CHAPTER REVEAL!!! CHALLENGED...BY RYAN MICHELE
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Lust, love, and second chances.
Growing up in the fast-paced and rough life of a motorcycle club wasn’t easy. Cleaning up the mess his father had made of Vipers Creed meant sacrifice. Cade ‘Spook’ Baker had given up everything to bring the club life back to what it was supposed to be: a family.
The choices he made were not what he wanted, but they were necessary for the club as a whole.
Second chances rarely came to Spook, so when his Trixie walked boldly into his clubhouse, the decision was made. Trixie would once again be his, this time for good.
Trix Lamasters was raised by a master—a master con. All grown up, she made her life solid by making it about her club, Sirens. But one bad business decision brought her to her knees, forcing her to call on the one person she had sworn she would never trust again.
Pasts have a way of not staying there. Things that were buried deep have a way of finding themselves in the light of a new day. Could something that had once crashed and burned for Spook and Trixie find a way out of the wreckage? With the odds against them, can they find a way to overcome the challenges, or will it all blow up in their faces?
**Due to content, mature audiences only.**
Challenged (Vipers Creed MC#1) ©Ryan Michele 2016
My head filled with a cloudy, dense fog that I couldn’t shake. Even with my eyes open, a filmy haze covered them, making everything blurry. Voices were muffled, as if I were under water, sinking. I thought I recognized one, but couldn’t tell for sure.
Too hard to think.
I attempted to pull my arms up, but they were immediately halted by something. The hard, cold, heavy attachments clinked like metal. Even straining to move them, my muscles were so weak, so lethargic I couldn’t. I tried my legs, and the same thing happened.
A hard surface pressed against my back as the cool air of the room cascaded over my skin, my nipples, my stomach… Oh God, was I naked?
I opened my mouth, wanting to scream as deep panic set in. Unfortunately, nothing came out except air. Even that took more effort than I had in me.
Placing the pieces of the puzzle together, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of anything.
Heat at my side had me turning in that direction, only to see a fuzzy, black figure. I squinted then blinked, trying to get the focus to come back, but nothing. Not a damn thing.
“Hello, darlin’. Welcome to hell.”
A lump gathered in my throat settling like a rock, hard and brutal, sucking the wind out of me. My hand slightly twitched as I dialed the number I never in a million years thought I would call. I switched the phone to my other hand in an effort to shake out the trembling, because nervousness wasn’t an option. Trix Lamasters would not turn into some twit who couldn’t think straight over one phone call. Being a shrewd businesswoman, I’d learned from the best not to let shit get to me, how to compartmentalize things and deal.
I swallowed hard, moving the lump from my throat to settle into my gut like a boulder. As I focused, my breathing evened out. The thick steel in my spine could handle anything life threw at me, including this call. Including the man who would be on the other end of the line.
The green button stared back at me, my finger hovering over it. Then I pressed it and pulled the phone to my ear just as it started ringing.
One ring … two … three …
“What?” was barked through the phone line with a male’s voice tainted by harsh impatience.
“Can I talk to Cade? Shit.” I stopped myself. He wasn’t Cade anymore. I needed to remember that a lot had changed. “I mean, Spook. Is Spook around?”
“Hello?” I pulled the phone away from my ear, looking at the bright screen, making sure the call hadn’t dropped. Nope, the little numbers in the corner were still counting away. I pressed it back to my ear, waiting a few beats.
“Who wants to fucking know?” His tone turned gruffer, almost as if he were a protective watch dog of Cade’s, and nothing or no one got past him.
Watch dog or not, I wasn’t about to get eaten.
“This is Trix Lamasters. I need to speak to him.”
More silence, not even a breath or noise in the background.
His voice came over the line right as I intended to speak again. “Stop fucking saying hello. I’m here.”
Hell, maybe someone pissed in his Wheaties this morning, his attitude having nothing to do with me. Or maybe it was just him.
I slapped my hand to my forehead as the word dumbass rang in my mind.
“Sorry, I thought the call dropped.” Now I apologized to the rude man? Get a grip, Trix.
“What do you need with Spook?” The guard dog didn’t give me an inch. Nevertheless, he didn’t need to know my business.
I needed a diversion.
“Can you just get a message to him to call me?”
“Babe, either tell me what you need, or nothing fuckin’ gets to him.” His tone turned flat and resolute.
“Fuck,” I muttered then heard him chuckle. The damn man needed a bone before he played. Asshole. “An employee of mine has been seen at your clubhouse. I need to talk to her.”
