THORN, my latest Lords of Carnage book, is coming out in just a few days! It’s the story of a hot-blooded Irishman who’s a cold-blooded killer, and the woman he’s sworn to protect.
Here’s a special sneak peek of Chapter 1, just for you!
“Izzy, come on!” my best friend Deb cries.
“Jeez, I’m coming!” I retort, trying not to wobble on these insanely high heels I borrowed from her.
The back entrance we’re heading toward definitely doesn’t look like it’s for customers. But the dimly-lit parking lot of the roadhouse was full, so Deb ended up having to park way in back, next to a dumpster. We’re not wearing coats against the early November chill, and this door was propped open with a rock, so of course Deb made a beeline for it to get inside as quickly as possible.
I shoot one last glance back into the parking lot, just to check for myself that there’s no one watching or following us. Reassured, I slip through the heavy steel door behind my friend.
Buzzy’s Roadhouse is a few miles outside the city limits. I’ve never been here before, but Deb says she came here once with her brother. The building itself is a wreck. The outside is poorly constructed clapboard and faded siding that makes it look like it’s likely to fall down in the next strong storm. Inside, it smells like smoke and body odor. The lights are so dim you can barely see anything.
Buzzy’s is known for being a dangerous place. Somewhere no “decent” girl would go — especially unaccompanied by a male companion. People turn in curiosity to look at Deb and me as we walk in. We’re clearly not regulars, and they probably think we’re scared. Or at least, that we should be.
But most people don’t know my father, or the family I grew up in. This? This is nothing.
Deb, on the other hand, probably ought to have thought twice before coming here. Or at least she should be less eager and excited than she is. But as long as I’ve known her, Deb has never been afraid of anything. She’s always been the kind of girl to run toward the fire instead of away from it.
Paradoxically, of the two of us, I’m the more cautious one. Not because I’m afraid, but because my life has had more than enough chaos in it already.
Deb’s dad is an important lawyer in our town. She grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth. But hey, we always want what we don’t have, right? So of course, Deb has always been tempted by walking on the wild side, the wrong side of the tracks. She loves the idea of coming here to Buzzy’s to find some dangerous, shady guys to flirt with.
As for me, I’m usually happy to curl up with a book and spend my evening that way. But these days, since I’ve basically been under house arrest for the last month, I was more than willing to break out and have a little fun at Deb’s request. Besides, as shabby and potentially dangerous as Buzzy’s is, it does have two major things going for it.
One: none of the dumbasses we knew from high school are likely to be here.
And two: neither is anyone from my dad’s club.
Once we’re inside, I finally start to relax. The prospect of a couple of hours of freedom is a happy one. I follow Deb through a dubious-looking hallway. We pass a couple of closed doors with faded, smoke-stained signs labeling them. As we go by the men’s bathroom, a door opens, and a large, beer-gutted man comes out. The stench he leaves behind wafts into the hallway. I reflexively wrinkle my nose and take a step back in disgust. But Deb, excited as she is, doesn’t even seem to notice.
“Come on!” she calls again, reaching back to grab my hand. She practically drags me toward the bar, and I almost stumble on my high heels trying to keep up with her.
Inside the main room, the din of music and voices is deafening. The smell of sweaty bodies is worse in here. It’s just short of stifling. My lungs feel like they need a big, deep gulp of fresh air, but there’s none to be had in this crowded room. Instead, I take shallow breaths through my mouth and try to ignore the odors.
Deb makes a beeline for the bar to get us drinks. I watch as she stands up to balance on her tiptoes, and leans over the counter to yell our order to the bartender. Her breasts half-spill provocatively from her low-cut dress; the barman stares openly and gives her a wolfish grin.
While she’s busy, I take a moment to look around. The place is packed almost wall to wall with people. Most of the men are large, hairy and tattooed, with muscles running to fat. The women are younger, with a few exceptions. They’re tarted up, like me, and dressed like offerings to the male population. Clothing-wise, I’m certainly not out of place, although my sluttiest black dress and Deb’s heels are actually a little on the conservative side compared to most women here.
