Sun
Aug 6 2017 12:00pm

Michele De Winton Excerpt: Ride Me Right

Michele De Winton

Ride Me Right by Michele De Winton

Enter the gritty biker world of the Raising Hellfire MC series where these L.A. bikers drink hard, drive fast, and dig deep for love.

Bike mechanic Lucy Black is running out of luck. With an attitude louder than a Harley engine, her mouth is always getting her in trouble and she’s been fired, again. Desperate for money to send home to support her kid sister, Lucy takes a housekeeping job at Wilde Hotel, the adopted home of the Raising Hellfire MC. After a steamy moonlit encounter with a dark stranger, Lucy is horrified to find out he’s her new boss so she’s more determined than ever to make her hotel stay brief.

Jake “The Iceman” Slade is drowning in guilt and can’t give himself a break. A tragic accident on set made him step away from his job as a real life action hero in the film lots of Hollywood. Now he’s reluctantly agreed to run his half-sister’s hotel, Wilde’s, while she’s away, trying to keep it—and himself—from going under. Lucy is the kind of trouble he can’t afford, but can’t seem to resist. But with an equally troubled past, will Lucy be the fire to melt his frozen heart?

Get a sneak peek at Michele De Winton's Ride Me Right (available August 8, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

1.

Lucy Black took another slug from the flask of bourbon and stuffed the bottle into her pocket as she kept sorting her tools. One, two, three, four, five . . . she was missing a wrench. “Who borrowed my six-inch?” She stood up, large wrench in hand, and cast an eye around the workshop. No one met her eye. “Seriously? You’re gonna be like that?”

“No one’s being like nothing,” said Gav, the head of the bike shop Lucy had called home for the last four months. “If you’ve lost a wrench you’ve lost a wrench. It happens. Deal with it.”

Through gritted teeth she forced the words out. “I had it yesterday. Last time I looked it hadn’t grown legs and taken itself out for a beer.”

Someone snickered.

“Knock it off,” Gav shot behind him. “If someone has taken it, they can put it on my desk while Luce packs up the rest of her shit. No harm done.”

Lucy nodded. Would have been easier if it hadn’t been stolen in the first place, but she’d take getting it back over losing face in front of this bunch of idiots. She couldn’t afford to replace the tool, not now that she didn’t have a job or anywhere to live.

She’d known this day was coming—her final day on the tools—but she kept hoping Gav would change his mind, or something would come up. But nope, this job was toast, just like the last one. And with no way to pay her rent, her landlord gave zero fucks that she had nowhere to go.

Gav took a step forward and held out his hand. “No hard feelings. It’s just not working with the rest of the boys here. I can’t keep bailing you out.”

“Don’t expect you to.” Lucy jutted out her chin and damn it if a long piece of hair didn’t fall into her face. Watching his eyes follow her hair, she couldn’t decide if blowing it out of the way would make it more or less obvious that she was the only one in this bike shop wearing a ponytail. Hardly looking, she threw the last of her sad collection of tools into her bag and took his hand in a firm shake. Screw them if they thought she was going to crawl out of here with her tail up her ass.

Out on the street though, her six-inch still missing, Lucy’s confidence curled up its toes and pretty much turned to stone. She had no job, no apartment, and no money for rent, and a promise that she’d find some money for her kid sister Katie’s glasses by the end of the week. She was not going to let a fifteen-year-old miss being able to see properly because her whack-job mom thought the power of her transcendental thoughts could heal all ills. “Shit.”

“Yep. Pretty much sums it up.” A young woman walking past pointed at Lucy’s foot. The foot that was currently standing in the middle of a large, fresh, dog turd.

“It’s okay to laugh,” Lucy said. “I probably would.”

“Nah. Looks like you’ve had plenty of that already today.” The woman gave her a smile. “Hope it gets better.” Just then one of the young mechanics came out and gave the woman an up and down before he noticed Lucy standing there. “Thought you left already. Or you decided to come back and work the phones?”

