EXCERPT: Riven Knight - Author Devney Perry

12/30/2019

EXCERPT: Riven Knight

Riven Knight is the second story in the Tin Gypsy series. Here’s a special excerpt to enjoy!

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CHAPTER 1

Genevieve

“I’m disappointed.”

I’d take a slap across the face any day over that statement. It was especially sharp and painful today of all days, coming from Mr. Reggie Barker, a man I’d considered a mentor and professional hero.

“I’m sorry, Reggie.”

My boss—former boss—sighed on the other end of the phone. “Given the way you chose to leave the firm, I’m unable to give you a reference.”

I winced. “Oh, um . . . okay.”

Reggie felt that giving one week’s notice instead of two was a snub. It didn’t matter that I’d worked as his paralegal for the past four years, that I was the first person to arrive at the firm each morning and the last to leave each night. It didn’t matter that, while paralegals in the firm could study for their LSAT exams during work hours, I’d saved all my studies for home, ensuring every minute of my workday was dedicated to helping Reggie.

I’d pushed taking the exam four times because he’d cautioned me to be ready—stated in a way he didn’t think I was.

I’d trusted him. I’d valued his opinion above all others at the firm. I’d given him all that I’d had to give, and apparently, it wasn’t enough.

I was disappointed too.

I’d only called this morning because I’d forgotten to leave my office key behind. Now I wished I’d simply mailed it with a note.

“Best of luck, Genevieve.”

“Thank—”

He hung up the phone before I could finish. Twenty-seven was already shaping up to be a disaster.

Happy birthday to me.

I set my phone aside and stared through the windshield at the store ahead. I was parked in front of a small clothing shop on Central Avenue. It was the only store in Clifton Forge, Montana, that sold women’s clothing besides the farm-and-ranch-supply warehouse.

Clifton Forge.

My mom had gone to high school here. My grandparents, two people I’d never known, had been killed in a car accident and were buried here. Six weeks ago, the town of Clifton Forge was nothing more than a footnote in my family’s history.

Then Mom came for a visit and was viciously slaughtered at the local motel.

Now Clifton Forge wasn’t only a black spot on the past, it was also my home for the foreseeable future.

I longed to be at home in Denver, driving on familiar streets to familiar places. The allure of the highway had a strong pull. On the drive from Colorado, I’d been tempted more than once to turn around and never look back. To run and hide.

Except I’d made a promise to a perfect stranger, a man I’d known only hours. I wouldn’t break my word.

Not after what Isaiah had done for me.

So here I was, in Clifton Forge.

For months. Years. Decades. For as long as it takes. I owed Isaiah that time.

The queasy feeling I’d had for days surged, the bile rising in my throat. I swallowed it down, not wanting to think about a lifetime condemned to Montana. I didn’t have time to dwell on the possibilities—the consequences—of what was about to happen. I was supposed to meet Isaiah at noon, which only gave me two hours to get ready. So I steeled my spine, pushed the nerves away and got out of the car to do some shopping.

I refused to wear jeans today.

In the past week, I’d packed up everything in my condo in Denver, much like I’d done with my mother’s home, though this time not quite as soul shattering. Still, it had hurt and I’d cried every time I’d taped a box shut. All this change, all this loss—I was drowning.

Most of my larger belongings had gone into storage. Some had been packed to ship. And the rest had been crammed into my gray, four-door Toyota Camry, which I’d driven from Colorado to Montana yesterday.

Too frazzled, trying to pack and finish up my last week at work, I hadn’t thought to pack a dress. Maybe it was my subconscious protesting today’s nuptials.

But, like it or not, this wedding was happening, and I was not wearing jeans.

Especially on my birthday.

I’d taken extra care with my makeup this morning. I’d washed and styled my thick, brown hair using the expensive curling wand Mom had bought me last year.

It was the last birthday gift she’d ever give me.

My God, I missed her. She wouldn’t be here today to stand by my side as I made arguably the biggest mistake of my life. She wouldn’t be here for any more birthdays, because a vile and vicious human had snuffed out her life. It wasn’t fair.

Mom had been murdered, stabbed seven times, left to bleed out in a motel room alone. She’d died, leaving behind a trail of secrets and lies that were ruining her beautiful memory.

Why? I wanted to scream it to the heavens until she answered.

Why?

I was so angry at her. I was furious she hadn’t trusted me with the truth. That she hadn’t told me about my father. That I was here in this shitty little town because of her bad choices.

But damn it, I missed her. Today of all days, I wanted my mom.

