As Reapers Motorcycle Club president, Reese “Picnic” Hayes has given his entire life to the club. After losing his wife, he knew he’d never love another woman. And with two daughters to raise and a club to manage, that was just fine with him. These days, Reese keeps his relationships free and easy—he definitely doesn’t want to waste his time on a glorified cleaning lady like London Armstrong.
Too bad he’s completely obsessed with her.
London is independent, and she likes it that way. Besides running her own business, London’s got her junkie cousin’s daughter to look after—a more reckless than average eighteen-year-old. Sure she’s attracted to the Reapers’ president, but she’s not stupid. Reese Hayes is a criminal and a thug. But when her young cousin gets caught up with a ruthless drug cartel, Reese might be the only man who can help her. Now London has to make the hardest decision of her life—how far will she go to save her family?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This is my fourth book in the Reapers Motorcycle Club series, and as time passes it becomes harder to write my acknowledgments. The list of people who have supported me grows longer and I’m afraid I’ll forget someone. You have no idea how much I appreciate all of you.
Thanks to everyone at Berkley who has made this possible, especially Cindy Hwang. I have an incredible team behind me and I appreciate all their efforts. It’s worth noting that I’ve been repeatedly blessed by the Cover Gods—the Berkley art team has been amazing, and I hear almost daily from readers praising their efforts.
I also want to thank my agent, Amy Tannenbaum, Betty, my MC friends, my beta readers, my writing posse, all the bloggers who have supported me and everyone on my Junkies page. Special thanks to Chas and Jessica, because it doesn’t matter whether or not a book is good if nobody ever finds out about it. Kylie, Hang, Lori, and Cara—you know exactly how much you’ve helped me, and don’t think I take it for granted. Thank you for all the time you’ve given me.
Finally, thanks to my family, whose endless patience and willingness to step up makes my writing possible. I love you very much.
Throughout this series, I’ve tried to offer readers insight into MC culture and how I do my research. I’m very fortunate to have the continuing support of real women affiliated with clubs, and like each of my books, this one has been reviewed for accuracy. Reaper’s Stand was the first in which my club friends didn’t find major errors regarding club life, so maybe I’m finally figuring it out.
I’ve tried to make each book in the Reapers Motorcycle Club series different, rather than following a set formula. This has challenged me as a writer, but I’ve enjoyed exploring a variety of character types along the way. I think you’ll find that Reaper’s Stand has a different feel than the books that came before it. For example, Devil’s Game was a coming-of-age novel. Reaper’s Stand is the opposite—it’s a book about mature characters who are already fully formed as individuals. Every time I try something new, I worry that readers won’t be willing to make the leap. So far you haven’t given up on me. I hope you enjoy Reaper’s Stand.
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO
Should I look him in the eye when I killed him or just shoot him in the back?
I crouched in the kitchen, digging through my purse as if searching for keys. I knew right where the gun was, of course, but pulling it straight out just seemed so . . . obscene. The smell of dinner on the stove filled my nose. Chicken chili, with whole-grain corn bread in the oven for a side because it’s healthier.
It’d been baking for ten minutes already, which meant I had about twelve more minutes to end his life before the bread burned.
Reese sat out in the dining room, reading one of his motorcycle magazines and drinking his favorite beer while he waited for food. I’d been sure to buy a half rack earlier, and I’d met him at the door with a cold one open and ready to go. He was on his second now. I wasn’t under any illusions—two beers wouldn’t be enough to slow him down if he came after me, or ease his pain if my aim was off.
Still, a man deserves a beer before dying, right?
My fingers brushed the cold metal of the gun. I pulled out my phone instead and looked at Jessica’s picture, studying her pretty, smiling face on graduation day. So full of hope and promise. She’d raised her right arm to wave at the camera. Her pinkie curled forward, offering a glimpse of the sparkling tips on her new acrylics. She’d wanted them for graduation so badly. They hadn’t been in the budget, but I couldn’t tell her no.
You have to understand—none of us ever expected Jessica to graduate.
Hell, she shouldn’t even be alive. My bitch of a cousin had done drugs all through both pregnancies, yet somehow Jessie pulled through. Not unscathed. She had the usual developmental quirks . . . poor impulse control, bad judgment. Quick to anger. They came from fetal drug effects—the gift that keeps on giving for a child’s whole life. But at least she had a life. Her little sister died in the NICU two days after her birth. Never got a chance.
Fuck you, Amber. Fuck you very much for doing that to your kids.
I glanced up at the oven timer and realized I’d wasted nearly three minutes thinking about Jess. I supposed I could kill him after pulling out the bread, but putting it off would just make things harder.
Or maybe I should feed him first?
No. He’d had his beer, but if I had to sit across from Reese over a meal I’d never make it. I couldn’t look into those blue eyes and laugh. I’d never been a good liar. This past month had been heaven and hell rolled into one big bad joke.
Right. Time for the punch line.
I pulled out the small pistol and stuck it into the pocket of the loose sweater I’d picked so carefully for just this moment. I also took out my keys, my ID, and my cash, stuffing them into my jeans. Just in case. I didn’t really expect to survive the night, but it never hurts to hope. The van was even gassed up and ready to go, on the off chance that I managed to get away.
Of course, I had no idea where I’d drive. Burn that bridge when you get to it . . .
Things started going wrong as soon as I walked into the dining room. Reese wasn’t sitting at the head of the table, where I’d left him. Damn. I could’ve shot him in the back without warning if he’d just stayed put. Now he sat facing me, leaning casually in his chair, beer in hand. The magazine lay open before him and he looked up, offering me that mocking smile of his. God, I loved that smile, despite the fact that it could be cruel as all fuck.
“Something you want to talk about?” he asked, cocking his head.
“No,” I murmured, wondering what he’d say if I shared my thoughts. Gee, Reese, I’m so sorry I’m about to kill you, but if it makes you feel any better I hate myself for doing it—not a hundred percent sure I won’t shoot myself next.
I wouldn’t, though. Not yet. Not until I saw Jessica for myself, made sure they’d kept their promises and she was safe and sound. After that?
