EXCERPT: Stone Princess - Author Devney Perry

03/22/2020

EXCERPT: Stone Princess

Stone Princess is the third story in the Tin Gypsy series. Here’s a special excerpt to enjoy!

***

CHAPTER 1

Presley

That’s today?

That’s today.

That’s today.

There were only so many ways to interpret two words. Only so many ways to alter their meaning with various inflections.

that’s today

No matter how many times I’d spoken Jeremiah’s text aloud, none of the options held appeal. The bastard hadn’t even bothered with a question mark or period to alleviate some confusion.

The ugly words jumped off my phone’s screen, and I snarled as I shut it down. There was no point reading them over and over and over again. I’d been doing it constantly since Saturday.

Those two words were the last in our thread. He’d sent them the morning of our wedding—the wedding he’d forgotten. Jeremiah hadn’t texted a panicked apology. He hadn’t called me endless times to fill my voicemail with excuses. He hadn’t driven the three hours from Ashton to Clifton Forge to get on his knees and beg for my forgiveness.

His text might as well have read the end.

Well, fuck him. Fuck his text. Fuck all the years I’d wasted on a man who claimed to love me but didn’t have a damn clue how to show it. I wouldn’t even get the satisfaction of breaking up with him face-to-face. Or maybe standing me up on our wedding day had been his chicken-shit way of breaking up with me.

After calling off the wedding Saturday, I’d spent yesterday in tears, nursing a broken heart and a raging hangover. Presley Marks was not a woman who cried easily. I’d given up on tears at a young age because they only earned me another slap. But yesterday, I’d let them fall freely.

I’d cried for being so damn stupid. And pathetic. And alone. And humiliated.

How many times had my friends warned me about Jeremiah? How many times had I defended him? How many times had I looked at my naked ring finger, deluding myself that I didn’t need an engagement ring when a wedding band was the real prize?

The sting in my nose threatened more pitiful tears, but I sniffed it away, blinking rapidly before a stray tear could ruin my mascara. Then I shoved my phone into my purse and pushed open the door of my Jeep. The white paint gleamed, reflecting the early morning sunshine.

I’d had it cleaned and detailed last week. I’d wanted it to sparkle when Jeremiah and I drove away from the wedding reception. I’d wanted the interior spotless when we drove it to Ashton.

Today was supposed to be moving day.

The majority of my belongings were in boxes, and I’d reserved a U-Haul trailer. I’d signed a lease on an apartment in Ashton because Jeremiah had been temporarily bunking at his motorcycle club’s clubhouse—for three years.

Stupid, Presley. So damn stupid. I’d been so busy planning how to merge our lives into one that I hadn’t noticed my fiancé was perfectly content living apart.

Maybe I should have stayed home and dealt with the fallout today. I had a landlord to contact and numerous deposits to lose. Instead, I’d followed my normal Monday morning routine and driven to work, detouring to swing by the grocery store and shove my thousand-dollar wedding dress into the clothes donation bin.

The Clifton Forge Garage had been my constant for the past ten years, and today, I needed the familiar. I unlocked the office door and slipped inside, flipping on the lights before settling in behind my desk and taking a moment to revel in the silence.

I’d come in an hour earlier than normal and the quiet wouldn’t last. Soon, there’d be tools clanking in the shop, customers chatting in the waiting area and phones ringing in the office. But for now, it was peaceful.

I drew in a deep breath, searching for Draven’s scent. He’d died over three years ago, but there were times when I could still smell him. Maybe it was only my imagination conjuring a hint of Old Spice and a breath of mint swirling in the air.

When I’d woken up this morning, I’d known the wedding fallout was mine alone to handle, so that was exactly what I’d do. One step at a time, day by day, I’d survive.

At least the hardest part was over. I’d already marched down the aisle to tell the wedding guests that my fiancé had forgotten about our big day. The rest would be easy, right? It was simply logistics. Bartenders and caterers would be paid. By me. Gifts that hadn’t been collected would be returned. By me. My life would go on and one day, it wouldn’t hurt as much to know that my fiancé hadn’t wanted to marry me.

But could I really blame Jeremiah? This was my own fault. I’d been deaf to the truth and blind to the signs. I should have ended this engagement years ago. Maybe I was just as much a coward as Jeremiah.

