From the New York Times bestselling author of Vipers Run, here is the latest Skulls Creek novel, starring the outlaws of the Vipers Motorcycle Club and the women in need of their protection—and love.…
Even though he’s no longer a U.S. soldier, Talon “Tals” Garrity hasn’t lost his desire for living on the edge. As the enforcer for the Vipers Motorcycle Club, the eternal bad boy is always getting into trouble—especially with the ladies, who can’t seem to resist him. But when Maddie Wells returns to Skulls Creek, he’s shocked that she can’t seem to keep her hands off him either. Good thing Tals doesn’t mind playing with fire.
Growing up with her family’s prestigious name and money, Maddie could never indulge a bad-boy biker like Tals. Now that she’s back, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. But if Maddie ends up getting what she wants, they might both be sorry. Because some very dangerous men are hot on her trail—and Tals and his MC will have to put their lives on the line to protect her.…
About the Author
Stephanie Tyler is the New York Times bestselling author of the Skulls Creek, Section 8, and Eternal Wolf Clan series.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR VIPERS RUN
Also by Stephanie Tyler
For my MC-loving readers . . .
Heavy metal music blasted through the speakers of the sweet, cherry red Ford Mustang as Tals took the ramp to the parkway in a swift motion and then really let her loose on the open road.
It was nearly one in the morning. Maddie wouldn’t notice the car was missing. She might see that the odometer was higher and her gas tank was almost empty, but he had a feeling she didn’t notice things like that. She was surrounded by people who did things for her.
He was mostly pissed she wouldn’t let him in to be one of those people. But at sixteen, he knew he was too young to feel that strongly about any girl—though that didn’t stop him from knowing something about him and Maddie was just “right.”
Obviously he was thinking about Maddie too much to notice the police car silently trailing him. He did notice when the lights flashed and the sirens wailed, and instinctively, he sped the hell up . . . but there was a cop waiting at the next mile marker, blocking the road.
His heart was still racing hours later when Maddie came into the police station, alone. She made eye contact with him while he was handcuffed to the bench with a few drunk and disorderlies.
He smirked. Because hey, she’d definitely noticed him, and she’d been working damned hard to pretend she hadn’t.
Long dark hair. Hazel eyes. A perfect body for the flowing hippie shirts she always wore with ripped-up jeans. It was summertime, and her flip-flops showed her toenails, which were painted with blue polish.
She was so fucking perfect, it made him ache. It was worse when she looked at him, and she did look at him, all the time, when he was supposed to not notice. But it was the oldest story in the book—bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks falls for rich girl who can’t be with him.
But she wanted to. And who said the story had to end badly?
“Are you pressing charges?” one of the policemen asked Maddie, and she had the damned nerve to consider it. That was the flaw in his plan—he’d never figured she’d make that move.
She shook her head no, a tight expression on her face. She had to sign some papers, and she kept her back to him while she was at the desk. When she walked out, she didn’t make eye contact.
She hadn’t sent in her grandmother—or her father. It could’ve been worse. Way worse. Not that getting arrested was ever good.
Dad would be proud, though.
“Christ,” he muttered out loud as he waited for his ride home.
His one phone call had, of course, been to Tenn, who’d been at work and unable to get any messages—or leave the job—until he was finished filming. So Tals had hung out outside the police station, sitting on another bench, watching the faces of the men and women who entered. Prisoners were brought around the back, so these people were here to see loved ones—they had that frazzled look, because they were justifiably worried and had no clue what they’d find beyond those doors. He was familiar with being on both sides, thanks to his father, who regularly put him, his mother and his brother through nights like this.
Tals had managed to stay clean until now. That wasn’t to say he hadn’t done things to warrant being inside, but he’d been really good about not getting caught.
Tals looked up at his brother. They were fraternal twins, although there was no denying they were brothers. Tenn was a little taller, and his eyes were brown instead of blue like Tals’s were. But they had the same facial features that garnered plenty of attention. “Yeah, seriously.”
Tenn sighed and together they walked across the parking lot to their mom’s car, an ancient station wagon that she was convinced was too unsafe to drive. She took cabs back and forth to work, and Tals was convinced she had no clue that he and Tenn drove the thing on a regular basis.
She had no clue about a lot of things, but hell, talking about her was one of the few things that could get him and Tenn fighting. “Anyway, thanks for coming to get me.”
