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The ride of her life . . .
Once upon a time, Carissa Teodoro believed in happy endings. Money, marriage, motherhood: everything came easy—until she woke up to the ugly truth about her Prince Charming. Now a struggling, single mom and stranded by a flat tire, Carissa’s pondering her mistakes when a vaguely familiar knight rides to her rescue on a ton of horsepower.
Climb on and hold tight . . .
In high school, Carson Steele was a bad boy loner who put Carissa on a pedestal where she stayed far beyond his reach. Today, he’s the hard-bodied biker known only as Joker, and from the way Carissa’s acting, it’s clear she’s falling fast. While catching her is irresistible, knowing what to do with her is a different story. A good girl like Carissa is the least likely fit with the Chaos Motorcycle Club. Too bad holding back is so damned hard. Now, as Joker’s secrets are revealed and an outside threat endangers the club, Joker must decide whether to ride steady with Carissa—or ride away forever . . .
Table of Contents
A Preview of Walk Through Fire
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AFTER HIS FATHER cuffed him, Carson Steele's temple slammed into the corner of the wall by the refrigerator. It happened so fast that, despite all the times it had happened, and there were a lot, he still wasn't prepared. So his hand came up to curl around the corner too late to soften the blow as the sharp pain spread from his temple through his right eye and into his jaw. Doubling that, his left cheekbone stung from the back of his father's hand slamming into it.
"Trash fuckin' stinks!" his father yelled. "What's the point a' you, boy? You good for nothin'?"
Carson had learned not to respond. Anything he said made it worse. He could defend himself and get his ass kicked. He could apologize and get his ass kicked.
Problem was, he could be silent and get his ass kicked too.
But his dad had a woman at their house, and even though they were both slaughtered on beer and vodka, if his dad had a woman (which he did surprisingly often, regardless that he was a jackhole, and not only to Carson), his father would have other things on his mind. This being the reason Carson hadn't been prepared for his dad to have a go at him.
When he turned from the wall, still holding on to the edge and battling the pain, and looked into his old man's eyes, his dad just muttered, "Piece of shit. Good for nothin'. For fuck's sake, do somethin' worth somethin' in your sorry life, take out the fuckin' trash."
Then he moved to the fridge, opened it, nabbed a six pack, slammed it, and stormed out.
Carson went to the trash.
It was a third full.
His father was right. It stunk. Carson had no idea what the man threw in there, but whatever it was smelled lethal.
The same thing had happened last week, though. The garbage hadn't been half full, his dad tossed something in that smelled to high heaven, and unable to bear the stench, Carson took it out.
The minute he came back, he got open-palmed smacked across the face because "We're not made of fuckin' money, you piece of shit! I'm not a millionaire who can afford fifty trash bags a week, for fuck's sake! Wait until it's goddamned full!"
He couldn't win for losing.
This didn't bother Carson. He had a good memory, which sucked, seeing as every one of them wasn't one he'd want to remember.
He was used to losing.
He took the garbage out to the alley and tossed it in the Dumpster. As he was dropping the lid, he saw his neighbor roll up in his pickup.
The man slid his window down and stopped.
"Hey, Car, how's it hangin', bud?" Linus Washington asked.
Then Linus's eyes narrowed on Carson's face.
Linus was a big, black guy who'd lived next door to them for the last three years. Good guy, serial dater, but he'd had a steady woman for the last year. Carson liked her. She was pretty, had a smokin' body, but he liked the way she looked at Linus the best. Like he could do anything. Like if he went to the Pacific Ocean, raised his arms, and spread them wide, the sea would part.
Yeah, that's what he liked about her best.
Sometime recently, Linus had got on bended knee but Carson only knew that because his dad had told him she'd accepted the ring, then said, "Dumb fuck. Gettin' his shit tied to a woman. Stupidest thing you can do, boy, gettin' your shit tied to a woman. Learn that now, save you a world a' hurt."
