Lazarus “Laz” Lowenstein leaned his Harley-Davidson Roadking onto its kickstand and squinted at the modest bungalow in front of him.
How had he let Roger talk him into this? As the editor of the uber-popular online blog Go Forth, Roger was forever pushing the limits and coming up with unusual—sometimes questionable—stories.
He also tended to take promising reporters under his wing—like the one Laz was here to see.
One who was too attractive for her own good.
Laz hefted a small half-helmet in his left hand, his thoughts shifting to the woman he’d met last week in Roger’s office. Nora was a single mother who had only recently entered the work force, but she seemed determined to get the story Roger was after.
And that’s where Laz came in.
Laz mounted the steps of the bungalow. Before he could knock, the door swung open.
“Lazarus,” she said. “How are you?”
Last week, Nora’s wheat-colored hair had been pulled back from her face by a barrette that looked like it was ready to burst. Today it fell free. The wind will make a mess of that. But wouldn’t it be fun to be the wind?
“Fine, thanks,” he said. “And you? Are you ready to ride?”
“I…” Her eyes widened as she looked past him to the Harley.
She’d never ridden a motorcycle—which was the whole point, according to Roger. When they’d talked about this in Roger’s office, Nora had seemed calm, but Laz recognized nervous when he saw it. Was it the bike… or him?
He wasn’t the long-haired hard-ass he’d been in his younger days, but he still looked rough around the edges (and always would).
“I brought you a helmet.” He held it up.
Her eyes traveled back to him. “Oh… thank you.”
She seemed rooted to the spot, so he extended his hand to her. “Let me introduce you to the Roadking.”
She allowed Laz to pull her to the motorcycle. He handed her the helmet while he put her purse in a saddlebag. He turned to find that she had a death grip on the helmet.
A direct approach might be called for here. “You seem a little nervous.”
“I’m petrified.” She burst into nervous laughter.
He placed his hands over hers on the helmet, which seemed to calm her somewhat—although it did the opposite to his insides. What was that about?
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought this wouldn’t be a big deal, but…”
“Tell you what,” he said. “Why don’t you just sit on the motorcycle for a while?”
“You mean… without moving?”
“Sure,” he said.
When she nodded, he set the helmet on the ground and helped her onto the passenger seat. He gave her a little time to get comfortable, and then he pressed the start button. The bike rumbled to life. Her hands tightened on the edge of the seat, but after a few moments, she gave him a tentative smile. “This isn’t so bad.”
He picked up the helmet and placed it on her head. “I’m going to get on,” he said. “But don’t worry, I won’t put the bike in gear until you say the word.”
She nodded again. He swung his leg over the ‘King and shifted it to an upright position. Her fingers dug into his hips.
“Sorry!” he said. I should have told her about weight shift.
“It’s okay.” She kept her hands on his hips. “I just wasn’t ready.”
His eyes met hers in the mirror. “When you ride, you want to lean with the bike,” he said. “That probably seems backward, but after a while you’ll understand.”
“With the bike,” she said. “Got it.”
“How does it feel?” he said.
“Actually, I like it better when you’re on it,” she said.
“Think you’re ready for a very slow stroll around the block?”
She took a deep breath. “Okay.”
He put the bike in first gear.
“Wait,” she said. “Aren’t you going to wear a helmet?”
“Never have, never will.”
“Isn’t it state law?” she said.
“But you don’t care.” It was a statement.
“Let’s just say I take exception to being told what I can and cannot do,” he said. “Shall we?”
He accelerated as smoothly as he could. Her fingers dug into his hips again, but maybe not as deeply this time.
He made a right turn at the corner. A block later he was forced to put his feet down at the stop sign, then continued on, around the next two right turns until they were back in front of her house. He never got over 20 miles per hour.
He put the bike in neutral and turned his head so she could hear him. “Well?”
“I feel safe with you,” she said. “I don’t know why, but I do.”
That was quite a compliment, considering she didn’t know him. It felt way better than it should.
“I might even start to like this,” she said.
When he found her reflection in the mirror, she was smiling.
“Really?” he said.
She surprised him by putting her arms completely around his torso. “Let’s ride,” she said.
Laz pulled up in front of Nora’s home for the second time in a week.
