It’s ten days away from release and I’m so excited to share Beyond the Horizon with you all. I just couldn’t wait, so here’s the first chapter to wet your whistle.
Preorder here: Beyond the Horizon (The Sons of Templar MC Book 4)
I yanked the covers over my head the moment my alarm jolted me out of a troubled sleep.
“Ten,” I whispered.
Ten seconds was all I was giving myself. All the time I was allowed to shut out the outside world.
I hated mornings. Loathed them. I wasn’t someone who hopped out of bed every day with vigor. I dragged my sorry and cranky ass out, every morning.
For as long as I could remember, I’d never woken up without the ear-splitting ringing emitting from my phone.
I wasn’t one of those people that got to lie in. That got lazy Sunday mornings. That got to decide not to get out of bed and spend the day binge watching their favorite television shows.
No. I had responsibilities. People depended on me. Well, a person depended on me. I depended on me. Without me, we didn’t eat. Without me dragging my sorry ass out of bed every damned morning, we wouldn’t survive. Bills would go unpaid. Electricity would get cut off.
But this morning was different. I wasn’t dragging myself to the coffee pot then off to school, the hospital or the bar. No.
I was going to a funeral.
My mom’s funeral.
The person that depended on me. The person I had taken care of for the past two years. For the past sixteen years. My person.
“One,” I choked out, not letting the tears strangle me. My body already did its best to rob me of breath, I didn’t need the sorrow of my soul doing it too.
I threw the covers back and stared at the ceiling for a split second, embracing the detachment, the feeling of nothingness. Numbness had spread over my body since I got the call. Since that detached, emotionless voice on the phone informed me of my mother’s passing. It had been expected I guess, but in that vague, it’ll never actually happen type way. She’d been sick. For just over three years, she’d battled cancer. I mean battled. Fought with every fiber of her being, not only the disease but the poison they put in her body to try and cure it. The poison that hadn’t cured a thing. She had put it in her body for me, even though she didn’t believe in it. She had tried every alternative medicine, every other solution until I pleaded with her to let medicine save her. I had been convinced it would. It might have given her more time, given me more time, but it had also sucked every inch of strength out of my strong mother before it let the disease win in the end.
And even though the doctors had continuously told me with a clinical detachment that she was living on borrowed time, I never believed it. I’d held back her hair through the sickness of chemo, taught her how to tie a jaunty headscarf when her long locks fell out, changed and bathed her when needed, but I never let myself consider the real reasons for these things. Never let myself think of the evil disease that was slowly taking my mother from me. And it did. A demon in the night, death came and stole her away before I could even say goodbye. She died alone. Without me.
I sat up and pushed myself out of bed, my body having that tingly feeling when numbness starts to subside and pricks of pins and needles threaten to bring feeling back. That first prick of pain shocked me, it was an omen of the agony that awaited me. That I’d been running from.
I froze, standing in the middle of my bedroom. It was decorated as well as one could with little to no funds. In one corner sat a cheap wooden desk with coffee rings serving as an unintended pattern on the surface. Forgotten textbooks were crammed into a bookshelf beside it. Brochures and printouts of alternative cancer treatments littered the surface. Mismatched frames crowded the walls, pictures of Mom and me throughout the years. I couldn’t look at those. By recognizing all that I had left of her was images in a frame, it would make it real. I wasn’t ready for real. I continued my sightless gaze of my room. My old ottoman in the corner was a find at one of Mom’s favorite vintage stores, the patchwork pattern almost invisible since it was buried underneath clothes. Fairy lights draped around my uncomfortable bed, in an effort to lighten up my space. Somehow trick me into thinking it was better than it was. A huge mural took up half the wall behind my bed. A beautiful vibrant sunset, every color you could think of dancing in the rays. My mom had painted it on one of her good days. It almost looked real, like you could step through it to some magical and better world beyond. That was until you looked, with cynical eyes like mine and saw the crumbling wall beneath it. It was just paint. There was nothing beyond it.
Amongst all that I stayed frozen, terrified that feeling would come back. That pain would blindside me. A few seconds brought back that blessed numbness that allowed my feet to shuffle into the living room.
