I used to watch them play in the streets, kick the ball between the cones, and toss their hands in the air. They’d high five, laugh, and stop for ice cream when the truck came around the corner at the same time every Saturday.
They’d sit in the shade, pick at the grass, and tell made-up stories. Sometimes on summer break they’d stay out after dark and play ghost in the graveyard, head for the hills. That was, until they spotted me.
Then they’d scatter. Head for their bikes. Disappear.
Because I was weird…and weird was scary.
Click! Click! Click!
“Shit!” I turned back around, barely missing the bumper of a semi-truck. His horn blew as we drew up along both sides. Two more bullets skimmed by my head and took out the mirror above me. The trucker screamed at us as he tried to keep his vehicle straight.
Jamming my empty clip into my boot, I reached to grab my spare as another truck flashed his lights and hit the horn to alert us we were in his lane. The cliffs were too close to the edge of the road to spare us any room, and the others were gaining on us.
I pointed my empty gun at the trucker to my left. “Slow down!” When he didn’t react right away, I moved the gun to his tire. His hand went up and he nodded repeatedly.
He eased off the gas and allowed Cooper and me to slip in front. Cooper’s wheel bumped off mine, and I reached out and used my momentum to grab his shoulder to stabilize him. The roar of our bikes ripped through the mountains, alerting my men we were coming.
“Brick!” I held up my hand, and he tossed me a clip. I quickly clicked it in place with my thigh.
The minute I saw them appear in my mirror, I signaled for my men to get ready. With one quick movement, our black van skidded to the shoulder of the road in front of us. The back doors swung open, and the four of us spread apart as my two prospects popped out with their semi- automatics. It was a beautiful sight. Orange lit the dawn sky while bullets flew into their chests, blood shot across the pavement, and three more Stripe Backs lay mangled for their crew to clean up. They had taken our bait, and our plan worked perfectly. Though we wouldn’t go down for the kill, we still made our point. Don’t fuck with my club.
I smirked at Brick as we each tossed our Cabo Wabo Anejo tequila bottles off to the side.
We picked up speed and made good time well before any cops would be called.
Once we hit the city limits, my phone buzzed. The phone’s screen attached to my handlebars popped into view.
Cray: Ready in the morning.
Good. Better to let the fear of what’s to come marinate. Then to end it quickly.
I signaled to the men it was time. I decided to take the side streets so we’d be more visible and, as hard as it was, I slowed our speed to show we were in no rush.
It worked. A few local shop owners gave us a wave before they pulled their steel doors down for the night. Mud, the local surf shop owner, was out for his nightly ride and gave us a nod.
Rail and Cooper split off, while Brick and I rounded the back of our clubhouse and got to work.
“Ahhhh.” Spit jumped from his lips, but most of it pooled in the corners of his mouth. He looked like a wild dog. His pupils dilated when they focused on the tiny eyedropper that hovered above. “Please, no! I’ll do anything!”
Brick glanced at me and shook his head. I agreed; it was tiring. As much as I’d have liked to slap that comment right out of his head, I couldn’t fault human reactions. It was in their DNA to beg for their lives. I always promised myself that when my day came, I would take it like a man. Silently.
The heat from the hanging lamps plastered my hair to my neck like a second layer of skin. We really needed to turn on the AC.
The slaughter room, as I named it, had tiled walls up to the ceiling, easy for cleaning, and a huge industrial drain in the middle for the larger pieces we needed to wash away in a hurry. No windows, no cameras, just lots of equipment to work with.
Brick brushed the hair out of the bastard’s sweaty face so he could see me better. I licked my lips as I lowered myself to his level, and my men stiffened at this action. I never lowered myself to anyone’s level unless I was about to make a point. His eyes met mine, searching for some trace of a soul. Unfortunately, I was not born with one.
I leaned down so he could see for himself the emptiness that lived inside me. Once he focused in and got a glimpse behind the curtain and I saw this realization, I spoke quietly. “Everyone dies sometime. We all have choices, and you made yours.” I motioned for Brick to move into position and spread his eyelid open. The bright pink flesh fought to go back in its place, but it was no match for Brick’s fingers. The man shook and kicked, but my expression told him to remain quiet.
Holding the dropper above his eye, I squeezed the rubber and let the tiny drop of bleach fall and coat the pupil. His screams deafened me momentarily, but I welcomed the sound. That was fate’s way of thanking me for doing the devil’s work.
He kicked and bucked as the minute drop burned its way through his cornea, blinding and eating as it traveled into his brain. His chest heaved and sweat pooled along his collarbone as his neck strained against the pain.
The high I got off his terror made me hard, and my heartbeat raced. I swallowed hard in an attempt to lubricate my parched throat as I continued to blind his left eye. This was what I was made for. It was what separated me from other motorcycle gangs around me. I showed no mercy and punished those who needed it through their greatest fears. I knew it was only when you had nothing that you couldn’t be touched.
