Carry Your Heart by K. Ryan Carry Your Heart #1
Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Amazon • B&N • Kobo • Smashwords • iBooksSynopsis:
When Isabelle Martin steps onto Sawyer Auto Repair’s parking lot, she can’t believe it’s come to this. After dropping out of a school she never really wanted to go to in the first place and dumping a boyfriend she never really loved to begin with, she thought coming home to Claremont, North Carolina would solve all her problems. Instead, she’s still reeling from her mom’s death six months earlier and trying, but failing to help her dad, who’s sunken deep into a whiskey-fueled depression. Working in the local, motorcycle club-owned, auto shop’s office is a last resort, but it’s the only option she has...even if it means working with Caleb Sawyer, the bad-boy biker with swagger to spare who used to drive her up the wall in high school.
Caleb Sawyer is on the fast-track to a downward spiral. He used to think he had the world at his feet--all he has to do is be patient, earn his keep in the club and in the shop, and his legacy within the Iron Horsemen MC will be his for the taking when the time is right. But that just doesn’t mean anything without his old lady by his side, who wants to leave Claremont more than she wants to stay with him. When the bottom finally drops out, nothing prepares him for the impact and he deals with it the only way he knows how--with whiskey and women. Despite all that, being around Isabelle Martin, the girl whose feathers he ruffled so easily in high school, somehow brings him back to life. She doesn’t take any of his crap, but she calls him on it without judgment and without pity.
Despite some initial animosity, Caleb and Isabelle quickly realize that the perceptions they had of each other in high school couldn’t be further from the truth. The more time they spend together, the closer they become and the more they gravitate towards each other. Both are at a crossroads, but stuck in reverse. Isabelle needs help; she just doesn’t know how to ask for it. Caleb needs a life preserver; he just doesn’t know where to find one. And ultimately, on the path to rediscovery and
identity, all roads lead them to exactly what they need--each other.
New adult/contemporary romance told in alternating points of view. Recommended for readers 18 and older.
Book #1 in the Carry Your Heart series that follows Caleb and Isabelle’s journey spanning the course of eight years.
The parking lot of Sawyer Auto Repair, lined with rows of motorcycles and cracked, ashen pavement, wasn’t even half full yet.
This wasn’t part of the plan.
This was the opposite of the plan.
Given that it was already almost noon and the fact that the Iron Horsemen’s clubhouse was just a few hundred yards away from the shop’s office, I’d hoped the place would be crawling with customers in need of an oil change or whatever else they came here for. A crowded parking lot meant I could just slip in and out unnoticed.
No big deal.
No real risk if everyone around was too busy to notice.
But the longer I sat here in my mom’s Trans Am, the faster the little bit of courage I had left slipped right through my fingertips.
Laughter choked in my throat and I shook my head in an almost desperate grasp for control that would never come.
What was the worst that could happen? Skyler Sawyer could just choose not to hire me? What did I really have to lose? Working at a repair shop run by the local MC in my hometown wasn’t exactly my first choice in employment, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, you know?
I needed a job the way a fish needs water and Sawyer Auto Repair was hiring.
After a disastrously short tenure at Aimee’s Diner and my dad’s threats breathing down my neck, my choices were limited. I needed to find something now. So, when my best friend not-so-discreetly informed me that Claremont’s only real successful auto shop was on the lookout for some help in the office, it was either sink or swim. Do or die trying.
Of course, Becca was only privy to this inside information because she was currently hot and heavy with one of the Horsemen’s patches, Eli, but at this point, I was willing to take any job that didn’t involve stripping my clothes for crumpled up dollar bills.
All I needed was a job to prove that throwing his tuition money away and breaking his heart in the process wasn’t for nothing. And if he kicked me out, he’d be in that house all by himself. I just couldn’t let that happen.
So, with a renewed sense of determination, I stepped out into the sweltering North Carolina heat, ambivalent towards this new direction. Basking in the sunlight and feeling that warmth spreading over my bare shoulders used to be something I found comforting. Now, that same heat suffocated me and pinned me down like a glaring spotlight, leaving nowhere to hide and nowhere to run except straight ahead.
