Undercover cop Clay Navarro left the Sultans biker gang a changed man. Its ringleaders may be awaiting trial, but he wears the memory of every brutal act he was forced to commit tattooed across his skin. He doesn’t have space in his messed-up life for anything gentle—not now, maybe not ever.
Dr. Georgette Hadley is drawn to the damaged stranger’s pain, intimidated but intrigued by the warmth that lies beneath Clay’s frightening exterior. But when the Sultans return looking for revenge, she finds herself drawn into the dirty underbelly of a life forged in violence…that not even her touch may be able to heal.
Adriana Anders has acted and sung, slung cocktails and corrected copy. She’s worked for start-ups, multinationals and small nonprofits, but it wasn’t until she returned to her first love—writing romance—that she finally felt like she’d come home. Today, she resides with her tall French husband, two small children and fat French cat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she writes the dark, gritty, steamy love stories of her heart.
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Before she could stop it, a startled oh escaped George’s mouth.
He was beautiful. Beautiful but tragic, his skin a patchwork of scars, old and fresh alike, intersected by ink that ran the gamut from decorative to distressing.
After a few seconds, she felt the awkward imbalance of their positions and stood, which still put her only about chest high.
His was a chest unlike any she’d had the pleasure of seeing. Beyond the obvious—the ink and the damage—his shape appealed on a level her brain couldn’t even begin to understand, but her body seemed quite eager to explore. She eyed his pectorals, curved and strong-looking, solid and sprinkled with a smattering of hair, and that vertical indentation in the middle, just begging a women to slide her nose in there, to run it up to a finely delineated set of clavicles, where she knew he’d smell like man, and down to the apex of a rib cage and belly carved in bone and muscle and sinew. She wondered how he’d gotten all that strength and unconsciously lifted a hand to touch…
With a start, George pulled herself back to the room, to her job, to her livelihood, for God’s sake, and felt her face go hot.
Dear God, my ovaries are taking over.
Take George’s professional trappings away from her—things like paper gowns and background music and attending nurses—and you might as well throw her into a barnyard or a zoo or whatever uncivilized place her overheated brain had escaped to.
This is a patient, she firmly reminded herself.
Not a man. A patient.
She cleared her throat, pushed her glasses farther up her nose, and leaned in. Still too close, too much. She thought she could smell him. Probably his deodorant, although it was more animal than chemical—very light, but inevitable in the stifling heat—and a hint of something less healthy. Alcohol?
“Please take a seat on the table, Mr. Blane.” There, that would give her some much-needed distance. Doctor, meet patient. She waited as he stepped up effortlessly and settled himself with a crinkle of paper, perfect muscles shifting under tragic skin.
Burns and battle scars. Even the tattoos.
Most weren’t professionally done, except for the arms and one word she could see, curved at the top of his chest in scrolled lettering that skimmed his collarbones.
Mercy, an oddly poignant blazon fluttering above the mess beneath.
“This one looks professional,” she said, reaching out toward the letters before stopping herself, her finger almost close enough to touch the crisp-looking hair.
She’d have to touch him eventually, she knew. But better to do it with gloves on, laser in hand.
Good, she thought, with the strangest sense of letting go inside. Just a tiny slide into relief that the man wasn’t all blades and bared teeth.
“And like I said, I’m keeping the sleeves. They’re… mine. Except for the clock.” He touched his wrist. “We can get rid of that.”
His hand moved to his chest, and he rubbed himself there. The move seemed unconscious, mesmerizing, the sound of his hand rasping over hair loud in the quiet room.
Mercy. What a strange banner for a man who looked like he’d been spared nothing.
“Got it. Keep Mercy and the arms,” she said with an attempt at a smile. She eyed those arms, where death and destruction appeared to play the starring role. A skull, covered in some kind of cowl with a scythe and what looked like oversize earrings, took up his right forearm. Higher, from shoulder to elbow, leered a mask, Mayan or Inca, and perfectly in keeping with his chiseled face. The other arm had darker imagery: a kilted man with a sword, wreaking havoc on what looked like a big wolf.
A griffon sat, claws sharp and deadly, and around all of the violence, rooted in the clear-cut line of his wrist, was a complicated design made up of knots and what she thought were Celtic symbols. Crowning it all, an oversize cross covered his entire shoulder, overflowing into the ink on his chest and back, connecting the Mercy in front to his back.
Doctor, she almost wanted to correct him, because anything was better than ma’am. It sounded old, dried- up, sexless, which, on second thought, was probably more than appropriate. Although she didn’t feel sexless right now.
Christ, not at all.