Dusty Rose by Lauren N Sharman by Lauren N Sharman - Read Online

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Summary

Dusty Zamora and her close-knit sisters were young—but far from innocent—when they abruptly left Hagerstown, Maryland ten years ago. Now, Dusty has returned. Alone. Judd McCassey spent most of his thirty-six years side-by-side with his brothers and cousins...on the wrong side of the law. His one regret...being powerless to help the only woman he ever loved when she needed it most. Judd knows they're headed for trouble when Dusty rides back into his life on a stolen outlaw biker's motorcycle, and is shocked when she refuses his help. Finally realizing that hiding her deadly secrets are harming—not helping—the man she loves, Dusty opens up to Judd, dropping a bombshell that sends him reeling, and her fleeing. Not until Dusty vanishes does Judd discover her deception was well-intended. Now, he must find her before it's too late for all of them...
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781603130905
List price: $3.99
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Prologue

Hagerstown, Maryland, 1978

Chaos erupted the instant the front door crashed violently against the living room wall.

Dusty!

Relieved to hear her older sister’s voice, eighteen-year-old Dusty Zamora came to her senses enough to answer. Jessie! she yelled as loud as the hand over her mouth allowed.

As her sister flew into the room, gun drawn, Dusty bit the hand covering her mouth as hard as she could, forcing her enormous attacker to release his hold. With barely enough time to roll out of the way, Dusty covered her head just as the first of five consecutive, deafening blasts from Jessie’s .357 Magnum echoed through the room.

Just inches from Jessie’s target, Dusty jerked and stiffened as the warm blood of her attacker splattered her face; her body heaving as she fought the urge to vomit.

When everything was quiet, she looked up.

Followed by their two other sisters, Alex and Benni, Jessie was the first one to reach her. Dusty?

I’m okay, she said as Jessie grasped her upper arm and pulled her to her feet.

Taking in the bloody scene on the floor, Dusty could hardly believe her younger sister, Courtney, was dead. Next to her lay their mother’s ex-boyfriend, Earl—the bastard; the well-deserved victim of Jessie’s perfect timing and flawless aim.

What do we do now? Benni asked.

We get the hell out of here, Jessie told them, using an old T-shirt that had been lying on the sofa to wipe some of Earl’s blood from Dusty’s face.

What about Court?

She’s dead, Benni, there’s nothing we can do.

But—

But nothing! Jessie’s temper exploded. We’ve got to get out of town before Sheriff Johnson discovers what went on here! Earl was a friend of his, and if he catches us, he’ll find a way to charge us all with murder and make sure we spend the rest of our lives in prison.

I don’t want to leave her, Jessie!

Jessie shoved Benni—who was as close to hysterics as Dusty had ever seen her—toward the hallway. You don’t have a choice! I’m the oldest and we do what I say! Grab a small bag and pack only what you can’t do without. Go! You’ve got two minutes; all of you.

With shaking hands, Dusty took the trash bag Alex offered her and scrambled to toss in a few shirts, two pair of jeans, and some clean underwear; she didn’t own anything else worth holding onto.

When the sisters had hastily packed what they could, one by one, they filtered out the front door.

Where are we going? Dusty asked.

Jessie never hesitated before replying, To The Renegade’s camp.

Dusty should’ve known. A certain member of the Renegades was who Jessie always went to when she needed something. How will we get there?

Let’s go to McCassey’s Garage. Blackie will get us out of town.

And get them out of town he did.

Chapter 1

Hagerstown, Maryland, October, 1988

Dusty Zamora rolled into town on an Indian summer afternoon hot enough to make the devil fry.

Ironically, The Devil was one of the people she’d come to see.

Hopefully, he had the information she needed.

Slowing her Harley Davidson Fat Boy down to the posted 30mph speed limit, Dusty cruised through the center of town, taking in the scenery as she headed toward her destination. Smiling in spite of herself, she was happy to discover that not much about their hometown had changed in the ten years since she and her three sisters had left.