He understood this coming from his dad. Carson's mom was beautiful. He'd seen pictures. That was the only way his mother was in his life. Stuffed in an envelope full of pictures shoved at the back of his father's nightstand. Pictures just of her, smiling and looking gorgeous. Pictures of her and his dad, both of them smiling, looking happy.
She left before Carson could even crawl. He had no memories of her. His father never spoke of her, except the constant trash he talked about women that Carson knew was directed at her.
He also knew better than to ask.
And last he knew that she left her baby before he'd even learned to say the word mom.
He could get this, if his old man knocked her around the way he did Carson.
He also didn't get it.
Not at all.
"It's hangin', Lie," Carson muttered, dipping his chin and turning toward their back gate.
"You wanna come over, get a Coke, watch a game?" Linus called before Carson could turn his back on him and their conversation.
"Got shit to do," Carson kept muttering, moving toward the gate.
"Bud!" Linus yelled.
Carson drew in a breath and turned back.
"Anytime you wanna come over and hang, my door's open. Yeah?" Linus said what he'd said before a lot.
"Yeah," Carson continued to mutter, knowing he'd take him up on that, as he had hundreds of times since the man moved next door.
This just wouldn't be one of those times. He didn't go over after his dad had a go at him. And the reason he didn't was right then written on Linus's face.
Linus was giving him a look that Carson read. He'd honed his skills at reading people, started doing it the minute he could cogitate. If he didn't, he'd have it far worse than he did from his old man.
But the look on Linus's face said he didn't know if he wanted to climb out of his truck and give Carson a hug or if he wanted to climb out of his truck, slam into Carson's house, and kick his dad's ass.
Sometimes he dreamed of Linus kicking his dad's ass. The man was built. He was tall. He'd wipe the floor with Jefferson Steele.
But most of the time, he dreamed of doing it himself.
He didn't because his dad kept him fed. He kept a roof over his head. He kept clothes on his back. He needed the jackhole.
When he didn't, things would change.
But he didn't court disaster for Linus. Linus was a good man. If he had a go at his dad, his dad would stop at nothing to put Linus in a world of hurt any way he could.
Linus didn't need that. The woman who looked at him like he could move mountains didn't need that. And Linus didn't need to give it to a woman who he looked at like the first day that dawned for him was the day he laid eyes on her.
"Take care of yourself, Car," Linus said quietly.
Carson nodded and moved to and through the gate, lifting a hand behind him as he did in a lame goodbye.
The goodbye was lame. He was lame. Weak. Pathetic. Of his own free will, walking away from Linus and into a filthy, stinking pit that held nothing for him but pain, violence, and neglect.
He hit the back door and heard it immediately. His father's grunts. The woman he brought home whimpering through each one.
Not the good kind of whimpering, the pained kind.
She was dry.
How the fuck his father could nail as much tail as he did and not sort that, Carson had no clue.
What he knew was the man was good-looking. He made decent money. He could be a charmer.
But mostly, he was a jackhole, and he only hid it long enough to get off. Therefore none of the women stuck around.
He would have thought they'd talk. Women did that shit. But apparently, when it came to his dad, they didn't.
Or maybe his dad was just that good of a player.
Moving swiftly through the house, avoiding going anywhere near the living room where his dad was fucking some bitch on the couch, he headed to his room.
He was sixteen but he'd already had four girls. The first one sounded like the woman his father was currently pumping on their couch. Those pained whimpers.
It wasn't good, fucking dry. He got off but it wasn't good.
It really wasn't good for her.
He'd learned with the second one that if he kissed her a while then paid some attention to her tits, things were a lot better down there. Wet and hot. Sweet. And it far from sucked, tonguing and toying with a girl's nipples. He'd got off, she hadn't, but the whimpers he got when he was doing her were of an entirely different variety.
Number three was where he found it. She'd shown him. He got her ready. He got off. But when he was done, she wasn't and she wanted to finish. So she took his hand and pressed his finger against her clit and moved it around, moaning and squirming and… fuck. So damned hot, he nearly came again on her leg watching her. In the end, he got her off with her help and Carson watched, thinking it was beautiful.
