Grit, edge and romance—Katie McGarry consistently and deftly fuses these elements to deliver stories that stay with you. The Thunder Road series is no different and with the third installment, Long Way Home, releasing January 31st, avid fans have much to anticipate.
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Damn if I understand why girls like getting flowers, but their faces light up, their lips will tilt upward and their eyes will glow as if you handed them the world. Hell, maybe it’s only the girls I’ve been around that react this way. Maybe their lives are so messed up that the idea of any guy offering them anything without expectation of payment blows their mind.
It’s sad, but it’s true, and I don’t mind being the person who can bring them one second of happiness.
Shamrock’s newest employee accepts the two daisies I “magically” made appear. I stole them—two tables down from a bouquet an army boy’s holding. Guess he plans on giving it to one of the cocktail waitresses. He didn’t notice I swiped the flowers and neither did anyone else. Fast hands, a distraction, and the world belongs to me.
“Thank you.” She glances away and my heart drops for her. She’s pretty. Early-twenties. Could do well working here at the bar, but with that attitude, she won’t make it through the night. There’s no room for modesty or shyness or emotion in order to make money at this joint.
“Pretty girl like you,” I say with a wink, “will knock `em dead.”
“Do you work here?” she asks.
The bar’s manager and Mom’s best friend smacks me on the back of the head before I can answer no. “Stop flirting with my girls.” Brandy gestures at me while looking at the new girl. “Watch out for him, he thinks he can con anyone into loving him.”
“You love me,” I say.
“And I regret it most days.” But she says it with a smile. Brandy then offers her hand to her newest employee. “Come on, let me show you where the real magic happens.”
“My magic’s real,” I call out, and Brandy’s only response is a loud laugh. I can’t help but chuckle with her because she’s going to be pissed in a few minutes when she realizes I lifted her watch…again.
The new girl waves as she glances at me over her shoulder. I nod in response. The twenty in my pocket says she won’t be here when I pick Mom up later. Being a waitress here requires an iron shell.
With a thud, Mom props her overly large purse on the bar, slides off my leather jacket and hands it to me, revealing her low-cut tank and what she refers to her as jeans-that-make-her-money. She asked me to drop her off early since the other bartender called in sick.
I usually drive Mom in her car as she hates motorcycles, but her already pieced-together Ford from the 1980s died again this morning, and I haven’t had time to figure out what broke.
Mom sighs heavily when I slide Brandy’s watch to her. “Will you please stop stealing from people?”
“It’s not stealing if I give it back.” I grin, then grin wider when Mom’s lips twitch. Everyone’s born with a gift. My gift is fast hands. Too bad my only career options with it are street magician or thug pickpocket. Some days, my feet are as fast as my hands and that’s what makes me one hell of a football player.
“Tonight should be a money-maker.” Mom uses her phone to check her makeup.
I case the dimly lit place that’s occasionally brightened by the beams of colored lights bouncing off the dance floor and the stage where the DJ mixes music. Being near the army base is great for business, but can bring in a mix of a crowd.
Because it’s too damn cliché, the place crawls with army boys. Most of them too loud, too cocky and too lonely. A gang of boys with frat symbols on their T-shirts take up three tables near the stage. Odds are they’re under twenty-one so that’s why they drove the forty-five minutes from their school.
The bouncers don’t give a rip who’s here as long as they pay to get in and pay for their beer. All those guys watch the girls on the dance floor. Most of them like starved wolves in search of raw meat.
Friday and Saturday nights make me nervous so I offer to drive Mom and when she doesn’t accept, I don’t give her a choice. There’s a lot of psychotic bastards in the world and most of them seem to gravitate to bars late at night in search of those who drank too much and are easy prey.
“Why do you do it?” Mom leans in so she can hear my answer over the pounding music. It’s nearing ten, about an hour before this place will be wall-to-wall shaking and shimmying bodies. “Why do you always give the girls around here flowers?”
Because they often walk out of here with a vacant expression and hollow eyes. Exhausted from being on their feet and having to pretend they’re someone’s fantasy so they can make more money from tips. “Question should be, why don’t more guys do it?”
Mom goes into one of those blinding smiles that reminds me how young she is—early forties. If she wanted, Mom could still marry and pop out a new, normal family. Create the American dream of two kids, a dog and a white picket fence. That is if the American dream means working at a bar and already having a soon to be eighteen-year-old son.
She grabs hold of my chin and guides me down to her short height so she can kiss my cheek. “You’re one of the good ones, Chevy. Never forget that.”
Mom sees enough bad ones to know the difference. That’s why I drive her to and from work on the weekends. Why I don’t just drop her off, but also come in and get the lay of the land. I eyeball a few guys so they can spread the word to the others who might be thinking of going too far with my mom that I’m their personal grim reaper.
“Hell of a game tonight, Chevy!” Mike, the bouncer, bellows from across the room. A round of claps and cheers from the locals and then an echo from people who have no idea what we’re celebrating.
“Nobody plays like my boy!” Mom shouts. She’s been to every game I’ve had since I started in third grade.