Though I’m certainly not scared, I’m already starting to wonder if coming to Buzzy’s was a good idea. I came here for a rare night out with my BFF, and away from the gaze of my overprotective father. But I’m starting to wish we’d chosen someplace a little tamer, with a little less testosterone. Sure, I wouldn’t mind a little flirting myself. And maybe I was hoping in the back of my mind that there’d be a hot guy my age to do a little lip-locking with. But right now, as the hungry gazes of the males in this bar start to shift toward me, I’m starting to feel like a piece of packaged meat on display. With a neon sign overhead that says eat me.
“Here!” Deb calls into my ear, handing me a plastic cup full of beer. “You can get the next round.”
I accept the cup from her. We raise our glasses in a mock toast, and I take a drink. It’s cold and soothing against the smoke that’s burning my throat. I let out a sigh of pleasure, even though the beer itself isn’t that good.
“Have you noticed how many guys are staring at us?” I murmur into Deb’s ear.
“I know!” she crows happily, and flips her hair back in a flirty, seductive move. “I told you this place would be cool.”
“That’s not what I…” I shoot back, but before I can finish my sentence, a tall, stocky man with a long dark beard comes up behind Deb and grabs her around the waist.
“Well, well, well, darlin’, haven’t seen you here before!” the man bellows. “You look good enough to eat!”
Deb laughs and moves out of his grasp to look at him. “Hey,” she simpers, cocking her head at him.
“I’m Ralph,” he says.
“Deb,” she answers. “And this is my friend Izzy.”
“You girls are new around here,” he says, looking each of us over slowly and with obvious pleasure. “I’da noticed you around.”
“You a regular, then?” I reply. Distaste tinges my voice, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He’s not bad looking, honestly, although he’s not really my type. But he’s so obviously looking to score with anything in a skirt that I’m immediately turned off. Deb, however, doesn’t seem to share my feelings.
“Here every weekend,” he says proudly. I just manage to stop myself from snorting. “Wished I’d seen you before. I coulda bought your drinks for you.”
“There’s always the next round,” Deb smirks, and bats her eyes at him. Oh, brother.
Ralph takes this for the invitation it probably is, and takes a step toward Deb. He pulls her close and cops a feel of her ass. “You are tasty,” he leers.
“How would you know?” Deb shoots back. “You haven’t tasted me yet.”
Then before I even know what’s happening, Ralph’s tongue is so far down Deb’s throat I’m pretty sure he’s checking to see whether she still has tonsils.
If you’ve ever had to stand around while two people suck face in front of you, you’ll have some idea of how awkward this is. I take a long sip of my beer, and look around the room like the clientele is fascinating. But when I look back, Deb and Ralph are still going at it. Ralph’s got his hand on her thigh and he’s inching his hand under her dress. Deb’s not doing anything to stop him. In exasperation, I wonder whether they’re going to start going at it right here, in full view of everyone.
“Um, guys?” I say snarkily. “Really?”
Deb breaks away from Ralph’s mouth and gives me a little pout. “Come on, Izzy. We’re just having a little fun.”
Ralph looks up at me, and flashes me a wink that he probably thinks is sexy. “Are you ladies a twofer?” he asks with a leer.
Ugh. Gross. “No,” I reply crossly, but Deb actually laughs.
“What’s the matter, handsome? Am I not enough for you?” she whines, placing a hand on his forearm.
“More than enough,” he growls. “Let’s take this somewhere else. I got a truck out in the parking lot. Back seat of the cab’s pretty comfy.”
Deb flashes me a half-apologetic glance. “I’ll be back in a few, Iz, okay?”
Suppressing a sigh, I wave her off. “Fine. I’ll be here.”
“The offer still stands,” Ralph tells me. I shoot him a disgusted look. “Suit yourself, candy ass.”
Ralph leads Deb out the front door, nodding to the bouncer on the way. I take a deep breath and let it out, then look toward the bar for a free stool. Looks like I’m going to be here for a little while.
With a little difficulty, I slide up onto the only unoccupied bar stool I see and try to make myself invisible. I’d much rather be an observer than one of the observed, especially while Deb is off having fun with Ralph. Absent-mindedly, I finger the small gold starfish that I wear on a chain around my neck and glance around the room. It’s kind of amusing, actually. The guys in this bar are all puffing and posturing, trying to look tough and dangerous. They don’t scare me, though. They look like pansies compared to the guys in my dad’s club, the Death Devils. My dad, Oz, is the president of the MC. And as much as I’ve grown to hate the club and everything associated with it, I have to admit they’re ten times the men that these guys are.
