“Are you hiding from me, Goldilocks? Playing a wicked little game?”
Rose drew her legs up to her chest and pressed herself into the furthest corner of the closet, as far away as she could get from him, but she could never escape Kent for long.
She screwed her eyes shut and tried to think of other things, tried to distract herself from the inevitable. He would find her, toss her on the bed, and rape her again. She’d lost count of how many times, how many ways he’d violated her. It had become a blur of pain, fear, and dread.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he called. She could hear the excitement in his tone, the anticipation.
Rose shuddered. She needed to drift away once more, let her mind go elsewhere. Leave this place and him far behind. Let Kent do what he wanted to her body, he couldn’t touch her mind, so at least one part of her could be free.
The closet door flew open and there he stood. On the surface, Kent was a handsome man in his early forties. He had patrician features and blue gray eyes, which held something cold and icy in their depths. His neatly trimmed black hair had streaks of white. He had a lean frame and she’d become horrifically intimate with every single inch of his body.
She noticed his arousal, could see the bulge in his expensive trousers. She quickly averted her gaze only to see a look of predatory expectation settle on his face. He reached for her and she started to shiver.
“Come here, Rose.” He seized her by the arms and drew her in close to his body. Now, she could feel his erection pressing low against her belly and a knot settled in her stomach. She refused to meet his eyes, staring down instead, willing her mind to flee the scene.
“My, Rose,” he murmured. He kissed her forehead, before trailing kissing along her cheeks. His mouth settled over hers, invading it and she obediently opened for him. No point in fighting it. She hated that the most, being forced to kiss him, everything else she could detach from, and pretend it happened to someone else, but not something as intimate as a kiss.
Finally, he let her breath once more and he murmured against her mouth, “you taste so sweet, Rose. My Rose…”
Eyes snapping open, Rose sat up in bed with a startled cry. She blinked, disoriented from being thrown out of the dream world and into the real one. She looked wildly around the hotel room, searching for some sign of Kent. But she was alone and at the Hades hotel. Rose sagged in relief.
She’d never been so grateful to see the familiar beige interior of the her room. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was clean and she didn’t have to pay any rent.
Plus, she didn’t share the room with an oversexed psychopath.
It was only a nightmare. I’m safe. Safe!
Someone banged on the door. “W-whose there?” she called, hesitantly.
“Rose? Are you awake? It’s me!”
She immediately recognized the voice, now that she was more alert. No cause for alarm, it was just Daisy. She vaguely remembered agreeing to have breakfast with her this morning.
She ran for the door and swung it open. Her older sister stood there with a pastry bag and a tray of coffee in one hand. Even at this ungodly hour, she looked put together. She wore a pair of bootcut jeans, a camo tank top, and a pair of black shades perched on her head. Her blond hair had been pulled into a messy pony tail. While Rose had a long-sleeved t-shirt on and a pair of sweatpants that had seen better days. She hadn’t looked, but she bet she had a wicked case of bed head as well.
“It’s a good thing you answered,” she said with a grin. “I was about to go all Chuck Norris on the door and break it down.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “You know, when I said we’d have breakfast, I meant at like eight or nine.” She glanced at angry red numbers on the alarm clock by the bed. “It’s only six.”
She smiled, all sharp teeth and no regrets. “You can take the girl out of the Marines, but you can’t take the Marines out of the girl.”
“Come on in, G.I. Jane.” Rose wondered if Daisy took the role of protective sibling a bit too seriously.
“Marines, not Army, remember,” she said irritably. Apparently, different branches of the military had some sort of sibling rivalry going on. “Are you hungry?” Daisy brushed past her and set the food down on the tiny table near the door. “Because I’m starving!”
Rose shrugged. She’d been forcing herself to eat for weeks, but she couldn’t really say she ever really felt hungry. She hadn’t even had a particular craving for any sort of food in months. Mostly, she ate to survive now.
Daisy removed the coffees from the tray and opened the bag, which featured a devil with donuts skewered on its pitchfork. The logo read Devilicious Donuts. She smirked. Nearly everything in Hell, Texas carried the theme. She’d had scones at the Bloody Hell Tea Room, ate habitually at the Hades diner, and downed a mocha at the Hot Damn Coffee Shop.
She sat down and snagged a coffee. “How’s it going at Casa Cowboy?”
Daisy beamed. “The remodel is going well. We’ve gotten the master bedroom done as well as the kitchen. They start working on the living room and the guest rooms next.”
Cowboy’s former wife had committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills, taking their infant son with her in the process. For several year, Cowboy had avoided his home. In order to reclaim the house and make it his own, he’d started a huge remodel project. While it seemed like a lot of work, both Cowboy and Daisy were clearly enjoying themselves. In fact, Rose thought she’d never seen her sister this happy and for that she was thankful. Daze deserved a man who loved her and a home of her own.
As children, they had both been forced into the foster care system when their mother, who’d been a prostitute and a junkie, died. Their fathers had never really been in the picture. While Rose had eventually been adopted, Daisy had been forced to stay in group homes and temporary foster care assignments until she turned eighteen and joined the Marines.