“Brick.” I held out my hand, and he passed me a hunting knife. Walking around the steel table, I took a deep breath.
“You saw too much,” I whispered as he fought to see where I was with his clouded eyes. “You heard too much.” I grabbed his right ear, pulled it out, and sliced the outer part off. His face twitched, his mouth opened, and his wound quickly drained of blood, but he still stayed mute. “You stole from me.” Holding his hand down, I sliced his finger off at the second knuckle. Tossing it out of the way, I pressed on his open palm and stopped the flow of blood, just to fuck with his body.
He jerked to the side and vomited in a silent cry. His mind must be spinning. Too much pain coming from too many directions could throw you off.
“You were part of this family and chose to defy me. Never again will you disobey me.” I raised the blade above my head and drove it straight into his shoulder, hoping this would be the last tip to his sanity. “Just in case you think revenge is the answer…” Brick tossed me a switchblade, while Rail grabbed his head and yanked out his tongue. The blade drove through the center.
Silence. Nothing but the hum of the lights.
“See you below.”
The voice in my head returned, so I waved at Brick, grabbed my shit, and left.
I waved at Morgan, who was on the phone on a smoke break, then fastened my helmet and wiped my hands clean. Revving the engine, I turned into the sun and drove out onto the smoldering road. The guys could handle the rest.
The engine was hot, and without realizing, I let my mind go there…
The burning poker skimmed my calf, and I jolted back with a scream. Tears streamed down my dirty cheeks as I hugged my knees to my chest. The heat burned the surface then traveled down to the muscle where it spread in a blanket of pure pain.
“Stop!” I cried out, desperate for him to get bored and move on to something else. I was four years old, and this was the fifth time he had done this.
“Come here, boy!” His huge hand swiped at me, but I pressed my back flat to the wall under the table, becoming as small I could.
His brown eyes squinted as he drew back the poker. Dropping it on the floor, he cursed, grabbed a fresh beer from the fridge, banged it loudly on the table, and left.
My heart pounded until it hurt my chest.
If he had wanted to, he could easily have climbed under there. Allen was a fit man, muscles that attracted all the wrong kinds of women, a strong jaw, and defined, broad shoulders with a lean waist.
I tucked the fear away and turned into the cool wall with my cheek pressed to it, seeking some relief from the terrible heat in my leg. Closing my eyes, I stayed under the table until morning, where I knew it could all begin again.
Blinking to clear my head, I pulled off onto a dusty path and headed up into the hills.
The yellow trailer sat on cement bricks; the wheels had been removed years ago. The slider-style windows were open, and broken blinds bounced around in the breeze. The place was a dump, and I wasn’t sure why he insisted on keeping it, but that was his decision. He had earned that right many years ago.
Backing under a shady tree, I turned the engine off and unclipped my helmet, hanging it off the handle of my matte black Kawasaki Vulcan 900.
I turned and found a beer can flying in my direction. I caught it and opened it slowly so as not to get sprayed.
“Day?” his raspy voice croaked.
I settled into an old folding chair that dug into my legs. “Three Stripe Backs down, and one of my prospects gone.”
“Prospect stole? Or leaked?”
“What you remove?”
“Fingers. Eyes. Shoulder. Ear. A little tongue.” I shifted so the bar didn’t cut into my hip. “This shit is old, Gus.”
“I’m old.” He passed off my comment, like always. “How much?”
Removing my hat, I swiped my long hair out of my face.
“A little over forty thousand.”
Gus shook his head and rubbed his knee. Three stab wounds to the same spot would screw anyone up. “Reason?”
“Does it matter?” I tossed my empty can in the trash before I reached for another. My dusty boots landed heavily on his wooden table.
“Where is he?”
“Thought the guys could have some fun.”
We sat in silence. I might not talk much, but I hated the quiet. My knee started to thump, and Gus took the cue. He leaned over and tapped his phone, and a moment later the band Disturbed filled the silence, and I let out a long breath as the guitar hit my ears and calmed me.
“Hungry?” he asked awkwardly as he got out of his chair. His battered body tilted to one side as he stood straighter. His head always hung to the right because of a bullet wound to the spine. Gus was sixty, but his soul was thirty.
“No.” I downed my beer and rose. “I should get back.”
He followed me to my bike. “Meeting tomorrow?”
“Yeah, eleven.” I buckled my helmet.
“Tomorrow,” he repeated with a small nod.
Raising two fingers, I waved a goodbye and kicked the engine over.
I weaved in between traffic. The bike was a part of me, and I’d been riding for as long as I could remember. Gus always joked that I drove before I learned how to walk. It was the closest thing I ever felt to freedom.
