Chapter One, The Way Back Home (Mutiny Dolls Book Three)

This has to be the longest Chapter One I have ever written! Not doing that again lol In the meantime, enjoy — Lizzie and Reid’s Story, The Way Back Home: Mutiny Dolls Book Three releases soon.

Chapter One

No more snow for me! The mantra Lizzie Montgomery chanted to herself the entire drive from the east coast made her giddy. Hauling the last of her bags from the car, she dumped them on the couch of her brother’s house and practically skipped into the cul de sac she loved so well. Stretching her arms full-length from her shoulders, she let her head fall back as she slowly spun in circles. Breathing deep, she let the warm air, full of ocean and trees, fill her up.

Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, she’d done the exact same thing. After years of living abroad and on stateside military bases, the Montgomery family had finally decided it was time for a home. It took less than five minutes for then twelve-year-old Lizzie and her twin brother Logan to decide the quiet little cul de sac in Bayside Point, California, nestled in the coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego, was the best place ever.

It still is.

Worry over her brother’s injuries eased back a little and Lizzie opened her eyes, drinking in the familiar decorations on her neighbors’ houses. Mr. and Mrs. Webber still couldn’t agree on who took down and who put up, judging by the mixture of Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day on their wraparound front porch. At the end of the cul de sac, the McAdams still had fake plastic snow around their trees and huge oversized ornaments crowding the branches. Unlike them, but then they were older and hadn’t her mom told her Mr. McAdams was in a care home now? Lizzie made a mental note to stop over and say hi.

And that was as close as she was ever getting to snow again. Ten years of Tri-State winters, trying to travel for work out of shut down airports, sliding across icy sidewalks, and evenings too cold to spend outside was enough. New York had never really felt like home, no matter how much she was already missing her fellow Mutiny Dolls.

This was home. Almost. There was just one thing missing…

Huffing out a breath, she looked at the house across the street. Dark and undecorated, but it had been fixed up in the time she’d been gone. Although the garage in the back had been expanded, the same safety light still hung over the main overhead door. Lizzie pulled out her phone. 6:59 pm. She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at the light, willing a repeat of not only the day they’d moved in, but every day after that.

It was a hard thing she didn’t jump and clap when exactly one minute later, the light came on. Grinning so big her cheeks started to hurt, she strained her ears, listening for the best sound she’d ever heard. A few minutes later, she bit her lip, disappointment beginning to settle in her stomach. It wasn’t like she knew his schedule these days. Hell, they hadn’t even spoken in years.

Nevertheless, Lizzie had driven the few extra miles on her way into town to pass The South Bend Roadhouse, the bar he’d inherited when his father died. Logan and Tyler had kept her informed of the changes, but it was good to see it with her own eyes. There were still Harleys in the parking lot, but also sport bikes, and all kinds of cars. The building looked cleaner, in better repair.

She hadn’t stopped in. She wasn’t that brave.

Twisting one of the braids hanging out of the top of her hat around her finger, she blew out a breath and looked up the street, back to the light over the garage, over her shoulder to her brother’s house, back up the street, thought about slipping a note under his door, then finally dropped the braid and turned to go back inside. Two steps and she heard it. Faintly, slowing to the stop sign a few blocks away. Every nerve in her body stopped, then vibrated at the sound of acceleration.

Now I’m home.

She squared her shoulders and watched him turn the corner. Even in the dusk, her eyes picked up the details. The way his body leaned with the bike, relaxed and at ease. Straightening after the turn, the headlight blinded her. She squinted at the glare, still knowing the exact second he saw her by the slight jerk of the bike. Lizzie couldn’t stop the smirk. Nice to see you too.

Closer now, the headlight hit her chest, and she could make out his features. Even with the half-helmet and riding glasses, he was throwing off testosterone and attitude. It was in the set of his jaw and the press of his full lips. His shoulders were broader now, straining the fabric of his thermal shirt, and her body went hot.

Reid Foster had grown up damn fine.

Despite slowing to second gear, Reid almost passed his own driveway. He’d known she was coming, three people had made sure to tell him. What he hadn’t known was how he’d feel at seeing her again. Standing right in the middle of the cul de sac, just the way she had the first time he’d ever seen her, no less. Then, he’d been an underfed, skinny twelve year old on the back of his biker old man’s Harley.

Except for sixteen years, a hundred pounds, and it being his own Harley, not much else had changed. The quirky chick standing there smirking at him still did something funny to his insides.

