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Authors: Jessica Coulter Smith

Crimson

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Crimson

Ashton Grove M.C. #4

 

Jessica Coulter Smith

 

Copyright © 2015 by Jessica Coulter Smith

 

All rights reserved.

Thank you for downloading this eBook. Please do not share it with your friends. This book may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, with the exception of quotes used in reviews.

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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.

 

Chapter One

 

The ground quaked under his boots as lightning streaked the sky. Crimson blew out a steady stream of smoke before tossing the nub of his cigarette out into the rain. The deluge had started an hour ago, and if it kept up, they’d be gathering animals two by two. Already the parking lot in front of the bar had small lakes forming. Thank god he’d had the foresight not to ride his bike tonight.

Thunder boomed again, making the ground tremble. Turning his back on Mother Nature’s temper tantrum, he went back inside Laguna Paradise to join his brothers and the local wolf pack. Ghost, the new President of the M.C., had decided it would be good for some of the club members to hang out with the pack, further relations between them. They’d worked together on a few rescue missions so far, but the wolf pack still seemed wary of the M.C.

Crimson slid onto a stool between Pistol and Hunter. He’d noticed the wolf sneaking glances at one of the waitresses and wondered if there was something between them. She was a looker, even if she was fuller figured than what Crimson usually went for. All that long, glossy, dark hair would look spectacular spread across his pillows though.

“She yours?” Crimson asked, nodding toward the brunette.

“No.” Hunter tore his gaze away from the woman and took a swallow of his beer. “I just like the look of her is all.”

“So you’ve never talked to her?” Crimson asked. “Never asked her out?”

Hunter shrugged. “What would she want with a shifter? I mean, look at her! She’s gorgeous and can have any man she wants. Why take up with a wolf when she can have a human and pop out some normal kids?”

Crimson studied the woman, watched as she pushed a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. The smile on her face looked forced as she approached a rather rowdy table. He wondered how long she’d been on her feet, and how many assholes she’d had to deal with today. Crimson watched and waited, wondering if she was going to need assistance, or if the crew at the table was going to mind their manners.

“You like her,” Hunter said, his gaze swinging from Crimson to the waitress and back again. “You like Holly.”

“That’s her name?” Crimson asked, thinking it suited her.

“Yeah. I asked around about her, but I’ve never approached her. She’s never paid any attention to me.” Hunter stared into his beer. “So, if you want to make a move on her or something, she’s free. I don’t hold a claim on her or anything like that.”

“She’s not your mate?”

Hunter shrugged. “I haven’t gotten close enough to be sure, but I don’t think so. I just really like her. But I’ve been coming here for over a year now and have yet to so much as say hi to her. She deserves better than that. If you have the balls to approach her, then go for it. You have my blessing.”

Crimson nodded and went back to watching Holly. She moved gracefully, even when carrying a tray laden with beverages. Crimson’s bear was on high alert, waiting to see if anyone touched her inappropriately or upset her in some way. He could tell she was wound tight and about to snap at any moment, and he didn’t want to just sit on his ass and watch it happen. Hard work had put lines of fatigue on her face, had stooped her shoulders, and made her move more slowly than the other waitresses. But it was the fact she still tried to smile at everyone that really got to him. He could tell she was hurting from being on her feet so much, and yet she smiled at every customer.

“Think we can get her to wait on our table?” Crimson asked.

“She’s never waited on me. I don’t know if I just sit in the wrong section every damn time or what.”

“Anyone know our waitress’ name?” Crimson asked, looking around at their small group.

“Bethany,” Pistol said. “You’re going to offend her if you ask her to switch tables with Holly.”

Crimson arched a brow. “You thinking about taking her home?”

Pistol grinned. “Maybe.”

Crimson kept an eye on Holly, ready to jump to her defense if anyone bothered her. As the night wore on, he realized that she knew how to handle the customers, even the grabby ones. She sidestepped more wandering hands than anyone should have to, and yet she kept her smile firmly in place and moved on to the next table.