Two headlights flashed in my mirrors, a signal for me to pull over. I waited until I was sure who it was, but he always flashed lights to me the same way. One short, one long. Easing over to the other lane, I exited at the gas station and parked on the shoulder.
The Mustang came to a stop behind me, and Officer Doyle hauled himself out of the car. I chuckled as I sat on my bike and watched him take his sweet-ass time to get to me.
“Trigger, I thought that was you.” His voice was raised to give a show to the people watching. Everyone knew my bike, and everyone loved to see me lose my shit on punk cops like Doyle.
“You found me,” I said, playing along. “Now that you have, what can I do for you?”
Doyle kept his back to the spectators as he removed his sunglasses and cleaned them with the side of his oversized shirt. “I heard your boys got into a little trouble last night.”
“Not sure what you’re talking about.” I shrugged. “What happened?”
“Eli’s boys got hit.”
“Two dead, one hanging on.”
He smirked and leaned closer. He smelled like cherry chew. “And if it was?”
I laughed at his act. I’d bet Doyle had never fired his gun other than training. “You got something to say, Doyle?”
He bent my mirror to straighten his tie, and my fingers twitched to break his. “Known you a long time, Trigger. I also know when you’re lying.”
Looking into the crowd who had nothing better to do than watch, I spoke very carefully, because I knew my switch was about to flick. “You have no idea who I really am. If you have a problem with my guys, you come to me with proof.”
“Your boys better have some strong alibis.”
“Do me a favor, Doyle. Give your sister a kiss for me.” Just as he went to flip me off, I skidded my bike, kicking up a dust storm before I raced down the ramp and onto the freeway.
Letting the engine sooth my nerves as I wove through the cars, it wasn’t long until I was back in my own territory and making my way down the street and into the abandoned movie theater I owned where I parked my bike. I took the elevator up to my place.
I needed some time to think.
“We are all moving forward, and my past’s catching up. Time’s a-running out, and my days are numbered. Too strong to run, too proud to hide, for this I’ll pay, for this I’ll die,” I sang, watching the lights flicker below me. I leaned my weight into the hot stone wall that overlooked Santa Monica, my guitar propped on my thigh, and plucked the strings to one of my own songs.
I could see for miles. This was my town, and this was my spot. Everyone knew when I was here to leave me the fuck alone. I stroked flint against metal and held the flickering flame to the end of the joint. With a deep drag, the smooth smoke traveled to the bottom of my lungs. I could feel it dancing around inside me. I squinted, tipped my head back, and made an O with my lips, letting a trail of white float up toward the stars.
The joint slipped further between my fingers, and I brushed the strings, sending blues rock into the warmth of the night.
My mind raced back to this morning when everything had changed. The possibility that the club may have more rats was making my neck tick. I would need to flush them out with whatever means possible. Then I’d deal with them personally.
I put my guitar down and ran my hands through my hair, letting it drop back down over my shoulders. I needed an outlet, so I stripped off my vest and hung it over an old chair so the devil could stare at me. Pulling my phone free, I swiped to hear The White Buffalo, turning the volume up and letting it cut through the silence. I hated silence; it brought too many memories. Of him.
I removed my t-shirt, flexing my neck back and forth, then pulled my arms over my head and leaned back. My fingers cracked as I laced them together and gave a good tug. I stared at the punching bag for a second then let loose.
My lips curled from the impact that pounded my muscles like a hammer. Pain was good. Pain was easy to control. Every other emotion was just a waste of time.
Twisting my torso, I did a roundhouse and kicked the black bag high in the air.
Punch, punch, punch, punch. I couldn’t get enough until my arms locked and my throat begged for water. I wiped my face clean and brushed my hair out of my face, holding it in place with my ball hat. Kicking open the cooler, I popped open a cold beer and leaned against the rail.
Finally, the voice was muted, but I knew it wouldn’t last long.
My phone vibrated next to me.
Brick: Prospect has been dropped off.
I poured myself another glass of wine from the bottle that sat on my night stand. With the lights down low, I looked around my room and was thankful I was alone tonight.
Picking up the heavy book, I settled back and pulled the duvet up to my chin. My eyes scanned for the place where I left off a moment ago.
“Please stay and let me protect you.” His face is inches from hers. He gently lifts the sheet and dries the corners of her eyes. “You have to trust me.”
I let the book fall forward onto my lap, my eyes closed. Damn, I had to keep reading. Where was I? Oh, right. “Did you spend the whole night with me?”
I let the book fall again. I’d never get this book read if I kept allowing myself to become her, but should I? I reached for my bag and dumped it out in front of me and grinned at the purple lipstick that just so happened to have a fresh new battery inside. Why the hell not?
