For the heart of an outl.., p.1
For the Heart of an Outlaw,
FOR THE HEART OF AN OUTLAW
(OUTLAW SHIFTERS, BOOK 3)
By T. S. JOYCE
Other Books in this Series
For the Love of an Outlaw (Book 1)
A Very Outlaw Christmas (Book 2)
For the Heart of an Outlaw
Copyright © 2018 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2018, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: January 2018
T. S. Joyce
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Published in the United States of America.
Cover Image: Wander Aguiar
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The hardest part of a broken heart was feeling ugly on the inside. It was feeling empty. It was feeling like recovery was unreachable. Broken hearts made girls like Karis Dunway do unthinkable things. Why? Because she was numb.
Jackson had really left her. Used her and left her. Drained her. Taken everything, including her will to trust a man. But one thing remained. She still wanted an anchor. She wanted someone to take care of. She wanted to be a mother, and to have someone to love…someone who would unconditionally love her back. But she was running out of time.
Karis stared at the response to her breeder application. One hit. One response in two months, and his name was Colton Dorset. Colt for short, as he’d explained in the first line of his text message. Sarah, the matchmaker, only gave her number to viable matches, so he must be something. Sarah must’ve either grown desperate to find Karis a mate, or actually saw something in this man for her.
God, what was she doing? She’d really applied to be a breeder. Her parents and brothers would never forgive her when they found out. But the plan was to be so far into the application process by the time they discovered just how far she had fallen, they wouldn’t be able to talk her out of it. Because Jackson had gone and taken her shot at that little anchor, and she didn’t have the time or energy to open up to someone else and try again. She wanted distance. She wanted friendship. Companionship. She wanted to be half of something headed in the same general direction.
Karis wanted a man who could never, ever, ever touch her heart.
Love had quit her so she’d quit love, and she would never try again. But she could do this much. She could meet this man named Colton and see if he could give her what she wanted. What she needed to live a good life.
She’d read the first line of the text six times.
I got your number from Sarah. Seems we’re a match. My name is Colton, but people around here call me Colt.
Ignoring her pounding heart, Karis inhaled deeply, leaned back against the seat of her old junker car, and read on.
Actually, people call me a lot of things. I’m a half-decent brother and friend, but I ain’t been tested on being a good boyfriend yet. It’s slim pickins around here because…well…to be honest, Darby, Montana is a small town, and everyone knows all my shit. There’s piles of it. I’m trying not to taint this conversation with a poop joke right now, but I’ve been mature for damn near five minutes while I’ve been typing this out. Also, you should know right now, my sister is coaching me through this message. She just slapped my arm. She also told me to keep this short and sweet and not let you see what a disaster I am, but I’m of the opinion you should see enough so you aren’t surprised if you decide to meet up. I have a pet squirrel. Oh, and you are the first breeder I’ve ever contacted. My sister Ava said you should know that. I just signed up for this two weeks ago and Sarah worked fast. I want to feel flattered that she found a match so quick but she stopped answering my emails a few days ago and I’m suspicious she is just trying to get rid of me. Favorite meal is beans with steak in it and, hell yeah, I eat it from the can. I live in a tiny cabin and work the Two Claws Ranch with my best friend, who happens to be banging my sister for life, which sucks because I have to watch them being all lovey dovey and shit and I’m pretty sure that’s what made my animal pissed off enough to message Sarah in the first place. God, this text is like a novel now, and my sister is bitching at me to end it here. She said, “You’ve done enough damage for one text, you fartface.” I think she hates me. She’s making me eat vegetables now. I hope you’re a carnivore shifter and not a heifer shifter or something. Let’s meet and eat meat together. Meet and meat, ha. Come save me from vegetables. I’m a bear. Sarah said we’re allowed to talk about this, so there it is. I’m a grizzly shifter. What are you?
Love and Beans,
your wannabe boyfriend/partner/roommate/baby daddy/this is so weird and I don’t know what I’m doing.
P. S. I got tested. No STD’s. Ava said I shouldn’t tell you that, but I think it shows how responsible I am. You’re welcome. If you come to Darby, I’ll pay for your flight, and I will buy you a nice dinner as soon as you get here like a gentleman. It will possibly be in a bar, but it will count. Please God, like meat. Your application was funny. I ain’t much of a looker, but I think our senses of humor could match.
By the end of that epically long text, Karis was smiling. She could feel the expression stretching her face. It was nice. How long had it been since someone had made her smile?
I ain’t a looker.
