Sat
Sep 9 2017 12:00pm

Paige Cuccaro Excerpt: Werebiker

Paige Cuccaro

Years after she thought she left town for good, Jillian is back and has enlisted the help of her older brother’s ex-best friend (and the man who broke her heart), Jack, to track down her sister-in-law, who’s fallen in with a rival biker gang—but Jack knows they’re werewolves, and that he has to protect Jillian at any cost, even if she hates him.

Get a sneak peek at Paige Cuccaro's Werebiker (available September 12, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

CHAPTER ONE

“Welcome to Crown Custom Bikes, can I help you?” Jack had clearly mastered the plastic salesmen smile.

He doesn’t recognize me. Jill took a breath and looked away. He doesn’t recognize me? Seriously? Figures. She looked back swallowing her pride. “Um, yeah. Hi. I need to buy a bike. Today.”

“Fantastic. You’ve come to the right place.” Jack’s sexy dimples sunk deeper with a ramped up smile. God, she remembered drooling over those dimples as a teenager. He held out his hand. “I’m Jack Crown.”

Hell yeah you are. Jill reached for his hand, but couldn’t resist a smirk. “I know. I’m Jillian Perkins.”

He pulled his hand back like she had cooties. “Jilly?”

Surprise!

“Jilly Perkins? Brian’s baby sister?” He leaned back, his gaze traveling down the length of her and back up again.

Younger sister.”

“Right.” His brow furrowed, despite the boyish smile tugging up one corner of his mouth. “You look . . .”

“Like a grown woman?” She was smiling bigger than she wanted, more pleased by his notice than she would admit. A warm hum vibrated through her and things low inside her flexed and fluttered.

“I was thinking taller, but yeah. Sure. You look great, Jilly.” He chuckled to himself, the way you do when a little kid says something stupidly adorable.

“Oh.” Jill nursed her pride. He always did that. Made his compliment seem like it was her idea, like she’d been fishing for it. Ugh. “Well . . . thanks.”

It wasn’t her fault her maturity level dropped two decades around him. She’d known Jack most of her life, and had a crush on him nearly as long. No matter how much she’d grown up in the four years since she’d last seen him, Jill was right back to being the same tongue-tied teenage Jilly he’d known, and ignored, the second she saw him again.

What female wouldn’t fall head over heels for those hypnotic blue eyes, the knee-melting dimples, the thick, wavy hair raked back from his forehead and curling under his earlobes? And that body . . . Had he gotten bigger? He was definitely more defined. His biceps tested the stretch of his gray button-up shirt, the fabric snug over his rock-hard chest.

No tie. No surprise. Jack was never the type. The fact that he’d bothered to tuck the shirt into his blackwell-fitted, jeans was a shocker. Hell, wearing a shirt with buttons was a small miracle.

Maybe Jill wasn’t the only one who’d matured over the last few years.

“It’s good to see you, Jilly. How have you been? How’s your . . . dad—how’s everyone?” Guilt flashed through his eyes, but he held his smile. Jill knew he was thinking of her brother, Brian—Jack’s ex-best friend.

The two of them hadn’t spoken or seen each other in years. Not since Jack betrayed him, broke his promise and left him to go off to basic training alone . . . because of Jill. Brian would never forgive him. Jill wasn’t sure she could either.

Up until five seconds ago, she hadn’t wanted to.

“Dad’s good.” She hooked her thumb on the strap of her purse and raised her chin. “By the way, no one calls me Jilly anymore. My name’s Jillian.”

His confident smile faltered. “I know your name—”

“Jill to my friends. You can call me Ms. Perkins.” She looked away, not sure she could maintain the mature-Jillian persona while staring directly into his knee-melting gaze. Like trying to keep your eyes open while staring into the sun. Stupid.

“All right then, Ms. Perkins.” Irritation and a pinch of pain seasoned his tone. “What kind of experience do you have with motorcycles?”

Her throat tightened, but Jill refused to allow her sappy, lovesick heart to soften. Instead she’d focus on her goal—buy a motorcycle and rescue her sister-in-law. She didn’t actually need the bike, but she’d always wanted one, and rescuing Carrie from the clutches of a misogynistic biker gang seemed reason enough. The fact that the biker gang probably rode their recliners more than their bikes was beside the point. Motorcycles were involved, and in Jilly’s mind, motorcycles and Jack went hand in hand. The thought of finally having her own and making Jack see her as a grown woman capable of handling her own shit was something she wanted even more than the bike.