I’m a running back for my high school team. Scored three touchdowns tonight, took a hell of a lot of hits, and I got a bruised shoulder to prove it. It’s October and we’re halfway through regular season games. With the team kicking ass like it has, we’ve got a decent shot at going to state. I don’t miss the fact that the reason we won, the reason I played was because Violet made a sacrifice.
My cell pings twice and Mom’s proud smile morphs into a frown. From the number of pings, she knows it’s from Eli, my uncle, my father’s brother, and the most respected man in the Reign of Terror Motorcycle Club.
Eli: You need to stay off the road tonight. Confirm receipt. This is my third text about this. Don’t make me text you again.
Not what I need. I crack my neck to the side. When the club thinks there’s trouble from a rival club, they warn me off of being visible.
I’m a senior in high school and not yet a full member of the MC, but being a child of the club, I often get crap from people in town and can have a target on me from other MC’s. But no way was I letting Mom drive herself. No way was I leaving her to be on her own.
“Club stuff?” Mom asks like she’s not pissed as she rifles through her purse. The Reign of Terror and my mother have a complicated relationship. Between her and them, I’m constantly the knot in the middle of a tug-of-war rope.
“Eli’s checking in.” I shrug my jacket on and dig out the keys to my motorcycle.
“Sure he is,” she mumbles then goes behind the bar. Mom’s black hair falls forward when she places her purse in the safe. When she stands, she tucks the strands behind her ears, showing off the hoop earrings I bought for her birthday last month.
Mom and I don’t look much alike. She’s short with a small frame and has an olive complexion while I’m built like a McKinley: tall, strong shoulders, brown hair and eyes. According to pictures, I favor my father. Mom never says much about him. The MC thinks he’s a saint. I do my best to stay neutral.
Across from me, Mom taps her finger on the bar. “Have you thought about what I said?”
The muscles in my back tense. I’m reaching a tipping point in the tug-of-war game. When I turn eighteen, the MC will expect me to continue the blood legacy of the Reign of Terror and become a prospect. Eli’s a key member of the club, my grandfather is the President, and my father before his death was on the fast track to being a board member.
There’s no doubt the board will take me, but there’s a rhythm to becoming a member and I’m expected to play along. My prospect period is the initiation timeframe where the club decides whether or not I should be a full-fledged member. It’ll be a lot of me cleaning toilets and doing whatever the board says when they say it.
“There’s no reason to rush this,” Mom continues. She’s asked me to push off becoming a prospect for the MC until I graduate from high school. “Once you’re in the Terror, you’ll always be in the Terror. Why not be a normal high school kid for a few months? Find a nice girl. Go to prom. Go to keggers like other boys your age, not clubhouses. Let me live the fantasy of being mom to the jock who has the high school sweetheart. If you’re bound and determined to hang out with outlaws, at least have the decency to be arrested for cow tipping the first time I have to bail you out of jail.”
Haven’t told Mom yet the football coach is unhappy with me over the Terror. After that monologue, I’ll keep it to myself indefinitely.
“Last I checked, it’s his life,” comes a familiar gravelly voice. “Not your life and not your call on how he makes his choices. And to clear up any misunderstandings, the club decides when we offer prospect, not Chevy. “
My grandfather and president of the Reign of Terror, Cyrus, sidles up beside me at the bar. Mom tenses like a cat on the verge of attacking, and Cyrus merely strokes his long gray beard as he looks at me. “Club’s been trying to reach you.”
“Must have never turned my phone back on after the game,” I lie and try to balance the power struggle between Mom and the club and that means deflection. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Just some bumps. Heard you had a hell of a game tonight.”
I nod. If Cyrus heard I had a good game that must mean something major is going down. Like Mom, he’s always there, unless something with the club is about to go to hell.
“I heard Violet was at the game with Stone,” he says, and my head pops up. Despite knowing better, there’s a flicker of hope within me. I’ve got to cut that crap out or my heart will be hurting again.
“Don’t guess you knew that,” Cyrus continues.
No, I didn’t and it’s hard not to glance over at my mom to gauge her reaction. She, more than anyone, is aware how the breakup with Violet has gutted me.
Cyrus tilts his head to the exit. “Why don’t we go back to the cabin, and you can fill me in on what I missed. Some guys might be at the clubhouse. Bet they’d want to hear about the game, too.”
“Or he can go home,” Mom butts in, and she twists a dishtowel as if she’s imagining strangling his neck. “His home. The one that has his room. His bed. His things. His home.”
I hitch my thumbs into my jeans and wish I could disappear. Give me a mirror, the fine art of distraction, and I could make you believe I did fade into the nothingness, but right now, I’ve got nothing. “Give me a few minutes with Mom?”
Cyrus is as big and bad as they come. Sixties. My height. Monster of a man. He proudly wears the Reign of Terror leather cut on his back: the half skull with fire blazing out of its eyes and balls of fire raining down around it.
