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Too hot to handle . . .
Tabitha Allen grew up in the thick of Chaos-the Chaos Motorcycle Club, that is. Her father is Chaos’ leader, and the club has always had her back. But one rider was different from the start. When Tabby was running wild, Shy Cage was there. When tragedy tore her life apart, he helped her piece it back together. And now, Tabby’s thinking about much more than friendship . . .
Tabby is everything Shy’s ever wanted, but everything he thinks he can’t have. She’s beautiful, smart, and as his friend’s daughter, untouchable. Shy never expected more than friendship, so when Tabby indicates she wants more- much more-he feels like the luckiest man alive. But even lucky men can crash and burn . . .
Table of Contents
A Preview of Fire Inside
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"You're not leaving."
"I have to, the—"
Shy leaned toward Tabby and growled, "You are not leaving."
Suddenly, she lost it. Throwing her hands out to the sides, she asked, "Why?"
"This is why." He stalked the three steps that separated them, snaked an arm around her waist, and hauled her into his arms.
Then he slammed his mouth down on hers.
And there it was.
Sweet, God, so sweet.
"I Dreamed a Dream"
Three and a half months later…
HIS CELL RANG and Parker "Shy" Cage opened his eyes.
He was on his back in his bed in his room at the Chaos Motorcycle Club's Compound. The lights were still on and he was buried under a small pile of women. One was tucked up against his side, her leg thrown over his thighs, her arm over his middle. The other was upside down, tucked to his other side, her knee in his stomach, her arm over his calves.
Both were naked.
"Shit," he muttered, twisting with difficulty under his fence of limbs. He reached out to his phone.
He checked the display, his brows drew together at the "unknown caller" he saw on the screen as he touched his thumb to it to take the call.
"Yo," he said into the phone.
"Shy?" a woman asked, she sounded weird, far away, quiet.
"You got me," he answered.
He shot to sitting in bed, limbs flying and they weren't his.
"Listen, I'm sorry," her voice caught like she was trying to stop crying or, maybe, hyperventilating, then she whispered, "So, so sorry but I'm in a jam. I think I might even be kinda… um, in trouble."
"Where are you?" he barked into the phone, rolling over the woman at his side and finding his feet.
"I… I… well, I was with this old friend and we were. Damn, um…" she stammered as Shy balanced the phone between ear and shoulder and tugged on his jeans.
"Babe, where are you?" he repeated.
"In a bathroom," she told him, as he tagged a tee off the floor and straightened, waiting for her to say more.
When she didn't, gently, he prompted, "I kinda need to know where that bathroom is, sugar."
"I, uh… this guy is… um, I didn't know it, obviously, but I think he's—" another hitch in her breath before she whispered so low he barely heard "—a bad dude."
He nabbed his boots off the floor and sat on the bed to yank them on with his socks, asking, "Do I need backup?"
"I don't want anyone…" she paused. "Please, don't tell anyone. Just… can you please just text me when you're here? I'll stay in the bathroom, put my phone on vibrate so no one will hear, and I'll crawl out the window when you get here."
"Tab, no one is gonna think shit. Just give me the lay of the land. Are you in danger?"
"I'll crawl out the window."
He gentled his voice further and stopped putting on his boots to give her his full attention.
"Tabby, baby, are you in danger?"
"I… well, I don't know really. There's a lot of drugs and I saw some, well, a lot of guns."
"Address, honey," he urged, and she gave it to him.
Then she said, "Don't tell anyone, please. Just text."
"I'll give you that if you keep me notified and often. Text me. Just an 'I'm okay' every minute or so. I don't get one, I'll know you're not and I'm bringin' in the boys."
"I can do that," she agreed.
"Right, hang tight, I'll be there."
"Uh… thanks, Shy."
"Anytime, Tab. Yeah?"
He waited, and it felt like years before she whispered, "Yeah."
He disconnected, pulled on his last boot, and stood, tugging on his tee as he turned to his bed. One of the women was up on an elbow and blinking at him. The other was still out.