Later, before turning out the light and settling in for the night, I got out from under the sheets and looked out the window. I loved the night sky; something about it was peaceful. A flash of movement caught my attention, and I turned the lamp off so I could see better. Oh, my. “Hello, Remington Tate.” I opened my window. I was totally creepin’, but come on…
It was about ninety degrees in Santa Monica, yet this guy was wearing a hoodie. He moved about like a dancer, his fists hitting the bag. I heard the bang, bang, bang as his fists made contact with it. It was fascinating to watch. The rooftop he was on was only slightly higher than my window and gave me a good view of him, backlit by the moon. It was quite a beautiful sight.
I grew tired in spite of myself and knew tomorrow would be a busy day, including more unpacking stuff that wasn’t even mine. I dragged my gaze away from the rooftop boxer and glanced around the room. It was much better than my old place. Well, anything was better than my old place. Closing my eyes to the memory, I tried to push his scent out of my mind, although I still felt the deep ache. Tears prickled my eyes, but I kept them away. I channeled the hurt into anger—something I was a pro at. Sadness never healed anyone.
I was to start a new job tomorrow at Helmond’s Bar. It might be only temporary until I found something else. I didn’t want to be serving drinks forever, but damn, it was money, and I needed that right now.
My phone lit up, and I smiled at the text.
Matt: T-minus eight hours.
Tess: You better be there when I arrive.
Matt: Have I ever let you down?
My heart warmed a little.
Holding up my beloved camera, I snapped a picture of my rooftop boxer, hoping I had captured the light just right. I knew it would be an image I would wouldn’t easily forget.
“Night,” I whispered before I crawled into bed and slipped the book under my pillow. I hoped it would bring me good dreams.
Nearly falling into one of the boxes, I dug for the black leather skirt and red tank that Matt told me to wear. Once dressed, I wiggled into my high heeled boots and glanced at myself in the mirror propped up against the wall. I leaned upside down and ran my fingers through my long blonde hair to give it a little more volume. Five bike chains wrapped my left wrist halfway up to my elbow, and my silver hoop earrings swung as I moved, giving me an extra pop of color.
I was never a girl who could wear cute sundresses and carry Prada bags. There was too much shit going on inside to ever wear something so cheerful.
Grabbing my bag, I downed a glass of OJ I’d bought from the gas station across the road, and then locked the door and ran downstairs and out to the sidewalk. I wasn’t far from the address of my new job, but Matt had made some comment about how I should be careful which streets I used. Trouble was, he never said which ones. He told me to use a cab, but that was ridiculous. I’d Googled the location and saw it was only a fifteen-minute walk. Sorry, Matt, but I will not call a cab for that. Money was not something I had a lot of at the moment.
Holding the scrap of paper, I headed east and let the warm morning air wake me. That was, until I felt my bag vibrate. Not recognizing the number, I answered it, tucking the Post-it in my boot.
“You want to tell me where you are this time?”
My blood pressure dropped.
“What do you want?” I held up my hand to a car to let him know I was about to jaywalk. The driver whistled, and I flipped him the bird.
“Just want to know where you are. I have that right, Tessa.”
“No, you don’t.”
There was such a long pause I looked down at the phone to see if it was still connected. After a moment, the screen indicated the call had ended. So much drama was laced up with that woman. I hurried as fast as I could. I really should have done a practice run, but moving your life from one state to another was exhausting. A few more blocks and two turns, and I shielded my eyes to read the number on the wall.
Wait. I must have taken a wrong turn. Dammit.
Turning back around and getting completely confused, I saw a few guys staring me down. I felt a bit uncomfortable but tried to act normal. With my head up, attempting to show confidence, I hurried but tripped in my stupid boots and tumbled to my knees. My phone went flying, leaving me to wince as pain shot through my legs.
“Yeah, right where she should be,” one guy called out, making me blush from head to toe.
I scrambled to stand, when one of them reached for my arm and hauled me up like a child.
“As much as you looked good on your knees, that fall looked like it hurt. You okay?” My eyes met an elderly man, maybe in his sixties, a scary-ass lookin’ dude. A deep scar ran from his right eye down to the corner of his mouth. He reeked of beer, which literally took my breath away.
“I’m fine.” I pulled my arm out of his grip and somehow plastered on a smile to be nice. I caught sight of his biker vest. In fact, they all were wearing them. A skull with a devil and a snake coming out of its eye was patched on the back of them. Satan’s Serpents.
I should have been terrified, but all that ran through my head was I was going to be late on my first day. I can’t let my best friend down.
One of the guys handed me my phone, but when I reached for it, he pulled it away. He clicked on the screen and grinned at the picture of me and my friend Mags.
“Pretty dress.” He winked and handed it back to me. “Wear it on our date next week.” My face dropped further…if that was even possible. I’d lived with men like this, and it was tiring behavior.
He started to say something else, but a loud rumble from a pack of motorcycles deafened me as they drove by a cross street. A stillness spread through all the men.
