Finding a place to go was the first challenge. I knew I could stay with Kit, but she only had a studio at school in Olympia. I didn’t think it was fair to put that kind of pressure on her. Nope, I wanted to find my own path. At least I had money saved . . . One advantage to living with my father was I didn’t really have many expenses. I’d already applied to that aesthetician’s program in Portland. It was a great school, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk being in the same city as Hunter. On the other hand, it was a city—not a village. Wasn’t like I’d see him around all the time. Hell, I’d probably never run into him at all.
I even knew where he lived, so I could be sure to avoid him.
(Okay, so I’d done a little online stalking of my own by now. I still had his wallet, which I suppose I should’ve felt guilty over. Instead I used his credit card to order some really cute lingerie. I didn’t spend enough to bankrupt him, but it was enough to make him suffer a little. Oh, and I sprang for gift wrapping and overnight delivery, because why not? Just because I’d saved his life didn’t mean I’d forgiven him for what he’d done.)
Unfortunately, ordering presents for myself online was the closest I could get to real shopping, because Dad put me on lockdown. And if that weren’t bad enough, Painter had appointed himself as my own personal guardian angel while Dad was gone. I couldn’t believe I used to crush on that guy—now all I saw when he walked into a room was a vision of him screwing some skank on a bathroom counter. Liam had been right. I definitely deserved better. Despite my hostility, Painter insisted on driving me to work every morning and meeting me for lunch. Then he’d drive me home and hang out at the house, spending the night on the couch or in Kit’s old bedroom.
To call this awkward was one hell of an understatement.
Thus I took to spending a lot of time in my room. That’s where I was on Friday night, exactly one week from the day I’d met Hunter for the first time. I had my TV on and I was playing around online when a private message popped up.
LIAM: Hey Em
I blinked. I’d blocked his ass. How the hell did he get through?
LIAM: Are you there?
I considered the little flashing message alert. Should I answer? What would I say? Direct confrontation, I decided. Call him on his shit, because seeing his message didn’t send a little thrill through me at all. No thrills allowed.
ME: How did you contact me? I blocked you.
LIAM: Probably best not to give up all my secrets. How are you?
ME: I’m great. Nobody took naked pictures of me without my consent today.
LIAM: Guess I had that coming. You wearing any of those panties you bought with my card?
I giggled, then managed to cut it off. Didn’t need Painter bursting in to check on me. And why was I laughing, anyway? Still . . . I wish I’d seen Hunter’s face when he realized I was spending his money.
ME: Yes. I’m wearing a midnight blue pushup bra and matching thong, because I’m getting ready to go out on a date. I like my new man a lot because he doesn’t kidnap people.
LIAM: A date? Pretty sure you’re stuck at home tonight with Painter. Please tell me you aren’t dating him? Hate me all you want, but you really can do better.
My breath caught. How did he know Painter was here?
ME: Are you stalking me again?
LIAM: Just tonight. I need to talk to you. Promise—last time—then I’ll leave you alone. You saved my life. Let me share what I know so you can stop worrying. I know your dad hasn’t filled you in, but you deserve answers.
I stared at the screen. How f**king stupid did he think I was? I should turn off the computer. But I was also curious . . . After all, I’d betrayed my club for this ass**le. Now I wanted to hear what he had to say.
ME: So talk.
LIAM: Not online. Can you come outside?
I froze again. Shit. He couldn’t be serious, could he? I glanced at my window, relieved to see that the shade was tightly closed. Someone outside might be able to see that my light was on, but they wouldn’t be able to see inside.
ME: Why would I be stupid enough to do that?
LIAM: Because you’re curious. Bring a gun if it makes you feel better. But come outside and talk to me—I promise it’s safe. Don’t let Painter follow you, though. Last thing we need is another standoff.