As he found his knife in the nightstand and shoved the sheath into his belt, he ordered, "Get her ass up. Both of you need to get dressed and get gone." He reached into the nightstand and grabbed his gun, shoving it into the back waistband of his jeans and pulling his tee over it. "You got fifteen minutes to get out. You're not gone by the time I get back, I will not be happy."
"Sure thing, babe," the awake one muttered. She lifted a hand to shove at the hip of her friend.
Slicing a glance through them he knew he was done. Some of the brothers, a lot older than him, enjoyed as much as they could get, however that came, and they didn't limit it to two pieces of ass.
He'd had that ride and often.
It hit him right then it went nowhere.
He'd never, not once, walked up to a woman who looked lost without him and became found the second she saw him. Who leaned into him the minute he touched her. Who made him laugh so hard, his head jerked back with it. Whose mouth he could take and the world melted away for him just as he made that same shit happen for her.
And he would not get that if he kept this shit up.
He jogged through the Compound to his bike and rode with his cell in his hand.
She texted, I'm okay, and Shy took in a calming breath and turned his eyes back to the road.
She texted again. This time, I'm still okay, and, getting closer to her, Shy felt his jaw begin to relax.
A few minutes later she texted again. This time it was I'm still okay but this bathroom is seriously gross.
When Shy got that, after his eyes went back to the road, he was flat-out smiling.
She kept texting her ongoing condition of okay, with a running commentary of how much she disliked her current location, until he was outside the house. He turned off his bike and scanned. Lights on in a front room, another one beaming from a small window at the opposite side at the back. The bathroom.
He bent his head to the phone and texted, Outside, baby.
Seconds later he saw a bare foot coming out the small window and another one, then legs. He kicked down the stand, swung off his bike, and jogged through the dark up the side of the house.
He caught her legs and tugged her out the rest of the way, putting her on her feet.
She tipped her head back to him, her face pale in the dark.
"Thanks," she said softly.
He, unfortunately, did not have all night to look in her shadowed but beautiful face. He had no idea what he was dealing with. He had to get them out of there.
He took her hand and muttered, "Let's go."
She nodded and jogged beside him, her hand in his, her shoes dangling from her other hand. He swung on his bike, she swung on behind him. A child born to the life, she wrapped her arms around him without hesitation.
He felt her tits pressed to his back and closed his eyes.
Then he opened them and asked, "Where you wanna go?"
"I need a drink," she replied.
"Bar or Compound?" he offered, knowing what she'd pick. She never came to the Compound anymore.
"Compound," she surprised him by answering.
Thank Christ he kicked those bitches out. He just hoped they followed orders.
He rode to the Compound, parked outside, and felt the loss when she pulled away and swung off. He lifted a hand to hold her steady as she bent to slide on her heels, then he took her hand and walked her into the Compound.
Luckily, it was deserted. Hopefully, his room was too. He didn't need one of those bitches wandering out and fucking Tab's night even worse.
"Grab a stool, babe. I'll get you a drink," he muttered, shifting her hand and arm out to lead her to the outside of the bar while he moved inside.
Tabby, he noted, took direction. She rounded the curve of the bar and took a stool.
Shy moved around the back of it and asked, "What're you drinking?"
"What gets you drunk the fastest?" she asked back, and he stopped, turned, put his hands on the bar and locked eyes on her.
"What kind of trouble did I pull you out of?" he asked quietly.
"None, now that I'm out that window," she answered quietly.
"You know those people?" he asked.
She shrugged and looked down at her hands on the bar. "An old friend. High school. Just her. The others…" She trailed off on another shrug.
Shy looked at her hands.
They were visibly shaking.
"Tequila," he stated, and her eyes came to his.
"Gets you drunk fast."
She pressed her lips together and nodded.
He grabbed the bottle and put it in front of her.
She looked down at it then up at him, and her head tipped to the side when he didn't move.
"Glasses?" she prompted.
