My good friend, and great author, Donna Taylor has just released her second book in the Copper Ridge Series! You don’t have to take my word on her being a great author, either. Just check out the excerpt below.
I lived a life of privilege among the elite of Little Rock. It isn’t until my adoptive father dies that I learn everything I grew up believing was a lie. My search for the truth leads me to Copper Ridge, a small town my momma never wanted me to know about. Turns out, finding the truth isn’t the hard part. It’s surviving it.
I’ve lived my life and built my businesses in the shadows of society. It’s only when I start to move into the light that things become complicated. Add a debutante wanting a job in my bar and complicated become dangerous. A woman like her can’t survive in my world. But once she’s in it, I’m not willing to let her go. She needs my help. The question is, if I help her, will she survive me?
Read the prologue and first chapter below:
“What the hell’s the matter with you? You’re squirming around like a kid about to piss his pants. You got something better to do than explain what the fuck’s been going on with you lately? When did you decide it was okay to piddle ass around on a job instead of finishing it?” I gave the mechanic, Grady Wilks, my don’t screw with me stare. I didn’t waste time on deadbeats, but Grady had always been a friend worth spending time on.
“Hell, Sawyer, you know how it gets sometimes. More bills comin’ in than money. I’m running a little short this month. It’s got me scrambling. Picked up too many jobs trying to cover my ass and they’ve put me behind schedule.”
Grady was putting a lot of attention into scrubbing his hands with a red shop rag. The restless hands, avoiding eye contact—all signs something serious had him twisted up.
“If it’s just money, why didn’t you come to me? Wouldn’t be the first time I offered to float you a loan.” And it wouldn’t be the first time his stubborn ass refused my help. I took a guess at what he was trying to not tell me. “I thought you had all those hospital and doctor bills caught up?”
Grady’s dad had passed well over a year ago from lung cancer. It hadn’t been a long, drawn-out thing only because he’d not gone to see a doctor until it was too late to do anything for him. Short or long, the hospital and doctor bills had been a staggering load for Grady to take on.
Plenty of people had told him it wasn’t his responsibility to pay his dad’s bills. That was all good and well, except he would have lost his home and the garage if he didn’t pay up. Both were in his dad’s and his name jointly. He’d taken on his father’s debts and been killing himself ever since paying them off.
I sent as much work his way as possible, and that was all the help he accepted. A few months back, he looked happy as hell when he told me he’d managed to pay off the last debt on his dad. Not many days after that, he was more closed off and pinched than before.
“Yeah, I’ve got the medical shit handled. Just got screwed up juggling things. Did a few quick jobs for the fast money and it messed with the scheduling.” Grady still wouldn’t look me in the eye.
Something had been going on with Grady ever since he’d told me the medical bills had been taken care of. Whatever he was hiding made him unwilling to ask for help. The rope was dangling right there in front of him; all he had to do was reach out and grab the line. I’d be the first to say a man had a right to his secrets. But I also believed that when a friend lied to my face, it was time to figure out what was going on.
“If you’d gotten your head out of your ass and finished the new traps in Colin’s truck on time, your money problems would’ve already been solved. When I send work your way, I sure as hell don’t want them coming back to me bitching because the job is running behind.”
“One more day and I’ll have the job wrapped up,” he said. “Already have the box installed, and the hydraulics that control the back panel are kickass. When that seat slides forward it barely makes a whisper, and the compartment behind it is the biggest one I’ve ever put in the cab of a truck before. Once the trim’s replaced, ain’t nobody gonna find that bitch. Already finished the false bed in the back. It’s seamless and watertight.” Grady’s enthusiasm over the new hides carried the first honest reaction I’d gotten out of him since dropping by and asking questions.
When it came to mechanics, they didn’t come any better than Grady. He also had a real talent when it came to custom paint and body work, but his true genius lay in building hidden compartments called traps. There wasn’t a big demand for them. They were too expensive and there weren’t a lot of legitimate reasons to have one installed. Usually when he picked up a job for one, he’d be so damn stoked that it’d be all he worked on. Not this time, though. He was running two weeks behind on Colin’s truck.
“I don’t want to hear how close you are, just finish the damn thing,” I ordered. “And you can cut the bullshit and tell me the real reason you’ve been dickin’ around so long with it. You never could lie worth a damn.” I should let it go, but we went way back. All the dumbass had to do was come clean, then I’d lend him the money or kick someone’s ass. Problem solved. Money or an ass-kicking solved every problem out there.
The animation in Grady’s face reverted to the pinched mouth and brow he’d been walking around with for weeks. “I ain’t lying. There’s some personal shit been gettin’ in the way. Said I’d take care of it, and I will.”
“That personal shit have anything to do with Andrew Webber?” I watched him for a reaction.
