Jason swallowed, eyes darting between us.
“Um, pretty good,” he said. I opened my locker, wishing desperately that I could crawl inside and die. Or at least disappear for the next four years. Sadly, not even a boobless wonder like me could fit in that metal box.
“Glad to hear it,” Dad replied. He leaned over and kissed the top of my head, then spoke so loud his voice practically echoed. “Enjoy high school, princess. You let me know if any of these guys give you shit, got it?”
I nodded, praying for death. Something fast, merciful. Aneurysm? Yeah, that’d do it.
“Just go,” I whispered.
“I’ll see you tonight,” he replied, then turned and sauntered down the hallway, the colors on his back a grim reminder to everyone who saw us that my dad was president of the Reapers motorcycle club.
Quinn came up next to me and leaned against the lockers, eyes wide.
“Wow,” she said. “Nobody’s gonna ask you to homecoming or anything, you get that, right? And you’re never, ever gonna get laid.”
“I know,” I said, miserable. Not that I wanted to get laid—not quite yet.
But it’d be nice to go to homecoming. I sighed.
“I’m gonna die a virgin, Quinn.”
She nodded gravely, eyes full of sympathy.
“I think that’s a given,” she said. “But look on the bright side.”
“Nuns don’t have to wear those penguin costumes anymore, so at least you won’t have to buy all new clothes.”
I looked over at Jason, who was staring at me like I’d grown a second head.
My dad was the meanest parent ever.
EIGHT YEARS AGO
Natalie wiped off her mouth and looked up at me, her beautiful face sly and calculating. I shoved my softening c**k back into my pants and zipped up, pushing forward off the brick wall behind the gas station. Nat rose to her feet, giving me a little smile and biting her lip. I think she was going for playful.
It came off desperate.
“So?” she asked. I raised a brow, questioning.
“Um . . . I was wondering if you could hook me up?”
Fucking typical. Rich bitches.
Not that I should be surprised. In Natalie’s world, I’d never be more than a quick f**k with the right connections. That wasn’t a problem. In the end, business is business, and Nat had plenty of money.
“Whatcha lookin’ for?” I asked, hoping she didn’t expect a discount for the blow job. She was okay, but nothing special. She’d been all over me, and who was I to turn down some chick who wanted to suck my cock? Now that she’d swallowed, she’d turned annoying. Before Natalie could answer the question, my phone vibrated.
I answered, turning away from Natalie. “Hey, Kels.”
“Jim got laid off at the plant today. You need to get home fast, because he’s drunk and I’m scared.”
My entire body tensed and my vision narrowed. That cocksucking bastard. If he touches her . . .
“I’ll be there in a few, okay? Stay calm, Kelsey,” I told my foster sister. “Try and get out of the house and take off for the park. If that doesn’t work, lock yourself in the bathroom. Just hang on—I’m coming for you.”
“Okay,” she whispered, and I heard Jim’s loud, booming voice roar in the background. James Calloway was the foster father from hell, not to mention a complete f**king ass**le. I ended the call and glanced over at Natalie, keeping my face blank. I’d learned the hard way to never give away more than I had to.
“I need to get back home,” I told her. “Can I have a ride?”
She smiled, trying to play coy and innocent.
“Of course,” she said, tracing little circles in the dirt with the toe of those f**k-me shoes she always wore. They’d seemed a hell of a lot sexier half an hour ago. “But before we go . . .”
Shit. I didn’t have time for this.
“Give me the f**kin’ keys,” I said shortly, out of patience. She opened her mouth to protest and I narrowed my eyes, letting them go flat and dead. I’d perfected the look over the years and it never failed. She sucked in a quick breath and dug out her keys, handing them off to me. At six foot three, I knew I was a scary f**ker.
Terrifying a girl didn’t bother me one bit, either.