So number four got it all. After he made out with her forever, did shit to her tits and got her wet for him, he'd fucked her while he worked her clit, and she'd gone wild. It was magnificent. So good, he wanted to try other shit, using his mouth, his tongue, his hands, see what that would bring. She let him and the results were spectacular.
But after he gave that to her, she got clingy and kept calling and coming around and his dad gave him crap, not the good, teasing, my-boy's-becoming-a-man kind of ribbing.
Mean. Like the jackhole he was.
So even if Carson kind of liked her, had a good time with her, and not just when he was doing her, he scraped her off. He didn't need that shit.
And hearing his father's grunts and groans coming faster, as well as the pained cries and, "Jeff, hold on a second, honey," he decided he didn't need this shit either.
So to make a quick getaway, he grabbed what he did need, opened his window, climbed out, and took off.
Carson Steele walked a lot since his father got shitty for some reason, tossed Carson's bike in the Dumpster, and beat the snot out of him so he knew not to go out and retrieve it.
Now Carson had a job. He was saving up for a car. He didn't care how beat up it was. The minute he could afford one, he was going to buy one.
First step to freedom.
He'd fix it up too. Linus was a mechanic, and sometimes when Carson was over at Linus's house he helped Linus in his garage, getting Linus tools as Linus tinkered with an old Trans Am he was fixing up to sell. He watched, Linus showed him things, let him do things, he learned.
Which was why Carson went where he went. Moving through the residential streets of Englewood, Colorado, he found Broadway and walked north. Block after block. He saw it from a distance: his destination. The American flag on the flagpole on top. The white flag under it with its insignia, the words around it, Wind, Fire, Ride, and Free.
His place, even if it wasn't his. It still was.
The only place he felt right, even standing outside the fence.
So he walked right to it and stopped when he hit the end of the fence.
He stood there. His body on one side, he craned his neck around and looked into the forecourt of Ride. It was an auto supply store up front on the street but they had a garage at the back.
And the day got better even as it threw Carson right into a yawning pit of hell.
That was because the cool guy with the dark hair and kickass goatee was working in one of the bays.
And he was doing it with his son right by his side.
And the worst.
Since Carson spent a lot of time watching, he'd seen that guy—and others, all members of the Chaos Motorcycle Club—around Ride, the store and the custom car and bike shop at the back, all of which they owned and ran.
The best and worst times were watching the goatee guy with his boy.
His kid had to be Carson's age. Looked just like his old man, like Carson looked like his.
But Carson would bet the three hundred fifty-eight dollars he'd saved that the kid he was watching was proud of that fact, where Carson absolutely was not.
He'd seen them grin at each other, they did it a lot, and Carson couldn't remember one single time he'd smiled at his old man.
And he'd seen the goatee guy laugh at something his kid said. Or he'd smack him on the shoulder in a way that wasn't mean. Or, the best, he'd grab him by the side or back of the neck and tug him close, swaying him around.
It was a hug. A motorcycle guy hug for his boy. Carson knew it, even though he'd never felt anything like it. The kid had done something his father liked. Or made him proud. Or maybe it was just because he looked at his son and couldn't stop himself from showing some love.
Right then, they were bent over the engine of a car, hood up, one on each side, doing shit. Every once in a while they'd look at each other and say something. Or smile. Or laugh.
Carson watched a long time. Until they quit and walked through the garage, disappearing in its dark depths.
Probably they were off to some house Carson figured was clean and nice and maybe even decorated good. They'd have dinner together. Maybe with the pretty dark-headed girl he'd also seen around who could be none other than that guy's daughter and that kid's sister.
They'd get home and have dinner and that guy would ask his son if he'd done his homework. He'd give him crap about the girls he was dating. The good kind. The my-boy's-becoming-a-man-and-I-like-how-that's-happening kind.
The kind Carson never got.
On this thought, he took off. Kept walking. Found a spot and dug the book out of the back of his jeans where he'd shoved it, and took the nubs of pencils out of his pockets. He sat with his back to a tree in the park, his ass to the ground, and flipped through.
