Authors: Megan O'Brien
THE RIDE SERIES
Axel, The Ride Series
Copyright © 2015 Megan O’Brien
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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Edited by Hot Tree Editing
eBook formatting by Maureen Cutajar
To my family for being…everything.
To Mande, Mariah and Becky, thank you for reading my rough drafts, somewhat done drafts and the drafts that are in-between. You rock.
To my readers, you are all so amazing! Thank you for loving these characters as I love them, and in some instances, maybe more! I love being on this ride with you. XO
Finally, to all those I’ve encountered along the way who have been so supportive of my love for writing romance – even those who don’t read the genre! The support has been overwhelming, humbling and just plain cool.
he sun’s rays beat down on my skin in an unforgiving onslaught as I lay by the lake watching birds circle in the sky. It was close to summer in Nevada and though the heat was nothing like my native New York, it could still be oppressive. The heat was drier here though, not as humid and I was thankful for small mercies.
I could almost drift off, listening to the soft lapping of the water on the shore, the birds calling and the muted conversation all around me.
Freezing water dropping onto my bare belly broke me away from my reverie as I shrieked, sitting up in surprise.
“Just making sure you’re awake, sis,” Wes chuckled as his wife, Connie, socked him in the side.
“Happy now?” I asked with a raised brow, sitting up with a huff. Wes loved to tease me. Though I was Sal’s little sister, he frequently treated me as an older brother would.
“Thrilled,” he winked, throwing a muscled arm over Connie and kissing her temple.
I rose with a sigh, stretching my arms overhead and eyed the glistening lake and mountains beyond. Since Wes had so kindly introduced me to the temperature of the water, I might as well go in.
I ditched the jean shorts I’d been wearing over my bathing suit and headed to the water’s edge. It felt cool but refreshing against the heat of the day and I wandered in to waist height before finally feeling brave enough to submerge entirely. I floated on my back for a short while, embracing the silence as my ears fell beneath the surface of the water. It made me want to tune everything out, to feel the abyss underneath. I took a deep, fortifying breath and dove under, relishing the burn in my lungs and the booming silence below.
There never seemed to be enough air for me on the surface anyway.
I forced myself to stay under, my lungs screaming in protest as my long hair fanned out around me.
Before I’d even fully embraced the quiet, I was aware of a disturbance in the water. Then firm hands gripped my arms, pulling me roughly to the surface.
I sputtered and took a few deep breaths before meeting the blazing grey eyes before me.
No matter how much time I’d spent around him, he still made my heart sputter like an old motor before it revved to life, ready for flight.
“What the fuck are you doin’?” he demanded harshly.
“Uh, swimming?” I answered. Axel always put me in a state of confusion, no matter the occasion.
“Swimming typically involves your head above water,” he fumed, his hands still gripping my arms.
“Yeah, well, I was trying something new,” I retorted, still gasping a bit for breath.
The truth was, I didn’t know what I’d been doing other than trying to escape my thoughts for a little while.
“Yeah, well, try something new out of the water then,” he grumbled, pulling me with him to the pebbled shore.
I didn’t answer him but followed dutifully, plopping on a towel and glaring briefly at my persistent savior.
He towered over me, his muscled frame glistening with moisture as his chest heaved from the exertion of his unnecessary rescue.
Connie sat down quietly beside me, her warm shoulder bumping mine in silent support. “What were you doing out there?” she asked quietly.
“Nothing.” I shrugged, staring out at the water beyond.
“Didn’t look like nothing,” she murmured.
They all wanted me to talk. Desperately. Sal had demanded it time and time again. I knew they were all braced, as though I was a shoe waiting to drop.
My brother, technically half-brother, was part of a motorcycle club, something I’d known nothing about until I’d shown up on his doorstep. I’d since been thrust into their world, which I had to admit, most of the time was pretty sweet if not a bit overbearing. I’d grown fond of them all in a way I could have never anticipated. In getting to know my brother and loving him, I’d found that I loved the Knights and their women as well.
“I’m fine,” I reiterated quietly.
“Okay, sweetie.” She slung her arm around my shoulders, squeezing me briefly before letting me go.
Ettie, Mack’s fiancée, came to sit next to me. They’d just become engaged a few days ago.
“Earth to Sophie,” I heard her laugh a moment later.
“Hmm?” I asked distractedly as I sat transfixed, watching Axel dry off. As the towel moved over every ridge of his six-pack and the broad plane of his chest, I’d never wanted to be a piece of fabric so badly in my life. The man was drool-worthy.
She nudged me with a small laugh. “See something you like?”
She had no idea just how much.
My cheeks flared as I forced my eyes away from him. “What were you saying?” I asked dreamily.
She rolled her eyes. “I was saying, I wonder if Sal and Kat are having a good time.”
My brother and his fiancée, Kat, had gone to Spain a few weeks ago. They’d be back in just over a week.
“I’m sure,” I nodded, my eyes turning back to Axel, watching as he threw a shirt on over his head. Clearly, he was getting ready to leave. I’d hoped to talk to him today, but it never seemed like a good time. Yet another day where things were clear as mud when it came to him.
