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In Carnal, Colorado, Faye Goodknight is the town’s quiet, shy librarian. She may also be Carnal’s last remaining virgin. For years, Faye has had a crush on Chace Keaton, but the gorgeous cop has always been unattainable. She’s resigned to live contentedly with only her books for company-until Faye suddenly meets Chace alone in the woods . . .
Chace doesn’t think he’s the good guy everyone believes him to be. He’s made a lot of choices he regrets, including denying his feelings for Faye. Through his choices, he’s come to believe the pretty librarian is too good for him, but after their time in the woods, Chace realizes that she may be his last chance for redemption. Soon, their long simmering desires grow to a burning passion. Yet always casting a shadow over their happiness is Chace’s dark past . . .
Table of Contents
An Excerpt from The Gamble
Other Titles by Kristen Ashley
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I've said it before and I'll say it again, I encourage you to find the music I mention in this book and either listen to it while you read or later. Ella Mae Bowen's "Holding Out for A Hero", Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" and all the rest will put you in the mood and place you right in the action. And I hope that's a good place to be.
Thank you to KT for sending me the link to Ella Mae's awesome, freaking song. And bonus, Angela Gray, my Pinklady reader/friend, turned out to be Ella Mae's auntie. Now seriously, how is that for the sisterhood binding tighter?
Never to Be His
"Talk to me."
Chace Keaton was whispering to no one, sitting alone in the very early morning February cold of Harker's Wood.
The place where his wife was shot to death.
Harker's Wood was an unusual spread of trees in the Colorado Mountains. Unusual because it wasn't simply conifer and aspen. For some reason that was likely akin to the reasons Old Man Harker did all the crazy shit he did, he had cleared that space seventy years ago and planted hundreds of shoots of twenty different varieties of trees. Trees that shouldn't take root in the Colorado Mountains. Trees that, by some miracle, not only took root but grew tall and remained strong.
It was late night. The snow was thick and deep. It was freezing cold. There were a few clouds but the full moon shone bright through the trees, gilding them silver.
Chace didn't see the trees or the moon. He didn't feel the cold seeping through his jeans that were resting on the snow covered log which his ass was on.
He saw nothing.
He heard nothing.
He waited for the wood to talk.
It wasn't talking.
He'd been up there countless times since Misty was shot there. Her death was purposefully not investigated by strict, detailed police protocol.
Not by the Carnal Police Department.
Not when it was infested.
Now it was no longer infested.
But that didn't mean Chace didn't come up there alone, without a tail and instigate his own detailed examination of the area.
He found nothing.
And the wood never talked to him. Not back then. Not now.
Misty's blood had long since washed away or mingled with the dirt. Now that dirt was covered in snow.
But Chace saw in his mind's eye the footprints.
And, Christ, the knee prints.
Two sets. A man's, a woman's. Both of them walking up the well-tended trail to the wood. Only the man's walking back.
Misty was wearing high heels. She always wore high heels. Chace liked women in heels. That said, the ones his wife wore made her look like a whore.
He'd noted several times in the footprints that marked her enforced walk, after being beaten badly, probably at gunpoint, definitely scared out of her mind, where she'd stumbled. Other times where she'd fallen.
But he'd done her on her knees.
Chace closed his eyes.
Very few people knew that they'd found semen on her chin and in her stomach. He knew because he was a cop in that town and her husband.
And he knew that before she was shot to death, she'd been forced to her knees in order to give her killer a blowjob.
The bile rushed up his throat and in the months since his wife had been beaten, violated and murdered that had happened countless times too.
Kiss me, Chace.
Her voice came at him in a memory, brutalizing his brain as it had every day, so many fucking times a day, he couldn't count.
Her last words to him.
She'd been begging.
Kiss me, Chace.
He hadn't kissed her. They'd been married for years and except the kiss he had to give her at their wedding, he hadn't kissed her once.
Instead, he'd felt his lip curl, something he didn't hide from her, and he'd walked away.
As he swallowed the bile down, his eyes flew open when he heard someone approaching.