As I ambled closer to the main office, some bangs and crashes echoed from inside the garage. Loud rock music bounced off the pavement as voices sang along really off-key, probably on purpose. Nothing out of the ordinary for an auto repair shop, but it was still completely foreign.
And scary as hell.
Walking past the long row of motorcycles sent a little shiver of anxiety snaking down my spine. My entire life had basically been spent steering clear of the Horsemen’s clubhouse and everyone in it more out of fear of the unknown than anything.
My dad had told me once that the Horsemen were a cancer.
Always in and out of prison for engaging in various illegal activities and he’d spent just as much time cursing their existence as he did the law enforcement for allowing it to happen. He had no shortage of criticisms for the club, complete with conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory that the shop and The Oval Office, a rather notorious strip club about twenty miles outside of town, were all just a cover for the Horsemen’s other enterprises.
But for all his ranting and raving about the criminals, I’d still never seen anything personally that suggested his assumptions were correct. It just wasn’t a life I knew anything about, or even really cared to know about, but now, out of necessity, I just had to suck it up and step inside.
Using the last shred of courage I could muster, I knocked on the office door.
“Yeah?” A muffled voice yelled from the inside.
I shuffled nervously from one side to the other, not sure where I was supposed to go from here. I didn’t want to be rude and just walk inside uninvited, but I couldn’t exactly convince Skyler Sawyer to hire me if I just stood outside the door either. Before I could talk myself out of it, I pushed the door open and stuck my head inside.
“Is it alright if I come in?” I asked, praying the light tremor in my voice didn’t betray just how scared shitless I was right now.
Skyler Sawyer peered down her nose through her reading glasses and leaned back in her chair, appraising me with black-rimmed eyes and a few taps of painted acrylic nails on the desk. I’d only ever really seen Skyler around town in passing, but there’d always been an aura of tough superiority surrounding the older woman that made me feel uneasy. Maybe being the matriarch of a supposed lawless motorcycle club just brought it out in her and Skyler Sawyer had been embedded in that life since...well, since probably her entire life.
Even though I wasn’t exactly an expert on the inner-workings of the so-called organization, the history of the club was more widely known. My mom had told me once, covertly of course when my dad wasn’t around, that Skyler married the club's much older president, Connor Sawyer, when she was just 18 and already six months pregnant with her first and only son. Apparently, it was quite the scandal, especially for a small town like Claremont, where everyone had their noses shoved so far down everyone else's business the whole place reeked of crap.
When Connor keeled over in the middle of the shop’s parking lot from a heart attack 10 years ago, the whole town, surprisingly enough, fell into mourning.
That day still lingered in my memory—fifth grade, social studies, and Principal Moreland coming in to bring Caleb to the office. The room went still, nobody made a sound, and even if he couldn’t have possibly known the news he was about to receive, 11-year-old Caleb Sawyer’s face crumbled with dread and my heart plummeted into my stomach.
But since my own dad never would’ve allowed me anywhere near Caleb outside of school, there hadn’t been much my 11-year-old self could really to do to help, even though I’d wanted to. Who knew we’d ever have something so awful in common?
It was just too bad those feelings of sympathy and compassion quickly devolved into something much different as we grew up.
Some point after Connor’s death, Skyler hooked up with the current club president, Marcus Hoffman, and had been with him ever since, but as my mom correctly predicted, she’d still never remarried.
My attention drifted back to the front of the office to find Skyler Sawyer, the Iron Horsemen’s matriarch, scrutinizing me from head to toe. When it seemed like I’d passed this initial test, and Skyler waved her hand with a flick of her wrist, I exhaled a giant sigh of relief.
“Come on in,” Skyler told me easily, gesturing for me to sit down across from her. “You were in Caleb’s grade, right?”
I nodded, still feeling a little queasy at the way Skyler's dark, almost shark-like eyes seemed to slice right through me. “Yeah. I’m Isabelle Martin.”
Recognition flickered over Skyler’s hard-lined, world-weary face and she was nodding almost immediately.