When he saw her cash out and head for the entrance, Crimson excused himself and shadowed her steps. The rain had slackened outside to a drizzle. Crimson watched as she walked to an ancient car parked at the curb and tried to start it. The engine refused to turnover. As she rested her head on the steering wheel, he realized she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He walked over and tapped on her window.

Holly manually rolled down the window and peered up at him with uncertainty in her eyes. “May I help you?”

“Actually, I thought I might be able to help you. I don’t think your car is going anywhere tonight. Why don’t you let me give you a ride home? It’s too wet outside for you to walk, and I know your feet have to be hurting after working tonight.”

She nibbled on her lower lip and it drew his attention to how full and kissable her lips were. He forced his gaze back to her eyes and waited for her decision. She was right to be leery of him, not having met him before. A single woman working late at night, especially in a bar, could never be too careful, but he wasn’t sure how to set her mind at ease. Crimson hunkered down next to the car so he wouldn’t tower over her.

“You don’t have anything to fear from me,” he assured her. “I only want to help.”

“I saw you follow me out here.”

“Only to make sure you got to your car safely. I saw some of the customers inside giving you a hard time and I didn’t want them to follow you out and hurt you. You looked like you could handle yourself in there, but…”

She nodded. “You’re right. In there, I know how to handle myself. Out here? Not so much. I appreciate you looking out for me.” She stuck her hand through the open window. “I’m Holly.”

“Crimson.” He took her smaller hand in his and marveled at how soft it felt against his callused skin.

“That’s an odd name.”

He smiled. “It’s my road name. I’m part of the local M.C. Does that bother you?”

“I’ve never met a biker before, not knowingly anyway, but no, it doesn’t bother me. You seem nice enough, even though I’ve always heard bikers are tough and criminals. No offense!”

“None taken.” He rose to his feet and opened her door. “Come on. Let me give you a ride home. I won’t rest easy tonight unless I’ve delivered you safely to your door. I may not be part of the criminal element, but that doesn’t mean some of the men inside this bar aren’t. Let’s not take a chance with your safety.”

Holly stepped out of the car, snagged her purse, and then locked the vehicle. “All right. I’ll accept a ride home.”

The rain began to pick up as Crimson secured Holly inside the truck. He ran around to the driver’s side and slid in right before the downpour started. He wanted to shake the water from his body, but thought the animal-like gesture might trigger questions he didn’t want to answer. While it wasn’t common knowledge that shifters existed, enough people knew or wondered to make it dangerous to expose himself.

Of course, he wanted to hang out with Holly more, maybe get to know her better, and then she would eventually find out the truth about him. How would she handle being mated to a bear? She was sturdy enough to take his brand of loving, with those curvy hips and gorgeous legs.

“You’re staring,” she said, tugging down the hem of her skirt.

“Sorry. I didn’t meant to. You just have really beautiful legs. It’s hard not to look at them.”

Her cheeks flushed, but she stopped trying to pull down her skirt.

“You haven’t told me where I’m going,” Crimson said.

Holly gave him her address and he felt her gaze on him.

He slid a hand along his whiskers. “I know. I look fearsome when I have a beard. I meant to shave it this morning, but got too lazy.”

“It’s not that. No one has been nice to me like this since I moved here. I guess I just wondered what you wanted in return for helping me. No one ever does anything for free, not these days.”

He wasn’t sure if he should be insulted or not.

“I don’t want anything in return, Holly. I just didn’t like the idea of you not making it home in one piece.”

“Why?” she asked. “You don’t even know me.”

“I watched you tonight,” he admitted. “Not in a stalker kind of way! But…there was just something about you that drew me in. I could tell you were hurting from being on your feet so much, and I knew you were getting upset with some of your tables, but you tried your best to hide it and keep smiling.”

“Yeahm well, in my business, you don’t get tips if you slap the shit out of someone with grabby hands.”