Had she not been in such a hurry, Dusty would’ve taken time to stop somewhere and clean up; wash the travel dirt from not only her body, but her trademark long, silky and thick, blue-black hair as well. Hanging just past her shoulders in two braids, she could almost feel the grit that had embedded itself during her long trip. One quick touch to the top of her head told her that the bandanna she’d tied there was filthy as well.

Dusty also would’ve put on an outfit that made it look a little less like she made her living working the street corner. She was dressed completely in black leather—including her motorcycle boots—the chaps covering her skintight blue jeans fell almost to her ankles. More than anything, the matching top that covered no more of her upper body than a bra, was going to make it difficult for anyone to pay more attention to her words than her clothes.

But she didn’t have time to mess around with trivial things like her appearance. She’d come to Hagerstown for one reason and one reason only; a shower and change of clothes would have to wait.

When the red brick building with the sign reading, McCASSEY’S GARAGE, finally came into view, Dusty smiled at the scene before her: six men dressed in sleeveless, polyester, navy blue mechanics coveralls were on the side of the building tossing around a football.

The McCassey brothers and their cousins.

Slowing the bike, Dusty downshifted as she watched Rebel, the youngest of the three brothers, catch a pass and sprint across the lot for a touchdown. Part-owner of the garage since he was eighteen, Rebel had always been the go-to guy when one of his family members was in trouble; finishing a hell of a lot more trouble than he started.

From a distance, Rebel looked the same. Somewhere around six foot three, his broad, muscular body had always been something fine to look at.

Walking over to Rebel and offering him a high five was his older brother, Judd. Happy to see that the ten months separating them was apparently no longer a fuel for their raging sibling rivalry, Dusty was amazed by how much the brothers now looked alike. Nearly the same height and weight, the only thing—other than the softball-sized skull and crossbones tattoo on Rebel’s left bicep—that distinguished them as individuals was their hair: Rebel’s had always been shoulder length and jet black. Judd’s had lightened a little over the years, and his fluffy, little-too-long, loose and unruly curls were now dark brown.

Completing the round of high fives was the boys’ oldest brother, Blackie. Six feet seven the last time she’d seen him, Blackie didn’t look like he’d gotten any taller, but his body was much more muscular. A constant weightlifter since the age of ten—mostly so he could defend himself and his brothers against their father—Blackie looked like he easily weighed three hundred pounds.

Spending a combined total of almost thirteen years in prison, Blackie, she’d heard through mutual friends, was bigger and meaner each time he’d been released. His long, thick hair, which was the same color as Judd’s, was down to the middle of his back now. Dusty wondered vaguely whether he’d cut it even once since the last time they’d seen each other.

A former member of The Renegades—the outlaw biker gang she and her sisters had ridden with on and off for the past ten years—Blackie, with his dark fu man chu mustache, still looked the part. He’d been given the nickname, The Devil, when he joined the gang at the age of seventeen, and had not only lived up to, but well surpassed his bad reputation.

Which is why he was the one she’d come to see.

For now.

The other three men she recognized were the boys’ cousins, Brady and Kane, and their uncle, Jimmy. Most of the guys were between seven and twelve years older than her, but they’d all grown up together, and she’d gotten to know them very well through her sisters.

It was good to see so many familiar faces.

It was good to be home.

Turning into the front parking lot, Dusty pulled to the side, parking the bike next to a black GMC tow truck—Rebel’s, if she remembered correctly.

Shutting off the engine, she put down the kickstand and stood, leaning the bike to the left and turning the wheel just a hair, making sure the bike was balanced before letting go of the handlebars.

Swinging her right leg over the bike, Dusty raised her hands in the air and stretched her weary body. Traveling through the night hadn’t been easy, but had been necessary. The answers she hoped Blackie could give her were a matter of life and death.

* * * *

Judd McCassey caught up to his cousin Brady and shoved him out of bounds, clearing the way for Rebel to run past them and score a touchdown in the makeshift end zone.