Tears welled behind my sunglasses and I blinked them away before walking into the clothing store. I put on the fake smile I’d been wearing for weeks.

“Good morning,” the clerk greeted as the bell chimed over my head. “Please feel free to look around. Is there something in particular you’re looking for?”

“Actually, yes. I need a dress and heels.”

The heels would hurt. The soles of my feet were wrecked from running through the mountains with bare feet, but I’d suffer through it today.

“Oooh. I might have just the thing.” She came from around the counter where she’d been folding a sweater. “We just got this deep-green dress in yesterday. I’m obsessed with it. And it will go beautifully with your hair.”

“Perfect.”

Just as long as it isn’t white.

Thirty minutes later, I was home—a term I used loosely—because my temporary residence, this shitty apartment located above a shitty garage in a shitty town, was definitely no home. I pulled on my new sleeveless green wrap dress, adjusting the deep V-neck so not too much cleavage was showing. Then I stood on my tiptoes in the bathroom, trying to see myself in the mirror. Whoever had furnished this place didn’t seem to care what they looked like from the waist down.

I strapped on the nude heels I’d bought today too, wishing I’d had time for a pedicure. Was there even a place for pedicures in Clifton Forge? Instead, I rifled through my purse for the bottle of hot pink polish I’d tossed in there weeks ago for emergency touch-ups. I applied another coat and let it dry. There were so many layers now, it would take a jackhammer to chip it all off.

I fluffed my hair once more and swiped on a fresh coat of lip color. Noise from the Clifton Forge Garage carried up from the floor. The clang of metal on metal. The hum of a compressor. The muffled voices of men working.

Crossing the studio apartment, I stepped up to the only window that overlooked the parking lot below. A row of gleaming black motorcycles was parked against the edge of the property, lined up and equally spaced against a chain-link fence.

My half brother owned one of those bikes.

So did my father.

He was Mom’s biggest secret, one I’d only learned about because of her death. Would she have told me about him eventually? I guess it didn’t make a difference now. Except for a few times as a kid and then a bratty teenager, I hadn’t asked about him. I hadn’t needed a father when I’d had her as a mother.

She was everything I’d needed and more. And now she was gone, leaving me to deal with this family of strangers. What other secrets would I uncover in Clifton Forge? They seemed to be seeping from the boards of her coffin.

A man walked out from the garage, striding to a black bike that didn’t gleam like the others. It was the only motorcycle in the row I’d ridden.

Isaiah. A name that had been haunting my thoughts for days.

His stride was long and confident. He had a grace about his steps, an ease in the way those strong thighs lifted and his narrow hips rolled. But then came the thud, a heaviness each time his boot hit pavement.

It sounded a lot like dread.

I could sympathize.

He glanced over his shoulder, his eyes landing on my car parked by the stairs leading to the apartment. He stared at it for a long moment, then turned his gaze to the window.

I didn’t bother trying to hide. If he could see me past the dirt and water spots, it didn’t make a difference. Soon, there’d be no escaping his gaze.

It was impossible to see the color of his eyes from this distance, but like his name, they’d been a constant part of my dreams. And nightmares.

Green and brown and gold. Most would classify them as hazel and move along to his other mouth-watering qualities—the long legs, rock-hard stomach, chiseled arms decorated with tattoos and an ass that didn’t quit. But those eyes, they were exquisite.

The spiral of colors was ringed with a bold circle of dark chocolate. And though the pattern was intriguing, what made them so heartbreaking were the demons beneath.

There was no sparkle. No light. They were empty.

From his time in prison? Or from something more?

Isaiah gave me a single nod, then went to his bike, straddling the machine as it rumbled to life. It was time to go.

My heart jumped into my throat. I’m going to be sick. I swallowed down the wash of saliva in my mouth and breathed through my nose, because there wasn’t time to puke. It was almost noon.

I pulled myself away from the window and returned to the bathroom, tidying up the few things I’d left on the counter. While the rest of the studio was wide open, the bathroom had a door, which was good since I’d be sharing this space tonight.

Then with all my things put away in a travel case, I risked one long look in the mirror.

I looked pretty today, a fancier version of my normal self. In a way, I looked like Mom.

Damn it, Mom. Damn you for not being here. For making me do this alone.

I sucked in a breath, not allowing the threat of tears to ruin my mascara. I shoved those feelings deep, to a dark place where they’d stay until I could afford the breakdown needed. Now was not that time, no matter how fucked my life had become.

