Monday, November 2, 2020

Read an #Excerpt from Blacklisted by Jay Crownover

About the Book:

(Loveless, Texas #3)
by Jay Crownover 

Mass Market Paperback, 285 pages
Published October 27th 2020 by Forever
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Marked Men series comes an irresistible and suspenseful romance between a doctor who plays by the rules and the outlaw who breaks them in order to protect her.

Dr. Presley Baskin has always lived a quiet, calm life. Unfortunately, nothing about her life in Loveless, Texas—especially not the wild, rowdy, and impossibly close-knit Lawton family who've claimed her—is quiet or calm. Which is how loner Presley finds herself roped into patching up local bad boy Shot Caldwell against her better judgment. Presley wants nothing to do with the dangerous, brooding leader of the local outlaw motorcycle club. But when someone starts stalking her, Shot is the only person she trusts to help. Plus he owes her one...

Palmer 'Shot' Caldwell has always known his life isn't made for relationships. At least until shy, secretive, Presley reluctantly pulled a bullet out of him. He's oddly protective of the pretty doctor, so when she comes to him for help, hard-hearted Shot suddenly realizes there's nothing he wouldn't do to keep her safe.


PROLOGUE My life used to be boring, predictable. I had a job I worked hard to succeed at, an ill mother who I devoted all my free time to taking care of, and one single friend I trusted and relied on. My days tended to bleed together, all of them seemingly the same, and I liked it that way. I liked knowing what to expect. I thrived with a set routine and did not field surprises and unexpected occurrences well. Part of that was because my mother had been sick for so long, and when things stayed the same, it meant she was still with me. Any upset in our day-to-day meant I ran the risk of losing her, and since she was the only family I had, I never adjusted well to even the smallest of inconsistencies in my schedule. Unfortunately, those boring, dull, and predictable days were long gone. The job I loved and had worked my butt off to advance in was in limbo. My mother was no longer with me. And not only had I lost my only family, but her passing had set off a domino effect of life-changing and suspicious scenarios in my life. On top of losing both my professional reputation and my mother, I’d come to realize my one and only friend, the woman I’d relied on since we were in med school together, the woman who held me, and held me together, when I broke down after finding out my mother had passed, was the person behind my sudden issues at work . . . and though it wasn’t confirmed, and there was no physical proof, I firmly believed she was directly involved with my mother’s death. I’d suffered a horrible loss and faced the ultimate betrayal all at the same time. After all of my former friend’s malicious acts came to light, the Texas Rangers put me in protective custody. She’d threatened to kill me and warned that she planned to take away everything and everyone that mattered to me. Since she had proved to be just unhinged and unpredictable enough to follow through on the threats, I complied with orders from law enforcement and stayed out of sight. However, I soon realized the only way to ensure the people around me stayed safe was if Ashby Grant, my former friend and current tormentor, could see that I was suffering from the havoc she rained down on my life. She needed to know her efforts weren’t in vain. The first step was to get myself out of protective custody so I could remain her prime target. After that, I retreated into myself, locking the front door to my apartment and shutting out the rest of the world. I was lonely and missing my mother, feeling like my life was a mess. However, I knew I didn’t want to die, and more than that, I really didn’t want anyone else to die because of me and the choices I made. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing any of the Lawtons, who had suddenly invaded my life at the same time it fell apart, injured or worse, just because we all had the unfortunate luck of having the same father. If it hadn’t been for my newly found half siblings forcibly inserting themselves into my life, I would have effectively disappeared, hiding while I waited anxiously for whatever fate Ashby had planned for the two of us to befall me. They threw an absolute fit when I declared I no longer wanted police protection or a full-fledged security detail. The Lawtons—and more specifically my younger half sister, Kody Lawton—refused to let me sink into my grief and overwhelming anxiety that something would happen to her and her two older brothers because of me. No matter how hard I tried to push her away, she kept dragging me back into the land of the living. She forced me to interact with my new family and stubbornly made me stand face-to-face with all my paralyzing fears. When she called me in the middle of the night not long after I ditched my protective detail, screaming that she needed my help, my first instinct was to tell her no. I didn’t want to leave my house during daylight hours on a good day—no way was I driving out to her dive bar on the outskirts of town while I was both alone and afraid in the dark. Her disappointment was palpable over the phone, and I immediately felt the sting of letting her down under my skin, even though I told myself over and over again I didn’t owe her anything. She was the one trying to force a relationship even after I made it clear I wanted to be left alone. The argument sounded petty and weak as my mind went to battle with my conflicted heart. