Dare to Run

Dare to Run

by Jen McLaughlin
Dare to Run

Dare to Run

by Jen McLaughlin



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The New York times bestselling author of the Out of Line Novels takes readers to Boston where one gang of criminals knows how being bad can be so good...
She knows what he’s like on Boston’s mean streets. Now she’s going to find out if he’s got some heart.
Lucas Donahue is not ashamed of his criminal past, but after a brief stint in prison, he’s ready to go legit and live a normal life. The problem is, no one leaves the gang without permission—even if he is one of the boss’s top men. Plus someone’s placed a hit on him. And then there’s that feisty little bartender who’s going to cause him even more trouble.
Heidi Greene knows to keep her distance from a ladies’ man like Lucas—even if she can’t keep her eyes off him. When he rescues her from an attack in the alley outside her bar, she’s forced to stay by his side for safety. But the longer she spends time with him, the greater her chances are for getting hurt in more ways than one.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698410923
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Series: The Sons of Steel Row , #1
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 133,442
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Jen McLaughlin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of numerous books including the Out of Line Novels. She has also written under the name Diane Alberts.

Read an Excerpt

He watched me with narrowed eyes that did bad things to my equilibrium. I knew from memory that they were green. Like, really green. They looked clean and fresh and happy, but he was none of those things. He always came in wearing jeans and a muscle-hugging long-sleeved shirt, which he always rolled up to just below his elbows to show off his strong arms covered in a thin dusting of fine hair. I’d stared at those freaking arms way too many times. I’d never been one for arms, for the love of God, but on him? They just worked. Everything did. In truth, he looked raw, gritty, and dangerous. And he had the faintest hint of a Boston accent.

As if he hadn’t already been unfairly sexy.

Dare To Run

Title Page


































Excerpt from DARE TO STAY



The smells of rotting fish, salt water, and dying dreams on the docks of Boston Harbor were all too familiar to me, but even so . . . they made me reflect on my choices every single fucking time. I’d lived in the heart of Boston my whole life, but I’d never taken the time to enjoy the city the way the tourists did. For them, it was all about a celebration of freedom and liberty. It was all memories and American pride and all the shit that goes with it.

For me, the city meant jail time for assault, bloody bar fights, meaningless one-night stands, blackouts from binge drinking, money lost to gambling, lives lost to violence, and shady shipments on the docks at midnight. Which was why I stood here in the dark, with no moon shining brightly, watching a bunch of sweaty men struggle to unload crates from an incongruous shipping container that looked as if it carried car parts but held so much more. The lack of natural light made the job nearly impossible, but we weren’t about to turn on the spotlights so they could see better.

As I watched, I crossed my arms and tapped my foot impatiently. We were well within the allotted time I’d scheduled of twenty minutes, but it felt as if I’d been standing on these smelly-ass docks for hours, watching men grunt and curse at one another for not moving fast enough. They’d probably move a little faster if they stopped throwing nervous glances my way, silently communicating with one another about the “new” guy, fresh outta lockup.

I didn’t have the patience for this type of shit, which was why I didn’t normally oversee this portion of the business. Supervising the weapons shipments was my little brother’s territory, but word had come in that the ATF had been tipped off on the impending shipment of guns. So I’d told Scotty to keep his ass home and I’d take care of things.

To throw the feds off, I’d moved our delivery up, and now I was standing on the docks watching for any suspicious activity . . . in more ways than one. Scotty, on the other hand, had opted to spend his night off trying to get in the pants of some girl he “loved,” attending some lame-ass event to prove he was a “decent” guy.

He wasn’t.

None of us were.

Illegal guns were just part of what we dealt with, for fuck’s sake. That didn’t exactly scream decency to me. Knowing Scotty, he’d been up front about his employment, tossing the bad-boy element in the girl’s face. It had obviously worked. Me? I tended to avoid anything that required more than a slap on the ass and a thank-you as she walked out the door, never to be seen or heard from again. I’d been locked away from society for too long to try for anything else.

Add that to the fact that some little shit had tried to kill me—and almost succeeded—the week before I got out and I was left with the utter inability to trust anyone. Anywhere. I couldn’t afford to anymore. I hadn’t figured out whether the attack in prison was personal or business yet, but I knew one thing. Some prick wanted me six feet under.

Working for our gang, the Sons of Steel Row, under the reins of Tate Daniels, entrepreneur and illegal arms dealer extraordinaire, had taught me a thing or two about when something belonged on the library’s fiction shelves, and when to categorize it as real.

And the threat on my life had nonfiction written all over its cover.

One of the roustabouts tossed me a narrow-eyed look, trying to get a read on me, no doubt, and I stared right back at the little shit. I might be keeping my guard up, but that didn’t mean I was sitting here wallowing away in fear of my impending death.

People lived. Then they died.

That was life.

And as the overseer of this godforsaken shipment, it was my duty to keep things running smoothly. We had imports and exports to manage, inventory to distribute, and cash to launder. Shit needed to get done, and it needed to get done right now.

A crate hit the ground, causing a huge boom loud enough to awaken a deaf man. I growled and stepped forward, my fists tight at my sides. Striding forward, I moved right up to the two men who’d made the racket. One was a new recruit who’d joined when I’d been locked up, and the other was a potential member. “Can you maybe manage to unload our merchandise without, oh, I don’t know, waking the entire police precinct? I rescheduled this for a reason.”

The potential, who’d dropped it, flushed and lowered his head. “Sorry, Mr. Donahue.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault he’s an idiot,” the worker bee said.