First, there was my job. By quitting, I’d killed my dream to one day become a lawyer and work alongside the great Reggie Barker. Did Clifton Forge even have lawyers? If so, I doubted any specialized in pro bono work for abused women. There certainly wasn’t a law school nearby. Which meant if I did find a job, I’d be stuck as a paralegal.

Goodbye, dream job.

Next, there was my condo, the one I’d picked out meticulously. The one I’d drained my savings account to buy. The one I’d been slowly decorating, taking care and patience to pick things that were perfect, not just things that filled empty spaces.

Goodbye, home.

It was agony to think of selling my condo, especially while I was stuck in a studio apartment, and not the swanky kind. No, this was the bachelor kind with white, cracked walls and old tan carpet.

Goodbye, life.

I trudged out of the bathroom, grabbed my purse and headed for the door. My heels clopped down the metal stairs as I gripped the handrail to keep my balance. When my shoes hit pavement, I hustled for the car, not risking a glance at the garage.

I’d been avoiding my half brother, Dash, and his girlfriend, Bryce, since I’d arrived yesterday. They had questions about what I was doing here. Why I was living in Isaiah’s apartment. How long I was staying.

I had answers but wasn’t ready to give them yet.

When I pulled out of the parking lot undetected, I breathed a long sigh, then followed my phone’s navigation toward downtown Clifton Forge.

I passed a wide river along the way. It meandered along the edge of town, bordered by trees that swayed in the breeze. The sun gleamed off its flowing currents. The mountains stood proud and blue in the distance. It was . . . picturesque.

Maybe I’d been a bit harsh in my judgment of Clifton Forge. It actually had the same country, quiet feel as some of the rural areas in Colorado, places Mom had taken me for weekend getaways. The garage wasn’t all that shitty either but fancy, like the garages you saw on car-resurrection shows.

Maybe, in time, I’d get to know the town and its people and not feel like a prisoner.

Today was not that day.

Today was day one of my sentence.

The closer I got to my destination, the faster my heart raced. Parking in one of the few open spaces in front of the Clifton Forge courthouse, I dug through my console for a handful of change to slot into the meter. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used change instead of my credit card to pay for parking.

With it maxed out at two hours—I really hoped this didn’t take that long—I walked up the stairs that led to the red brick building. When I reached the door, my eyes caught sight of a familiar form waiting, and I stuttered a step.

“Hey.” Isaiah pushed off the wall.

“Hi,” I breathed, wiping my sweaty palms on my dress.

He was in a black button-up shirt and a pair of jeans, the same as he’d been in at the garage. They were clean jeans, a bit faded, and they fit him nicely. Still, they were jeans. I wasn’t sure why that bothered me. Maybe I should have just worn jeans too.

“What?” He glanced at himself.

I snapped my eyes away from those long legs, waving it off. “Nothing.”

“You look nice.” He ran a hand over his short brown hair, avoiding my eyes.

“Thanks. So do you.”

His black shirt was buttoned down to his wrists, covering the tattoos on his forearms. The one that ran behind his ear trailed down his neck before it disappeared under his collar. I wasn’t sure if he had any on his back, legs or chest, but each of his fingers had a different design. Ten small tattoos made of lines and dots, all situated across his knuckles.

“Ready?” I asked.

He nodded. “Are you sure about this?”

“We don’t have a choice.”

“No. I guess we don’t.”

Isaiah opened the door for me, but inside, he took the lead, guiding us through the courthouse hallways by the wooden signs hung on the walls. The floors had been freshly polished and the overwhelming smell of lemon filled my nose. We disappeared down a series of turns until we reached the door emblazoned with Clerk of the District Court. Underneath was a judge’s name. Below that was Justice of the Peace.

We were here. We were really doing this. I was marrying a stranger today. I was marrying the man who’d saved my life.

It was my turn to return the favor and save his.

Isaiah greeted the clerk at the front desk, speaking for us both because I’d forgotten how to work my tongue. I stood by his side, frozen and dazed, waiting as he filled out the marriage license application. When it was my turn, my hand shook as I filled in the blanks.

“Do you have your IDs?” the clerk asked. She took them both along with the application, then pointed to the row of chairs behind us. “You can have a seat.”

I clenched the arms of the chair as I sat, taking a few long breaths to stop my head from spinning. This was not how I’d imagined getting married. This was not special. I was in a green dress because I didn’t want to wear white when this marriage was a farce. I didn’t know my fiancé’s middle name or how he liked to be kissed. I didn’t know if he drank coffee or what side of the bed he slept on.

My mom wasn’t here to walk me down the aisle.