Andrew’s old man owned the Chevy dealership on the east side of town and the Ford lot on the west side. He also owned several other dealerships in larger cities located both here in Arkansas and across Missouri. Andrew ran the two car lots in Copper Ridge, meaning he had his own mechanics and body guys. Word had gotten back to me he’d been showing up at Grady’s. Since Andrew was a rat bastard, and him and Grady had never been chummy, I couldn’t think of one good reason for the man to be popping up over here. That left only bad reasons that were probably going to screw Grady up.
“What the hell, Sawyer? You spying on me?” Grady’s glare told me all I needed to know about the who. Now I just needed the why.
“Did you forget this is Copper Ridge? Everyone’s so fuckin’ eager to stick their nose up everyone else’s ass, I’d have to have the whole damn town on my payroll if you want to call it spying. That prick Andrew’s been seen dropping off company trucks out here, and everyone’s wondering what that shit’s about. So, tell me, why in the hell would he do that when he has all those mechanics in those high-dollar shops of his daddy’s?” This bit of info wasn’t as well-known as I’d let on to Grady. Sure, Andrew had been seen coming out this way during the day, but those trucks of his had all been delivered at night. Just like they were being picked up at night when Grady finished whatever he was doing to them. Not that it was hard to guess what that was. The why was the real mystery.
“What I do in my shop is nobody’s business but mine,” he said. “You want me to start asking you shit about the bars you own? Or how about I stick my nose in those gambling houses you make a killing off?”
“You want me to stay the hell out of your business, fine. You know where to find me when you decide to get real with me.” Turning my back on Grady, I headed out the open bay door. You can’t help people until they ask for it. They’re not ready before then. Until that moment, they’re willing to look you in the eye and say, “I need help,” anything you do for them can come back to bite you in the ass.
After I climbed on my Harley, I speared Grady with a last look. “Call Colin. Tell him what the hell’s going on with his truck. I ain’t your fuckin’ secretary.”
I pulled to a stop in the gravel parking lot and stared at the building that had starred in some of the most important moments of my life. Funny thing about that: I didn’t even know of its existence until six months ago.
Needing a minute, I took in the mishmash of wood and cement block that made up the structure known as Skeeter’s. The afternoon sunlight spilling across the front of the weathered building didn’t exactly do it any favors. There were no signs attached to the top of the backwoods bar boasting the establishment’s name. Apparently, if you were a local you knew what it was called, and if you weren’t, nobody cared if you knew the name or not.
What signs the bar did boast were mostly old, rusty ones scattered in no particular order across the front of the building. They advertised everything from auto parts to liquor; snuff to pop. An especially classy one next to the entrance proclaimed Get Your Woody Serviced Here. A picture of an old wood-panel station wagon was centered in the middle of the words. No doubt that was a laugh that never got old with the drinking crowd.
Skeeter’s definitely wasn’t any kind of place I’d ever pictured working at. Six months ago, my privileged hiney wouldn’t have stepped through the doors of this kind of dive. Funny how at twenty-seven I’d begun to figure out life didn’t necessarily turn out the way you planned.
Shrugging off the what-could-have-beens, I swung the car door open and climbed out. The gravel in the parking lot had me tottering worse than a drunk on my three-inch heels as I crossed to the entrance. Judging solely by the building’s exterior, shoes weren’t the only wrong fashion choice made. Then again, I didn’t own a single pair of Daisy Dukes, or have a stash of halter tops to pull from.
I’d struggled over what to wear before coming out here, finally settling on something I would have felt comfortable wearing to the boutique I used to manage back home. If the classic black pencil skirt showed off curves and the emerald-green silk shell reflected my eye color, well, those were just bonuses that might help me land a job. Sure, this was a bar, no need for a power suit, but still, I’d wanted to wear something nice. Basic 101 when applying for a job: dress to impress. Okay, the Louboutins might have been going too far, but it was doubtful the red soles would mean anything to anyone in this kind of place. Bitchy? I preferred to call it being realistic.
It was a relief when I reached the covered porch without a twisted ankle. Happily, there weren’t any spectators loitering around the front of the building to witness my less-than-graceful approach. Seeing only one other vehicle in the front lot, and it was a monster motorcycle, I guessed there wouldn’t be too many patrons inside.
Pausing on the wooden planks, I straightened my skirt and made sure my blouse was still neatly tucked. Satisfied all was in order, I took a deep breath, gripped the door handle, and strolled through, owning the place.
The thunderous slam of the door closing had me jumping as if a bomb had just exploded in my panties. I landed with a wild wobble on the heels I was seriously beginning to hate. Apparently, the door didn’t have one of those pneumatic thingies that kept it from waking the dead when it closed. Then again, I might have been a tad too enthusiastic flinging it open.