“No problem.” Tenn put the key in the ignition, and both said a silent prayer that the thing would start. After a tense few moments, it did, and they were headed through town, passing the exclusive community called Jessamine, where all the shit had started. “But all that over a girl?”
“Over a car,” Tals corrected.
“You can bullshit a lot of people, Talon. Pretty much everyone but me.”
Tals stewed over that for a minute. “She’s different, Tenn.”
It was Tenn’s turn to correct him. “She’s rich. She’s trouble.”
“You’re not wrong,” was all Tals could manage. “Don’t tell Preach.”
“All of it.”
Fifteen years later
Axl Rose’s screaming falsetto screeched through the speakers as Tals drove the rebuilt 1974 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SD455 nose to nose with the equally hot-rodded 1968 Ford Mustang GT500KR. The cars were important, but the drivers were the real part of this race, and Tals had the lack of fear and love of speed that always gave him the advantage.
Miles from home, in a stolen car in an illegal street race was the perfect end to the year. Smoke billowed from his exhaust as the car roared under him. His hands gripped the wheel so tightly he knew they’d ache tomorrow, and the engine alternately purred and rumbled as he took the tight corners on this stretch of now-deserted road.
He was never as free as he was during these moments. Treating the streets like a racetrack. These illegal street races were run on a dime, with an eye toward protecting its participants.
He wasn’t supposed to be racing like this. Or stealing cars for Havoc. But now that Cage was back as the MC’s XO, the second in charge, Tals was freed up from some of the heavier MC responsibilities and had more free time on his hands. He was back to being enforcer of Vipers, something he excelled at. His rep preceded him, so not too many guys wanted to deal with him flexing his muscles.
A bored Tals was a really bad thing. Especially for all the people set to lose major money tonight when he won.
Which he would.
The course laid out for the race would take no more than ten minutes—ten minutes that would alternately feel like a lifetime and fly by, the last mile stretching straight out in front of him.
Although he could never shake off his status as an MC member—never wanted to, either, since he’d fought damned hard for it—tonight he wasn’t Tals from Vipers MC, an enforcer, repo man or ex-Army. Tonight he was completely free.
Tonight he was also winning the fucking race, which he accomplished with a heavy foot on the gas, a tight swerve into the final stretch and balls of steel to take on the residential street at 110 mph.
His body still shook from the adrenaline when he eased the car to a stop about a hundred feet past the actual finish line. He took a few deep breaths, head back, eyes closed, trying to convince himself the car had stopped moving.
It took about that long for the crowds to reach him. When he finally pushed out of the car, he found himself surrounded by the men and women who’d parked their cars along the sides of the finish line—at least forty cars and far more people, all feeling the vibe of the race and feeding off it. Music blasted, women danced on cars . . . and it would all continue until the police got wind of it.
Tals gave it twenty minutes and planned to be gone in fifteen. He headed to find Bear, pocketing his winnings along the way and handing the keys back to Mel, who’d been the one to steal the car Tals had raced.
“Good job, man.” Mel clapped him on the shoulder.
“Always a blast. You taking her back home?”
Mel sighed. “Maybe. I’m going to take her for another ride myself before I do, but I knew she’d like you better.”
Tals ran his hand along the nearest car’s bumper. “They always do.”
“Things good at home?” Mel asked.
Tals smiled. “Living the dream.”
Mel snorted. “Give my best to Preacher—don’t tell him about the car.”
Tals had no intention of doing that, although he didn’t doubt Preach would get wind of tonight’s race. Guy had radar for this shit, especially where Tals was involved.
Thankfully, though, things were back to normal at Vipers. And when things were this quiet, it meant more time for him to get into trouble, which was really the kind of shit he lived for. And that’s why he hadn’t been able to think of any better way to ring in the New Year than a fast car, fast cash and heading back to Vipers to share in the celebration.
He finally found his fellow MC member—and Bear was having a blast in that way only a red-blooded American male could—without reservations. Unabashed, with no limits.
Hell, Tals had been like that once.
No, he’d appeared to be like that, and probably most still saw him that way. Except for the MC members he was closest to. Preach, Cage, Rocco and Bear? They all saw through him like he was fucking paper.
And although he’d never discussed it with any of them, especially not Bear, the guy still knew. He took care of Tals as much as Tals took care of him. And Tals pretended not to notice . . . and Bear seemed to prefer it that way.
