EXCERPT & NEW RELEASE: Respect by Jay Crownover
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who called a corrupt kingdom home sweet home.
Protected and sheltered from the worst the world had to offer, she fell in love with the crumbling city that burned and blazed around her. Every dirty corner, every scary shadow, found a place within her heart. So did a man who was violent and dangerous, just like the streets she claimed as her own.
He was all business and brutality, except when it came to her. With her, he was calm, caring, and heartbreakingly patient.
He warned her over and over that he wasn't the man for her, but she refused to listen. She never expected either the streets or their enforcer to hurt her, since she'd given her heart so completely to both.
She should have known the streets in the Point were always going to be savage, and so was the man committed to keeping control of them in the hands of criminals and bloody kingpins.
Blindsided by a betrayal which cut so deeply she was sure the wounds would never heal, the princess fled the home she loved and the man who broke her heart. Throwing away her rusted, twisted crown was supposed to help her forget. All it did was make her long for everything she left behind. She told herself she would never go back, but in this tormented kingdom, family is everything. Eventually, she has no choice but to return.
While she was gone, the people who loved her worked hard to make the city safe, and the man who destroyed her sank deeper into the darkness. Going back shouldn't feel like surrender... but it does. As this pretty princess hovers on the edge of the unknown, the past attacks with a vengeance. It's a good reminder that puppy love eventually grows up and turns into something with sharp teeth and one hell of a bite.
She never asked for the keys to the kingdom. She'd much rather go out and build her own.
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I had no plans to leave the Point. It was ugly, mean, hard, and unforgiving, but these streets were home and I couldn’t imagine being happy anywhere else. This place had long since made my hands and the edges of my soul dirty. It was something I would be hard-pressed to hide should I go anywhere else. I’d have to spend my days trying to camouflage the filth I was so familiar with. Here, no one looked twice at the pretty teenager with shadows in her eyes and blood on her hands. I was one of many.
I wasn’t interested in leaving behind my sister or her fiancé, Race. We were an odd, dysfunctional family, but we made it work.
I didn’t want to be too far away from my mother, who was living in a group home as she slowly, painfully tried to recover from her alcoholism and PTSD from an accident she caused that ended up taking the life of a young mother and her child.
But more than anything, I absolutely didn’t want to leave him.
I couldn’t imagine a day going by without catching a glimpse of Noah Booker. I mean, he was impossible to miss. Six-and-a-half-feet tall, body built like a professional athlete, dark and brooding with the prettiest gunmetal-gray eyes, he was the entirety of every one of my teenage fantasies. I barely noticed the jagged scar dividing one side of his face. White and raised, it cut one of his black eyebrows in half, slashed over a high cheekbone, and ended somewhere under the chiseled edge of his hard jaw. He never talked about it, but Race, Booker’s boss, let it slip that Booker got the scar when he was locked up. Or maybe it wasn’t as much of a slip-up as a thinly veiled warning. Race never kept it much of a secret that my infatuation with his massive, dangerous, ex-con enforcer made him extremely uncomfortable. He’d warned me over and over again that Booker wasn’t for me. And he’d made it clear to the man who broke knees and smashed heads for a living that he was to stay as far away from me as possible.
They called it puppy love. It wasn’t.
To me, it was a vicious kind of love, filled with teeth and claws that I could feel digging at my insides every single time someone patted me on the head and told me how young I was, how much life I had yet to live. This love was rabid, and I was tired of having it on a leash. I wanted to let it free, wanted to let it sink its razor-sharp fangs into the man who had awoken the primal need inside of me. It was only fair he felt the same kind of crushing bite and painful pressure around his heart that I did every single day.
I was solely focused on getting to Booker. It barely registered I was done with high school and had new doors opening all around me. I couldn’t care less about getting my hands on my diploma. A piece of paper with Karsen Carter written on it in pretty calligraphy meant exactly nothing to me. The only thing I was focused on was the fact I was finally old enough to make my own choices. And I’d always picked Booker. Over and over again he was my number one priority.
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Don't be fooled. Don't make excuses for me. I am not a good man. I've seen things no one should, done things no one should talk about. Honor and conscience have no place in my life. But I've fought and I've survived. I've had to. The first time I saw her dancing on that seedy stage in that second rate club, I felt my heart pulse for the first time. Keelyn Foster was too young, too vibrant for this place, and I knew in an instant that I would make her mine. But first I had to climb my way to the top. I had to have something more to offer her. I'm here now, money is no object and I have no equal. Except for her. She's disappeared. But don't worry, I will find her and claim her. She will be mine. Like I said, don't be fooled. I am not the devil in disguise… I'm the one front and center.
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Looks can be deceiving.
I knew that most people took one look at the ink and the impossibly big and strong body it covered and decided I was a brawler…a bruiser…a beast. However, I was hardwired to be a thinker, not a fighter.
I should have chosen to use my brain and talents to be one of the good guys, a hero, a man with dignity and worth.
I turned my back on dignity and sold my soul to the highest bidder, deciding to dance with the devil, instead.
I couldn’t figure out how to help myself, so there was zero chance I knew how to save someone else.
That someone else was Noe Lee. She was the unkempt, unruly thief who was just as smart as I was and twice as street savvy. She was annoyingly adorable beneath the dirt and grime, and she was in trouble. In way over her head, I told myself it wasn’t my job to keep her from drowning. In the Point, it was sink or swim, and I wasn’t the designated lifeguard on duty.
I shut the door in her face, but now she’s gone…vanished…disappeared without a trace. It took less than a second for me to realize that I wanted her back.
When a woman comes along that melts all the frozen, hard things you’re made of; you’ll do anything you have to, to bring her home.
What you see is not always what you get…and with a man like me, what you get is more than anyone ever bargained for.
Meet The Author: Jay Crownover
Jay Crownover is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Marked Men, The Point, and the Saints of Denver series. Like her characters, she is a big fan of tattoos. She loves music and wishes she could be a rock star, but since she has no aptitude for singing or instrument playing, she'll settle for writing stories with interesting characters that make the reader feel something. She lives in Colorado with her dogs.