Rose emptied a couple of packets of sweetener into her coffee and swirled it around before taking a sip. She let the caffeine soothe her nerves and slowly wake her up.
“Doughnut?” her sister offered, holding out the pastry bag.
She reluctantly took one and set it down on a paper napkin. The bakery added a red cinnamon glaze which gave the doughnut a satanic red sheen. While she picked at it, Daisy seemed to be have no trouble. She bit into her red velvet cake doughnut with gusto.
After she’d polished off half of it, she gave Rose a rueful smile. “I don’t know what it is lately, but I’ve been ravenous the past few weeks.”
“Have you been working out more?”
Daisy had always been the athletic type. She loved gym in school and had even gone out for the girls’ volleyball team. She’d made the cut, but their home life was too chaotic to make the practice schedule work.
Rose was more of an indoor girl and she preferred settling in with a good television show. While Daisy had sought comfort in playing sports with the neighborhood kids, Rose’s solace was fictional families and their happy lives, complete with logos and theme music.
Daisy shrugged. “Not really. I’ve been spending most of my time on the renovation, painting and stuff, and of course there are always a lot of chores to do around the barn. But I still go for a run now and then.”
She couldn’t resist teasing. “Maybe you’re having a growth spurt.”
Daze stuck her tongue out, then made a grab for her Marines backpack and pulled out a file folder. She sighed heavily. “Okay, I suppose we should get down to it I have some news to share.”
“The club has some Raptors Intel.” She pulled out copies of deeds and a couple of grainy photographs of what appeared to be some kind of Mafia stronghold. “We’ve got a possible lead on the Raptors’ whorehouse.”
The Raptors, a rival motorcycle club, trafficked in drugs, weapons, and women. One of their biggest sources of profit came from prostitution. They seduced young girls into becoming prostitutes for them by sending out handsome bikers to pretend to be in love with vulnerable girls. Once they’d wined and dined them into thinking they were in a relationship, the bikers asked them to make a “love donation” to the club. Rose couldn’t think of a worse euphemism for turning tricks.
Rose felt stupid for falling in love with one of their members, Rock. He’d been handsome, smooth-talking, and had a way of overcoming any of her objections. She’d found herself toking up with him, cutting classes, and then dropping out of community college altogether. Worst of all, she’d ran off with him.
That’s when his true nature started to show itself.
He’d pressured her to give blow jobs to his biker buddies and when she’d resisted, his façade completely dropped. He wanted to sell her to owner of the Raptors’ brothel for a “finder’s fee”. But Kent, the Raptor’s lawyer had purchased her instead. Rose had never been taken to the club’s whorehouse, but she wanted the damned thing shut down.
Rose shook her head. She couldn’t think about that right now. It was too much. “What did you find?” she asked, wrapping her suddenly chilled fingers around the warm drink in her grasp.
“According to Shepherd’s source, the club bought some land about an hour from here. It’s real private and heavily guarded. The brothers think they might be trying to go a little bit higher end with their prostitution business. ” She pulled out some grainy black and white surveillance photos, showing a large house with an iron gate. There were a couple dozen motorcycles parked out front and just as many cars. “Unfortunately, there’s no sign of Kent, but we’re still looking.”
Kent had forced Rose to become his…well, she didn’t really have a name for it. Girlfriend? Mistress? Property? Sex slave? A twisted mixture of all of the above, she supposed. While he’d gotten her off the marijuana and the shrooms Rock had fed her and he didn’t make her service other men, living with him had been its own sort of private hell. For one thing, he’d used his own mixture of drugs to control her. That and some serious mind games.
Kent had introduced her to sadomasochism. After he’d bought her from Rock, he’d declared himself her Master and set about training her to sexually please him. He even had his own sex dungeon.
She cleared her throat, and tried to focus on something else. Those mental pathways led nowhere good. “So, what’s the plan?” Rose asked.
“For now? Gather more info. The Horsemen can’t bust in there, guns blazing. It would turn into a bloodbath. They are working on a plan to infiltrate it.”
“Infiltrate?” Rose asked. “You mean pose as customers or something?”
“Something like that,” Daisy said and then pulled a face. “You know how they are. It’s all very hush-hush. Cowboy has even been tight-lipped about it.” She sighed. “Despite my best attempts at getting the info out of him.”
Rose smothered a grin with her hand. She could see that Daisy was itching to get involved in the fight. Her sister never backed down from conflict.
Funny, because Rose avoided them at all costs. Then again, she’d had a lot of practice losing over the years.
Daisy suddenly groaned, pressing a hand to her stomach.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“The doughnut feels like it’s trying to crawl back up my throat. I’ve been wondering if I have the flu or something.”
“I keep on getting sick to my stomach, at least once a day.”
“You’ve been throwing up? In the mornings?” Rose asked, raising a brow.
Daisy’s eyes rounded at the implication. “No!”