“Tals, you got a call from Sal,” Bear told him, handing him his phone. Tals never wanted any distractions while he drove, but now, with his adrenaline roaring, a little repo would work out just fine.
“Time to go to work.” But hell, work wasn’t really work to him, and he had several jobs, most of which fell under the Vipers MC umbrella. Repo’ing was one of them, although his main work for the club involved enforcing. Keeping order, imposing rules and justice.
He liked that role a lot.
“No one else will take this motherfucking job,” Sal was grousing in his ear. “You know anything about that?”
“Nope,” Tals said, not bothering to try for innocent—didn’t work, even when he was. “I’ll keep trying.”
“Hey, I’m better than nothing.”
“Not by much.” Sal hung up in his ear, and Tals sighed.
“Where’re we going?” Bear asked.
Tals looked down at the money roll, then over at Mel. “You stay and have fun. I’ll take this one—an easy job.”
“You sure?” Bear asked, even as he was allowing two women to pull him back into the street-side celebration.
Tals grinned, shook his head. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
* * *
The job was several hours outside his usual territory. He’d initially been tagged for it when he was doing a difficult repo close by. Sal said taking Cathy’s car would be an easy reward.
There was nothing easy about taking a single mother’s only mode of transportation. And so he’d warned her, had initially walked away from the job, reporting to Sal that the address he had was bad. He’d done that once more, buying her several months, but, like she’d told him, she couldn’t create money from air.
“Where the fuck’s your old man?” he’d asked, motioning to the three kids playing on the patch of grass outside the motel room.
She’d rolled her eyes. “Prison. Again. Sometimes I think he likes it better in there than out here. You know how that goes.”
Yeah, Tals knew that all too well. It was easier for most of them on the inside. And even though he got it, this time he would need to take the car back—she was too far behind in payments and he couldn’t keep other guys off her ass forever. Tals could only threaten so many of them before one of them would ignore him. He’d make them regret it, of course, but she’d be stuck.
He knocked on the door softly, because it was so late. And she opened it, in pajamas, her eyes tired. There’d been no New Year’s celebration for her.
He gave her credit for opening the door for him. “Gotta take it this time, Cathy.”
Her eyes watered, but she refused to let the tears fall. “You bought me a lot of time. I can’t be mad at you.” But she was—and he was on his way to becoming just another in a long line of men who’d disappointed her. She reached to the chair next to the door and handed him the keys. “I’m sure you know where it’s parked.”
“Show me. And you’ve got to empty it anyway.”
She sighed as she stepped out of the motel room, shutting the door behind her. “I never leave anything in it, since I’ve been waiting for this to happen.”
It was parked a few doors down. Tals looked it over, started it up easily and then got out.
“Are we all set?” Cathy asked, eyeing the door to the room where the kids slept.
“One more thing.” He handed her a set of keys and an envelope. And then he pointed to the car he’d released from the flatbed and parked right in front of her door. It was nothing special to look at, needed a paint job that Mel was supposed to do, but the engine purred like a baby. It was a good, strong car.
“Tals, I can’t afford—”
“It’s yours. First month’s insurance is paid—it’s registered under your name.”
“Tals . . .”
“For the kids,” he said roughly. “Don’t fuck it up.”
She smiled gently, then touched his cheek like a mother would. Like his mother used to. “You’re a good boy, Tals. Now try to take your own advice.”
He couldn’t help it—he laughed.
* * *
He had another three-hour ride back to Skulls Creek—he’d miss the party at the clubhouse, but hell, he didn’t care. Every night could be a party for him, if he wanted it to be.
But it was a new year, and things felt different. He wasn’t really sure why. Maybe because Cage was back with Vipers, but nothing had changed within the South Carolina city itself.
He dialed his brother’s number now, then pulled the flatbed onto the highway as it rang.
He and Tenn had grown up on what was most definitely the wrong side of the tracks in Skulls. But now there really wasn’t a wrong side—just an MC side. Skulls was thriving. There wasn’t violence or squalor, in no small part due to Preacher taking over Vipers. Still, they worked hard to keep out of trouble, mainly in the form of drug-pushing MCs, and Tals knew most of the Skulls community didn’t fully understand or appreciate the Vipers’ role in that.
Preach always said he didn’t give a shit, but being treated like he was a criminal definitely got to him.
