Here Friday 7 pm PST. Author of: WRONG FOR ME - Jackie Ashenden SEE EXCERPT
7 pm PST.
Rachel Hamilton came to a stop outside the battered metal roller door that was the entrance to Black’s Vintage Repair and Restoration, the motorcycle repair shop owned by her friend Gideon Black. She took a breath.
The acid eating a hole in her gut wasn’t from fear.
It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that Levi was back.
It was only because she hadn’t felt like breakfast that morning and hadn’t eaten anything. Perfectly understandable and explainable. Nothing whatsoever to do with how sick she’d felt, how her stomach kept turning over and over like a gymnast doing a complicated floor routine whenever she thought about Levi’s getting out of jail.
Nope. Nothing whatsoever to do with that.
Her palms were damp, but that was because it was hot. Same with her dry mouth. She should have had some water or something.
But you didn’t because you would have thrown it up.
Rachel closed her eyes.
No fear. None. That’s what had gotten her through life so far, and that’s what would get her through this. She just had to pull her armor on, pretend she gave no fucks whatsoever. It was the only way to protect herself. It was the only way to deal with the man who’d been inside for eight years.
The man she’d put there herself.
Her former best friend.
Oh, Jesus. She was shaking.
Okay, so perhaps she shouldn't think about that. She should think about how many fucks she gave instead. Which was none at all.
But naturally all the pep talks in the entire universe weren’t going to help, and, when she opened her eyes, the nausea was still sitting right there and she was still shaking like a leaf.
Get. Yourself. The. Hell. Together.
Mentally she put herself in her usual snarky, sarcastic armor, the one specially designed to keep the world at bay, as she dug her nails into the palms of her hands. Her nails were nice and long these days, so they hurt biting into her skin. But that was good, and she welcomed the pain. It helped her focus, helped her center herself.
Taking another breath, she pushed open the small metal door inset into the big roller one and stepped into Gideon’s garage.
For a second she paused, trying to normalize her breathing, letting the familiarity of the garage settle her. It had always been a safe place for her, somewhere to go when she needed company, a good friend, a sympathetic ear. Gideon had gathered together a small group of kids from the Royal Road Outreach Center years ago, kids who were alone in the world, and even now, a decade later, they remained close friends. Gideon, Zoe, Zee, and Levi. They were still there for one another, still looked out for one another.
Except you didn’t. You weren’t there when Levi needed you most.
Rachel swallowed, ignoring the thought. She couldn't afford to be thinking that kind of shit, not now. Not when she was barely holding it together as it was.
The smell of engine grease and oil filled her lungs. It was a comforting smell. There was a big metal shelf and a classic Cadillac up on a hoist blocking her vision, but she could hear the sound of voices. Gideon’s, deep and rough, and Zoe’s lighter tones. And then someone else’s…
Rachel stilled, the sound going through her, painful as a sliver of glass pushed beneath her skin.
A masculine voice. One that used to be deep and rich, full of laughter and bright with optimism. A warm, encouraging, friendly voice. One that used to make her heart feel lighter whenever she heard it. But now… now it sounded dark, with a roughness that hadn’t been there before. Like the voice of someone unused to speaking aloud.
A shiver ran the entire length of her body.
He was here, only a few feet away. After eight years.
Come on. You have to do this. Stop being such a fucking coward.
She forced herself to move forward, past the metal shelf, heading down toward the end of the garage where a long workshop counter was positioned against the wall beneath a massive row of grimy windows, some with different colored panes of glass.
The summer sun was shining through those windows, illuminating Zoe, small and slender, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail, sitting on the counter with her legs dangling. Beside her was Gideon in his blue overalls, all shaggy black hair, and heavily muscled shoulders, leaning back with his arms folded.
Another man stood with his back to her. He was as tall as Gideon, which was pretty goddamn tall at nearly six-four, and built just as massively. The cotton of his black T-shirt stretched over shoulders that would have done a gladiator proud, while his jeans hung low on his lean hips. The combination of sun through the dirty windows and harsh fluorescent lighting of the garage drew out shades of tawny and deep gold in his shaggy dark hair.
Her heart twisted painfully hard.
She remembered those shoulders, that lean waist, that dark hair turning gold in some lights. Except he’d been…not quite as built back then. He’d been thinner, more greyhound than Rottweiler, and his hair had been cut short.
Well, of course, he had. No one went to prison for eight years and came out the same person.
Perhaps if you’d even gone to see him once in all that time…
She blinked hard, digging her nails deeper, using the pain to focus once more.
