BY: JANET MCCLINTOCK
Joan Bowman has a need to belong to something larger than herself. A veteran trained to the point of perfection, she belonged to the US Army and then to an underground resistance group. It was when she was a member of the militia, that she first met Wild Bill Torrence, the president of the Phoenix Chapter of the Demon Brotherhood Motorcycle Club. He fell for her and, after she fled Phoenix, he had every allied and support motorcycle club west of the Mississippi look for her. A year later, with her husband arrested and tired of being on the run, Joan turned herself in to the FBI. Knowing Bill Torrence’s soft spot for her, the feds jumped on the chance to make a deal to insert her in the DBMC as a confidential informant. Now all she has to do to get her husband out of jail is to gather evidence on the Demons—and not get caught.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Cowards Never Start by Janet McClintock, we are reunited with Joan Bowman Archer, who has been a fugitive from the law most of her adult life. Married to a man now in prison, Joan cuts a deal with the FBI—go undercover with the outlaw motorcycle club, the Demon Brotherhood, and get enough evidence to bring them down, and she and her husband go free. But there are rumors of a rogue federal agent who might blow her cover. Are they only rumors? And what if she can’t get any evidence? After all, the Demon Brotherhood claims to have gone legit. If Joan is going to survive this, and get her husband out of jail, she needs to be on top of her game—which isn’t easy when everyone is against you and you don’t know who to trust.
Well written, fast paced, and compelling, this story will grip you by the throat and keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Cowards Never Start by Janet McClintock is the fourth book in her Iron Angel series. This time, our heroine, Joan Archer, has to go under cover into world of motorcycles and the Demon Brotherhood to seduce the club president and get enough evidence for the feds to bring the club down and send the members to jail. In return, the FBI agrees to release Duncan, Joan’s husband, from prison and give them both immunity for past crimes. While Joan reluctantly agrees, she has some major reservations—one of which is the likelihood that, in order to get the club president to incriminate himself, Joan will have to sleep with him, and Duncan is the only man she wants to be with. She takes her marriage vows seriously and doesn’t want to be disloyal to him. But since this whole idea was his in the first place, she is not left with a whole lot of options, not if she doesn’t want both her and Duncan to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Can she get what she needs without having to betray her vows, and if not, exactly how far is she willing to go to fulfill her deal with the feds?
Cowards Never Start is a worthy addition to the series. I have always loved Joan’s character—strong, independent, and totally flawed—awesome character development. Add in a solid plot, plenty of intrigue, and lots of suspenseful action, and you have a book that is very hard to put down.
The rumble of motorcycles announced the arrival of dusty men, who would strut into the Bottom Rocker like they owned the place. Joan checked the clock and cursed under her breath. It was only a little after six. Bikers rarely filtered in before eight, but there was a bike show at the Albuquerque Convention Center that weekend, and things were picking up already.
She got up from the stool at the end of the bar. “I hate this job,” she said to Roger, the manager of the rundown biker bar.
He didn’t look like an FBI agent with his thick belly, grizzled beard, and denim cut—a jacket with cut-off sleeves, therefore called a cut.
Joan didn’t look like an agent either, but that was because she wasn’t one, and yet, by some tragic twist of fate, she was the one being inserted into the Phoenix Chapter of the Demon Brotherhood Motorcycle Club.
The Bureau had given her a choice: A year or two in an outlaw motorcycle club or ten-to-twenty in a prison full of outlaws. In return, hers and her husband’s sentences would be commuted.
Well, when the devil has something you want, you dance with the demons. She’d agreed to the deal.
“If you don’t like this job,” Roger said as he licked his thumb and turned a page of Motorcycle Digest, “you’re really gonna hate the next one.”
“Roger that, Roger.”
He shook his head and said without looking up, “Your sense of humor’s gonna get you killed.”
Joan pressed her lips together and headed toward a young, muscular biker leaning on the bar. His eyes tracked from her dyed-black hair, worn in a severe angle cut, past the skimpy, black leather vest, to the tight leather pants laced down the sides, revealing two inches of skin. The outfit barely covered her scars.