I’d wanted to make a statement with my entrance. Unfortunately, the impression was less Confident Woman and more along the lines of The Clown Has Arrived. Hopefully the room was dark enough that it hid the pink tide of embarrassment crawling up my neck.
Having already put on a floor show, I stalled just inside the doorway. Not a bad thing. No sense adding to the spectacle of my entrance by tripping over something and doing a face plant. Taking a moment to allow my eyes to adjust to the dimmer interior had the added benefit of giving me time to check out what I’d slammed my way into.
Back at the motel earlier, I’d asked the elderly manager, Mrs. Whatley, if she’d ever heard of Skeeter’s. She’d been more than happy to launch into a litany of the shameful shenanigans people got up to in that place. By the time she was through, I’d conjured up a graphic picture of something that was a cross between an old-time saloon and a biker’s hangout, with a side of cathouse thrown in for good measure. It was a regular Walmart of manly vices. When I’d asked for directions, Mrs. Whatley’s self-righteous sniff was a clear indication that my moral values had taken a hit with the woman.
Scanning the room, I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or feel cheated. After preparing for a Den of Iniquity, the place turned out to be more of what I pictured a typical lower-class bar would be. Not as polished as a club you’d find in the city, but neither were there any diseased hookers or drunken bikers littering the floor.
There was nothing sinister about the polished bar that lined the right side of the room. The space between it and a quartet of pool tables was furnished with mismatched four- and six-top tables surrounded by equally mismatched chairs. Located in the very back was a raised platform where a band could set up, and next to it was a jukebox. They had the music options covered. An open area in front of the low stage provided plenty of room for anyone wanting to show off their footwork. In the back corner was the entrance to a shadowed hallway. Maybe that hallway was the road to damnation? The one Mrs. Whatley claimed everyone was on that entered Skeeter’s.
“Can I help you, miss?”
The gruff question drew my attention back to the bar and came from a giant of a man owning the space behind it. Inked-up arms were attached to massive shoulders, and his thick neck was topped by a face that appeared to have been shaped by more than one fist throughout the years. It would be charitable to call his features “unique.” It was a safe bet he wasn’t one of those slick bartenders who impressed patrons by tossing bottles and glasses in the air while mixing drinks.
He wasn’t alone at the counter. I shifted my attention to a petite brunette standing across the wooden barrier from him. The faint sneer on her lips made me think she wasn’t exactly impressed with me. Customer or employee? If she worked here, she wasn’t the stereotypical waitress I’d expected to find. Too young was the first thought that pop into my head. But there was something about her eyes that made me think she’d seen some hard truths in her life. Maybe she was older than she looked?
My plan to take a quick peek at the third member of this little gathering stalled out when my eyes landed on the large frame of the man leaning against the bar. He was everything mommas warned their daughters to stay away from, and the very thing those same daughters wanted more than their next breath. I could almost smell the aroma of wild sex and broken hearts rolling off him. If Skeeter’s was the road to damnation, this man was driving the bus.
There was nothing flashy about his appearance that screamed look at me. Everything he had on said comfort and not style. It was the body encased in the scuffed boots, relaxed jeans, and weathered shirt that snagged my attention. It was eyegasmic pleasure to let my gaze travel the long, sculpted length of him. Corded biceps were exposed by the bunched sleeves of a faded gray Henley. That square jaw of his hadn’t seen the sharp edge of a razor in a day or two, and all that stubble surrounded well-formed lips.
Lips were kind of a thing with me. Didn’t you just hate when a guy had lips that were barely there? I mean, come on. With thin lips you went in for the kiss and ended up with nothing but the skin between nose and chin. Gross. But these lips were a perfect blend of substance without being puffy. A hint of harshness around the edges teased a woman into wanting to try and soften them. Pulling my eyes from the temptation of his lips, I checked out the man’s do. I’d never been a long-hair-loving kind of gal. While his was too long to be businessman trendy—my personal favorite—the dark waves that brushed the back of his neck were enough to make me a convert to the needing a trim, unruly look.
When I finally got around to looking into his cobalt eyes, an overwhelming urge to slowly back away from his level gaze hit me. With his hip cocked against the wooden counter and an arm resting on the polished surface, he should have come across as relaxed. Should have. Instead, there was a sense of coiled readiness about him. I had this crazy Stranger Danger warning screaming in my head. Not a creepy-guy vibe, more this is not a man you want to cross.
Dragging my eyes back to the bartender took a conscious effort. He was the one who should have come across as the biggest threat in the room, but he was substantially less threatening than the other male.
I sincerely hoped Mr. Bartender was the person I needed to convince to give me a job. While I hadn’t figured out whether the brunette worked here or not, I discounted her as being important. As for the one truly formidable presence dominating the room? It’d be a cold day in the corner of hell he ruled before anyone talked him into anything he didn’t want to do.