Nora had turned out to be a natural on the motorcycle; he had no worries about her spending hours in the saddle. Still, he was uneasy about Roger’s plan. A rider’s first experience at a motorcycle rally could be overwhelming, and the Rebel Run had a reputation for rough clientele and questionable legal activity.
Nora just seemed too…
And she had a kid, for Christ’s sake.
But that was the point. Roger wanted Nora to document her transformation from ‘mousy mom’ to ‘sexy biker chick.’ Roger had called in a favor, and Laz wouldn’t renege on the deal. Besides, who else would Roger find to take her to the Run, and would they be as experienced?
Truth be told, Laz didn’t want someone else to take Nora to the rally.
He shook his head at himself; he was in no position to offer a woman like Nora anything more than a motorcycle ride or two. He’d had his share of women, and he’d had his fill of marriage; and though he was doing his best with his 17-year-old daughter, Angeline (heck, he’d moved to Las Vegas to be near her), he was no Father of the Year.
Nora opened the front door and waved. “Laz! Come in for a minute!”
He took the steps and entered the small foyer.
“I’d like you to meet my son, Wesley,” she said.
Laz looked at the boy slouched next to his mother; he knew from their previous discussion that he was twelve. The pre-teen’s eyes went wide as he took in Laz’s leather attire, tattooed arms, and bandana. They lingered on his pierced earlobe.
“Laz is the one I told you about,” Nora said. “The man my boss asked to take me to the motorcycle rally.”
He nodded to the boy. “Nice to meet you, Wesley.”
Wesley stood taller. “You sure look like a biker.”
“Thanks.” Laz almost smiled. “I think.”
“That’s because he is a biker,” Nora said.
Wesley’s eyes narrowed on Laz. “You’ll keep my mom safe?”
Laz’s eyebrow quirked. He had to respect the kid’s directness. “That’s the plan.”
Several moments passed while Wesley sized him up. He would have laughed, but the way Nora held herself told him this exchange was important to her.
Wesley shrugged. “Okay.”
Mother and son traded a few more comments about Wesley’s plans for the day.
“Guess I passed inspection,” Laz said once the boy had gone. “Smart kid.”
Nora put a hand on his arm. “Thank you.”
“I have a seventeen-year-old daughter, so I get it.”
Her eyes held his for a moment longer than was comfortable. He cleared his throat. “Ready for today?”
“As ready as I can be.” She tossed a windbreaker over her arm. “Where are we going?”
He’d kept their last ride short, not wanting to overwhelm her, but today he’d planned a longer ride. The rally was only a few days away and they would spend a lot of time in the saddle.
“Roger told me to get you dressed like a biker, so first stop is a little place in Boulder called the Throttle Shop,” he said. “It’s about thirty minutes away.”
“Ah, shopping,” she said. “That I can handle!”
Despite himself, he chuckled.
“Are you sure this is okay?” Nora stood in front of him, looking like an entirely different person. The “sensible” pants she’d worn every time he’d seen her were replaced by tight jeans sheathed in leather chaps. A spaghetti-strap tank top hugged her breasts like a second skin; and a blinged-out bandana around her head called attention to her hazel eyes.
“It looks great,” he said. “You look great. You should buy two of everything.”
“Thank you.” She blushed and stared at her feet. “The saleslady asked me what kind of boots I want, but I didn’t know what to tell her.”
“Sorels are always good,” he said. “But let’s see what they have.”
Their boot-shopping chore put him in close proximity to Nora’s fresh, sunshine-and-spring-flowers scent. He was almost sorry when they found what she needed.
Nora put her purchases on the expense card Roger had given her, and they walked back to the bike.
“Where to now?” she said as he stowed her old clothes in a saddlebag.
“Thought we’d drive around Lake Mead.” He secured the straps and turned to her. “There are lots of places to stop, not to mention good places to eat.”
“It sounds lovely,” she said.
Oh, man, she was too nice for this project; he should abort right now…
“What?” She tilted her head. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No. I was just…”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “What has Roger told you about this motorcycle rally?”
Her chin tilted up stubbornly. “I know what I’m getting into, if that’s what you’re asking.”