The curse was almost out of her mouth until she saw her recent colleague tense his jaw ready to take her on. “Best of luck,” she said instead. “I know you think you can fix an engine. But it’s always best to start work on your own machine, and yours needs a lot of work. If you wanna date girls who like bikes, better be sure you’ve got something big and hot for them to ride.” His jaw dropped open and he said nothing. The smirk felt great on her face, and she slammed her helmet on before the chauvinistic pig had a chance to respond. Waving to the passing woman who gave her a wink, Lucy revved her Norton and left rubber on the road as she tore out of the parking lot. Really? Wasting rubber on that pack of monkeys? It was stupid. She couldn’t afford new tires anytime soon, but it felt damn good to make an exit with a little noise rather than letting them see how close to the edge she was.

Now what? Lucy drove for a couple of blocks, letting the thrill of the wind spilling over her calm her thoughts. Buildings flicked past. Trees, then a big expanse of construction sites. This was good. She was good. All she needed was her bike. Drive, be, and remind herself that she was free.

Free of Utah, free of her mom’s raving lectures, free of being a “constant disappointment.” She might not be the boy her dad wanted, but she sure as hell wasn’t the placid doormat her now-single mom wanted either. Can’t please everyone. Or anyone, in her case. Whatever, you had to make it in the world on your own terms; that was the only way. She revved the bike. The past was the past, and it was going to stay behind her, like everything else today.

A sign for a mechanic’s shop flashed past and her mood dipped with the thought of her empty future. Just because she invoiced some parts too cheaply a couple times . . . okay, more than a couple times. But they were overpriced. She knew it, Gav knew it, and the guy she’d given a discount to needed to get his bike back to earn a living. But it didn’t matter that she was trying to do a regular customer a favor, oh no. Gav reckoned the boys didn’t like the way she worked, thought she was a disturbance. Got them all hot and bothered more like, ’cause she wouldn’t put out. And her not billing every screw and twist of her wrench was enough to tip the scales against her. Three strikes and that was it. She was out.

She was a great mechanic. Better than half the guys in that shop. And still . . . the panic started rising up her throat and threatened to clasp its clammy hands around her airway.

Okay, not doing so well anymore. Pulling off the road, she realized she’d headed toward Wilde’s Hotel without it registering. Good one, genius. You head to the one place guaranteed to be full of men? “At least someone might give me a beer here,” she muttered. After pulling off her helmet, she fumbled her hip flask from her bag. The last dregs of her whiskey burned down her throat and made her head stop spinning long enough for her to take a breath.

Wilde’s was a glamorous institution with big links to Hollywood. In the eighties. Then the bikers moved in and, well, it became a place where glamour went to die. For a while it looked like it might just take the hint and kill itself in a puddle of debt and general apathy, but the new owner, Briony Wilde, took the reins and didn’t let go. She and the resident biker gang, the Raising Hellfire MC, even blackmailed a rich developer with a sex tape to make sure she got the hotel going again.

Lucy blew air through her teeth and allowed a smile out. The sex tape was a brilliant balls-out move. If only she had a rich developer to blackmail . . . She sighed. Nope.

She’d been riding with the Hell’s Boys since she got to LA, when she’d met a couple of the boys in a shitty bike shop where she’d been trying to get a job. She lost out on the job but gained a great weekend, and in Briony had found a kindred spirit of sorts. Still, she hadn’t gotten to the trust-’em-don’t-bust-’em stage with the Hell’s Boys like Briony had. Briony and the Hell’s Boys were family. Lucy and the Hell’s Boys were . . . complicated.

Lucy had screwed a few of them, ’cause why not, but word got around that she was a good lay and she wasn’t that girl so she’d zippered her pants and kept them that way. Lucy smoothed down a flyaway hair as she thought about the last time she’d had sex. She missed it, it was her destress mechanism, but not with any Hell’s Boys. What she wanted was the gig fixing the Hell’s Boys’ bikes. Permanently. Then she’d be sorted: work on her own terms, not have to answer to a boss whose priority was making sure everyone thought he had the biggest dick, and have enough regular income that she could make sure her little sister Katie was okay. Lucy wanted to fix bikes the way she knew they wanted to be fixed, Ride ’em right all night long. She knew Hell’s were looking to hire a mechanic for the gang, she just couldn’t get them to hand the job over already. Apart from Briony, Hell’s was still a boys’ club and all she got from Rocco, the head of the gang, was a wait-and-see message on repeat.