He tagged the bottle, unscrewed the top, lifted it to his lips and took a pull. When he was done, he dropped his arm and extended it to her.
"You can't get drunk fast, you're fuckin' with glasses," he informed her.
The tip of her tongue came out to wet her upper lip and Jesus, he forgot how cute that was.
Luckily, she took his mind off her tongue when she took the bottle, stared at it a beat then put it to her lips and threw back a slug.
The bottle came down with Tabby spluttering and Shy reached for it.
Through a grin, he advised, "You may be drinking direct, sugar, but you still gotta drink smart."
"Right," she breathed out like her throat was on fire.
He put the bottle to his lips and took another drag before he put it to the bar.
Tabby wrapped her hand around it, lifted it, and sucked some back, but this time she did it smart and her hand with the bottle came down slowly, although she was still breathing kind of heavy.
When she recovered, he leaned into his forearms on the bar and asked softly, "You wanna talk?"
"No," she answered sharply, her eyes narrowing, the sorrow shifting through them slicing through his gut. She lifted the bottle, took another drink before locking her gaze with his. "I don't wanna talk. I don't wanna share my feelings. I don't wanna get it out. I wanna get drunk."
She didn't leave any lines to read through, she said it plain, so he gave her that out.
"Right, so we gonna do that, you sittin' there sluggin' it back and me standin' here watchin' you, or are we gonna do something? Like play pool."
"I rock at pool," she informed him.
"Babe, I'll wipe the floor with you."
"No way," she scoffed.
"Totally," he said through a grin.
"You're so sure, darlin', we'll make it interesting," she offered.
"I'm up for that," he agreed. "I win, you make me cookies. You win, you pick."
He barely finished speaking before she gave him a gift the likes he'd never had in his entire fucking life.
The pale moved out of her features as pink hit her cheeks, life shot into her eyes, making them vibrant, their startling color rocking him to his fucking core before she bested all that shit and burst out laughing.
He had no idea what he did, what he said, but whatever it was, he'd do it and say it over and over until he took his last breath just so he could watch her laugh.
He didn't say a word when her laughter turned to chuckles and continued his silence, his eyes on her.
When she caught him looking at her, she explained, "My cooking, hit and miss. Sometimes, it's brilliant. Sometimes, it's…" she grinned "… not. Baking is the same. I just can't seem to get the hang of it. I don't even have that"—she lifted up her fingers to do air quotation marks—"signature dish that comes out great every time. I don't know what it is about me. Dad and Rush, even Tyra, they rock in the kitchen. Me, no." She leaned in. "Totally no. So I was laughing because anyone who knows me would not think cookies from me would be a good deal for a bet. Truth is, they could be awesome but they could also seriously suck."
"How 'bout I take my chances?" he suggested.
She shrugged, still grinning. "Your funeral."
Her words made Shy tense, and the pink slid out of her cheeks, the life started seeping out of her eyes.
"Drink," he ordered quickly.
"What?" she whispered, and he reached out and slid the tequila to her.
"Drink. Now. Suck it back, babe. Do it thinkin' what you get if you win."
She nodded, grabbed the bottle, took a slug, and dropped it to the bar with a crash, letting out a totally fucking cute "Ah" before she declared, "You change my oil."
His brows shot up. "That's it?"
"I need my oil changed and it costs, like, thirty dollars. I can buy a lot of stuff with thirty dollars. A lot of stuff I want. I don't want oil. My car does but I don't."
"Tabby, sugar, your dad part-owns the most kick-ass garage this side of the Mississippi and most of the other side, and you're paying for oil changes?"
Her eyes slid away and he knew why.
She was doing it to avoid him. Still.
Serious as shit, this had to stop.
So he was going to stop it.