Our relationship was so confusing, full of mixed signals and tension. It was also laced with a longing so intense, it was nearly tangible. I liked to believe that ran both ways.
He shot me a troubled look as though torn, before he reluctantly swung a leg over his bike and threw a two-fingered salute to Wes.
“He’s an idiot,” Connie put in.
“We both are,” I muttered, watching as her brows knit at my comment.
Later that evening, I was just getting out of the shower when my buzzer rang. I was still staying in Kat’s old apartment until I came up with another plan. “Hello?” I inquired, confused since I didn’t expect anyone and was always on edge these days.
“It’s me, Soph,” Axel’s gruff voice replied. “Let me up.”
My heart stuttered in my chest as it always did when it came to him as I pushed the button, letting him up.
I pressed a nervous hand to my chest, cinching my robe tighter. When he knocked on my door, I forced myself to appear calm, outwardly at least, and opened the door to him.
He stepped inside; his large body making the space feel smaller and a good deal warmer as he dropped a pizza and a six-pack of beer on the counter.
“You brought dinner?” I asked with a raised brow.
He shrugged. “I thought you might be hungry.”
I was in fact starving.
I peeked underneath the cardboard cover only to find he’d ordered my favorite. Hawaiian, yum.
“How’d you get home?” he asked, his muscular arms crossed over his broad chest.
His accusatory tone rankled me. He certainly hadn’t offered to drive me home.
“What is this? The third degree? Can I at least put some clothes on?” I demanded.
He bit back a smile and nodded.
I huffed, moving toward my dresser, pulling out my sleep shorts and a tee, closing the bathroom door behind me to change.
I regarded myself in the mirror briefly. My cheeks held a crimson hue and my large brown eyes were alight with the familiar spark I’d never seen before this brawny man entered my life.
When I re-emerged, he’d made himself comfortable on the sofa, his motorcycle boots propped on the coffee table and beer in hand.
“Comfy?” I teased, grabbing a beer for myself.
His brows rose. “Do I look like a man who’d use the word ‘comfy’?” he demanded.
I bit my lip trying not to laugh and shook my head, attempting to look remorseful for my use of such an apparently effeminate term. I practically snorted with my effort not to laugh.
“Jesus,” he grumbled, trying to look put out, though his eyes twinkled with amusement.
“Why are you here?” I asked, dishing us up some pizza and coming to sit next to him on the sofa.
He shrugged. “Wanted to hang with you.” He reached out for his plate, taking a big bite of the best pizza in town.
My cheeks warmed at his admission as I nodded, thrilled he wanted to spend time with me. The feeling was definitely mutual.
I cocked my head toward the TV Kat had so generously left behind. “Vikings again?” I asked, referring to the series we’d watched a few times together.
“Yeah,” he agreed, his mouth full of food.
We’d been watching the show for nearly an hour; the sun had dipped low in the sky and I felt sleepy. Our plates had long since been discarded and my legs were pulled up underneath me as I lay on the opposite arm of the couch from where he was sprawled out.
As always, the energy in the room felt charged, at least for me. He was so close, this larger than life, beautiful man, just out of reach.
He seemed absorbed with the show, legs crossed at the ankle on the coffee table, hand resting on his abs. He never seemed as affected by being close to me as I was to him.
My heart pounded as I worked up the courage to talk to him – to finally divulge the secret I’d held so closely. The secret that would change everything.
“Listen, Ax,” I began, my heart hammering so hard it was nearly painful.
His eyes turned toward me expectantly.
“There’s something I need to talk to you about.” I licked my lips nervously.
The shrill ring of my phone began in the background but I ignored it, intent on the task at hand.
“Soph?” he prodded.
My phone rang again and I huffed in exasperation, rising to silence it.
I saw the familiar number flashing across the screen and was compelled to answer. I watched Axel wordlessly, memorizing the plane of his face, the color of his eyes, and the shape of his lips as I delivered the one-word answers that were required of me in a rushed whisper. It was only a five-minute conversation, despite it changing the course of my life.
I knew what I had to do.
I was on the next bus out of Hawthorne that very night.
Thirteen Months Later
hat order you’ve been waitin’ on is up,” Stacy, a fellow waitress, mentioned in passing as she snapped her gum.
“Thanks,” I murmured, relieved. Table 12 had been giving me trouble since they sat down and it hadn’t helped that their food had taken longer than usual.
Giovanni’s was a popular little Italian place downtown with good food and a quiet atmosphere. I was lucky they’d given me the chance to waitress since I’d had no experience when I started.
“Do y’all need anything else?” I asked after I’d put the steaming plates down in front of four impatient gentlemen. The “y’all” had emerged somewhere in the last few months and I was rolling with it.
“Your phone number for starters,” one of them returned without pause.
I fought the urge to roll my eyes.
A sing-song voice called out, “She’s taken, honey.” Dwayne swept in to rescue me as he gave me a wink and sashayed on down to pick up his own order.