I didn’t know him, but I knew for a fact he’d been born and raised in the same shit hole we’d all come from in Boston—a neighborhood near Southie that had been coined Steel Row. Probably in his twenties, he was the same redhead who’d been eyeballing me earlier. His glare filled with an unspoken challenge, he wore a baggy shirt, a pair of ripped jeans, and a bad attitude. He had muscles that rivaled a linebacker’s, but that didn’t matter. I welcomed the confrontation.

The challenge.

That’s what I used to like about this job. It kept me on my toes. But everything was too damn easy now. It bored the hell out of me. I cocked my head and crossed my arms. “Is that so?”

“Maybe you guys should get rid of the weak links every once in a while and this kinda shit wouldn’t happen. What was Scotty thinking, sending you here to run things you know nothing about? Exactly how long were you in for, anyway?”

I closed the gap between us and stared the man down. He wanted to challenge the bear? Then he’d get the bear. “Loyalty is rewarded, you little shit. I did my time, and I kept my mouth shut. If the ATF came swooping in here right now, could you do the same?”

The man didn’t speak.

“Answer me.” Without another word, I unholstered my Sig P229 and pressed it dead center to his forehead. My voice was calm and deep and I made sure to speak slowly. “Because the way I see it, there’s only one other option in this world.” Staring him down like the rat he was, I tightened my grip on the trigger enough to make him sweat. “So. You tell me. What’s it gonna be?”

The man swallowed hard but didn’t back down. I almost admired that, but he was too much of a dipshit to appreciate the value of his courage. Instead of answering my question properly so his brains didn’t end up on the dirty docks, he asked, “You gonna pull the trigger?”

My finger twitched even more. For a second, I wanted to do it just to shut the idiot up. A little peace and quiet would do a hell of a lot for the headache building behind my eyes. But even though I was in charge here tonight, this was my brother’s crew. It wasn’t my job to decide if I needed to rid us of yet another fuckwit. That choice would be up to Scotty.

But still . . .

The point had to be made that nobody should mess with me and that I wouldn’t tolerate insubordination from an underling. All around us, the men watched, waiting to see what I would do after that blatant display of disrespect. I’d been challenged, and it was time to show the rest of them why they shouldn’t do the same.

Forcing an easy grin, I shrugged and slid the gun back into my holster. “No, I’m not going to shoot you. That would bring the boys in blue on our heads, and I don’t want to be behind bars again. Not yet, anyway.”

“Yeah.” The man looked at his buddies, grinned, then tugged on his shirt like he was some thug that had flirted with the devil and lived to tell of it, before turning back to me. “That’s what I thought, man.”

“Sir,” I said from between clenched teeth, still grinning.

“What?” The man laughed. “What did you call me?”

“I said”—I rolled my sleeves up, slow but sure—“you should be calling me sir. I am in charge of this run, and as such, I own your pathetic little soul tonight.”

The man paled, watching my movements with wide eyes. When I took a menacing step toward him, he stumbled back one step before he forced his feet to stand still. “Y-You’re not my boss. I work for your brother.”

“My brother runs this little crew, yes. While I—?” I grabbed the front of the little fucker’s shirt and hauled him close, nose to nose with the twat. “I’m higher up the food chain, because I’ve worked my way there by following the rules. That puts me in charge of everyone on this dock. Did no one teach you about hierarchy? About showing respect to those who can get your death written off as an acceptable loss?”

The man gripped my forearms, shaking his head. “I get it, man. I get it.”

“I told you to call me sir.” I shook the man. “What’s your name, dipshit?”

The man let out a scared little whimper. So much for that budding respect for the man’s balls. They’d shriveled up into the size of raisins at the slightest sign of danger. “D-Doug. Doug Pearson. Look, I’m—”

“Shut the hell up.” I shoved Doug backward, sick of hearing his voice already. “When you speak, it hurts my head.”

Doug stepped back. “I’m—”

“Jesus Christ, you don’t get it, do you? Let me show you how to listen to your superior’s orders in this crew.” Hauling back my fist, I punched him in the nose, grinning as the sound of his septum cracking into pieces filled the silent night. Still, that wasn’t enough. Man, I’d missed the feeling of things cracking under my fists.

It had been too long since I’d had a good fight.

When Doug hit the ground, his hand pressed to his bloody nose, I grabbed his shirt, forced him to his feet, and punched him in the gut. As Doug doubled over, wheezing for breath, I leaned on the injured man’s back as if he was a piece of furniture. To me, he was. He was here to do a job, and that was it. When he stopped being useful, I’d toss him in the garbage with the rest of the shit that was no longer of any use to me. “You stand the hell up when I’m teaching you a lesson, and you shut up, too. And next time, you damn well better call me sir.”

Doug wavered but managed to stand straight. “Y-yes, sir.”

“Good boy.” I grinned wider, knowing I looked maniacal and not giving a damn about it. I patted Doug’s cheek hard. “And you might want to think twice before opening your mouth to someone who doesn’t give a shit if you saw Mother Mary herself over his shoulder. Understood?”

Doug nodded, his lower face smeared with blood. “Yes, sir.”

“Good.” I pointed at the crates. “Now, wipe the blood off your face and get the rest of these unloaded. And make sure you clean up after yourself. We don’t need a blood trail.” I threw a scathing glance at the rest of the crew, who’d done nothing but watch. “That goes for all of you.”

They all jumped into motion like obedient worker ants, including Doug. No one spoke, but they exchanged silent glances as they moved the crates out of the container and into the truck that would carry the goods to the old warehouse outside Steel Row where we stored our inventory. I’d busted their buddy’s nose, but in this world? That earned you respect.

They wouldn’t mess with me again.