“Call her,” he quipped.
“She doesn’t have a phone,” I retorted, feeling the fire burn in my veins.
“Not my problem,” the man sneered. From his attitude, I knew he would have no problem hanging up on me right now, never telling Cade I needed to talk to him. Good thing I dealt with assholes on a regular basis.
“Look, the bitch owes me money.” Anger raced through my body. I let it be heard through each clipped word.
He let out a deep laugh that was almost intriguing if he weren’t a jerk. “You may as well kiss that cash good-bye.”
My pride had other ideas.
“Fuck no. I want what’s owed to me.” I sighed, needing a different tactic. “Look, can you just give Spook my name?” He would either call or he wouldn’t, but maybe that would get the dog to want to nose around. Maybe curiosity would get him to spread my name at least.
“This is gonna be fun. Hang on.” The man must have covered the mouthpiece with his hand, because everything he said was muffled except for him calling Spook’s name. That, I could hear clearly. My adrenaline spiked at the thought of Cade coming on the line.
“Yeah?” a voice I recognized from my dreams said into the phone. The deep, raspy tenor had grown over time and slithered down my spine all the way to my knees, giving them a slight tremble. It took only one word to make my stomach flip.
Fuck, I knew this was a bad idea, but I wasn’t that girl anymore. He would not have power over me. I wouldn’t allow it.
I paced my small living room, needing the movement to get my knees back in line.
“Cade? It’s Trix Lamasters.”
“First, the name’s Spook. Second, who?”
That one kind of stung. All right, more than stung. It tore another hole in my already battered heart was more like it. The asshole didn’t even remember me, but what did I expect, being one in a sea of many? There was absolutely no reason I would have stood out to him.
“We went to school together,” I tried.
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling, hoping divine intervention would give me the gift of patience or a gun. Neither came.
“Whatever. I get you don’t remember me, but you have one of my employees there. I need to talk to her. She owes me money, and I need it back.”
“Trixie Lamasters.” I could hear the devilish grin as his words snaked over the phone. Not going to lie, my pussy quivered.
No one called me Trixie anymore, because once upon a time, he did and I had loved it. After he abruptly left my life, taking the one thing I could never get back, I refused to let anyone call me by that name. Never again would I allow the hollow feeling that name represented to seep through me. Now, hearing him after fifteen years, the vault of memories opened wide, something I did not want to happen. I didn’t want to feel, yet each recollection of the past bombarded my mind.
I paused mid-step as a flash of younger Cade hit me. Shaking my head clear, I continued to pace through my living room.
“Yeah, very long. Anyway, you have a woman there by the name of Nanette King. Can you hand her over to me?”
I wouldn’t let the smoothness of his voice draw me in like it had all those years ago, reducing me to a pile of teenaged mush. Strictly business, I told myself, because business I could handle.
“How do you know she’s here?”
“I had her followed, and it led to you.”
I guessed he didn’t like the fact that I had found her that way, judging from the muttered curses that followed. Each word made me smile. I had a payroll of people who worked for me now, and some little twit-fart would not run off with my money. That wasn’t how I operated my business.
Nanette had fallen off radar. Cade’s club happened to be the last place she was seen; therefore, I had to call him. I may as well have strapped zip-ties around my wrists, locking them in place.
“First, if she’s at the club, there’s a reason. Second, bitches here don’t go by their real names, so I don’t know if she’s around, because I don’t know a Nanette. Third, you come to the clubhouse, and we’ll talk.”
Business was business, but my heart spiked at the thought of seeing him again.
Cade’s club, Vipers Creed MC, had been in Dyersburg for years. Even before I came into this world, their presence had been well known. This town had tales, but these days, the Vipers were mostly known for Creed’s Automotive where they made custom bikes and cars in their own little world located on the outskirts of town.
I’d hoped to avoid a meeting since I couldn’t see any point to it. I wasn’t in the mood for a high school reunion. The past needed to stay there, locked up tight.
“I’ll describe her to you. Tell me if she’s there, and I’ll send someone over to get her,” I declared, trying to veer him from this path.
Negotiations were something I excelled at. There had to be an arrangement that suited us both, one we could manage over the phone. It would be the best course of action. The less contact I had with him, the better. I could have Ike, one of the bouncers at Sirens, pick her up. Win-win all around.
He chuckled, and my body went on alert because of the slyness in it.
“Babe, you don’t get how this works. You want something from me that I have, bring your ass here, and we’ll discuss it. Tomorrow night, seven.” Silence.
