Signet / July 1, 2014 / $7.99 print / digital
Former Army Ranger Christian Cage Owens joined the Vipers Motorcycle Club for its sense of brotherhood. In return, he pledged to live outside the law, protecting club members and their families, as well as keeping other MCs out of Skulls Creek. But when Cage discovers that a rival MC—one Cage has an all too familiar past with—plans to push meth into his town, he calls an old Army buddy turned private investigator who’s helped the Vipers in the past. By doing so, Cage endangers both his friend and Calla Benson, a woman who works in the PI’s office. Now he’s made it his mission to track Calla down and do whatever it takes to protect her.
Thanks to the phone call with Cage, Calla knows she’s formed a deep connection to a dangerous man. She quickly discovers that although he may live by a different set of rules, Cage is an honorable man who wants to be more than her protector—if only she can accept his dangerous lifestyle. But Calla comes to Skulls Creek with her own set of secrets secrets that threaten to tear her and Cage—and the Vipers MC—apart. As they put their newfound love to the ultimate test, Cage will risk everything he cares about to save her.
I’m fascinated by this “joiner culture,” for lack of a better term. I was never a joiner. No sororities, no PTA, no motorcycle club. I’m an only child who has an only child. I joined the Romance Writers of America when I started getting serious about publishing, and my husband and I played many seasons on an over-25 co-ed soccer team—but otherwise, nada.
I think that’s why Stephanie Tyler’s new Skulls Creek series caught my eye. Vipers Run is the first in this new series about a motorcycle brotherhood, and if there’s a God in heaven, the cover model will hand-deliver each book that’s ordered online. Sigh.
Christian Cage Owens is a former Army Ranger, who “pledged to live outside the law, protect members and their families” … among other things. Who pledges to live outside the law? Not the folks in my suburbs, I can tell you that much. But this guy’s an interesting dichotomy; we’re introduced to Cage from the get-go when he phones his friend Bernie to get him out of a seriously deadly situation. Only Calla Benson answers the phone instead.
I debated answering, when whoever it was hung up. And called again two seconds later. Which meant urgent. There were texts from the same number with 911.
My voice was tentative when I picked up with, “I’m not Bernie.”
A man’s rough voice countered with, “I’m dying.”
Oh, Lord, I’m a SUCKER for a great setup. And I love Tyler’s staccato sentence style, which pushes out a sense of urgency that made me anxious as I read through the drama.
“Okay. Tell me what you need me to do.”
Talk? “I want to help you.”
“Might be … the only … one.”
“I’ve never had this happen.”
“Me … neither.”
Once Bernie gets back to the office, he knows immediately that the shit has hit the fan and sends Calla to the safest place he can imagine: toward Cage. Only Cage is part of a motorcycle club, and his best friend runs a male escort and porn business. Calla has her own troubled backstory, complete with an absent father who, as it turns out, might be worth her effort to build a relationship with, as well a loser brother who stole quite a bit from her. If the characters in the story could hear me, I would’ve warned Calla’s brother, Ned, not to steal anything from a motorcycle mama because—just like stealing anything from church—justice is bound to be swift and painful.
I was supposed to start a job in London in the fall. Instead, I’d found myself sitting in the office of a private eye named Bernie, explaining that I needed to find my brother and get the money and the deed to the bar back.
Bernie had looked at me a long time before he’d said, “Sweetheart, even if you had money, I wouldn’t take your case. You’ve had everything taken from you already.”
I’d refused to break down in front of him. He’d continued. “I knew your Grams. She was a good woman. Your brother’s an ass. Put it behind you, live your life.”
“How?” I’d asked, trying not to sound pathetic.
“Work for me.”
And from there, I’d started to rebuild. And I realized that a lot of people had it worse than me. The pictures of husbands, suspicious wives and vice versa was the bulk of his business.
As I read, Calla summed up the biggest question filtering through my head: if you weren’t raised with violence or in a communal setting, what shift in your psyche brings you to a motorcycle club?
With a squeeze of my shoulder, he left and I tried to wrap my head around the whole MC thing. Bikes. Leather. Angry men who drank and scared towns and did drugs. It fit with the violence Cage had encountered and it scared me. For him, for me, because what had I been inadvertently caught up in?
A whirlwind, that’s what. A Wizard of Oz cyclone that whisks her into a new world. Calla is helpless to slow herself down either. Talking Cage through the darkest moment of his life, coupled with the promise he gave her to avenge the pains of her youth, set a new trajectory for her—a journey full of revving engines, testosterone, and a conscientious effort to not flinch. Ever.
He stepped out of the shadows and I knew better than to be afraid. Not for my life at least—though I don’t know how I knew. I just did, with the same amount of certainty that I knew that the moon was still there, even if I couldn’t see it through the clouds.
His walk was silent, even along a hardwood floor that squeaked under the best conditions, and all despite his heavy black motorcycle boots.
The fresh scars that riddled his cheek did nothing to diminish his handsomeness. If anything, they made him inexorably more sexy.
The voice was hoarse. Raw. Dangerous. Calla. That one word. I’d fallen in love with him when he’d said my name on the phone that very first time. It was him.
What it all comes down to, aside from the motorcycle club, the guns, the fights, the running from the law—the general badassery—is that a man in need placed a chance phone call to a woman who gave him a reason to live. The MC stuff sort of turned into static for me, but the super sexy relationship that develops between Calla and Cage is the stuff romances are made of.
This man came back from the dead for me. He wasn’t playing games, wasn’t going to come for me and leave. He was never leaving. This time, having a man tell me this was comforting.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Vipers Run by Stephanie Tyler, available July 1, 2014:
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and this year her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.