I heard a strange, popping noise, and then icy cold liquid sprayed my balls and cock.
“The f**k!” I yelled, jumping back and opening my eyes. Em stood in front of me, spraying me with a can of Diet Coke in one hand. The other held her phone.
Pictures . . . Fucking karma, biting me on the ass.
“Jesus Christ, you’re a bitch!”
“And you’re a dick,” she said sweetly, starting to laugh. The pop ran out, but that didn’t stop her giggles. I grabbed my pants, jerking them back up as I stuffed my wet dick back inside.
“What the f**k was that all about?”
“Payback,” she said, eyes bright. “You got bested by a girl, and I have the video to prove it. C’mon, you have to admit that was better than what you had planned?”
“I don’t know,” I muttered. “Are you going to show the pictures to Skid?”
“What, don’t like naked pictures floating around that you can’t control? Wow, that must really suck. I wonder what that feels like?”
“You know damned well I’ll lose face if they think I can’t control my woman. It’s not the same thing.”
The instant I said it, I knew I’d f**ked up. Again. Christ, I should just crawl into a cave and die, it’d be more efficient.
“You want to try saying that a different way?” she asked, putting her hands on her hips. “Only this time, listen to your words very carefully in your head first. Then ask yourself whether you ever want me touching your penis again.”
“I’m a dick,” I said, raising a hand to run it through my hair. “This is not a secret. But I don’t want to control you, Em. You know that. Fuck.”
“And I don’t want to humiliate you in front of your brothers,” she said seriously. “I just wanted you to feel a little of what I felt. At least I didn’t lie to you about it.”
“You’re right,” I said, shaking my head slowly. “I don’t know what else to say, babe. You were right, I was wrong.”
“That came out a lot better this time,” she said, offering me a smile. Then her face grew serious. “You know, when I kicked you before, it felt damned good, but it’s not like it changed anything. Am I supposed to torture you—just because I can—every time you screw up? I f**king love you, ass**le. I don’t like seeing you in pain. That’s why lying to me was so horrible in the first place.”
I took a deep breath, overwhelmed. Fuck, I hated shit like this.
“I don’t deserve you, babe. But this last night? It’s like I died. If you forgive me, I swear to you—I swear—I will never knowingly do anything to hurt you again.”
“Knowingly?” she asked, cocking a brow. “That’s a pretty big loophole.”
“Let’s be honest here,” I said, throwing it all out. “We both know I’m gonna f**k up. But I’m pretty sure I love you, Em.”
Her breath caught.
“What did you just say?”
“I love you,” I repeated, the words tasting strange in my mouth. “At least, I think I love you. I’ve never felt this way before, but I can’t imagine caring about anyone more than this. I want to be with you, Emmy. Hell, I offered to let you kick my balls just so you’d feel better. Doesn’t that count for something?”
She stepped forward and wrapped her arms tight around my neck. I reached around her hesitantly, then pulled her close. Shallow man that I am, my c**k immediately hardened, despite the cold Diet Coke shower.
“I love you, too,” she whispered. “But I need to know one more thing.”
“Which picture did you keep?”
I stilled. Now there was a trick question. All of them were damning, but I had a feeling she’d hate the one I kept the most.
“The one of your ass all covered with my jizz,” I muttered, feeling like a bigger prick than ever before in my life. “It’s really hot, babe.”
She started laughing into my shoulder, or at least I hoped to hell she was laughing and not crying.
“Will you erase it?”
“Okay,” she whispered. “I’ll forgive you. This time. But you don’t get another pass. No more lies. It’s a deal breaker for me, Liam.”
“Fuckin’ love my name comin’ out of your mouth.”
“I know,” she said. “I have a present for you.”
“Really?” I asked, pulling back to study her face. “What? Crap, that’s the wrong question. Why?”
“Maybe because I love you. Or maybe because you shouldn’t get out of this totally free and clear. So you have a choice . . . reunion sex—right here, right now—or you can keep that one special picture, so long as you never show it to anyone.”
Hellfire. And I thought the last one was a trick question.
“Can we got back to the getting-kicked-in-the-balls option instead?”
“I still can’t believe you picked the photo,” I grumbled.
“Maturity is all about delaying pleasure to improve your situation long term,” Hunter said, grinning at me. “Love you, Em.”
I rolled my eyes. He’d said it something like ten times now, and as much as I enjoyed hearing the words, I was starting to feel like maybe we needed a new topic of conversation.
It was getting dark outside, and we’d just passed through Post Falls. A nasty, freezing rain had started as we drove through Spokane, slowing traffic. I saw at least four cars in the ditch along the way—I’d never admit it, but I was actually kind of glad Hunter was driving.
I was kind of glad we weren’t fighting anymore, too.
Not only that, Kit had texted a couple times, talking about all the different foods she’d bought for our dinner tomorrow. We loved cooking together, and while it wasn’t the same without Mom, I never felt closer to her than in the kitchen with my sister.
“You’re sure you’re okay with this?” I asked Hunter yet again. “I know it sounds like a joke, but Dad seriously has a history of shooting my boyfriends. He says it’s an accident, but after the second attempt you start to wonder.”
“Your other boyfriends weren’t like me,” he replied without a hint of concern. “The fact is, I’m with you and that’s not gonna change. Picnic and I will come to an understanding. Don’t worry about it.”
I tried to picture how that might play out.
“If he asks you for six goats in exchange for me, you don’t have to actually buy real goats. He’d probably take kegs instead.”
Hunter snorted, then reached over, putting his hand on my knee.
“Don’t worry about it, Em. You said you’d give me another shot, so trust me on this one. I’ve got it covered.”