Still, I’m definitely attracting attention, and I can tell I’m not going to be alone for much longer. Reflexively I reach in my purse and finger my pepper spray, reassured that it’s there in case I need it.
“Hey. You look lonely.” A hint of beer breath comes wafting toward my nostrils. Grimacing slightly, I turn to see a greasy-looking guy with unwashed shoulder-length hair staring at me with an expectant grin.
“No. I’m really not,” I tell him, and turn away. But of course, he’s not about to be deterred so easily.
“Oh, come on, girly. Give me a smile. I bet you’re beautiful when you smile.”
Ugh. “Sorry, but I don’t owe you a smile, or anything else. I just want to sit her and be left alone, thanks.”
I should have known my refusal would set the greasy stranger off. “You’re kind of a bitch, you know that?” he snarls.
“Yeah. I know,” I hurl back. “So leave me the fuck alone.”
Asshole leans over in the other direction and mutters something, and then a moment later there’s a second man standing in front of me. “What the fuck is your problem, bitch?” he challenges me. “My friend here was just trying to offer you a drink.”
“No, he wasn’t,” I retort. “He was trying to get into my pants. Which are closed for business. So there’s no need to keep making conversation.”
I turn away towards the bar, but the second guy grabs my bicep and pulls me back around.
“What are you, a fuckin’ dyke?” He’s towering over me now, flecks of spittle appearing on his lips as his face contorts into an angry mask. I know he thinks he’s scaring me, but fuck that shit. I’ve had enough of this bullshit.
“Yep. I’m a fuckin’ dyke,” I agree, and stand. “Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’m gonna go into the ladies room, and find a hot young girl to eat out, because I know I’ll do a better job of it than any of the clowns in this bar can.”
I stand up and try to shake the second guy’s hand off my arm, but he tightens his grip and wrenches me toward him. Bracing myself against the bar for balance, I bring my spiked heel down hard on his foot, crushing it against his boot and breaking off the heel in the process. But it’s enough: the guy lets go of my arm and howls in pain.
I make a break for it before the first asshole can grab me, limp-running through the bar toward the hallway where we came in. I don’t stop at the bathroom, in case they decide to stand outside the door and wait for me. Instead, I head through the back door out into the parking lot where we came in.
Outside, I keep going until I’m far enough away that I’m not easily seen from the back entrance. In spite of myself, my heart is pounding a little bit as I take a few deep breaths and look around to assess my situation. I’m safe, but my shoe is fucked. And I’m without transportation until Deb is through boinking Ralph in the back of his truck.
The night air is cool, but not so cold that I can’t stay out here for a while. I wander over to Deb’s car and lean against it. I send her a quick text, which she predictably does not respond to.
For a few minutes, I wait on high alert. No one who looks like the guys who were harassing me comes out the back or the front, so I start to relax a little. I do a scan of the parking lot , looking for a rocking truck, but there are so many pickups here that I’ll never be able to see Ralph’s in the dark. Since walking is kind of a hassle right now, I settle in to wait for them to finish, figuring I’ll catch up with them when they head back toward the bar. Taking out my phone, I decide to pass the time by checking social media for a while.
It’s my own stupid fault that I’m not paying as much attention as I should to the comings and goings in the parking lot. My father’s trained me better than this, but for some reason his training has momentarily gone out the window. Which is why the soft rustling behind me doesn’t register in my conscious brain for a second.
Turns out, it’s a second too long.
Before I know what’s happening, a rough hand has clamped itself over my mouth. My phone flies from my hands as my arms are wrenched behind my back. I start to scream as a hood is pulled roughly over my head. Before I can try to thrash away, my wrists are bound, and I’m being lifted and carried in the opposite direction from the bar.
I hear a van door open, and I’m tossed roughly into the back. Whoever nabbed me climbs in beside me, making the shocks dip, and the door slides shut. A key turns, the engine starts, and the van pulls away and accelerates quickly, driving off into the night.