he recognized her. She wanted to say, "It's me. April Church." In case he didn't remember. But he only stood there looking unconcerned.
The tall, handsome guy who'd walked her back took the broken mirror from her and tossed it toward the biker with the long beard. "Okay, let's go, Slug. I'll give you a hand to upright your bike. This time. But you'd better fix that kickstand before that old motorcycle falls over again — with the next stiff breeze." The handsome man looked at her. "Might accidentally hurt a pretty young lady next time."
The group laughed more. Slug kept his eye on April as he inched around the table. She didn't see anything funny. She'd known she hadn't hit the motorcycle with her car door. But she'd been discombobulated all the same.
The man in the bomber jacket gave Slug a reprimanding look and then turned to her. "Slug here's real sorry he hasn't fixed that old kickstand. Even though we've been warning him about it for months. Right, Slug?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry and all," said Slug. He reached out his tattoo-covered hand and snatched the mirror.
The two men left with the twisted chrome.
Slug didn't sound very sorry. Even if the broken mirror wasn't her fault, she didn't want to face him alone in that dark parking lot. She was staying right where she was for the time being.
She wanted to do this for Ben. She'd have to stay no matter what.
Mr. Morrow said, "April, if you'll take a seat, we can get started."
So now he knew who she was.
Glancing across the room, she saw the ladies from the group she wanted to join all decked out in their Lilly Pulitzer sweaters and pearls, cozily talking around a couple of the round banquet tables they'd pulled together on the other side of the room. Shoot. All the other chairs were filled — except for two at the table with the bikers. The evening couldn't possibly get any worse.
An older man with long, gray hair and a woolly beard stood up and said, "Here's one, miss."
Things had just gotten worse. All she could do now was to sit. She clutched her purse tightly against her body and eased her way between the tables to one of the two empty seats.
Nothing was going to happen. Everything would be fine now that her little mirror emergency was over. These people had to be good people, right? They were here to help Ben, too. And Ben needed lots of help.
April fidgeted with the pearls at her neck. She knew there was no good reason for her insides to be so tense. These people weren't the same rioters from Rebel Angels who'd burned down her father's old hardware store for revenge. She straightened the pleats again on her skirt, trying to forget about the unfortunate event that had divided the town. But how could she possibly forget with all the reminders at the table? The earthy scent of leather hung all around her.
She wound her arms around her purse and sat up straight. If only she could leave. But she wouldn't know what to tell Mr. Houseman. She had already promised him she was going to help.
She moved her seat closer to the empty chair, but as soon as she had, the man in the bomber jacket returned. Without Slug. And he'd spotted the empty seat.
Nothing she could do now. She scooted her chair back to its original position and closed her eyes. Take deep breaths. Take deep breaths. With her next inhalation, her senses were filled with the most heavenly fragrance. Spicy and aromatic.
She opened her eyes to find the striking stranger sitting next to her. She turned to look at the table behind her.
The hostess closed the door. April was simply going to have to make the best of the situation. For now. Maybe later she could somehow wiggle her way over to the Lilly Pulitzer table. April also had an ulterior motive to help with the fundraiser. This was going to be her magic ticket into the Summerbrook Ladies League — something she'd always wanted — and something her mother had always wanted for her.
Her best friend, Jenna, had automatically joined the league years ago with all the other young debutants in town. Right after the big ball. April wanted to be a part of it — all the cookbook committees, the parties, and the fashion shows. She and her BFF would do them all together. If only she could get in. But she wasn't a debutant and her family didn't have the pedigree that Jenna's did. Jenna didn't care, though. Never had cared that April had her ... past, and she loved Jenna for that. It wasn't going to be so easy, however, for April to enter the cliquish league.
Mr. Morrow, president of the Summerbrook Civic Club, tapped a butter knife on the wooden lectern at the front of the room. "Thank you all for coming tonight. I guess you know why we're here."
She heard some stirring, and she caught a glimpse of a woman near the lectern nodding, but April didn't move. She stared ahead and hoped to blend in with the others at her table. But how her pleats and pearls were going to fit in with all the rivets and leather she didn't know exactly.
Mr. Morrow looked down. "When Ben Evans's grandfather came to me and told me about Ben's leukemia and his medical bills at the Children's Hospital, I knew that all the Summerbrook civic organizations had to get involved in a big way. We're all going to work together like we haven't before."
The handsome biker with the blue eyes and hard, angular jawline leaned in his chair and closed the space between them. She clutched her purse even tighter to minimize her presence at the table. She turned her attention back to Mr. Morrow.
"We're all going to undertake multiple projects as quickly as we can for Ben. Those medical bills aren't going away after only one fundraiser. Each table or team will choose a date for their event and the type of project they want to sponsor," Mr. Morrow explained.
Excerpted from Bikers and Pearls by Vicki Wilkerson, Libby Murphy. Copyright © 2013 Vicki Wilkerson. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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