Blood pumped loud in my ears and the hammering in my chest hurt like crazy. I’d never had an anxiety attack before. Was that what this was? I’d gotten kidnapped just over a week ago and hadn’t flipped out then. If I could survive that experience, then this was a piece of cake.

It’s temporary. It’s only temporary. Eventually, we’d get a divorce and I’d be free to move home to Colorado. A few years here and then I’d get my life back. I could do this for Isaiah.

“We don’t have to do this,” he whispered.

“We do,” I insisted, finding the same determination I’d had when I’d suggested marriage in the first place. “We do.”

“Genevieve . . .” My name sounded so smooth in his deep voice. Each syllable was evenly spaced. He didn’t rush through it like a lot of people did.

I looked up at him, meeting that gorgeous gaze, and my heart softened. Isaiah was a nice man. A good man. He didn’t deserve to suffer because of my mother’s mistakes. “We’re doing this.”

“Isaiah and Genevieve?” The clerk waved us up, sliding a marriage license across the counter. “You’re all set. Just go right through there.”

We followed her finger through a door to our left, finding a man shuffling some papers on his oak desk. His glasses were perched low on his nose. His head was bald except for the ring of gray hair that ran from ear to ear.

“The future Mr. and Mrs.”—he scanned a paper on the desk—“Reynolds.”

Mrs. Reynolds. I gulped, then forced a smile. We were supposed to be in love—a couple who’d met and fallen in love on the same day—so I slipped my hand into Isaiah’s, tensing as the heat and callouses from his palm hit mine.

He didn’t flinch but his frame tightened.

“Shall we?” The judge motioned us to the middle of the room. We stood in front of him as he took up his position and gave us both a kind smile. If he could sense our fear, he didn’t comment.

“Do you have rings?”

Panic hit hard. In everything I’d done this past week, I hadn’t thought to get rings. “I, uh—”

“Here.” Isaiah fished two rings out of his jeans pocket. One was a simple band. Not gold or silver but a dark gray, like titanium. And the other was a thin platinum band with a halo of small diamonds in the center.

My mouth fell open.

“It’s not much.” Isaiah swallowed, embarrassment coloring his cheeks.

“It’s beautiful.” I squeezed his hand, then took the ring. Beautiful was the truth. The diamonds weren’t huge, but I didn’t need huge. He’d already done enough. “Thank you.”

“Excellent.” The judge smiled. “Isaiah, Genevieve, please join hands.”

We did, facing one another. Direct eye contact was fleeting at best. Mostly, I focused on Isaiah’s nose and its wide bridge. It was an admirable nose, strong and straight, set perfectly between those haunted eyes.

“By joining hands, you are consenting to be bound together. Husband and wife. You are promising to honor, love and support each other. Do you, Isaiah, take Genevieve as your wife?”

His eyes found mine. “I do.”

“Do you, Genevieve, take Isaiah as your husband?”

“I do.”

Two words and it was done. I was married.

“Then by the authority vested in me by the great state of Montana, I pronounce you husband and wife. I wish you the best of luck in your marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds.”

Marriage.

It was done.

Isaiah was safe. No one in the world could make me tell them what had happened at that cabin in the mountains. Because now, I was his wife.

I turned to the justice, ready to say thank you, then make my escape. But he opened his mouth for one last statement that made all the color drain from Isaiah’s face.

“Isaiah, you may now kiss your bride.”

***

CHAPTER 2

Isaiah

The last woman I’d kissed was the woman I’d killed.

Not exactly the thought a groom wants flashing through his mind as he’s standing across from his bride.

Genevieve looked about as terrified of this kiss as I did. Her eyes were wide and full of apprehension. Her lips were pressed into a firm line. No entry. Got it.

Fuck. The judge was waiting. Genevieve wasn’t making a move and I just wanted to get this over with.

I dropped my mouth to hers, closing my eyes on the way. It wasn’t . . . horrible. Genevieve didn’t have on sticky gloss. Her lips were soft and full. I held there, pretending to be her loving husband for ten seconds. Was that enough?

It was going to have to be. I pulled away and dropped my eyes to the floor. Guilt gnawed at my insides. I hadn’t eaten in two days. I hadn’t slept in three. Everything about this situation was wrong, but what the hell was I supposed to do? Genevieve thought this would work and that this marriage could keep me out of prison.

And I’d die before spending another day in a cell.

“Thank you,” Genevieve told the justice of the peace. We were still holding hands. She squeezed mine tight, forcing my gaze up, then practically dragged me out of the room. The clerk at the front desk was all smiles as she tossed out congratulations.

