Brute's Strength: Riot MC Biloxi #2
As Vice President of the Riot MC Biloxi Chapter, Brute lives for his motorcycle club. Meeting Kenzie Whitehall challenges his dedication to his carefree lifestyle. Everything about her appeals to him, but he knows she's looking for commitment. She's forced to tell him she's a single mom which should send Brute packing, but he can't stay away.
Meanwhile, Brute has a homicide detective breathing down his neck. The officer believes Brute has answers in an unsolved murder, and he isn't above playing Kenzie against Brute to solve the case.
When Kenzie's ex-husband finds out she's dating a biker, he drags her back to court regarding custody and child support payments. Kenzie refuses to give up her shot at happiness with Brute to appease her ex-husband.
Even though he's falling fast for Kenzie, Brute knows walking away from her is the best thing for her and her daughter. Leaving should be easy. But with three hearts on the line, will Brute find the strength to fight for love?
Release date: July 16, 2021
Publisher: Karen Renee
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Brute's Strength: Riot MC Biloxi #2
Would it make me one of those women if I asked to talk to a manager of the lunch date app?
I shook my head at my foolishness. It didn’t matter.
What mattered was that I had wasted another lunch hour trying to “put myself out there.” Being stood up stunk to high heaven, but I had to look at the bright side. At least I hadn’t paid for a babysitter only to be stood up. That would definitely turn me into the woman who hunted down managers and got in someone’s face.
The bartender arrived with my basket of food. I thanked him, salted my fries, and glanced over my shoulder. About the time it became clear my so-called date wouldn’t make it, I had noticed two men and a woman eating lunch in the back corner. The man who caught my eye was clearly the third wheel. That surprised me, which meant it intrigued me. Greatly.
He was everything my ex-husband was not. Even from across the room, I could see he was bulky with muscle, rough around the edges, and he moved with sheer power. His dark hair looked like he styled it, but something told me he didn’t. It stood up like each strand was a soldier standing at attention, ready to battle whatever the day brought. Bonus, his laugh was loud and sincere.
His dark eyes scanned the room regularly, which was why I could only peek at him over my shoulder surreptitiously.
Yeah. A guy like him wouldn’t know lunch date apps existed. His phone might explode if he tried to download the app.
I faced forward and bit into my chicken sandwich. A few moments later, the bartender executed an exaggerated chin-lift and then my brawny, dark-haired man sauntered out to the concourse. This allowed me a good look at his derriere and the back of his leather vest.
It featured three patches. The first read, “Riot MC.” The second and most prominent patch was a fist upon which perched a skull with wings off to the side where the fist and skull met. It was pretty damn cool as biker patches went, not that I’d seen many of them. The last one read “Biloxi, MS.”
I would never catch the eye of a tough-guy like him. Though I wished I could.
As my eyes trailed him turning left out of the restaurant, I wondered if that was the last I would see of him or if he was headed to the restrooms.
The bar and grill I was at happened to be inside a casino, and rather than have the restrooms inside the restaurant, they were always located outside; a not-so-subtle way of encouraging people to get back to the business of gambling their money away. Maybe that was why I kept getting stood up. The location was uber-public, and I knew casinos had security cameras everywhere, so win-win for me. Though, lose-lose for douchebags who wanted to do single women wrong.
I couldn’t afford to be done wrong. I had Aubrey, my daughter, to consider. She was the most important person in my life. So, job one was to make sure blind dates didn’t lead to any problems which could affect my little girl.
Okay, not so little. She was six-and-three-quarters, if you asked her. Just six if you asked me, and we needed to find the pause button, stat! She laughed at my threats to make her stop growing by putting a brick on her head, but the joke was wearing thin.
As I ate my sandwich, a tall, thin woman with long strawberry blonde hair stopped at the hostess stand. She spoke with her hands and her mouth, but she did it while maintaining an air of being prim and proper. The hostess led her to a small table in my line of vision.
Mr. Biker returned, but paused when he passed the hostess stand. He scanned the room, caught sight of the woman, and settled in the seat across from her.
My face fell, I knew, so I bent to my lunch and focused on eating quickly. My boss, Lydia, knew about the blind dates. Then again, besides my mother, she was the most adamant I find a man.
I sipped my Coke Zero and caught sight of the strawberry-blonde woman leaving. Against my will, my head swiveled toward the table, only to see the tough-guy walking toward me, a huge smile on his face.
My stomach plummeted even as heat swirled through my chest.
He couldn’t have this effect on me. Heartburn! It had to be.
He kept coming closer.
