Burke couldn’t have been more proud if I were his son by blood.
In a way, I guess I was.
FIVE MONTHS AGO
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO
“Who the f**k gets a pedicure in February?” Skid asked. “Won’t her feet freeze?”
“You don’t know any women at all, do you?” I asked, cracking open a Mountain Dew. We’d driven all night to get here from Portland. What I really wanted was sleep, but Burke’s orders were clear. Scope out Reese “Picnic” Hayes’s daughter and figure out a plan of action. With all the drama that’d happened between our clubs, Burke insisted now was the perfect time to make a move, maybe even rewrite the future for the Devil’s Jacks.
Leverage with the Reapers would be critical—maybe even make the difference between a successful takeover of our club or a shallow grave if we failed. Leverage this little bitch was supposed to provide us, apparently. I wasn’t entirely sure what the old bastard had planned, but I’d do my part. I always did.
I glanced down at the picture of her taped to the truck’s console, then looked at the storefront again. Pretty girl. According to her Facebook page, she was meeting a friend here this morning. I’d spotted her car as soon as we pulled in. Now we waited. I wanted to study her, maybe trail her a little. Get a sense of who she was before making my move. There were so many different ways to play a woman—I found it never paid to make assumptions.
“I know your sister,” Skid announced out of nowhere.
I gave him a blank look.
“You asked if I know any women. Does she count? ’Cause her toes are cute as hell, but I don’t see her walkin’ around in flip-flops in the snow.”
“Why the f**k are you lookin’ at my sister’s toes, cocksucker?”
“I look at a lot more than her toes.”
“Don’t make me kill you, bro.”
He snorted and shrugged. “You could try.”
I adjusted my sunglasses, deciding to ignore him. The truck windows were tinted, but I’d still taken a few basic precautions to change my appearance. Hipster beanie, which matched the full beard I’d grown for my last job. Long-sleeved shirt that covered my ink. Even if she saw me, all I needed was a quick shave and change to turn into a different man.
The shop door opened and I sat up as two girls stepped out. There she was.
Emmy Lou Hayes.
“That’s our girl,” I said, with a jerk of my chin. She was studying her phone and, sure as shit, she wore flip-flops. Bright pink foam thingies threaded through her toes, separating them, and I wondered how the hell she could even walk. Fuckin’ crazy. At least the sidewalk was mostly clear of snow. Her brown hair sat on top of her head in one of those messy topknot things girls always seem to have, and she wore tight little jeans and a black leather jacket.
Damn, Em was cute. Way cuter than her sister.
Something fell out of her pocket, and she turned away, leaning down to grab it.
“Nice ass,” Skid said. “Very sweet. If you have to f**k her, at least you’ll be able to keep your eyes open, unlike that last bitch you did for the club.”
I snorted, but he raised a good point. Fucking Em had just jumped up a couple notches on my list of possible ways to manipulate her into helping the Jacks. She glanced down at her phone again, waving good-bye to her friend absently.
Then she walked right off the curb and almost fell on her ass.
Her phone flew across the ground and under a car, like something out of a TV show. Em staggered to one side and then the other, somehow managing to stay on her feet, arms flailing. Skid choked back a laugh, but I just watched, mesmerized, as she finally caught herself. That’s when Em looked up and across the parking lot, right into my face. Her expression was startled but f**king gorgeous. She broke into a brilliant smile, offering me a goofy wave.
My c**k stiffened and a burst of adrenaline hit me like a punch to the gut. Sticking my dick inside Emmy Hayes had suddenly become a very high priority. It took everything I had not to throw open the truck door and toss the girl over my shoulder before hauling her back home for a long, hard f**k. Instead I sat back and watched.
There’s a reason the club calls me Hunter.
She lifted one leg slightly, pointing at her toes and giving a triumphant thumbs-up in my direction before turning away to search for her phone.
“Christ, there’s something wrong with that chick,” Skid muttered, but I ignored him. Instead I grabbed my phone and dialed Burke, my mind made up.