Tals had been looked on as one for as long as he could remember, but he’d also always gotten a lot of interest from the women of Skulls. And the Army. And Vipers. Havoc too. And Havoc allowed him to indulge in stealing and racing cars without bringing the law into Skulls or on Vipers.
Vipers relied on vigilante justice. Old-fashioned, but very effective.
“Happy New Year, brother.” Tenn’s voice sounded muffled . . . and slightly drunk. And Tenn rarely drank, so Tals wasn’t sure if this was a good sign or not. “You out celebrating?”
“I was. Then I caught a job.”
“Never ends, right?” Tenn went quiet, but there was obviously a party going on in the background.
“How’d you spend your night?”
“Threw a party for the guys who weren’t working,” Tenn said. “They invited some friends—it got bigger than I thought. Sometimes I forget how young these guys are.”
“Not too young for you,” Tals said.
“Yeah.” Tenn’s voice had that far-off quality to it, but true to form, he shook himself out of it before he got too maudlin. “Love you, bro. Be safe.”
“Love you, Tenn—be safe.”
It was the same every time. Just because they didn’t live in the same house anymore didn’t mean they weren’t as close. It’d been painful when Tenn moved away—Tals swore he felt it physically. Having Cage gone for months had left Tals hanging in the wind, and even though Bear had been there to steady him, it hadn’t been easy.
No matter how much he tried to fill the space, it never worked.
“I’ll change that this year.” He wasn’t sure how. Maybe he’d give more women a chance—fuck the one-night stands. Try to open his horizons and look for a real old lady.
The whole one-night-stand shit hadn’t ever been that easy for him—the mechanics were, because orgasms were never bad, as was finding willing women. But if he added up all the one-night stands—and fuck, that could take a long time—he’d realize something was missing.
Hell, he didn’t even have to add them up to know that. It was a space he’d never filled, a hole in his heart that never healed. As much as he tried to wall it up, compartmentalize it, he could never separate it for long.
New Year’s Eve always made him think of Maddie . . . no matter what he did since then, what country he was in, whether he was partying, stone-cold sober, in the desert, fighting another MC member or stealing a car, Tals could no more not think about Maddie on New Year’s Eve than he could stop breathing.
The battle cry of “Happy New Year!” echoed all around her, ringing through the air amid the clink of champagne glasses and cheers. Maddie held up her glass of champagne and forced a smile.
Maddie Wells had done that so much tonight her face hurt, but at this point it was plastered on. Still was when her husband—Hugh Montgomery—sidled up to her and announced, “Maddie, life of the party—and the most gorgeous woman in the room, as usual.”
In actuality, she wasn’t the life of the party, and Hugh always threw in the part about her looks. At this point, it rang hollow. She smiled at him, noted the attention they were receiving, aware of the flashbulbs popping in their faces.
Hugh posed, the way he always did.
She couldn’t wait to kick her heels off and get out of this room, this building. She was far more comfortable behind the scenes. She never needed the credit. It wasn’t about that. But lately she’d begun to overshadow the work.
Maybe she should’ve expected it, since she married a man who owned the company where she’d been climbing the ladder for ten years. But Hugh had been pulling her into the spotlight, no matter how much she protested.
Tonight was another example. Suddenly, she was the subject of photographs and nonstop speculation. The more Hugh paraded her out to the press, so seemingly proud . . . the wider the chasm grew between them. She hadn’t realized that it was irreparably broken, or at least had refused to admit it to herself until last month . . .
She left a charity dinner hours early to meet him upstate—eschewing the car he’d sent for her in favor of a rental. It wasn’t what she’d pick for herself but rather a staid sedan, but she was in control and alone. Wind in her hair, singing, tank top and jeans—she was in high school again. Not the happiest of times and yet, somehow, at her worst moments, she came back again and again to that time. Mistakes. Regrets. Recriminations.
She opened the door, prepared to have a nice dinner with Hugh . . . and ended up surprising him and his other woman. One of them, anyway.
On paper they were the perfect couple, the up-and-coming marketing exec—who did everything from picking the new lines to meeting with buyers—falls in love with the CFO of the entire company. Obviously, real life had nothing on paper; real life trumped paper. In fact, real life was a tall, thin redheaded model who trampled over it with her stilettos. And a blonde who fit the same pattern. And, Maddie was sure, if she did some digging, she’d find more—all, of course, of the “she didn’t mean anything to me” variety, according to Hugh. Which was bullshit.