Great Scott! He couldn’t be approaching me. I looked down at my food, to find four French fries left.
“Funny how the food here disappears so fast, ain’t it, darlin’?”
I raised my head, but didn’t look at him yet. I needed every second to get myself together.
When I turned to him, I smiled. “It is funny how that happens.”
His facial expression shifted for a moment before he controlled it. Almost as if my smile surprised him, though why that would be, I didn’t know.
Then he grinned, and I struggled to keep a stoic expression. But I managed because mentally, I took a snapshot of that mischievous smile putting a twinkle in his sultry brown eyes.
“Can I get you a drink?”
I rattled the ice in my soda cup. “If only I didn’t have free refills. Besides, I don’t think your friend would like that.”
His eyebrow drew down over his right eye while his chin dipped a touch. “I’m sorry?”
“Your friend, who just left. She wouldn’t like you buying me a drink.”
He chuckled. “She’s my best friend’s sister. Not only off-limits, but definitely not my type. You look like fun, though.”
I bit my tongue to keep from saying I was only fun if a Pixar movie marathon was on tap with popcorn, juice pouches, and ice cream on hand.
My chuckle was quiet. “I’m really not.”
He leaned toward me. “Let me be the judge of that.”
I shook my head.
“Actually, I’m enough fun for both of us.”
My smile faltered. “Excuse me?”
“I’m tons of fun, baby.” He held up a finger. I expected him to say he was number one or something, but what he said next threw me for a loop. “Only need one kiss, and that’ll prove you should give me your number and give me a shot.”
I laughed while shaking my head at his brashness.
The scent of his leather vest hit me when he leaned even closer. “You been watching me since you got here. One kiss, I give you my number or vice versa, and you pick the time.”
My eyes narrowed. “You don’t even know if I’m a good—”
He cut off the word ‘kisser’ by landing his lips on mine. They felt firm yet supple against my lips. The barest trace of stubble could be felt, which told me he’d shaved recently. My lips were parted since I’d been speaking, so his tongue slipped inside my mouth.
Now I knew why Lydia wanted me to do this. I felt this kiss in my core, and I wanted so much more of it. My hand went to the side of his head and I heard him groan. I thought he’d stop things, but he deepened the kiss and my toes curled as my core began to ache.
Forget ‘great Scott’. I was horny from a kiss! That hadn’t happened since I was a teenager. My inner-slut demanded to drag this man to a private area and have my way with him, but that wasn’t right.
I knew it wasn’t right. I still wanted to do it, though.
He ended the kiss.
When my eyes opened, I watched his expansive chest heave with his exhale, and I heard something hit the bar.
“Number. Now,” he demanded, his voice husky as hell.
Instinct beat intellect, and I entered my digits with all my ten-key dexterity.
He looked up from the phone. “Christ. You a super-texter or something?”
“Bank teller… or something,” I smiled.
He bit his lip.
God! I’d never made a man bite his lip! How awesome was that?
He tapped the call icon, my phone rang, and he hung up.
“That’s me. What’s your name, gorgeous?”
I gave him a look at the endearment.
“You are, and I don’t want any lip about it. What’s your name?”
He smirked. “Love it. When are you free, Kenzie?”
I grimaced. “Next week would be the earliest, if you’re actually interested.”
Now he gave me a look. “Learn quick, babe. I don’t waste time if I can help it. I’m callin’ you next week. Plan on it. I gotta get back to the table. My brother just got engaged, and he doesn’t know I paid his tab. Later.”
“You were kissed!” Lydia yelled, the moment I opened the door to the bank.
I looked around the lobby, relieved no customers were inside. She hustled toward me, her pointy, black heels clacking on the floor. Her auburn hair seemed brighter against her black power-suit.
With wide eyes on her, I shook my head. “No, I got stood up. Again.”
Her hazel eyes narrowed on me. “I don’t believe it. You walked up looking all dazed, like you got it good.”
Not good. Stellar. Out-damn-standing was more like it. And it was only a kiss.
Great. Now I had The Killers singing in my head.
My knack for self-inflicted earworms knew no bounds.
Lydia dragged me into her office, closing the door behind her. She focused on my face. “Something happened, Kenzie Whitehall. And I can tell you’re trying to hide it, which means it’s better than good. So spill, lady.”
I sighed. “It’s probably nothing, but even though I was stood up, I met a man.”
She rolled her hand gesturing for me to continue. “I’m sure he has a name.”
My face fell before I whispered, “Shit.”
How could I be such a dimwit?
“I didn’t get his name,” I whispered.
