Authors: Joanna Wylde
“Noah is my business,” he finally said, each word slow and deliberate. “
Everything that touches him
is my business
. You don’t get it, that’s your problem, but it ends tonight. I’m taking him home where it’s safe so I won’t ever get another fucking phone call like that one again. Jesus, you haven’t even done the basics to secure this place. Don’t you ever listen to me? I told you to get some of those little alarms for the windows until I could come over and wire the place up right.”
I steeled my spine and held fast.
“One, you don’t get to take him anywhere,” I said, trying very hard not to flinch or let my voice tremble. I couldn’t afford to show any weakness, despite the fact that I was perilously close to peeing myself. “And two, your asshole brother hasn’t paid me any child support for nearly a year now. Health and Welfare can’t find a trace of him, either. I did my best, but I couldn’t keep up the rent on the other place. I can afford the rent here, so we moved. You have no right to judge me—I’d like to see you raise a child on what I earn. They don’t just give out those window alarms for free, Ruger.”
His jaw twitched.
“Zach’s working the oil fields in North Dakota,” he said slowly. “Makin’ damned good money. I talked to him two months ago, about Mom’s estate. He said everything was okay between you two.”
,” I said forcefully. “That’s what he
, Ruger. This isn’t news. Are you really surprised?”
I felt suddenly tired—thinking about Zach always made me tired, but sleep wasn’t the answer. He waited for me in my dreams, too. I always woke up screaming.
Ruger turned and walked over to the window, leaning on the sill and looking outside thoughtfully. Thank God, he seemed to be
calming down. If he didn’t look so deceptively attractive silhouetted in my window, my world would make sense again.
“I guess I shouldn’t be,” he said after a long pause. “We both know he’s a fuckin’ loser. But you should’ve told me. I wouldn’t have let this happen.”
“It wasn’t your problem,” I replied softly. “We were doing fine, at least until tonight. My regular sitters all have that flu that’s going around. I made a mistake. I won’t make it again.”
“No, you won’t,” Ruger said, turning to face me. He tilted his head to the side, eyes boring through me. He looked a little different, I realized. He’d lost a bunch of his piercings. Too bad it hadn’t softened him up even a little bit, because his expression was pure steel. “I won’t let you. It’s time to admit you can’t do it all on your own. Club’s full of women who love kids. They’ll help out. We’re a family, and family doesn’t stand by when someone’s in trouble.”
I’d opened my mouth to argue when I heard a light knock on the door. Ruger pushed off the window and strode over to open it.
A giant of a man walked in, taller even than Ruger, which was saying something. He wore faded jeans, a dark shirt, and a black leather vest covered with patches, just like Ruger’s, including his name and a little red diamond with a 1% symbol on it.
All the Reapers had them, and my old friend Kimber had told me it meant they were outlaws—
I had no trouble believing.
This new guy had shoulder-length, darkish hair and a face so perfectly handsome he could’ve been a movie star. Under one arm he held a stack of broken-down cardboard boxes, tied together with what looked like baling wire.
In the other he held an aluminum baseball bat and a roll of duct tape.
I swallowed and nearly fainted. My hands actually started sweating, because I’m cliché like that. My nemesis hadn’t just come to rescue us, he’d brought along one of his accomplices. That was
the biggest problem with Ruger—he was a package deal. You bought one Reaper, you bought them all.
Well, all of them who weren’t currently serving time.
“This is one of my brothers, Horse,” Ruger said, closing the door behind him. “He’s gonna help us move your shit. Stay quiet, but start packing whatever you want to bring. You’ll be staying in the basement at my place. Don’t think you’ve seen my new property,” he added pointedly, which I knew was a dig at me for refusing his offer of a room at the beginning of the summer when we visited Coeur d’Alene. “But it’s got a daylight basement with a kitchen and everything, and you’ll have your own little patio. There’s tons of space for Noah to run around, too. It’s furnished, so only bring what you really care about. The rest of this shit can stay.”
He glanced around the room, judging my furniture. I saw his point. Most of it had been scrounged off curbs next to Dumpsters. The finer pieces came from thrift stores.
“How’s the kid?” Horse asked softly, setting the boxes down and leaning them against the wall. Then he hefted the bat, giving it a little toss and catching it with his other hand. I couldn’t help but notice how thick his arms were. Apparently club life wasn’t all drinking and whoring, because Ruger and his friend obviously did some serious weight lifting. “Did the bastard touch him? What’re we dealing with?”
“Noah’s fine,” I said quickly. I eyed the tape, which Horse had failed to deposit next to the folded boxes. “He was scared, but it’s over now. And we really don’t need your help, because we aren’t going back to Coeur d’Alene.”