Well. We’d just have to see.
He sighed, eyes flicking to my pocket, where my hand shifted nervously on the gun.
Paranoia hit yet again.
He knew. He knew all about it, I could see it in his face. Fuck. I’d failed her . . . Don’t be ridiculous. How could he possibly know?
“Babe, you look like you could use a day off,” he said finally. “Have you considered hitting the spa? Maybe get a massage?”
“That costs too much,” I said automatically, biting back a hysterical laugh. Because money mattered now, right?
“I wasn’t suggesting that you pay for it,” he said, frowning at me.
“I don’t want your money—”
“Yeah, I know, you’re totally independent and you like it that way. Blah, blah. Just let me do something for you, for once. Fuck’s sake.”
Shit. Why did he have to be so nice?
I felt my eyes start to water and I looked away, forcing myself to detach again and focus. I needed to kill him, and I couldn’t give him any warning. But he was facing me and all the way across the room, which was a bigger problem than it sounds. Pistols aren’t exactly known for accuracy, and it’s not like I had much in the way of experience.
I needed to get closer.
If I came up behind him, rubbed his shoulders . . . That would be close enough. God, I was a shitty human being.
“The food won’t be ready for another ten minutes,” I said. “You look sort of tense. Want a neck rub?”
He raised a brow as I circled the table.
“I think you should stay back,” he said slowly. I paused.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’d hate to make it too easy for you, sweetheart.”
My chest tightened. I offered a weak smile, because like I said—I’m a shit liar.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m assuming you’re planning to shoot me in the back of the head,” he said quietly, and that’s when I realized he wasn’t relaxed at all. He might be leaning back casually, but every one of those solid muscles roping his body had drawn tight, poised to attack. “That’s a bad idea. You shoot that close, you’ll be all covered in blood spatter. Means you’ll have to risk tracking more evidence out of the house or taking time to clean up. Either way, complicates things.”
Well. At least it was all finally out in the open. Almost a relief. I pulled out the gun and held it up, using my left hand to brace my right as I carefully sighted on him. I expected him to explode up at me, to fight back. Instead he just sat, waiting.
“Go ahead, do it,” he said, a sad smile toying with the corners of his mouth. “Show me what you’re made of.”
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “You’ll never know how much I wish this weren’t happening.”
“Then don’t do it. Whatever it is, we can work through it. I’ll help you.”
He sighed, then looked past me and jerked his chin.
“It’s over, babe,” I heard a man say from behind. Huh. I guess it was. Fortunately, I had just enough time to pull the trigger before he hit me.
EIGHTEEN DAYS EARLIER
My back was killing me.
It was nearly two in the morning, and I’d just finished up the late-night cleaning shift at the pawn shop. I’d been letting myself get soft the past couple of months. Too much time spent managing the business, not enough time scouring bathrooms, because I’d forgotten just how much work scrubbing a toilet really is.
Well, scrubbing toilets, floors, dusting, vacuuming. London’s Cleaning Service did it all, and while we might not be the cheapest crew in town, we were the best. I knew this because I turned down more accounts than I took these days. Thanks to my hard-earned reputation, finding new clients was easy. Workers? Not so much. Most people aren’t fans of spending their nights wiping up after others, and even with my higher-than-average starting pay, people flaked on me.
Tonight, for example.
I’d gotten a call from Anna—one of my crew leads—to say she had two no-shows. Because the life of a cleaning lady is nonstop glamour, that meant I got to spend my Friday evening scraping dried pee off the floor in a men’s bathroom.
Charmed existence, I know.
At least my aching back and I could crawl into bed soon.
I pulled up to the house and noticed a blue Honda Civic parked in front. Mellie’s car—my young cousin’s best friend. She must be spending the night with Jessie, I realized. I bit back the surge of annoyance. On the one hand, I really preferred it when Jess cleared stuff like this with me ahead of time.
On the other, there were worse things than having the girl home on a Friday. Most of them were worse, actually. God, I loved her so much, but Jessica was impossible. I reminded myself yet again that it wasn’t entirely her fault—the counselors told me over and over that I needed to help her learn to cope with her limitations, because it’s not like she’d grow out of them.
Decision making wasn’t Jessica’s strong suit.
According to the experts, that part of her brain just hadn’t developed quite right, thanks to her mother’s ongoing chemical romance. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I knew she wasn’t like other kids. But you know what? We all have to learn to get along in this world. Nobody’s born with a clean slate, and she wasn’t a little girl anymore.
I unlocked the front door to find Mellie sitting on the couch. Her knees were drawn up, her eyes were huge, and she clutched a can of Diet Coke like a shield.
My parent radar crackled to life.
“What did she do now?”
“We were at a party,” Mel whispered. “It was around ten o’clock. She ran into some girls who graduated a couple years ago—Terry Fratelli and her friends—and they invited us out to the Armory for a party with the Reapers motorcycle club.”
I swayed, grabbing the back of my old, green wing-backed chair to catch myself.
Mellie’s eyes got even wider. I didn’t cuss. She knew I didn’t cuss. Ever.
“What’s the rest of it?”
The girl looked away, biting her lip.
“I’m so sorry for leaving her,” she said, guilt written all over her face. “But there was no way I’d go out there and she didn’t listen to me. She actually got kind of . . .”
Her voice trailed off and I filled in the gaps. Jessica liked to make fun of Mel when she wouldn’t follow along like a well-trained puppy. Classic Jess. Such an idiot child—I wasn’t quite sure how she managed to keep a friend like Melanie around, given the shit she pulled.
“Anyway, she promised me she’d text, and I told her I wouldn’t say anything as long as she stayed in touch. But she stopped texting me around midnight and I could tell she was really drunk. Her messages weren’t even making sense. I’m really scared for her, London.”
This last was said with a sniffle, and I realized the poor girl was terrified. I came over and sat down next to her, giving her a hug. Mel spent so much time over here that she felt like my own sometimes.
“She’s gonna be so pissed I told you.”