Lydia turned her head so she could give me some side-eye. “That doesn’t make sense. If you met him, how do you not know his name?”
I closed my eyes and tried to envision him again. Seeing him in my mind’s eye wasn’t that difficult, but focusing on the name printed on his leather vest was extremely difficult.
“Kenzie,” Lydia called.
I opened my eyes. “This will sound crazy, but he’s a biker. His name was right there on his vest, but I obviously didn’t commit it to memory.”
Lydia’s brows furrowed and a look crossed her face that she only got when Duane, our district manager, came to visit. After an exhale, she asked patiently, “Did this man kiss you?”
My lips tipped up of their own volition.
Her eyes widened. “I can’t believe you kissed a man and don’t even know his name!”
I sighed. “He asked for…”
I trailed off because even though he asked for my name and got my number, how could I forget to do the same?
“He asked for sex?” Lydia asked.
My head whipped up. “No! Are you crazy?”
She scoffed. “Well, you mentioned he’s a biker. Then you said ‘he asked for,’ but never finished. And I stand by my original observation, Kenzie. You looked like you got it, and good. So, if all he did was kiss you, why did you have such a dreamy expression on your face?”
I exhaled hard. “Because he’s a damn good kisser.”
“How can we spy on this guy in advance without his name?”
My brows furrowed.
“That’s the entire point of online dating, Kenzie. You can run your own recon on the bastards who message you. Then you know what you’re walking into on date night.”
I shook my head. “Whatever, Lydia. That doesn’t seem very honest of me. Researching him in advance.”
“You got a daughter. Means you, especially, have to do your homework, and you don’t want to waste your time on a jerk if you can ascertain he’s a jerk well in advance.”
My focus shifted past her and I shook my head as I remembered that huge, infectious smile of his. “He’s not a jerk.”
“Oh, Lord,” Lydia said while her head tilted back and she contemplated the ceiling.
I gave a short chuckle. My hand wrapped around hers. “I know, Lydia. I can’t know that, but at the same time, I believe in gut reactions. Something tells me he isn’t a jerk. I mean, he bought lunch for his buddy who just got engaged.”
A short laugh erupted from her. “That doesn’t make him ‘not a jerk.’ He’d be non-jerk material if he’d bought your lunch.”
I scoffed. “No way. That would’ve been presumptuous and I wouldn’t have dug it at all.”
Her head wobbled as she considered it. “You’re right. But plenty of jerks buy meals, so I don’t think you can use that as your measuring stick.”
“That’s true, but jerks don’t bite their lips.”
“I made him bite his lip, Lydia. That’s never happened. At least not from something I did to him, but—”
A concerned look crossed her face, and I kept talking before she could interrupt.
“Even if he is a jerk, I get why you’ve been harping on me—”
“I haven’t been harping,” she muttered.
I shot her a look and she had the good grace to look contrite.
“You’ve been kinda harping for me to put more effort into dating. So, if this goes haywire, I’ll step up my game.”
A pleased smile curled her lips, and her eyes lit up before she held out her hand, palm up. “Gimme your phone.”
Her expression turned mischievous. “Just hand it over. Unlocked, please.”
I didn’t know why I complied, but I did. She opened up my recent calls, saw the one missed from the mysterious biker and sent him a text.
I reached out for my phone, but she pivoted on her heel. “Chill out, Kenzie. I’m just pointing out he didn’t give you his name, and asking for it so you can assign him in your contacts.”
“That’s a great idea, but I still think that text should come from, say, me!”
Lucky for me, the chime sounded, indicating the door to the bank had opened. She handed back my phone and greeted the customer.
Two hours later, I took a quick break and checked the text thread Lydia had started.
Hey, it’s Kenzie. I realized you never gave me *your* name. That’s kinda important don’tcha think?
I rolled my eyes at Lydia putting the word ‘don’tcha’ in my mouth via text. His response made my stomach drop in a pleasant way.
Thought you saw my name on my cut, babe. ;) Since you were distracted, you got two choices. You can call me Sam or you can call me Brute like my brothers do. TTYL
Sam. He didn’t look like a man named Sam. But he most definitely looked like a ‘Brute.’ And for some reason, I especially liked that.
I walked up the sidewalk to the school doors where the extended-day program was housed. A chain-link fence surrounded a playground but I could see it was mainly older children outside. One of the teachers shouted for the kids to line up so they could go back inside.
My phone rang inside my purse. I slid it out to see Caleb, my ex-husband, was calling.