Chris, my best friend and another lieutenant, came over to me, crossing his arms as he got closer. He watched me with an appreciative light in his brown eyes. Chris was the one exception to my no-trust rule. He’d gotten me into this world, against all odds, and had been there for me when I’d needed him most. “You handled that well.”

It was sick that beating some dude up was a way to earn praise in my career field, but it was what it was. This life was the only life I ever would know. And that was fine by me. “He deserved it for being a dick.”

“That’s because none of these guys take you seriously.” Chris lowered his head, his brown hair hiding his eyes from me, and studied his nails. His green T-shirt pulled at his muscular arms, and his ink spread all the way down to his wrist. He’d been in the gang since he’d been a teen, like me. He’d joined because his pa had been a member, so this life had been carved out for him from the moment he came into this world.

Those weren’t my reasons for joining.

Hell, I wouldn’t know my father if I passed him on the street. When my mother was alive, God rest her soul, I’d doubted if she’d even known who he was, either.

“Yeah, well, that’s their mistake.” I straightened my sleeves. “Not mine.”

He looked over at the crew, who definitely had a new sense of urgency in their movements. “Maybe because you’ve been in lockup the past two years. They didn’t know who you were, besides the fact that you got put away for assault, and now you’re here, bossing them around on the docks.”

Chris and I had always been tight. When I’d been doing time, he’d come to visit me twice a month. Kept me posted on the happenings in the real world. He’d visited more than my actual brother had, but that was no surprise. I’d always looked out for Scotty, but Scotty wasn’t exactly the sentimental type of guy who put a priority on family visits. And that was fine, too. “I hadn’t been planning on being here at all. This isn’t my department. I came because of the damn ATF. And Scotty has some chick on the line.”

“Since when do you care what Scotty wants when it comes to this shit?”

I shrugged. “Since I spent some time behind bars . . . Scotty and I aren’t as close as we once were. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let him play chicken with the feds. He’s too damn cocky for his own good.”

“So he’s off fucking some girl while you stick your neck out for him? Like usual?” Chris rolled his eyes.

I moved my shoulders, wanting nothing more than to get the hell out of here. They were almost finished, so I’d be free any minute now. Free. Funny choice of words. I’d never be free. Not really. The closest I got to free was when I walked down the Freedom Trail. “Yeah. Basically.”

“You’ve got to stop treating him like a kid. He’s twenty-four now.” Chris looked at me, studying me too close. Chris was the only one who caught glimpses of the real me. “He’s not the little boy you need to protect anymore. He can take care of himself. A little too well, maybe.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Nothing, man. Nothing at all.” He shuffled his feet and stared at the guys as they did a final check of the shipping container. “I heard you almost got taken down inside. What happened?”

I shrugged. “Someone jumped me from behind on the way out of lunch. I fought him off long enough to keep my life, but I didn’t get a clear look at his face before the guards dragged him away. A buddy on the inside said he looked like a new guy but couldn’t point him out. It all happened too fast.”

“You almost died.”

Laughing, I scratched my head. “Yeah, well, I didn’t, did I? Good thing I’m out, safe and sound, now,” I drawled.

Chris rocked back on his heels. “You suspect something, don’t you?”

“Don’t you?” I looked at Chris. “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter. I see it in your eyes. You know something’s up.”

“Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t. But a smart man never talks.” Chris dropped his hands at his sides and whistled through his teeth. As he walked away, he said over his shoulder, “Not in this world.”

“Not even for his blood brother?”

Chris paused, his broad shoulders tight. “Not even then.”

“Glad to see you haven’t forgotten me, brother,” I said, pressing my fingers over the old scar in my palm. One of the two Chris and I had made all those years ago on the railroad tracks behind my home. Ma had been pissed at me for deliberately cutting myself. If it’d gotten infected, it would have meant medical bills we couldn’t afford. I’d gone to bed without dinner that night. “Have a good night.”

Chris spun on his heel and came back, his cheeks red and rage in his eyes. “You know nothing. Nothing. You weren’t here, asshole. You were gone, and the whole thing went to shit. You left me to fend for myself in the damn Sons of Steel Row all by myself.”

I cocked a brow. “Excuse me for getting arrested.”

“Ha-ha, so funny, fuckwad.” Chris clenched his fists. “You want me to tell you what I think? You want it that bad?”

I forced myself to shrug. “If you feel so inclined, sure.”

“I think someone is putting all his players into motion, and it all started the second we got word that you got parole.” Chris looked me up and down, his nostrils flaring. “And I suggest, brother, that you watch your back.”

I held my hands out at my sides, forcing a carefree grin . . . even though I felt like anything but. “I always do. It would take a ghost to sneak up on me.”

Chris shook his head. “Don’t be so damn cocky. It just might be your downfall.”

“Or it just might be my protection.”

“Whatever, man,” Chris said, locking eyes with me. “Whatever.”

As he walked away, I dropped the grin and fisted my hands. “Thanks.”

Chris didn’t say anything. Just walked up to the newly loaded truck, the men in either the cab or their own vehicles. He tapped the back of the truck to signify that all was well, and the truck took off. Chris followed behind it in his car, the others falling in line behind him. He’d make sure everything got to the warehouse, unpacked, and inventoried. I stared at the convoy as it disappeared from sight, then turned around and left, making sure to keep my steps light and unhurried. As I walked away, I buried my hands in my jeans pockets and whistled “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

No matter what I did, I couldn’t show my certainty that Chris was right. I’d been thinking the same thing, so hearing it straight from the mouth of the only man I trusted in this world? Yeah, that pretty much answered my unasked questions. It seemed clear as day that this was an inside job, and that meant . . .