“Why don’t you work somewhere else? There has to be better jobs around Ashton Grove.”

“Not for someone like me,” she muttered.

Crimson frowned, not understanding what she meant. Someone like her? Was there something wrong with her that he didn’t understand? He’d inhaled her scent when he’d helped her into the truck. She wasn’t a shifter like him. Could she be a witch? But if that was the case, why work at such a low income job when she could force someone to give her a better one? He’d met a few witches in his time and they had been nasty creatures. He heard the wolf pack was friends with one, but she was supposed to be a good witch.

Crimson pulled up at the curb outside of her apartment complex. “Let me walk you to the door. I wish I had an umbrella so you wouldn’t get wet.”

“I’m already wet,” she mumbled.

Startled, he thought for a moment she meant the other kind of wet, but surely he was mistaken. She stared at him, eyes wide as if she couldn’t believe she’d just said that, and he couldn’t help but lean in closer for a sniff. Her aroma was more than a little pleasing and there was a tang to the air as her arousal filled the cab of the truck. So the little human wanted to play with the big, bad bear? He was more than agreeable.

“Can we forget I just said that?” she asked.

“I don’t think I can, but I won’t act on it if you don’t want me to.”

His nose flared as he took in her scent again. The first whiff had made his cock harden and now it throbbed in his jeans. But if she didn’t want to follow through on her body’s reaction to him, then he would hold his beast in check—somehow.

The look she cast his way was a little puzzled, then her expression cleared. “You’re a shifter!”

His heart nearly stopped in his chest. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do.” She poked a finger at him. “You can’t tell me you aren’t a shifter. I saw you scenting the air. My best friend back home was a shifter.”

So, she was one of the few humans who knew about his kind. That made things easier, and harder, all at the same time. He wouldn’t have to lie to her about what he was, but at the same time, he wouldn’t be able to hide some of his more embarrassing traits.

“So, what kind of shifter are you?” she asked, her gaze raking over him.

“Bear,” he muttered.

“How cool. My friend back home was a fox shifter. I never got to see her shift, but I did see her animal once when I showed up at her house unexpectedly. She was pretty cute. I’m guessing, as a bear, you aren’t cute, but you’re probably pretty awesome. I bet you’re huge!”

He couldn’t help but smile at her excited chatter. “Yeah, I’m a good sized bear.”

She looked up at him expectantly. “Do I get to see you shift?”

“Uh, no. That’s reserved for my brothers and my mate, so unless you’re offering to fill that second role…”

A blush stained her cheeks. “You could do way better than me for a mate. There’s a reason I’m working at Laguna Paradise. I never finished high school, and I haven’t gotten my G.E.D. I’ve thought about it, but to tell the truth, it scares the hell out of me.”

He was surprised she hadn’t finished high school, since she seemed quite intelligent, but it didn’t bother him in the least. Holly was a sweet woman and he would be lucky to call her his, if she agreed to becoming his mate. It didn’t seem likely at the moment though. She had some self-esteem issues based off her comments and he knew it could take a while to tear down the walls she’d built up. Good thing he had plenty of time on his hands.

* * * * *

Holly unlocked her door, very aware of the large male behind her. She could feel the heat of his body and smell a hint of his aftershave. It had been a long time since she’d been with a man, and she wasn’t sure she was ready now. Just because he could smell her arousal didn’t mean she had to give in to it and invite him inside, and yet, that’s what she’d done.

She stepped inside and flicked on the lights. “It’s not much.”

Holly looked around her small apartment, trying to see it through his eyes. Her carpets were well-worn, her furniture sturdy but used. There was always a stale smell in the air, no matter how many candles she’d lit or how much incense she’d burned. At least she could say it was clean. She’d spent the previous day scrubbing the place from top to bottom, like she did every week on her day off.

She turned and found Crimson frowning at her closed door. “What’s wrong?”

“You don’t have enough locks. This deadbolt is a joke, and the lock on the knob? One twist and I could break it and be in your apartment before you had a chance to escape or call 9-1-1.”

