Book Title: Wilde Riders
Author: Savannah Young
Release Date: February 11. 2014
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
The drive into New Jersey is exhausting. My only saving grace is that most of the traffic is going into the city instead of out of the city like I am. You’ve got to love those bridge and tunnel guys. I wouldn’t date one but I have a little bit of respect for them. The commute into Manhattan turns a nine hour work day into an eleven hour one, if you’re lucky. I can feel my stomach start to knot as I get further away from the city and further away from civilization. Pretty soon I’ll be in the sticks surrounded by woods and farmland. I can almost smell the manure that will no doubt take days to completely rid from my nasal passages. I pray that I don’t run into any animals, especially cows, which are huge, smelly and completely freak me out. The only live animals I ever care to see have to fit comfortably in a handbag, like a Chihuahua or Teacup Poodle, for example.
I have an appointment with a man named Jake Wilde. He asked me to come early, before the place opens at noon, so he could give me his full attention. I try to imagine what someone named Jake Wilde would look like and all I can come up with is an old gunslinger like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.
As I pull into Old Town the place looks exactly like I thought it would. The buildings in the town square are old and I image the place hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years or so.
Haymakers is just past the town square, down the hill from the deli, next to the gas station. Those were the exact directions I was given, in those words. I take that to mean the town only has one gas station and one deli.
When I pull into the parking lot, there’s only one other vehicle sitting there. It’s an old beat-up Dodge Ram. Nothing like fitting the country bumpkin stereotype like a glove. I have a brief moment of panic and wonder if it’s safe to park my BMW in the dirt lot. Then I remind myself where I am. Who is going to mess with it in the middle of the day? A stray deer from the woods out back? The only thing I probably have to worry about is it getting dusty.
I take in a deep breath. I have to be thankful there’s no manure smell yet. The quicker you do this, I remind myself, the quicker you can get back to the lovely asphalt jungle you call home.
I’m hit with a gust of wind as soon as I get out of my car. How is it possible that Old Town is even windier than lower Manhattan? I didn’t think I’d ever find a place windier than Wall Street. Even the Windy City didn’t seem this windy when I had business in Chicago.
When I enter the bar, I try to smooth down my thick hair, which I know is probably a complete mess from the gust. I’m surprised by the homey feel of the place. How could someone like me possibly feel at home in a country bar? Even if I was wearing jeans and cowboy boots, if I even owned jeans and cowboy boots, I wouldn’t fit in at a place like this.
I hear someone clear his throat and I turn to see a guy about my age, mid-twenties, standing next to me. I can’t help my surprise when I see he’s wearing khakis and a polo shirt, like he just stepped off of a golf course. He looks as out of place in this country bar as I feel.
“Are you Jake Wilde?” I ask.
The guy gives me the faintest hint of a smile but it’s almost as if it pains him to give that much. His deep brown eyes look even more distressed and I can’t help but wonder what’s behind those sad eyes.
He rakes his fingers through his thick dark hair. “A little windy out, isn’t it?”
My hand automatically goes to my hair and I try to casually flatten it down again. I imagine I must look like I just stepped out of a wind tunnel.
“Your hair looks fine,” the guy tries to assure me. But he’s got that hint of a smile on his face again and it makes me wonder if he’s lying just to make me feel better.
“I’m Cooper Wilde,” the guy says as he offers a hand.
I don’t know why I suddenly feel nervous about shaking it. It’s a business meeting. That’s what people do. But the way this guy is looking at me gives me the feeling that he might be interested in more than just business.
But I’m not, I remind myself. Not only because I’ve all but sworn off men, I’m here to do a job. I’ve been working for H & C Bank for two years and this is my first solo assignment as a lead investigator. If I continue to do well, I’ll be well on my way to becoming a Vice President before I turn thirty. I don’t need a man to throw me off my career trajectory. And definitely not some guy in a country bar in rural New Jersey.
I take his hand and give it a quick shake but I can’t bring my-self to look into his smoldering eyes again. “I’m Riley Smith.”
“I figured that,” Cooper says.
“Why is that?”
That hint of a smile has returned to his face again. “We don’t often get women in business suits in the bar.”
I’m not sure why I’m suddenly overcome with the urge to get a real smile out of Cooper Wilde. I don’t know even know the guy but it somehow seems important. I get the feeling he hasn’t really smiled in a while and it’s long overdue.
Not that I’ve had much occasion for real smiles myself lately.
“My brother will be here in a minute or two. He’s just printing a few documents from the computer. Purchase orders and receipts.”
I nod and look around the place. From the outside, I thought it was going to be a dive but the place actually has character. I can tell the wooden bar is old, and it looks hand carved, as do the barstools. There’s a large stage area that looks new. That’s one of the expenses I was charged with investigating. I try to image what the place looks like filled with patrons watching a local band play on a Friday night.
“Ms. Smith?” I hear a deeper male voice say.
I look up to see another guy approaching. He also looks around my age, mid-twenties, but he looks more like what I’d expect inside a country bar. He’s wearing a white button down shirt with jeans and cowboy boots. His hair is lighter than Cooper’s and his face is rounder, more boyish, but there’s definitely a family resemblance between these two guys. They’re both about the same height, around six feet, with athletic builds, like they play sports.
“I’m Jake Wilde,” the lighter haired guy says.
I try not to laugh as I look at Jake. He’s young, attractive and nothing like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. So much for my speculation about his name.
I notice Jake has papers in his hands. “Maybe we should have a seat at one of the tables.” He motions to a table closest to us.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asks. Jake has one thing that Cooper doesn’t. An absolutely killer smile. It’s the kind of smile that can probably get any girl into bed in a matter of minutes. Well, any girl except me. I no longer fall for guys with smiles like that. It hurts too much the next morning when they say they’ll call you, and give you that smile, and you know they’re lying and you’ll never hear from them again.
