Friday, June 24, 2022

Read an Excerpt from The Courage to Dare (The Man in the Arena Book 1) by Taylor Lee



•The sole survivor of a special ops mission he led, the grievously injured commander goes back to Northern Minnesota trying to find a reason to live--other than drinking himself to death

•Not a good option for the newly elected Sheriff of a busy county…

•She’s a medical doctor from India. He dismisses her traditional methods as quackery. But as much as he tries, he can’t dismiss her.

Chapter 1

The blaring notes of Dierks Bentley and Lady Antebellum threatened to drown out the raucous crowd overflowing the town’s hottest Friday night hangout. At the chorus of hearty
greetings echoing across the noisy bar, Luke looked up to see his cousin Nate Stryker striding toward him. The tall, blond, shaggy-haired detective could have fucking been Moses the way the crowd at Kieran’s Pub parted to let him through. Nate was the hometown hero revered as much for his badass antics as he was for his national reputation as the toughest and most respected cop the town--or the state--had ever produced. Luke studied his empty glass thinking, with a
grimace, that the only person in their inauspicious town who was more famous, make that infamous, was himself. Responding to each of the enthusiastic greetings from his admiring peers, Nate made his way to Luke’s table. Grabbing the back of a chair as he strode by, Nate jerked the chair into place and wedged it next to Luke’s, clasping Luke’s shoulder as he plunked himself down.
Waving to the eager barmaid who was gazing sparkly-eyed at the Blond Adonis, Nate
signaled for a drink. Luke nodded to the flustered waitress indicating that he wanted a refill, and
met his cousin’s eyes. Nate was the picture of bonhomie, hollering out to the noisy patrons,
giving the trash talk as good as he got. But it was clear to Luke that his fearsome cousin and
lifelong best friend had something on his mind besides joining the gang of cops and firefighters
out for a well-deserved celebration after a week in the trenches. It didn’t take a clairvoyant to see
the concern in Nate’s knowing green eyes.
After their drinks had been delivered and the sophisticated conversation at the nearby
tables had reverted back to who was humping whom, Nate shoved his chair closer to Luke’s.
Moving forward he signaled to the others at the table that he wanted to speak privately with his
cousin. Allowing a frown to cross his face, Luke didn’t duck.
“Okay, Detective Stryker, why don’t you say whatever has that tree trunk stuck up your
ass, so that I can get back to enjoying my whisky?”
True to form, Nate cut to the chase, his voice dropping to a level for Luke’s ears only.

“Look Man, you think I don’t see how you’re struggling?”
Luke snorted, “Maybe you shouldn’t have worked so hard to get me the fucking job I
have. Hell, without it I could be sitting on my dock with a fishing rod in my lap and a bottle of
rot gut by my side.”
“Thought that’s what you do most of the day anyhow.” Nate’s trademark grin softened
the barb.
Luke shrugged. “I’d like to. But the job you insisted on foisting on me has a way of
fucking up my downtime.” He added sourly, “As you well know, Detective.”
Nate’s voice was uncharacteristically serious. “Look Luke, I know you’ve tried every
kind of physical therapy known to man. Seen every specialist I’ve dragged you to. I’m
impressed as hell at everything you’ve done to deal with the shit you got handed.”
When Luke grimaced and started to object, Nate held up his hand to interrupt him.
“Hear me out, Bro.” He paused as if considering, then said in a conspiratorial voice.
“Strange as it sounds, I’ve got a woman you should see.”
Luke chortled. “Well, a little pussy is as good as any medicine I’m taking now. What
does she look like?”
Nate tossed him a good natured grin confirming that he appreciated Luke’s smart-assed
“Damn good looking. But it’s more than that. She’s a healer.”
Luke reeled back in his chair and snorted in disgust. “Oh Christ. That’s all I need. Some
woo woo medicine man in skirts.”
Nat leaned forward, his serious expression contorted with concern.
“No, Man. She’s a doctor--an M.D. But she’s also a pain specialist--into alternative
medicine, creative stuff. She does acupuncture among other things.”
Luke guffawed. “Great. Just what I‘ve been looking for, Nate. So you’re saying that if I
let some babe turn me into a fucking pin cushion and give me tofu enemas, I might forget about
the pain that’s driving me bat-shit?”
Nate fished into his pocket and handed Luke a business card.
“Look, Luke… all I’m asking is that you go see her. If you don’t like what she has to
say, don’t go back.”
Luke took the card reluctantly and peered at it through narrowed eyes.