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake loose the panic in Kody’s words. She might be the toughest of the three Lawton siblings, so if she sounded scared, something was really, really wrong. It took five minutes for me to change my mind. It took ten minutes for me to get my on- hand medical gear together and another five to convince my feet to take me out of the front door. I almost turned around twenty times on the way to her bar, but the nagging voice in the back of my head wouldn’t let me run away. When push came to shove, I couldn’t ignore that I really did owe the Lawtons a lot, regardless of trying to convince myself other- wise. And I knew that given enough time I could grow to love them like they were my own. For someone who’d never had anyone, being part of such a tight-knit, loyal family was too appealing to turn away from. Kody’s big, bearded bouncer was waiting for me outside and whisked me safely into the chaotic scene inside the bar. It was well past business hours, but the bar was packed. I tried to appear outwardly calm as I took in the battered and bloody bikers all hovering over a single, downed body on the floor. Kody caught sight of me and rushed over to where I was standing. She went to reach for me, but hurriedly pulled back when she noticed her hands and the front of her clothes were soaked through with blood. Eyes, the exact same green as mine, widened, and I could see the stark panic clear on every line of her pretty, freckled face. Before she could thank me for coming or launch into an explanation of how she came to have the entirety of the Sons of Sorrow motorcycle club bleeding in her bar after hours, my medical training kicked in and I found myself pushing past her to tend to the injured man on the floor. I’d seen many a bullet wound in my time working at the medical examiner’s office, but I’d never seen one, well more than one at the moment, that was fresh and still seeping blood. I had a moment of indecision, wondering if I could actually help this man. I had purposely picked a medical field where I didn’t have to deal with living and breathing patients. The risk was too high, and the responsibility for their well-being felt suffocating. All of that pressure I had purposely avoided now pushed down on me. I felt all eyes in the room look toward me as I started to assess the damage to the dark-haired man on the floor. He was losing too much blood. I immediately knew he was going to need a transfusion. He wasn’t stable enough to stay where he was, but when I told Kody to call an ambu- lance I was instantly, and loudly, overruled by the rest of the bikers. The wounded man was the club’s president, and they insisted I just needed to keep his vitals strong enough to be moved somewhere else safely. They didn’t go into detail, but apparently they had facilities and someone who could take care of him. For whatever reason, they didn’t want the bullet wounds reported as would be mandatory if he went to the ER, thus getting the police involved in their business. None of it sounded on the up-and-up, but I had my hands full keeping the man from bleeding out, so I decided not to waste precious time arguing with them. One biker showed up out of nowhere with a medical- grade bag of donated blood for an on-the-spot transfusion, and again I decided not to ask too many questions. The big, bleeding man also had a collapsed lung and his chest cavity was filling with air, making a dangerous situation even more complicated. It had been years since I’d inserted a chest tube, so there was no stopping the shaking of my hands or the nervous sweating. Kody was right next to me, offering silent encouragement, but I could tell how worried she was. In all honesty, I was shocked by how well the biker was holding up. If it had been anyone else, I wasn’t certain they would’ve survived this long. After the chest tube was in place, and I had successfully pulled most of the air out of his chest cavity, the man’s breathing settled into a still shallow but more even rhythm. Once I had the blood transfusion hooked up in the most rustic manner possible, I declared him safe enough to move. The rest of the bikers immediately jumped into action, setting a plan in place to move their president back to their clubhouse up in the hill country. Before I could be dismissed and ignored, I told the entire room, “I’m going with him.” I had no idea where the words came from, or where I got the guts to make such a declaration to the room at large, but I knew