Rose bit her lower lip, not surprised that the idea of pregnancy hadn’t crossed her mind. “Are you sure? Have you two been, er, safe?”
“Of course we use birth control! Oh damn,” she said carefully. “Except that one time.”
“It’s been a while since I had sex education in school, but the teacher was pretty clear on the fact that it only takes one time.”
Daisy rubbed her temples. “No! It couldn’t be. This isn’t happening. I can’t have morning sickness”
“Oh, but it is.”
“It happens at odd times, every now and then in the morning, but not always. Sometimes, I get queasy when Cowboy is making one of his “down home” meals and that’s at night. Something about the smell of brown beans doesn’t set well with me.”
“Don’t you think you should take a pregnancy test, just to be sure?”
She shook her head, arms going around her midsection. “No! I don’t need to. I’m not pregnant. I can’t be!”
Rose tried to keep a smile from curling her lips, but it was difficult. Daisy had never wanted to any of the trappings of a relationship. She’d never wanted to date, get married, have children, or indulge in any of those house and white picket fence dreams most girls did. But somehow Cowboy had pushed his way into her heart and life. She know had a home, the love of her life, and she very well might have a baby on the way.
“I think you should make sure, just in case.”
“But I’m not pregnant!” she grouched.
Rose merely stared at her, one eyebrow raised.
Her sister groaned. “Fine, stop giving me the patronizing face. I’ll get myself a pregnancy test, but I am definitely not pregnant. I’ve got a bug or something.”
“Okay, Cleopatra, Queen of Denial,” she muttered. Daisy always assumed she could be in control of any situation, but life rarely worked that way, at least in Rose’s opinion.
“I heard that!”
Her lips twitched. Sometimes, all it took was a look and they were both little girls again squabbling about something. “Good! I meant you too.”
“And on that note, I’m off to Home Depot in search of tile and grout.” She grabbed up her stuff and kissed Rose on the cheek. “Check you later, Ro.”
“Bye, Mommy,” she teased.
“Never!” Rose countered.
Daisy slammed the door behind her and Rose soon her the roar of her Silverado as it pulled out of the lot.
Later that afternoon, Rose sat on the stone bench outside of her hotel room drinking a soda and glancing idly around the parking lot. It was nearly empty, save for a couple of cars parked by the diner portion of Hades.
After Daisy had rescued her from Kent’s place, she’d spent most of her time holed up in her room, preoccupied with what happened to her. Now that she’d had a couple of months to think about it and put some things into perspective, she’d started venturing out, though she rarely left Hades. Somehow, she felt safe her. Probably because she was nearly always surrounded big a half dozen or so brawny bikers.
She’d kept busy today by gathering up dirty clothes and doing some laundry, she hauled her trash to the Dumpster, and wiped down the room. She hadn’t let any of the maids do cleaning, mostly, because she really didn’t deal well with strangers. Not anymore, at least.
Duke came swaggering out of a room on the opposite side of the lot with the busty blond woman he’d presumably taken to bed last night. He leaned up against his Harley and spread his legs wide. She wrapped her arms around his neck and stood between his thighs. Then, she kissed him, not just a friendly peck either. No, she rubbed her breasts up against his chest, and they kissed hungrily. It was a make out session worthy of a PG-13 rating—tongues and some over the clothes action as well.
Flushing, she forced herself to stare at the pavement, lest they think her some sort of voyeur. Not that either of them seemed to pay her the slightest bit of attention.
Geez. Get a room. Actually, go back to your room.
Daisy had mentioned the bikers kept a group of, er, free-spirited women around the clubhouse. They were known as hellions and she’d glimpsed them from time to time at Hades. While the Raptors mandated that the women who worked in their clubs offer sexual favors, the Four Horsemen had a consenting adults approach to sex. The brothers didn’t apply any pressure and the women seemed to relish their status as Horsemen groupies.
When Duke and his chippie finally came up for air, he smacked her on the ass and she strutted away to the diner tossing her hair and putting an exaggerated wiggle in her walk, all hips and sass. She wore a pair of painted on jeans and a red halter top that threatened to expose her nipples when she turned around to blow him a kiss. Although Rose doubted the woman would mind if she accidentally flashed him, the blonde gave off an unmistakable air of sexual confidence.
Rose envied anyone who had that kind of self-assurance. She’d never really given grown accustomed to her own sexuality. In school, she’d been exceptionally focused on getting good grades so she could go to college. It was all part of her plan to please her adopted parents. Other than an awkward kiss from a guy she danced with at homecoming in high school, she hadn’t been involved with anyone until her freshman year at college.
Unfortunately, she’d chosen Rock.
They’d met at a party and he’d been really persistent, texting and calling her several times a day. She’d eventually given in and gone out with him. He’d been charming and attentive at first. Then, he’d started to demand more and more of her time, encouraging her to cut class so she could be with him. He bought joints for them to share. As stupid as it sounds, it was fun to be a little bad after being Stepford perfect for all those years.