This time when I looked at the screen, the number fifty-seven blinked rapidly. He’d hung up on me.
“That arrogant piece of shit!” I growled, tossing my phone to the couch where it bounced on the cushion.
I should have known he’d still be a dick. Some things never changed. Guess I was going to meet up with Cade after all.
I completely ignored the slight tremor that thought caused.
During the entire drive, I berated myself for giving the money to Nanette in the first place. One stupid decision started this path, one I could have avoided if I’d stuck to my rules.
Nanette’s eyes were anxiously cast to the floor of my office as she rung her hands together absently.
When she didn’t talk, I prompted, “Speak.” It sounded like a command I would give a dog, but at times like these, when people wouldn’t get on with their shit, it was deserved. I had shit to do, and she obviously needed something.
“I need to borrow five thousand dollars,” she said in a surge.
I leaned back in the leather chair behind my desk, my brow raised as her eyes looked everywhere but at mine. Nervous? No, she was damn near petrified.
I waited out the quiet for her eyes to meet mine, the fear coming across loud and clear.
When they did, I asked, “For what?”
I wanted to hear her out, because if she had problems, I needed to know whether those problems would blow back onto Sirens. It was always about the business.
“The bank’s gonna foreclose on my house if I don’t come up with the money by Friday.” Her eyes filled with moisture.
While I wasn’t a cruel and heartless bitch, this wasn’t my problem. She was a grown adult and needed to handle her own problems, including money to pay her bills.
“No,” I answered firmly. “You can go now.”
Nanette’s face turned to dismay as my answer rolled around in that head of hers. Her skin paled, her nose twitched, and she swallowed hard, as if not to puke. She began to say words; only, they came out as sounds of mumbled breath as she lost her composure.
I held up my hand in an effort to stop her choking rambles. “Stop trying to talk. Listen. I’m not a bank; I’m not an ATM machine; I do not run cash advances. You need money, you work for it. That’s how the world goes round.”
“Please,” she started in a rush. “I’m taking care of my dad. He’s sick, and if I lose the house, I’ll have nowhere to make sure he’s okay.”
“Not my problem.” This was one of the reasons I closed myself off from the people around me, only letting a small few into my tight-knit circle. I had heard so many sob stories over the past five years running Sirens that not much penetrated the thick wall around me.
“Trix, I’ll pay you back every penny with interest. Please. You’re my last hope. My dad has lung cancer, and it’s progressing quickly. All my money goes to his treatments, and because of that, I got behind on the mortgage. I just need an advance on my checks. I’ll work extra shifts, and come in whenever you want.” Her words strung together like a melody, and fuck me, I felt her panic.
She continued, “He has no insurance, so I’m paying for everything out-of-pocket. It’s bleeding me dry. I don’t know what else to do.” Tears rolled down her face. Judging from her body language, which I had learned from the best how to hone in on, the bitch was telling the truth.
Fucking hell. I didn’t want to feel it. I tried to push it back. The businesswoman inside of me screamed, ‘No fucking way!’ while the woman inside of me was proud of how Nanette took care of her father. Was I really going to do this? Shit.
“Twenty-five percent interest to be paid in full six months from now.”
Nanette’s eyes lit up in shock. “Really?”
“That’s six thousand two hundred fifty dollars in my hand six months from this date. A fucking day late, I’ll make your life a living hell.” I would, too, finding every way possible.
“Okay,” she said, swiping away the remnants of her tears, a flash of relief snaking into her eyes.
I folded my hands, placing them in front of me. “I’m not fucking around, Nanette. These are the terms.” I pulled out the gun from the holster attached under my desk, setting it on the hard wood. Her eyes widened. “Every last penny in six months,” I reminded her. “You sure you wanna do that?” It was the only out she would get if she agreed.
She nodded her head then spoke, “I understand. Six months, sixty-two fifty in your hand.”
I put the gun back in its holster, my warning as clear as I could make it.
“Out. I’ll have the money for you by the end of your shift.”
My damn pride would not let this go. The bitch owed me a lot of money. I wanted it back. I wanted her. If that meant I had to go into unfamiliar territory with a guy I did not like, so be it.
“Oh, my God, he’s coming this way,” my friend Beth practically screeched.
I hit her arm, trying to get her to stop embarrassing the hell out of me, as the hottest guy in school walked our way. Most considered him on the bad boy list, and damn if that didn’t send my heart a flutter.
His eyes locked on mine. I couldn’t stop staring; he had some sort of trance over me. Those blue eyes held mischief and intrigue.
