Total pages in book: 1
Estimated words: 74834 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 374(@200wpm)___ 299(@250wpm)___ 249(@300wpm)
Estimated words: 74834 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 374(@200wpm)___ 299(@250wpm)___ 249(@300wpm)
Read Online Books/Novels:
Remy (Golden Glades Henchmen MC #4)
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She’d never thought she would meet the hottest guy she’d ever seen while in the middle of committing a crime.
As far as meet-cutes went, it was certainly a unique one. She also didn’t suspect she would ever see him again.
You know, until that little crime she’d been committing ended up becoming a bigger mess than she could handle on her own.
And since she wasn’t, by nature, a criminal, she had no choice but to turn to one to help her…
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“I thought your ass was just hanging out, not participating,” Alaric said as Eddie followed us out toward the driveway where our bikes, and an old, inconspicuous piece of shit car was parked, weighed down with the dozens of guns we had to drop before we could relax for the weekend.
“Who me?” Eddie asked, pretending to look startled. “I am just bringing some snacks for my friends to enjoy if they happen to meet me at the beach after they go on a nice joy ride,” he declared, holding up the insulated material cooler.
“Which beach?” Donovan asked.
“The usual,” Eddie said.
“How the fuck is he supposed to go to the beach in a three-piece suit?” Alaric asked, smirking at Donovan who, admittedly, was a little dressed up for a biker.
As a whole, we were a bit of a jeans and tee type of crew. But Donovan had always been someone who liked his slacks and button-ups. Which was pretty much what he was wearing under his leather cut. Black slack shorts and a gray button-up short-sleeve shirt.
It should have looked fucking ridiculous.
Somehow, though, he pulled it off.
Alaric was more appropriately wearing dark blue jeans and a white tee under his cut, matching what me and Seeley and Eddie had on.
Except Eddie didn’t wear a cut. He didn’t have one. He was, technically, just a hangabout, not an official member. Even if we knew we could count on him in a pinch.
“Aw, man, don’t go underestimating me,” Eddie said, waving toward his car, one of the fancy-ass sports cars he, Donovan, Che, and Che’s woman, Saskia each owned. Since all of them had been a major part in the street racing scene for years before finding themselves in the club in some capacity or another.
With that, Eddie popped his trunk to reveal a blue and white cooler that was, no doubt, loaded down with ice and drinks, and several beach bags where bright colored towels could be seen poking out.
“I got suits and towels, some Bluetooth speakers, and some tanning lotion and sunblock to rub on some fine ladies who might be into that sort of thing,” he told us, smirking.
“You going to get started without us?” Donovan asked.
“Nah, man. I am gonna drop in at The Shop and see if I can help out the workload there,” he said, meaning the repair shop we owned to help make our illegal business dealings less conspicuous. “Figure by the time I am done with that, you’ll be done with your… joy ride. And we can all meet up. Sound good?” he asked, looking at me since I was the most senior member of the club going on the run.
Huck, Che, and McCoy were all at The Shop for the day.
“Sounds good,” I agreed, then turned back to find Seeley talking to his two friends who had just started to prospect for the club, then turn and make his way toward me.
“Don’t worry,” Seeley said, nodding at me. “I told them to take care of your zoo,” he said, smirking.
It was the one thing that would have had me cutting out early from all the fun at the beach, and likely Teddy’s apartment or the town later. The animals.
Dogs, cats, birds, the tortoise. They all had specific needs, and I ranked all of that as much more important than my having a good time.
So, yeah, while it was nice to have the prospects around to do some cleaning and yard work and all that shit that none of us actually wanted to do, I was really enjoying having them to fall back on for letting out the dogs and feeding the animals on their schedule if I wanted to have a little bit of a break here and there.
“They know where—“
“Your absurdly large notebook full of such detailed instructions on animal care that a child could do it is? Yes,” Seeley said, smirking, reaching up to catch the car keys as Alaric tossed them to him since he was the one driving the piece of shit car we had for the job.
As the youngest member, Seeley would look the least suspicious driving a beat-up old thing that we saved from The Shop to use a few times before we scrapped it ourselves.
“Besides,” Seeley said, opening the door to the car. “The women will be hanging around to check on shit. Your animals are fine.”
One glance back at the clubhouse, seeing a couple of my dogs lined up on the couch so they could see out the window, shooting me sad, betrayed looks, said that they didn’t want the prospects or the women to watch them.
A familiar stab of guilt got me for a moment before I reminded myself it was probably good for them to learn to be able to be away from me here and there.
It wasn’t like our lifestyle came with any guarantees. There was a lot of violence and uncertainty. They needed to be okay with other people in case, some day, I didn’t make it home.
So I took a deep breath, turned away, and went toward my bike, determined not to feel bad about it that I had to work to keep them fed and vetted and all that expensive shit.
The drop went pretty much as we expected it to. The clients had been a long-standing operation who we’d known going in wouldn’t fuck us over. That was why the other guys felt comfortable enough letting just me take the newer guys to do it.
After that, we met up with Eddie like we planned. And then, as expected, we found ourselves on the beach until the sun went down before heading back to Teddy’s place to shower, change, get some more food, then head onto the town.
Alaric, a former male stripper himself, had us skipping the lines at a couple of gentlemen’s clubs before we finally bounced out of that atmosphere to go to normal clubs where everyone could find some women who were looking for a good time.
Which was what I was expecting when I followed a woman back to her place. Only to find an apartment so fucking filthy that I was pretty sure I’d contract hepatitis just from touching any of the surfaces, let alone fucking on them.
So, yeah, I’d dipped right back out of there while she went into the bathroom that I could only imagine was even more disgusting than the main living space, and decided to hoof it back to the club where I’d abandoned the guys.
And it was on the hot, humid walk back to the club when I saw something weird as fuck.
Someone decked out in all black—long sleeves, pants, and a fucking ski mask—dart behind a building.
Curious, and a little too skeeved out to try to go back to the club and find a different woman, I went ahead and gave into the whim to follow whoever it was to see what they were up to.
I mean, it wasn’t everyday you saw someone wearing a ski mask in Miami. That kind of shit was interesting enough to warrant a little investigation. Especially when your plans for the night were dashed when you heard the shuffling of mice in a cabinet while you cringed at the little roaches in the sink of your potential fuck-buddy.
Had to have something to tell the guys when we made it back to the clubhouse later, right?
So I kept a safe distance as I followed the unknown person who must have been sweating like a fucking faucet as they rushed behind two buildings before stopping at a third.
Taking a slow, deep breath, they looked both ways, then reached for the Bilco doors that led to some sort of lower-level built up above ground but closed off like a basement, and very slowly—like a fucking cartoon version of a criminal—pulled one door open, going through, and just as slowly closing the door behind them.
Even more curious, I strolled up the alley between the buildings to see what kind of place they were sneaking into.
And finding a sign for a jewelry store. Not the fancy kind. More like the kind of place you could get diamond-encrusted lion’s head necklaces that looked cheap even though they cost a small fortune.
It had been around even back when we had lived in Miami, and the guys and I had mused on more than a few occasions that it seemed like a front for something else since they did such little business. It wasn’t even the kind of place tourists would drop into, despite having a good location.
It was, as I suspected, closed for the night.
But there were a shitton of cars parked in the lot.
That was weird.
Sure, there were always a shitton of underground activities to be found in Miami. In any big city, really.
Gambling, fights, “massage parlors,” amongst many other things.
Even more interested, I went back down the alley and around the back.
And it wasn’t until I was rounding the dumpster when I saw something that had me stiffening.
A box with packaging saying it was cans of wet dog food in bulk.
A bulk amount of dog food at the back of a jewelry shop? No, that didn’t add up.
Sure, sometimes people dumped their shit behind a business when they had no way of getting rid of it themselves.
Still, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end, making me reach for a stack of old crates and moving them closer to the stinking dumpster.
I should have known.
Even without looking.
There weren’t many things that smelled quite as foul as a rotting corpse.
Except, of course, three of them.
“Fucking bastards,” I growled, looking down at the bodies of three decomposing and horribly injured dogs.
The capacity for human cruelty against innocent animals would never cease to infuriate me.
You want to kill some business rival? Go at it. Slip some poison into the food of the bastard who slapped you around? Good for you. Take out the local peeping Tom? No problem.
But forcing animals to fight to the death for your own sick pleasure?
In fact, fuck no.
Was that why the person had been wearing a mask? Because they knew what a deplorable shithead they were, and didn’t want anyone to be able to identify them outside of the fight?
“Pussy-ass mother—“ I started, feeling that old, familiar rage bubbling up and threatening to spill over. Which usually meant people would end up beaten to ever-loving shit. If not dead.
But then the door was opening again, and the back of the person who had disappeared was coming back out.
Because they were walking up the steps backward, pushing the door up with their shoulders and head.
That was really fucking weird.
I didn’t catch sight of the front of them at all as they closed the door, but not as quietly as they had before, then turned and ran.
“Oh, no. Not today, asshole,” I hissed, cracking my neck, then following that old, familiar rage of mine down the alley, following behind the mysterious dog fight stranger, ready to give him a piece of his own medicine.
If he liked fights so much, it was high time he was involved in one himself.
He ran between two buildings only to end up in a surprisingly well-lit parking lot of a closed bakery. Which was an odd choice of parking, given the whole ski mask thing.
If I was having a hint of second thoughts, though, I wasn’t all that aware of it as I charged up toward him.
But then he reached up, yanking the cap off his head, and shaking out a long mane of red hair.
Not a man, then.
I’d thought he’d been a little delicately built for a guy, but, hey, some guys were just made that way. It didn’t make a difference to me if he was small, I still planned on kicking his ass.
But a woman?
Yeah, it didn’t matter how fucking warped she was, I drew the line there.
“Hey, asshole!” I called.
I might not lay a hand on her, but I was going to go ahead and tell her what I thought about people who participated in dog fights.
At that, her head whipped around, her dark green eyes huge.
I really never wanted to find someone so despicable attractive, but, yeah, she was a fucking knockout, that’s for sure. The red hair, the green eyes, the milky skin. Yeah, it was all working for her.
Even as she gasped, though, my gaze started to travel down.
Instead of seeing her body, though, I saw what she was clenching to her chest.
The reason for the weird way of trying to get out of the building.
And, it seemed, the ski mask and general burglar getup.
A descent-sized gray pitbull, to be exact.
“You can’t take her back!” the woman shrieked.
“You can’t take her back there. I won’t let you. I’ll scream,” she said, chin jutting up. “I mean, I’m a girl, and we all know no one comes when we call for help. That’s why they teach us to yell ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ when we are being attacked. Which is super fucked up, if you think about it. And just another testament to how terrible human beings are. But, yeah, I can scream that there are, like, free drinks on me or something. And someone will come.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked, shaking my head.
“I’m talking about you, shithead, not taking this sweet, innocent dog back to that fucking dog fight.”
Oh, well, that was an unexpected development.
Listen, I am not normally a ‘dress all in black like a burglar from a home security commercial’ kind of girl.
But sometimes, a girl has to do crazy things in the name of what is right.
One could argue that I have always been going out of my way to help animals in need. But donning a ski mask and breaking into an underground dog fighting ring was, you know, a tad out of character.
I wasn’t built for the criminal lifestyle. I had sweat through three shirts that very day in anticipation of what I was going to do.
And, you know, I’d have lasted about point-five seconds in an interrogation room. Hell, they wouldn’t even need to interrogate me since I had my plan all plotted out on a yellow notepad on my kitchen counter.
Like an idiot.
I figured that if I was going to get arrested, though, it would be during the act. Then I would sing like a canary, and they wouldn’t even need to go to my apartment and see just how premeditated the whole thing was.
I mean, I had been practicing opening BILCO-style doors to see how I could do it silently going in, then maneuver it while carrying a couple of dogs out with me.
It wasn’t enough.
When I knew there were dozens down there.
But it was something, right?
I mean, I’d tried doing the “right thing,” and calling the local animal control and rescues and SPCA. Everyone said they would look into it.
Meanwhile, the dog bodies just kept piling up in the dumpster.
I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing.
So while I knew it was going to break my heart to leave some dogs to die while I grabbed others, at least I could make the difference in a few lives. And then just pray that someone else with an official title and a badge could go in and save some of who was left.
At least I could maybe get a little sleep at night for a change.
I’d been barely able to catch an hour or two for a week, since I’d first heard about the dog fighting ring from some asshole having an actual phone conversation about it at my work one day.
From there, it had been a mission for me.
I was eating, breathing, and not sleeping about the whole operation since.
I knew when the shop opened and closed, how many people worked there, what they looked like, what cars they drove, which direction the cameras pointed in.
I even knew how many people to expect to be there on a fight night—which took place twice a week.
Was it risky?
Oh, hell yes.
Was I incredibly brave?
Ah, hell no, actually.
Hence the sweating. And not being able to keep any food down for the past twenty-four hours. And, you know, the way my whole body felt like it was trembling as I made my way into the built-up lower level in my quietest shoes.
Yes, I’d tried all of them on to test out their quietness.
I guess I figured it would be nearly soundless inside.
Which was pretty stupid of me, in hindsight.
Of course it would be loud. Lots of dogs stress-barking and whimpering and scratching to get out of their cramped little cages.
The cages was where I kind of screwed up.
I hadn’t anticipated them being dead-bolted shut.
As we already established, I was a rookie criminal. I knew how to open a BILCO door without it screaming—a plan that involved a walk-by WD-40 spraying.
And, yeah, that was as far as I had gotten in my new criminal lifestyle journey.
So I knew nothing about opening a lock.
After a frustrating attempt, I heard footsteps coming toward the back of the jewelry store above, and I knew enough about the layout to know that the back room was where the stairs were that led downstairs.
I was running out of time.
“I’m sorry. I’m so so so so sorry,” I told the dog whose face was inches from mine with the lock that refused to budge.
Turning, I saw a dog I had missed when I’d run in.
A gray bully with a broad head and sad gray eyes stuck in a corner with a chain biting into her neck, the other end of it clipped to a hook in the wall.
I didn’t stop to think.
I just ran over, yanked off the chain, scooped her up, and ran like my freaking ass was on fire.
Sure, hair was the more common vernacular.
But I was pretty sure my ass being on fire would be even more startling.
Thankfully, she had been a sweet girl. Like some part of her recognized that I was there to help her, to get her out of there, so she didn’t struggle as I crushed her to my chest and darted across the space and back toward the door.
I couldn’t tell at that point if the pounding I heard was footsteps following behind, or my own damn heartbeat. All I knew was I was not going to let this sweet girl down.
By the time I got to my car and could slow down, she was nudging her wet nose under the ski cap to lick my sweaty neck, prompting me to balance her carefully, then reach up to yank off the cap.
And that was when I knew I was caught.
Because someone called out to me.
He called me an asshole, to be exact.
Which was rich coming from a dog fight enthusiast. AKA the scummiest scum on the earth, standing there shoulder-to-shoulder with rapists and pedophiles. The lowest of the low of human evil.
Why was it, though, that the douchiest of douchebags tended to be kind of hot? Like what was the universe thinking when it made those kinds of decisions?
Here, you get all the kind-hearted goodness the world has to offer. All the sugar and honey. But you will have completely asymmetrical features and really bad acne. Oh, and you, sir, will be drop-dead fucking gorgeous, but be a wife-beater and thief.
Really, what was that about?
But, yeah, this guy?
He was hot.
Dare I even say it—mega hot.
I was pretty sure I had only met three mega-hot guys in my life.
But this dude made it four.
He was tall and fit with a ton of tattoos, a short beard, somewhat dark hair that he had frosted. Which shouldn’t have looked so good, but did, damnit.
It was all there.
The face structure. The nose ring that I probably wouldn’t have found half as sexy on any other nose. The dark, stormy blue eyes.
It was all, you know, working for him.
Against my chest, my little girl whimpered, making me squeeze her tighter as I insisted that he was not going to take her back to that fighting ring.
I mean, yeah, objectively, he might be the clear winner in any sort of altercation.
He looked like he enjoyed a workout a few times a week.
Me? Well, I had that pale skin thing going for me which meant I went beet-red when I exerted myself. Which was not a good look. And, you know, I really didn’t feel the need to strap my boobs into a sports bra and work off the jiggle.
If I jiggled, I jiggled.
But, well, you couldn’t underestimate the kind of damage a somewhat small, but angry female could do. I mean, I could do some major damage to balls if necessary. Even in my quietest, non-ball-stabby shoes.
Anyone who’d even accidentally tapped a guy in the balls knew that they doubled over and cried like you’d ripped out an internal organ or something, so I figured I could get right to the ball kicking, then have enough time to get me and my girl into a locked car.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, and damn if that voice of his wasn’t hot as well. All masculine and matinee-idol-ish.
“I am talking about how female dogs in fighting rings get strapped to a rape stand and forced to take it over and over from the male dogs so they get all riled up enough to rip each other’s throats out in the ring. That is what I am talking about. So, you just turn right around and walk away or I am going to get all ball-stabby on you.”
“Ball-stabby,” he repeated, and those nice lips of his started to twitch a bit at my choice of words.
“Well, not stabby. But kicky. I will get all ball-kicky on you,” I told him. “Don’t underestimate my flats. They can still do damage,” I warned him with a confident nod, even though I was faking the hell out of it.
“I’m sure they could. Luckily, you won’t need to kick my balls,” he told me with an all-together too nice smile, all perfectly straight white teeth that made me make a mental note to schedule my next whitening appointment.
“That remains to be seen,” I informed him.
“I’m not from the fight ring,” he said, shaking his head. “I saw you prancing around like a cartoon criminal and I got curious. That was all.”
“I thought I looked more like a criminal in a home security commercial, but okay. I stole this dog,” I told him. “I’m a terrible criminal,” I added, shrugging. “I wouldn’t last a second in the clink.”
“Clink?” he repeated, that boyish smile tugging at his lips again.
“Hey, people call it that.”
“In gangster movies, maybe,” he agreed.
“It’s a weird term. I mean, where does it even come from?”
“The sound the doors and chains make,” he told me.
“Oh, well, that makes sense then. But, yeah, I would be a terrible prisoner. Can’t keep my mouth shut for shit.”
“I noticed,” he said, chuckling.
“I’m saving this dog,” I told him. “You can’t stop me.”
“I wouldn’t want to.”
“I wanted to save the others, but they padlocked the cages.”
“You couldn’t have carried more than one dog this size anyway,” he said, reaching his hand out toward her.
I stiffened, but she seemed to like what she smelled.
I’m right there with you girl, I told her silently. He smelled like the beach and a hint of that after sun lotion that kind of smells a bit like banana and coconut mixed together. In a world full of spicy cologne, it was actually really refreshing.
I did not want to lean forward, press my face into his neck, and take a deep breath.
Because that would be crazy.
“That’s a good girl. You have a shot at a good life now. Do you have a plan for her?”
“A big steak and lots of head scratches,” I told him. “In the short-term. The long term is yet to be seen.”
“Can you have dogs where you live?”
“Yes. But if she somehow doesn’t like me, I will find someone she loves. She is never going to go back to anything like that.”
“Good for you,” he said, nodding. “Good for you…” he tried again, exaggerating the end, making it clear he wanted a name.
“Lark,” I told him.
“Lark. Nice to meet you. I’m Remy. I have a bunch of rescues. One of my cats was destined to be a bait cat.”
“That’s horrible. I hate people.”
“He paid for it pretty good.”
“Okay, maybe some people aren’t terrible. Is it awesome?”
“Is what awesome?”
“Being big and strong and capable of opening a can of whoop-ass on people who deserve it?”
“Whoop-ass? Your vocabulary is stuck in the nineties. The cheesy part of the nineties,” he added.
“Hey, I refuse to accept there was anything cheesy about the nineties.”
“Were you even alive in the nineties?”
“Yes. Well, I mean, I didn’t know my basic alphabet for most of it, but I was there. Eating applesauce and watching colorful children’s shows. I mean, you can’t be that much older than me. What do you remember about the nineties that I don’t?”
“Crystal Pepsi,” he suggested.
“I wasn’t allowed to have soda when I was growing up.”
“My ma was less than attentive,” he said, shrugging.
“That explains it.”
“That sleeveless jacket of yours,” I told him, nodding at it. “Bikers wear those, right?”
“It’s called a cut. And yeah. But what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well, I mean, have you ever seen a well-adjusted biker? What sane, rational, going-to-therapy person hops on a death trap with two wheels for, like, a living?”
“You think riding a bike pays anything?” he asked, smirking.
“Listen, I’ve watched an episode or two of that biker show that everyone loves. So, yeah, I know what that little, you know, emblem means,” I said, nodding toward it.
“It’s a patch. A one-percent patch.”
“Right. Yeah, and it means you do, you know, criminal stuff.”
“Criminal stuff,” he repeated.
“Yes, criminal stuff. Which kind of just occurred to me now, so I am going to, you know, back away from you, get in my car, and drive away.”
“So you don’t have to open up a can of whoop-ass and kick me in the balls?” he asked.
“Yes, exactly that. So, yeah, um, nice meeting you, Remy.”
“Lark,” he called as I got to the other side of my car.
“You might want to get her to the vet soon. Her stomach looks kind of round to me.”
“Like she’s bloated?” I asked, trying to shift her body so I could see her belly.
“Like she’s pregnant,” he said, turning and walking away.
No, not walking.
The man swaggered.
And it wasn’t even, you know, fake. Like when I know a hot guy is looking at my ass and I put a little extra sway in my hips. No, it just seemed to be a natural part of him.
“So, girl,” I said when I got her into the passenger seat. “Are you gonna make me a grandma?” I asked as I put the car into drive and got out of there.
It was about a twenty-minute drive since I didn’t live in Miami but a neighboring town that had a little less hustle and bustle.
And because, you know, it was where the house my grandpa had left to me was located.
It wasn’t a fancy place, just a simple one-story, eleven-hundred square foot home painted a pretty ridiculous—but charming—robin’s egg blue that in no way matched the burnt-orange metal roof. It had been my grandma’s favorite color. And my grandpa had painted it that way for her. Even after she died, he made sure to refresh it every couple of years so she would see it “when she was smiling down on” him.
It had been in desperate need of a lot of work. It probably would have been more profitable for me to sell it, but it had sentimental value. And, well, it had a pretty great yard. Definitely big enough for my two little ankle-biter dogs and the fosters that I took in when my local shelter was in desperate need.
And now, it seemed, my little, possibly pregnant lady.
“Home sweet home, honey.”
“Where did you disappear to last night?” Alaric asked when he shuffled downstairs to grab a cup of coffee.
When I’d finally made it back to Teddy’s, everyone had been long gone, so I’d decided just to drive my ass home to my pets, where I’d made an anonymous call to the SPCA about the dog fight ring.
I’d still been cleaning water dishes when Teddy’s town car rolled up, and a few of the guys stumbled out with their dates.
Which meant Eddie was probably going to have to drive everyone back one-by-one—since none of the damn sports cars had any back seats—to get their bikes.
“Met up with a dirty chick,” I said, shrugging.
“Oh, yeah? Sounds fun.”
“Not that kind of dirty,” I clarified. “Mold sitting on top of the food in the overflowing garbage kind of dirty,” I told him.
“Yeah, so I peaced out of there, took a walk back to Teddy’s, then came home to check on the animals.”
I didn’t know why I didn’t mention the smoking-hot redhead dressed in burglar attire, or the dog fight ring thing, but I didn’t.
“We hit a few more clubs before heading back. I think Seeley stayed in Miami, though.”
“Probably hanging out with his old neighborhood buddies.”
Seeley was a bit of an anomaly to me.
He’d practically been a kid when he’d prospected for us. Yet he had more connections than pretty much any lifelong criminal I’d ever met.
Clearly, he’d spent a lot of time on the streets in his youth, making friends, learning shit no kid his age had any business knowing.
And to keep up his connections and his street knowledge, he liked to keep in touch with everyone from his old stomping ground. Even more, sometimes, than he wanted to have a fun night out on the town with his brothers, drinking, and hooking up.
“Did anyone give the kids their brunt work yet?” Alaric asked as Donovan came in, already showered and dressed in another of his slack shorts and button-up outfits.
“They’re washing the cars,” Donovan told him. “Gotta give ‘em a bone one of these days, they’re getting a little despondent with not being able to see any action. Or at least a good house party. There hasn’t been a clubwhore here in weeks.”
That was fair.
What with the other three founding members already shacked up, the parties had sort of ground to a halt. I guess, all things considered, it was now my job to arrange that kind of shit. Or, at least, approve that kind of thing.
“I’ll check with Huck, but I’m sure he won’t give a shit. We should have a party on Friday. We’re in a period of peace, so we don’t need to be living like monks.”
I would just move the animals for the night.
I never really gave a second thought to it until at our last party, I caught someone trying to give my parrot a sip of beer. And that was after the time I saw the tortoise all covered in stickers.
Overall, that was kind of harmless.
But drunk people and exotic animals just didn’t mix.
“Yo… guys, you all are up too early,” Eddie grumbled as he came in the back door with grocery bags hanging from his wrists. “I was going to make something special,” he added, shaking his head.
“You can still make it,” Alaric said, brightening.
Because, apparently, after spending years dancing nearly naked and, therefore, needing to be really careful of what he put in his body, and how much time he spent at the gym, he was really enjoying indulging in the food Eddie was happy to provide.
“I’m gonna still make it, but it won’t be a surprise this way,” he informed us as he started to pull items out of the bag.
“What are you making?” Alaric asked.
“Saw something online. Some guy gutted bagels and baked eggs with cheese and bacon into the bagel shell. It looked good. We are trying it out.”
We were forever trying out some recipe he saw online or on some cooking show.
Having Eddie as a hangabout was like having a live-in chef. None of us was complaining about it.
“So what…” Donovan started, only to trail off when Seeley came in the door, looking rough. Face scraped up, lip split, with a bruise on his jaw. “The fuck?” Donovan asked.
To that, Seeley shrugged.
“A misunderstanding with a friend,” Seeley informed him.
“That’s the way your friends treat you, man, I would hate to see what your enemies do,” Eddie said.
“It’s nothing,” Seeley insisted, but something in his eyes told me it wasn’t. Which meant I was going to need to press him. Or hand it off to Huck or McCoy who were better at that kind of shit than I was. “Who was the redhead I saw you with last night?” he asked, jerking his chin at me.
“Was that the dirty chick?” Alaric asked.
“Dirty chick?” Eddie asked, smirking.
“Not the good kind of dirty,” Alaric informed him.
“No, that wasn’t her,” I said, even though it would have made my life easier if I’d told them that it was.
“What’d you find her dog for her or something?” Seeley pressed, making everyone’s gazes slide in my direction, knowing chicks with pets were where it was at for me.
Even if I didn’t do serious when it came to women, the way I saw it, having pets and treating them well said a lot about you. And those were the kinds of women I would be comfortable having around all of my animals.
“No. That was her dog. Though I did inform her that I think she was pregnant.”
“Wait, man, the girl or the dog?” Eddie asked, getting a chuckle out of me.
“Oh, man,” Alaric said, shaking his head. “And then did you give her a forty-five-minute lecture about her responsibility to fix her pets?”
Given the situation, I clearly didn’t. But Alaric wasn’t wrong. I’d done that a time or two. Much to their embarrassment.
“No. She just adopted it. But she hadn’t gotten it to the vet yet, so I warned her so it wasn’t a big shock.”
“Was she hot?” Alaric asked, but directed the question to Seeley.
“Yeah, she was hot,” Seeley confirmed.
“And you didn’t hit, man? You okay? You catch some weird animal disease from your menagerie?” Eddie asked.
“We were just talking,” I said, shrugging it off. Even if, in fact, I hadn’t been able to think of anything but her since I walked away from that parking lot.
The beautiful face.
The love of dogs.
The ridiculous babbling.
It was all just… working.
To be honest, I’d been kicking my own ass for not getting her number since I got home and realized just how fucked in the head I was about her.
Hell, not even her number.
I should have turned on the charm and gotten an invite to her place. Then fucked her out of my system. That was what I should have done.
Now all I was left with was the desire to do it, without the means.
Fucking rookie-ass move.
My ma might not have won any parenting awards, but she did offer me some nuggets of advice about grabbing life by the balls and how you usually didn’t regret the things you did do, but rather the shit you didn’t.
I usually took that advice.
Hence the lifestyle I lived.
If Miami wasn’t such a busy area, I would have dragged my ass back over there to try to find her.
As it was, it was an opportunity lost.
And I was just going to have to live with that.
Or so I thought.
Until she showed up at my door.
Bloodied and scared.
Well, my old girl was definitely pregnant. And in another few weeks, it was looking like I could expect to be helping her raise up six little babies of unknown decent.
Which meant I spent the next few days hyper fixating on setting up a great whelping box, and getting all the supplies I needed for a mama and babies. All the while spoiling my sweet girl who, thankfully, took to my little dogs easily, and was enjoying being a couch potato with a binge-eating problem.
Between work and the preparations, I should have been keeping busy enough not to let my mind obsess over all of the dogs I had to leave behind.
That being said, though, my job was kind of, you know, mindless. It didn’t require a lot of mental gymnastics to do it since I’d been working at the same place since I was a teenager.
So for seven-ish hours a day, my mind was mostly free to think about all the sweet faces behind the padlocked cages.
I was even free enough, on occasion, to research how to open a padlock. Which, incredibly, involved a can of that spray stuff you use to clean your keyboard shaken and turned upside down, then blown into a lock, as well as a hammer or something blunt to hit the lock open with after the mechanism was frozen.
It was surprisingly easy.
And made me lose all faith in the padlocks I had on my doors at home.
So much so that I went ahead and installed chain locks and those little alarm things that you can put on your doors.
Did I also buy some cans of condensed air and a hammer?
Yes, I did.
I may have also bought myself a couple of dog hiking backpacks and slip leads.
Because, well, that hot biker dude was right. I wasn’t strong enough to carry multiple dogs in my arms.
It wasn’t like I was excited by the prospect, or considering a life of crime or anything.
I just couldn’t get those dogs’ faces out of my head.
Logically, I knew a few of them were already gone. But there were others still. And they were savable.
Judging by the fact that I had yet to hear about a raid on the place, local law enforcement and humane societies hadn’t responded to my pleas that they save those dogs.
So it was me.
And it couldn’t be nobody.
So, yeah, I washed my burglar outfit—you know, because of all the sweat—and I set out my bags and leashes and condensed air and hammer.
After all of that, I waited.
During that wait time, at least I knew the poor dogs were safe, albeit miserable, in their tiny cages.
I also tweaked my plan.
Meaning, despite knowing it was riskier, parking my car a little closer. The faster I could get the dogs in my car and peel away, the better.
I would also go in a little bit later to hopefully avoid running into anyone.
From there, I wasn’t entirely sure.
I would take the dogs to safety, of course. Get them a good meal. Patch them up as needed. Give them some snuggles if they would let me.
After that, though, how was I going to get them to new homes? They would need to be evaluated by a professional.
I guess I could take them to the shelter I’d called about the ring in the first place and tell them I’d managed to get a few of the dogs to safety. I very much doubted they would turn me in for it. And then I would be sure that they got the right kind of rehabilitation.
As much as I loved animals and did work with fosters, I was no dog trainer.
So, yeah, that was the plan.
“Hellooooo. Earth to Lark,” Myles, the guy I’d been working with since we were both sixteen, said, snapping around my face as I, admittedly, zoned out pretty hard.
Jerking back to the present moment, I found myself not pulling off some major K9 robbery, but standing behind the counter of The Main Squeeze.
It was the flagship store to a chain of healthy smoothie places they’d open back before the smoothie craze really even took off.
It was still the most successful of all the stores. And since my parents had decided to go into semi-retirement, I was the one in charge of the day-to-day operations.
Myles was my assistant manager who handled everything when I wasn’t around. He was tall and on the lean side with the ultimate surfer-dude look from his shaggy blond hair and blue eyes to his damn puka shell necklace.
Outside of work, you could pretty much never find him with a shirt on, and he had the most epic collection of board shorts I had ever seen.
At work, though, he was in the same outfit I was. For better or worse. Better for him since it fit his coloring. Worse for me because it absolutely did not.
We were both wearing white pants. Yes, white. Because my parents were evil. Who put employees in white, period? Let alone ones who dealt with a lot of juices that could easily splash everywhere?
But that is part of the fun, honey!
That was what my mom insisted.
And, I mean, I loved her to death. But she had never needed to work a customer service job in her life, so she really just didn’t get it.
My dad was much more practical. Unfortunately for us, though, he was more of a beta in their relationship, always letting my mom take the reins and whip everyone into shape.
The tops were mildly less horrific.
And I mean mildly.
See, they were this awful yellow color with little strawberries printed all over them.
I mean, I was fine with the pattern. I actually had a bathing suit with a strawberry pattern.
It was the yellow I took offense to.
I mean, I’d inherited my red hair and pale skin from my mother who’d made the clothing decision. You would think she would be kinder for her little ginger kid.
We weren’t going to discuss the white visors. Mainly because both Myles and I refused to wear them.
“Were you thinking about the hot biker guy again?” he asked.
See, Myles wasn’t just my coworker. He was one of my best friends. Alright, fine, my only real adult friend.
Before both of us had taken on a more senior position, we had worked every single shift together for like six or seven years. With that much time together, it was almost impossible not to become really close.
You could have deep friendships with someone you only saw once and a while. But there was something special about that connection you had with someone you saw or spoke to every day. The people who hear all the weird, random ramblings, the minute details of your everyday life.
Myles was the only person I trusted with the knowledge not only of the hot biker. But also the whole spring the dogs out of the building plan.
No, he didn’t want to get involved, claiming he liked the beach too much to not be able to see it for ten or so years. But he did make me promise to text him right before going in and when I was in my car, so he knew I was safe.
He would also be the guy who brought over a “Welcome Home” basket for the dogs. Like he’d done for Alma. Which is what I’d named my new pregnant girl.
He actually didn’t have any pets of his own since he worked a lot—more than I did even—and then he liked to enjoy time at the beach or gym or clubs. He was almost never home. It was kind of a waste for him to have an apartment at all.
I’d once tried to get him to move in with me for that very reason, but he’d declined because he felt it would be weird to bring girls or guys home to my place.
And, hey, I had to respect that.
Even if he knew I had no problem with his self-proclaimed “slutty” way of life.
But despite not having pets, he’d gotten me just about everything I could have asked for when it came to Alma. He even bought individual Peep toys for each of the puppies when they came.
Myles was, quite simply, the best gift giver I’d ever met. I always felt like I came up short when we exchanged for holidays. But only because he was just so damn amazing at it.
“Ah, well, no. Well, sort of. He kept slipping in, I’m not going to lie.”
“Please tell me that you were thinking about your plan to save the dogs and he showed up shirtless to help you, completely out of the blue. Like a cheesy, over-the-top romance movie.”
“Well, he wasn’t shirtless,” I admitted.
“Why not? It’s your fantasy,” he said as he took one of the blenders over to the sink to wash it out.
It was a never-ending task—blender washing.
Hence why I had a lot of time to think during my shift.
Washing out blenders, wiping down counters, restocking the fruit in the fridges and freezers under the counter from the walk-ins.
It was a busy day every day, but it was always just about the same. The most distracting thing that had happened in recent times was when one of the new kids didn’t put the top on the blender tight enough and sent strawberries and kale everywhere. I’d found bits of it in the vents and in lighting fixtures when I’d shown up to help with the clean up.
“It wasn’t a fantasy. I was probably just excited about the idea of having an extra set of hands so I could save more dogs.”
“Oh, come on.”
“What? I mean it.”
“With the way you prattled on for forty-five minutes about that guy—and thirty-seven of them were about how hot he was—yes, it was a fantasy. My bet, if I didn’t interrupt, you would get the dogs all home and settled in their little beds, tucked in with blankets, and then the two of you would sort of brush up against each other. Sparks would fly. And you’d find yourself hot and sweaty, banging against the wall.”
“I mean, I’m not saying that isn’t a great fantasy, but, really, I am mostly thinking about the dogs.”
“I am just going to remind you that it has been, what, seven months since you got any action.”
“Seven months isn’t that long,” I insisted.
“Seven months is a fucking eternity,” he countered. “It isn’t natural. You need the outlet. And Mr. Good Vibrations doesn’t count.”
I didn’t want to tell him that Mr. Good Vibrations had crapped out on me a few months before and I just never got around to replacing him.
So, unless I wanted to go manual, I was going without.
“I mean, sometimes you just need the weight of a man on you,” he added, making me go wide-eyed as an elderly lady made her way up to the counter. But this was Myles we were talking about. He wasn’t going to go red-faced and apologize. He was going to double down. “Am I right, or am I right?” he asked the customer.
