FOUR WILDE BROTHERS…ONE WILDE COUNTRY BAND
WILDE RIDERS is the first novel in a spicy new contemporary romance series about four sexy brothers, their small-town bar and their local country band. WILDE RIDERS can be read as a STAND ALONE NOVEL or as part of the SERIES.
Cooper Wilde spent his entire adolescence counting the days until he could escape rural northwest New Jersey. Now at 26, he can’t believe he’s coming back. But his late father’s bar, Haymakers, is in financial trouble and his older brother, Jake, has asked for Cooper’s help.
Riley Smith, 25, is fresh out of her Ivy League MBA program and wants to make an impression on her employer, H & C Bank. Her first solo assignment is a fraud investigation on a business loan they made to Haymakers.
Even though Old Town is less than 90 minutes from New York City, Riley feels like she’s stepped into another world in this remote, one-bar town. Riley can’t wait to do her business and get back to the city as quickly as her sports car will take her…until she meets Cooper Wilde. He’s not like the other guys in this rural town and Riley feels inexplicably attracted to him.
If you like your trucks loud, your beer cold and your men hot…you’ll love WILDE RIDERS.
Genre Contemporary Romance
Release Date February 11th 2014
THE WILDE ONE
THE WILDE ONE is the second novel in the spicy contemporary romance series about four sexy brothers, their small-town bar and their local country band. Each novel in the OLD TOWN COUNTRY ROMANCE series can be read as a STAND ALONE NOVEL or as part of the SERIES.
FOUR WILDE BROTHERS…ONE WILDE COUNTRY BAND
Tucker Wilde joined the United States Army right out of high school and was injured in Iraq. But more than just his leg was shattered in the Middle East. The war also crushed his spirit and damaged his soul. When a strange couple arrives at his family’s bar, Haymakers, Tucker can see signs of mental and emotional abuse and is immediately drawn to the lovely but fragile girl seated at his bar.
Gracie Parker has been a victim of abuse her entire life. When her boyfriend, Dex, beats her in the parking lot of Haymakers and abandons her, it’s almost too much for the nineteen-year-old to bear. That is until Tucker appears like a warrior knight from the darkness to save her.
Tucker and Gracie are two broken people who are immediately drawn together. But their relationship and even their very lives are threatened by Dex who will stop at nothing to get Gracie back.
If you like your trucks loud, your beer cold and your men hot…you’ll love The Wilde One.
April 10th 2014
Wilde Riders Excerpt
The wind kicks up as I round the corner and enter the town square. Old Town came by its name honestly. The town never seems to change. The main street looks the same as it did when I was a kid, and probably not much different than when my parents were young, or even their parents. A few of the stores and restaurants have changed hands over the years but for the most part, the town looks like it’s been frozen in time.
Why does it always seem so much windier in Old Town than anywhere else in New Jersey? It even feels windier here than lower Manhattan, which is a feat. The way the wind often howls around the financial district, you’d think it was haunted.
I can’t believe I’m back in Old Town. When I got a job on Wall Street, I swore I’d never come back. The last time I set foot in Old Town was about six months ago, for my father’s funeral. Six months before that, it was for my mother’s.
I told my brother, Jake, I’d only stay for two weeks tops. That’s every bit of vacation time I’ve earned to date. Then I’m going to back to Manhattan and back to my life in the city. The last thing I want is to be a hick from the sticks again. I’ve worked too hard to rid myself of that stigma. I’m never going to be that guy again.
I’m an Ivy League graduate. I work on Wall Street. I have an apartment in lower Manhattan. I drive a BMW 6-Series convertible. And I’m well on my way to making my first million before I turn thirty, which is four years from now.
I’m not a country kid anymore.
And no matter what my brothers say, there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to be a Wilde Rider again. When I left home, I packed up my guitar and sealed away any musical aspirations I may have had right along with it. Being in a small town country band is fun when you’re a teenager but it doesn’t pay the bills and it certainly doesn’t pay for a Manhattan lifestyle.
Not unless you’re really good, and really lucky…and the Wilde Riders were neither.
I park my convertible on the street outside of Haymakers. It’s only eleven. The bar doesn’t open until noon. The only vehicle in the bar’s dirt lot is my brother Jake’s old Dodge Ram Pick Up. He’s been driving the thing since I left for college. I bet the vehicle has well over a hundred thousand miles on it. The way it looks, like it’s on its last legs, you’d think it had double that amount.
Even though it’s late August, there’s a bit of a chill in the air. The wind feels wet, like it’s going to rain. I put the top up on my convertible just in case. It’s the first car I’ve ever owned that wasn’t a junker and I’m proud as hell of it.