Someone in Steel Row wanted me dead.



This whole city was going to hell, and it was determined to take me with it. I’d grown up here and all, so this really wasn’t new information, but standing behind the bar, watching a bunch of gangbangers argue over who got to hit up the convenience store down the road first, only drove that point home.

Sometimes I could ignore the degradation and overall shittiness and just feed off the energy of Steel Row. Accept the slums of Boston for what they were. This was my life, and I was okay with that, but on nights like this one? It sucked.

Shaking my hips to the beat of the music pounding through the sound system, I attempted to ignore the pestering voice in the back of my head that screamed for me to strive for better.

There was no better. This was it. All she wrote. Cue the pig at the end of the Looney Tunes strip to pop up and say, “That’s all, folks.”

I’d always hated that little pig.

But really, I couldn’t complain. I had a better deal than others. I’d run far away from home and had been living on the streets of Steel Row before I’d been taken in by an old man who became more of a parent to me than my parents ever had been. And when Frankie died, he’d left me the Patriot, his bar, my bar. I loved this shitty little bar more than I’d ever loved any person.

With one exception.

The man who’d given it to me.

A drunk asshole leaned across the bar, grinning at me. He came in every Friday night, and he never ceased to hit on me, despite the fact that I shot him down every time. “Hey, gorgeous.”

“Hey, Jimmy,” I said, grabbing an empty mug and filling it up with Bud Lite. “How’s it going?”

“Good. It would be better if you’d go home with me, though,” he said, eyeing my tits. Big shocker there. “Much better. What do you say? Is tonight the night?”

I rolled my eyes while I turned away from him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t hot. He was. But he was a dealer, and I’d be damned if I was going to date a guy who would end up dead in an alley somewhere right after my stupid self fell in love with him. I’d seen way too many women in Steel Row go down that road. There was no way I’d join their ranks. Before I turned around, I forced a smile. “Yeah, sorry. I’m not in the mood tonight. I have a headache.”

“Aw, baby, but I can make you feel like new,” he said, reaching out and gently tugging on a piece of my hair. I slid his beer to him, and he fumbled to catch it. “Oh, I like it when you play rough.”

Holding my hand out, I leveled a look on him. “Sure you do. That’ll be five bucks, hot stuff.”

“One of these days, you’re going to regret turning me away,” he teased, handing me a ten.

“That day hasn’t come yet,” I said, reaching out for the ten. “And I don’t think it ever will, but, hey, whatever keeps your juices flowing, man.”

He caught my fingers, his grip tight. “I know exactly what will do that.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” I yanked free and scowled at him. “Too bad it’s never going to happen.”

“I love the way you tease,” he said, picking up his beer and heading toward his obnoxious buddies. “Keep the change, baby. It’ll help with your headache.”

I watched him go, flexing my hand. “Asshole.”

“I heard that,” my bouncer, Marco, said. His brown hair stuck up all over the place, but there was no doubt in my mind he styled it that way on purpose. “Was he bothering you again, Heidi?”

“Just being his normal cocky self,” I said, shoving the ten into the register drawer. “Nothing I couldn’t handle. How’s the floor tonight?”


“I noticed that, too.” I eyed the crowd, my eyes lingering on the group of gangbangers, who were watching me with alarming uniformity. “Trouble’s in the air.”

Marco cracked his knuckles, his green eyes locked on the same group of men I’d been looking at. “Don’t go home alone. I’ll walk you.”

“Thanks, Marco.” I put away clean wineglasses, peeking over my shoulder at him. “I appreciate it.”

“Anytime, Heidi. Anytime.”

Marco was one of my rare finds. When I met him, he was living on the streets, like I had at his age. He’d been asleep behind my bar, tucked in under a threadbare wool blanket. It had been freezing that night, well below ten degrees, and he’d been shivering uncontrollably. When I walked over to him, he woke instantly, and he’d had this haunting resignation in his eyes. I think I must have looked the same when Frankie had found me. He’d taken me in. Given me a home. A purpose. A job.

It only felt right that I do the same for Marco.

Now that he was almost nineteen, he paid me rent for an apartment above the bar, while he waited to head off to college. He’d been accepted to Boston College, and had been offered a dorm early as part of his grant. He would leave in a few days, and he was going to do great things with his life. He’d been given the chance I’d never had, to go to college and make something of himself, and was getting out of this hellhole. I’d never been happier for anyone. He was such a good kid.

All he’d needed was a chance.

I might be only five years older than him, but I felt like a mother hen around him. I watched him walk away, smiling, before glancing at the guy who’d just sat down at the end of my bar. As soon as I recognized him, my heart picked up speed. There was something about him, something I couldn’t put my finger on, that made me hyperaware of his very being whenever he was in the same room as me. I didn’t know his name, but I knew he had danger written all over him. In permanent marker.

He watched me with narrowed eyes that did bad things to my equilibrium. I knew from memory that they were green. Like, really green. They looked clean and fresh and happy, but he was none of those things. He always came in wearing jeans and a muscle-hugging long-sleeved shirt, which he always rolled up to just below his elbows to show off his strong arms covered in a thin dusting of fine hair. I’d stared at those freaking arms way too many times. I’d never been one for arms, for the love of God, but on him? They just worked. Everything did. In truth, he looked raw, gritty, and dangerous. And he had the faintest hint of a Boston accent.

As if he hadn’t already been unfairly sexy.

He’d been in every night for the past week, but before then, I’d never seen him. When he came in, he barely spoke two words to me and mostly communicated with grunts and money. He wasn’t rude or anything. Just the strong, silent type.