“It’s what I can afford. I know it isn’t much, and it’s on the shabby side, but at least I’m not living on the street.”

His head whipped around in her direction, his eyes wide. “You’ve been on the streets?”

“Only for a month or two. I had my car, so I slept there.”

A low growl rumbled from him and she couldn’t hide the shiver that raked her small form. It was an ominous sound and she wondered if he was angryforher orather. It hadn’t been her fault she’d lost her place, or that she hadn’t had a decent job to save up the first and last month’s rent on something new.

“You shouldn’t stay here,” he said. “This isn’t a safe part of town.”

“It’s the best I can afford, Crimson. We can’t all make money selling drugs, or whatever it is you do.” She placed her hands on her hips and stared him down. “I may not have a high paying job, but at least I have one, and it’s honest work. I didn’t become a whore, or a drug mule, or any other unsavory job that was offered to me in my darkest hour.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you, Holly, but I’m worried about you. I know we just met, but…”

“But what?”

He placed a hand over his chest. “I care what happens to you. I know it doesn’t make sense, and you can scoff and say it’s just hormones, because I can’t lie and say I don’t want you. But it’s something more than that, and you can’t understand it because you’re not a shifter. I knew from the moment I saw you that you were special to me.”

She rolled her eyes. “Is this where you tell me I’m your destined mate and I should let you take care of me for the rest of my life?”

He frowned at her tone.

“Look, I appreciate the ride home, and I’m grateful you were watching over me tonight, but I’m a big girlm and I can take care of myself. I’ve been doing it a long time now. It’s been a while since there was a man in my life, and I’m not sure I want one bossing me around.”

“You’re kicking me out?” he asked incredulously.

She bit her lip. “What was your plan when you brought me home, Crimson? Take me to bed? Throw me over your shoulder and carry me off to your cave?”

“I don’t live in a cave,” he muttered. “And I only intended to see you safely home. You’re the one who brought up sex.”

She felt her cheeks heat. He was right. She’d made that smart remark in the truck about being wet, had waved the red flag in front of the bull, and he’d been nothing but a gentleman so far. She was being a bitch, and she wasn’t entirely certain why, except that he unsettled her. There was something about him that made her feel safe, and wanted, and that was a very dangerous thing to feel…it led to other things, like wanting to be loved and putting her trust in a man again.

“I shouldn’t have said what I did, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to mislead you, but I have no intention of having sex with you tonight. I have to be committed to someone to go that far, and we just met.” His lips thinned, but he didn’t say anything. “Look, you’ve seen me home, and I’m safe. I think you should go before one of us says something we regret.”

“I only wanted to keep you safe,” he said, reaching for the doorknob. “Will you at least trust me with the keys to your car so I can see what’s wrong with it? I can drop it off here for you after I’m done.”

She hesitated, not sure that she should prolong their time together. Crimson was a temptation, and it had been a really long time since she’d been tempted. Indecision warred within her as she fought against the battered and bruised woman inside who dared to hope that maybe this man would be different from the others, maybe this man would treat her right and be worth any future heartache.

“I guess that would be okay.” She tossed her keys to him. “I need to be at work by three in the afternoon.”

“I’ll have it back to you before then, if I can get it running.” He hesitated, then leaned forward and brushed his lips against her cheek. “Be sure to lock up behind me.”

Her skin tingled from the slight contact and she raised a hand to her cheek as he walked out her door, and possibly out of her life. It felt too final, and suddenly, she wished she could call back her vicious words and ask him to stay.

Holly snapped the locks into place then leaned her forehead against the door.

“I’m an idiot,” she muttered. “A handsome man shows interest in me, doesn’t try to get in my pants, and I kick him out of my apartment.”