He managed to turn hard and not hit the curb. Pulling to a stop at the overhead door of the garage, Reid shifted his weight to stand and reach for the keypad, but Lizzie was already there. She flipped down the keypad’s cover with a deliberation that didn’t bode well. She looked over her shoulder, one eyebrow raised accusingly as she punched in his security code.

The lights blinked green and the door began to rise, adding to the noise of his bike. They would have to scream to hear each other. Only she didn’t scream. She just turned, waved him toward the open door, and headed back across the street.

Yeah, that was a bad security code. But he needed the reminder: Don’t be stupid.

Reid settled his weight back onto the seat and power walked his bike inside, already wondering if he was going to survive until she went back to New York.

He kicked down the stand for his bike, let the weight tip onto it, and turned the handlebars. His back protested when he stood, his boot even bumping the seat as he swung it over. Yanking his gloves off, he carefully hid his scowl of annoyance at the lingering aches. He put his gloves and glasses inside his helmet and set it on one of his worktables. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself to walk over to try to make amends, but she was suddenly there, paused in his doorway.

The woman knew how to make an entrance. Not many people brought pie into his shop.

She was smiling. And it was the best thing he’d seen in years. Only it wasn’t for him. No, she was smiling, now laughing, at something Tyler was saying. He got off his bike, and Lizzie immediately hugged him, the pie teetering in her hand as Tyler lifted her feet from the ground.

For some reason, he really wanted that pie. Hell, he just wanted her to give him something, anything, to say he had the slightest chance of righting all the wrongs he’d done between them.

“You have the worst security code in history.”

He started, not expecting her to be at his elbow. His mouth opened, but not a word would come out. His eyes darted toward the driveway, where Tyler was pacing lazy circles, phone against his ear. Still balancing the pie on one hand, she reached behind her and pulled a wrench from the back pocket of her cut-off jeans. The scent of her shampoo hit him as she leaned across and hung the wrench back on his peg board.

“Thanks for the loan, by the way.” She winked at him and held out the pie. “And Happy Pi Day.”

“What the hell is Pi Day?” he heard himself ask. And that was the first thing he said to her in years? He immediately wanted to apologize for being rude, but she just laughed.

“Pi Day, ya know, like Pi from math class? Circumference? 3.14 etc. etc.? It’s March 14th, or 3.14, so Pi Day. Therefore, pie.”

“Is this a geek thing?” Her fingers brushed his as he took the pie, and a zing skittered up his arm. It felt like a second chance and a death knell rolled into one.

“Yep.” Her smile was infectious and completely unapologetic. And this one was directed at him.

Without the engine noise, his ears acclimated back to the sounds of crickets and neighbors out in their yards, but all he could focus on were her footsteps as she began to move through his garage. Right then, she stood in front of the shelves where he kept parts, some salvage, some spare. The newly painted tins he got back yesterday.

“Wow,” she said, picking up the front fender. She knew how to handle parts. That wasn’t what made his stomach churn. “Who did this? It’s amazing. So intricate.”

Reid clenched his hands. Being jealous of Tyler was ridiculous. He wasn’t, really. The guy had saved his life, but he’d seen the card Lizzie sent Tyler for his birthday last month, and it’d stuck in his craw. Then the hug she’d given him today.

Why had she stopped sending him cards?

“Tyler did that. He does a lot of the paint designs,” he said, relieved his voice sounded more or less normal. His throat felt thick. She looked good standing in his garage. Too good.

Lizzie set the fender back on the shelf and moved further into the room. He still had to find a part for the bike she stopped to inspect, rubbing at a smudge on the frame. She ran her fingers up the sissy bar he’d made and his dick twitched.

It’d been way too long since he’d gotten laid. Not for lack of opportunity, he just…hadn’t.

With a little more distance and several lifts and bikes between them, it was safe to check her out. She was less gangly now, muscles long and lean in her shorts and tank top. Her hair was in several long braids hanging out the top of a knit hat, like she’d cut the fuzzy ball off the top or something. The corner of his mouth kicked up even though he tried to stop it. One thing Lizzie Montgomery was, was undeniably herself. He was glad that hadn’t changed.

She rounded the corner of a work cart and Reid’s breath stopped. Striped socks reached past her knees. Only the top of a surgery scar was visible above the sock, but it was enough to make the light breeze blowing across his face feel like sandpaper.

He screwed his eyes shut, tilting his head down to crack his neck, hoping it would snap him out of the memories. If they even were memories — the whole day was a horrible blur. Which was why he didn’t know she was there until she gripped his biceps and gave him a shake.