Like hell I’d talk to him. I closed my computer and set it on the bed, grabbing the TV remote. Of course I wasn’t going outside. That would be incredibly stupid. I reached down and rubbed my leg lightly over the still-healing gash. Despite all the blood, Skid’s bullet hadn’t really caused any real damage—just a flesh wound. But even flesh wounds hurt like a bitch. I wondered if Hunter had ever been shot, and had the sudden urge to march out there and demonstrate to him just how painful a graze from a bullet could be.
I had excellent aim.
I flipped through the channels, trying to find a distraction. There was nothing on, of course. Just some creepy reality show about a woman who thought she was a squirrel. Life with Cara, or some such shit. My phone buzzed. Another message from Hunter . . .
LIAM: Come outside and see me. It’s safe. Remember—I only took you to save a brother’s life. I may have scared you, but I wouldn’t have actually hurt you. I know I destroyed what we were starting and I understand I can never fix it. Doesn’t mean I don’t miss you.
I dropped the phone and flopped back on my bed. The clock next to me said it was one in the morning. I should just turn off the light and go to sleep. That was what the old me would’ve done. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said. We had been starting something—something good. Because despite everything between our clubs, I’d spent hours talking on the phone to this man, sharing jokes and telling stories. We’d laughed together and that hadn’t been fake.
Remembering all that pissed me off, too. He’d killed us, whatever the hell “us” had been growing into. He should pay for what he did. I got up and pulled on a pair of ratty sweatpants. A hoodie and my favorite pink Converse completed the outfit.
Yeah, I know. Sexy.
I had a flash of déjà vu as I tiptoed down the stairs past Painter, who was sleeping on the couch, TV still flickering in the darkness. I stopped off in the dining room, grabbing a tiny pistol from behind a plate in the china cabinet. It was full of stuff my mother had collected—stuff we never used but wouldn’t consider throwing away in a million years.
I gave it a quick check, making sure it was loaded (it was) and ready for action (damned straight). Then I tucked it in the pocket of my hoodie right next to my cell, and slipped out the back door. The moon was full, and as I walked away from the house, the night’s beauty startled me. There were crickets singing all around, and while the stars were faint in the bright moonlight, they were everywhere.
Keeping my eyes sharp, I looked around carefully. No sign of anyone, but I knew just how sneaky Hunter and Skid could be. My hand tightened on the gun. Now what?
My phone buzzed again.
LIAM: I’m out behind the bunkhouse
I glanced up, spotting the small building nestled back in the trees. Once upon a time it housed workers on the ranch that used to surround us. The land had been divided up and sold off years ago, but the old outbuildings still stood. Kit and I used it as a playhouse, and now it was full of random junk my dad had collected over the years. I fingered the gun again, the slight pain in my leg a constant reminder that this ass**le had gotten me shot. Time for payback?
I couldn’t quite decide.
I heard Em before I saw her. She stumbled over something in the darkness and started cussing. Cute. Then she peeked around the corner of the building, her face shadowed and unreadable.
“Back here,” I called softly. I sat leaning against the wall, holding my hands up so she could see for herself I wasn’t up to anything.
For once in my life, I wasn’t.
I just wanted to see how she was and make sure she knew about the truce. No, that was a flat-out lie. I just wanted to see her. Period. For all I knew she was about to shoot me, and I couldn’t really blame her if she did. Didn’t change how bad I needed to be near her, even if it was just so she could hate me in person.
Not only that, I didn’t trust Hayes to fill her in on the changing situation. She shouldn’t have to live in fear for the next year, wondering if the Jacks were out for revenge. Not that Skid was her number one fan . . . But he wanted the truce as much as the rest of us, not to mention she’d kept her club from killing him. He’d been drifting in and out of consciousness at the time, but he remembered that part.
Unfortunately, the Jacks’s leadership was still up in the air. Our current president, Mason, had rallied. Now the doctors said he had a few more months. I thought we should just get the elections over with while we had the votes, but Burke was holding off. He felt like he couldn’t really count on the full support of the club while Toke was still alive.
He was probably right about that.
