not sure why this never posted, but better late than never
We just couldn’t wait for June 28th – we wanted to share a sneak peek of Ryan Michele’s CONQUERING now! You can read the first chapter below – make sure to preorder before the June 28th release for a special preorder price!
Wes ‘Stiff’ Collins lived life on the wild side. He worked from the moment he knew what the word meant, always making the best of every situation. There was nothing about his past he would change.
Without a real family except his brother Xander, Stiff joined the Vipers Creed Motorcycle Club, and they taught him what it was to have people he could depend on. When his past crashed into his present, he vowed to protect the club that had always been his steady, even if it meant turning his back on the woman who had given him life.
Chelsea Miller’s life was simple: work, take care of her family, and save for the future. Everything was about having a goal and a plan. However, when her sister ended up battered and bruised on a diner floor, everything she thought was in her past suddenly threatened her future. In a moment, she had a new goal, everything else be damned. She would protect her family … at all costs.
Stiff and Chelsea’s worlds collide in an explosion of determination, strength, and lust. Will they give in to temptation, or will conquering each other be too steep a price? Two people not afraid to put in the work will either overcome everything in their paths or finally crumble under life’s troubles they can’t escape, all in the name of family.
**Due to content, mature audiences only.**
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Read the first chapter of CONQUERING:
“Chelsea, order up,” Charlie called from the back, slapping a plate of grub up on the window ledge of the diner.
I shook off my drowsiness, plastering on a smile and grabbing the food, never feeling the heat from the plate due to the calluses on my hands. They were rock hard, shielding my skin against any amount of heat.
At twenty-nine, I’d worked at Charlie’s Diner for thirteen years. Thirteen years of serving people with mediocre tips that had given me feet that, by the end of the night, ached so badly nothing, including soaking them in warm water, helped soothe anymore. Twelve hours a day, five to seven days a week would do that to any woman.
As my grams used to say, “Can’t get anywhere in this world if you don’t work hard.” So, work hard I did, always.
I wasn’t complaining. I loved Charlie, the owner. He had taken me under his wing when I was a pitiful sixteen-year-old, and to this day was the only man in my life who had yet to let me down.
I had clean clothes on my back, food in my belly, and a place to crash. I had my sister, my grams, and my mother. What more could a woman ask for? Me, I wasn’t asking for anything. I was happy where my life was going. I had a plan. It wasn’t some grand extravagant one, but I had it and clung to it because everyone needed to have goals in their lives. Those could be small or large, but people needed something to reach for, work for, and take a hold of. Of course, this all came from my grams, too, but being a really smart woman, I took everything she’d said to heart.
I lived on the cheap and saved as much of my meager earnings as possible. I had a decent savings, but that did not stop me from working at every available opportunity. A dollar was a dollar, and no one knew how far a buck could take you.
My ultimate goal was to own my own home. The American dream, some might say. For me, it was about having my own, doing my own, and it being my way. Hard work and sacrifice would eventually get me there.
Paying rent every month on a beat to hell trailer when I could be making payments on something that would be mine didn’t sit right with me. Unfortunately, my credit was shot to hell by a no-good ass of a father.
I shivered with anger at the thought of him and tried shaking it out, but it was impossible when it came to that man.
When I was a teen, he decided to use me for a couple of credit cards. Okay, it was seven of them. No joke. He really did, to the tune of one hundred seventy-nine thousand dollars and forty-seven cents. He swiped and signed for debts he never intended to repay, all of it striking against my credit.
I, of course, did not find this out until I was nineteen and was denied a credit card I had signed up for, which I’d thought was unusual yet passed it off as being young. Grams being Grams, however, immediately set me on a path to checking into it.
When information came back leading to my father, I was crushed. We hadn’t been exceptionally close, but he was my dad, the man who was supposed to have my back. He should have protected me, not have done this to me. At least, that was what I had thought a father should do. I’d expected better of him, but I should have known.
Prosecuting my father for the theft still weighed heavily on me to this day. I only had two choices, though: one, not say anything and pay back all the money stolen, or two, I could turn my father in, which had been the only way I could get it expunged from my record and have the debt extinguished. I hated doing it, but really, the choice was made the moment he’d taken out the cards in my name. I couldn’t live with that huge weight on my shoulders. I had to bear it for a while when the courts had to do their thing: having creditors call me, looking for their money. And that was enough.
It took me some time, but the courts deemed him guilty, and my credit fell back in line. Thanks to a wise banker, I’d gotten a secured credit card with the little savings I had. Then, like clockwork, I made sure to pay it off.
