Seventeen-year-old Emily likes her life the way it is: doting parents, good friends, good school in a safe neighborhood. Sure, she’s curious about her biological father—the one who chose life in a motorcycle club, the Reign of Terror, over being a parent—but that doesn’t mean she wants to be a part of his world. But when a reluctant visit turns into an extended summer vacation among relatives she never knew she had, one thing becomes clear: nothing is what it seems. Not the club, not her secret-keeping father and not Oz, a guy with suck-me-in blue eyes who can help her understand them both.
Oz wants one thing: to join the Reign of Terror. They’re the good guys. They protect people. They’re…family. And while Emily—the gorgeous and sheltered daughter of the club’s most respected member—is in town, he’s gonna prove it to her. So when her father asks him to keep her safe from a rival club with a score to settle, Oz knows it’s his shot at his dream. What he doesn’t count on is that Emily just might turn that dream upside down.
No one wants them to be together. But sometimes the right person is the one you least expect, and the road you fear the most is the one that leads you home.
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TOP THREE AWFUL MOMENTS OF MY LIFE:
Meeting my biological father at ten Breaking my arm in three spots at nine Falling into a hole and being trapped there overnight with a dead body at eight Other than that, I love my life. While some of my friends are all, "Woe is me, no one understands my traumatized soul," I'm pretty happy. I like happy. I like simple. I like predictable and I hate surprises.
With that said, I'm not particularly thrilled when my father tries to hand me a piece of paper that causes my mother to choke up and excuse herself from the kitchen.
Dad and I continue to stare at one another as we listen to Mom race up the stairs then close the door to their bedroom. Life is out of whack and it's easy to tell. Dirty dishes are piled in the sink. A stack of unopened mail is tossed across the island. A pile of balled tissues creates a mountain on the wooden oval table. The yellow kitchen that seemed cheery this morning is darkened with emotional storm clouds.
The awkward silence between me and Dad has officially stretched into painful. I shift under the strain and my foot nudges my backpack on the floor.
"You should go after her," I say to break the stillness and to ignore the fact I haven't accepted what Dad is offering. Plus, Dad always knows how to pull Mom out of her drama pit. It's one of the million things I love about him.
"I will." His lips lift a little, a strong indication he's planning to mess with me. "How do you want to handle this? Straightforward, gradual introduction, or head in the sand?"
I brighten. "Head in the sand works well for me."
"Good try, but pick another option."
"How does it feel to be a senior?"
Despite the impending knowledge that my life is about to suck, I smile. I'd walked into the kitchen after my last day of school expecting to gush to Mom about how Trisha and I were invited to Blake Harris's party tonight.
What I didn't expect? Dad home, Mom in tears and a note that possibly brings tidings from hell. "It feels awesome. It'll feel even better if you put that piece of paper in the garbage disposal."
"Please read it," Dad presses. "It was hard for your mom to make the decision to let you see this and we should respect her wishes."
My stomach aches as if I'd been elbowed. This debilitating reaction from my mother means one thing: contact from her childhood home in Kentucky.
Kentucky is a painful subject for her and there's nothing I wouldn't do to ease her suffering because, until Dad came into the picture and adopted me when I was five, Mom raised me on her own. That deserves some major respect.
Out of the corner of my eye I take in the collage of framed photos on the wall. The middle picture is my favorite. It's an eight by ten of the day Mom and Dad married. Mom's in a white wedding gown. Slender. Graceful. Her sleek blond hair falling around her shoulders as she beams down at me. Dad crouches beside me. His sun-kissed hair strikingly gold compared to his black tux.
He tucks a rose into my dark brown hair. I'm five and focused on him like he's Superman. That's because he is. My own personal superhero. He adopted me mere days before he married my mom.
Dad clears his throat and I snatch the paper from his hands with just the right amount of ticked off. I'll wander down this dark tunnel of insanity for a few minutes for him and my mom.
It's an e-mail and it's short and to the point and it's from my biological father.
Jeff, Please tell Emily. Eli Underneath the message are an obituary and a photo of a woman I've never met. Her name is Olivia McKinley and she's Eli's mother. A weighted sigh escapes my lips and I slouch into a seat at the table. Please tell Emily. Eli does his best to make an impression. It may not be a great impression, but he leaves one nonetheless.
I squish my lips to the side as I absorb Olivia's obituary. It's the first time I've seen an image of her. Eli's talked about her on our rare occasional visits, but he never drew enough of a mental picture for me to visualize what she looked like.
Eli's this biker my mom hooked up with once and he abandoned us the moment Mom said, "I missed my period." While he gave Mom the slip, he also gave me my dark brown hair and my matching dark brown eyes and the ton of freckles over the bridge of my nose. But other than that he hasn't given me much.
"So " Total hesitation as I hunt for the correct words. "Eli's mom died."
"That's right. Your mom wants us to attend the funeral."
Um I don't do funerals or cemeteries. Mom and Dad are aware of this situation. My fingers tap against the table. There's definitely a diplomatic way out of this. I need to find it and find it quick. "Why does she want to go? Not to be rude, but we don't know this lady. We barely know Eli and well.I thought Mom hated Kentucky."
Dad rubs the back of his head. "I don't know why. I forwarded the e-mail to your mom this morning. A few minutes later, she called me at work in tears. I came home and she'd already purchased the plane tickets. Your guess is as good as mine here, but there's one thing I do knowI don't like seeing your mom cry."