I couldn’t send the man off without medical supervision. I was scared something would happen to him, and I was worried the rest of the bikers would blame me if he didn’t make it. Kody immediately protested. It was clear she didn’t want me involved any further. Saving an injured man’s life was one thing; knowingly helping that same man evade proper medical and legal channels was another. Even though I was on a hiatus from work, my job was still closely tied to law enforcement, and getting tangled up with an outlaw motor- cycle club was the last thing I needed. But I couldn’t turn my back on the scarily still man. Even deathly pale and covered head to toe in blood, I could tell he was someone with a powerful presence. And even though he was uncon- scious, his aura remained intimidating and fierce. He was also incredibly good-looking beneath the gore, something I shouldn’t have been noticing considering his current state and the fact that he was the exact opposite of the type who usually caught my eye. My love life tended to be as staid and dreary as the rest of my life. The men I dated were bland and boring. I’d never had my head turned by tattoos and brawn, which the biker had plenty of. There was nothing about him I should have found intriguing or interesting, but I was unable to deny that I was curious about what he looked like when he wasn’t on the brink of death. I also wondered what his voice sounded like, and what color his eyes were. All wayward thoughts that came out of nowhere and took me completely by surprise. I rationalized it as my mind’s way of keeping me calm in a crisis. Cataloguing all his attractive points definitely worked as a good distraction. It took some convincing to get both my half sister and the rest of the club members to let me ride with their injured president. Apparently, outsiders weren’t let onto club property . . . for any reason. Today they were willing to make an exception for me, but they made it clear things would not end well if I spoke about any of the things I witnessed once I was allowed through the gates. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Presley?” Kody’s tone was full of worry and concern. She looked like she was ready to sit on me to keep me from going with my still-critical patient. I appreciated her apprehension. It’d been a long time since I’d had anyone in my life who actively and visibly cared about me. But I was independent by nature, and having come this far, there was no turning back now. I was determined to keep the biker alive come hell or high water. “No. I have no clue what I’m doing, but I’m doing it any- way.” I decided to embrace the chaos that had overtaken my life lately instead of hiding from it. “Too many things can go wrong between here and there. As soon as I know for certain he’s made it back to their compound, I’ll breathe easier and head home.” Kody shook her wild tangle of dirty blond curls and gripped my arm hard enough to bruise. “They’re all decent guys but they’re still an outlaw club. If you want to go back to work anytime in the near future, you can’t afford to have your name mixed up with this club—with Shot in particular.” Shot. It was a fitting name for a biker, and for someone who has just been shot and who was already sporting more than one scar from a bullet. I shook off my concerned sibling and took a deep breath. It wasn’t my fault things with my job were so uncertain. They’d offered me a promotion, which had set in motion my former best friend’s break with both sanity and reality. Jealousy over my advancement had pushed her over the edge. After all her evil and illegal misdeeds came to light, the ME’s office had apologized for doubting me and assured me the promotion they initially offered was waiting for me. Only I wasn’t ready to go back. After these last few months, I’d had enough of death and destruction to last a lifetime. Which might have been why I was determined to make sure the biker pulled through, regardless of what side of the law he fell on. After assuring Kody I would be fine and telling her I would call her as soon as I was on my way back home, I let the bikers sweep me out of the bar and into the back of a plain white van with blacked-out windows. I knelt on the floor of the large vehicle, next to the still unconscious biker. Without understanding why, I reached for one of his hands, immedi- ately noticing how rough it was beneath the slippery coating of blood. I also took note of the skull face tattooed across the entire back of it. He was alarmingly cold to the touch, which made me frown and press my hand to his forehead. It wasn’t exactly a professionally medical move, but one I was compelled to do as a human hurting for another human. “He’ll pull through.” The rough words were barked by a huge man in a leather vest with patches all over it. He had one that read vice president on one side, and top hat on the other. He was issuing most of the orders, so I assumed that meant he was in charge while the president was incapacitated. “He’s going to need surgery.” I had no idea what kind of damage