My grandfather scares the hell out of most people, and he’s put me in my place more than once. He’s raised me, just as much as Mom. Half my time has been spent with him. Half my time with her. I love him, just like I love my mom.
He walks away, and before Mom begins to revel in her win, I lean onto the bar and say, “He’s right. It is my life and it is my call.”
She slams her hand on the bar and sets her hardened green eyes on me. “Then start acting like it. You can’t keep walking this line between the real world and the club for much longer. It’s one or the other, Chevy. Turning eighteen, you know it means you can’t have both.”
My jaw twitches. Before his death, before my birth, my father didn’t choose her. He slept with Mom, had some sort of relationship with her that neither she nor the club will talk about, but at the end of the day, he never claimed Mom as his girl and, because of that, my mother remains an outsider.
Because of my blood, I’m an insider. The club, it’s a legit club. They don’t sell drugs, guns or dabble in prostitution. Yeah, they color outside the lines at times, work well in gray areas, but we do our best to stay away from flat-out illegal.
The club owns a legit security company that travels alongside semi-loads of expensive goods to guarantee that the truck makes it to point B from point A without any problems. People don’t know it, but trucks being jacked for their loads happens more often than one would think. The security company is a ride-along bouncer.
Most of the members of the Terror work for the security company. Other members, they work “normal” jobs within the community, but Mom’s right. Members and family members of the Terror, we stand out and we are our own world.
As long as I stay underage, I’ve been able to walk the line and when my birthday hits, I don’t know what I’m going to choose.
“Chevy,” Cyrus calls near the entrance. “We need to talk.”
Damned knot in the tug-of-war rope and I’m starting to feel frayed. Mom doesn’t blink as she waits for me to say something. To tell Cyrus he can wait. To tell her what she wants to hear. But as much as I love her, I’m also drawn to the club. She’s right, I do want both.
“I’ll be back to pick you up later,” I say.
Mom throws the towel she had expertly throttled into the sink behind her, walks to the other side of the bar and the strobe light casts a red haze around her. If I didn’t know her better, I’d buy the flirty smile and the way she giggles in happiness as she leans on the bar to take a drink order. But that’s not her real smile and that’s not her real laugh. It’s part of her job, part of her act, because that’s what working here requires—performing.
With a kick to a barstool, I head for the exit. Cyrus walks out into the night and I follow. Once outside, Cyrus turns to me and his warm breath creates a cloud in the cool night. “We’ve had some trouble tonight with the Riot.”
The Riot would be a motorcycle club north of us in Louisville. They’re pissed at the Terror for myriad reasons, the main one being we’re a legit club and they deal in illegal. They’re also angry at one of our main members, Eli. They feel he stole their daughter and granddaughter from them. Eli didn’t steal a thing. Can’t call someone’s free will in walking away from crazy a crime.
Life sucks for the Riot and I’m fine with that. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Everyone’s safe, but we’ve had word that they’ve ridden past the boundary lines we set with them a few months back. It’s all rumor and no one on our side has confirmed it. Could be someone’s overactive imagination, but I’ll feel better knowing you’re off the road.”
I’m under eighteen, still a kid to him. Cyrus used to act this way with my two best friends, Oz and Razor, but both are eighteen and full members of the club now. The babysitting twists my gut, but then again, I’m not ready for the decision eighteen will bring. “How about Violet?”
“I’m on my way now to look for her. She’s also not answering her cell.”
Yeah. A lot of that going around. “If she took Stone to the game, she would have headed straight home. I’ll check on her on my way to Mom’s if you want.”
This gives me the excuse I need to see Violet. Because I won’t be able to sleep without knowing she’s okay. So I can thank her for what she did for me with the note. To gauge whether or not Violet is waving the white flag.
Cyrus lays a hand on my shoulder. “I’d appreciate that. I need to head back to the clubhouse to take care of some business. I’m serious about what I said though. Me and a lot of guys would love to hear about the game.”
I know they would and I’d enjoy being with them, but Mom’s already sore that I walked out on her to talk to Cyrus. “I’m beat. After I check on Violet, I’m crashing.”
Cyrus gives me a fast pat and a hug. We both mount our bikes and start our engines with a growl. My grandfather takes the lead and I follow him as long as I can before taking the path that leads away from him and toward where Violet lives.
Series Reading Order
Although each novel can be read as a standalone,
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About Long Way Home
Seventeen-year-old Violet has always been expected to sit back and let the boys do all the saving.
It’s the code her father, a member of the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, raised her to live by. Yet when her dad is killed carrying out Terror business, Violet knows it’s up to her to do the saving. To protect herself, and her vulnerable younger brother, she needs to cut all ties with the club—including Chevy, the boy she’s known and loved her whole life.
But when a rival club comes after Violet, exposing old secrets and making new threats, she’s forced to question what she thought she knew about her father, the Reign of Terror, and what she thinks she wants. Which means re-evaluating everything: love, family, friends . . . and forgiveness.
Caught in the crosshairs between loyalty and freedom, Violet must decide whether old friends can be trusted—and if she’s strong enough to be the one person to save them all.
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