Heavy blues-rock forced her to lean forward to hear over the music. “What are you drinking today?” She checked out the lettering on the front of his leather cut. The overhead lighting was dim enough to hide most illegal activities, but she made out: DBMC Phoenix. Her gaze slid past him to the two men who had come in with him. She didn’t recognize them, but she had been away for a while. A lot could happen in thirteen months.
“Hey, don’t I know you?” the biker in front of her said.
She brought her eyes back him. “What’s your name?”
“Dagger.” His eyes dropped to her upper chest where her vest bulged, revealing a poorly healed scar.
“I’m Joan. Now we know each other.” She tugged the edge of the vest to straighten it. “What are you drinking?”
“I know you from somewhere.” He finger-combed his stringy, blond hair and studied her. “You look familiar.”
Her gut tightened. She didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t recognize her. She leaned on the edge of the bar and forced a bored look on her face while she waited for his order. Chatting-up bikers never ended well. She flirted with Wild Bill, the president of the Demon Brotherhood—once—a little over a year ago, and it landed her on this path to the lie of her life.
“It’ll come to me,” Dagger said. “A pitcher of Bud.”
“Coming up.” While she filled the pitcher, his stare sent chills across her shoulders. His eyes dropped to the edge of her leather vest again. She tugged on the vest, placed the pitcher in front of him, and told him the price.
“Put it on a tab,” he said.
“No tabs.” Joan pointed a thumb over her shoulder. “The sign says so.”
He produced some bills and, when she reached for them, he grabbed her wrist. “I know who you are. You killed Blackie.”
“I didn’t kill Blackie.” Joan wrenched her wrist out of his grasp. “Suit killed Blackie.”
She snatched the money out of his hand and turned to ring up the sale. She shuddered at the irony. Blackie was probably the only man she didn’t kill in that Phoenix warehouse a year ago. He had been the vice president of the motorcycle club, and if the Brotherhood held her responsible, it was a game changer.
“Hey, you know that woman you were looking for?” Dagger said behind her.
Joan looked over her shoulder. He had a phone to his ear.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” he continued. “She’s at the Bottom Rocker.”
Joan shut the cash drawer and glanced at the end of the bar, but Roger was no longer there.
She took a deep breath and turned around to give Dagger his change.
“Yeah, it’s her.” His smirk sent prickles across her scalp. “How far out are you?…Coupla hours?…Okay, see ya then.” He shoved the phone into an inside pocket of his cut, grabbed the pitcher, and joined the other two Brothers.
Joan watched him swagger away from her. Being connected to Blackie’s death would make cozying up to Wild Bill dangerous, if not impossible. If her handler was going to do any damage control, he’d have to act fast. She locked the register and headed to the office.
Roger looked up from the monitors that gave him a visual of all areas of the bar. “Who did Dagger call?”
“I think Bill Torrence because he said something about finding the woman he was looking for.”
“He didn’t say much.”
Roger shook his head. “You can’t be passive and get information.”
Joan didn’t answer him. She had been over this hundreds of times during the months of FBI instruction. She wasn’t a trained agent. She only knew how to do things one way. Her way.
Roger scratched his beard and checked the monitors again. “Are you ready?”
“I guess I have to be,” she said.
“Cowards never start.”
It was a saying that had been repeated so many times during the FBI crash course that she had the urge to deck someone every time he said it.
“Yeah, and the weak die along the way,” she added.
The FBI training had been intense—not for this job, but for the next one where she would have to seduce Bill and get him to give her evidence to bring down his club. After many weeks of training, she still didn’t know how to get him to incriminate himself and his club, especially in a lifestyle where women were not privy to the club’s dealings. Finesse was not her forte. Physical prowess, which was her strong point, could get her killed.
“The strong, the smart, and the lucky will survive,” Roger said.
“Oh, yeah, that’s real encouraging. I’m going to die a slow, painful death if I can’t make this lie fly.” She closed her eyes and shook her head at the image of a large-scale crash and burn.
“Better get back out there before they get any ideas about robbing the place,” he said.