“Miss, iffin’ you’re lost, just say so and I’ll point you in the right direction. But you’re gonna have to speak up. I don’t read minds.” The bartender crossed his muscular arms and rested them on top of his rounded belly. Cocking his bald head and raising an eyebrow, he tacked on, “Ain’t nobody gonna bite.”
The tiny brunette gave an inelegant snort. “Least-wise, not this early in the day.”
Squaring tense shoulders, I moved closer to the trio and plastered an upbeat, confident smile on my face.
“Please, forgive my rudeness. My name is Kelli Radcliff, Mr.…?” Taking the necessary step to get close enough to stick out a hand in greeting to the bartender, I held my breath. The wait to see if he would blow me off or actually take the offering stretched and stretched.
The pause seemed to last forever, but he unwound his arms and completely engulfed my fingers in his huge paw. He carefully gave my hand a gentle shake before releasing it. “No mister. Just Charlie.”
While I’d dismissed the girl as not being useful, it was never a good idea to ignore someone who might end up being a coworker. Flashing a smile in her direction, I again extended my hand for another shake. After half a beat, the girl offered up a hand. “Zanie Mae. Most just call me Zane unless they’re pissed at me or want me pissed at them.”
The sparkly little laugh I trotted out, as if Zane was the cutest thing ever, had me cringing inside at its falseness. These people weren’t the type to practice social niceties, much less appreciate them. The eye roll the brunette flashed at Charlie was a good indicator I wasn’t scoring any points.
Turning to the one person left to be introduced, I suppressed a shiver of awareness. Down, girl. I reminded myself I was here to find a missing piece of my past, not to become sidetracked by some macho piece of manliness. Still, I had this crazy desire to hear him speak. I was curious whether his voice would do justice to the image he projected. What a crime against nature if a nasally lisp came out of those sinful lips.
Cranking up the wattage on my smile, I extended a hand to Mr. Badass. He ignored my hand. Instead, he let his hooded eyes travel the length of my body in a parody of my earlier scrutiny of him. He just reversed the order, starting at my blonde hair and letting his eyes scorch a path to my feet. When he got to my heels, he lingered on them before returning to his detached role of observer. I got the feeling I’d been a lot more affected by his eyes traveling over my body than he’d been.
Yep, his callous rejection stung. I was used to men being a little more excited to meet me. That was the only excuse I had to offer for what I did next.
Pulling my hand back, I examined it with a tiny frown, making it clear I was checking to see what was wrong with it. After a thorough examination, I spat in the palm then proceeded to give it a vigorous scrubbing against my hip. After examining it one more time, I nodded as if satisfied and again offered it with a brilliant smile. Momma would have been horrified by such an unladylike action, which only made the performance that much sweeter.
A moment of silence, so complete it had me worried I’d gone too far, was broken when Charlie and Zane busted out laughing. Zane belted out her amusement, making no attempt to sound cutesy or girlie. Charlie had the deep-chested, booming laughter a man his size was bound to have. While there was satisfaction in having achieved my goal of breaking the ice with at least two of the three, I never took my eyes off the beautiful stranger. The one who’d initiated my less-than-delicate approach to getting him to introduce himself.
I didn’t have to wait long this time for a response. His body didn’t so much straighten from where he leaned against the bar as uncoiled its long form in a sensuous bunching and flexing of muscle. A hint of interest flashed in his eyes, where before they’d been cold, and those beautiful lips had the barest lift to one corner. I was determined to remain rock steady. My hand never wavered, although I was starting to worry my toothy smile was beginning to appear maniacal. But momma dogs would have kittens before I dropped either the smile or the hand.
One word and it was worth all the effort put into dragging it out of him. The deep huskiness of his voice sent a shiver of appreciation down my spine, and goosebumps skittered across my arms.
He took a firm hold of my hand, but instead of shaking it, he did the oddest thing. Turning it over, he examined the palm as carefully as I had done. Thankfully, he didn’t spit in it. He ran the roughened pad of his index finger over the unblemished smoothness.
Realizing I was holding my breath, I gracelessly snatched my hand back from him. The burn left behind couldn’t have been any hotter than if he’d traced across my palm using hot coal instead of his finger. A low, rumbling chuckle made me think he’d accomplished his goal, also.
About Donna Taylor:
Donna Taylor lives in the South with her husband and a demanding Golden Retriever, who keeps her company as she writes (the Goldie, not the husband). She loves nothing better than to spend summer days lazing around on the family pontoon boat; supplied with plenty of food, drink, and a good book.
It was her passion for books and years of reading that finally pushed her into writing. Okay, there may have been a couple of author friends that encouraged her to write her own books. Anyone who reads her stories and finds themselves entertained will make her feel as if she has accomplished her goal.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Donna-Taylor/e/B00W01W0HI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1