"We play pool and we get drunk and we enjoy it, that's our plan, so let's get this shit out of the way," he stated. Her eyes slid back to him and he said flat out, "I fucked up. It was huge. It was a long time ago but it marked you. You were right. I was a dick. I made assumptions, they were wrong and I acted on 'em and I shouldn't have and that was more wrong. I wish you would have found the time to get in my face about it years ago so we could have had it out, but that's done. When you did get in my face about it, I should have sorted my shit, found you, and apologized. I didn't do that either. I'd like to know why you dialed my number tonight, but if you don't wanna share that shit, that's cool too. I'll just say, babe, I'm glad you did. You need a safe place just to forget shit and escape, I'll give it to you. Tonight. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. That safe place is me, Tabby. But I don't want that old shit haunting this. Ghosts haunt until you get rid of them. Let's get rid of that fuckin' ghost and move on so I can beat your ass at pool."
As he spoke, he saw the tears pool in her eyes but he kept going, and when he stopped he didn't move even though it nearly killed him. Not to touch her, even her hand. Not to give her something.
Before he lost the fight to hold back, she whispered, "You are never gonna beat my ass at pool."
That was when he grinned, leaned forward, and wrapped his hand around hers sitting on the bar.
"Get ready to have your ass kicked," he said softly.
"Oil changes for a year," she returned softly.
"You got it but cookies for a year," he shot back.
"Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you," she replied.
He'd eat her cookies, they were brilliant or they sucked. If Tabitha Allen made it, he'd eat anything.
Shy didn't share that.
He gave her hand a squeeze, nabbed the bottle, and took off down the bar toward the cues on the wall.
* * *
They were in the dark, in his bed, in his room in the Compound.
Shy was on his back, eyes to the ceiling.
Tabby was three feet away, on her side, her chin was tipped down.
She was obliterated.
Shy wasn't even slightly drunk.
She'd won four games, he'd won five.
Cookies for a year.
Now, he was winning something else, because tequila didn't make Tabitha Allen a happy drunk.
It made her a talkative one.
It also made her get past ugly history and trust him with absolutely everything that mattered right now in her world.
"DOA," she whispered to the bed.
"I know, sugar," he whispered to the ceiling.
"Where did you hear?" she asked.
"Walkin' into the Compound, boys just heard and they were taking off."
"You didn't come to the hospital."
He was surprised she'd noticed.
"No. I wasn't your favorite person. Didn't think I could help. Went up to Tack and Cherry's, helped Sheila with the boys," he told her.
"I know. Ty-Ty told me," she surprised him again by saying. "That was cool of you to do. They're a handful. Sheila tries but the only ones who can really handle them are Dad, Tyra, Rush, Big Petey, and me."
Shy didn't respond.
"So, uh… thanks," she finished.
"No problem, honey."
She fell silent and Shy gave her that.
She broke it.
"Tyra had to cancel all the wedding plans."
"Yeah?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah," she answered. "Second time she had to do that. That Elliott guy wasn't dead when she had to do it for Lanie, but still. Two times. Two weddings. It isn't worth it. All that planning. All that money…" she pulled in a shaky breath "… not worth it. I'm not doing it again. I'm never getting married."
At that, Shy rolled to his side, reached out and found her hand lying on the bed.
He curled his hand around hers, held tight and advised, "Don't say that, baby. You're twenty-two years old. You got your whole life ahead of you."
"So did he."
Fuck, he couldn't argue that.
He pulled their hands up the bed and shifted slightly closer before he said gently, "If he was in this room right now, sugar, right now, he wouldn't want this. He wouldn't want to hear you say that shit. Dig deep, Tabby. What would he want to hear you say?"
She was silent then he heard her breath hitch before she whispered, "I'd give anything…"
She trailed off and went quiet.
"Baby," he whispered back.
Her hand jerked and her body slid across the bed to slam into his, her face in his throat, her arm winding around him tight, her voice so raw, it hurt to hear. His own throat was ragged just listening.
"I'd give anything for him to be in this room. Anything. I'd give my hair, and I like my hair. I'd give my car, and Dad fixed that car up for me. I love that car. I'd swim an ocean. I'd walk through arrows. I'd bleed for him to be here."
She burrowed deeper into him and Shy took a deep breath, pressing closer, giving her his warmth. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her tighter as she cried quietly, one hand holding his tight.