My stomach tightens as I approach the front door of the bar. The last time I was here was the night after we laid my father to rest. His final wish was for all the regulars to have a drink on the house in his honor. I made a promise to myself that was the last time I was ever going to set foot in the place.
Yet here I am getting ready to walk back inside again. I made it clear to Jake that coming here to help him doesn’t mean I’m walking back into my old life. That’s a life that I’ve worked desperately to leave behind. But when Jake phoned, he sounded scared, which isn’t like him at all. He’s Mr. Carefree. Troubles slide off his back like syrup glides off pancakes.
I’m here because Jake asked for my help. He said he might lose the bar, everything our dad ever worked for, if I didn’t give him a hand.
Being the oldest, Jake followed in our dad’s footsteps. He was the gregarious one of the Wilde boys, so it only made sense that he’d take over and run the town’s one and only bar. Jake has always been Mr. Personality. He’s great with people. But from the little he told me on the phone, he’s apparently not as great with money.
That’s where I come in. I guess having a degree in finance from Columbia and a job on Wall Street means that I’m like emergency services in a financial shit storm. I just hope it’s not too late to fix whatever mess Jake has found himself in.
I inhale and let out a deep breath before I push open the large wooden doors.
The first thing I see when I enter the bar are pink cowboy boots. They’re apparently attached to a female who is also wearing extremely tight black jeans. The rest of her body is hidden under a table. It looks like she’s trying to retrieve something.
I clear my throat so she realizes she’s not alone.
I hear a loud thump, followed by, “Oh, shit!”
As she extricates herself from below the table, the young woman rubs the side of her head.
It takes me a moment to realize that it’s Harley Davis. She looks a lot different than the little blond girl she was when I left home.
She stops dead in her tracks when she realizes it’s me. She gulps. “Coop?”
Harley has definitely grown up. She’s still thin but she’s not a tomboy anymore. She has curves in all the right places and full rack, which I’m having trouble keeping my eyes off of.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, her blue eyes are filled with concern. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I lie. “What are you doing here?”
She laughs. “I work here now. Jake gave me a job.”
“Aren’t you still in high school?”
She rolls her eyes at me. “I graduated two years ago.”
How is it possible that little Harley Davis, the girl who has had a self-proclaimed crush on me since she was twelve, is now an adult?
“Cooper,” I hear my brother call from the other end of the bar.
As I head over to him, I take a good look at the place. Some things are exactly the same as when dad ran the place. The old wooden bar that my dad liked to brag he built with his father hasn’t changed. And neither have the matching wooden bar stools. Even some of the liquor bottles behind the bar are dusty and don’t look like they’ve been touched in years.
There are also brand new tables and chairs scattered throughout the place. And what looks like a semi-professional stage has been installed for whatever band decides to play on Friday and Saturday nights. Back in the days when I played with my brothers in the Wilde Riders we’d just move a few tables out of the way to set up our gear. This new performance area looks expensive.
I put a hand out for Jake to shake but he pulls me in for a hug instead. I’ve seen my oldest brother twice in the last year—at our parents’ funerals. He refuses to set foot in the city and I refused to come back to Old Town, so it’s been kind of a stale mate.
Jake is two years older than me but he still looks like my younger brother. Maybe it’s his boyish round face or the glint of mischief he always seems to have in his eyes. Or it could just be because he’s always been such an easy-going and carefree guy that the stress of life hasn’t managed to age him yet.
Today Jake looks a lot less carefree than I’ve ever seen him. He’s got a few deep creases in his forehead that I’ve never noticed before.
“Thanks for coming,” Jake says. “I know how you feel about being here.”
I don’t think he has any idea how I feel about being here. He’s never left rural New Jersey—he’s never lived anywhere but Old Town.
“So, what’s up?” I ask. I’m not much for small talk. I’d rather get down to business.
He eyes Harley and then says quietly, “I think we should talk in my office.”
I nod and we head toward the back of the place, near the kitchen area, into what used to be a storage closet. Jake has set up a small desk with a computer, monitor and printer. That’s about all that will fit in the cramped space. Jake sits on the edge of the desk and motions for me to take the chair.
“I’d rather stand. It was a long drive out here.”
Jake runs his fingers through his thick brown hair. It’s shaggy and looks like it hasn’t been trimmed in a while. “I really messed things up,” he says.
Jake has never had a problem speaking his mind. Sometimes he may be a bit too blunt.
“Can you be a little more specific?”
He bites the inside of his cheek. It was a bad habit he had as a kid. Mom hated it and would tell him to quit doing it whenever she caught him. I thought he’d gotten over it years ago.