While heading over to high-five his brother, Judd caught sight of a small rider on a very large, loud Fat Boy pulling into the garage parking lot. The rider’s outfit more than gave away the fact that she was a woman, and left little to the imagination.

Hey, Blackie, he said when his oldest brother came over and stood next to him, high-fiving Rebel, she a friend of yours?

Ain’t no friend of mine, little brother, Blackie told him. Angel would kick my ass—better yet, shoot it—if I was hangin’ around with girls who looked like that while she was home takin’ care of the twins. Maybe this woman’s lookin’ for the only McCassey brother that ain’t married yet.

Knowing Blackie was right about at least one thing, Judd laughed. His sister-in-law, Angel, was as tough as any man, and probably a much better shot. She and Blackie might be twelve years apart, but they were a perfect match. Most importantly, they kept one another in check, which meant that so far, they’d been doing a good job of keeping each other out of trouble in the little over a year they’d been married.

As far as this girl looking for an unmarried McCassey brother, he had his doubts.

Let’s check it out, Rebel said as he used his upper arms to wipe the sweat from one side of his forehead, then the other.

Judd watched his younger brother run a hand through his sweat-soaked hair, then, without bothering to check if anyone was behind him, Rebel began walking to the front of the building.

Curious himself, Judd followed. At thirty-five, Rebel might be one of the youngest of the core group of McCasseys, but he was smart, and had always been the unofficial leader of their large family. Judd knew without asking that most, if not all of their uncles and cousins would follow Rebel into any situation, no questions asked. His two young sons, four-year-old Raider, and three-year-old Chase, were already showing signs of being exactly like their father.

As they rounded the building, Judd got a much better look at the woman. She’d parked the bike and was sitting on the bed of Rebel’s tow truck with her legs dangling over the side, watching them, he was sure, through her dark sunglasses.

Her eyes may have been hidden, but the large, fading bruise on her left cheek was out in the open for them all to see. As they got closer, Judd also noticed her two very visible scars.

A small, jagged scar on her neck—which looked as if someone had tried to cut her jugular and missed—sent chills up his spine. The other one, a giant burn running the length of her right arm, was just as bad. Surprisingly, she didn’t seem to have any tattoos...a well-known trademark of an outlaw biker.

This girl, whoever she was, looked as though she’d been through something much worse than hell.

His brothers and cousins had obviously noticed the same thing, which is why none of them let loose with any whistles, cat-calls, or sexist comments as they normally would’ve done when they came upon a female acquaintance dressed the way this one was. Despite their horrid reputations, none of them would ever harass a woman they didn’t know.

I never thought I’d see the day when there’d be six speechless McCassey men standing in front of me. Especially you two, she said, pointing to Brady and Kane. What’s the matter? You all forget what a woman looks like?

That voice...Judd recognized it. The last time he’d seen the girl it belonged to, she was eighteen years old and sneaking out of town in the middle of the night...and she’d looked a hell of a lot different. It was her, though. Judd would’ve known her anywhere. Well, I’ll be goddamned, he said in a surprised whisper, Dusty Zamora.

Turning in the direction of the voice, Dusty removed her sunglasses—revealing the complete remnants of her black eye—and set them next to her. Smiling, she slid off the tow truck. Well, it’s nice to know that at least one of you recognized me.

Surprised when she extended her arms toward him, Judd didn’t hesitate to step forward and pull her close. Breathing in her scent—which consisted mostly of well-worn leather and the outdoors—took him back to a time in his life he would never forget. Out of all five Zamora sisters, Dusty had always been the one he liked best. She was eight years younger, but their age difference had never mattered to him. They’d hung out in a lot of the same places and around many of the same people since they were young.

After swinging her around in a circle, Judd set her on her feet and stepped back to take a better look at her. Dusty’s beauty had always fascinated him. Her high cheekbones and silky, straight, blue-black hair might be the only features she’d inherited from her full-blooded Cherokee Indian father, but they gave her a unique look. Dusty’s dark hair was a sharp, striking contrast to her cream-colored skin, and set off her blue eyes; so pale that sometimes they looked white. Damn, it’s good to see you! Where the hell have you been the last ten years?