“I mean, he’s right,” the lady said, shooting us both a wicked smile.
“You need to be more careful,” I scolded him after the lady went out with her drink.
“What for? She’s been getting her snatch smashed since before either of us were born,” he said, shrugging.
“Oh, come on. She’s not still banging.”
“Why not? My Great Aunt Birdie went to a retirement home after her husband died, and she got The Clap from fucking around so much. Old people still get it on. Don’t be ageist. Don’t you want to still be fucking when you’re their age?”
“I’m somewhat worried that I will creak at that age.”
“So, the sex is more musical,” he said, smirking. “But back to the real issue at hand. You needing to get a good dicking. Or licking. Something, girl, something.”
“Maybe after the whole doggy thing is handled.”
“You can save dogs and get laid at the same time. Well, not the same exact time. But the dogs will need to sleep at some point.”
“No one of interest has crossed my path in a long time,” I told him, shrugging.
“Except the hot biker who you were clearly interested in.”
“I mean he was hot and rescues animals. That is the whole package. But he’s also, you know, a criminal.”
“What kind of criminal, though, that is the question,” Myles said.
“What difference does that make? He’s a criminal.”
“I mean, there is a difference, though, right. Like running some underground gambling ring is a lot better than being, like, an enforcer or something violent like that.”
“I guess. But it is a moot point seeing as I am never going to see that guy again.”
“Bummer,” Myles said, sighing. “Anyway, tonight is the night, right?”
“Right,” I agreed, feeling my stomach tense at that.
“You know the drill,” he said as I checked the clock, seeing it was about time for me to head out, even as the nighttime teenager came in through the door from the back room.
“The minute you can send a text, you send it,” Myles demanded as I rolled the tension out of my shoulders, then started doing a little clean up, so the night shift would have it easier.
About forty minutes later, I was heading out, once again promising Myles to text.
Then the whole process was starting.
I got in my gear. I double-checked my bags, my air, my hammer, and packed everything in my car.
I was even more nervous than the time before, knowing how much riskier it would be to spend the time breaking open locks, sticking dogs in my dog hiking backpacks, and trying to pull them along with me on leads. I had no idea if any of the dogs even knew how a leash worked.
Or, you know, if they would be friendly.
I could very well find myself mauled in the process.
Still, I found myself driving to my new parking spot, slipping on my mask, and making my way back in, my stomach tight.
Above, all was silent still. The lot wasn’t packed like it had been the last time. There were only the three or four cars that belonged to the people who ran the fighting ring.
Taking a deep breath, I moved into the room where the dogs were all stored, finding another girl chained up in the corner.
“You’re coming with me, baby,” I murmured when I slipped a lead on her head and she fell into step with me.
From there, I went to the closest cage that held a dog with a wiggling tail, used my can, then my hammer, doing my best to muffle the sounds, then reaching inside to get the dog, and hooking him up beside the girl.
There were two puppies in a cage together, and I knew those would be bait, so I tossed the two of them in the backpack that was meant for one adult dog.
“Don’t bite me, buddy,” I mumbled as I got to the next dog, finding his hackles up and his eyes whaled. “I’m saving you, okay?” I asked, slipping the lead on, then when he didn’t freak when I tightened it, got him down with the other two.
The next cage was a dog who had been, well, a killer. If the scars and wounds on him were any indication, he’d been in the ring more than a few times.
“I’m sorry they did this to you,” I told him when he sniffed my hand. “Can you be nice to them while we run for our lives?” I asked, then started to open his cage.
I had just got him on the floor when I heard the footsteps moving toward the back of the store.
I could save only five.
There were at least seven or eight left.
But it was all I could do.
So I turned and walked.
Because I wasn’t sure how the dogs would react at first.
It wasn’t until I got everyone out behind the building that I pulled them into a run.
I had everyone but the scarred dog in the backseat, choosing to bring him in the front in case he was going to get aggressive.
So I put him in the passenger seat, and was just getting to my door, feeling the beginnings of relief that came with success and freedom, when I heard someone running up behind me.
My stomach dropping and my heart shooting up into my throat, I whipped around just in time to catch a fist to my face.
“You stupid bitch. Did you think you would get away with it twice?” he growled as more fists slammed into my face.
I was, admittedly, not a fighter.
I didn’t know a single thing about self-defense save for the whole, you know, ball-kicking thing. And maybe an eye-gouge.
But I guess I never anticipated how fast an assault could happen, how it was so difficult to think past the pain as you felt the force of a grown man’s anger on your face, as you started to taste your own blood.
So all I could do was just… take it.
My attacker seemed to get tired of hitting my face, and one of his fists swung low, catching me in my ribs, the pain of it sending me downward as the pain stabbed through my center and stole my breath.
It was right then, in a crouched, prone position, that my savior took an unlikely form.
The snarl was low and deep, and I could feel little claws nip into my shoulder as he bounced over me from the passenger seat, and launched himself at my assailant.
The initial curse broke off in a scream as I tried to force myself to lift up just enough to drop my ass onto the driver’s seat, then scoot my legs in.
I had enough sense to stab my finger into the ignition button before I turned back to see the dog’s body on top of the man. And no small amount of blood everywhere.
“Buddy, come on. Come on. Good boy, come on,” I called, refusing to leave my savior to sure death when this guy’s friends showed up. “Come on. We need to go,” I cried, desperation growing.
Finally, I let out a whistle that had him immediately turning, staring at me, then running over.
I tried to grab him, but it was impossible, so I waited for him to jump over me before slamming the car into reverse, not even thinking to close my door at first.
“Oh, God,” I hissed when it felt like the car ran over something.
“Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God,” I whimpered as my door slammed itself shut as we peeled off with the metallic scent of blood in my nose.
I wasn’t sure at that point if it was mine or his.
Panic swirling through my system, I reached for my phone, dialing Myles immediately.
“All safe?” he asked, tone calm.
“No. No. I… I need to come over,” I said, unable to think of anything but having someone to comfort me right that moment.
“I was caught. Sort of. I was attacked and I… I think I ran someone over. After one of the dogs mauled him. I… I need to see you.”
“Jesus Christ. Yeah. Come over to my place. I will meet you there. We can figure all this out.”
I had no idea, at the time, that figuring it out would somehow lead me back to that hot biker guy.
But not a few hours later, that was exactly where I found myself.
At the doorstep of his biker clubhouse.
Beaten and bruised.
With a car full of stolen dogs.
The party was raging.
Liquor, booze, music, food, and a crush of people we hadn’t had since before Huck shacked up with Harmon.
It was good for everyone’s spirits.
Well, everyone’s but mine, I guess.
“They’re playing strip poker out in the backyard, and you’re in her sulking,” Teddy said, coming up behind me in his slacks, button-up, and bowler cap. “What’s her name?” he asked, giving me a knowing look.
“There is no one,” I insisted. Because, technically, there wasn’t. I’d met a stranger for five minutes. That was it. I didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with me.
“No? Because Alaric mentioned a someone. A redheaded someone.”
“He was mistaken, I insisted, starting toward the kitchen.
“So if said redheaded woman were to show up on your doorstep in, say, twenty seconds, you would be indifferent,” he said in such a strange tone that I paused. “Oh, fuck,” he added, worry slipping into his voice, making me turn on my heel to look where his gaze was fixed.
And it was toward the door.
Where a bruised and bloody Lark was hobbling up, her body hunched over to the side in a familiar way.
A bruised or busted rib.
Which went along with the damage on her face.
Her gaze lifted, landing on me immediately, and her eyes immediately went glassy.
“Who did this to you?” I hissed before she let out a whimpering sound and waved down at her body.
Which was clad in all black once again.
“Oh,” I said, exhaling hard.
“I need help,” she declared as the first tear escaped to slide down her bruised cheek.
“Okay. It’s okay. Come in,” I demanded, waving her in.
“I can’t. I… the dogs…” she said, turning to try to gesture toward her car, but the motion nearly doubled her over when her ribs screamed in objection.
“Okay. Alright,” I said, moving forward. “Teddy?” I asked as I reached for Lark’s arm and led her in a few steps.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Teddy asked, gesturing toward the couch.
“Lark,” she told him.
“Lark. I’m Teddy. How about you sit with me for a few minutes while Remy handles your dogs, okay?” he asked, getting a sad little nod from her.
“They’re leashed. And two puppies are in the carrier thing. The guy in the front seat might be aggressive toward men,” she added.
“Don’t worry. I got it,” I assured her before moving outside toward her car that she’d left running with the air conditioning blasting.
The dogs in the back were wiggling, eager to get free, so I took them out first as the dude covered in blood and scars in the front eyed me warily.
It wasn’t exactly the best atmosphere for traumatized dogs of unknown temperament, but once I got them inside, I could take them up to one of the bedrooms to decompress a little.
My bedroom was full of my personal pets that I didn’t want strangers around, so I opted for Huck’s old room instead, putting the puppies in the walk-in closet, the girl in the bathroom, and the boy in the actual bedroom.
I was going to need to figure out what to do with the standoffish guy since I wasn’t sure he could be trusted with any of the others.
“I’ll get you guys some food and water in a minute, okay? I got to get your friend out of the car,” I told them before leaving the room and praying everyone abided by the ‘No one upstairs’ rule, or else we’d be in for a hell of a lawsuit if someone got bit.
Rushing back down, I went back to the car to find the guy waiting like he knew I would be back for him.
“I know. You’ve had it rough,” I said as I untied his leash from the headrest, then carefully led him out of the car as he let out a couple of grumbles that said he didn’t want to hurt me, but he also didn’t trust me.
It was as I was walking him toward the house that I started to realize none of the blood was his own. And while Lark was roughed up, I doubted it was her blood either.
And if she’d saved them, the fights hadn’t started yet, so it couldn’t have been from another dog.
He walked well on a leash until we got inside and he saw Lark.
Then he damn near yanked my fucking arm out of the socket in his eagerness to get to her.
“Hey, hey buddy. I’m right here,” she cooed at him as I let him drag me over to her since his tail was wagging so hard that his whole body was moving side to side.
“Baby, whose blood is that on him?” I asked as he climbed his way up on her lap, giving her chin a lick, then turning on her to face outward, like he was going to fend off any attack.
“The guy who did this,” she explained, waving at her face. “I had just gotten him into the passenger seat. All the others were in the back. And I went around to my side to get in, and the guy came up from behind and started swinging. When I went down from my ribs being hit, he just… flew out of the car and at the guy.”
“Good,” Teddy mumbled, shrugging. “I hope he ripped his throat out.”
Yeah, no one was crying over some dog fight participating, woman-beating shithead.
“I, ah… I think I ran him over on the way out,” Lark admitted before stiffening when someone walked in from the kitchen.
“Whoa. What happened to you?” the woman asked, taking a step forward. “Did one of these—“ she went on.
“No. No. I was… ah… mugged,” Lark lied.
“Oh, Jesus. I hope you reported it,” the woman said, turning and walking away.
“You want to talk somewhere more private?” I asked. “I have to get the dogs some water and food too,” I added.
“You help her upstairs,” Teddy suggested. “I will grab some extra bowls and bring them up.”
“Appreciate it,” I said, taking a step toward Lark, only to have the dog let out another grumble.
“It’s okay, buddy,” she said, patting his big head, then instructing him to get down. Which, surprisingly, he did.
“Give me some of your weight,” I suggested as I put an arm around her, knowing the stairs were not going to be fun for her.
By the time we got to the top landing, sweat was trickling down her temple, and I knew it had little to do with her outfit, and everything to do with the pain.
“You didn’t get looked at, did you?” I asked, seeing the answer all over her face.
“I just went to see my best friend. And he helped me track you down. I didn’t know where else to go. I mean… I can’t go to the cops when I was doing something illegal, right?”
That was a bit of a gray area, I guess.
“If I were you, I wouldn’t risk it,” I told her. “But if your ribs are busted, it could lead to other issues. Do you feel short of breath at all?”
“No. I really don’t think he hit me hard enough to break anything,” she said, shaking her head.
“Okay. If you want, I can get your cleaned up. Get you some pain meds. Once I grab an exercise pen for killer here,” I said, smiling down at the dog. “Want to let the wall hold you up for a second, so I can run to grab that?” I asked, thankful that I never threw any of that kind of shit away.
I had several exercise pens, baby gates, and crates in the ridiculous basement that was constantly filled with water that we made the prospects vacuum out.
“Yeah, I’m okay for a minute,” she assured me, even trying to give me a weak smile before I rushed off to get what I needed.
When I got back, Teddy was already there waiting with Lark, ignoring the grumbles from the dog.
It wasn’t that he was all bark and no bite. Clearly. But he was likely too traumatized at the moment to tell that there was a difference between when to attack and when not to.
“Alright, all set,” I said, moving into the room to set up the pen, then letting Lark lead him inside. “Sit,” I demanded, leading her over toward the bed, then rushing around with the bowls Teddy provided to give the dogs some water at least. The food could wait until I had some answers from the woman who saved them all from a gruesome fate.
“Alright. From the beginning,” I demanded as I brought over the medical kit to start wiping away the blood and giving them some antiseptic.
“I haven’t been able to eat or sleep since I rescued my girl. Alma is pregnant, by the way,” she said, giving me both a smile and a head shake. “I just couldn’t think straight, knowing all of them were still locked down there. So I got canned air and a hammer—“
“They padlocked the cages?” I asked, getting a brow raise from her. “I am a criminal, you know,” I said, offering her a smile that she returned.
“Right. Of course. And yes. The assholes. So I was in there longer because of that. I thought we were in the clear when I was able to load them into the car…”
“They might have put up cameras since you took Alma,” I told her. “It was a good thing you had a mask on. You didn’t when he caught up to you, huh?” I asked at the wince she shot me.
And she had a look that was hard to forget.
So if the bastard lived, there was a solid chance he would be able to describe her to his friends. And maybe the make and model of her car. If he was quick enough, possibly even a plate number.
From there, it didn’t take much to figure out who she was, where she lived, and where she worked.
It was no wonder she and her friend had decided they needed help from someone like me.
“Do I want to know?” Huck’s voice called from the doorway, making me turn to find him standing there with a raised brow.
“Probably not,” I said, shaking my head.
“Alright then,” he agreed, turning and walking off. Because he knew me. We’d practically grown up together. He trusted that I would tell him if there was something going on that put the club in danger.
“Who was that?”
“The president of the club,” I told her.
“Are you going to get in trouble for me being here?”
“No, honey, no. That’s not how it works. So, let’s talk about what happened.”
“I’m going to be honest with you, Lark. It’s not good that he saw you. You have an impact,” I told her.
“An impact,” she repeated, brows furrowing.
“Oh, come on. You know you are gorgeous. And the red hair, it is memorable.”
“I could dye it,” she said, but sounded heartsick over the idea.
“If he got your plates, dying your hair isn’t going to make much of a difference,” Teddy said, making me realize he was still there.
“He’s not wrong,” I agreed.
“So, what? Do I go to the police? I mean… could they show up at my house?”
“That’s possible,” I told her, watching the fear work its way across her face.
“But… what am I supposed to do? I have all these animals. It’s not like I can stay at a hotel.”
“You weren’t planning on keeping all the dogs, were you?”
“No. I mean, I’m sort of partial to my little savior over there,” she said, smiling over at the tan pittie in his exercise pen. “And I want to keep Alma. But I am hoping to be able to find a reputable rescue to take them in, so they can test and train them appropriately, given their background.”
“And your savior…”
“I mean, it will depend on how he is with my dogs. And I am aware he likely needs extensive training. I just… I want to try, I guess. But even if I don’t get to keep him, I still have three dogs and a litter on the way to deal with. I can’t just up and leave my life.”
“I understand that.”
“He has a zoo himself,” Teddy added.
“I mean, I guess I could try to find like a temporary rental. But I would still need to work to pay for it.”
My gaze slid over to Teddy, finding his mind already working.
“I have a place you can stay in for a while. No rent,” Teddy offered.
“What? No. No, I can’t accept that. That’s too much.”
“Sweetheart, let me let you in on a little secret,” I said, waiting for her gaze to slide back to me. “Teddy over there is rich. Like stinking rich. Probably doesn’t know all the addresses to the houses he owns, kind of rich. Could have his yacht sunk without stressing about it rich. Trust me when I tell you that he isn’t going to be hurting by offering you and your animals a place to crash.”
“I mean, thank you so much,” Lark said, pressing a hand to her heart. “But even if I can do that, I still have to worry about work.”
“Where do you work?”
“The Main Squeeze. My parents own it. I run the one in Miami.”
“You’re Sid and Laura’s kid?” Teddy asked.
“You know my parents?” Lark asked, brows raising.
“Teddy knows everyone who runs in certain circles.”
“I don’t know-them, know them, but I have seen them at events in the past. They’re semi-retired now, right?”
“Right,” Lark agreed. “Hence why I can’t just not show up. I have to be there. I am the one keeping things running. I mean, I might be able to swing a couple days off. But even if I can do that, what are the chances that that’s enough time? Right? Like, won’t they keep looking for me? I’m no criminal expert or anything, clearly, but usually in the shows, the bad guys tend to be pretty tenacious.”
“Tell you what,” I said, tone calm because her anxiety just seemed to keep growing, despite being safe at the moment. “Make your calls, move around your schedule, and get yourself a couple days. That will buy me a little time to dig into this, see who these fucks are, and that will tell us a lot more about how this will go.
“If they are just low-level criminal scumbags, they aren’t going to track you down to hurt or kill you. That’s not their wheelhouse.”
“But if they aren’t low-level?”
“Let’s just hope they are,” I suggested. “Teddy, can you grab those keys for us?”
“Yep. I will go call my guy now. They will be here in twenty,” he said, moving toward the door.
“Teddy,” Lark called, making him turn back.
“Don’t mention it, hon,” he said, shaking his head, and turning to leave.
“I am going to need my other dogs,” she said, her animals clearly the first thing on her mind. Which was endearing as fuck.
“Of course,” I agreed. “I just want to check your ribs, and then we can figure out how we are going to fit all the animals. What kind of dogs do you have? Aside from Alma?”
“Two little ankle-biting mixes. One fluffy, some sort of poodle mix, the other not, more of a Jack Russel mix. That is about as close to a breed as I can get,” she said, shaking her head.
“Alright. I can follow you back to your place then in one of the cars here. We can pack up your guys, let you grab a bag for yourself, and your pet supplies, and head over to Teddy’s place.”
“I can’t believe he is just going to let me stay there. I mean, who does that? He doesn’t know me at all.”
“Teddy has a soft spot for women who need a little help. And, like I said, he’s stupid rich. He wouldn’t even know that he wasn’t making income from this one property.”
“I have to thank you too,” she said, taking my hand when I offered to help her stand.
“No, you don’t.”
“What are you? A movie hero? Who says things like that? Of course I have to thank you. You’re doing a nice thing. And you don’t even know me.”
“I’m not doing anything,” I said, shrugging it off.
“You’re going to look into them for me.”
“Yeah, nothing,” I said, getting a snort out of her. “You need some help?” I asked, grabbing the hem of her shirt.
“Ah, yeah,” she said, nodding. “Don’t judge how sweaty I am. It is five million degrees out. And I just committed robbery. Then was attacked. So, I’m pretty sweaty,” she babbled as I started to lift her sweater.
“Can you hold it here?” I asked, pinning it just under the band of her bra, and willing myself not to think about what was underneath.
I prodded at her side carefully, noticing the dark bruising, but generally satisfied that it wasn’t broken. It didn’t even look that badly bruised.
“This will be fine. It is going to hurt like a bitch for a few days. You’re going to want to ice or heat it, depending on which makes you feel better, and maybe take some pain medicine. It might be a week or two until you can move without wincing.”
“That we have pretty much made it so you can do damn near everything online. You can work from anywhere. You can do virtual doctor visits. But no one has figured out how to make minor, but painful, injuries more tolerable? Like they’re still using plaster casts. What kind of backward nonsense is that?”
“Some places offer 3D printed ones that allow for breathing room. And they’re waterproof.”
“Well, way to take the wind out of my sails.”
“They don’t do shit for ribs, though, if that makes you feel better. An elastic bandage maybe. That’s it.”
“Have you ever hurt your ribs? Like, I’m sure you have. Big, outlaw biker guys. They probably break ribs every other week while doing all sorts of devious, deviant things.”
“Think you make my lifestyle sound more interesting than it is, babe,” I told her. “Most of the time, we are just hanging out.”
“Followed by brief phases of action-packed violence?” she prompted.
I probably should have told her no, that we were always on the up-and-up, that nothing crazy ever went down.
“Pretty much,” I agreed.
“My job is super exciting too. You know, just last week someone ordered a Twisted Strawberry only to come back ranting and raving about how she’s allergic to strawberries and someone should have told her that there were strawberries in the Twisted Strawberry drink. She threw the smoothie and everything. It was very dramatic. So, yeah, I totally know what an action-packed phase is like,” she quipped, shooting me a teasing smirk.
“What is so twisted about a Twisted Strawberry?” I asked.
“It has a couple splashes of non-alcoholic vodka,” she said. “It’s based on a drink my mom loves. But since we don’t have a liquor license, they got inventive. It’s actually pretty good.”
“I thought smoothie places were supposed to be healthy.”
“Oh, we have a whole section of the menu that is infused with all the good, green stuff. You can even get wheatgrass shots.”
“They are. We do one at the beginning of every shift.”
“For what reason?”
“Mutual suffering?” she said, laughing. “I don’t know. It is a sort of team-building thing my parents started, and it just kind of stuck.”
“Even though it’s gross.”
“Yep. I actually think it kinda gives me a boost, so I imagine everyone else does too, or they wouldn’t keep doing it.”
“I’ll have to try— take your word for that,” I said, deciding no health benefits were worth drinking liquid grass.
“Once all this is done, we can have a shot together at the shop,” she suggested.
“Sure. Sure. If you drown that shit in fruit and sugar, maybe. Which, I imagine, negates all the health benefits.”
“A Twisted Strawberry then,” she suggested.
“Sure. But I’m bringing my own real vodka.”
“It’s a date,” she said. The moment the words were out of her mouth, though, her eyes went comically round. “I mean, not a date-date, but like a date between two friends. Or, well, not friends. But two people who found themselves in a strange situation. Ah, well one of us did and the other one was trying to be a good guy and help. That kind of date.”
“Oh, the old Girl Who Got Herself in a Strange Situation and Got Help From a Good Guy Date. Classic.”
“Exactly,” she said, smile big enough to reveal one overly pointed canine tooth that I found entirely too fucking appealing. Just a small imperfection in a two-perfect woman.
“Alright. How about I give you a tee to change into before we get going?”
“See? I knew you were grossed out by all my sweat,” she said, but her tone was light.
“Come on,” I said, nodding toward the hall. “You can meet some of my beasts while I get you a shirt.”
“How many…” she started, following me into my room that was a good size, but was a little cramped with all the animals I had stashed in it.
“The cats are free to roam the house when we have company since they will scratch the shit out of anyone who even tries to bother them. But I like to keep the dogs and the exotics tucked away.”
“Well, aren’t you a cute guy,” she said, cooing at my macaw.
“Fuck you, Benny,” he croaked in his scratchy voice at her.
“Who is Benny?” she asked as her gaze immediately slipped to me, shaking her head.
“I didn’t teach him that.”
“Likely story, right, dude?” she asked, offering the back of her hand to the bird, smartly not trusting that he wouldn’t try to take off one of her fingers. He was picky about his people, but seemed to prefer most women to men.
“I bet Benny deserved that fuck you if you heard it often enough to learn it, right? I think Bennys are notoriously untrustworthy. Like Carls. And Kyles. I’ve known a few sketchy Walters too. I mean it might be a less exhaustive list to name guys who are trustworthy, am I right?” she asked, getting him to duck his head as an invite to pet him.
“Oh, and who are you, sweetie pie?” she asked of one of my dogs who saw her and immediately turned upside down on the bed to beg for belly rubs. “One, two, three…” she counted, looking around the room.
“Six. Six dogs. Five cats. The Blue and Gold macaw. And there is a tortoise in the bathroom.”
“A tortoise? Is he huge? You never get to see huge ones.”
“He’s getting there,” I told her as I went into my dresser to grab a t-shirt. “I’m putting the prospects on the job soon of creating him an area out to the side yard where he can do some burrowing. Right now, he just kinda walks around out there. But it would be nice to get him something more natural for him.”
“I get that. The whole reason I am at my house right now is because it has a big enough yard for my dogs. And to foster. They have enough room to run around. They have a kiddie pool. I even gave them a little corner of the yard where I created a sort of sandbox for them. Only it isn’t sand. It’s dirt. And they can dig to their hearts’ content.”
“Sounds like paradise for them.”
“They seem to like it. My dream is to one day get a bigger house with more land, so I can foster more. Maybe even start my own rescue or something.”
“That’s a great goal. What?” I asked when she started laughing, then wincing as the movement made her ribs hurt.
“This shirt,” she said, turning it to face me.
And there it was.
My female praying mantis shirt. And she was holding the decapitated body of a male.
With the words “Thanks for the good time” next to her.
“Want a different one?”
“Are you kidding? I need to know where you got this, so I can get myself one,” she said, dropping it down on the bed, then reaching for the hem of her shirt, completely unconcerned with me seeing her in her bra.
And, I mean, this was Florida.
Many women walked around in nothing but bathing suits all the time. A bra was no different. And yet… it always seemed different to me.
And Lark, well, she was one of those women.
The ones who had all that fancy shit under their normal clothes. Even their ‘spring dogs out of a fight ring’ clothes.
The bra itself was nude with a thin black lace over it that gave a peek-a-boo effect.
The two times I’d seen the woman, she’d been all decked out in black that wasn’t exactly form-fitting, so I hadn’t been able to see just how curvy she was. But the woman had a great fucking rack, a slight inward turn toward her waist, and then a generous flare to her hips.
My old man—the pig he often was—used to say that very thin women looked better in clothes, and curvy women looked better without them.
Personally, I had no body type preference.
But I had not a single doubt that Lark’s curvier body would look fucking amazing naked.
“Ah, I need help,” she admitted when she started to raise her arms then let out a hiss.
It was not a good idea for me to get close to her when she was half-naked.
But I couldn’t exactly turn her down either, could I?
Moving away from the safety of the room between us, I put the shirt over her head, then helped her get her bad side arm in, then the other.
“God, I think I just lost ten pounds in that sweat suit,” she said, shaking her head.
“We should go before I sit down on this bed and start loving on your dogs,” she warned, already reaching out to give some scratches.
And with that, we were grabbing the dogs, then heading downstairs to get the keys from Teddy.
At that moment, I had it in my head that I was just doing a good deed.
I had no fucking idea what was to come.
I hadn’t exactly been on board with Myles’s immediate plan to go find the hot biker.
“You’re just saying that because you want me to hook up with him,” had been my immediate response.
He hadn’t exactly denied it, either.
But after just ten minutes of talking, we were both pretty convinced it was my only real course of action since the cops might not give a damn that it was for a good cause, they would still see what I did as theft.
“If nothing else, he can advise you. I’m sure he knows more about the cops and other criminals than we do. He’s a good resource.”
I couldn’t argue with him about that.
So then we’d commenced the search for just who the hot biker guy might be.
You would think it would be difficult to find that sort of information. But there were entire websites dedicated to listing all the various outlaw biker clubs and where they had locations.
They even had pictures of club logos.
Which was what led us to them.
The Golden Glades Henchmen.
According to our research, there was a “mother” chapter of the club in some place called Navesink Bank, New Jersey.
We’d even managed to find a “fan page” of sorts on the club which included the names of several members, as well as a sort of deep dive into their past.
Which, apparently, included chopping cars and street racing. It shouldn’t have been as intriguing to me as it was, but judging by the dates on this fan site, it looked like the car chopping thing had been going on since the original four guys were in their teens.
That was crazy.
I didn’t know who created the fan page, but Myles and I both decided we wanted to be her (we assumed a her) friend.
Myles said as soon as he knew I was safe, he was going to try to track her down.
And with that, I loaded all the dogs back up into the car, and headed toward Golden Glades and the clubhouse that the website had described in detail, but hadn’t shown a picture of.
I guess that might have been kind of creepy if she had posted that.
In the end, it had been relatively easy to find the place since there was a raging party going on, and there were a ton of bikes and fancy sports cars in the lot.
It had been a whirlwind from there.
Honestly, I hadn’t expected such an immediate response from Remy. I figured I would have to lay it on thick, beg for his help, try to convince him to at least give me a little bit of advice.
I certainly hadn’t expected for him to just… jump into action. A white knight on a metal steed or whatever. It was crazy.
And, somehow, I met this anonymous rich guy that the fan site had referenced, though not by name.
A little person who wore a somewhat ridiculous bowler cap that he somehow managed to pull off and was just willing to toss keys to actual residences at a strange woman like it was nothing but his spare change.
I was honestly a bit lightheaded as I got back in my car and turned back toward the direction of my place.
I couldn’t even force two rational thoughts together. Which was new for me. My thoughts were usually all entwined in this absurd, knotted mess, so when I did think or speak, I could be discussing the weather and somehow manage to trace that thread back to some story about a talent show I’d done in elementary school.
But all my thoughts were little butterflies, flitting off before I could even grasp that they were there at all.
“Don’t judge me,” I demanded as the two of us got out of our cars out front of my house.
“Judge what? It’s nice,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t have my own place, and you think I’m gonna judge yours?” he added, brow raised.
“That’s true. It was my grandfather’s place. He left it to me because he said my parents didn’t need ‘another fucking house.’ Which is true. They have three. Which, objectively, is too much for any couple to have. I mean, maybe I can see having a vacation home if you are able to visit it often enough to justify the bills. But they have a place in Vermont that they literally never even visit. It’s a complete waste. I love my parents,” I added, not wanting to seem like I didn’t. “I just think some parts of their lifestyle are really wasteful.”
“You can love your parents and not approve of how they live their lives,” Remy said, shrugging.
“That sounds like that is from experience,” I said as I walked up to my door, hearing my little dogs already whimpering for me. I felt a stab of guilt hit my belly, knowing I was late for their last trip out for the night, and that I’d read somewhere that it was actually pretty mental damaging for a trained dog to go potty inside the house when they know they’re not supposed to.
“Got two parents who didn’t have time to be parents. They each have their good and bad,” he told me, choosing the words carefully.
I couldn’t blame him for that. He didn’t know me, not really. And not everyone had my tendency to blurt out damn near everything in their heads to everyone, including practical strangers.
“Okay, so it is a mess in here. My grandpa was old and the place hadn’t had an update since he bought it in like the sixties. I’ve been DIY’ing it for a while. But one thing always seems to lead to another thing, you know?
“Like I start to pull down the wallpaper only to realize I should probably sand and stain the floors, so I can tell which new paint color to go with. So then I start on the floors. Only to think that maybe the floors should match the kitchen cabinets. So I take the doors off to sand them down and then realize the old hardware won’t work, so I have to order those and wait for it all to come in. That kind of thing,” I said as I undid the final lock, and got love-mauled by my little dogs who then turned their attention to Remy.
“Hey, Mama,” I called to Alma who was wiggling too, but standing back toward the end of the hallway. “Sorry I’m late. You gotta go potty?” I asked, then all three dogs darted toward the back of the house.
“You know, I’m not sure that this is the right stain color for this house,” Remy said, making my stomach drop as I whipped around. “Christ,” he said, laughing. “The look on your face. I’m fucking with you. You did a good job,” he assured me. “But you do need some baseboards.”
“Ugh, don’t get me started on the damn baseboards,” I grumbled, walking through into the kitchen to start collecting dog food bags and cans as well as bowls. “Did you know there are like a dozen or more styles to choose from? Clamshell to three-piece and it is just impossible to decide. I really like the neat, ornamental ones…”
“But?” he asked, coming to grab the rolling plastic container of food from me.
“But they’re kind of over-the-top?”
“So what? Who the fuck cares. If that’s what you like, that’s what you like. It’s your house, not anyone else’s. You got any duct tape?”
“Damn it. I knew you were too good to be true. Fair warning, I have watched a lot of weird, dark romance movies. Duct taping and kidnapping me might make me fall in love with you then bang you in all sorts of public places. Like on a boat. Or up against a window of a high-rise apartment…”
To that, his brow raised, then a huge smile tugged at his lips.
“While I might not be opposed to any of that, I meant to tape this fucker closed, so the food doesn’t spill everywhere on the ride.”
“Oh, right. Well, then, ah, forget what I just said,” I told him, fishing out the duct tape, and handing it over.
“Baby, there’s not a single fucking chance I am forgetting any of that,” he said, shooting me a sexy little smirk.
“Right. Well, try not to judge me too harshly then,” I said, shaking my head.
“Judge you for what?”
“My weird Stokholm Syndrome kink, I guess,” I told him, laughing at myself. “So, like, where is this house I am staying at? Will I be able to go to a store? Or should I pack up food from my pantry?”
“It’s not too far from here, so I’m sure you can hit a store if you need to. But knowing Teddy, he had someone over there to stock the fridge for you.”
“Can I be Teddy when I grow up?” I asked, shaking my head. “I can barely remember to put extra towels in my guest room when I have company, and he will have the fridge filled for me. With almost no notice. How long do you think I will be away? Do I need to pack the whelping box stuff?”
“Let’s leave it for now. If shit looks like it is taking longer, I can always come back here and pack it up for you. Just bring the essentials for your dogs. Toys, beds, meds or supplements, leashes. Seems like the property has a fence, but just in case you need to walk them or something. And some clothes for you. Maybe a laptop or something so you have something to do.”
With that, we moved around my little house as I tried to figure out what was essential, and what could be left behind. Which was an easier task for me than for the dogs, who had always been able to be home at night with all their comfort items.
In the end, both our cars and trunks were loaded with dogs and supplies, and I was following Remy toward my little safe house.
Don’t forget who encouraged this when you get whisked away on a whirlwind romance.
That was what Myles had told me when I’d texted him to let him know what was going down, promising to call when I was alone so I could give him all the little details. We were not ‘the gist of it’ type friends. No, we wanted to dive deep into every topic. Get to the meat and bones of it.
I totally planned a solid two-hour phone conversation about it. Starting with the name of the mysterious rich guy from the fan club website and delving heavily into my word-vomit about a weird kidnapping fantasy that had Remy’s eyes going all, you know, molten and stuff. Then, well, who knew what was to come still?
“You can’t be serious,” I said mostly to myself and the dogs in the car with me as we drove down the driveway that led to the house.
If my house was a, you know, house, then this was a mini-mansion, one a lot sleeker than anything I would have chosen for myself.
It was white stucco, but made mostly out of floor-to-ceiling glass windows. And it had a pool wrapping around at least the two sides of it I could see from the driveway.
“Ah, are you sure this is right?” I called through my window at Remy as he climbed out of his car. “I mean, there is no way he is not missing the income from a place like this. I mean, this has to be worth a couple million. He could probably be charging like two grand or more a week for this.”
“Honey, his penthouse is worth like eight million or something. And that is just one of his personal residences. Trust me, he won’t miss it. And he must have had a lull in booking if no one is here already. So why let it sit empty when he could let you crash for a while?” he reasoned.
“Okay. I guess that’s true,” I agreed, turning off the car and climbing out.
“How do you want to handle this?” he asked, gesturing toward the dogs.
“Um, I guess for right now we can put my personal dogs and the puppies upstairs. And then section off parts of the lower level for the other guys who I don’t know well enough yet.”
“Not gonna lie, while I don’t know if he is fully rehabilitational, I like the idea of you having a killer dog on the lower level right now,” he said as he carefully got the scarred boy who desperately needed a name out of the car.
I had been thinking the same thing. I was actually going to see if it was possible to section him in such a way that he was able to be near the front or back door.
Just in case.
Was that ultra-paranoid? Probably.
But my screaming ribs and aching face told me that I had reason to be scared. Even in a ‘safe’ house.
“Alright. I’ve got this guy if you want to grab your crew,” he said, tone confident, and the dog seemed to be receptive to him.
I mean… he wasn’t trying to rip his throat out, at least.
“Leave the shit,” Remy demanded when I tried to grab a bag. “I will handle all of that, but I want you to be the one to bring your dogs in, so they feel comfortable.”
A biker. And also a… gentleman?
Who would believe me if I tried to tell them?
Aside from, maybe, Myles?
With that, though, I grabbed my dogs, making sure to keep a wide berth around the dog from the ring, then following Remy into the house.
And, well, yeah.