“Men are dicks.”

A bike flashed past her and Hade Corban, the second in command of Hell’s, gave her a salute and a bright smile. Okay, not all men sucked road-dust, but Rocco, the guys in her bike shop, and her mom’s wacko cult leader . . .

Her folks had tried for years for a boy and then, after countless miscarriages and stillbirths, they’d had her. Perhaps her pop shared his beer with her when she was on the bottle, or perhaps it was her way of trying to get his approval, but she was a tomboy through and through from the get-go. Trouble was, when her pop left them anyway and her mom found her transcendental healing cult, Lucy being anything other than an obedient princess didn’t go down well.

Lucy eyed up Wilde’s. She couldn’t afford to drink in a bar. Hell, she couldn’t afford anything at the moment, let alone the glasses she’d promised Katie since her mom quit her job, lost their health insurance, and then decided she could cure everything anyway.

Whiskey might make it better. Unlikely. Company might though. And Briony, the owner, was the only friend she could rely on not to roll her eyes at the news Lucy had lost another job. Someone might even need some work on their bike for cash given there still wasn’t an official mechanic yet. Lucy tried to coax another mouthful out of her hip flask and found it empty. “Shit.” At least Hell’s Boys were her sort of men. Punching the last guy who didn’t understand no meant no had gotten the message across and most of the gang gave her a nod rather than a leer now.

“Screw it.” The thought of Briony being at the bar gave Lucy the impulse she needed. If there wasn’t mechanic’s work, then Briony might have something she could do for some cash ’til she found other work to tide her over. Putting her helmet back on, she drove into the parking lot, dismounted, and started toward the bar.

It was cool and still in the hotel with only a few committed, quiet drinkers propping up the long wooden bar. Running her hands through her helmet-mussed hair and patting her bangs back into place, Lucy felt the noise and dust of the hot day fall away. Or maybe that was the whiskey hitting her system. Sliding onto a bar stool, she motioned for a shot. Just one.

Kelsey, the Friday night bartender, nodded and lined it up for her. Resisting the urge to knock the whole thing back in one go, Lucy took a dainty sip and the bartender raised an eyebrow. “Don’t see anyone with lady-manners like that around here much.”

“Lady-manners? Must have me mixed up with someone else,” Lucy spat out.

“Must have.” Kelsey raised her hands and took a step back.

Good one. “Sorry. Crap day. Lost my job. And no cash means no rent so I got kicked out of my place this morning. Didn’t mean to be a bitch.”

“Pretty solid bad-luck cocktail that one.”

Lucy nodded. “Briony back yet?”

“Nope. Still honeymooning.”

“Damn.” Looking around the bar, it was clear there wasn’t any mechanic work going either. “Are there any openings at Wilde’s? I’m sorta desperate.”

“Not in the bar. Maybe in the hotel now that the renovations are done. Need manners that last longer than one drink to work there though.”

The shrug belied just how close to the surface her panic was, but damned if she was ready to let it out yet. “Yeah. Sure.”

Kelsey left to pour someone a beer then returned. With hardly anyone else in the bar, there wasn’t much for her to do. “Thought you were a mechanic. Don’t really need one of those in a hotel.”

“I am. But there’s no mech jobs anywhere at the moment. I’ve asked everyone, and I need work now. Can’t wait around forever for Rocco to make up his mind to give me the gig working for Hell’s.” Lucy knocked back the rest of the shot. Might as well make it count. A thought struck her. “The housekeepers sometimes live on-site, right?”

“That bad, huh?”

The sigh came from someplace deep and dark, and Lucy wished her hip flask hadn’t run dry. As if she read her mind, the bartender looked around the bar, then filled up her shot glass. “On the house. Just don’t tell anyone.”

“Thanks.”

“That all you got with you?” Kelsey nodded at Lucy’s small bag.

“Personal policy: travel light. Just in case. Tools fit under the seat of my bike. And who needs more than two pairs of jeans and a couple of shirts? Really.”

Kelsey smiled but didn’t look convinced.

Ten bikers crashed into the bar. One of them held his face, a smear of blood visible through his fingers. He slumped onto a stool next to her. “You alright?” she asked him.