After he’d gotten her hooked on marijuana, Rock had started a campaign to separate her from her safety net. He began criticizing her friends and her adopted family. By that time, Daisy was overseas and their communication was spotty. Rose had no doubt if Daze had been stateside, she would have sorted Rose out pronto.
Rose had stupidly thought he was perfect boyfriend. He told her how beautiful she was and how much he loved her. She’d thought his willingness to wait to “go all the way” was proof of how much he cared. In actuality, he had been saving her virginity for the brothel owner to auction off. Apparently, that upped her price. But since Kent had purchased her, she ended up having her first sexual experience with him and it had been…terrifying.
Shaking off her morbid thoughts, Rose blinked and focused on the parking lot once more. She gaped as Duke prowled towards her. She suddenly felt even more nervous and embarrassed, her stomach flipping over. Rose noticed he always seemed to be watching her. Yes, Cowboy had asked him to watch over her, but Rose thought it might be more than that. He seemed…interested in her. Too interested. At first, she thought she might be a bit paranoid, due to the trauma she’d experienced, but even Daisy had warned her about Duke. She’d said he had a thing for her.
He carried a black leather bag and his strides seemed purposeful. While she had zero sexual interest these days, she’d have to be blind not to notice how handsome he was. He reminded her of a pirate with his dark, penetrating eyes, and the shadowy perma-stubble on his handsome face. He had tawny skin and a ripped body.
From the stray grays at his temple, she put his age somewhere in his late thirties, which was way too old for her to notice. Technically, she supposed, he could be her father, but he sure as hell didn’t give off a paternal vibe. Besides, she’d always had a thing for older men. She’d lost track of how many crushes she’d had on teachers in school.
She found herself curious about him, about his social life. Maybe because he was so enigmatic. While the rest of the Horsemen were tight-knit and joked with each other, he held back. She often saw him on the sidelines of their group, observing. Just like Rose did.
“How are the cuts healing?” he asked, glancing at her arms.
“Oh, um, fine.”
She didn’t want to talk about the cutting with him or anyone. It made her feel weak and ashamed. Daisy had been through hell in a war zone and she’d never resorted to hurting herself to cope with it. For the umpteenth time, she wished she could be as brave as her sister. Apparently, she hadn’t been born with the courage gene. Kent had even tried to capture Daisy and she’d fought him off. While Rose had been meek and obedient, out of fear. Being a fraidy cat sucked major butt.
“Mind if check them out?” He lifted the bag in his hand. “Last night, I noticed some of them were infected.”
She hesitated a moment.
Rose had a serious aversion to touch now, but she really should get them checked out and it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen and examined everything already. Apparently, after Daisy found her, he’d given her a pelvic, a series of tests for every STD as well as pregnancy, and a series of antibiotics just in case she’d contracted anything.
Thankfully, she didn’t have any STDs and she hadn’t been pregnant.
Rose didn’t remember much of Duke’s exam. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to look him in the eye if she could remember all the details. She’d still been under the influence of rohypnol and ecstasy Kent had administered at regular intervals. At first, she’d fought the drugs he’d given her and then she’d welcomed the oblivion they offered. When she floated away on a medicinal cloud, the abuse was much more bearable. Duke later told her that particular drug mixture made her crave touch and made it difficult for her to resist any of his sexual advances.
After a moment, she nodded. “Okay.”
He smiled at her and she saw some genuine warmth in his brown eyes. “Do you want to do the exam in your room? Or mine? Which would make you more comfortable?”
It was a thoughtful question and she slowly blew out a breath, feeling a little more at ease. “Mine, please.” She wanted to be in her own surroundings. She got up and led him in the room, settling herself at the little Formica table by the window. The bed would be far too intimate. Pushing up one of her sleeves, she placed an arm on the table.
He set his medical bag down and she noticed the gold hardware on the handle and latch had been engraved. Doctor Duke. Duke noticed the direction of her gaze. “An honorary title,” he said. “Eddie got it for me when I joined the club.”
“So you aren’t a doctor?”
“No, not technically. But I graduated med school and did a year and a half of residency, before I served as a medic in the Special Forces.”
Rose frowned. It didn’t make sense. “Why did you—”
He cut her off. “That’s a very long story. Right now, let’s just focus on your injuries.” He stretched a latex glove over her hand reached for her wrist. He studied the dozen or so slashes on her forearm. He placed a palm against them, evidently feeling if they were hot to the touch and then grabbed some rubbing alcohol squares and cleansed each of the wounds, before applying antibacterial cream with a cotton swab. He kept his touch light and professional and she relaxed. He seemed completely focused on his task, thoroughly probing each of her cuts. Duke wrapped her arm and gauze and then secured the bandages with white medical tape.
“I’m going to leave you a supply of antibiotic cream and some rubbing alcohol, along with a few bandages. I want you to change them daily.”
“Okay,” she agreed. Rose glanced at the floor, feeling a flood of shame. Cutting herself seemed so self-destructive, but in the moment it helped her deal with the emotional pain. It was a physical manifestation of how she felt.
