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Bouncing her legs on the worn leather couch, Willow happily followed along with Dora as she took off exploring. No matter where the cartoon went, it was always better than the run-down apartment building where Willow lived. At the sound of splintering glass shards crashing across the kitchen floor, Willow abandoned Dora’s world, tucked her ratty teddy bear under her arm, and hightailed it out of the living room. Although she was only five, she knew all too well what was to come after the angry voices and the throwing things began. She had learned to read the signs, and sadly, she was never wrong. There weren’t many places of refuge in the tiny apartment where she and her mommy lived. But there was one place she could always count on to ride out the violent storms.
To other kids her age, the dark recesses under the bed were a frightening place. But for Willow, the known horror that often surrounded her was far less scary than the unknown. Lifting up the faded blue and white patchwork quilt, she crawled across the dingy carpet and underneath the ratty mattress that smelled like smoke and pee. Dust bunnies clung to her clothes, clouding her lungs and making it difficult to breathe.
Once she settled in, she pinched her eyes shut and imagined herself miles and miles away. Whenever she was scared, she went to be with her Angel Mommy. In Angel Mommy’s world, everything was happy, beautiful, and pure. Rainbows stretched across the sky over castles filled with unicorns. But the best part of all was Angel Mommy herself. Angel Mommy never drank too much out of the bottles with dark liquid that made her real mommy angry and then sad. Angel Mommy never had boyfriends who yelled at Willow or smacked her in the face or on the bottom. For Angel Mommy, Willow was her whole world—the only focus of her love and attention. They would play for hours and hours, running along the grassy meadow or playing hide-and-seek in one of the castles on the hillside.
She’d first begun to dream of Angel Mommy two years before at Christmastime. After her real mommy had drunk from the bad bottles and Mommy’s boyfriend had stuck himself with the scary needle, they’d started yelling at each other. Cowering on the couch, Willow had tried to hide behind the pillows. As Mommy and her boyfriend’s voices rose louder and louder, they began to push and shove each other. When Mommy tripped over one of Willow’s shoes, she lost her balance and fell into the small Christmas tree in the corner. Ornaments had broken and scattered along the floor.
After Mommy had screamed at Willow and thrown the offending shoe, hitting her in the face, Willow had tried to pick up the mess to make Mommy less mad. An angel in a long white robe was the only thing that hadn’t broken. It had soft, dark hair that she could stroke like one of her dolls, and it also had soothing brown eyes that gave Willow the reassurance she so desperately needed. Willow hadn’t let Mommy see that she kept the angel. And that very day, Willow named her Angel Mommy and always kept the ornament close to her side.
Under the bed, she let her hand creep down to her shorts pocket where Angel Mommy waited to give her comfort. Willow stroked the doll’s hair as the yelling in the living room grew louder. Just as she was about to plug her ears with her fingers, there was the bang of the front door blowing open and hitting the wall, like when Mommy’s boyfriend came home angry. More voices now. More yelling. More broken glass. It sounded like the living room was being torn apart.
Mommy was begging someone with a voice that Willow wasn’t used to. It rang with fear, and it was usually Willow who was afraid, not Mommy. Thump, thump, thump. Willow’s body began to shake so hard at the sound her teeth clattered. She tried to figure out what was making the noise. Was it pounding boots? Mommy didn’t like when Willow’s shoes made loud noises. Her now-clammy hands went to swipe at her runny nose. Holding her breath, she prayed to Angel Mommy that the man in the boots wouldn’t find her. But even as she was saying the words over and over in her head, the scary person came inside her bedroom. She could tell right away from the size of his feet that it was a man. He headed to the closet. Clothes and toys began to litter the floor as he went through her possessions as if he were looking for something in particular.
Then he went over to her chest of drawers. One by one, he pulled the drawers out and tossed them to the floor. When one landed a little too close to her, she jumped and hit her head against the mattress, which made her let out a squeak. The small noise caused the man to freeze.
Willow’s heart began to beat wildly, and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. As she tried burrowing further underneath the bed, the mattress covering her was ripped away. With a scream, she stared up at a man who was a vision out of her worst nightmares—long, stringy black hair, an angry red scar that ran down his face and onto his neck, and a patch over one of his eyes. Willow pinched her eyes shut with fear. Please, please, help me, Angel Mommy!
But then Big Booted Man snatched her up and hoisted her over his shoulder. She could barely breathe, least of all cry out or scream. It was as if her voice had been snatched away the moment her precious hiding place had been invaded. Her body trembled with fear as he marched out of her bedroom and into the living room. He tossed her about like a mistreated baby doll. When they finally came to a stop, he jerked her around to where she was facing away from his chest. His arm was wrapped tightly around her waist, binding her to him.
Her voice momentarily returned at the horrific sight before her. “Mommy!” she cried. Mommy and her boyfriend, Jamey, were tied with rope to two chairs from the kitchen table. Jamey stared at her with the same aggravation he always had. But Mommy wasn’t talking or looking at her. Blood trickled out of her nose and mouth; her head hung limp. When she didn’t respond, Willow kicked at Big Booted Man to try to get away. “Mommy!” she shrieked.
She was rewarded with a smack to the head and face. “Shut the hell up, brat!”
Although she shouldn’t have, she cried out at the pain. Her face stung as if someone were poking her repeatedly with something tiny and sharp. It sent tears to blur her eyes.
She jumped at the sound of a gravelly, harsh voice behind her. “Crank, watch yourself. She doesn’t get hurt until I say so—got it?”
“Yes, sir,” Crank replied.