Drawings of Linus's bulldog, Ruff. Carson loved that dog. He looked like a bruiser, the way he waddled was flat-out hilarious, but he always seemed like he was smiling. As he would, the love Linus showered on him.
There were also drawings of Mrs. Heely's house.
She lived across the street and one down from Carson and his dad. She had an American flag on the flagpole, aimed high but stuck at a slant on the house at the top side of her front door, the edges tattered.
He mowed her lawn for money. He also did shit around the house for her because her son, and only child, was gone and so was her old man, so she didn't have anyone else to do it.
She was a great old broad. Made him cookies. Noticed when he was younger and alone because his dad was out carousing and would bring him over a plate of food, warm food, good food, with vegetables and everything. Sat with him while he ate and made him eat his vegetables and watch Wheel of Fortune with her and other shit before she'd hear his father's car in the drive. Then she'd put a finger to her lips, wink, grab his dirty plate, and sneak out the back door.
He'd asked about that flag. She'd said they gave it to her at the funeral after her son died "over there." She put it up and it stayed up, wind, rain, snow, sun.
She told Carson she was never going to take it down. It would fly out there until she died. She didn't care how tattered it got. Beaten and worn. Faded.
"He would too, you know, if he'd been able to live his life," she said. "Age does that to you. All's I got is that flag, Carson. I didn't get to watch him be a man. Make his life. Grow old. So I'll watch that flag do it."
After she said that to him, Carson thought that flag was maybe the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
So he drew it.
He flipped the page and at what he saw, his throat got tight.
The flag might be the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, but on that page was the most beautiful person he'd ever seen.
Carissa Teodoro. Cheerleader. Dated the quarterback. Long golden brown ringlets the color of honey, warm dark brown eyes, sweet little tits, tiny waist, long legs, heart-shaped ass. He knew. He'd seen it in her cheerleader panties when she flipped around.
The golden girl.
Half of the golden couple.
It was too bad her boyfriend, Aaron Neiland, was a total fucktard.
The guy was good-looking and his dad was loaded so he got it.
But he was still a fucktard.
Carissa wasn't. She smiled at him in the halls. She smiled at everyone. She was nice. Everyone liked her.
Carson did too. Carson wanted to make her whimper.
He also wanted to make her laugh. Throw her head back and laugh real hard, like he saw her do at lunch sometimes. Or at games. Or in the hall. Or whenever.
She laughed a lot.
He was glad she did.
Pretty girls like her who could be bitches but weren't deserved to laugh.
He turned the page in a notebook that was filled with drawings. Drawings of things that Carson thought were beautiful. Things that made Carson smile, inside, the only place he let himself do it. Things that gave him a little peace.
And he drew a picture of the goatee guy with his son working on the car.
Only when it was done—and he was sure his dad had either passed out or was in a decent mood because he got off—did he go home.
* * *
"A minute, Carson," Mr. Robinson called as everyone filed out of his classroom.
It was the last period. He was good to go home. He didn't want to go home but it was better than being at school. He hated school. Bells telling him where he was supposed to go next. Teachers telling him what (they thought) he was going to do when he got home. Rules about what you could wear, what you could say, where you could be, how you could act.
Totally hated it.
Still, Mr. Robinson was the shit. He made class fun. He dug teaching and didn't give a crap that everyone knew it.
Half the girls had a crush on him.
Half the boys wanted to be history teachers when they grew up.
Because he liked the guy, Carson walked to his desk.
As Carson was walking to the desk, Mr. Robinson got up and rounded it. That was another way he was cool. He didn't sit behind his desk like a dick with some authority and lord over you that way. He also didn't stand behind it like he had to have the desk between so you wouldn't infect him with high school loser-ness.
He got close. Man to man.
Yeah, Carson liked him.
"You good?" Mr. Robinson asked when he stopped close but not too close. Friendly. Natural.
"Yeah," Carson replied, not asking why he'd asked because he had a bruise on his cheek and one on his temple so he knew why Mr. Robinson asked.
Carson didn't hide it. He never hid it. Everyone saw it. They always did.