I went to the pot, bleary vision only focusing on the one thing that made me half human, that woke me up enough to contemplate the dreary day—coffee.
“Morning, sweetie,” a voice from the sofa had me jumping out of my skin. Luckily, my unpoured coffee did not scald my arms, which I was surprised about. Fate usually loved to screw with me. Second-degree burns would be the cherry on top of my shit sundae.
“Aiden,” I croaked, my voice shaking off sleep.
He straightened off the sofa and stretched, the fabric of his tee lifting with the movement. My gaze flickered over the washboard stomach for a moment before I moved to his eyes.
“You didn’t have to stay,” I said, pouring coffee and then retrieving another mug.
Aiden skirted around our shitty sofa and padded into our equally shitty kitchen. He took the mug I offered and lightly rested his free hand on my hip.
“Yes, I did, Lil,” he murmured looking at my eyes.
“You didn’t,” I protested. “I’m fine, I don’t want you risking your back muscles and having a horrible night’s sleep for me.”
The hand on my hip tightened and his attractive brows furrowed. “Your mom died, sweetie,” he said softly, as if to remind me. “I care about you. Therefore, I stayed. And I’m not going anywhere. You’re not alone,” he told me firmly.
I looked into his clear blue eyes. We had been friends since my freshman year. A month ago it had turned into something else. In the midst of my nightmare, Aiden had somehow turned from friend to boyfriend. Not that the handful of dates and makeout sessions constituted an actual relationship, but my schedule didn’t exactly give me the luxury of time for a boyfriend. I spent every moment I could with Mom, until she demanded I go out and have some fun. As if fun was even a plausible prospect when my mom was dying in a hospital room. But I played along, let Aiden take me out, faked a smile while my insides were shredding. I’d never let anything go further, go deeper. My time and my heart were dedicated to Mom. Until now I guess. I had a huge gaping hole in my life, one I couldn’t even contemplate right now. One I knew Aiden wanted to fill. One that I knew he would never fill.
“Thanks,” I whispered, realizing arguing was pointless.
He was wrong, though. I was alone. Completely. My mom had been the one and only person on this earth who actually loved me. The me, the one that was plagued with anxiety, and felt like I had a dumbbell on my chest twenty-four hours a day. The me who barely spoke around new people, and got nervous in crowds. Everything that made me ordinary she found extraordinary, and subsequently she made me feel extraordinary. It was just me and her, against the world. Now it was just me. I had friends, good ones too, ones that I loved. But nothing like what I had with Mom. Even Bex, the best of them all, would never be what my mom was to me.
He nodded and kissed me lightly on the cheek before searching my eyes. He was waiting for me to break down, I knew. For days, he and Bex had been watching me like I was an unexploded grenade, ready to go off at any moment. He seemed to be satisfied I wasn’t in danger of exploding any time soon and moved to the breakfast bar, to perch on our rickety bar stalls.
I stared at him. Even after a no doubt terrible sleep on our lumpy sofa, he looked good. His sandy blond hair was mussed, but in a way that looked like he’d taken hours to do it. His face was classically handsome, and his body was lean. He looked like an all-American boy, Abercrombie and Fitch style. He was from a good family, was in law school and a genuinely nice guy. Too bad he didn’t make me burn. Didn’t consume my mind and soul. Like someone else had for the past three years. Someone that definitely wasn’t a genuinely nice guy. Someone who would never be mine.
Time didn’t mute the memories I had of him. Of us. I indulged myself a moment of escape into that memory, one that offered a respite from the horror of the present.
Three Years Ago
I liked margaritas, I decided. No, I loved margaritas. The handicap that stopped me from unleashing my true self seemed to fall away with the help of this magic drink. I was uninhibited by the shyness that had plagued me my whole life. The weight on my chest.
I stumbled slightly but righted myself. I was at Gwen’s, my new boss’s place, dancing with people I barely knew. Beautiful women who had no qualms being themselves, and may have been slightly insane. I so wanted to be like them when I grew up. Well, firstly I wanted to be like my mom, with a sprinkling of these fab ladies. Mostly I wanted to be someone different than who I was. Someone better.