The good news about the situation was that Clutch was expected to make a full recovery—eventually—despite the fact that Toke had taken a baseball bat to his leg. In the end, it hadn’t been either MC that found him. Some Good Samaritan heard him moaning through a hotel room wall and called the cops. They’d come bursting in to save Clutch and they’d caught Toke when he came back to the room with food.
“Liam?” Em called, her voice cool in the darkness. Christ, I loved the way she said my name. Nobody else called me Liam, it felt like something special, just from her. Went straight to my cock, which wasn’t so good because tonight wasn’t about getting her naked. Chances were, that’d never happen again.
“Over here,” I called softly. She walked toward me, pulling out a small gun and pointing it at me. Of course she’d taken me up on my suggestion. The f**king thing looked like a toy.
I’d bet my bike it wasn’t.
“Did you like the presents I got you?” I asked.
She looked blank.
“The shit you bought with my credit card,” I continued, cocking a brow. I still couldn’t believe she’d picked my pocket. Pissed me off, but I had to admire her for it. “I shut it down, by the way. No more shopping.”
She smiled and a wave of lust smacked straight through me. Fuck, I’d forgotten how beautiful she was. I really, really wanted that beauty wrapped around my dick, screaming my name. How did she do that to me? A cunt was a cunt, but not Em . . . Christ. Unsexy thoughts, I told myself. Slugs. Athlete’s foot. Skid.
“Sorry,” she said lightly, in a tone that clearly wasn’t sorry at all. “I suppose you could report me to the cops.”
I had to smile. Cops. Yup, that was unsexy enough to do the trick.
“I guess you earned it,” I admitted.
“Oh, I earned more than that,” she said, the gun unwavering. “You kidnapped me, you f**ked me over, and then you took pictures of me naked. Gonna take more than pretty panties to make that right.”
“I’ll concede the point,” I said, considering the photos. I might regret everything else, but damned if I’d regret those. “Anything I can do to make it up to you? More shit from Victoria’s Secret sounds perfect to me, but I’m open to suggestions.”
“You know, I’ve given this quite a bit of thought over the past week, and I keep coming back to one idea . . . How about I shoot you in the balls? Payback seems only fair, right?”
My eyes widened. Em laughed, the sound delicate in the darkness. Then she shook the gun at me like a little finger “tsking” me for being too loud in a library.
“Hey, you asked,” she said. “I’m going back inside now.”
“No, stop,” I said quickly, holding up a hand. “I have shit to tell you. About the situation between our clubs.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“You don’t have to trust me,” I said. “But I owe you my life. Thanks for that phone call, by the way.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Okay, well, assuming you had done something for me—theoretically, of course—I’d want you to know how much I appreciated it,” I said softly. “I’d also want to tell you what’s happening with the truce, maybe make sure you know you’re safe now.”
I reached toward my pocket. She straightened her arms into a shooting stance.
“I’m just grabbing some weed,” I told her. “Been a hell of a week, could use a smoke. You want some?”
She shook her head, but when I pulled out the joint, I saw her relax a little.
“Go ahead, sit down,” I told her. “Keep your gun on me if it makes you happy. But I’d rather you didn’t. Knowing my luck, a spider will fall on you or something and the f**kin’ thing will go off.”
“Sexist much?” she asked, frowning. “Poor little Em, scared of spiders. Can’t handle her gun. Afraid I won’t remember which end goes bang?”
I started laughing. In fact, I laughed so hard that I couldn’t talk at first. She glared at me the whole time, but she also lowered the pistol.
“Babe, I nearly shot Skid in the ass one time because a spider fell on me while I was holding a gun,” I finally managed to say. “Those things freak me right the hell out. They got eight f**kin’ legs, and that ain’t natural. That’s some Dr. Seuss shit right there.”
She cocked her head at me and a smile crept across her face.
“It’s really hard to take you seriously when you’re afraid of spiders and Dr. Seuss,” she murmured. Damn, I loved the sound of her voice. If I ever found myself alone with Toke, I’d be killing him with my bare hands. Not because of what he did to Clutch—no, I owed the bastard for ruining my chance to f**k this gorgeous girl.