Of course, Jill hadn’t factored in the emotional cost of facing Jack four years after she’d kissed him. Four years after he’d walked away from that kiss and vanished from the face of the earth. Whatever. That bag of issues could be tucked away for another time . . . like never.

She scanned the sizable showroom, taking in the rows of crotch rockets, sports bikes and easy riders of different makes and models. Not only was Crown Custom Bikes one of a very few motorcycle shops in the area, it was also the biggest. If someone was in the market for a new motorcycle, Jack’s shop was the logical choice.

“I’m looking for something low to the ground. Lightweight, but with a solid engine and real torque.” Jill brushed past him, making for a sweet white and chrome Suzuki Boulevard. She ran her fingers over the long leather seat. “I like this.”

“This?” Jack rested a hand on the sliver headlight, chuckling again. One of his caramel blond brows drifted up. “You have any idea how powerful this bike is? It’s got a 652 cc, 4-stroke air-cooled engine—”

“Perfect.”

“No.”

“No?” She threw him a bewildered half smile, not sure if she should laugh at him or smack him.

“It’s too much bike for . . . someone your size.” His cheeks flushed, and he shifted his gaze from her body back to the bike.

The tingle from his lingering stair traveled all the way down to her toes. At five-foot-two and one hundred five pounds, Jill was used to being underestimated. It rarely failed to annoy her. She sighed and shoved her purse at him. “Hold this.”

He took the long strap and she threw her leg over the bike, straddling the seat and tilting the heavy cycle up from its kickstand. “See? Feels good. Just what I wanted.”

“Don’t be childish, Jilly.” He slipped the purse strap onto his shoulder. “You just want it because I said no. C’mon, I’ve got a cute little two fifty over here—”

“No.” Jill settled deeper into the bike’s wide seat. “I want this one because I want this one. You can’t refuse to sell me a bike, Jack Crown.”

He folded his big arms over his chest and rocked back on heels, her purse swinging beside his hip. “I can if I think you’ll kill yourself on it.”

She made a disgusted tsk. That tears it. “First off, no, you can’t, ya smug jerk.” She wasn’t little Jilly anymore. She was a grown woman. He couldn’t boss her around like he did when she was a teenager. “And secondly, I am not going to kill myself. I’ve been riding motorcycles almost as long as you. I used to ride with you and Brian all the time.”

Jack flinched at Jill’s sudden burst of confidence, but he held firm. “Riding on the back of your brother’s bike isn’t the same as handling one of these things yourself.”

Jill dropped her hands to the gas tank, staring at him in disbelief. Her brother taught her to ride on her own years ago, and she’d driven different size motorcycles since then a ton of times. Not that it was any of Jack’s business. Finally, she snorted and shook her head. “Sorry. I can’t take you seriously while you’re wearing my purse.”

Jack adjusted the strap on his shoulder and shrugged, straight faced. “What? It’s black. Black goes with everything.”

She had to look away to hide her smile. “Just get the paperwork going, Jack. I’m taking this one.”

“You prove to me you can handle the machine and I’ll sell it to you.”

“Fine. Whatever. Gimme the keys.” She held out a hand. “I should test drive it first anyway.”

Jack pulled her purse off his shoulder and hung the strap over her hand. “You’re not going anywhere without me. Meet me out front. I’ll get keys and a license plate and pull the bike around. Then we’ll go out together so I can keep an eye on you.” He headed for the office at the back of the store. “Your bother would have my head if I let anything happen to you.”

“Don’t worry about it. Brian already has plenty of reasons to want your head on a stick.” She regretted it the second the words left her lips. Jill glanced up to see if he’d heard, but he kept walking without looking back.

Maybe he hadn’t heard. Jill swung her leg over the bike and looped the strap of her purse over her head to the other shoulder. Then she zigzagged through the bikes to the front doors of the shop and out to the sidewalk. The truth was, Brian hadn’t even mentioned Jack’s name since the day he left for boot camp.

But Jillian knew the pain Jack’s betrayal had caused him. No one knew Brian like his little sister. Except maybe Jack. There was no one Brian trusted more than Jack. They were twenty-three, and twenty-five, best friends, and still the same goofballs they’d been in high school, living at home, working part-time jobs for spending money. Then Brian fell for Carrie and the lifelong buddies decided it was time to grow up, become responsible men, and join the Navy—together. They drove to the recruiter together and signed up. But the day they were set to go off to boot camp, Jack never showed up. He just bailed—disappeared. They hadn’t spoken since.