The arch of her light brown eyebrow was the first thing he saw. He knew that arch, knew before he dropped his gaze the expression on her face.

“How are things where you went? Because they’re pretty good in the here and now. Where I am. Care to join me?” Her voice was light, but the zinger was intentional.

He nodded, not able to help the smirk that tilted the corner of his mouth. He’d always loved that she called him on his shit. Without consciously deciding to, he leaned forward, his nose brushing hers before she gave him a little push back, her hand lingering on his chest.

Offense was the best defense, right? “Backing off already?” he murmured, raising an eyebrow of his own.

She did let go of him then, and he wanted to grab her hand and put it back on him. She wagged a finger at him, and when she took a step back, he let her. “You could be dangerous.”

Never to you, he wanted to say, but history had already proven that a lie.

Not again.

As she turned and leaned over his bike to inspect the custom mirror above the throttle, the back of her shorts slid up her thighs, exposing even more smooth pale skin. He shoved his hands into his front pockets, as much to keep them to himself as to create a bit more room for the hard-on he was getting.

“So how long are you staying?” he asked, torn between wanting her around and wanting her to go before his little brain made him do something stupid.

She braced her hand on the gas tank and leaned a little further, tilting her body so she could see the back of the mirror. “Forever.”

“What? What about your job?” He’d asked too fast, but damn he hadn’t been expecting that.

She looked over her shoulder at his outburst. “I quit when I found out Logan got hurt. You trying to get rid of me, Reid?”

“No!” He said it even faster and she smirked at him. Way to be smooth, Foster. “I just…Logan said you were using vacation time.”

She turned back to the bike, giving his front brake a squeeze. “Technically, I am. But I’m not going back when it’s over. I decided somewhere around Kansas. My friends are packing up the rest of my stuff and shipping it out.”

He nodded, although she couldn’t see it. Forever. He played the word over his tongue. Half of him suddenly felt settled. The other half of him wanted to get on his bike and ride like hell.

By the way she was running her hands over his bike, maybe he wasn’t the only one wanting to mount up. “Have a seat,” he said, glad he offered when her face lit up again.

In true Lizzie fashion, she jumped right in, swinging her right leg over the seat as she reached out and took hold of the grips. She settled her weight on the seat, shifting her shoulders to get a comfortable position, then put her feet on the pegs. She tilted her head to each side, checking the bike out from a rider perspective, confident the bike wasn’t going to fall over on her, and it clicked.

“You learned to ride.”

“Right after freshman year.” She had that look on her face. The one she got whenever they’d gone for a ride as teenagers. He’d seen it on many rider’s faces, but it never meant as much as it did on hers. “I don’t get to ride as much as I want though.”

“Guess riding in New York City wouldn’t really do it for you.” She’d loved going up the coast, or hitting the long stretch into the desert.

“I didn’t mind riding in the city once I got used to the traffic. My friend Annie is from the Poconos. I kept my bike at her brother’s shop and mostly rode there on weekends in the summer. Some trips down the coast and back. Went to Sturgis twice. But once the snow started…” She drew her finger across her throat and laughed.

“Well now you’ll get to go year-round. Whenever you want.”

She scrunched her shoulders up to her ears and made one of those girlish squeal sounds and he felt the crush he’d had on her come back. Only this wasn’t a teenager crush. This was full grown adult crush. She was cute and charming and sexy as hell just then. She dropped her hands to the tank, letting them slide down until they rested between her thighs where she straddled the bike.

“Will you go riding with me? I always need some practice after not riding for a while.”

He stepped closer, touched she’d trust him enough after the crash. “Of course I will, if that’s what you want.”

Reid should have braced himself when the mischief slid into her eyes, but he didn’t. She rose slowly, her body almost sliding against his as she braced a hand on his hip for balance as she brought her feet together. He felt one of her feet bump his, and looked down to see if she’d put her toes over his like she used to. She hadn’t, but seeing her feet snugged up against his battered boots started a slow roll of lust.

He was used to lust. Had felt it plenty of times. Usually it slammed into him quick, and went away just as fast. But this was a wave out in the Pacific, building easy and strong. When it broke, it was going to take him under. She was standing so close her nose brushed against his jaw, and he could smell the faint trace of shampoo in her braids.

“Reid?”

“Yeah?”

“Riding practice is only the beginning of what I want. What I’m going to get.”