He didn't really care. It was his life for now.
Then he'd be gone.
But only Mr. Robinson would call it out. School had started over a month ago, the first time he had Mr. Robinson's class, and the man had been giving him looks for a while.
Carson knew right then the teacher was done with just looks.
Mr. Robinson leaned a hip against the desk and put a fist to his other one. He then tipped his chin to Carson's face and dipped his voice quiet.
"Looks like something got rough for you recently."
"It's all good," Carson lied.
Mr. Robinson gave him a long look before he sighed.
Then he said, "Talked with some of your teachers."
Carson said nothing.
"Your grades are good, Carson, very good. Especially for a kid who only half the time turns in homework."
Carson had no reply to that either.
"You turned it in more often, you'd be on the honor roll," Mr. Robinson shared.
Carson had no interest in the honor roll.
He had an interest in saving for a car, then saving every dime he could make, and the second he turned eighteen, getting the fuck out of Dodge.
Something moved over Mr. Robinson's face when Carson didn't reply. It was something Carson had never seen. He hadn't seen it so he couldn't get a lock on it. It could be pity. It could be sadness. It could be frustration. Whatever it was, it made Carson feel warm and cold at the same time.
"You're exceptionally bright," Mr. Robinson said quietly.
"Thanks," Carson replied lamely.
"I've been teaching seven years and not once have I come across a student with your capabilities."
He didn't ask but Mr. Robinson told him.
"You think with both sides of your brain. You excel in shop. You excel in art. You excel in chemistry. You excel in trigonometry. And you excel in history. You do this simply by paying attention in class and making a half-assed attempt at studying when you're home."
Carson was a little shocked the man used the word half-assed but it only upped his cool factor.
"You have no test anxiety," Mr. Robinson went on. "Your teachers have noted you pay close attention and take copious notes in class. When you're there, you're there. We have you. Totally. I wonder, if you applied yourself, what that could mean."
"Not much, and it doesn't have to, seein' as alls I'm gonna be is a mechanic," Carson shared.
"I take issue with 'all you're gonna be,' Carson. A mechanic is a worthy profession," Mr. Robinson replied instantly. "Though, not an easy one. You have to study to be a mechanic."
"Know that," Carson muttered.
"I figure you do. And if you want it, you'll be a good one. But it would be a shame if you were a mechanic when you had it in your head to design cars, engineer them. Make them maneuver better. Safer. Or use different forms of fuel."
"Hardly got that in me, Mr. Robinson," Carson told him the truth.
"How would you know?" Mr. Robinson shot back.
Carson felt his body still.
"Usually, by your age, teachers can see where students are leaning," Mr. Robinson continued. "Where they have aptitude. Languages. Arts. Science. Math. Computers. Manual skills that are no less admirable than any of the rest. Some can show partiality to several of these. I've never met a student who shows gifts with all of them."
Carson shook his head, not getting why the guy was on about this crap. "Nothin' special about me, Mr. Robinson. Just a kid who likes history."
"No, you would think that, seeing as whoever puts bruises on your face or makes you take your seat at your desk slowly because your ribs hurt would make you believe nothing about you was special, Carson. But the truth of it is, they are very wrong, and so are you."
He wanted that to feel good.
But he wasn't the one who was wrong.
Mr. Robinson was.
He liked the guy. Respected him.
But they were not talking about this.
"We done here?" Carson asked and watched the teacher's head jerk.
"I dig you give a shit, but none of your business."
"So, we done?"
Mr. Robinson shut his mouth.
It took a couple beats before he opened it again to say, "If you ever need to speak with someone, I'm here."
"No offense, your class rocks, you're the best teacher in the school, everyone thinks so, but I wouldn't hold my breath."
"That's a shame, Carson, because I can help."
Okay, enough was enough.
"Yeah?" he asked sharply. "Can you give me a ma who gave a shit enough to hang around to see me start crawlin'?" Carson asked.
Mr. Robinson's lips thinned, "I—"
"Or give me a dad who wasn't okay with leavin' me at eight to go out and get laid so the neighbor lady had to bring over food so I'd eat?"