Willow turned her aching head to see a mean man staring at her. The look he gave her made her tremble all over. His black eyes focused on her with such hatred, even though she had never met him before. “Aren’t you a pretty little thing,” he said.
Since she didn’t dare speak, she only stared at Mean Man. He then turned his gaze from her to one of the men who were standing behind her mommy.
“Wake the bitch up,” Mean Man commanded.
The man grabbed Mommy’s hair and yanked her head up. She cried out, her eyes blinking furiously. When she met Willow’s gaze, she sucked in a harsh breath. “Leave her out of this. She has nothing to do with my business,” she said in a pained whisper.
“Ah, but you see, she is part of you two, so she’s my business. Since you decided play rat with the Feds and fuck with my business, I’m going to fuck with yours.” Without taking his eyes off of her mommy, he took a step closer to Willow. “I think it’s time we showed your daughter what happens when you double-cross someone.” Mean Man waved a gleaming silver knife in front of Willow’s face. When the blade pressed against her neck, fear overwhelmed her, sending warm liquid dribbling down her legs.
Big Booted Man, who held Willow, pulled her back from the blade to give her a shake so hard her teeth clattered. “The little cunt just pissed all over me!” he exclaimed.
Mean Man narrowed his eyes. “Don’t be such a pussy, Crank. Now, hold her fucking still—you hear me?” Crank grumbled but kept his arms tight around Willow. Mean Man glanced at Mommy and Jamey before he once again pressed the blade to Willow’s neck. “Now, let’s try this again, eh? If you don’t fucking tell us where the shipment is, I’m going to start cutting pieces out of your kid!”
Jamey rolled his eyes and gave a contemptuous snort—the kind he usually gave Willow when she tried to talk to him about dolls or her favorite television shows. “Go ahead and slit the brat’s throat. I don’t give a shit.”
The Mean Man’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “You just playin’ me, man? ’Cause I will seriously hurt the little shit.”
“You heard me straight. I don’t give a shit if you spill her blood all over the floor, because it won’t be mine flowing out of her.”
“If she ain’t yours, whose kid is she?”
“She’s Malloy’s bastard.”
Mean Man hissed at the mention of the name. “Which Malloy?”
“Jamey, don’t,” Mommy protested, looking scared. All her young life, Willow had wondered who her daddy was. Whenever she asked, Mommy would call her daddy bad names. She’d never even seen a picture of him. Now it seemed Mommy had been hiding who her daddy was because she was scared. Willow couldn’t help wondering if her daddy was as bad as these men.
“Shut your trap, bitch,” Mean Man snarled. He then jerked his chin up at Jamey. “Tell me which Malloy the brat belongs to.”
A name. Willow had finally heard her daddy’s name. For some reason hearing it made her feel like she knew him somehow. Her happiness was fleeting. Hearing her daddy’s name seemed to make Mean Man very happy, and Willow imagined that couldn’t be good. A smile curved on his lips. “Well, now. This certainly changes things, doesn’t it?”
His knife lowered from Willow’s throat. When he inched closer to her, Willow cringed back against Big Booted Man. “This seems to be your lucky day, little girl. Letting you go now is going to serve my purpose far more in the long run.” Mean Man cocked his brows and stared at her. His rough hands came to cup her chin, tilting her head to look at her from several angles. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before. You’re the fucking spitting image of that cocksucker.”
Mommy leaned forward in her chair. “Just let her go, okay? Using her won’t do you any good. Deacon doesn’t even know she’s his—I left him before I found out. He doesn’t like kids, so he won’t give a shit about her.”
Mean Man tsked at Mommy. “He might not care at first, but I’ll give him some time. Even if he doesn’t want her, I guarantee his brother Rev will. And I’ll use any leverage I can against Deacon and his brothers.” He motioned to Crank. “Put her down.”
Relief filled Willow when she felt the ground beneath her feet again. Mean Man crouched down beside her. “I want you to listen to me, and listen well. You tell no one what you saw here tonight, understand?”
Although Willow bobbed her head furiously to show she understood, it didn’t seem to satisfy Mean Man. He leaned in to where she could feel his hot breath burning against her cheek. “If you say a fucking word to anyone about me or what you saw, I will come to you in the night and cut out your heart. Got it?”
Apart from the times when she explored with Dora or escaped with Angel Mommy, Willow spent a lot of time afraid. But, until now, she had never experienced such intense fear. The tremors seemed to flood every part of her body. Although she shook from head to toe, she couldn’t make herself reply.
But somehow Mean Man was satisfied with her lack of response. He turned back to Mommy. “Does she have somewhere she can go?”
Tears streaked down Mommy’s cheeks. “Yes. She stays with the lady down the hall a lot.”
Willow’s fear dissipated a little at the thought of Mrs. Martinez, whose warm and cozy apartment she stayed in during the times Mommy was away with Jamey or working. Mrs. Martinez always cooked something for Willow, and she even let her help prepare the food. She let Willow call her Mama Mari, and it was like getting to have a grandmother the way her friends at school did.
“Fine. She goes down the hall, and we finish this.”
“C-can I at least say good-bye?” Mommy questioned, her chest rising and falling with her sobs. Seeing Mommy cry made Willow start to cry.
“Hurry it up,” Mean Man replied, shoving Willow toward the chair where Mommy sat.
Clambering as best she could into Mommy’s lap, Willow buried her head in Mommy’s neck. Still bound tight by her fear, she couldn’t seem to make her lips move to say the words she was screaming in her mind. No matter how mad and mean Mommy was, Willow always loved her. She wanted nothing more than to be hugged and kissed by Mommy, but she very rarely got what she wanted.
