While Gedeon “Player” Lazaroff is one of Torpedo Ink motorcycle club’s roughest members, he’s also one of the calmest. Little rattles Player, except for the times his gift gets the better of him. When that happens, he has to just lie down in the dark and hope for the best. But on a night when he’s on the verge of losing it, he meets a woman who manages to soothe his fractured mind.
Zyah is a striking, ethereal beauty who seduces him with every word and move. Their night together is one of pure, exquisite bliss. But when Player gets confused and thinks their intimate encounter was nothing more than a dream, his careless dismissal leaves her humiliated and angry.
Now, Player will have to devote his every breath to convincing Zyah to give him a second chance. Because she might be the only one who can save him from himself.…
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Fog churned over the ocean, the wind blowing the roiling mass over the highway, turning the silvery night a dark, angry gray. Wisps curled around the truck as Gedeon "Player" Lazaroff maneuvered one of the severely tight curves on Highway 1 along the Northern California coast. He was familiar with the highway, but most of the time he rode his Harley and had his brothers riding with him. In some ways he was thankful they weren't with him, but he would have welcomed the comfort of their company.
The dark gray mist thickened so it seemed an impenetrable wall, and he slowed down, although he was so close to home his inclination was to step on the gas to get there faster. He was nearly desperate to make it back to the Torpedo Ink clubhouse and the solace of the room he used there. He owned a house and normally would have gone there, but at this point, he didn't have the time. The clubhouse was much closer, and the longer he was out in public, even in the seclusion of the truck, the more dangerous it was. He knew that, and he had vowed never to take chances with anyone's life again.
The cell played Master's short tune announcing a call, and Player hesitated, swearing under his breath. Sweat beaded on his forehead and trickled down his face. He wiped at it with his palm before hitting the Bluetooth. Cell phone service was spotty at best on Highway 1, and he hoped it wouldn't work. Naturally, he wasn't that lucky.
"Yeah?" He was abrupt. Off-putting. Hoping Master would get the hint.
"You okay? Where are you?"
"About four miles from home." Deliberately, he hadn't distinguished between the clubhouse and his residence.
There was a small silence. Four miles from home meant Player had been pushing hard. Far too hard. Risking trouble. Already, they'd broken the rules by separating. Torpedo Ink members stayed close. When running a mission, they paired up, eyes on each other at all times. They'd gotten into unforeseen trouble, and Player needed to get home fast. Master wasn't able to drive as fast. He carried an unexpected passenger with him, and Player couldn't risk being in close proximity with her, not in his present state of mind, although he'd only told Master he was feeling very sick and needed to get home.
Master had to drive the passenger's vehicle home anyway, so it had all worked out for the best. They'd reported to Czar and let him know Player was coming in early without Master, and Master was bringing in "baggage."
"Tell me," Master insisted.
"Fog rolled in."
"Pull over. I'll send someone to you."
"I'm close. I can make it. Just one of my damn headaches." Player poured confidence into his voice, ignoring the way the road seemed to be coming alive with the fog wrapping it in loops and whorls like smoke from a pipe. "Less than four miles now." He shook his head trying to clear it. All that did was rattle his already hurting brain. He clenched his teeth against the pain.
"You sure? Go to the clubhouse-it's closer."
"Yeah. Good idea. I can make it." He could. There was no one with him. He was good. Just make it into the yard. Park the truck. Get to his room and lie down. His head was pounding. It felt like his brain was coming apart. He had made it home a day early, so that was a good thing. "I can make it, no problem," he reiterated, trying to pour confidence into his voice.
Blue and red cut through the gray veil of fog in the rearview mirror, and he cursed silently as he looked down at the speedometer. Shit. Speeding. He could have sworn he'd slowed down. Hadn't he? He couldn't remember now. He was sweating bullets.
"Gotta go, Master, you're breaking up anyway." He needed to concentrate. He dropped the connection before Master could protest.
They had run what was supposed to be an easy assignment, trailing a couple of Ghosts that Code, their computer genius, had uncovered. Find out where the two were going, which motorcycle clubs they were targeting next. Easy, right? Torpedo Ink wanted to know who they were.
