Exclusive excerpt! Wild Child: A Skull Kings MC Novella

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Ooh, a cover! Some of the more vigilant folks may have seen it live in action on my Amazon Author Central Page (link).

Before I disappear into the mountains for this upcoming Labor Day weekend, I thought I’d share with you the cover, title, and excerpt of the LAST and FINAL installment of my Skull Kings MC Novella series.

It’s definitely bittersweet. People have really connected to the Skull Kings and their old ladies in a way that I never expected. At the same time, I’m eager to give every one of these couples the happily-ever-after they deserve and move onto even more exciting, sexier stories.

At this point, Wild Child is near complete and will endure a couple comb-throughs before being sent out into the world. Patience. Patience, grasshopper. That last bit was mostly for me. I’m anxious to cross the finish line on this one!

So while I pound away, why don’t you scroll down below to read the rough cut of chapter 1? You’re probably wondering which Skull Princess will be featured this time, and who her knight in shining leather will be. Read on to find out!

After a nine hour ride, the bus finally creaked to a stop in a gas station parking lot. The guy in the seat next to me was still dead asleep with his head lolling on his chest. He’d conked out hours ago after talking non-stop about the eight hotels he “owned” all over the country, using our conversation as an excuse to stare at my chest.

Good riddance, creep, I thought at him as I hopped over his lap into the aisle.

Oldies music played on the gas station’s outdoor speakers as the bus slowly emptied. Some dragged their rolling suitcases to waiting family members while others headed straight for the bus stop on the corner. Every one of them had a specific place to be, whether it was home or work. But my destination was already in plain sight.

The Paradise Motel, a Pepto-pink stucco building with palm trees lining the cracked parking lot, was directly across the street. It looked cheap and lonely. Just my style. I squared my shoulders, making my way to the crosswalk. Then, I heard something that made my heart skip a beat.

The vroom-rattle-rattle of a finely tuned motorcycle.

A flood of memories rushed through my mind, namely my brother Liam with his shirtsleeves rolled up, hard at work fixing up his first salvaged motorcycle. I remembered the smell of baking asphalt and burnt rubber when he took me for my first ride. When I turned my head, I spotted a motorcycle turning a corner and thought I saw the Skull Kings colors on the driver’s back.

But I knew it was my eyes playing tricks on me. I was in Las Vegas, not Arizona. I felt homesick for the first time, and probably not the last. It was a bittersweet feeling. I wasn’t used to having a home. My last few days in Canyon City had been my best ever.

I brushed the feeling away. There was no other way to go but forward, so I began crossing the street. The motel office was barely cool with a window A/C unit that seemed to be running on its last legs. The pimply, slumping boy at the desk barely perked up as I walked in.

“Can I help you?” he asked in a bored, flat voice.

“Uh…I’d like a room?”

“Credit card?”

I tried to keep my voice steady. “I want to pay cash, if that’s okay.”

The boy barely shrugged. He slid a registration form in my direction without asking for an I.D. Full of relief, I prepared to fill it out with some half-assed, fake information.

Lisbeth Olsen, my mind urged as my pen hovered over the blank form. My fingers shaped the first “L” with the pen, but I forced myself to write “Lucy Hernandez.” My handwriting wobbled as I tried to make up a name and address on the spot. It felt like I was scribbling over my identity.

I exchanged a hundred and forty-five dollars for a room key and went on my way.

Room fifteen, I chanted in my mind as I bisected the mostly empty lot. I could still hear the music playing at the gas station across the street, and I quickly realized that I knew the song when I caught myself humming along with the melody.

Something, something broken heart. Something, something torn apart.

Somehow, it described my life perfectly.

Dusk was settling over the city. Orangish, late afternoon light sliced through the blinds in the window of room fifteen, making it smell baked and stale inside. I locked the door, heaved my backpack onto the bed, and threw myself onto my back.

Back on the day I left home, I’d bought my Vegas bus ticket full of determination. I’d hoped to go out to California to see the ocean before planning my next move, but for some reason, the route from Phoenix to Las Vegas seemed to glow with promise on the station map. Something prompted me to come back here.

I was a different girl now, but the city was still the same. I’d found my way back, my wallet a little light, with no job prospects and no way to get around.

What was I doing here?

 

* * *

 

Union Jack’s, an English pub just off the Strip, was just as greasy and loud as I remembered. I sat down at the bar and ordered my old favorite, the fish and chips special.

“We don’t serve that anymore,” the perky blonde bartender said.

I stared back at her in shock. “Does Benny still work here?” I asked.

