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This bad boy won’t play by the rules.
Daredevil Carly Hawthorne, youngest of the Hawthorne wolf shifter clan, doesn’t believe in true love. At least, that’s what she thinks until bad boy Luke Brandstetter comes along, refusing to play by the rules.
Luke is a man with more wrongs than rights in his past, and his scarred shifter soul yearns to turn over a new leaf. Somehow, he has to prove himself worthy – not just to Carly, but to her powerful pack of wolves. Can he protect his stubborn beauty from encroaching evil and earn a fresh start in life, or is love just another cruel trick of fate?
Luke tightened his grip on the worn steering wheel of his pickup. Damn, did he miss his Ducati. The wind in his hair. Asphalt rolling under the wheels. The 750cc motor humming with a life of its own. That feeling of utter freedom that always filled him on cool desert nights like this, when a thousand stars dotted the sky and an open landscape stretched to infinity on both sides of the road. The kind of night he would head out on just for the joy of it. No destination. No obligations. No plans.
He gnashed his teeth, spat out the window, and caught a glance of his own reflection in the mirror. Damn. Even if he were on his bike, he wouldn’t have felt the wind in his hair because he’d had it cut short. Straight. Neat. Where the hell had he gotten the idea that a respectable haircut might help him take the first step toward becoming a respectable man?
Who are you trying to kid? a dark voice growled from the back of his mind.
No amount of cleaning up would scrub away the dirty color of his tan or the ink of his tattoos. And no amount of pretending would cleanse away the past.
He took a deep breath and forced his eyes back to the road. This was about looking forward, not back. About a new beginning. And damn it, he’d see this through, no matter what.
A speed limit sign flashed by, and it felt weird, not breaking seventy-five. Not even trying to.
Go a little faster. Chase that high, the dark voice said.
He stared into the darkness, determined not to let his speed inch up. That was just fate tempting him. Fate trying to win the bet that he wouldn’t — couldn’t — succeed in becoming a better man.
“Sixty-five,” he muttered aloud. “Keep it at sixty-fucking-five.”
Saguaro cacti saluted him with stiff, prickly arms from both sides of the highway. When the road climbed steadily north, gaining altitude, they faded away along with the lights of Phoenix.
He was just starting up a steep incline when — Vroom! — a motorcycle roared by with a lean rider bent over the handlebars. A vintage Triumph, by the sound of it. And man, it actually hurt to watch something so beautiful move so fast.
That ought to be you, the dark voice goaded.
His inner wolf jumped out of a fitful snooze and howled in his mind. Catch her. Catch her!
He sniffed the air. The driver was a woman. Lean body, round hips. Perfect ass. Her leather boots laced up the back and ended in little tassels that whipped in the wind. A whiff of her scent teased his nose as she rushed by, and just like that, his body went from weary to full alert. Blood rushed through his veins, and every molecule in his body jumped up and down.
Get her! Earn her! Bring her back! his wolf screamed.
Up ahead, a truck was passing a slower camper, and the biker hung back just long enough for Luke to dream about catching up for a better look. But then the woman kicked the bike into another gear and shot into the suicidally narrow gap between the two vehicles.
Holy shit. Was she really going to try threading through that three-foot slot at ninety miles an hour?
The engine of her Triumph roared through the night, and his inner wolf whistled.
Holy shit. She really is.
His heart banged away as if he were the one pulling that crazy stunt.
The two vehicles lurched apart and horns blared, but she was already through the gap. A fist shook and horns cursed for another full minute, but the biker was long gone.
She was gone.
His wolf howled. Every nerve in his body tingled, and he leaned toward the open window, sucking in the last trace of her scent.
Red and blue lights flooded the road as a state trooper flashed past in pursuit of the biker. Luke grinned.
“Fly, baby. Fly,” he whispered into the night.
He knew that high. That thrill that came from being chased. From knowing he’d get away, if only by the skin of his teeth. He nearly stomped on the gas to try to catch up, even though he had about as good a chance as that cop did. But he didn’t because he was supposed to be through with all that.
So he forced himself to drive at that painfully slow pace, licking his lips against a parched feeling that hadn’t been there before.
Her. His wolf sniffed the air. Want her. Need her.
“Sure, buddy.” Luke snorted. “That’s the last we’ll ever see of her.”
The second he said it, his chest started to ache, and his wolf threw its head up in a low, mournful howl. Like he’d just passed up the chance of his life or a lottery ticket had just cartwheeled past in the breeze and he hadn’t even made a grab for it. Like destiny had flashed him a smile instead of a sneer for the first time ever, and he didn’t even know how to react.
“Forget it.” He slapped the wheel and straightened his shoulders. He needed to stick to his plan, not lust after a hot ass with a death wish. There was a reason he’d traded his old life for a beat-up old pickup and a crumpled map pointing the way north. The road home, if there still was such a place.
Well, the place was still there. Most of the people, too. That much, he’d heard through the shifter grapevine. But North Ridge, Colorado, had changed a lot since he’d left, and he had, too. Neither of them for the better.
Forgot about that. Speed up. We can still catch her, his wolf urged.
Luke shook his head. Too late.
He drove on, digesting the sinking feeling in his gut. Twenty miles later, he pulled off the highway at a floodlit crossroads with a gas station, a bar with a flashing Michelob sign, and not much else.
Ten beers on tap here at Louie’s Bar, a sign blinked.
He licked his lips. Beer wasn’t what he’d been thirsting for, but it wouldn’t hurt.
Live music, the sign next to it announced.
Yeah, he could hear the country tune already, and it wasn’t half bad.
Rooms, said another sign, though one of the two O’s was out.
He could sleep in the back of the pickup, but a shave and a shower would help in the morning before his unannounced visit to Twin Moon pack — the one and only stop he’d planned between Phoenix and Colorado. There was still too much rogue in him to waltz right onto another wolf pack’s turf and stand half a chance of avoiding a fight. And anyway, he’d already done enough fighting to last a lifetime.
So he pulled into the parking lot, stepped out of the truck, and entered the bar. At first sight, it was just like any other bar in any other two-horse town in Arizona. Same stale beer smell. Same sticky floor. Same dinged-up barstools, dim corners, and thrumming bass guitar. But one thing was different. One thing stood out like a rose among thorns.
Her. The blonde with the long legs standing at the bar.
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