“It meant something to me!” she’d told him quietly, and then she’d taken off her ring calmly, surprising herself with her restraint. She’d placed it on the small table between them.
And then she’d picked up a vase of flowers and thrown it at his head. When he managed to duck—just in time—she picked up anything else she could find and continued blindly throwing until she was tired and he’d locked himself in his bathroom.
Then she’d packed, thrown what she could into large wheeled bags, emptied out her makeup and jewelry (only pieces she’d bought herself) and then she’d called for her own car.
“I don’t want anything from you,” she’d told him before she’d moved herself into a hotel.
He stared at her oddly, the hurt in his voice apparent when he said, “You never did.”
You never did.
God, that truth hit her right between the eyes. She had to take some of the blame for this failed relationship, and her part in it had her far more upset than his part. Which was, of course, a symptom of the larger problem surrounding their marriage.
Maybe I’m not meant to be married. Or in a relationship. Because she was very much married to her work . . . or at least, she had been, until she’d started feeling restless and unfulfilled last year, in a way she hadn’t been able to articulate or explain. It hung over her like a cloud, until it began to weigh her down.
She’d actually begun to call in sick to work, something she hadn’t done in . . .
Something she hadn’t ever done, not even when she had been sick. And that’s when the rumors started. No matter how often she denied them to well-meaning friends, no matter how many times she and Hugh stepped out together over the past month in their just-for-show moments—because he’d asked her to stay in New York through the end of the season and this New Year’s Eve Charity Ball the company hosted every year, and she’d complied. She’d put her wedding ring back on. She’d even moved back into their penthouse, and he’d moved into the guest bedroom, or else people would definitely talk. In the meantime, Hugh promised the divorce wouldn’t be contentious. It would remain private, and they’d issue a joint statement.
He’d had no idea she’d already been planning on resigning.
“I’ve done more than my share for charity,” she murmured to Hugh now, pretended to brush his lapel when really, she was dropping her wedding ring in the pocket with his boutonniere. “Don’t call, don’t write, unless it’s through your lawyer.”
On the way out, Maddie passed by Lettie, a woman who, if not exactly a friend, was someone she’d come up alongside in this company. She knew, better than anyone, that Maddie hadn’t slept her way to the top. She was trustworthy. Maddie felt guilty for not telling her that, effective tonight, she was resigning from the company, but at the moment, Lettie’s focus was firmly elsewhere.
“Who’s that?” Maddie couldn’t help but ask, since Lettie had locked eyes with a handsome man decidedly underdressed for the occasion—and looking damned good making that statement in a leather jacket and jeans.
“Who cares?” Lettie murmured, not tearing her gaze from the man. He smiled at her, motioned to the balcony. In return, she nodded and began walking his way.
Maddie pulled her back. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m very serious. And very single. Don’t worry—I’ll keep it PG on the balcony. These corporate stiffs couldn’t handle it.”
“Last time I looked, you were corporate.”
“Thanks for not calling me a stiff.” Lettie glanced at her, slightly flushed with alcohol. “What’s the problem? You never had a bad-boy phase?”
She said, “No,” quickly. Too quickly, since her mind had already gone straight to Tals, as it had more than ever this past month, like she knew her fate was sealed and she was actively avoiding thinking about it until the very last moment.
For them it had always been about fate.
“You should never, ever play poker. I don’t know how you made it so far in the corporate world, the way you let all your emotions show on your face.”
“I do not,” Maddie protested. In truth, she always had, but she’d been better at it before last month. Now she found herself unable to care about the career—the life—she’d so carefully built for herself. Around herself, like impenetrable walls. She’d escaped the family gates, but she’d gated herself in, just the same.
Lettie seemed to have forgotten about her own bad boy and was now firmly focused on Maddie. “And you’re lying about the bad-boy phase.”
“I never acted on it. Big difference.” Another partial lie about that long-ago New Year’s celebration.
“And that’s the problem. You’re with all these high-powered guys who’re too selfish to care about anything in the bedroom but themselves,” Lettie pointed out.
Instead of reminding Lettie that she was married (and wasn’t that the biggest irony, that she couldn’t even get the words out any longer?), Maddie asked, “And bad boys don’t do that?’