Four guys on choppers slowed as they caught sight of us. Traffic didn’t seem to mind. Sunglasses covered their eyes, but I knew they saw us. I was frozen, waiting for something bad to happen. The tension was so thick it made it hard to breathe.
A few pulled their guns, but the old man with the scar shook his head, and they stood down.
Seriously, where the hell am I?
Again, the devil made its way into my vison, only their jackets had a skull resting in the Grim Reaper’s outstretched hand. Devil’s Reach was patched across their shoulders. I noticed both jackets had Santa Monica on them.
Sensing the men were preoccupied, I took advantage of the moment and darted down the street.
I fished around in my boot for the stupid Post-it that I had written Matt’s address on.
Fifteen minutes later, and I was finally there—5627 Dustin Street.
I stared up at the rundown building with painted black windows. It was huge and wide, but the few buildings around it were abandoned and had some broken windows. I really hoped I had the address wrong. I tugged on the handle, and to my disappointment, it opened, letting out a cloud of smoke. I coughed to catch my breath, and when my eyes stopped stinging, I took in my surroundings.
“You want somethin’?” a husky voice barked at me from behind the bar. I blinked to clear the haze and observed a tall man with a long beard that stopped at his belt. Tattoos ran around his shaved head like the rings on Saturn.
I shook my head and realized it might be wise to leave. “I think I might be in the wrong place.”
He poured a shot and slid it my way, nodding for me to take it. I stepped up to the bar and thought why the hell not? At that point, I was sure I’d lost the job anyway. I tossed it back while he watched. “Where are you supposed to be?”
I waited for the burn of the whiskey to leave before I answered. “I’m looking for my friend Matt Montgomery. I think I wrote the address down wrong.”
He studied me a moment then his eyebrow ring twitched as his eyes narrowed in on me.
“Brick! Company!” he shouted over my head.
“No, I’m looking for a Matt.”
A moment later, a door flew open and out came my best friend, who I hadn’t seen in six years, wearing a Devil’s Reach vest.
He flew toward me, scooped me up, and greeted me with a big bear hug.
“Tess!” He smiled down at me through a mass of long brown hair that touched the bottom of his ears. “You look amazing!”
“You expected less?” I joked to give me an extra moment to process the situation. “Um, not sure where to start here, so…what’s with the name Brick?”
His eyes flickered with something before he spoke. “Nickname.”
“Okay.” I noticed the words Vice President patched above his new name. What had I missed?
As bizarre as the situation was, I couldn’t deny how good it was to see him. It was like hugging your blanket when you were a child. Instant comfort.
I hugged him even tighter. “You look completely different.” I tugged on his long hair. “I love it!”
He rested me back on the ground, and I swatted his arm, nodding at the fucking motorcycle bar. “Thanks for the warning.”
A guilty grin spread across his face. “I didn’t want to run the risk of you not coming.”
“How well do you know me?” I shook my head, feeling better already. “Anything is better than the house.”
He reached for my hand and slid my bracelets up to check my wrists. His lips pressed together as his finger ran over the vertical scar on my left wrist.
“I know you better than anyone.”
I pulled my hand free and pushed the bracelets back in place.
“How are you?” Before I could answer, he gave me his look. “Without the bullshit, Tess.”
Stepping back, I noticed the bartender was listening to us with no shame.
“Fine. Like I said, happy to be away. You going to show me around?”
His shoulders sagged, but he didn’t push it. Instead, he looked over my shoulder at something.
“Yeah, I can do that.” He waved around the bar. “Helmond’s Bar. Which is the club’s bar.”
“Okay.” I saw their cut picture was painted onto the wall in black and gray, and there were three women who were high on something. Two of them were draped over a chair and a bench, and the other was butt naked, spread-eagle on the pool table.
“Nothing you haven’t seen before.” Brick shrugged.
A little boy, maybe six years old, came running out from behind the bar with what I hoped was a water gun and started to shoot the woman on the chair in the face. She squinted at him before she snatched it away and tossed it across the room.
“Go get ready for school.”
I shook my head before I saw Brick point. “That’s Gus’s old lady, and his son. You’ll meet him later.” I nodded, and he went on. “Through those double doors,” he pointed to the wall underneath the Devil’s Reach logo, “is the president’s office and the meeting room. Most of the time, the doors are open, but when there’s a meeting, they stay closed and the bar shuts down.” He beckoned for me to follow him past the bar and out through another set of huge, heavy doors. My guess was they would be bulletproof.
We headed to our left first. The hallways were wide and the floors were tile. The walls were painted a dark beige, and to my surprise, it didn’t look too rundown, not like the front of the building. After a few quick glances out the windows, I saw the building was formed into a horseshoe with a party place in the middle.