“Hi, I’m picking—”
“Kenz, I don’t have much time. Got a plane to catch. I can’t take Aubrey this week. Hal turned in his resignation, and since he’s going to our biggest competitor, I have his three biggest clients and I’ve gotta make sure we retain their business.”
My brows furrowed for a moment. It wasn’t unusual for work to be divvied up when people left his firm, but it was strange he would be flying anywhere on a Friday evening. Caleb was as frugal as the day was long, though it didn’t extend to his company’s wallet.
Saturdays were our trade-off days, in part because of Caleb’s crazy schedule and in part because Aubrey wanted it that way. One might think she shouldn’t get a say in how we handled the switch-off, but since it impacted her the most, we did what felt smoothest for her.
“When will you get back?” I asked.
He sighed. “Not certain. If my meetings go well, Wednesday. But bottom line, Kenzie, I need to switch our weeks. Can we do that or what?”
My jaw shifted so I wouldn’t grind my teeth. Caleb’s terse business tone irritated me every time. I recalled the day’s date and realized I didn’t have to work tomorrow morning, so I wouldn’t have to find someone to watch Aubrey.
“Absolutely, Caleb. Any special—”
“Great. Next Saturday then. Tell Aubrey Daddy loves her.”
With the double beep of my phone, I knew he’d hung up. Again, I fought clenching my jaw. He had a way of acting like his time was more valuable than anyone else’s and that had only intensified after our divorce.
It would have been nice to know if he had special plans for the weekend with Aubrey, but now, I’d have to get that info from her. That drove me up the wall, because it wasn’t cool to put a six-year-old in the middle. But then, I supposed that wasn’t exactly putting her in the middle. She would certainly tell me what she’d been looking forward to about her visit with her father.
When I opened the door to the school corridor, Aubrey was wearing her backpack and sitting in a chair along the hall. She jumped up at the sight of me, her dirty blonde ponytail swinging wildly.
Mrs. Ferris, one of the teachers, sat at a desk where parents signed their children out. “We saw you walking up, and Aubrey couldn’t wait to go home, Mom.”
I smiled at my daughter and shared the smile with Mrs. Ferris. “I bet you can’t wait to go home either. It’s Friday, after all.”
Aubrey bustled up, I gave her a hug, and we went to the car.
“How was your day?” I asked, while we both buckled into our seats.
“Good, Mommy. I can’t wait to go to Daddy’s. I have so much Halloween candy left. Who called you? I saw you outside. Was it Daddy?”
I twisted in my seat to look in her gray-blue eyes. “Yeah, honey, it was. I hate to tell you this, but he’s got to go out of town suddenly. He wanted me to tell you he loves you, and he’ll see you next weekend.”
She didn’t frown, but her lips set in a way I felt her disappointment. I hated this about Caleb’s job, how the last-minute travel impacted Aubrey. And whenever I brought it up, you’d think I asked him if he could cut off his arm. But really, he had coworkers who didn’t travel as much or as far as he did.
Caleb firmly believed Aubrey had to learn to adjust with the curveballs life threw at her. While I didn’t disagree with that, I was of a mindset to limit the number of curveballs my girl received and prevent as many as possible.
The sound of a sniff pulled me from my rumination.
I stared at Aubrey. Her lip wasn’t quivering or anything, but I got the feeling she was going to blow.
“It’s the weekend, sweetie. Are we doing pizza or burgers?”
She shrugged, then crossed her arms.
I amped up my smile. “Now, c’mon. I know you’re super-cool now that you’re in first grade, but I figure I got a while before you answer in shrugs.”
“I get to answer in shrugs?” she asked.
“No,” I said, dipping my chin. “But what’s it gonna be? Pizza? It’s time to go home.”
“Whatever you want, Mommy.”
I arched a brow. “You only say that when you’re up to something. What’s going on?”
“I want my Halloween candy.”
With some things I could be a stickler, and Halloween candy happened to be one of those things. Caleb wasn’t. If something could be had for free, he was all about it, and he let her stuff herself sick with candy. Every year.
“I bet Ronnie’s eating it,” she mumbled.
My lips pressed together to contain my scoff. Caleb’s wife, Veronica, wouldn’t touch candy if a million dollars were on the line.
I put the car in gear. “Doubt that, Aubs. It’ll still be there next week. I’ll make you a deal: tell me what you want for dinner and we’ll swing by Target on the way to see if they have any candy on clearance. Or better yet, we’ll pick up cookies. Fresh cookies beat candy every time.”
In the rearview mirror, I saw her pondering that. Since my girl was no dummy, she saw logic and smiled. “Okay, Mommy. And, can we get pizza?”
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