Ride WildBy: Laura Kaye
It was their normal routine, and it was awkward as crap.
Cora Campbell bit back a smile as she sat in the passenger seat of the beat-up pickup truck. She didn’t think Sam Evans, her boss-of-sorts, would appreciate her humor. Or, like, any humor. He filled the driver’s seat beside her, his big hands on the wheel and black tattoos snaking all down his lean, muscled arms. From the corner of her eye, she sneaked a glance at his face, and one word came to mind.
Longish wild brown hair, like he couldn’t keep from raking at it in frustration. Wild brown beard that Cora sometimes imagined chopping off just so she could better see the face it seemed like he purposefully hid beneath it. Pale green eyes, mesmerizing in their uniqueness, but also wild with emotions at which she could only guess . . .
“So, um, Slider,” she said, her use of the nickname his motorcycle club had given him slicing through the uneasy silence, “anything special I need to know about Sam and Ben for tonight?”
That pale gaze slashed her way, and she felt the chill of it into her bones. Slider didn’t scare her—he was too good to his boys for that. But it was entirely possible that his glances appeared in the dictionary next to Intimidating as Fuck. And maybe even If Looks Could Kill. And definitely Like, Whoa. It was a good thing he paid her so well to babysit his sons. In truth, he was doing her a pretty big favor giving her a part-time job while she figured out her life, so she put up with his . . . moodiness.
He huffed out a breath, as if mustering the energy to reply sucked vital life force from his soul or something. “Sam has homework he wants your help with,” he said, his tone almost apologetic. “And Ben . . . is Ben.”
Cora nodded. Having babysat the kids four or five days a week for the past three months, she had a decent idea what Slider meant. At six, Ben was a sweetheart of a boy, but nightmares and monsters under the bed gave him more than a little difficulty sleeping. “Okay.”
They came upon the two-story white farmhouse where Slider lived and Cora sometimes worked. Empty, overgrown flower beds. A misshapen wreath on the door, so bleached from the sun Cora could no longer tell what color it’d originally been. Shutters hanging at odd angles from years of neglect. The house had an abandoned, decaying feel about it, and Cora didn’t really have to wonder why that was.
Slider hadn’t even parked when the front door exploded open, the creaky screen door wobbling like it might just give up and fall off its hinges. A little boy darted out next to the gravel driveway, hopping excitedly as if the grass hid a trampoline. Except for the lighter brown hair and happiness shaping his face, there was no denying Ben was Slider’s kid.
Cora stepped out of the truck into the warm early September evening wearing a smile. “Hey, jumping bean.”
“Name’s Ben, not Bean,” he said, his grin all the cuter for the big gap where his front teeth should’ve been.
“You sure? I could’ve sworn it was Bean.” She hugged him as he threw his arms around her waist. Where Slider was a walking, talking wall that kept all his emotions barricaded, his younger son wore every single emotion on his sleeve.
“No.” He laughed. “It’s Ben!”
“Okay, Bean.” Hiking up the backpack that served as an overnight bag, she glanced at Slider and found him watching her through narrowed eyes, like maybe she was a foreign language he couldn’t decipher. Tall and broad-shouldered, he had a ranginess about him that, like the house, spoke of neglect. She’d seen him sit with the kids at meals, sometimes even with a plate of food in front of him. But it was possible she’d eaten more watching movies in bed with her friends Haven and Alexa last weekend than she’d seen Slider eat in the past three months combined.
The youngest Evans let loose a long-suffering groan. “No, Cora, it’s Ben,” he said, pronouncing her name more like Coowa. It was so cute it almost killed her.
“Finally, you’re here,” Sam called from the front door. At ten going on eleven going on thirty-five, the kid was the definition of an old soul. It was in his eyes, the seriousness of his personality, the way he took care of his little brother, as if, without being asked, he was trying to relieve some of the burden of being a single parent from his father’s shoulders.