Outlaws, Book 1
The bestselling author of the Killer Instincts novels “knows how to write scorching sexual tension”*. Now she really sets it on fire in a new series about men and women living on the edge of violence, sex, and life and death.
After a devastating war decimated most of the world, Hudson Lane has only known the oppressive life under her own father’s tyranny. She finally escapes, branding herself an outlaw and hunted by the Enforcers. Her best chance at survival is Connor Mackenzie, an aggressively sensual fugitive who opens her eyes to the wicked possibilities of a world without rules.
As the leader of a band of outlaw fighters, Connor can’t resist the beautiful stranger who asks for his protection. Despite his reservations, he agrees to introduce her to a whole new way of life. But when Connor discovers Hudson’s connection to the enemies of liberty, he wonders how far he can trust the woman who has abandoned all inhibitions to challenge every forbidden desire.
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“I need to get drunk and laid—not necessarily in that order,” Rylan announced as the group crossed the threshold into the bar.
Connor had to duck his head to clear the top of the doorway. So did the others. All five of them stood well over six feet tall, making an imposing sight as they entered the candlelit room. Every head turned their way, but fear dissolved into mild apprehension and disinterest once the patrons discerned that the men didn’t have Enforcer logos on their clothing. Most turned away, refocusing their attention on their companions or the alcohol in front of them.
“And look at that,” Rylan said in delight. “The bartender’s cute. Must be new, ’cause I’d definitely remember those tits.”
Connor followed his friend’s gaze to the long metal counter tended by a thin blonde with serious cleavage. Yeah, Ry would remember screwing her. Skinny and big-busted was his flavor of choice. Blondie glanced up and winked at the men, her pouty red lips lifting in a sensual come-hither-and-fuck-me smile.
A sense of desperation hung in the air and mingled with the cloud of tobacco smoke hanging over the room like a canopy. Sex, booze, and cigarettes—rare luxuries these days, unless you knew where to find ’em. And hell, you didn’t even have to pay to fuck anymore. Currency meant shit outside the city, and besides, most women were as eager to get screwed as the men who wanted to screw them. But Connor wasn’t here for sex. He was looking forward to a nice date with Jack Daniel’s. It’d been way too long since he’d felt the burn of alcohol coursing through his veins.
The bar used to be a morgue, and the compartments where stiffs had once been stored now contained bottles of alcohol and supplies that the owners of the establishment had amassed over the years. They’d brought in mismatched furniture, tables and old couches, splintered wooden chairs. No power in the joint, so they’d lit dozens of candles, which danced on the cinder-block walls and shrouded most faces in shadow. The small hospital on the floors above them lay deserted, because hospitals were a thing of the past. You got sick or injured, you died. Population control, the fuckers in the “government” called it.
Connor chose a seat that allowed him to monitor both the door and the smoky main room, while Rylan, Pike, and Xander scrambled for the rest. Kade got stuck facing away from the door, which meant he’d be the first one to get a bullet to the back of his head if trouble arose.
The tabletop was scratched and stained with shit Connor didn’t even want to know about. Without any discussion, Rylan went up to the counter to order their drinks. That meant he’d be the one paying the tab, but he didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. Blondie over there was right up his alley. In a barter-and-trade era, you sometimes paid a high price for whatever you were trying to acquire, but this was win-win for Rylan—he’d get the booze and the pussy. Which made him a damn lucky bastard, because the last time they’d come here, the bartender had been male and Connor had been forced to trade a rifle for a bottle of Jack.
Fate smiled on the attractive and horny, he supposed.
“So . . . do we move?” A trademark scowl twisted Pike’s face as he voiced the question they’d all been thinking.
Connor rubbed the stubble coating his jaw. He wished like hell he had a razor, but the one back at camp had rusted to shit, and their next raid wasn’t scheduled until tomorrow. “Don’t know. I think we should wait it out. The rumors might be bullshit.”
“Word is Dominik is heading south,” Pike reminded him. “He did a sweep last week, cleared out an entire camp only a few hundred miles from here.”
Bastard sure had, and damned if that didn’t make Connor uneasy. Of all the Enforcers in the Colonies, Dominik and his band of bloodthirsty psychos were the worst. They were vicious, determined, and damn good at their job. Dominik answered only to West Colony’s Enforcer commander, who in turn answered to the council members above him. The group’s orders were simple: round up every last outlaw in the colony, force them to rejoin society, or kill them if they refused.
If Dominik really was closing in on them, the smart move would be to get the fuck out. Head for South Colony, or try to find a ship heading east, but traveling was a bitch these days. More checkpoints, more Enforcers, more bandits.
Kade spoke up. “I say we stick it out. We’ve got a good thing going here.”
Connor couldn’t disagree as he thought about the abandoned wilderness resort they’d been living in for the past year. Tucked in the foothills of the Rockies, the camp consisted of two dozen cabins and a main lodge nestled in the trees. After scouting the area for weeks, the men had claimed the old place and promptly turned it into a fortress. The resort was more secure than a military facility, just the way Connor liked it.
Rylan returned to the table with a full bottle of whiskey and five shot glasses, which clinked together in his hand. Unscrewing the bottle, he poured a stream of alcohol over the glasses, the excess liquid joining the other stains on the rotting wood.
“Hey, don’t waste it,” Xander grumbled. “Who knows when we’ll have another chance to get shit-faced?”
Rylan flopped down in his chair, slugged back a shot, then poured himself another. “So what’s the final consensus?”
Xander rubbed the thick beard covering his jaw. “Pike thinks we should go. Kade wants to stay. Con is undecided.”