When Joan returned to the bar, one biker playing pool looked over his shoulder at her before taking his shot. She gave him a flat stare before looking up at the camera.
The late shift barmaid, another undercover FBI agent, arrived and they prepared for the rush. Bikers piled into the bar in groups and ordered drinks and food.
Joan forgot about the Brotherhood and lost track of the time until a little after midnight when there was a lull. The other barmaid had just taken a couple of food orders to the kitchen. Joan arched her back to loosen it up before wiping bottles and returning them to the shelves in the back of the bar.
“You owe me a shitload of neck massages, darlin’,” a familiar voice said behind her.
She swallowed hard, said a short prayer, and turned to face Bill Torrence, who was leaning with both forearms on the bar staring at her. He wasn’t a big man, but the prestige of his position as president of the Demon Brotherhood Motorcycle Club set him apart from the other bikers.
His salt-and-pepper hair, now more salt than pepper, was longer, pulled back in a ponytail. His moustache still blended into his goatee that scraped his chest. Edged with day-old stubble, it was a little whiter, but essentially the same. His brown eyes held hers.
Joan broke from the stare first and studied the tabs on the front of his cut. Bikers were proud of their tabs, and if she exhibited an interest in them, it might earn some Brownie points—or, with any luck, a Get Out of Hell Free card.
She put a coaster in front of him. “What are you drinking tonight?”
“No ‘hello’ or ‘how are you doing?’” he asked with a crooked smile.
“I don’t chat-up bikers. They get the wrong idea, and things go south.”
He eyed her wedding band. “Heard your old man’s on the block. What’d he get?”
“Twenty-hard.” Joan shrugged one shoulder. “He’s at Safford.”
What else could she say? Even for someone as strong and tough as Duncan, prison life was hard. Her insides twisted into a heavy, burning ball whenever she thought about him being locked up, fighting to earn his place in the pecking order, wasting away time they could be together. He was there by choices he made. By choices she made, she would get him out.
“Medium security?” Bill asked. “How’d he manage that?”
“He had a good lawyer who got the charges reduced to weapons violations and a few other lesser felonies.”
“Twenty isn’t too bad.”
“Yeah, but he has twenty-to-thirty waiting for him in Pennsylvania.” The corners of Joan’s mouth tightened. Duncan was forty-seven. It might as well have been a death sentence.
“Gonna be a very old man when he gets out…if ever.”
“I’ll wait,” Joan said. “He’s the only man I want to be with.”
“Loyalty. I like that, but life can be lonely waiting for a man who may never return.”
Joan didn’t respond, hoping the Bureau was right about how to get inserted into the DBMC. Be resistant. Make him work to convince her to trust him.
“He’ll be okay. He’s strong. A natural leader.” Bill looked at Joan for a second before continuing. “How are you makin’ it?”
“I’m surviving.” She picked up a towel and wiped the bar. “Staying under the radar.”
Bill gave a hard look at the biker next to him. When the biker moved several feet away, Bill said, “Why didn’t you come to me?”
She knitted her brows. “When?”
“Last year, after that warehouse fiasco. I coulda helped you.”
She glanced at the nearest biker. He was intent on his own conversation, but she leaned closer to Bill anyway. “You threatened me. I know it didn’t seem like it at the time, but I didn’t have a death wish.”
“I didn’t threaten you.”
“You said something about getting a pound of flesh and paying for leaving you in the desert to die. It sounded like a threat to me.”
“I wouldn’t have hurt you.” Bill stared at her with the flat, neutral expression common to bikers. Joan didn’t blink either. Her boldness must have passed a personality test because he continued, “The DBMC can provide cover for you.”
“So, what then? You’re gonna forget about the past, ride in here, and give me a better life? All your hard feelings are gone in a puff of smoke. And I’m supposed to trust you?”
His shoulders tightened, and his eyes narrowed. “You don’t belong here, Joan. I could move you to Phoenix. The Brotherhood would protect you.”
Joan leaned stiff-armed on the bar. “From the feds?”
“What does that smile mean?”