If the outside was gorgeous, the inside was pretty insane. It was dominated by white walls and windows with accents of blues throughout the whole lower level.
The foyer led past a small den or office, then into the open kitchen/living room combo with a laundry and full bath off of the kitchen.
“Wow,” I said, shaking my head as I struggled to imagine myself staying there even temporarily, even though I was there to do just that.
“Yeah. I mean, I’ve been to a lot of Teddy’s places, but this is definitely one of the nicest ones I’ve seen. That fucking pool,” he added, shaking his head.
“Yeah,” I agreed, nodding. “And it has a privacy wall so the neighbors don’t watch you. The architect thought of everything.”
“I’m gonna put this guy in the laundry room until we get everything set up, okay?”
“That’s probably the safest bet,” I agreed, giving the sweet guy a smile as he looked up at me.
“Go be a good boy, okay?” I asked, and I swear the dog gave me a nod. I mean, that was probably crazy. But I did believe that most dogs understood a lot more than we give them credit for.
We made our way up the stairs, and I did my best to grit my teeth and not complain as the climbing made my ribs scream, and silently hoping that after some rest, the ribs would give me a little bit of a break, so I could do the steps several times a day to take care of the dogs.
The top level was a lot like the lower with the white and blue. There were two guest rooms and one master suite with its own balcony and a walk-in closet that was bigger than my bathroom, and a bathroom that was bigger than my bedroom.
“They’re good together?” Remy asked as I took the leashes off of my girls in the bedroom.
“Yeah. Alma kind of views Blanche and Hattie as her babies, I think, because they are so small. She’s very gentle with them.”
“Blanche and Hattie?” Remy asked, smirking.
“I like using classic names for the dogs I get to name.”
“And by ‘classic,’ you mean ‘old lady,’ right?”
“Well, sort of, yeah,” I admitted.
“Does that mean Scar downstairs is going to get an old man name?”
“That’s a great idea actually,” I decided. “Maybe a Lyle. He looks like a Lyle,” I said, patting my girls. “I’ll be back in a bit, okay? Try not to mess anything up, or we are going to owe the nice billionaire a buttload of money,” I told them as I closed the door, taking a deep breath to try to gain some courage to go down the stairs.
“Go sit your pretty ass down in the living room and watch the fish. I got the rest of this,” Remy demanded as we got to the lower level, and I was pretty sure I stopped being able to keep the whimpers in when we were only halfway down.
I wanted to object, but I honestly wasn’t sure if I could make it back out the car, so I did what he told me.
I plopped my ass down on the white couch. Yes, white. Never mind my animals being a concern for light colors, I didn’t trust myself not to stain something white.
Across from the couch, situated between two of the windows, was a big, tall fish tank with its white sand and white driftwood, smattered with live plants and hideaways.
I spotted two angelfish, some guppies, and a weird snake-like thing at the bottom of the tank.
My parents were fish people. Probably because they didn’t like pets as a whole, and viewed fish more as decor.
I’d never been allowed to have any animals growing up, which was likely why I went so over-the-top about them as an adult.
The closest to having a childhood pet I ever got was when the neighbors asked me to cat-sit, and when I was old enough to start volunteering at the local shelter.
There was a stab of guilt in me each time I heard Remy make a trip inside, bringing in dogs, setting up baby gates and pens, doing all the stuff that was my responsibility since I’d been the ones to spring the dogs in the first place.
But, somehow, watching the fish was kind of meditative, and I felt myself almost start to drift in and out of consciousness as Remy continued to work.
It wasn’t until I felt a fingertip tucking some stray hair behind my ear that I realized I’d fully fallen asleep.
“It’s okay. You’re alright,” Remy assured me when I jolted awake.
“I’m sorry you’re missing your party,” I mumbled because, somehow, that was what was at the front of my mind right then.
“Your party. I’m sorry.”
“Babe, I can party anytime I want. I’m not missing anything. Each of the dogs has a place. The puppies are in the bathroom since, well, puppies,” he said, shrugging, and my mind flipped to the many puppies I’d fostered over the years. And the endless messes I’d needed to clean up. Which was one of the main reasons I had no interest in any sort of carpet in my home.
“Okay. Where’s everyone else?”
The girl is now in the laundry room. And the other boy is in the front office. And I have Lyle currently in two connected exercise pens on the other side of the kitchen island. I can use those to block him into the kitchen or in here,” he said, meaning the living room. “Or you can give him free rein of the unblocked rooms in the lower level for some added peace of mind.”
“The other dogs are secure?” I asked.
“Yeah. The bathroom and laundry room each have doors. And I put up two gates on top of each other in the office. Plus, I put a second set of x-pens in the office as a block. No way is Lyle getting past all that. Or the other dog, for that matter. Everyone is safe. They are also fed and watered and walked for the night.”
“How long have I been asleep?” I asked, slow blinking at him.
“An hour or so. I hope you don’t mind, but I let your girls out too.”
“No, I don’t mind at all. Thank you, actually. I wasn’t looking forward to going up and down those stairs to take them out for the last time.”
“Yeah, stairs are going to be a bitch for a while. Don’t be a hero. Take the damn ibuprofen and acetaminophen. You are going to need it for a while. I will pick you up some pain patches and gel too. They help.”
“You don’t have to go out of your way to do that,” I assured him. “You’ve already done so much.”
“Barely did anything,” he said, brushing it off. “And it isn’t out of my way. I want to check in. Pitch in. You are going to have your hands full until you can find some rescues for the four you want to re-home for sure.”
He wasn’t wrong about that. But I did plan to get right on finding them a place in the morning. It would be better for them if they found themselves in more permanent foster homes or into their forever homes than with me.
“Thank you. Really,” I said, shaking my head, feeling my eyes getting a little glassy.
I was generally someone who handled everything myself. Sure, I had Myles around if I really needed him, but as a whole, I did everything for myself and my animals. No one else lended a hand.
Here was this guy who barely knew me at all.
And he wanted to help me.
No, he insisted upon it.
He wouldn’t hear any nonsense about not needing him.
Damn if that wasn’t one of the hottest things ever.
Was there anything sexier than a guy who didn’t always think of himself and his needs and his desires first?
I was pretty sure there wasn’t.
I had a feeling it came along with his love of animals. He put them and their needs ahead of his own. Which was even more proof that you should only date someone who not only had a pet, but treated it like spun gold. Those were the kind of men who would go out of their way to bring you home a coffee from your favorite place just because they knew you would love it. Or would make you breakfast because they got up first. Or would put a blanket over you when you fall asleep on the couch.
Even as I thought that, I realized I had a blanket half covering me, like it had fallen down when I had jolted awake.
I hadn’t put a blanket on when I’d sat down.
I would have, if there had been a blanket around.
But there wasn’t.
So it wasn’t like he’d just seen a blanket and a woman who might have been cold, and covered her. No. He’d gone out of his way to find a blanket, then cover me.
Those were green flags all over the place.
They were marriage material actions.
Not that I was thinking of Remy in that way.
He was just a good guy who was helping me out.
Except, of course, even as I thought that, I had a sneaking suspicion it might be more than that.
“You sure you’re okay?” Remy asked for the third time as I followed him to the door, so I could lock it behind him.
“I’m sure,” I told him, even if every part of me wanted someone around to fuss over me. That was just my pain and exhaustion and fear talking. I would get over it.
“Okay. You have my cell. I am going to stick your car in the garage on my way out. We can’t have that sitting out in the open. I will leave the keys in it.”
“But since Teddy did stock the place, can you try not to run out without speaking to me first?” he asked, reaching up to rub a hand across the back of his neck.
And I did not watch the way that movement made the muscles in his arm flex. Nope. Because that would have been crazy.
“I won’t go anywhere without permission,” I told him. “You need to get some sleep,” I added, noticing the heaviness to his eyelids.
“You too. But don’t forget to set the code before you pass out, okay?” he demanded.
“I won’t forget.” I was too scared to forget.
“Call me if anything feels weird. Anything.”
“And then you’ll kidnap me and hold me hostage?” I asked, shooting him a tired smile.
“Yeah, babe, then I’ll commence Stockholm Syndrom’ing you.”
“Perfect. Goodnight, Remy.”
“Goodnight, Lark,” he said, his hand starting to rise, then falling down at his side. “Lock the door.”
With that, he was gone.
And after I locked the door and set the alarm, I really only had one thing on my mind.
What, exactly, had he been about to do with that hand?
I got shitty sleep.
First, because when I got back to the house, somehow the party was still raging.
Second, because I was worried about Lark.
Even though she was locked up in a house that could in no way trace back to her. With a top-of-the-line security system and a pack of dogs, at least one of them being a solid attack dog.
She was still alone.
Even if she wasn’t injured, it was clear that her self-defense skills probably only included ball-kicking and eye-gouging. Hardly enough to stand a chance if facing a group of guys if they came for her.
Which was why, even though I’d only managed to get two or three hours of sleep, I climbed my ass out of bed around eight, ready to get the day started.
“Come on, guys, let’s go outside,” I called to the dogs as I held my hand out to my macaw, so he could step up and go to his downstairs play stand that he liked better because he enjoyed being a part of the hustle and bustle of the household. “Up, bud,” I added, lifting my arm until he settled on my shoulder, then made my way into the bathroom to haul up the tortoise. Which was no easy feat, with the guy topping out at a cool hundred-and-two pounds.
“You look like Ace Ventura right now,” Alaric said from where he was sitting at the kitchen table, clutching a coffee between his hands like a lifeline.
He looked rough.
I would put money on him getting even less sleep than I had, on top of a lot of drinking. And fucking, judging by the hickeys on his neck and one that was down low near his hip.
Eddie, on the other hand, looked ready and rearing to go as he flipped French toast that he made with challah bread on the griddle. They were one of the best things he made, which was likely why Alaric was awake and not in his bed using multiple women as a blanket while he caught some sleep.
“I already tossed his pile of greens outside,” Eddie told me, nodding toward the tortoise I was still carrying.
“You were out late,” he added, giving me a raised brow look.
“What are you, his mother?” Alaric asked, snorting.
“Man, you better be glad I’m not your mama because I’d have a thing or two to say about the six chicks I saw leaving your room this morning.”
“Jealous?” Alaric asked.
“Worried about your hydration level, more like,” Eddie said, chuckling. “Looks like those prospects might give you a run for your money, though, man,” he added as he dropped some beaten eggs into a pan. “Boss man has them sharing a room, so they just had a fucking orgy in there.”
“They’ll fit right in then,” Alaric said, shrugging. “But seems like Remy over here got nothing.”
“Probably because of that battered girl with all the dogs,” Donovan said, walking in wearing, I shit you not, black silk pajama bottoms. The man took the fancy shit seriously. Right to his bed clothes.
“Battered girl?” Eddie asked, looking over at me.
“I didn’t hit her,” I said, offended he might even think that.
“Obviously,” Donovan agreed, trying to deescalate the situation as he moved between us on his way to the coffee machine. “But who did?”
“That’s what I need to figure out today. She, ah, she stole those dogs from a dog fighting ring,” I told them since our club wasn’t one for keeping shit from one another. “On her way out, she was almost caught. Got hurt. Then one of the dogs charged the attacker.”
“I hope he got a nice steak,” Donovan said, shaking his head. “She okay?”
“For the time being. It could have just been some nobody asshole, but I want to double-check before I can tell her it is safe to go back to her life.”
“I got nothing going on today if you want company,” Donovan said. “I actually got a little sleep, unlike that asshole,” he said, nodding toward Alaric who was hanging onto consciousness by a very thin thread.
“That’d be good. Dress up. I might have you go into a shop to get a feel for things.”
“Does he even know how to dress down?” Eddie asked, putting some French toast and eggs onto a plate, then dropping it down in front of Alaric loudly, making him jolt and slosh coffee over his hand.
“What time do you want to head out?” Donovan asked.
“Give it an hour or so. I have to feed the animals and give the dogs a walk, then take a quick shower.”
“Alright. I’ll be ready.”
And an hour later, we were heading out in his sleek sports car, an homage to his old life. It also didn’t link back to the club, which was important for the day’s mission.
The last thing I needed was to get the club involved in some shit it didn’t belong in if it turned out the guys weren’t just some shithead dog fight ringleaders.
“Really? This is the front for a dog fighting ring?” Donovan asked as we luckily got stuck in traffic in front of it.
“Yeah. In the built-up lower level. The place is hopping on fight nights. There are dog bodies in the dumpsters.”
“You reported it?”
“Lark did and I did too. As far as I can tell, though, no one has investigated.” Donovan’s gaze slid to me, a brow raising a bit. “I know,” I said, nodding.
He didn’t need to say it.
I’d been thinking about it since Lark passed out on the couch and my mind was free to wander.
Animal cruelty to the extent of dog fighting rings with corpses out in the open was not usually so looked over.
But it would be looked over if they were paying off the right cops.
And who paid off the cops?
Real criminal organizations.
The more organized kind of organization.
Not necessarily the Italian mob, but something a little more established than a street gang.
“Do I suddenly have the need for a new piece of gaudy-ass jewelry?” Donovan asked as he found a parking spot just far enough away from the store that we could still see it, but not look like we were scoping out the joint.
“I think you might,” I agreed, watching someone walk out of the store who had just walked in. Sure, he was holding a bag, but there was no way he was in there long enough to look at items, let alone get it properly rung up at a register.
“That look like a deal to you?” Donovan asked.
“That’s what it looks like,” I agreed, exhaling hard.
Of course it couldn’t just be some assholes running a dog fight ring. It had to be something else. Which didn’t bode well for Lark.
“What am I looking for?” Donovan asked.
“As many descriptions of the guys and names as possible so I can try to track them down. I’m sure Arty could get me the names of the owners, but I want to know all the players. Layout of the store, in case that becomes relevant down the road.”
“You think it will come to that?” Donovan asked, knowing what I meant about it becoming relevant. Meaning me going in and… taking care of shit.
Was that crazy for a woman I didn’t really know?
But it also wouldn’t be that uncommon for the guys in the club, if anyone thought about it.
And it wasn’t exactly off-brand for me, either. First, because she was a woman in need of help. Second, because I wouldn’t regret taking some animal abusers off the face of the Earth.
“If it looks like they aren’t just going to cut their losses and move on, yeah, it might come to that,” I told him.
“Alright. Well, I will go look around. Looks like I am developing a taste for tacky fucking jewelry,” he added, shaking his head at the very idea.
I watched him walk off as I checked my phone to find a text from Lark there.
We lived through the night. If you happen to drive by this way at any point, could you drop me off some puppy pads and enzyme cleaner? These guys are used to being in cages…
- I will drop over in a couple hours. It looks like I will need to take a trip to see a buddy of mine to do some work for me, if you were looking for a trip out…
Why was I inviting her along with me?
She didn’t need to come to see Arty.
I mean, yes, this was her situation, but getting her more deeply entrenched in it was a liability.
Only if you let me stop to get tacos.
- Tacos, huh?
Is there ever a bad time for tacos?
- You got me there. I will text you when I am on my way.
Don’t forget the handcuffs and duct tape.
Jesus. That woman needed to stop bringing up the kidnapping thing. She was making it impossible to keep my mind from going there.
I was trying to be a good guy about this.
Did I want to fuck that woman up and down the house and through a wall?
Yes, yes, I did.
But I had to try to keep my hands to myself.
It would only muddy things up more if it went there.
- Best I can do is a helmet and some sunglasses.
Bummer. Does that mean I’m going to ride on your bike?
- Like that idea?
Um… yeah. I mean, it is a deathtrap, but I still want to scribble it off my Bucket List. But if you kill me, I am going to be super pissed. You know… in the afterlife.
- I’ll do my best to keep us alive.
It was right about then that I saw someone else making their way into the jewelry store. Then, like clockwork, made his way out not three minutes later.
I pulled up my phone, opened the camera, and zoomed in while cursing myself for not bringing binoculars.
Sure enough, the guy got into his car, opened a baggie, put a bump on his hand, and snorted.
That settled that.
Like I’d suspected from the beginning, the business was a front.
And that meant this shit was not going to be easy.
Because organized enterprises didn’t just let someone break into their building, steal from them, then walk away free.
Not only that, but they knew she was aware of at least one of their illegal activities.
They wouldn’t let that stand.
“Fuck,” I hissed, waiting for Donovan to make his way out of the store, but unlike the guys scoring drugs, he had a plastic bag instead of paper.
As soon as he was close enough, he shook his head at me before getting into the car, and tossing the bag at me.
“That was the least hideous thing I could find in there,” he said, leaning his head back on the rest, staring up at the ceiling for a moment, then declaring, “You’re fucked.”
“Yeah, I am starting to come to the same conclusion. What did you see?”
“A drug front,” he said, shrugging. “Four guys in the front. Way too many for a small shop. All the shit they carry is cheap, too. Gold plated. Chips of diamonds. Overpriced as fuck, which likely helps all the drug money seem legit since they don’t seem to sell much. They were pushy as fuck. Felt me out twice about drugs. In a discreet way, so I acted dumb. Just a tourist who wanted to appear like a high-roller while on vacation.”
“Smart,” I said, checking out the chain with an eagle hanging from it. “Wow, this was the least hideous thing in there?” I asked, shaking my head.
“Believe it or not. It’s a seedy-looking place, too. Old glass cases. Heavy-traffic, office-type carpeting in a speckled gray and red color. Wall is sporting images of people wearing ugly-ass jewelry. There are two doors. One on the right wall that leads to a filthy bathroom, and another that leads into the back room.”
“Lark said they came through that door to find the built-up lower level.”
“Do they seem to have any clear affiliation? Italian? Cartel?”
“No. If anything, they’re just a thrown-together looking group. Maybe high school friends or something like that. Definitely not one of the big organizations, but seems to have their own hierarchy.”
“Well, it could be worse, I guess.”
“But mid-level organizations are also notoriously paranoid and violent,” Donovan said, having been involved with the underground for most of his life, even if he’d only ever been involved with street racing before joining up with us. He’d rubbed shoulders with all sorts of criminals in that world.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Did any of them look like they’d been recently mauled?”
“Yeah, actually. He was brooding in a corner with gauze taped on his neck and arm. He also had a brace on his other forearm and hand.”
“From Lark running over him while she peeled off,” I said, exhaling hard. “Alright. Thanks, man. Got something to hand off to Arty at least.”
“Sorry it isn’t better news. But it seems like the women who become involved with this club never have easy problems to deal with.”
That was fair enough.
I guess I didn’t have to feel too bad about it, then. We’d all needed to help out with Harmon and Sass and Shy. It would likely happen again in the future as well.
Besides, I meant to try to handle this myself anyway, if possible.
“You want me to drop you back at the clubhouse, or do you want to sit on the place for a while?”
“Can’t imagine I’d learn more than Arty could tell me. And Lark, for that matter. Sounds like she was watching the place for a while before she moved in.”
With that, we headed back to the clubhouse.
I did another trip out with the dogs, checked water and food levels, then grabbed an extra helmet, and headed out on my bike.
“Come on. Go pee-pee,” Lark’s voice cooed as I climbed off my bike, making me turn to head toward the backyard, finding her behind the wrought iron fence with the un-scarred male dog from the night before. “Come on. You can do it,” she added, voice high and cheery, but if you listened closely enough, you could hear the slight edge of frustration. Likely there thanks to a day cleaning up accidents without the right supplies. And aching ribs.
I needed to reach out to the rescues I’d spent some time volunteering with, so they could take on a few of the dogs.
That would be next on my list after Arty’s.
“Hey Lark,” I called, making her head shoot up, eyes wide, for a moment worried the guys had caught up with her.
“Oh, hey. He’s being stubborn,” she said, waving toward the dog who was sniffing hard at something on the ground.
“He’s about to… yep,” I said, nodding as the dog dropped down, side of his face first, rubbing against whatever disgusting thing he found on the ground.
“Oh, dude. You are a handf… oh, God, what is that?” she half grumbled, half whimpered as she took a step back, putting a hand over her nose.
“Didn’t happen to pack any dog shampoo, did you?” I asked, looking at the dog who had something smeared all down the side of his head, and seemed very pleased about it.
“No. The house came with some Castile soap that will work in a pinch, though. Dude, I was just getting ready to go get tacos.”
“I’ll wash him. You need to go wrap yourself with the elastic bandages. The ride won’t be super pleasant with your ribs. The bandages will help ease the ache from any uneven roads.”
“I’m sure. And after we eat, I will contact the rescues I know about taking the puppies and the male and female you brought last night.”
“Not…” she started, eyes worried.
“No, I know. Not Lyle. I will call a trainer I know about him, though, so you can get him evaluated.”
“You’re doing so much for me,” she said as I let myself into the backyard. “How am I ever going to repay you? Especially since you don’t seem keen on wheatgrass shots,” she added, giving me a wobbly smile.
“I don’t want anything in return,” I assured her. “I would help any dog I crossed paths with that needed it, so that doesn’t even have anything to do with you. And the house… that is all Teddy. So, what am I really doing?”
Aside from likely having to murder an entire drug organization, of course. But it didn’t seem like the time to talk about that.
“So, this friend of yours,” she said as she followed me into the bathroom to wash the dog. “Is it Arty?”
“How do you know about Arty?” I asked, stiffening as I looked at her.
“Well, here’s the thing,” she said, pressing her lips together. “I had to, you know, do a little internet search to figure out who you and your club were. And while doing that, I came across some information. Did you know there is a like fan club website about you guys?”
“Yeah. A fan club. I thought you would know since Teddy knows.”
“How does Teddy know?”
“Apparently, his lawyers threatened the website owner so she took his name off of the site. He never mentioned it?”
“No.” And he had some answering to do about that.
“Anyway, they mention some friends. Like Ayanna. And Booker. But I figure this isn’t really a situation for a private security guy. But it might be the situation for a sort of… hacker guy.”
A sort of hacker guy.
That about covered it.
“Is he really as messy as the website said?”
The website had downplayed it.
Arty was more than just a little disheveled or disorganized.
His apartment was, well, likely some sort of biohazard.
And that was saying it nicely.
I mean, the man hadn’t taken out his trash in what looked like months. It not only looked like that, but smelled like it as well.
I didn’t want to shame anyone. There were many reasons someone’s home got out of control. Especially mental health reasons.
But I was half-worried that something was going to climb out of one of the trash piles and skitter away. Biting me before it disappeared.
“Hey, buddy,” Remy said, patting the almost skeletal guy sitting at his desk as he walked past, going toward the window, and lifting it, likely hoping it would help the garbage and stale sweat smell. “I have a favor to ask.”
“You caught me between jobs this time,” Arty said, turning in his chair to face Remy, seeming completely oblivious to my presence. “What is it?”
“This pretty lady here,” Remy said, gesturing toward me, making me stop in my attempt to close one the overflowing garbage bag, “rescued some dogs from a fighting ring,” he told me. “But the guys got a look at her. And now I need you to look into them.”
“What kind of guys?” Arty asked, turning his attention back to Remy, so I went ahead and continued to start to make the place slightly less disgusting.
“The drug-dealing kind of guys,” Remy said, making my head shoot over to find him giving me a wince and a nod.
He hadn’t told me that.
Then again, I hadn’t really given him a chance to get a word in edgewise while I prattled on and on about the house and the pool and the dogs. Including, and I cringe to recall I’d actually gone into this much detail with a hot biker guy, the potty habits of all the dogs.
You know, because nothing is sexier than dog bathroom habits.
What the hell was wrong with me?
It wasn’t like I was planning on hooking up with Remy, but, I mean… if it happened, I wouldn’t be mad about it.
“What kind of drug dealers?” Arty asked.
“Somewhat organized kind. They run that jewelry shop Iced Out. It’s a front. Donovan said all the shit was fake and overpriced.”
“So it’s a pretty serious organization if they have a front.”
“That’s where my mind is at. And the store has been around for a long-ass time.”
“Well, a legitimate front gives me something to work with right away,” Arty said, spinning to face his laptop and numerous monitors.
“I know I’m being rude,” I whispered to Remy when he moved across the room to take the garbage bag from me.
“No, you’re not. Arty is used to this. Gus, Huck’s sister, used to drop in weekly to clean things up. The other girls still try to, but everyone is so busy with kids and work and shit. It has been a while. “He won’t be offended. Honestly, he probably won’t even notice.”
“He hyper-fixates on his… hacking jobs?” I asked as Remy started to help me gather cans of energy drinks.
He and I worked in relative silence as Arty tapped away on his keys.
“No, don’t. I’ve got the garbage,” Remy said, taking the bags from me. “You don’t want to hurt your ribs any more than you need to.”
Admittedly, the bike ride had jostled them more than I’d copped to when he’d asked.
I wasn’t usually a “suffer in silence” type of person. In fact, Myles—and my parents—would often tease me about what a terrible patient I was when I was even slightly under the weather. If I happened to stub my toe in the morning, you would likely hear me whining about it all day.
That said, I worried that if I complained he might insist on calling a ride or something, and, well, I didn’t want that.
Because while riding a bike itself was every bit as terrifying as I had imagined, riding a bike with Remy was worth every stabbing sensation to my ribs.
Did I scoot in close and hold on tight?
You bet your ass I did.
The man smelled like salt water and that stupidly intoxicating banana and coconut lotion he must have slathered all over himself after his showers.
Did I spend too much time thinking about him doing that? Yep. Yep, I did. Could anyone blame me? What, with him being as gorgeous as he was.
By the time I was carefully tucking the new sheets on the bed, wondering if the old ones should just be burned, the room was looking altogether… habitable.
“Lark and I were going to grab some tacos,” Remy said after coming back from the dumpster for the third time. “You want us to get you something?”
“Busy,” Arty said, as he cracked open another energy drink with one hand as he scrolled with the other.
“Bud, you need to eat something. Nothing in here looks like it is recent except the energy drinks and coffee.”
“I’m fine,” Arty insisted, getting a small sigh out of Remy as he made his way to the door, stopping to wait for me.
“We should pick him up some anyway. If he sees it there, he will probably eat it. Most of those containers in his trash were empty,” I said, falling into step with him as we walked down the street.
“He looks like he lost ten pounds since the last time I saw him,” Remy said, worry slipping into his voice. “He didn’t have it to lose. He must be busy. And he doesn’t turn anyone down.”
“Because he needs the money?”
“Because he needs to be working. It keeps him calm. He gets anxious when he doesn’t have something to do. Harmon can sometimes get him to play games with him to keep him occupied but not so focused on work. Harmon is…”
“Huck’s woman,” I filled in. “The fan page,” I reminded him. “Though it is much more heavily focused on you guys than the women.”
“Harmon moved next to the clubhouse. She brought my dog over one night and had a seizure by the pool. Huck fished her out.”
“I mean, it isn’t quite as thrilling as being kidnapped and coming down with Stockholm Syndrome…” he teased, shooting me a smirk as he held the door open for me to the Mexican restaurant.
“This is the best one in the area,” I informed him.
“I know. I worked here once upon a time.”
“For about a week when I was sixteen. I ended up owing the company money, I ate so much. So the boss man told me that it maybe wasn’t the job for me.”
“Hey, look what the cat dragged in. How you been, man?” the older man behind the counter greeted Remy, immediately reaching for his hand. “This man once tried to put me out of business with how much he was eating while on shift,” he added, rapping Remy on the back in a fatherly way. “How you been?”
“Good. Good. Got away from the hustle and bustle a bit. But you know I have to visit you when I am in town. How’s the wife and kids?”
“The wife has a name!” a woman called, coming in from the back, wiping her hand on her apron, then reaching for Remy over the counter, pulling his face in for a kiss to each cheek. “Oh, you are handsome as ever. Did you bring your appetite?”
“Mine and Lark’s,” Remy said, nodding over toward me. “And some to go for a friend of ours.”
“Oh, Lark. Oh, you are gorgeous,” the woman said, giving me a warm smile. “He better be good to you.”
“Oh, it’s not… we’re not…” I said, fumbling over my words.
“We’re working together,” Remy supplied, saving me.
The wife, Anne, her name tag said, seemed to accept that at face value, but it was the husband who gave Remy a hard look.
“So, what can we get for you?” Anne asked, leaving me to launch into my order.
“I like this one. She eats,” Anne declared.
“If I jiggle, I jiggle,” I said, shrugging.
“My motto,” Anne declared. “Between you and me, the men like the jiggle.”
“I’m impressed,” Remy said a few moments later as we each took our trays over to our table. Mine was just slightly more overflowing than his was.
“This, this is why I choke down wheatgrass shots and healthy smoothies most of the time. It balances all this out,” I told him as I picked up one of the tacos. I’d gotten an array, from the classic beef to the chicken, and even the grilled veggie, rice, and beans one. “It helps that I’ve had a craving since reading that fan page.”
“The writer said you once wore a taco shirt and that there was… innuendo. But now I’ve wanted tacos since then.”
“Yeah, I’m always in the mood for… tacos,” he said, and that pause was, well, telling.
I was not someone who blushed easily, but I could feel the heat spreading across my cheeks at his words.
“So, what do we get for Arty?” I asked, desperate to change the topic before I said something I couldn’t take back. I was good at doing that. It was effortless, really.
“He’s not picky. I will ask Booker to drop in to make sure he actually eats it.”
“If he likes Booker so much, why doesn’t he work for him?”
“I’m going to need this website of yours,” Remy said, shaking his head at me. “They are sharing too much of our information.”
“I’m not telling you anything that might get her in trouble.”
“Hey,” he said, reaching across the table, placing his hand beside mine. “We don’t hurt women. At most, it would be a conversation.”
“A conversation that might make her pee her pants because she knows you are big, scary biker guys. I mean this is probably like some college girl who came to a party once or something. I doubt the website will cause you any problems.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. That’s for Huck to decide. Don’t worry about it, babe. I promise whoever it is, she will be fine. Even if she is a little disappointed that she has to take her page down.”
“Fine,” I grumbled. “I get it,” I added. “I mean the only way you guys can… do what you do is if no one really knows about it. Do you like… what you do?”
“It’s a job,” Remy said, shrugging. “It’s not usually as exciting as you’d think. Same old thing on a usual day, occasionally broken up by some crazy shit.”
“Do you like this or chopping cars better? What?” I asked, when he let out a sort of snorting laugh.
“It’s strange to have someone know so much about you when you don’t actually know them that well.”
“Well, what do you want to know about me? I’m an open book. Probably too open at times, depending on who you ask.
“I have pretty wealthy parents. I run their flagship store. My best friend is an amazing pansexual surfer dude who I met when we both started working at the shop as teens.
“I love animals. I hate olives. I’ve had three serious relationships that, in hindsight, I took more seriously than they ever did. Ummm. I once wanted to be a lifeguard. But,” I said, waving at my red hair and general paleness. “And, you know, the fact that I am not a great swimmer.”
“You grew up here and you’re not a good swimmer?”
“I was actually afraid of the ocean as a kid. It took me years to go above ankle height in the water. The undertow still scares the hell out of me.”
“Why were you scared of the ocean?”
“I imagine it likely has a lot to do with watching Jaws at far too young an age.”
“Sharks, huh? When there are gaters fucking everywhere.”
“I know. Completely illogical. So, now you know more about me, so you don’t need to feel weird. So… chopping cars or dealing… arms?”
“That’s a tough one. I think they were different seasons in the series of my life. Chopping cars was exciting, adrenaline-fueled fun when I was young and reckless. Now, though, I don’t need that adrenaline hit all the time. This is a little calmer. Besides, the old clubhouse blowing up has made it possible for me to have a big yard for the dogs.”
“Wait… you can’t just breeze past something blowing up. This isn’t an action movie.”
“Yeah, thankfully, none of us was in the building at the time. Our friend, West, nearly got caught in it, though.”
“West. That is who Gus, Huck’s sister, is married to.”
“Myles and I spent a lot of time on that site,” I admitted. “Not in a creepy way, but in a ‘Is this hot biker guy going to help me or just laugh in my face’ kind of way. I mean, fine. There were moments when we were scouring the pictures and deciding how bangable each of you were on a scale of one to ten. You were all like a five-billion,” I told him, shaking my head. “I mean, how is it possible that you’re all hot? Statistically, that isn’t right.”
“I will pass on the compliments,” Remy said. “I’m the hottest though, right?” he added, wiggling his brows at me.
“I guess that sort of thing is in the eye of the beholder, right? Like Myles was really into Donovan.”
“And you?” Remy asked, head ducking a bit, keeping his gaze on me.
“I, ah… well… you’re more my type. I mean, like I said, you’re all hot. But the Donovan guy seems too fancy for me. And Seeley seems kind of intense. And Alaric, that’s the ex-stripper, right?”
“Kind of sounds like he would be very into his body. I mean, not to assume that—“
“No. You’re not wrong. His body was his job. So he’s into his body. Not as much as he used to be, but definitely spends more time at the gym than the rest of us.”
“So, if I’m your number one, who would be in second place?”
“What?” Remy asked, brows raising, surprised by my response.
“I mean, the site said he is charming, treats women well, and likes to cook. What’s not to like about that? Oh, and I am charmed by the whole dad-bod thing, as the site called it. Sounds snuggle-able.”
“Snuggle fan, huh?”
“Baby, I have six clingy dogs. All of them like a snuggle.”
“Your future wife is going to need to fight to be close to you.”
“I will need a double king-sized bed,” he agreed.
“So… this is bad, right?” I asked after the silence stretched on for too long.
Remy put down the taco he was lifting toward his mouth, then took a slow, deep breath.
“I don’t want to lie to you, hon, it’s not looking great.”
“Should I go to the police? I mean, I could fib, right? I could tell them that the guy just attacked me for no reason. There’s no way the guys will admit that I took their dogs, right? Their illegal dog fighting dogs?”
“It’s… it’s an option,” Remy said, shrugging.
“But not the option you think I should take?”
“I can’t tell you what to do here, Lark,” he told me. “But if this was me, or my sister, or my girl, I would say to give me a few days.”
“You think you can scare them worse than the cops?”
“Here’s the thing. The cops really only have a few options to help you with this. A restraining order. Which tends to make bad guys escalate. And they can offer a cop to drive past your place every hour. At best, they will let someone sit on your house and work. But this is Miami, babe. They don’t have the cops to spare. Too much other shit going on.”
“Well, that’s disheartening. You know, to all the other people who find themselves in a bad spot and don’t happen to know a cool biker guy with lots of connections.”
“I thought I was a hot biker guy,” Remy said, smirking.
“Well, that too,” I agreed. “So, can I ask what you plan to do about the situation, then?”
“Well, right now, I am planning on waiting for Arty to give me some files. He will have a shitton of information which will help me decide how I’m going to handle it. What?” he asked, making me realize my reaction must have been all over my face.
“It’s just… the way you just said ‘handle it’ kind of reminded me of mafia guys on TV shows. You know… like in a final sort of way.”
“And you are morally opposed to that?” he asked, choosing his words carefully.
“I, well, huh. That’s actually a lot harder to answer than I would have thought. I guess I don’t think everyone should be allowed to live, you know? Pedophiles are a prime example. Hell, even rapists, honestly. I kind of think I would personally be capable of killing someone if I found myself with a gun and happen upon a person hurting an animal. So, I guess, sometimes it is warranted. If they are bad guys.”
“We are about to determine just how bad of guys they are. As soon as Arty is done.”
“Then we better get him his tacos, so he can keep going,” I said, cleaning up my platter.
“I’ll go order,” Remy said, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Until someone dropped down across from me.
“Okay. Girl to girl, Remy is a good guy. In case you were having reservations, and that is why you are just ‘working together’ instead of together-together.
“You see, he didn’t really have a chance to be on the up-and-up. That’s why Rod, my husband, gave him a job when he was a kid. We’d seen him hanging around. You know, on the street. We had our own teens. And it was our mission to keep them off the street, you know?
“But Remy didn’t have parents like that. So we tried to take him in. He was a good kid, but he wasn’t meant for this line of work. Even after he stopped working here, he came in almost every night with his friends. We are well aware that he… went down the path we wanted so badly for him to avoid.
“Even so, though, he has grown into a great man. I wanted to tell you that in case you were questioning it. As a woman, I understand that, knowing what you know, what we know, that you might not want to be involved in that in any way. But if you are okay with his job, but questioning his morals as a person, I’m here to assure you he’s one of the good ones.”
With that, Anne hopped up and moved off before Remy got back to the table.
“What was that all about?” he asked, waving the to-go bag of tacos at me.
“Oh, just… girl talk,” I told him, going for our trays, but he beat me to it, bussing them himself, then leading me out the door.
And while we were halfway out, he oh-so-subtly touched my hip, shifting me toward the inside of the sidewalk, so he was closest to the road.