His breath stopped. Just absolutely stopped, halfway through an exhale. He held her gaze, aware of the cant of her lips even though they stood too close to see her mouth clearly. The air began to burn in his lungs but he didn’t want to break the moment with something so mundane as breathing.

Lizzie winked at him and gave him a playful shove. When she stepped away, he wanted to grab her braids and pull her close again. Tyler’s voice stopped him before he could. He almost owed the guy for that one.

“You know,” Tyler drawled. Reid hadn’t noticed him come into the garage and lean against the jamb of the overhead door. “It’s not just Pi Day. It’s also Steak and Blowjob day.”

Lizzie’s face went happy surprised in less than a second. “Oh, is it now? Steak, pie, blowjob. If there’s a reciprocation option, that sounds like a good night to me.”

“No. No reciprocation option. You ladies get Valentine’s Day. Guys get Steak and Blowjob Day. And now with pie.”

Lizzie crossed her arms under her chest as she shifted her weight to face Tyler squarely. Reid couldn’t stop his gaze from traveling down the long, lean length of her, catching on the tops of the knee-high socks she wore. Seeing how she hid the scars he knew were under those, that he’d been responsible for putting there, punched him in the gut.

Jerking his head away, he moved the pie on the table behind his helmet and mirrored her pose, careful to move far enough away that his hand wouldn’t brush against her when he wrapped it over the edge of the table. If he was going to keep his composure during a conversation about reciprocal blowjobs, he was going to need something to ground him. Sliding his fingers under the lip of the stainless steel table, he snagged the small burr, pressed his middle finger against it hard enough to hurt, just shy of breaking the skin. Yeah, that did it.

“One, I’m not a lady. You have met me, right?”

Tyler laughed at that, reaching out and lightly bumping his booted foot against her calf. “I use the term loosely.”

Lizzie flipped him off. Reid pressed his finger harder, the tension wrenching tighter the easier their banter became.

“Two, I hate Valentine’s Day. Nothing ruins a good massacre more than horrid tasting candy hearts and mushy cards. So if I can get a reciprocation addendum to Steak and Blowjob Day, I’m perfectly willing to forgo V-Day.”

Tyler stuck out his hand. “Deal.”

His best friend did not just agree to reciprocal blowjobs with Lizzie. Blood pooling at the tip of his finger, Reid saw an equal red, although really, he had no place objecting.

Lizzie smacked Tyler’s hand away. “I didn’t say I was willing to blow you. But I am willing to go out for steak.”

Flipping his hand over and back, Tyler canted his head as if in thought and Reid felt just a fraction of the tension leave his shoulders.

“Better deal,” Tyler said, the slow smile he used for luring women into his clutches spreading across his face. “I don’t think I want that sharp tongue of yours anywhere near my cock anyway.”

Lizzie leaned into Tyler’s space. Their noses almost touching, she canted her head to match his. “Considering what you do with your cock, I wouldn’t risk it either.”

Reid felt like he was watching two pit bulls about to tear each other apart. And he wasn’t sure which would win. If he hadn’t watched similar sparring matches between the two of them for years, he may have moved to break it up. Even so, something roiled in his gut. A lot had changed since they were teenagers. They were harder now. Not like Logan, Lizzie’s twin brother, who’d joined the military. Nope, he and Tyler hadn’t gotten much farther than their outlaw fathers, although they were both still alive and at the moment, out of prison.

He couldn’t imagine Lizzie being that tough. No doubt she could hold her own, but she’d brought geek pie for fuck’s sake.

But Tyler just nodded, a low chuckle of surrender. “Fair enough. We going for steak or what?”

“Of course. Don’t think you can tease me with steak and then not put out.” She straightened and turned to him, and Reid almost forgot to breathe as their eyes locked. “You coming or what?”

If she was going to talk about blowjobs all night, yeah, he’d be coming. All over his fist the second he got home later. “Yeah, I could eat.”

“Let me grab my helmet.” She turned on a heel and headed back across the cul de sac to her brother’s house, her hips swaying just enough he knew it was natural. She wasn’t putting on a show, and that caused all sorts of reactions he had no business having. He watched her the whole way until she disappeared into the house. When the door closed behind her, he finally tore his gaze back to Tyler, who was eyeing him.

“What?”

Putting up his hands, Tyler straightened and backed a step out the door. “Easy, bro. You’re going to blow a gasket before the appetizer if you don’t relax.”