My phone rang. Dad.
“I swear to God, he can hear when I’m talking about him,” I said, rolling my eyes as I answered the phone. “What’s up?”
“Where are you?” he asked, voice tight. Well, crap. This wasn’t a friendly call to check up on us.
“We just passed through Post Falls,” I replied. “What’s going on?”
“I need you to come straight to the Armory. We’ve got a situation. There’s been another shooting, right here in Coeur d’Alene. We don’t have proof, but one of the Jacks has been in town for the past week.”
“Oh f**k . . .”
“What is it?” Hunter asked.
“Shooting,” I said, my voice terse.
“Give me the phone,” he demanded.
“Stop talking,” my dad ordered in my ear. “I’ll explain things to him in a minute. You will not tell him what I’m about to say to you, though. This is important.”
Oh my God. It was happening. Right here, right now . . . Things were falling apart between the clubs. Was I going to have to choose? I peeked at Hunter out of the corner of my eyes and swallowed.
“Give me the phone,” he said again. I shook my head.
“Let me finish talking to Dad,” I told him. “Then I’ll hand it over.”
Hunter nodded tightly, but I saw the muscles in his jaw clench.
“Like I said, come straight to the Armory,” Dad continued. “We don’t know that it’s the Devil’s Jacks, but if it is, you’re a valuable hostage. We’ve been through this before. I love you, Em. I loved your mother, too, so I know what it’s like to care about someone so much it hurts—I think that’s how you feel about Hunter. I hope to f**k he feels the same about you. But I need to get you away from him, get you somewhere safe until we figure things out.”
“Dad . . .” I whispered. I glanced at Hunter again and tried to think of how to say what needed to be said without kicking off the damned war all by myself.
“I’ll protect him, Em,” my father told me, apparently reading my mind. “I know you might not believe it, but I’ll make sure he gets through this alive, so long as he brings you home. If he gets hurt, it’ll be because of something he does, not because of who he is. I swear this, baby.”
“I’m giving the phone to Hunter now,” I said slowly.
“Promise me, you’ll come to the Armory?”
“I’ll let you know where we’re headed once we figure that out,” I replied, feeling my eyes tear up. Shit. This was happening so fast.
“Okay, pass me off to him.”
I handed over the phone, then watched as my man’s face slid into that horrible blankness I’d seen when he faced off against Deke.
“I understand,” he said. “We’re coming, don’t worry. I want her safe as much as you do.”
Then he hung up the phone.
“We’re going to the Armory,” he said, his voice almost expressionless. “There’s at least one shooter. I’m sure they suspect the Jacks—we know someone’s trying to start trouble in Coeur d’Alene. He’s not one of ours, Em. Part of my job this weekend was to hunt him down.”
My heart clenched.
“So this is actually a business trip for you?” I asked, feeling small.
“No,” he replied. “This shit came up after I asked Burke about visiting your family. If something happens to me, you need to convince your dad to at least talk to Burke before they do anything. Someone’s working very hard to turn us against each other. Don’t let them play you, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. “Are you sure you want to go to the Armory? Dad says he’ll protect you, but he’s just one person.”
Hunter gave a short, harsh laugh, then looked over at me. He reached over and touched my cheek.
“The Armory is the safest place I can think of right now,” he said. “This isn’t the army we’re up against. It’s one or two shooters, and that place was built to withstand a hell of a lot worse. Your sister is already there, and I guess most of the other women are, too. Fuck of a way to start the holiday.”
I reached down and grabbed my purse, pulling out my little black semiautomatic. I checked the magazine before setting it in my lap.
Then I glanced back over at Hunter. To my surprise, he was smiling.
“Best f**kin’ old lady ever,” he muttered, shaking his head.
“No, that was my mom.”
“Love you, babe.”
“I love you, too.”
Guess we didn’t need another conversation topic after all.
• • •
Things fell to shit about three miles after we turned off the main highway headed north. The sun had just set, and the frozen rain had covered everything, leaving a sheen of ice across the road. God, I hated driving on ice.
I knew there were probably guys stationed at the turnoff to the Armory, but I didn’t see any of them. I’d texted Dad with our ETA and Hunter’s license plate number, so hopefully they were just letting us pass through because they recognized us. I knew they’d call it in, though, which meant we’d hit the point of no return.
“Slide your seat forward, Em,” Hunter said as we started up the winding road. I slid forward, and then he reached around behind my seat. I heard the sound of Velcro tearing open, and then I felt his hand against my back, inside the cushions.
He pulled out a large handgun.
“Hold this for a sec,” he said. Then he reached over again and dug around some more, this time bringing up two spare magazines.
“Okay, you’re good to scoot back. Take a look for me?”
I dropped the magazine and examined it. Fully loaded, all good. I popped it back in and chambered a round. He tucked it down between the seats after I handed it to him.
“You know, Dad would never trust me to check his gun.”
“He sees you as a little girl,” Hunter replied, his eyes darting back and forth across the road. “I see you as a competent adult, one I trust. Big difference. Something feels off here.”
I shivered, thinking he was right. The weather was forcing us to drive way too slow. Fucking ice.
Suddenly there was a loud bang and the truck careened to the right.
“Crap,” Hunter grunted, fighting the wheel as the truck lurched to the side. At first I thought we’d just blown a tire. Never a good thing, but not the end of the world. Then there was another loud bang, and the front end collapsed. Two tires out, I realized. We slid abruptly toward the edge of the road, Hunter cursing steadily, but there was just too much ice. I braced myself as the truck skidded off the embankment, rolling down the side of the hill and smashing into a tree. Air bags exploded as the truck flipped over onto its side, passenger window pointing toward the sky.