“I love you, Willow. You be a good girl for Mrs. Martinez. She’s going to take you to your daddy. You be good for him, okay?” Willow nodded. Mommy started to cry harder. “I’m sorry I was a bad mother, baby. I hope you’ll have a better one now.”
Willow jerked back to stare into Mommy’s eyes. What did she mean a “better mommy”? Was she going somewhere? If Willow went to live with her daddy, did that mean she would never see Mommy again? It made her cry, and her tummy twisted. “I love you, Mommy,” she whispered, finally finding the words she desperately wanted to say.
“I love you, too, Willow.”
“All right. Enough sentimental bullshit. Crank, take the kid down the hall. Tell the woman to get the fuck out of the building for the next few hours if she knows what’s good for her.”
Big Booted Man responded by snatching Willow up again and marching her to the door. As Willow gazed over her shoulder, Mean Man closed the gap between him and Mommy. Just as they started out of the apartment, Mean Man’s knife went to Mommy’s throat. Mommy looked straight at Willow. “I love—” Her words were cut off when the knife slid across her neck.
Willow’s mouth opened in a scream, but nothing came out. As hard as she tried closing her eyes against the sight of the red blood pouring from her mommy’s neck, she couldn’t. The last thing she saw as she was taken from the apartment was Mean Man turning back to her as he brought his fingers to his lips to remind her to keep quiet.
Willow knew that she would never tell. She never, ever wanted to see Mean Man again. No matter what was done to her, she would never tell.
Real men don’t cry. Yeah, that old adage sure as hell didn’t ring true in my line of work. Over the years, I’d come to see that even the biggest and baddest fuckers have their breaking point. It’s not just the physical torture that breaks them. Sometimes, just a threatening mind fuck involving their wives, girlfriends, or daughters cues the waterworks until they’re blubbering like absolute pussies. And at the end of the day, most would rather be beaten within an inch of their lives than give in to their emotions and show weakness. Men can handle physical pain, but it’s the emotional shit that truly fucks with us.
To prove my case, I give you Pussy #1: Frankie Delbraggio, or the dumb fuck sitting before me with a mixture of tears and blood streaming down his fat-ass cheeks. He was the current recipient of my wrath because he decided to pull an idiot move, thinking he could double-cross me by working with another club. He’d gotten greedy both for more money and more power in his territory. In the process, he’d become overstretched and let one of my club’s gun shipments run late.
Sure, at first glance he looked like your worst enemy—a really menacing bastard with tats and piercings who you sure as hell wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley. His skin was leathered from years of hard living, and his arms, which were currently bound behind him with cable ties, were pockmarked with track marks from the heroin addiction he just couldn’t beat.
As sergeant at arms in my club, the Hells Raiders, I had to be the strong arm—the main man who used physical and emotional torture to get shit done. If I let someone like Frankie get away with drag-assing his feet on shipment deliveries and wavering in his loyalty, the whole club suffered. I couldn’t and wouldn’t deal with that. The Raiders are my life. They’ve been what I lived and breathed for from the time I was a snot-nosed, thirteen-year-old punk plucked off the streets by my adoptive father, Preacher Man, or Preach, as he was affectionately known.
Standing behind Frankie to lend a hand if needed was my adoptive brother, Benjamin, or Bishop, as he was known. He chomped on a piece of gum while eyeballing Frankie contemptuously. He was probably less pissed about Frankie fucking us over and more pissed over the fact I’d torn him away from some heavy action with one of the sweet butts—aka the ladies who willingly spread their legs for club members. At twenty-three, Bishop, with his baby-blue eyes and wavy, dirty-blond hair, thought only with his dick most days. Even though he’d been patched in when he was just nineteen, he still had a lot to learn.
While I’d worked Frankie over with a few right hooks and sucker punches to the gut, I’d broken through to him only when I’d taken his wallet. Between the weed, condoms, and a few twenties was a picture. After I gazed at it for a moment, a smirk curved across my lips. Waving the picture in front of him, I said, “Mmm-mmm. Look at that pretty piece of ass.”
My words caused the shakes to run through Frankie’s body. His eyes, which had once held such defiance, glazed over. Bingo. This girl, most likely his daughter, was his Achilles’ heel. “How old is the sweet thing? Fourteen? Thirteen?”
When he didn’t respond, I slammed another right hook into his jaw. “When I ask a question, you fucking answer me. Got it?”
Frankie nodded weakly. In a hoarse voice, he replied, “Twelve.”
“Ah, just a baby. Man, I bet she has one tight pussy.” I cocked my brows at him. “Nothing like breaking in a fresh piece.”
As his broken jaw clenched, Frankie’s arms jerked against his binds. If he could have gotten loose at that moment, he would have tried his best to kill me. But even though he was playing right into my hands, I wasn’t done with him yet. No, I was about to go for his jugular. “Let me make one thing clear to you, Frankie. The next time you try to double-cross me and my boys, I’m going to find your pretty little daughter. Not only am I going to take your precious baby girl’s cherry, but I’m going to ass fuck her, too, while all my brothers watch. Then any one of my guys who wants a chance can have a go at her.”
As if I had taken a knife to him, my words seemed to tear through Frankie’s skin, nicking an emotional artery. Tears poured from his eyes as he began to imagine something so horrific done to his little girl. His massive body shook under the weight of his sobs.