“These are the bedrooms for us main guys. Pres, Vice Pres, Sergeant-at-Arms, Treasurer, and so on. This is mine.” He pointed quickly before he turned me around and started back up the hallway again. Once we passed the huge doors, he opened another and let me step inside. Two women who looked to be my mother’s age, and one guy who was about the size of a house, glared at me.
“Kitchen. No need to tell you their names. They have zero personality, and even if they did, they never leave this room, so it’s pointless.”
“Hi.” I waved, and the guy snickered something in Spanish, so I shrugged. “Never knew an MC could live so well.”
“We are not like most MCs.” Brick laughed as he opened the door for me to leave the kitchen. “Down there are more bedrooms.”
“What about that door at the end?” I noticed the same type of doors we went through to get into the living corridors were also at the end of the hallway.
“Ah, that’s to go outdoors. They’re normally locked, so just use this one.” He tapped the door in front of me. “Okay, so, for the rules.” He led me outside, maybe away from ears. I didn’t know.
The courtyard was mostly concrete, with a lot of trees that shaded the actual building. There was a huge rectangular pool with a little changing house next to it that matched the look of the stone barbecue. Tables and lounge chairs were scattered around, and an old pickup truck was off to the side, hidden between some trees against the stone wall that ran along the perimeter. The place did give you the sense of safety, that was for sure.
“I get it, it’s a lot to take in.” Brick looked up at me with one eye closed. I sat so he didn’t have to squint.
“Not that bad.”
“When you’re not working, you can be out here. We normally are. The guys will have their families over for Friday night dinners. You’ll be working with Morgan. He’s good, doesn’t talk much, but he’ll teach you lots. You got a problem, talk to him.”
“Morgan have a family?”
“Nope. You saw Gus’s old lady on the chair. Her name is Vib. She’s a junkie, but she shouldn’t be too much of a problem. They have two kids, Den and Fin. They are little dicks, but they’re family, so we love them.”
Awesome. I wasn’t a huge kid person.
“Rail and Cooper are two more main guys who live here. Rail only thinks with his dick, so stay away. Cooper is…well, you can be friends with him. I’ll allow that.”
I smacked his arm.
“Don’t touch the drugs. There’s a lot kickin’ around. Us higher-up guys don’t touch it. Trigger, the president, wants us to stay clean. You can do pot, but not coke, okay?”
“Have you ever known me to stick a tube up my nose?”
“Been six years, Tess. A lot has changed.”
“Like your name.”
He laughed darkly. “Yeah, a few of us adopted a nickname after our first kill.”
“Thanks for that image.”
“Think about Rail’s.” He laughed then stood and offered me a hand. “Come on.” He held my hand tightly as we walked back inside. “You have any problems, you come to me. Promise?”
“I will.” I waited for him to close the door behind me, and I noticed the bar had gotten a lot busier. At least the naked chick on the pool table had closed her legs. “So, where am I working, exactly?”
He tipped his head toward the bar. “Morgan,” he called out to the bartender as we joined him. “This is Tess. She’s the new bartender.” Morgan didn’t blink an eye at me as he opened the wooden latch to let me in behind the bar top. “Hey.” Matt tugged me closer. “It’s Brick now, okay?”
“Yeah, that’s been burned into my head nicely.”
“We only deal in cash.” Morgan started right in. “The guys with the skull patches on their collars drink for free. No one else, no exceptions.” I failed to mention that he just gave me a free drink. “We only serve beer and hard liquor.” He pointed to the bottles. “You clean?”
I glanced up at him, puzzled.
When I didn’t respond, he flipped my arms over and checked my skin for tracks. “Take off your shoes.”
“She’s clean,” Brick barked out as a warning. Morgan nodded once then went back to explaining things like he didn’t just ask if I shot heroin.
“You can drink, but don’t get drunk,” he mumbled and stroked his thin beard and twisted it around his finger as he thought. “Don’t call him Matt. His name is Brick. It’s disrespectful to the club. He earned that name.”
So I’ve heard, although Brick never used the word earned.
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to,” Morgan muttered, and Brick seemed to agree.
Shouting from a room off to the side drew my attention, followed by a loud crash. I looked at Brick, who just shook his head as if to ignore it.
Morgan handed me another shot. “Have you ever bartended before?”
“All you need to know is how to read the labels, pour a shot, and count.” He tapped his glass to mine and tossed the shot back, and I followed suit.
“Any tips you make are yours. As long as the till is even, you’re good. Make sure you wear something hot, give the guys a little somethin’ to look at.”
“Seems easy enough.”
Morgan glanced at Brick with a bored expression then back to me. “I give her to the end of the shift before she fucking quits.”
“Thanks.” I glanced over at Brick, who gave me a playful wink.
