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           T. S. Joyce
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For the Love of an Outlaw



  By T. S. JOYCE

  For the Love of an Outlaw

  Copyright © 2017 by T. S. Joyce

  Copyright © 2017, T. S. Joyce

  First electronic publication: November 2017

  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.


  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

  Cover Model: Jonny James


  For the haters.

  I admire all of your energy and effort,

  and I sincerely thank you for the motivation.

  I wouldn’t be here without you.



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Up Next in this Series

  New Release Newsletter Sign-Up

  More Series by T. S. Joyce

  For More Books from this Author

  About the Author

  Chapter One

  Ava Dorset gritted her teeth and considered ignoring her brother’s phone call. She knew him though, and if this was about the message he’d left two days ago, he wouldn’t stop calling until she picked up.

  Hand clenched tightly around the cell, she connected the call and answered, “No.”

  “Yes,” Colton argued. “You owe me a lifetime of favors, and I’ve never called in a single one, and this is me, calling it in.”

  “I have a life, Colton. I can’t just pick up and work for free. And it’s not just the money either. Trigger makes me uncomfortable. He always has.”

  “You haven’t seen him since high school, Ava, so that argument is invalid. He’s my best friend. Has been since we were kids, and you never gave him a chance—”

  “Because there is something wrong with him! You get that, right? He’s…” She didn’t know how to explain how she felt, or about the bone-deep instinct that said Trigger was too cold, too empty, and his eyes… Ava swallowed hard and shook her head like Colton could see her. “I can’t. I don’t know what you’re into, and I don’t even want to know.”

  “Ava,” Colton growled with a little too much grit to his voice. “One favor. I need you to sort out the financials on this place. Give me two weeks of your time and don’t bullshit me with the money excuse. You have always been a saver, and I bet you haven’t taken a day off work in five years. You owe me, and don’t even make me remind you why. Come. Home.” The line clicked. Ava tossed the phone onto the passenger’s seat, gripped the wheel, and yelled a curse. It was her favorite curse and started with an F.

  No one in the world could get under her skin like her older brother. Whatever people said about siblings being super-close had missed the mark big-time with the Dorset family. She lived on the other side of the country for a reason.

  “Asshole,” she muttered as she shoved open the door of her hybrid. Now she was going to have to take two weeks off right at the busiest time, right when her business was gaining momentum and poised to take off. Of course, Colton would surface just as she was on the verge of success. Her delinquent brother always mucked things up and didn’t care about wasting anyone else’s time as long as it suited his schedule.

  This was Trigger’s fault, too. That man was strange. And a criminal. Fine as hell from what she remembered, but her basic instincts said to steer clear of boys with empty eyes and rap sheets.

  Colton was a fart-face, just like she’d nicknamed him growing up. In fact, if she really had to do this, she was bringing that box of embarrassing pictures of him and stapling them to telephone poles all over her hometown of Darby, Montana.

  She hadn’t been back here since age eighteen, the day after she graduated high school. Why? Because there was something wrong with the people of that town. She’d always been on the outside, unable to understand the dynamics, and there was nothing worse than feeling utterly alone in a place that was supposed to be “home.”

  Okay. Two weeks. She could do this, and then Colton could never hang anything over her head again. Her debt would be paid.

  Two weeks, and she could get back to the life she was building.

  Two weeks, and she would be right back here, and Colton and Trigger and the whole damn town would be in her rearview mirror again. And this time, it would be forever.

  Chapter Two

  Trigger Massey swallowed hard and forced himself to look at the carnage. Dad had always told him not to look away from things that were hard to deal with. He’d told him from age three to accept the tough parts of his life. Own them. Get to a point where he could eventually revel in them, but he’d never quite gotten there. The scent of blood was still his least favorite smell in the world. Why? Because his life had been bathed in it.

  Fourteen cattle, chewed up and left scattered across his south pasture. Fourteen. He calculated the money this cost him in his head, money he didn’t have. Fuck. The worst part was he didn’t know if they’d been killed by the local cougar clan as a warning, or if he’d done this. Sleep walker killer—that’s what the monster inside of him turned him into.

  “Come on,” he murmured low, nudging Harley, his coal black work horse. The critter was big, sixteen hands high and intact, so the stallion was a handful on a good day. He fuckin’ loved his pet monster. Mean as sin with the speed of a demon to match. A kindred spirit perhaps. If Trigger didn’t get bitten or kicked five times a week, well, it was a slow week. The horse snorted and dragged his front hoof through the snow as if he was impatient after just thirty seconds of standing here. Spoiled beast. He wasn’t bothered by the blood or the dead cattle, but he was bothered by not having a job to do. Sitting and thinking was Trigger’s gig, not Harley’s. He just wanted to run and terrorize the other horses and cause havoc.