“Oh honey, no, they don’t.”
She thought about Tals . . . the way the girls in school used to preen when he came around on his bike. The way she used to as well—secretly, though. Because she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. “Go for it, Lettie. Have fun for both of us.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Lettie made her way to the balcony, and Maddie watched her as the elevator doors closed, effectively cutting her off from the world that had been hers for ten years, and coveted by her for many before that.
Her car was already waiting at the valet station. She’d left instructions for it to be pulled around at 12:30 a.m. sharp. It was packed and ready, and she got in, ball gown and all, kicked her heels off and took off in her Mustang GT.
She always bought Mustangs, and they were always some variation on cherry red, like the one Tals had stolen. She hadn’t liked the color much when she’d gotten it. After Tals had driven it, though, she swore something happened to the damned car. It was almost supercharged, like it remembered him and wanted to be driven the way he’d driven it.
Which was ridiculous. And didn’t stop her thinking it every single time.
And didn’t stop her from buying this car again. Vintage model, though. Like that would make it so different.
“Time to turn the brain off, Maddie,” she told herself out loud as she cranked the radio up and barreled onto the highway, the car revving, like it was telling her to get her shit together and enjoy the ride.
She gripped the wheel with her buttery-soft leather fingerless racing gloves—in bright red—and she systematically unpinned her hair so it hung loosely, tumbling over her shoulders. It got warmer the farther south she drove, and she opened the windows at one point so her hair whipped around her shoulders as she pushed the speed limits.
When she’d first planned on quitting her job and moving out—and on from Hugh—she hadn’t been sure of her destination. Not at first. But then “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” came on the radio when she was on the way to their house upstate after leaving the New Year’s Eve party . . . and she promptly turned the car around and headed to Jessamine—aka Skulls Creek, South Carolina.
If anyone had told her before now that she’d be escaping back to her family home, she’d have laughed. Now she couldn’t think of a better place to go, although it was less about her family and more about the man the song reminded her of: Tals Garrity.
You don’t even know if he’s still in Skulls Creek.
No, that wasn’t true at all. She did know. Grams had brought him up in their last few conversations, almost like she might’ve predicted this would happen. Like she somehow knew that, no matter how hard she tried to not follow in her mother’s footsteps, Maddie had some of that flightiness, that irresponsibility in her that she’d fought so hard to banish. And maybe she did somehow know that her soon-to-be ex-husband was cheating on her.
Because Maddie herself had no goddamned clue. Then again, she’d been working so hard over the past years, it was a wonder she knew his name. So was her marriage everything she’d thought it would be? Definitely not. Had she thought Hugh would cheat on her?
Never. She knew he was in the company of young, beautiful women all the time, but for her, marriage was forever. She’d told him that when he’d proposed, and as a child of divorce himself, he’d agreed.
So much for that.
She hadn’t smiled like this in at least a month, starting with the day she’d discovered her ex was sleeping around with everybody in his path. She wasn’t sure if it would’ve been better had it been one woman for an extended period of time instead of the constant stream of women, all younger than she’d been when they’d first met.
She was five years older and wiser . . . and obviously wilder, if taking off like this was any indication. And ten hours later, she was almost . . . home.
Her childhood home. Right now she was homeless, almost a guest in her own life.
She turned the radio up in response, a Stevie Nicks song coming on when she needed it most. She sang along with it, her voice a throaty rasp into the wind. She wasn’t the best singer, but music had always brought her more comfort than anything.
She was free, and it was New Year’s. If that wasn’t fate, she didn’t know what was.
It was close to four in the morning and Tals was on the final stretch to Skulls Creek. As he rounded a sharp turn on the highway, he saw taillights in front of him—taillights to a Ford Mustang GT he’d always been partial to. When he saw the back tire rock, his hands tight- ened, because he knew what was about to happen, and he watched helplessly as the tire blew, making the car fishtail like crazy.
It was lucky it happened on a quiet highway. Also lucky that whoever was behind the wheel knew how to handle the car, because it quickly stabilized, slowed and pulled to the side of the road.
Tals followed, drove past the car slowly in order to pull ahead of it, in case it needed to be loaded onto the flatbed. He glanced at the disabled car as he went past. “Lookin’ for Love” came on the radio as he recognized the driver. He braked—hard. Stared. Cursed his luck and wondered if the gods were up there laughing their asses off at him.