Well, she’d expected that. If he was, he probably wouldn’t have a problem finding a mate. She could handle plain men, so long as they were nice and stuck around. In fact, an unappealing man was even better. There would be less of a chance he would ever be more than a friend. So long as he kept up his end of the bargain and gave her that anchor, she could handle whatever he looked like.
As she moved her fingertip to respond to his text, a wave of panic took her.
Part of her wanted to delete the message and forget this whole thing.
A bigger part of her was still stunned by her lingering smile, but she was taking it as a good sign. She wasn’t a looker either, so maybe they would be a good match. He wouldn’t be disappointed. Not like Jackson was. That man had been out of her league, and he’d reminded her of that too often. No chance of that happening with Colt.
With trembling fingers, she typed out:
Hi, Colt. I’m Karis. Well…Sara
Affection and Porkchops,
Your wannabe girlfriend/partner/roommate/baby momma/this is definitely weird and I also don’t know what I’m doing.
It took her ten minutes to build up the courage to push the send button, but she did. And now there was no turning back. She sat in her car, in the cold, outside of the office where she hated her job. It was time for a complete life-change. It was terrifying, but at the same time, it was exhilarating to fantasize about not feeling this unfulfilled forever.
Broken hearts made girls like Karis Dunway do unthinkable things.
Now, she was officially a smear across rock bottom. A breeder. Karis shook her head and swallowed hard. She should feel shame, but instead, she felt nothing. Nothing but a tiny tingling sensation at the corners of her lips where her smile still lingered.
Colt, the unsightly joker, was something she hadn’t experienced in a while.
Colt was hope…or at the very least, he was a distraction from the hurt.
“Holy fuckin’ shitballs,” Colt murmured as he paced along the edge of the tiny airport thirty minutes outside of his tiny hometown of Darby. His bear snarled inside of him, begging to be released. The animal didn’t understand that this moment could define the rest of their lives.
He’d really done it. He’d really contacted a breeder. This was bad, right? Taboo? It was one of those things shifters talked about in the GutShot over whisky, and nothing was ever said favorably about them. They were seen as prostitutes, basically. Or as wombs-for-hire. Baby-hungry females looking for a mate to protect them, no love needed, no affection involved.
But for Colt? Desperate times and desperate measures, because his animal was on a tear, and an instinct deep in his gut said it was because he didn’t have someone to fight for. He didn’t have someone to try to improve for. And maybe, eventually, a little baby would make him a better man.
Right now, he wasn’t a good man at all.
He shook his head hard at the nickname that snaked across his mind. His bear liked that nickname and tossed it at him randomly.
Colton caught his reflection in the window of his truck, but ripped his gaze away fast. He didn’t look in mirrors much anymore.
The sound of the little prop plane buzzed in the distance. It was bad weather, as usual, so he couldn’t see it through the clouds yet, but Karis was here. Swallowing his yellow-bellied coward down, he forced himself to look back at his reflection. The claw marks down the left side of his face were horrific. Why had he contacted the matchmaker? Because no woman in her right mind was going to fall for someone who was just as ruined on the outside as he was on the inside.
Colt turned away from his reflection and huddled deeper into his thick winter jacket. The plane was angling toward the runway, and it was only minutes now until he found out if he’d made a big mistake or the best decision of his life. Because it was instant…right? He would know if she was going to stomach his looks and his uncertain life. He just had to be open with her. Test her. See if she was a runner, and then he could work on building them up. Or watch her leave and then pick up the pieces of the stupid hope he’d been feeling for the last week.
She’d been witty in text messages. Karis didn’t share much about her life, but she was good with banter. He’d read each message several times over, hanging onto every word and trying to figure out who this woman was and what had made her apply for this program.
Fuck, he was going to screw this up. The soles of his thick work boots made crunching sounds on the snow as he jumped up and down to warm up. His breath was frozen in front of him. It was February, but Mother Nature seemed bound and determined to keep it frigid forever. Karis was from Alaska. She was probably sick of the cold. There was a ninety-five percent chance she was going to hate the temperatures here. God, what was he doing?
The plane landed on the runway, then made a slow turn and came to a stop near Colt.
Cooper, the pilot, was pissed if the grim set of his mouth and his too-bright cougar eyes were anything to go by.
After the war with the Darby Clan a few months back, Colt would’ve never trusted old Cooper with bringing his potential mate here, but the old gristly codger had always stayed out of Clan business. He was basically a rogue, like Colt and Trigger used to be. But now they were a Clan on account of his spitfire sister, Ava, who said so. He loved having her around to keep his best friend and alpha, Trigger, in line.