I grunted. Genevieve nodded.

We walked in silence, our hands linked loosely, until we got outside, then she dropped my hand like a hot plate and we both took a step apart.

“So, um”—she touched her lips—“that’s done.”

“Yeah.” Done.

We were married.

What the fuck are we doing? If this blew up, it wouldn’t only be bad for me, it could ruin her life. The corner of our marriage license poked out of her purse. Doubts or not, there was no turning back.

“I’m going to head back to work.”

“Okay. Good idea. I guess I’ll just . . .” She blinked a couple of times, then shook her head, walking down the stairs toward the street where she’d parked.

My bike was five spaces ahead of hers. I waited long enough to make sure she was in her car, then hustled to my bike and got the hell away from the courthouse.

I knew Genevieve would head for Central. It was the fastest way across town and to the garage. I took the side streets, needing some separation—from my wife—to get my head on right.

Why were my lips still burning? No matter how many times I wiped them, the feel of hers remained. Maybe because I hadn’t kissed anyone in a long time.

Six years, one month, two weeks and four days, to be exact. Memorial Day. That was the last time I’d kissed a woman. I’d planned to marry Shannon, but then . . .

Thinking about her was painful. Each beat of my heart pricked. My lungs burned. I’d married Genevieve when my soul was held captive by a ghost.

Genevieve and Shannon were like night and day. Shannon had been a happy, softly spoken person, her voice a chime and her face set in a perpetual smile. Genevieve had a husky, resonating voice. Even her whisper was bold. Her dark hair and dark eyes didn’t blend with the sunshine or float on the breeze. Genevieve was a force, one who had changed my life forever.

The metal band on my ring finger bit into my palm as I gripped the handlebars. It was cheap metal, the only thing I could afford after buying Genevieve’s ring.

She’d saved my life today, and for that, she deserved much more than the chip I’d slid onto her finger. But she’d seemed to like it. She’d stared at the halo of diamonds in awe.

Genevieve spoke with her beautiful eyes. Every emotion, every feeling, flashed in her rich, coffee-colored gaze.

I’d do right by her. I’d be respectful and honest. Fake marriage or not, I wasn’t a guy who strayed. I’d do my best to make this easy for her.

And I wouldn’t fail Genevieve—not like I’d failed Shannon.

The garage came into view and my stomach knotted.

I’d come to care about the people at the garage. They were my coworkers, maybe even my friends. They’d given a fucked-up ex-con a chance to build a new life in a new town. I might not have been forthcoming about my past with them, but I had been honest.

Starting today, I’d look them in the eye and tell them lie after lie.

But it was the only choice. After everything that had happened on that mountain, in that cabin, Genevieve and I had to lie.

The day of the mountain, after taking Genevieve to the airport in Bozeman so she could fly to Colorado and pack up her stuff, I’d returned to Clifton Forge and been assaulted with questions. My boss, Dash, asked questions. His girlfriend, Bryce, who’d been kidnapped with Genevieve, asked questions. Draven, Emmett, Leo—they all asked questions.

I had no truths to give.

So I left town without a word, hiding in Bozeman at my mom’s house for a week, until Genevieve was due to arrive in Montana. It would be easier to lie with her here, wouldn’t it?

Dash was pissed that I’d ditched work. I was lucky he hadn’t fired me on the spot. Because, damn it, I needed this job. I liked this job, and there were few things I genuinely liked these days. I didn’t deserve his grace, but I’d take it.

That was only yesterday.

The blur of the past week made my head spin.

Ever since Genevieve Daylee had entered my life, the order and simplicity I craved and found had vanished.

I parked at the garage and walked toward the open bay doors. The shop was bright and spacious. The tools were a dream. Maybe one day Dash would let me move beyond oil changes and tune-ups so I could work on the custom rebuilds that this garage was becoming famous for.

“Hey, Isaiah.” Bryce waved from a chair beside a truck. Dash was under the raised hood. “We just saw Genevieve head up to your apartment.”

“Yeah.” I glanced over my shoulder to where Genevieve’s gray Toyota was parked in a spot beside the office, one of three spaces near the stairs to the apartment above.

“She’s living with you?”

“Uh . . . yeah.”

Damn it. Genevieve and I should have talked about this. Were we telling people we’d gotten married? Should we keep it a secret for a while? Eventually we’d have to share, but I didn’t trust myself to deliver the news today and not fuck it up. They had to believe we were in love. There was no way I could sell love at first sight right now.