“You know Mom always kept the books for Haymakers. I didn’t know how much Dad depended on her until she died. He had no idea how to handle any of the accounting for the business. I guess Mom tried to teach him about accounts payable and receivable and all that stuff but it just didn’t sink in. Plus, I think he was kind of in denial that she was actually dying. Anyway, things started to fall apart but he was too proud to ask for help. I inherited a mess that I’ve made even worse because I don’t know what I’m doing either.”
I take in a deep breath. My mom died almost a year ago and my dad died six months ago. If the finances have been deteriorating for a year, things could potentially be in really bad shape.
He opens the top drawer of the desk and pulls out a certified envelope. Anything sent certified mail usually isn’t good news.
He hands me the letter. It’s from H & C Bank. “I thought Dad had the place paid off,” I say as I take the letter from Jake’s hand.
“He took out a loan for some improvements. We needed a new roof and he put in new tables and the stage area.”
“Why did he need a new stage?” I ask. I know I probably sound bitter but I don’t care. “Did you talk him into it?”
My brother always had dreams of being a country singer. He’s got a great voice and a lot of musical talent but he never had the drive or ambition to make his dream a reality. Because Jake was the most like my dad, and his first born, my dad would have done anything to make Jake happy.
“It wasn’t me,” Jake insists.
I glare at him.
“Okay, it wasn’t just me,” he admits. “Dad felt like he was losing business because of the competition. Some of the new places that have opened up recently have live bands every weekend. And not just bands like Wilde Riders—bands with CDs and deals with real record labels on actual tours.”
“I didn’t see any new bars when I drove through town.”
“Not in Old Town. In some of the other towns around the county. They’ve been drawing some big name groups. Dad felt like he needed to do something to attract a younger crowd.”
“Are you still playing?” I ask.
Jake shrugs. “Off and on. You know it’s never been the same without you. We keep trying to find a guitar player that’s even half as good as you and it still hasn’t happened. We lost another one last week.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Now that you’re back in town, maybe—”
I cut Jake off. “I’m back in town to help you get this straightened out.” I hold up the letter. “I’m not back for any other reason. And I’m definitely not back to play with the Wilde Riders again.”
“We sounded really good the last time we played.”
“That was a onetime thing. I did it for Dad.”
Jake throws up his hands. “Okay, I get it. You don’t want to be part of the band. I can respect that.”
“And we’ve got bigger problems,” I say as I open the letter.
My heart sinks when I read the contents. Things really are as bad as I imagined.
I can’t believe I have to make a trip to New Jersey. And rural New Jersey to boot. Would someone just shoot me now and put me out of my misery?
“Riley!” I hear a voice yell from behind me. It’s a voice I recognize and don’t really want to deal with right now. I contemplate speeding up my pace but I have a feeling Patti will just quicken her stride to catch up to me so what’s the point?
Patti is almost breathless when she finally manages to grab my elbow. “Where are you going so fast?”
I can’t believe she’s been running in Jimmy Choos and a business suit. Patti is 5 feet 9 inches and towers over me. She probably could have been a model with her gorgeous blond hair and flawless complexion. I’m petite with dark hair and eyes to match. We’re almost complete opposites in the looks department. And probably every other department if the truth be told.
“New Jersey.” I spit. I know I sound bitter but I can hardly contain my contempt for the state. Well, maybe not the entire state. I’ll give Atlantic City a pass but only because you can get drunk and gamble and it doesn’t require a plane flight like Las Vegas.
Patti and I work together at H & C Bank but we’ve known each other for years. We were college roommates. I don’t have siblings so Patti is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a sister.
Patti frowns. “Why are you going to Jersey?” The way she says Jersey makes it sounds like I’m going to garbage dump or a toxic waste site. Those options might be a few steps up from a trip to rural New Jersey.
“I have to conduct a fraud investigation on a business loan. It shouldn’t take very long.” Oh, God, I hope it doesn’t. “I plan to be back tonight.”
Patti smiles. “Good because we’ve got a double date.”
“With who?” I sigh. Patti manages to fix me up with worst guys in the city. I don’t know how she does it. They’re all Wall Street wannabes and the only things they talk about are their 6 Series BWMs and the first million they’re going to make before they turn thirty. Most of them are so impressed with themselves they’re actually offended that I don’t want to jump into bed with them on the first date.
“These guys are different,” she says.
Patti always says they’re different and they never are. They’re the same guys over and over again just in different suits and shoes.
“No,” I state adamantly. “I’m not going out with one more Wall Street wannabe. Forget it.”
“Please,” Patti begs. She’s got a look in her eye that says she’s not going to stop until I agree to go.
“Fine,” I say. “But if the guy drops one hint about his six figure salary or the fantastic view from his brand new apartment, I’m out of there. And I get to throw a drink in his lap if he mentions making his first million before thirty. Got it?”