“That’s right. I heard you were back in town, but haven’t really seen you around. What do you need? An oil change or somethin’?”
“Uh, no. Actually, Becca told me you were looking for some help here in the office and I was hoping I could apply.”
Skyler frowned and her chair squeaked as she leaned forward. “Okay. Summer’s almost over. Don’t you have to go back to school soon?”
It wouldn’t make sense to hire somebody that was going to be leaving town so soon. Luckily for us both, that wasn’t a problem.
“I’m not going back,” I shook my head.
Skyler's eyebrows shot into her forehead in surprise, but I figured that was as good a reaction as any. “Not going back, huh? You were at law school, weren’t you? Where were you going again?”
“Duke,” I barely bit back a wince as I said it, knowing exactly how it must sound to this powerful, regal woman who had probably never thrown an opportunity away in her life.
“Huh,” Skyler leaned back into her chair and then abruptly rose, resting a hand against her hip. “Well, you definitely heard right. I am looking for someone to help me in the office. So let’s talk then. Why are you lookin’ to work here? I’m sure there are plenty of other places in town you’d probably rather work at.”
“Aimee and I parted ways yesterday, if that’s what you’re asking,” I offered quietly. “It was a mutual decision.”
Skyler lifted an eyebrow in amusement. “Waitressing didn’t agree with ya?”
“Something like that, yeah,” I nodded.
It wouldn’t help my case to disclose the countless dishes I’d dropped and all the orders I’d inexplicably lost track of. To say I’d been a horrible waitress would be the understatement of the year. In fact, the only reason Aimee probably put up with me for so long was because she felt sorry for me.
Color me grateful for all this pity and sympathy.
Thanks, universe. Generous as usual.
Sympathy could really only get a girl so far. All those whispers over my shoulder, those pained, uncomfortable expressions when people didn’t know what else to say to me after apologizing for my loss—I didn’t need any of that.
What I needed was a job.
Take that and suck it, universe.
“So the shop is your next choice?” Skyler was asking me now and the judgment underneath the weight of her stare was really starting to make me anxious.
Before my sanity could catch up with me, I jutted a hand on my hip and laid it all out on the table.
“Look, Mrs. Sawyer, I may not have been a very good waitress, but I am good with numbers. I’m good with bookkeeping, and although my last job didn’t end so well, I was good with the customer service part. Everything else not so much. I just really need a job—this job—because if I don’t have a job, my dad is going to kick me out and I don’t have enough money saved up to afford to live on my own yet.”
There. I didn’t know what else I could say now. Part of me wanted to clamp my hand over my mouth. Skyler stared back at me with surprise, shock, and a hint of suspicion all flickering across her face. Then, in a flash, her expression shifted into a resigned, albeit respectful, smile.
“Alright, then. I’ll start you at part-time, $8.50 an hour, 20-25 hours a week, and then, depending on how you do here, we can talk about raises and maybe even full-time, if that’s something you want,” Skyler offered diplomatically.
At first, I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly.
Skyler lifted an eyebrow. “You really wanna finish that sentence or do you just wanna take the job already?”
Yeah. Way to screw this up before it even started.
“Uh,” I stalled a little so I could shake myself out of it. “Thank you so much! When do you want me to start?”
“How about tomorrow? I can break down the books for you and we’ll go over customer check-in and check-out, give you a feel for the job.”
I winced at how eager, how desperate that sounded and then that wince curled into a full-blown grimace.
I really was desperate. My life really did depend on this.
If this didn’t work out…
“See you tomorrow, Isabelle,” my new boss was telling me now, waving dismissively to shoo me out of the office. “Be here at 10, alright?”
“Okay. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much I appreciate this, Mrs. Sawyer.”
“Hey, call me Skyler, alright? Mrs. Sawyer makes me feel old.”
I tried not to stumble too much over her name, but it just felt strange to be on a first name basis with someone so goddamn scary and intimidating.
But as I headed out the door, stepping back onto the pavement and into the warm sunlight, I felt like for once, my life was finally about to start heading in the right direction.