Never missing a bill, I now had a very decent score to the point that if I saved enough for a down payment, a bank might take a chance on me. And I was almost there. I could almost taste my victory. It was another step in the right direction. “Eye on the prize, always,” Grams would say, and my eye was firmly set on loan equals home.
Unfortunately, that had been the end of my relationship with my father. I’d received a few not so nice calls from jail and a very nasty letter that I’d burned, never wanting to read it again. The little girl inside me, though, still yearned for a father, even if mine happened to be a douche.
After everything I’d been through, I took the lesson my father taught me the hard way and kept my name, social security number, and other personal information close to heart. I protected it with everything I had, kept an eye on it, and did routine checks to make sure no credit cards or loans were taken out under my name. Luckily, that hadn’t happened beyond the initial time, but I always had that fear it would.
Life was looking up, allowing me to tackle it and reach my goal.
As I walked across the black and white tiled floor of the diner, old man Darren looked up, a wide smile on his wrinkled face. The man had been coming in for years, and we had developed a friendly relationship.
“There’s my girl,” he cried out, pushing his coffee cup off to the side as I slid his food onto the table, the porcelain hitting the Formica table with a scratching sound. It was a sound I’d come to find comforting over time, though others said it hurt their ears.
“It’s nice and hot,” I told him, brushing my hands on my apron, feeling like something was on them, which was a job hazard. “Anything else I can get ya?”
He beamed up at me. “That smile of yours sure makes an old man’s day,” he remarked. Even though he’d told me that hundreds of times over the years, I felt the same heat creep into my cheeks.
“You make mine by coming in here,” I responded, trying to shake off the blush. “You good?”
“Some more coffee when you have a chance, sweetie?”
“Of course.” I spun on my heel, grabbed the coffee pot, and then topped him off.
The other tables in my section seemed good, so I began my prep for the next shift. I checked and filled the condiments, along with taking two more orders, delivering them, getting more drinks, and cashing out my tables.
Everything at Charlie’s was second nature to me, reminding me a lot of home. It did not slip past me that I thought of my job as home, but when you spent so much time in one place, it happened. I counted myself lucky to have this constant in my life.
Charlie’s was the hot spot in Dyersburg, Tennessee except for Tuesday through Thursday—those were blah. Hence, why tonight was blah, but a girl could use that every now and then. A rest from the go, go, go, even if it was almost a waste of time because the tips were scarce.
Charlie was into cars and bikes, so the entire place was decorated as such. His old plates off his cars and even handlebars from an old bike hung on the walls. I didn’t think some of the stuff actually came from him. Rather, he bought it to go with the theme. Regardless, the walls were covered in a rustic automobile motif, and I loved it.
With the night ticking away at a little past ten, Mitzi and I were the only ones working the floor. I’d worked with Mitzi for a couple of years. Our relationship was purely work-related since a lot of what I’d learned about Mitzi had turned out to be fake. I didn’t do fake; hated it. Therefore, working relationship only.
The bell above the door chimed, and instinctively I looked up from wiping down ketchup bottles. My stomach clenched.
Plastering on my wide smile, I greeted them. “Welcome, boys. Go ahead and have a seat anywhere you’d like.”
The air in the diner changed—it always did when they came in, which was regularly. The space felt smaller, closed in by their presence alone. They commanded the room just from stepping over the threshold. The farther they stepped in, their boots hitting the tile, the denser the air became.
For most people, waiting on a table full of four large men who were members of an exclusive motorcycle club would come off as a bit intimidating, but they tipped well. As a result, once they sat, I was thankful they were in my section.
When the Vipers Creed MC rode in, my pockets usually went from decent to way off the charts. I’d gladly let my knees tremble for the next hour to have that extra padding in my pocket. Not to mention, they weren’t hard on the eyes, either.
I steeled my spine, grabbed my order pad and pen, then strode over to the table.
Since I tended to keep my section steady with the regulars, it was no surprise to find Mitzi giving me the stink eye as I made my way to their table. She hid it quickly, flying under the radar with her perfect smile. She was good at that.
Four men sat at a six-person, speckled, white rectangular table. Each man took a post on the farthest corner. One was a man named Bosco who’d been coming here since I had started and knew nothing about how to wait tables. I even spilled a Coke on him once. I would have thought he’d blow up at me, but he laughed it off, and he’d been kind to me ever since. He had dark hair with some white scattered through it. His beard and mustache were so burly they covered up his mouth almost completely.
Across from him was a man I knew as Ben back in school, but now he went by the name Boner. I mean, really? What kind of name was that? Being a senior, he’d had no idea who my freshman self was, but that was expected considering I didn’t socialize much. He had light brown hair that normally was tousled on top like he’d run his fingers through it a million times, but today, he had a dark stocking cap on, covering his locks. He was handsome yet rough looking.