Mr. Robinson's face turned to stone. "This is exactly what I'm talking about."
"Sixteen, almost seventeen, less than two years I gotta wait, Mr. Robinson. Been waitin' a long time to be free, now you wanna fuck that up for me?"
"If we spoke with the principal—"
"What? And get me in foster care? Make my dad pissed at me for more than just breathin'?" He shook his head again. "That shit gets out, it'll make all the kids pity me or say jack to me, which would not go down too good so other shit would go down and I'd get suspended or expelled. Dude, when it's over and I'm gone, I won't have much, but I stick with my plan, at least I'll have my degree."
"I see you've thought this through," the man remarked.
"Only thing on my mind since I was eight."
That and Carissa Teodoro. But she hadn't entered his mind until he was thirteen.
Mr. Robinson closed his eyes.
He felt that. He didn't like that.
Carson couldn't help him.
He had to focus on helping himself.
"I'll get through," Carson declared and the teacher opened his eyes. "Got neighbors who look out for me, so it isn't as bad as you think. Means a lot, you give a shit, but I got it under control."
"Then if you take nothing from this, take from it that you have a teacher who cares and will look out for you, too. More than just me, we all believe in you, Carson. So if you take nothing from this but that, it won't make me happy, but it'll be something."
"That means a lot too," Carson returned, his voice weird, like thick and gruff, a sound that echoed what he felt in his gut.
While Carson was feeling that and, not getting it, before he got a lock on it, Mr. Robinson swooped in for the kill.
"One day, Carson Steele, you're going to be a magnificent man. I don't know how that will be. You could be president. You could eradicate disease. Or you could be a master mechanic who builds amazing cars. But whatever it is, it will happen. I believe it. And one day, you'll see past what you've been taught and you'll believe it too."
Carson didn't share that he probably shouldn't hold his breath about that either.
Then again he couldn't. The thick in his gut was growing, filling him up like he ate way too much, but not in a way that made him need to hurl. In a way that made him want to take a load off, sit back, and just feel the goodness.
Since it was all he had in him, he just again muttered, "Thanks."
"My pleasure," Mr. Robinson muttered back.
Carson moved to the door.
"Carson?" Mr. Robinson called when he was almost out of the room.
Taking in a deep breath, he turned back.
"Don't forget this conversation," the teacher ordered. "Any of it."
Like he ever would.
"Got it," he confirmed.
Then, fast as he could, he took off.
* * *
Carson stood with his back to the pole at the bottom of the bleachers at the high school football field. He did this listening to the posse of girls sitting above him.
They had no clue he was there.
Freshman football game. One of Carissa's stupid, bitch, up-her-own-ass girlfriends had a brother who played.
But they weren't there to watch the brother play. They were there to say mean crap about the freshman cheerleaders.
All but Carissa. She didn't talk much. She smiled a lot. She cheered and kicked and flipped around better than any of the others. But she wasn't a talker.
But now, her friends had stopped saying bitchy things about the cheerleaders.
Now they were talking about him.
"I'm so gonna go there. Jenessa said he rocked her world," Brittney spouted.
"I would go there just 'cause he's hot," Theresa declared. "God, he wears jeans better than any guy in school."
- "Ashley delivers a deeply emotional second installment of the Chaos contemporary romance series... 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
- "Top Pick! This is a phenomenal read that I just couldn't put down. Kristen Ashley is the tops, bar none, and Breathe gets 5 stars from this grateful reader!"—Night Owl Reviews on Breathe
- "Sizzling sex and a healthy dose of mystery will keep readers enthralled."—Publishers Weekly on Lady Luck
- "4 1/2 Stars! Top Pick! Another Ashley winner!"—RT Book Reviews on Sweet Dreams
- "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."—Publishers Weekly
- "There is something about them [Ashley's books] that I find crackalicious."—Kati Brown, Dear Author
- "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 on Motorcycle Man
- On Sale
- Jun 30, 2015
- Page Count
- 640 pages