Horse ignored me, glancing toward Ruger.
“The guy still here?”
“Dunno yet,” Ruger replied. He looked to me. “Sophie, show us which apartment they’re in.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked, glancing between them.
Their faces were completely blank. “You can’t actually kill him. You know that, right?”
“We don’t kill people,” Ruger said, his voice calm and almost soothing. “But sometimes assholes like him have accidents when they aren’t careful. Can’t control that—it’s a fact of life. Show us where he is.”
I looked at Horse’s big, strong hands holding his baseball bat and the roll of duct tape, one thumb caressing the silver surface.
Then I thought about Noah clinging to a fire escape, four stories high, hiding from a “bad man” who wanted him to sit on his lap so he could tickle him.
I thought about the booze and the pot and the porn.
Then I walked to the door, opened it, and pointed across the hall toward Miranda’s studio.
“They’re in there.”
Ten minutes later, I couldn’t stop wondering what Ruger meant by the word “accident.”
Were they planning a
I told myself it wasn’t my problem. Miranda’s fate was set the moment Noah called Ruger, crying and begging for help—totally beyond my control. Telling myself that worked for about half an hour, and then my conscience kicked in.
If Ruger and Horse weren’t planning to kill someone, why did they need a bat and duct tape? Those weren’t constructive-discussion-about-what-you-did-wrong supplies. Those were killing-someone-and-hiding-the-body supplies. The only thing missing was a box of big black garbage bags. I’d seen
. I knew these things.
Miranda deserved serious payback for Noah, but she didn’t deserve to die. I didn’t need that kind of karma.
I called Ruger’s cell. He didn’t answer.
Then I crept across the hall and knocked on the door. There
weren’t any screams or anything coming from inside. Good sign or bad? Hard to tell—this was my first felony and I didn’t know the proper procedure. I heard boots crossing the creaky wooden floor.
“It’s me,” I said, pitching my voice low. “Can you come out for a sec? I really need to talk, Ruger.”
“Ruger’s busy,” Horse replied through the door. “We’ll be done here soon. Go get packed and take care of your boy. We got this.”
I tried the knob. Locked.
“Seriously, Sophie, go back to your place.”
I backed away from the door. Now what?
The open window at the end of the hall caught my eye. The fire escape. Ruger had used it to get into my apartment, and Miranda’s place was a mirror of mine. Maybe I could get in that way to make sure everything was all right?
I ducked back into my studio for a quick check on Noah, closing and locking my own window while I was at it. Thankfully, he was still totally out. Not a surprise, given the night we’d had. I slipped through the door and locked it, then walked over to the hall window and stuck my head out to scope the situation.
Sure enough, the narrow iron landing stretched from my window and across the hallway before stopping under hers. I put my leg through cautiously and stepped onto the platform, making it creak. I glanced down and swallowed.
Never been a huge fan of heights.
I held the rail with one hand, trailing the other along the brick wall until I reached her closed window. I crouched low, peeking through. Miranda wasn’t much of a decorator, so she didn’t have real blinds, just a filmy, translucent scarf she’d tacked over the pane. Details might be a little fuzzy, but I could still see clearly enough.
Her boyfriend lay facedown on the floor, hands bound tightly behind his back with duct tape. They’d wrapped his feet, too, with more tape around his head—like they’d decided to shut his mouth and just kept going. Blood trailed from a cut on his forehead and
dripped out of his nose. Bruises were forming along his ribs. He seemed to be unconscious.
Ruger stood over him, aluminum bat in one hand, cell phone in the other.
Miranda knelt in the middle of the room, hands taped tight just like her man’s. More duct tape covered her mouth and she wore a sleazy nightgown that was probably supposed to look sexy. Horse lounged casually across from her, leaning against the wall. He seemed bored.
I sighed with relief. I’d been crazy to think they’d actually butcher two people in cold blood. That didn’t happen in real life. Sure, whatever was going on in there didn’t look fun, but I could live with that.
Ruger hung up his phone and shoved it into his pocket. He said something to Horse. Horse shrugged and must’ve cracked some sort of joke, because Ruger laughed. Then the big man walked over to Miranda, knelt down, and ripped the strip of silver off her face. Her lips quivered as she asked him a question. He shook his head as he replied, and she started trembling so hard I could see it from across the room and through the curtain.
Then things got bad.
Horse reached around and pulled an ugly black handgun out of the back of his jeans. I watched in frozen horror as he cocked the slider-thingy on top, clearly preparing to shoot. Then he said something else to Miranda.