the bullet had done internally, but he was still bleed- ing and his breathing still gave me cause for concern. The second-in-command nodded and dragged a hand over his tired-looking face. “I told you, we have a guy who will take care of it. The prez was in such bad shape we panicked and brought him to Kody’s, figuring we’d call him out. But she told us you were closer, and we weren’t going to take any chances with Shot’s life on the line.” “Top Hat,” I tried out the unusual name and cringed when I received a lifted eyebrow and a smirk in return. Regardless, I plowed on with my warning. “He needs to be in an actual medical facility. If you try and do any kind of major surgery in an unsanitary environment, the chances of him getting an infection and dying are higher than him dying from the wound itself.” I knew I sounded cool and clinical, but I couldn’t help it. I was nervous. Nervous to be heading off into the unknown with a bunch of strangers, with men who very well could be involved in some serious criminal activity. Nervous that my patient would die and I would be blamed. Nervous I would let Kody down and the tentative bond I was building with my new family would be broken. “I go by Top, Doc.” Soft snickers went around the van and I got the distinct impression I was being laughed at. The man who called himself Top gave me a look. I could tell he was tense and worried for his friend, and he wasn’t thrilled to have me along for this ride. “Our clubhouse is an old ranch that used to be owned by a vet. The barn is outfitted as a big animal hospital, complete with an operating room. It doesn’t see much use for livestock, but we’ve benefited from having access to it more than once over the years.” He swore and rubbed his eyes. He still had his president’s blood smeared on the back of his hands but didn’t seem to notice. “If we get Shot to the property, the chances we can save him are pretty high.” I cleared my throat and went to pull my hand away from the injured man’s head. I had a lot of questions and a million concerns but decided it was best to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t know how to deal with bikers, or really anyone who had need of their own operating room on the regular. I was so far out of my comfort zone, it was going to take a miracle and a detailed map to get me back to where I belonged. I gasped when fingers suddenly wrapped around my wrist in a weak grasp. My gaze locked on eyes such a deep, dark, and rich brown they appeared black. “Kody?” The word was rasped out and barely audible. It was a whisper of sound, but filled with emotion. Before I could explain that I wasn’t my half sister, that we just happened to look very much alike, the dark eyes drifted closed and the hold on my hand dropped away. It was impressive, and a fairly good sign that he’d gained consciousness, even for a second. I could practically feel the relief that flooded through the crowded interior of the van. Suddenly my hand was grabbed again, this time by the man sitting across from me. He had bright blue eyes, and they were intent and serious as the VP told me, “Whether he makes it or not we owe you. Anytime, anywhere, no matter how big or small, the club owes you a favor. Your call when and how you want us to make good on it, but it’s there until you use it.” I frowned and tugged my hand free. “I can’t imagine why I’d have anything to do with your club after tonight.” My life might not be streamlined and predictable any longer, but I doubted I would ever have the need to be involved with the outlaw club beyond this instance. The big man snorted but gave me the space I was silently asking for. “Doesn’t matter if you have anything to do with us in the future. We owe you, and the Sons of Sorrow always pay their debts.” It sounded more like a threat than a promise, and I had no idea what to do with any of it. So I simply held my breath and reached for the unmoving biker’s hand. I knew deep down that this would be the one and only time I was going to be wrapped up in the club’s mess, so I planned on seeing it through to the end, no matter what the results were. I had no idea that fate had other plans for me . . . and for Shot. CHAPTER 1 SHOT Three months later... I didn’t like to be indebted to anyone. I prided myself on never owing anyone anything. I’d been that way my entire life. My father, one of the founding members of the motorcycle club I was a part of, had taught me early on that it was better to be the one collecting favors rather than being the one doling them out. Better to have others to do your bidding, rather than dangle at the end of someone else’s whims. When I’d left Colorado, and my father’s less than legal influence, first to fight for my country, then to start my own chapter of the club I’d grown up in, I’d gone with the promise I would never put myself or any member of the Sons of Sorrow in a position where they owed anyone anything. We weren’t going to let anyone pull our strings, my father included. It was a promise I’d managed to keep, up until a few months ago. I had enemies. A