“I don’t know why stuff like that upsets you so much. You have an MBA from Columbia and you just bought your first BMW.”
“And I’m well on my way to making my first million. But I don’t throw it in people’s faces when I first meet them. I want to know who the guy really is—what makes him tick. I don’t want to hear his impressive resume and a list of everything he owns.”
Patti shrugs. “I just want to know if a guy’s good in bed. But I usually don’t find that out until after dinner. I don’t care what we talk about in between.”
I shake my head. “You’re like a guy trapped in a gorgeous girl’s body.”
She laughs. “So I’ve been told.”
“Is the double date really that important to you?”
She looks at me like I’m from another planet. “I haven’t gotten laid in almost two weeks. I’d say it’s nearing emergency level.”
I don’t want to tell her that it’s been months since I’ve been with someone. Six months to be exact.
“Fine, I’ll try to get back to the city as fast as I can.”
She grins. “That’s why you’re my best friend.”
“I’m your only friend,” I correct.
“Best. Only. Semantics. I’ll see you tonight.”
The drive into New Jersey is exhausting. My only saving grace is that most of the traffic is going into the city instead of out of the city like I am. You’ve got to love those bridge and tunnel guys. I wouldn’t date one but I have a little bit of respect for them. The commute into Manhattan turns a nine hour work day into an eleven hour one, if you’re lucky.
I can feel my stomach start to knot as I get further away from the city and further away from civilization. Pretty soon I’ll be in the sticks surrounded by woods and farmland. I can almost smell the manure that will no doubt take days to completely rid from my nasal passages. I pray that I don’t run into any animals, especially cows, which are huge, smelly and completely freak me out. The only live animals I ever care to see have to fit comfortably in a handbag, like a Chihuahua or Teacup Poodle, for example.
I have an appointment with a man named Jake Wilde. He asked me to come early, before the place opened at noon, so he could give me his full attention. I try to imagine what someone named Jake Wilde would look like and all I can come up with is an old gunslinger like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.
As I pull into Old Town the place looks exactly like I thought it would. The buildings in the town square are old and I image the place hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years or so.
Haymakers is just past the town square, down the hill from the deli, next to the gas station. Those were the exact directions I was given, in those words. I take that to mean the town only has one gas station and one deli.
When I pull into the parking lot, there’s only one other vehicle sitting there. It’s an old beat-up Dodge Ram. Nothing like fitting the country bumpkin stereotype like a glove. Then I have a brief moment of panic and wonder if it’s safe to park my BMW in the dirt lot. Then I remind myself where I am. Who is going to mess with it in the middle of the day? A stray deer from the woods out back? The only thing I probably have to worry about is it getting dusty.
I take in a deep breath. I have to be thankful there’s no manure smell yet. The quicker you do this, I remind myself, the quicker you can get back to the lovely asphalt jungle you call home.
I’m hit with a gust of wind as soon as I get out of my car. How is it possible that Old Town is even windier than lower Manhattan? I didn’t think I’d ever find a place windier than Wall Street. Even the Windy City didn’t seem this windy when I had business in Chicago.
When I enter the bar, I try to smooth down my thick hair, which I know is probably a complete mess from the gust. I’m surprised by the homey feel of the place. How could someone like me possibly feel at home in a country bar? Even if I was wearing jeans and cowboy boots, if I even owned jeans and cowboy boots, I wouldn’t fit in at a place like this.
I hear someone clear his throat and I turn to see a guy about my age, mid-twenties, standing next to me. I can’t help my surprise when I see he’s wearing khakis and a polo shirt, like he just stepped off a golf course. He looks as out of place in this country bar as I feel.
“Are you Jake Wilde?” I ask.
The guy gives me the faintest hint of a smile but it’s almost as if it pains him to give that much. His deep brown eyes look even more distressed and I can’t help but wonder what’s behind those sad eyes.
He rakes his fingers through his thick dark hair. “A little windy out, isn’t it?”
My hand automatically goes to my hair and I try to casually flatten it down again. I imagine I must look like I just stepped out of a wind tunnel.
“Your hair looks fine,” the guy tries to assure me. But he’s got that hint of a smile on his face again and it makes me wonder if he’s lying just to make me feel better.
“I’m Cooper Wilde,” the guy says as he offers a hand.
I don’t know why I suddenly feel nervous about shaking it. It’s a business meeting. That’s what people do. But the way this guy is looking at me gives me the feeling that he might be interested in more than just business.
But I’m not, I remind myself. Not only because I’ve all but sworn off men, I’m here to do a job. I’ve been working for H & C Bank for two years and this is my first solo assignment as a lead investigator. If I continue to do well, I’ll be well on my way to becoming a Vice President before I turn thirty. I don’t need a man to throw me off my career trajectory. And definitely not some guy in a country bar in rural New Jersey.