“You did the right thing, baby,” I said, running a hand across her hair. “She’s being a selfish brat, putting you into this position.”
“Well, on the bright side she’ll forgive me,” Mel muttered. She sniffed and pulled back, looking up at me with a wavering smile. “She always does.”
I smiled back, but my thoughts were grim. Mel was too nice. Sometimes I wished she’d ditch Jessie and find a new best friend. Then I felt guilty, because even with her issues, Jess was my heart.
“I need to go find her,” I said. “Do you want to stay here or head home?”
“I was thinking I could sleep here tonight?” she asked. I nodded, already knowing the rest of the story. Friday nights at Mel’s house weren’t pretty, especially on paydays. Her dad liked to celebrate the end of the week a little too much.
• • •
I tried calling Bolt Harrison from my van so Mellie wouldn’t hear me. He managed Pawns, the same store I’d been cleaning that night. It happened to be owned by the Reapers MC. Bolt was their vice president.
I’d had the cleaning contract there for about six months now. They were becoming one of my most valuable accounts and had dropped hints about offering a second contract for The Line, their strip club. We’d already come in a few times when they needed extra help, and I had high hopes it would grow into something bigger. I originally ran the Pawns crew myself, but two months ago I’d turned it over to Jason, an older guy who’d been with me for almost five years. He was reliable, worked hard, and did a great job managing the people under him.
The MC paid well, and they paid in cash, which was convenient. In return, we kept our mouths shut about anything we might see, which honestly wasn’t as much as you’d think. I thought there might be some prostitution happening in the back rooms out at The Line, but I’d never seen any sign of women being forced.
Not my job to tell consenting adults what to do with their bodies.
Even so, I made sure that none of the younger girls ever came out with me. Just because I didn’t call the cops doesn’t mean I wanted my people getting sucked into anything.
Anyway, I figured Bolt was the first place to start if I wanted to extract Jess from whatever trouble she’d gotten herself into this time. I liked Bolt and felt relatively comfortable around him—and he was my only choice, really. My other contact was Reese Hayes, the club’s president. That man scared the heck out of me and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Something about him . . . The way his eyes followed me. Like he wanted to eat me, and not in a nice flowers and candlelit dinner kind of way. A hint of gray at his temples said he was probably just a little older than me, but his body was built like a man in his twenties. I don’t know what bothered me more, his inherent scariness or the fact that his scariness sort of secretly turned me on. (Pathetic, I know.)
There was no way on earth I’d talk to him if I didn’t have to.
“Yeah?” Bolt answered. I heard music in the background, loud music.
“Hi, Mr. Harrison.”
“Is there any point in telling you to call me Bolt?”
I would’ve smiled if I hadn’t been so stressed—we’d been dancing this same dance since I’d started. None of the club members understood why I insisted on being so formal, but I had my reasons. Just because the MC paid well wasn’t any reason to cozy up to them. I liked my boundaries.
“Not really,” I said, my voice betraying my worry.
“What’s going on?” he asked, picking up on my tone. That was Bolt—he saw and heard everything, whether you wanted him to or not.
“I have a personal problem I’m hoping you can help me with.”
I’d probably startled him. I’d never come asking for help before. In fact, I rarely saw him these days. The first few months he’d watched us like hawks, but lately we’d started to blend into the background. Nobody pays attention to the cleaners, something I’ve always found fascinating. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen or the secrets I hold.
Of course, that might be why I found Reese so unsettling—six months into the job and I still hadn’t disappeared yet.
“You probably don’t know this, but I’m my cousin’s guardian,” I said, pushing forward. “One of her friends just told me that she went to a party out at your clubhouse tonight. I’m worried about her—she’s a great kid, but not the best at making good decisions. Is there any chance you can help me track her down?”
More silence, and I cringed. I’d insulted him, I realized. Implied things about the parties at his clubhouse that we all knew were true but nobody liked to talk about or admit. That they weren’t safe for young women. That the club couldn’t be trusted.
“Is she an adult?”
“She’s eighteen, but she just graduated two weeks ago and she’s young for her age.”
“Hate to tell you this, sweetheart, but she’s old enough to make her own decisions about where to party.”
Now it was my turn to fall silent. I could say plenty—that she might be old enough to party, but she wasn’t old enough to drink legally. That they could find themselves in a heap of trouble for providing her with booze. Of course, for all I knew the cops were out there partying with them . . . But I kept my mouth shut, because I’d learned a long time ago that if you give someone enough silence, eventually they’ll fill it.
“Okay,” he said finally. “I get where you’re coming from. I’m not out there tonight, but Pic is.”
Darn. “Pic” was short for “Picnic,” and that was Reese’s nickname. I had no idea why they called him that and I sure as heck hadn’t asked. He was the least picnicky person I’d ever met in my life.
“Go out to the Armory and ask for him. Tell him I sent you, tell him it’s a personal favor. Maybe he’ll track her down for you, maybe not. Like I said, the girl’s an adult. You know how to get there?”
He laughed. Everyone in Coeur d’Alene knew where the Armory was.
“Thank you, Mr. Harrison,” I said quickly, hanging up before he could change his mind. Then I turned the keys in the ignition and my van roared to life, along with the check engine light that had been haunting me for the last week. I chose to ignore it, because even if I had someone look at it for me, I couldn’t afford to fix the stupid thing.
If it could still drive places, it wasn’t really broken. At least, that was the theory.
I shifted into reverse and backed out of the driveway. Oh, Jessie was going to hate this. Auntie London riding to the rescue in a minivan with the cleaning service logo on the side.
Ha. Not like it was the first time.
• • •
The Reapers clubhouse was about ten miles northeast of Coeur d’Alene, back on a private road twisting through the heavily forested hills. I’d never been there, although they’d invited me to a couple of parties when I first started cleaning Pawns.
I’d politely refused, preferring to maintain my wall of privacy. I’d cut back on socializing after my ex-husband, Joe, left. Not that I blamed him for ending it—he’d been clear from the start that he didn’t want kids in the house. When Amber OD’d and nearly died six years ago it came down to him or Jessie, because I couldn’t stand the situation any longer. The choice had been clear and the divorce had been amicable enough.