He grasped the other arm as well and repeated the process. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said quietly.
She met his eyes. “I didn’t say I was.”
“You didn’t have to,” he countered. “I can read it on your face.”
She glanced away, astonished. He was way too perceptive.
“You aren’t the first person to deal with shit by cutting yourself and, believe me, you won’t be the last.”
“Oh yeah?” she contradicted. “I bet you would never resort to cutting yourself.”
He met her eyes and he hesitated for a moment before he spoke. “You’d be wrong about that, Rose.”
“Are you serious?”
“It’s true I never used a knife on myself, but as a scrawny kid I used to pick fights with guys much bigger than me. Know why?”
She frowned. “Why?”
“I wanted them to wail on me.” He laughed without humor. “I couldn’t do it to myself, but the end result was the same, I wanted to be hurt, because I couldn’t deal with the truckload of bad shit in my life.”
Rose bit her lip, not expecting that sort of confession from the big, bad biker. She’d seen him in action for weeks. He was surly, cold, and apparently didn’t take crap from anyone as evidenced from the black eye and skinned knuckles he sported from the diner fight last night. It was bizarrely heartening to know someone so badass had once used pain to handle their trauma.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“For what?” His brow furrowed.
“For sharing. It sucks for you, but I’m kinda glad I’m not the only one.”
He cleared his throat and then spoke gruffly to her. “Yeah, well, don’t repeat it to anyone or you’ll get on my nasty side.”
“I won’t.” Rose got the distinct impression he hadn’t meant to share that with her.
He finished bandaging the other arm and then glanced down at her thighs, which were shrouded in a pair of jeans two sizes too big. “Have you been cutting anywhere else?”
She shook her head quickly. As a matter of fact, she’d slashed her thighs as well, but she had no desire to drop her drawers in front of the man again. Once had definitely been enough.
He narrowed his eyes, watching her very carefully. “And are you lying to me?”
She made her eyes wide an innocent, the look she’d given Daisy as a child when she wanted to get out of trouble. “No, I’m telling the truth.”
He watched her carefully, obviously trying to discern if she’d just fibbed. “Okay then.” He packed his supplies away and then darted a look at the clock on the wall. “I ain’t got any plans for a while. What do you say we go get you that fake ID we talked about last night?”
“Um, sure.” Not like she had anywhere to be. “Are you absolutely sure you want to do that? You know my sister will kill you if she finds out.”
“Yeah, well, I got a fix for that. Make damn sure she doesn’t,” he drawled. Then, Duke gave her a masculine smirk. “Besides? I ain’t that afraid of her.”
“You should be,” Rose said solemnly. Daisy had been her defender as long as she could remember. People who crossed her, usually ended up with a pretty serious beat down.
He laughed at that. “Yeah, well, I’ll take my chances.” He headed for the door. “You want me to take a club cage? Or will you okay on the back of my bike?” he asked. Cage was a biker term for car or truck. The club kept a couple of pickup trucks around for hauling stuff, both Perdition and Hades had one.
Rose knew why he asked the question and she was once again surprised by his thoughtfulness. To ride his motorcycle, she would have to wrap her arms and legs around him to hold on. However, his offer hadn’t contained any sexual overtones she picked up on. In fact, his touch had been platonic and professional. Rose felt oddly at ease with Duke, despite the fact she found him attractive. Almost as if he understood her on some unknown level. The thought of riding around town in the sunshine, with the wind in her hair had an undeniable appeal.
He’d never made her feel threatened. Far from it, in fact. Duke had been watching her for weeks, literally. He’d been the one who pulled her out of a cage. He had proven again and again he was trustworthy. Her faith in men was at an all-time low, but she didn’t second guess his motives. While he could be rude and ill-tempered, he only seemed to have her best interests at heart.
Besides, he was currently dating or, er, screwing the sexy, busty hellion. Rose with her flat chest, asexual wardrobe, and nut case issues couldn’t be all that appealing to him. She probably didn’t even register as a woman, let alone a potential sex partner. She seriously had nothing to worry about.
She thought about it a moment and then nodded. “We can go on your bike, if you want.” It would be a quick trip across town and he’d built up some trust with her. After all, he hadn’t blabbed to Daisy about the cutting.
He raised a brow and she got the impression she took him by surprise. “Then let’s go.”
Ten minutes later, Rose found herself clinging to Duke’s back as they sped through Hell, Texas. She hadn’t felt this free, this happy in months. The change of scenery and the fast pace brightened her mood. As Daisy put it, she’d been a mole for weeks. Since she’d been here, she’d only left the hotel a half a dozen times. Maybe she should start leaving more often?
Sure, the physical proximity to Duke was disconcerting, to say the least, but it was worth it. He’d asked her to put them around his waist, but she found that way too intimate and settled for his shoulders instead. While her thighs were on either side of his, but she’d scooched far enough back that her pelvis didn’t come into contact with his backside.
Eventually, they pulled up at Inferno Firearms. Duke parked it and hit the kickstand. They both dismounted and placed their helmets on the handlebars.
