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Wrecked (Axle Alley Vipers)

By´╝ÜSherilee Gray

Chapter One

Cole Black stepped out of the shower, slung a towel around his hips, and limped to the vanity.

How the fuck had he gotten himself into this?

Deacon West, his best friend, was getting married today. Yeah, he was happy Deke and Alex had finally gotten it together—Alex Franco was the only woman the guy had ever wanted. He knew how that felt, knew what it was like to want one woman with everything you had—and to have her out of your reach. But Deke had found a way back into Alex’s heart. So yeah, he was fucking thrilled, for both of them.

But best man at his wedding? Nuts-in-vise torture.

Swiping the condensation from the mirror, he took a hard look at himself. He looked like shit. Full beard, rough as hell. He never would have gotten away with it if he’d still been one of New York City’s finest.

He hadn’t seen his face clean-shaven in close to a year, not since the accident that ended his career.

The accident that ended his partner’s life.

Because of Cole’s carelessness, his lack of judgment, Adam’s wife no longer had a husband. His kid would grow up without a father. What he’d been left with was nothing; nothing he didn’t deserve.

A shudder moved through him. Dammit. He slammed the brakes on that line of thought before it took him places he couldn’t go. Not today.

The facial hair currently covered most of the damage he’d taken to his face, but he knew how bad the angry, jagged scar looked.

He just hoped there weren’t any small children at the wedding. The idea of a bunch of kids screaming in terror while they watched the scary, scarred guy limp down the aisle like Quasimodo after the ceremony made his gut roll.

On autopilot, he picked up a small pair of scissors and started trimming before he changed his mind. This, at least, he could do, especially after everything Deke had done for him. Not only had he stuck around when Cole sure as fuck hadn’t made it easy on him, he’d given him a job, made him manager of West Security.

He owed him, would be indebted to him for the rest of his life.

Foaming up, he started on the right, the undamaged side of his face. Smoothing the razor across his upper lip, his chin, until the skin was clean and smooth.

He tilted his head to the side and sucked in an unsteady breath. Yeah, he recognized that guy. From this angle, he looked like the man he’d once been, before everything went to shit. That guy had been a respected cop, a guy who liked to go out, who had friends, who played sports. That guy had big plans.

But he wasn’t that guy anymore, and his inside now matched the scarred exterior.

It’s just a fucking beard. Come on, asshole, grow a pair and finish the job.

He shook his head. No he wasn’t the same guy, but he could at least look halfway respectable for his friend’s wedding.

A wedding where there would be no chance of avoiding Piper West.

The woman he’d wanted for as long as he could remember. The woman he’d planned to move back to Miami for as soon as he’d gotten the promotion he’d been working toward. The woman he’d planned to make his.

He’d wanted to build a life with her. Have a family. He’d thought he had time, was arrogant enough to think she’d be here waiting for him when he finally came back for her.

When he was younger, he’d stayed away from Piper out of respect for his best friend, then because he’d wanted to be in a better financial position before he told Deacon how he felt about his sister.

If he’d stopped waiting, moved back sooner…

Jesus. He couldn’t think like that. What-ifs didn’t exist for him. The reality was staring back at him in the mirror.

What would she think when she saw him? Would his scar disgust her?

By the time he’d moved back to Miami, he’d grown the beard. She hadn’t seen him without it since before the accident. He’d made sure of it.

Rinsing off the blade, he brought it up and took the first swipe on the damaged side.

If she cringed away from him, if what he’d hidden all these months repulsed her, it could only be a good thing. She was already a million miles out of his reach.

A few more couldn’t hurt.

He stared at himself, at the scar that defined who he was now. It had faded a little, no longer the angry red it had been. Starting at the corner of his eye, it carried on down to the edge of his mouth, puckering the skin, twisting his lips on one side when he said certain words, held his mouth a certain way when he smiled—not that he’d done much of that lately—then it dipped lower, finishing at his jaw.

He barely recognized the man he saw in the mirror.

Not anymore.

A short time later, he was in a suit and driving a beautiful classic car covered with bright purple ribbons down Axle Alley…which added a whole new dimension of hell, not to mention unwanted attention. He already felt on display, and his stress increased as he neared Piper’s cottage. The very idea of transporting the three women had his heart slugging erratically against his rib cage.