Still, I’d needed to lick my wounds for a while. Between building my business and raising my cousin, I hadn’t even tried dating until I met Nate a few months back. On nights like this, I wondered if those years alone had been worth it. It wasn’t that Jess was bad. It’s just that she never quite figured out the whole cause-and-effect thing, and probably never would.
By the time I pulled up to the Armory it was nearly three in the morning. I don’t know what I’d expected from the Reapers clubhouse. I knew it was an old National Guard building, but somehow that hadn’t translated into “fort” in my head. But that’s essentially what this was. Big, solid building, at least three stories tall. Narrow windows, parapets on the roof. There was a gate through a side wall leading to what looked like a courtyard behind the building.
Directly in front of the building was a line of bikes, watched over by a couple of younger men wearing the signature leather vests I’d seen around town over the years. Off to the right was a gravel parking lot with a good number of cars in it. I pulled into the end of the line and turned off the ignition.
It occurred to me that I’d be crashing a party right after cleaning for six hours. Great. I probably looked like an escapee from an insane asylum. I flipped down my mirror—sure enough, my blonde hair was ratty and my makeup had long since disappeared. Oh well . . . Wouldn’t be the first time chasing down Jess had dragged me out when I needed a shower and bed.
Although she’d never dragged me anywhere quite as intimidating at this place.
I got out of the car and started toward the main door. One of the men walked across the gravel to meet me. I looked him over, feeling old. He had to be twenty at the most, and the scraggly beard he wore with obvious pride had hardly filled in. He wasn’t muscular like his friend manning the door, but all wiry and pointing bones.
“You here for the party?” he asked, studying me skeptically. I couldn’t blame him—my ratty jeans might not stand out too much, but my tank top had seen better days and the bandanna holding back my hair was stained with sweat. I probably had dirt streaks on my face, too. The light in the car had been so poor they wouldn’t have shown up.
Oh, and did I mention the feeling-old part? At thirty-eight, I was pretty sure I could’ve been this kid’s mom.
I decided I didn’t like him.
“No, I’m here to speak with Mr. Hayes,” I said politely. “Mr. Harrison suggested I come here to see him.”
He looked at me blankly.
“I got no idea who you’re talkin’ about,” he said finally. The oversized infant masquerading as an adult turned and hollered at his friend. “BB, you got any idea who ‘Mr. Hayes’ is?”
BB lumbered over toward us like a bear, dark hair hanging down his back in a braid. He seemed to be older than this one, but not much. I sighed. Good lord, they were just babies. Dangerous babies, I reminded myself, eyeing the chains hanging from their pants and the bulky rings decorating their hands.
Those were essentially brass knuckles.
“That’s Picnic, dumbfuck,” BB said, looking at me critically. “Why you callin’ him Mr. Hayes? You got papers to serve? He’s not here.”
I shook my head. I wished it were something that simple.
“I call him that because I work for him,” I said, keeping my voice matter-of-fact and composed. “I own London’s Cleaning Service—several of your businesses are our accounts. Mr. Harrison sent me out here to find Mr. Hayes.”
“Bolt sent her,” BB told the little one. He nodded at me. “I’ll walk you in. See if we can find him.”
I took a deep breath and steeled myself to follow. I’d heard so many stories about this place that I wasn’t sure what to expect. If you believed the rumors, the Armory was a combination whorehouse/underground fighting pit, with piles of stolen goods packing every room to the ceiling. Fifty percent pirate cave, fifty percent drug den, one hundred percent dangerous.
BB opened the door and I followed him in, getting my first good look at the clubhouse.
The rumors were certainly wrong about the stolen goods. I’d like to think if they furnished the place with stuff they’d taken, they would’ve picked out things that were a little nicer than what I saw before me.
The room was large, and from the central location of the door it seemed to span the entire front half of the building. On the far right was a bar. Ancient couches and cast-off chairs lined the walls, and several battered, mismatched tables filled the center. To the left was a pool table, darts, and a jukebox that was either forty years old or a damned good replica. The place wasn’t dirty . . . just very well worn.
It’s funny, but looking around, my very first thought was that I was overdressed—and by overdressed, I meant there was literally too much fabric covering my body.
Wayyy too much.
The women ranged from full-on naked to dressed casually in tight jeans and low-cut tank tops. I stuck out like a . . . well, like a cleaning lady at a biker party. Half the guys had women on their laps, partially clothed and otherwise, and off in the corner I was pretty sure was a couple having full-on sex.
I snuck another quick look out of the corner of my eye.
Make that definitely having sex. Disgusting . . . yet strangely mesmerizing . . . I had to force myself to look away, hoping to hell I wasn’t blushing like a little girl.
You’re thirty-eight and you know where babies come from, I reminded myself firmly. Just because you’re not getting any doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.
People started to notice me—big guys covered in tattoos, wearing leather vests with the Reaper colors on them. Their gazes ranged from curious to outright suspicious. Shit. This was a mistake. So Bolt sent me out there. That didn’t mean it was safe, or a good idea. Bolt wasn’t my friend. Sure, he probably valued me as a worker, but the club valued their strippers, too. Certainly didn’t stop them from firing their asses right and left when their personal drama got out of hand.
Snap out of it.
I took another deep breath and smiled brightly at BB. He’d been watching me expectantly, almost like he thought I’d run away or something. I’m no wimp, though. I might choose not to cuss, but I know what the words mean.
I looked up to see a tall man with shoulder-length, wavy hair and so much scruff on his face he’d entered beard territory. He wore another of those vests. The name on his was “Gage,” and below it was a smaller patch that said “Sgt at Arms.” I’d never seen him at the shop, but that wasn’t saying much—we came in after hours for a reason.
“Says she’s here to see Pic,” BB said. “Bolt sent her.”
“That right?” he asked, eyes speculative. He swept them down my figure and I forced myself to smile at him.
