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Salvaged (Saints of Denver #4)
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The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Marked Men books continues her delightfully sexy Saints of Denver series.
Hudson Wheeler is a nice guy. Everyone knows it, including his fiancée who left him with a canceled wedding and a baby on the way. He’s tired of finishing last and is ready to start living in the moment with nights soaked in whiskey, fast cars, and even faster girls. He’s set to start living on the edge, but when he meets Poppy Cruz, her sad eyes in the most gorgeous face he’s ever seen hook him in right away. Wheeler can see Poppy’s pain and all he wants to do is take care of her and make her smile, whatever it takes.
Poppy can’t remember a time when she didn’t see strangers as the enemy. After a lifetime of being hurt from the men who swore to protect her, Poppy’s determined to keep herself safe by keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Wheeler’s sexy grin and rough hands from hours restoring classic cars shouldn’t captivate her, but every time she’s with him, she can’t help being pulled closer to him. Though she’s terrified to trust again, Poppy soon realizes it might hurt even more to shut Wheeler out—and the intense feelings pulsing through her are making it near impossible to resist him.
The only thing Poppy is sure of is that her heart is in need of some serious repair, and the more time she spends with Wheeler, the more she’s convinced he’s the only man with the tools to fix it.
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I was the kind of guy that thought I had it all figured out. It came from having spent my entire childhood caught up in chaos and upheaval. When I was old enough to call my own shots and make my own way, I did it with a single-minded determination and unwavering dedication. I knew what I wanted. Every move I made, every step I took, moved me toward that perfectly planned future I had been dreaming of from the minute I realized I was all on my own. A realization that came far too early and was brutally reinforced every single time I was forced to bounce from one temporary home to the next.
I clung to the idea that I would do everything differently. I would make decisions which would lead to a life that was easy, smooth, and as steady as a car with a new alignment and high-end shocks. I found the girl that was meant to be mine and clutched her in a death grip. I went out of my way to be whoever she needed me to be, to never give her any kind of reason to go. I made her the center of my entire world, not realizing she might feel trapped there as time went on. I was holding on so tight I never felt her trying to wiggle her way free.
I started a business, bought a house, and made plans … so many plans. Plans that would be considered simple and boring to some, but they covered everything I wanted since the time I was four years old. They were the plans that would give me the life I’d been longing for since the minute I was left on my own.
I had my eyes on the prize, the promise of what could be if I worked hard, took care of my woman, and did everything that the person who was supposed to love me and care for me didn’t do. I would have held on until the bitter, burning end, but there was nothing I could do when the rope was cut.
At that point all I could do was fall.
I felt my grip on everything I was trying so hard to hold on to slip the day she walked into my garage, hiding behind one of my friends. Rowdy St. James worked at the tattoo shop where I got the majority of my ink done. He called and asked me to empty out my shop of employees and other customers one Saturday afternoon so that he could bring his girlfriend’s sister in to look at a car. He didn’t need to explain why the garage needed to be cleared out, not that I would have asked. The girl had been all over the news months before. You couldn’t get away from her terrified face and shaking body as her horrifying ordeal was splashed all over the news. Her husband had abducted her at gunpoint. Salem, her sister and Rowdy’s lady, had been a victim of the attack as well. Poppy Cruz only went with the lunatic she was married to, in order to keep her sibling safe. It had resulted in a nightmare that I couldn’t imagine anyone coming back from. Without question I cleared out the shop so she wouldn’t have to worry about being surrounded by a bunch of dirty, boisterous men that wouldn’t know how to behave around someone as fragile and delicate as she appeared to be.
I didn’t want her to be scared of anything ever again. It made no sense, but it resonated inside of me.
Things at home had been rocky, rougher than class-five rapids in spring, but I was paddling for my life and prepared to ride it out. I couldn’t let go. I wouldn’t let go. I saw Poppy the day she walked through my shop and I started to feel how sore my hands and my heart were from holding on.
Her head was down, eyes focused on the tips of her shoes. Her shoulders were hunched over and her long hair hid her face. She was skinny, so skinny, nothing but skin and bones. She was nothing that I should have noticed, not because she was clearly doing everything in her power to be invisible, but because I was supposed to have my eyes locked on my future and doing whatever I could to salvage it. But I did notice her and I couldn’t look away once I did.
She was obviously terrified, clearly out of her element and uncomfortable, but it wasn’t her unease that called to me … it was her loneliness. I could feel it filling up the space that separated us. Stretching, growing, expanding until it was all I was breathing in and exhaling back out. It was bitter on my tongue and heavy across my skin because I knew the feeling well. I lived with it pressing me down and pushing me forward every minute of every day. The reason I was so set on the way things had to be, the reason I was singlemindedly set on settling down and building a life with the girl that was slipping through my fingers was because I never again wanted to be as alone as this girl was. I didn’t want to be left and forgotten. I’d barely survived it the first time.