For a “street kid” with what seemed like not great parents, that was surprisingly great manners. I wasn’t sure I’d ever met a guy who made sure I didn’t walk on the road side of the sidewalk.
My heart actually did a little squeezy thing in my chest.
I made a mental note to text Myles about it when I got back to the safe house.
Which was exactly what I did, as Remy ran out to grab the supplies I’d asked for in my car since we couldn’t bring them on the bike.
When I didn’t get an immediate response, I tried again.
When the fourth text went unanswered, my stomach tightened hard, knowing it wasn’t like him.
In fact, Myles was an almost compulsive text answerer. The only time he didn’t text someone right back was when he was sleeping or, well, sleeping with someone.
But he should have been just getting ready to leave work. Which was prime time for him to be ironing out plans with whoever he was meeting up with.
He would have seen my text.
I had no reason to suspect something was wrong, not really. He could have been in the bathroom, or dealing with a difficult customer. Really, any number of things.
But the way the hair on the back of my neck stood on end had me immediately dialing his number.
A third time.
“Hey, this is you-know-who. If you are calling about you-know-what, then meet me at you-know-where.”
That was his answering machine message. It had been that way since he was a teenager, mostly because his uncle was a cop and it pissed him off to hear it when he called his nephew.
“Myles, it’s me,” I said, hearing how frantic my voice was already. “You need to call me back. ASAP. Like five minutes ago, okay?”
When that didn’t get answered, I called again. And again. And again.
“Alright, I got the extra-extra larger pee…” Remy started as he came in, finding me throwing my purse over my shoulder. “What’s wrong?” he asked, one look at my face telling him something was up.
“Myles isn’t answering me.”
“Myles. Your best friend,” Remy repeated, putting the bags down just inside the door.
“Yeah. I know it sounds like nothing, but Myles always answers. Always. He once answered me while in the dental chair getting a root canal. He should be answering.”
“Okay,” Remy said, nodding, his tone placating. “Alright. Come on. Let’s put your mind at ease. Why don’t you leash up Lyle?” he asked, making me turn and point, showing him Lyle waiting by his gate with a slip lead around his neck, ready to go.
“Great minds,” I said, taking the leash.
“So where are we heading?” Remy asked as he followed me outside.
“The smoothie shop first. He should have been leaving there a little bit ago.”
“Alright. And if he’s there, you owe me a smoothie.”
“One wheatgrass smoothie coming up,” I teased, even though the last thing I felt like doing was making jokes. At least until I knew Myles was okay.
The ride back to The Main Squeeze was only about twenty minutes. But with each minute that passed, my heart felt more and more crushed in my chest. Until it felt like I couldn’t breathe.
“Hey, take a breath, okay?” Remy said, his hand slapping down on my thigh, giving it a squeeze. It wasn’t until right then that I realized he had parked the car. “Let’s not borrow worries until we know there is something to worry about, right?”
“Right,” I agreed, exhaling hard.
“I can’t bring Lyle inside the store.”
“Babe, who is going to tell on you?” he asked.
And, well, he had a point.
So I climbed out of the car and followed him up the street toward The Main Squeeze.
I was pretty sure her best friend was missing.
After talking to the staff at The Main Squeeze, who told us that Myles claimed he was heading home to shower and eat before going to a party later, there was no reason to assume he had some excuse for not answering Lark.
With any normal person, I would say that the phone died or something. But Lark had been insistent that Myles was attached to his phone. She claimed he carried two power banks because he never let his phone go below twenty percent.
So, yeah, I didn’t want to say it, but it wasn’t looking great.
“Do you see his car?” I asked as we drove around the lot at his apartment building.
“Yeah, that’s it,” she said, pointing toward a yellow Jeep. “Maybe he like fell or something,” she said, getting out of the car, and walking fast enough that her ribs had to be hurting, but she was too anxious to care.
As for me, I kept pace with her, but my gaze was scanning the lot and the building, looking for anyone who seemed out of place, who might be lying in wait to try to get Lark when she realized her friend wasn’t answering.
“Is that necessary?” Lark asked, eyes widening as I pulled out my gun when we got to Myle’s door.
“I hope not,” I told her as she found her key on her ring and put it in the lock. “But I would rather be prepared,” I added, giving her a little push out of the way so I could move in the door first.
She didn’t wait, though. I could feel her at my back as I moved into Myles’s common area that included the living room, dining area, and kitchen.
Everything was gray and white, very modern and streamlined, without a lot of personal touches, save for the yellow surfboard next to the door, the bike on a rack on the wall, and a laundry bin full of what looked like various board shorts on the coffee table in the living room.
“He’s not here much,” Lark explained, seeming to read my thoughts as I moved down the hall.
The bathroom was empty, but Myles had definitely taken that shower he’d mentioned to his coworkers. There was still a trace of steam on the mirror and a wet towel slung over the bar. Sunblock sat on the counter, the top open.
“Could he have gone to the beach?” I asked.
“Without his bike or board?” she asked. “I mean… anything is possible.”
“And if he was in the water, he wouldn’t be answering his texts or calls,” I reasoned with her, even as I moved back out of the bathroom and toward the bedroom.
It wasn’t until then that I was pretty damn sure something had happened.
Because there were signs of a struggle.
And traces of blood on the blue bedspread.
Not a lot. A small enough amount that I wasn’t even sure that Lark saw it.
“Did you see his keys out in the living room?” I asked, tone light.
“I don’t remember. I’ll double-check,” she said, turning to walk away, so I could move forward to touch the blood, finding it wet.
“Fuck,” I hissed, exhaling hard.
“They’re here,” she said, coming back. “That’s not good, right? I mean, even if he went to the beach, he would need his keys to get back into his apartment. It was locked. What?” she asked, seeing the tightness to my jaw.
Taking a breath, I raised my hand, showing her my fingers.
“Is that blood?” she asked, face going white.
“Yeah, it’s blood. There’s a little on the bedspread,” I told her, motioning toward it.
“Oh, God. We have to call the police, right?”
That was a tough one.
If it were me, or mine, I wouldn’t. But Myles wasn’t my person. He was Lark’s person. And she would likely feel better knowing that the police were on the case.
“We can call the police,” I said, nodding. “But we will need to figure out what to tell them.”
“Because this is about me, right?” she asked, shoulders slumping. “Because of these guys. I would have to tell them that.”
“You would if you want them to be able to find Myles.”
“What do I do?” she asked, tone as desperate as the look in her watery eyes.
“That’s going to be up to you, babe. You can call the cops, report him missing, tell them about the blood and see if they are willing to investigate right now.”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“Because it hasn’t been long. And because this is a very trace amount of blood. But you can get it on the record in case he doesn’t turn up in the next twenty-four hours. And then they would get on the case.”
“And then in that twenty-four hours, we can look for him?”
“Yeah. What?” I asked when she threw up an arm and mumbled Oh my God!
“His uncle is a cop. I can call his uncle, right?”
“Who’s his uncle?” I asked. “I know a lot of guys on the police force,” I clarified.
“Oh, ah, Lou? Lou Truman.”
I knew the name. He’d never been on our payroll, so I couldn’t say how he would react to Lark and her involvement in what happened to Myles.
“Okay. Let’s go talk to him.”
The ride to the police station was full of tense silence, interrupted only by the panting of Lyle.
“Okay, buddy. We won’t be long,” Lark assured him as she put on the radio. “We will leave the music and AC on for you.”
With that, we made our way up to the police station—a place I wouldn’t have imagined I’d walk into willingly if you asked me a week ago.
“Detective Truman?” the woman at the front clarified.
“Yes. Detective Truman,” Lark said, nodding.
“You said your name is Lark?”
“Yes. It’s about his nephew Myles, though,” Lark clarified.
“Okay. One minute,” she said, moving away.
“I’m nervous he is going to lock me up. Or hit me,” Lark admitted, moving closer to my side.
“He won’t,” I assured her.
“Lark, hon, is everything okay?”
“Is there somewhere we can go to talk?” I asked, watching his gaze slide to me, taking in my cut, my patches, then nodding.
“Unofficially?” he asked, brow raising.
“For starters, yes,” I said, nodding.
“Okay. Let’s step outside,” he said, motioning toward the door.
Lou Truman was a tall and fit guy with a full head of salt and pepper hair, and the kind of face that would make young girls with daddy issues all kinds of happy.
“What’s going on, Lark? Are you in trouble?” he asked, looking at me.
“He’s… helping me. And sort of. But I’m not here about me. It’s Myles.”
“What about Myles?”
“I think he’s missing. And there was… there was blood on his bedspread.”
“Not a lot,” I clarified. “It would be a superficial wound, at worst,” I assured him, watching the panic spread across his face.
“Who would hurt Myles?”
“That’s the thing…” Lark started, lip quivering.
“You’re in trouble?” he asked, looking closer at her face, the split in her lip, the bruise on her cheek that the makeup wasn’t quite covering up perfectly. His gaze even went down, seeming to take in the bulkiness under her shirt from the elastic bandages.
“I… sort of. I, ah, I caught the negative attention of some bad guys. And I have been kind of… spending time away from my life to see if it will blow over.”
“But now someone is screwing with Myles to fuck with you.”
“I’m so sorry,” Lark whimpered.
“That’s what we think,” I said, trying to keep things calm and rational.
“The guys who run Iced Out.”
“The smack dealers? For fuck’s sake,” Lou hissed, reaching up to run a hand through his hair.
“Are they big players?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you know that?” he asked, glancing down at my cut.
“Not in the area much anymore. Don’t know all the players anymore.”
“They’re a wanna be Costa Nostra, but without the code and the manners and the smarts. They’re one step above a normal, disorganized street gang.”
“They run a dog fighting ring in the building,” Lark supplied, deciding to trust Lou with the truth.
“I’ve heard rumors about that,” Lou agreed. “Which is likely how you got in trouble with them,” he said. “Okay. What kind of headstart do they have?”
“Not much. Myles got off his shift and went home to take a shower. We were maybe half an hour behind him,” I told him.
“Okay. That’s good. There’s been no contact from them? You’re working under the assumption that they are trying to draw Lark out?”
“Yeah. Nothing else makes sense.”
To that, Lou let out a deep exhale, trying to figure out how to handle the situation.
“Okay. Lark, knowing you, you reported the ring, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, I think it is time to raid it,” Lou said. “But first, they might get an anonymous tip. Not enough to get the dogs out of there, but maybe to try to move Myles,” he went on.
“That’s a good plan,” I agreed. “How do you want to handle it then? Your boys get Myles back, or you want me and mine to deal with it?”
“I think…” Lou started, cutting off when Lark’s phone rang. “Answer it,” he demanded.
“H…hello?” Lark said, letting me take the phone and put it on speaker.
“Lark, my girl, how you doing?” a male voice answered, chipper, but tight. And judging by the way both Lark and Lou stiffened, the voice belonged to Myles.
“I, ah, better now that I’ve heard from you.”
“Oh, you know me, always just… hanging around,” he said. “Got some guys here who want to talk to you,” he went on. “Should be able to hear ‘em good. Real quiet around here.”
Lou’s gaze met mine as both of our heads lifted.
He was choosing his words carefully.
Hanging around meant he was strung up somewhere.
Real quiet around here likely meant they were not at the store where there would be noise above from the drug deals, and the barking from the dogs.
There went our plan for a raid.
“Oh, ah, good. That’s good. How are you?”
“Maybe not as good as new but holding on.”
“Enough,” a voice growled. “Fair trade. Your innocent friend for you. I’ll call back for your answer.”
And with that, the line went dead.
“I… I… I should have tried to find out more,” Lark said, staring at her phone like it had morphed into some sort of venomous animal.
“No, you did good. They wouldn’t have let you get much more,” Lou insisted as I reached for my phone. “Who are you calling?”
“My buddy who is looking into these fuckers,” I told him, dialing up Arty, crossing my fingers he would answer. He wasn’t a big fan of phones to begin with, and even less so when he was working. Thankfully, he picked up.
“Arty, these guys took one of Lark’s friends. Do they have any other places to hold someone other than Iced Out? He said it was quiet, which makes us think it isn’t the business since there would be dogs barking and people coming in and out of the store getting drugs.”
“Well, the guy who owns the store, he owns a house. Oh, and it looks like they own a small storage facility.”
“Can you send me the locations of both?” I asked before hanging up. “What are your thoughts?” I asked, looking at Lou.
“Could be either. But have about the same risk of someone seeing or hearing something. They could likely lock the gates at the storage facility, though, making it so no one can get in and interrupt. If they actually use it for any legitimate purposes to begin with, that is.”
“I can get my guys and go in there,” I told him, shrugging off breaking and entering in front of a cop. You’d find that most cops weren’t all “law and order” when it was their or their loved one’s safety on the line. “There’s no way for you to legally do it,” I reasoned.
“Got a track record of getting people out alive?”
“Okay. It’s the only option, right?” Lou asked, shrugging.
“Can you drive Lark back to her safe house?”
“What? No. I’m coming. I have to come!”
“Lark, that’s not possible,” Lou said at almost the exact same time.
“He’s my best friend.”
“You came to me to help protect you. You can trust your best friend with me too,” I assured her. “And it won’t just be me. I will get some of the other guys to help out.”
“I get the sense that you’re not going to give in on this.”
“No, I’m not,” I confirmed. I didn’t usually tell people how to live their lives, but I had to draw the line when it came to something so dangerous.
Sure, she was someone who risked her life to save some innocent dogs. But she was no hardened criminal. She’d admitted that when she’d been attacked, she had been too shocked to respond.
There was no way she could get involved in a hostage sort of situation that could involve shooting.
“I don’t like it, but I understand,” she said, biting her lower lip, more worried than she was letting on.
“I have her. Go meet up with your friends,” Lou said, giving me a nod.
“Oh, wait. I have to get Lyle,” Lark said.
“Who is Lyle?”
“A dog,” I told him. “You might not want to get too close to him,” I added as we walked back toward Lark’s car that I was going to need to borrow.
“You’ll call me, right?” she asked, looking up at me with these doe eyes that, as fucked in the head as it was, somehow made me want to bend her over the hood of the car.
“Absolutely,” I assured her. “Detective, he’s going to call Lark again…” I said.
“I’ll handle it,” Lou assured me. “Buy you some time.”
“Okay. It’s going to be okay,” I assured her, reaching out to touch her shoulder, then getting in the car and driving off, dialing Huck as I went.
“When an unknown woman somehow finds herself in our club, that is usually how it goes,” he said, letting out a humorless chuckle.
“I need some of the guys.”
“Yep. Sounds about right. How about you take Seeley and the two prospects?”
“Gotta make their bones somehow,” Huck said. “If Seeley vouches for them, we know they have what it takes.”
That was fair enough.
Seeley took his work very seriously. He would never let the club become weaker by allowing friends of his who weren’t worthy to become a part of it.
“Okay. Sounds good. I need some extra guns and ammo, but I don’t want to waste time coming back there.”
“I will have Alaric suit everyone up. Where are they meeting you?”
“Tell them by the old clubhouse.”
“Alright. They’ll be on their way in ten.”
“Yeah yeah yeah. Just know we will now be placing bets on how long it takes for the pretty redhead to have a ring on her finger.”
“It’s not like that.”
“It never is. Until it is.”
With that, he hung up. And I was left with my own swirling thoughts as I sat in the car, waiting for the guys to show up.
There were so many ways this could go wrong. Especially in a place as cavernous as a storage unit facility. Sure, there was some protection from the bullets because of thick walls and metal doors and shit, but the sound would also dance off the open space, making it hard to tell where it was coming from.
And, yeah, we had no idea how outnumbered we would be or where Myles was being held.
Best case, Lou managed to get Lark to rehearse and perform a good act, leading some of the guys away.
I mean, they weren’t going to spare Myles.
Even if Lark, for real, decided to try to trade herself for him.
That wasn’t how it worked.
It would need to be a scorched earth type of situation.
So Myles was going to be left at the storage facility while they ran to get Lark. Then they’d likely bring her back and torture the two of them for a while before taking them out of their misery.
If Lou and Lark could lure most of them away, and we only had to deal with a couple guards, that would be the best situation.
I just wasn’t sure how much luck was on our side.
I was saved from the swirling thoughts, though, when I heard the bikes rumbling down the street, finding their own spots, then making their way toward me when I moved out of the car.
“Storage facility, huh? Seeley asked, handing me a gun. “Sounds fun.”
It would. To him.
And maybe to the prospects too.
Levee and Cato.
And, yes, those were their legal names.
Who needed a road name when you had a legal name like that, right?
They were both in their early twenties. Both were tall and fit—Levee in a more wiry way, Cato being bulkier. Where Levee was black-haired and dark-eyed, Cato had light brown hair and green eyes.
Both of them had that same air about them that Seeley did. The kind of laid-back confidence that came from being raised on the streets. Nothing shook them. And they always seemed ready for anything.
“We are hoping that Lark can lure some of the guys away, so we aren’t too outnumbered. I can—“ I started, getting interrupted by my phone. “Turn all your phones off,” I demanded of them as I answered. “Arty, not a great time.”
“Did I catch you in time?”
“In time for what?”
“For going into the storage facility.”
“How did you—“ I started.
“I can give you a feed of the cameras,” Arty said, making me once again realize why we paid him the big bucks. There was no one in the area, as far as any of us could tell, who could do half as much as Arty did.
“Live?” I asked.
“Yes. They didn’t secure them. I mean, there was a password, but that isn’t secure. A child could hack it.”
“You’re fucking badass, man. Can you feed that to my phone?”
“Yeah. Give me a minute. Okay, open that file,” he said just as something popped up on my screen.
“That’s amazing,” I said, looking down at the many screens of the cameras in the facility. “You…” I started, then realized he’d already ended the call. That was Arty for you. The thrill was in figuring it out, not getting praise from someone about it.
“Alright. Arty just made our lives a hell of a lot easier. I can guide us through the facility and hopefully keep us from getting surprised by anyone,” I said, clicking through the screens to the ones with people in them. “Think we know which unit they are holding Myles in,” I said, turning my phone to show him the two guards standing beside one closed door.
“Looks like some of the other guys are moving out,” Seeley said, clicking another of the feeds.
“That’s their enforcer,” Cato said, pointing at the guy with the bandage on his neck from where Lyle had bitten him.
“How do you know that?”
“This is the Locust crew,” Levee piped in, brows furrowed like he didn’t understand how I didn’t know that.
“The Locust Crew. They grew up in the Locust Apartments,” Cato supplied. “Decided they wanted out of the shitty area.”
“How do you know this?”
“Grew up in Locust,” Cato said, shrugging. “My brother used to fuck the leader’s little sister until they put an end to that.”
“You didn’t want to join up with them?” I asked, wondering why they would have given up the opportunity to get out of the area earlier if it was right in front of them. Especially since they clearly weren’t opposed to being criminals.
“The leader. Anthony. He’s a dick,” Cato explained. “His initiations include beating the shit out of some random innocent person. Even women. He doesn’t care.”
“And that enforcer,” Levee piped in. “He’s arguably worse than Anthony himself. Fucked in the head, always was. Used to beat up kids on their way to school for their lunch money or their electronics if they had any. When he was an adult, mind you,” he explained. “Word is he has a lot of bodies for the crew.”
That was just great.
“You guys okay with this?” I asked.
Loyalty could be weird.
Especially to the place you grew up in.
“The Locust Crew isn’t the kind of group anyone has loyalty to, man,” Cato said, shaking his head.
“The neighborhood would be better off without them,” Levee added. “They don’t even help out their own. The Dark Gables crew at least gives back to their community. The Locust guys… they don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves.”
“Alright. Good. Because Huck made it clear this job is about you guys proving yourself,” I told them, getting surprised brow raises and firm nods out of both of them, acknowledging that they understood that this was the make-or-break job that would determine if they were the right kind of guys for our club. “You ready?” I asked, motioning toward the car.
And with that, we were off, heading across town to the storage facility that was located close to Locust Crew’s old stomping ground.
“Here,” Seeley said, handing out ski masks similar to the one I’d seen Lark wearing, but in a lighter, more breathable material, so we hopefully wouldn’t be sweating so badly that we couldn’t see well enough to shoot straight.
We were parked a few blocks away from the facility, but on a backroad in case of lookouts.
“Figure since we can’t get ‘em all, we might want to hide who we are,” Seeley explained as I took mine, not realizing my brow was furrowed until he explained.
Always thinking ahead, that was Seeley.
We each held out masks in our hands until we were close to the facility walls. That was coincidentally when a message popped up on my phone from Arty, letting us know that he’d disengaged the gate lock.
I was going to have to pay him double for the work he was pulling off on this particular job.
“Ready?” I asked, pulling on my mask, waiting for the nods from all three of them as they reached for their guns.
Seeley walked beside me, keeping a lookout as I guided us via the camera feeds on my phone, looking for us, then watching as we progressed toward the building where Myles was being held.
We moved inside, Levee taking an extra moment to close the door silently, none of us wanting to announce our presence until we were closer.
I paused at the corner, turning back to them as I tucked my gun so I could talk with my hands.
Two fingers for two guys.
Then a point to both Levee and Cato to tell them they were moving in first, since that was what Huck wanted.
They gave me a nod as I grabbed my gun once again, then I moved behind them, watching them count down, then charge.
They were nearly silent until I heard the pop-pop-pop of their guns as they took out the two guards stationed outside the unit.
I was about to charge forward when I realized I was suddenly alone.
Seeley was gone.
Which likely meant he saw or heard or thought of something because if there was someone you knew you could count on, it was Seeley.
Feeling a little uneasy, I scanned the camera feeds, but saw nothing, so I rushed forward even as Cato was lifting the garage door to the unit the guards had been protecting.
They wouldn’t protect anything again.
Their bodies were lifeless on the ground, two almost perfect head shots.
I was six or seven paces back as the door opened and the gunshots rang out.
Loud, no silencer, made louder still by all the metal and emptiness surrounding us.
Cato’s body jolted hard and fell as Levee took aim.
Tucking my phone, I rushed forward, grabbing Cato by the back of his shirt and dragging him away from the active shooting.
Red was blooming across his chest, and it was impossible to tell if it was superficial or fatal.
In front of me, Levee moved out of the doorway of the unit, leaning against it, taking fast, heaving breaths as he re-loaded his gun.
It was right then that I saw the blood pouring down the side of his neck. But he was still standing, still fighting, which made me think he was grazed.
He looked up at me, holding up two fingers, and I moved forward to flank the other side of the door, wondering what the chances were that we would be able to take out those guys without Myles getting caught in the crossfire.
Just as I was about to say fuck it, there was Seeley, walking down behind Levee with a giant-ass fire extinguisher.
He didn’t even pause in his stride as he moved past Levee and started spraying.
Levee recovered before I did, charging inside and shooting.
I followed all of a second later, finding the two guards inside completely disoriented and unable to get away as we started to shoot.
“Ow, fuck. Shoot them, not me,” Myles grumbled from his position hanging from his arms just an inch or two off the floor. “Wow, that really hurts. Jesus Christ,” he added as I tucked my gun and went toward him.
“Where are you hit?”
“You’re the hot biker guy, right?” Myles asked instead. “It’s hard to tell. You know, with the mask and all. But you’re built nicely.”
“Thanks. Where are you hit?”
“His foot,” Levee said as he reached down to check the pulse of one of the guards, using his knuckles instead of his fingers, not wanting to leave prints on the body.
“Running back to the car is going to suck for you then,” I said as I walked over toward the hook in the wall to undo the chain.
“Some warning,” Myles hissed as he slammed down onto his knees on the unyielding floor, taking a few slow, deep breaths.
“You good? You’re going to need to walk,” I added.
“I’m fine. Lark?” he asked.
“Lark is fine. She’s with your uncle right now, actually.”
“Oh, that’s going to be a fun conversation later,” Myles said as I nodded toward Levee, a silent We’re done here.
“Where the fuck is Cato?” Levee hissed as we walked back out of the unit to find blood smeared across the floor, but no man.
Seeley was where Cato was.
Because he was, yet again, missing.
“Come on. We gotta run,” I said, giving Myles a nod before we all took off, Levee taking the lead and me falling behind Myles who was running with a bit of a, well, Hunchback of Notre Dame sort of run, clearly favoring his right foot as we retraced our footsteps through the building and outside.
There was no trace of Seeley or Cato, and a part of me was torn, wondering if I was mistaken, if someone had come in behind us and taken them while we’d been inside the unit.
We couldn’t waste any time wondering, though.
Besides, if I had to put my money on anything, it would be that Seeley had shit under control.
So we took off toward the gates, where I finally had some confirmation that Seeley was okay because there was a body half-hidden behind some shrubs and a small puddle of blood where he’d likely set Cato down so he could move the body out of the way so it wasn’t visible from the road.
Feeling marginally better, but getting increasingly worried about the blood Cato was losing, we started down the street, only to have Lark’s car come speeding up at us.
I had the keys.
Which meant Seeley somehow had the time to kill the guard, move him, and half drag Cato down the street, so he could hotwire the car and circle back to snatch us all up.
“Hurry up,” Seeley demanded, a hint of worry in his voice, making my gaze slide to Cato as the tree of us crushed into the back seat.
“Where am I putting pressure?” Levee asked, peeling off his own shirt and reaching around the passenger seat to stuff the shirt against Cato’s stomach where Seeley pointed before peeling away from the curb.
“He needs a hospital,” I said, worrying about the repercussions of that.
There would be cops and questions. Ones we clearly couldn’t answer.
“No hospital,” Cato ground out between shaky breaths.
“Don’t be a hero, man,” Myles demanded. “I mean, you’re looking kind of gray,” he added, saying what the rest of us were likely thinking.
“I know a place,” Seeley said, taking a turn.
Of course he did.
“What kind of place?” I asked.
“It’s a clinic in my old neighborhood. The main doctor who runs it… I know her.”
“By ‘know her,’ we all assume you mean you fucked her,” Levee said, wincing as Cato let out a string of hisses as he pressed harder on the wound in his stomach that didn’t want to stop bleeding. “I sure hope you didn’t fuck her over.”
“It won’t be pleasant for me,” Seeley admitted, shrugging. “But she will take care of Cato.”
“And maybe when she’s done with that—“ Myles started, getting cut off by Levee.
“Yeah, then maybe she can slap a bandage on your baby graze, man.”
“Hey, sorry I am not accustomed to getting shot. Some of us are smoothie makers, not crazy criminals.”
I ignored that, grabbing my phone and dialing Huck.
“Feel like this can’t be good,” Huck said on the other end.
“Cato took two shots. Good ones,” I added as Seeley pressed his foot into the pedal harder. It was stupid to speed with illegal guns in the car, so the fact that he was doing it told me he was genuinely worried about Cato.
“Shit. Where are you?”
“On our way to a clinic in Seeley’s old neighborhood.”
“Fuck that. Take his ass to a hospital. We can deal with the cops later.”
“Cato said no to the hospital,” I told him.
“Fucking stubborn-ass kids,” Huck grumbled. “I need updates.”
“Three down. We have Lark’s friend, Myles.”
“Who has also been shot,” Myles said, voice loud.
“His foot is grazed, I clarified.
“Seeley? Levee? You?” Huck asked.
“Levee had a graze on his neck. Bleeding like a bitch, but it doesn’t look bad. Seeley and I are fine.”
“Okay. Good. Give me a call when you know how Cato is doing.”
“Will do,” I said as Seeley flew into the lot of the clinic, parking right out front.
“Hey, you can’t—“ the security guard started to warn as Seeley rushed around the hood of the car. He shut right up, though, as Seeley dragged the barely-conscious Cato out of the car.
“Call your uncle,” I demanded as we climbed out behind Levee.
By the time we made it into the clinic, Cato and Seeley were gone, tucked somewhere behind the bulletproof glass and metal detectors.
“Hey, you need to come back too,” a male nurse called, looking at Levee when he tried to sit down in the waiting room alongside normal men, women, and children who were likely there for smaller ailments.
It seemed to say a lot about the area that no one seemed the least bit fazed by Levee and his neck wound.
“I’m fine. Take care of my friend,” Levee insisted.
“We’re taking care of your friend. But it isn’t fine. I can’t have you bleeding all over my waiting room,” he said, waving toward the metal detector.
“I’m bleeding a bit too,” Myles said, voice taking on a flirtatious edge as he spoke to the attractive male nurse.
The nurse’s gaze slid down to Myle’s bare feet.
“I’ll get you a bandage. Do you want neon of Spiderman?” he asked, but turned and walked Levee back before Myles could comment.
“Grazes hurt,” I told him, knowing it was a big deal to a normal person to be kidnapped and held and then shot a little bit while being rescued.
“Look at you, trying to defend my pride because you want to get in my best friend’s pants,” he said as he hobbled over to a seat and dropped down.
“It’s not like that,” I insisted.
“Isn’t it?” he shot back, rolling his eyes. “You want me to think you grabbed your buddies and came in, guns blazing, to save a stranger you don’t give a shit about out of the goodness of your heart? And not because you want to fuck Lark seven ways to Sunday?”
“I am just trying to help her. She was trying to do a good thing and got the attention of some bad people.”
“Christ, man, you haven’t even kissed her yet, have you?” Myles asked, brows drawing low. “In case you need clarification, she’s down to bang.”
“I’ve been busy. Getting her off a hit-list,” I said, uncomfortable discussing her, even with her best friend.
“And there hasn’t been a solid hour of downtime, huh?” Myles said, nodding.
I certainly had quite a bit of downtime as we waited for word about Cato.
Eventually, Levee came back out.
After him, a blood-covered Seeley, who was characteristically silent as we all waited.
It was a solid two hours before the doctor came out, her dark hair pulled back, her pretty face looking pale and her gray-blue eyes tired.
She was gorgeous.
It was no wonder Seeley had liked something he saw in her.
Her name tag said Dr. Stone.
But she had another one below it, colorful and childish—likely for the many children we’d seen come in through the waiting room since we’d shown up—that said You can call me Amaranta.
“He’s hanging on,” she said, nodding. “That was really close. Too fucking close,” she added, giving Seeley a hard look. Like she blamed him for it.
“But he’s going to be alright?” I asked, drawing her attention to me. We didn’t need old issues being hashed up between them. We needed to know how Cato was doing.
“Yeah. He’s going to be down for a while. And he’s going to need someone who knows a little about wound care to be taking care of him.”
“Got a club full of those kinds of people,” I confirmed.
“I bet you do,” she said, tone tight. “He can leave in a couple hours. But I don’t want all of you in my waiting room until then.”
“I’ll stay,” Seeley volunteered immediately. “You need to rest too,” he added to Levee, who had started to object.
“Great,” the doctor grumbled, turning and starting to walk away.
“Ama,” Seeley called, making her whole body stiffen before she turned back, arms crossed, brow raised.
“Thank you,” he said, voice sincere.
“It’s my job,” she said, jerking up her chin and walking away.
Myles let out a low whistle, mirroring what we were all thinking.
“Go on. Head out. I will call with updates when I have them.”
“You sure?” I asked. “You’ve had a long day too.”
“I’m wired. I’ll be fine. There’s a coffee vending machine and snacks,” he added, waving toward it.
“Alright. Let us know as soon as you see him. I will come back later, or have someone else come pick you up and bring you home.”
“Hey, man, thanks,” Myles said, nodding at him. “And thank Cato for me. And, when it is convenient, slip this to that male nurse,” he said, handing Seeley a card. “Or the female one. I’m not picky.”
With that, we headed back out, stopping quickly at the spot near the old clubhouse so Levee could at least get his bike, then heading back toward the safe house.
We were barely out of the car before the door was flying open, and Lark was running out.
She threw her arms around Myles, apologizing at least a hundred times and promising to play nurse since he was “wounded.”
Then she turned toward me, and threw herself into my arms.
As my arms went around her, feeling her soft curves melt into my body, her best friend’s words came back to me.
About her being interested.
And I was pretty sure, despite all the craziness, we could probably find an hour or two to make that happen.
Even if it was a terrible idea.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever been as anxious as I was while I waited with Lou in the safe house to hear if the extraction mission went well.
I was also sure I never would have believed that my life would involve words such as “safe house” and “extraction mission” if you told me a week before.
Hell, I wouldn’t even believe that I would be serving Myles’s uncle Lou coffee. Because, up until a couple hours before, the only time I saw Lou was when he came in for a smoothie, or when I joined the family for a holiday when my parents weren’t around.
It had always been about just sharing pleasantries.
Not painful, awkward silences as I tried to find a way to apologize for the fact that his nephew that he worried about like a son since he didn’t have his own children, had been kidnapped because of me.
And not just because I accidentally got myself involved with some bad guy.
I had intentionally gotten myself involved in bad guy business.
That was not the kind of thing a man like Lou would understand. He had always been the “leave it up to the law” sort of man. Of course. Given his profession.
“You’re not going to help him by pacing,” Lou had reasoned. “You need to rest those ribs.”
“I’m so sorry!” I blurted out, watching as Lou dropped his hand down on Lyle’s head, giving him a pet.
“Listen, you can never know how assholes like this will react to a situation. I’m sure you never would have done any of this if you thought that anyone other than yourself would be in trouble.”
That was true.
I would never endanger Myles.
It was absolutely insane to me that anyone would take him to get to me. All because of some dogs they clearly didn’t give a damn about anyway.
I guess it was just the principle of the thing for them.
“I would never get Myles hurt in any way,” I assured him.
“Exactly. So there’s no reason to apologize. This is on them, not you. You lucked out that you had anyone who could help you in this sort of situation. Because even if you came to us for help, I’m honestly not sure how much you would get. If anyone even believed you.”
I was saved from too much more worry about Myles by a call from Myles who just quickly said, “Hey, I’m out. Everyone is alive. Well, mostly. Ah, shit is real. I will call when I can.”
But, of course, the worry about him was replaced by worry about who was “mostly” alive, and what shit was real.
I didn’t think that calling or texting anyone in that sort of situation was a good idea, though.
So Lou and I just sat in silence some more until, finally, there were headlights in the driveway.
I didn’t stop to think.
I just flew out of there.
And as welcome a sight as Myles was, considering he had been my best friend for so many years, I found myself equally as happy and relieved to see Remy standing there.
The man who owed us nothing, but offered everything.
I mean… who did that?
A good man, that’s who.
When that thought formed, yeah, that was when I threw myself at him. It took a surprising amount of self-control not to go ahead and lean up to seal my lips over his.
Then when his arms went around me?
Yeah, I wanted to climb that man like a tree.
Probably the only thing stopping me was Myles and Lou standing just a few feet back.
“Is everyone okay?” I asked, pulling back to look up at him.
“More or less.”
“Who is less okay?”
“One of the prospects. Cato. He had to get rushed for treatment, but the doctor said he was going to be alright. Just a long recovery. And it isn’t your fault,” he added, seeming to read the thoughts that were moving across my mind.
“Then why does it feel like my fault?” I asked, pulling away, then turning to walk on numb legs back to the house, all the while wondering what you sent a biker prospect who got injured pretty badly while trying to clean up your mess? Flowers hardly seemed appropriate. A muffin basket? Paying for his physical therapy?
I had no idea.
But I knew I had to do something for the man.
“I can’t ask for details,” Lou said, looking at Remy and Myles. “But…”
“But we ran into Myles and untangled him from a situation. A couple people needed to see a doctor. And others won’t be seeing the doctor. But there are still some people out there we need to run into in the future to make sure Myles and Lark don’t end up tangled up again.”
“Got it. So that means that they both…” Lou started.
“Have to stay here, yes,” Remy said, nodding.
“That’s not going to work,” Myles said at the exact same time as I spoke.
“We can’t both be here at the same time.”
“Why not?” Remy asked.
“Because we both take turns managing the store,” I told him.
“Has there ever been a time when the two of you both couldn’t go to work for a couple days?” Remy asked.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding.
“When we had the flu,” Myles explained.
“Did the place fall apart?” Remy asked.
“No…” I said, not liking where this was going.
“Well, you both have the flu,” Remy said, shrugging.
“It’s not even flu season,” I insisted.
“You really think your employees are going to question you?” Remy asked, shaking their head. “They will probably be happy to get a few days without the bosses watching over their shoulders.”
“Hey,” I grumbled, a little hurt at the idea of the rest of the people at the shop thinking of me that way.
“We’re fun bosses,” Myles said.
“You’re still bosses,” Lou piped in. “I’m with Remy. They will likely be happy about it if you have enough employees to cover your shifts.”
Myles and I looked at each other, both of us rolling through the employee records, coming to the same conclusions.
If we shuffled some schedules around, yes, we had more than enough employees. Especially since Myles had just hired a guy from the list of applications because, as he said, “He came in to check on the status of his application, and that is go-getter type shit.”
