Authors: Nicole Snow
When I was done, I looked down and gasped. I tried to make him a hero, a badass knight riding on a white horse, but that wasn't what greeted me on the paper.
Snarling, I tore it the sheet out and started all over, marking up the page at light speed. And each time it turned out the same – darker and scarier than I intended.
Stinger looked like a barbarian rather than a white knight. No matter what I did. The severed head always ended up there, hanging from his fist by the hair, just like the savage smirk on his lips. His eyes were the cruelest part.
They were cold, pleading, merciless – exactly how Dad's looked before he died.
I woke with a start and rolled over. We were back at his apartment after a long night, and he was in the bathroom, shirtless and magnificent as ever, drying his hair in the mirror.
The patterns on Sting's back formed a maze of sharp edges, curled like daggers. They looked like they were ready to fly off his skin and skin the whole world. Wide awake, his rugged exterior made me feel safe, and I knew he truly cared.
But I couldn't explain those stupid dreams.
“Finally.” He turned toward the bedroom when he finished with his hair, saw me, and smiled. “I know you need your beauty sleep, baby, but damn. It's almost noon. I was gonna wake you after this. Hungry?”
I shook my head. “I'm good. When do we need to get to the clubhouse?”
“Should've been there an hour ago, but everybody's running late. Moose says Blaze and Saffron haven't even shown up yet. We're okay. It's warmer out there today,” he said, smiling as he turned to the window. “We'll take the bike in. Get ready. Put the new shit we picked up to good use and bundle up. Fresh air will do us mighty fucking good before it's all business.”
I was actually looking forward to a short ride on his bike now that the weather allowed it. The business part made me cringe. Stinger was off to do God knows what with his brothers.
As for me, I was going to see Em about birth control.
I just hoped Blondie would keep her inner bitch under wraps. Yeah, I'd been bad all those months ago when they pumped me for information. Still, I hadn't forgiven her for flinging me around like a puppet to keep her old man out of prison.
Soon, we were off. The roads were clear and the dense clouds retreated over the mountains, leaving nothing but sun and blue sky. Snow thawed on the rolling hills around us, but there was too much winter left to make it last.
I was grateful for the stop we'd made last night for new winter gear on the way to his apartment – a big improvement over the crappy coat and gloves I had before. Stinger was suited up in nothing but an extra leather jacket and gloves. I had my hands wrapped tight around his rock hard abs as the Harley purred beneath us, a beautiful throwback to the first time we'd ridden.
Out here, with the gorgeous sky and the daylight, he really was my knight, powerful and pure. I shook my head, fighting off the doubts stewing in my dreams.
Yes, this man's violence bled into everything he did. It shaped who he was, and it wasn't going to stop anytime soon. I'd watched him kill for me and helped hide a hacked up body like it was a boring chore.
Accepting him meant taking the whole package, including the brutality that came with his lifestyle in this club. My heart alternated between sinking and fluttering as the cool wind flapped in our faces. Stinger reached for my gloved hand at the stoplight and gave it a good squeeze.
Fuck. Why does love like this have to come with such hard choices?
At the clubhouse, Stinger disappeared into their meeting room, waiting for the other brothers. I was perched on a stool with a tall glass of OJ, something I'd stolen from behind the bar for drink mixes.
The whores walked by and fished out beers, shooting me uneasy looks. I gave my bitchiest stare right back, knowing they'd both been fucking my man not so long ago.
I slapped my forehead, running tense fingers through my hair.
Was that really what he was? Could I say I'd made up my mind?
My heart screamed yes, but my messed up head said something else.
“Come on back, Alice,” a smooth voice said behind me.
I looked to see Em staring at me. Her lips were quirked and she had on a leather jacket with her PROPERTY OF TANK patch on the back, bright gold hair hung over her shoulders. The girl had definitely fully gotten herself into the life.
I rose and didn't say anything as she led me back. Just like any other doctor's appointment I'd ever been to, only this one was being handled by the last person in the world I wanted laying her hands on me.
During the quick exam, I flinched when she touched me, resisting the urge to throw my nails into her face. Em's eyebrows went up, and then she rose, peeling off her gloves and walking to the waste bin.
“You're good. No sexual activity prior to this?” she asked, keeping it cold and clinic.
I shook my head. “Nothing. I was stripping in Coeur d'Alene. Not whoring myself out.”
Emma's eyes narrowed and she looked me up and down. Damn, she had a way of getting underneath a girl's skin with that sassy mom-look. Obviously, Tank must've had a thing for spitfires.
“You don't need to be such a smartass, girl. What happened between you and me's all in the past. Here. Take these pills and pull the stick out of your ass. Just follow the instructions on the box.” She tossed a packet of birth control pills at me, one of many sitting in the club's stash, a cabinet stacked high with different kinds of contraception.
“Sorry,” I said after a long pause. “It's been very stressful lately. Never thought I'd be back here again...it takes some time to adjust.”
Emma cocked her head. “Sounds to me like this is where you're meant to be. Don't tell me you're second guessing what's going on with you and Sting? Tank told me everybody in the clubhouse could hear you two going at it down the hall last night.”
I flushed bright red and hid a smile. Lost it completely when Em grinned, a weirdly approving look on her face.
“You'll get used to life here with the guys and us old ladies before you know it. This MC has a good record with picking up misfits and putting them in their place.” She rolled her eyes, considering her words. “Well, putting them where they
, I mean.”
I nodded, straightened my clothes, and got up, tucking the little pill box into my pocket. “I hope you're right.”
“I'd better be. You'll be heading to the wedding in Reno in a few weeks with the rest of us,” she said. “If you haven't figured out by then you're old lady material, I'll eat my words with a heaping slice of bullshit on the side.”