“You don’t have a clue how powerful I am, do you?”
“You’re president of an outlaw motorcycle club. You have to have some power. But enough to protect me from the feds?”
“The MC runs security in Phoenix for the Hells Angels. I know every step the local and federal agencies make. If they come sniffing around, I’d send you off to another chapter or support club out of state. They’d never find you, and you’d be taken care of. As much as I’d hate to see you go.” His gaze traveled the length of her body. “Don’t know how Duncan stands being separated from you.”
The burning ball in her gut grew and seared the inside of her abdomen. She doubled down on her temper. “Exactly how do you get information on what the feds are doing?”
If he knew what federal agencies were doing, he could know she was a confidential informant. This could be a ruse to get her alone. Get his pound of flesh and end the threat to his club before it even started.
He leaned closer. “You’re a fugitive, Joan. I have the power to help you.”
“So let me get this straight.” She crossed her arms. “You’re offering protection and a better place to live.”
“That’s what I said.”
“What’s in this for you?” she asked, knowing bikers never did anything for nothing.
“All you have to do is take care of my house. Between starting up the new business and leading the club, I don’t have time for that.”
“There aren’t female hang arounds to do that for you?”
“They get the wrong idea. Become pains in the asses.”
“That’s it? Clean your house? I don’t have to fuck you?” Might as well talk about the fire-breathing dragon in the corner.
Bill’s neutral face lightened. The corners of his eyes crinkled and a smile pushed up the corners of his moustache. “You’ll never have to fuck me, darlin’. I’ll wait for you to come around. I’m not a heathen. You’ll see that in time.”
“You sound pretty sure of yourself.”
“Didn’t second-guess my way to being president.”
Joan chewed the inside of her cheek to slow down the conversation.
“Harboring a fugitive is a felony.” She picked up a glass and cleaned it in the soapy water. “Why would you put your club on the line for me?”
“You saved the lives of two Brothers. We owe you.”
She dipped the glass in the rinse water and placed it on the drainer. “I thought we were even after that time I rescued Duncan.”
“When you save the life of a Brother, we’re never even. It’s a lifelong debt, unless you turn on us.”
‘Unless you turn on us.’ Joan stared at Bill, as if mulling over his proposition. “I want to cruise under the radar. Hooking up with three percenters doesn’t sound like under the radar to me.”
“The DBMC has gone legit,” Bill continued. “We bought a coupla legitimate businesses and are planning a couple more. We made more money in less time with drugs and prostitution, but that money got burned up in legal fees when the feds came down hard on the club after that sting a year ago. Almost wiped us out with arrests. We’re just starting to recover. Doing it the hard, honest way.”
“I don’t know. I can’t sit around idle. What will I do there?”
“I’ll ask around. Get you a job in one of the legit businesses for your spending money.”
“Where would I stay?”
“With me. I have a couple extra bedrooms in my house.”
This was turning out better than even the Bureau had predicted. Staying in his house gave her an immediate closeness—a presence that could be brokered into trust, a home court advantage to facilitate getting her hooks into him.
“I’m married,” Joan reminded him.
Bill was moving fast. The Bureau had not planned on him pushing so hard to get her to go with him. She hoped they were light on their feet.
“You’ll get tired of waiting. He’ll never be a part of your life again. You’re too passionate for that. Too alive.”
“Do I look alive?”
Bill studied her before continuing. “You’ll see the light, and who’ll you turn to? Some weakling who calls himself a man? Not you, Joan Bowman. You’d get bored with anything less than a real man.”
“And I suppose you’re a real man?”
He didn’t answer right away. Instead, he watched Joan scan his tabs: Lost Cause, One-percenter, DBMC. President. “I protect what’s mine. Don’t back down from trouble.”
Joan moved back to lean against the lower cabinets of the back bar and crossed her arms across her burning stomach. “Should I pretend to be impressed?”
He stroked his goatee. “No. Stay the way you are. That’s the way I like you.”