“Fucking Reapers of Menace. Tried to shake down my brother’s place. Got there just in time.”

“You’re bleeding.”

“Nah. Just a scratch. The ride did it good. It’ll stop in a sec.”

The smell of the road was on him, its heady mix of gravel, exhaust fumes, and hot tarmac tripping Lucy’s senses into overdrive. That’s all she wanted to do really. Let people ride. Get their bikes into perfect condition. Make engines purr like a tiger with a fat, juicy steak. That and make sure her little sister Katie didn’t follow in her footsteps. She wanted her to go to college, and every spare penny she got, she sent back home to Katie to try to make that happen.

The bartender must have seen the slump of despondency in her features. “I’ll serve this crew then ask about housekeeping. Get ready to find your lady-manners and put them on display. You could wait out by the pool if you want some peace and quiet.”

“Thanks. I owe you one.”

Out by the pool, Lucy stripped off her bike leathers and flopped down in one of the deck chairs. It had been a long, hot day but the guests had been and gone at the pool.

Lucy pulled her hip flask out again just to check, but it was still empty. Shame. She’d had more than enough to drink, but without anywhere to stay it wasn’t like she’d be getting in trouble for drunk driving. Park bench would do fine tonight. It was warm enough. Even as the evening approached she was cooking in black jeans and a T-shirt. She let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding onto. What the hell had happened that she’d ended up here? “Begging for a housekeeper’s gig?” She shook her head. “You opened your mouth one too many times girl.”

“Maybe.” Kelsey’s voice came from behind her and Lucy spun around. “But this time it’s got you a job. You start tomorrow, and you can crash in the bunkhouse if you need to. There’s no one else in there at the moment. Everyone knows you know Bri, so it’s no biggie.” The bartender handed her the key to the bunkhouse. “But she’ll be the first to throw you out if you mess around. My advice? If you need this job like you say you do, don’t screw it up.” She turned and left.

Starting to stand, Lucy wavered, almost falling as the world swayed. The cumulative effect of the whiskey, the stress of the day, and the relief of having a job and somewhere to stay for now suddenly hit her, and hit her hard. Blood pounding, eyes blinking to make sense of the whirl of color around her, Lucy put her hand on the back of the deck chair, missed, and ended up on her ass. It should have hurt, her pride at least. But there was no one around to see and instead she burst out laughing. Nothing else can happen. This is it. Where the desperate and depressed live. The laughter became overcooked, slightly manic, and a part of her knew she needed to stand up and suck it up. Now. Before she turned into the messy blob she’d so far avoided.

Heaving herself back onto the deck chair, she sat with her eyes closed, letting the last of the sun ease her face of its frown. It felt like five minutes but she must have nodded off because when she opened her eyes again, the day was at its end and an almost full moon was rising.

She had nowhere to be, and no one to report to. Pulling herself back up using the deck chair, Lucy went to check out the bunkhouse. Her heart sank; the door opened to a musty-smelling room. Bare wood on the walls and four sets of bunks. No way would she want to be sleeping in there with seven others. Especially Hell’s Boys. The snoring would rattle the windows. Suck it up. Right. There wasn’t anyone else in there at the moment. And she wasn’t going to be living there forever.

She slumped into a bed for a moment and let herself sag. Being in there was an echo of when she’d first gotten to LA. Martinez had brought her back to the hotel and she’d been drunk enough to tell him everything. Every. Thing. He’d let her get it all out and then she’d screwed him and felt better. He was a pretty good listener, and he helped her put together a kind of life in LA: introducing her to another mechanic, taking her riding, and taking her phone away from her when her mom tried to call and demand she go home before she dissolved into impurity. Between him, Hade, and Briony, Lucy’d given the private investigator her mom had hired the slip too. It had felt like the biggest victory she’d ever managed.

But back then Lucy still had a future as a mechanic ahead of her. Back then she hadn’t known Martinez was the biggest player this side of Canada. Back then she had hope. “Back then you were a kid. Stop wallowing. You don’t have the time.” She stood. Throwing her bag and helmet onto one of the bottom bunks, she locked the door again and headed back to the pool.