Burying those thoughts, I rattled the mouse beside my keyboard, waking up my computer. Then I dove into my email inbox and tried to get ahead for the day.

Once the garage crew knew I was here and not wallowing at home, they’d swarm the office. They’d hover over me all day, checking to make sure I wasn’t on the verge of a breakdown. I wouldn’t get shit done because I’d be busy maintaining a brave face and listening to them curse Jeremiah up one side and down the other. I’d tell them I was fine—which they’d know was a lie.

I hadn’t been fine in a long, long time.

There were only three unread emails to go when footsteps echoed outside. The metal staircase that extended to the apartment above the office vibrated as Isaiah, one of our mechanics and my friend, came downstairs.

I took a deep breath and spun my chair to face the door as it opened. “Morning.”

“Hey, Pres.” Isaiah stepped inside, wearing a pair of faded jeans and a black T-shirt. His short brown hair was damp. He crossed the room and sat in a chair across from my desk, leaning his elbows on his knees.

“It’s good to see you in that chair,” I said.

He grinned. “It’s good to be sitting here again.”

Isaiah and his wife, Genevieve, had been living in Missoula for the past three years while she’d gone to law school. Now that they were back, Isaiah would be working at the garage again, and Genevieve would be working alongside her mentor at a small law firm in town.

“How’s Genevieve?”

“Good.” He cast his glance to the ceiling. “She’ll be down soon. She’s excited for her first day back at work.”

“How was it staying in the apartment again?”

“Like old times. Don’t tell Genevieve, but I’m hoping the contractor is behind a couple weeks so we can crash upstairs a little while longer.”

Years ago, that apartment had been their home, and it hadn’t been rented out in the years that they’d been gone. Like their jobs, it had been waiting for them to return. Except this time, they wouldn’t be calling it home. The two of them had bought a new house in a quiet neighborhood and would be moving in soon.

Still, no matter how much time passed, I’d always consider the apartment Isaiah’s.

“I’m excited to see your new place.”

“You can have the first tour.” His grin widened.

I studied his face. It was strange to see Isaiah smile, but a welcome strange. He’d changed a lot from the tortured soul who’d started working here years ago.

Genevieve deserved all the credit. She’d rescued my friend and brought life back to his eyes. She’d worked a miracle in that little studio apartment.

“What?” He ran a hand over his mouth. “Do I have something on my face?”

“No. It’s just good to see you happy.”

He sighed, the grin fading. “How are you?”

“Fine.” That was the first one of the day. I’d likely repeat it twenty times before I left at five. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay.”

Isaiah would be the only one who didn’t push today. I could hug him for it.

The two of us had formed a fast friendship from the beginning, the only two outsiders working at a garage staffed by former members of the Tin Gypsy Motorcycle Club. Before Isaiah, I’d ignored the hushed conversations alone. I’d dutifully gone to the post office or bank whenever my presence hadn’t been wanted in the office. I’d overlooked the parties and booze and women.

But then the club had disbanded and life at the garage had changed. They’d hired Isaiah, and when the others whispered about secrets, Isaiah and I had each other.

We’d drink coffee together every morning. We’d talk about nothing. I wouldn’t ask him about his past or why he’d spent three years in prison. He wouldn’t ask me how I’d come to Clifton Forge and why I refused to speak of my childhood. Yet we were friends. I trusted him.

And it was good to have him home.

“How are things at the garage?” he asked.

“Busy. We had to hire two mechanics to cover what you did on your own.”

His forehead furrowed. “I’m not taking anyone’s job by coming back, am I?”

“No. Dash and I talked and we’re keeping them both on to do the routine stuff so you can apprentice on the custom work.”

“I’m happy to do the oil changes and tune-ups.”

I waved him off. “It’s already decided.”

Isaiah stood and walked into the waiting room. The clank and pop of a K-Cup slotting into the coffee machine drifted my way.

The space as a whole had two enclosed offices along with the reception area where I sat. One of the offices belonged to Dash, the owner of the garage and my boss. The other had been Draven’s—Dash’s father.

Draven had managed the garage his entire life, passing it down to Dash. He’d been more than my boss, he’d been my family. I’d gladly give up every one of my material possessions to have him back for a hug this morning or to have had him with me on Saturday, walking me down the aisle.