I’d painted a pretty depraved and disgusting picture for him. But what Frankie didn’t know was it was all a fucking elaborate lie. I didn’t go for underage pussy, especially little girls. I knew my men didn’t, either. If I ever got wind of something so fucking sick, I wouldn’t have waited for a vote in church—our club meeting—about blowing their ass to the curb. No, I would single-handedly cut their balls off, take their patch, and send them packing. The Hells Raiders might have been a lot of things, but sick-fuck pedophiles weren’t one of them.
Once I had let Frankie stew in his torture long enough, I cleared my throat. “So are we good now, Frankie? No more playing us with the Iron Lords, right?”
“Y-yes,” he stuttered, as his teeth chattered from his full-body shakes.
I cocked my brows at him. “Yes, what?”
His eyes, which still shone with tears, widened. “Yes, sir, Deacon. You have my word. I won’t ever fuck you over again. I swear on my life.”
“And your daughter’s?”
He cringed at the mention of his daughter. “Yes, mine and hers. I swear to God!”
“Glad to hear it.” I then slid the picture of his angel-faced daughter back into his wallet. “Glad to know that your baby girl will be staying safe and sound, too.”
“Yes,” Frankie whispered, a tremor of what appeared to be relief going through his body.
Glancing at Bishop, I gave a nod. He took his pocketknife out of his jeans and cut the ties binding Frankie.
“Have a good one, man. I look forward to our shipment next month,” I said with a shit-eating grin.
Frankie gave a brief jerk of his head in acknowledgment as he rubbed his wrists where they had been bound. With a final wave, I headed out the door of Frankie’s warehouse with Bishop on my heels. As we stepped into the intense May sunshine, I felt grateful for the warmth that heated the exposed skin below my T-shirt and the leather cut, or vest, I wore that boasted the Raiders’ logo. When I slid across the seat of my bike, I caught Bishop’s chuckle behind me. Craning my neck to look at him, I demanded, “What?”
He shook his head with a grin. “I was just thinkin’ it was good I was with you and not Rev when you started in on that kiddie-pussy shit. He would have freaked the fuck out and ruined everything.”
I snorted at the mention of my adoptive brother Reverend, or Rev, as he was known within the club. Nathaniel was his birth name, but none of his brothers called him that. The only person who refused to call us anything but our given names was my adoptive mother, Elizabeth. Although Rev was six foot four and a wall of muscle, he was really a tenderhearted pussy when it came to most things. He was the gentle giant who loved puppies and kids and that rainbows-and-hearts shit. Most of the time, he had too much goodness and integrity to fit into our world. “Yeah, well, that’s the reason no one ever voted him in as sergeant at arms. They knew he wouldn’t be able to do shit when it came to being a hard-ass.”
“True,” Bishop replied, as he slid across his bike’s seat. After putting on my helmet, I kick-started the engine. There was no other feeling in my life quite like the roar of the engine beneath me. The only peace I found was on the road. Although I now had the support of a loving family, I still felt like a loner—an outsider still searching for a place to make his own. Only the road offered a place for me to be my true self.
As I wound my way through the back roads toward home, Bishop stayed close at my side. When we got to the compound, there were a few scattered bikes here and there. It was only four, and members didn’t really start hanging around until they were done with their straight jobs. Years ago, when the cotton mill went bust, Preach had the business sense to buy the property. At the time, it wasn’t for the Raiders. No, he was holy rolling then and focused on his ministry. After growing up in the MC world, he’d found Jesus in prison when he was just twenty. When he got out three years later, he buried his biker past and became a Pentecostal preacher. That’s where he’d met my adoptive mom—she was a fresh-faced, pure-of-heart-and-body, eighteen-year-old beauty. The daughter of a church elder. She saw him as the lost black sheep she could lead into the fold.
But even after he married the virtuous woman and started spreading the good word, the biker bred into him raged and clawed to be free. Then, two years after I came to live with him, his preaching ended in a true blaze of glory. That was the night he killed one of his own flock. I’d never been given the entire story, but I did know it had to do with the man hurting Rev somehow. Preach didn’t do any time—instead, the transient man just “disappeared.” Most of the congregation had been made up of truly lost souls without hope or family, so it was easy to bury him in the deep woods behind the compound without anyone asking questions.
After that night, the biker emerged strong and proud, which caused Preach and Mama Beth’s marriage to go down in flames. They separated after that, but they never divorced. My mother, along with my brothers and me, stayed in the village row house while Preach slept at the clubhouse that had once been his church. While she loathed the biker world, Mama Beth watched helplessly as each of us followed in Preach’s footsteps by patching into the Raiders. I think the three of us boys kept her constantly on her knees in prayer. But even though we were badass bikers, we still loved and respected the hell out of her. She was the best mother a guy could ever ask for, and she never treated me any differently from her blood sons.
Once I eased my bike to a stop in front of the clubhouse, I pulled off my helmet and hung it from one of the handlebars. I didn’t have much to say to Bishop or to the two prospects who stood outside the clubhouse’s front door. No, I had a singular focus at the moment, and that was getting some ass. After handling a job, I needed a release, and sex was usually how I did it. With a determined step, I headed inside.
Guns N’ Roses blared from the jukebox. My gaze flicked around the room, searching for one thing in particular. Or one person in particular. And then I found her. Behind the bar, Cheyenne Bates bent over the worn, mahogany counter, washing down the spilled beer and wiping away the crushed peanuts and chips. Her long blond hair was swept back in a ponytail. At the perfect view of her ample cleavage, my dick pounded against my zipper. As if she could sense me watching her, she jerked her head up, her intense blue eyes meeting my gaze. A slow, seductive smile slid across her lips.