lot of them. Some I’d acquired through business with the club. A few lingered from my time in the military. My day-to-day was never anything close to a walk in the park, but my reputation, along with the club’s fierce legacy, generally kept me safe and fairly insulated. Apparently the last few, mostly uneventful, years I’d spent in Loveless, Texas, had lulled me into dropping my guard. I never expected the ambush attack, and my lack of pre- paredness toward the threat resulted in the loss of two of my brothers, and had left me taking a couple of bullets to the chest. I should have been dead. Very nearly was. If it hadn’t been for my quick-thinking vice president and Kody Lawton’s relentless friendship, I would be six feet under. But the real reason I was still alive and kicking, the only reason I survived, was because Kody’s half sister, Dr. Presley Baskin, jumped into the fray and stayed by my side until I was out of the woods. I was unconscious for most of the ordeal, but I vaguely remembered con- cerned green eyes watching me, and incredibly soft hands valiantly trying to keep my heart beating. The club had a member who was a former field medic. Stitch was a solid doctor, but my injuries had been bad enough he was uncertain if he was going to be able to save me once he got me into our rough but effective operating room. According to Top and a few of the other members, Kody’s newfound half sister refused to leave, even though it would have been in her best interest. She scrubbed in and assisted Stitch until everyone was mostly certain I would pull through. She’d broken any number of laws in the process and now the club, and I, owed her more than we would ever be able to repay. I hated it. The feeling of being in debt to her, the anticipation of waiting for her to call in her favor, grated on my nerves and made me twitchy and uncomfortable every single day. I wanted the slate cleaned . . . now. I was going out of my mind waiting for the other shoe to drop. Considering I literally owed the woman my life, I’d done what any reasonable person would do and had dug up every single thing I could find on her. There wasn’t a ton of information on the medical examiner, and what I did find was pretty basic and tedious, right up until her path crossed with the Lawtons. The Lawton family was infamous around this small town in central Texas. The patri- arch had left a legacy of corruption and crime, all while wearing a badge and pretending to serve and protect. Not too long ago it was revealed that Conrad Lawton had been a philanderer, on top of his other misdeeds, when it came out that he was being blackmailed by his mistress to keep their daughter’s existence quiet. After the mistress passed away, her daughter—who turned out to be Dr. Baskin— found out about her father, the blackmail, and the fact that she suddenly had a whole new family living a few miles away in Loveless. Presley Baskin’s life had been boring, boring, and more boring up until a few months ago. Now she was all tangled up with the Lawtons’ constant chaos, and doing her best to hide out from a killer. The same killer who’d tried to run Kody down, and who had burned the Lawtons’ family home to the ground. The same killer who had once been Presley’s one and only friend. I’d heard about how scary the woman after Presley was from Kody, and through the gossip circulating around town. In fact, it was all anyone was talk- ing about for a while. Considering she had all of that going on, I expected her to put her favor to good use anytime now, but she’d yet to reach out to the club. We’d heard nothing from her since the night she saved my life, and I was getting impatient. “Are you sure this isn’t considered stalking?” Top’s sarcastic statement was issued with a slow southern drawl. We’d been sitting on our motorcycles outside of Presley’s apartment since the sun went down. The apartment complex was fairly small, and the parking lot remained mostly empty. It was quiet and dull, so the irritation threaded throughout that drawl was hard to miss. I cut a look at my VP and shrugged. “I consider it recon.” Top—or Simon Riggs, as he’d been known before start- ing up the Texas branch of the SoS alongside me—had been my right-hand man, my ride-or-die, and my second- in-command since our military days. We’d done our initial training together at Parris Island and had had each other’s backs ever since. “Consider it whatever you want. Lurking outside of a woman’s home is still a little bit creepy and totally out of character for you.” A Low Country native, his drawl was slower and deeper than the melodic Texan twang we were typically surrounded by. His voice often sounded soft, which was a total contradiction to the man himself. Top was ruth- less. The line between right and wrong tended to be very blurry where my VP was concerned, which made him a perfect balance to me and my typically black-and-white way of thinking. He could see the gray in dicey situations when I was color blind. He also knew me better than anyone else. So when he said it was out of character for me to be