Authors: Suzanne Forster
|The Devil and Ms. Moody|
|Open Road Integrated Media LLC (2011)|
Desperate to save her family from financial ruin, Edwina Moody accepts a precarious job, putting her in the path of an intimidating biker gang—and one member in particular, Diablo, with whom she strikes a provocative alliance After Edwina Moody's father skips town, deserting his family and leaving behind massive debts and a failing business, the arduous task of escaping financial ruin rests on Edwina's shoulders.
Forced to abandon her dreams, she accepts the difficult job of tracking down the missing heir of the wealthy Holt family, armed only with a photo of Christopher Holt at fourteen and a tip that he's hanging out with a rough biker crowd. Edwina begins her search at Blackie's Bar, notorious for its dangerous clientele.
She's a ripe, tempting target for the bikers, but luckily Diablo, the most intimidating one in the place, rescues her from an alarming altercation. Drawn to Edwina, Diablo takes her for an unforgettable ride on his motorcycle, during which she's...
HE MOUNTAIN WAS WAITING
High on a hilltop above Carbon Canyon Road a lone figure eclipsed the fiery corona of the falling sun. Powerfully built, seated astride an equally powerful machine, the man watched the sinuous road below. And waited with the mountain.
The motorcycle purred softly beneath him. His windswept hair flowed down his back, a symbol of strength, mastery, even savagery in ancient times. In another era the gleaming black beast between his legs might have been a stallion.
He was a loner, new to the area, but those who’d met him called him Diablo. Perhaps because of the name emblazoned in flames on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. More likely it was the reputation he brought with him—fearless, dangerous, a street fighter. A man who rode like the devil himself.
A rolling, thunderous sound caught the man’s attention. He scanned the distance, alerted as the thunder split and a pack of motorcyclists swept around a curve in the road. Streaming through the canyon like an invading army, the pack slowed as one, rolled off the highway, and glided to a stop in front of a weathered wooden structure called Blackie’s Bar.
Some thirty strong, the men wore jackets with the head of Zeus emblazoned on the back. The women, a few of them exceptionally beautiful, wore the same crest on their T-shirts and tank tops. The man watched the group disappear through the swinging doors of the saloon. Out to raise some hell, he thought. The Warlords were good at that. But what else went on in the back rooms of Blackie’s Bar? Drug dealing? Smuggling? Soon he would know.
Again he reviewed his plan to gain membership into the secretive gang. Over the past weeks he’d passed every test they’d thrown at him, met every challenge. He’d won their grudging respect and met every requirement but one. The Warlords had surprisingly strong sanctions regarding women, and rogue males weren’t allowed in the pack.
He twisted the throttle and sent a charge of energy through the beast’s belly. It roared and trembled beneath him, impatient to be set free. The man was impatient too. He was ready, primed to make his move, to challenge for membership. Now all he needed was a woman.
“A motorcycle gang? Have you misplaced your alleged mind, Edwina Jean?”
Edwina Moody jotted the last entry on her “Things to Do” checklist, dropped her pencil in its holder along with a dozen others, all sharpened to a needle point, and sat back and looked at her younger sister.
Beth Moody was popping her grape bubblegum and pacing Edwina’s bedroom loft with all the sixteen-year-old intensity she usually reserved for shopping malls.
“I don’t plan to join the gang, Beth,” Edwina said calmly. “Once I’ve found this Christopher Holt person and informed him that he’s inherited a small fortune, my job is done.”
Beth did her imitation of a punctured tire.
“Sheeeeeshhhh, Edwina.” Shaking her head she fell back on Edwina’s bed, arms flung out, then rebounded back up to her elbows. “So you’re off to the wilds of California to find some weirdo who’s joined a biker gang? Why in the world did you accept an assignment like that?”
“Call me crazy, Beth, but I like regular meals and a roof over my head.” Edwina opened the top drawer of the same white-pine desk she’d done her high school homework on and lifted a stack of bills.
“Dad’s debts—I’m still paying them off. And then there’s
” Her voice dropped to a whisper as she picked up a legal document and ticked it ominously.
“The tax lien,” Beth said, her voice hushing too. “Did you tell Mom yet?”
“Tell her what? That if I can’t come up with fifty thousand by the end of the month, we’re going to lose the house?” Edwina’s throat closed on the last word, and when she tried to shrug away the sudden emotion, she couldn’t.
men. I really do,” Beth said, suddenly bitter. She rolled over and buried her face in one of Edwina’s ruffled-chintz pillows.
Don’t we all,
Edwina thought, privately sharing Beth’s enmity. It was hard to respect a man who would abandon his wife and two daughters and his failing business, all in one fell swoop. Their father, Donald Moody, simply hadn’t come home from work one evening. He’d confessed his business losses and his extramarital affair in a letter postmarked Bora Bora that arrived two weeks later, postage due.