Dusty backed away a few steps and reached for her sunglasses, replacing them. You don’t want to know.

Yeah, Blackie interrupted in a stone-cold voice, we do. Where’ve you been, Dusty, and where are your sisters? Jessie ain’t never left you alone. Never.

It wasn’t until Blackie mentioned Dusty’s oldest sister that Judd remembered just how strong of a friendship Blackie and Jessie had shared. Jessie had always been just as wild as Blackie, usually getting away with a lot more because she was a girl.

Eying him up, Dusty tilted her head to the side; obviously forcing the smile she gave him. Christ, Blackie, aren’t you even going to say hi first?

Hi, Dusty, he said quickly. Where the hell are your sisters? And what are you doin’ ridin’ in here on that thing? he asked, pointing to the bike. A Fat Boy is a little big for you.

Oh, that doesn’t belong to me.

Judd smiled inwardly when Blackie raised both eyebrows. "Then who does it belong to?"

Dusty shrugged and said, The guy I stole it from, as casually as if she’d said, ‘a friend.’

You’re on the run?

Yeah, she said much more seriously. It’s a long story, though. You boys have time?

Blackie nodded and motioned toward the three open bay doors leading to the inside of the garage.

I have to get something first; I’ll be there in a minute.

As the rest of the boys headed inside, Judd remained still, watching as she strode to the motorcycle, reached inside one of the black leather saddlebags, and pulled out a roll of bills. On her way back, she stopped next to him.

It’s really good to see you, Judd. You married?

Nope.

Seeing anyone special?

He shook his head. No one to speak of.

Judd saw just a hint of the old Dusty when she grinned, stood on her tip toes, looped her arm around his neck, and pulled him down low enough to be able to touch his mouth with hers; giving him the wildest kiss he’d had since the last time she’d done that—and more—to him...ten years earlier.

When they parted, she let go, licked her lips, and smiled. Mmm...you haven’t lost a thing.

Not quite sure what kind of response she was looking for, he did nothing but offer her a smile in return.

Speechless twice in one day? Come on, Judd, you can do better than that.

I don’t know what to say, Dusty. I’m still recovering from the last time you did that to me.

Well then, she said seductively, I’ll take that as a compliment. With a wink, she brushed past him and walked inside.

As he watched her go, Judd shook his head in an effort to clear it. Just like the McCasseys, wherever the Zamora sisters were, trouble wasn’t far behind.

Following Dusty inside, Judd got the distinct feeling that they were all headed down a dark, dangerous road.

Chapter 2

In the corner of the garage next to the office, Blackie and Rebel were sitting in metal chairs at the same square card table that had been there the last time Dusty was.

As soon as Brady and Kane spotted her, the two of them headed out the door without saying goodbye. Jimmy—uncle to all the boys, but somewhere around Rebel’s age—headed out, too. I’m going out to pick up some parts, he told her. I’ll see you later, Dusty.

She thought it was odd that the three of them would leave...until she got a look at the expression on Blackie’s face.

A warrior at heart, Blackie had been battle-ready from the day he was born.

He knew there was something going on, and Dusty’s guess was that she had about five seconds to volunteer the information before he shook it out of her.

When she and Judd were finally seated at the table, Dusty, who was sitting to Rebel’s right, handed him the wad of bills. When my sisters and I showed up here looking for help ten years ago, you gave us a thousand dollars. Jessie promised to pay you back with interest, and there it is.

All four of them were silent as Rebel counted the money. Dusty, there’s two thousand dollars here, he said, trying to hand half of it back to her. I don’t care about the damn interest. The thousand dollars is fine.

Dusty shook her head and pushed Rebel’s hand away. Jessie said you were to have it, so take it. When he made no move to comply, she lowered her voice and looked him in the eye. Please.