The roar of Jill’s possible new bike rumbled through her chest and she turned to see Jack straddling the powerful machine, pulling out from the alley beside the shop. He came to a stop in front of her, bracing his booted foot on the ground.

He shoved the helmet dangling from the handlebar at her. “Get on.”

Jill took the helmet. “Shouldn’t I drive?”

Jack tucked a few loosened strands of hair behind his ear, and shook his head the powerful bike idling underneath him. “Not yet. Not till I take you somewhere safe to see how you drive.”

She snorted. “Seriously? You do this to all your customers?”

He smiled, resting his big hand on his thigh. “Only the ones who steer riding mowers into trees.”

“Shut up. That was one time, and I told you I was under attack from a vindictive bee.” Jill pulled at her hair tie, lowering her chestnut ponytail to the base of her neck before throwing on the helmet. “Where’s your helmet?”

“Don’t need one.” Jack knocked on his head. “This egg doesn’t crack easy.”

She laughed and fastened the chin strap. “Okay, Humpty Dumpty. Whatever you say.”

It wasn’t until that exact moment that Jill realized she’d have to straddle the seat behind him. There was a time the thought of his hard body between her thighs would’ve filled her with nervous excitement and nearly debilitating insecurity. Yeah, nothing’s changed.

Jack hiked his thumb over his shoulder. “You gonna get on, or just run along beside me?”

If only that were an option. Jill sighed and rested a hand on his shoulder. It was like gripping iron, the heat of his skin warming her palm through his dress shirt. She stepped on the back footrest, and swung her leg over, slipping on behind him, keeping as many inches of daylight between their bodies as possible.

“Um . . .” Jill held her hands to the sides, twisting one way then the other, feeling along the seat behind her. “What should I hold onto?”

“Me.” He grabbed her left wrist and pulled it around his waist, then snagged the other wrist and did the same.

The quick tug forced her forward, thumping her chest into his back. She sucked a breath and straightened as fast as she could just so they weren’t touching. But now her arms were too short to reach around him. She awkwardly struggled to lace her fingers around his flat belly without actually touching him.

Jack sighed. “Just scoot closer.” He looped his ape arm around to her back pressing the top of her bum closer to his. Just like that, they were flush against each other and Jill’s efforts to keep her distance from all that hard, muscled, sweet-smelling, sexy Jack-ness was thwarted. “Jesus, Jilly, you act like you’ve never ridden on the back of a bike. Brian must’ve really warned you off me, didn’t he?”

Her heart skipped a beat, the solid mass of his body fitting perfectly against her. The scent of his cologne filled her helmet, warm spice brushed with a touch of woodsy sweetness swamped her lungs just like she remembered. Her muscles tightened on reflex, her resolve weakening until she couldn’t resist hugging him to her. Jill peered over his shoulder. “Brian never told me to stay away from you. That was my decision.”

Jack glanced back at her. “You?” He chuckled and turned forward again, gunning the engine. “Good for you. Smarter than I thought.”

They pulled out, rumbling through the small town of Willow Creek, Virginia, just outside of Norfolk. The one-light town was closer to the Great Dismal Swamp then the busy city of Norfolk where Jill lived now. She’d been in such a hurry to get the hell outta dodge when she turned 18, lured by the big city and chased by a broken heart. She’d brushed the smell of wet moss and swampy decay from her skirts and hadn’t looked back.

Four years later here she was, arms wrapped around the man who’d stomped all over her pride, and given her all the reason she’d needed to run. Jill had to wonder. Was it all for nothing?

No. She’d grown up, matured, lived. She wasn’t the silly, naive little girl she’d been four years ago. He couldn’t hurt her like that again. She wouldn’t let him. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of rejecting her again.

They pulled into the parking lot of an old auto action barn on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp. The lot was empty although years of neglect had left the pavement vulnerable to stubborn weeds breaking through, making small cracks larger, pushing up chunks of tar and stone.

Jack rolled the bike to an easy stop and Jill hurried to climb off, more than a little anxious for a breath of air that wasn’t Jack flavored. “This is the safe place you want me to drive around?”

He heeled down the kickstand and turned off the bike. Jack scanned the old lot surrounded by tall leafy trees that hinted to the acres and acres of woodsy swamp beyond. He shrugged. “Stay on the pavement and there’s nothing for you to run into—and nothing to run into you, vindictive bee attacks notwithstanding. C’mon. Show me what ya got.”