“I’m looking for my cousin’s daughter,” I said. “She came out here for the party with some friends, apparently. Mr. Harrison suggested that Mr. Hayes might be able to help me.”
The man smirked.
“Did he? Imagine that.”
I wasn’t sure how to interpret his words, so I chose to take them at face value, forcing myself to wait for him to continue.
“Back outside, BB,” the man said. “I’ve got her from here. You’re the cleaner, aren’t you?”
I glanced down at my filthy clothing.
“How could you tell?” I asked, my tone dry. He laughed, and I felt some of my tension break.
“I’m Gage,” he said. “Let’s see if we can find Pic.”
“I hate to bother him,” I said quickly. “I mean, if he’s busy right now. I see you’re one of the club officers. Maybe you can help me?”
He raised a brow.
“Bolt sent you to talk to Picnic, right?”
I nodded, wondering if I’d made a mistake. Well played, London. Alienate the one guy who stepped up to help you.
“Then you should talk to Picnic.”
I offered another smile, wondering if he could see how close my face was to cracking from the effort. He turned and I followed him across the room, avoiding catching anyone’s eyes. Some seemed interested in me, but most were too busy drinking, talking, and doing more intimate things to pay attention to one grubby woman. In the center of the back wall was an open hallway leading farther into the building. He passed through it and I followed, growing even more nervous. Walking into the building had been bad enough, but somehow this felt worse. Like I’d hit the point of no return.
Certainly the point of no witnesses.
A door opened up ahead and two girls stumbled out, giggling. Jessica? No, but I recognized one.
“Kimberly Jordan, does your mother know where you are right now?” I asked, my voice cracking like a whip.
Everyone in the hallway froze, including Gage.
Kim stared at me, her eyes wide.
“N-no,” she said. She peered around me, as if wondering if her mother might jump out at her next. Good. Maybe that would make her think.
“You wanna talk to the prez or not?” Gage asked, his voice cool. “Pick your battles, babe. You want this one or your cousin’s kid?”
I swallowed, realizing that the Parental Voice of Authority might not be so welcome here. Oops.
“I’m here for Jessica,” I told him. He smiled at me, his teeth bright and shiny in the dim light.
“Great, so let’s leave them alone, all right? Girls, get out of here.”
They brushed past us quickly, whispering with thrilled and excited eyes.
“Do you always have underage girls out here drinking?” I asked him, unable to just let it go completely.
“We’re not serving anyone underage,” he said flatly. I raised a brow, wordlessly calling him on his bullshit. He grinned. “You wanna look me in the eye and tell me you never had a drink until after you were twenty-one?”
I sighed. Of course I had. Not only that, I’d had lots of them and I hadn’t turned into an alcoholic or gotten pregnant or anything horrible.
Nancy Reagan had been wrong—at least in my case. Amber probably should’ve just said no.
“Can we just get on with it?”
Gage shook his head, not even bothering to hide his amusement, then stepped forward and knocked on the unmarked door to our left.
“Pic? You busy?”
I sat on my office couch, wondering why the hell I didn’t give a shit that a beautiful girl was currently sucking my cock. Sure, I enjoy a good blow job as much as the next guy. But tonight I wasn’t engaged, just couldn’t bring myself to care. This was unfortunate, because the babe kneeling between my legs had a mouth like a Hoover and a very loose sense of morals. She was the new headliner over at The Line—the boys had brought her out tonight just for me.
Forty-three fucking years old.
Her fingers dropped low, running under my balls with a light touch as her tongue swirled around my dickhead. I reached over and grabbed my beer, taking a long, slow pull. The cold liquid slid down my throat and I decided I didn’t give a fuck if she finished or not.
I want you happy, baby, but you can do better . . . Heather seemed to whisper in my ear.
I’d been hearing her voice since the day she died. Christ, I missed that woman, and I wished to hell those little whispers were more than my own sick subconscious. But I knew they weren’t, because if Heather’s spirit was really beside me offering advice, I wouldn’t have fucked up so bad with my daughters.
I glanced across the room to the black metal filing cabinet. A picture sat on top of it, in a tarnished silver frame. My old lady. The shot was from one of the last family parties we’d had—right after she recovered from the mastectomy, but before that final round of chemo. Her arms wrapped tight around our two beautiful girls, all three of them laughing at something just out of the frame.
Hoover chose that moment to suck me in deep down into her throat and I closed my eyes. Damn, Bolt had told me she sucked cock like a pro, but he hadn’t given her full credit. The woman had a gift. Every inch squeezed tight and I wasn’t small. I groaned, letting my head fall back.
Why did it still feel like I was cheating on Heather?
Hoover popped back up, giggling at me annoyingly. I opened my mouth to tell her to shut up, but she sucked me back in before I had the chance. Shit, that was good. My boredom disappeared, leaving the clarity I only got during sex or a good fight. My body felt incredible, but my mind floated, blessedly detached. No guilt over Heather, no worry about the club, not even thoughts of my girls could touch me here.
I was like a machine, powerful and free.
My phone buzzed next to me on the couch and I glanced down to see a text.
BOLT: Enjoying your party? I sent you another present. Try not to break it.
I glanced down at the brown-haired head bobbing in my lap and decided that my life might not be perfect, but damned if my friends didn’t take care of me. If there was a God in heaven, I was about to meet this bitch’s twin sister.
A loud knock came from the door.
“Pic? You busy?” Gage called. “You got company. Bolt sent her.”
Reaching down, I caught the stripper’s hair and gripped it, slowing her down.
“Send her in.”
The door opened and a short, curvy blonde dressed in a dirty T-shirt and ragged jeans stumbled into the room, her eyes going wide as she took in the scene. Generous tits filled out the design on the front of her shirt, which read “London’s Cleaning Service.”
That cocksucking bastard. Bolt was gonna pay for this, because London Armstrong was the last woman who should be in this building. This bitch and her gorgeous rack had been making my life a living hell for the past six months, because she was the last thing I needed in my life and I’d never wanted to fuck anyone more.
Not even Heather.
And that was a problem.