Next to him, one seat over, was a man they called Dawg. Yes, not Dog, but Dawg. My assumption was he played the field a lot. He had been several years older than me in school; therefore, he was unknown to me. He had dark brown hair that curved around his ears. A striking man who turned many a woman’s head.
Across from him was Wes, now known in our town as Stiff. With him being three years older than me, we hadn’t associated in school, either. That wasn’t to say my eyes weren’t wide open to him, because they had been … and still were. Then, he’d had the lightest blond hair imaginable, almost white. Currently, he had nothing. Completely, utterly bald, but it wasn’t the freaky bald you saw sometimes on men. No, this worked for him in a major way. Sexy, check. Hot, check. His beard was lightly colored and trimmed. Even as kids, Stiff’s eyes were magnetic, and some things never changed. They weren’t blue nor green. No, they were both, creating a swirling ocean inside them, sucking you into their depths.
Truth be told, the men were each their own brand of sexy, but not men a person should fuck around with. Stories had been told over the years about the Vipers Creed—hell, Charlie had some doozies. I didn’t need any of that in my life. I liked simple, and judging from the stories, they were anything but.
I would be happy to take their tip money, though.
A smile went a long way, so I put it in place as I reached their table.
“Hey, boys. What can I get ya?” I asked, standing behind the empty chair between Bosco and Dawg.
All conversation halted and their eyes turned to me.
My insides shrank a bit from the combination of their penetrative stares, but no way would I show that on the outside. Nope, I was Chelsea Anne Miller, and no matter what was on the inside, it would never show.
“Little Chelsea, how are ya doin’?” Bosco asked.
He would consider me little. I was five-feet-six, but anyone next to Bosco would be considered small. Nevertheless, I gave him a genuine smile. I mean, come on! If a man like him forgave you for dumping a pop down his shirt, it was a must.
“I’m good. Hanging in there.”
“Good. Can I get a burger with the works, onion rings, and a Coke?”
I wrote all of this down in my usual short script, nodding then turning my attention back to the table.
“Who’s next?” I asked, switching my focus between the guys, not allowing myself to linger on Stiff.
“I’ll have the tenderloin with onions, fries, and a Dr. Pepper,” Dawg answered, and I scribbled then looked up expectantly.
“How long have you worked here?” Boner asked, shocking me a bit. We hadn’t ever really conversed casually, but like everything else that life threw at me, I rolled with it.
“Thirteen years,” I replied then waited for him to tell me what he wanted. He didn’t.
“And you still fill out that uniform so damn well.” Boner whistled low.
I felt it coming, and then bam! Cue blushing cheeks. I had never been one to accept compliments easily. I felt a flutter, but it landed more on the shy side, not the hot and wet.
Charlie didn’t make us wear a uniform, really. We wore black pants, comfortable shoes, and a white button-down shirt—long for the winter, short in the summer. To me, what I had on was unflattering as all get out, but to each their own.
“Thanks,” I responded. “What do you wanna eat?”
Boner chuckled. “I get it, not interested. It was worth a shot.”
I kept quiet. Really, though? Not interested? While my interest in Boner was slim, that didn’t mean I was dead. I could see how attractive each of them were in their own right. Still, the thought of him even wondering if I was interested was strange.
“I want one of those hamburger horseshoes with a Coke.”
“Got it.” My eyes lifted to Stiff, and the air left my lungs in a whoosh.
Damn, those eyes were like laser beams cutting into me, swirling like a tornado, sucking me down. My heart picked up, thumping like a jackhammer, and it took everything in my power to stop my hands from trembling. While I might not be interested in Boner, Stiff, well, he just did something to me; had for as long as I could remember.
“What can I get ya?” I asked, hoping to God my voice wouldn’t give my rising temperature away.
“You on the menu?” he asked calmly.
I felt the blush slink back but ignored it. Stiff had always been a flirt—a huge flirt to anything in a skirt, that is. Even me. I knew he was just playing around, but over the years, there had been times I’d hoped he wasn’t. It was stupid and immature, not to mention utterly ridiculous. As my dad used to say, “You’ll never be anything. No man will ever want you.”
Some things, no matter how hard you tried, you never got over them. This was one. Those words were like brands on my soul, never leaving.
Instead of feeling the embarrassment or heat of the hot man flirting with me, I gave it back to him. As my grams said, “You have two choices: run away like an afraid, little rabbit or buck up, steel your spine, and hold your head up high.” Me, I held my head high. She also said, “Fake it till ya make it.” I lived by that motto every day. This situation was no different. My father might have branded me, but that was on the inside. No one could see it if I didn’t show them, which would never happen, so I faked it.
