Authors: Kara Parker
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
SMOLDER copyright @ 2016 by Kara Parker. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Shayla Queene wondered if Sam Gardener’s disgusting leer was something that viewers could feel through the screen, or if that was a special delight that only she was privy to. She could read the thoughts blazing across his face as easily as if they were on a teleprompter, and she had to suppress a scowl as she approached him.
Sam grabbed the microphone from her hand, running his fingers through his trademark wispy gray hair. It seemed fitting to her that the weatherman at the station had hair that literally looked like a cloud.
“Thanks sweetheart,” he said, looking her up and down.
Shayla turned on her heel and stalked away. She hated how, just because she was an intern, he treated her with such condescension. As if it was that difficult to do the weather in Templeton! It was Oregon, for Christ’s sake. If it wasn’t raining, it was probably going to rain soon. How hard could it be?
But Shayla had been fetching coffees and microphones and whatever else the lazy asses at the station needed for the past year, so apparently that meant she was probably a useless idiot who deserved to be looked down on. Shayla scoffed, slipping back into her chair.
Her desk was at the back of the room, tucked away in the corner. For most people, it didn’t exist. She hadn’t even managed to score a desk until six months ago, when the other intern had quit out of sheer frustration. Damien had said it was because he wanted to try out something different, but she knew better. Shayla had thought of getting out herself a few times. How easy would it be just to give up on her dream of being a reporter? It was a tempting prospect.
Anyway, it didn’t feel like she had made any more headway than she would have if she’d sat on the bus and read out the newspaper to people all day. At least that way she might have informed a few people of what was going on in the world.
Now all she got to do was tell people when Starbucks was out of the soy, which had nearly made the news all on its own.
Shayla looked around for Naomi, the other news anchor. She was the only person at the station that Shayla got along with, even if Naomi did walk around in a cloud of her own hairspray. It wasn’t like Anthony, the other anchor, smelled any better. But Naomi was nowhere to be found. Odd, since she was usually the one person who could be counted on to be punctual. She’d had to assist the makeup artist more than once when Anthony had rolled up late, with only a couple of minutes left before he was due to be on.
Shayla checked her watch. They only had fifteen minutes until the cameras started rolling. Had Naomi come in while she was arranging the refreshments table, and snuck away in the meantime?
Shayla stepped over to one of the cameramen, Dave. “Is Naomi not here yet?”
He shrugged. “I look where I’m paid to look.”
That was helpful.
She tried the producer, Amy, next. “Hey, have you seen Naomi?”
Amy, a woman in her mid-forties who seemed to wear her headset even while she slept, chewed obnoxiously at the piece of gum in her mouth. “Have you seen my cup?”
Shayla furrowed her brow. “What cup?”
“Exactly. I’m dying of thirst over here.”
Shayla suppressed a groan and walked to the refreshments table, pouring a cup of coffee and adding the obnoxious amount of cream and sugar that Amy preferred. She brought it back to Amy and handed it over, opening her mouth to speak. Amy walked away before she even got a syllable out.
She approached Anthony next. He was Naomi’s co-anchor, so he should know where she was, right? Though most of the time Naomi was clueless as to what her coworker was up to.
“Hey, Anthony,” Shayla greeted.
He was known for having a temper, so Shayla took care to be soft with him.
He had his gaze angled down toward his phone, and didn’t look up when she spoke.
His gaze snapped up to hers, his eyes full of ire. “I heard you the first time. What?”
Shayla reminded herself to stay calm. That was the important thing. Calm.
“I was just wondering—”
Anthony put up his hand to cut her off, looking down at his phone. Then he shooed her to the side. Shayla shuffled awkwardly a couple feet away.
“Naomi’s not coming in!” he yelled.
Shayla turned her head to see Amy charging forward from the back of the room. “What?” She spat her gum into a nearby garbage can. It was a perfect shot. “What the hell is she doing?”
Shayla was wondering the same thing, but without the judgement. In its place was worry. Her fingers itched to pull out her phone from her pocket to text Naomi, but she’d only get yelled at if she did. Anthony, his royal highness, could do whatever he wanted—but the poorly paid intern could not.
Shayla began to creep away to the bathroom, but Anthony stopped her with another wave of his hand. “You!” he said, pointing at her.
Shayla frowned. It was as if he hadn’t noticed that she’d been trying to talk to him literally five minutes before.
“You can read, right?”
“Good. Get up here and read the news with me.”
“You don’t get to make that call,” Amy interjected.
Anthony’s face hardened. “We’ll lose half our demographic if we only have me on. We need eye candy for the men.”
Shayla was pissed, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to do some real work. Something that she’d actually worked toward in school. She looked over at Amy, whose pudgy face was screwed up in thought.
“Fine,” Amy said finally. “But don’t mess it up.”
Though she had no plans of messing it up, she found that sentiment to be amusing anyway. What was Amy going to do? Fire her? She’d been thinking of quitting only moments before. There was only one way to go from here.
Shayla stepped up to the news desk and was thrust down onto the seat beside Anthony’s. The stylist, Meg, came at her with a fluffy brush and a hard frown. “It’s a good thing you’re naturally pretty,” she said. “Otherwise this would be a disaster.”