“Sorry.” She shrugged, shifting her luminous ponytail. “I don’t know who that is. What would you like to drink?”

“Water is fine,” I said meekly.

I watched her walk away, feeling disappointed. Benny was a stout older man who always let me order a beer without carding me. Oh well. I would be twenty-one in a year, anyway. But legal or not, everybody had to eat, and it looked like I had to look elsewhere for a cheap meal. I cast my eyes around the pub, wondering if I recognized any of the other workers. I didn’t.

Have I really been gone that long? I wondered.

The interior hadn’t changed much. It was all grimy barstools and sticky floors, just as I’d left it. But the view out the window had changed quite a bit. The old billiards hall across the street had been bought and remodeled into some sort of club. A pink neon sign flashed the words “Lip Service.”

But that wasn’t what initially caught my eye.

The Harley eased up to the curb just outside the entrance to Lip Service. Even though I couldn’t hear it, I could imagine exactly how the vibrating bike seat would’ve felt between my thighs as I watched the biker parking his ride. He took off his helmet, revealing short, dark hair and a chiseled jaw. He reminded me of my brother, Liam, in a way, and the thought made my heart sting.

Then, he swung off the bike, turning his back toward Union Jack’s. I gasped.

I was still yards away, but I could recognize that symbol from the opposite side of a football field.

The backpatch was of a skull wearing a dagger-pierced crown, the whole thing enveloped in flames. It was the emblem of the Skull Kings MC.

A Skull King in Vegas? I thought.

The biker walked into Lip Service and disappeared from view. I rose from my stool and drifted toward the exit. There was a tiny flicker of doubt in the back of my mind. In a few minutes, it would’ve billowed into a huge red warning: This is a bad idea. But not yet. Right now, I was too curious to notice that flicker of doubt.

And maybe, I was a little homesick to boot.

I jogged across the street, my heart thumping dully in my chest. The Skull Kings were everywhere. There was my brother’s Canyon City chapter, of course. It was practically the only family I had. I’d caught glimpses of others during my wandering years. A gray-haired senior at a flea market in Portland. A baby-faced prospect waxing cars on Venice Beach. I liked to think of them all as distant cousins.

And now, this one. From across the street, I could tell he was youngish, dark-haired, and maybe handsome. Where was he from? As far as I knew, there were no Kings in Vegas.

But there were in Laughlin.

I felt a familiar chill at the thought of my first encounter with the Laughlin Kings. My brother and his club had reached out to them to help me get away from some kidnappers, but the Laughlin Kings had struck a deal with the kidnappers instead.

My pace slowed. Could that Skull King be from Laughlin? I knew it was risky, but I had to know.

A horn blared loudly in my ear, interrupting my thoughts. I was standing right in the middle of the crosswalk. I hurried to the other side of the street.

The façade of Lip Service was a windowless cinderblock wall. The door was propped open, and slow country music drifted out from inside. I felt a cool lick of air conditioning. I closed my eyes, swiftly inhaled, and stepped over the threshold.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light. Unlike Union Jack’s, this bar was nearly deserted. Only a few of the tables were occupied, mostly by parties of one. A quick scan showed me that the Skull King from earlier was nowhere to be seen. A tattooed woman with a blue pixie haircut tended the bar. I began to make my way over when—

“Hey!”

A hand closed over my arm, the grip alarmingly strong. I stumbled and caught my gaze on the grabber’s face. It was a sun-wrinkled woman wearing a cowboy hat. Blonde pigtails swung forward over her shoulders, and she leered at me with long, yellowish teeth.

The woman leaned close. “Are you lookin’ for a good time?”

I struggled to find my voice. My heart was beating too hard in my throat. “Ah…no?” I stammered.

The woman’s fingers wound tighter around my arm, pulling on my skin. “Then, what the hell are you doing—”

“That’s enough.”

The voice was so deep and strong, even the woman flinched. Her sharp, blue eyes snapped away from my face. “Sorry,” she muttered. “My mistake.”

I watched her scurry toward the exit and duck out, swallowed up by the sunlight. A frown tugged at my face. “What just happened?” I thought aloud.

“She’s normally not that crazy. Probably means she likes you.”

I turned toward the stranger to thank him, but all my thoughts sizzled into vapor once my gaze landed on his face. He’d taken off his leather cut and wore a plain black tee shirt, printed with the words “Lip Service Security,” but it was the same guy. Short, dark hair, tattooed arms, and all. When he smiled, I felt my knees tremble.

His hand came forward. “I’ve never seen you here before,” he said. “I’m Gabriel.”

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