Sure, he would be new and green and need a lot of training, but many of our employees had been around at least a year. They knew the ins and outs. It would all shake out.
“They know they can call or text anytime,” Myles said, speaking my thoughts out loud. “And we have the cameras if we are that worried.”
“That’s true,” I agreed, nodding, but my whole body was still tense.
“What’s still got you worked up about it?” Remy asked as he moved into the kitchen to unstack the bowls I had put next to the sink from the dogs’ dinner, and putting them into the sink, running the water, then putting in some soap.
Like it was his job to do.
I wasn’t, you know, accustomed to men who just… took charge. Who did what needed to be done. At least in my personal life. At work, Myles did as much work as I did. But with old partners, I always had to hint at or ask someone to do something. It was almost like they somehow didn’t see the overflowing garbage can until I requested they take it with them when they were heading out.
Remy just saw a task that needed to be done and… did it.
What was that about?
“Is it your parents?” he asked when I moved closer, ready to insist that I could take care of the bowls.
“I… well… yes.”
“They left you in charge, didn’t they?” Remy asked, glancing over at me. “They trust you. So at this point, it seems like you need to learn to trust yourself.”
“Listen, you’re supposed to be a hot, not overly bright, biker dude. Not someone who brings all the wisdom and shit. Like the wise old man in some movie when the floundering main character sits down on a bench looking like he needs someone to give him a pep talk.”
“That is an… oddly specific example.”
“Well, think about it. Isn’t it always some old, random man on a bench who gives out life advice in movies?”
“I guess you have a point. But what I said stands. Trust yourself and your staff. You can be in touch with them as much as you want, so long as you don’t give them any details about where you are.”
“Okay. You’re right. They can totally handle it. I will make the arrangements, make the texts, and get it going. After I do those dishes.”
“I’m doing the dishes.”
“It’s not your job.”
“I’m doing the dishes, Lark,” he said, shaking his head at me like I was being ridiculous. “As soon as you tell me which one of these sponges is for the dogs,” he added, pointing at the separate ones on separate rests.
“The green one.”
“Was that so hard?” he asked, rolling his eyes at me. “Go make your arrangements. I will do this then start a trip outside with the dogs.”
With that, he set to work on the dishes.
I spent another couple of minutes talking with Myles and Lou before Lou headed out, allowing both Myles and I to grab some paper and work through a schedule for the shop.
Which was a more complicated process than you would think.
“No, Shelley has that night class on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Myles reminded me.
“Right. And James is being the lifeguard at his local pool on Wednesdays now,” I said, scribbling out his name where we had them.
A good forty minutes later, though, we had what we thought would work, then sent out the texts about our shared “flu” and the new schedule. We got a couple texts that made us need to do a little more fiddling until, blissfully, we had it handled.
“Are you going to be okay? Financially?” I added to Myles as I cleaned up the scrape on his foot from his bullet graze.
“You know me. Not a big spender. And your parents pay me well,” he added.
Myles made what I made. I’d been insistent on it when my parents had originally wanted to pay him significantly less because, well, I was family and he was not. Unluckily for them, being the manager, I knew exactly what the books said, so I knew they could more than afford to pay us the same generous salary without it hurting their profits.
So, yes, we both made good money.
And Myles’s activities usually involved fun in the sun which was, essentially, free.
He was probably more stable than I was, given that so much of my money went to vet bills and various home owning expenses.
“This is not for forever,” I assured him.
“Lark, are you really trying to make it sound like staying here in this multi-million-dollar home and not going to work is going to be a hardship?” he asked, smirking.
“Not a hardship, no. But we also can’t, you know, leave.”
“There’s a pool. That’s good enough for me for a while. And you’re here. So that’s a win/win too. And, for the record, when you want to bang hottie biker dude, I am happy to take the dogs outside for a little fetch session,” he said, giving me a knowing smirk.
“Like that,” he finished for me, rolling his eyes. “I feel like I am hearing that too often for it to be true. Bang the guy already. He put his life on the line for me tonight. Hell, I’d bang him for it if he were interested. But all he can think about is your pretty face, so go over there and make a move already.”
“Exactly how would I make a move?”
“Oh, you poor girl. It really has been that long, hasn’t it?” he asked. “Honey, he’s a guy. You’re a hot girl. Literally all you need to do is wear a low-cut top and take a deep breath, and that is all he would need.”
“Don’t underestimate the titty-power, Lark. It has been bringing men to their knees for millennia. On that note, I suddenly find myself incredibly tired. I shall retire to my fancy guest room with a loud action movie on, so I will not be able to differentiate the shouting and slamming on the TV to the groaning and headboard knocking going on in your room. G’night!” he cheered, rushing off toward the stairs.
“That was sudden,” Remy said, brows furrowing.
“He’s a character,” I said, shrugging it off.
“He asked Seeley to leave his number with the male nurse at the clinic. Or the female one. He said he wasn’t picky.”
“He’s not,” I agreed. “Hot is pretty much his type.”
“So, how do you want to do this? Alma and the ankle biters first?” he asked, waving toward the backyard.
“That sounds like a band name,” I informed him. “And, yeah, that works,” I agreed. “I’ll go grab them.”
Even as we took the dogs out in shifts for the last round of the night, all that was on my mind was Myles’s words.
About making a move.
Even though I knew it was a bad idea.
Even though it was just going to make a complicated situation even more, well, complicated.
As I was tossing the ball for a tired and mostly uninterested Lyle, though, I turned back to find Remy standing next to the pool and stripping off his shirt.
Yes, the titty power was a thing.
But, I would argue, so was the abs and pecs power.
Because, holy shit.
I swear my entire mouth dried up instantly, making me finally understand the term “thirsty” when it came to being attracted to someone.
Remy was, quite simply, a treat to look at. What with the fine indents of muscle and the canvas of all his tattoos, I was pretty sure I would never get sick of looking at him without his shirt on.
Then, though, well, then… down went the pants too.
Leaving him in a pair of black boxer briefs that hid very little. Yet, somehow, far too much for my greedy ass.
I only got to stare for a minute longer, though, before, suddenly, all of it was gone, disappeared under the water of the pool.
He surfaced a few seconds later, resting his arms on the cement of the patio, facing me.
“Why don’t you come in?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure if there actually was a flirtatious tone to his words, or if my sex-starved self was just imagining it.
Either way, though, I felt myself drawn closer, almost as if there was some string attached to both of us, and he was pulling it tighter and tighter until I had no choice but to follow.
Not that I was putting up much of a resistance, mind you.
I didn’t stop until my feet touched the warm cement, still wet from Remy’s arms.
Then, well, I took my best friend’s advice.
I harnessed the titty power by slowly peeling off my shirt, revealing the barely-there skin tone balconette bra I had slipped on that morning. Then I took a second to reach upward, letting my hair free from the clip I’d had it wrapped in, then shaking out the long mass of it around my shoulders before taking that deep breath that Myles had talked about.
When my gaze lowered finally, I found Remy’s eyes focused on the swells of my breasts above my bra.
Until, of course, my hands went to the button and zipper of my jean shorts, and started to work them free.
His gaze followed as I shimmied the shorts off my hips and let them drop to the ground before kicking them to the side.
Did my panties match my bra?
No, no they did not.
But Remy didn’t seem to care that they were bright red as his eyes landed there, as he took a deep breath that expanded his chest wide, then exhaled it slowly, like he was trying to calm himself down, like he was looking for some control.
I didn’t want to give him a chance to find that, though.
I lowered myself down onto my ass at the edge of the pool, dropping my legs in right on the sides of his body.
Did I let my knees touch the sides of his hips?
Yes, yes I did.
Remy’s head shifted back to look up at me as his hands lifted out of the water, drips dropping down on my bare thighs. I wasn’t sure at that moment if the shiver that moved through me was due to the cold water, or his closeness.
Then, his fingers moved down, teasing up the sides of my thighs, and that shiver? That shiver had nothing to do with coldness, because I suddenly felt on fire.
His fingertips continued upward, teasing under the band of my panties, but slipping back out again. There was a moment of disappointment until I felt his touch slipping up my sides, then the band of my bra.
Flattening his palm, his hand slid across my chest above my breasts, then slipped upward, sliding up my throat, then slipping across my jaw and behind my neck.
My stomach flip-flopped as he started to apply pressure, forcing my body to lean forward toward him.
My lips were a whisper from his, making my chest feel tight, like all the air had gotten sucked out of the atmosphere as I waited for the contact.
But he didn’t seal his lips to mine. He went ninety, and he wanted me to go ten.
I didn’t even hesitate.
My arms slipped around the back of his neck and my lips pressed down on his.
At the contact, a rumbling sound moved through Remy’s chest as he moved inward, spreading my thighs wider to accommodate his body until I felt his pelvis press against the juncture of my thighs.
My body reacted instinctively, legs wrapping around his hips, holding him against me, and when his body shifted ever-so-slightly, I could feel his hard cock pressing against me.
Remy’s lips deepened the kiss, making the fire burn brighter through my system.
My thighs tightened around him as my hips started to writhe against him, needing relief from the aching need in my core.
Another of those rumbles moved through Remy, the sound vibrating through my chest, making the fire raging inside of me burn even hotter.
There was no reasoning with my body right then.
My hips had a mind of their own, moving against his hard length.
Remy’s teeth nipped my lower lip for a moment before he broke away, waiting for my eyelids to flutter open before letting his hand drift behind my back, working my clasps free, then sliding the straps off my arms, and bearing my breasts to his greedy gaze.
His hand dipped back into the water after tossing my bra to the side, coming back dripping wet, and he raised it over my chest to let the drops drip down onto my breasts, making my nipples twist tighter as my breath caught at the cold sensation on my overheated skin.
But then, just as shocking as the cold, his lips were closing over my nipple, sucking it into the warmth of his mouth.
His tongue circled and his teeth nipped before he moved across my chest to continue the sweet torment.
Remy’s head moved between my breasts as his hand snaked up my spine before grabbing a fistful of my hair at the nape of my neck, and pulling until I had no choice but to start moving backward to ease the sting.
As I shifted back, his lips moved down my belly until his tongue was tracing the waistband of my panties as my back met the cement and grass behind it.
His hands slid down my sides, teasing over my ribs, then slipping under the band of my panties at each hip and pulling, forcing me to arch my ass up to let the material slide away.
There was hardly a pause between when I felt the material slip off my ankle to when Remy was grabbing my knees and spreading my thighs wide then moving down between.
If it weren’t for the hand pressing down on my pelvis, I might have shot off that concrete at the sensation of his tongue circling my clit.
As it was, my hands slapped down on his head, holding him in place as if he had any intentions of moving away as his tongue continued to work me in unhurried circles.
My hips rose to meet him as my fingers pulled his hair.
I didn’t give a single thought to the neighbors seeing or hearing me as Remy drove me up up up until the pressure coiled deep in my core was too much to take any longer, and the orgasm slammed through my system, leaving me crying out as the waves crashed through me over and over.
I had barely recovered from the climax before Remy was grabbing my overheated body, and dragging me into the cold water, making my whole body tremble even as his hand grabbed the back of my neck, and his lips crashed down on mine again.
My back slammed against the side of the pool as Remy’s hands wandered, drifting over me, then grabbing a handful of my breast, then my ass, before sliding down my leg to grab my knee and drag it upward.
He held it pinned to his side as his hips shifted inward, making his cock press against my cleft.
Even though I’d just gotten relief, the clawing need came back, somehow feeling even more acute than before.
Remy’s lips were hard on mine, crushing, bruising, as his hips got even more insistent against me.
I was vaguely aware of a strange whining noise just a second before a giant splash had us both jolting apart.
We were equally disoriented for a second, staring at each other, before our gazes shifted to the side of the pool, finding Lyle doggy paddling his heart out in the water.
“What’s in his mouth?” I asked, then watched as Remy turned back to me, not even trying to hide his smile.
“Oh, God,” I groaned, raising a hand to my overheated face.
“Lyle, man, give those back. Your mom isn’t going to need them, but she’s turning an alarming shade of red right now. In fact, she almost matches the—“
“Don’t,” I grumbled shaking my head at him, feeling the heat blooming across my cheeks and down my neck. It wouldn’t be long until it was all over my chest too.
I wasn’t a “cute” blusher. You know, the girls who got a little pink in the cheeks. Oh, no. When I blushed or flushed or whatever, it was practically a whole-body affair.
Remy moved away from me, treading water as Lyle decided this was one hell of a game, and started to swim faster and faster around the L-shaped pool as I tried to sink deeper into the water to hide my nakedness.
Remy’s laugh disappeared around the shorter side of the L that led to the other side of the house when I heard his phone ringing in his pants pocket.
“I’m gonna check it!” I called, thinking of his friend who was hurt because of me and my issues.
Reaching out, I wiped my hand on his pants before fishing the ringing phone out of his pocket.
That was his president.
And likely a call he didn’t want to miss.
I swiped to answer as I called out to Remy, “It’s Huck!” I called. “Hello?” I said into the phone.
There was a short pause before a deep voice said, “Is this the redhead with the dogs?” he asked.
“I guess I’ve been called worse. Yes, that’s me. Lark,” I added. “Remy is just…” I started, trailing off when I felt the man in question press up against me from behind, his body crushing mine into the side of the pool, making me aware that the panty chase had not eliminated his desire any more than it had mine, despite my embarrassment over the whole thing.
“Is just fishing panties out of a dog’s mouth,” Remy answered after taking the phone from me.
A moment before, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible for my face to get any redder. But I was pretty sure you could plop me in a pile of tomatoes right then and no one would be able to tell the difference.
To make matters worse, I could clearly hear everything Huck was saying on the other end of the phone.
“I don’t want to know,” he said. “Just got a call from Seeley.”
“Cato?” Remy asked, all the amusement out of his voice.
“He’s alright. Seeley said he finally got to see him. He’s pale and whacked out on the pain meds, but stable. He is going to be heading home sometime around sun-up.”
“Thank fuck,” Remy said, exhaling hard, his hand roping around my belly when I attempted to slide away, thinking maybe they were having a private conversation that they didn’t want to be overheard.
“Yeah. Guess they proved themselves. Already had Eddie, Alaric, and Donovan head out to pick up the bikes and bring them back here. You haven’t heard anything else from the rest of the Locust Crew?”
“Haven’t been by Lark’s phone in a bit.”
“They’re probably dealing with the aftermath right now. It might get worse tomorrow or the next few days. Does she have anyone else who is in danger?”
“She has her parents, but they are across the country right now,” he said, surprising me. Just like I wasn’t used to men taking charge and doing chores without being asked—or nagged—,I was equally unaccustomed to men taking in things I said to them, and storing it away in case they needed the information again. “I know this isn’t a small organization, but there is no way they have reach outside of Florida.”
“I agree,” Huck said. “I don’t think I need to tell you that this needs…”
“Yeah, I know,” Remy said. “Once Arty has a folder for me, I will work on putting an end to this once and for all.”
“Alright, sounds good. I’m gonna go catch some sleep with my woman before the kids start crowing. I’m not expecting you back tonight, am I?”
“No,” Remy said without hesitation.
“Alright. Talk to you in the morning,” Huck said, then the call was over.
“You’re not even going to ask, huh?” I asked when he tossed his phone back onto his pants.
“Ask what?” he said, leaning down toward my neck.
“If you can stay the night,” I clarified.
“Baby, I’m nowhere near done with you yet,” he promised, grinding his cock against me. “You done with me?” he asked as his hips dropped, so that when he rocked his hips against me again, his cock was between my legs.
“No,” I admitted.
“No, what?” he asked as his hand slipped between my thighs to toy with my clit.
“No, I’m not done with you,” I admitted as my hips started to move against his rocking thrusts.
“Good,” he said, teeth nipping my earlobe as he released my stomach to reach past me toward his pants, fishing in the pocket for his wallet, then finding a condom.
He other hand reached for mine, pressing it between my thighs to work my own clit as he moved away for a second, likely sliding off his boxer briefs and slipping on the condom, before moving back behind me.
His hand pressed over mine, guiding my fingers as his cock rocked against my cleft once again, but this time without the barrier of his underwear.
“Remy,” I whimpered, angling my ass out toward him. A silent invitation.
His cock rocked against me for another moment or two before I felt the head press against me, just a promise that had me squirming and whimpering for more before he finally thrust inside me with one deep stroke.
My head fell back on his shoulder as he started to move, as my body did too, meeting his movements, driving both of us up.
When my whimpers became moans loud enough to draw attention, Remy’s hand slapped over my mouth, muffling the sound.
“You feel so fucking good,” Remy growled in my ear as my walls tightened around him. “Are you going to come for me?” he asked.
Muzzled, all I could do was nod my head, meeting his thrusts as they got harder and faster, the cool water splashing up on our overheated bodies.
“Fuck, baby,” he hissed as my walls tightened harder around him, getting close. “Yeah, squeeze my cock,” he growled as the orgasm slammed through my system.
He fucked me through it, drawing it out, then slamming deep and cursing out his own release.
“What?” I asked when the silence following our orgasms was broken by a low chuckle from Remy.
His hand moved up, fingers snagging my chin, then turning it toward the side of the yard.
Where Lyle was passed out cold.
With my panties still in front of him.
“At least he didn’t try to eat them,” Remy reasoned as he leaned to press a kiss to my temple. “One of my dogs was obsessed with socks when I first brought him home. So many trips to the emergency vet to get those fucking things out of his stomach. Thank God he grew out of that. Here,” he said, grabbing me and pulling me with him toward the stairs, then out of the pool.
Finding his tee, he bunched it up and slid it over my head so I was covered first before he dragged his jeans up his soaked body.
Neither of us was comfortable as we made our way back into the house to find towels.
When it came to clothes, though, Remy was pretty out of luck. Nothing I owned would fit him. And Myles hadn’t had a chance to collect any of his things yet.
“Not that I mind you naked,” I said after I changed into a short and cami pajama set, “or that Myles would mind it for that matter. But for your own good, you might want to wear this downstairs in the morning,” I told him as I set a robe on the back of the door.
A baby pink with red roses robe.
But it was that or stark naked and dealing with not only me but Myles eye-banging him in the kitchen.
“Can’t control yourself around me, huh?” he asked, walking up behind me as I turned down the bed, his arm curling around my belly and his lips pressing into the back of my neck.
“If I recall correctly, you were the one to make the first move.”
“Is that so?” he asked.
“I don’t remember that.”
“Well, the next time you go around taking off your shirt like a total whore, you should think of the uncontrollable reactions of the women around you,” I teased, getting a chuckle out of him before he let out a sigh.
“So, how are we fitting in here with these guys?” he asked, looking at the dogs who were out cold and showed no interest in making room for us.
“They’re only used to sharing with one person,” I told him because they had, in fact, left just enough room for me.
“Well, we can work with that,” he declared, turning me, then lowering himself onto the mattress, and pulling me until I was resting mostly on top of him.
Then, despite my life being in jeopardy, despite my best friend getting wrapped up in it with me, despite strangers getting hurt in the process, I swear I slept better than I ever had before.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed women. Even outside of bed, I liked their company. I liked their outlook on life. I liked their kindness and how giving they were. I liked the way they held conversations.
But I had never, ever been as hesitant to leave one as I was to walk away from Lark the following afternoon.
Maybe I was even more resentful at having to leave because we hadn’t even gotten a moment of peace between the two of us since we climbed into the bed.
Because, well, we were sharing the house with a bunch of dogs and her best friend. So after not enough sleep, we woke up to the dogs downstairs whining to go out and get breakfast.
With a grumble, Lark rolled off of me and went to brush her teeth and splash some water on her face before making her way downstairs, leaving me to follow behind, wrapped up in her silk floral robe as I wondered if my clothes were dry from the night before yet.
“Not gonna lie,” Myles said as soon as I walked into the kitchen, finding him standing leaning against the counter, cradling a coffee cup between both hands, “that’s a look,” he said, nodding.
“My clothes got wet last night,” I explained, going to the coffee machine.
“Uh huh. In the same incident that gave my best friend beard burn all up and down her neck and chest?” he asked, smirking at me. “She’s taking out the…” he started, getting cut off by my phone.
“Gotta take this,” I said, seeing Seeley’s name on the screen. “Hey, man. How’s Cato?”
“He’s alright. Recovering. The girls have been fussing over him. And he’s got a list a mile long of foods he wants Eddie to make for him. It’s gonna be a journey, but he’s healing.”
“Already outside helping Alaric add more sand bags to the shooting range. Acting like nothing happened. How’s Myles?”
“Scarred for life,” Myles said, smirking. “But not really. I’m fine. Enjoying my little vacation while the big, hot bikers handle all my problems.”
“You hear that?” I asked.
“Yeah. Have you heard from Arty?”
“Not yet. I am going to head over there after I get some coffee in my system. You know how he gets when he’s on a job.” Meaning, he forgot that phones even existed unless he needed one for something. So the only way to get in contact with him was to drop in. He also couldn’t hang up on you and your questions if you were there to nag him to answer.
“Alright. Sounds good. Let me know when we have something to go on.”
“This wasn’t supposed to be a job for the whole club, man,” I said, shaking my head even though he couldn’t see me.
“Maybe not, but I’m involved now. So when you have something to go on, I want in. Levee will too. Hell, Cato would try to drag his ass up out of bed to get his hands dirty. So just say the word.”
“I appreciate it,” I said, looking across the yard at Lark who was leaning down to play tug of war with one of the dogs, but clearly underestimating his strength because he yanked then released, sending her falling onto her ass, something that made her throw her head back and laugh, the sun catching all the red and golden highlights in her hair.
“Hey,” Seeley said in my ear.
“Teddy said you had stars in your eyes about her.”
“Teddy was seeing things.”
“Just saying… if she’s worth all of this, maybe you should hang onto her.”
With that, he hung up, leaving me wondering if what he was saying had anything at all to do with Lark and me, or him and the hot doctor who clearly despised him for some reason.
Either way, though, I had to agree I was definitely seeing some merit in acting on shit if I was feeling shit.
I mean, it said something that I was just as into Lark as I had been when I’d first seen her, even after having gotten her into bed, even after spending a fair amount of time with her. Especially after having known so many women in the past and not experiencing anything even close to the interest I felt with Lark.
“She’s a keeper,” Myles said, drawing my attention. “I know I am supposed to say that because she’s my best friend. But I genuinely mean it. You could meet a hundred, a thousand, someones, and you won’t come close to that girl.”
“Then why aren’t you with her?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” Myles said, chuckling. “No. I don’t do monogamy. Lark is a one-guy sort of girl. And, honestly, now, even if I changed my mind, I would never risk our friendship. But I’m telling you, that woman is something special. So don’t be a fucking idiot about things and let her go if you don’t mean to.”
“I have to admit, I’ve never been one for monogamy either,” I told him.
“But I haven’t even looked at another woman since I laid eyes on her. And I don’t want to.”
“So maybe when you’re done handling the bad guys who want to kill her, you should take her on a date. A nice stroll through the pet store. Picnic at the dog park…”
“What did you do?” Lark’s voice interrupted our conversation, making us both turn guiltily toward her. Her accusing gaze, though, was settled firmly on her best friend.
“Do? Me? Nothing.”
“Then why does he look all freaked out?” she asked, jabbing a finger toward me, but not looking away from Myles.
“I’m not freaked out,” I assured her.
“Then why does your face look like that?”
“What does it look like?”
“Like this,” she said, widening her eyes a bit and parting her lips. “But you know, the hot biker guy version.”
“Babe, I’m fine. I promise.”
“Yeah, sure,” she said, shooting me small eyes, then moving them back toward Myles. “I know you. And that’s your guilty face.”
“This is just my normal face.”
“Yeah, and it is always guilty of something when it comes to guys and me.”
“Well, you’re not wrong about that. I was just explaining that we love each other… platonically. That’s pretty much it.”
“I’m the jealous sort,” Lark admitted, wincing. “I’ve tried not to be, but I am. I can’t share. Do you share?” she asked, looking at me.
“To be honest, babe, I’ve never really been in the sort of relationship with someone where ‘sharing’ is a concern.”
“Never? You’ve never been in a monogamous relationship either?” she asked, looking between Myles and me.
“I’ve never been in a relationship… period,” I explained.
“Huh,” she said, brows drawing together. “Well, I guess that makes sense.”
“Because I am a hot biker guy?” I asked, smiling at her.
“Yeah. I mean, if I lived that lifestyle with the… cut sluts? Is that what the website called them?” she asked, looking at Myles.
“Cut sluts. Club whores…” he said, nodding.
“Really ugly terms but, like, if it is all tits and ass all the time around there, I can see why you never want to have the same meal every day when you can be sampling the menu,” she said, but her gaze fell toward the end.
I didn’t even hesitate. I moved toward her, then leaned down until my mouth was near her ear and said low enough so even nosy Myles couldn’t hear, “When the meal is as sweet as what you’re serving up, baby, I can’t see myself ever getting sick of it.”
With that, I moved out toward the back door to let the dog in, then moved out myself, giving her a chance to think that through.
I kept feeling her gaze slide in my direction as we took out all the dogs, then fed and cleaned up after them.
“I made the calls while drinking my coffee this morning,” I told her as I got back into my clothes from the day before. “The rescues are going to look over the information you sent them, and then get back to me about when I can drop them off. I know,” I said when her face sank. “It sucks,” I added, walking toward her and running my fingers down her jaw, then patting the head of one of her little ankle-biters.
“But they need to be able to be somewhere that they can roam freely and get the training and rehab they might need,” I reasoned. “It will be more fair to them and to your three dogs.”
“Four,” she immediately corrected, and I knew there was no way in hell she would ever give up Lyle, regardless of what kind of accommodations she might need to make in her life to get him to work with her current pack.
“Four,” I agreed. “You saved them. Now you get to watch them get better and find their forever homes. It is bittersweet but necessary.”
“How many have you let the rescues take?” she asked, frowning up at me.
“A lot. I think, like with you and Lyle and Alma, you know when one is meant for you. And you can’t give those ones up. But you also have to admit when you know one isn’t for you, and let it go so they can find the person who does feel that way about them. We can’t keep them all,” I added. “Even if we really want to.”
“I know. And you’re right. I mean, I love them all. But it was just… different with Alma and Lyle. I want the other guys to get to be loved like that too. And, I mean, Alma is about to pop. I can’t be trying to keep all the dogs separate but exercised and happy while trying to wrangle a whole litter of puppies too.”
“Exactly. And these are the best rescues I have ever come across. We can have complete faith in them. They will even send me progress reports.”
“And videos of their gotcha days?” she asked, giving me such doe eyes that even though it wasn’t my place to make those kinds of promises, I was helpless but to do so.
“Okay. I can live with that,” she agreed, nodding.
“And then you can spend more time with your guys.”
“I need to get Lyle some assessment and training.”
“I have that lined up too. He isn’t free for another week, but it is set. What?”
“You just… do things,” she said, shaking her head.
“Oh, shit, ah, should I have run it by you first?” I asked.
“No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… you do things.”
“I don’t follow, babe.”
“Like, you see something that needs to be done and you do it. It’s weird.”
“It’s weird?” I repeated, not understanding.
“I mean, I’m just not used to it, I guess. I usually have to ask or tell people to do something. But you just… do it.”
“Do you not like it?”
“No, I do. Like, it’s weird. But I am fascinated by it. You’re actually a fully functioning adult human being. I don’t get it.”
“Babe, the fuck kind of men have you been dating?” I asked, chuckling.
“Boys, I guess,” she admitted, shaking her head.
“It probably helps that I didn’t have the most stable of parents growing up,” I admitted. “So if I wanted something done, I knew I had to do it myself.”
“That’s kind of sad, even if the end product of it is pretty great.”
“You think I’m great, huh?” I asked, reaching out for her hips, drawing her close.
“I mean… you’re alright, I guess,” she said, shooting me a coy smile as she tilted her head back to keep eye contact.
“Just alright, huh? Guess I didn’t bring my A-game last night,” I said, clucking my tongue.
“You know… I think I just might need another example,” she said. “To be sure,” she added, eyes already burning.
I had to get my day going already.
But I couldn’t exactly turn her down, now, could I?
“I might be able to give you that,” I said, letting my hands drift down her back to sink into her ass, squeezing, pulling until she was up on her tiptoes, and then had no choice but to wrap her legs around my back unless she wanted to dangle.
My lips sealed to hers as I started to walk her across the room toward the dresser, then dropping her ass down on it.
My hands moved between us, working her shorts and panties down her legs as my tongue toyed with hers, as my lips muffled the whimpering sounds she was making, sounds that seemed to go right to my cock.
My hand went between her thighs, fingers tracing up her wet cleft until I found the bud of her clit, and started to work it side-to-side until she was writhing, until her hands were clawing across the back of my neck, until my mouth was barely able to muffle the sounds of her moans anymore.
Pulling back, I looked down at her, waiting for her eyelids to flicker open before slipping my fingers inside her, hearing her indrawn breath even as her walls tightened around my fingers, holding me inside.
“Fucking drenched for me,” I murmured, her wetness covering my palm before I even started to move my fingers inside her.
“Remy, please,” she whimpered, her hips moving in impatient circles as I finger fucked her slowly.
“Please, what?” I asked, turning my fingers inside her to start moving across her top wall.
“Please fuck me,” she said, and those words ripped away any shred of self-control I’d been holding onto.
My fingers slid out of her as I fished for a condom, then yanked down my pants to slide it on.
“Open for me,” I demanded, watching as she spread her thighs wide for me to slide between.
I couldn’t do soft or sweet or even patient.
I slammed inside her.
Taking every inch of her tight pussy.
And as soon as I was in, her walls tightened hard around me, dragging a ragged groan out of me as I pressed my forehead to hers, trying to find a little control.
As soon as I found it, I grabbed her knees, angling them upward, and fucking her. Fast. Deep. Driving her up and through an orgasm so fast, it seemed to take us both by surprise.
“Fuck,” I growled as her walls spasmed around my cock. “More. Give me more,” I demanded, grabbing her and pulling her off the dresser, slamming her back against the wall instead, and fucking her harder and faster, not needing to worry about knocking the damn furniture over.
Dropping one of her legs to stand on, I spread the one out wide, pinning it to the wall as I fucked her.
“Fuck,” I hissed. “Yeah, there you go,” I said as her walls tightened hard before another orgasm slammed through her. “Give me one more,” I demanded as I grabbed her and turned her, slamming into her from behind.
My hands moved to her shoulders, grabbing them, and pushing them forward, then holding her in a hanging over position as I fucked her.
One of my hands moved, sinking into the hair at the nape of her neck, curling and holding as my other hand slipped between her thighs, working her clit.
“I can’t… I can’t…” she gasped, even as the tightening of her walls told me that she absolutely can.
“You can. You’re going to,” I added.
And just like that, she did, this time taking me along with her.
I swear I came so fucking hard that I damn near blacked out.
I’d been no choir boy in my life. I’d fucked around a lot. And nothing like that had ever happened before.
My goddamn legs felt weak enough that I grabbed her around the hips and pulled her back with me so my ass could drop down on the bed until I trusted my muscles to hold me again.
“You good?” I asked when she slid off my lap to drop down on the bed, curled up on her side, staring at the wall.
“I don’t think I have bones anymore,” she said, then let out a strange, high-pitched laugh at that.
“If it makes you feel better, my legs don’t seem to be working either,” I said, dropping backward on the mattress beside her.
“That does make me feel better,” she said, offering me a soft smile.
“You’ve had another example now,” I told her. “Can we conclude I am better than alright now?”
“You know, I really don’t think it is scientifically accurate to make a conclusion based on two times.”
“Hm. You might be right. How many times do you suggest then?”
“Oh, maybe fifty? A hundred to be sure.”
“I guess I better make a stop to grab some Gatorade on the way back then, huh?” I asked, sharing a smile with her before I sighed. “I really do need to get going.”
“I know,” she agreed, nodding. “I’ll be here.”
“I will text you to see if you guys need anything.”
“Oh, we are going to need things,” she said, giving me a raised brow look.
“Yeah? Like what?” I asked, folding up, then making my way toward the bathroom, leaving the dar slightly open to hear her.
“Well, Myles is going to need, you know, everything. He didn’t get a chance to pack like I did.”
“Right. Yeah. I can handle that. Anything you need?”
“Not that I can think of right now. You know, with my brain not working properly and all,” she added and when I opened the door, she was shooting me a small-eye look.
“I’d apologize for that, but…”
“You’re not sorry,” she concluded, rolling onto her back as I stood at the foot of the bed, looking down at her.
“Not in the fucking least,” I agreed, planting my hands next to her shoulders then lowering down. “I’ll be back in a bit,” I said, then pressed my lips to hers.
I was pretty sure as I walked out of that room, feeling a strange longing sensation that felt like missing her when I hadn’t even actually left yet, that maybe Teddy and Seeley weren’t completely batshit crazy.
Maybe I was falling for her.
I should have been thrilled to get a whole non-work day alone with my best friend in a luxury house and a bunch of dogs.
It was the kind of scenario I would swear out was my ultimate fantasy.
But, I guess that was the ultimate fantasy before I met one Remy—Remington—Hot-biker-guy.
I really needed to figure out what his last name was. As good as that fan site had been in describing all the members of the club, their research hadn’t given everyone first and last names.
One could probably make an argument for the sex and all the fun, lovey-dovey sex hormones. And, yeah, that was likely no small part of it.
But it wasn’t everything.
Because the sex part had been a very new development, and I had already been obsessing over the man long before that.
The physical stuff just cemented what I had been suspecting all along. That Remy was borderline perfect. And that we, together, were, well, fire.
Because, you know, it didn’t matter how compatible you were with someone if the heat wasn’t there. It was a big reason why Myles and I would only ever be friends. We were as close as close could be. But there was no fire between us. And there never would be.
So he was just like a platonic soulmate to me.
And I was the same to him.
It would always just be a close friendship.
But with Remy?
A goddamned wildfire.
I felt scorched all over even hours after he’d left.
“The dick was that good, huh?” Myles asked, shooting me a knowing smile from across the pool where he was drinking his crushed pineapple and vodka drink out of a hurricane glass we’d found in the bar cabinet in the dining room. There were even cute little colorful umbrellas that we’d slipped in. Like if we made everything fancy enough, we could forget all about the kidnapping and threats on our lives, and pretend we were just on a friends vacation.
“Myles!” I hissed, already feeling that ugly flush creeping over my chest and up my neck.
“Oh, that blush is really mingling with the beard burn to create a lot of incriminating evidence,” he said, eyes dancing. “Come on. We always talk about a good dicking.”
“Um, you always talk about a good dicking.”
“And after a drink or two, you always tell me about yours too.”
“I should have known you had ulterior motives,” I said, looking down at my mostly-drank glass. “This tasted stronger than usual.”
“Loose lips spill dick secrets,” Myles said, shrugging. “It was good, right?”
“Amazing,” I conceded because, yes, we did share. And while I would never share actual secrets between me and a lover—things like dick size or personal, private kinks—I felt like it was okay to admit that it was good.
“I knew it. Just from looking at him. He walks like he’d win every dick-swinging contest from here to Maine.”
“And across to California,” I agreed. “Maybe even up into Canada.”
“And it seems like it isn’t just a two-time thing,” I added, taking another long sip of my drink.
“Yes. I love that for you. So, is he just talking hook-up stuff or…”
“Or,” I said. “I think. I mean, when I said I wanted that a hundred more times before I made a decision on how good it was, he seemed to agree.”
“Hey, that’s a start, right? I mean, it’s not a ring and a promise of forever, but the only people who say shit like that this soon are narcissists who are love-bombing the hell out of you. It’s better that it starts like this. More real. And it gives you time to make sure you are interested before you get committed.”
“That’s true,” I agreed.
“We don’t want a repeat of what happened with Keith.”
“Oh, Poor Keith.”
“He was only Poor Keith because you let yourself rush in even though you knew there was no steam. Remember calling me after your first kiss with him?”
It was on a bench near the beach. The air had been sticky with salt water and the unyielding humidity of late summer.
Keith had taken me to a fun little restaurant and then we’d browsed through a record store because he was into vinyl, then we took a walk to the beach.
And it was all just so… right.
Except the guy.
Keith was not the right guy.
And when he’d leaned in to kiss me, I felt no sparks or butterflies. All I could think during it was that I kind of wanted to go home.
Which only made me feel guilty, so I berated myself for it afterward. Then because I felt bad, I agreed to the next date. Then the next. And even the third when things got a little bit more steamy in the backseat, and I stared at the ceiling… again just wanting to go home.
Feeling like a bitch for leading him on, I made up some bullshit about being in love with Myles and that I thought I could get over it and move on, but I couldn’t. I’d been trying to spare his feelings.