If I kept quiet, then maybe the questions would stop. That had worked for me in prison. I hadn’t talked unless absolutely necessary. It had been the best way to make sure I didn’t say something stupid and get my ass kicked for nothing.

Dash stood from under the hood with a socket wrench in his hand. “Hey.”

“Hey. Thanks for the break,” I told him, avoiding Bryce’s narrowing gaze.

She was a reporter, and a damn smart woman at that. She was likely sniffing out the unspoken lies at the moment, but there was no way I’d talk. She could glare at me all she wanted, fire question after question. I’d spent three years in prison shutting people out. Bryce didn’t stand a chance.

“What would you like me to work on?” I asked Dash.

He jerked his thumb at the truck. “Finish up this oil change if you want.”

“Sure thing.”

I walked over to the tool bench, glancing down at my jeans. They were the nicest pair I owned and the only ones without grease stains. I’d bought them in Bozeman specifically for today because I hadn’t wanted to get married in dirty jeans.

Genevieve had taken me in from head to toe at the courthouse, and though she’d said I looked nice, I realized jeans had been a mistake. I’d felt like trash standing next to her, this stunning woman in a green dress.

She deserved better than jeans. Genevieve deserved better than me. But selfish bastard that I was, I’d let her hitch her wagon to mine.

I was probably going to crash us both.

“You good?” Dash came up to my side and clapped a hand on my shoulder.

“Yeah, man. I’m good.”

How would he react to the news that I wasn’t just his employee now, but his brother-in-law? Or half brother-in-law? This family dynamic was weird.

I wasn’t sure what was going on with the Slater family. I’d only moved to Clifton Forge this summer to take a mechanic job at the garage. I’d been desperate to get away from Bozeman, where memories haunted every road.

A guy who’d been inside with me had connected me with Draven, Dash’s father. He’d interviewed and hired me, though I officially reported to Dash. The pay hadn’t been much at first, but it must have been probationary, because they’d quickly bumped up my hourly wage. That, and when my landlord had screwed me over, Dash had given me the apartment above the garage rent-free.

Had moving here been the right choice? If I’d stayed in Bozeman, I wouldn’t have gotten married today. I wouldn’t have gotten mixed up in a fucking kidnapping. I wouldn’t have tangled my life with a former motorcycle gang.

The Tin Gypsies had closed their clubhouse doors, but that hadn’t kept trouble away, had it?

Six weeks ago, Genevieve’s mother, Amina, had been murdered at the local motel. She’d been brutally stabbed to death. Draven, the first person I’d met in Clifton Forge and a man who I’d deemed decent, had been pinned for the crime.

Draven had been the president of the Tin Gypsies until he’d passed the title to Dash. They didn’t wear their patches or leather vests any longer, but the targets remained on their backs.

I didn’t know all the details about the club—didn’t want to. Dash and Draven kept quiet about it. So did Emmett and Leo, two of the other mechanics who worked at the garage and had been part of the club.

They’d all sheltered me from the details, but I’d picked up on a few things. Mostly, that Draven was innocent. He was being framed for Amina’s death. I’d stayed out of it until Bryce had been kidnapped.

Everything changed that day.

I’d gone with Dash and the guys to rescue her. I liked Bryce and I’d wanted to help. We’d found her in the mountains, frozen and scared. That’s where I’d found Genevieve too.

In the middle of a hell that had already broken loose.

Genevieve and I needed to get our stories straight. We had to work out what lies we were telling and what truths we’d use to fill in the gaps. I didn’t have the energy to hash it out today.

For now, I needed the reliability of work.

As I pulled on some coveralls to save my jeans, Dash put his tools away in a drawer. When they were stowed, he gave me a nod. “Glad you’re back.”

“Appreciate the second chance.”

He shrugged. “Around here, we believe in second chances. Third and fourth, actually. Just ask Leo how many times Dad has fired him over the years.”

“I won’t let you down again,” I promised.

“Good.” Dash nodded, then disappeared into the office with Bryce.

I opened a drawer on the workbench and the ring on my hand caught the overhead florescent light. Shit. I checked over both shoulders to make sure the other guys weren’t close, then I slipped the ring off and into my pocket where it would stay. At least I had an excuse as to why I wouldn’t wear it. Rings at work were a good way for mechanics to lose fingers.

How had this happened? I’d come to work one day, gone on a motorcycle chase to rescue my boss’s girlfriend and now had a wife.

Mom always said trouble found me no matter where I went.

