This week on Open Book Blog Hop, we’re sharing excerpts of our current WIPs. I just finished Moving to You, Book 5 in the Rolling Thunder Series and my pick for sharing an excerpt.
Lost in thought as he flew down the highway, the heat was oppressive in the high nineties; the scenery had changed from the desert of the Badlands to the lushness of Custer about an hour ago. The fragrance of pine and freshly-cut trees mixed with the heated blacktop and the occasional odor of road kill kept JT alert. What kept him awake was thinking of the design of the next motorcycle he wanted to build. He was determined to make his dad realize what a great bike designer he was. Sure he was good at sales—no one questioned that—but that didn’t mean he always wanted to be in sales. He wanted to design bikes—full-time. He wanted to fabricate parts and bend metal to his liking and pound out a gas tank that looked totally different than any they had seen. His dad was proud of the bike he’d built for this Sturgis Build-Off. Now, if they could win first place and cement that idea in his dad’s head, life would be good. Hell, even top three would be fucking great.
Pulling into Shady Pines—a quaint little town just outside of Custer—and rolling down the main street, a smile stretched across his face. One of the things he loved most about this town was the old western feel of the buildings. You could sit and dream of being a cowboy strutting along the sidewalk, entering a saloon and ordering up a pint. As they drove just out of town, the older buildings turned into a park, and then an auto garage about a mile down from that.
Looking up ahead, he saw Porcupine Road. Turning his right signal on, JT floated over to the right and turned into the mostly gravel parking lot of OK Leathers Saloon. Damn gravel parking lot meant their bikes were going to be filthy when they finally got to the house they were renting.
JT, his brother Ryder and his dad, Jeremiah—or Dog, as most folks called him—had known Oakes for years. His dad had served in Iraq with Oakes. Just before Rolling Thunder Motorcycles opened, Dog, JT, and Ryder had built a bike for the Sturgis Build-Off—it was their first—and brought it out here. They didn’t win, but they learned a lot about what people were looking for. That’s when JT fell in love with building. He walked around for hours looking at all the bikes and designs and asking questions. Ah, the excitement was hard to contain. Over the past three days on the ride out here, his skin practically itched with the anticipation of getting here and showing off his new design. It was more exciting than the first time, because this time, it was all his.
Dropping the kickstand and dismounting from his bike, JT stretched and bent from the waist to relieve the stiffness from sitting on his bike for so long. His brother, Gunnar, and Gunnar’s fiancée, Emma, pulled in and parked alongside him; Ryder and his fiancée, Molly, pulled in next to them. A few of the Rolling Thunder crew were riding along this week and each found a spot in the parking lot. Dog was driving the truck pulling the fifth wheel and another trailer with JT’s show beauty and some of the other bikes for those riding in the fifth wheel.
Turning to look at the front of OK Leathers, JT noticed instantly that it needed a coat of paint. The worn and weathered boards showed a hint here and there of the bright red color that used to grace its front entrance. Though battered and worn, the front door was solid wood and oddly adorned with a fresh coat of light gray paint. The front decking on the building and the Pergola over the picnic tables were built of sturdy logs and little lights hung between the rafters of the overhang. Each picnic table had a mason jar sitting on it, half filled with tiny stones of varying colors and a bright flower peeked out of the top of the jar, it’s stem firmly pushed in the stones. JT smiled looking at the contrast between the front of the building and the cheeriness of the picnic tables. Ceiling fans hung in the Pergola, slowly rotating, creating a slight breeze—just enough to keep the stifling heat from sucking your breath away.
“I hope to God there’s air conditioning and gallons of beer in there,” Gunnar said as he slapped JT on the back. Holding Emma’s hand, Gunnar pulled her through the gray door and disappeared into the bar.
“It looks a bit run-down, doesn’t it?” Ryder stopped alongside JT and looked at the front of the bar.
“Yeah. I remember it being a place I couldn’t wait to get to each evening after we left Sturgis. Now it looks like no one comes here anymore. Even now, the parking lot only had two bikes and one truck before we got here.”
Molly smiled. “Times change, and sometimes people don’t change with the times. Let’s go see what’s going on. I’m anxious to meet with bigger-than-life Oakes Leathers.” Molly pulled Ryder’s hand, urging him inside.
JT pulled the bandana off his forehead and unwrapped it. He removed the rubber band from his ponytail and shook out his long blond hair. He spent a bit of time rubbing his scalp, then finger combing his hair back before wrapping the rubber band around his new ponytail. Shaking the road grime from the bandana, he rolled it back up and tightened it around his head. He looked back at the truck and fifth wheel and saw his dad and stepmom, Joci, walking toward him, along with some of the Rolling Thunder employees.
As he stepped up to JT, Dog said, “She looks a little different than the last time we saw her.”
“Yeah. Let’s go see how Oakes is fairing.”
Stepping into the bar, the cool air flowed over him, instantly lowering his body temp. A sigh escaped his lips as the smell of fresh grilled burgers and French fries from the lunch hour teased his nose. A gravely barking laugh rang out. “Dog, goddamn it’s good to see you.”
A large man, around six foot two inches and two hundred twenty pounds came walking around from behind the bar. He grabbed Dog in an aggressive hug, slapped him on the back a few times and held him at arm’s length.
“Damn! Marriage looks good on you.”
Dog laughed and reached for Joci, pulling her close. “That it does. I’d like to introduce you to the woman who puts the smile on my face. Joci, this is Oakes.”
“Pleased to meet you, Oakes.” Joci’s gray eyes crinkled at the edges as her smile creased her face and her dimples came out to wink at Oakes.
“Ooowee would you look at her? Damn girl, you’re a beauty.” Oakes grabbed Joci in a hug and gently patted her on the back.