“Burke, I’m lookin’ at her right now.”
“You got a plan for me?”
“Gettin’ there,” I told him. “But whatever direction we take, Emmy Hayes stays my target. Nobody f**ks with her but me.”
“Make it work for the club, son, and I could give a f**k. But no matter how much you want the bitch, don’t forget where your loyalties lie. Jacks first. Forever.”
“Jacks first,” I agreed, watching as she dug her phone out of the snow.
This was gonna be fun.
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO
“If you don’t make a move on Painter tonight, I will personally charter a plane, fly up there, and kick your ass.”
“Easy for you to say,” I muttered into the phone at my sister. “But you don’t get a vote. I’m still pissed at you for not coming home this summer.”
“Riiight,” she drawled. “Let me see—internship in San Francisco or yet another summer of Dad growling at me . . . Sooo tempting. If you had half a brain, your ass would be down here with me.”
I rolled my eyes.
“It’s not that easy, Kit.”
“Yes,” she replied, her voice sharp. “It is that easy. Let me walk you through the conversation. ‘Dad, I’ve decided I want a life. Deal with it.’ Then get in your car and drive south.”
“It’s not that easy for me,” I said, looking over at the Reapers clubhouse. The big, isolated former National Guard Armory was fully lit, a beacon in the summer twilight. The trees surrounding it felt familiar, like old friends. I’d played in them as child—hide-and-seek, pixies . . . oh, and motorcycle clubs. We’d played MC a lot.
Pisser about that—now the boys got to play Reapers for real and I still couldn’t land a f**king date.
“I don’t like that disappointed look in Dad’s eyes,” I said, fully aware my voice held a hint of whine. “You know, how they get cold and icy right before he starts punching walls?”
“Jesus, it’s like you’re still in high school,” Kit replied. “So what if he gets pissed off? That’s what he does—he gets pissed, he yells, it’s over. Yell back, for Chrissake.”
“Easy for you to say,” I replied. “You’re the baby. You can get away with anything. He has all these expectations of me.”
“Enough,” she snapped. “I’m not going to listen to you feeling all sorry for yourself all night. I’m the youngest, but you’re the f**king baby. Either shit or get off the pot.”
“That’s kind of mean,” I said, frowning.
“No, that’s reality. You’re twenty-two years old and still bitching about Daddy not letting you out to play. You want to be his little-girl doll the rest of your life? Fine. That’s your choice. But if you do, you don’t get to complain about him. Grow a f**king pair already.”
Then she hung up on me.
I sat in the car, stunned. Kit never hung up on me. We talked, we fought, we laughed . . . but she always had my back.
A loud knock on the window nearly gave me a heart attack. I looked up to see my friend Marie standing outside, arms crossed, face expectant. Must be almost time. I climbed out of the car and she caught me up in a hug.
“You excited?” she asked, eyes shining. “Because you don’t look excited. You look like someone stole your last M&M. You know, one of the red ones? I always keep those for the end. They taste best.”
I stared at her.
“You’re weird, you realize that, right?”
She laughed and shrugged.
“I’m okay with it. You didn’t answer the question.”
“I guess I’m excited,” I said, although my little chat with Kit had put a damper on things. “I mean, it’s great that Painter’s getting his patch . . .”
Marie widened her eyes at me and smirked.
“Don’t give me that,” she said. “You’ve got a thing for him. I know you’ve got a thing for him, because you tell me all about it whenever you get drunk.”
I shrugged, a smile catching me off guard.
“Okay, so I have a thing for him,” I admitted.
“And he definitely has a thing for you,” Marie replied. “He’s like a puppy whenever he sees you.”
I grunted, my smile fading.
By some miracle, I hadn’t spilled the story of when I’d cornered Painter last month and made him an offer no red-blooded man should’ve been able to refuse . . . An offer he’d shot down without a second thought. In fact, I’d tried to seduce him several times over the past year. A year I’d spent watching him, lusting after him, and thinking about what things might be like between us.
