The truck’s cab was full of tense quiet as Doug pulled into the drive. Ben’s jaw was clenched—he was pissed.
“Look, I was an asshole,” Doug said. “I still am. I’m never gonna be as good as you and I sure as hell will not ever be as good as Chase. So I’m gonna check on the mom, get her info, and pass it on to Marlana. Then I’m peacing the fuck out of Montana.”
“You’re such an idiot,” Ben said.
Doug nodded. It wasn’t news to him. He parked the truck and started to climb out.
Ben stayed put. “First off, you can’t just abandon your daughter or son. It’s a dick move.”
“They’re better off without me.”
“Right now, I don’t doubt that,” Ben growled, “but it’s still a dick move. Second, you’re looking in the wrong place.”
Doug opened his mouth to retort, but froze, then sputtered, “What do you mean?”
“Looking for the mom of a toddler…in a fuckin’ bar?” Ben laughed.
“It’s where we met,” Doug said, frowning.
“Yeah, but single moms generally don’t hang out in bars. Then again, she might not be single.”
A flare of rage ignited in Doug’s chest. “What?”
“She could have a husband now, or a boyfriend,” Ben said, oblivious to Doug’s confusing jumble of feelings. “Either way, she’s unlikely to go to a bar when she has a little kid at home. I’m not saying she won’t, but there are better places to look for her.”
Ben climbed out of the truck and slammed the door. Doug met him on the other side.
“Like daycares,” Ben said. “Parks. Library song and story time.”
“Library song and story time?”
“Have you been to library song and story time?” Doug asked, narrowing his eyes.
It’s easy to fall in love with characters, whether they’re my own creations, or characters I’ve read about in other books. Hayley Jaynes, from Wild Atonement, is one of my favorites. Her potty mouth and DGAF attitude hide her vulnerability over proving herself to her brothers.
Name: Hayley Ann Jaynes
Date of birth: February 21, 1996
Occupation: General Contractor
Hair: golden brown
Fun quirk: her creative swears (click here to get a pdf of Hayley’s Swears)
Hayley rushed toward Summer and Jackson. She liked seeing her brother so happy, with his arm casually wrapped around Summer’s waist, his attention on her. And Summer looked back at him, a gooey expression on her face. Hayley squashed a feeling of envy. She wanted that. She wanted to be the focus of one man’s world, and she wanted to be accepted for who she was—bold, strong, and dirty-mouthed.
She had the insult “rubbercock” on the tip of her tongue, ready to unleash it cheerfully on her brother. But someone stepped right in her path.
“Hayley,” he said.
She looked up. She didn’t know this guy, but immediately she could smell that he was a shifter. A fellow mountain lion. She should’ve sniffed him out when she’d first walked into the bar, but envy over Jackson and Summer’s lovey bliss had distracted her.
The dude’s dark eyes were fathomless, and he wore a fake, disarming smile. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him. She sniffed again. He smelled like sawdust and raisins, and her nose itched.
If she’d been in lion form, her hair would have lifted and her back would’ve arched defensively. “Who the hell are you?” she asked.
“I’m Alec,” he said smoothly. “We met briefly, long ago. You probably don’t remember me. You hung up on me earlier, but we need to talk.”
Now she remembered him. Her parents had made that awful deal with the Spokane Pride, just before the war with the Clausen Pride. Alec had been there with his father, the Spokane alpha. Hayley had been bartered like a piece of meat in order to ensure the Spokane Pride’s help.
Hayley had fought it, until her dad took her aside and said, “There is no way you’ll ever have to go through with something you’re not comfortable with, okay? This is a formality only.”
It hadn’t mattered, because the Clausens won the war, and the last of the Jaynes family had been chased out of the Dark Pines territory.
But maybe it had mattered, at least a little bit. Because this nasty fuckbasket was here, claiming to be her fiancé.
“I don’t want to speak to you,” Hayley said.
He chuckled. “You made that pretty clear when you hung up on me a few hours ago. But we need to talk.”
“I’m already with someone,” she said, trying to shove past him. Hopefully, he wouldn’t sense the lie.
His hand closed around her upper arm, and she spun, ready to stomp on his instep. Before that could happen, a giant, burly biker dude stood up from the table nearest them. “This guy bothering you?” he asked.
Hayley looked from the biker to Alec. “I don’t know, Alec. Are you bothering me?”
He sized up the biker and shook his head. He dropped Hayley’s arm, glowering. “We’ll talk later.”
Hayley watched as Alec retreated to a corner of the bar. Shit, that had been close. There was nothing to say to him, but now she’d told him she was seeing someone. That would be the best possible solution to this shitstorm. He couldn’t marry her if she already had a mate.
She turned back to the bar, where she’d seen Jackson and Summer a second ago. But neither of them could help her out of her predicament. She needed…a boyfriend. And fast.
The guy standing next to Jackson—dark-haired, brown-eyed, with a set of monster muscles—would do the trick. He must be Jackson’s friend, Marius. She’d heard a little about him already, how he’d helped Dan Clausen scare Summer.
Striding up to him, she pretended that the butterflies in her stomach hadn’t grown talons and weren’t clawing their way up her throat. Instead, she shook her hair back and made eye contact with those chocolate brown eyes of his.
“Hello, Marius,” she said, turning her voice into a purr.
He gaped at her until she closed the distance between them and pressed the full length of her body against his. Wrapping her arms around his massive shoulders, she whispered, “Are you single?”
“What?” His voice was so quiet, she could barely hear him.
Somewhere behind her, Alec was watching this show. She had to be convincing, but she didn’t want to mess anything up if Marius already had a mate. “Are you single?”
“Good.” She tilted her face up toward his and kissed him like she meant it. Her lips pressed against his in a spark of heat that surprised her, but she went with it, afraid to break contact. If Alec thought for a second that she was lying—and he probably did because shifters were so good at sensing dishonesty—then she’d have to convince him right now, with her actions. If she convinced him well enough, hopefully he’d go back to whatever rock he’d come from and leave Hayley alone.
Thoughts of Alec flew right out of her head as Marius took control of the kiss. His arms came around her waist, tightening her to him. He parted his lips and pressed harder, so she had no choice but to open to him. Not what she’d intended, but his tongue tentatively brushed the edge of her mouth and she couldn’t hold back a moan of need.
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