I strode around the building to Natalie’s cute little Mustang—a sixteenth-birthday present from Daddy. I slid in and the engine turned over with a roar I might’ve enjoyed at any other time. Natalie jumped into the passenger seat, obviously worried that I’d leave without her.
I would’ve, too, but I didn’t want more attention than necessary. Last time I’d pulled Jim off Kelsey, I promised to kill him if it happened again. Christ, she was only thirteen and had already learned to sleep with a knife. I had a bad feeling things were going to get ugly, and the last thing I needed was a police report about a stolen car.
Five minutes later the Mustang screeched to a halt outside my foster father’s decaying ranch house, which was surrounded by a dying lawn and rusting swing set. His own kids were long gone, and I suspected he’d lose the place without the state payments he got for me and Kels. The social workers hadn’t noticed that his wife, Autumn, had taken off nearly six months ago. Who could blame her? This was only short term for me. But to stay here, rotting for the rest of your life? Fuck no. I’d have run, too.
Usually I didn’t even mind living in his shithole. I liked having my own space. I had the whole basement, although I let Kelsey sleep down there with me. She wasn’t comfortable in her own room upstairs. Too close to Jim. Smart kid.
I jumped out of the car and started toward the house.
“Wait!” Natalie called, following me.
“Yeah?” I asked, not slowing. I heard Jim yell something inside and froze, trying to think. What was the best plan of attack? A loud, clanging noise from next door broke my concentration. That old guy must be out in the garage, working on his bikes again . . .
“You said you’d hook me up?” Nat asked, offering a weak smile. Jesus, is she still here? I reached into my pocket, pulled out a baggie, and threw it at her. Hard.
“There,” I said. “Now get in your f**kin’ car and go.”
Her mouth opened and closed like a goldfish, and I seriously wondered why I’d let her wrap it around my dick. Then Kelsey’s voice tore through the air again, and my vision went red. Making plans was for pussies—that ass**le needed to experience pain. I took off toward the back gate, hoping Natalie was happy enough about her freebies to forget anything she’d seen or heard.
It was locked.
I boosted myself up and over the tall privacy fence, catching a glimpse of Natalie in the process. She wasn’t paying me any attention. Nope, bitch was way too busy scrabbling in the dry grass for her goody bag. Kelsey screamed again. I tore around the house, sliding down through a narrow window into the basement.
Jim always kept the doors locked and I wasn’t allowed a key. Not that it mattered—I’d yet to find a lock I couldn’t pick—but right then I didn’t have the time. I ran up the stairs and toward Kelsey’s room, freezing in the doorway.
She cowered back on the bed, shirt ripped almost to her waist, exposing the little flesh-colored bra I’d had to buy for her. Fuckin’ awkwardest shopping trip of my life. A bright red handprint covered her cheek, and blood was seeping from her bottom lip.
Jim loomed over her, sweaty and reeking of booze, shoulders heaving as he took deep breaths. His pants were already loose, hanging off his flabby, narrow hips, and his skinny dick bobbled like a drunken cobra.
“Leave her alone,” I said, letting all the hate constantly boiling inside me show. Jim turned toward me and grunted, his red, bloated nose a rotten tomato in the center of his face.
“You’ll die,” said a low voice behind me. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked.
We all froze as our next-door neighbor walked slowly into the room. He held his pistol casually, more like a TV remote than a weapon. An older guy—probably in his midfifties—and so far as I could tell, he spent most of his time out in his garage, tinkering with motorcycles he fixed up and sold.
In fact, I’d been eyeing his latest project, mentally tallying whether I could afford to buy it.
That was his name. No idea if it was first or last. He was badass, too, with a long, graying beard and faded tattoos all over his arms. I knew he was part of a motorcycle club called the Devil’s Jacks from the patches on the leather vest he always wore. This was the first chance I’d gotten a good look at it. On one shoulder there was a red and white patch with “Burke” over the word “Original.” The other shoulder had a diamond that said “1%” on it. Down below was a long line of smaller patches listing names and dates.