When Cooper jumped out of the plane and yanked the passenger door open, another growl rumbled up Colton’s throat. He couldn’t see Karis yet, but he could see old Cooper’s face, and he was glaring back inside the plane and shouting at her.
Something was wrong.
Jogging, Colt made his way toward the plane, but as he got closer, he could smell it—fur. Sheeyit.
“Did you almost Change in the plane?” he yelled at Cooper. “Man, you’ll scare her.”
Bushy eyebrows arching high, Cooper rounded on him. “Ain’t nothing in the world gonna scare this one, you snot-nosed little pickle dick! She was the one who almost Changed, and do you fuckin’ know what she is? One Change in this plane, and we’re both goners. You brought a damn beast into Clan territory.”
What the hell? Colton had been ready to brawl, but the things Cooper said didn’t match what he saw when he peeked into the plane. A woman sat in the passenger’s seat, gripping a headset in her lap. She was curvy, and usually Colton would’ve taken a moment to admire tits like hers, but her eyes had him. Bright silver. Almost white. Good God, he’d never seen a color like that on a shifter. Granted, he’d only been Turned for five years, but Darby was full of supernaturals.
She was shaking.
“You gotta jacket?” Colton asked, worried.
“Don’t need one. The cold suits me just fine.” Her lip trembled like she was about to cry and, holy shit, he was unprepared for girl tears.
He could barely handle Ava when she was near her period and watching those stupid mushy-mushy-love movies, and now this stranger was tugging at his instincts so hard he didn’t know whether to Change and eat Cooper for upsetting her, or run for the hills until she was done looking like a lost demon-eyed puppy. Her hair was strawberry blond and fine, all curled up like girls liked to do. Her eyes were big in her heart-shaped face, and her nostrils were flared as though she was scenting the air. Her bottom lip was full and suckable, but her top lip was much thinner, and her eyebrows were so light they were barely there. With those bright silver eyes staring boldly back at him, she was the most striking woman he’d ever seen. Not beautiful by classic standards, but he couldn’t take his eyes away from her. She had his bear so totally enamored that the hairy asshole who lived inside him was quiet for once.
“I didn’t mean to,” she murmured in a barely audible voice over the wind.
He tossed up a mental middle finger to the weather since it was tainting his ability to listen to the crystal-clear bell tone of her voice. He bet she was quite the songbird. Why was his heart pounding so hard?
Karis slid out of the plane, not that gracefully, and landed hard on the thin patch of ice Cooper had parked the plane by. Colton lurched forward to steady her, but she caught herself and shook her head hard once, denying his touch. Disappointment swirled in his chest, but he tried to be understanding. Didn’t matter if they were a match. Didn’t matter if they were makeshift mates. They were still strangers.
She muscled her way past Cooper and yanked her suitcase out of the plane
“I’m not nice? She nearly mauled me!”
Colt frowned after her and handed Cooper a wad of cash to pay for her flight. “Thanks. I think.”
“Don’t thank him!” Karis yelled over her shoulder, and then she stunned him once again with another silver-eyed pissed-off glance.
That woman was full of fire with eyes like ice. A total showstopper.
Unique looks aside, she was upset, and it was confusing his bear, making him shaky and unsteady. Already his skin was tingling. It was the same sensation as his leg falling asleep when he sat on it weird for too long. The zinging up and down his body was uncomfortable. He needed to move.
Colt shoved his hands in his pockets and jogged to catch up to Karis. God, her curves were sexy. She swished her hips this way and that with her stomping. If she walked like this when she was pissed, well, he was downright tempted to keep her mad.
“Earlier you said you didn’t mean to,” Colton started. “What were you talking about?”
“I didn’t mean to almost Change,” she said in a soft, hitching voice.
Was that a sniffle? Aw shit, she was really crying.
“Okay. Well, I don’t have good control over my animal either, and sometimes I Change when I don’t mean to. Nobody’s perfect, but fuck it. Perfect is boring. You probably just gave Cooper the most exciting flight he’s made in months. Hey,” he said, desperate to stop her from running. “Karis, wait!” He tugged her arm and spun her around to him.
She looked up into his face and gasped. And he saw it there, in those pretty eyes of hers—the horror, the disgust…the shock. Clearly, she hadn’t really been looking at him before, but now she was studying his scarred-up face like he was a monster.