Then he heard a stumble and a female hiss the bizarre word, "Frak."
He came to his feet silently, instantly alert, and his gaze swung to the trail where the noise was coming from. His hand went to the gun in the holster clipped to the side of his belt. It was his service weapon. He wasn't on duty but he always wore it. His mountain town of Carnal, Colorado might have recently emerged out from under a small town tyrant's thumb but that didn't mean it was safe.
He blinked when she came into view, her head down, the top of her hair covered in a knit cap the color he couldn't tell in the moonlight. Her eyes were to her feet as she stomped through the snow to get to the clearing.
As if sensing him, her head shot up and when she saw him, she stopped so abruptly, her body rocked.
Chace stared at her.
He knew her.
Jesus fucking Christ. What the fuck?
He said not one word. It was fucking two in the fucking morning in the freezing cold in the middle of nowhere that just happened to be the scene of an ugly, bloody murder. And she was there. He didn't know what to say because he didn't know whether to be pissed or seriously fucking pissed.
She said not one word either. Then again, she was known for being quiet and not just because it was an occupational hazard, seeing as she was the town's librarian.
Surprisingly, she broke their stare but she did it mumbling, "Uh…"
At that sound, Chace decided to be seriously fucking pissed.
"What the fuck?" he asked.
"Um… uh, Detective Keaton," she replied then said not another word but her eyes were locked to him. Her long, sleek hair flowing out from under her cap was a midnight shadow against her light, puffy vest and the scarf wound around her neck. Her face was pale in the moonlight.
And, fuck him, he liked her voice. He'd heard it before, not often but he'd heard it. And he'd liked it the other times too. Quiet, melodious, like a fucking song.
Yeah, he liked it. A fuck of a lot.
Just not right then even if it was the first time she'd uttered his name. Or one of his names. The name he'd prefer she say was his first and he'd like to hear her say it when she was on her back, her rounded body under his, his cock inside her and he'd just made her come.
Something he'd never have.
This reminded him he was seriously fucking pissed.
So he repeated, "What the fuck?"
"Spit it out, Miz Goodknight. What the fuck are you doin' in Harker's Wood, at the scene of a murder at two in the fucking morning?"
"Well, uh…" Her head tipped to the side and her eyes remained on him. "What are you doing here?"
"My wife was murdered here," he replied instantly, tersely and with obvious anger and immediately wished he didn't. This was because he watched her face flinch at the same time she took a step back.
It took her a moment to call it up but she did. She straightened her spine and whispered, "I'm sorry," he watched her swallow, "I'm so sorry about Misty, Detective Keaton."
"No one's sorry about Misty," he returned.
For some reason he was unable to stop himself from being an asshole and he watched as she scrunched her nose, another flinch. This one cute.
But he was right. No one in town was sorry his wife was dead. Not even, if he dug down deep, Chace. He wouldn't have wanted that for her, not that. Not even if they just filled her with holes rather than beating her and debasing her before they did it.
That didn't mean he didn't want her way the fuck out of his life. In another state. Fuck, in another fucking country.
He did want that.
He'd even prayed for it, that was how much he wanted it.
And now she was very, very much out of his life.
"That isn't true." Her whispered words came at him and he focused on her again. "I mean, you know, she wasn't, uh… Miss Popularity but what was done to her—"
Chace cut her off, "Let's get to why you're here, Miz Goodknight."
He saw her moon-shadowed teeth bite her bottom lip and she looked around. He'd been a cop for a while. Because of this, he knew she was buying time to come up with a plausible lie.
So he prompted impatiently, "Miz Goodknight."
She looked back at him and said in her quiet, appealing voice, "Faye."
He heard her clear her throat and she said, louder this time, "Faye. My name is Faye."
"I know that," he informed her, his tone no less short, maybe even more so.
"Well, you can, uh… you know, call me that," she invited.
"Great," he bit off. "Now you wanna answer my question?"
"No, actually, uh… not really." she replied and Chace stared.
He did this because he was surprised.