His heavily tanned hand didn’t waver as he held the gun, his eyes as cold and dead as my own.
“Kelsey, get your ass out of here,” I ordered, keeping my voice steady. I really didn’t know Burke for shit, and I had no idea what he planned to do . . . But if I got Kels out safe, I honestly didn’t give a f**k.
“Do what the kid says.”
Kelsey nodded, eyes wide, sliding off the bed and scuttling along the wall to get out.
“Go down to my room and wait,” I told her. “Lock the door and don’t open it for anyone but me.”
Time hung heavy as she disappeared.
“So whatcha gonna do, shoot me?” Jim slurred, his voice belligerent. Not the brightest man at the best of times, but when he got drunk, things really fell apart.
“Depends,” said Burke.
“The kid, here,” he replied, jerking his chin toward me. “You want to shoot this ass**le, son?”
I glanced over, startled. His face was cold and serious—Burke wasn’t joking. Shit.
This was real.
“Think hard,” Burke said. “You pull the trigger, you can’t go back. But you won’t have to worry about him rapin’ your sister, either. We can make the body disappear.”
Jim’s eyes darted between us, wild with terror.
“Don’t listen to him,” he whispered. “You’ll go to jail. Death penalty. He’s talking about murder.”
“Unlikely,” Burke told him. “Never cared for you, Calloway. In fact, I don’t think one person on earth gives a f**k if you live or die. Your wife is gone, your kids hate you, and according to the papers on your kitchen counter, you got no job. It’ll be like you never existed. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
“The social workers,” Jim gasped in desperation. “The social workers have to come check on the kids. They’ll notice.”
I couldn’t help myself—I started laughing. I hadn’t seen my social worker in over a year. If it weren’t for the state checks Jim drank up every month, I’d assume they’d lost my file. My foster father’s face reddened in rage, and I saw the exact moment his brain turned off and he forgot about the gun.
“I’ll kill you, you little shit,” he growled. “You think you’re so special but you’re trash. That little slut of yours is trash, too. Two piles of garbage stinking up my house.”
“Probably should decide soon, kid,” Burke muttered. “You wanna take him out or not?”
Did I want to kill him? I thought about Kelsey crying, and the time he’d broken my ribs when I refused to hand over a cut of my sales.
I definitely wanted to take him out.
“Give me the gun,” I said, the words tasting sweet.
Jim lunged toward us and the sudden, cracking echo of a gunshot rang through the room. My foster father screamed and fell to the floor, clutching his shoulder. Bright red blood oozed out between his fingers.
Burke didn’t even blink.
He just held his weapon firm, still trained on Jim, and reached around his back to pull a second pistol from his pants. Then he handed it to me.
It fit my hand perfectly.
“You know how to use it?” he asked.
I flipped off the safety and cocked it in answer.
“Finish him off, boy,” Burke said, smiling for the first time. Almost like a proud father. “You’re already in deep, so you might as well make it count.”
I centered the barrel on Jim’s chest and fired.
• • •
Looking back, the neighborhood had been exactly what we needed that day—nobody in it gave a f**k about each other, because they didn’t give a f**k about themselves. All of us were already dying slowly. When Burke and I sped up the process for my foster father that afternoon, the neighbors didn’t even notice.
Nobody complained about the shots.
Nobody bothered calling the cops when I carried a hysterically crying Kelsey next door to Burke’s house.
They didn’t look outside when a cargo van pulled down the alley to stop behind Jim’s place. Ten minutes later it left again, carrying a human-shaped package wrapped in black plastic garbage bags.
Jim ceased to exist. So did me and Kelsey.
The next week, we were living in a different town with new birth certificates, courtesy of Burke’s cousin and his old lady. He gave me a hell of a deal on that motorcycle, too. I paid him with the wad of cash I found in Jim’s wallet. A year later, I celebrated my eighteenth birthday by becoming an official prospect in the Devil’s Jacks MC.