The only personal thing I knew about him was that he ran the mechanic shop across the street. I wanted to know more, and there was only one way that was going to happen. Straightening, I made my way over to him. “Whatcha drinking tonight, Lucky?”

He shrugged out of his dark brown leather jacket—another item he was never without—and dragged his hands through his dark brown hair. Although it wasn’t completely brown. It had a tinge of red . . . not that I’d noticed, of course. Once he settled his jacket on the stool, he eyed me with those bright Irish eyes of his. “My name’s not Lucky.”

“Are you sure?” I cocked my head. “It fits. I mean, you practically scream Irish. Reddish hair, light eyes. Devastating charm.”

He cocked a brow. “Devastating charm, huh?”

“Sure.” I leaned on the bar. His eyes dipped south but shot back up almost instantly. “You come in here, scowl at everyone, and barely say a word. If that’s not devastating charm, I don’t know what is.”

“Then you need to get out more, Heidi.” He tapped his fingers on the bar and locked gazes with me. “That’s your name, right?”

My stomach clenched tight at the sound of my name on his lips. With his accent, it sounded almost musical. “Yeah. How did you know?”

“I pay attention . . .” He trailed off and gave me a charming—yes, charming—smile. “In between bouts of being lethally charming, that is.”

My heartbeat picked up speed, but I ignored it. I would not swoon over the guy just because he smiled my way. I would not. “Sure. Or you’re a stalker. One or the other.”

“Darlin’?” He leaned in. He smelled good. Like Dolce & Gabbana cologne, leather, cars, and a healthy dose of pure man. And when he said darling, with the hard r dropping off like that, it melted my insides into a puddle of hot want and desire. I bet he knew it, too. “I’ve been coming here all week. You of all people should know I don’t need to stalk women to get them to come home with me.”

I reared back and widened my eyes, doing my best to look offended. It wasn’t easy, because I was pretty much impossible to offend. “Excuse me?” I feigned. “Who said anything about me going home with you?”

For a second, he looked embarrassed. A brief, tiny second. Then the smirk slipped back into place and he tapped his fingers on the bar again. The leashed power behind such a simple gesture sent a shiver down my spine. “Oh, that’s just adorable. You didn’t have to say a thing. I’ve felt you watching me every night.”

He was right. I had been. I had a feeling I’d be watching him more closely from now on. My cheeks heated, so I pushed away from the bar. “You never answered me, Lucky. What are you drinking?”

“Whiskey.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket, his eyes narrowing on the screen. “Fuck. Make that a double.”

“Sure thing.” I turned my back to him and prepared his drink, making sure my hands stayed steady the whole time. I’d never let him see how much he affected me. “Bad news, or news that was so good you need to celebrate?”

“Does it matter?” He reached into his pocket and slipped a twenty across the bar. “I’m paying either way.”

I handed him his drink and took the cash. “Nope. Doesn’t matter at all.”

“Thatta girl.” He took a sip of his whiskey and looked over his shoulder. His strong fingers held the glass, but it was clear his attention was elsewhere. “Who are they?”

“Who are who?” I asked, ringing him up and taking his change out of the drawer. “You’ll have to be a little more specific.”

“The guys who have been watching you and whispering since I walked in,” he said, his hard words echoing his rocky accent.

I gave him a slow smile. “Again, you’ll have to be more specific. I’ve been stared at once or twice in my life.”

His eyes slid down my body. My black tank top and shorts, paired with black knee-high boots, suddenly felt as if they’d evaporated into thin air. But instead of giving me some contrived come-on that was supposed to sound original, like all the other guys in this joint, he looked me in the eye and said, “The ones at the table in the left corner. They’re not Steel Row guys.”

I stiffened. Did he not like what he saw? It shouldn’t matter, but it did. “I don’t know. They’ve been acting shady all night.”

“More than shady.” He raised the glass to his lips. “They’re up to something, and it involves you.”

“Well, unfortunately for them, I’m not interested.”

“I don’t think they give a damn if you’re interested or not,” he said, his voice hard. “Do you live upstairs?”

“No. Marco does.” I blew my hair out of my face impatiently. “I live about three blocks down.”

He frowned. “Do you have someone to go home with at night, or do you walk alone?”

“That’s none of your business,” I shot back. “I don’t even know you. You don’t get to go all GI Joe on me.”

His lips twitched, but he didn’t smile. “That might be so, but I’ve never been one to care about that. And you didn’t answer my question.”

The music seemed to get quieter and the barroom chatter faded as I held his gaze. My fingers tightened on his change.

“You didn’t ask me very nicely.”

“I won’t.” He raised a brow, giving me a look that made his eyes darken. But beneath that scrutiny, there was something else. Concern? No. That couldn’t be right. “Are you walking alone, or no?”

“No.” There was something about him that demanded brutal honesty. “But I can take care of myself.”

He gave me another once-over. My skin heated. Why did he persist in treating me differently than the rest of my customers did? “I’m sure you can.”

“Whatever.” I held his slightly wrinkled money out, but he just stared at it. “Take your change.”

“It’s yours, darlin’.”

God, that accent, those eyes . . . he was trying to kill me. It was a ridiculously high tip, but whatever. If he wanted to throw money at me, I wouldn’t turn him down. I tucked it into the tip jar under the bar and then patted his arm. It was as hard as I’d always imagined. “Thanks, Lucky.”

“I told you . . .” He caught my hand with a firm grip. The sensation of his skin on mine was electrifying. There was no other word for it. I might have been imagining it, but I’d swear he looked surprised, like he felt it, too. “That’s not my name.”