Seeing the name, Avajli Patel, he whistled. “Middle Eastern? In ChicadiafuckingFalls?”
Nate shrugged as though the unusual name was as common as Swenson in their Northern
Minnesota burg. “East Indian. From Mumbai. Her family heads up a big clinic there. She’s the
real deal, buddy.”
Forging ahead not allowing Luke to interrupt, Nate’s sincerity was palpable. He pointed
at the address on the card. “Her office is over on Elm, two doors down from the Co-op.” When
Luke sneered derisively, Nate shrugged, acknowledging the connection to the vegetarian hangout
that was a running joke with their redneck crowd.
“Look, man, all I can tell you is that Ava’s booked with patients from eight in the
morning until six at night, every damn day. That’s how much people like and respect her.”
When Luke shook his head and stuffed the card in his jeans, Nate persisted. “Listen up,
Bro. Ava is a friend of mine, and, more importantly, she’s a friend of Erin’s. Ava agreed to stay
late tonight so she could evaluate you because Erin asked her to. I told her you’d stop by.”
Nate’s eyes narrowed and a frown creased his brow.
“Don’t embarrass me, buddy. Erin will have my ass if you blow this off.”
Luke didn’t hide his annoyance. Using Erin was a low blow and Nate knew it. The fucker
knew he’d never refuse a request from Erin. Like everyone else, Luke adored Nate’s beautiful,
gentle wife who just happened to be seven months pregnant with Luke’s niece or nephew.
“Nothing like putting me in a box, Bro.” He glared at his smiling cousin. “Think I don’t
know your real game, asshole? If I go see your little witch doctor tonight, I might start drinking
an hour later than usual.”
Nate shot a disgusted look at Luke’s empty glass. “Well if that was my motive, Bro,
looks like I failed.”


Ava glanced at her watch and huffed a frustrated sigh. It was nearly nine o’clock, making
it over fourteen hours since she’d arrived at her office. She couldn’t say that Nate Stryker hadn’t
warned her. Taking the doctor out of earshot of Erin, Nate had confided to Ava that it was
unlikely that his cousin would come to see her but asked that she at least give him a chance to
see if he could browbeat Luke into it.
Ava might have been tempted to turn the lights off and head home if it wasn’t for the fact
that Erin and Nate had virtually adopted her. Their endorsement sent a clear message to the

provincial town that the “Indian” doctor with the funny name was under the protection of none
other than Detective Stryker himself. Without question, she owed her thriving practice to the
Strykers. More than that, their friendship had convinced her that it was possible to set up shop in
an area that clearly needed her expertise but was suspicious of outsiders--particularly those with
a different skin tone and a decidedly "foreign" demeanor.
Glancing again at her watch, Ava decided that friendship or not, she’d give the
recalcitrant man five more minutes and then, God help her, a bubble bath was waiting in her
comfy cabin by the lake. It was the first “home” she’d ever owned and just thinking about the
contemporary log structure with the huge windows looking out on the lake filled her with pride
and anticipation.
After forcing herself to complete the charts on her last five patients, Ava looked up to see
the big hand on the clock march steadily past the twelve and sighed in relief. As much as she
would have loved to do a favor for Erin and Nate, the idea of getting home before 10 o'clock was
intoxicating. Loosening the clip holding her long, black hair in a professional upsweep, she let
the shiny curtain fall over her shoulders, a sure signal to the rest of her body that Dr. Patel was
about to bail. Rubbing her aching neck and shoulders she sighed in anticipation at the thought of
easing her tired body into a tub of fragrant bubbles laced with her favorite essential oils. Smiling
to herself, she decided she might even open a bottle of wine and celebrate. Given her schedule,
getting in bed before midnight was a luxury worth celebrating.
Just as she was ready to lock up, Ava heard footsteps coming up the wooden walkway
shooting her luxurious images of a quiet night to hell. With a sigh she drew on her professional
cloak, preparing to meet what she was sure, at best, was a reluctant patient. Knowing that neither
she nor her prospective patient wanted to be here didn’t help. Hearing him before she saw him,
the hitch in the man’s step was obvious to Ava’s trained ear. Detective Stryker was right: His
cousin was living day to day in pain. In seconds her disappointment at another late night was
replaced by professional curiosity. Skilled pain specialist that she was, the snag in Luke’s gait
and the way that he dragged one foot, almost imperceptibly, behind himself caught Ava’s
attention. She nodded with a measure of satisfaction. Even though he didn’t want to be here,
Nate’s cousin was in trouble. The kind of trouble she could do something about—if he'd let her.
Ava later congratulated herself that the first thing she noticed about Luke Lang were the
deep lines etched around his eyes and mouth. The kind of grooves she saw all too often in her

patients. Chronic pain could do that. Carve divots in the face of even a relatively young man.
Knowing a little of his history, the pained etchings didn’t surprise her. They troubled her but
she’d expected them. What she didn’t expect was the rest of him. In retrospect, Ava chided
herself, she shouldn’t have been blindsided. After all, his cousin Nate Stryker was an 11 on a
10-point stud scale. And the younger brother--Connor Lang--the dark-haired bear of a man who
was the Captain at the CF Fire Department was no slouch.
But Luke Lang? Until the moment she met him, all Ava knew about the highly decorated
former Army Colonel was that he’d been the sole survivor in a heinous wartime tragedy and that
his mind was as wounded as his body. And according to his worried family he was living in pain
and could go off the deep end at any moment. What no one had told her was that her would-be
patient was at least 6 feet 4 inches tall even after he removed his cream colored Stetson and
prepared to knock on her door. The absence of the cowboy hat revealed an unruly shock of black
hair, a strong, chiseled jaw and extraordinary dark gray, brooding eyes. What Ava didn’t
acknowledge until later when she was alone and could relive those first unguarded moments was
that Luke Lang might be the most devilishly handsome and, surely one of the sexiest, men she’d
ever laid eyes on.

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