He rolled his shoulders, but the tension didn’t ease. His finger stuck to the burr when he pulled his hand away. He stared at the small bloody hole in his finger and cursed at himself. He didn’t have soft hands. Rebuilding bikes also built calluses, although all the time he spent with his hands in the sinks at his bar softened them a bit.

“You knew she was coming back.”

“Not until a few days ago.”

“Bullshit. She was always coming back. I get that you needed time, man, I really do. But what, five years? Watching you figure this out is going to be hilarious. Telling Logan about it is going to be even better.”

“Tell Logan what?”

Tyler smiled again and then shook his head. “She can ride with me. Don’t think I didn’t catch the panic. She didn’t, by the way, but she still won’t let you get away with that shit for long.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

Lizzie of course chose just that moment to enter earshot. She’d put on jeans and boots, a lightweight jacket over her arm.

“Wow, check out all the testosterone flying around over here. Alpha boys, bikes, steak, I just may change my mind about those blowjobs.”

Tyler slung an arm around her shoulders. Reid wanted to punch the smirk right off his face. “My kind of girl.”

Lizzie slugged him in the stomach, wrinkling her nose to just this side of snarky. “If that’s so, your taste has improved since you were in New York.”

Reid knew by the way Tyler sucked in a breath that whoever he’d done in New York, it wasn’t good. But… “New York?”

They turned to face him, sheepish. Oh, no, they hadn’t. Had they?

“I loaned him my couch for a few weeks. Seems his tattoo shop buddies are assholes.”

“Which is why I won’t be working for them ever again.”

Lizzie bounced around a little, tugging on his shirt sleeve. “Can you finish my tattoo soon? I really don’t want Logan big brothering me about it once he gets home.”

“I can do it after hours whenever you want, chickie.”

“Awesome. Now, to steak!”

Instead of getting on his bike, Reid moved around the worktable and began inspecting parts. No way was he going to sit through dinner and not punch Tyler in the face.

“Uh, hello. Dinner is not in this garage.” She was standing beside him again, and he started before he realized it.

“What’s with the sneaking up? Stop with the sneaking up.”

Her shoulders stiffened, drawing her back. She reached up to touch her hair, but only knocked her fingers against her helmet, which really made him feel like shit. First, he was irrationally jealous of his best friend, and now he was snapping at Lizzie, who obviously still got anxious when he did. He really was an asshole.

“Sorry. You want to go to dinner, though, right?” she asked, fisting her hands to stop the fidgeting.

He did. Too much.

He’d never been rational when it came to Lizzie. Which was reason enough to stay away. Except he had a better chance of riding across the dunes of Mars than he had of staying away. Nevertheless, for right then, he had to get his head on straight. “I’ve got work to do on that bike,” he said instead, tilting his chin toward the stripped down Harley on the closest lift. His voice was gruff. It was the lust, but even to him it sounded strained. He felt like shit that he’d made her uneasy, but before he could say anything else, she plucked up and smiled at him.

“Oh, okay. Um…want me to bring you anything back?”

Great, he was being rude as hell, and she was offering to bring him dinner. Scratching at his temple, he tried to find an apology, but Tyler chose that moment to start his bike. Reid shook his head.

Lizzie nodded, gave him a half-hearted smile, and walked out of the garage. A few seconds later, he glanced out, just in time to see them roll down the street, her arms looped around Tyler instead of him.

Several hours later, Reid connected the last two wires and sat back. He felt calmer now. Shoving a hand into his hair and rubbing at his scalp, he stood up and stretched out the bunched muscles in his back. Maybe Lizzie being back wouldn’t be as awkward as he feared. They were adults now, they could be friends, right? Despite what she said, she was too successful to stick around Bayside Point. There was nothing for her here. And damn if that thought didn’t piss him off. She was the only girl who’d ever looked at him, really looked at him, beyond the motorcycles, beyond the bar, beyond the tattoos and bad boy attitude, and made him feel like…something important.

Gathering up his tools, Reid bumped his hip against a table and came up short. There was a foil-covered plate on it, a big bottle of water beside it. He shifted his weight, leaning back to check the driveway, but it was clear. Somehow she’d managed to sneak right in behind him and leave him dinner. Another little bit of the knot in his gut loosened, surprising him with how easy it was. Lifting a corner, the smell of perfectly cooked steak and garlic mashed potatoes wafted up. His stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten much that day. Ripping the foil off, Reid grinned bigger than he had since learning of Logan’s accident. Maybe even longer than that.

***

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