Give Me a Reason
From NYT and USA Today bestselling author A.L. Jackson comes a single-dad, enemies-to-lovers stand-alone romance about a jaded club owner and his son’s teacher…
Eden Murphy came into my club looking to make some extra cash.
A girl like her didn't belong in a place like this.
She'd get ripped to shreds.
Most likely by me.
There's nothing but sweetness dripping from her sexy little body, and I'm the monster who's salivating to get a taste.
Trent Lawson is the last man I should want.
So wickedly gorgeous he makes my knees weak.
He's also an arrogant jerk who happens to be my new boss.
When I discover his adorable son is also in my kindergarten class, I know I have to keep my distance.
But neither of us can ignore the attraction that flames.
One glance, and our hearts race.
One touch, and we’re aching for what we can’t have.
One night, and we’re falling fast.
Dragging her into my sordid world is wrong.
It doesn’t matter.
Eden Murphy is mine.
Release date: August 30, 2021
Publisher: A.L. Jackson Books Inc.
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Listen to a sample
Give Me a Reason
It was just before ten when I eased my bike into the packed parking lot at the front of the club.
Darkness had long descended on the small city of Redemption Hills, California. The sky above was nothing but a blanket of black. Against it, the neon lights gleamed and glowed from the two-story building like beacons of debauchery, flashing over the slew of cars and bikes lined in a row near the entrance.
I stopped at the front and planted my boots on the ground so I could roll my bike back. Killing the rumbling engine, I kicked the stand and swung off. The glow of club lights and the sound of heavy music seeped through the thick block walls.
I lit a smoke and strode for the entrance, my boots crunching on the loose gravel as I went.
“Mr. Lawson.” Kult dipped his head as I approached.
Awareness rustled through the bodies standing at the door to get inside as I advanced on the crowd.
“Kult,” I returned as I came up beside him.
“How are you tonight, Sir?”
He chuckled. “All we can ask for, isn’t it?”
Kult was a bouncer who’d been working for me for the last four years. Intimidating as fuck. Loyal to the bone. Exactly what was required.
Stamping out my cigarette with the toe of my boot, I scanned the scene. “All quiet tonight?”
“So far, Sir,” Kult responded, his burly frame forever on guard.
“Way I like it,” I said, gaze sweeping the faces of those who’d turned to stare at me. Like every person there had taken note of my presence. Every eye compelled to look my direction.
My father had always said respect wasn’t earned, it was taken.
You had to own it.
As much as I’d despised the pig, he’d at least had that one thing right.
Proof of it was in the way every person had shifted. Now on edge. A shot of self-preservation injected into their bloodstreams.
Like they’d felt the rumble of the earth vibrating beneath the approach of my bike.
Felt the shift in the sordid, stagnant air.
I always found it ironic that they all seemed desperate for the promise made by the blue neon sign hanging from the front of the building.
Absolution from whatever sins they were running from.
Absolution from any choices they might make that night.
Absolution from feeling anything at all except for pleasure.
Still, they gaped at me like even in the midst of their thirst for indulgence, they felt wickedness in their presence.
They wouldn’t be wrong.
“At capacity?” I asked. There were at least twenty people in line, but I made it a habit to know everything going down in my club.
“Yes, Sir, since about nine.”
“Always is.” He cracked a bearded grin.
I lifted my chin in parting before I wound behind him so I could slip through the double doors and into the dingy glow of the bar. Music blared through the speakers and reverberated along the floors. It set up the vibe in anticipation of the band that would be taking the stage in about an hour.
Absolution was this cross between luxe and dive.
Fuckin’ kick-ass bands and the best drinks in the small, trendy mountain city that was tucked in the most northeastern corner of California.
A biker bar that had the rest of Redemption Hills flocking in droves for a chance to dip their toes into the danger they could feel seeping from the walls and still be able to walk away from it in the morning without feeling an ounce of guilt.
I edged deeper into the belly of my bar.
Place I’d built from the ground up with a little help from my brothers.
My attention swept the enormous room. The lights hanging from the cavernous ceiling were dimmed. Mood rowdy.
The bottom floor was surrounded by booths that lined the walls, tables and couches in the open space, and the stage and dance floor were to the far right.
The upper floor was home to pool tables and a second bar, and it wrapped around like a horseshoe, creating a balcony that was open in the middle to give a view of the stage.
I headed for the long matte black bar that ran the far wall on the main floor.
The floating shelves on the back wall were welded steel and glass, the rows of bottles running top to bottom cast in a glow of blue neon lights.
I wound through the couples snuggled on the couches and a few groups of college boys who were clearly out looking for a taste of the wild side.
Sage was behind the bar. He lifted his chin in welcome when he saw me coming. His dark tattoos looked like seething demons writhing across his even darker skin. Dude looked about as menacing as they came except for the grin that cracked his face.
“Yo, Trent. About time you decided to show your lazy ass.”
