WILDCAT by Rie Warren
Catarina “Wildcat” Steele POV. Scene from Chapter Seventeen, Stone, At Your Service. First run-in with Nicky Love at Stone’s Garage.
I liked Ray. I liked him a lot. He was sort of a cuddly teddy bear with his unruly blond hair. In fact he reminded me of a soft toy I’d lugged around everywhere when I was three-four-five years old. I’d dragged it through grass and mud and dirt, but my mom had always washed Teddy so I could cuddle with him at night.
Those times of innocence were long gone.
The summer nights in my childhood home when I’d left the windows open to the salt marsh South Carolina breeze, the easy days of being free, a little bit wild, the only girl—and tomboy—of the Steele family—those days were nothing more than memories now.
I was the reason it had all ended.
“Hey, girl.” Ray scratched at his nose above the thick whiskers of his mustache. “Got a couple more orders for customers to go. You with me?”
“Absolutely.” I leaned over the auto parts book beside him, willing myself to focus.
It was a daily struggle, staying on the straight and narrow path. I managed my life through sheer willpower alone. There was no room for bad decisions or deviations. That was my fault, too.
The Stone’s Garage account was new to my and my brothers’ Chrome and Steele business venture, but I knew how to handle Josh Stone and his mechanics. I’d been around men my whole life—the rough, the rowdy, the louder the better. I always thought the more macho the man, the bigger the heart he was hiding inside.
I hadn’t been proved wrong yet.
Like Stone’s mechanics, my big bad brothers—huge MC dudes—were nothing but pussycats underneath. That went for all the Presidents of Retribution members, from the latest probie to the oldest patch.
The MC was my family now.
They just didn’t understand I was a grown ass woman and fully capable of taking caring of myself nine times out of ten.
As I tapped on my tablet and completed Ray’s order, the roar of an engine dragged my attention to the parking lot outside the window. The Jeep making the ruckus was old school, on raised tires, and covered in mud from bumper to bumper.
Josh Stone ambled over. His arm was wrapped around the waist of a curvy, red-haired woman.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Leelee Songchild. Boss’s lady love. Reunited, and it feels so good.”
A smile peeked around my lips. “Why’s that?”
“He’s been one ornery sumbitch since he and Nicky returned from their stint in Atlanta in May. He didn’t take too kindly to losin’ his woman,” Ray drawled.
“So, is Leelee staying?”
“Why? You interested in Josh?”
I snorted. The Hell No. “Yeah. No.”
Sure Josh was athletic model sexy with a rough side and a warm heart, but it was clear he was one hundred percent taken. I’d never had designs on him anyway.
“He’s not my type,” I added.
“Oh, and I can’t wait to tell him that.” Ray chuckled.
“Make sure you get him to sign the check first.” I winked.
Then the guy from the Jeep jumped out.
Oh, hell yes.
I stared at the man until my eyeballs felt dry. Then I lifted up my ever-present sunglass and stared some more. Talk about my type to a T. A tight fitting black t-shirt, to be exact, on a long muscled torso.
I didn’t need to ask the name of the hunk. I immediately realized the Nicky Ray had mentioned wasn’t a woman. Not at all. That there was Nicky Love. From a distance, he looked rugged. His hair was loose, and the dark brown waves that fell to his shoulders flicked a little in the wind. His broad shoulders narrowed to a trim waist and—when he turned around—a nice-looking ass. He had the most desirable V-shape going on, and any woman with a heartbeat would want a piece of that.
I knew what he looked like close-up, too. On his book jackets he was mouth-watering yummy. Yes, yummy. There was no other way to describe such sexy looks—the unusual pale purple eyes, his sensual lips, the shadow of stubble on the strong jaw, and a very naughty grin that probably compelled women all across the world to buy his books.
Jesus, he nearly compelled my feet to walk right out the door so I could get a closer look in person. He stood with one arm propped against the trailer behind his Jeep, talking animatedly to Josh and Leelee. When he motioned toward the garage, I fought the urge to duck down. If I ducked I’d lose sight of him.
“Ohmyfuckingchrist,” Ray growled in one long syllable. “Not you, too.”
I tore my gaze from the man who’d somehow turned my cool-as-they-come nerves into a pile of mush within a matter of minutes. “Huh?”
“My old woman Bev makes those same gooey eyes at him.” He made a gagging noise. “It’s just Nicky Love. The same boy who worked right here alongside Josh since their high school days.”
I knew full well who Nicky Love was. (1) He was one of my favorite paranormal romance authors. (2) He was a confirmed skirt-chaser. (3) Worse, he was sexy as hell.
It was a wonder we’d never run into each other before. Mt. Pleasant wasn’t that big no matter how many out-of-staters moved in. The old families still lived on the same land they’d grown up on: The Stones, the Steeles, Gerald and his Gullah kin . . .