The Ghosts turned out to be businessmen who had been preying on weaker members of the various outlaw motorcycle clubs, specifically those members who gambled, getting them in deep and then making certain that they gave up information on the clubs running drugs or guns or trafficking in return for getting out of debt. The Ghosts wanted cuts into those particular businesses.
When a club reacted negatively, they had the president's old lady kidnapped, raped and tortured until the club complied or she was returned dead and another woman was taken. The Ghosts had a particularly vicious group of hit men doing their dirty work for them.
Player's club, Torpedo Ink, had rescued two women belonging to separate MCs from the hit men the Ghosts kept on retainer. In both cases, Torpedo Ink had been hired secretly so no one associated them with the rescues. The larger clubs didn't want it known that they had gone outside their club looking for help. Torpedo Ink didn't want it known that they had helped. They were a small club, and they wanted to stay under the radar-from law enforcement, other clubs and definitely the Ghosts.
The Ghosts kept themselves out of the line of fire, hiring hit men to do their dirty work and infiltrate the clubs for them. That's why they called themselves Ghosts. They believed no one could ever trace them. They didn't know about men like Code, who were that good with computers and could track just about anyone.
Player took his foot off the gas and eased the truck to the side of the road, watching the deputy pull in behind him. He was two lousy miles from the Caspar turnoff and the clubhouse. Two miles. In his present state, it was dangerous to have any interaction with any other human being. That had been the reason he'd separated himself from Master. Being safe. Making certain everyone was safe. Now this, all because he hadn't been paying attention. He knew better.
He hit the back of his head against the seat twice in recrimination and fished his license out of his wallet. Transporter and Mechanic, fellow members of the Torpedo Ink club, always kept the vehicles in the best of shape, the paperwork up to date and in the glove compartments. He had no doubt everything was in order, but he was so tired he wasn't certain if the truck was clean of any weapons. He just couldn't remember if he'd given everything to Master or if he'd kept guns with him.
He was exhausted, seventy-two hours without sleep and he'd used his psychic gift for far too long, something he knew better than to do. It not only drained him and took a huge toll physically and mentally on him, but if he used it for too long, it began to spill over into his reality. That was the main reason he had pushed so hard to make it back to his room at the clubhouse. He needed to be where he was surrounded by familiar things and he could replenish his strength and allow his fractured brain time to recover.
He'd always kept that side effect from his fellow Torpedo Ink members. They thought he would get a migraine and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland characters would appear. It would be funny, and they would all get a laugh. They had no idea how truly serious and fucked up that reality could get, or how it could really morph into something far, far more dangerous.
He buzzed down his window and shut off the truck as the deputy walked up to his vehicle. He recognized him right away. Jackson Deveau was a good cop, but one difficult, if not impossible, to misdirect. Just his luck. Player's head was pounding so bad his stomach began to twist into knots. He glanced around the truck, hoping like hell everything was in place and there were no weapons in sight. He had a carry permit, but it was best to not make any waves-especially with Jackson.
"Player," Jackson greeted as he took the license, his dark eyes moving over Player's face, seeing too much like he always did. "You all right?"
It was never good to try to deceive Jackson if you didn't have to. The members of Torpedo Ink suspected he was a human lie detector. He just seemed too good at figuring everything out.
"Feel like shit. Was trying to get home and didn't realize I was speeding until I saw your lights. Sorry, man." He resisted rubbing his pounding temples. "Do you need the registration and insurance? The truck is registered to Torpedo Ink, and the insurance is up to date. Czar's going to kick my ass for this."
Jackson handed him back his license. "I have to see the papers, Player."
Player reached over and opened the glove compartment, noting that Jackson's gaze followed the movement, one hand out of sight, probably near his weapon. Jackson didn't take chances, not even with the people he knew and actually liked. It was always difficult to tell with Jackson whether or not Torpedo Ink was included with those he liked. The cop's expression gave very little away.
