Author: Kate Ruggles
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of publication: May 2016
In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder…
As a Motorcycle Club member and firefighter, Ian Walsh is used to riding the line between the good guys and the bad. He may owe the Club his life, but his heart rests with his fire station brothers…and with the girl he’s loved since they were kids, Rory Sorenson. Ian would do anything for Rory. He’d die for her. Kill for her. Defend her to his last breath—and he may just have to.
Every con in the Rockies knows Rory is the go-to girl for less-than-legal firearms, and for the past few years, she’s managed to keep the peace between dangerous factions by remaining strictly neutral. But when she defends herself against a brutal attack, Rory finds herself catapulted into the center of a Motorcycle Club war—with only Ian standing between her and a threat greater than either of them could have imagined.
“That’s my room.” With a tip of her head, she indicated another closed door and then tried to hurry past it. Her efforts were for naught. Ian gave her a wicked grin and reached for the knob.
“Wait!” she said, moving to block his entrance, but it was too late.
He stepped into her room and stared. When he was quiet for a long moment, she closed her eyes, dreading his reaction.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much pink in one place. It’s like falling into a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.”
“Okay.” By the heat in her cheeks, she knew her face was pinker than her bedroom. “You’ve seen it. Let’s move on.”
Ignoring her efforts to shoo him out of her room, Ian took another couple of steps away from the door. He eyed the pink walls, the pink and white bed, the white dresser with pink accents and, to top it all off, the fluffy pink bunny perched on top of the pile of pillows at the head of the bed. “I’m guessing you haven’t redecorated since you were…what? Eight?”
Her blush intensified. Dropping her gaze, she glanced around the room and then wished she hadn’t. It really was an extreme amount of pink.
Her eyes snapped back to his. “What?”
Leaning a shoulder against one of the four posts supporting the pink and white canopy, he watched her like a hawk would eye a chubby ground squirrel. “What’s the story?”
Rory knew she should shut him down and get them both back to the relative sanity of the living room. For some strange reason, though, her mouth opened, and the truth popped out. “I just decorated this room a couple of years ago.”
The corners of his mouth tucked in, as if he was holding back a smile. “When you were twenty-three, then? So not eight.”
“Not eight.” Her face was going to burst into flames if she blushed any more. Good thing she had a firefighter in her room.
“You…hmm, like pink, then?”
“Yes!” Her humiliation turned a corner and morphed into anger. “I love pink, okay? Do you know what color my room was when I was a kid?”
He shook his head, watching her in apparent fascination.
“Brown. And beige.” The words kept tumbling out, as if Ian had opened the door to an overfilled closet in her brain. “And do you know what color almost all of my clothes were?”
This time, he just raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Camouflage. Mossy oak and desert sand, to be precise, depending on the season and where we were going to run drills that day. I’m a grown woman, and I like pink. So shoot me.”
Ian scratched his nose. She couldn’t tell for sure, but Rory was fairly certain it was to hide his smile. When he lowered his hand, his face was completely serious. “That’s probably not something you want to say in a gun shop. Well, in the bunker beneath a gun shop.”
“What?” Confusion killed a good portion of her indignation, and she deflated a little.
“‘So shoot me.’ It’s probably not a good habit to use that particular phrase with all these guns around.” A smile was definitely trying to break free.
“Out.” She pointed toward the door. A full-on grin slipped across his face as he turned to leave. With a huff, she gave his shoulder a shove. It didn’t move him off balance in the slightest, but it did make her feel a tiny bit better.
He looked back at her, his expression growing serious. “It’s okay to like pink, you know.”
Her gaze dropped to the floor. She startled as his hand cradled her jaw, tilting her face so he could meet her eyes again.
“I mean it. Having a pink-loving, girly side doesn’t make you any less of a gun-toting, zombie-smiting badass.” His smile was so tender that her eyes began to burn. “And I like both sides—all sides of you, actually.”
Looking into his beautiful, earnest face…she almost believed him.
Pulling away before she did something crazy, like tell him she’d been crushing on him for years, she squeezed by him and rushed back into the living room. The monitor on the desk caught her attention.