He said nothing but listened, eyes closed, heart burning, to the sounds of her grief.
Time slid by and her tears slowly stopped flowing.
Finally, she said softly, "I dreamed a dream."
"I dreamed a dream," she repeated.
He tipped his head and put his lips to the top of her hair but he had no reply. He knew it sucked when dreams died. He'd been there. There were no words to say. Nothing made it better except time.
Then she shocked the shit out of him and started singing, her clear, alto voice wrapping around a song he'd never heard before, but its words were gutting, perfect for her, what she had to be feeling, sending that fire in his heart to his throat so high, he would swear he could taste it.
"Les Mis," she whispered when she was done.
"The musical. Les Misérables. Jason took me to go see it. It's very sad."
If that was a song from the show, it fucking had to be.
She pressed closer. "I dreamed a dream, Shy."
"You'll dream more dreams, baby."
"I'll never dream," she whispered, her voice lost, tragic.
"We'll get you to a dream, honey," he promised, pulling her closer.
She pressed in, and he listened as her breath evened out, felt as her body slid into sleep, all the while thinking her hair smelled phenomenal.
Shy turned into her, trapping her little body under his and muttering, "We'll get you to a dream."
Tabby held his hand in her sleep.
Shy held her but didn't sleep.
The sun kissed the sky and Shy's eyes closed.
When he opened them, she was gone.
Waking Up in His Arms
Six weeks later…
THE BELL TO my apartment rang and, standing in front of my mirror in the bathroom, I jumped.
Dad and Tyra were there to take me to the hog roast.
It was time, according to Dad, that I got back into life. I wasn't so sure but Dad was, and when Dad was sure about something, well… you got yourself together and hauled yourself to a hog roast.
I stared at myself in the mirror, seeing my hair out to there, more makeup than I usually wore, a sweet long-sleeved Harley tee I bought just last weekend, the first I'd bought or worn in ages, faded jeans that fit great, and a fabulous belt. I couldn't see them in the mirror but I also had on high, spike-heeled boots that I usually wore under smart skirts.
I looked awesome, so awesome even I could say I looked awesome.
It was still stupid.
The bell rang again and there was a knock following it but I couldn't move. I just stood there, staring at myself in the mirror, wondering what the hell I was doing.
I heard the door open and I knew Tyra had used her key.
"Tabby, honey, are you here?" I heard her call, and I tried to get my feet to move but I just stood, frozen in front of the mirror. "Tab, you here?" she yelled.
She was closer, moving into my bedroom, I could tell.
My feet finally moved, taking me out of the bathroom and into the bedroom.
There she was, thick, lush, shining auburn hair and lots of it, great figure even after two kids, Tyra Allen, my friend, my saving grace years ago.
The instant her green eyes hit me, they got wide and a smile spread on her gorgeous face.
"Wow, honey, you look great."
See? I looked great.
I was still stupid.
I knew what she saw. For months, I went through the motions of life but I put no effort into it. I got up and went to work, came home, and tried to sleep. I hung with the family and pretended everything was fine but they knew it was all a show.
Kane Allen, known as Tack to everyone but Dad to me, was far from dumb, which was cool most of the time but wasn't when I was trying to pull the wool, something which I never, not in my life, succeeded in doing with my Dad.
"I messed up," I declared and watched Tyra blink.
"Pardon?" she asked.
"I messed up," I repeated.
"How did you mess up?" she asked.
"I slept with Shy."
She didn't blink then. Her eyes got so wide I thought they'd bug out of her head.
She rallied quickly, stuck her hand in her back pocket and pulled out her phone. She jabbed it with her finger and put it to her ear.
"Tack, honey, go on without us," she said into her phone. "Tabby and I'll take her car and meet you there later." She paused, then, "I don't know yet, but she and I have to talk, and when we get things sorted out, we'll meet you at Chaos." Pause, then, "Handsome, I told you, I don't know yet, but I'll find out and we'll sort it out, then we'll meet you there." Another pause with an eye roll, then, softer, "I got this, you know I do. We'll meet you at the roast soon."