She was pretty, fuck, unbelievably pretty. Thick, straight, long, dark auburn hair with natural red highlights. Hair that shined so much it fucking gleamed. A body she didn't show off by any stretch of the imagination but that didn't mean a man couldn't see she had curves in all the right places and hers were attractively ample. She wasn't tall, she wasn't short. Tall enough she could wear heels and he'd still have to bend his neck to take her mouth. And she had a pretty mouth with full lips that were so pink it looked like they would taste like bubblegum. She also had high, rounded, extraordinary cheekbones that gave testimony to a fact everyone in town knew, she had Native American blood in her ancestry.
And her eyes. Clear light blue. Absolute. Not gray-blue. Blue. He'd never seen a blue so perfect, so pure, so beautiful and sure as fuck not the color of someone's eyes.
But she was quiet. She was shy. It wasn't like she was a hermit or invisible. She went to work. She had lunch at the diner. She went to the grocery store, post office, the Italian place, La-La Land for her coffees. She had friends. She had a huge-ass family and she was close to them.
But everyone knew she lived in a book. She didn't date. She didn't go to Bubba's bar and tie one on. Chace saw her in La-La Land drinking a coffee and eating one of Shambles's cakes, her nose in a book or her hand wrapped around one of those eReaders. Chace saw her at the diner, same pose. Christ, more than once in his years in that town, he'd seen her wandering down a grocery store aisle, walking out of the post office, out of the library, her head bent, eyes trained to a book.
Him catching her for whatever reason she was in Harker's Wood at two in the morning, he would not expect she'd have the courage to do anything but answer his questions. Maybe haltingly. But she'd do it.
He would never expect she'd refuse.
"I'm afraid that answer's unacceptable, Miz Goodknight," he informed her.
"Faye," she corrected quietly.
"Whatever the fuck," he clipped. "Now, again, what are you doing here?"
For several long moments she studied him before she took half a step toward him but stopped abruptly and asked softly, "Do you come here a lot?"
"Not sure that's your business," he answered.
"But you are sure it's your business to know why I come here?" she returned, not testy or sharp, just careful.
"It's a crime scene, Miz Goodknight."
He leaned in and bit out a curt, "Faye," and again wished he didn't because her nose scrunched again. Another flinch. The cute kind. He buried his reaction to learning that the town's pretty, curvy, probably virgin librarian, who he once marked as the women he wanted to make his before his life turned to shit, could be cute. Then he pressed on, "This is a crime scene."
"The tape's down," she reminded him. "It's been down months."
"It's still a crime scene."
She took another step and again her spine went straight. "Mr. Harker gave this wood to the city of Carnal ten years ago, Detective Keaton. It's a park. Public property. I have every right to be here."
There it was. The backbone again and even having seen it before, he was still surprised.
"City ordinance states all parks close to the public at ten o'clock unless they're a campsite," Chace shot back and through the moonlight, he watched her press her lips together.
Then she unpressed them and whispered, "Oh."
And that one syllable was melodious and cute too, fuck him.
She went on, "I didn't know that."
"Now you do."
"Maybe I should be leaving," she suggested.
"No maybe about it, Miz Goodknight," he returned.
"Faye," she whispered, her eyes locked to his.
Chace didn't reply.
Faye Goodknight didn't leave.
Instead, she took two more steps toward him before she stopped only three feet away.
When she did, she asked softly, "Are you okay?"
He should have lied and said yes. Or maybe not answered and reminded her she was leaving.
He didn't do either of these.
"Miz Goodknight, it's two in the morning and I'm in the cold in the wood where my wife was murdered. Do you think I'm okay?"
Instantly, still soft, she replied, "No."
He remembered himself then he reminded her, "You were leaving."
She didn't leave. She took another step forward, tipped her ear toward her shoulder but jutted her face slightly toward him and peered up at him, examining his features.
This, too, was cute.
While he was dealing with that, her soft voice came at him. "Did you love her?"