He was all cocky smiles as he poured me my regular. I slipped onto the stool in front of him, and he slid the glass my direction.
I took it with a scoff, taking a sip of the scotch and letting it soothe the disorder I couldn’t keep from raging inside. Way it always did. Begging to break loose.
“You gonna write me up for being late?” I razzed, quirking a brow.
Asshole loved acting the boss.
Considering he kept this place running when I wasn’t around, he might as well be.
Sage laughed a sound that was pure pity. “That would be a hard pass. Hard enough cleaning up your messes around here. You really gonna ask me to take on more?”
I tipped my glass his direction. “Only one I trust to do it.”
“Guess I need to start slacking then, yeah?” he taunted with a grin.
“Hell, no. Place would be in shambles without you. How is it looking tonight, anyway?”
He dried his hands on a towel. Sage was my general manager, but the dude loved playing bartender. It put him front and center. Where he could always keep an eye and an ear open. Be in the middle of the mix. Blending in so the rest of the staff thought of him as one of their own and let down their guard.
He always knew when something shady was going down before anyone else.
Plus, he actually fuckin’ liked people, so that was a thing.
“All’s good. Deliveries are complete and accounted for. Safes are full. Numbers are on your desk. Band is in the back ready to roll. All staff showed except for Laila. Shocker. Speaking of, there is someone waiting on you for an interview. She refused to leave until she saw you, if you want to know what you’re up against.”
His brown eyes played as he cracked a smirk and gestured toward one of the booths running the left wall.
I let my attention wander there, to the blonde who was sitting tucked in the booth sipping a Coke, looking so out of place I could actually feel her discomfort all the way from where I was sitting.
Frown taking hold, I swiveled my attention back to Sage. “Are you kidding me? Who let her in?”
Fighting laughter, he shrugged. “I did.”
Annoyance left me on a sigh. “Should only take a glance from you to know she doesn’t belong.”
Hell, she looked like raw meat set out for wolves to devour. Weak and ripe for the kill. Girl would get torn to shreds in a place like this.
Fact my dick jumped at the sight of her was evidence enough.
“Besides, interviews are by appointment only,” I added like he didn’t know the routine.
Sage lifted his hands to the side. “Hey, man, don’t blame me. She sat there all pretty like in that booth and ordered herself a drink. Paying customer and all. Of course, she’s been sitting there since three, refusing to leave until she got to talk to the one in charge, you know, since the bossman didn’t show for her interview that had been scheduled for that time.”
“Shit,” I grumbled, scrubbing a hand over my face. “Totally let it slip.”
Sage arched a sarcastic brow. “Really?”
“You could have handled it.”
“Went out there, and she flashed me a winning smile and said please. What’s a gentleman to do? Besides, don’t want that position, remember?”
I scoffed and stood. “Fine. I’ll get rid of her.”
I swiped my drink from the bar and started her direction.
Girl sat facing out, her attention flitting all over the place. Anxiety ripped from her and sent little shockwaves pulsating through the air.
This tingly, nervous energy that blistered and blew.
Inhaling deep, I pinned on my most indifferent expression because fuck…I could scent it like prey.
I should send Kult over to toss her because I had the sense that I should tuck tail and head the other direction. Stay as fucking far away from this girl as possible.
Knew better than getting twisted in something like that. When a bad idea presented itself? I usually found myself standing in front of it like I was on the goddamn welcome committee.
And there I was. Hit with an urge that had me itching to take a closer look. A feeling I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
To dip my dirty fingers into something pure. Like maybe it could offer a second’s reprieve from who I was.
But did I stop?
I was drawn.
Thing was, didn’t think I’d ever seen anyone so uniquely plain or indecently stunning before.
Her nose was probably a little too big and the contours of her face a little too sharp for her to fit into that perfect formula for beauty. Thick, blonde hair was parted in the middle, and it was curled in these fat waves that rolled over her shoulders, like the style hailed from another day.
Her chin was shaped like a heart and her mouth was a tiny pink bow written in an innocence so sweet I had to think there was a chance it’d never been devoured before.
Came to the quick conclusion it was the sum of them that made her striking.
This stoic sort of beauty that could bring a wicked man to his knees.
She felt me coming the way everyone else did. A frisson slaked through the air as I made my way to her. She looked up. Eyes the color of November took me in. A kaleidoscope of browns and greens, yellows and reds. Fallen leaves that sparked and shimmered beneath the muted light and sent another shiver racing for my dick.
Her stare ran down my body like she was cataloguing everything she could about me.
First and foremost, fear.
Problem was the way something else struck in the space between us. Something palpable yet imperceptible.
I saw the evidence of it prickle across the surface of her flesh.
Chills that ran wild.
She brought her shoulders up high like she could protect herself from it, all while lifting her chin in a show of confidence that made a smirk tick up at the corner of my mouth.