God, she was never gonna live that down. “You know very well there was a bee.” Jill stepped up to the bike and climbed on, starting the engine with a satisfying roar. “Just like you know I can handle any bike you put under me.”

It took a few minutes for Jill to get a feel for the bike, but once she did she cruised the old parking lot with ease, avoiding broken pavement and thick weed clusters. For good measure she weaved in a steady figure eight, using weed uprisings as markers, hugging close around one, only to lean the other way around another. Her smile was unstoppable, the light feeling in her heart, the cool breeze on her skin. God, she loved motorcycles.

Jill slowed the bike to a stop in front of Jack, shut down the engine and pulled off her helmet, balancing it on the gas tank in front of her. “Happy?”

Jack stared at her for several heartbeats, his arms folded under his chest, full of silent judgment. “What’s this really about, Jilly? What are you up to?”

Her throat tightened but she covered with an awkward laugh, and tucked invisible hair behind her ear in a nervous tick. Jill couldn’t tell him the truth. He’d accuse her of overreacting.

Of course she was overreacting. She’d heard her sister in-law, Carrie, was hanging around with a local motorcycle club—one male member in particular. Brian didn’t know, and if Jill had any say in the matter, he never would. But there were only a few weeks left before he came home from his Navy deployment and with Carrie not taking his calls, she worried her sister in-law’s new friendship might have turned into something more.

Jill had to talk some sense into her before Brian returned from his deployment. None of this, however, was Jack’s business. “Nothing. It’s nothing. Just in the market for a bike. You ready to head back and sign the papers?”

Jack didn’t budge. “Not ‘til you tell me the truth. There’s more to it than that. C’mon, Jilly. I can tell when you’re not being straight. You get that weird twitch at the corner of your mouth.”

Jill slapped her hand over the twitch. She thought she’d been imagining it this whole time. What the hell’s wrong with me? Being around him was like inhaling a drug. Side effects and all.

Jack chuckled, and winked in a way that made her spine tingle. He reached out and lowered her hand. “Stop it. I’m kidding. It’s not that weird.”

She laughed. “Gee, thanks.”

“Actually, it’s kind of adorable.” He looked away, as if he didn’t want her to see his face when he said it. But then he turned back. “I’m still not selling you that bike until you’re straight with me.”

When they were kids, Jack once helped Brian lock her in her bedroom until she told them that, yes, there was a boy in the group of “friends” she was meeting at the mall. Didn’t matter that the boy wasn’t the slightest bit interested in Jill. Jack and Brian wanted the details.

Jill sighed. Jack wasn’t going to let it go until she told him something. “Okay. I got a message from Brian. He hasn’t heard from Carrie in a few weeks. I did some checking and found out she’s been hanging out with some guy who rides bikes. I decided to come home and check in on her.”

“Carrie?” Jack’s brow furrowed, then lifted when he made the connection. “So they went through with the engagement. They married? That’s good. I’m happy for him.”

“Of course they did.” Jill’s familiar old resentment flared. “What? You thought we’d all fall apart without you? Surprise. We managed just find after you bailed. We moved on with our lives despite you.”

Jack’s smile faded quickly, but he didn’t take the bait. “Who’s the guy she’s hangin’ with?”

“I don’t know. Some biker wannabe.” Jill couldn’t help her chuckle. It was just like Carrie to go for a 9 to 5 bad boy. “He rides with a couple other weekend road warriors. They call themselves the Hellhounds. Seriously.”

Leashed anger etched Jack’s face. He reached over and pulled the key. “Get off the bike, Jilly. You’re not going anywhere near those people.”

“Hey. You can’t do that.”

“I can, and I did.” He hiked his thumb to the side. “Now get off so I can drive us back to the shop. We’re done.”

***
Copyright © 2017 by Paige Cuccaro.
***
Learn more about or order a copy of Werebiker by Paige Cuccaro, available September 12, 2017:

Buy at B&N

 

 


Paige Cuccaro lives in Ohio, with her husband, and three daughters. When she’s not writing, she can be found doing the mom thing with a book in one hand and a notepad and pen in the other. Ideas come without warning and the best way to stimulate your imagination is to enjoy the imagination of someone else. Paige is the author of Marriage Claws and the Hellsbane series, including Heaven and Hellsbane.

 

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