I turned my attention back to Nicky, and Ray muffled another curse that made me smile. I knew quite a bit about Nicky, but I’d never taken him for a motorcycle man. Yet, if I wasn’t mistaken, the hulk of motorcycle parts on the trailer he hauled was none other than a vintage Indian Chief. The bike was a classic. It was one more thing that made Nicky Love incredibly attractive. Not that I was a bike whore. I didn’t need to be. I had my own Harley.
“Yep. I can see we’re done here,” Ray said. He prodded me forward, and opened the door for me.
We stepped outside, going from the cool air-conditioned interior to the blazing parking lot.
As soon as the door jingled, Nicky Love’s head swung in our direction. His gaze locked on me and stayed there.
I focused on Ray, not the man who checked me out from head to toe and back again.
We took a last look at the parts order, and I checked off a couple extra details. I was just putting the books and tablet in my bag when Ray muttered, “Trouble. Headed this way.”
Oh dear Lord.
I tried to calm my speeding pulse. This was ridiculous. I slid my sunglasses back on and yanked down on the cuffs of my long-sleeved cotton shirt. My hair was pulled back tight, my pants and blouse pristine, and I made sure I showed no emotion as Nicky loped toward us.
I couldn’t let my shell crack, not for anyone. Especially not a man who wrote a lot of smoking hot sex scenes and looked like smoking hot sex on legs.
Nicky stopped right in front of me. “Ray.” He nodded at the man beside me, but his beautiful violet-colored gaze never left me.
It was unnerving to be the sole object of his attention.
“Hey, man. What the crap is that eyesore you’re haulin’ around behind your Jeep?” Ray pumped Nicky’s hand and slapped him on the back.
“You know, you sound more and more like Josh every day. I think those were his words verbatim. And I’ll tell you what I told him, you’re a philistine.”
I interrupted their squabbling, “If I’m not mistaken that’s an Indian Chief.” I sent a small smile to Nicky. “Or it will be, one day.”
His deep laugh did something warm and wonderful to me. I wanted to join in with him.
“I don’t believe we’ve met. Nick Loveland.” He held out his hand.
So that was how he was going to play it. Not the bestselling novelist but the downhome good old boy.
Great. And I could pretend I was completely unaffected by him. He stood so close fine hairs raised on the back of my neck. His heat was fiercer than the June sun. If he wasn’t wearing cologne, he should just bottle his natural scent—spice, leather, and man—and make another million bucks.
“Catarina Steele.” I slid my hand into his. The warm curling sensation from his laugh magnified with his touch.
“Pleasure to meet you.”
Pulling my hand free, I said, “Likewise.”
With a barely perceptible nod, he dismissed Ray. My teddy bear safety net strode away.
“You know bikes?” Nicky asked.
“Only like the back of my hand.” Which he was going to feel across his face if he didn’t step off so I could regain my composure.
I took comfort in my slacks and my buttoned up shirt and my superior glare as I made sure not a single crack showed. My sunglasses hid any otherwise visible emotions.
“Hmm,” he hummed, stepping even closer. “And you’re co-owner of Chrome and Steele?”
Because of his proximity, I had to tilt my head to see his face. I was fairly tall. He was a hell of a lot taller. The breadth of his chest and shoulders, the sexy at-ease stance threatened to disarm me.
“Yes.” I willed my voice to remain steady as I stood my ground.
“Maybe you could hook me up?” His lips curved just the right amount to invite a kiss.
“I assume you mean professionally.” Because it sure sounded like some variation of hook up with me.
Nicky leaned so close his hair brushed my cheek. “Wouldn’t mind bein’ a little unprofessional with you.”
A loose tendril of my hair blew across my face.
He reached to tuck it away, murmuring, “Whaddya say, Wildcat?”
That was when I reeled back and smacked him across the face so hard my hand imprint colored his cheek immediately. If I hadn’t lashed out, I would’ve latched onto him and dragged him to my lips.
“I’m nobody’s Wildcat,” I hissed.
Before he could tempt me anymore—or I landed a slap on his other cheek—I pivoted away. I tossed my bag into my car, climbed in, and slammed the door. The dark black tinted windows all but hid me from view, but they didn’t hide Nicky Love.
He kept watching with a wide grin on his face.
I jammed on the gas to get away from him.
Danger? Nicky Love was way more than danger. He was sexy, arrogant, sexy, probably sinfully delicious, and he posed a huge threat to my very contained, very controlled life.
I couldn’t let him anywhere near me. I’d fought too hard to get where I was.
Before I pulled out onto 17 North, I checked my rearview mirror. He was still rubbing his jaw and staring after me, with that grin on his lips.