He didn’t have soft hands. They were rough and callused, a man’s hands, and the feel of them was hot. Of course, everything about him was. But I was not a woman who liked to be restrained, and his grip was stronger than I usually allowed. I didn’t try to tug free, not because I didn’t care, but because I didn’t want to seem intimidated. And I wasn’t. “What’s your name, Lucky?”

“Lucas,” he growled, a muscle in his jaw ticking. “My name is Lucas.”

“Well, hi, Lucas.” Leaning in, I stopped when our noses were practically touching. Something sparked in his eyes, something dangerously sexy, but he didn’t react to my proximity in any other way. “Didn’t your mama teach you that it isn’t nice to grab girls without their permission?” He might be bigger than me, but I wouldn’t back down. Call it a Napoleon complex if you must, but he would succumb or I’d die trying.

“My ma doesn’t tell me anything lately. She’s dead,” he said, cocking a brow. From anyone else, it would have sounded sad. From him, it sounded matter-of-fact. His mom was gone, and he’d accepted that. For some reason, that made his words even sadder. “Has been for ten years.”

I blinked. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t kill her.” His fingers tightened on me and then his eyes met mine, and I don’t know what he saw, but somehow . . . I knew he saw something, because his look softened. “But thank you, Heidi.”

I swallowed a moan. That accent wasn’t fair, man. “You’re welcome.”

We stared at each other, neither of us speaking.

Dishes clanged in the kitchen behind me, and the cook laughed as he teased one of my waitresses. The door behind me swung open, and the blond waitress I’d hired the other day pushed past me with a plate of wings in her hand. Still, I didn’t move.

I caught sight of Marco watching and he shifted his weight toward us. I gave the slightest shake of my head, to keep him at his post. I could handle this on my own. I looked back at Lucas, to see the barest hint of amusement on his face. I cleared my throat. “Are you going to let go of me anytime soon, or nah?”

He laughed. My stomach tightened in response to his raspy chuckle. “I don’t know.” He loosened his grip to trail his fingers over my wrist. My pulse leapt at the deceptively soft touch. Despite the fact that he held my arm captive, nothing about what he did was threatening in any way. “I’m still deciding. Give me a second, darlin’.”

“Well, I’ve got people to wait on.”

He grinned. “You aren’t worried about them. You want me to let go because you’re helpless in the face of my devilish charm and soft Boston accent.”

Damn it, he was right. But I wasn’t about to confirm it. “I don’t give in easily. I think you have me confused with someone else.”

“Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Either way, I love a good challenge. And that’s exactly what you are, Ms. Greene.” He skimmed his thumb over my pulse again, grinning when it leapt traitorously. “That’s why, when you ask me to touch you again, I’ll make you admit you want me before I give you what you want.”

With that, he let go.

I backed up, resisting the urge to rub my wrist where he’d held me. It hadn’t hurt. His touch had been firm, yet gentle. But the urge to rub away the electrifying pings he’d left behind was still there. He didn’t look affected at all. Maybe I was the only one who’d noticed our chemistry. I had to regain control over this situation. Forcing a laugh, I tossed my hair over my shoulders. “I won’t be asking you to touch me again, Lucky.”

“Lucas,” he said. “I told you my name, which is more than I give anyone else free of charge, so you can damn well use it.”

Resting my hands on my bar, I forced myself to be calm despite my fight-or-flight instinct clicking to life. Something told me this man was used to issuing an ultimatum and having people obey him. I wasn’t going to be one of those people. Not in my own bar, anyway. “When you’re on my turf, I’ll call you what I want, when I want, and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

“We’ll see about that,” he said, his eyes full of promise and something else I didn’t want to examine too closely. His gaze made my heart quicken and my breath come faster. He gave me a sexy smile, his eyes heated and green, and ugh. “I love a challenge almost as much as I love hearing those three little words.” His voice was raspy.

“What words would those be?”

Lifting his hand, he counted each word off on his fingers. “You. Were. Right.”

I snorted and lifted my own hand, mimicking his countdown. “Never. Gonna. Happen.”

He laughed. Actually laughed. And it was as irresistible as he was. “I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. Until you say the words to me, anyway.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath,” I said, winking at him. “You’ll die waiting.”

“Oh, I doubt that. I’ve been able to go without oxygen for long periods of time. My brother used to tell me I was part fish.”

That was . . . adorable. Suddenly he became a lot more approachable . . . After all, how could someone who was part fish be . . . bad? And he had a brother. Another customer sat down at the other end of the bar. “I’ve gotta go take care of the other paying customers now. It was nice talking to you . . . Lucky.”

He let out a growl, and I walked away, swinging my hips, hoping it looked like I didn’t have a care in the world. The other customer was an old guy who came in at ten on the dot every night for a Sam Adams and was none too happy about having to wait. I could feel Lucas’s gaze burning into my back as I moved.

And twenty minutes later, when he left, he left alone. Not that I’d been watching or anything. Because I hadn’t been. I’d specifically forced myself not to watch him walk to the door. I almost succeeded, too, but then . . . I looked. And what I saw almost stopped me in my tracks. I thought he’d been watching me closely before. That was nothing compared to how he looked at me now. As he stalked across the dark, wood-paneled bar, he watched me as if he was a predatory hunter . . .

And I was his prey.



The next night, I sat in an overpriced diner in a touristy part of town, hidden behind a trendy dance club that I normally would avoid at all costs. I’d spent all afternoon in solitude, counting my cash and packing up a bag in case I had to run. A guy like me always had an escape plan at the ready—especially when someone tried to knock him off while he was still locked up. I covered a yawn with my hand, shifting restlessly on the worn pleather booth we’d settled into.