  Trigger heard Colton way before he saw him. That was the beauty of his extra senses. Perhaps it was one of the only benefits to the monster that raged inside of him. They were in the piney mountains of Montana, right on the edge of the continental divide. It was beautiful here, but on his property, there wasn’t much open space. For a creature who relied on all senses, especially his sight, he needed to remedy that fast. He needed to rent some equipment and clear land, but with what money? Either his animal or the Darby Clan of mountain lion shifters was slaughtering his meager income.

  “What?” he growled at Colton before he even turned around.

  “Man, fuck you and your attitude today. I got you help.”

  “Don’t need no he

  Colton pulled his bay horse up next to Harley and nearly got his mount kicked.

  “You know better,” Trigger gritted out, casting him a fiery glance. “Harley hates that horse.”

  “Harley hates every horse, and you never trained him to behave. Your fault.”

  “I like him mean.”

  “Ava’s coming here.”

  When Trigger jerked with shock, Harley skittered to the side and snorted in agitation. His frozen breath blasted in front of him like freight train steam as he reared. Trigger yanked him back under control and kicked him, took off at a dead sprint, got him a hundred yards, and then circled back to Colton.

  When he returned, Colton said, “He’s the worst horse,” as he leaned on his saddle horn and looked as bored as his horse with Harley’s antics.

  “Ava ain’t welcome here.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because she ain’t!”

  Colton’s eyes flashed gold, and he sat up straight. “That ain’t a good enough answer this time, Trigger. Explain why not!”

  “Because she’s a girl.”

  “This ain’t fourth grade, and I’m not posting a no-girls-allowed sign on the front gate, you sexist dick!”

  “It’s not about being sexist, Colton! Have you told her? Huh?”

  Colton didn’t answer and turned away to hide the scars on his face.

  “Hide them marks all you want from me. Won’t stop me from thinking about them. Won’t stop the guilt. You tell me all the time to get out of my head and stop thinking about what I did because you don’t think about it. Lie. Big fuckin’ lie.”

  “It ain’t a lie! I came to grips with this five years ago, Trig.”

  “But you haven’t told your baby sister what you are.”

  “That’s the rules, right?” he yelled, lifting those fiery gold eyes to Trigger. When his face got red with fury, the scars looked even worse.

  Don’t look away, his dad’s voice whispered in his mind. Own the devil in you.

  Trigger wanted to puke off the side of his horse, but he made himself hold Colton’s disfigured gaze. “Even if you had told her. Even if she knew what to expect when she saw you…” Trigger jammed a finger at the massacred cattle lying in stiff mounds in the thin snow. “How will you explain our lives to her? How will you explain the shit that keeps happening? We’re in a damn freefall, and you’re inviting a stranger to watch it.”

  “She’s not a stranger, Trig. She’s my sister.”

  “Who you let go.”

  “Because I had to.” He gave Trig his profile, hiding the damn claw marks again. Colton swallowed hard and stared at the dead cattle with an unreadable expression. “Ava can stop our freefall.”

  Trigger snorted. “How?”

  “She’s good with money. She can tell us how to save this place from the clan.”

  “It ain’t savable.”

  “Fuck that. We aren’t to the give-up part yet, Trig. You hate everyone and everything, right?” Colton flicked his fingers at the mountains. “You don’t hate this place. It’s your connection to your dad. Losing it can’t happen. You’ll truly be a monster if you do, and I ain’t shooting you in the head, Trig.”

  “You swore—”

  “I swore if it got to that point, but it ain’t getting there! Ava will stop it!” Colton gritted his teeth, and a snarl ripped up his throat. His horse was used to that, just like Harley was, but the bay bounced to the side just the same. Colton gripped the reins and turned the horse in a tight circle once, then spat on the ground, eyes locked on Trigger’s. “You made me into this, you sonofabitch. You don’t get to leave me here alone to manage it. Fuck the clan. Fight everything. Ava will be here soon. Do yourself a favor and wash a fuckin’ dish. She’s not a laid-back woman. She’ll give us hell, so prepare.” Colton kicked his horse and bolted back in the direction of the barn.

  “Fantastic!” Trigger yelled after Colton. “Like I’m not already in Hell!”

  Stupid Colton. Ava couldn’t stop anything. Trigger was a runaway freight train someone had set on fire. He had no brakes and had been rolling down a steep hill on greased tracks for years. There was no stopping his downfall. There was only slowing it down and dragging out the torture.

  Therefore, he hated Ava just like he hated everyone else.

  She wouldn’t help.

  Her good intentions would just make everything worse.

  Chapter Three

  “Um, thank you for picking me up,” Ava said as Cooper Langley turned off the switches in the small plane. It was a thirty minute drive to Darby from the tiny airport here.