Because talk about all the wrong places.
Because Maddie Wells. Of all the women he could possibly run across—and there could be a hell of a lot of them, and many of them would no doubt want to hit him with the tire iron, even though he’d never made any of them promises—why did it have to be the only one who’d ever had his heart?
She’d had it, and he wasn’t even sure she’d realized it. What he did know was that she’d never wanted it, and one-sided relationships were the worst. Especially those that had been going on in his head and were still painfully fresh memories in his mind some thirteen years later.
He chalked it up to youth. Hormones. The fact that teenagers were dramatic as fuck.
So what was his excuse now, when his heart was beating out of his chest and his dick had started to harden.
I wonder if she smells the same . . . like citrus and gardenias? Like heaven?
He wasn’t getting close enough to her—or to heaven—to find out.
What got him out of the car was what usually did—he had nothing to lose. Nothing he hadn’t already lost. But before he could walk toward her, he noted the text from Bear, asking where he was.
He texted back, 10 miles out from Skulls, on highway. Stopped to fix a flat for someone.
Bear’s response was immediate. Line of Heathens headed your way in about fifteen.
Shit. I’ll be done before that.
Just what he needed—his MC’s biggest enemy running into him and Maddie on a dark, deserted road.
Fuck fate. Fuck it hard.
“Tals? Is that . . . ?”
Maddie’s voice sounded the same, that slightly raspy drawl that made her sound sexy, even as a teenager. It ran like lightning up his spine, and he forced himself to look in her direction, all the while hoping that what he’d seen through the car window was an optical illusion . . .
No dice—she looked the same.
No. She looked even better, and better still when she got out of the car and walked toward him. She’d left a teenager and she was all woman now, softly curved, her skin glowing with health and what looked like very little makeup. She’d never needed it. Her long dark hair was loose, and it was over one shoulder. She made no move to fuss with it.
She looked good. Expensive, in a full-length black gown that seemed to glitter, her feet shoved into impossibly high heels that she walked in elegantly.
And just like that, his New Year’s went from great to gut-clenching. Although he couldn’t deny that he was happy to see her, the way he’d always been. Even though she’d had him arrested more than once . . . and almost sent him to prison for assault by keeping her mouth closed.
Just change her goddamned tire and end this.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, his tone sounding more like a demand.
“Visiting my grandmother.”
“At five in the morning on New Year’s Day?”
She nodded, then blurted out, “I’m getting a divorce.”
Small-town gossip was unavoidable, and soon everyone would be talking about this. Some would be happy to see Maddie cut down to size.
Tals wasn’t one of them. Hell, all she did was have a career and marry a rich guy. He didn’t see a parallel between the two—she’d always worked hard, been serious. She’d gotten out, and for that alone, a lot of her old Jessamine “friends” would no doubt be particularly happy when they discovered she was being humiliated by her husband.
She was married . . . and now she was getting divorced. And she was standing in front of him, no wedding ring in sight. On New Year’s Day.
And no, he wasn’t going to get any of his hopes up. She’d be gone soon enough, and then he’d shove this to the back of his mind with all the other old memories that hurt too much to deal with.
* * *
As the famous saying went, there really were no coincidences. At least none worth ignoring, and there’d never truly been a way for her to ignore Tals.
Happening upon him was a regular occurrence growing up, but she’d never taken it as a sign of anything beyond that’s what happened in a relatively small city. After all, they’d gone to the same high school—it was inevitable they’d cross paths.
Although, not really. They lived on opposite ends of town. Hung out with separate crowds. He grew up within a motorcycle gang—and then officially joined the Vipers MC.
“Are you okay, Maddie?” he asked, concern in his low, rough voice.
“Fine,” she managed. “A little shaken.” But she was a good driver, and the roads were thankfully dry. “I don’t know what happened.”
God, he looked good. Even with only the side glow from the headlights, she could see that he’d aged well, from bad boy to all man. He put the man in the leather jacket and jeans back at the charity ball to shame. His blond hair was mostly tucked under a bandanna, but she could see it was still curled around the back of his neck. He wore a tight-fitting dark thermal Henley, jeans, and black motorcycle boots, his Vipers cut no doubt lying on the seat next to him in the truck marked VIPERS TOWING.
“You’re staring, Maddie. You used to be a lot more subtle about it.”