I grabbed a handful of tools and got started on the oil change. I hadn’t been a mechanic for long, but I was a fast learner and auto mechanics came naturally. Gears fit with other gears. Bolts threaded through nuts. A screw tightened with a turn to the right and loosened with a turn to the left. I soaked in the simplicity that one part was designed for another and blocked out the chaos of my life.

I spent the rest of the day on oil changes and one bumper-to-bumper inspection. Even after Dash and Bryce went home, followed soon by Emmett and Leo, I kept working.

The last place I wanted to go was upstairs where Genevieve waited.

“Isaiah? Are you still here?”

I turned from the shop sink as Presley’s voice carried through the garage. “Yeah.”

“Okay. Want me to lock up?”

“Nah. I got it.” I shook my hands dry.

Presley left the doorway to the office and walked deeper into the shop. Her hair was like snow, cut short at the sides and swooped long on top. She tucked her hands in her overalls as she approached, the denim baggy around her small frame. Emmett always teased that she was no bigger than a fairy princess.

“I know I said it this morning, but I’m glad you’re back.”

“Me too. How are things?”

“Good.” She shrugged. “I’m just going home for the day. You should too.”

I’d drag myself upstairs soon enough. “Yeah.”

Presley had to know Genevieve was in the apartment, but she didn’t ask. She was the one person at the garage who didn’t have questions. Maybe because she knew I wouldn’t talk.

The two of us had formed a fast friendship. She hadn’t been part of the Tin Gypsy world either, something that had paired us together as outsiders. We fit in the garage family, but while the others whispered about secrets, Presley and I bonded over coffee in the office.

She didn’t ask me about prison. She didn’t ask me about my past. When we talked, it was mostly about her or life in Clifton Forge. She told me the best place in town to get a cheeseburger and where to go for haircuts. Presley had been my sounding board when my landlord had jacked up my rent.

“How’s it coming along upstairs? Did you get it all cleaned out?” she asked.

I nodded. “For the most part. Needs paint and some updates, but I want to run those by Dash before I go making major changes.”

When I’d moved to town, I’d rented an apartment not far from here. The landlord hadn’t liked my record—no one did, including me. Still, he’d let me rent a place on a month-to-month lease. Not two weeks later, right about the time Dash had given me a raise, he’d come over to tell me he was doubling my rent.

Maybe it was because I was an ex-con and he knew I wouldn’t find another place to live. Presley’s theory was he’d learned I was working at the garage and knew Dash paid his mechanics a fair wage.

She was a good one to have in your corner.

Pres had gone to Dash, unasked by me, and talked to him about letting me move into the upstairs apartment. All it had cost me was some time cleaning it up.

Even after hours of scrubbing the walls and shampooing the carpet, it wasn’t good enough for Genevieve. It was an apartment made for a bachelor, not a classy, poised woman who walked into a room and captured everyone’s attention.

“Is everything all right?” Presley asked. “I know you and Genevieve are keeping to yourselves right now and that’s fine. You don’t have to tell me details. I’m not trying to butt into your love life. But . . . are you good?”

“Yeah,” I answered honestly. Thanks to Genevieve. She might be out of her mind with this marriage idea, but if it worked, I’d be more than good. I’d be free. “Thanks, Pres.”

“Anytime. See you tomorrow?”

I nodded. “Tomorrow.”

Presley left through the office as I shut down everything in the shop, turning off the rows of florescent lights and closing each of the large bay doors. I locked up the side door, loitered on the asphalt for a long minute and, when I couldn’t avoid it any longer, forced my feet up the black, iron staircase that led to my apartment.

I paused at the doorknob. Should I knock? I lived here. My bed, my belongings were all inside. But with Genevieve having moved in yesterday, it didn’t feel like my home anymore.

My knuckles tapped on the door before I pushed it open.

Genevieve was on the couch, sitting cross-legged with her laptop balanced on her thighs. Her back stiffened as I entered. “Hey.”

“Hey.” I shut the door behind me and went to the kitchen to my left, grabbing a pop from the fridge. “Working on something?”

“Trying to find a job.”

“Hmm.” The can hissed as I popped it open. I chugged three gulps, letting the fizz and sugar slide down my throat.

Genevieve closed her laptop and set it aside. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head, the waves from earlier in the day trapped in a white ribbon. The dress was gone. She’d traded it for a pair of maroon leggings and a T-shirt that dipped over one shoulder, showcasing her collarbone.

Just that little sliver of skin and my heart galloped. My fingers itched to graze her smooth, creamy skin. I took another drink of Coke, shoving my reaction to Genevieve’s beauty away.