I take his hand and give it a quick shake but I can’t bring myself to look into his smoldering eyes again. “I’m Riley Smith.”
“I figured that,” Cooper says.
“Why is that?”
That hint of a smile has returned to his face again. “We don’t often get women in business suits in the bar.”
I’m not sure why I’m suddenly overcome with the urge to get a real smile out of Cooper Wilde. I don’t know even know the guy but it somehow seems important. I get the feeling he hasn’t really smiled in a while and it’s long overdue.
Not that I’ve had much occasion for real smiles myself lately.
“My brother will be here in a minute or two. He’s just printing a few documents from the computer. Purchase orders and receipts.”
I nod and look around the place. From the outside, I thought it was going to be a dive but the place actually has character. I can tell the wooden bar is old, and it looks hand carved, as do the barstools. There’s a large stage area that looks new. That’s one of the expenses I was charged with investigating. I try to image what the place looks like filled with patrons watching a local band play on a Friday night.
“Ms. Smith?” I hear a deeper male voice say.
I look up to see another guy approaching. He also looks around my age, mid-twenties, but he looks more like what I’d expect inside a country bar. He’s wearing a white button down shirt with jeans and cowboy boots. His hair is lighter than Cooper’s and his face is rounder, more boyish, but there’s definitely a family resemblance between these two guys. They’re both about the same height, around six feet, with athletic builds, like they play sports.
“I’m Jake Wilde,” the lighter haired guy says.
I try not to laugh as I look at Jake. He’s young, attractive and nothing like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. So much for my speculation about his name.
I notice Jake has papers in his hands. “Maybe we should have a seat at one of the tables.” He motions to a table closest to us.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asks. Jake has one thing that Cooper doesn’t. An absolutely killer smile. It’s the kind of smile that can probably get any girl into bed in a matter of minutes. Well, any girl except me. I no longer fall for guys with smiles like that. It hurts too much the next morning when they say they’ll call you, and give you that smile, and you know they’re lying and you’ll never hear from them again.
“I’ll take some water,” I reply.
Jake actually winks at me before he turns to head towards the bar. The guy knows how to charm people I’ll give him credit for that.
I notice Cooper now has the papers in his hand. Without saying anything, he sits down and I follow.
“I think this is everything you’ll need as far as the fraud investigation is concerned. We’ve got purchase orders for all of the improvements as well as receipts for the completed work. You’re sitting at one of the new tables right now. And you can see the new stage from here. I’d be happy to take you up to the new roof, if you’d like to see it.”
Cooper pushes the stack of papers toward me. I quickly thumb through them. I’ll make a few phone calls when I get back into the city to verify everything and cover my butt. At first glance, though, everything looks clean. It doesn’t seem like a case of fraud, more likely poor bookkeeping.
“The loan hasn’t been paid in months,” I say even though that’s not really my department. I’m here only for the fraud investigation. They’ll be dealing with someone else regarding the default on the loan.
“I know,” Cooper says, and I can see more darkness overshadow his already dark eyes. “I’m going to try and fix that.”
Jake comes back with three bottles of water. “Bottle okay or would you like a glass?” he asks.
“Bottle is fine,” I say.
Jake sets the bottles down on the table and takes the seat right next to me. I’m a little taken aback by how much space he commands. And not just because of his size. It’s his energy—his being—that’s so large.
“So what did I miss?” Jake asks.
Cooper eyes his brother and I can see there’s a little bit of animosity between them. Or at least there is on Cooper’s part. Jake seems kind of oblivious to it.
Cooper rubs his temple and says, “I was just telling Miss Smith that we’re willing to cooperate with her investigation in any way we can. I’ve given her all of the documents she’ll need.”
“Great,” Jake says. He gives me another one of his charming smiles then looks at me like he’s undressing me with his eyes.
I reflexively pull my suit jacket tighter even though I’m revealing nothing. I’m wearing a conservative button-down banker’s suit but I still feel like Jake can see through it somehow.
“I’ll look at the papers more closely when I get back to the city. I assume these are copies I can take with me?”
“Of course,” Cooper replies. The guy is all business. It’s in sharp contrast to his brother who seems more like a non-stop-party kind of guy.
“Did you decide if you want to see the roof?” Cooper asks.
When Jake laughs, Cooper glares at him.
“What?” Jake says. “If that’s supposed to be a pick up line, you’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“It’s not a pick-up line,” Cooper says through clenched teeth.
Still grinning, Jake asks, “You’re really going to show her the roof?”
“It’s not necessary,” I state. The last place I want to be is in the middle of these two guys’ drama. There’s obviously a lot more going on than just showing me the roof.
