When spunky culinary student Diana moves from NYC to the small town of Engleston to take care of her sick aunt, she expects to just keep her head down and cook. But after a dangerous encounter with a local biker, she finds herself thrown into the middle of a clash between warring motorcycle clubs. Alaric, the leader of the Wolves MC, promises he’ll keep her safe… but why is she so drawn to him? Why does he keep calling her ‘baby,’ like he already knows her? And can she put aside her fear of bikers to give him a chance?
Age Rating: 18+ (Assault, Attempted Rape, Sexual Assault/Abuse)
Book 1: Diana & Alaric
“I still don’t get why you couldn’t have moved your Aunt Peggy to the city with you,” Meghan sighs to me over the phone.
Currently, I’m holding my cell phone between my ear and shoulder for dear life while I try to unpack all my clothes in time to get dressed. My first shift at my new job in Engleston starts in less than an hour.
I pause with my tennis shoes in hand and look up to the ceiling for strength before lowering my voice. “She’s got lung cancer, Meghan. Do you honestly think that the fumes of the city would help?”
I love Meghan; we’ve been friends and roommates since day one of culinary school, and I know she’s just upset that I’m leaving her behind. But I don’t have time right now to listen to her complaining about how the room feels empty without me.
I’ve had to uproot my entire life to come here, to this town in the middle of nowhere, to care for my sick aunt. She’s the last living relative I have left, and I’ll be damned if I let her go through treatment alone.
That means deferring my final year as a culinary student and saying goodbye to Meghan and everything else I know. But Aunt Peggy is worth it.
Thankfully, Peggy managed to secure me a job at the local diner so that I can help keep the roof over our heads while her pension checks go toward her medical bills.
Going from cooking prime rib and duck à l’orange to simple burgers isn’t exactly living the dream, but it’s better than nothing.
Who knows, maybe having some real-world experience as a line cook will even help my résumé when I eventually go back, finish school, and start applying for jobs in the city.
“Fine, I know we’ve already talked about all the reasons you had to leave. It’s just not the same here without you,” Meghan complains. I decide to take that as the compliment that it is. At least someone will miss me.
My parents ran a restaurant, so I grew up surrounded by food and love and happy chatter, but a few years ago they were both killed in a brutal robbery, and the restaurant shut down.
Since then, I’ve kept to myself while dragging myself through school. Meghan is one of the only people I’ve let myself get close to—and only because she was persistent enough to stick around and knock down the walls around my heart.
The life insurance payout from my parents’ deaths still sits in my bank account, paying my tuition and gathering some interest for what I hope will be the down payment on my own restaurant someday.
Naturally, I offered to put aside that dream and use the money to pay for Aunt Peggy’s medical bills, but she refused.
“That’s your money, for your career,” she said. ~“I don’t want you squandering it on an old lady.”~
So instead, I came here to live with her. I can pay her rent by working, she can get the treatment she needs, and maybe once she’s feeling better, I can get back to my life.
It’s worth it. Aunt Peggy’s a stubborn old thing, but I love her like crazy, and no time or money I spend on her could ever be squandered.
“Thanks, Megs,” I say into the phone, “but I’ve got to go. Aunt Peggy needs her medicine, and I need to eat something before my first shift.”
I hang up and toss my phone down on the bed. Now that I’ve finally moved all the piles of clothes off the bedspread and into the drawers, everything feels more real.
I know why I’m here, but still, I never saw myself as the kind of girl to move to a small town.
“Diana Marie, if you don’t come in here and feed yourself, so help me, I will call you in sick on your first day,” Aunt Peggy shouts. You’d never think that she was sick from the way she can holler around the house.
She’s clearly serious, though, from the fact that she’s using my middle name. I scurry to get to the kitchen before she can find the phone. Calling in sick on my first day wouldn’t exactly be a good look, would it?
“I was already coming. Hold your fire.” I laugh as I walk to the fridge and get out one of the sandwiches that I bought on the drive down here.
My logic was that if I’m going to be cooking all day, I don’t want to make my own breakfast too, at least not while I’m still getting used to the shifts.
It feels strange having Aunt Peggy sitting at the kitchen table, watching to make sure I feed myself; you’d think I was thirteen, and not twenty-three, from the way she goes on sometimes.
I’ve missed having someone to look out for me, but it’s my job to be there for her, not the other way around.
“Have you taken your medicine?” I ask her between hasty bites.
She doesn’t reply, looking around the room as if she can’t hear me, and I roll my eyes before making the effort to swallow properly this time.
“Medicine…have you had it?” I repeat.
“Oh, you were talking to me?” She fakes shock. “I hope not, with your lunch still hanging around in your mouth…but yes, I have taken it, Diana.
“You know, I’ve lived alone for thirty years. I think I know how to take some damn medicine.” She narrows her eyes at me.