Jutting out my hip and putting my hand there, I said, “Nah, Sugar, but thanks for askin’.” I gave him a playful wink that took every bit of my strength. “What can I get ya?” I asked, wishing I had some gum in my mouth, as it seemed to taste like cotton.
He scanned my body, the heat from his gaze causing my panties to dampen, something that hadn’t happened in a very long time, mind you. And I continued to stare with an expectant look, even raising my brow in impatience.
Instead of answering me, he took his time, and it became difficult to breathe. He caught it and smirked at me.
I looked down, focusing on my order paper. Breathe in, breathe out, I reminded myself. A hot guy checking you out is not a reason for you to pass out on the floor, Chelsea.
“Burger, tomato, waffle fries, and a Coke.” He paused, causing me to look up from my order pad. “Add you on there.”
My skin practically burned from arousal, but I once again powered on. “Sugar, you couldn’t handle me.”
His lip tipped up, and I swore time stopped for a brief moment, allowing me to plug that one movement into my memory bank. Holy shit, it was sexy.
I hadn’t had much sexy in my life, but that was by choice, because men sucked. First, there was my no-good father. Then came the asshole who drugged me in high school and took my virginity. Yes, I knew who it was, but it couldn’t be proven. Therefore, nothing had been done. Then there was Steven, who turned out to be way into porn. Barry was next, and at the name, I should have put him in the “no” pile. I learned that one the hard way, too. So, you see, men sucked. I was better off keeping to myself and aiming for my goals.
Stiff scratched his beard while he studied me appraisingly. “Baby, conquering you would be a fucking pleasure.”
I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Did he really just say that? Holy shit, he did.
Somehow, I snapped myself together and ignored his comment. How I did this, I had no idea.
“Nah,” Bosco replied, and I scooted away from the table right as I heard Bosco say, “Stop that shit, Stiff.”
“What? She’s pretty.”
My step faltered, but I regained it just in the nick of time. He said I was pretty.
I gripped the countertop, needing something to hold on to in order to ground myself. This was surreal. Definitely surreal. Sure, he’d flirted—hell, he flirted with every woman he could when in here—but to have that intense look then to call me pretty, that was just bizarre. Totally unlike the other times.
Regaining my composure, I put their order in and filled their drinks. Then I walked back to their table and began handing the drinks out.
“Coke,” I called out, getting a grunt from Bosco.
I continued calling out drinks and passing them around.
“How’s that sister of yours?” Boner asked.
This time, I smiled huge, and it wasn’t the one I plastered on my face every day. No, this one was genuine because I loved my sister more than anything in this world. Anyone honestly asking about her made me happy.
“She’s good. Almost done with college. I’m damn proud of her.” My heart swelled with emotion. I’d never been so proud of anything in my life.
Jennifer had always been so damn smart. Mom and I were lucky she had received scholarships, but even if she hadn’t, I would have taken on another job to get her through.
Jenn wanted college so badly. It was one of her goals, and she deserved every chance in life. She worked her ass off up there, having a job besides school. I still sent her running money, which she continually returned, becoming our game.
She was only a thirty-minute drive from here, but it seemed like a lifetime away. I missed her. It had been almost a month since I’d seen her last. Though we talked every day, it wasn’t the same.
Bosco whistled. “College girl. Always knew she’d do good.”
I nodded. “Yep, and she’s getting all A’s.” I knew I was beaming, because my cheeks began to have that twinge in them that bordered on pain from when you smile for too long. But you kept doing it, anyway, since you really felt it.
I looked over at Stiff and saw his eyes dead focused on me.
My smile wobbled a tad, but I held strong.
Stiff had always had that something—call it charisma, charm, badassness, or anything along those lines. Then again, it might just be my hormones considering getting laid was up there with getting a hole in my head. I had no time for either.
“I’ll be back with your food in a bit,” I told them, striding away.
While filling the mustard containers, my eyes would drift over to their table whenever I heard the barks of laughter between the men. Stiff snagged me once, but I smiled then quickly looked away. I mean, I couldn’t have him thinking I was staring at him, right?
The rest of the night went without incident, and as expected, I got a hefty tip from the boys.
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About Ryan Michele
Ryan Michele found her passion in making fictional characters come to life. She loves being in an imaginative world where anything is possible and has a knack for special twists readers don’t see coming.
She writes MC, Contemporary, Erotic, Paranormal, New Adult, Inspirational, and many more romances. And whether it’s bikers, wolf shifters, mafia, or beyond, Ryan spends her time making sure her heroes are strong and her heroines match them at every turn.
When she isn’t writing, Ryan is a mom and wife living in rural Illinois and reading by her pond in the warm sun.