And maybe she’d made a sound of some kind, an inadvertent gasp or the soles of her platform motorcycle boots scraping on the rough concrete floor because suddenly, the man standing there with his back to her swung around.
She stopped dead as if that sliver of glass had finally reached her heart.
Levi looked the same. Exactly the same. Still shockingly handsome with the strong line of his jaw, now rough with deep gold stubble, and high, sculpted cheekbones. Straight nose and long, deeply sensual mouth. Silver-blue eyes that…
Her breath caught, glass cutting straight through her heart and out the other side.
No. She was wrong. He didn’t look the same. Not at all. There were lines around his mouth and eyes, lines that hadn’t been there before, and that wasn’t due to age. That was something more. There was a ring piercing one straight, dark eyebrow, and beneath that, it looked like his eye had turned completely black, his pupil huge, a thin ring of silver blue circling it.
She couldn’t stop looking, couldn’t stop staring, the shock of seeing him hitting her like a wrecking ball. And then there were more shocks, more blows, as the differences in him began to filter through her consciousness.
The piercing. That one dark eye. The width of his shoulders and the way his T-shirt molded over a chest and stomach ridged with hard muscle. And his arms…Jesus, his tattoos. Around each powerful arm was a series of black bands, each one decreasing in width until the bands around his wrists were merely black lines. They were simple, beautiful, highlighting the strength of biceps, forearms, and wrists, and the deep, dark gold of his skin.
When the hell had he gotten those? Levi had never wanted tattoos, no matter how much she’d told him they’d suit him. She’d even teased him about being afraid of the pain, though she had known that wasn’t the reason. Levi hadn’t wanted the tattoos because he hadn’t wanted anything to get in the way of his dreams of escape.
Escape from their shitty Royal Road neighborhood. Escape from Detroit.
He’d planned to get money enough to leave, get a good job in a high-flying company. Have an apartment that didn’t have dealers lurking on the stairs and drunks on the sidewalk out front. Build a life that was about more than mere subsistence and struggle. A life that didn’t include tattoos.
Looked like he didn’t give a shit about that now.
You can’t get a high-flying job with tattoos on your arms. You can’t get one with a record either.
The acid in her gut roiled, and she had no idea what to say.
Levi didn’t break the heavy, impossible silence, and he didn’t smile. He just stared at her as if she were an insect he’d found crushed under the heel of his boot.
Say something, you idiot.
But her voice seemed to have deserted her entirely. All she could do was stare back at him, this man who’d once been her best friend. Whose dreams used to help her believe that there was more to life than existing on her grandma’s Social Security checks and hiding from the child protection agencies that wanted to take her away and put her in a foster home. More to hope for than a crummy job in the local diner or behind the counter at the 7-Eleven.
But that friend had once been Levi Rush.
She didn’t know who this man was, with his pierced eyebrow, tattoos, and aura of leashed violence and menace. A man like all the other thugs who seemed to infest Royal Road.
And then, as suddenly as he’d swung around to stare at her, the quality of his strangely asymmetrical stare changed. Became focused, intensifying on her the way a sniper locks onto a target.
It was unnerving. Frightening. And Levi had never frightened her before.
He looked even less like her friend than ever before. More like a general about to conquer a city. With her being the city.
Her protective mechanisms, ones she’d built up over a lifetime of being on her own, kicked in with a vengeance, and she’d lifted her chin almost before she’d had a chance to think about whether being prickly really was the best way to handle this.
Eight years ago she would have launched herself into his arms for a hug.
But it wasn’t eight years ago. It was now. And she’d made so many mistakes already, what was one more?
“Hey, Levi,” she said, her voice sounding pathetic and scratchy in the echoing space of the garage. “Long time no see.”
A love this wrong just has to be right…
It was anything but easy, but Gideon Black has finally managed to create a safe haven for himself on the gritty streets of Detroit. He worked hard to get on the straight and narrow, pulling himself up from an underground crime syndicate before it consumed him completely. But the past isn’t staying put, and now that it’s come calling, it’s not after him, but the woman he considers the closest thing he has to family . . .
Zoe James has always loved Gideon more than anything in the world. She knows he only wants to keep her safe, but his overprotectiveness has taken over her life and it’s got to stop. She’s sick of him treating her like a little girl, but is she woman enough to handle the truth when it finally comes out? As old enemies close in, a complicated but undeniable passion is growing between them. Gideon tries to hold on to Zoe and keep her safe, but he may have to let her go in order to save them both . . .
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