“And I think I know when to feed myself,” I throw back, but she simply leaves the table and takes my empty plate with her to wash in the sink.
You’d never know that she was so ill. There are a few tells, though.
The careful way she moves, like her bones hurt. The way her breath quickens even with the slight exertion of walking to the sink. The dark circles under her eyes, which she hasn’t had time yet to cover with makeup.
But she’s still beautiful—she looks so much like my mom, red hair fading into gray at the roots, falling in waves all the way to her waist.
She wasn’t a good candidate for traditional chemo, and I’m selfishly a little glad. I would mourn that hair if it all fell out.
The doctor told me she should be resting as much as possible, but I know I’ll only be wasting my breath if I try to tell my strong-willed aunt what to do. We have that quality in common.
“Okay, I’m heading off. Be safe, and I’ll see you later.” I rise to my feet and kiss her on the cheek before leaving.
I’m nervous about my first shift. My stomach keeps doing somersaults, my hands are shaking, and I keep chewing at my lip like I used to do back when I was a child.
It’s almost as if my body knows something my mind doesn’t, but what could possibly be so bad?
I’ve suffered with anxiety like this ever since my parents died. On the drive to the diner, I just keep reminding myself that I’m not in the city anymore…this is a small town, and I’m safe here. Right?
By the end of my first shift at Engleston Diner, my feet are so swollen that I wonder how I’m going to pull my clogs off when I get home. Countless sweaty strands of hair are falling down from my bun into my face as I clean up the counter for the night.
Apparently, word got around quickly that this place has hired a new cook because we were filled to the brim with customers all day! I must’ve grilled a hundred burgers in an hour, and I’m sure the smell is ground into my shirt forever.
The other cook who was meant to be helping me during rush hour might as well have stayed home for all the help he offered.
I managed to feed everybody in the end, though, and nobody sent anything back. I’ll call that a win.
I’ve also made it through an entire eight hours behind the stove with no fresh cuts or burns from my efforts, and if I were back in the city, I know I’d have celebrated that with a drink.
The idea of going to a bar alone doesn’t really appeal to me, but I can make do with the wine I saw earlier in Aunt Peggy’s fridge.
Aunt Peggy can’t drink anyway because of her medication, and it would be a shame for such a nice rosé to go to waste, right?
When I leave the kitchen, I see a couple of the waitresses still hanging around, counting tips and filling up condiments. They’re talking among themselves—they always seem to be talking among themselves, from what I’ve seen today.
I know it’s rude, but I can’t help listening in.
“I’ve never seen him lose control like that,” says the blonde-ponytailed one on the left, sounding scandalized. I think her name’s Whitney, though I couldn’t say for sure. “It’s not like him—he’s the president, for crying out loud, he’s supposed to have some dignity.”
Neither of these two has been particularly friendly to me today, and I can’t imagine they would be speaking so frankly if they knew that I was listening.
They had the gall to turn their noses up when I walked in with my clogs on! I bet they’d wear the same if they knew how hazardous a slippery kitchen can get.
Thankfully, I’m not the subject of their disdain anymore; some president or something is, and I find it odd that they’d be hanging around here discussing politics when they can just finish up and go home.
“Alaric has always seemed passionate to me,” argues the one on the right, her long, dangly earrings rattling as she shakes her head. I’m pretty sure this one’s name is Jasmine. “He just doesn’t usually show it.”
I don’t know any presidents called Alaric off the top of my head, but apparently, the guy went nuts. I wonder if I’ll hear about it on the radio when I drive home…not that I particularly care.
All the media I seem to clue into these days are re-runs of Hell’s Kitchen or Nigella Lawson’s various Netflix specials. Even when I’m not working, my life still revolves around food, and I’m terrible when it comes to understanding current events.
“Murphy had to ask him to leave and everything. I couldn’t believe it! He looked like he would smash this whole place up!” Whitney raises her voice, and I realize my mistake as the dots slowly connect.
Murphy is our boss here at Engleston Diner, so they must be talking about something that happened in the dining room today while I was busy in the kitchen. But what would a president be doing here?
What sort of president? A homeowners’ president? Is that what these guys call the mayor of Engleston? I don’t have a clue, but if this Alaric guy really is as nuts as they say, I’d like to know more so I can stay well clear.
“He just kept saying how his mate was here, but like, not in a fake Australian accent or anything. I have no idea what he was talking about,” Jasmine scoffs. “And to think, I used to call him the hot one.”
I can’t help but snort at this, but rather than ask one of the many questions swarming around my head—and confess my eavesdropping in the process—I duck out and make my way toward my car.
It sounds like Murphy had this guy handled fine today. If some guy having a shouting match is the worst thing that happens around here to warrant all this gossip, well, it looks like I can enjoy the simple life for a while.