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Ride Wild

By:Laura Kaye

Ride Wild
Laura Kaye

       Chapter 1




It was their normal routine, and it was awkward as crap.

Cora Campbell bit back a smile as she sat in the passenger seat of the  beat-up pickup truck. She didn't think Sam Evans, her boss-of-sorts,  would appreciate her humor. Or, like, any humor. He filled the driver's  seat beside her, his big hands on the wheel and black tattoos snaking  all down his lean, muscled arms. From the corner of her eye, she sneaked  a glance at his face, and one word came to mind.

Wild.

Longish wild brown hair, like he couldn't keep from raking at it in  frustration. Wild brown beard that Cora sometimes imagined chopping off  just so she could better see the face it seemed like he purposefully hid  beneath it. Pale green eyes, mesmerizing in their uniqueness, but also  wild with emotions at which she could only guess . . .

"So, um, Slider," she said, her use of the nickname his motorcycle club  had given him slicing through the uneasy silence, "anything special I  need to know about Sam and Ben for tonight?"

That pale gaze slashed her way, and she felt the chill of it into her  bones. Slider didn't scare her-he was too good to his boys for that. But  it was entirely possible that his glances appeared in the dictionary  next to Intimidating as Fuck. And maybe even If Looks Could Kill. And  definitely Like, Whoa. It was a good thing he paid her so well to  babysit his sons. In truth, he was doing her a pretty big favor giving  her a part-time job while she figured out her life, so she put up with  his . . . moodiness.

He huffed out a breath, as if mustering the energy to reply sucked vital  life force from his soul or something. "Sam has homework he wants your  help with," he said, his tone almost apologetic. "And Ben . . . is Ben."

Cora nodded. Having babysat the kids four or five days a week for the  past three months, she had a decent idea what Slider meant. At six, Ben  was a sweetheart of a boy, but nightmares and monsters under the bed  gave him more than a little difficulty sleeping. "Okay."

They came upon the two-story white farmhouse where Slider lived and Cora  sometimes worked. Empty, overgrown flower beds. A misshapen wreath on  the door, so bleached from the sun Cora could no longer tell what color  it'd originally been. Shutters hanging at odd angles from years of  neglect. The house had an abandoned, decaying feel about it, and Cora  didn't really have to wonder why that was.

Slider hadn't even parked when the front door exploded open, the creaky  screen door wobbling like it might just give up and fall off its hinges.  A little boy darted out next to the gravel driveway, hopping excitedly  as if the grass hid a trampoline. Except for the lighter brown hair and  happiness shaping his face, there was no denying Ben was Slider's kid.

Cora stepped out of the truck into the warm early September evening wearing a smile. "Hey, jumping bean."

"Name's Ben, not Bean," he said, his grin all the cuter for the big gap where his front teeth should've been.

"You sure? I could've sworn it was Bean." She hugged him as he threw his  arms around her waist. Where Slider was a walking, talking wall that  kept all his emotions barricaded, his younger son wore every single  emotion on his sleeve.

"No." He laughed. "It's Ben!"

"Okay, Bean." Hiking up the backpack that served as an overnight bag,  she glanced at Slider and found him watching her through narrowed eyes,  like maybe she was a foreign language he couldn't decipher. Tall and  broad-shouldered, he had a ranginess about him that, like the house,  spoke of neglect. She'd seen him sit with the kids at meals, sometimes  even with a plate of food in front of him. But it was possible she'd  eaten more watching movies in bed with her friends Haven and Alexa last  weekend than she'd seen Slider eat in the past three months combined.

The youngest Evans let loose a long-suffering groan. "No, Cora, it's  Ben," he said, pronouncing her name more like Coowa. It was so cute it  almost killed her.

"Finally, you're here," Sam called from the front door. At ten going on  eleven going on thirty-five, the kid was the definition of an old soul.  It was in his eyes, the seriousness of his personality, the way he took  care of his little brother, as if, without being asked, he was trying to  relieve some of the burden of being a single parent from his father's  shoulders.