"You know the answer to that," he returned immediately and she did. Everyone did. Chace Keaton made it abundantly clear how he felt about his wife and not only just to his wife.
She righted her head on her shoulders and advised, "Maybe you should talk to someone about, uh… what you're feeling."
"You volunteering for that?" Chace asked and his tone was cutting.
She didn't even blink before she offered, "If you like."
"No offense, Faye, but the person I pick to lay the fucked up shit in my head on is not gonna be a woman who breathes and eats and works but lives in a fantasy world. You can't handle your own life, which is a good life, far's I can see, without escaping. No fuckin' way you can handle the shit I got in my head."
It was an asshole remark but it worked. Her shoulders slumped slightly and she took a step back.
"I'm just trying to be nice," she pointed out the obvious.
"What would be nice is if you'd haul your ass back up the trail and leave me be."
She didn't move. Not for long moments.
Then she leaned slightly into him and said gently, "I don't think you should be left be. I think you're dealing with something heavy, you're obviously doing it alone." She threw a mitten-covered hand out to indicate the area, "You need to unload it, Chace."
That voice, quiet, gentle, so fucking sweet saying his name, her eyes soft on him.
Better than he could have imagined.
Better than he ever could have dreamed.
And not his.
Never to be his.
Which meant finally hearing her say his name was torture.
"All right," he started, "I've been trying to be nice—"
Her head jerked and she cut him off, her tone surprised, and again, Christ, fucking cute, "You have?"
"Yeah," he fired back. "I have and you'll know I have when I say, Miz Goodknight, I do not want your concern. I don't want your listening ear. I don't want your company. What I want is for you to walk your fat ass up the trail and leave me the fuck alone."
He watched her body lock and her pale face in the moonlight become even paler.
This lasted less than half a second before she turned on her boot and ran from the clearing. She did it so fast, he could see the midnight shadow of her long hair streaming behind her even after she'd left the clearing and hit the trail.
Chace Keaton's eyes didn't leave the trail for a long while after she'd disappeared.
Kiss me, Chace.
He heard it in his head and he closed his eyes.
You need to unload it, Chace.
That time he heard Faye and his eyes shot open.
Just what he did not need.
"Fuck," he growled, his eyes moving through the clearing, seeing nothing, hearing nothing.
It wasn't talking.
Like he had, night after night, Chace Keaton strode though the clearing to the trail and went home.
Two days later…
"Would it kill you to come to dinner?"
Chace watched over the counter as Shambles made his coffee. He felt the muscle jump in his cheek as he held the phone to his ear thinking, yes. It would kill him to go to dinner at his mother and father's house.
Or, more to the point, it would drive him to murder if he had to breathe his father's air.
"Ma," he said into the phone, "like I told you, I'm busy."
"But I thought you said they were hiring new officers and things were getting back to normal," she replied.
"They are but it isn't normal. Things are busy. Very busy. When they cleaned house, we lost practically everyone. Those new officers have to be trained and after what went down and the time it lasted, the citizens of Carnal aren't gonna adjust in a few months to a Force they can trust. They got a problem, they still call each other rather than the Police Department. Then, when that goes south, and it usually goes south, we have to clean up the mess. No way I could make dinner this week."
"How about next week?" she pushed as Shambles poured frothed milk from the little stainless steel pitcher into his drink.
"How about the weekend after next, I come to Aspen and take you out to dinner?" Chace suggested.
Her voice was disappointed when she replied, "But, you know your father always goes to that golf tournament in Florida the third weekend in February."
He absolutely did.
He also absolutely knew his father was not attending a golf tournament in Florida but doing something else that could, conceivably, require sporting equipment but its usages were not something his mother could comprehend.
Unfortunately, Chace could. He just tried not to.
Shambles turned, smiling at him and shoving the white lid on top of his coffee.
Chace jerked up his chin to Shambles but said into his phone, "Is Dad's attendance required at our dinner?"
"Chace, you never see your father," she replied quietly.