As I whirled to the music, my gaze landed on men rounding the corner of the house. Hot men. I narrowed my eyes. I couldn’t tear my eyes off them. I’d seen them around town and more recently at Gwen’s store. I knew who they were. Heck, everyone knew who they were. They were the Sons of Templar. The motorcycle club that had unofficially owned the town since before we moved here. Some around town hated them, and everything the club stood for. Most respected them. Like Mom.
“Those boys may be a bit rough around the edges, but they’ve got good hearts. People like to judge based on what they think a good person should look like. Good people come in all shapes and sizes, just like bad. Don’t you forget it,” she’d instructed me years ago. Her eyes had been faraway, no doubt thinking of the bad man that had been wrapped up in a suit and tie. Who’d seemed like a good man, a family man, until the doors to our home had closed and the monster inside had been unveiled. So she didn’t shrink away from men wearing leather. She didn’t shrink away from anyone, not anymore.
I had always been fascinated with the men. The life they lived. The freedom they seemed to have. I’d longed for that kind of freedom, to be who I was, to figure out who I was. I would never have that though, not with my emotional disability chaining me to my uninteresting self. I’d admired them from afar, entertained notions of going to one of their infamous parties. Those thoughts stayed rooted in fantasy, as did any possibility of interaction with the club. My social skills went from lacking to non-existent when faced with attractive men or intimidating people. The men in the club were the embodiment of both. Though not every single one was mouth-droppingly attractive, they all held an aura, a certain presence that seemed hypnotizing and dangerous at the same time. That was all admired from afar. I’d never seen them up close, definitely not in social situations. But now they were here. Getting closer to my uninteresting self with every moment.
“Lily,” I heard my named whispered urgently.
I reluctantly tore my gaze off the approaching men and moved it to settle on Amy, who was looking panicked sitting up awkwardly from her sun lounger. I was thankful to have a reason to escape my own head. I’d get trapped in there if I wasn’t careful.
“What?” I half yelled at her. I would never have yelled, half or otherwise at anyone, had I not had tequila in my system. I would’ve mumbled something, gone red and most likely embarrassed myself. Tequila equaled zero embarrassment. It ruled.
“Come here,” she hissed, her eyes darting to Brock, who was chatting to Lucy, his attractive eyes kept moving in Amy’s direction. She looked seriously freaked.
No wonder. I did crappy around people in general most of the time, hot guys like the ones I was presented with were in danger of turning me mute. I didn’t see why Amy was so panicked, though, the chick was drop dead gorgeous. She radiated confidence and didn’t have any trouble conversing with the sex god bikers. I had witnessed her exchanging witty banter with the men since I started working at her and Gwen’s clothing store.
“What?” I asked when I got to her side.
Her eyes went from Brock to me one more time. They were that kind of drunken alert that I had seen on my friends. You knew you had to get your shit together, but you were also struggling to stay upright.
“I need you to go and get the booze off Brock,” she ordered quickly.
My stomach dropped, the idea of approaching him, and the arguably hotter guy with him, had me wanting to break out in hives.
“I’ve never spoken to him—he kind of scares me. Why can’t you do it?” I half pleaded. Tequila may have burned away most of my crippling shyness, but it hadn’t taken away all of my self-preservation. At least not yet.
“It’s a long story,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “It involves a sex marathon and his stupid man bun. Will you do this for me? Please?” She didn’t wait for me to reply and gave me a gentle shove. One that wouldn’t normally have moved a sober Lily, but drunk Lily went tottering off in the direction of Brock.
I was in front of him and the dark-haired man before I even knew what was going on. I blinked a couple of times to get my eyes in focus. Brock was his name. I’d seen him around before. He was big, way taller than me in my bare feet, and muscled like some kind of Navy Seal. His sandy blond hair was fastened into a bun, and tattoos covered most visible parts of his muscled body. I quickly glanced at the Sergeant at Arms patch on his leather vest before moving my gaze elsewhere. It was the guy beside him that had me momentarily mute. His hair was dark and closely cropped to the skull on the sides, and slightly longer and mussed on top. I couldn’t see any visible tattoos on him, though he had a matching vest to Brock, with a crisp white tee underneath that hugged his impressive torso.