“Hey. How you doin’?” His voice was deeper than most of the other boys in school, making him seem older and more mature.
“Fine,” I responded, my nervousness coming through on that one word.
“Wanna go out?” he asked as my heart squeezed. The hottest guy in school had just asked me to go out with him. Holy fucking shit.
“Sure,” I replied as calmly as I could.
“Cool. Meet me at six at Regan’s.”
Regan’s was a local diner hangout that we all went to regularly.
He winked then turned, striding off.
Beth’s wide smile mimicked mine as we closed our eyes and did a silent, little, open-mouth scream. I had a date with the Cade Baker.
As I pulled myself out of my thoughts, my breath hitched at the monstrosity in front of me: huge cinderblocks stacked one on top of the other, higher than my two-story house. The ends looked like princess parapets with sharp points in the roof. Windows all around them provided a view of every direction. At closer look, I noticed men standing inside them, their eyes trained on me. I felt like I was going into a war zone instead of a motorcycle club.
I rolled up, stopping the SUV at the closed gate to the entrance.
Unease whispered around me due to the heavy security. Who in the hell were they protecting in there, the fucking president?
A large man built like a stubby Mac truck with a goatee and light brown hair came up to my window, his eyes covered by black glasses. I hit the automatic button to lower my window, waiting for it to clear all the way down.
“What can I do for ya?” he asked, bending into the window with a smirk on his face. He made no qualms about looking down the front of my shirt at my ample cleavage. I hadn’t worn the shirt for that purpose, but I had very few shirts that didn’t show off the girls.
I snapped my fingers three times in quick succession, and his eyes met mine. “My eyes are up here.”
“But down there is just as fucking good.” He licked his lips as lust blazed off him.
Men, they were all the same Booze, bitches, and boobs.
“I’m here to see Cade.” Dammit, I needed to stop that. Cade wasn’t his damn name any more, but separating the two came as a challenge. “I mean Spook. He’s expecting me.”
“Fuck, boss man always gets the prime pussy.” He groaned in a way that suggested this type of occurrence was routine, an idea which I pushed out of my head as soon as it entered.
I arched my brow. “No one gets my pussy but me,” I combated, tilting my head just a touch.
I told things like they were and didn’t back down from a fight or a challenge. That being said, I had also learned how to cut my losses and get the hell out of a bad situation. Burly man here would not intimidate me.
“Doubt that one.” He nodded to one of the guys in the tall tower, and the steel gate slowly started to open with a loud creak in front of me. “Have a good time, and when you’re done, come find me.”
“No, thanks,” I murmured, driving away from him with no intention of searching him out ever.
The wide area felt vast, almost like a whole city block. I had lived in Tennessee all my life, so of course, I’d known of the Vipers Creed. Everyone did. However, to actually see their compound, to be in their space, unnerved me. There was an aura of power that I felt down to my bones, causing me to fight back a shiver.
Vipers Creed MC had bought an old army compound many years ago. The structure on the outside reminded me of the classic war movies I passed by on television. Inside the gates, though, looked nothing like the starkness of the outside.
Several buildings outlined the space. An enormous structure looked like it had two, maybe three, levels to it. I assumed that was the main building, because several smaller concrete structures surrounded a large courtyard with bright green grass and a fire pit off to the side. Some actually looked as if they were homes with plants and flowers around them. It seemed homey, comfortable in a way, like a family lived here and took care of it.
Off to the far left sat Creed’s Automotive, with several hot rods and a few bikes lining its parking lot.
A spot near the larger building came into view. I parked my car, turned off the ignition, and then sat back in my seat, giving myself a moment. I did this before every business meeting just to make sure I got my head on straight. Too bad this meeting had to be with Cade. If rumors over the years served me right, he was the president of Vipers Creed. The two guys I had talked to confirmed it with the boss man bullshit.
People changed a lot over time, going different paths, some good and some not so good. I wasn’t a judge, jury, or executioner in this scenario, but I had to wonder, with all the security, exactly how much Cade changed from the boy I’d known all those years ago. Did his life happen to be so dangerous that he had to be behind cement walls with guys guarding them? And if it were that dangerous, why would he choose this life?
I wanted to bang my head on the steering wheel. It didn’t matter. I was here for one reason and one reason only. I should have found comfort in the knowledge that the meet was business, but it didn’t come.