"I am, in fact, here. Now the party can begin," Cora said, ruffling the  older boy's hair as she stepped into the neat but shabby living room.  Sam tried to hold back his smile as he dodged her hand, but didn't quite  manage.

"Wait. We're having a party?" Ben asked as she dropped her bag on the couch.                       
       
           



       

Sam rolled his eyes. "No, doofus, it's an expression."

Ben's shoulders fell, and now Cora was the one holding back a smile. "If  two certain someones I know take their showers without any complaints,  maybe, just maybe, we can have a party." The littler boy's grin was  immediate, but what really caught her attention was the way that Sam's  attention perked up, even though he tried to hide it. "Deal?" she asked.

Just as both boys agreed, Slider cleared his throat.

Cora turned to find him shrugging into his button-up uniform shirt with  its Frederick Auto Body and Repair logo, the movement causing his  T-shirt to ride up his side. Just a momentary glance. Just of one small  part of his body. But it revealed two things that stole her breath-more  ink, and a frame that was all raw muscle and sinew.

Like a wild animal.

The comparison should've been alarming, but for some reason, that wasn't  how her body interpreted it if the flutter in her belly was any  indication. Never in a million years would she have described Slider as  attractive, but there was something unquestionably attracting about him,  even if she couldn't quite articulate what that was.

"Leaving?" she managed.

He nodded. "On seven to seven," he said. "You have my cell."

"We'll be fine," she said, bracing her hands on Ben's shoulders. "Won't  we?" she asked, hugging him against her as she peered down into his  little face.

"Yeah," he said. "Don't worry, Dad."

Slider gave a single nod as his gaze skated between Cora and his sons. "See ya later, alligators."

Sam rolled his eyes, but Ben grinned and said, "After while, crocodile."

Slider winked at his youngest. Just a single little wink. But, together  with the way he said good-bye to the kids every time he left, it proved  to Cora that there was a sweet, playful man in there somewhere. Or at  least there used to be.

Either way, it was clear that what Slider had left of himself to give,  he gave to his boys. And given what a miserable piece of crap both her  dad and her best friend's father had been, Cora knew how much having a  good father mattered. It mattered a lot. She had to respect that much  about Slider, whatever else his faults might be.

The door had barely closed behind her boss when Ben whirled on her. "Is it time for the party yet?"

"No," Sam said, looking a little nervous. "I, uh, I have homework first."

"Later, kiddo. I promise. Why don't you watch some TV while I get dinner  on?" When Ben made for the family room at the back of the house, Cora  eyeballed Sam. "Your dad said you wanted help. That right?"

"Yeah." He shifted feet, like something about wanting her help made him uncomfortable.

"Okay, well, why don't you work at the table while I make us some food?"  she suggested, leading them into the kitchen, where the neat but shabby  theme continued. "How's pasta sound?"

Sam shrugged as he slid into a seat and slapped a worn-out backpack onto  the table, appearing every inch like a prisoner being led to the  gallows.

"What's up with you?" Cora asked as she crumbled ground beef into a  frying pan to brown. Next, she filled a big pot of water to boil.

He sighed. "I have to do an interview."

Frowning, she pulled a jar of sauce and a box of noodles from the  pantry. She was going to need to ask Slider to grab some groceries soon,  a chore that would be so much easier if she had a car of her own. As  would getting back and forth to watch the boys. Cora sighed. Just one  more thing to add to her list of stuff she really needed to make happen  in her life. "Of?"

"Someone I admire." He stared at the page in his hand.

Wiping her hands on a towel, she turned to him. "Okay, and did you have someone in mind?"

He looked up at her. And even though he didn't say a word, his eyes held the answer.

Suddenly, Cora was the uncomfortable one, which had her rambling. "Um,  maybe, like Doc? Or Bunny? Or even Dare?" The Raven Riders Motorcycle  Club's founder; the founder's sister, who'd escaped an abusive marriage  and recently survived an attack on the club; and the club's current  president all seemed like good choices to Cora. Much better than . . .  the person Sam was currently staring at.

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