I didn’t get why he wouldn’t sleep with me. I knew the attraction was mutual. Everyone saw it. His eyes followed me around the clubhouse, and when I went out, he menaced anyone who hit on me. Dad wasn’t too hot on the thought of me with any guy, but he’d told me that someday he’d like to see me settled with a Reaper.
“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” I asked, grabbing my bag. “Sorry I couldn’t come out to help set up. I had a late appointment and really wanted to get her in. I already canceled on her once, so her nails were way overdue for a fill.”
“No worries,” Marie said, tucking her arm through mine. We started toward the gate to the courtyard, and despite my concerns her mood was contagious. Tonight was a happy night—after more than a year of prospecting, Painter would become the newest full member of the club.
In fact, he probably was already.
I’d just gotten here, but I’d seen this happen my whole life. First the guys would drag him off with some story about this shitty job he needed to do, or tell him he’d f**ked up something important. They’d scare the crap out of him, and then when he was just about ready to die from a heart attack, they’d surprise him with the new patches for his cut.
Those patches marked him as a Reaper, now and forever.
As for us ladies? It was our job to put together the party, and I was sorry to have missed out on that . . . It might be work, but it was laughter and drinking and joking, too. Made me think of my mom—five years ago we’d buried her, and I never missed her more than on nights like tonight. One of my earliest memories was of playing under the tables in our backyard while she set up for a club party. This was a celebration for Painter, but it was also a gathering of my family. They weren’t exactly typical . . . They were mine, though, and I loved them.
Tonight that family was getting bigger.
“I really wish Mom was here,” I said. Marie smiled at me, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and hugging me tight. Then she dragged me past Banks, the unfortunate prospect left behind to watch the clubhouse, and we walked into the courtyard.
• • •
The guys were late.
It’d been about forty-five minutes—just enough time for me to drink two beers and exchange texts with my friend Liam. I’d never actually met him except online . . . But I knew he wasn’t a total serial killer because he was a regular at my friend Cookie’s coffee shop in Portland. He posted on her Facebook page all the time.
That’s how we’d first started talking, a few months back. He’d comment on one of my posts, then I’d comment on one of his, and then one day he sent me a private message and things took off from there. Now we texted each other all the time. He was funny and interesting and he actually listened to me. Total opposite of Painter, now that I thought of it. It was nice to have a friend who wasn’t all tied up in club life—Liam was nice and normal and safe.
ME: Painter isn’t here yet. Fingers crossed for me!!!
LIAM: I don’t get why you’re bothering with this douche. A real man doesn’t sit around waiting when he meets the right woman. He makes a plan to claim her ass
ME: Little Neanderthal, ya think? Someone’s grumpy tonight
LIAM: Call it like I see it. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks he bails on you. Not because you aren’t gorgeous, Em, but because he’s a f**king pu**y. Don’t you see what’s going on here? He wants to make your dad happy, not you
ME: Whose side are you on?
I frowned down at the phone. I wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. Liam didn’t like Painter, and he could be kind of a jerk about it. He’d even made a joke once about Dad selling me off for six goats and some aftermarket Harley parts. It hit a little too close to home . . .
That didn’t mean he was right about Painter, though.
ME: You don’t know everything.
LIAM: Never pretended to. But I do know you deserve better than a guy who ignores you for a year.
ME: He doesn’t ignore me. It’s complicated. You should see him when we all go out. He’s always watching out for me
LIAM: No, he guards you. There’s a difference
I frowned. It was complicated. Painter had been prospecting, which meant he wasn’t exactly free. But Liam didn’t know that—I hadn’t told him about the club for some reason, although he knew Dad was a biker. I guess I liked having one person in my life who didn’t see me as the president’s daughter. Hell, in some ways Liam was the only person I could really be myself with. Tonight, though . . .