After Draven had died, Dash had offered me Draven’s office. It had a door so I wouldn’t have to sit out front with waiting customers, but I hadn’t been able to sit behind Draven’s desk.

No one, especially me, would ever take his place.

So we’d converted that office into a waiting room. We’d brought in couches and set up a coffee station.

Isaiah came out with two steaming mugs in his hands.

“Thanks.” I smiled as he set down my cup. I spun the swirl stick, mixing the packet of sugar he’d poured in and the dollop of French vanilla creamer floating on top. “And thanks for Saturday.”

He lifted a shoulder, sipping his black coffee. “No problem.”

On Saturday, after I’d announced the wedding canceled, I’d tried to run away. Isaiah had caught me before I’d been able to get into the Jeep and disappear into a black hole. He’d dragged me to the apartment upstairs before anyone could see. Emmett and Leo, two more mechanics and my friends, hadn’t been far behind. Leo had snagged a bottle of tequila from the bar. The three of them had fed me shot after shot until I’d passed out on the couch.

“I suppose I have a mess to clean up out back,” I muttered.

“I think Dash and Bryce took care of most of it.”

“Oh.” I shook my head. “Damn. They should have just left it for me.”

How many hours had I spent planning this wedding? How many favors had I called in from my friends? What a waste.

My friends shouldn’t have had to clean up my mess too.

There was a field behind the garage and I’d always thought it had the potential to rival any city park, so I’d asked Dash if I could clean it up and host the wedding there. Draven hadn’t been there to walk me down the aisle, but what better place to include his memory than the garage that had been his business for so many years?

Dash had agreed, insisting that I let everyone help with cleanup. We’d spent three backbreaking weekends working in that field, clearing away the shop’s overflow. Spare rusted parts were moved to the other end of the property. Old cars were pushed out of sight. The overgrown grass was cut, revealing a lush green carpet beneath.

On Thursday and Friday, we’d set up the white tent, rolled in tables and placed chairs. Too busy doing the decorations, I hadn’t planned a rehearsal dinner. Skipping that dinner had been my biggest mistake—besides picking the groom. Maybe if we’d had the dinner, I would have known Jeremiah wasn’t going to show.

“They didn’t mind, Pres,” Isaiah said.

“This is my fault. I should deal with it.”

“This is Jeremiah’s fault.”

“No,” I whispered. “It’s mine.”

A door slammed above us. Isaiah and I cast our gazes to the window as Genevieve’s heels clicked down the staircase and she joined us in the office.

“Morning.” Her dark hair was up in a fancy twist and she was dressed for work, sophisticated and perfect for Isaiah.

He stood to pull out the chair beside his, holding her hand as she eased into the seat. “You look beautiful.”

Had my man ever held out a chair for me? Had he ever stood when I’d come into the room? Was complimenting your fiancée so goddamn difficult?

“How are you feeling?” Genevieve asked, her brown eyes full of concern.

“Yesterday was bad. I haven’t been that drunk in a long time, so I was fairly useless all day.” I’d spent hours hovering over the toilet, retching from the tequila. The hangover hadn’t mixed well with my emotional state. “Sorry I didn’t text you back.”

“It’s okay.” Her gaze softened.

Genevieve had inherited Draven’s eyes. I envied that she could look in the mirror and see a living piece of him. All I had was a photo in my desk drawer to pull out when I was feeling alone.

“Ready for your first day of work?” I asked, changing the subject.

“I think so. It will be nice to work with Jim again. I’ve missed him.” She smiled, smoothing out the hem of her black pencil skirt. She’d paired it with a pale blue blouse and stiletto heels. Genevieve Reynolds walked into a room and stole the show. She was stunning, inside and out.

I was pretty, maybe not show-stopping gorgeous, but I was comfortable in my own skin. That confidence had taken me years to build. As a child, I’d perfected the art of blending in and following instruction. Attention had only meant bruises to cover up and explain.

Not until moving to Clifton Forge had I truly let go and embraced who I was.