He held up his hands. “Okay. Not my place.”
Nora levelled a look at him. “He told me a little about you, too, Laz.”
Laz was instantly on alert. “He did, did he?”
“To be fair, I asked,” she said. “I wanted to know why he chose you.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said your past has made you more street-wise than most,” she said. “But at your core, you’re a decent guy who’d never take advantage of me.”
He nodded absently. Was that all Roger had said? He didn’t dare ask.
To his relief, she didn’t push.
It was nearly dark by the time Laz delivered Nora to her home. He’d had a great time showing her some of his favorite spots around Lake Mead. (Having her arms around him didn’t hurt, either.) He hoped she felt the same way.
He cut the engine and helped her off the Roadking. “You might be a little saddle-sore tomorrow,” he said as he unclasped the saddle bags.
She reached for the Throttle Shop bags, but he snagged them first. “Let me help with these,” he said.
He followed her to her door. She unlocked it and he set the bags just inside.
“I had a really good time today,” she said. “Thank you.”
“I hope it made you feel more comfortable about the rally.”
She studied him for several moments; something in her eyes made him think she was going to ask something he didn’t want to answer.
But then she said, “What’s your daughter’s name?”
That was an easy one. “Angeline.”
“Does she live close by?”
“Up near Centennial,” he said. “With her mother—my ex.”
“Do you see her often?”
Laz nodded. “Every Sunday,” he said. “When she was younger, we used to spend all day together. Sometimes she’d sleep over Saturday night. Nowadays I’m lucky to get the evening with her.” He shrugged. “I keep showing up, although sometimes I think she’d rather spend the time with her boyfriend.”
“Does she ride with you?”
“She used to,” he said. “Now it messes up her hair.”
Nora laughed. He liked the sound of her laugh. “Teenagers,” she said.
“Nora…” He paused, not sure how to voice his question.
“What is it?” she said.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said.
Her spine seemed to stiffen. “I want to,” she said. “If it makes any difference, I’d do it with or without you—although I’m much more comfortable with you.”
This was a determined woman.
“Why?” he said. “Why does it mean so much to you?”
She looked away for a moment. Pursed her lips. When she returned her gaze to his, he could see she’d made some sort of decision.
“My ex-husband never let me work,” she said. “It’s not that he believed a woman’s place was in the home; Aidan just didn’t want me to have friends or a network outside of him.”
She held up a hand, and he shut his mouth; she had more to say, and he was going to listen.
“I didn’t mind at first,” she said. “I was wrapped up in being a new mother. I thought Wes was all I needed. I thought we’d have more children. But Aidan…”
Her eyes took on a far-away look. “He held me responsible for getting pregnant,” she said. “And for my father forcing us to marry. He wasn’t abusive, but he could be mean.”
The thought of anybody being mean to Nora put Laz on edge.
“He had a string of affairs.” She kept her voice mild, but Laz heard the pain beneath the surface. “I finally got the guts to ask for a divorce. Aidan was only too happy to grant me one.”
“This job is more than a job,” she continued. “It’s the first thing I’ve had that’s mine alone. I have adult friends for the first time in my life. And I’m good at what I do. I really am. You’ll see.”
I want to kiss her.
The desire rose suddenly, unexpectedly, catching him off guard with its intensity. “I have no doubt,” he said.
“I don’t know how Roger talked you into this,” she said. “But it means a lot.”
He cleared his throat; he hadn’t been this flustered around a woman since junior prom.
“Where’s your ex now?” he said.
“He sees Wes when it’s convenient, and when he doesn’t have a better offer.” She shrugged. “I don’t miss him, but I worry about Wes sometimes. I can’t be a dad to him.”
Laz winced inwardly; he’d been an absentee father for much of Angeline’s early years, too.
“All I can do is let go of any regrets I have,” she said. “You know?”
He did know—but that didn’t always make his own past any easier to live with.
Nora was looking at him as if she sensed his discomfort. He wanted to tell her it wasn’t about her, but a door slammed in the house, and a voice yelled, “Mom!”
Wes was home.
It was just as well; Nora didn’t need the extra burden of his troubles.
“I should get going,” he said. “I’ll pick you up at noon Friday.”
She nodded. “Friday.”