“We’re getting ID at a gun place?” she asked curiously.
He just smiled in return and led her inside. At the counter, she found yet another biker. This one was big and blond. Rose didn’t remember seeing him before..
Duke nodded to the man. “Steele,” he said, by way of greeting. He jerked a thumb in her direction. “This is Rose, you know Daisy’s kid sister. We’re here to see Coyote.”
Steele glanced at her speculatively. “Why does she need Coyote’s, er, services?”
“None of your fucking business.”
The other men shook his head. “Would it kill you to be civil?” Steele asked tiredly.
“Just watch your ass. Daisy is next door running the shooting range and if she happens to see you, you’re on your own, just for being a dick.”
“Understood,” Duke said, apparently unconcerned. He stepped behind the counter and then led her through a long hallway. They eventually stopped at a non-descript office. He knocked on the door. “Hey! You in there, Yo?”
Duke knocked again and then flung the door open before striding inside as if he owned the place.
Rose hesitantly followed him. Her mouth fell open when she got a chance to look around. The office resembled the set of that Big Bang Theory show. On the walls, were framed Avengers posters. The whole gang was there: Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Captain America, etc. Two bookcases had been stuffed full of comic books in plastic sleeves, as well as some comics collectibles like two huge green Hulk hands.
At the desk, a young man with headphones watched his screen intently.
With a wicked grin that made Rose’s heartbeat just a bit faster, Duke tapped the other man’s shoulder, causing him to jump out of his chair and throw the headphones off like they were rattlesnakes.
Wide-eyed and panting, he swung around to stare open-mouthed at Duke. “What the hell, man?!”
“Very sloppy. You should watch your flank, Coyote.” Duke said with a sly smile.
“Yeah, well, not all of us are as fighty as you and Steele.” He pressed a hand to his chest. “You took like three years off my life, dude.”
Duke scowled. “Never call me dude again.”
Coyote made a whatever face and then glanced her way. His expression brightened when he saw her. “Hey there. Who are you?”
Rose placed him in his early twenties. He had long black hair and skin a shade or two darker than Duke’s. It was more of a copper hue and Rose bet it was due to Native American heritage. He wore a Doctor Who shirt along with his Horsemen vest, a pair of red Converse shoes, and worn-in jeans. Coyote seemed like he’d be more at home attending a Comic Con than working for a biker gang.
“Hey, I’m Rose. Nice to meet you.” She stuck her hand out to be polite and he shook it.
Duke scowled at their clasped hands. “Now, that we’ve practiced our manners, I need you to make her a fake ID.”
“What for?” Coyote asked curiously.
“Don’t ask questions, just do it,” Duke ordered.
“In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not a prospect anymore. I survived Revelation last year and that means I ain’t takin’ orders.”
Duke notched his chin higher. “Is that so?”
Rose frowned. Coyote might not be manly in the conventional sense, but he certainly had some alpha characteristics. She had a feeling she was about to witness a pissing contest. No thanks. So, she interceded, mostly to save her jangled nerves. “I just need it to buy alcohol. Nothing terrible, I promise.”
He glanced away from Duke and gave her a lopsided little grin. “Would you tell me if you were up to something terrible?”
She offered him a hesitant smile, amused despite herself. “Probably not.”
Duke watched the interplay between them with a creased brow and hooded eyes. “Flirt on your own time, Yo. She’s here for an ID and nothing else.” He glanced at her over Coyote’s head. “I’m going to look for some ammo in the shop. Give me a shout if you need anything.”
“Sure,” she said with a nod.
Duke walked out and Coyote gestured to the chair opposite his desk. “Have a seat and I’ll get you fixed up.”
“Thank you.” Rose sat down as he began to tap away on his computer. She surveyed the room once more. “So, you like Marvel?”
“No, I love it,” he said with a sheepish grin. “I’ve seen ‘em all in the theaters, own all the DVDs, the comics, and I watch the T.V. show, too.”
Rose laughed at that. She’d seen the films, too, but wasn’t as attached to them as he seemed to be. “Who’s your favorite?”
“Coulson,” he said quickly. “I like that he’s an average guy, who works with a group of superheroes.”
She nodded, remembering his fighty comment earlier. She wondered if he literally felt outgunned among so many macho men.
“I ain’t ashamed to admit I cried some serious man tears when he got himself killed in the first Avengers movie. Thankfully, he showed up good as new on Agents of Shield.”
She changed the subject, curious about him despite herself. “How’d you become a biker?” she asked.
He winked at her. “Ah, my hacking abilities may have gotten me into a bit of trouble.”
“Oh, so you’re a hacker?” Now, she understood why the club would want him. He’d have access to all kinds of databases they might find useful.
“I prefer the term hactivist, actually and yes I can hack with the best of them. I came to the attention of the CIA at age thirteen,” he said proudly.
“Wow.” Rose loved her tablet, but she’d never learned any heavy duty computer skills like hacking or programming.