It hadn’t worked.
He’d been pissed and hurt and we’d forever referred to him as “Poor Keith.”
But I had learned a lesson from that.
I wouldn’t let myself get invested with someone just because they were “good on paper,” when I knew the physical and emotional part wasn’t there.
“But at least we know the steam is there with Remy, right? And he likes dogs. Unlike Brian.”
I never dumped someone as fast as I dumped Brian. He was great. Really, really great. He was gorgeous, smart, successful, we had stuff in common, and there was some heat.
Then I’d brought him home.
And when I’d walked out of the room to grab popcorn for our movie night that I hoped would end with us ‘sealing the deal,’ I guess one of my dogs had hopped up on the bed. As was her right. I let my dogs on the furniture. But when I’d been walking back in, I’d caught him scooting his leg out and deliberately swiping my dog off the bed.
I’d seen red.
I really don’t even remember what I’d said to him, but I’d been screaming and there was popcorn all over my room afterward.
“He likes all animals,” I told Myles. “He has the dogs. But also the tortoise, the cats, and the bird.”
“So, what I am hearing is, if you two end up together, you are going to need a big-ass house. Not for future children, but all the animals you two are going to have.”
“I mean, that is my dream with or without a man,” I reminded him.
“True, but think how fun it would be if you had all of that, plus wild, steamy, hot biker guy sex too.”
“That is the ultimate happily ever after,” I agreed.
“You could have it now, you know,” he said, making me sigh.
We didn’t get on this topic often, but when it did happen, it never failed to kill my mood.
“We’ve been over this.”
“And you have yet to give me a real answer to why you are not living in a house like this,” he said, waving around. “When you have that opportunity.”
See, I had been offered to run my parents’ businesses for almost a year now. And, yes, that position would provide me with the kind of financial freedom that might afford me a million-dollar house.
“I like my job,” I insisted. “And you know why I can’t take on that position.”
“The dogs,” he said, looking over at my three, then behind me at Lyle who was sitting at the sliding glass door, wondering why he wasn’t allowed out with the rest of us. Yet. I just wanted to make sure he was safe first. We would have to wait for Remy’s trainer.
“I can’t do all that traveling.”
“Let me float an idea to you then.”
“You stay here and run things. I am your eyes and ears and gorgeous body,” he said, waving down at himself.
“You do the travel?” I asked.
“I love to travel.”
“It’s… it’s an idea,” I said, nodding.
“Obviously, this is probably not a great time to put anything else on your plate. But we are off for a few days, so you have time to mull it over. I am just throwing it out there. And now, back to yummy biker guy. Tell me he isn’t like Blane.”
Blane was another cautionary tale.
The guy who loved to receive oral, but absolutely refused to go down on a woman.
I had put up with it for six months, despite Myles begging me to leave his ‘selfish ass’ since the beginning.
“No, he’s not like Blane at all. He doesn’t even do it as reciprocation. He just… does it. Happily.”
“Yes. Love that. Though, you got to gobble that thing up too, girl.”
“We just haven’t had time yet!” I insisted.
I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to go down on someone the way I wanted to with Remy. The man was just… hot. He wasn’t a weird, silent lover, never saying anything or even making any noises. So I couldn’t wait to hear what he said when his pleasure was fully at my mercy.
“I think I am going to need to take an extra-long swim later when loverboy shows up, so you can have some shameless sexy time.”
“That would be great. But enough about me. It’s your turn.”
“To talk about what?”
“Oh, gee, I don’t know… getting kidnapped, maybe?” I said, rolling my eyes at him. “We haven’t discussed that much yet.”
“There’s not a whole lot to say that I haven’t already told you. They broke into my apartment, they roughed me up a little, then they dragged me out of there. They must have given me something because I was whacked off my ass for a little bit before they had me call you.”
“You don’t have to act like it wasn’t a scary experience, Myles.”
“The scariest part was when the hot biker guy and his equally hot friends showed up and the bullets started flying. Since I couldn’t, you know, get out of the line of fire. One of the assholes tried to hide behind me. It was all over pretty quickly, though. I didn’t have a hell of a lot of time to really start freaking out.”
“I’m really sorry, Myles. I never—“
“Stop right there,” he cut me off. “You have nothing to be sorry about. You didn’t mean for any of this to happen. Besides, it was kind of hot to be rescued by a bunch of good-looking bikers. Plus, it is a story to tell one day when it is all over. Who else could ever claim to have been a part of a situation right out of an action movie?”
“And you will even have a scar to show them,” I said, nodding down to his feet dangling in the water. I’d suggested that maybe it wasn’t a great idea to put a new wound in the pool, but he’d claimed that the salt water pool would ‘clean it out.’ “Any idea what kind of gift basket we can get Cato? And maybe Levee too? I have to get them something as a thank-you.”
“A muffin basket hardly seems appropriate,” Myles said, pursing his lips.
“I thought the same thing.”
“You know, if you take your parents up on their offer, we could, like, buy him a fancy new bike or something.”
“That’s true,” I agreed.
I’d always been a little uncomfortable with the idea of “taking over” for my parents when they decided to fully retire. If I were being honest, I’d kind of felt, I don’t know, undeserving. Even though I knew I was a hard worker, and had been listening to my parents talk about all the parts of the family business since I was a kid, so I knew it all inside and out.
But maybe Myles was right. And my parents had made it clear that they were putting off full retirement until I “grew up and took over.”
The two of us could take over, and it would make it possible for me to, I don’t know, get my bigger house on more land and, possibly, even start my own little rescue or senior sanctuary or something.
I loved my job at the shop.
But I’d been there for, like, a decade.
It was enough.
It was time to trust someone else, put them in charge, and move on with my life.
“Speaking of the parentals,” Myles said. “What have you told them about this?”
“What? Nothing,” I said, shaking my head.
“What? Are you serious?”
“I mean… what could I say? ‘Hey Mom and Dad, guess what? I’m being tracked down by gang guys because I stole their dogs’? They’re not like your uncle. They would lose their minds.”
“If it makes you feel any better, Lou had some choice words to give me.”
“For what? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“For not having a more secure door. Or a security system. I guess that is fair, but I’ve never really figured I was in any sort of danger. I’ve already got a system in my cart for when it is safe to go home.”
“I promise I will never put you in danger like this again. You won’t even need it. I swear.”
“Hey, you never know. He’s right. It is better for us to be safe.”
“Send me that link then,” I said, finishing my drink and setting it aside.
“Um, you have the best kind of protection money can’t buy. A hot biker guy on top of you. I should try to get myself one of those.”
“I highly recommend them,” I told him, smiling. “Have I thanked you yet for telling me to go to him instead of the police for help?”
“You have not.”
“Well, thank you.”
“Babe, you can always count on me for pointing you in the direction of a hot guy.”
“That is true.”
“It just works out that this guy is pretty much perfect for you.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
“He’s, you know, taking people out for you, Lark. I really don’t think you’re getting ahead of yourself here. It sounds like pussy comes easily to guys like him. He didn’t need to go this far out of his way to get some tail. He did this because he’s into you.”
I didn’t want to admit just how much I was hoping he was right. Because I was starting to like Remy a bit more than seemed appropriate given how long we had known each other.
“He said he is going to drop by your place to pack some stuff up for you,” I told him. “He said to send him a list of anything you might need from there. Or the store.”
“He just… does shit.”
“I know!” I said, slapping a hand on the cement. “Right? It’s unexpected and welcome but also strange.”
“I mean, I’ve had women do that kind of shit. But no guys I’ve ever been with do that two-steps-ahead thinking. It’s kind of hot.”
“It’s really hot.”
“Who’d have thunk that competence would be so damn appealing?” he asked as he put down his drink and slipped into the water.
That was exactly what it was.
He had it handled.
It freed up a lot of brain space.
And I seemed to be filling that space with X-rated thoughts about him.
Each time my gaze slit toward the area in the pool he’d first kissed me and went down on me, or the spot where he’d slid inside me, I felt the need building through my system again.
The sensation only continued to grow during the day until, nearly at dinner time, I finally got a text from Remy.
I really was just too consumed with my own damn needs to care about how needy my response was.
- Just you.
Fuck, babe, you can’t say that to me when I have to stop at the store.
- I’ve been thinking about you all day
You’re killing me.
- We hung out by the pool, and all I could do was look back at the place where you went down on me. And where you slipped inside me.
The dogs don’t really need new treats, do they?
- They really do.
I am in no condition to go into a store right now.
- I should probably apologize for that…
Woman, when I get there, you are going to pay for this.
- I’m shaking, I teased. What could you possibly do to me in this context that I wouldn’t love?
Edge the fuck out of you.
- You wouldn’t.
Oh, I would. I will.
He didn’t text me after that, but the promise was enough to have my body both practically trembling with desire and tense at the idea of being denied release.
I was so distracted, in fact, that Myles had to snap me back to reality several times when I’d been making the dogs dinner and taking them all out for some play time.
Then, oh, then Remy showed up.
With food for us.
So I had to sit at the table from him with a pulsating need between my thighs, and his knowing gaze flicking toward me every couple of minutes.
Myles was in the middle of explaining his plans for the future when ‘Lark gets off her ass and realizes she is going to have to run the family business’ to Remy when I suddenly felt a hand creeping up my thigh under the table.
My gaze shot to his, eyes wide, but found his own gaze on Myles, even nodding and seeming to pay attention to him as he went on and on about traveling.
My hand went to block his path upward, but Remy would not be deterred. His hand just grabbed mine and started running it up my thigh as well.
I had no choice but to pull it away at the last possible second, which just meant it was his hand that pressed between my thighs instead of my own.
And, really, that was probably worse.
Not even trying to press my thighs together as tightly as I could would deter him, his finger just found the place it was looking for and started rubbing side to side up my cleft and over my clit.
It didn’t take long before my entire system was aching for release, before my breathing started to get fast and erratic, before everything in me wanted to rock my hips against his touch to get closer to release.
Leaning forward, I put my elbows on the table and tried to focus on slowing down my breathing, getting some control over my reaction to him.
It all proved pointless, though, as just when my thighs were tightening around his hand because I felt the orgasm starting to crest, his hand moved away, giving my thigh a deliberate squeeze before leaving me entirely, like some sort of silent acknowledgment that he had meant to do that, that he’d known I was close, and was denying me the release.
Like he’d threatened.
When I shot a glare in his direction, though, he was still focused on Myles.
“What are you doing?” I hissed to Myles a couple minutes later as he announced he was going to take the puppies outside for some exercise.
“Seems like you and hot biker guy are having some kind of tiff. I’m leaving you alone to work it out. K, byeee,” he said, making his way out the back door, leaving me standing alone at the kitchen sink with no social buffer to Remy’s cruel intentions.
As if my thoughts summoned him, I felt his body move in behind me as I started to scrub the plates from dinner.
His cock was straining against my ass. Which was bad enough.
But then his hand just plunged under the waistbands of my pants and panties and thrust inside me.
“Fucking dying already, aren’t you?” he asked as his fingers started to fuck me.
“You’re evil,” I grumbled, having to put the plate down because I was pretty sure I might snap it if I didn’t.
“Next time you will think about the consequences before you get me hard when I’m not here to fuck it out of our systems.”
“You’re here now,” I reminded him, leaning my head back on his chest and closing my eyes, wondering if I could fake not being as close as I was feeling so I could trick him into letting me have a release.
“Oh, it’s too late for that now, baby,” he said, voice rough. “Now you have to suffer,” he added, fingers sliding out of me. “Nice try,” he said, sounding amused as his fingers started moving up and down my cleft and around my clit, but never quite giving me the contact I needed.
Frustrated beyond reason, my hips started to circle, my ass grinding back against his hard cock, thinking that if I could get him as far gone as I felt that he might give up on his mission to make me suffer, and put us both out of our misery.
“That’s not going to work,” he warned me.
“No?” I asked, reaching behind me to stroke his cock through his pants. “It feels like it’s working.”
A low growl moved through him at that, giving me the sign I needed that I was right.
Turning, my hands went to his button and zipper, drawing them down as my gaze stayed on his.
“You’re…” he started, then broke off on a hiss as my hand moved inside his boxer briefs to close around his cock.
“I’m what?” I asked as my thumb teased across the head, and I got a major power-high when I saw his breath shake through his chest at my touch.
“Going to pay for this,” he declared.
“Big talk,” I said, shooting him a smirk as I started to lower myself down.
“Lark,” he grumbled, but his hand grabbed the back of my neck as I got to my knees and leaned closer.
“Hmm?” I asked, deliberately humming the sound as my lips ran down the side of his cock. Angling my head back a bit at his silence, I looked up at him, finding his molten gaze on me. “I didn’t think so,” I said, shooting him a brief smirk before opening my lips and letting his cock slide in.
I’d been right in assuming nothing would feel quite as good as holding his desire in my hands. Or my mouth, as it were.
I loved the way his fingers clenched into the back of my neck as I started to work him, the way his hips rocked into my movements, making his cock slide in deeper, the way his breathing got fast and shallow, the low, desperate sounds he made as I got him closer and closer to the edge.
“I’m gonna…” he started. Like a warning. As if I needed it. When all I wanted was for him to come.
So I worked him a little faster as I made a ‘mmm’ sound around him, feeling his whole body jerk as he came hard, his hand damn near crushing my skull as he did.
It wasn’t until I heard him letting out a low chuckle that I pulled back, looking up at him.
“That was a big fucking mistake, baby,” he said, smiling down at me with heavy-lidded, post-orgasm eyes. “Great for me,” he added, reaching down to pull me back onto my feet, then tracing his thumb just under my lower lip. “But bad, bad for you,” he added. “See, I’m not feeling so desperate for release now,” he said as he tucked himself away. “And I’m not going to stop torturing you until you are crying for release,” he told me, reaching behind my neck to gather the hair at the nape of my neck, and pulling hard enough to make little white-hot sparks of pain shoot across my scalp as his lips crushed down on mine.
“Whoops, sorry to interrupt!” Myles said, about to back out of the doors again.
“No!” I squeaked, yanking away. “No, please, interrupt. In fact, tell us more about your plans for traveling,” I demanded, moving as far away from Remy and his evil plans as I could get.
“Myles, don’t you think maybe Lark needs to go to bed early tonight?” Remy asked, making my eyes close tight.
Because I knew that if he was going to use Myles against me, he was going to win. Myles was far too good at picking up on subtle signals.
“I mean, she has had a rough go of it lately. And the dogs are running her ragged,” Myles agreed.
“What? No. No, they’re not. In fact, I think they each need to play ball with me for at least half an hour each.”
“No, I think maybe you need a nice, warm bath and then to get into bed,” Remy said.
“I am in agreement with hot biker guy. You do seem a bit… overwrought,” Myles said, shooting me a knowing smile because, no doubt, that damn flush was all over me, giving me away. “And I am just going to be playing with the dogs with the music up really loud. And then maybe I will watch a loud action movie again in the living room. Or, hell, maybe a whole franchise. Lots of yelling and shooting and bombs going off. I’ll practically be deaf,” he declared, bringing the puppies in.
“Don’t do this to me,” I hissed as he walked back.
“Do what? Help your lady bits get some loving? You can always count on me being an accessory to that.”
He was gone before I would tell him it wasn’t going to be like that.
And after he went upstairs to snag my three dogs out of my room, I really had nowhere to go but up to my room because if I didn’t, I was pretty sure Remy would continue to torment me right out in the open on the main floor.
“I am just going to use the shower wand to handle this myself,” I grumbled to Remy as I walked in to find him already running the bath he’d threatened me with.
“No you won’t,” he said, almost like a demand. Which shouldn’t have been hot, but totally was. “Take off your clothes,” he demanded, moving to stand.
“Take them off or I’m ripping them off, babe, your choice.”
I didn’t doubt him for a minute. And I was wearing my favorite underwear set, so I shrugged out of my clothes, then out of my panties and bra, standing there defiantly with my head up.
And then he did it.
Stripped down bare too.
“Come on,” he said, voice soft, holding a hand out, guiding me over to the tub.
“You’re going to be nice to me now?” I asked as I climbed in after him, feeling him reach for me and pull me against his chest.
“No. Now I start to torture you,” he said, his legs moving up and over mine, pinning them to the sides of the tub, making it impossible for me to even attempt to close them.
“Start?” I asked, hearing the whine in my voice.
“Then what was that downstairs?”
“A warm-up,” he sold me as his hands started to wander.
And here was the crazy part.
They didn’t wander anywhere inherently sexual. They slid over my arms, my shoulders, down my sides, my knees, the outsides of my thighs, my belly.
All tame, tame places.
And still, he lit a fire inside of me that threatened to engulf me entirely.
Then, when he knew he had me desperate, his palms closed over my heavy-feeling breasts, squeezing, then rolling my hardened nipples between his thumbs and forefingers, until there was no more controlling the whimpers and groans as they worked their way through my system.
“Remy…” I whimpered as both his hands flattened and pressed down my belly then started to, like, massage my lower stomach which—as his palms dug in a bit—created this new, almost overwhelming sensation deep in my core.
“No,” he said, his lips on my temple. “Not yet,” he added at my whimper.
His hands moved down my thighs next, completely ignoring the way my hips were writhing in desperation until I dared to let my own hand try to slide between.
Then he reached out, grabbing both my wrists, then catching them in one of his big hands, and putting his other between my thighs instead.
Circling, moving up and down, but never coming anywhere close to touching me how we both knew I needed to be touched right then.
“Please,” I whimpered, rocking against his touch.
“No,” he said, voice soft.
I don’t know if I was just more powerful in my desperation right then, or if I simply caught him off guard, but my whole body yanked free of his at once, making the water slosh up around us and over the sides of the tub, splashing onto the floor as I whipped around, pressing my knees to either side of Remy’s body, then lowering down, feeling his hard cock press against my cleft.
“Go ahead,” he said, voice a little tight as I started to grind against him. “But you’re not going to be allowed to come,” he warned me as his hands went to my thighs, holding on as I ground down on him.
“I need you inside me,” I whimpered as I leaned close to his ear. “Please,” I added when he had no reaction to that save for his fingers digging harder into my hips. Grinding down harder on him, I admitted the truth, “It hurts,” I told him, hearing a rumble move through his chest as his hips bucked against me.
“Good,” he said, making the disappointment flood my body, knowing nothing was working. “Then you are close to where I told you you need to be.”
His foot moved out, kicking the drain, and we sat there, cold and wet and both damn near trembling with need as the water disappeared around us.
“Come on. Up,” he demanded, his hands starting to push me up and off of him.
On a grumble, but too cold to sit there any longer, I stood, using his shoulders to steady myself as I moved one leg to stand on the mat outside the tub.
I really, really didn’t think it through.
It didn’t even occur to me what was possible until I felt him grab my other leg and press it outward as he sat up straighter to press his face between my thighs.
“I… can’t,” I whimpered, my thighs shaking from so much torment with no relief as his tongue moved around my clit, occasionally flicking over it, the white-hot need at the contact making my whole body jerk.
He didn’t let up, though, until I got so unsteady that I started to fall, making him shoot up and reach for me, lowering my knees down onto the cold marble floor, then doing the same, both of us just dripping water all over the bathroom in a house neither of us owned, but both too far gone to give a damn too.
Reaching for me, his lips crushed to mine again as his hands moved down my back, cupping my ass, using it to pull me closer against him, his cock slipping between my thighs, rubbing against my cleft, but not giving me what we both knew I needed.
It wasn’t until he pulled back and looked down at me that he saw he won.
“Please,” I begged, the need so intense that I felt tears fill my eyes. “Please,” I said again as he reached down to the side, digging in his pants for his wallet, then inside the wallet for a condom. “Please,” I whimpered again, too far gone to care about how pathetic I sounded as he finished, then pulled me with him as he dropped his ass down on the bath mat, pulling me onto his lap.
“Okay, baby, okay,” he said, guiding my hips over him, then pulling them down until his cock slid inside me.
I didn’t think.
I couldn’t, at that moment.
I just wrapped my arms around him and started to ride him.
Slowly at first, lost at the moment, in the feel of him inside me, then faster as the need got more and more acute.
It didn’t take long.
Not after all that teasing.
“There you go. Come for me,” he murmured, lips teasing over mine as I was driven to that edge, then mercilessly pushed over.
If I’d ever thought I’d come hard before, I was woefully mistaken. Because nothing had ever felt close to how intense the orgasm that slammed through my system was right then.
“Fuck, baby,” Remy groaned as the pulsations just kept going, stealing my moans, leaving me gasping for air as a second wave just pulled me under.
At some point, his body tightened around and under me as he found his own release.
Afterward, I was just a boneless blob against him, my breathing weird, the aftershocks racking my body.
“You okay?” he asked, his hands sliding over me.
“No. You’re not allowed to do that to me again,” I grumbled.
“Baby, if you come like that from it, I am going to do that to you every chance I get.”
“Sadist,” I said, pulling back to shoot small eyes at him.
“Maybe a little,” he agreed, giving me a sweet smile before leaning forward and pressing his forehead to mine. “What do you say we get dry and head toward that bed?”
“I don’t think I am capable of moving,” I told him, getting a laugh out of him as he wrapped an arm around me, anchoring me to him, then a bit awkwardly got to his feet.
“Ugh, fine, I guess I can stand,” I said ass he set me on my feet.
With that, we dried off.
And then we got into that bed completely naked.
Without a care in the world.
Then he’d stayed the night.
He woke me up in the very pre-dawn hours to slide inside me from a spooning position, both of us facing the window, watching the sun break across the sky as he moved inside me. Slow. Sweet. Dare I even think it—loving.
And nothing, nothing and no one had ever felt so right.
It seemed like nothing could mess with what we had started to build.
Until, of course, something did.
If I were being honest, I wasn’t exactly busting my ass on her case. At least not since the day when I’d gone to visit Arty then went back to tease the hell out of Lark.
I had actually only barely glanced over the files he’d sent me.
What can I say? I’d been… otherwise occupied.
The day after all that edging, we finally had two of my favorite rescues out to the house, each of them packing up all the dogs save for Lyle and Lark’s other three forever dogs.
I was pretty sure if I hadn’t started falling already, I did as I watched her drop down on her knees in front of each dog, grabbing their faces, and telling them how much she loved them, and how happy she was for them to find their forever homes, then kissed them each on the foreheads, and cried her eyes out as they were led away.
You could just see the size of that woman’s heart in those moments, and in the ones that followed while she let me hold her while constantly half pulling away and telling me she knew it was ‘ridiculous’ that she was ‘so emotional’ about it, then starting to bawl all over again.
Even after she had cried herself out, I noticed her gaze would keep sliding to the rooms where each of them had been located and frowning.
But, as you could imagine, with them all safely off to find new, loving homes, she had a lot more time to spend with her original three and Lyle.
In those first few days after the others left, she clung to her dogs, almost smothering them with love until the hurt started to go away.
It helped that the puppies had almost immediately found homes. And that the others had been tested and were safe for adoption.
In watching her love on her animals, there was no denying I was starting to have a lot of guilt about my own.
Granted, I went back to the clubhouse for several hours each day to see them, to walk, play with, clean up after, bathe, feed, and hang out with them, but I knew it wasn’t the same.
Which was why I’d told her that it was time for me to spend one night back at the clubhouse with my guys.
She’d immediately understood. Because of course she did. No one related more to the struggles I felt about leaving my pets than she did.
I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself and say it out loud, but I was hoping that, eventually, we could see if our guys could get along, so I could bring them along with me when I wanted to stay over at the safe house.
As a whole, I had a lot of faith in my dogs. They’d never been overly territorial, had always been kind and patient with new arrivals at the house, even if they were just temporary fosters.
It was mostly Alma and Lyle that I was concerned about. Lyle in particular since we still hadn’t gotten him evaluated yet. We did learn, though a happenstance that started with a door left open by mistake, that Lyle and Alma did seem to get along no problem. But none of us felt comfortable risking Lyle with the little dogs until we had an expert in.
Eventually, though, it would be great if my dogs and her dogs could get along.
Then maybe the cats.
And the bird.
And the tortoise.
I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself, though. And I damn sure didn’t want to put the horse before the cart when it came to Lark. So I didn’t tell her all these things I had been thinking pretty much nonstop since things got physical between the two of us.
Part of that was because it just seemed crazy even to myself. To be thinking about possible futures, of mingling our menageries, of still being together weeks or months from now.
Admittedly, that had never been the kind of guy I was. I didn’t want to think of myself as a complete asshole when it came to women. I’d always been honest about what I wanted. Some good, dirty fun, and then it was all over. Everyone who was involved knew what they were in for.
But, yeah, it seemed like I wasn’t only willing to give up that, but somehow actually glad to do it.
“Yo, you good, man?” Eddie asked when I almost fucking sliced off the tip of my finger while cutting up greens for the tortoise who, when I’d walked up, had been digging in his new little enclosure area.
“What? Yeah. No, I’m fine. A little distracted, I guess,” I admitted.
“Yeah, man. I’ve been distracted a time or two in my life. Funny how all that distraction seems to come after you find yourself in a three-day fuckfest with a gorgeous honey.”
It was ridiculous to deny what was going on. But, somehow, that was what I found myself doing.
“I’m protecting her.”
“Yeah, man. I can see how having your entire body on her entire body works as a pretty good shield,” Eddie said as he pulled the lid off the giant pot of chili he was working on. “What’s the point of pretending like it ain’t what it is?” he asked, shrugging at me as he reached for an almost comically large wooden spoon to reach to the bottom of his massive pot.
“Don’t let him pressure you into making a commitment if you aren’t ready,” Alaric said, coming into the kitchen to grab a baggie of cut up celery and a small container of dip out of the fridge. “He just wants you to hang up your whore hat so he can try to snag some of the chicks who you would normally be trying to scoop up.”
“Or I could just want to see a brother happy,” Eddie insisted, then chuckled at the look Alaric shot him. “Okay, maybe both things can be true at the same time. So you’re really not going to have any of this chili because your scale is spouting some shit at you that you don’t like?” Eddie asked, frowning at Alaric’s nearly nonexistent snack.
“I like your cooking too much. It is starting to show,” Alaric declared, waving down at himself, but I couldn’t really see any difference.
“What?” I asked when Eddie clucked his tongue and shook his head at Alaric’s retreating form.
“Probably nothing, man. Just think that exotic dance club he used to work out might have done a number on him. He gains five ounces, and it is time for a crash diet.”
“I hadn’t noticed that,” I admitted.
“Me, I dated a fine lady who never thought she was fine enough. Ended up in a rehab place eventually. Guess I am just more sensitive to that typa shit because of it,” he said, shrugging as he scooped up some chili to inspect it.
“Well, if you think Alaric is going overboard, let one of us know, yeah?” I asked.
“He’ll be pissed,” Eddie said.
“Pissed is fine. If he needs help, he needs help. Whether he likes you for it at first or not.”
“Alright. I’ll let you know. So, tell me about your hunny.”
My knee-jerk response was to insist she wasn’t “mine.” But, at the end of the day, wasn’t she? Or at least, wasn’t she beginning to become that to me?
“Dunno what to say. She’s…”
“It’s me,” Eddie said, shooting me a raised brow look. “Not one of these womanizers,” he said, smirking as he waved a hand out toward the whole clubhouse. “I love me the ladies. But I love me a lady too. Something special about having just one of ‘em.”
“She’s amazing,” I said, shaking my head, finding that word painfully lacking. “Got a huge heart and three-quarters of it is full of animals.”
“Sounds familiar,” Eddie said, nodding.
“She’s a talker. Talks in circles that shouldn’t make any sense, but always somehow does. She likes her small life, but is considering taking over for her parents.”
“She got them rich parentals, huh?”
“And she’s being protected by some bikers instead of a top-rated security firm because…”
“Because she hasn’t told them. They get along but aren’t especially tight. And I doubt she wants to tell them she’s in trouble because she stole from some bad guys.”
“Yeah, can’t see lots of parents being down with that shit. So, how’s she gonna explain your ass to them then?”
“Guess I’ll have to ask Donovan if I can borrow a suit when I meet them.”
“When you meet them,” Huck said, coming in from the front of the house. “Getting serious already.”
“Hey, boss man knows a thing or two about rich parentals, don’t you?” he asked. “Harmon came from money.”
“Step money, yeah. I went with her to some garden party shit once. Teddy was there.”
“Of course he was,” I said, laughing. “And I guess you could say it is getting serious. More serious than usual for me anyway.”
“Clearly, since it has been more than one night,” Huck said with a smirk. “You ever gonna bring her around to meet the girls?”
“When I don’t have to worry so much about someone seeing her, yeah.”
“Yeah,” Huck said. “Speaking of. What’s going on with that? Haven’t heard shit since Cato and Levee got shot.”
“Ah, kind of hit a bit of a lull,” I said.
“Meaning he’s been too busy worshipping at the altar of the pussy to be finding the fuckers who want her dead,” Eddie explained.
“Yeah, figured as much,” Huck agreed. “And I get it. But you got to handle shit too. She’s gonna need to get back to her life. And I’m gonna need you back to yours too. Lucked out that you met her in a down period for us, but you know as well as anyone that that could change in a blink.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m gonna look over the files more from Arty and figure out a plan.”
“Seeley and Levee said they want in again. I had to tell Cato he’s not doing shit until the doctor gives him the go-ahead. And she’s sounding like a hard-ass, so it is going to be a while.”
“Is he still seeing the doctor from the clinic?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Huck said, smirking, making it clear someone had spilled about Seeley and the good doctor. “Comes home every time looking fucking hangdog. Interesting to see Seeley not always together.”
“Maybe we could finally know more about the guy by looking into the doctor,” Eddie suggested.
“Oh, yeah, speaking of. Were you aware there is a sort of… fan site online about us and our club?” I asked, looking at Huck.
“A fan site?” he repeated, brows furrowed. “No. What kind of fan site?”
“It talks about each of us and even the clubhouse.”
“It mention me?” Eddie asked.
“It does,” I confirmed.
“Shit, man. I got a fan page about me,” Eddie said, puffing up a bit. “I’m gonna go screen shot the shit out of that before stern-forehead over here makes them take it down,” he said, jerking his chin toward Huck.
“It’s mostly harmless. Nothing too detailed,” I told him.
“Still. I’m going to have to have someone look into it. Figure out who is running it. Have a talk with them about their intentions.”
“Might want to start with Teddy,” I suggested.
“Teddy? What does Teddy have to do with it?”
“The site says that he can’t be named because his lawyers sent her some sort of cease and desist or something. So he knows someone who at least knows how to contact them.”
“Alright. I’ll put someone on that. Anyone want to place their bets now that it’s a woman and she will bring trouble to the club?” he asked, looking around.
“Shit, man, who would take that bet? Haven’t they all brought trouble so far?”
And now… Lark.
“I guess we are lucky that the women bring the trouble and that the club doesn’t,” Huck mused.
“Hey, man. You can’t go around saying shit like that,” Eddie said, throwing up a hand. “Just inviting that bad luck to us now,” he grumbled, reaching for some more spices and adding them to his dish. In a cross pattern. Like he always did.
“So are you heading back over there?” Huck asked, ignoring Eddie’s bad luck comment. He was full of strange superstitions. He made everyone eat twelve grapes on New Years Eve. He was forever putting glasses of water on top of the fridge to “absorb the negative energy.” He made sure he never swept over anyone’s feet or they would “be single forever.” And, to Eddie, Tuesday the thirteenth was much more unlucky than Friday the thirteenth. So we all kinda just went along with whoever new superstition he had to share with us.
“No. I’m staying the night here with the animals,” I told him. “I think they have been missing me.”
“Fuck you, Benny,” Mackie, the macaw, declared.
“Yeah, really missing you,” Huck said with a smirk. “Let me know when you come up with a plan for handling this Locust shit once and for all.”
“Will do,” I agreed, deciding that if I was going to be home, that looking over the file while I hung out with the dogs and cats was probably a good way to spend my time.
Because as nice as it was to have Lark practically all to myself at the safe house, it wasn’t what real life was going to be like. She needed to be able to go to work, to see her people. Hell, she needed to be able to go and shop or walk her dogs without worry.
And it would be nice to be able to go out with her too. We’d taken the one chance with the taco place just because it was a place with people I was familiar with. But now that Myles had been put at risk, we all decided going nowhere but the backyard was probably the best bet.
It was just time.
I hadn’t spent much time paying attention to what happened to the Locust Crew after we’d taken out a few of their own. But it was time to figure out how they’d been handling that situation, since it was possible they’d locked down their organization more. They’d likely closed ranks. And, worst-case scenario, they’d added more members out of desperation.
So I’d put a call out to Arty to see if he could get me some surveillance footage. If not, I would have to spend some time sitting on them myself.
And what was the first reason that came to mind for why I didn’t want to do it?
Not too many hours sitting in a hot car.
Not the risk of getting seen myself.
It was that the time spent doing that could be time I’d much rather spend hanging out with Lark.
So, yeah, you could say that I had it pretty bad.
I guess I was supposed to be freaked out by that. Especially after an entire lifetime of nothing but casual encounters with the opposite sex.
I don’t know, though.
There was just none of that.
Maybe because I’d seen some of my brothers before me—Huck, Che, and McCoy—fall first and build pretty incredible and fulfilled lives with their women, but still getting to be major parts of the club had managed to alleviate a lot of the concern I’d had about the whole concept.
The carefree biker life was great, don’t get me wrong. Parties and random women. It had its place in my life. Until, I guess, it didn’t anymore.
It was time for a new phase.
One with walks on the beach with my gorgeous, babbling redhead and our whole pack of dogs. And taco date nights. And volunteering together at the rescues. And maybe someday looking for houses with a big yard we could fence in so there would be lots of room for fetch. Maybe a kid someday if we both wanted one. If not, I was cool with all the animals.
The partying lifestyle was fun while it lasted, but left me nothing really to look forward to.
A future with Lark, though?
So much shit to think about, to dream about, to work toward.
As soon as I dealt with all this Locust Crew shit, that is.
By the time I finally climbed into bed, it was nearly one in the morning, and between what Arty had in his file and what he’d sent me from the footage he could find recently, I was pretty sure I had a decent plan for handling the situation once and for all.
That is, of course, until I got a fucking frantic call from Myles about ten minutes after I fell asleep.
A call that changed everything.
I had no right to miss the man as much as I did.
It was one night.
Hell, in the past, I would likely be looking forward to a night alone. Where I could put on a mud face mask and a deep conditioner in my hair as well as my frumpiest pajamas and just have some “ugly time.” A girl needed that now and again. I could stuff my face and watch cheesy shit I would never subject a boyfriend to.
Still, though, I missed him.
Even as I was mud masking and deep conditioning. Even as Myles and I ate an absurd amount of pasta and watched cringy reality TV.
Even as I washed off the mask and the conditioner then climbed into bed with my roomy lightweight sweatpants and a giant t-shirt that had gone soft from so many washings.
I missed him.
Maybe even more so because I could have pictured him there letting me put some mud mask over the bridge of his nose and on his forehead, and slather some deep conditioner into his hair, and eating too much pasta with the dogs in front of the TV, making comments about the bad dating choices of the people we were watching on TV.
I’d never had that before.
I think there had always been a sort of “secret” side of me that I kept from boyfriends, sharing only with someone like Myles or a female friend, people who I knew wouldn’t judge me for it.
But Remy wouldn’t have judged.
He would have enjoyed.
And that made all the difference.
I actually was excited to have another day just like the one I’d just had. With Myles and Remy.
I’d never really noticed before that Myles never liked any of the guys I’d dated. They, also, weren’t a fan of his. I guess a part of me had always figured my boyfriends not liking my male best friend was likely a trust or jealousy thing.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to consider that they saw Myles as a threat. Not for my romantic interest, per se. But because I would share with Myles all the shit that my boyfriends weren’t into. I didn’t try to bend and warp myself into a new person who liked all my boyfriends’ interests because I had someone in my life who enjoyed the same things.
No, I was not going to sit silently by your side while you played video games endlessly, waiting for you to reach for me like a shelved sex toy.
I’d rather do a Golden Girls binge with Myles.
And I wasn’t going to pretend to enjoy watching football when I could be having a picnic on the beach with the dogs and my best friend.
To insecure men, not needing them to be your everything was a huge turn-off.
Not only was Remy cool with Myles, but he also liked the same things we did. Animals and food and garbage TV. He wasn’t threatened by my friendship because he was a part of it too.
So instead of trying to drive a wedge between Myles and me, he just joined in.
It was all just so… effortless.
Well, I mean, aside from the whole guys trying to kill us thing, that is.