With the sun gone, the moonlight was just starting to make a trail over the still water. It was a mirror, calm, silver, and serene. “The opposite of me.” Her bloodstream now comfortably saturated with alcohol, Lucy’s shoulders relaxed. The moon would give her a new start. That’s what it did, wasn’t it? Bathed women in magic or some crap like that? She struggled to remember the gentle hippie women’s circle meetings her mom had attended before she went to the complete other end of the spectrum and shut out anything that didn’t conform to her cult leader’s puritanical ways. “Fuck that.” Lucy relished the freedom of swearing whenever and at whatever she could after her non-swearing Utah upbringing in Bountiful. If she never heard another person say “shiz,” “shivers,” “shingaling,” “S-bomb,” or any of the other made-up cusses of her childhood, it would be a good day and it gave her a petty sense of revenge against the restrictions her mom had imposed on every part of her life for her own good.

“She should have gotten more in touch with her inner goddess,” Lucy muttered. Even chanting under the moonlight would have been preferable to her mom’s extreme version of buttoned-up puritanical fever. If she’d been there, her mom would have encouraged her into the pool, sure, but she would have held Lucy under ’til her lungs screamed and she promised to ask for forgiveness and to join the side of light by giving up her bike, booze, and, well, sharing her boobs with anyone other than the cult leader. It was a man’s world, according to her mother. Lucy needed to accept that and hide herself from its temptations from now until the world was “healed.”

Screw that. It might well be a man’s world, but the moon ran by different rules. Her moon goddess rode a Harley and was shit hot at using a wrench. “Show me some light I can actually use, baby,” she called up to the silvery disk in the sky. Stripping down to her cotton halter and panties, she all but fell into the pool, letting the silvered water wash away her day.

“Cold, cold, cold.” Okay, maybe not wash away her day. More like rip it off. The pool was not goddess-temperature. Unless goddesses liked water a frigid Neptune’s-cold-emaciated-heart temperature. But after she’d floundered around for a minute, the chill dulled and she did feel refreshed. Buoyant. Floating on her back, Lucy gazed up at the sky and made a promise to the moon high pooh-bah or whoever else was watching. “No more taking shit. Harden up and take it on the chin.” She laughed up at the sky. That was the best defense, right? Laugh it off and show everyone else up? “I’m going to be the best mechanic this town has seen, period. I’m going to get a new gig and then Hell’s will beg me to work their bikes. Work the phones. Phft. Screw ’em.” And if she was going to make it happen she couldn’t take offense every time some idiot decided to open his trap and vomit his misogynistic misguided crap all over her. She was just going to demonstrate they were wrong. Very wrong.

It was restful, floating there, and she closed her eyes and drifted, pleasantly drunk and allowing her brain to switch off for a rare moment. On a whim, she flipped over onto her front to watch the ripple of moonlight on the bottom of the pool and her breath come out in silver-coated bubbles. Pretty. Soon, her lungs started to burn and she thought lazily about flipping back over when she felt, rather than heard, a splash at the edge of the pool.

Then something grabbed hold of her leg. Wait? What! Some sort of animal was dragging her backward toward the edge of the pool. Kicking out to get away, she found herself pinned and screamed through the water, which only sent it up her nose and down her throat. Coughing, spluttering, half choking, she was pulled into a bear-hug by the carnivorous beast. A carnivorous beast with abs, and hands, and opposable thumbs. Firm, opposable thumbs that were wrapped around her waist and sending her goose bumps into a total frenzy, not sure whether to break out in a hot screaming mess all over her skin, or give up from overstimulation and run the heck away.

She looked up into the face of her captor and bam, her hot-a-meter broke. The animal was taller, broader, and darker than she was, in every possible way. Holding her tight as he stood, fully clothed in the water, teeth bared a little, he seemed like he might eat her if she gave him the chance. His white T-shirt was practically transparent and she tried not to stare as his chest rose and fell, his pecs better defined than Iron Man’s armor. Caramel-skinned, clean-shaven, and with black eyes that promised escape as much as gazing at the moon had, the guy was a picture of what her mother hated about the world. Although right now those gloriously dark-dirty eyes were creased around the edges, tight with worry. That didn’t fit. Lucy shook her head and looked away, only to find herself drawn back to his eyes again a moment later. Really? Yes, really. Even someone with a heart of stone would get lost in those eyes. Still, no reason to let him try to drown me.