Cut. A little voice whispered the word to me. Cut, not vest. That’s what they called it, the leather they wore with the club’s patch embroidered on it.
I swallowed and moved my gaze up again. He had a strong, clean-shaven jaw and wasn’t as tall as Brock, nor as muscly. That didn’t mean he was short or lean. He just wasn’t Giganto. Which was good, I wouldn’t need a ladder to kiss him, just high heels.
Wait, why in the heck was I thinking about kissing him? You had to be able to talk to hot guys in order to kiss them.
“Hey, it’s Lily right?” Brock addressed me with a smirk, though his tone was kind.
I jerked, tearing my attention away from rich chocolate eyes. Oh shit. I’d been standing in front of them, silent and staring like I should be wearing a helmet to bed or something. Mortification commenced, but luckily I had tequila on my side.
“Yeah, Lily. That’s me, my name I mean. I’m not an actual Lily because that’s a flower and I’m a human named after a flower,” I babbled, realizing only just now the extent of my drunkenness. Or maybe my social awkwardness.
Brock grinned, the dark haired one stared at me, his eyes roving my bikini-clad body.
I ignored the feel of his eyes, the dip in my stomach at his gaze. I swallowed and focused my attention on Brock.
“Sooo, are you having a good night?” I asked, trying to remember why the heck I’d come over here. I struggled not to fidget with my hands, and my eyes darted around in search of an escape.
Brock’s grin got bigger. “I wasn’t, till now. Lucky you gals need your liquor, or I would’ve missed out on all this,” he said, waving his arm around the party.
A light bulb lit atop my head. “Liquor,” I exclaimed in relief. “Yes, liquor. That’s why I’m here… not here in this house, but here,” I pointed to the ground then gestured between us. “Like here in front of you. Amy wanted me to get the booze.” I pointed to her, hoping to get the attention off me and what a bumbling idiot I was.
Brock’s smile dimmed slightly as he followed my eyes. He shook his head.
“I got it, darlin’. Amy shouldn’t be sending you over here to do her dirty work. I’ll take care of her. You have a good night now.” He winked at me and then moved toward Amy, who tried to ungracefully scramble off her chair. I wanted to watch, but my brain was looking out for me when I realized I was standing alone with the hot biker. One that hadn’t stopped staring at me throughout the entire painful exchange. I attempted to move to make my escape, before I did something that would require me to die of embarrassment tomorrow morning.
A firm grip stopped me. I jolted at his touch. Not in a ”he’s manhandling me” type of jolt, but a ”my panties are on fire from his hand touching my arm” type of jolt.
God. I was such a virgin.
“Not so fast, flower,” his gravelly voice swept around me like a physical thing.
I tottered on my feet slightly as his grip tightened and he pulled me closer to him, his eyes on mine. Up closer he was even more beautiful. His eyes were almost as dark as his hair, and his skin was tanned and flawless. I wanted to run my hands over the stubble covering his sharp jaw.
“Are you new in town too, like Gwen and Amy?” he asked, his hand now trailing down my arm softly.
I swallowed, my mind on his casual touch and my not so causal reaction. Realizing he was staring at me waiting for some sort of answer, I shook my head slowly.
He grinned, showing a row of perfect white teeth. Movie star perfect. “You care to articulate on that?” he asked, teasing.
“You have nice teeth,” I blurted.
Holy shit. Did I just tell him he had nice teeth? No. I didn’t. Tequila did. I searched the backyard for a hole to crawl into, and not leave until I was eighty.
The hand tightened again as if he was sensing I’d bolt. “Easy, flower,” he murmured, pulling me even closer. “These teeth don’t bite,” his eyes turned hooded, “unless you want them to.”
His voice was full of such sensual promise I felt my knees shake. Like actually shake. What the heck did you say to that?
“Um,” I whispered. “I think I like my skin sans bite marks, you know, for now,” I added in a small voice.
For now? Did I just flirt?
