Ride Hard (Raven Riders #1), p.1Laura Kaye
To my readers,
May you always find the beauty in life.
And when you can’t find it,
create it from the beauty inside you.
An Excerpt from Ride Rough
About the Author
By Laura Kaye
About the Publisher
To say that Haven Randall’s escape plans were not going as she’d hoped was quite possibly the understatement of the century. Especially since she wasn’t at all sure her current situation was any better than the one she’d run from three weeks before.
But today could be the day she found that out for sure.
Staring out the window through the slats of the blinds, Haven watched as another group of motorcycles roared into the parking lot below. They’d been coming in groups of four or five for the past hour or so. And, God, there were a lot of them. Not surprising, since she was currently holed up at the compound of the Raven Riders Motorcycle Club. A shiver raced over her skin.
“Don’t worry,” Haven’s friend Cora Campbell said. Sitting on the bed, her back against the wall, and her choppy, shoulder-length blond hair twisted up in a messy bun, Cora gave Haven a reassuring smile.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Haven said. And it was the truth. Without Cora’s bravery, encouragement, and fearless you-only-live-once attitude, Haven never would’ve put her longtime pipe dream of escaping from her father’s house into action. Of course, those actions had landed her here, among a bunch of strange bikers of questionable character and intent, and Haven didn’t know what to make of that. Yet.
But it had to be better than what would’ve happened if she’d stayed in Georgia. She had to believe that. Had to. If nothing else, for the first time in her life she could begin to consider what she wanted. Even if she didn’t yet know what that was.
“Well, you won’t ever have to find out,” Cora said, flipping through an old gossip magazine that had been on the nightstand. “Because you’re stuck with me.”
“I wouldn’t want to be stuck with anyone else,” Haven said in a quiet voice.
Outside, the late-day sun gleamed off the steel and chrome of the motorcycles slowly but surely filling the lot. The bass beat of rock music suddenly drummed against the floor of their room. Now the Ravens’ clubhouse, the building where they’d been staying for just over two weeks had apparently once been an old mountain inn. Their rooms were on the second floor, where guests used to stay, and though Cora had been more adventurous, Haven had stayed in her room as much as possible since they’d arrived. And that was while the majority of the guys had been away from their compound on some sort of club business.
Men’s laughter boomed from downstairs.
Haven hugged herself as another group of bikers tore into the lot. “There are so many of them.”
Cora tossed the magazine aside and climbed off the bed. She was wearing a plain gray tank top and a pair of cutoff shorts that Bunny, an older lady who was married to one of the Ravens, had lent her. Haven’s baggy white T-shirt and loose khaki cargo pants were borrowed, too. They’d run away with a few articles of clothes and cash that Haven had stolen from her father, but they’d lost all of that—and their only vehicle—two weeks ago. Haven and Cora literally had nothing of their own in the whole world.
Haven’s belly tossed. Being totally dependent on anyone else was the last thing she wanted. She was too familiar with all the ways that could be used against her to make her do things she didn’t want to do.
Standing next to her at the window, Cora said, “We’re not prisoners here, Haven. We’re their guests. Remember what Ike said.”
Haven nodded. “I know.” She hadn’t forgotten. Ike Young was the member of the Ravens who had brought them there, who’d told them they were welcome to stay as long as they needed to, who said that no one would give them any trouble. Who said the Ravens helped people like them all the time.
People like them.
So, people like someone who’d grown up as the daughter of the head of a criminal organization? Someone who’d been homeschooled starting in tenth grade so her father could control her every move—and make sure she never saw her first and only boyfriend again? Someone whose father used her for a maid and a cook and planned to barter her off in a forced marriage to another crime family to cement an alliance? Someone who, after managing a middle-of-the-night escape, ended up being captured by a drug-dealing gang seven hundred miles away—a gang that had apparently received notice of a reward for capture from her father? Someone who was then rescued by soldiers and bikers at war with that gang?
Because that was Haven’s reality, and she really doubted the Ravens had helped someone like her before. Or, at least, she hoped not. Because she wouldn’t wish the life she’d lived so far on her worst enemy.
Knowing that her father was looking for her—that he just wouldn’t let her go—and that he had others hunting her, too . . . her stomach got a sour, wiggly sensation that left her feeling nauseous. She couldn’t go back to him. Not ever.
“I’m okay,” she said, giving Cora another smile. “Really.” Maybe if she kept reassuring Cora of that, she’d begin to believe it herself.
“Listen, it’s almost seven. Bunny said there’d be a big celebratory dinner tonight to welcome everyone back. Let’s go down.” Cora’s bright green eyes were filled with so much enthusiasm and excitement.