It didn’t matter how nice London’s tits would look squeezing my dick until I came all over that pretty face of hers. She was too nice, too clean, and way the fuck too grown up. Ms. Armstrong was a regular citizen walking the straight and narrow, and she had no place in my world. She’d run off screaming in the darkness if I cut loose with her . . .
To make things worse, I sort of liked her as a person, too.
Hoover made a sudden choking noise, and I realized I’d trapped her head, cutting off her air. I let her go and she jerked back, looking up at me in confusion as she panted, mouth red and wet. I patted her head, reassuring her.
Like a dog. Christ.
What the hell was Bolt thinking, sending London here? I sucked in a deep breath, because the woman—who was staring at me across my office as if I was an ax murderer—looked like she was about to turn and run for the hills.
I wanted to chase her when she did it . . . run her down, rip off her jeans, and shove deep inside while she screamed at me. Yeah, nothin’ wrong with that scenario.
Six months I’d jerked off picturing her boobs, but I’d done the right thing and left her alone. Not my fault she walked into my damned office and not my responsibility to save her now that she’d come here. Clarity washed through me again and I decided there was only one way to end this.
I offered her a predatory smile and raised a hand, waving her toward the couch.
Happy birthday to me.
I’d never considered myself a prude.
I was wrong. I was definitely a prude, because I had nowhere in my head to put what I saw when I walked through that door. I don’t know why it was so shocking. It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen people going at it publicly in the other room, and of course a private office like this would be perfect for a quick blow job . . . But when Reese Hayes yelled that he was busy, I’d expected him to be busy with some sort of nefarious, biker gang–related activity.
You know, laundering money or something.
Then he smiled at me, the kind of smile a shark gives a castaway right before it rips her leg off. He raised his hand, beckoning me toward the couch.
I stared at him (oh my God he’s got a woman’s head in his lap!) feeling something like panic, and opened my mouth to say I could come back later. Then it hit me—no, I couldn’t come back later. I needed to find Jess and I needed to find her right now before she started wreaking havoc. And as much as I wanted to judge the club members for leading her astray, I knew darned well she could find trouble all on her own. If anything, taking her out of here would be an act of mercy.
They had no idea what kind of destruction she was capable of.
You can do this.
“Hello, Mr. Hayes,” I said briskly, deciding a businesslike tone was the best way to set myself apart from his other . . . friend. Nope. I was a woman with a purpose and I didn’t have time for fooling around.
Still, it took everything I had not to look at his lap, see if I could catch a glimpse of his endowments. This would be so much easier if I hadn’t spent at least two or three sessions with my vibrator picturing a scenario just like this one, but with me playing the staring role. Pull it together, Armstrong.
“I’m London Armstrong and I run the cleaning service that works for your club.”
I stepped into the office but didn’t go so far as to walk over and offer my hand for him to shake.
There’s only so much a woman can handle at once.
Hayes gave me the same look he always gave me. Calculating. Hungry with just a hint of speculation as his eyes swept down my body. He lingered a bit on my breasts, but didn’t make a show of it. Nope. He was all business, except for the uncomfortable fact that a woman was actively giving him a blow job. I swallowed, feeling my cheeks flush.
His eyes flickered back up to mine.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, his voice low and gravelly. Sexy. I shivered, because I could think of all kinds of things I’d like him to do for me. Maybe even to me, although I hated to admit it. It’d been a long six years, and I hadn’t slept with Nate yet . . . We’d been dating for nearly two months, but between our schedules we didn’t get to see each other all that often. Hell of a dry spell.
I forced myself to consider Hayes’s question seriously, despite the squelching, squishy noises coming from his lap. How did that woman keep sucking on him like that, oblivious to what was going on? It was very distracting.
“You needed something, sweetheart?” Hayes asked again, taking a swig of his beer. “If you’re here to join in, fine, but otherwise come sit down and tell me what you want.”
My cheeks radiated heat and I knew I was lost. I’d done so well staying matter-of-fact up to this point, but there are limits. Just get it over with! Then you can go home and have a very large glass of wine.
I’d need a bucket to hold all the wine I’d be drinking tonight, I decided.
“I’m looking for my cousin’s daughter. She lives with me.”
“Have a seat,” he told me again. Gage gave a laughing snort behind me, shutting the door on us. I glanced down at the couch, an old plaid monstrosity that had to be twenty years old. With my luck, I’d catch a disease from it.
“I can stand.”
His voice snapped, and I felt myself tremble. Reese Hayes was a scary man. He’d been playing nice so far, but I was all too aware of the rumors surrounding him. Nate was a sheriff’s deputy, and he was full of stories about the Reapers, particularly their president. I’d blown him off, because the MC were good clients and I figured he was just prejudiced against them. No criminal gang could just exist in the middle of the community so openly, could it? Looking at Hayes now, I realized those stories might have been true after all.
His eyes were like cold chips of blue ice, and the hint of gray at his temples and in the scruff covering his chin gave him an air of authority that I wanted to obey almost instinctively. His arms were thick, banded with heavy muscles, and his thighs . . . I glanced away quickly, because those thick thighs of his framed the half-naked woman sucking his penis perfectly. Like I’d walked into a particularly high-definition porn shoot.
I wanted to die.
Under the best of circumstances this man made me uncomfortable, and I’d done my best to avoid him. So far I’d done a pretty good job, too—wasn’t like he hung around Pawns in the evenings when my crew came in. Well, sometimes he did, but he stayed back in the office.
Maybe that was where he did his money laundering?
Feeling just a smidge hysterical, I wondered exactly how one would go about washing money. I flashed briefly on a vision of Hayes working an old-fashioned, crank-handled washing machine while a group of aproned bikers carefully hung hundred-dollar bills on clotheslines in a sunny meadow.
I blinked, trying to remember why the hell I’d thought this could be a good idea.
“Are you gonna sit down or not?” he asked.
“I’m really uncomfortable with”—I gestured toward the woman—“this.”
“That’s not exactly my problem,” he said, dropping a hand to rest on her head. “But if it’s an issue, you can take her place.”