A door burst open and out tumbled a man with a face full of blood. He stumbled to the bar with one eye open and the other swollen shut. I noticed Morgan stood back to see how I’d handle the situation. It didn’t rattle me; not much did anymore. Brick’s comfort with the situation made it obvious the guy was on their shit list. I slammed a shot glass down, poured some whiskey, and when he reached for it, I slid it aside.
His watery, bloodshot eye stared at me. It took a second, but he realized I wasn’t screwing around, and his face scrunched up.
“Bitch, give me the drink.”
“Seven fifty.” My hip cocked out as I raised my chin to hold my own.
He reached for it again, but I moved it further away. He didn’t have the skull patch Morgan mentioned, and I wasn’t going to give it to him for free. The guy leaned forward, grabbed my arm hard, and pulled me close to his face. I had to choke back the smell of blood and sweat.
“Listen, you little cuntface. You want to know what it feels like to get a fist to the —” One moment he was threating, and the next his head was slammed onto the bar top by a very battered hand.
I jumped back to see a massive man with his nose just inches from the asshole’s face. His eyes were murderous as “Get the fuck out,” hissed from his lips. He then picked him up and dropped him to the floor like he hardly weighed anything. Moments later, the asshole was gone, and I was left staring at the big, lean man with one hell of a set of deep green eyes. I forgot how to breathe when they locked onto mine. His white shirt was stained with blood, his knuckles were raw, and his bottom lip was cracked. His dark hair curled slightly under around his collarbone.
I rubbed my arm, the pain slowly easing.
“He’s out,” the man grunted to Brick. Even though he continued to stare at me. “Take care of it.”
“Will do,” Brick answered from somewhere close. His fingers brushed over my shoulder. “You all right, Tess?”
“Trigger, this is Tessa.” Brick cleared his throat. “She’s the one I was tellin’ you about.”
Trigger? Oh, yes, the pres.
“Tess,” I corrected him.
Trigger didn’t say a word but held my gaze then looked down my front and back up again. His tattooed hand tugged on the bottom of his short beard. My skin heated, my chest burned, and my throat went dry. Mother of hell, his was gaze was intense. Though I knew men like this, and they were all the same.
Trigger leaned forward to reach behind the bar, his eyes still locked with mine. He removed the whiskey bottle and tossed the cap next to me. He downed about a quarter of it then finally broke his hold to focus on Brick.
“They’re gonna eat her alive.” His voice had a little rasp to it, but my annoyance got the better of me.
“Gotta love the encouragement here, boys.” I snickered and ignored his expression. Brick sucked in a sharp breath, and I guessed people didn’t talk to him like I just did, but I really didn’t care.
I worked a long shift and met everyone as they trickled in and out of the bar. I turned a deaf ear to all conversation that didn’t include me. I felt like everyone was testing me to try to trip me up. So I kept my mouth shut and did my job to make sure everyone paid. Brick stayed true to his word to hang around and make sure I was okay.
Morgan helped me a few times, but for the most part, I got it. At the end of my shift, I took a seat in a booth with Brick, and he ordered us a late dinner.
The place was busy, the smoke got thicker, and the music pounded.
“When did you join?” I asked right before I bit into my burger.
I was surprised it was good. Most bar food sucked. I wasn’t picky. I even ate from a stranger’s plate once, but I did know good food, and this was pretty damn good.
“Six years ago.” I looked up at him. “Right after you went back. I followed a lead that my father was part of the Devil’s Reach. He’s dead now, but I got accepted in and quickly climbed the ladder in the family.”
I examined his vest and saw the skull on the front and VP patch.
“Trigger is the president, I’m vice, and Rail, who I advise you stay away from, is below me. You’ll meet him tomorrow.”
I rolled my eyes. “Do you like this life?”
He stuffed in a handful of fries and chased it with his beer. “Yup, best life so far.” He eyed me as he thought. “Did they let you leave easily?”
“What’s the bloody guy’s story from this morning?”
Brick tapped his ring against his bottle. I could tell he was getting annoyed with me dodging his questions. “Stole from the club. Does your mom know you’re here?” I was about to change the subject again, but he gave me a warning by crossing his arms.
“She knows I’m not in Vegas.” I shook my head, remembering that morning. “I need to change my number.”
“I’ll get you a new one,” he added quickly. “Are you all right in that apartment? Sorry it’s not closer, but I’m working on that now.”
“No, don’t. It’s perfect. Thank you. As soon as I get some cash coming in, I’ll pay—”
“No, you won’t.” He cut me off and glanced across the bar at someone. “Just don’t leave this time. If you need anything, you come to me, and I’ll help you.” He looked back at me then down to my stomach. “When did you get the tat?”
I closed my eyes briefly and hated that he went there. Inching down my shirt, I shifted.
“Two months…after you left.”
“How was the funeral?”
I huffed loudly and pressed the pain down. “No money, no funeral.”