He squinted at something on the screen. “Hmm, I think that’ll do. I just need a picture. He flicked on a webcam attached to the computer and aimed it at her. “Can you flip down that blue border behind you?” he asked.
She turned to see a couple of material swatches on the wall, like the kind the DMV used. This had to be a serious operation. She found the right background and then sat there, trying to look as mature as possible in front of it.
“You know, you could crack a smile,” he said gently.
A smile tugged at her mouth and she forced herself to maintain a neutral expression. “Nah. No one looks happy at the DMV.”
Coyote laughed at that. “Fair point. Ready?”
She nodded. “I’m ready for my close up.” She liked Coyote and under different circumstances, she’d consider him friend material. After she’d been screwed over by Rock, she’d had a bias against bikers, but the Horsemen had managed to obliterate that nonsense in a few days. They seemed to be warm, caring people. Even the reserved ones like Duke.
“Three, two, one,” he said and then hit a button the keyboard. “Perfect. I’ll just add the image and print you off a brand new ID.” He glanced at her over the monitor. “Do you need anything else?”
“No,” she said quickly. “Thank you, though.”
“Anytime,” he said.
Just then, a plastic card spit out of a large beige machine and sure enough it had her face on it, along with some faux stats on her birthdate, address, and other things. Evidently, he’d captured another person’s license and substituted her image. According to the new card, she was twenty-two years old, which wouldn’t raise any suspicions.
Excellent. This meant she wouldn’t have to pilfer any alcohol from the club. She could use the money Daisy kept handing her to buy some and store it in her room. Not that she got drunk by any means, but sometimes a beer or two made it possible to sleep. It took the edge off her anxiety and allowed her mind to stop racing.
“Hey,” Coyote said quickly as she stood up. “If you feel like grabbing a beer or something, let me know.”
For a moment, she froze, unsure what to say. Had she just been asked out? Did he mean as friends? Rose wasn’t sure. Frankly, managing new relationships, friends or otherwise, seemed impossible right now. She had trouble with basic functioning, like eating and sleeping. “Uh, thanks, but I kinda have a lot going on right now.”
He flushed. “Oh, hey, no problem. I know how it goes. I’ll see you around then.”
She waved goodbye, snatched up her new ID and went in search of her ride. By the time she caught up with him, Duke had purchased several rounds of ammo and already tucked them in his saddlebags. He leaned up against his bike, smoking a cigarette. “How’d it go?”
“Um, fine.” She pulled ID from her pocket and handed it to him.
“Nice,” he grunted as he thrust it back into her limp hand. “So, how it go with Yo?
Did he just stick to business?” He narrowed his eyes as though the answer mattered to him.
What did he care? “Of course,” she lied, not wanting any more drama.
“Then, why are you blushing?”
She stared at the ground, suddenly fascinated by the pavement beneath her feet.
“Or is that blush for me?”
Startled, she glanced up at him. Her mouth had suddenly gone dry.
“I’m only teasing,” he said softly. “Get on.” He reached a hand toward her face and she froze. She couldn’t quite decide if she wanted him to touch her or not. Evidently sensing this, he let his hand hover there before he dropped it. “Let’s blow before your sister raises a fuss.”
They took off for Hades and she was relieved that Daisy seemed to be nowhere in sight. Rose had actually gotten away with it.
When they pulled up at the hotel, it was nearing six o’clock and a small crowd had gathered at the diner. Voodoo had made quite a name for himself with the locals and more and more of them ventured in, despite the fact that a biker gang owned the joint. She’d even seen an increase since she’d been staying here. Although, she could easily see why they couldn’t stay away. Voodoo was an incredible chef. True, she didn’t have much of an appetite, but what she did eat had been delicious.
“You hungry?” Duke asked.
“Um, sure.” Rose thought about it. Other than a couple bites of donut this morning, she hadn’t eaten anything. She should probably put something in her stomach, even if she really didn’t feel like it. Maybe some fries?
They headed in the diner and took a booth near the rear, far away from the crowd of locals by the jukebox. No sign of any other bikers, except for Voodoo and one of the prospects Rose recognized, Fetch. Speaking of the devil, he ambled over to their table. “What can I get you?”
“Chili,” Duke said and then glanced in her direction.
“I’ll have a side of fries.” Not the healthiest of meals, but it was the only thing that really appealed to her. High fat, comfort food seemed to appeal to her now.
“You have to eat more than that,” Duke pressed.
“I’m not really hungry.” She’d be hard pressed to eat the fries.
He glanced at Fetch. “Bring her a burger, too.”
Rose gritted her teeth as a flash of anger reared its head. She didn’t need anyone ordering for her. She could decide what food she ate all by herself. “No. Cancel that. Just the fries.”
Fetch shifted back and forth on his feet uneasily, shooting looks between the two of them.
“Follow orders, prospect,” Duke countered and then lifted his chin, as if daring the kid to contradict him.
Fetch glanced at her and she slumped in her seat, far too tired to argue with him, especially about something as unimportant as food. “Whatever.”