Shoving away from the door, she went into the kitchen and grabbed a soda from the fridge. The caffeine would keep her up even longer, but maybe that wasn’t such a horrible thing. What she needed was a little therapy tonight. A friend had recommended that she keep a journal to put her thoughts on paper and quiet the voices in her head that always said she wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough…but what had started as journaling had quickly turned into something more. Now she wrote stories when she sat down with her laptop. She’d written five so far, not that she’d let anyone read them.

Holly settled on the sofa with her laptop and opened her latest story. It wasn’t long before she was lost in a world of her creation; words flowed through her fingers and onto the screen, one chapter turning into two, then three. By the time she realized her lower back was aching, the clock told her it was way past her bedtime. Holly saved her file, put the computer away, and went to take a quick shower before changing into her favorite oversized tee to sleep in.

She was both anxious for tomorrow and dreading it. Would Crimson return her keys to her in person, or had she seen the last of him? As much as she hated to admit it, she wanted to see him again. If for no other reason than to apologize for her horrible behavior this evening. She’d shoved him away because he was too much of a temptation, but maybe she should have been pulling him closer. If there was one thing she’d learned about shifters, it was that they were loyal to a fault. Maybe she owed it to herself to see if there really was something between them.

 

Chapter Two

 

“What the hell is that?” Digger asked. “Is that duct tape on the fender?”

“I think that’s about all that’s holding this death trap together,” Crimson said, wiping his hands on a rag. “I told Holly I’d look it over and see if I could get it running for her, but I think it’s breathed its last. Time of death?”

Digger looked at his watch. “2:15 P.M.”

“Oh shit! Holly said she has to be at work by three today. I sure as hell don’t want her walking that far.”

“This the girl you took home from Laguna’s last night? It’s all Pistol could talk about. Said you snatched her right out from under a wolf’s nose.” Digger grinned. “I’d have loved to have seen that. Bet he was pissed.”

“He was moping in his beer, but he’s been watching her for a damn year and never approached her. Just because Hunter didn’t have the balls to pursue her didn’t mean I was going to sit on the sidelines. Besides, I think she may be the one. I’ve never had a woman peak my bear’s interest like she does.”

Digger shook his head. “And another one goes down.”

“Like finding a mate is a horrible thing? Come on, admit that you want one too. Aren’t you tired of chasing after women? They’re all faceless and nameless in my mind, and I want more than that. Besides, after my fuck up with Ghost’s mate, I think I’m done with the casual sex thing.”

Digger leaned against the wall and shoved his hands in his pockets. “No one blames you for the shit that went down. Not even Ghost. You need to let it go.”

Easier said than done. Crimson would blame himself for a while. If he hadn’t kicked Shelly out without that extra cash, her pimp never would have beaten the hell out of her. No woman deserved that. And then to find out she’d been forced into that life? Yeah, he’d felt like he’d been kicked in the balls. Shelly had actually come up to him last week and thanked him. She’d told him, if he hadn’t kicked her out of the clubhouse that night, then Ghost never would have sought her out and she’d still be stuck in that hell. Whether her words were true or not, it didn’t assuage his guilt.

“I’m going to take a shower then run to pick up Holly. She may kick my ass to the curb when I get there, but at least I can offer to take her to work, since her car is toast.” Crimson tossed the dirty rag on a nearby bench. “Tell Ghost I’ll have this car out of here later. I’m not sure what she wants to do with it.”

Digger nodded. “Go get your woman. This rust bucket will be fine where it is, for now.”

Crimson flashed him a smile then practically ran to his room in the clubhouse, slamming the door shut and stripping out of his greased-stained clothes. It was the fastest shower in the history of showers, and he didn’t have time to shave yet again, but he pulled on a clean tee and jeans, shoved his feet into his boots and dashed out the door. In the parking lot, he made a quick decision to take his bike and then hauled ass to Holly’s place.

When he knocked on her door, he was almost afraid she wouldn’t answer. Or worse, that she would and then slam the door in his face. He’d come on too strong last night and it had cost him. Maybe he’d made a mistake going into her apartment with her, but he’d been curious as to how far she would take things. He’d let his lust rule his brain, and now, he’d be lucky if the woman he wanted to claim would even speak to him.