Neither do I.
"What are your thoughts on this, Em?"
I shrug. There are no words for this. None. Zip. Zero.
Nada. "I don't get it."
That's it? He knows? "I was hoping for something a little more like 'I'll talk to your Mom and I'll convince her to shelve the crazy for a few days.' I mean, we are underestimating the value of sending a well-written note attached to a nice flower arrangement."
Dad does that thing where he's quiet while mulling over a response. It's reason one million and one why I love him. Dad hardly ever loses his temper or yells. He thinks everything through.
"I don't claim to understand most of this," he says. "But this is important to your mom, and you and she are the two most important things to me. If she needs to attend this funeral then we'll attend."
"What if I don't want to attend?"
Dad's patient blue eyes search me and I consider ducking under the table before he notices how much the prospect bothers me. Dead people. He's asking me to voluntarily enter a building where there are dead people. Inside, I'm screaming. Very loudly. Very manically.
"Your mom and I will be there and absolutely nothing will harm you. Besides, you and I have had this discussion. The best way to get over your fears is to face them."
Sure, his words sound pretty, but there's this serious anxiety suffocating me like a shroud. Hives form on my wrist and I scratch at the welts under the table while flashing a forced grin. "Are you suggesting a body isn't going to come back to life and try to eat me?"
"I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're safe from a Walking Dead episode."
I release an unladylike snort and Dad laughs. His chuckles fade and I loathe the heavy silence that follows.
"I'm not only talking about your fear of dead things," Dad continues. "I'm talking about the paperwork I found in the trash. I believe it mentioned visiting out-of-town universities with your school this summer."
Dang it, I should have used the paper shredder.
"There's more to life than Florida," he insists.
"I love Florida." I love it so much that I have plans that involve staying here in town after graduation. Specifically, Tri-sha and I have plans. We've spent the past two years dreaming of going to the local college and rooming together. We even have color-coordinated comforters picked out, because that's how Trisha rolls.
Dad waves his hand at the room. "There's more out there for you than these four walls."
"I love these four walls." I do. The kitchen, to the three of us, is the focal point of our existence. Mom's created a homey room with fresh flowers in several vases scattered on the table, island and counter. She painted the walls yellow because she read an article that said it's a welcoming color.
"I love my life." I flutter my eyelashes in an attempt to appear cute. "I'm happy, so stop trying to mess with it."
Dad leans back in his chair and tosses a pen he's been fiddling with onto the table. "Aren't you even curious about what's out there?"
"No. But I'm curious about what the deal is with Mom and this funeral." I change the subject because I hate arguing with my father. I don't possess a burning desire to leave home and explore every part of the universe like he did when he was my age. He doesn't understand and I don't know how to explain it. Because of that, we fight and it's the only thing, besides Eli, we disagree about.
"I already told you I don't know," he answers, "but it's our job to support her. You know as well as I do that demons haunt your mother's past."
It's true. Mom avoids discussing her life before my birth. I assume it must be because it hurts to know she has family that threw her out because she chose to have me. "Do you think attending this funeral is her way of going home without going home?"
His eyes snap to mine and I know I hit the nail on the head. Nausea rolls through my intestines. This is one of those moments where doing the right thing makes me want to puke, but this is my mom. My mom. She's crazy and she's dramatic, but she has loved me since she saw two lines on the pregnancy test. I refuse to say no to a woman who raised me for the first four years completely by herself.
"Okay," I say. "I'm in."
"Thank you. And Emily " A long, painful pause. "You need to view this as an opportunity. Maybe this will help you and your mother reconsider Eli's offer for you to visit him for two weeks this summer."
Oh, hell no. Three weeks ago, Eli contacted Dad with this massively awful idea. Seeing Eli when he wanders into town once a year is one thing, but visiting himfor two weeks straighton his home turf? "Mom said no."
"I think it would be healthy for you to see where your mother once lived and to understand your father's history. I overheard you asking your mom questions the other day."
All right, sue me. Eli's offer made me curious. Actually, not true. My mother's sharp shout of "no" when Dad broached the subject of the visit is what did it. And I'm not concerned with Eli or his family, but more over my mother.
Were Mom's parents the superconservative people she's described them as? How did she meet Eli? Was it at school or did they meet the night they conceived me? Was Mom a crazy teenager or was she a good girl until she decided to hook up one night with a biker?
I've asked, but Mom redirects the conversation. I haven't found the courage yet to press for answers when she shuts me out.
"I see the curiosity in your eyes whenever Eli is mentioned," Dad tells me.
I push away from the table and as I go to walk past him, he gently snags my fingers. "It's okay to have questions. They're your biological family. In fact, it's extremely normal. I've seen it before with my patients."
A tremor of anger runs through me. I'm not one of his hundreds of pediatric rug rats. "I am not curious."
"Not at all?" he asks.
I swallow, attempting to sort through the thoughts. When I look at my father, I see the man that not only lowered himself onto one knee to ask my mother's hand in marriage, but dropped to both knees to ask for my permission to marry her. I see the smile on his face and remember the answering joy inside me the day my adoption went through. I see the man who has not abandoned me once since he entered my life.
Being curious would mean that I don't appreciate all Dad has done for me and I do appreciate him. I love him more than he could imagine.
"No," I repeat. "I'm not curious at all."