Apparently understanding her plea, he nodded, rolled up the bills, and stuffed them in the side pocket of his coveralls.

Relieved he wasn’t going to argue with her, Dusty relaxed a little. You don’t know how good it is to see you guys.

Blackie didn’t seem interested in small talk. Who’re you runnin’ from?

Dusty sighed. In all her twenty-eight years, she’d never come across a more frightening, intimidating man—and she’d been around dozens of them. I’m looking for Jessie, she said, watching Blackie’s reaction. Has she been here?

No, he said suspiciously, I ain’t seen Jessie since the three of us snuck you and your sisters outta town. Is she supposed to be here?

Sort of. We had some trouble down in southern Virginia a few weeks ago with a local gang called the Drifters.

I’ve heard of them, Blackie acknowledged. They’ve gotten to be a pretty big bunch over the past few years.

Dusty nodded. To get away, Jessie and I had to split up. Before we went our separate ways, we set three different meeting places. If we didn’t catch up with each other at any of them by today’s date, we agreed to meet here.

Christ, Dusty, I thought you all were ridin’ with the Renegades. What happened?

We left the Renegades when King died. He was a good, fair leader. But after Prince killed him and took over, well, you knew that man. He was greedy as hell. And careless. King, I would’ve followed anywhere; Prince, I wouldn’t follow into the grocery store.

Blackie chuckled without humor. Who are you ridin’ with now?

We still ride with the Renegades every once in a while, but we mostly stick to ourselves. No one owns any of us, she told the brothers, wanting to make it clear that neither she, nor any of her sisters, had ever been anyone’s bitch.

Blackie let out a long, low whistle. So you girls have been on your own since just a few years after you left town? That’s a rough life, he said, eyeing her scars. I thought you’d have left it behind by now.

She had left it behind...for the most part. She and all her sisters had ridden with the Renegades for a while after leaving Hagerstown. But then Dusty’s life had taken a sudden, unexpected turn. She’d ridden with the gang on and off since she was eighteen, but hadn’t been an outlaw biker during that time. She’d only become one recently...very recently.

She wasn’t crazy about anyone thinking she’d been living a life of crime; but for their sakes, it was better to let the McCassey brothers believe what they wanted.

She’d like to leave her current life behind and start over, but she didn’t even know if she had the courage to take that first step...a step she hoped to take while she was here. Old habits, Blackie, you know?

He nodded, obviously knowing how hard it was to change something that had been a part of your life for so long.

What about Alex and Benni? Are they supposed to meet here, too?

At the mention of her other two sisters, Dusty once again felt the nagging sadness she’d unsuccessfully been trying to bury. She shook her head and glanced at her scarred arm. Benni died in a fire a couple years ago. Alex wound up on the wrong end of a .357 a while back.

Blackie’s eyes widened and his face took on a hard look. Jesus Christ, what the hell happened?

Should she tell them the whole story?

No, she couldn’t.

If Dusty told them exactly what was going on, the brothers would jump in head first to try and help her. She didn’t want them in that kind of danger.

It’s just Jessie and me now, she said, ignoring Blackie’s question.

What happened? Blackie demanded. This time, he looked as if he really would shake the information out of her if she didn’t tell him what he wanted to know.

"There’s a guy—someone we’ve known for a long time—who’s always had a thing for Alex. We hadn’t seen him in years, but six months ago, we ran into him in a bar. He wanted to take her for a ride, but she turned him down and we left.

We thought that was the end of it, but he dogged our heels for months, constantly harassing Alex. She finally tried to put him in his place by pulling a gun and insulting him in a bar packed with a bunch of the Drifters. He wasn’t wearing colors, so we had no idea that every guy in the place was a friend of his.

Dusty paused to take a deep breath to try and get her emotions under control.

Blackie, however, had no patience. And?

"And he pulled a gun and shot her first. The instant Alex went down, Jessie pulled her own gun and shot the guy in the head. After that, all hell broke loose. I caught a bullet from a .9