Across the table from me sat Chris, who was holding his steaming mug of coffee with both hands and blowing on it gently. Red-and-white-tiled walls surrounded us, and waitresses in fake fifties clothing skated around the crowded restaurant.

He wouldn’t meet my eyes and kept glancing out the window as if he expected company, despite telling me it would be just us tonight. He took a sip from the mug before putting it down. He tapped his fingers once, then twice, on the table before he picked up the coffee again.

Everything about him was off, and it made me uneasy.

I patted my waist, feeling the hard edges of my holster. It was a violation of my probation to carry a gun, but if something was going down, then I damn well needed to be ready. I thanked God that throughout this fucked-up betrayal I had coming my way, I’d have Chris. He was the one person in this world whom I actually trusted without a second thought. As much as I could, anyway.

“Enough. If you look out the window one more time, I might shatter it.” Shifting in my seat, I met his stare. “Why did you ask me to come here tonight?”

Chris shrugged. “Do I need a reason?”

“When you’re acting more skittish than a virgin turning her first trick?” I picked up my own coffee with my left hand. “Yeah, man. You kinda do.”

Across the restaurant from us, a family of four sat enjoying ice cream sundaes. They were laughing and smiling and looked so damn happy that it almost hurt to look at them. The stereotypical happy family of four, complete with a son and a daughter. The American dream. I’d never have that.

I’d probably never have kids at all.

All I had to hand down to my hypothetical kids was a world built on blood and other people’s tears. Who wanted to give that to their children? Not me. And I didn’t want anyone relying on me or crying when I was found dead in an alley.

Because that was the endgame for men like me: violent deaths, with a side order of heartbreak. Just another scumbag crossed off the Boston PD’s most-wanted list. That’s all I’d be. But did some minuscule part of me secretly wish I could have it all? The wife? The kids? The dog? The Cape Cod house with the white picket fence? Hell, yeah.

I also used to wish I could fly like Superman.

That didn’t happen, either.

Chris sighed and set his coffee down again, but he didn’t let go, and he leaned in. I did, too. After pressing his lips into a tight line, he said, “Do you remember that show we talked about yesterday? The crime drama?”

I cocked a brow. We certainly hadn’t been watching television on the docks, so this had to be some code for our conversation about someone making a move against me. “The one we watched at the bar on the wharfs?”

“Yeah.” Chris cleared his throat. “That one.”

A little girl’s laughter rang out through the diner, coaxing smiles from the other patrons, but the tension at our table was too thick for it to penetrate.

“I remember, yes. What about it?”

“You hear what happened in the first episode of the new season?”

I shook my head. “Nah, man, but you know I don’t mind spoilers.”

“Well . . .” Chris looked over his shoulder before turning back to me. “Well, the mayor was really impressed by how Leo handled his shit last season and wants to promote him to commissioner for the whole fucking city. Rumor is, he’s even eyeing up Leo to be his successor, when he’s done.”

I blinked. It didn’t take more than a moment to realize who Leo was. That was huge, and I hadn’t expected to get anything even remotely that prestigious. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted it. “Why?”

“Because Leo gets the job done with no muss, no fuss, and he’s trustworthy. Last season, he proved he could keep a secret. The mayor likes a guy who’s focused on business and not running his mouth in an effort to snag wet and willing.”

“Holy shit,” I muttered.

Chris shrugged. “But Leo’s younger brother thought he was the next in line for the job. And he ain’t happy about being passed over. He’s not willing to stand down for his older brother, and he’s been looking for ways to cause trouble for Leo. Been jumping at opportunities.”

I stiffened. That was a huge accusation to make, on the back end of some pretty seriously surprising news. Scotty had always been a little shit, and I’d loved him despite that, but murder? I didn’t believe that of him. Not without concrete proof. “How did you find this out?”

“People are talking about it. I was . . . online, and somebody asked me, brother versus brother, who I wanted to win the city.” Chris latched gazes with me. His brown eyes were grave. “This shit’s real, man, and there’s no doubt there’s going to be an attack on Leo in the upcoming episodes.”

Leo. Aka me. “God damn.”

“Yeah. I know.”

I leaned back in the booth, my heart thudding against my ribs, and tapped my fingers on the table. If Chris was telling the truth, then my brother had it in for me. And if Scotty was gunning for me, I didn’t have a lot of options that didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. “You realize what you’re saying, right?”

“I wouldn’t be saying it if I didn’t.” Chris latched gazes with me. “I have it on good authority that Leo is about to find himself under fire, in an episode airing very soon.”

“Fuck,” I said, glancing out the window, not sure what to say to that. I should come up with something cocky to show I didn’t give a damn, but for once, nothing came to mind. “Do you know when that will be?”

“I’d say a week from now, at most.” He picked his coffee up again and took a long swig. “But there’s more.”

“I can’t wait to hear it. You’re just a ray of motherfucking sunshine today, aren’t you?” I said dryly. “Does he drown Leo’s puppy and make him watch?”

“He doesn’t have a puppy,” Chris said matter-of-factly.

I rubbed my temples. “Yeah. I know. It was a joke.”

“Funny. Anyway, there are whispers that the younger brother is playing at being traitor, feeding the feds bad intel on Leo,” Chris said, ignoring my gibe. “So there’s a chance he might get Leo locked up instead of outright killing him.”

That made me sit up straighter. “Bullshit. How would he even—?” I froze. “Oh shit. The shipment. It was a setup.”

“Yeah.” Chris winced. “Last night’s episode. Someone was running surveillance on the area, and he knew it, and Leo almost walked into a trap.”

