Deacon Reid was born bad to the bone with no intention of changing. A lifetime of law-bending and living on the edge suits him just fine—until his baby sister dies and he finds himself raising her little girl.
Staring down a family history of bad decisions and reaped consequences, Deacon cashes in everything he owns, purchases an auto shop in Half Moon Bay, and takes his niece, Zig, far away from the drug dens and murderous streets they grew up on. Zig deserves a better life than what he had, and Deacon is determined to give it to her.
Lang Harris is stunned when Zig, a little girl in combat boots and a purple tutu, blows into his bookstore, and then he’s left speechless when her uncle, Deacon Reid, walks in hot on her heels. Lang always played it safe, but Deacon tempts him to step over the line… just a little bit.
More than a little bit. And Lang is willing to be tempted.
Unfortunately, Zig isn’t the only bit of chaos dropped into Half Moon Bay. Violence and death strike, leaving Deacon scrambling to fight off a killer before he loses not only Zig but Lang too.
DEACON REID and the dark were old friends.
He’d grown up in the shadows, suckling on the comfort and safety they gave him. It was when he was dragged out into the open—that was when trouble started. Light threw the world into a tizzy for Deacon. It was too unyielding, too raw in its truth. He couldn’t hide away the things he didn’t want to know about himself if he stood too long in the light of day, especially once he’d grown big enough to hurt others before they could hurt him.
So why he was sleeping with a night-light on, Deacon Reid had no fricking clue.
Then a tiny poodle snore from the motel bed next to his kicked it all back into perspective.
He was no longer alone, no longer able to hide in the shadows of society with one eye on the game and the other watching for the law. Deacon’d been brought down by the one thing he thought he’d never in his life ever have—a little girl.
The night-light was nonnegotiable. It was the one thing Zig’s foster mother’d packed up along with the few pieces of clothing that still fit her. From his own experience in the system, Deacon figured it was less about fit and more about what she’d been able to hang on to. Nothing lasted forever in foster care or juvie. He’d been lucky to hold on to a few pairs of underwear the first few months he’d been passed around. Zig hadn’t been as fortunate.
Stealing Deacon’s things was a guaranteed right hook to the offender. His young niece probably didn’t pack the same kind of punch. Of course, he’d gone into juvie as a nearly six-foot-tall thirteen-year-old with a two-by-four on his shoulder, while Zig was an eight-year-old little girl who needed a night-light to keep the monsters at bay when she slept.
Deacon knew all about monsters.
He’d nearly devoted his entire life to becoming one.
Zig’s snore went from cute fluttery noises to full-out audio warfare, and Deacon briefly debated the pros and cons of putting a pillow over her head just long enough for him to get some sleep. Since CPS tended to frown on things like that, he resigned himself to getting out of bed and getting something cold out of the cooler he’d dragged in from his truck.
A four-in-the-morning beer was out of the question. Hell, packing any beer in the cooler wasn’t even on the think about list. He had to watch everything he did, everyone he spoke to. One misstep, and Zig would be right back where she’d started before a skeptical judge’d given him custody—caught in the quagmire of foster homes and overstressed CPS workers. Not what he wanted for his baby sister’s little girl, not by a long shot.
The room’s rubber-backed curtains were old-school, thick, and heavy enough to kick back any ambient light coming from the highway rest stop attached to the motel, but Zig’s little plug-in teddy bear spat out more than enough glow to see by. Still, Deacon didn’t spot one of her boots until he was nearly right on top of it. Stepping quickly to avoid tumbling over it, he swung his foot around and smacked his toes into Zig’s metal bedframe.
“Fuck.” Deacon caught his tongue between his teeth and bit down before he could say any more. He held his breath, waiting to see if Zig would wake up, but a too long second later, another sputtering, feathery snore came from the lump under the bed linens.
Nothing. No movement. Not a snuffle. He was safe… with a slick of blood-tinged spit over his tongue, but still… safe.
He’d been warned. Every single Child Protective Services person he ran up against warned him off of Zig, more for Zig’s sake than his, but Deacon’d been determined. He was going to raise Deanna’s little girl for her. It was the least he could do, considering he hadn’t been around when she’d needed him the most.