  He pulled his headset off his ears and placed them around his neck as he smiled at her. “My pleasure. Your dad was a good friend. Anytime you need a ride out here, you just let me know.”

  Dad wasn’t good to anyone, so that was bullcrap. “Oh, this is the only time I’ll need one. I didn’t realize there aren’t Uber drivers out here.”

  “Well, when your brother came to me a couple days ago and asked me to grab you, I have to admit I was surprised. You been gone so long, we thought you might never come back.”


  The silver-haired grizzly of a man gave her a ghost of a smile and murmured, “The whole town. We don’t lose many, but you couldn’t seem to get out of Darby fast enough.”

  She frowned, utterly shocked that anyone had even noticed her absence. “Oh,” she said lamely. “Well, I’m only back for a couple of weeks and then it’s back to Alabama. That’s my home.”

  “Home,” he murmured mysteriously, and now Cooper wasn’t smiling anymore. “Things have changed a bit since you lived here. Steer clear of the GutShot.”

  She scrunched up her face. That sounded gross. “What is the…GutShot?”

  “A bar right in town. It’s next to the antiques shop. Biker bar mostly, but the riffraff comes down from the mountains to blow off steam. It ain’t that safe for fragile townies.” Before she could react to the slight, he shoved open the door to the small five-seater plane and hopped out like he was a graceful antelope instead of a sixty-year-old arthritic man.

  Ava scrambled out her side, highly offended. She rounded the front of the plane, shouldering her purse better. “I’m not a fragile townie. I carry a knife. And I still know how to use it!”

  “What the hell did you pack in here, woman?” Cooper complained as he wrestled her bright purple suitcase out of the storage hold. “Rocks and anvils and a pallet of bricks?”

  “Ha ha. I’m here for two weeks. I brought enough so I don’t have to use the laundromat.”

  Cooper snorted and set her suitcase on its wheels, pulled out the handle, and started dragging it toward an old Chevy parked beyond the landing strip of the small, private Trapper Creek Airport. “You’re missin’ out. Swampies Laundry is the social hub of the town now. You could learn all about the town you left behind in one good afternoon. They even serve little mini-bottles of wine while you wait for your clothes to dry. It’s pretty dern highfalutin now. Perfect place for a lady like you to hang out.” He cast her heeled booties a dirty look and then ignored her the rest of the way to his truck.

  Ava sighed and checked the countdown on her phone. 326 more hours, and she could leave this place. Come on time, speed up!

  The drive to town was filled with blaring country music and trying to figure out how to buckle the dilapidated seatbelt that kept coming undone in Cooper’s truck. He drove the icy roads too fast for her liking, but he never slid off the side, so there was that. Darby was about the size of a cumquat, and likely she could hork a piece of gum from one side of the town to the other. And she wasn’t even a practiced spitter.

  Being a small town meant every inch of it was full of old memories she thought she’d buried. How many times had she eaten biscotti cookies in the coffee shop after school with her friend Moira and voiced their dreams of leaving this place? How many makeshift football games had she joined in the field behind Jody’s Pizza Shack? How many times
had she wandered out to the park on Main Street and sat in the swings in the middle of the night, contemplating all the changes she wanted in her life? How many bowling nights with Dad before he left, and movie nights with herself, had she done right here on the main drag in Darby? How many times had she gotten into fights with her brother after Dad left and Colton tried to control everything she did? How many times had she yelled, “You aren’t my father!” when Colton tried to get her to stay here after senior year? How many times had she been angry he didn’t understand her need to leave? How many times had she been furious he wanted to keep her where she hurt the most?

  And what had he done? Dragged her right back here. Typical.

  He was only three years older than her, but had always tried to control her life. She wasn’t a woman who gave up control, though. Not without one helluva fight. Dad had always said, “Fight everything.” He said it most when he was preparing to leave them, but it had left a lasting impression. And so she did. She fought everything, and so far, it had worked. She was unattached to anyone and building her own little mini empire. No one could touch her, hurt her, or have any control over her life. Sure, it was lonely, but it was better than the alternative. She wasn’t a girl who did well in a cage.

  Darby was a cage.

  “Here we are,” Cooper muttered, slowing. He eased to a stop in front of the entrance of Two Claws Ranch. She only knew it was because of the dilapidated wooden sign that arched above the snowy road.

  “Where’s here?” she asked.

  “This is as far as I go. You wanted to see Trigger Massey? He lives here. Inherited the place when his pa died a few years back. He’s doing a pretty fair job of running it into the ground. It’s impressive actually.” Cooper’s tone had changed. It was lower, gravelly, and he wouldn’t look at her. He gripped the wheel and his body hummed with such tension, the fine hairs on the back of her neck lifted.

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