Publication Date: July 14, 2015
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.
“Coffee?” she gestured towards the empty cup to my right. When I nodded, my mouth too full of peanut buttery awesomeness, she poured me a cup with a smirk.
“Do I want to know why you’re out on the prowl tonight? Or...wait, if you just finished up with some random chick, I’m not sure I want to hear about it,” she crinkled her nose a little as she spoke and if I didn’t know her better, I would’ve thought her tone was a little harsh.
Good thing I did know her well enough to recognize sarcasm in her voice when I heard it.
“I’m trying this whole bein’ sober thing,” I grinned back at her. “Shocking, right?”
“Who knew you’d grow up to be so responsible?” she shot back and she bit her lip to keep from laughing.
“Gotta grow up sometime, I guess,” I replied good-naturedly.
“Well,” she smiled softly. “If it helps, I’m glad you’re not face down in a gutter somewhere.”
“I’d much rather be here with you, darlin’,” I winked.
She just rolled her eyes and tossed an empty sugar packet at me. I gestured down to the open notebook to her right and forced myself not to peek at, careful to respect her privacy and her space.
“Whatcha workin’ on over there?”
She looked back at me sharply and then her expression shifted from surprised to confused to tired and finally rested on forlorn. I didn’t have it in me tonight to even begin to understand what any of that meant or what my words had to do with anything. It was almost midnight and we should really be in bed.
Mind outta the gutter, Sawyer.
Separate. In different beds. Sleeping. Nothing else.
“Oh,” she answered finally. “Nothing all that important really. I was trying to figure out some stuff, but that didn’t work out too well.”
“Alright, so when do I get to commission something?”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” I shrugged as I shoveled another bite of pie into my mouth. “I figured you’re gonna be rich and famous someday, so I better get an Isabelle Martin original while I can still afford it.”
“Aw,” she called out in a sing-song voice. “You called me Isabelle.”
I wagged my fork at her. “Don’t get used to it.”
“Okay,” she leaned forward a little more. “So, say you were to actually commission something. What would you request?”
That one was easy.
“My bike. Definitely. I can already see her…”
Isabelle’s shoulders shook with laughter. “Wait a minute, wait a minute. Did you just refer to your motorcycle as a she?”
I blinked back her. “Uh. Yeah. That’s what she is. She’s beautiful and she’s perfect and if you so much as say a bad word about her, I’m gonna get up from this table right now and I won’t ever talk to you again.”
Her hand covered her mouth to muffle her laughter. “Whoa, buddy. Simmer down. I promise,” she made a cross sign over her heart, “I won’t say anything bad about her.”
All she got from me for that was an eye roll.
“I mean, you’ll really do it, right?”
She was still laughing. “Well, sure.”
“Do I still have to pay you?” I murmured in a low voice.
“Hmm...pay for the coffee and get me another piece of pie and I think we’re square.”
“Deal!” I thumped my fist on the table for good measure.
Isabelle just laughed with a wide grin on her face and for a moment, I felt frozen by how happy she looked. Beautiful.
If I could just get a little of that, feel a little of what she was feeling right now, maybe I could get one step closer to actually feeling like a normal human being. But then again, every time I was with her, it was easy to forget all that other shit and just laugh and talk and just be normal.
“So,” I cleared my throat. “What brings you here in the middle of the night other than the fact that you can’t sleep?”
She was quiet for a moment and when her eyes flicked back up to mine, my chest tightened at the pain radiating in them.
“I guess I just...well, I just really missed my mom tonight,” she murmured, staring into her coffee cup.
I nodded. That was a feeling I knew all too well. Something told me there was a little more going on, but didn’t see the point in pushing her. I didn’t want to overstep or make her any more upset than she already was but this? Feeling the sting, the heart-wrenching loss of losing a parent...this was something I might actually be able to help her with.
“You know,” I started cautiously. “It’s still hard for me walk into the clubhouse everyday and not wonder where he’d be--where I’d be--if my dad was still alive and kicking. Sometimes, when I’m on the lot, I can almost see him in the shop, workin’ on a truck or pickin’ me up to take me for a ride. I guess it doesn’t get any easier, but it helps to remember those things, you know? The little things, the good things, even if it sucks sometimes, because...I guess that’s all you have left, you know?”
Her eyes glimmered with something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and I wondered if maybe I’d said too much or maybe not enough. It was always hard to tell with her. Sometimes, I felt like I knew exactly what she was thinking and other times...
“That’s funny,” she shook her head with a sad smile. “Because sometimes when I walk past our kitchen counter I have these flashbacks of when I was five and I remember racing home everyday after kindergarten to watch Dirty Dancing. I know, great parenting, right?”
A grin tugged at my lips as I chuckled with her. It was good to hear her talk this way, especially since the only time she’d really spoken of her mom was the night I’d completely lost my shit in front of her, and I knew, from firsthand experience, that she probably needed to talk more about her mom than she did.
“So, this one day,” she continued softly. “I must have done something really bad--I mean really naughty--to make my mom this mad. I still have no idea what I did. Funny how that works, right? But I remember her being so mad she was just red all over--I mean furious with rage--and she takes my Dirty Dancing tape...you know the good ol’ VHS ones? And she takes the tape, lifts it over her head all dramatic, and then smashes it into the counter right in front of me.”
We were both shaking with laughter now.
“Oh, I cried and cried and cried. I couldn’t believe she actually did it! And I wouldn’t come out of my room for the rest of the night because I was so mad at her. So then the next day, when I finally came down for breakfast, there was a brand new Dirty Dancing tape there waiting for me on the kitchen counter.”
“Wow,” I chuckled. “She must have felt pretty shitty to get you another copy like that.”
“Yeah,” she nodded with a grin. “Well, of course, I had to promise never to do whatever it was I did again in order to get it and she promised never to smash my stuff again.”
I wiped my eyes from laughing so hard and shook my head. “I never pegged you for such a problem child.”
“What can I say?” she shrugged. “I’m just full of surprises.”
K. Ryan is a former English teacher, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2009. In between ‘real life’ duties, she’s been writing the Carry Your Heart series quietly on the side for the last two years. When not writing, she’s either binge-watching something on Netflix, running, reading, or cheering on the Packers. She lives in the Green Bay area with her crazy-supportive boyfriend and the best decision of her adult life, a not-so-stray cat named Oliver.