“No,” I said quickly.
“Then sit the fuck down and tell me why you’re here.”
His voice tightened, and I realized he was running out of patience. Fair enough—he obviously had other things on his . . . ahem . . . mind. I carefully perched on the edge of the couch, facing the door. This was actually better, I realized. I didn’t have to look at him now. Although I could feel the woman’s movements through the furniture frame and that was very creepy.
“My cousin’s daughter is somewhere at this party,” I said quickly. “Her name is Jessica, and she has very poor judgment. I’d really like to get her out of here and home before she does something completely stupid.”
Like set the building on fire.
“You got shit timing.”
I didn’t respond, because what the hell would I say? So far as I knew, Hallmark didn’t make a “Sorry I Interrupted Your Oral Sex” card.
Maybe I should write their corporate office to suggest it?
Hayes grunted, and the movement of the couch stopped.
“Go find Gage,” he muttered to the woman, who pulled free with a smacking noise I really, really didn’t need to hear. A second later she stood and wiped her mouth, glaring at me. I shrugged, offering a faintly apologetic smile. The couch trembled again as Hayes shifted, and for one horrible minute I thought he was actually going to grab me and push me down into her place. Then I heard the sound of a zipper.
I turned to look at him. He’d swiveled to face me, propping one booted ankle over his knee and stretching his arm out along the backrest. It was way too close for comfort. If I leaned over I’d be able to touch him. There was nothing on his face to indicate I’d just ruined his happy ending. No emotion at all.
“Tell me about her,” he said. “Why is this a problem?”
Now there was a loaded question . . .
“It’s a problem because she’s young and stupid,” I said, feeling fatalistic. “She’s self-destructive and does idiotic things, and if I let her run loose out here, something bad will happen, trust me.”
He cocked his head.
“And that’s our fault?” he asked. “You afraid we’re gonna corrupt her?”
I snorted, biting back an edgy laugh and shaking my head. God, if only . . .
“No,” I replied. “Okay, yes. Probably. But the danger goes both ways. Jessica is—”
I paused, unsure how much family business I wanted to share with him. As little as possible, I decided.
“Jessie has a lot of issues. She makes bad decisions and drags other people into them. For example, she got her best friend arrested for shoplifting, even though the poor kid had no idea what was going on. I know you have no reason to do this, but would you please consider helping me find her so I can take her home?”
He watched me, eyes trailing over my face. I wished he’d show some sort of emotion. Anything. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and that freaked me out.
“How old is she?” he asked thoughtfully.
“Eighteen. Just graduated from high school. But believe me, she’s not an adult.”
He raised a brow.
“She doesn’t have to do what you say,” he said. “Lotta kids that age live on their own already.”
“She has to do what I say if she’s going to be in my home,” I replied carefully. “And she’s definitely not taking any steps to support herself just yet, so I’m guessing my place is it for now. I’d just as soon not be responsible for a newborn, too, but knowing my luck, she’s actively getting pregnant even as we speak. Nobody needs that.”
He shook his head slowly, some unfathomable emotion in his eyes.
“You can’t control this,” he told me. “I have daughters. Did you know that?”
“I don’t know you at all,” I said, which wasn’t entirely true. I could still remember the first time I saw him, because he was beautiful and if I weren’t a mature, sensible woman I’d have said I had a crush on him. I definitely felt a strong physical pull—at least, when I wasn’t terrified of him.
That wasn’t okay.
I had a boyfriend. Nate. He was nice and he liked me and I liked him and he made me feel safe. I had a good life. I took care of Jessica and ran my business. I took care of her friends sometimes, too, and inconvenient crushes on bikers—ones I worked for, no less—weren’t on the table.
But as fabulous as Nate was, I hadn’t been able to keep myself from watching Reese Hayes these past months, and there was more than enough gossip about him floating around town to feed my fascination once I started listening. Hayes had two grown daughters, he’d been president of the Reapers for the past decade, and his wife, Heather, had died from breast cancer six years back. Right after I’d won custody of Jessica, actually.
I knew about Heather Hayes’s death because I’d attended her funeral.
She’d gone to high school with Amber, and while we hadn’t really known each other back in the day, I’d wanted to pay my respects. I’d never seen a man look more devastated than Reese Hayes had that cold, dark March afternoon at the cemetery. We’d gotten late snow, and his girls had been crying hysterically the whole time.
He didn’t cry, though. Nope. Reese Hayes had looked like a man who’d lost his soul. Since then he’d gotten a reputation around town as a total slut, a reputation that seemed to be well deserved, based on what I’d seen here.
Not your place to judge, I reminded myself.
When I started my cleaning business, I learned early that everyone has secrets to hide and it wasn’t my job to uncover them. Get in, do the job, get out, go home. Easy and simple.
“If you knew me, you’d know I feel sympathetic toward you,” he said. “Like I said, I have daughters. But I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t control them. I’m a hard man and not even I can control them. You don’t stand a chance with this kid. Why don’t you just go home?”
Enough. I stood quickly.
“I’m not leaving without her. Will you help me, or do I need to start searching by myself?”
He didn’t move and his expression didn’t change, but the air in the room cooled.
“Sit your ass down,” he said, his brilliant blue eyes flashing. The absolute authority and will in his tone was indisputable, reminding me that this was a very dangerous man.
Hayes rose to his feet, coming to stand in front of me. Then he leaned down and rested his hands on the back of the couch on either side of my head. His gaze pinned me, and my adrenaline surged.
What the hell was he planning to do?
“You do realize where you are?” he asked softly, which was way scarier than it would’ve been if he’d yelled at me. Quiet menace, carrying visions of bodies buried in shallow graves . . .
“You’re in my club. Outside this room are twenty men who will do anything to back me up. Anything. And outside this building are forests and mountains that reach all the way to Montana. Only witnesses out there are deer and maybe a moose or two. You sure you wanna piss me off? I just pulled my dick out of a willing woman’s mouth for you, so it’s not like I’m in a good mood to start with.”