“What are you waiting for, prospect? Go.” He waved a hand in the direction of the kitchen and the younger man scurried off. Then, he scanned her face and she got the distinct impression he was disappointed. Had he hoped she would argue with him? Put up more of a fuss?
Having an disagreement with someone just took so much effort and she inevitably lost anyway. Any argument she’d had with her adopted parents, her sister, and…worst of all Kent ended in her eventual capitulation. So what was the point? Some people are meant to lead and others follow. Rose guessed she was a born follower.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what?” he countered.
“I don’t know,” she said grumpily. “Like I didn’t live up to your expectations or something.”
“Got no expectations, I’m just curious is all..” He watched her with those black eyes. “You don’t always have to do what people tell you to, you know.”
She snorted at that and he raised a brow. “Seriously? Maybe you don’t, but I have found, by and large, I always have to do what people tell me too.”
“I think you’re wrong about that,” he said quietly. “But, It’s good to see you out and about today,” he said brusquely. “You usually hole up in your room.”
Rose bristled. “No, I don’t hole up. I’m just—“
“Hiding?” he offered.
She really didn’t like people noticing what she did with her time. If she had it her way, she’d be invisible, free to do her own thing with no one the wiser. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“Is that so?”
His tone was teasing but didn’t take the bait by commenting, wishing their food would hurry up and arrive. When it did, they would have an excuse not to talk.
“No?” he said. “Nothing to say back?”
“No.” He seemed to be trying to get a rise out of her and she found it disconcerting, to say the least.
Just to dizzy her, he switched topics. “Your sister seems to like working at the gun store and range.”
“She does,” Rose said quickly, having no idea where this was headed.
“And you? Do you have any plans?”
Truthfully, she hadn’t thought much about it. Daisy had mentioned she could go back to school next semester, but Rose didn’t know if she could handle it. She barely coped trying to take care of herself, let alone a busy school schedule. Although, rationally, she knew she couldn’t be a shut in for the rest of her life. Daisy also mentioned counseling as an option, but Rose had shot the idea down. Luckily, her sister hadn’t pushed the idea. Rose just didn’t feel like talking about everything she’d experienced with anyone. It was just too humiliating, too painful.
“I honestly don’t know. I’m still thinking that through.”
Duke nodded. “Well, the club has a lot of businesses. If you feel up to it, we could find you a job while you figure out what you want to do. It might be good to focus on something else.”
She could see the truth of that. Maybe she’d start feeling better if she didn’t ruminate all the time. “I think you might be right.”
He grinned, clearly pleased. “Of course I’m right. I’m always right.” Why would he be pleased? “Tell you what, maybe you could work with me.”
“Um, my sister would pretty much hate that idea,” she said quickly. “No offense.”
“None taken. I don’t give a damn what your sister wants. You are an adult and you can make decisions for yourself.”
“Says the man who pushed me into getting a cheeseburger,” she quipped.
“Rose, you don’t have to eat it, but what good are fries without a burger? In my book, they’re a set. Like peanut butter and jelly or biscuits and gravy. You can’t have one without the other.” He offered her a rare grin.
She smiled back at him, feeling more lighthearted that she’d felt in a really long time. “Maybe I’ll have a bite or two.” She narrowed her eyes. “What do you do, exactly?”
“I do some doctoring for the group. If anyone gets injured, I’m on it. Also, I have a highly specialized skill set I use for club business. And I tinker.”
“With cars at the garage. It’s a hobby of mine. I love to take things apart and rebuild them. I usually only do the occasional restoration gig there, but I could teach you. Or you could help me with nursing.”
“I honestly can’t imagine doing either of those things.”
“Well, you will eventually find a club business to suit you. We’ve got a ton of them. You could wait tables or learn to be a bartender.”
It would feel good to be useful again. Just then, Fetch arrived with their orders, as well as a manila envelope addressed to her with no return address. Rose tossed it on the seat beside her, figuring she’d open it when she got back to her room.
“Whose that from?” he asked.
“Not sure, but I’m betting it’s from my adopted mother. I sent the last two letters back by marking return to sender. I think she decided not to put a return address on it, so I’d have to open the stupid thing.”
“Damn straight. It serves them right for not moving hell and high water to find you.”
Rose blinked. She hadn’t expected such a vehement response. In fact, she’d expected him to try to talk her into seeing them again. Wouldn’t that be the adult thing to do? Forgive and forget? Well, she could’nt.
Her adopted parents had pretty much written her off as a bad seed when she disappeared a few months ago. True, Rose had dropped out of college and started hanging out with Rock, which had been a monumentally stupid decision, but she’d hoped they would at least tell her sister she’d gone missing, or put some effort into trying to find her. Rose couldn’t help but think if their biological daughter had gone missing, they would have cared more. Now that she’d been found, they wanted to see her again and pretend to be the doting parents. Daisy had told them off in no uncertain terms.
They both ate in companionable silence. Rose ended up devouring all of her fries and half the burger.
It was the most she’d eaten in weeks.