Being at the safe house made it easy, at times, to forget about that. We were insulated from normal life, from all the stresses and problems that came with it.
Which was why my mind just kept repeating something Myles had said to me as I was trying to fall asleep.
“We need to get out of here, so you can see what this relationship looks like in the real world.”
When he’d said it, I swear I almost felt like the words slapped me. I’d taken offense for a moment before I had to admit that he was right.
We were living an idealized version of life.
One where we were free to see each other every moment of the day. Where we didn’t know how we would each react to having to have a lot of time spent apart. Would it make us miss each other? Would it make us kind of forget about each other?
After all, whatever I decided to do about work—go back to the shop, or take my parents up on a more corporate type situation—I would be spending a healthy chunk of my day doing that.
And Remy, well, how was his… unconventional job going to work in a real-life situation? Would it bother me? Would it freak me out when he was out of touch for a long period of time because he was, you know, doing that illegal stuff?
What about his lifestyle?
I’d never wanted to consider myself jealous or suspicious, but I’d also never dated someone who lived in a house with a bunch of single guys who held crazy parties full of half-naked women who liked casual sex with outlaw bikers.
Myles was right.
Our relationship needed exposure to real life situations. It was easy and fun now because nothing was testing it, testing us.
We needed to see how we managed the weather that came with the violent storm clouds of our lives knocked into each other.
Would they push us closer together or tear us apart?
Only time would tell.
Once I got out of the beautiful safe house that made it so easy to glamorize everything.
Which, I reminded myself, was part of the reason Remy went back to his clubhouse. To see his animals, sure, but also to look over the files from his friend Arty, to talk to his brothers about a plan to put an end to things once and for all.
Maybe I should have had more of a reaction to the concept of “ending things once and for all” since I knew that meant, well, killing people.
But these people had been willing to take an innocent Myles and kill him just to get to me. They didn’t seem like they were going to stop until they got me. And since turning to the cops wasn’t an option, this was the only solution in front of us.
My mind was still racing with all that kind of stuff as I finally drifted off to sleep sometime well after midnight.
It was my phone shrieking on the nightstand that dragged me out of a dead sleep.
Phone calls after bedtime were always alarming. Because nothing good happened after midnight. My heart flew up into my throat as my stomach dropped as I reached for it in the dark, a part of me terrified it was bad news from one of my parents about the other one.
But it wasn’t either of their names on the caller ID.
It wasn’t a known number at all, in fact.
Which did nothing to ease the knot in my stomach as I wondered if it was the hospital or the police calling about both of my parents.
My palms were sweaty as I cleared my throat and swiped the screen.
“Hello?” I could hear the fear in my voice. It was a cold snake coiling across my belly, tightening, then slithering upward to wrap around my throat.
“Miss Landry?” a voice said, making that snake tighten so hard that I couldn’t pull in a proper breath.
“This is Officer Wayne of the Miami P.D.”
And just like that, the snake slithered away, allowing me to take a deep breath.
My parents weren’t in Miami. They only came down for the off-season now.
Still, the police in the middle of the night were never a good thing.
For a quick moment, a part of me was worried that the Locust guys had just like… reported me. And I was about to be arrested for saving those poor dogs.
But then I heard it.
An almost annoyingly familiar sound.
The alarm at The Main Squeeze.
There was a period the summer before when it would go off for no godly reason, just shrieking over and over, giving everyone an immediate headache, and making me be able to feel my blood pressure rising with anxiety as I fiddled with it until I could get it to shut the hell up.
“Is something wrong?” I asked, already climbing off the bed.
“We got reports of the alarm going off at this location. We came to investigate. Everything seems fine here, but we need you to come and turn off the alarm.”
“Right. Yes, of course,” I said, rushing across the room.
I grabbed my purse and keys, and remembered to slip into shoes as I jotted down a quick note to Myles before making my way toward the garage.
“I will be right there,” I said as I got into my car.
And, truly, I just wasn’t thinking.
I was acting on instinct, like I would act as if it was any other day in my life.
Not like I was hiding away in a safe house from guys who wanted to kill me.
I would blame tiredness, being woken from a deep sleep. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure my response would be any different if I had gotten the call in the middle of the afternoon.
It was the police.
And everything seemed above-board.
The alarm was the right alarm. And it was true that I was the only one who could turn it off because I had the code and the key and knew the account information for the security company.
Even when I pulled up, it seemed right.
A police cruiser with a flashing light.
An officer in his uniform.
The security lights inside the shop flashing, the alarm screaming.
“Hey! It’s me. Lark Landry,” I called, rushing out of my car, not even bringing my purse, just the keys I would need. “Sorry, I was asleep,” I said, waving down at my messy pajama outfit as the officer turned away from the building to face me, a move that made his whole face fall into shadow.
Still, for some reason, my step faltered for a second, like something in me was trying to put pieces together in a puzzle with missing pieces, because for some reason, my stomach told me that I knew this guy. Even without seeing his face.
“I will go in and…” I started as I got close.
And then I saw something else.
For a second, he, too, was in shadow.
But then the moonlight caught him just right. Right enough for me to recognize him.
The new guy we’d just hired.
Someone the police would never have called in an alarm emergency sort of situation. And someone who would have no other business being at The Main Squeeze.
I had never met him personally, but it was company policy that we had a picture of each of our employees in our files, so I’d seen the picture Myles had snapped of him after getting him into uniform.
He wasn’t in the ugly uniform now, though. The uniform that made him look younger and unthreatening.
He was in a black tee and black shorts, looking downright menacing.
And something else struck me.
He must have had makeup on to cover them up when he’d shown up for the job because they hadn’t been in the picture.
And no wonder he wanted to cover them.
Because that one on the side of his neck?
Yeah, it looked a heck of a lot like a locust to me.
Panic, a flicker catching fire, had me turning and looking back at the policeman, ready to tell him something was very wrong.
Only to see that, yes, many things were very, very wrong.
Like the fact that, upon closer inspection, it wasn’t a police car at all. Just a regular old car with a police sticker stuck to the side.
And those flashing lights?
Yeah, they were coming from some device on the dash, not the top of the car like they should have.
Worst yet, the officer?
Yeah, it looked like he was wearing a cheap policeman halloween costume.
And he clearly wasn’t an officer at all.
Because he was absolutely the man who’d attacked me by my car that night.
You could still see the angry-looking spots on his neck where Lyle had bitten him.
I wish I could say that I was street smart enough at that moment to snap into action, to create some kind of diversion, or to keep playing along like I was oblivious to what was going on.
That wasn’t true, though.
Because what I did was turn and run while sucking in a breath to scream.
The scream would never come, though, because I had barely gotten ten feet before I was scooped up from behind with a strong arm around my waist, and the other hand slapping across my mouth.
Which left me peddling in the air like an idiot.
My hands went up, raking across the forearms of my attacker, some part of me thinking if I dug in deep enough, that maybe he would release my mouth long enough for me to scream for help.
But scream to whom?
It was the middle of the week.
It was the middle of the night.
There was no one around.
And even if there were, what would they see? The police trying to arrest an unruly woman, perhaps?
Maybe some would stop. Kids with a cellphone, ready to catch an overstepping cop doing something they shouldn’t.
But there were no kids around.
And older adults, well, they were just going to double check the lock on their doors and drive on by.
I didn’t know a single thing about this sort of situation. Aside from that advice we all heard growing up.
Never let them take you to a second location.
Because they only did two things at that second location. Raped and killed you.
The problem with that was… what control did you have? If you were a small, inexperienced woman against two big, experienced men?
I did the best I could.
I kicked and scratched and punched and squirmed.
The movements only made the arms tighten more around me, cutting off my air until I started to feel lightheaded as I was turned and slammed down into a trunk.
The release of the pressure had me sucking in a greedy breath even as the hand moved from my mouth.
But only to be immediately replaced by duct tape.
“Hold the fucking bitch still,” the fake cop demanded as he struggled to get the duct tape around my wrists.
“I’m trying,” my fake employee hissed just before yanking my arm back behind me and up so hard that I felt something pop even as the pain shot across my shoulder and seemed to even work its way up my neck and down my jaw.
“That worked,” the fake cop said with a chuckle as they effortlessly pulled my other arm into place, finding almost no resistance from me because I was too busy crying out against my duct tape from the pain.
It was over so fast.
That was all I could think as the trunk door slammed, sealing me into the darkness.
It was so quick.
From the moment I knew something was off until I was in the trunk, it couldn’t have been more than two minutes. Two minutes and my whole life could be over.
Worst yet, no one would know.
I mean, yes, eventually, they would.
Myles would see something wrong. He would call Remy. Remy would come to investigate.
But how long would that take?
Would Myles sleep through the night?
Would maybe one of the dogs wake him up at some point because they weren’t used to being alone all night?
Even then, it would be too long.
I would be far gone.
Sure, yes, Remy had friends and connections. They might even be able to point him in a direction to help him locate me.
But not before God-knew-what had happened to me.
Would I even be alive at that point?
Clearly, they wanted to talk to me or hurt me first. Otherwise, I’d be dead already.
Somehow, a part of me almost wished they’d have killed me quickly instead of keeping me alive to torture me.
That was probably terrible to think or believe, but, I mean, who wanted to be kept alive if being alive only meant possible torture and gang-rape before eventual death anyway?
Just give me death first.
A helpless whine escaped me as I tried to yank against the duct tape. I knew that if you knew the right moves, you could break out of duct tape. The problem was, I completely forgot what that right move was. And even if I remembered, I wasn’t sure the blinding pain in my shoulder would allow me to perform it.
Though, to be honest, I was pretty sure I would try if I had any idea what to do. Even if I blacked out from the pain.
The problem was, just trying to move my wrists around only managed to make the duct tape bunch up. And that somehow seemed to make it even stronger.
On a frustrated cry, I bumped my forehead against the itchy trunk carpeting.
Yes, this was a new enough car that there had to be a release latch somewhere, but I was pretty sure there was no way for me to maneuver in the small space in just the right way that I could make my bound hands get close enough to the release.
There was also the knock-out-the-taillight trick.
And after kicking at it for a minute or two, I did succeed.
The problem was, I couldn’t stick my hand out and wave like they said to do. And my foot didn’t quite fit through the space.
Helpless tears flooded my eyes and slipped down my cheeks as the car just kept moving on down the street at a calm, lazy pace. Because you didn’t want to get pulled over while impersonating a police officer with a bound and gagged woman in the trunk, now, did you?
The car took a turn, and I was so lost in my pain and hopelessness that I hadn’t tried to brace myself, so my body rolled and my bad shoulder slammed against the back of the trunk.
I shrieked behind my gag as I was pretty sure I flashed in and out of consciousness really quickly.
I would have preferred to stay out as the car suddenly stopped, and the engine cut off.
Dread unfurled its long, cold, black fingers up my spine and around my neck, making it hard to pull in a breath even as I heard the doors slam and the voices move in the direction of the trunk.
This was it.
Whatever was going to happen to me.
At least I didn’t have to wait long to see what it was.
The trunk opened, and there were my two attackers. Smirking down at me as though this wasn’t the lowest a man could sink.
“Not gonna lie, looking forward to this one,” the fake cop declared as he reached in to grab my arm, starting to yank me out by it.
My breath sucked in as my bad shoulder jostled, and I felt myself blanking in and out.
“Easy. That’s the bad one,” my fake employee warned. “Don’t want her blacked out when the boss man comes to see her.”
I would very much have liked to be blacked out, but I wasn’t a part of the decision-making right then.
I had no control over anything, it seemed, other than not cooperating when the guy tried to set me on my feet.
Yes, my big act of rebellion right then was refusing to let my legs hold my weight, allowing them to turn into Jell-O, sending me falling to the pavement.
“For Christ’s sake,” the fake cop hissed, reaching down to yank me back up.
And it was right then that I started to realize just how familiar this space was.
It was a place I knew better than any of them likely did, since I spent many nights staking it out.
The alley behind the jewelry store.
The hideous raised building that allowed for the lower level to act as a sort of basement without it being underground.
So no one could hear the dogs snarling.
Or women screaming.
My heart squeezed in my chest as I was dragged along a familiar path toward doors I’d painstakingly opened and closed and greased so they didn’t squeak.
Would there be dogs inside?
Would I have to listen to their misery as well while I endured my own?
That was possibly the only fate worse than the one I’d already imagined.
Maybe I should have felt some semblance of hope. It was a very obvious location for them to bring me to, after all.
So if Myles happened to wake up for the dogs or to go get a snack and saw my note and got suspicious and called Remy and Remy sprang into action, it wouldn’t take much guesswork for them to come and check out the jewelry shop first.
I just couldn’t muster up much hope at that moment.
There were too many “ifs” to that whole situation.
And, really, would hope make this situation any better? Or would it be worse to endure whatever I was about to endure while I kept expecting Remy to burst through a door and save me, only to find he never came?
Better, I felt, to just assume the worst right off the bat.
No one was going to come for me.
Not until it would be too late anyway.
I heard some yipping noises and grumbling from the room where the dogs were being held as we passed by, making it clear that stealing from them hadn’t even put a kink in their evil plans to create more horror for poor, defenseless animals.
My eyes squeezed shut as what came to mind at that moment was, well, my own dogs.
My two older rescues.
The about-to-pop Alma.
And poor Lyle.
Who might not get a second chance if I wasn’t around.
No, that wasn’t true, was it?
Surely, if nothing else, Remy would take care of them after I was gone, right? That was the kind of man he was.
Maybe Myles would take in my little dogs, wanting to hold onto a piece of me.
Alma’s puppies would have no trouble finding homes.
But Alma and Lyle might find themselves without a future. Which was exactly the kind of situation that Remy would interject himself into, taking them home to join his ever-growing pack.
I guess it was lucky that I’d met Remy when I had.
My animals wouldn’t suffer too much from my absence thanks to him.
That was a comfort of sorts. I would have died in the worst kind of misery if I didn’t know what would happen to my animals after I was gone.
As for my parents, well, they would know I loved them. And they would likely tap Myles’s shoulder for a replacement for me.
It would all work out for everyone.
Just not me.
With a sigh, I resigned myself to my fate.
But there seemed no other way out.
Especially with my shoulder screaming, and outnumbered by men already, with more to come, it seemed.
Whoever this boss guy was.
He had to be pretty awful to control these other terrible guys. And, you know, run a dog fighting ring.
I was pulled down the hallway toward the front of the building, a place I was unfamiliar with.
Somehow, that was the most alarming part of the situation right that moment. It was completely illogical, but undeniable.
Would they take me to the room where the ring was? I wasn’t sure I could stomach that. The dried blood. The rape stand.
Anywhere but there.
It seemed my prayer was answered, but I wasn’t sure my actual fate was much better.
Because this room had dried blood around it too.
And chains on the wall.
A room where different types of animals were abused and murdered.
Not being loyal to the organization?
For trying to steal from them?
And not just that.
It wasn’t just about the dogs.
Or that one of the dogs I’d freed had mauled one of his men.
It was that to get my best friend back, several of their men had died.
Did they know about Remy and the other Golden Glades Henchmen? Were they in danger too?
I guess, in my mind, I’d sort of seen them as larger-than-life, too big to fail. But they’d nearly lost a man named Cato when saving Myles. And another guy named Levee had been injured as well.
They weren’t gods.
They were mortal men.
Just like anybody else.
They could suffer too.
The only thing we had going for us was that Remy swore they’d been masked, that no one would know who they were or what organization they belonged to.
So, in my final minutes or hours—God, I hoped it was just minutes—it was my job not to let that information slip, to continue to protect their identity.
It was the least I could do after what they’d done for me.
Keep them safe.
Decision made, I took a deep breath, and tried to, I don’t know, harden myself.
It wouldn’t be easy. I wasn’t exactly great with pain. But for the sake of Remy, I would have to be.
“Here, bring her over,” my fake employee demanded, holding up the chain that was attached to the wall. “No, give me the bad arm,” he added. “She won’t fuss as much.”
I wanted to snap at him about that, but the duct tape made it impossible. Which, I guess, was for the best. The last thing I needed was for my big mouth to get me into trouble.
Or, well, more trouble.
I tried to brace myself for it, but the pain shot across my shoulder and up my neck as my arm was yanked back and my wrist chained right above the duct tape.
“Don’t,” the fake cop demanded as the fake employee tried to rattle the chains, send pain shooting through my body once again. “The boss is going to want to deal with her. Don’t fuck with her first. Trust me, no one is waiting for their turn harder than I am.”
“Yeah, know the feeling.”
“I was mauled. You just had to work at a fucking smoothie shop.”
“I had to choke down fucking wheatgrass shots every shift.”
“Your skin cleared up,” the fake cop said as they turned to walk away from me.
The comment got him a punch in the shoulder from my fake employee before the door closed behind them, leaving me alone.
Alone was possibly the worst thing, left there to think of the things they’d said about waiting to take turns with me. And all the possible ways they could have meant that.
I couldn’t say how much time passed.
It felt like half a lifetime.
Yet not nearly long enough as I heard footsteps approaching.
The boss they spoke of.
The man who was wicked enough to bring so many monsters to heel.
I just barely managed not to cry out as the door slid almost soundlessly open.
And there he was.
Not the boss.
Not the fake cop or the fake employee.
Not even Remy.
No, it was Arty.
Of all people.
Somehow, he looked even more shocked to see me as I was to see him as he slipped inside, pressing a finger to his lips, telling me to be silent enough though, you know, the duct tape.
Moving into the room, he came toward me with, well, nothing.
No way to cut the tape.
No way to pick the locks.
But, at least, he did peel the tape from my lips.
“You need to go,” I hissed. “I can’t have anyone else getting hurt because of me. They’re going to be coming back,” I added. “What are you even doing he—“ I started, cutting off when we both heard the footsteps coming.
Not just one set, either.
At least two.
It was too late.
Arty couldn’t get out.
And he damn sure couldn’t save me.
“And what do we have here?” a deep voice said as the trio walked into the room.
I knew from Remy that this guy’s name was Anthony.
And that his gang initiations included beating an innocent person nearly to death. Women, kids, he didn’t care. You just had to do it.
Which meant that the other two guys, the ones who had tricked and taken me, they had done it.
“Back for more, are you?” they asked, looking at Arty who looked even frailer in comparison to the bigger men. “Trying to save your girl, huh, asshole?” Anthony asked, glaring at Arty.
“Girlfriend?” I scoffed. “I’ve never seen this guy before in my life. Look at him. I’d snap him like a twig,” I added, trying not to feel too guilty, hoping Arty knew I was just trying to protect him. “He probably just saw your thug guys dragging me down here and decided to be the hero.”
“Is that so?” Anthony asked, looking at Arty as he took a threatening step forward.
Arty, it was clear to me, despite being associated with tons of criminals and all-around tough guys, seemed even less prepared for this sort of situation than I was.
Mostly because it almost seemed like he wasn’t aware just how bad it was.
He didn’t stiffen or go pale. He didn’t even shrink away when the guy approached.
Almost like he didn’t, I don’t know, realize he was in danger.
But that was ridiculous, right? Because he’d researched these guys endlessly. He knew all the ins and outs of the organization, their criminal histories, the word-of-mouth stories that couldn’t exactly be corroborated or denied.
He knew they were bad guys.
So why didn’t he think they could hurt him?
I seemed to get an answer to that, though, about the same time Anthony grabbed the front of Arty’s shirt and yanked him forward.
Because, suddenly, there were thunderous footsteps down the hall.
Before any of the men could even react, the door was flying open.
And there he was.
The man I didn’t dare hope would come to save me.
Coming to save me.
Only he didn’t look like the Remy I had come to know and start to love.
This was practically a different man entirely.
And the way he flew at the men, with the sort of savagery you only see in ultimate fighting rings with tons of money on the line, it was nothing like the man I had come to know.
Because the Remy I knew was kind and gentle.
But I watched in horrified immobility as his fist collided with the fake cop’s nose, sending blood shooting all across his face and hair, something that made an evil smile pull at his lips, then charge again.
Like the blood and the pain was spurring him on. Like he was getting something out of it.
Behind him, two other men rushed inside.
One had a nasty-looking just-healed cut on his neck.
Levee, I guessed.
The other guy who’d gotten shot when they’d gone to save Myles.
The final guy was around the same age as Levee and tall, dark, and mysterious. The handsome thing, well, that seemed to go without saying with these guys.
He moved right past all the fighting as if it was just a couple of rowdy guys in a club and made a beeline for me, coming equipped with a pocketknife and a lock pick set, all the stuff that Arty had been without.
But he’d handed the knife to Arty as he went to work on the lock.
“Almost there,” he said in a calm, collected voice well beyond his years that must have come from a lot of experience packed into his young life. “Is your shoulder fucked?” he asked when he went to loosen the chain and I hissed.
“Yeah. He pulled my arm back and up and something popped,” I told him, reaching up to use my other hand when Arty freed it, to hold onto my bad shoulder as the guy, who had to be Seeley, freed me from the chain.
“Who?” Remy snarled from across the room, making my stomach drop. “Who did it?” he asked, making me turn to find him even more covered in blood than he’d been a moment before. But I wasn’t sure that any of it came from him.
I wasn’t going to answer.
Not when Remy was clearly in some sort of animalistic rage.
But my gaze seemed to move in the direction of my fake employee without me meaning for it to.
With a snarl that was almost a bit, well, demonic, Remy flew at him.
“No, don’t look,” Seeley demanded, snagging my chin and forcing it away as the man let out a howl. “Come on. I am supposed to get you out of here.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the shock of the whole situation or the almost overwhelming smell of blood in the room that had me falling into step with the stranger, but that was exactly what I did.
“The dogs…” I said as we moved down the hall.
“Don’t worry. There will be plenty of time to save the dogs when this is all handled. I’m going to take you out back to your friend.”
And that was exactly what he did.
Led me right outside and into Myles’s arms.
“Oh, thank God.”
“I think Remy might be psychotic,” I told him as he squeezed me too tight, but I needed it, so I didn’t object.
“Well, I would hope so. Since someone tried to kidnap his girl.”
“Come on,” Seeley said, drawing our attention over toward my car that they’d recovered somehow. “We need to get her to the clinic.”
“Come on. We can talk about your psycho boyfriend on the way.”
Was he my boyfriend?
And, perhaps more importantly, did I want him to continue to be that if he had a psycho violent streak?
These were questions that would plague me over the next few hours before I finally got to see him again.
And hear the story from his point of view.
“What do you mean she’s gone?” I barked into the phone, already slipping my feet into shoes and grabbing a shirt on my way out of my bedroom.
“She left a note saying the cops called from the shop and that the alarms were going off.”
“So she went? She knew she wasn’t supposed to leave.”
“I know. I know. I think she was probably half asleep and not thinking. And it was the cops. Well, it wasn’t though.”
“What do you mean it wasn’t?” I asked, already slamming my first on Seeley’s door because I didn’t like the sound of the situation.
“I called and called her with no response. And the store itself. So when I didn’t get anything, I called Lou just to see if I was being paranoid. He looked into it and said there were no cops dispatched to The Main Squeeze. Someone was impersonating one.”
To get her out of the safe house and in public. In the middle of the night. Where she could get grabbed.
“Get Levee. And weapons. We have a situation,” I said, getting a nod from Seeley who had clearly been asleep, but was somehow ready to roll as he reached inside to grab both a shirt and a gun as he slipped into his shoes, then rushed out to get Levee.
“Alright. I am heading out right now with some of my guys.”
“I’ll meet you there. I just got myself a ride.”
“It’s my best friend. You don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t do,” he snapped.
And that was fair enough.
“It’s probably going to get ugly.”
“If those fuckers put a hand on her, it better get ugly,” he said. “I’ll meet you there,” he said, hanging up.
My mind raced with a million possibilities as I rushed down the stairs and through the house, finding Seeley already out in the driveway, waiting beside his bike.
“Levee is coming,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“Someone faked being a cop to get Lark to meet him at the smoothie shop.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“Have you—“ he started, but whatever he was about to say got cut off by the sound of my bike rumbling to life before I peeled off, not giving a fuck about speed limits or road signs.
I was barely to the end of the street when I heard Seeley and Levee following behind, giving me the backup I was definitely going to need if we were going to go up against the whole of the Locust Crew.
I hoped that wasn’t the case, that maybe we were going to be able to catch Lark still outside the shop, before she was moved to a second location.
But, I mean, I knew better.
There was no chance we were going to get that lucky.
But I had to hope.
Because fuck knew what would happen to her if they got her to a second location. These fucking animals who were willing to beat innocent women and children as a form of initiation. The monsters who would force dogs they’d likely stolen from loving backyards to fight to the death.
I had no delusions about exactly what they would be capable of doing to a woman in their grips under normal circumstances. Add in her stealing from them and somehow managing to not only thwart their plans to draw her out, but also have some of their men die in the process.
I didn’t think that this Anthony asshole actually gave a shit about his men. But he cared about his reputation. It couldn’t look good that some random woman who worked at a smoothie shop was not only able to jack some of his shit but also take his men out.
He wasn’t going to let that stand.
He would have to make her pay for that.
And I had to make sure that didn’t happen.
Rage, familiar and welcome, worked its way up my spine, spreading outward until it threatened to envelop me completely as I finally cut the engine outside of The Main Squeeze.
Lark’s car was still there.
The front driver’s side door thrown open, like she’d either rushed out of it, or someone had yanked her out.
Knowing it was a waste of time, I flew off my bike and toward the store, finding it unlocked, with the alarm still ringing, but empty.
“Should I turn it off?” Myles asked when he managed to pull up about two minutes after I got there.
“Doesn’t fucking matter,” I growled, reaching up to rake my hands through my hair. “Where would they take her? To the storage place again?” I asked, looking at Seeley.
“Knowing we know our way around it? Unlikely,” he said, shaking his head.
“Arty said Anthony has a—“ I started, then cut off when my phone started ringing in my pocket.
A part of me almost hoped to see Lark’s name there.
Which was ridiculous.
But the hope was there.
“It’s Arty,” I said to the others as I swiped to answer. “Not a great time, man. Lark is—“
“Being held in the jewelry building,” he cut me off. “I know. I am about to go in now.”
“Go in?” I asked, waving a finger in the air in a way that said to get on our bikes. “You can’t go in there, Arty. They could kill you. I’m five minutes away,” I told him. “Wait for us.”
“I can’t talk now. I’m opening the door,” he said, and then the line cut out.
“Fucking Arty is trying to rescue Lark from these bastards,” I said, jumping on my bike. “They’re at the fucking jewelry store.”
My mind was racing as I got on my bike and flew past the speed limit to get across town as quickly as possible. Hopefully before Arty got himself killed.
I wasn’t sure what had come over him to make him think he could do field work. That had never been the kind of guy he was. The only conclusion I could come to was that he had just so happened to be watching the cameras of the organization, and seen them bringing Lark in.
Knowing we were all over in Golden Glades, he likely figured we were all too far away to be able to get there in time. And since he was located in Miami, he was close enough to get there.
But Arty had no training. And while, sure, Arty did illegal shit for a living, he wasn’t exactly street smart. I was fairly certain the guy wouldn’t even know how to throw a proper punch. Or if he tried, he could even do any sort of damage with how frail he was from not feeding himself properly.
My heart was hammering in my chest as I cut the engine and flew off my bike, not even waiting for Seeley and Levee, just rushing through the back alley toward the door of Iced Out.
I was vaguely aware of the dogs grumbling in their cages as I rushed past, saving that information for later, when I was sure Lark was safe.
I could hear voices coming from a room a little further up and to the right.
There was no hesitation.
I just went in fucking swinging.
I couldn’t tell you who I hit first or even how hard. All I knew was there was the warm smattering of blood and the satisfying crunching of bones breaking.
I was aware of Lark.
Chained up with Arty right by her.
Her face wasn’t roughed up, but there seemed to be pain in her eyes.
It wasn’t until Seeley rushed over to get her unchained and asked her about her shoulder that I understood the cause of the pain.
The fucker had dislocated her shoulder.
She hadn’t offered up the information on who it was, but her gaze had moved in his direction.
And, well, let’s just say that the fire inside burned hot enough to engulf me entirely as I flew at the guy.
I wasn’t even fully conscious of what was happening until I seemed to wake up from the stupor the rage put me in to find a man below me with half his face caved in from my fists.
I mean, I’d always had a temper. You could ask any of the guys in the club. The trigger was usually something to do with poor, defenseless animals. Or, apparently, the woman I was starting to love.
The only problem was, letting that out of control beast inside me off its chain was probably not the best way to assure said woman that I was safe for her.
Luckily enough, when my gaze moved to where she’d been, I found the chain on the floor with no one attached to it.
Seeley had gotten her out.
Hopefully before I started pounding on a corpse because a lot of the damage I’d done looked like it had been the literal definition of overkill.
Turning, I saw Levee kicking the leg of one of the guys.
“They’re dead,” he assured me. “It’s not the whole organization, but this is everyone who is here.”
“Okay,” I said, looking down at my hands, my knuckles busted open, aching when I tried to flex my hands. “Lark,” I said.
“Seeley brought her out to Myles,” Levee said.
“Where is Seeley?”
“I hear a lot of barking,” Levee said, making me turn toward the door and backtrack to the kennel room, finding Seeley had enlisted the help of Arty to gather all the confused, scared dogs.
“Where’s Lark?” I asked, watching as Seeley turned.
“Myles is with her at the clinic.”
“Myles? Myles can’t protect her,” I hissed.
“I was there until she went in the back. You’ve been there. There is a guard and metal detectors. She’s safe until you can go scoop her up. I figured you wanted these guys out of here.”
Lark would have my fucking balls if she knew I left a single one of them behind.
“Yeah,” I agreed, taking a couple of the leashes from an overwhelmed-looking Arty.
“What do you want to do about this?” Seeley asked.
“Call back the rescues, I guess,” I said, looking at all the dogs. Twelve? Maybe fourteen. That was a fuckuva a lot to ask them to take on. But there was a chance they had owners and just needed their chips scanned.
“No. About the bodies. About the Locust Crew,” Seeley explained.
“Well, you guys know this crew better than I do,” I said, looking between Seeley and Levee. “What happens when the leadership dies? Will someone step up? Will it crumble and self-destruct?”
“If the enforcer lived, I think he would have taken over,” Levee said. “But with him gone too, I don’t think this crew is going to make it. They will likely defect and join other organizations.”
“Okay,” I said, exhaling hard as I looked around. “Then we need to move the dogs out. And then we need to deal with the bodies. And clean any traces of us or Lark out of here,” I told them. “And Art, I am going to need you to get rid of any of the surveillance footage you have of this place tonight. And The Main Squeeze too.”
“And then?” Levee asked.
“And then we wash our hands of this. Keep an eye on everything just in case, but stay out and watch them implode.”
“Alright,” Seeley said, nodding.
“We’re going to need a car,” Levee said, looking at Seeley.
“I can have someone here in ten. They can bring the dogs back to the safe house if you want.”
“Lark would have my head if one of us wasn’t with them to make sure they are being separated properly and walked and fed.”
“I’ll do it,” Levee volunteered. “I’ve taken care of your animals a lot lately,” he reminded me when my gaze went to him.
“Okay. Alright. That works.”
“I’ll run out and get some cleaning supplies,” Seeley volunteered. “We are going to need more hands on this,” he added.
“Call in Donovan and Alaric. And tell them we are going to need to… transport some friends.”
“Okay. On it,” Seeley said, already reaching for his phone as he led his dogs outside. Levee followed behind with a few of his own.
Leaving me alone with Arty.
“I appreciate you, but what were you thinking?” I asked. “You know this is not your sort of thing.”
“I couldn’t get her free,” Arty said, gaze focused past me at the wall behind my shoulder.
“Well, you didn’t have the kinds of skills you’d need to do an extraction, man. It’s not your fault. What got into you?”
“I don’t know,” Arty admitted, brows pinching like he was genuinely trying to figure out what had happened to make him leave the safety of his filthy apartment and join the real world. “I wanted to… help.”
“She ended up trying to save me,” he added, tone a little defeated. “She tried to tell them I was just being a Good Samaritan.”
“She didn’t want you getting hurt because of her. That’s not about you or how she feels about you. It’s about her and her big heart.”
“She was hurt. Her cheeks were red from crying.”
“It sounds like her shoulder was dislocated. She is getting checked out now. She’s going to be okay, man. Partially thanks to you. You knew where she was, and you told us. I appreciate it more than you can know,” I told him, moving forward to clamp a hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze.
In general, Arty didn’t like being touched. But at that moment, it seemed like he needed the comfort and reassurance.
“Can I come see her?”
“As soon as she gets checked out and gets a little rest, yeah. Absolutely. You know you are always welcome.”
“I will keep watching the Locust Crew,” he said, already making his way toward the door, pleased to have a purpose again.
“Arty, you need some sleep too, man.”
“I’ll watch them to make sure they aren’t coming for her again,” he insisted, walking toward the back door, pulling three dogs along with him, and I hoped one of the other guys would snag those leashes from him because when Arty had his mind set on something, he forgot about that kind of shit. Just like he forgot to eat or take out the trash.
Alone for a moment, I took a few deep breaths, trying to wrap my head around the events of the night.
With the adrenaline waning, everything was coming back in bright, acute detail.
Including the look of shock and horror there had been on Lark’s face when she’d seen me flying at the guys who’d taken her.
I couldn’t blame her for her shock.
I hadn’t exactly told her that I had a bad temper and a short fuse about some things. And that, sometimes, when I got pissed enough, I practically blacked out while beating the shit out of someone. If it weren’t for my brothers, I’d likely have taken a lot more lives than I already had. Without even meaning to.
I mean, even if I wanted to tell her that, exactly how did you broach that topic without scaring the shit out of her? No woman wanted to hear that the man she was dating had an explosive, sometimes uncontrollable temper. Because women always knew there was a chance that a man’s anger could manifest as bruises on their skin.
She would never, fucking ever, be at risk of that kind of pain from me, but I could absolutely see how she wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.
It was a discussion we were going to need to have.
After the guys and I handled this giant fucking mess.
It was a full two hours before I could finally climb on my bike and head in the direction of the clinic.
It was a serious-faced Myles I met in the waiting room.
“Is she okay?”
“Yes. And no.”
“She told you what I did.”
“And I’m conflicted,” he admitted.
“I would never put a hand on Lark that way. Any woman. It’s not like that.”
“I’m inclined to believe you. But I’m not the one you need to reassure.”
“I plan to,” I told him.
“Good luck. The doctor seems to have something against the lot of you,” he said, shaking his head.
He wasn’t wrong.
I managed to get past the nurse, but then Dr. Stone came charging toward me when I made it into the hallway of exam rooms.
“You’re not family,” she informed me.
“Myles isn’t family either,” I reminded her.
“Because he’s not a biker?” I asked, watching as her eyes flared, but she managed to bite her tongue.
“Because he is her best friend of many years. And you are just a mistake she doesn’t know she’s making yet. But I guess that’s not my business,” she said, jaw tight as she moved past me.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the door to Lark’s room.
Ready for whatever she had to say to me.
Unless what she had to say was she never wanted to see me again.
Because I wasn’t sure I could ever be ready to hear that.
My doctor was a smoking hot lady who couldn’t have been much older than me.
Her keen gray eyes were on me as she moved into the room, closing the door behind her.
“Miss Landry,” she said, giving me a tight smile. “You think you may have dislocated your shoulder?” she asked, moving closer to me.
“How’d you manage that?” she asked, setting down the metal clipboard thing she had my file attached to.
I couldn’t tell her the truth, could I?
That was why Remy and his biker friends had brought Cato to the clinic instead of the hospital. Because the hospital could report that kind of thing to the police. And the last thing I needed was the cops involved in this now that there were even more bodies piled up.
“Miss Landry, you can tell me if this was done to you,” she said, looking sad. “Your boyfriend out in the waiting room?” she asked.
“What? No. Myles is my best friend. That’s it. The worst thing he’s ever done to me was apply sunblock across my shoulders when I passed out on the beach in the shape of the word ‘Bitch’ so it was like branded on me for weeks until the color disappeared.”
“Got to love asshole friends, right?” she asked, smirking. “Is he… is he involved with Seeley?”
“I don’t think Seeley, you know, goes that way.”
“No. I meant are they biker brothers together.”
“Oh. Oh, no. Not at all.”
“Can I ask why you are with Seeley then?”
“Well, there is this guy…” I started to admit.
“Of course there is,” she said with a sigh. “There always is. Did he do this to you?”
“What? No. He would never,” I insisted, but there was a false note in my voice as my mind flashed back to the savage way Remy had gone at those men in the jewelry store.