Holding up a hand, I crooked a finger at her. She tossed the rag on the counter and then hurried around the side of the bar. She teetered on her tall but sexy-as-hell heels as she closed the gap between us. She threw her arms around my neck and then hoisted herself up to wrap her legs around my waist. “Hey, baby. I missed you.”
“Hmm, I missed you, too,” I replied, dipping my head to nuzzle the tops of her breasts. I steered us past the other guys and down the hallway. Once I got to my room, I kept one hand kneading Cheyenne’s ass while the other went to open the door.
I’d been fucking Cheyenne almost exclusively for the last year. Occasionally, a new piece of ass might turn my head when I was on a run or at a rally. But I liked the fact that Cheyenne knew exactly how to blow my mind as I was blowing my load. She wasn’t one of those chicks who expected you to get them off several times before they even thought about touching your dick. She always took care of me first. I like that shit.
Once I set her down on her feet, she sank to her knees in front of me. Her fingers came to my waist to loosen my belt and then unbutton and unzip my jeans. When she sprang my cock, she wasted no time sliding her lips down my shaft until I was deep-throating her. “Fuck,” I groaned, my head falling back with the out-of-this-world sensations of Cheyenne’s incredible head-giving skills. The woman had a mouth like a fucking Hoover.
Taking her head in my hands, I began to flex my hips and fuck her mouth. It wasn’t long until my balls were tightening up and my cum was shooting into her mouth. She sucked and licked up every drop. I stared down at her with a lazy smile. “You sure know how to treat your man good, baby.”
“Mmm, I love it. My panties are fucking soaked now just from sucking you off.”
The fact that she could almost out dirty talk me was another thing that made me hot for Cheyenne. Sure, she’d been a sweet butt for years and years, and she’d been broken in by every single guy in the club, including Preacher Man. Her experience made her worth my time. Of course, since I’d been fucking just her for the last year, she had it in her head I was going to make her my old lady. But that was never going to happen. Not with her or any of the other club whores—not any girl, period.
Grabbing her shoulders, I drew her off her knees. “I think it’s time I felt just how wet I got you.”
Cheyenne pulled off her skintight T-shirt. Like magnets, my hands went straight for her tits. After freeing them from her see-through bra, I brought one to my mouth, sucking and biting at her nipple. I alternated from breast to breast while Cheyenne panted and moaned. My hands came to her jeans. Once I slid them down her legs, I grabbed her by the waist and tossed her onto the bed. Her eyes burned with lust as I loomed over her.
After tearing off her tiny scrap of a thong, I jerked her legs wide apart and buried my face between them. Cheyenne shrieked her approval, her acrylic nails scraping through my hair. “Oh yeah, baby. Just like that. Fuck me with your tongue!” she shouted, her hips rising in time with my tongue.
A loud knock banged at the door, and then Rev’s voice followed. “Deacon, I need you out front.”
I didn’t even bother raising my head from Cheyenne’s pussy. Instead, I shouted, “Get the fuck out of here. I’m busy.” While I returned to licking and sucking Cheyenne’s clit, the unwelcome interruption remained at the door. I growled in frustration when the banging on the wood started up again.
“Deacon, I’m not fucking playing, man. I need your ass out here. Now!”
When I pulled away, Cheyenne mewled in frustration, her legs scissoring for friction. She’d been close before we were interrupted. Craning my neck toward the door, I shouted, “If this isn’t a matter of life or death, I will cut your fucking balls off!”
“It is,” came Rev’s muffled reply.
“Motherfucker,” I grumbled, as I slid off the bed. Snatching up my T-shirt and jeans, I put them on in record speed. When Cheyenne started to get up, I shook my head. “You stay just like that.”
With a sly smile, she spread her legs and ran her fingers teasingly over her pussy. “Just like this?”
“Yeah, but don’t get yourself off while I’m gone. I’m the only one who gets to do that.”
She scowled at me just before I turned to head to the door. When I threw it open, Rev shot me a disgusted look. “For fuck’s sake, man, wipe your mouth and fix your hair a little.”
Instead of arguing that I didn’t give two shits what anyone thought of my appearance, I licked my lips to savor Cheyenne a little longer. Then I dragged my arm across my mouth. As we started down the hall, I jerked a hand through my hair to try to tame the mess that Cheyenne had made.
When I rounded the corner, a silver-haired Hispanic woman came into view. Her apprehension of being in the clubhouse was rolling off her in waves. Her dark eyes darted from left to right, and she nervously fidgeted with her flowing, multicolored skirt. I couldn’t imagine what was so fucking important about this woman to interrupt a fuck-fest.
When her gaze landed on me, her hand flew to her throat. Her expression appeared as someone who had seen a ghost. I glanced from her to Bishop. His usual poker face had been abandoned for one of disbelief. It wasn’t something I was used to seeing. I cocked my brows at him, and he slowly shook his head.
After exhaling a frustrated breath, I asked, “Now, what is so fucking important I had to be dragged out here?”
“You David Malloy?” she asked in a thick accent. Even though she had asked the question, I could tell she already knew exactly who I was.
“Sí, señora,” I replied, crossing my arms over my chest.
Hearing her native tongue didn’t impress her. Instead, she shot me a disapproving look, like I was being a giant smartass, and she was probably right.
“You know Lacey?”
I snorted contemptuously. “Don’t tell me she sent you to try to get some money out of me or something. I cut ties with that bitch five years ago.”
“I no friend of hers.”
“Then what the fuck do you want?”
Behind me, Rev coughed his disapproval for my hostile tone, and I rolled my eyes. “Why are you here about Lacey?” I asked.