Jake leans close to me and I catch a whiff of his cologne. It’s a spicy and masculine. “Why don’t you let me show you the new stage we had built?”
I can feel the heat radiating from his muscular body and I’m quickly reminded by my body’s reaction that I haven’t had sex in over six months.
I gulp. “That’s not necessary.”
I can feel several beads of sweat roll down my forehead. I’m getting hot, and it’s not because of the temperature of the room has changed. It’s Jake’s closeness to me.
I jump from my chair. “I have everything I need.” I feel like waving the papers in front of my face like a fan but I refrain. I just need to get out of the bar and away from Jake. Then I’ll be fine.
That’s what I tell myself anyway.
Cooper rises from the table and gives me an odd look. I wish I could figure out what it would take to make the guy smile but I can’t stay next to Jake a minute longer. He’s like catnip and I’m the cat. I need to escape and get some fresh air.
“Thank you both for your cooperation,” I say.
“You’ll let us know if you need anything else?” Cooper asks.
“I will. It was a pleasure meeting you.” I put out my hand for Cooper to shake.
This time, when he touches me, I make a point of looking into his eyes. They seem to have gotten even darker and deeper in just the last few minutes and that makes me even more curious about him.
Business, I remind myself. You’re here for business and then it’s back to the city.
“It was nice meeting you, too,” Cooper says and once again, he only gives me the hint of a smile.
When Jake clears his throat, it breaks the moment between me and Cooper. I’m embarrassed that I lost control. I’m supposed to be a professional.
I noticed Jake has his hand out and I realize he wants me to shake it. The last thing I want is to do is touch Jake. I don’t want to get caught up in his charismatic web like a fly.
I give him a ridiculous wave instead and I feel like an idiot when he frowns.
“I’d better get going,” I say as I turn and make my way toward the door.
When I look back at the two brothers, they’re both staring at me. I don’t know why that makes me so nervous. I don’t plan on ever seeing either one of them again.
When I’m finally outside, I take in a deep breath of what I think will be fresh air and instead, I’m assaulted by the small of cow manure.
Great. Just great.
I hop into my car and turn the air conditioning up as high as it will go. I take in another deep breath and try to get the stench of cow dung out of my nasal passages.
I can’t believe I’m shaking. I’m not sure if it’s because of Cooper or Jake. Maybe it’s a little of both. But I’m definitely rattled.
I just need to get out of Old Town and get back to the city, I tell myself. Then things will get back to normal.
As I put the car into reverse and begin to pull out of my parking space, I keep thinking: I just need to get out of here and get back to the city.
When I step on the accelerator to go forward, I drive right into an old Chevy pick-up truck that’s headed straight for me.
A loud crash echoes in the parking lot. The sound of metal crushing against metal goes right through me.
“What was that?” I yell as I head toward the door.
Jake is right on my heels as we hurry outside.
“Is that Tucker’s truck?” I ask as I survey the scene. The Chevy pick-up has crashed into what was a brand new BMW M3, that I assume belongs to Riley Smith.
“It’s probably his fault,” Jake whispers to me.
“Have things been bad again?” I ask.
“They haven’t been good.”
My brother, Tucker, joined the Army right out of high school and did a tour in Iraq before his was injured and discharged. They were able to fix his leg fairly well, although he still has a slight limp. Too bad they weren’t able to fix whatever is going on inside his head.
I hurry over to Riley who is trying to get out of her car. Her legs look wobbly and I manage to grab her right before she lands on her ass.
“I’m fine,” she says as she tries to steady herself. She doesn’t look fine at all. Her face is completely white and she looks like she’s in shock.
“Maybe we’d better call an ambulance,” I suggest. “You should probably get checked out.”
She shakes her head and this throws her a bit off balance again. I hold her a little tighter so she doesn’t fall.
“I’ll phone the police,” Jake says as he grabs his cell phone out of his pocket.
When I glace over at my Tucker’s pick-up, I see that he still hasn’t gotten out of the vehicle. He looks like he’s in a daze. I’m worried about him but I’m also concerned about Riley.
“Jake, why don’t you check on Tucker?” I suggest.
Jake looks at Riley then glances over Tucker. “Why don’t you check on Tucker? I’ll make sure Riley’s okay.”
I can’t believe that Jake actually winks at Riley. Sometimes I just want to punch my older brother right in his charismatic face.
When I glance down at Riley, she’s looking up at me with her stunning brown eyes. I’m surprised when she actually gripes me a little tighter. She obviously doesn’t want me to let her go.
“You deal with Tucker,” I insist.
“Fine,” Jake says but I can tell he’s pissed. I’m sure I’ll hear about it later.