Holly opened the door and he had to swallow the knot in his throat. She looked so damn beautiful. Her long, dark hair was tousled, but in an artful way that told him it was done on purpose. She’d put on make-up and it made her green eyes pop even more. She stared up at him, then her eyebrows rose and he realized he was practically drooling on her doorstep and had yet to utter a word.Moron.

“I, um…Your car can’t be fixed. There are too many things wrong with it to even give you a list, so I thought I’d swing by and give you a ride to work.”

Her brow wrinkled. “It can’t be fixed at all?”

Crimson shook his head.

“Great.” She blew out a breath. “I should have known my rotten luck would strike again.”

“So…about that ride.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I know I’m your least favorite person right now, but I don’t think you should walk to work.”

She looked down at the strappy heels on her feet. “Do I look like I’d be walking that far?”

“Uh, no. I guess not.” His gaze zeroed in on toes tipped with a pale pink polish and he had to swallow the knot in his throat. Even her damn feet were attractive.

Holly nibbled on her lower lip, drawing his gaze back to her full, kissable lips. Damn, but she was cute and sexy as hell in that body-hugging dress. It should be illegal for her to display those killer curves. Just the thought of having that body pressed against him on his bike was enough to make his cock stir. He willed the erection away before she noticed and hoped like hell he could remain a gentleman while she was dressed like that. He might be a horny bear, but he was determined she would be his mate, and he’d be damned if he’d treat her with anything less than the respect and reverence she deserved.

“I know you’re pissed at me, and while I’m not entirely sure why, I’m guessing I deserve it. I came on kind of strong and I apologize if I made you uncomfortable. But I’d really like to give you a ride to work, if you’ll let me.”

The stiffness in her body seemed to melt away. “Crimson, you didn’t do anything wrong last night. I was a total bitch to you, and I’m sorry. I promised myself, if you came here today that I would treat you better, and here I am still acting like I did last night.”

“You’re not a bitch.” He smiled. “I’ve been around plenty of those, and you’re far from claiming that title.”

“That’s sweet of you to say. If you’re serious about giving me a ride to work, I’ll accept. Once I’m there, I can arrange for a ride home with one of the girls. I’ll have to figure out something though, if my car really is dead. I can’t be without transportation for long or I won’t have a job.”

He leaned his shoulder against the doorframe. “Why don’t you let me get you to and from work for now? Take a few days to work out the car situation, and I’ll keep my ears open for a replacement.”

“I don’t want to take advantage of you.”

“I’m going to be one hundred percent honest, okay? I’m really interested in you, Holly, and getting you to and from work will give me a chance to get to know you better, and hopefully, convince you to go on a date with me. I’ve never really done the whole dating thing, so I can’t promise it will be fantastic, but I will put a lot of thought and effort into it, if you decide to say yes.”

She smiled and her eyes lit up, encouraging him.

“You’re so damn beautiful,” he said, reaching out to stroke his fingers through her hair. He’d bet it would be really soft when she didn’t have a ton of hair product in it. Although, the look she’d accomplished was definitely worth it. She had that just got out of bed look.

“You want to take me on a date?”

He nodded.

“Then why don’t you pick me up at midnight; we can order a pizza and hang out for a while. I’m usually too keyed up to sleep right away.”

“I’d like that.” He gave her a slow smile. “You ready to go to work? Or do you need some more time?”

She smoothed her hands down her dress. “I think I’m ready. I look okay, don’t I?”

“Honey, you look so damn good I’m having a hard time keeping gentlemanly thoughts.”

Holly let out a laugh that sounded like music, making his bear perk right up. He stepped back to give her room and she exited her apartment, locking up before dropping her keys into her purse. Crimson took a chance and grabbed her hand, liking the feel of her smooth, soft skin against his rough palm, and then led her to his bike in the parking lot. Holly stopped, pulling him to a halt.

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