I didn’t like it that my chest tightened at the news. Lacey King had been my first love—my only real love, if I was honest. We were together for three years. Her occasional drug use and drinking hadn’t been an issue when we first started dating, but after her mother died in a car accident, it morphed into a true addiction. When I refused to give her any drug money, she started fucking some guys in one of our rival clubs. Because of my love for her, I didn’t kick her to the curb when I found out. No, I paid for her to go to rehab. She got out, and we had one good month together. During those few weeks, I actually thought of making her my old lady.
And then she fell off the wagon with alcohol. I told her it was either the alcohol or me—she chose the alcohol and left. That had been five years ago, and I hadn’t heard anything from her since. Until now.
“Let me guess. She OD’d or died of alcohol poisoning?”
The woman slowly shook her head. “She murdered.”
My brows rose in surprise. “By who?”
“Police, they don’t know,” she replied. But from the fear that burned in her eyes, I knew there was more to the story than she or the authorities were letting on. “I bring you something of hers.”
“Trust me, there’s nothing of hers I want.”
“You want this. It is yours, too.”
I racked my brain, trying to think if there was something that Lacey had taken from me all those years ago. But I kept drawing a blank. Then, for the first time, I saw there was someone with the woman. A tiny, dark-haired girl was hidden within the many folds of the woman’s skirt. “Willow, come out.”
The moment the little girl stepped into my line of sight, I felt like I’d been hit by a fucking lightning bolt. My body shuddered from the aftershocks. It was as if I were looking at the female version of myself when I had been that age. “Fuck me.”
“This belongs to you. Willow, she your daughter.”
At that moment, the room tilted and spun, and if it hadn’t been for Rev behind me, I probably would have done a pansy-ass thing like fucking passing out. I momentarily leaned on his strength until I could recover. Although the physical evidence showed that the kid was mine, I immediately went on the defensive. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I don’t have any fucking kids.”
Wide-eyed, the little girl stared up at me. From her expression of wonderment, I knew she was putting the pieces together. Regardless of my denial, she knew the truth—I was her father. As I glared down at her, an unwanted feeling of pride coursed through my veins.
I’d created the angelic-looking thing before me. As I mentally counted the months and years in my mind, I couldn’t help but think she had been conceived during that one perfect month with Lacey. We’d fucked morning, noon, and night, so I guess it wasn’t hard to imagine I’d knocked her up. I’d certainly been barebacking, and she was off all meds. I guessed now that had included her birth control.
The woman reached into the large bag on her shoulder. After taking out a piece of paper, she thrust it at me. “You on Willow’s birth certificate,” she argued.
Just hearing the girl’s name caused a stabbing pain to shoot through my chest straight to my heart. Willow . . . My daughter’s fucking name was Willow. The first time Lacey and I had ever fucked was under one of the willow trees in the field down the hill from the compound. Before we’d fucked, we’d sat under one for hours, talking and laughing. Like a lovesick pussy, I’d even carved our initials into one of the trees. Then everything had gone to fucking hell, but she’d remembered enough to name our daughter something meaningful.
“Look,” the woman instructed, flashing the paper in front of my face.
I grabbed it from her and stared down at it. There it was in bold, black ink. Under “Father’s Name” was David Malloy. What the fuck had Lacey been thinking? She’d put my name on a legal document, yet she’d never fucking picked up a phone to tell me I had a kid? There were a thousand things I wanted to scream at her at that moment, but I couldn’t. I’d never get to have the answers I so desperately sought, because she was dead. Worst of all, she’d been murdered. What the hell had she gotten herself into?
Even with the evidence before me, I still replied, “Yeah, well, I still want a DNA test.”
Rev’s strong hand gripped my shoulder. “There’s no doubt in hell she’s yours, Deacon.”
I jerked my head to glare at him. “And if she is, what the hell am I supposed to do with a kid?”
He pinned me with a hard stare. “You’ll do the responsible thing and try to raise her.”
“Fuck that!” I shouted before tossing the birth certificate back at the woman. Without another word, I turned and stalked out of the bar. There was no way in hell I could stay there one more minute. Suffocating panic had invaded my body.
Lacey was dead—she’d been murdered. I had a kid—a daughter I had no fucking idea what to do with. A boy would have been one thing, but a girl? You had to be tender and sweet to girls. I didn’t have a tender or sweet bone in my fucking body.
My out-of-control thoughts sent me sprinting down the dirt road. My heavy boots kicked up a cloud of dust behind me. When I reached the last row house on the left, I threw open the door without even a hello. Now retired, my mother spent her days volunteering with her church. But she was always home by five, because she wanted to watch fucking Little House on the Prairie.
Her blue eyes appraised me from her seat on the couch. She rose to her feet, beckoning me to her. “David, what’s wrong?” she questioned, fear resonating in her voice. From her expression, I could tell she was envisioning a hundred different scenarios involving the death of Rev or Bishop.
Although I wanted to put her out of her misery, I couldn’t. I couldn’t move—I was frozen to the fucking floor. I didn’t know how to break the news to her. I just knew I wanted her to somehow make it all right. “I have a kid,” I finally blurted.
Relief flickered through her eyes, and she momentarily raised her face to the ceiling as if she was thanking God that her boys were safe. For now.
When she looked to me, her brows rose in surprise. “Cheyenne’s pregnant?”
I scowled at the assumption. My mother sure as hell didn’t approve of my fucking around, and she didn’t care very much for Cheyenne. She wanted me to find a nice girl to settle down with to make babies, not knock up the club whore who’d been on her back in all the guys’ beds. But I could tell she would swallow all her negative feelings if there was a baby involved—a grandbaby for her.