Joci squeezed Oakes hard and laughed at his enthusiasm. “Thank you. I think I’m going to enjoy spending time here with you.”
Oakes laughed, and for the first time, looked around at the folks gathered close. Reaching forward he wrapped his arms around Ryder. “Good to see you, boy. You’ve grown. What’s it been, six years or so?”
Ryder laughed returning the hug. “Good to see you, too, Oakes. I guess it’s been about that long.” Looking back at Molly, he pulled her forward. “Oakes, this is my fiancée, Molly. Molly, Oakes Leathers.”
Oakes shook Molly’s hand as his broad face split in a smile. His face hadn’t been shaved in at least three days, but his grin was infectious and his graying hair trimmed short and neat. Oakes let out a whistle as he looked into Molly’s sparkling blue eyes. The blush creeping into her cheeks mixed with the redness from the heat they had just left brightened her face further.
Oakes looked around and Gunnar stepped forward, holding his hand out to shake Oakes’. “I’m Gunnar, Joci’s son.”
“Our son,” Dog quickly added.
Gunnar smiled and nodded at his dad. “It’s nice to meet you, Gunnar. Your dad told me about you after he and Joci married. Congratulations on joining the Sheppard family. It’s a good one.”
“Yes sir, I agree. Nice to meet you as well.” Gunnar grasped Emma’s hand, kissed her fingers and said, “This is my fiancée, Emma.”
Oakes smiled brightly as he shook her hand.
JT stepped through the circle of people. As soon as Oakes saw him, he stepped up and wrapped him in a fierce hug. He slapped him on the back a few times then stood back. “Good to see you, boy. I’m excited as hell you’re all here.”
JT genuinely smiled at Oakes. “It’s great to see you too. I can’t wait to bend your ear about some bike designs.”
In the past, Oakes and JT would talk about different designs and some of the bikes Oakes saw living out here near Sturgis each year. He got pictures when he could and they would talk about the craziness some of these bikers could come up with.
“Grandpa, tell them you know me.” A beautiful little girl with long blonde, wavy hair was tugging on Oakes’ jeans. Oakes looked down at her and quickly scooped her up, loudly kissing her cheek. Laughing, he looked at Dog and Joci. “This is my granddaughter, Dakota. Dakota, these are my friends from Green Bay, Wisconsin.” Holding his hand out toward Dog and Joci, Oakes continued, “They have a little baby now and her name is Madison.”
“Oh, can I see her? I love babies.” Dakota smiled and craned her neck around the group to see who might be holding a baby.
Joci giggled. “She’s at home with her grandma and grandpa and several aunts and uncles. Maybe we’ll be able to bring her to meet you next time.”
Dakota’s smiled turned to a cute little pout as she said, “Okay.”
“Oakes, you didn’t tell me how beautiful she is.” Dog smiled at Dakota and she laughed. She wrapped her little arms around Oakes’ neck and kissed his cheek.
Turning to walk behind the bar, Oakes said, “Let’s get you all something to drink.” He pulled a bar stool up to the inside of the bar, at the end next to the wall and gently set Dakota on the stool. “You have your books, Kota?”
Nodding her blonde head, Dakota pulled her pink sparkly backpack off the bar and reached in for her books. Oakes smiled at his granddaughter and started pulling beers from the coolers.
JT watched Dakota quietly reading in the corner. The denim skirt she wore covered the top half of her legs, and her red cowboy boots swung back and forth in time to the music playing on the juke box. The light blue t-shirt she wore had a red pony on it. It wouldn’t be long before his baby sister, Maddy, was her age. He pulled up a stool at the end of the bar nearest to her, and she looked up and smiled at him.
“You gonna stay at Grandpa’s house?”
“Yep. Where do you live?”
Dakota looked at her Grandpa to see if she could say anything. Oakes smiled and said, “He’s good people, honey.”
Dakota nodded. “I live over the garage with Momma.”
“Over the garage? The one out back?” JT’s brows furrowed.
“Yep. Momma and Grandpa fixed it up. It’s great. I have a pink bedroom and Momma has a coral one. What color is your bedroom?”
JT laughed. “My room is blue. My mom helped me paint it.”
Dakota looked down the bar. “Which one’s your momma?”
JT pointed next to him, where Joci sat watching the two of them converse. “This is my mom. Where’s yours?”
Dakota looked at Joci for a few moments and burst into a giggle. “You don’t look like your momma, but I look exactly like mine. Everybody says so.” Her beautiful hazel eyes, framed with thick lashes showed intelligence. She spoke with a maturity that didn’t seem to fit her tiny body.
JT laughed. “I look like my dad. Everybody says so.” His grin widened as he waited for her to respond. She looked just past Joci at Dog and then she giggled. She nodded once and said, “Yep.” She set her book aside and turned on her stool so she was facing JT. “My mom went for a ride. When Rog calls, he makes her mad; she needs a minute and she takes her bike out for a ride.”
Oakes heard her comments and walked down the bar to Dakota. “Kota, honey, did Mommy talk to Rog today?”
“Yep. She was mad and told him not to call her every time he gets in trouble; she don’t want to hear it.”
“Doesn’t. She doesn’t want to hear it,” Oakes gently corrected her.
“Oh. Yeah. She doesn’t want to hear it.”
Oakes smiled at her. “Do your studies, honey.”
Dakota picked up her book and opened it up on her lap.
Oakes turned and caught Dog’s gaze. He rolled his eyes and went to serve another beer to one of the Rolling Thunder guys.
Hope you enjoyed the first chapter of Moving to You. It releases on September 15th. Shall we hop on over and see what my fellow hoppers are writing?