"And, Ma, you know that's by design," Chace returned just as quietly, pulling out his wallet, flipping it open and yanking out a bill. He handed it to Shambles, Shambles set his coffee on the counter and turned to the cash register as Chace kept talking. "Now, are we on the weekend after next?"
She ignored his question and whispered, "I wish you two would heal this breach."
That was not going to happen.
And this was because he and his father did not have a breach that could heal. It used to be just a breach, years ago when Chace just wanted out of the house that he grew up in and out from under his father's thumb.
Now it was not a breach. It was a chasm he sure as fuck wasn't going to cross and if his father tried, Chace would shoot him.
"I'm worried about you, what with Misty gone. I mean, who's taking care of you?"
His mother didn't know this, she wasn't Misty's biggest fan either, though she tried to hide it just as Chace tried to hide from his mother the fact that he hated his wife, but Misty never took care of him.
She tried that for a while, after she finally figured out that he was not going to fall head over heels in love with her because she was great at giving head. This was mainly since he wouldn't allow her to touch him and didn't sleep in the same bed with her.
Once she realized that her usual tricks were not going to win his heart, she'd branched out. And her branching out came in the form of her trying to be a good wife. She was a decent housekeeper, a decent cook. All this went to shit when he eventually refused to eat her food, left the house more often than not before she got out of bed, came home late and never commented on her loving care or how she kept their home. Finally, she started to get nervous and fucked everything up.
He'd been hard on her and, at the time, felt she'd deserved it. She had trapped him into marriage after having whacked, sick-fuck sex with his father, doing this while conspiring with a dirty cop to tape it. Then she'd blackmailed his Dad and forced Chace into servitude not only to his father and his cronies, all of whom were under a local man's thumb, but also to a crew of dirty cops that were so dirty, they were made of pure filth.
Yeah, he thought she deserved that.
Now she was dead and how she got dead, he had that and his treatment of her for their very long, very unhappy, five year marriage living as demons in his head too.
"I'm thirty-five, Ma. I can take care of myself," he told his mother while accepting change from Shambles and tossing a dollar in the tip bowl.
"But I worry about you." She was back to whispering, this time sad and concerned and, because he loved his mother, it killed.
He knew she worried. He was an only child. She could have no more. She was lucky to have him and she felt that acutely. She was also flighty, sensitive and nervous by nature. Therefore, she'd smothered him growing up, terrified the very air had it out for him.
Her tactics for raising her son clashed violently with her husband's.
Valerie Keaton was all about protection, love and care.
Trane Keaton was all about making his son a man.
This was not conducive to a loving, secure, understanding, supportive home.
Therefore, as he'd promised himself starting at around age eight, the minute Chace could get out, he did. He worked at it, hard, and he got it.
And he never went back.
"Don't worry," he assured her quietly. "I'm fine. Just busy." He replaced his wallet, grabbed his drink and gave Shambles another chin lift. He got one of the undeniably talented but definitely a full blown hippie proprietor of the coffee shop's goofy grins in return and went on, "Though, I'd be better, my mother let me take her out to dinner the weekend after next."
He turned to the door just as it opened, the bell over it ringing and, her eyes to her eReader, Faye Goodknight wandered in.
Chace stopped dead.
"Okay, Chace, honey, I'd like that," his mother said in his ear.
"Good," he muttered into the phone.
At his voice sounding, Faye's head came up, her eyes hit him, she stopped moving and she gave it to him. The expression he couldn't fully see in the moonlight but he definitely saw in the daylight in La-La Land Coffee.
Her eyes instantly turned pained, her face paled, her full, pink lips parted.
And taking in that pain etched into her features hurt like a bitch.
She was wearing a wool overcoat, the design of it somehow cinched it at her tiny waist which had the effect of throwing her curves into visible relief. It had a shawl collar around the neck and the coat was cream, its color highlighting the dark auburn of her hair. A light blue, knit cap was pulled down to her ears and, with the color of the coat, this accentuated her hair, displaying far more prominently an alluring feature that couldn't be missed. She had on dark brown leather low-heeled boots and he knew she was wearing a dress or skirt under that coat because that was what she normally wore but also because all he could see on her legs up to the hem of her coat were the boots.