I watch as Jake heads over to Tucker and pulls him out of the truck. I didn’t think it was possible but Tucker looks worse than he did when I saw him six months ago. His blonde hair is now shoulder length and it looks like it hasn’t been washed in a while. He’s grown so muscular that his t-shirt can barely contain him. He’s always liked to lift weights but now he must not be doing much of anything else. I also notice that he’s gotten a few more tattoos on both of his arms. If he wasn’t my brother, and I hadn’t known him since he was born, I would actually be scared of him. He looks like he could be a member of some outlaw biker gang.
When Tucker heads in our direction, Jake grabs his arm but Tucker just shoves him aside. I notice Tucker’s limp seems a little more pronounced and I wonder if it’s a result of the crash or if he’s just not doing well.
I can feel Riley start to shake next to me as Tucker heads right for her. A few tears start to stream down her face and it tugs on my heart strings a little. I’m not a very sensitive guy but one thing I can’t handle is seeing a woman cry.
“It’s okay,” I whisper.
“He looks mad,” Riley whispers back.
“It’s just Tucker,” I say. But I don’t elaborate because I don’t want to get into his history with her right now.
Tucker stands in front of Riley for a few moments just staring at her. He’s big, tough looking, intimidating. But I also know my brother. He would never hurt a fly. He’s a sensitive soul who was deeply damaged by going to war.
Riley is still shaking next to me and I wish I could say or do something that will calm her down.
“I’m sorry,” Tucker says finally. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Or wreck your car. I just didn’t see you.”
And that’s all he says before he turns and walks into the bar.
It doesn’t take long for the emergency vehicles to arrive. I stay with Riley as she gives a statement to the police. She confirms what Tucker said earlier. He wasn’t paying attention and ran right into her car.
A few times when Jake phoned me, he mentioned that he was worried about Tucker. I guess I hadn’t taken his concerns seriously enough.
“I don’t think I need to go to the hospital,” Riley says to the police officer.
The cop looks familiar. I’m pretty sure we went to high school together but I don’t remember his name. He’s a few years older than me. He was in Jake’s class in high school. He probably wouldn’t remember me anyway, and if he did, it would most likely be as Jake’s little brother. If I had a dollar for every time someone called me Jake’s little brother, I wouldn’t have to work to earn my first million, I’d already have it in the bank.
“Maybe you should get checked out just in case,” I suggest. I barely know her but I’m overwhelmed with the desire to take care of Riley. I’m not sure why. She certainly doesn’t come across as someone who needs to be taken care of. Quite the opposite. She seems like a pretty tough girl who can take care of herself.
And I’m not really the type of guy who takes care of other people.
But as I look at Riley now, still a little shaken up from the accident, her perfect façade a little thrown off kilter, I feel like I want to take her into my arms, hold her tight and tell her everything is going to be alright.
God, I sound like I’m back in the Wilde Riders again, thinking up sappy lyrics for original country songs.
Once the police officer and ambulance leave, it’s eerily quiet in the parking lot. I hear Riley let out a little sob as she inspects the damage to her car.
“What am I going to do?” she asks but it seems to no one in particular.
I wonder whether I should respond or if the question was actually rhetorical.
Before I can offer her my help, Jake swoops in and grabs Riley’s arm. I can see her flinch slightly and I want Jake to take his hands off of her. I don’t think he has any idea he’s making her uncomfortable. And why would he? Everyone loves Jake. Especially women.
He was the star football player in high school. He led the team to the state champions. Hell, kids at Old Town High still talk about him like he was a god. And I was always “Jake’s younger brother.” As if I didn’t have an identity outside of Jake’s shadow.
I was the brother who played soccer and golf. Playing in a state championship golf tournament isn’t exactly as high profile as being the star quarterback of a state championship football team.
What really pisses me off, though, is that Jake always gets every girl he wants. And then once he gets them, he usually decides pretty quickly that he doesn’t want them anymore. I don’t want Riley to be another one of his conquests. She’s deserves better than that.
“I’ll phone Shane Parker,” Jake says. “He can give an estimate on the damage and let you know if you’ll be able to drive it back to the city. You may have to stay the night in Old Town.”
Jake’s friend, Shane, owns one of the two garages in town.
Riley’s eyes grow wide and she scrunches up her cure little nose as the realization sets in. She’s probably going to be stuck in New Jersey. I can’t say that I blame her. I don’t want to be stuck here either.
When Jake leaves to call his friend, I breathe a small sigh of relief. As much as I love my brother, sometimes I really hate him, too.
Riley touches the front of the car. The damage looks pretty bad. I can see Riley try to discretely wipe a few stray tears from her cheeks.
I come up behind her and say, “The M3 is one of my favorites. Sports car performance with style.”
When Riley turns to face me, I can see her cheeks are wet. It takes every ounce of restraint I have not to reach out and wipe the tears away.