keeping tabs on the lady doctor who saved my life, he was absolutely right. I had enough on my plate, including tracking down the angry redneck who’d filled me full of holes in retaliation for taking his older brother out. There was no way I or the club could let the ambush go unanswered, but I’d been more focused on trying to figure out the woman who jumped in the middle of the club’s bloody business like it was nothing. “Why doesn’t she ever leave her apartment?” I asked with a frown. “Doesn’t she have a job to go to? Or friends and family to see?” The Lawtons were a tight bunch. One of the reasons I knew a relationship with Kody would never work was because of how close she was to her older brothers. Case Lawton was the town sheriff, and far from being my biggest fan. I’d nearly convinced myself I was in love with Kody a while back. It hurt when she broke things off, but it wasn’t unexpected. What was odd was the fact that I hadn’t seen any of the Lawtons, or anyone else for that matter, check on the good doctor any of the times I’d lurked outside her building. There was more to the story than I’d gotten secondhand, and I wanted to fill in the blanks. Top sighed heavily and lifted a hand to stroke his beard. We were the same age, both of us pushing forty, but he’d gone gray before I had. His beard and dark hair were both liberally peppered with white and silver strands, whereas mine was still solid midnight and thick enough that it was a pain in the ass when it got long. Considering the hard and rough way we lived, it was almost a miracle neither of us was sporting a snowy-white head of hair. “Didn’t you say she has someone after her? Maybe she’s just lying low because she’s scared. Normal people don’t know what to do when their lives are in constant danger. She isn’t like you, buddy. She’s not even like Kody.” While it was true the two women looked startlingly alike, their overall demeanor and attitudes had nothing in common. I frowned and kept my eyes trained on the front door of her apartment. She’d opened it exactly once in all the days I’d been observing her, and that was for a pizza delivery guy. “If she’s in danger, shouldn’t the people who care about her have even more reason to make sure she’s okay?” I shook my head slightly. “I don’t get it.” Top swore softly and shifted on the seat of his motorcycle. “What you’re gonna get is arrested if someone reports us for loitering again. Last time Case showed up he told you point- blank he didn’t want you hanging around this apartment or the woman inside. The sheriff already has you in his sights. Stop trying to provoke him.” It was an old warning, one I’d learned to tune out. I wasn’t afraid of Case Lawton or the long arm of the law. I wasn’t afraid of anything, really, other than the unknown. Which was why I couldn’t stand waiting for the lady doctor to make her mind up about how the club could pay her back. Top shifted on his bike again, his impatience evident. I was getting ready to tell him to leave; after all, we still were trying to track down Jed Coleman, the guy who’d nearly killed me. I thought that Jed was still locked up, so I’d dropped the ball when it came to watching my back and taking precautions. I had no clue he’d been released early on a technicality. I also had no idea he had figured out I was the one who took out his older brother, Jethro. Jed had spent his time in prison plotting to avenge his older brother. He’d nearly succeeded, but now it was our turn to seek out justice . . . we just had to find the man first. However, my train of thought completely faded away when the door to that silent, seemingly lonely apartment suddenly opened and a woman walked out. She was on the tall side, and her long legs were encased in tight jeans. She was wearing an oversized hoodie although the temps in Texas were outrageously high, even at night. She also had on a dark baseball hat and a pair of giant dark sunglasses, as if those two things would make her less conspicuous rather than making her stand out like a sore thumb. Her head rotated as she scanned the parking lot of the apartment complex. She noticeably halted when she caught sight of the out-of-the-way spot where Top and I had been parked for the last couple of hours. I cocked my head to the side and lifted my eyebrows as the woman visibly pulled herself together and psyched herself up before taking a few tentative steps in the direction of the stairs. Top also straightened and muttered, “What in the hell?” Both of us watched in surprise as the leggy redhead prac- tically marched across the parking lot toward us. She stopped directly in front of my bike, anxiety radiating off every line of her lean body. She was incredibly pale, and I could tell she was shaking under the bulky weight of the hoodie. However, I was begrudgingly impressed with her moxie to face off against us when she was obviously terrified. She didn’t say anything for a long moment, eventually squeaking out, “Can you please leave?” Not one to take to being told what to do in any circum- stance, which was probably why he’d been dishonorably discharged right after I was, Top growled, “It’s a free country, lady. We’ll go when we’re ready to go.” The pretty doctor practically jumped out of her skin. She lifted a trembling hand to her throat and tilted her head downward so I knew she was looking at the ground instead of either of us. “I know that Kody is worried about me and I appreciate her concern, but I’ve asked her, and now I’m telling you, I’ll be fine. I don’t need anyone looking out for me. It’s better if everyone just lets me handle Ashby on my own. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt because of me.” She took off her sun- glasses and I could see she was fighting back tears in those bright green eyes. She pointed the glasses in my direction and muttered, “You barely survived your last run-in with a lunatic. Why would you risk another one?” I was confused as hell as to what she was saying. But it was obvious she believed the reason I’d been hanging around her place was because of Kody. “I have no idea who or what an Ashby is, or why you need to handle her. I also wouldn’t be hanging out in this heat as a favor to Kody, or anyone for that matter. I’m not that nice of a guy.” I smirked at her and leaned forward on the bike. “Whatever I risk or don’t risk is up to me, no one else. If I get hurt, that’s on me, not you.” I couldn’t help but find my- self becoming more and more curious about this complicated and confusing woman. The way she spoke to me was an odd mix of overly confident and completely clueless. She looked familiar, but the way she approached me was completely foreign. She was afraid. But not of me, which was entirely foolish on her part. She shook her head and almost seemed to shrink in on herself. “I don’t know why you’ve been lurking around lately, but I’m sincerely asking you to stop. It’s drawing unnecessary attention and it might be keeping away the person I’m trying to lure out into the open.” She dropped her gaze and her hands curled into tight fists. “I want my life back. I won’t accomplish that goal if Ashby doesn’t come out of hiding.” “Ashby the one gunning for you? Is she the one you’re worried will hurt someone else because of you?” The typi- cally straightforward way Top blurted out the question made the woman flinch. Presley took a minute to answer, clearly trying to pick her words with care. “Everyone assumes she went on the run since her plan fell apart, but I was best friends with her for most of my life. I know this isn’t the end of things. She failed in framing me for murder, and she threatened to kill me and everyone I care about. Until I draw her out into the open, everything in my life is in limbo. I need you to back off so she will show herself. I left protective custody for the exact same reason.” I stared at the woman and tapped my fingers on the gas tank of the bike. “You want us gone?” She nodded vigorously. “I do. I would be very grateful if you left and didn’t return.” Not an uncommon reaction to having a bunch of bikers loitering around, in all honesty. My expression shifted into a full-blown smile when I realized I could leverage her request into clearing myself and the club from owing her any further. “I do owe you a solid. It can be anything, no questions asked, and no limitations. Are you telling me you want to use your one and only favor from the Sons of Sorrow, to get us to leave you alone?” Clearing the slate was going to be much easier than I thought. I was gonna kick my own ass for not approaching her sooner. The lady doctor started to enthusiastically agree. She was opening her mouth to accept the bargain when a window on the late model car I was parked next to suddenly exploded in a shower of glass. A loud pop filled the air and Top yelled, “Gun!” at the same time he dove for cover. Another window shattered, and I moved without thinking and with years of training and instinct guiding me. I grabbed the doctor by the wrist and pulled her to the ground. Immediately covering her smaller frame with my own, I inched us closer to the car, hoping I could use the front end as cover, while Top pulled out his own weapon and returned fire. I could feel the woman underneath me quivering in fear, but she stayed still and silent, her hands curled around the leather of my cut. It wasn’t totally uncommon that I had to dodge bullets, but this was the first time I wasn’t sure who the target was, me . . . or her.

About the Author:

Jay Crownover is the International and multiple New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Marked Men Series, The Saints of Denver Series, and The Point and Breaking Point Series. Her books can be found translated in many different languages all around the world. She is a tattooed, crazy haired Colorado native who lives at the base of the Rockies with her awesome dogs. This is where she can frequently be found enjoying a cold beer and Taco Tuesdays. Jay is a self-declared music snob and outspoken book lover who is always looking for her next adventure, between the pages and on the road.

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