Haven hated nothing more than disappointing her friend—her longest friend, her only friend, really. They bonded in the fifth grade when Haven noticed that Cora didn’t have anything in her lunch box for the second day in a row. Haven gave Cora half her sandwich and all of her chips. Cora said her father forgot to go food shopping, which he apparently did a lot. So Haven got into the habit of taking extra for her new friend every day, and soon they were besties. Which was why Cora didn’t give up on her when Haven was forced to drop out of school in tenth grade. And why Cora didn’t shy away from visiting when she arrived to find Haven with a busted lip or a fresh bruise. Cora’s father occasionally worked for Haven’s, which paved the way for Cora to be allowed to visit and even sleep over. Haven lived for those visits, especially when her father’s tight control didn’t let up even after she turned eighteen. Or twenty-one.
“I don’t know, Cora. Can you just bring me some food later?” Haven asked, dubious that her appetite was going to rebound but knowing Cora liked taking care of her, running interference for her, protecting her. Despite how tense things were at Haven’s house, Cora slept over more and more in the time before they’d finally ran. Because she’d known it cheered Haven up so much. “I’m not hungry right now anyway.”
“Oh,” Cora said. “You know what? I’m not that hungry, either. I’ll just wait.” Her stomach growled. L
Haven stared at her, and they both chuckled. “Just go,” Haven said. “Don’t stay here because I’m too chicken to be around a bunch of strangers. Really. I’m so used to being alone. You know I don’t mind.”
Cora frowned. “That’s exactly why I don’t like leaving you.”
“I’ll feel bad if you stay. Go. Eat, visit, and meet everybody. Maybe . . . maybe I’ll come down later,” she said. Yeah. Maybe after the dinner was over, she could sneak down to the kitchen and help Bunny clean up. That might allow her to get a feel for some of the club members without being right in the middle of them, without feeling like she was under a microscope with everyone looking at her and wondering about her.
Grasping her hand, Cora’s gaze narrowed. “Are you sure? You know I don’t mind hanging out.”
“Totally sure.” Besides, Haven couldn’t help but feel she held Cora back. Cora was adventurous and outgoing and pretty much down for anything at any time, which was one of the main reasons Haven was here and not in Georgia married to a horrible stranger. But now Cora was on the run, too, though every time Haven expressed guilt about that, Cora told her it was better than waitressing at the truck stop back home and watching her father drink too much. “I might actually take a nap anyway. I didn’t sleep great last night . . .” Because Bunny had told them all the bikers would be returning to the club today.
Cora just nodded. She didn’t have to ask Haven to explain. She knew her too well. “Okay, well, I’ll bring food back later. But come down if you think you can. Even for a few minutes. Okay?”
“Yup.” Haven sat on the edge of the bed and threw a wave when Cora looked back over her shoulder. The door clicked shut behind her friend. On a huff, Haven flopped backward against the hard mattress. Why couldn’t she be more like Cora? Or, at least, more normal?
Because what did gaining her freedom mean if she was too scared to ever actually live?
DARE KENYON SHOULD’VE been happy—or at least content. The huge fight his club had joined with the team of Special Forces Army veterans operating out of Baltimore’s Hard Ink Tattoo was over, the drug-dealing mercenaries who’d been responsible for killing two of his brothers were either dead or in custody, and all Dare’s people were here at the compound, safe and sound and partying it up like tomorrow might never come.
Which made sense, since today was all anyone was ever guaranteed to get.
Standing at the far end of the carved wooden bar in the club’s big rec room, Dare contemplated the tumbler of whiskey in his hand. Tilting it from side to side, he watched the amber liquid flow around the ice, the dim lighting reflecting off the facets in the cut glass. Around him, his brothers busted out in laughter as rock music filled the room with a pulsing beat. Couples danced and drank and groped. In shadowy corners here and there, people were pairing up, making out, getting hot enough to find a room upstairs. Hell, some of them didn’t mind witnesses, either.
Finally, Dare tossed back a gulp of whiskey, savoring the biting heat as it seared down his throat.
“Hey, Dare.” A woman with curly blond hair, a deep V-neck, and huge heels stepped up to the counter beside him. She ordered a drink from Blake, one of the prospects working the bar tonight, then turned her big smile and a generous eyeful of her cleavage toward Dare.
“Carly,” he said, giving her a nod and already considering whether he was interested in what she no doubt was about to offer. He’d been with her a few times, though not much lately, since it had become more and more clear she was holding out hope to be his Old Lady.
“I’m sure glad you all are back,” she said, sidling closer until she was leaning against him, her breasts against his arm, her hand rubbing his back. She was pretty, but she was also a sweet thing, the club’s nickname for the attractive women who partied at the clubhouse and hung out at their track on race nights, seeking attention from and offering themselves to the brothers. Dare didn’t mind having friends like Carly in the community, but he knew her interest was as much in being a part of the MC scene as it was in him. At thirty-seven, he wasn’t sure he was ever going to settle down with one woman, but if he did, it certainly wasn’t going to be with someone half his brothers had enjoyed, too.
And, anyway, he wasn’t looking.
Dare just nodded to Carly as she pressed her way in closer until the whole front of her was tight against his side. Her hands wandered to his chest, his ass, his dick. Her lips ghosted over his cheek. “I missed you.” Her hand squeezed his growing erection through his jeans. “Missed you a lot.”