She pulled at Shayla’s hair and caked foundation on her face until right before Amy began to count them on. Shayla’s heart thrummed in her chest. This was her big break. But what the hell was she supposed to do? The camera was going to go live and she’d be left gaping at Templeton’s public like a deer in the headlights.
Anthony must have sensed her trepidation. “Just read what it says after the name Naomi on the teleprompter. And smile.”
A friendly “good luck” wouldn’t have gone unappreciated, but Shayla would make the most of what she got. Shayla plastered on the widest smile she could manage, sat up with her back straight, and stared down the lens of her destiny.
Luke Cinders had never considered himself a cat person. He’d never had a cat before, but he’d never wanted one either. What kind of motorcycle club leader had a soft spot for fluffy animals?
Well, now he knew of at least one.
The little white kitten slept in his lap, purring to his heart’s content. Luke gave him a stroke on the head with his finger, and the kitten absentmindedly nipped at the errant digit.
“Behold, the rage of Achilles,” Luke murmured, chuckling.
The kitten turned away and went back to sleep.
Naming a kitten after an ancient Greek warrior amused him, but not as much as the young animal’s antics. He’d spent the last hour running around the room, pouncing on Luke, and in general being a brat. It was like Achilles had no idea how close to death he’d come.
But both the kitten and his namesake were hard to kill.
Luke looked up from the pile of fluff in his lap to the screen in front of him. The evening news had just started. Luke didn’t usually watch the local news. He learned all he needed to about rival gangs from his own guys, and anyway, local news was always just a bunch of filler with maybe one or two stories. But the remote was on the coffee table in front of him, and he didn’t want to wake Achilles again. The kitten had had a rough day.
A thump from the other room caused Luke to crane his head and listen, but there were no follow up sounds. Good. He couldn’t remember the name of the girl in his bed, so it was better for everyone if she stayed there for the time being. The last thing he needed was another clingy broad climbing all over him when he was just trying to wind down a little. And, after the show she’d put on a couple hours ago, he’d rather hang out with the cat.
Bringing home an endless parade of hot chicks went with the territory of being the president of Trojans MC. Getting ones that had just as much substance in their heads as their tits was another story entirely. One girl had once asked if he’d named his club after the condom brand. She’d never even heard of
, or of the Trojan war.
Hadn’t everyone learned it in high school? That’s where Luke had first read about the Greeks and their great struggle, about the ten years of siege that was destroyed by the hubris of a king. He’d named his club after it because he sympathized with the warriors on both sides. Proud, noble Hector, and ruthless, angry Achilles. Men whose fates were sealed the moment they were born, and who took action even when they knew it would lead to their downfall.
Luke hoped that his destiny to lead would not conflict with his will to live, but he would embrace whatever fate he’d been dealt when the time came. No man could hide from death. Though it seemed to him, as the main stories of the night began to cycle through the broadcast, that he’d suffer death by boredom.
The male news anchor was a dick named Anthony Blake, who had always gotten on Luke’s nerves. He had a cocky attitude that Luke could feel through the screen. He didn’t think anything would be quite as satisfying as punching Anthony Blake in the face. Normally his co-anchor was a woman named Natalya or Naomi or something. She was pretty for someone who was overly done up, even for Luke’s tastes. It helped that she had a great rack and they were always putting her in shirts with plunging necklines.
Today there was a different girl sitting beside Anthony’s too-tanned glow. She looked quite young, mid-twenties at most. She had a round little face, big blue eyes, and sinfully full lips, all framed by long blonde tresses.
Luke leaned closer to the screen. Things had just gotten interesting.
Anthony introduced the girl as Shayla Queene and said that she was standing in for Naomi tonight. Naomi. That’s what the other woman’s name was. Naomi and her great rack were essentially all but forgotten though, in the face of Shayla’s angelic face and promising curves. She looked a bit nervous at first, but she soon warmed up to the cameras.
She and Anthony pinged off each other, detailing the top stories affecting their city. The first was about a local bike thief, who’d stolen again. Luke snorted. He knew exactly who the thief was—a junkie teenager who’d tried to steal off of one his member’s kids. He was surprised to see the twerp had continued going after bikes. They’d have to have another talk with him.
He stroked Achilles’ head, and the kitten shifted in his sleep. Luke looked down, the corner of his mouth twitching into a smile.
He looked back up and Shayla was speaking now, her eyes full of fire as she eloquently described the municipality of Ritchfield’s struggle to rezone an old quarry into a housing development. Luke had never been so interested in banal shit like that before. Now here he was eating it up like she was covering a goddamn riot.
That story ended, and Luke frowned when the camera turned back to Anthony. The next story seemed all too familiar though. Luke sat up just as a grainy video popped up on the screen. It was a traffic cam for a bridge on the I5. There were three figures on screen: two snarling dogs and a blurry white blob. He watched as a tall, burly man in a leather jacket pulled up on a Harley, darted into the middle of the street and chased the dogs away, then leaning down to scoop the blob up into his arms. He secured it inside his jacket and hopped back on the bike, peeling off into the night.
Luke looked down at the kitten in his lap. “Looks like we’re on Candid Camera, little Myrmidon.”