Authors: Ashlynn Pearce
Tags: #Series, #Romance
FUEL Copyright © 2015 Ashlynn Pearce
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published by: Whimsy Notions Press, LLC
Editor: Labelle’s Writing on the Wall
Formatting: BB eBooks
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Whimsy Notions Press, LLC.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Use of artists and song titles are done so for storytelling purposes and should in no way be seen as advertisement. Trademark names are used in an editorial fashion with no intention of infringement of the respective owner’s trademark.
To my man
…for always being there. You’re in every hero I write. I love you.
To my girls…
Linda ~ for always being there. Never letting me give up and keeping me sane through some of the darkest days of my life.
Nichol ~ for being my first ever fan and becoming a best friend. You know I couldn’t have done this without you!
Silver ~ for being the best cheerleader a girl could ask for.
Jennifer ~ For being an inspiration and always telling me I can do it. Can I be you when I grow up?
To every person who reads my stories.
It’s been a long road getting back and I cherish that you’ve taken the time to buy and read my books.
Love and happy reading/writing!
She was finally free.
The air brakes hissed as the bus came to a stop at the depot. Cassie Dalton stepped off for the first time since she’d boarded nine hours ago. She tightened her long ponytail and walked down the sidewalk to peer around the bus. Her hometown was barely big enough for a high school, much less the multiple story buildings that stretched into Nashville’s blue sky.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The warmth from the Tennessee sun relaxed her and she shook off all she’d left behind. Her life started now.
She rubbed the worn, brown leather cuff on her left wrist.
This is for you, Cam.
She’d done it. She wouldn’t spend another birthday in that slow as molasses po-dunk town. She’d barely resisted flipping off Oklahoma when she crossed the state line. Now, she was headed to New York, with a one-way ticket.
She was more than ready to start her new life.
Everything she owned fit in a backpack and duffle bag. She didn’t need much. With those bags in hand and a couple of hours before the next bus would show, she walked to a nearby convenience store, grabbed a sandwich, a bottle of water, and sat beneath a tree.
The late spring breeze ruffled her hair and fluffy clouds dotted the sky. She’d expected Nashville to be cold concrete. Instead, the city burst through the trees and blended seamlessly into the countryside. Unlike Memphis, with its raw edgy feel, Nashville was a gem in a midst of green.
She glanced at the time on her phone and frowned. She got up, stepped into the mostly empty bus station and moved to the office window.
“Isn’t the next bus to New York supposed to be here already?” she asked the tiny man behind the counter.
He blinked at her, his eyes huge behind the lenses of his glasses. “Seems there’s been a problem. Your next bus won’t be here until tomorrow afternoon at two.”
“Bus broke down.”
She sighed. “Guess I’m stuck here for the night.”
She took a glimpse of the skyline. Not a bad place to spend her twenty-first birthday. It was light years from Woodbridge Grove, Oklahoma. And that was good enough for her.
After she checked
into a cheap motel, she roamed down Honky Tonk Row ready to celebrate her freedom, and her birthday. She’d never had much to be happy about, but now she couldn’t stop the smile that tugged at her lips. Even though it was Wednesday, the place was hopping…at least to her it was. She’d never seen so many people, in one place, in all her life.
Music poured out of each bar, club, and restaurant she passed. She paused to take it all in. A couple of bars over a band played a cover of Jason Aldean’s
and it had her tapping her worn boots. The tune seemed more than appropriate, so she followed the sound.
The bouncer at the door stopped her, asked for ID, then grinned when he looked at it.
“Twenty-one today, huh?” he said more than asked.
“Yep. Is that a probl—”
“Hey, Cliff,” the bouncer yelled into the bar, “you got a virgin here.”
Cassie froze at his choice of words and was hauled inside by one of the laughing waitresses. “Ah, you look as fresh as they come, sweetie.”
The woman shoved her onto a barstool and the bartender slapped the wood right in front of her so hard it made her jump. “Ooowee! So you’re the virgin, huh?”
She blinked as heat crawled up her cheeks. She hoped they were talking about her birthday and not something else. But she couldn’t tell because the music was deafening, and she had gathered a crowd. A crowd that hooped and hollered around her, making her ears ring.
“No one with you, darling?” asked Cliff.
She shook her head.