“I’ll take some water,” I reply.
Jake actually winks at me before he turns to head towards the bar. The guy knows how to charm people I’ll give him credit for that.
I notice Cooper now has the papers in his hand. Without saying anything, he sits down and I follow.
“I think this is everything you’ll need as far as the fraud investigation is concerned. We’ve got purchase orders for all of the improvements as well as receipts for the completed work. You’re sitting at one of the new tables right now. And you can see the new stage from here. I’d be happy to take you up to the new roof, if you’d like to see it.”
Cooper pushes the stack of papers toward me. I quickly thumb through them. I’ll make a few phone calls when I get back into the city to verify everything and cover my butt. At first glance, though, everything looks clean. It doesn’t seem like a case of fraud, more likely poor bookkeeping.
“The loan hasn’t been paid in months,” I say even though that’s not really my department. I’m here only for the fraud investigation. They’ll be dealing with someone else regarding the default on the loan.
“I know,” Cooper says, and I can see more darkness over-shadow his already dark eyes. “I’m going to try and fix that.”
Jake comes back with three bottles of water. “Bottle okay or would you like a glass?” he asks.
“Bottle is fine,” I say.
Jake sets the bottles down on the table and takes the seat right next to me. I’m a little taken aback by how much space he commands. And not just because of his size. It’s his energy—his being—that’s so large.
“So what did I miss?” Jake asks.
Cooper eyes his brother and I can see there’s a little bit of animosity between them. Or at least there is on Cooper’s part. Jake seems kind of oblivious to it.
Cooper rubs his temple and says, “I was just telling Miss Smith that we’re willing to cooperate with her investigation in any way we can. I’ve given her all of the documents she’ll need.”
“Great,” Jake says. He gives me another one of his charming smiles then looks at me like he’s undressing me with his eyes.
I reflexively pull my suit jacket tighter even though I’m revealing nothing. I’m wearing a conservative button-down banker’s suit but I still feel like Jake can see through it somehow.
“I’ll look at the papers more closely when I get back to the city. I assume these are copies I can take with me?”
“Of course,” Cooper replies. The guy is all business. It’s in sharp contrast to his brother who seems more like a non-stop-party kind of guy.
“Did you decide if you want to see the roof?” Cooper asks.
When Jake laughs, Cooper glares at him.
“What?” Jake says. “If that’s supposed to be a pick up line, you’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“It’s not a pick-up line,” Cooper says through clenched teeth.
Still grinning, Jake asks, “You’re really going to show her the roof?”
“It’s not necessary,” I state. The last place I want to be is in the middle of these two guys’ drama. There’s obviously a lot more going on than just showing me the roof.
Jake leans close to me and I catch a whiff of his cologne. It’s a spicy and masculine. “Why don’t you let me show you the new stage we had built?”
I can feel the heat radiating from his muscular body and I’m quickly reminded by my body’s reaction that I haven’t had sex in over six months.
I gulp. “That’s not necessary.”
I can feel several beads of sweat roll down my forehead. I’m getting hot, and it’s not because of the temperature of the room has changed. It’s Jake’s closeness to me.
I jump from my chair. “I have everything I need.” I feel like waving the papers in front of my face like a fan but I refrain. I just need to get out of the bar and away from Jake. Then I’ll be fine.
That’s what I tell myself anyway.
Cooper rises from the table and gives me an odd look. I wish I could figure out what it would take to make the guy smile but I can’t stay next to Jake a minute longer. He’s like catnip and I’m the cat. I need to escape and get some fresh air.
“Thank you both for your cooperation,” I say.
“You’ll let us know if you need anything else?” Cooper asks.
“I will. It was a pleasure meeting you.” I put out my hand for Cooper to shake.
This time, when he touches me, I make a point of looking into his eyes. They seem to have gotten even darker and deeper in just the last few minutes and that makes me even more curious about him.
Business, I remind myself. You’re here for business and then it’s back to the city.
“It was nice meeting you, too,” Cooper says and once again, he only gives me the hint of a smile.
When Jake clears his throat, it breaks the moment between me and Cooper. I’m embarrassed that I lost control. I’m supposed to be a professional.
I noticed Jake has his hand out and I realize he wants me to shake it. The last thing I want is to do is touch Jake. I don’t want to get caught up in his charismatic web like a fly.
I give him a ridiculous wave instead and I feel like an idiot when he frowns.
“I’d better get going,” I say as I turn and make my way toward the door.
When I look back at the two brothers, they’re both staring at me. I don’t know why that makes me so nervous. I don’t plan on ever seeing either one of them again.
When I’m finally outside, I take in a deep breath of what I think will be fresh air and instead, I’m assaulted by the small of cow manure.
Great. Just great.
I hop into my car and turn the air conditioning up as high as it will go. I take in another deep breath and try to get the stench of cow dung out of my nasal passages. I can’t believe I’m shaking. I’m not sure if it’s because of Cooper or Jake. Maybe it’s a little of both. But I’m definitely rattled.
I just need to get out of Old Town and get back to the city, I tell myself. Then things will get back to normal.
As I put the car into reverse and begin to pull out of my parking space, I keep thinking: I just need to get out of here and get back to the city.When I step on the accelerator to go forward, I drive right into an old Chevy pick-up truck that’s headed straight for me.
Romance novelist Savannah Young grew up in rural northwest New Jersey in a place very similar to the fictional Old Town, which is featured in her books. When she's not at her computer creating spicy stories, Savannah is traveling to exotic locales or spending time with her husband and their bloodhounds