His jaw locked in place before he spoke. “They never helped out?”
“You’re forgetting she broke a house rule, Brick,” I muttered darkly.
“Where is she?”
“With a friend.”
I finally looked at him full in the eyes. “Would you be?”
I saw his chest rise and fall while he thought about it. “No. I wish you didn’t leave me when you did.”
“You know why I did. No sense looking back. It doesn’t—”
“Brick!” a larger man with thin gold glasses and a kind smile shouted in our direction.
“Shit, I gotta go.” He moved out from behind the table. “That’s Big Joe, Trigger’s muscle. If he calls on you, go. His bark isn’t nearly as big as his bite.” He winked as my stomach turned. “Stay. If you want my room, it’s the second door on the right. Take the bed. I have a sofa. If you’re going to leave, Morgan will walk you home.” He leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and left.
After I polished off my burger and stole the rest of Brick’s fries, I grabbed my bag and headed out into the quiet street. I would rather get comfortable walking home than spend any more time within those walls.
I needed fresh air.
About a dozen bikes were parked out front, and I wondered which one was Brick’s. One was blacked out completely and looked like it cost more than a house. It was interesting, with thin gold lines that raced along the edges of the bike. If you looked closely, you could see faint drawings that faded as you walked by it. It was a bad-ass bike, for sure.
My heels pounded the pavement, and I enjoyed the cool breeze on my hot, sticky skin. I couldn’t wait for a shower.
Three blocks, then a right, six more blocks, then a…hmm…
I heard laughing up ahead and saw the guy from earlier who had my cell phone. Damn! I really needed to use my phone so I wouldn’t get lost anymore.
I slipped into an alley and hurried around the buildings. It was dark, but it was better than having to deal with those guys. I wished I knew where the border for the club’s territory was. I wasn’t stupid and knew borders meant everything when it came to motorcycle clubs.
A strong smell hit my nose, and Marilyn Manson’s Beautiful People caught my attention. Sweat, booze, and desperation swarmed in my head and brought some old comfort seeping to the surface. No windows, no sign, just the beat to the song. Pushing the heavy door open, I stepped inside. Neon purple tube lighting swirled down the hallway, escorting me deep into the Dirty Demons strip club.
The bouncer who stepped in front of me was about twice my width. He flicked his head at me to pass. No need for an ID, no weapons check, and no need for male company.
Three platforms had naked women in cages dancing to the beat. The main stage had two women spinning on poles, and another slid across the stage thrusting her hips in a man’s face. The customer tucked a twenty into her g-string before she winked and moved on.
It is a good living.
Slipping into a booth in the corner, I rested my tired feet and ordered a rum and Coke.
I let the music wash over me, and the hairs on my arms stood at attention as the goosebumps pushed them upward. I let my mind wander back to the good old days when things were so much easier.
Mags grabbed my arm as she stepped off the platform. “You’re not really going up there? She’ll kill you if she finds out.”
I tossed my top hat in the air and caught it on my head. “What else can she possibly take from me that she hasn’t already?”
“You’re asking for trouble.”
“Aren’t I always?” I winked and saw her devilish smile widen as she motioned for me to go on.
“There’s a military party in the front. They’re tippin’ hot tonight.”
“He’s at the bar.”
I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before I took a deep a breath and felt the rush as I stepped out and locked eyes with him.
“You here for amateur night?” The waitress pulled me from my memory and set my drink down on a black napkin.
I handed her a ten and shook my head when she reached out to make change.
“When is it?”
“Every Tuesday, at midnight.” I nodded, but she stared at me. “You wax?”
I nodded again.
“Real?” She pointed to my boobs.
“Impressive.” She looked over her shoulder at her boss, who was watching us carefully. “Well, I’d be happy to see you up there.”
“Thanks,” I muttered into my rum and Coke, avoiding her boss’s nasty stare.
Settling in, I watched the girls and how they moved. Some were better than others. A few of them asked me for a lap dance, but I wasn’t in the mood. Besides, it would only make the addiction stronger.
My hips shook as I dropped to the ground in a split. I swiveled to my stomach and ever so slowly pulled myself back into a sitting position. Rolling backward, I did a somersault and hooked my leg around the pole. Using my stomach muscles, I grabbed the pole with my hand and twisted into a spin. That was, until I saw her wrap her arm around his neck and look in my direction. Her look of hate ripped right through me.
As soon as the song ended, I rushed off the stage and burst through the doors and out into the stuffy night air. I rubbed my fingers over my wrist, over the spot that nearly took me away from this hell. I needed to get away from here.
I nursed my drink until I grew tired. Waving at the waitress, I found my way back outside. I stayed in the cover of darkness until I was at the back of my building then hurried to the front and let myself in.
Pressing eight on the elevator, I sank into the corner and waited for the floor to arrive. My pillow never felt so good.