The hair that I hadn’t been allowed to cut as a kid was now short and bleached white. No one would ever again use my ponytail as a way to hold me hostage while they shouted in my face. At first, the pixie cut had been more a boy’s style than a woman’s. Lately, I’d taken to shaving the sides while keeping the top longer and draped over one eyebrow.

My hair made a statement. My clothes did too. I had a petite frame that didn’t look good in pencil skirts or blouses because I didn’t have the curves to fill them out. Besides, that wasn’t me. I preferred thick-soled boots to heels. My go-to outfit was a pair of baggy overalls with a skin-tight tee underneath. I’d wear cargo pants held to my frame with a cinched belt to give the illusion of hips. If there was boyfriend in the description, chances were, I’d bought it. I’d shunned girly the day I’d left Chicago at eighteen.

The most feminine I’d been since leaving home had been on Saturday, dressed for my wedding.

Maybe Jeremiah had woken up on Saturday morning and realized he’d made a mistake. That he was still in love with the girl with long, blond hair who’d worn pastels and floral skirts. That he wanted the girl I’d left behind.

“Did, um . . .” Genevieve scrunched up her nose. “Did he call you?”

“No.”

The rumble of an engine saved me from another question, though I doubted the grace period would last long.

Leo and Emmett rode in on their Harleys, both parking against the chain-link fence on the far side of the parking lot. They dismounted as Dash pulled in on his own bike.

It was rare for all three of them to be in this early and to arrive together, especially Leo, who didn’t like to work before ten. Dash must have called them in for a meeting, probably about me. Fan-fucking-tastic.

The office door opened and the three men strode inside. The clock on the wall read seven thirty, and the other mechanics wouldn’t be in until eight.

“Pres, how you doin’?” Dash sat in one of the chairs beneath the windows.

“Fine.”

“You sure?”

I nodded. “I’m sorry—”

“Don’t.” He held up a hand. “No apologies.”

“I haven’t been out back yet, but I’ll go out there soon and get everything left put away.”

“We got it yesterday. There’s a few boxes of stuff for you to take, but everything else is done.”

My shoulders fell, heavy with the guilt that my friends had cleaned up my failed attempt at marriage. “I would have—”

“We know you would have done it,” Emmett said, leaning against a wall. His dark hair was trapped in a knot at the nape of his neck. “But we got you.”

“Thank you. And I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Leo took up the space beside Emmett. “You feelin’ better?”

“Yeah.” Physically, at least.

Leo had come over to my house yesterday. He’d been the only one who’d visited, not just texted. He’d brought me Gatorade, saltine crackers and pickles. He hadn’t stayed long, just enough to deliver his hangover kit before leaving me to wallow. He’d probably left my house and come here to help tear down the wedding tent.

“We gotta talk about something.” Dash shared a look with Emmett and Leo. “Two things, actually. First up, Jeremiah.”

“I don’t want to talk about him.” My pleading eyes found his. “Please.”

“We can’t ignore this, Pres.” His gaze softened. “Doesn’t sit right with me that he’s done this to you. But . . . he’s a Warrior, and we don’t need them back in Clifton Forge. As much as I’d like to beat the shit out of his punk ass, we don’t need that kind of trouble.”

Jeremiah had moved to Ashton three years ago to join a motorcycle club. He lived there and worked there, while I’d split my life between the two towns because he’d needed this kind of family. His family in Chicago hadn’t spoken to him in years. He’d been an accidental pregnancy and his parents had always treated him as such. So I’d supported him. I’d stood back as he’d become part of a brotherhood.

Even when it was the wrong brotherhood.

The Arrowhead Warriors had been rivals of Dash, Emmett and Leo’s former club. I’d split not only my time, but my loyalty too. I’d spent three years straddling a barbed-wire fence between the family I had here at the garage and the man who’d asked me to be his wife.

Jeremiah deserved to have his ass kicked. Repeatedly. But I would never advocate for it. I was firmly on the right side of the fence now and wouldn’t put this family of mine in danger.

“Come on, Dash.” Leo stood taller. “That’s bullshit. He—”

“Please, Leo.” I met his gaze. “Just let it be over. If you go after him, it’ll just cause drama for me.”

He frowned, running a hand over his shaggy blond hair before muttering, “Fine.”

Genevieve let out an audible sigh. “I’m glad that’s agreed. We’ve had enough trouble.”