Now he was left with a shattered eight-year-old with a stubborn love of pink tutus and combat boots who’d had to wash her mother’s dried blood and brains off of her feet before she called the cops.
Still, Deacon thought as he stared down into the cooler’s selection of drink packets and Ziploc bags of string cheese and cut-up vegetables, a beer still would have been nice.
The drive up from Chula Vista to Northern California took longer than he’d wanted—nearly three days instead of the straight hard push through on one try. Traveling with little girls was problematic, especially with Zig’s tiny bladder. When she’d seen a sign pointing the way to Disneyland, Deacon’d given up any pretense they were going to make it into Half Moon Bay before Saturday.
It took a few hundred dollars, a hell of a lot of sugar, and one squishable blue alien plushie before Zig willingly said adios to the Land of the Mouse and they’d gone on their way.
On the plus side of things, the Main Street candy shop had a clearance sale, and he’d scored a few pounds of lemon drops, his answer to nicotine gum to help kick smoking.
“Fruit punch kind of goes with lemon drops,” he muttered, peering through the darkness in the hopes he could pick out the one he wanted. There were flavor traps smuggled into juice packs, most notably a spinach-hued concoction heralding the return of the Green Gooberry. It was like sucking on a piece of broccoli’s armpits and apparently one of Zig’s favorites. Fishing out a juice, he shook off the excess water, then carefully closed the cooler. “She’s fucking welcome to them.”
Something made Deacon straighten up and take notice, an imperceptible wrongness hovering about the room. Something… changed.
There was a filth to the air, a shifting scent he couldn’t quite pinpoint. Standing as still as he could in the middle of the motel room, Deacon closed his eyes and listened, absorbing the world as it moved around him.
Something definitely changed.
A crackle tickled his senses, barely audible over Zig’s tiny snores and the periodic thundering of a semi barreling past on the highway a few yards away. The tickle grew stronger, languidly slapping at his brain, then coyly slipped away. Something darker joined it. A touch of waste reached him, a curled stink hooking up into his sinuses and burning its way down to his belly. There was a touch of diesel in the air, typical for all engines loading up nearby, but it was something deeper—something more primal—a fear Deacon couldn’t shake.
The tickle turned, going dark and sooty. Then something behind the motel burst—and the world caught on fire.
Flames chewed through the long wall across of the beds, a hot trail of sparks and popping sounds scrambling across the room’s faded wallpaper. Ash swirled on the fire-spin breeze being kicked up as the motel’s baked-sun wooden frame struggled to stay fixed to its cinder-block base.
“Zig! Get up!” There were no smoke alarms. There should have been alarms, but Deacon heard nothing, saw nothing other than the plumes of smoke beginning to fill the room. Zig’s shoes went onto the bed next to her. Then his duffel bag joined them as she lifted her head from the pillow, her tangled mass of brown curls erupting into a ball around her pinched-in face.
“What? Uncle Deke, what?” Her voice, plaintive and scratchy, sounded like her mother’s had when Deanna was her age. She was a restless sleeper, yanking all of the linens up from under the mattress until she’d built herself a little nest. A cough shook her tiny body, then another. “I’m tired—”
“Fuck it. Grab on to me, kiddo.” Deacon scooped the fitted sheet from the bed, pulling up the ends until he rolled Zig and their things into a bundle. He felt her little arms close around his neck, and he lifted everything up, holding on tight.
The smoke thickened, burning Deacon’s eyes. He blinked away a wash of tears, realizing he couldn’t see the door anymore. Moving mostly by feel, he walked until he hit a wall. Zig’s coughing grew worse, and his own lungs were beginning to burn. A brush of a curtain on his arm startled him, but Deacon edged along the wall, keeping his bare toes on the edge of the carpet until he felt the sharp sting of the door’s metal and rubber draft catcher digging into his foot.
Zig’s body convulsed in his embrace as her coughing began in earnest, and Deacon raced to find the doorknob while keeping a tight grip on his niece. A frantic handful of moments later, his grasping fingers found their target, and he turned the knob—only for the door to catch on the triangular hook latch he’d thrown over its ball to prevent anyone from coming in.