The urge to touch her was simply physical. Today’s kiss had stirred up some pent-up sexual frustration that had been absent for years. After a few days, it would be buried again and forgotten. I’d learn how to live with this gorgeous woman who was far too beautiful to be in this dingy room, even in her loungewear.

Her outfit was hot, but not as sexy as the green dress from the courthouse.

“We didn’t get a picture,” I muttered.

“Huh?”

I went to the couch, sitting as far away from her as the piece would allow. “A picture. We didn’t get one today. Do you think that’ll be suspicious? People are going to expect a picture from the wedding, right?”

“Oh.” Her shoulders fell. “I didn’t think of that either. Maybe we could say we’re getting them done later or something.”

“Yeah.”

An awkward quiet hovered over the couch. It was the same silence that we’d endured yesterday after moving her boxes and suitcases in from her car. I’d stuck it out for a few hours, but it had become uncomfortable, so I’d excused myself for the night and rented a room at the motel.

“So.” I drew out the word.

“So.”

How were we supposed to convince people we were married when we couldn’t speak more than one word to each other?

My eyes darted to the bed at our side and I gulped. Christ. It was our wedding night. She didn’t expect us to consummate this thing, did she?

Her eyes followed mine, then widened with fear.

That’s a no.

“Um . . . where’s your ring?” she asked.

“Oh. I wasn’t sure if we were telling people. Or how you thought we should handle this.” I shifted to dig the ring out of my pocket, then slid it back on my finger. The damn thing was heavy.

“What are we going to do?” she whispered. “People need to think that we’re in love, but I don’t have a clue how we’re going to convince anyone when we just met last week.”

Thank fuck. “Me either.”

“This is awkward and horrible and—shit.” She waved her hands in the air, erasing the words. “I don’t mean you’re horrible, just this whole situation. You’re great, and I owe you so much.”

I lifted my left hand, wiggling my ring finger. “Think we’re even as of today.”

“No.” Her shoulders fell. “You saved my life, Isaiah. I realized after the ceremony that I haven’t said thank you.”

“You don’t need to.”

“Yes, I do.” She put her hand on my knee. “Thank you.”

I’d do it again, over and over if it meant saving her. “You’re welcome.”

“It’s not forever.” She gave me a sad smile. “A few years, maybe. We’ll make sure it all dies down and then we can call it quits.”

Years. That seemed like a long time to be married to a stranger. “I’m not ready to tell people.”

“I’m fine waiting a few days. We’re getting enough questions at the moment, so let’s not add this on top.”

“Sounds good,” I agreed. “Did Bryce come up from the garage earlier? I saw her when I got back from the courthouse.”

“Yeah.” Her eyes dropped to the floor. “I didn’t answer the door. Or her texts. I feel so bad. I haven’t known her for long, but she feels like a friend.”

“It’s hard not to like her.”

“Try getting stuffed in a trunk with her, then dragged up a mountain and tied up by a tree together. Bryce kept it together. She made me keep it together. I’ll never be able to repay her for that. She deserves the truth but . . .”

Our safety was in the lies.

“I hate lying,” she confessed.

Genevieve Daylee was a good person who’d been thrown into a fucking awful situation. Or was it Genevieve Reynolds now?

Would she change her last name? Was it strange that I wanted her to?

“Do you think anyone is going to buy this?” I asked.

“No.” She laughed. “But maybe if we stick it out long enough, they’ll come to accept it.”

The silence returned. I finished my Coke. Genevieve stared blankly across the apartment. The goddamn bed kept catching the corner of my eye.

I stood from the couch, taking my can to the recycling bin in the kitchen. “I’m going to head to the motel for another night.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, though there was relief in her voice.

“I think getting married is enough for today. We’ll save the wedding night for another time.”

Her face paled.

Oh, fuck. “No, that’s not what I meant. I mean a wedding night as in us both under the same roof. Not, you know.” I tossed a hand toward the bed. “We don’t have to, uh . . . do that. Ever.”

She gulped.

“See you tomorrow.” I marched to the door, leaving her wide-eyed on the couch. I jogged down the stairs and ran to my bike. Only when it was on the road did I start to breathe again.

Wedding night? What the hell had I been thinking? Genevieve and I wouldn’t have a wedding night. Pretending to be married to Genevieve didn’t mean we had to sleep together.

No, today’s kiss had been enough.

Especially since it still lingered on my lips.

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2 Comments:


  1. Tammy Abercromby said:

    WOW I want this book STAT!!!!

    Reply

  2. Cornelia wood said:

    This sounds like a really good book. I want to get it right away.

    Reply

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