Was that truly the same man who put a blanket on me when I fell asleep on the couch? The one who had booped my dog’s nose? The one who snuck a little dollop of whipped cream on the top of the dog food when he thought I wasn’t looking while telling the dogs ‘don’t tell Mom.’
It didn’t seem right.
But I’d seen what I’d seen.
“You don’t need to defend him.”
“I’m not. I mean, I wouldn’t. This isn’t because of him. This was… this was someone else.”
“Someone else connected to him, then, I imagine?” the doctor asked as she carefully touched the front and back of my shoulder, applying a little pressure until I jerked and hissed. “They bring nothing but trouble,” she said.
“Do you know them?” I asked, brows lowering, not understanding the bitterness in her tone.
“I just worked on one of them a little while back. Multiple gunshot wounds.”
I still didn’t figure out a good care package for him. That had to be high on my list.
Now I had to think of something for Arty as well.
A cleaning lady, perhaps?
But, really, that was probably more of a gift for his loved ones than the man himself, since he seemed to have no problem living in filth.
“So you just object to their lifestyles.”
“I object to young, smart, capable men going down the path of crime when they could be just about anything else.”
I mean, I guess that was fair.
“And before you accuse me of being privileged or elitist, I grew up on the same block as your friend Seeley out there. We had the same sort of upbringing, all the same opportunities. He chose to be a criminal instead of doing something positive with his life.”
“I think people have a lot of reasons for doing the things they end up doing,” I said, thinking of how uncharacteristic it was for me to become a criminal. But I did it. To save those innocent dogs.
I had to believe that if these guys chose to become outlaw bikers, that they had their own reasons for it.
“And that sometimes people can do, objectively, bad things but still be good people and do positive things.”
“I think you give them more credit than they deserve,” the doctor said. “Okay. I feel pretty confident this is dislocated. But I want to do a quick X-ray just to make sure. You get the honor of being the third patient to use the machine. You don’t want to know how much begging I needed to do in the community to get us the machine.”
“You rely on donations?”
“If we want any upgrades, yes. Hell, sometimes even for everyday essentials. I had to pay for our gloves last month because we ran out and there was no money.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Who do I make donations to?”
“I wasn’t telling you that to get sympathy money. I promise.”
“No, I believe you. It’s just… my parents are kind of, well, you know, well off. And they are always looking for a good cause. A clinic that serves a community that likely really needs it sounds like a good cause to me.”
“Well, we certainly wouldn’t turn it away, that’s for sure!” she said, leading me out of the room and down the hall to the last room. “We only get one steady benefactor. And we all almost cry every month when that cash comes in,” she told me. “I guess a part of us is terrified that the money will stop coming in eventually.”
“It comes as cash?” I asked, brows furrowing as she led me over to the table and helped me up.
“I know. Strange, right? You can’t write it off on your taxes if you don’t write a check or get a receipt. Okay. Led bib,” she said, carefully placing the apron over me. “Try not to move,” she said, moving back behind the little glass room.
It was when we were walking back from the x-ray room when I saw Seeley shoot up from his chair.
But his gaze wasn’t on me, keeping an eye on me for Remy.
His gaze was on Dr. Stone.
The very gorgeous woman who’d grown up near Seeley. The woman who seemed to have too much bitterness just because a guy from her neighborhood hadn’t lived up to his full potential.
A woman who, maybe, possibly, had some sort of personal history with the young biker.
“I will be right back in with something for the pain,” Dr. Stone said, giving me a smile as she moved past my room.
I didn’t go right in, though.
My nosy ass stood there and watched Seeley watch Dr. Stone as she moved behind the nurse’s station and talked to the attractive male nurse that I was sure Myles had already slipped his number to.
There was something intense in Seeley’s dark gaze as he looked at the woman he must have known had a pretty low opinion of him.
Suddenly, my mind circled back to the unknown benefactor of the clinic.
The person who paid in cash that they couldn’t write off.
But you know who made a lot of cash that they couldn’t claim to the federal government?
Arms dealing bikers.
I mean, I was probably getting ahead of myself, letting my love of romance movies get the better of me.
But it was an interesting theory I totally needed to run past Myles.
“I wish I could give you something stronger, but we have to be really careful about controlled substances,” Dr. Stone told me a couple minutes later as she brought me three acetaminophen in a cup. “I’m sure if you want something stronger that one of your friends can get you some. They are good at that sort of thing. I am having Michael, my nurse, trying to track down a good immobilizer for you. It should help a lot. The worst thing you can do while this heals is try to use it too much. Give it a rest.”
“If you are running low on braces, I can find my own,” I assured her.
“Are you kidding? Girl, you have that good medical insurance. We are charging you for it. Which would probably give us enough money to buy a dozen more of the ones we buy from this discount retailer I found.”
“Do you… own this clinic?” I asked, wondering why she was so enthusiastic about it.
“No. No. I mean, I would love to one day. I, apparently, want to go gray early and develop stress ulcers. And, yes, I know stress ulcers are a myth, but I swear I can feel one burning here and there. This place is owned by a trio of ultra-rich doctors who use it as a sort of write-off. And to make their resumes look less pretentious, I guess. But they are never actually here.
“It would be the ultimate dream to be able to buy them out and run this place like it should be run. For now, I run it the best I can.”
“The community seems to rely on this clinic.”
“It does. More than you know. My grandma got treatment here for her COPD. Kept her out of the hospital. And the family out of insane debt. We need this place. Even if we are all horribly overworked and underpaid.”
“Hey, didn’t you need to do a full physical on me?” I asked, watching as her brows furrowed. “To, you know, make sure nothing else was wrong with me?” I added, giving her big eyes, wanting her to know what I was saying without saying it because we both knew it would be akin to insurance fraud if we said it out loud.
“You know, yes. I think it is important to be thorough.”
So then I got a physical.
And the clinic could charge my insurance another couple hundred dollars that would hopefully help them, you know, buy gloves and stuff.
“Listen, I like you,” Dr. Stone said as she brought in my brace.
It was a sling that crossed in the back and supported my forearm around the middle of my stomach, then had this giant velcro band that crushed my upper arm to my body, making it impossible to move my shoulder.
“I like you too.”
“So I am just going to say… think about who you want to be involved with, okay? I’m not going to judge you if you can’t seem to help yourself. I get it. Really, I do,” she said, and I could have sworn her gaze went to the door, like she was looking through it. Possibly into the waiting room where Seeley was seated. “But make sure you think it through.”
With that, she walked out of the room, leaving me alone in it with nothing but my thoughts. And my ineffective acetaminophen.
It seemed like forever.
Eventually, Myles came in to crack some jokes and speculate with me about Seeley and Dr. Stone before heading out to flirt with the nurse he swore was down.
It wasn’t long after that when the door opened again.
And there he was.
The man whose face had been in my head almost nonstop since leaving the jewelry store.
The thing was, in my head, all I could see him as was the animal charging at those men.
But the person standing in the doorway of my exam room wasn’t that same guy.
This was Remy.
The blanket tucker.
The nose booper.
The whipped cream sneaker.
“Hey,” he said moving in, closing the door behind him, then leaning into it. “You okay?”
“Do you like my sexy new fashion accessory?” I said, waving at my immobilizer.
“If anyone can pull it off, it’s you,” he told me, trying to give me one of his warm, boyish smiles, but it didn’t quite meet his eyes. “Does it hurt?”
“You mean after all that crazy good acetaminophen they gave me? How could I possibly feel anything after such strong pharmaceutical drugs?” I said, getting a low chuckle out of him.
“They have to be careful about addictive shit, I guess. I can get you something stronger.”
“Dr. Stone said you could,” I said, nodding.
“It’s not from the street,” he assured me. “All of us end up getting banged up for some thing or another and get a script we end up barely taking. I will snag you some. It is going to be hard to sleep for a while. That’s the shoulder on the side you sleep on.”
How could a guy who remembered little details like that about you be the bad guy?
“Ugh. I didn’t think about that,” I grumbled even as the events of the night started to weigh down on me, making me acutely aware of the bone-deep sort of exhaustion that was settling in.
“You’ll find a comfortable position,” he assured me. “Especially after you get some good pain meds in you. Is anything else hurt?” he asked.
“Aside from my pride?” I asked, then let out a sigh. “No.”
“This isn’t your fault.”
“Ah, but it kind of totally is,” I said, shaking my head. “Did you know that the guy in there, the one who did this to my shoulder, he was an employee of The Main Squeeze?”
“Baby, you can’t blame yourself. This is what bad guys do. They try to get close. Integrate themselves. They hope you will trust them, or they will catch you alone, and then they pounce.”
“I shouldn’t have gone to the shop.”
“You were half awake and thought you were speaking to the cops. Stop beating yourself up.”
“It was a rookie mistake.”
“I hate to be the one to break this to you, babe, but you are a rookie,” he told me, and this time that smile did meet his eyes.
“What are you talking about? I am a two-time criminal now.”
“That’s true. Practically a boss at this point.”
“Is everyone okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, everyone is fine, babe. Don’t worry about them. And the dogs are out. I lucked out and can get them to some rescues in the morning.”
“That was fast.”
“Good timing. There was an adoption event at a brewery that went well, so they had lots of room.”
“That’s great. Where are the dogs now then?”
“Levee and a couple of the others are bringing them back to the safe house.”
“So the safe house is still a, you know, thing?” I asked.
“Until we are sure no one else is going to come for you. The general consensus is without the leader and the enforcer, that the crew is going to flounder and fall apart. It shouldn’t take long. But we want to make sure that happens before you get back to your normal life.”
“My sheets are going to feel like dollar store material after sleeping on Teddy’s fancy ones,” I said, sighing. “And I don’t have a pool. I mean, not that I’ve really used the damn thing. But pools are, you know, nice. Lyle likes it too. He’s probably walking around thinking he’s been rescued by a billionaire. What a disappointment it will be for him to go back to my place.”
“Hey, babe,” Remy called, voice soft, sweet.
“You can babble on for another hour or two if you want, but we are going to need to talk about it.”
“Since when do guys ever want to talk?” I shot back, my gaze lowering, uncomfortable with the topic. “Dr. Stone seems to think I need to stay away from you.”
“Dr. Stone and Seeley have some history. From the looks of it, it’s not pretty. Easy for her to judge us all based on that. But she might have a point.”
“What?” I asked, head jerking up.
“We’ve been starting this relationship in a sort of unnatural way. You needed some rescuing. I had the skills to do that. But I don’t think you’ve been able to really stop and think about what it means to be with a man like me.”
“I’ve thought about it,” I insisted. “But it was always easy to remind myself that you were good and sweet and easy-going and trustworthy.”
“And now you’re second-guessing all of that,” he concluded. If I wasn’t entirely mistaken, there was a hint of hurt in his tone at that.
But hurt feelings or not, he was right, we needed to have this conversation.
“You didn’t exactly seem good and sweet and easy-going in that room back there.”
I said it.
“No,” he agreed. “I wasn’t. And I would be lying to you if I said that was a one-off thing. That has happened before. It will likely happen again. But I can assure you that it only happens for good reason. Like the night I saved a bait kitten from an asshole who was going to use her in a dog fight.”
“I might get a little savage in that situation too,” I admitted.
“And I also feel like I need to remind you that my job comes with violence and uncertainty. As much as we try to shield that from the girls, sometimes you are going to see some shit that might make you uncomfortable. Or know some shit that might make you uncomfortable. And I have to understand if that isn’t something you are going to want in your future.
“If that is your choice, you are still going to stay in the safe house until things are in the clear. I am still going to help you rescue out those dogs. And I am still going to watch this situation to make sure everything is good. So you don’t have to make a decision based on fear.”
Did bad guys say things like that? Make assurances like that? I was pretty sure they didn’t.
“Have you ever hit a w—“
“No,” he cut me off.
“What if she was, like, trying to drown a cat?”
“Are you planning on drowning any cats?”
“Then I’m not sure why we need that hypothetical,” he said, shaking his head. “But say I came upon that, I might wrestle the cat away from her. Then sic you on her.”
“So you do all the gross bodily injury on the men, and I get the women?”
“Seems like a solid plan to me. Look,” Remy said, pushing off the door, and taking slow strides toward me, like he was gauging if I was going to flinch away from him or not.
And, somehow, despite what I’d seen, despite what I suspected went on even after I was out of that room, I genuinely didn’t feel any fear toward him as he got closer.
“You don’t have to make a decision right now,” Remy said, stopping right in front of me. “If you need a night or a week, take that. You’re hurting. You’re traumatized. It’s probably not the best time to make a decision.”
Maybe there was some merit to that.
Somehow, though, the events of the night were kind of, I don’t know, putting everything into perspective.
Had Remy been violent?
But toward men who had deliberately hurt me. Who were going to do far worse to me if they’d been given the chance.
Violence for the sake of violence was never acceptable.
But violence to protect someone who could not protect themselves?
That sort of seemed okay to me.
Be it a person or an animal.
Everyone should have someone to stand up for them when they can’t do it for themselves.
And, well, maybe that someone in my life could be Remy.
“I don’t need a week. Or a night,” I said, shaking my head.
“Lark, take some ti—“
“I don’t need another minute to know that you are a good man, Remy. You’ve been nothing but good to me. To the animals. Even to Myles. Just because you are capable of violence doesn’t mean you are bad. I think we are all capable of it. But what makes us good or bad is the reason for it.
“Those guys at Iced Out? Those were guys who wanted to hurt me for no reason. You said they are guys who hurt innocent people as a form of initiation to the gang. Those are bad guys. There’s a difference.”
“There is,” he agreed, nodding.
“And I know you would never deliberately hurt me. Well, actually, that’s not true,” I said, shaking my head at him.
“What? Babe, I would ne—“
“I distinctly remember a time I said something was hurting and you just kept on making me feel it,” I told him, a smirk tugging at my lips.
“Hey, that was punishment for what you’d done to me earlier that day,” he reminded me as his hands settled on my knees.
“That’s true,” I agreed, looking up at him.
“Hey, you know what is a great way to stop pain?” he asked as his hands danced up my thighs.
“I really don’t think I’m in any shape for that,” I reminded him. If you’d have told me a day ago that I would be turning down sex with Remy, I would have said you were crazy. But the fact of the matter was, the idea of jostling my shoulder made me feel a little queasy.
“For sitting back and relaxing?” Remy asked even as his hands got to the waistband of my pants.
“Remy,” I hissed, already hearing my voice getting thicker with desire. “We are in a public place.”
“Yeah, we are,” he said, smirk going devilish as he started to yank at the waistbands of my pants and panties until my shameless ass moved to one side so he could slide them down, then the other.
It took him no time at all to get them off my ankles, then spread my thighs wide on the table before getting to his knees and moving between.
There wasn’t even a moment of hesitation before his mouth was on me, sucking my clit in for an agonizing second before working it side to side with his tongue in a slow, steady pace that had him driving me up quickly as I struggled to keep my lips pressed together, to keep any noise from escaping me.
My one good hand grabbed a handful of his hair, holding him against me even as his hand moved between us and thrust inside.
He wasted no time there, either, turning his fingers inside of me and gently stroking against my top wall, making the sensation of need even more acute until it was impossible for me to fight it, and the orgasm slammed through my system.
It, thankfully, managed to steal my voice even as my legs shook, as my thighs clamped around Remy’s head, as my upper body folded forward over him for a moment as the waves crashed over and over.
“See?” Remy said a moment later, leaning the side of his head on my thigh and smiling up at me. “Better than acetaminophen,” he said.
He was right, too, because for a solid twenty minutes after that, when he was getting my panties and pants back on, washing his hands, and even changing the paper on the table and giving the whole thing a quick wipe down with a bleach wipe, I felt nothing but post-orgasm contentedness.
“What do you say? Want to head back and get you some medicine?”
“I barely recovered from my first dose,” I objected, making him turn back with a big smile.
“I meant pills, baby, but I can give you as many doses of that medicine, too, if you want.”
With that, he reached for my hand and started to pull me down the hallway.
A suspicious Dr. Stone stood near the nurse’s station, looking overworked and underpaid and almost a little, I don’t know, sad.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I said after patting Remy’s side to silently tell him to keep moving while I talked to the doctor. “But can I share something with you, woman to woman?” I said, getting a nod from her. “Just because they might do some bad things, doesn’t make them bad men. It doesn’t even make them bad for us. Just something to mull over,” I said, noticing the way her gaze went to where Seeley was standing outside the front door, even without her seeming to want it to. “Anyway, thank you for everything. You are amazing.”
With that, I moved out into the waiting room.
And there was Remy.
Ready to take me toward whatever future we might have in store.”
“Where’s Myles?” I asked, looking around.
“Went home with the nurse, apparently,” Remy said, smirking. “You know what that means?”
“What?” I asked as he wrapped an arm around my waist.
“We have the house all to ourselves.”
“Sure. All to ourselves. With about a dozen dogs.”
“Just how we both want it,” he said, pressing a kiss to my temple.
And, well, when the man was right, he was right.
Remy - 2 weeks
It was, ultimately, predictable.
Hell, it was even faster than we suspected it would be.
Without their leader or their second-in-command, the Locust Crew and no idea what to do with itself.
They attempted to reassemble, but it seemed like all the members believed they had what it would take to be leader which led to in-fighting, then low morale, then everyone just going their separate ways.
But, hey, I wasn’t complaining. Neither was Lark or Myles. We got to hang out in Teddy’s fancy house and shirk most of our responsibilities.
Well, some of them.
Because, ultimately, Lark had made the decision to work for her parents. Which meant Myles would be too.
It also meant they had to conduct a bunch of interviews, which a couple of the guys and I hung around for, just to be safe.
They got the staff up at The Main Squeeze and even promoted one of their most senior employees to manager.
“We really only ever needed one,” Lark had told me in private one night. “But I wanted Myles to keep working with me, so I made him a manager too. But now, we really only need one manager and a shift lead for day and evening.”
“There you go. Thinking like a boss already,” I’d said, pulling her close.
She was healing.
Not without a shitload of grumbling, though. Which was actually cuter than it had a right to be and, apparently, characteristic of Lark.
“She’s a terrible patient,” Myles had informed me the day after the injury as I’d been making a tray to bring her up for breakfast.
“I don’t mind waiting on her,” I’d insisted.
And, truly, I hadn’t.
I’d never been in the position to wait on anyone before, to cater to their needs. I mean, aside from the animals. And I’d always liked doing it for them. I just hadn’t known how much I would like doing it for another person.
Each day that passed just made me more and more sure of it.
This was the woman who, despite only spending a few minutes with them since she was injured and they were leaving in the morning, and had bawled her eyes out about all the dogs going to the rescue.
She was the one who sat up all night with Lyle because he threw up once—after likely just eating something in the yard he shouldn’t have—because she was worried something might be wrong with him.
And, yes, she was the woman who shrieked for me in the middle of the night because Alma went into labor. Then held each puppy and cried after they were born.
Huge fucking heart.
And it was mine.
Well, mine and every animal’s that she ever met.
But I was okay sharing with them.
Somehow, during that week and a half, we also managed to have my trainer friend over to the house to evaluate Lyle. And after several days of working with him with all sorts of dogs and people, he concluded that he was safe. Except, maybe, when he sensed danger.
We were still cautious with him, never leaving him alone with the little dogs, and giving him some time to get to know my guys through gates before we tried to integrate. But, overall, things had gone well with him.
And now that the Locust Crew pretty much closed up shop, it was about time to get back to life.
Which included getting Myles and Lark back into their homes.
I wanted to get Lark into my life a little bit more, too. Spend some nights at the clubhouse, meet the guys and girls. But until Alma’s puppies were bigger, or even off to their forever homes, I understood why Lark didn’t want to keep moving her around or leaving her.
It would all happen.
And I was just going to sit back and enjoy the process.
Lark - 12 weeks
It was time.
I felt like I was going to throw up, but it was time.
See, Alma’s sweet little freaky super mutt babies that looked like a cross between a Pittie, a Husky, and a Basset Hound, had all gone off to their permanent homes.
And I’d made another trip in to see Dr. Stone who downgraded me to a normal sling “out of an abundance of caution” that I could take off as soon as I felt ready.
So everything was, you know, settled.
It was time.
But my stomach was in painful knots as I pulled up to the clubhouse with the intention of staying for a long weekend.
It wasn’t that I thought I wouldn’t like his people. That wasn’t it at all. I’d met several of them, and they’d all been really great.
I guess I was more worried that maybe they wouldn’t like me. Especially the women.
Though, objectively, maybe the research I’d done into biker “old ladies” was not realistic. Maybe they weren’t quite so mean and territorial.
I would just have to wait and see, I guess.
“You guys ready?” I asked, which was a stupid question because Alma and Lyle were already whimpering to be let out because they saw their doggy friends playing around out back by the pool.
They, it seemed, had no worries about their little trip.
Meanwhile I was taking the shortest steps possible toward the backyard, following the overeager bigger dogs while my smaller two hung around my ankles, likely picking up on my strained mood.
“Seriously, Alaric?” a female voice called, making me turn to find a pretty blue-haired woman standing near the pool with a baby on her hip. “Tell me you are doing that because Remy’s girl is coming,” she said, sounding amused as the guy continued to do push ups on the cement around the pool. “Men, am I right?” she asked, turning toward another woman, a pretty, curvy blond, with a smile.
“No one here wants your sweaty body,” the blonde, Saskia, who was Alaric’s sister, called.
“Way I hear it, she thinks my dad-bod is charming,” Eddie called from his position behind the grill. “Ladies like pillows to sleep on, not rocks,” he added as he flipped something on the grill. “Speaking of my secret admirer,” he said, shooting me a kind smile as he spotted me. “Hey, there, mama, welcome to the shitshow!”
“Really? That’s how we welcome people to our home?” Harmon asked, rolling her eyes. “Hey, Lark!”
“Hey, Harmon,” I said, shooting her a smile that I hoped didn’t look as worried as I felt.
“Hey, girl. Can you do us a favor and eye-bang Alaric for a second so he stops showing off?” she asked, smirking.
“Hey Alaric,” I called. “Looking like you stepped out of a Greek sculpture,” I said, getting chuckles from Harmon and Saskia.
“Hear that, man? She thinks you got a small dick,” Eddie called, making everyone laugh.
“Really, though, what is that about?” Harmon asked. “They all have small packages.”
“Making themselves feel better, I guess,” Eddie said, shrugging.
“It was the standard of male beauty,” Donovan, in his fancy slacks shorts, declared as he walked outside with a big cooler. “I think it was Aristophanes who said in one of his plays that guys need to have wide shoulders, small tongues, strong buttocks, and a small prick. His words, not mine. Heya, Lark. How’s the shoulder doing?”
“We’re just going to breeze past my man here spouting off Greek philosophers and shit?” Eddie asked.
“Playwright, not philosopher,” Donovan corrected.
“Yeah, whatever he was, think we can all assume his pants had lots of room in ‘em,” Eddie said.
“What was the issue with large tongues?” Saskia asked.
“Figure his head game left something to be desired,” Alaric, done with his pushups, said, making his sister scrunch up her face because, well, who wanted to hear their brother talk about oral sex?
Maybe I had been worried over nothing.
Everyone seemed really fun and laid-back.
“It’s really not as scary as it feels right away,” another female voice said, moving up behind me.
Turning, I saw a gorgeous Black woman with literally the most perfect face I’d ever seen, walking up holding what had to be one of Remy’s cats.
This was Shy.
“Feels weird coming into the group,” she added, voice low. “But they are really more like a family. A big, welcoming family. You’re going to fit right in. If at any point, you want any of the guys to leave you alone, though, all you have to do is pick up this cat,” she said, waving him around. “He pretty much wants to rip the eyes out of all men.”
“Oscar, right?” I asked, reaching out to scratch his head.
“Or as Huck calls him, Hellcat,” Shy agreed. “Come on, let’s go find Remy.”
So we did.
And I learned that there was nothing scary about these Golden Glades Henchmen. Or their women.
Their children, on the other hand?
They were terrifying creatures.
So much confidence and bravery for such small, fragile things. I found myself gasping and cringing at least fifty times over the course of each day I was there.
“They’re okay,” Remy assured me as he walked up behind me where I was watching the kids on the giant jungle gym in the backyard.
“Are you sure? Because that one has fallen down trying to climb up that slide at least eight times.”
“If it hurt too much, he wouldn’t keep doing it.”
“I think I’m too high-strung for motherhood,” I declared, hissing when the little kid landed flat on his back on the rubber mat yet again.
“What are you talking about? You mother all your animals. And mine. And all the ones you come across randomly.”
“Yeah, but, like, they listen when I say to sit and settle.”
“Did you seriously try to tell one of the kids to sit and settle?” he asked, his laugh making my hair dance around my head.
“Maybe,” I admitted, shaking my head at myself.
“Kind of wish I’d been there for that. What’d they say?”
“Well, she just kind of stared at me for a second like I didn’t make any sense then said No, thank you and ran off.”
“At least she said thank you.”
“She was very well mannered. Before she went and knocked one of the other kids out of the way so she could get on the last available swing. Kids are… complicated.”
“And you can’t stick them in a cage for a time out when they’re being bad,” Remy agreed.
“That’s what I said! In front of one of the mothers of said children,” I added, letting out a humorless chuckle.
“I’m sure she laughed.”
“It’s cool if we don’t have kids,” Remy said. “Because, in a way, we will always have kids,” he added, waving out toward the many of them in the yard. And there would only be more to come as the other men settled down and found the loves of their lives.
“And if we don’t need to allocate bedrooms to kids, we have more room to foster.”
“I like the way you think,” I decided.
In fact, there was just about nothing that had to do with Remy that I didn’t like.
He had this annoying tendency to get the bathroom floor wet when he showered. Like he stepped out and shook off like a dog or something.
But, you know, aside from that.
He was practically perfect.
Or, at least, perfect for me.
Remy - 1 year
It was the first time I’d left her alone to deal with club business for more than one night.
I was half expecting to come back to her gathered on the kitchen floor, hugging one of my animals who was likely whimpering because I was gone, and crying herself because she couldn’t explain to said dog that I would be coming home eventually.
What I came home to instead was a For Rent sign on the front lawn… and an all but empty house.
The only thing there, in fact, was a little note on the fridge with an address on it.
She was certainly making enough money to upgrade her place. But she’d made it clear that she never wanted to fully give up her grandfather’s house. She thought that maybe someday, she could run a senior dog sanctuary out of it.
That was clearly not the plan yet, though, with the sign in the yard.
She’d been busy.
I mean, I’d been gone for a long weekend.
And she’d not only managed to clear the place out, but finish all the various DIY projects we’d both been working on for months.
Something told me there were more hands in the project other than hers and Myles’s. Had she finally caved in her aversion to the practice, and made the club prospects pitch in?
The address on the note had me traveling back from the outskirts of Miami and toward Golden Glades. It was only about five minutes from the clubhouse, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember there being a house for sale in the area.
As it would turn out, I was right.
There wasn’t a house.
But, judging by the men walking around with hard hats and site plans, there would be soon.
See, there hadn’t been a house for sale, but there had been a big piece of raw land for sale.
I’d barely climbed off my bike when Lark came running over.
“No no no. You’re early!” she grumbled, stopping short of stomping her foot.
“That’s not exactly the welcome I expected,” I said, giving her a confused smile.
“Oh, no. I’m being a jerk,” she said, then suddenly flung herself into my arms. “Okay, enough of that,” she said, pulling away. “You’re early, damnit. You said three. It is only one-thirty.”
“I sped a bit,” I admitted. “Wanted to get home to see my woman. Only to find home abandoned.”
“I know! You ruined the surprise.”
“So the surprise isn’t the land?”
“Well, it is. Sort of. But, obviously, I don’t plan on camping until the house is built. I mean, can you imagine?” she asked, shaking her head.
“No, not really.”
“Hey!” she hissed, slapping my chest. “You’re not supposed to agree with me.”
“Then you would need to be willing to give up the luxuries like running water and a flushing toilet.”
“Yeah, no. That’s not going to happen. Anyway… it should be here in like ten minutes, so we can just wait.”
“What will be here?”
“I’m not spoiling the surprise any more than it already is.”
“Alright. Then where are all the dogs?”
“Levee and Cato were here earlier to help me tap in a temporary fence. They’re out there living their best dog life,” she said, gesturing further in the distance.
“How big is this lot?”
“Eight acres! Can you believe it? We can build a big ol’ house and still have tons of room to put in a pool for the dogs. And maybe an obstacle course. And one of those flag toy systems to really run high-energy dogs out before bed.”
“That all sounds fucking amazing, babe,” I told her.
Because it did.
It was the dream, after all, wasn’t it?
The girl, the house, the dogs?
It was everything.
And Lark could afford to do this on her own if that was what she wanted. She was making bank with her new job, but had the freedom to mostly work from home.
Myles was off, being the charming face of the company, and loving it. When he dropped into town, he crashed on our couch for a week or so. It would be nice to eventually have a spare room for him when he wanted it.
Both of them were bringing in great salaries.
Lark was making more than enough to make both our dreams for the future come true.
That being said, she was going to have to let me pay for something. The driveway, the pool, something. If not half of everything.
Though, I had a rock in the storage space under my bike seat that said pretty soon, we’d be sharing everything.
“Oh, here it comes,” she said, smiling huge as she looked past me.
Turning, I saw what she was so excited about.
A massive fucking RV.
The kind that was a house on the road.
And who was behind the wheel?
Seeley, of course.
“He knew a guy,” Lark explained.
“Of course he did,” I said. “So this is home for a while?”
“The builders said it would take about ten months. So I guess we can assume eighteen months,” she said, smiling at me. “But this place is huge. More than enough room for us and the dogs. And the cats if they want to leave.”
We’d already decided not to disrupt the bird and the tortoise since the latter had his giant tortoise cave and basking pool all to himself that he loved and the macaw was really enjoying being at the center of all the craziness at the clubhouse.
I mean, I was there on the daily anyway, so it wasn’t like I was abandoning those pets. They were just sort of transitioning to club pets instead of just my pets.
“And it is just temporary. The new house is going to be big big. Like Teddy’s fun safe house, but with our sort of style on it.”
By that she meant not of the high tech shit that neither of us cared about, but a much-coveted dog washing station and built-in dog gates that could be hidden inside the wall when they weren’t needed. Maybe cat jungle gyms and low windows for the dogs to look out of. The possibilities were endless.
“You haven’t said anything.”
“It’s fucking perfect, babe,” I told her.
“I really hope the dogs will like it.”
“They will like wherever we are,” I assured her. “And the house will practically be built for them,” I added.
“Exactly! The contractor looked at me like I had three heads when I suggested I wanted a doggy living room under the stairs for the little guys. Little did he know, that was just the start of the pet-friendly additions I had planned. I want your input, of course. We were mostly working out the bones of things. But I want us both to decide on all the details. Colors and floor stain. All that good stuff. I mean, you know, if you’re interested in that sort of a thing.”
“I’m very interested in that sort of thing. If by ‘that sort of thing’ you mean a future with you.”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
Then she was going to have a surprise later that evening when we were settled into our temporary home. And she got the ring that had put a hitch in my giddy-up to get back home to her.
Iced Out had kind of ruined them for us.
But there was a stone for all four of her dogs based on their estimated birth months and the complicated “dog astrology” she’d set out to figure out based on the personalities of each of them.
It was perfect.
The perfect ring for the perfect woman.
Now all I had to do was hope she’d say yes.
Lark - 9 years
Of course I’d married him.
I mean there wasn’t a single man on the face of the Earth who was quite as compatible with me as Remy.
And we’d suffered through a house build together over the course of nearly two years, no matter how much money we threw at the damn project. And we’d thrown a lot.
It was the house where we lived and loved and raised and lost some of our dogs.
They never lived quite long enough.
There were always holes in their absence.
We had framed paw prints going up the stairs of each of our sweet babies who’d gone over the Rainbow Bridge.
We continued to open our hearts to more and more of them as well. Pregnant mamas like Alma. Poor, abused good boys like Lyle. Ankle biters and dogs so big you could strap a saddle on them and ride. We had dogs hopping around on three legs and ones who rode around on wheels. Chubby pups who needed to slim down and skinny pups who needed to pack on the pounds.
Some of them stayed with us.
Most of them did not, heading off to their forever families with the bittersweet sensation that always came with for us.
“You okay?” Remy asked on the way home.
It had been a tough week.
We’d had a foster loss. And even though he’d only been with us for a few days before he went and stayed at the emergency vet, I was still aching over the loss.
It never got easier.
And you’d think at some point, your heart would be full of so much sorrow that you couldn’t go on, but it seemed like your heart just kept making room for more, even through the pain.
“Sad,” I admitted, leaning my head over on his shoulder as we made our way back from one of the plays one of the club kids had snagged a leading role in.
Remy had been right on that front, too.
We always had kids.
They spend nights or weekends with us.
Sometimes, we practically had a summer camp going on in the summers. We got to have them, and then we got to send them home. It was the best of both worlds for us.
“Why don’t we—“ Remy started.
“Stop!” I shrieked, throwing a hand out as I caught something in the middle of the dark road.
“What’s… oh,” Remy said, gaze landing on the form of a dog just… sitting right in the middle of the street. “Christ,” he hissed, parking right in the middle of the road and turning on his flashers. “Baby, wait, it might not be…”
It was too late.
As he knew it would be.
Which was why he was already jumping out of the car with me, taking a second to snag a slip lead out of the back seat.
“Hey, baby, hey,” I cooed at the… well… hairy pittie is the best descriptor I could come up with. “What are you doing out here on the road, honey?” I asked, inching closer as Remy stayed back.
Years and years of rescue and rehabilitation told us that dogs were much more likely to be wary of him than me. The sad fact was that ninety-seven-ish percent of all animal abuse that included physical harm came from male abusers. The scales were more evenly tipped only on the basis of abandonment.
So when we were trying to save a stray, Remy had to be okay with me charging ahead while he waited to see how the dog might react to me.
I went ahead, however, and let him do all the cat and kitten rescuing. Because I was too big of a baby to get all those angry scratches from stray cats and feral kittens.
And since we tended to collect more stray cats, it all kind of shook out in the end.
“I’m going to try to put this leash on you, okay, buddy?” I asked, pulling the loop of the slip lead wide so I could hopefully lasso the dog on the first shot.
The crazy thing was, it was whale-eyed and scared until the exact second it felt the leash tighten around its neck.
Then it did the damndest thing.
It plopped down on its side and rolled over for me, tail wiggling.
“Uh oh. Are you seeing this?” I called to Remy who was taking careful steps forward.
“Looks like we have a mama dog,” he said.
“Yeah, but where are the babies?” I asked. She was too engorged to have them weaned.
“God, she’s fucking skeletal,” Remy said, getting close and offering the back of his hand.
“Those babies have been taking all you have to offer, huh, Mama?” I asked, rubbing her under her neck. “Can you maybe show us where the babies are?” I asked, carefully getting to my feet.
“Here, baby, you know the drill,” he said, handing me a flashlight and pepper spray combo. “I gotta pull this car to the side of the road and I’ll be right behind.”
It wasn’t long until the sweet skinny mama dog had me following her behind an old dumpster where she had her babies hidden as best she could under a soaking wet cardboard box.
While the mama had been able to dry off after the storm, the babies were all huddled in a big puddle, freezing and whining, but alive. Mama dog might have been skinny, but she truly did give it all to the puppies, each plumper than the last.
“You’re a good mama, girl. You knew you needed some help, huh?” I asked, reaching for the smallest puppy and wrapping him up in my skirt, trying to get some of the water off of him. “We’re gonna take all of you home and get you all warm. And you, my girl, get the new rescue mama treatment. Which means daddy is going to go to the food store and get you a nice big steak.”
“I think half our grocery budget goes to welcome home rescue steaks,” Remy said, coming up behind me.
He’d had the foresight to bring one of the collapsible travel carriers we kept in the car and a couple blankets to boot.
“It’s gonna be a tight fit. Mama has some thick babies,” I told him, handing the first one back.
We did that until we had all five of them, then brought mama back to the house with us.
We would have to take another trip to the vet in the morning.
But we spent the night feeding the mama, then watching the mama feed the babies, before tucking them in all safe and sound.
“I was just thinking,” I said as we stood at the vanity in the bathroom at our respective side-by-side sinks in the bathroom with tiled walls because of Remy’s shaking off like a dog shower habits, just going through our nightly routines.
“About how you’d think that with every loss, your heart would just kind of shrink from the grief.”
“But it somehow just keeps getting bigger?” Remy asked, walking up behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist, and pressing a kiss to the top of my head.
Every year, my heart just manages to get bigger and bigger.
And every gosh darn inch of it loved him.