“Talk to me, David,” she instructed.
Finally able to move, I picked one foot up and then the other to close the gap between us. As bitchass as it sounds, just the feel of her hand on my arm brought me so much comfort. With a sigh of both anguish and contentment, I let her pull me into her arms. And even though I had the most amazing woman before me, I couldn’t help letting my thoughts go to my birth mom.
Hers was the sad tale of a good girl who’d gotten involved with the wrong man. She’d been a warm, nurturing mother who kissed my cuts and scrapes and wrapped me in her arms when I had nightmares. She just hadn’t planned on my abusive old man getting out of prison, hunting us down, and then strangling her one night when I was seven.
She went in the ground, he went to jail, and I went into the system. From there, I ricocheted from one shithole to another. The anger and violence I’d inherited from my old man started surfacing when I hit puberty, and that’s when I went out on my own. Yeah, a thirteen-year-old kid couldn’t do much for himself on the streets but steal . . . and fight.
The ring is where Preach found me. Big for my age, I fought illegally in an underground circuit. For six months, I lived a hand-to-mouth existence, busting noses and cracking jaws, thinking no one in the fucking world cared about me. But I was wrong.
Fate is a funny motherfucker. Once upon a time, my mother had attended Preach’s church. In fact, Preach and Mama Beth had hidden her and me from my father when he was on one of his drunken rampages before he was sent to prison. We’d run away in the middle of the night when my mother found out he was being released. It was probably the worst thing she could have done. She might still be alive today if she had stayed. After all, we had shelter and protection when we were with Preach.
The angry part of me wanted to tell Preach to go fuck himself when he offered me his home. I had no love for holy men like him. As if he sensed that, he had rolled up his sleeves to show me his heavily tattooed arms. He’d given me his story—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and I never looked back. I once again returned to Preach’s house. He then legally adopted me, and I became the oldest of the Malloy boys. For the most part, Rev and Bishop didn’t give me too much shit. Sure, we got into a few scuffles and scrapes. You can’t add in a teenager to a family with a nine- and six-year-old and not expect problems.
Mama Beth’s small hand on my shoulder brought me back into the present. “Speak to me, son.”
I pulled away to stare into her questioning eyes. “Lacey is dead. Murdered.”
A tiny gasp escaped her lips. It had been five years since Lacey had been a part of my life, but Mama Beth knew her significance. “I’m so sorry.”
“There’s more,” I croaked.
“Sit down, honey,” she instructed, leading us over to the couch. Once I collapsed down on the worn sofa, I put my head in my hands.
“She had a daughter. . . . I have a daughter.”
Mama Beth reached over to take my chin in her fingers. She tilted my head to where I had to look at her. She cocked her brows at me, silently urging me to keep talking. “With Lacey gone, she’s my responsibility. Hell, my name is right there on the birth certificate. But the worst thing . . .” I raked a shaky hand through my hair. “The kid looks just like me.”
Blues eyes narrowed dangerously at me. “The worst thing? Don’t ever let me hear you talk negatively about this child again. You were blessed to create a life, David. There are many people in the world who are never granted that gift.”
My mouth dropped open, and I couldn’t help staring at Mama Beth like she had lost her mind. I had just told her the greatest nightmare of my life had come true, and she was giving me shit because I wasn’t dancing in the streets with happiness. She knew just as well as I did that I had no fucking business being a father. Anger that had started bubbling inside me welled over, and I reached a breaking point. “But don’t you get it? I don’t want her!” I protested, rising off the couch.
“I don’t think that’s an option.”
I shook my head. “I cannot be a father.”
With a mirthless laugh, she replied, “You are her father.”
“By DNA, I’m her father, but I’m not the kind of man to be a parent.”
“What you mean is, you’re too selfish and scared to take responsibility for your actions.”
I threw my hands up. “Oh no, don’t hang that shit on me. There is no way I can provide a stable environment for this kid.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, Mama Beth challenged, “And just what are you suggesting?”
“I’ll take her down to Child Protective Services and put her up for adoption. Hell, she’d be much better off with two parents.”
“And how well did foster care work for you?”
My fists clenched at my sides, and it took everything within me not to pick up the statue of Jesus on the coffee table and hurl it at the wall. Trying to keep a lid on my emotions, I breathed in and out several times. No matter how pissed I was, I would not disrespect my mother in her home by flying off the handle. “Things might work out better for her,” I finally replied.
Sweeping one of her hands to her hip, Mama Beth wagged a finger in my face. “You listen to me, David Malloy. I will not let my granddaughter be put up for . . . adoption.” She spat out the last word like it was the most despicable thing she could imagine. Shaking her head, she added, “Not as long as I have a breath left within me.”
I raised my brows at the ferocity of her statement and tone. She might have been slight of stature, but in that moment, I knew she meant business. “What are you suggesting? Raising her yourself? If that’s your decision, don’t be thinking I’m going to help out.”
“Sit down, David,” she commanded. Always the obedient boy in her presence, I took a seat again. She drew in a ragged breath before speaking. “My heart has been so very heavy with the wayward path you have been on. No matter how much love your brothers and I give, you still remain isolated and untouchable.” She shook her head. “If you can’t give and receive love, you’re not really living.” I opened my mouth to protest, but she wagged a finger at me again. “You’re almost thirty years old, David. You’ve wasted so many years on deadly sins. It’s time you found true peace in your life.”
“And you think raising this kid is going to do that?” I snapped.
“She will teach you to love selflessly.”
“I do love selflessly.”