Tears ran down her face as she slowly opened her mouth.
Horse nudged her lips wider with the barrel of his gun, pushing it in.
Holy fuck. HOLY FUCK.
I jumped up and pounded on the window with both hands, screaming at them to stop.
Ruger spun around, moving so fast I couldn’t follow. Within seconds he’d ripped open the window and jerked me into the room.
The sash crashed down again as he wrapped his arms around me, pinning me to the front of his body, my back to his stomach. I tried to scream again, but his hand slammed across my mouth.
The bat clattered as it rolled across the wooden floor.
Miranda’s eyes darted toward me, full of desperate hope that quickly melted when neither man moved. Then Horse spoke.
“Time’s up, sugar. Usually people close their eyes. Your call.”
Miranda moaned, shutting her eyes tight and visibly bracing her body.
Horse glanced up, smiled, and blew me a kiss.
Then he pulled the trigger.
Sophie exploded in his arms, thrashing furiously. Her bitch of a neighbor screamed and fell back on the floor, flopping around dramatically.
Neither seemed to notice the fucking gun hadn’t been loaded.
Ruger fought to control the banshee in his arms, hating Horse because the bastard just stood there, smirking at him like the smug, cocksucking asshole he’d always been. Seriously, a goddamned kiss? Sick fuck. One of Sophie’s heels lashed back and caught him in the shin. When he grunted, she kicked the same spot again. Savagely.
“Fifty bucks says your baby mama could take you in a fair fight,” Horse taunted.
Miranda’s shrieking suddenly stopped and she froze, opening her eyes to look around in stunned confusion.
Finally, dumbass had noticed she wasn’t dead.
Sophie stilled and Ruger’s aching shin rejoiced.
“Feel like I’m repeatin’ myself here,” he muttered in her ear. “But if I move my hand, you better keep quiet. Got me?”
She nodded her head tightly.
Ruger let go and Sophie jerked away. Fast as a snake, her hand flashed out and slapped him across the face, which fucking
“You bastard,” she hissed. “You scared the crap out of me! What kind of sadist pulls shit like this?”
“The kind interested in making a lasting impression?” Ruger asked, cocking his head at her. “Jesus, did you
us to kill her?”
Sophie’s face twisted and her mouth opened, but before anything came out, the bitch on the floor started crying. Loud. Ruger had come to realize Miranda did
loud. Horse leaned forward and caught Miranda’s arms, jerking her up and onto her knees. He caught her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze.
“We do this again, a bullet comes out and pulps your brain. Got me?”
She nodded frantically, her sobs even noisier than before. How was that even possible? Then Ruger caught the unmistakable smell of piss and sighed. Sure enough, she’d left a puddle.
“Every fuckin’ time,” he muttered. Horse snorted.
“I can’t believe you guys,” Sophie said, clenching and unclenching her hands, shaking with adrenaline. She was so angry she’d forgotten to be afraid. He actually liked that about her—Sophie had grit. But right now she was getting on his nerves. They had a lot to do and limited time before the Jacks showed up. “I thought you were killing her.
thought you were killing her. How can you do this?”
“We wanted to catch her attention,” Ruger replied, temper fraying. “Near-death experiences tend to stick with a person. Next time she’ll make better choices.”
Sophie opened her mouth, then snapped it shut and glared.
The sound of tape ripping cut the air as Horse covered
Miranda’s mouth again. Thank fuck for that. Ruger was tired of her noise, he was exhausted from driving all night, and he was hungry.
“Go back next door, Sophie,” he said, rubbing a hand through his short hair. He caught a whiff of his own scent when he raised his arm. Nasty. He’d have to shower at her place before they left for Coeur d’Alene. “We won’t go crazy, I promise. But don’t forget, Noah spent more than an hour hiding on the fire escape last night. Four stories up, Sophie. Your babysitter’s man is a registered sex offender, by the way. Bitch knew it, too. She still invited him over while she had a kid at her place. Don’t feel sorry for either of them.”
Sophie’s eyes widened.
“How do you know all that?”
“They told us.”
“I wouldn’t think sex offenders go around sharing that kind of information,” she said, suddenly wary.
“We’re very persuasive people,” Ruger told her. “You just gotta ask the questions right. Go home, Soph. We need to finish up here and get you moved out. I’m tired, honey.”
“This is all wrong. I feel like an accomplice,” Sophie replied, shaking her head. “I don’t like it.”
For fuck’s sake … She hadn’t been too worried about being an “accomplice” when she pointed out Miranda’s place earlier. Little late to be complaining at this point in the game.
“Really? You don’t
it? Personally, I don’t
the idea of the next kid getting raped just because he isn’t smart enough to hide on the fire escape,” Ruger said, stepping slowly into her space and backing her toward the wall. “How ’bout this? You go ahead and feel guilty about being an accomplice, and I’ll go ahead and keep doing your dirty work so you don’t break a fuckin’ nail or something. Then tonight we’ll open a bottle of wine and talk about how
today made us feel. Maybe eat some chocolate while we’re at it, then watch
That work for you?”
She hit the wall and he leaned forward, slapping his hands flat on either side of her head. Ruger dropped his face into hers, eyes blazing.
“Shit, Sophie—I think I’m showin’ extreme patience, all things considered. This is not a fuckin’ joke. Noah made it through last night because he stayed awake and alert on that fire escape, not because either of these fucks lifted a finger to help him.
They terrorized a little boy and laughed about it
. Now it’s their turn. Don’t expect me to feel bad about that. Go. Home.”
Sophie swallowed, eyes wide. She stayed quiet as she slowly slid down and out from under the barrier of his arms, skirting the edge of the room until she reached the door. She slipped through, closing it behind her very softly.
Ruger glanced over at Horse, who raised a brow. Great. Now he’d catch shit from him, too.
“Your baby mama’s kinda hot when she’s pissed,” Horse said helpfully.
“Jesus, Horse. You got no sense of boundaries, you know that?”
“Yup,” he replied, and Ruger seriously considered taking the bat and smashing the bastard’s face in. Of course, then he’d have Horse’s old lady to deal with … Bitch was a damned good shot.
Miranda fell over with a thump, eyes wide. They looked down at her.
“What should we do with this one?” Horse asked. “I want her out of our faces, but I gotta say, don’t like the idea of leaving her here for the Jacks when they come to pick up their problem child.” He jerked his chin toward the still-unconscious man on the floor.
“Let her go right before we take off?” Ruger suggested. He walked over and nudged her with his foot. “Hey, Miranda. We cut that tape off in a couple hours, we need to worry about you sharing
this little adventure with anyone? ’Cause that would put me in a real bad mood.”
She shook her head violently.
“You sure?” Horse asked. “If it’s a problem, we’ll figure out something else for you. Saw an empty lot not too far from here. Wonder how long it’ll take before some construction worker digs up your body.”
Miranda grunted, eyes wide.
“I’m gonna assume that means you’ll keep your mouth shut,” Ruger said, sighing and rubbing the back of his neck. Muscles were way too tight back there. “Oh, somethin’ else you should know. It’s not just us you’d be dealing with if you talk. There’s a hundred and thirty-four brothers in the club. Generally, I’m considered one of the nicer ones.”
“True story,” Horse chimed in. “Fuck with us, we’ll fuck you back. Harder. Always.”
She nodded frantically.
“Sounds like a plan,” Horse said. He glanced over at the man on the floor and then caught Ruger’s eye. “Might wanna tell your baby mama that the next time she has a run-in with a guy from another club, she should give us a heads-up before we go in. This could’ve been ugly.”
“She doesn’t get it—not ink, not cuts, nothing. She may have seen his tats, but she didn’t know what they meant. Tape,” Ruger said. Horse tossed it over and Ruger crouched down next to the woman. “Legs together, bitch. It’ll be a new experience for you.”
She obeyed, and he started wrapping tape tight around her ankles.
“You were still in Afghanistan when Sophie and Zach’s shit went down,” Ruger told Horse. “But trust me, it got ugly, and we didn’t exactly socialize after that. She hates me, she hates the club, and the only reason she puts up with the situation is that she loves
Noah too much to take away the only man in his life. Sucks for him, but I’m the best he’s got.”
“Sounds like she’s a bitch,” Horse said. “Rumor is, you saved her ass. Fuckin’ knight in shining armor. Might wanna trade your bike in for a pretty pink unicorn to ride, seein’ as you’re such a special snowflake and all.”
“Shut the fuck up, asshole,” Ruger replied. “I saved her, but I also lost my shit on her in a big way, at a time she couldn’t handle it. Not that it matters now. Long story short, she knows jack about club colors or how we live. She didn’t mention the back patch because she’s fuckin’ clueless.”
“If I could offer a suggestion?” Horse asked.
“You gotta tell her what to expect, help her understand club life before she fucks up again,” he said. “Save yourself an assload of trouble down the line. Trust me on this, bro. Breaking in a civilian like Sophie as your old lady is rough enough. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Also, she’s got a helluva mouth on her. What happens in private is one thing, but she can’t pull that kind of shit at the Armory. You know it’s true.”