I couldn’t breathe. My heart beat so fast that I thought it might explode out of my chest, and I knew for a fact that pissing him off was definitely the last thing I wanted to do.
“Now ask me nicely to help you,” he said, the words slow and deliberate. I nodded, taking a minute to steel myself.
“Mr. Hayes, will you please help me find my cousin Jessica?”
Sudden moisture filled my eyes, and I felt myself quivering. I blinked quickly and forced back the tears through sheer will. I’d be damned if I’d give him any more satisfaction. Silence fell between us, his face six inches from mine, palpable tension hanging in the air. In the distance I heard music and noise from the party, all too aware that I was utterly at his mercy.
“Can I go?” I asked quietly.
At least he was direct. I licked my lips nervously and his eyes followed the movement. I couldn’t look at him anymore, so I lowered my gaze.
That was a mistake.
“Lower” was his body, and one glance was enough to tell me that just because he’d sent his girlfriend away didn’t mean he’d lost interest in sex. Nope. Nice big bulge in those jeans.
My eyes skittered away, stopping at the big knife strapped to his leg. A hunting knife. Inside at a party. Nothing scary about that at all, right?
“Convince me to help you,” he said softly, his voice growing smooth, almost silky.
“How?” I whispered.
“How do you think?”
I closed my eyes, trying to think. Sex. He was talking about sex. Okay. It wasn’t like I didn’t know about sex . . . Was I willing to sleep with a man to find Jessica? Give up on my relationship with Nate?
My gut twisted, because I’d already given up so much for her.
“It’s a very bad idea to mix work and personal business,” I told him. “I’ve got two crews working for you right now. I think getting involved would be a big mistake. Not only that, I’m seeing someone already.”
Hayes gave a low chuckle.
“I don’t want to get involved and I don’t give a shit about your boyfriend. But I wouldn’t mind fucking your tits—that’d motivate me to help. Your call.”
It wasn’t exactly a secret that I had a decent-sized chest, but I’d never had someone be so . . . crude . . . about it. I didn’t know what to say. My eyes flew around the room, desperate to look at anything but his face hanging over me. Then I spotted a picture up on the file cabinet. A beautiful woman stood next to two teenage girls. Heather Hayes and her daughters. Those girls were grown up and moved out now, one of them in the past year.
Now Hayes lived alone. Inspiration struck.
“Who cleans your house?”
He blinked at me.
“What the fuck?”
“Who cleans your house?” I asked again, my thoughts coming together quickly. “If you help me find Jessica, I’ll come out to your place and have my crew do a full cleaning, no charge. You can sleep with anyone, but how many of those women can you trust to clean your house?”
He rocked back on his heels, cocking his head at me. A strange light came into his eyes.
“Didn’t see that one coming,” he said, his mouth quirking at one corner. “But any of those girls out there will clean for me.”
“I’ll bet they expect something in return, don’t they?” I asked, sensing I had him. “I’ll bet they want to be your girlfriend or whatever it’s called . . .”
“I’ll bet they want to be your old lady,” I continued, getting into it. I leaned forward, willing him to agree with me. “And I bet they get annoying after a while. My crew comes in, we clean, we leave. No stress, no fuss, and no strings attached. How’s that for something of value?”
“Not your crew, just you.”
I frowned at him. He sat back on his heels, seeming relaxed enough, but I still felt the coiled tension in the air.
“All right,” I said, figuring I should stop while I was ahead. I held my hand out and he took it, wrapping his strong fingers around mine. They were warm and solid. I’d bet his arms would be, too.
He didn’t say he wanted to hold you, I reminded myself firmly. He said he wanted to “fuck your tits,” and that’s a place we don’t need to go.
Obviously I should start sleeping with Nate sooner rather than later, before my hormones destroyed me entirely.
Don’t question. Just find Jessica.
“So what does she look like?” he asked. I dug into my pocket and pulled out my phone, flipping quickly to her graduation picture.
Good lord, my little cousin was stunning.
Jessica was tall, with long legs toned from running. Her hair was a rich, chestnut-brown and her eyes were bright with thick lashes. She looked like an all-American princess.
He gave a low whistle.
“Pretty girl,” he said slowly, and I glanced quickly at his face, hoping desperately I wouldn’t see lust in his eyes. He took the phone and abruptly turned and walked out of the office, leaving me to scamper after him like a puppy. I followed him back into the main lounge area where I’d first come in. I spotted Gage leaning against the wall, eyes seeing everything as he surveyed the party. Reese walked over to him and handed him the phone.
“So we lookin’ for her?” Gage asked.
“Yup,” he said. “She’s goin’ home with London, just as soon as we find her. And she’s out for good after that, got me?”
“Sure,” Gage said casually. “But she’s upstairs right now with Banks and Painter. Probably already on her back.”
I shivered, closing my eyes. Please, please, please be using condoms . . .
“This way,” Hayes said, and I followed him through the partiers and across the room. The crowd parted for him like a wave, making it all too clear who was the boss.
At the far end of the room, past the bar, was a staircase leading upstairs. Hayes started climbing and I followed. On the second level we passed through a large game room holding a pool table, old couches, a giant TV, and several generations of video game consoles. There were people here, too, although not as many. Just the occasional couple on a couch.
Eyes forward. Not your place to judge.
Hayes led me up one more level, into a narrow hallway lined on each side by narrow wooden doors.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the New York Times bestselling Reapers Motorcycle Club Series
“Raw emotion and riveting characters, I fell in love from page one!”
—Katy Evans, New York Times bestselling author
“Mixes a super-hot bad guy, a struggling young single mother, and sex that blisters the imagination, resulting in a thrill ride as raw as it is well written.”
“Joanna Wylde has a great voice in this genre…This is such a well-done motorcycle club book.”
“Ms. Wylde’s world-building skills are exceptional. She will completely take you into the biker world where the motorcycle club has [its] own values, rules, laws, and ways of doing things.”
—A Bookish Escape
“A really good bad-boy biker book! Exactly what I’ve been looking to read.”
—Maryse’s Book Blog