Mama Beth tightened her lips, giving me one of her no-nonsense looks, like she knew I was bullshitting both her and myself. “I don’t think I can do this,” I muttered.
“But I know you can.”
At the sound of a throat clearing, I glanced up. Rev was framed in the doorway holding Willow’s hand. She tucked herself close to his side, and I could only imagine what he had done to win her over. Great. My kid liked my fucking brother better than me. “Mrs. Martinez left. I’ve got the prospects bringing in Willow’s things.”
“To the clubhouse?”
Rev nodded. “I figured we could put one of the cots in your room there for the night. Then tomorrow we could get her a proper bed for here at the house.” With a smile, he gazed down at Willow. “You pick out anything you want, sweetheart. We’ll get you whatever colors you love the most. You name it, and it’s yours.”
Willow didn’t say a word. Instead, she gave Rev a shy smile and squeezed his hand. At what must’ve been my confused expression, Rev shook his head. “Mrs. Martinez said Willow hasn’t spoken since her mother—” He stopped when a small tremor went through Willow’s body. With his eyes, Rev answered the question that was running through my mind.
Fuck. Willow had seen Lacey die. Not only did I have a motherless kid, but I had one who was so mentally fucked-up from what she had seen that she’d stopped talking. Christ, the last thing she needed was me and my world. She needed some parents like off Little House on the Prairie and some serious therapy.
Breaking the silence, Rev swung Willow’s arm, where it was clasped in his hand, back and forth playfully. “But that doesn’t matter to us. Willow, you can talk when you want to. Right, guys?”
Mama Beth rose from the couch. “That’s right.” She held her arms open to Willow, who stared at them with slight trepidation. “I’m your grandmother, honey. I’m going to help your daddy take good care of you.”
Willow stared past Mama Beth to me. I guess she was wondering why I wasn’t welcoming her into my arms. The truth was I didn’t know what the hell to do. Was it creepy if I touched her? Did I even want to touch her? The longer she stared at me, the more I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I needed a release—to bury myself in Cheyenne or to make a run for my bike.
But I didn’t get the chance to pussy out and leave. Willow released Rev’s hand and took a few tentative steps toward me. In her other hand, she held some kind of angel that looked like it belonged on a Christmas tree. She walked straight past Mama Beth to come to me. Her dark eyes—the same color and shape as mine—never left my face.
“Say something,” Rev hissed.
“Uh, yeah, so I’m David . . . or Deacon—your father.”
She creeped me out by continuing to stare at me. It was the same obsessed look someone might give a celebrity. I scratched the back of my neck and desperately tried to find the right words to say. “Look, I . . . I’m sorry about your mother.”
At the mention of Lacey, Willow cocked her head. Without words, I knew what she wanted from me. “She was really beautiful and sweet when she was sober and clean.” Choking on my emotions, I had to clear my throat. “Even though we weren’t together anymore, I did love her. Once.” If I was honest with myself, I would have said that there was a small part of me that still loved her. “I wish I could have known about you when you were a baby. I’m sorry things had to turn out like they did.” She still continued to stare at me. “Look, I know you must’ve seen some bad shit . . . er, stuff, but I want you to know that you’re safe here. No one is going to hurt you. Okay?”
My statement caused tears to well in her eyes. Immediately, I felt like a giant asshole for making this kid cry. And then she shocked the hell out of me. She dove at me, clambering onto my lap. My arms went around her tiny body to keep her from falling. Small hands came up to cup my face. And then she leaned forward to kiss my cheek.
Her gesture of acceptance robbed me of all coherent thought and speech. She had every reason to hate me for not being there for her. I could only imagine that her young life so far had pretty much been hell. I’d seen Lacey at her worst when she was drunk and high. I couldn’t imagine she was able to be a very good mother.
But instead of rejecting her absent father, Willow reached out to me. The only thing I could do was wrap my arms tighter around her. She felt so fucking fragile in my arms. I was afraid to squeeze her too tight for fear of breaking her. When I glanced up at Mama Beth, tears were streaming down her cheeks. She wrapped her arms around her middle as if she was trying to keep herself from falling apart. Seeing Mama Beth so emotional caused tears to sting my eyes. Fuck, I didn’t cry, especially not in front of anyone. I didn’t dare look at Rev to gauge what he was thinking. I imagined he would be thrilled I was actually showing a soft side for once.
And finally, I gave it all up, buried my face into the soft strands of Willow’s hair, and let the tears flow. As I held my daughter in my arms, I realized how life could change on a fucking dime. Today mine had done a one-eighty.
I was a father. And even if it fucking killed me, I was going to be the best damn one I could. No one was ever going to hurt Willow on my watch.
FOUR MONTHS LATER
“Okay, kids. It’s time to take your seats,” I instructed over the buzzing hum in the room. My heels clicked across the tile as I went to close the door of my classroom. That was the signal that some of my stragglers needed to make sure they got to their desks. I smiled as they bounced in their chairs, excited to see what the day held in store for them.
I’d been teaching kindergarten at Buffington Elementary for five years now. The first year I was practically a baby myself at just twenty-two. Luckily for me, the principal had complete confidence that I could handle a class full of five- and six-year-olds.
As a child, I had played school with my dolls and stuffed animals, and for many years, I wanted to be a teacher. But then, as I grew older, my desires changed, and I thought of pursuing other careers. In the end, events in my life, especially the death of both my parents, had changed my mind. I wanted an honorable profession where I felt I could make a difference, so I had followed their footsteps into education. While my father had been a high school math teacher, my mother had also taught kindergarten. They’d spent their lives molding young minds, and I felt my career choice honored their memory.