He gripped her waist harder and in one swift movement, lifted her up and deposited her on the side of the pool before clambering out himself.

The two of them stood dripping, his wet jeans molded outlandishly to his butt and Lucy surrendered to a fresh bout of coughing. When she could catch a breath she managed, “What the actual fuck?”

“I would have thought thank you was the usual response.” His voice got her right in the ovaries before she’d finished her staggering breath. Deep and husky, his voice could have sold ice to polar bears. But he was no ordinary bear, not even close. He was Justin Gaston mixed with Jesse Williams mixed with something Marvel comics hadn’t released yet. Be still, my stupid heart. He’s a dude. Doesn’t give a shit about me. She shook her head to snap herself back to reality. “Thank you? Why the heck would I thank you for trying to drown me?”

“You were doing a plenty good job of drowning yourself.”

“I was not.”

“Really?” He pointed at her discarded hip flask of bourbon and her clothes in a pile. “So you’re not drunk and practically naked in a pool? Floating on your front?”

“I was watching the moon.”

“That one?” He pointed up to the sky.

“Yes, that one,” she said. “The reflection on the bottom of the pool is . . . well, it looked cool,” she finished, suddenly aware she sounded as crazy as her mom.

“Sure. Well, if you’ve finished moon gazing, upside down, perhaps you’d think about wrapping yourself in a towel at the very least? There is a dress code for the pool. Underwear doesn’t cut it.” He pointed to a sign saying that bathing suits were to be worn at all times.

“I haven’t got a towel.”

“Of course you don’t. Come on then. And for fuck’s sake don’t leave that empty bottle there. Someone might step on it.”

Lucy stood up, wavered a little, then stood solidly on two feet. “Really?” Trying to make her voice firm was hard when she was hammered, her hair was dripping in her face, and she was standing in nothing but a white cotton halter and panties. She tried to cover what she could of the now see-through fabric with her hands and then gave up. “Who died and made you the boss of the world?”

Those black eyes tracked her up and down before flicking back to her face. “No one. But you might find yourself biting off more than you can chew around here, dressed like that, drunk, and dripping. I, on the other hand, not only saved your ass, but am offering you a towel. Come on, before I change my mind and call the bastards in from the bar to have a good look.”

Not a bad point. Still, neither of them moved and Lucy wondered whether he felt it too. The moon, the night, the hot, hard, heady threat of something about to explode. Her skin prickled with more than the cold and her blood charged around her body, making her heart beat so loudly that for a moment she thought it might be audible. He didn’t look away, rather held her gaze in a long hard stare. It wasn’t possible, but she almost fell into that stare. Felt herself slipping into the darkness of a welcoming, hot, oblivion. Earlier she would have said it was her, she was close to exploding, but now, with him standing there, all solid and stern, it seemed like something else. Like there was something bigger. Something louder hammering in her head, telling her something important. Only she couldn’t quite hear it.

Maybe it’s because you’ve drunk a lot of whiskey. Maybe, but it didn’t feel like that. The cold pool and then the shock of being hauled out had sobered her up a fair bit. No, she felt . . . connected, to the guy in front of her. She opened her mouth to try to say that. But he turned and started off. His stride was long, but only a little longer than hers and Lucy kept up with him as he strode inside and up the stairs to the guest rooms. He had a towel, she needed one, that much he was right about.

***
Copyright © 2017 by Michele De Winton.
***
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It's no wonder that Michele's first romance has a little sparkle of the stage tucked into its pages as she was a performer long before she got adicted to the page. Being a writer was not what she was supposed to be when she 'grew up' but then neither was a dancer. Her poor parents. They thought that when she toddled off to law school they'd bred a responsible, useful adult and instead they got a performer and word junkie.

She now writes full time in a studio surrounded by the whisper of wind in the trees and only intermittent interruptions from her young son, husband and hunger pangs. She's based in New Zealand (land of beaches and hobbits) loves chocolate, yoga, sunshine, her boys and happy endings.

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