Motherfucker. I forced a smirk, even though I wanted to kill someone right then. “Wow, sounds like he’s awfully threatened by Leo’s presence. If I was Leo, I’d be honored that someone went to so much trouble to get him outta the picture.”

“This isn’t some stupid joke,” Chris snapped. “Stop acting like it is.”

I held my hands up. “Easy, man. It’s just a show, all pretend.”

“Yeah. Sure it is.” Chris took out a twenty and tossed it on the table. “That’s all life ever is to you. Some big fucking game.”

I picked up the twenty, shoved it back at Chris, and threw my own twenty on the table. Even though I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not, he’d risked his life to tell me his information, so the least I could do was pay for his coffee. I’d also repay him by watching his back, no matter the cost. But that was a given. “You know why I treat life that way?”

Chris eyed the cash, shrugged, and stuffed his money back in his pocket. “Why’s that?”

“Because I don’t like to lose.” Opening the door, I shoved my hands into the pockets of my brown leather jacket. “I hardly make it a habit.”

Chris fell into step at my side. “Yeah, I know. You punched me when we were eight because I sunk your battleship.”

“And I’d do it again,” I said, grinning. “No regrets.”

“I know you would.”

We pushed out into the night, the temperature slicing through our bones. It might be early spring, but it felt more like winter to me. I huddled into myself. It was cold as a witch’s tit at sundown, and it was only going to get colder. The sun had just set, and there was a steady wind that would be sure to freeze anyone stupid enough to venture outside.

Chris sobered and glanced at me. “Seriously, though. What are you going to do about Scotty?”

“No more cryptic codes?” I asked.

“We’re the only idiots taking a stroll tonight. It’s fine. I was just being cautious.” Chris huffed out a breath. “You never know who’s listening.”

“Agreed.” I lifted my shoulders and exhaled. It made smoke in the cold night. “And I don’t know. The way I see it, I have three options. Fight, go to jail again, or run. Leave this shit hole, and everyone in it, behind.”

Chris laughed. “If you do that, take me with you. I’ve always wanted to live somewhere warm. I hate winter.”

“You and me both,” I said.

He stopped at his red Porsche. “You drive here?”

“I walked.”

Chris unlocked the doors. “Want a ride?”

“Nah, I wanna walk. It’s why I left my Mustang at home in the first place. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m one of them for a little bit.” I gestured toward the Freedom Trail. “And the cold clears my mind.”

“All right.” Chris opened his door. “But, Lucas?”

I hunched over against the cold, keeping up my carefree exterior. “Yeah, man?”

“Watch your back.”


I watched Chris back out of his spot and drive off. As soon as he was out of sight, I dropped the act. My carefully crafted unconcerned expression faded away, replaced by rage. So much fucking rage. My little brother was an idiot. He thought he could just kill me off and then take over Steel Row? He was insane. The Sons wouldn’t stand for it. Neither would Tate. No one would respect a man who killed someone in his bloodline to get the position.

Then again, in this life? Maybe they would.


Shaking my head, I cursed under my breath and turned onto the Freedom Trail. I tended to avoid this area, but tonight it felt fitting. Besides, it had emptied out a lot once the sun had gone down. All the tourists were either in a bar getting wasted or tucked in their hotel rooms with their kids, safe and sound till morning.

I stepped around all the metal plaques that lined the way, not wanting to dirty them with my feet. Tourists loved to walk these miles to celebrate the birth of our country, land of the brave and home of the free. Paul Revere and all that shit. I walked them to escape the chains I was bound by, to be free.

It was such ironic bullshit.

They also liked to take pictures of their feet on the plaques for some weird reason. I didn’t get that, but then again, I didn’t get what most people did. Selfies. Love. Twitter. It was all inane to me. I dealt with jail, extortion, death plots, and betrayal—between my hard decisions and even harder consequences. I’d never be the type to take pictures of my feet on the ground and post them all over the Internet.

And I didn’t know what to do with this latest possible betrayal, either.

What would I do if it turned out to be credible intel? Kill my own brother to save my life? The little brother I’d practically raised, the one who’d followed me everywhere when he was growing up, including right into this life? Sure, I could kill. I’d done it before, and I could do it again. But did I want to be that guy who kills his own flesh and blood without blinking an eye? Fucking Cain and Abel. I couldn’t be considered “good” by any stretch of the word, and I never would be, but even I had to draw the line at fratricide.

But if I didn’t kill him, that left two other options. Go to jail or run. Neither of those options suited me. Despite my packed bag waiting for me back home, I wasn’t a runner, and I’d be damned if I willingly went back to prison.

Scotty had me backed into a corner, and there was no way out. No matter which I chose, Scotty won. Fuck that. And fuck him. I’d do it my way.

Whatever that was.

I stopped in front of St. Stephen’s, my heart picking up speed. I hadn’t been to Mass since before I’d been arrested. Something told me that no matter how forgiving God might or might not be, he had no room in his life for men like me. I didn’t regret my life or what I’d done with it, but I wasn’t blind to my faults.

And neither was he.

Tentatively, I reached for the handle, tugging. Locked. Of course. The gates of heaven were closed to me, as I’d expected. Hell, I half expected to burst into flames, just for daring to stand on holy ground. I shook my head. “This is stupid. I shouldn’t have come here.”

I was two steps away when someone spoke from behind me. “Sometimes it’s the times when we think we shouldn’t have come to pray that we need to pray the most.”

Whirling, I reached for my gun. When I saw who stood behind me, I relaxed slightly. “Sorry, Father.”

The old priest looked at me and I shifted uncomfortably under his knowing gaze. I started to back away.

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