With a heavy sigh, I opened the SUV door then hopped down to the blacktop. I pulled my shirt down, readjusting myself and making sure the girls were covered. I’d gone simple, wearing a pair of ripped jeans, a blue V-neck top, and flats. I loaded myself up with silver on my wrists and a couple of chains around my neck. I didn’t do much with my hair besides run the brush through it. I liked having my chestnut tresses fall in thick waves down my back.
“Hey, mouse,” a man with a bald head and a tailored beard said from my left. Black sunglasses covered his eyes, and his lips were lifted into a sexy smirk. He wore a leather vest, which had a Secretary patch on it, over a dark blue T-shirt. He was attractive in his own unique way.
Mouse was a strange greeting, but I went with it.
“Hi, I’m here to see Ca—Spook,” I told him, lifting my hand to block the penetrating sun that my sunglasses had no chance of hindering.
“I bet you are.” He chuckled, running his hand over his beard as he appraised me.
I should have felt heat from his intense stare, but I didn’t. Okay, maybe a flicker if I was being honest with myself. I knew how I looked, considering I saw myself in the mirror every morning.
My body drove some guys crazy because I had an abundance of tits and ass. I understood that. It was even flattering that men found me attractive. At the moment, though, I didn’t his need his appraisal or anyone else’s. I just wanted to get this shit over with. In and out. Wipe my hands clean of Cade again.
“Can you tell me where he is?”
The bald man walked closer, holding out his arm with a crooked elbow like an usher would do at a wedding. I smiled. It was cute, especially from a burly man like him. I placed my hand in the bend of his firm arm.
“Let me show you to him,” he said.
We began to walk, and all the while, the heads of the guys sitting in the courtyard area turned and whistles erupted. I ignored the noise, falling into step with the man.
“Thanks,” I told him with a pat on the arm.
“Anything for the boss man.”
While I didn’t know Cade’s life, I had some assumptions. I watched the television shows about men in motorcycle clubs and all the havoc they raised. I didn’t know if they were actually true, but at least I wasn’t going in completely blind. I did know they had a hierarchy of power, and the men had to ride Harley’s. Other than that, I only knew what the TV shows told me.
Who am I kidding? I was pretty much clueless.
The man chuckled deeply. “So, what’s a hot piece like you coming here for?”
When he asked the question, I looked up at him. Lines sprinkled around his eyes and lips like he’d ridden his bike in the sun for hours. His face matched the tanned color of his head. It wasn’t a look, though; it was him.
A small grin played on his lips, catching my attention. I didn’t know if he already knew the answer to his question and was playing me or if he actually was being inquisitive. Once again, I rolled with it.
“I have word one of my girls is here with you. She owes me money, and I want it.”
He opened a solid, steel door, and we walked into darkness. I ripped my sunglasses from my face as the low hum of the newly turned on lights illuminated the room. The scents of stale booze, cigarettes, and sex permeated the air like a thick haze. I knew those three smells by heart because I smelled them every day. They were my livelihood, the reason I had stepped foot in Cade’s world.
“This way,” he said, pulling my arm.
I followed him into a wide open space. Tables were scattered throughout with chairs at each of them. A long bar sat on the other side of the room with loads of liquor, looking like it could give me a run for my money in comparison to the one I had at Sirens.
I felt kind of strange holding this guy’s arm without knowing his name, so I asked.
He lifted his shades to the top of his head and stared down at me with eyes the color of the ocean. They weren’t blue, and they weren’t green. They were both, and they were breathtaking. I got sucked into them momentarily.
“Stiff?” I questioned as he walked me through the space and down a long hallway. What in the hell kind of name was Stiff?
Pictures hung on the wooden planked walls, but at the pace we were going, I had no time to look at them without stumbling over my own feet.
He chuckled. “Yeah, mouse. You stick around, and I’m sure you’ll find out why.” He winked then stopped us in front of a wooden door. With his fist, he banged loudly three times, shaking the pictures on the wall next to the door.
“What?” barked a voice from the opposite side. Even with the wood between us, with that one word, I felt my body instantly awaken, wanting to pull toward the sound.
“Someone here to see ya,” Stiff yelled back.
“Nice intercom you have here,” I murmured.
Little did I know that opening that door would change my life forever.
Ryan Michele has a huge obsession with reading, which only came to life after her best friend said she had to read Twilight. After reading that series, her entire world changed in the blink of an eye. Not only was she sucked into new worlds and all of the wonderful words authors put down on paper, she felt the urge to begin to write down the characters that played inside of her head. In doing so, Safe was born. Then Wanting You and the Ravage MC series.
When she's not reading or writing, she spends time taking care of her two children and her husband, enjoying the outdoors and laying in the sun.