He grinned again, but this time there was a serious heat to his eyes. “I’ll hold you to that, flower.” His chocolate eyes continued to hold me hostage while his huge hand trailed up my bare skin. I shivered in desire from the casual touch. He seemed to notice my response because his eyes flared. “So, since you’re not new around here, how is it I haven’t seen you before?” he continued. “And trust me, I would remember seeing you.” His eyes left fire in their wake as they swept across my scantily-clad body.
I wanted to cover myself with my hands. My bikini had seemed perfectly appropriate in a party full of women. Now, I understood I was practically naked in front of this beautiful man. The power of his gaze had me feeling uncomfortable. Another part of me wanted him to look, wanted to imagine the desire in his gaze wasn’t a figment of tequila muddled imagination.
“I don’t um, get out much,” I told him truthfully.
Understatement of the century. At high school, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call popular. I never got picked on or anything, in order to get picked on, you had to get noticed. I didn’t. I was forgettable and didn’t stand out. There was nothing special about me. So I had a handful of friends, studied a lot, read a lot, and hung out with my mom a lot. I also had to study my ass off in order to get the grades to qualify me for a full ride at college. My mom and I weren’t exactly rolling in it. She was a free spirit, an artist. And although she was talented, she didn’t make a huge amount off her art, enough to keep food on the table, only with me helping out with a part-time job at the supermarket. No way was I getting college tuition paid for. Not that I was bitter. My mom gave me a wonderful life, a beautiful life. She got us out of a nightmare to do that.
I got it, the full ride. It was at a college thirty minutes away in Tasman Springs. A lot of kids wanted to cross the country to start their foray into adulthood. Not me. I couldn’t leave my mom. Couldn’t stand being so far away, not when I knew neither of us would be able to afford the airfares to visit often enough. The idea of moving somewhere unfamiliar where I didn’t know anyone terrified me. Plus, since I was this close I could work for Gwen on weekends. So between college, working, Mom and my newer college friends, I didn’t have time for much else.
The man regarded me. I say man. Every other member of the opposite sex I encountered I thought of as ”boys.” The only ones I ever really encountered were ones from school, and they were mostly concerned with drinking, sports, and getting girls into bed. Boys. But, even though he couldn’t be that much older than me, he was definitely a man.
“That’s good,” he muttered, stroking my arm.
“What’s good?” I squeaked.
His eyes bore into mine. “That you don’t get out much. If you did, I expect I’d be fighting every one of my brothers for your attention.” His gaze flickered over to where Amy had stormed off, Brock following. “Well, almost all,” he added, eyes back on me.
My mouth dropped open. Then I closed it, realizing how unladylike this was.
“No one would be fighting for my attention, trust me,” I mumbled with certainty. The men I’d seen connected to the Sons of Templar were hot. Hot with a capital H. “Hot with a capital H” men did not bother themselves with plain, mousy college girls who were so shy they turned mute in their presence.
His brow furrowed. “Trust me, I’m counting my blessings right now that I’m the one who laid eyes on this beautiful flower before anyone else,” he promised, voice husky.
I swallowed and felt my face redden. I wasn’t used to compliments, didn’t know what to do with them. My mom told me I was beautiful, but she was my mom, and it didn’t count. Moms were biologically programmed to find their offspring beautiful. Ditto with my best friend Bex, who was definitely someone boys would fight over. She was my best friend, it was part of her duties to try and inflate my non-existent ego.
“I don’t know your name,” I blurted.
I couldn’t very well be calling him “The Panty Dropper” when I relayed this story to Bex at the dorms on Monday. I would also need it for the short novel I planned on penning in his honor.
“You definitely need to know my name, babe,” he grinned.
His other hand went to my waist. I was pretty sure I stopped breathing when he pulled me even closer. Close enough I could feel the heat from his torso. For once the absence of breath felt like a pleasant thing.
“Asher,” he whispered, his breath tickling my face.
I gazed up at him. “Asher,” I repeated, tasting the beautifulness of it on my tongue. “Cool name,” I added dreamily.
His gaze burned into mine and he regarded me intently. He then shook himself and his face relaxed slightly, there was a glint of heat in his eyes.
That moment, right then, was when I started to fall. Fall so hard that the pain of the crash to the ground still stung three years later.