Before she could get embarrassed, she shot back, “You never were.”
He gave her that wolfish half grin that had gotten sexier over time. “Wasn’t trying to be.”
She’d told him about the divorce because she had no doubt he’d see the news reports, Then again, maybe he didn’t check Page Six and the like. Maybe he didn’t concern himself with the gossip, even if it pertained to local families. She’d lived in New York for so long, been such a part of the social scene, that there was a certain amount of ego involved, where she’d begun to feel like every day was a photo op, a chance to sell herself—and her business, by extension. That was the name of the game today, and whether she liked it or not (for the record, she found it exhausting), that was the way the fashion business worked. She was an extension of the brands she curated.
She hadn’t realized she’d been drowning until she’d crossed the state line and drew what felt like her first deep breath in years.
And now Tals was so close. Too close.
And he certainly didn’t seem happy to see her. If anything, there was an air of annoyance as he stalked by her and stared at her back tire while shaking his head. “Ridiculous. These tires are the most expensive pieces of shit.”
She almost laughed at that, but she didn’t. Mainly because she was afraid it would come out as a sob. “I can just call Triple A,” she started, but he ignored her. He was moving fast, grabbing tools from his truck.
And here she was, a helpless girl with a flat. And she hated being helpless. “I’m okay. I can . . .”
“You don’t know how to change a tire.” Tals’s voice was a growl that covered her, part reassuring and part dangerous as anything.
“How do you know?”
He gave her a sideways glance before grabbing the tire iron and began to take the flat off.
“Can you show me how to do this for myself?” she asked.
He took in her dress and her heels. “You’ll get filthy.”
“I don’t like to let women do heavy lifting when I’m around.” He moved past her and knelt on the ground in front of the tire.
It was less sexist than protective, but it still rankled her and her reinvigorated quest for independence. “You won’t always be here.”
He acknowledged that with a long look, starting at her legs and raking up her body. “That’s a shame.”
She was ready to agree. Instead she kicked off her heels and crouched down next to him.
He smelled so damned good. Clean. Masculine . . . very much like the adventures she sought.
“You ready?” he asked.
“More than you know,” she murmured.
“Back up before you get hurt,” he told her, in probably the most fitting statement ever, before he took off the blown tire. In what seemed like minutes, he’d put on the full-sized one Hugh had insisted she carry around in her trunk.
Tals hauled the heavy tire like it weighed nothing, and when the new one was on, he put the blown one back in the trunk. He’d moved all her bags out of the way . . . and he hadn’t commented on why she had so much with her for a visit. He simply put them all back, closed her trunk, then put his tools back in the truck. And started to get in, calling, “You’re all set. Better get back on the road.”
“Tals, I’d like to take you to dinner.”
“There’s no charge for this, Maddie.”
“I’m not—thank you—but that’s not why I’d like to take you to dinner.” She bit her bottom lip—an old habit that she seemed to revert to only around him. Mainly because he stared at her lips every time she did it, and she liked him staring at her, the way he used to. “Maybe tomorrow night?”
“Are you seriously asking me out on a date?”
“Why’s that so hard to believe?”
He snorted. His only answer to that being, “I think you should head back to New York.”
“I’m not going back there. Not for a while,” she told him. “I’m staying in Skulls Creek.”
“In Jessamine,” he corrected, like mentioning the split within the city borders would remind her of the split that kept them apart. “Too much water under the bridge. Glad I was here to help with the tire.”
Excerpted from "Vipers Rule"
Copyright © 2015 Stephanie Tyler.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the novels of Stephanie Tyler
“A raw, sexy world.”—New York Times bestselling author Maya Banks
“Kept me on the edge of my seat…breathtaking danger, sizzling romance, and unexpected twists.”—New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Ivy
Praise for Vipers Run
“Tyler opens the throttle on this fast-moving biker-themed erotic romance.…Tyler brings her polished style to this red-hot page-turner.”—Publishers Weekly
“Think Sons of Anarchy with a lot more romance. No one can write a gritty bad boy like Tyler, and here she pulls out all the stops. Readers will find a lot of steamy sex and a raw, dark edginess they’ve never encountered before. An exciting beginning to a new series.”—RT Book Reviews
“An exciting and very hot story…a very hot, steamy romance…filled with suspense, excitement, heated sexual scenes, a great couple, and a well-written story.”—The Reading Cafe