Nothing but a ferocious little kitten.
I slipped into the booth opposite her. As casual as could be, I slung an arm over the back and kept my other hand wrapped around the glass that I set on the table.
Before I had a chance to say anything, she asked, “You’re the owner?”
Her voice was this breathy, seductive thing, and shit…
“Yes,” I gritted.
She shoved her hand out across the table. “Hello. I’m Eden Murphy. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to meet you.”
Yeah, well I wasn’t so keen on meeting her because I was overcome with a severe bout of insta-lust. Kind that had my fingers twitching and the tiny spec of a conscience I still possessed telling me to stay the fuck away from the sweetness that was fillin’ my nostrils like a drug.
My own sixth sense.
Because to a guy like me? It was the light that was the danger. Thing that left me vulnerable. Put me at risk.
I just glared at her dainty little hand like all it had to offer was a viper bite before I cocked my head and bit out the reply, “Trent Lawson, and I’m sorry to waste your time, sweetheart, but we aren’t hiring servers.”
I started to get the fuck out of there when her voice hit me again. “Um…wait…what?”
Could feel her confused dejection floating around me.
Talons digging into my skin and dragging me back.
Words started to flood out from behind. “It said you were hiring in the job ad, and I had an interview at three o’clock today. I’m qualified. I worked at a café all through high school and at a coffee bar during college.”
“You and everyone else, sunshine,” I tossed out without glancing back because looking at her had become a dangerous thing.
This chick with the autumn eyes and the thrumming heart.
“Please, I’d appreciate you at least talking to me.” Agitation bound her words as I kept moving away. Then they flooded with panic. “I’m qualified and I’m fast…and…and I’ve danced my entire life.”
I whipped my head around fast enough to witness her delicate throat tremor when she said it, like maybe she could swallow back up the words after she’d released them.
I chuckled a dark sound.
Was she serious?
I sank back into the booth, no clue where this girl thought she was going with this, but some sick part of me liked the idea entirely too much.
“So, tell me about this dancing, Kitten, that you’ve done your whole life.”
She flinched, her delicate throat bobbing when she swallowed, the words hard when she pushed them out.
“I’ve done ballet since I was a child,” she said. “Now I teach classes to children.”
A rough chuckle scraped from my throat. “Ballet?”
“Yes. I can demonstrate, if you like?” A clear challenge tilted her head to the side when she said it.
Hard laughter slipped free, and I took a sip of my scotch, raked my teeth on my bottom lip as I sank back farther to take her in.
“What I want to know is how dancing has anything to do with you gettin’ hired as a server here? This look like a strip club to you?”
“No. I just…I thought it might…” She trailed off, chewing at her bottom lip.
Hiking a brow, I blatantly let my gaze rake over the bits of her I could see from over the top of the table. Girl was wearing a fucking baby-blue blouse that she had buttoned to the base of her throat, a suit jacket over the top like she was applying to be a teller down at the local bank.
Hot as fuck, but not even close to fittin’ in around here, though I got the sense she was trying to convince me that wasn’t the case.
Nah, we might not have dancers, but it was no secret our servers weren’t shy to tempt imaginations. To tease minds into desire with bits of flesh rather than showcasing everything hidden underneath.
Untouchable where they roamed like fallen angels through the raving pack.
Girl sitting across from me might be an angel, but not the kind who owned these floors.
The scrape of my laugh was like razors. “Sorry, Kitten, know exactly what you’re sayin’. Think it’s safe to say you don’t quite fit the bill.”
The offense that flashed through her expression almost overrode the desperation. “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”
Pushing to standing, I moved over to plant my hands on the table and leaned her way.
I was slammed with another shockwave of energy.
That fear and distrust.
But this time, the other piece was unmistakable—stark, terrified attraction.
My mouth moved close to her ear. “It means you’d get eaten alive.”
Most likely by me.
Shivers raced her spine.
I felt them.
Her nerves ricocheting against mine.
Had to restrain myself from leaning in and licking her jaw.
Because fuck, I wanted a taste for myself.
I edged back an inch, figuring she’d slip out in the bare space and run the hell to safety.
Not this girl.
She lifted that defiant chin again. “I’m far less fragile than you think.”
I inhaled her honeyed scent. Had to force myself to be a good little boy considering I was dying to test that theory. “Believe me, sweetheart, I’m doing you a favor. Girls like you don’t belong in a place like this. Now go home and lock your door behind you before you regret walking through my door.”
“Are you always so condescending to the women who apply here?”
Desire and disdain.
They seeped from her skin.
This time, I let my nose run the edge of her ear as I murmured, “Only the ones who look like you.”
I pushed back and started to walk, only to freeze. Struck by the bolt of lightning that speared through my body when her hand wrapped around my wrist.
She gasped like she’d felt it, too. Then she gritted, “I don’t need your protection, Mr. Lawson. What I need is this job.”
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