Katherine, Edwina’s mother, collapsed. Beth went into a panic about what her friends would think, and Edwina took charge. Refusing to file bankruptcy, she left college, sold the hardware business, and took a job as a field researcher for an agency that located missing heirs. Now, a year later, she’d barely made a dent in the mountain of debts, and the IRS had slapped a tax lien on their modest Norwalk, Connecticut, house.
It had been a hellish year for the Moody women, but Edwina was strong, and Beth was young and resilient. It was Katherine that Edwina worried about. She knew her mother would never recover from the shock of losing her home.
“I have to go, Sis. If I can find Holt, my percentage of the estate should more than cover the lien.”
Beth moaned into the pillow.
Edwina walked to her sister’s half-buried head and ruffled the blond curls, still baby-fine and a shade or two lighter than her own. “You stay here and hold down the fort, Bethany. Take care of Mom for me, okay?”
HAT’S IT, LADY
. Blackie’s Bar. I hope you’ve got some brass knuckles with you.”
Edwina dug through her purse for the fare and deposited the bills in the taxi driver’s outstretched palm. “Wait for me, will you please?” she said. “I shouldn’t be long.”
Letting herself out of the cab, she shaded her eyes against the relentless late-summer sun as she faced the ramshackle bar. Except for the explosive laughter and throbbing jukebox music that blasted through the saloon doors, it might have been just another isolated tavern stuck away in southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains. The old building seemed to quake with every decibel.
The biker bar was everything Edwina feared it would be and a few things she couldn’t have even imagined. She’d done her research, but perhaps nothing could have prepared her for the ten-deep rows of gleaming choppers that jammed the gravel parking lot, most of them with more chrome than a gourmet restaurant’s kitchen. Connecticut wasn’t known for its motorcycle gangs.
Edwina approached the closest machine and perused the artwork on the shiny black tank. A death’s-head grinned at her above the blood-red words Hell on Wheels. Wicked-looking thing, Edwina thought, shuddering.
“You sure you want to go in there, lady?”
Edwina was sure of only one thing at that moment. She wanted to be on a jet back to Norwalk. However ... She brushed wisps of damp hair from her forehead and reminded herself that confidence started with correct posture. However, her research indicated that Blackie’s was a bikers’ mecca, the place to be if you preferred two wheels to four. She’d been tipped that everyone showed up there eventually, and she was counting on that to be true. Especially since Holt had last been spotted riding with a San Gabriel motorcycle club called the Warlords who were known to hang out at Blackie’s.
“I’m sure,” she told the driver with a leveling glance at his grimace of disbelief. Like Beth, he obviously thought she was a mental case. “You will wait?” she repeated, relieved when he shrugged a yes of sorts. Wetting her dry lips, she hitched her purse strap over her shoulder and started for the swinging doors of Blackie’s Bar.
If Edwina Moody was “mental,” as some people obviously thought, she was also a woman of unusual fortitude. It had taken all her powers of reason and persuasion to talk her boss, Ned Dillinger, into giving her the Holt case. She’d been selected over more experienced and better qualified investigators, primarily because Ned respected the way she’d fought for the assignment. She’d come to him already having done an enormous amount of research on Holt’s family background. Ned liked that kind of initiative. He also understood that it wasn’t just ambition that was driving Edwina. It was also her family predicament.
What Ned didn’t know about Edwina, however, was what that predicament had cost her in her own career goals. She’d set aside her graduate project, an innovative plan to combine day-care programs for preschoolers and the elderly. Her work as a nurse’s aide before she’d entered college had convinced Edwina that too many senior citizens languished in convalescent-care facilities with nothing to stimulate their minds and hearts.
It was an issue that wrenched at her own heart, and leaving school had been a difficult decision. However, family came first. Of all the ties that bind, Edwina believed most strongly in responsibility to one’s kin. In fact, having relinquished her dream in favor of salvaging her family, she was all the more committed to finding Christopher Holt. Even if it meant bearding the wild ones in their den.
A jeering chorus of whistles and catcalls assaulted Edwina as she pushed through the bar’s entrance. Bewildered, she stopped to orient herself before she realized the uproar wasn’t meant for her. As her senses adjusted to the noise and the darkness, she became aware of the musky scent of perspiration and laboring muscles. It overrode everything else, even the odor of stale beer.
“Take him out, Mad Dawg!” someone shouted. “You can do it!”
Edwina could discern customers seated at the bar and in booths, but the real action was in the room’s center. A rowdy knot of bikers was gathered around an arm-wrestling match in full swing. Luckily no one seemed to have the slightest interest in Edwina Jean Moody with her dishwater-blond ponytail, patch-pocket cardigan, and sensible penny loafers. She’d intentionally preserved her “Connecticut” look on the chance that Holt might befriend or otherwise respond to someone from his former world.