Dad was worried, I could tell. This was not a surprise. He was the kind of dad who loved you so much he hurt when you hurt, and when you lost something precious he lost it right with you.
On that thought, I saw what I saw a lot when Tyra was talking to Dad.
Even though she dipped her chin and turned her head so I got her profile, I still saw Tyra's face get soft before she said quietly, "Yeah. Will do. Love you."
Then I saw something else I saw a lot when Tyra was talking to Dad: her face got softer and I knew Dad was telling her he loved her too.
Tyra was the bomb, so I was glad she had that from Dad and I was even more glad that she gave it to him.
She stabbed the screen on her phone, shoved it into her pocket and focused on me.
Then she asked, "You slept with Shy?"
I nodded but clarified, "Six weeks ago, but we slept-slept, not did the business slept." Her brows went up so I further explained, "See, I was in a situation, he got me out of that situation, I asked him to get me drunk, he did, we played pool, we talked, we ended up in his bed, I sang him a song from Les Mis, then I passed out and woke up in his arms."
Her head tipped to the side and her eyes grew sharp, and they did this about the time I stated I was in a situation.
As I said, my dad was far from dumb. Being really not dumb, for some reason I didn't get, he married my mom, who was a lot closer to dumb than anyone I knew. However, being not dumb, Dad got shot of her and didn't make the same mistake twice. Therefore, Tyra was also far from dumb, which also worked in my favor most of the time.
Sometimes, it did not.
I knew this was one of those times when she queried, "You were in a situation?"
I licked my lip and she watched.
Then she moved to the bed while motioning to it with her hand. "Right, talk to me."
She sat on the bed, and I sat with her and commenced laying it out.
"Okay, well, what I'm going to say isn't gonna make you happy but here it is. Six weeks ago I was out with Natalie."
She bit her lip, her face went blank, and I got this.
Natalie Harbinger had been my best friend since forever. I went to college to be a nurse. Natalie went to the same college as me, but she went to party. She put a lot of effort in and therefore excelled at this endeavor to the point she got kicked out of college. She continued to do this and there was nothing wrong with that, except the longer she did it the iffier became the element she did it with.
People at our age started to grow up and get themselves sorted. If they didn't, their lives started spiraling down a path that would mean they never got sorted.
Natalie didn't grow up and get herself sorted.
I got this. Natalie's mom was arguably a bigger bitch than mine. The problem was, Natalie didn't have a dad who gave a crap and a stepmom who was the bomb. I understood doing stuff to get attention, even if it was bad attention, but for me that crap was over years ago. She just didn't seem to be able to pull herself out of it.
Thus Tyra was not a big fan of Natalie's, and even Dad, who was the president of a motorcycle club and essentially had a life motto of 'live and let live,' had issues with her. The short of the long of it was, they didn't like me hanging with her.
Furthermore, Jason had hated her. Unfortunately, Natalie returned the favor. This put me in the middle, which was not a fun place to be. Jason was the kind of guy who pretty much laid it out if the situation warranted it, and he hated Natalie enough to lay it out. Natalie also wasn't the kind of person to keep things buried, so she didn't hesitate to share. This was not comfortable for me, but I was the kind of person who was growing up and getting my life sorted. I was also falling in love so, naturally, rather than making a choice (as such), I started spending less time with her and more time with Jason.
She took the time I could give her without too much bellyaching, and I worked at keeping our friendship close even as it changed with the different paths our lives were taking.
But when Jason died, she'd totally stepped up. She was there for me. She didn't breathe a word against Jason and kept her other crap separate. It was all about taking my back.
Six weeks ago, I needed her to take my back a different way.
- "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
- "[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 my heart (I mean... her heart) would break." (On Motorcycle Man)
—Maryse's Book Blog, Maryse.net
- On Sale
- Apr 2, 2013
- Page Count
- 400 pages