Rylan was quick to throw in his two cents. “I vote for staying. I like it here. And by the way, brother, what’s with the beard? You know it’s like a gazillion degrees out, right?”
“If your pretty-boy face were capable of growing a beard, you’d look like me too right now.” Xander sighed. “Shit. I hope we find some razors on the raid tomorrow. Maybe even an electric one.”
“And candy,” Kade added, brightening at the thought. “Some real sweet shit. It’s been ages since we came across any chocolate.”
“And some really filthy porn,” Rylan added with a grin.
Connor didn’t join in, mostly because he was scared he’d snap and piss everyone off. But seriously, chocolate and porn? A war had ravaged the entire globe, for fuck’s sake. Bombs had fallen on cities like raindrops and eliminated entire populations, and those who survived were now prisoners—sorry, citizens—of the Colonies.
And Kade’s biggest problem was that he couldn’t satisfy his sweet tooth?
They’re making the best of this shit.
Yeah, maybe. Maybe Connor was a negative motherfucker for dwelling on the chaos and destruction, but what was he supposed to do—act like everything was fine and dandy? Pretend that his life was filled with rainbows and lollipops?
He raised his glass to his lips and gulped the alcohol. It burned his throat on the way down, heating his stomach in a familiar, welcoming way. Screw candy and porn—the only thing he wanted from the raid tomorrow was a crate of booze. Even cheap wine would do. Anything to numb the angry, powerless feelings swirling in his gut.
“You know what? Who needs porn when you can settle for the real thing?” Rylan scraped back his chair. “’Scuse me, boys.”
Rylan headed to the counter, where he leaned forward and murmured something that made the bartender giggle. A few seconds later, the blonde eagerly followed him toward a corridor in the back, but not before tossing a not-so-discreet look at Connor and the other men.
“Think she’d be down for some company?” Kade wondered aloud.
Xander grinned. “One hundred percent yes. Did you see the way she looked back just now? That hot little number is dying to be tag-teamed.”
“Can you assholes forget about your goddamn cocks for one goddamn minute?” Pike snapped. “We’ve gotta make a decision. If Dominik’s on his way here, I say we go.”
“Since when are you scared of a fight?” Xander taunted.
Pike scowled at him. “Some battles aren’t worth fighting. Let Dominik do his thing, as long as he leaves us alone.”
And right there was the problem—Connor didn’t want Dominik to leave him alone.
He was itching for a face-to-face with that bastard, and if he didn’t have the other guys to think about, he would’ve taken off and fed his hunger for vengeance ages ago. But his men looked to him for guidance. Somehow, despite his many protests, he’d become their leader. They did what he said, even Pike, who didn’t like to take orders from anybody. Connor didn’t want any of them getting killed just so he could satisfy the bloodlust that had been poisoning his body for years.
Getting to Dominik was virtually impossible. Not only was he constantly surrounded by his legion of soldiers, but nobody knew where the West Colony Enforcers were headquartered. It wasn’t in the city, where those who survived the war had been shipped off to after the Global Council took control. Rumor had it the Enforcers moved around constantly, never making themselves targets. This was the first time Connor had an inkling of where Dominik was going to be. It was an opportunity he refused to let pass, but . . . did the men who trusted him deserve to die during his own quest for revenge?
Uncertainties rolled through his head like tumbleweed, then faded as the creak of the door grabbed hold of his senses. His head jerked up, hand instinctively reaching beneath his jacket to hover over the butt of his pistol.
Even after he decided the threat level was low, he still couldn’t look away.
The woman who appeared in the doorway held his gaze captive. Tall, slim, with wary gray eyes and long hair the color of warm honey. She wore tight black pants that showcased a spectacular pair of legs and a white tank top that revealed plenty of mouthwatering cleavage. A leather jacket and knee-high boots completed the bad-girl ensemble.
Connor’s mouth went dry.
Christ, he wanted her naked.
It’d been a long time since he’d experienced such a sudden, visceral attraction to a woman. His cock strained against his zipper, but another look in the woman’s direction and he knew the eager bulge in his pants wouldn’t be getting the attention it demanded.
She might be dressed like a bad girl, but she sure as shit wasn’t one. The fearful desperation clouding her eyes revealed her for what she was—a lost little lamb who’d wandered into a den of wolves. And yet . . . there was also determination flickering in her gaze. A sense of to-hell-with-you bravado that gave her a purposeful stride as she stepped into the room.
“Dibs,” came Xander’s low voice.
“Don’t even think about it,” Connor muttered.
He registered the surprised faces around the table realizing what his command had sounded like. Possessive. Like he was staking a claim. But that hadn’t been his intention. His body might be throbbing like crazy at the moment, but he had no desire to claim the woman. Every instinct he possessed told him to stay away from her. To keep his guys away too.
He watched as she approached the counter and spoke to the young man who’d taken over for the girl who probably had Rylan’s cock in her mouth at the moment.
The conversation was hushed, the blonde’s shoulders going rigid as the bartender said something she clearly didn’t like.
A flash of movement caught his eye. She’d slid something toward the kid, but Connor couldn’t make it out. A moment later, the bartender tucked the item in his pocket and slid a beer bottle across the counter. The blonde took it and went over to a table in the corner of the room.
Connor tore his eyes off her. He was still semihard and not at all happy about it. He shouldn’t be thinking about fucking, not when Dominik was finally within his grasp.
He could get off any damn time he wanted, but revenge? That was something he could carry with him for the rest of his life.
Signet (October 6, 2015)