Without waiting for him to respond, she sat in the desk chair and flipped the power button on the monitor. Ian leaned next to her, one hand on the back of her chair and one on the desk. Rory shifted in her seat. His position put him close enough to smell, a mix of leather and motor oil and wood-smoke and the clean, crisp scent of winter. All good things, but his scent made her too…aware. She started to rise.
“I’ll grab a chair for you,” she said, but her upward movement was halted by his hand on her shoulder.
“I’m fine.” He gently pressed her back into her seat.
“Okay,” she muttered, although she definitely wasn’t feeling okay with him hovering over her. Twitchy and too warm and off balance, yes. Okay, no.
Rory was happy for the distraction of checking the video. One by one, she scrolled through each camera’s footage of the evening, but nothing of interest caught her attention. The photobombing coyote managed to get captured by the south camera, trotting along the outside of the fence line.
It was a relief to find no sign of the intruder for the second night in a row. After finishing her scan of the last camera’s recording, she turned to Ian. His face was much too close to hers, and she jerked back to put some space between them.
“Um…” She couldn’t think when she was staring at his mouth. Quickly shifting her gaze to meet his brown eyes, she didn’t know if that view was any less distracting. Giving herself a mental shake, she forced her brain to concentrate on something besides the all-too-pretty Mr. Walsh. “I’ll check the pictures caught by the deer cameras tomorrow. It doesn’t look like there were any unwanted visitors while we were gone, though.”
“So…there’s probably no reason for you to stay here,” she said, her gaze darting toward the base of the stairs and back to Ian.
“Are you trying to kick me out?” he grumbled, although there was a note of amusement running through his words.
He laughed. “Won’t work. I’m staying. I don’t think this is over, and you shouldn’t be here by yourself.”
“I’m not.” Rory gestured toward Jack, who was stretched out on the rug, snoring softly. One back leg twitched, as if he were dreaming about chasing ground squirrels, and then he settled.
“As ferocious as he appears”—his mouth quirked a little—“a dog is too easy to…subdue.”
His careful word choice almost made it worse. She cleared her throat, shoving away the mental image of someone harming Jack in their effort to break in. “I’m not easy to subdue. I’m also very well armed.”
He grinned. “I know. I’m still staying.”
“Fine.” The word was almost a groan. It was late, and she was tired. Having Ian there had kept her adrenaline hopping, but that nervous edge was beginning to fade, along with the last of her energy. “I’ll dig out some blankets for you.”
Once the bedding was arranged on the couch, Ian eyed it. “You weren’t kidding about the camouflage.”
With a snort, she shook the mossy oak pillowcase in her hands so the pillow dropped in the rest of the way. “I was not.” She tossed the pillow to the end of the couch, which was draped in a mossy oak sheet and two matching blankets. “Once you’re tucked into bed, I won’t even be able to see you.”
He laughed. “Your love for pink is starting to make sense.”
“Yeah.” Clearing her throat, she concentrated on straightening the pillow. “That’s another thing to keep to yourself.”
When he stayed quiet, she looked at him. His teasing grin made her close her eyes, as if in pain.
“Ian,” she said through set teeth. “If you even whisper one word about what you saw in my bedroom, I will use each and every knife on that wall to cut you into teeny-tiny pieces and then feed you to the chickens. Understand?”
If her threat had intimidated him, his expression did not show it. In fact, she was pretty sure his smile had widened. “You’re kind of hot when you’re making very specific and graphic threats.”
She made a sound somewhere between a groan and a growl. “I’m going to bed.”
Stalking away from him, Rory went into her bedroom and slammed the door. Although the sound from the living room was muffled, she was pretty sure Ian was laughing.
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About Katie Ruggle:
When she’s not writing, Katie Ruggle rides horses, shoots guns, and travels to warm places where she can SCUBA dive. Graduating from the Police Academy, Katie received her ice-rescue certification and can attest that the reservoirs in the Colorado mountains really are that cold. While she still misses her off-grid, solar- and wind-powered house in the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Rochester, Minnesota near her family.