He sat on his bike and watched her. Gorgeous, reserved, she seemed unaware of her own beauty, and just as unconscious of his regard, because she never looked up from the book held balanced on her knees. Never raised her gaze to find him watching her. To see the other men in the area looking their fill. Seated on the green grass of the park, back to a tree, she rested with her heels drawn up tight to her bottom while her skirt draped gracefully over her angled legs. With a bottle of water lying nearby, her slouchy messenger bag was tossed to one side, phone nowhere in sight. She had lost herself in the story, as she so often did. Blonde, stunning, and so unattainable, especially for a man like him. She might as well have been on the moon.
Ricky sighed and started his bike, checking traffic before he smoothly pulled out of the lot where he had been sitting for over an hour. The first minutes had been spent anxiously waiting on her arrival, then the remainder, he’d been avidly watching his girl. That was what the guys in the motorcycle club, his brothers, all called her. As he rolled the throttle and accelerated up the street, he was already anticipating the jeering catcalls that would greet him when he pulled into the clubhouse. Brute’s Girl.
Gliding the bike to a stop behind traffic, as he waited for the light to turn green, he turned his head, glancing into the car beside him. Without thinking, he smiled fondly at the young girl driving the aged two-door vehicle. She looked a lot like his goddaughter, pert nose covered by freckles, untidy hair tucked behind her ears. Seeing her made him think he needed to call Dylan, see how their Natalie was doing in her first year of college, ask about the family. Then the girl turned her head and saw him. Her reaction was instant and dramatic, hands slapping at the controls on the inside of the door to lock the car, mouth falling open in silent horror. Swiftly, he wiped the smile from his face and turned to face forward, not wanting to make her more uncomfortable than he already had.
Richard Monte was well acquainted with the societal challenges he had to work within, and around. He should be, he saw evidence of them every time he looked in the mirror. Face mangled by the roadside bomb that had taken most of his patrol, his skin in turns was glossy smooth and cratered from the burns and shrapnel. He knew how the barest glimpse of his countenance could affect those who were unprepared. That was why he didn’t go out often; choosing instead to stay in his apartment, his work-from-home job as a help desk technician was without much outside contact. Not content, but merely pragmatic enough to recognize what it did to him every time he provoked a reaction like this one.
The men of the Rebel Wayfarers MC were the exception. Introduced to them by a friend, these people judged him not by what remained of his face, but by his actions and words. Fiercely honorable in their own way, the outlaw group of bikers had folded themselves around him protectively, finding him a job allowing him to support himself. Providing both independence and giving him a community of people he could count on, no matter what.
The girl in the park, the blonde. The beauty he would only ever be able to look at from afar. She was another anomaly in his world. Months ago he had seen her in the grocery store, and she had shocked him by not reacting. Well, not reacting to his face, at least. She had reacted to him as a man, something he hadn’t experienced for nearly a decade. Reaching for a boxed dinner, he had clumsily knocked it to the floor, and before he could grab it, the blonde had bent over and picked it up. Holding it behind her back, she had smiled up at him, her tone light and playful as she had asked, “What’ll you give me for it?”
Bright blue pools looking right at his face, smile curling her full red lips, cheeks lifted, and that same smile making her eyes fucking dance, she had looked him in the eyes and teased him. Exactly as a woman would do with a man she found attractive. Without hesitation, he’d answered as he would have before the injury, boldly stating the cost. Two words shaping his desires. “A kiss.”
Immediately, she’d responded, “Deal,” and leaned forward, lifting her chin. Standing there in the grocery store aisle, he had bent slightly, pressing his lips in a brief, soft, closed-mouthed kiss to raspberry-flavored ones. Lips belonging to a beautiful blonde who was curvy but carried it well, cute and knew it, standing close to him in a strapless sundress still swinging slightly around her calves.
When he’d pulled back, she’d held the pose for a moment, lashes a shade darker than her hair resting on her cheeks, lips slightly parted, an adorable flush rising in her cheeks. Then her blue eyes had opened, and she again looked at him without distaste or fear, no cringing or hesitation in her expression. “Here’s your box,” she’d murmured, and he’d reached for the container. She’d handed it over but had stayed in place for a moment, then an expression of regret had flashed across her features before she’d said, “See you around.” Ricky had stood there watching as she’d walked up the aisle away from him, turning to offer him a friendly wave before she’d gone out of sight, the hem of her colorful, swirling skirt the last thing he saw.
He had abandoned his cart in the store to follow her outside, noting the make and model of her car. Then, like the sad sack he was, he’d stalked her all the way to her house on the outskirts of town. He had been surprised to find she didn’t live too far from his apartment, only four blocks. Rare beauty, and so close to hand. Her house a tiny cottage tucked in alongside family homes in a well-established neighborhood, an oddness for the area. A generation ago it was probably used as a mother-in-law’s residence.
Back at the clubhouse that night, it had been hours later, and he was still turning the encounter over and over in his mind, trying to figure out what had actually happened. It was confusing on many levels. He didn’t get flirty anymore. Didn’t get sweet. Sure didn’t get kissed in public exposed under the too-bright lights of a grocery store.
One of the guys had plied him with booze and then worked to pry the story out of him. That was when she got her name. They already called him Brute, a plain statement of his looks but one that held surprisingly little sting, because it wasn’t done maliciously, but supportively. His looks didn’t matter to them, and the name they dubbed him with was a way for them to show it. So Brute’s Girl, well, that just came naturally.
Since then he had watched her. He didn’t think she had caught sight of him again. Probably harbored no memory of the gift she had given him, but oh, how he watched her.
Now, sitting at a light alongside a girl who was horrified just by looking at him, he snorted. Sure, he could be a fairy godfather. Right.
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Raised in the south, MariaLisa learned about the magic of books at an early age. Every summer, she would spend hours in the local library, devouring books of every genre. Self-described as a book-a-holic, she says “I’ve always loved to read, but then I discovered writing, and found I adored that, too. For reading … if nothing else is available, I‘ve been known to read the back of the cereal box.”
A hockey fan, hiker, gamer, and single mom of a special needs son, she embraces her inner geek and has been working in the tech field for a publishing company for a couple decades.
Music is a driving passion, and she says, “I love music of nearly any genre — jazz, country, rock, alt rock, metal, classical, bluegrass, rap, hip hop … you name it, I listen to it. I can often be seen dancing through the house in the early mornings. But I really, REALLY love live music. My favorite thing with music is seeing bands in small, dive bars [read: small, intimate venues]. If said bar [venue] has a good selection of premium tequila, then that’s a plus!”
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