She had to get one thing straight, even if it jeopardized her mission. “That first time I met you, you know at the party for me and Kearney? I flirted with you, but I was just messing with your head. It meant nothing. Get that through your thick, biker head. And don’t forget what happened in the desert when you tried to make a pass at me.”
His face hardened. He leaned forward and motioned her to come closer.
She pushed off the cabinet.
“I convinced the Brothers to overlook that,” he said in a low voice. “My word is law. As long as you play along, my protection stands.”
“I can protect myself.”
He scowled at her for a second before the corners of his mustache twitched up. He shook his head and chuckled. “You are fucking precious.”
She curbed her temper. If he didn’t respect her and her abilities, she would be become merely his housekeeper and bed partner. Access to any evidence would be out of her reach, relegating her quiet, future life with Duncan to nothing more than a pipedream.
Pipedreams were not part of her plan.
“I don’t know about this,” she said. “I like it here. I’m my own person.”
“You’ll still be your own person. And you’ll be closer to Safford. It’s a little over an hour from Phoenix. I’m guessing you’ve found a way to visit your old man.”
“Let me think about it.” She reached behind her for a pen. “Give me your number, and I’ll let you know.”
Bill pulled out his wallet and thumbed out a business card. He flapped the wallet shut, but not before Joan spied a dog-eared photo of a man and a young boy on a motorcycle.
“Here’s my card,” he said. “Call me anytime. I’d invite you to come to the show with me, but I brought someone. I could have one of the guys bring you so we could spend some time together.” Bill scratched the stubble along his jaw. “But I don’t want to start off our relationship like that.”
“We don’t have a relationship,” she said without looking up from the card. “Besides, I’m working long hours this weekend because of the show.”
The card had the Harley Davidson logo. She recognized the address of the business. In the lower right-hand corner were two phone numbers.
She smiled and raised her eyebrows. “You own a Harley dealership?”
“Maybe I shoulda opened with that.” He smiled back. “We’re showing a bike. Came in third a couple times, but the show this weekend might be the big one.”
He pointed to the card. “The bottom number is my cell. Call me by Saturday afternoon, so I can make arrangements.” He motioned for someone at the table to come over.
“I’ll call you, whatever I decide,” she said, tucking the card into her back pocket.
“Good. Two pitchers of Bud.” He turned to the Brother who had been summoned to the bar. “Take care of this.” He headed toward a table where there were now eight members of the Demon Brotherhood talking among themselves.
The biker had blank, tired eyes. He paid for the beer, and, when he headed toward the table, Joan saw his prospect patch. She picked up some empty glasses and wiped the bar while she thought about how prospects were used and overworked in order to show their allegiance to the club. Becoming Wild Bill’s old lady would not be as bad as being a prospect, but it was not going to be a roll in the hay. The memory of Duncan trying to get her to literally take a roll in the hay brought a rare sweetness to mind. But that had been before everything slid off the rails. Like things always did.
Roger motioned Joan to the end of the bar. “You’ve been here since four. Go home. Get some rest because it’s game on.”
“You don’t think I should stay a little longer, you know…” She gestured toward Wild Bill with her eyes.
“You have to leave without further contact,” Roger said. “If he took the bait, your absence will pull him in.”
She grabbed her meager tips—bikers were notoriously bad tippers—and headed to the motel across the street where the FBI had established a home for her. As she crossed the dusty macadam, she thought about Duncan, waiting in prison while she was on the outside. But she wasn’t free. Her freedom was an illusion.
And there was always the chance Bill knew she was planted in the bar to get his attention. If he knew what the feds were doing, he could know what she was about to do. He could be setting a trap. Get her to Phoenix. Exact retribution.
But if she wanted to spend the rest of her life with her husband, she had to do play out the charade, see what shook out. The thought of being Bill’s lover sent ice trickles down her spine. She hoped she could gain his confidence without going that far, but she would do whatever it took to free Duncan.
She shouldered open the door to her room. It shook on its hinges then squeaked open, washing her with the odor of stale alcohol and bitter cigarette smoke from years of being a monthly-rentals-only motel.
Whatever Bill is offering, it has to be better than this.
© 2018 by Janet McClintock