Player handed over the registration and insurance and gave in to rubbing his temples. He didn't want to look too long at Jackson or the fog that was drifting in off the ocean. He'd been creating illusions longer than he should have been, and now those edges were blurring with reality. More than once, when he was tired, his mind played tricks on him and he couldn't separate reality from the worlds he created. People had gotten hurt. Several had died. He didn't take chances. He worked on that all the time, and he knew when he needed to shut it down, which was more than twenty-four hours ago.
"Thought you always ran with a partner." Jackson said it casually as he carefully inspected the paperwork.
Player cursed silently. His heart was beating too fast. Behind the deputy, a large caterpillar floated in the air, smoking a giant blue-green hookah. Big rings of smoke curled around the truck. Around Jackson. Player began to count in his head. Numbers. Repeating them over and over. The caterpillar began to puff in time to his counting, the smoke coming out in the shapes of his numbers at first, then morphing into letters of the alphabet.
"Master picked up a passenger in New Mexico. I got sick and couldn't wait for them, so I hit it for home."
Little beads of sweat trickled down his face. There was no stopping it. The smoke letters tilted first one way and then the other, rocking as if in tune to music. He realized he was tapping a beat on the steering wheel as he often did, in keeping with the counting in his head.
"Really sorry about speeding, Jackson, must have started inchin' up on the gas when I got closer to the turnoff without realizing it."
The letters drifted by Jackson's head. Spelling words. Death to the guards. Off with his head. Player closed his eyes, but the vision stayed in his mind, refusing to leave, the fog becoming smoke swirling around the truck and closing off the road so that even when he opened his eyes, it was difficult to see anything but the smoking caterpillar, Jackson, the wall of gray and those taunting letters that grew in length and width, filling the sky above the deputy as if condemning him.
Player forced air through his lungs as the smoke from the hookah began to swirl in time to his tapping fingers, the fog rings dropping like nooses around the deputy's neck. Abruptly, he forced his hands away from the steering wheel. He used music to soothe his brain, but it was all part of the fracturing now. He had to get out of there before he hurt Jackson.
"I don't think a few miles over the speed limit is worth Czar kicking the crap out of you. I think we can let it slide this time." Jackson handed back the registration and insurance, watching with his cool, dark eyes as Player put the papers back in the glove compartment. "Make it home safe."
"Will do. Thanks for the break. Nasty weather tonight. You be safe as well."
Player didn't wait for Jackson to get back to his SUV, nor did he look to see if the caterpillar had disappeared. He started the truck and eased it back onto the highway, concentrating on getting back up to speed, wanting to make those two miles as quickly as he could without further mishap. He just had to get to the clubhouse and into his room without any further contact with anyone.
The fog kept curling into shapes-hearts and diamonds, spades and clovers. They floated against the backdrop of the gray wall. The road wrinkled and moved, but he drove doggedly on, knowing the way, forcing his mind to work in spite of the images that had been familiar to him since his childhood.
He turned off the highway and drove toward the ocean, where the fog rose up like a large fountain off the churning waves, spouting into cyclones that danced toward the bluffs. Player tore his gaze from the waves and drove straight to the clubhouse, counting over and over to one hundred in his mind to keep his brain occupied so it wouldn't build stories or shape those cyclones into anything monstrous in the foggy weather.
He drove through the open gates into the parking lot, and to his dismay, the lot was filled with Harleys, trucks and a few random cars. His heart sank. Music blasted out of the clubhouse. Two fires roared in the pits on the side overlooking the ocean, where men and women danced and partied in the fog. He could make out their eerie shapes gyrating even as their laughter was muffled by the heavy mist.
A fucking party. He was a day early, and the club was having a party. He'd forgotten it was on the schedule to meet with another club whose members had come, like them, from one of the four Sorbacov training schools in Russia. The club, calling themselves Rampage, wanted to join Torpedo Ink.
Player didn't dare be around anyone in his present state. He was too worn, his brain fractured, the migraine too severe. He needed time to heal. To rest. A party with lots of people attending was the last place he needed to be. He forced his brain to keep counting, refusing to look at the grayish figures looking like silhouettes in the fog.