“Did you, now?” he said, taking another swig of Jack. The friction of her hand was luring him out of his head, out from under the strain of being responsible for so many people. It was an honor, one he’d built his life around, but he felt the weight of it some days more than others. Losing Harvey and Creed almost two weeks before, he felt that weight like a motherfucker. Hell if every new loss in his life didn’t whip up his guilt from the first two . . .
Carly combed her fingers through the length of his brown hair, pushing it back off his face so she could whisper into his ear. “I did. Would you like me to show you how much?” Her fingers slowly worked at his zipper, tugging him from his thoughts.
Exactly what he needed. “What is it you have in mind?” He peered down at her, really appreciating the easy, lighthearted expression on her face. Nothing too deep, nothing too heavy, but full of life all the same.
Her fingers undid the button on his jeans and slipped in against his skin, finding and palming his now rigid cock. Fuck, that felt good. Warm and tight and full of promise.
Smiling, Carly slid herself in front of Dare, pinning her body between his and the hard wooden counter. Her eyes were full of heat and need. “I could drop to my knees right here. Suck you off. Let you fuck my face. Or we could go upstairs, baby. Whatever you want.” She wrapped her other arm around his neck, her fingers playing with the long strands of his hair. “You seem . . . tense, upset. Let me make you feel better?”
And now, on top of everything else, he had a warm, willing woman wanting to make him forget all his troubles. So, yeah, he should’ve been content.
Dare emptied his glass and slammed it down on the counter. Fuck it. Grasping her face in his hand, he trailed his thumb over her bottom lip, stroking, dipping inside so she could suck on his flesh. “Always did love that mouth,” he said.
She grinned around his thumb and nodded, then she slowly slid down his body.
Dare closed his eyes, wanting nothing more than to lose himself in the moment, the sensation, the physical. But his gut wouldn’t stop telling him that some part of their recent troubles was going to come back and bite them in the ass. The past had a way of doing that. Which was why Dare always kept one eye trained over his shoulder. But this particular past was only weeks old and way bigger than their typical fights. The Ravens had just played a role in taking down longtime enemies and Baltimore’s biggest heroin dealers—the Church Gang. In the process, they’d exposed an international drug smuggling conspiracy involving a team of former soldiers turned hired mercenaries and at least one three-star, active-duty general. The Ravens had initially come into the fight as hired help, but they’d taken up the cause as their own when Harvey and Creed had been killed.
Given all that, Dare had a really fucking hard time believing the dust would just settle and life would go back to normal without any blowback.
As Carly got into a crouched position at his feet, Dare opened his eyes and tried to shake away all the churn and burn in his head. But then his gaze snagged on a girl in the doorway across the room. Clarity stole over him, pushing away the fog of lust and the haze of troubled thoughts. The girl had the longest blond hair he’d ever seen, like some fairy-tale princess, or a fucking angel. Pale, small, almost too beautiful to look at. She stood out so starkly that it was almost as if she glowed in the dim room. Like a beacon. Bright and shiny and new.
One of these things is not like the other.
And Dare wasn’t the only man who noticed.
Without thinking, Dare stepped back from Carly’s reach and did up his jeans.
“What’s wrong?” Carly said. “Dare?”
He gave her a hand up, but his eyes were all for the angel-faced beauty Joker was currently bearing down on, his walk full of swagger, his expression like he’d just won the lottery. Gut-deep protectiveness rose up inside Dare, the instinct as well-tuned as the engine on his bike. “Sorry, sweetie,” Dare said. “Duty calls.”
Carly’s expression was pure exasperation and not a little pissed off. He gave her shoulder a squeeze, then worked his way through the crowd, trying like hell not to get pulled into any storytelling or jokes or conversations along the way.
Crossing the room felt like it took forever, and by the time he got clear, Joker had the girl pinned up against a wall in the hall. Not because he’d put her there, necessarily, but because she’d retreated as he’d advanced and backed herself into a corner.
Jesus, she looked terrified. Who the hell was this woman? Or was she just a girl? He honestly couldn’t tell how old she was, but her skittishness was crystal clear.
Dare put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. The guy was as big as a mountain but as harmless as a mouse. Well, mostly. “Joker, how’s it going?”
“Goin’ good, D. I was just introducing myself to . . .” His words trailed off, encouraging her to fill in the blank. Only she looked like she was two seconds from having a full-blown panic attack.
“Hey, whoa,” Dare said, stepping closer to the blond. “You okay?”
She gave a quick nod, but the movement was jerky and forced, like she thought she was supposed to say she was fine. Dare frowned as a flush poured into her cheeks.
He eyeballed Joker and nodded for him to clear out. A concerned expression on his face, the big guy shrugged and made his way back into the thick of the party.
“I’m Dare, the club president. You’re okay here,” Dare assured her. “You know that, right?” Who the hell was she, anyway? He knew all the regulars, and she certainly wasn’t one of them. Frankly, it was usually outgoing, confident women who gravitated to an MC, not shy girls. . . .
Ride Hard (Raven Riders #1) by Laura Kaye / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes