Authors: Nicole James
Published by Nicole James
Copyright 2014 Nicole James
All Rights Reserved
Cover Art by Viola Estrella
Photography by Maciej Grochala
Image courtesy of Eksmagazyn
For those of you that have read the first and second book in the Outlaw Series, there are events that occur in the beginning of SHADES that overlap with events that occurred toward the end of CRASH. (But told from these new character’s perspectives.)
For those of you that have not read any of the others in the series, this is a stand-alone story. It is not necessary to have read the other stories to enjoy this one. Although it may make it a richer experience to know some of the other characters’ backstory.
He hadn’t seen her in years, and now here she was, the love of his life, riding back into his life...on the back of a brother’s bike.
Skylar walked by her man’s pretty black Harley, its chrome gleaming in the sun, and headed up the back stairs. She juggled two Starbucks cups and a bag containing two blueberry muffins as she fiddled to get the backdoor of the second floor condo open. She tossed her head, trying to get her long dark hair out of the way, wishing she’d taken the time to put it up before she snuck out that morning to get her and her man some coffee. It was oppressively hot, something Atlanta was known for; heat and humidity.
But she’d been in a hurry, wanting to get out and back before he woke up, so that she could surprise him. He’d been so nice to her this week, surprising her by taking her out to celebrate her birthday a couple of days ago. They’d met up with his club brothers.
Rusty was a member of The Devil Kings. A motorcycle club. An MC. And one she should have known better than to get involved with, especially since she worked in the office of an attorney.
Eric would shake his head sadly if he knew…that or wring her neck. He’d been so good to her since she started working for him several years ago. Eric giving her a job had almost been charity. She wasn’t a paralegal and had no legal knowledge—hell she hadn’t even had any office experience. But she was smart and she learned fast. Maybe he had recognized those traits in her when he met her.
He used to come in the diner she’d worked at. It had been the only place she’d been able to get a job when she’d first hit town ten years ago. He’d come in every morning, well, him and his gay lover, Ben. The two of them were so cute together. Eric was the serious, level-headed one. Ben was the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, fun-loving risk-taker. Eric was a big shot attorney. Ben was an interior decorator with—in his words—a flair for design and a boldness with color. Eric kept Ben’s feet on the ground and Ben pushed Eric out of his comfort zone.
She’d known the two of them for about a year, waiting on them every day when they came in, making sure their booth was always reserved for them, laughing at Ben’s jokes, rolling her eyes with Eric when Ben’s ideas got too outlandish. She’d even gone out to dinner with them on occasion.
It was one of those nights that Ben suggested to Eric that he hire Skylar for the receptionist position at his office. At first Eric was hesitant, but with a little arm-twisting from Ben, she’d soon found herself with a new job. One she was eternally grateful for. One she hoped they didn’t regret giving her. She worked hard, always offering to help with extra tasks, always willing to take on more responsibility.
Which was how she found herself delivering legal documents the day she’d met Rusty. She’d been given paperwork that needed a signature. It had to be filed with the clerk’s office by five that day, and Eric had asked if she wouldn’t mind running them out to get his client’s signature.
She’d found the place easily enough, parking in the diagonal spaces in front of the tiny storefront dental office that sat next to a tattoo parlor. Eric’s client was a dentist who was embroiled in a messy divorce. When she’d parked her beat up old silver Miata, she’d spotted the line of three bikes parked to her left, their chrome pipes gleaming in the afternoon sun. The sight of them immediately brought back memories of home and memories of the man that was her first love. Motorcycles and the men that rode them drew her. They always had. She supposed they always would. Every time she heard them coming, their pipes rumbling, announcing their approach long before she ever saw them, she would think of home. She would think of him, the man that had broken her heart. The man she had left behind all those years ago.
Shaking the wistful thoughts from her head, she’d adjusted her rearview mirror and looked at her blue eyes, checking her makeup. Satisfied, she’d gathered up her purse and the file and climbed out of the car, pausing a moment to pull her black pencil-skirt down from where it had hiked up in the car. As she’d yanked and tugged, her eyes had moved to the tattoo shop next-door. There was no one out front, but she noticed a man standing by the door, watching her through the plate glass window. Mortified that he’d seen her shimmying down her skirt and checking her makeup, she’d hurried inside the dental office.
When she’d come back out, the signed papers in hand, the man she’d seen through the window was leaning idly up against the door of her car. She’d stopped short, her eyes trailing down his body, taking in the biceps of his crossed arms, his muscular build, the sexy way his legs were crossed at his booted ankles as he leaned against her car and most notably, the black leather vest with the patches that proclaimed to the world his status as a member of an MC. Her eyes had skated back up to his attractive face.
“What are you doing?”
“Waitin’ on you, darlin’,” he’d drawled. “What’s your name?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business. Now would you move, please? I’m late.”
“Nope? What do you mean, nope?”
“Not movin’. Not till you tell me your name, doll.”
She’d let out an exasperated breath. “Skylar, okay. Can I go now?”
“Don’t you want to know my name, Skylar?”
Her hand had landed on her hip. “Not really.”
He’d grinned at that. “Feisty little thing, aren’t you? My name’s Rusty. Have a drink with me, Skylar. I’m not so bad when you get to know me.”
“I’ve no desire to get to know you,” she’d said, her eyes trailing over him again with undisguised appreciation of a fine male form. When her eyes lifted to meet his, she’d known he’d seen her words for a lie.
The corner of his mouth had pulled up. “Bullshit. I think you’d like to get to know me real well, pretty lady.” When she’d still hesitated, he’d pressed, “Nothin’ to be afraid of, Skylar. It’s just one drink. We don’t get along, no harm, no foul. We go our separate ways.” He must have seen from the way she’d bit her lip that she was actually considering it. Because that’s when he pushed, “Come on, darlin’, I’ll be a gentleman, cross my heart.”
He’d actually reached up and made the slashing marks over his chest. And she couldn’t help but smile. Maybe it was homesickness, maybe it was loneliness, maybe he was just a stand-in for the man she was
missing or maybe she’d just plain lost her damn mind because she’d actually accepted. And before long, Rusty had charmed his way into her bed.
That was five months ago.
Skylar shook the memory aside as she went through the back door. It was still quiet, so Rusty must still be asleep. She dropped her purse down on the small round kitchen table, and her eyes fell on the item sitting on it. It was a round wooden disk that served as a stand for an ornate jeweled dagger. A dagger that Skylar had admired one day when she and Rusty were in a shop. Rusty must have remembered how much she’d liked it, because he’d surprised her with it a couple of nights ago for a birthday present. He’d actually presented it to her at the bar in front of his club brothers and everything. Not caring in the least about the ribbing they gave him.
Skylar frowned, wondering why the dagger was missing from the stand. She was sure they’d left it on the table the other night when they’d come back to his place. She walked out of the kitchen and into the living room where a front door faced the front of the building. She walked down the hall to her left past the bathroom to the back bedroom.
When she walked through the doorway, she gasped, backing up into the opened door, slamming it up against the wall, the two Starbucks cups falling to the floor.
There on the bed, lying face up and unmoving, was Rusty. With the jeweled dagger he’d given her sticking straight up out of his chest. There was blood everywhere, soaking the sheets under him.
Skylar’s trembling hand covered her mouth, and her eyes filled with tears. Was he alive? Was he still alive? She moved toward him slowly on shaking legs and whispered his name. “Rusty? Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” She chanted the phrase softly, over and over. Kneeling over him, she shook him and called again, “Rusty? Baby, answer me.”
Reaching out a hand, she pressed it to his neck. His skin seemed so cold and she couldn’t find a pulse. She didn’t see any movement of his chest breathing, but what did she know. Dashing back down the hall and into the kitchen, she dug through her purse trying to locate her cell phone. Pulling it out, she ran back to the bedroom and dialed 911 with shaking hands.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“M-maple Hill Condominiums. Number 246. A man’s been stabbed. P-please hurry.” And that’s when she heard the roar of a pack of motorcycles pulling up. Dashing through to the living room and to the front window, she peered through the curtain. The Devil King’s MC. His brothers. Rat, Reload, Quick, Reno and Bear.
Thank God they were here, maybe they could help him. Scurrying around the chair and ottoman, she headed to the door, flipped the deadbolt open, but paused with her hand on the knob.
Would they believe her?
Would they think she did it?
her dagger sticking out of Rusty, after all. Her
dagger that he’d given her in front of the entire club for her birthday several nights ago. Then she looked down at her hands, covered in blood from where she’d touched Rusty. Oh, my God. When they come through that door and find that dagger and her with blood on her hands, they’ll never believe that she hadn’t done it. Making a snap decision, she backed away from the door.
And then she remembered. The duffle bag that had been on the nightstand—the one Rusty always kept close—was missing. She hadn’t seen it. It hadn’t been there. She knew he’d made a drop last night, and she figured it had to be full of money. Probably drugs and money. Not that she’d ever seen inside it. Not that she’d ever even touched it. But she wasn’t stupid. And as much as Rusty kept her out of his business, she knew he protected that bag, and it wasn’t because there was a change of clothes inside. Whoever had stabbed him must have done it to steal whatever was in that bag. Drugs, maybe. Money, more likely. Club money. Money, his brothers were probably coming to collect.
She could hear them trooping up the stairs. Her heart was in her throat as she tried to think what to do. Maybe she could talk some sense into them, convince them she wasn’t involved. Bear would believe her, and Quick, maybe. But Reno, Reload and Rat, their VP…no way. If she didn’t have answers, they’d beat them out of her, maybe even kill her.
. One of them pounded on the door.
“Rusty, open the fucking door,” Rat hollered.
Panicking, she backed away toward the kitchen, grabbed her purse and pulled open the backdoor. As she went through, she heard them coming in the front. Closing the door softly, she dashed down the stairs and jumped in her car, which thankfully she’d parked in the back lot.
As she tore off out of the lot, the backdoor was thrown open, and Reload stepped out onto the wooden landing and yelled, “There she goes. She’s gettin’ away.”
Flooring it, she heard a shot fired and ducked her head hoping to God that Reload got his name from having to re-load because he was a lousy shot. As she got to the highway, she saw two squad cars fly by and a paramedic ambulance heading back in the direction she’d come, their lights flashing. She prayed the ambulance made it in time. She prayed Rusty was still alive, but she knew in her heart he was already gone.
Knowing it would only be a matter of minutes before she heard the roar of a hoard of bikes chasing after her, she drove as fast as she could, dodging in and out of lanes while her shaking hand dialed Eric. He was the only one who could help her now.
Her eyes on the rearview mirror, she hoped the police would be able to waylay the club before they were able to come after her, and she waited for Eric to answer his phone.
“Come on. Pick up. Pick up.”
“You need to go to the police,” Eric insisted, kneeling in front of her chair as she sat in his office twenty minutes later. It was Sunday morning, and she’d gotten him out of bed to meet her here.
She looked up at him with tears in her eyes and wiped her nose with a tissue, her hands still shaking. “You don’t understand. You don’t call the police on these people. It would only make it worse.”
“What other option do you have? Go into hiding?” he frowned.
She nodded. “Yes. That’s the only thing I
“You can’t be serious, Skylar. You have a life here.”
“Eric, it’ll only be a matter of time before they come for me. They may even show up
He pulled back at that. “This guy you were seeing, did you tell him where you worked?”
“No. But they know I work for an attorney. They know I delivered papers to Grayson Dentistry. It’s next to the tattoo shop they all use. They know it’s where Rusty first met me. That’ll be their next stop after they hit my apartment. They’ll question him. It won’t take them five minutes to get the information out of him. And then they’ll show up here.”
“Christ, Skylar. What did you get involved in?”
“I’m so sorry, Eric. I’m so sorry. I never meant to bring you any trouble.”