“You know about BMWs?” She sounds surprised.
I nod. I don’t know why but I have the feeling that I shouldn’t tell her that I own one, too, and that it’s sitting right out on the street. So I just keep that fact to myself.
“This was my baby,” Riley states as she continues touching the damaged places on her hood.
“Cars can be fixed. People are a little more difficult. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“And I assume the guy who hit me is another Wilde brother?”
“Your assumption is correct. Tucker’s twenty-four.”
“He looks older,” she remarks.
“He’s been through a lot. It’s aged him.”
I guess she can tell I don’t really want to talk about it because she just nods and doesn’t ask anything further.
“Your brothers both drive pick-up trucks. Kind of confirms the stereotype.”
“That we’re all hicks from the sticks?” I ask. There’s a note of bitterness in my voice that I can’t control. “And you haven’t even met my youngest brother yet. He’s the real rebel. He drives a Toyota pick-up. Not driving American-made is kind of scandalous around here.”
“Will Shane Parker be able to fix my car?” she asks. “It’s a scandalous import.”
I smile. I’m glad she can joke a little even though she’s clearly upset. “I’m pretty sure Shane can fix just about anything.”
Riley looks like she wants to say more. I’m not sure why I sense that. I’m usually not so attuned to other people. I’m a numbers guy. Give me spread sheets and I’m happy. Ask me to figure out what’s wrong with another human being and you’ve got a problem. But I’m definitely attuned to Riley. It’s almost like I can read everything she’s thinking.
I have to laugh when Shane arrives in a pick-up truck. Maybe Riley’s not that far off and we are all a bunch of pick-up driving hayseeds. I just don’t want her to lump me in with all of the other Old Town boys. I’m not that guy anymore. I’ve worked too hard for my white collar.
“Wow,” Shane says as he approaches Riley’s car. “Your car’s a mess. Have you contacted your insurance company yet?”
Riley shakes her head. “In all the commotion, I haven’t had a chance.”
“Maybe we’d better phone them together. Once I’ve had a chance to check everything out.” As he does a cursory inspection of the damage, he whistles. “I hope you don’t have a very large deductible. This is going to be a big bill.”
Riley’s eyes go wide again. “Do you think I’ll be able to drive back to the city tonight?”
Shane laughs. “Not in this car. You’re probably not going to be driving this baby for a few weeks, maybe a month.”
“A month?” Riley cries.
“At least,” Shane reiterates.
“This isn’t possible,” Riley says. “I have to get back to the city tonight.”
“Big date?” Shane jokes. Both Riley and I glare at him but I realize it may not be for the same reason.
Why didn’t it occur to me that Riley might have a boyfriend? And why do I suddenly care so much if she does?
“I’d better make a phone call,” Riley says as she steps away from us for some privacy.
When Riley is out of earshot, Shane says, “This is the third accident Tucker’s had in the last six months. They may pull his insurance.”
The more I hear, the more concerned I am about Tucker. Not to mention the fact that he looks awful. “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll talk to him.”
When Riley returns, she looks even more flustered and it makes me wonder who she phoned.
“So, do you want me to tow it back to my shop?” Shane asks.
“Do I have a choice?” Riley asks.
“There is another shop in town but he charges a lot more than I do and he’s not as cute as I am.”
Shane is anything but cute. If they were casting for The Hobbit in northwest New Jersey, he’d be at the top of the casting list.
But the comment brings out Riley’s incredible smile. When she really smiles, not just a polite business smile, but a genuine expression of joy, it lights up the space around her.
“I guess I’ll take my chances with you then,” Riley says.
When Shane winks at her, I feel like I’ve been slapped. I don’t know why it’s bothering me so much that he’s flirting with her because 1) he’s Shane and 2) she’s not mine.
But I want her to be. And that’s a complete shock to me.
A relationship at this point in my life is definitely not part of the plan. I’ve always put my career first and it’s served me well so far. I’m on my way to becoming a Vice President before I turn thirty. I definitely don’t need a relationship to throw me off my career trajectory.
“I’ll call for the tow truck,” Shane says as she turns toward his pick-up. Then he turns back and adds, “And you may want to get a drink before you come by my shop. I think Jake just opened the bar.”
As Riley and I watch Shane drive away, Riley asks, “Is it too early for a drink?”
“Never,” I reply.
Riley grabs my elbow and we head into Haymakers.
I’m really starting to like having her hands on me. Maybe a little too much.
Romance novelist Savannah Young grew up in rural northwest New Jersey in a place very similar to the fictional Old Town, which is featured in her books. When she’s not at her computer creating spicy stories, Savannah is traveling to exotic locales or spending time with her husband and their bloodhounds.