“That’s the truth,” Dash murmured, nodding at his sister. The siblings had different mothers, but they’d both gotten their chocolate-colored hair from Draven.

“What’s the second thing?” Genevieve asked Dash.

“Got a call from Luke Rosen this morning.”

The room went silent. Why was the chief of police calling Dash?

“What did he want?” Emmett’s eyebrows furrowed. “I just talked to him yesterday.”

“It’s a courtesy thing about Dad.” Dash looked to Genevieve. “He was going to call you, but I said I’d tell you myself.”

“Okay.” She stiffened. “Why do I feel like you’re going to give me bad news?”

“Because I am.” Dash rubbed his jaw. “There’s a production company from LA that’s making a movie about your mom’s murder.”

“What?” She shot out of her chair, Isaiah quick to follow. “Can they do that?”

“It’s public knowledge,” Dash said. “They’ll put the Hollywood spin on it so who knows what’ll come out, but yeah, they can do that.”

“How did Luke get the tip?” Emmett asked.

“The director wants it to be authentic, so they applied for a permit to shoot here. The mayor approved it on Friday. He called Luke early this morning.”

“They’re filming a movie in Clifton Forge.” My mind couldn’t quite wrap itself around that statement. “When?”

“Within the next month or so. Luke doesn’t know exactly when. The city wants the money, so they gave the production company a twelve-month window.”

“What does this mean for us?” Genevieve asked.

“I don’t know,” Dash answered. “But my guess is we’ll see them around.”

“Who? Like actors and shit?” Leo asked.

Dash nodded. “Luke said the mayor hinted that a director and maybe some of the cast might be out to meet the people they’re playing. We might get some visitors at the garage.”

My stomach plummeted. The last thing I needed was for the rich and famous of Hollywood to be at my workplace. I didn’t need to be the sad, pathetic side character they tossed into a movie script for authenticity.

“Do we know who to watch out for?” Genevieve asked Dash.

“Luke said the director’s name is Cameron Haggen.”

“The Oscar winner?” Emmett whistled. “Damn. Who else?”

Dash rubbed his jaw, hesitating. “The only other name Luke knew of was Shaw Valance.”

Shaw Valance.

“Holy fuck,” Emmett muttered as my jaw hit the floor.

Then this would not be a small movie. Even a woman who didn’t have much time for television or movies knew that Shaw Valance was Hollywood’s elite, leading male star. He was America’s hero. I’d seen an article in the salon’s latest issue of People that had estimated his salary for his latest blockbuster at fifteen million dollars. His handsome face was in each issue thanks to the paparazzi who stalked his every move.

Shaw Valance was the last thing we needed in this town and this garage.

Isaiah took Genevieve’s hand, squeezing it tight. “It’ll be okay.”

“I don’t want this.” Her face had paled.

“I know, doll.” He pulled her into his chest, wrapping her up tight. “We’ll lie low. We’ll stay away from it all.”

My friend had just come home to settle into a life with her husband, but now she’d be forced to relive old memories of her parents’ deaths.

“Let’s hope they stay away, do their own thing and are gone before we notice,” Dash said, trying to ease Genevieve’s worries. “I doubt they’ll bother us individually. If anything, they might give some attention to the garage. Presley and I can field questions.”

Leo scoffed. “Or we tell them to fuck off.”

“Best thing we can all do is say ‘no comment,’” Dash said. “Give ’em the cold shoulder.”

Cold? No problem.

I’d made a decision yesterday while I’d been lying on the cool tile of my bathroom floor. I was done letting men hurt me. Jeremiah was the last, and I had no more shits to give.

From here on out, I was the woman with ice in her veins. The woman with a heart of stone.

If Shaw Valance or his award-winning director came anywhere near the garage, I was following Leo’s suggestion.

They could fuck off.

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2 Comments:


  1. Meghan N Grant said:

    I have read every single book by Devney Perry and have never been disappointed once. I loved the Stone Princess but I can never pick a favorite because all of her books pull you in bring you into Montana and the families that are there! Never stop writing!!!!!

    Sincerely,
    Meghan

    Reply

    1. devneyperry Post author said:

      Thank you so, so much, Meghan!!!

      Reply

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