“Can you grab that, baby girl?” Deacon rasped, catching a lungful of cool air coming in from the partially opened door. Zig bent forward, nearly toppling them both over, but she grabbed at the latch, flinging it back while Deacon canted the door just enough for it to be released.
“There!” Zig fell into another bout of coughing, twisting as Deacon shouldered his way past the open door and into the diesel-scented air outside. He’d gotten nearly halfway across the truck lot toward where he’d parked his old Chevy and the enclosed half-bed trailer he’d towed his Harley in when Zig screamed, “My night-light!”
“Screw it. I’ll buy you—” The ground shook under Deacon’s feet. Then a hot blast of wind lifted them both up, carrying Deacon forward. A hiccup-moment later, a boom rumbled over them, swaddling any other sounds. Deacon’s ears popped from the force of the blast, and his stomach lurched as he twisted in midair, trying to cradle Zig and everything else he was carrying against him.
He landed hard, skipping across the asphalt on his back, a soft stone on a tarry, hard lake. His shirt gave, and underneath it, so did his skin, but Deacon held on tight, gritting his teeth against the pain. He bounced one last time, nearly ten feet away from where his truck sat among a few semis and RVs. Smoke coated the sky’s belly, blocking out even the ambient light coming from a gas station across the road. There were shouts, fading into the distance and nearly buried in the swooshing sound running through his ears.
Zig’s frightened crying, however, drowned out even his fear.
“Hey, Zig. It’s all good. We’re fine.” Sitting up was hard. He ached, and Deacon was sure he’d left most of his skin on the parking lot. Shuffling Zig around in his arms, he uncovered her soot-grimed face from the sheet wrapped over it. His duffel with their clothes and things fell out of the makeshift pouch, landing at Zig’s bare feet.
Shifting around, Deacon stared through Zig’s tangled mass of curls at the burning motel. The blast’d thrown them several yards, well past the debris field kicked up by whatever blew them sky high. Cinder block chunks lay a few feet away from where Deacon and Zig sat, deadly projectiles they’d not have survived if one’d hit. The bones of several rooms were scattered about, smoldering wood chunks and broken furniture thrown wide and far. Someone nearby was screaming, pleading with God and whoever else was listening to come help her husband.
Fishing his keys out of his bag with one hand, Deacon rocked Zig as her sobs lessened. Standing was harder than sitting up, but Deacon forced himself onto his feet. Once he got the Chevy’s passenger door unlocked, he sat Zig down on the seat. His ears popped again, and the world flooded back into full volume, carrying sirens and shouts to his rattled brain.
“Stay here, Zig,” Deacon ordered. “I’m going to go help that woman. Okay? Do not move.”
She nodded, her tearstained face glistening in the smoke-rippled light. Clutching her plush doll tightly, Zig stared back at the room where they’d been sleeping. “Uncle Deke?”
Zig never called him uncle, yet twice tonight, she’d slipped that endearment in. Deacon glanced over his shoulder at where the woman sat on the lot, her hands pressing down on her too still husband’s body, trying to hold back the blood gushing out of his naked back.
“I gotta go, kiddo. I’ll be right back,” he promised. “Don’t let anyone touch you. I’ll be right over there.”
“Be careful, Deke,” Zig warned, hiccupping through her halting sobs. “I think someone don’t like us.”
Book one of this series starts out with a bang. This was a suspenseful, high-octane ride. Deacon, his niece Zig, and Lang are basically trying to stay alive while at the same time trying to build a life and a happily ever after. Throw in some serious witty banter, flying bullets, tutus, moody cats, serious storms, and a murder mystery, and you have one hell of a story! Rhys has written a wonderful and entertaining tale!
Deacon and Lang could not be any more different. Bad boy Biker meets sweet nerdy bookshop owner and yet they fit together perfectly. Add in a feisty eight year old who swears like a sailor and have a wonderfully brilliant book.
This books has a little bit of everything in it, action, suspense, mystery and a whole lot of loving.
Deacon and Lang have to fight hard to stay together especially when there is unknown forces trying to rip them apart.
I throughly enjoyed this book by Rhys and can't wait to read some of this author's other books.