He lowered dark brows and gave her a knowing smirk.
“Well, you won’t be alone for long.” He poured her a shot. “Bottoms up. Virgin, you’ll be no more.”
With the partygoers chanting bottoms up, she warily picked up the glass and downed it. She choked on the burn that sizzled all the way to her toes. But as people roared in approval and clapped her on the back, she tossed her head on a laugh. For the first time in her life, she didn’t worry about who might judge her. She didn’t have to keep a look out over her shoulder for the next snide remark or, even worse, for her dad’s next slap. She couldn’t live like that anymore.
And vowed she never would.
With a group of strangers, she could be herself.
“Cliff, give me another one.” Her voice rang clear with confidence and her heart beat fast with the knowledge she could make her own rules.
He happily set her up.
Cassie was having the time of her life. Not once did she have to pay for a drink. And if she wanted to dance, countless guys stood in line to fill the role. They’d told her their names, but she hadn’t paid enough attention to remember them. Not until one guy, Mason, who kept slipping his hands where she didn’t want them.
The bar became downright suffocating, and she needed some air, so she stepped outside. She made her way toward the Cumberland River to breathe and clear her head but hadn’t gotten very far when an arm wrapped around her waist. She turned in time for lips to land on hers.
She was lit, but her instincts were still intact from years of having to fight for herself. She sunk her teeth into his lip. The guy yelped, loosened his grip and she brought her elbow hard into his face.
Slippery hands Mason, she sneered and was about to kick him in the nuts when someone stepped between them.
“Hey, dude, back off. I don’t think she wants your attention.”
Cassie’s brows furrowed as her fuzzy brain latched onto that voice. She stared at the broad back encased in black leather attempting to decipher how she knew him.
“How do you know? Maybe she’s playing hard to get,” Mason mumbled.
The guy chuckled. “Sure. Like she didn’t just bloody your lip. And I think she was about to kick you in nuts. Take a walk, man. You don’t want any part of this.”
Cassie rubbed her eyes and swayed on her feet. That voice . . . She knew that voice but couldn’t place it.
“Darlin’, you all right?” The guy had turned toward her and touched her elbow.
She opened her eyes and the blood drained from her face. No. It couldn’t be him.
“Hey, you okay?” He cocked his head. “Wait. Do I know you?”
Those familiar blue-gray eyes narrowed as he stared at her. She tried to answer. But the only thing she accomplished was opening her mouth and gaping like an idiot. Happiness, sheer joy, sadness then rage hit her all at once. Every emotion she had kept locked away bubbled to the surface. How the hell had she run into him of all people? It made her head spin worse than all the alcohol she had consumed.
“Thrand,” she yelled and balled her fists, ready to punch his shocked face.
She hadn’t heard that nickname in years and her heart constricted. His face blurred through her watery gaze. It was too much. Her stomach rolled and lurched.
Then she threw up on his boots.
Thrand Medlam peeked
into the dim bathroom to check on Cassie. She was sitting up, her back against the tub, her elbows resting on her knees, with her head in her hands. Long honey-blonde hair covered her face.
“You all right?” he asked.
“Oh my god. I thought I was awake.”
“What?” He put a glass of water and two aspirin on the sink and squatted in front of her. He touched her head. “Cas.”
She screeched and jumped so hard she banged her elbow on the tub. “Shit.”
He got a glimpse of green eyes through the fall of her hair as she rubbed her arm.
“You’re…real. Fuck.” She dropped her head back to her knees.
“As real as the vomit I cleaned off my boots.” Thrand chuckled.
She groaned. “I really did that?”
“Yup. You also puked in my toilet all night. But it’s okay. I think that’s how most people spend the morning after turning twenty-one.” When she didn’t answer or look at him he asked, “Would you like some breakfast?”
“You’re joking, right? Unless you want a repeat performance…no.”
“Got it.” He grabbed the water and aspirin. “Take these and drink. I promise they’ll help.”
She pushed her hair out of her face and licked her lips.
“I highly doubt it,” she muttered but took them. When her hand brushed against his, he stared into her face—the same yet different.
He couldn’t believe Cassie Dalton, his best friend’s little sister, was in his home. Seven years had passed since he’d last seen her. She’d been fourteen, him nineteen. He never thought he’d see her again.