Her makeup, as he noted it normally was, was subtle. There simply to highlight her natural prettiness, not falsify it.
Her wounded, crystal blue eyes were wide.
"Do you want me to make a reservation at Reynaldo's?" his mother asked.
"Yeah, Ma," he answered. "That'd be good. Now I gotta go."
This time, hearing his voice sound took Faye out of her freeze and she didn't hesitate to turn right around and hurry out the door.
"But, Chace—" his mother began.
Instinctively and definitely stupidly, Chace moved swiftly to the door. "Something just came up, Ma. Really, gotta go."
He heard his mother sigh then, "Okay, honey. See you weekend after next."
"Weekend after next. Love you, Ma, 'bye."
He heard her good-bye but vaguely. He was out the door and moving quickly down the sidewalk behind a quickly moving Faye Goodknight.
And he had no idea why.
Except he still felt the pain of seeing the hurt he'd given her stamped in her features and he had to do something about it.
He closed on her and called, "Miz Goodknight."
She hastened her step.
Chace went faster.
She started run-walking.
His long strides no match for her, Chace easily caught up to her, wrapped his fingers around her bicep and halted her, turning her to him at the same time he turned his body into her and said softly, "Faye."
Her beautiful, injured eyes lifted to him, wounding him as sure as if she'd shoved a knife in his gut.
But her shoulders straightened. She was calling up the backbone.
"Good morning, Detective Keaton," she greeted, voice not cold but her usual quiet and now, unlike that night in Harker's Wood, definitely distant.
He kept his hand on her as he murmured distractedly, "Chace."
He said no more mostly because he had no fucking clue what to say.
She didn't speak.
This carried on awhile.
Then she spoke. "As you're detaining me," she slightly moved the arm he was holding likely to point out he was still holding it and she didn't want that, "is there something I can help you with?"
"Yeah, actually," he replied, "I'd like to apologize for the other night."
"Apology accepted," she stated instantly. Then, again slightly shifting her arm in his hold, making her point that she wanted him to let her go, she finished, "Now you have a nice day."
He didn't let her go.
He also didn't know why he did it, he just did. And what he did was use his hand on her arm to pull her closer until they were inches apart.
That got him much the same look she gave him at La-La Land Coffee but without the pain. Her pretty pink lips parted, her beautiful blue eyes got wide and her flawless pale skin got paler.
Without the pain and with only inches between them, that look was fucking spectacular.
He also noticed she wasn't breathing.
Therefore, he bent his head toward hers and whispered, "Breathe, Faye."
Her breath left her in a soft whoosh.
That was cute, the look on her face still magnificent, the effect of both together with her proximity was just plain hot.
Making matters worse, she smelled good.
No, not good.
Christ, he wanted to kiss her. Ached to do it.
"Is there more?" she whispered and he blinked, his eyes shifting from their attention to her mouth to hers.
- "Ashley delivers a deeply emotional second installment of the Chaos contemporary romance series (after Own the Wind)... Punctuated by blistering-hot sex scenes and fascinating glimpses into the tough world of motorcycle clubs, this romance also delivers true heart and emotion, and a story that will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review, on Fire Inside
- "I adore Kristen Ashley's books!"—Maya Banks, New York Times bestselling author
- "Kristen Ashley's books are addicting!"—Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author
- "[Kristen] Ashley captivates."—Publisher's Weekly
- "With Brock's raw side contrasted with Tess's innocence, Wild Man delivers a passionate, opposites-attract romance."—Patricia Smith, Booklist
- "There is something about them [Ashley's books] that I find crackalicious."—Kati Brown, DearAuthor.com
- "I felt all of the rushes, the adrenaline surges, the anger spikes... my heart pumping in fury. My eyes tearing up when her my heart (I mean... her heart) would break." (On Motorcycle Man)—Maryse's Book Blog, Maryse.net
- On Sale
- Dec 11, 2012
- Page Count
- 400 pages