Ahhh! This was my first Rhys Ford book, and I have to say, I totally dug it. I'd read a couple of pre-release reviews on other blogs before I finally took the plunge and pre-ordered it via the DreamSpinner Press website and boy am I glad I did.
The lead character of this tale is Deacon Reid. Badass auto shop owning mechanic Deacon Reid. I loved this guy. He's an ex-con that got caught up in some scheme buying cheap parts and spent some time in jail for his craptastic decisions. Deacon gets out and finds out his half sister's kid, Zig, is in foster care because, well, her mom is dead. Zig is the best damn eight-year-old I've ever encountered in a story. Foul mouthed, sassy, but still she managed to be adorable.
Zig and Deacon move to Half Moon Bay to start anew. The awkwardness of this guy trying to be a parent to a feisty little girl is so freaking lovable. He has no clue what the heck he's doing, and she's scared and traumatized due to all the bad stuff she's encountered in her young life, but Uncle Deke is her haven. When Deacon and Zig arrive in Half Moon Bay, they hit up a bookstore (YES!!! A BADASS MOTORCYCLE RIDING MECHANIC, WHO'S A BOOKNERD *panties implode*) and we see sparks fly between bookstore owner Lang and Deacon.
I'm going to be completely honest here. Lang is the reason this story wasn't a perfect read for me. He was what made this a 3.75 read (rounded up to 4). I didn't find his character appealing. Despite all he endured with his ex, I still couldn't connect with him. I'm all for opposites attract because an auto mechanic and a bookstore owner are as opposites attract as you can get, but I just didn't like Lang. I couldn't commit. He was simply meh.
Overall, this was an entertaining read with some great writing! I've already added some of Ms. Ford's other titles to my TBR pile. You should give FSF's a whirl if you're looking for cool characters and a bit of a mystery.
Reviewed for Gay Book Reviews
**ARC graciously provided in exchange for an honest review at BackPorchReader.com**
Two Things I find hot:
—Bad boys who are good men
—Nerdy types who are unaware of their appeal
Put those together and you have combustion.
Yeah, this is an explosive start to a new series.
Deacon, the bad-boy biker from the wrong side of the tracks turned business owner and father to his niece, is attempting to forge a new life of stability with all the resources he can cobble together to keep a shattered, precocious little girl safe and provide her with an upbringing the opposite of anything he knows. Something good and clean and safe. Enter Lang—the sort of geeky, mildly uptight bookstore owner with a privileged past. Together this combination of three weave together an odd-ball family and a place for them all to belong with threads of strength, compassion, love, safety, and lots of quirky humor.
The attraction between Deacon and Lang is smoldering and intense. But, it’s a good, simmering slow-burn as the world erupts around them and they work to forge a relationship. The kindness, honesty, and understanding between these two—especially in stolen moments—was palpable and sweet. The quiet and hesitant intimacy between them had me in tears a few times. For two people from vastly different worlds they just fit so completely. This is the stuff of romance that grips my soul.
The little girl, Zig, is a precocious, smart-mouthed dynamo who keeps everyone on their toes. I’m not a huge fan of children, mainly because they terrify me. Yet, when kids are in my books, I want them to be precocious, smart-mouthed dynamos full of unpredictable mischief and leaving a trail of mayhem in their wake. It amuses me into senseless giggling fits. This kid…I swear she tops all of the children I’ve encountered in books. Ever.
I’m usually pretty good at figuring out the whodunnit. But, not this time with all the well-placed red herrings. In fact, I gave up trying to figure it all out and instead rode the wave of the story.
Rhys’ writing—as always, and as I’ve grown to expect—is on point. Her character development, descriptions of setting, and creative prose are the hallmark to her gorgeously told stories. The dual plot of romance and mystery was well balanced and grounded with humor, relatability, and just the right amount of suspense.
I have no idea where we’re going in the next books of the series. But I’m up for anywhere they lead. Hopefully we’ll at least get a few more glimpses of Deacon and Lang…and especially Zig.
I have to say since the first page of Fish Stick Fridays I fell in love with Zig and Deacon. Then you add Lang to the mix and they become a funny, irreverent and loving trio …
The concept of loving and acceptance is very important part of this story. Excellent book.
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