I smiled, thanked her, and left. Couldn't help but be surprised it went better than expected.
Sitting at the bar, waiting for Sting to finish, I ran through everything again, gently rolling my glass of water back and forth between my hands, watching the circular vibrations.
Everything in the clubhouse seemed super real today. From Saffron sulking around and wiping down counters behind the bar, to the thick tension that filled the room like a furnace. Whatever was going on behind the door, it was dead serious.
Is it really any surprise I've ended up here? All I know is this life, this danger, this violence...
I sipped my water, feeling totally exhausted. It wasn't just the cold. My adrenals were shot, totally spent from the fear of losing my life, the stress of dancing at that shitty Grizzlies club.
Pleasure did it too. I had Stinger's insatiable thrills coming at me each night, churning with the serious doubts bristling in the back of my mind.
“Nice to see I'm not the only one getting beat up by Jack Frost,” Saffron said, stepping out from behind the bar with a rag for the counters.
“Today was pretty decent,” I said. “We rode in on his bike. First time I've been on it in months.”
The ride really did make me happy. Out there, hair tucked tight beneath my helmet, arms wrapped around my man, it was easy to forget there were monsters aiming to derail what we were trying to build.
Monsters, inside and out. The Slingers were a ferocious threat, and I didn't know how to handle them any better than the demons inside me, all the savage ghosts who refused to kneel to my newfound love and lust.
Saffron winked. “There'll be plenty more riding where that came from in another month, girl. We're riding to Reno one way or another. Even if we have to tow the bikes through a blizzard and unload them down in Nevada. Blaze said he'd shoot his way in if the assholes twisting the club's balls cause any trouble.”
“So, it's still on, then?” Saffron blinked. I realized I'd said something fucking stupid one second too late. “I mean...I was worried when I saw your frustration with Blaze and Stinger fighting the other day...”
Saffron laughed and shook her head. “Boys will be boys – especially when they're constantly measuring who's dick is bigger and who has the meanest tattoos. Blaze can be a dick, but he never lets me down when it counts. No frigging way will I
take this thing off unless I'm putting on my wedding dress...”
She stood up tall and did a little twirl, showing off her leather, a lot like Em's. PROPERTY OF BLAZE, the mark of her old ladyship, was there on the backside. Even with these stupid doubts screwing with my head, imagining one of those on my shoulders and Stinger's brand on my skin made me jealous.
“I'm really happy for you. For everybody. This club can certainly use some cheering up...”
Saffron snorted and rounded the bar, pulling out a stool to sit next to me. She laid her ruby red fingernails on my shoulder and squeezed.
“It's always something, Alice. You know that? If it's not Tank staring down a prison sentence for beating some guy to death, it's a pack of wolves ready to come in and rip us all to shreds.”
Ugh. Was that supposed to make me feel better? I swallowed the rest of my water, hoping to hide the unease building in my face.
“But guess what? I wouldn't trade this leather and the engagement ring on my finger for
Blaze is worth it. So are the rest of these boys. I used to have the same crap I see clouding up your eyes in mine not so long ago...”
Was she serious? I wanted to blow her off, get the hell out of here. I heard about Saffron suffering her own brand of really bad shit, but I didn't believe for a second it was like mine.
“My brother, Jordan, was mixed up in the Grizzlies MC and all the bullshit they're into – especially the drugs. Still is, I'm sad to say.” That made me sit up and take notice. “Before Blaze and the Devils, I thought all MCs were the same. They were all brutal pigs to me. Criminals. Some rogues who went AWOL from the Grizzlies killed my own mother. If there's anybody who should've tucked their tail between their legs and gotten as far away from all this as their little legs would carry them, it was me.”
“But you stayed,” I said.
Saffron nodded. “For Blaze. He protected me. He took revenge on all the assholes who ruined my family. This club has been through a lot of shit, and I know there's more that'll come. But that's what makes these men stronger and their love deeper. The love I have for my old man, the bond these brothers share...it's not like anything outside these walls. If it means I have to put up with the occasional poisoning or shooting or setup...well, I'm game. It took me a long time to figure that out, Alice. Emma too. I'm not telling you to do anything – your decisions are yours to make like a big girl – all I'm saying is, don't let fear chase you away from a good thing. If I'd listened to my gut, I would've missed out on the love of my life. I wouldn't have found my way home, straight into his heart. I can't imagine being anywhere else.”
Saffron let me go. Her eyes were all bright. Genuine proof she meant every single word. No BS here.
I couldn't look at her. Mouthing a thank you, I went back to staring at my glass like a class act drunk, trying not to get a headache as I digested all the food for thought she'd given me. The woman served it up in piles – not that I expected anything less from somebody crazy enough to get with Blaze.
Half an hour later, evening dragged into night, and the door finally swung open. The brothers filed out, anger and worry lining their faces. The three youngest brothers hit the bar, keeping their distance from me. Blaze and Tank scattered, and Sting headed right for me.
I sat up and pushed my way into his arms. God, I'd never get tired of his heat folding over me, a shield of pure muscle and power, bulwark against the fucked up world outside.
If only I could capture it, hold onto it, make it mine when my head swirled with doubt.
“What's wrong, Sting?” His eyes were darker than usual.
“Club business. Can't say more than that, baby. You're safe, and that's the way it's gonna stay. Don't fucking worry about anything else.”
I wanted to, though. Before I could ask anything else, he wrapped one hand in mine and pulled me toward the door.
“We're done for the day. Let's get the fuck outta here. We've got a ride through the dark and a cold bed at home that needs warming.”
My heart did a flip. Despite all the crap pressing on my mind the past evening, my baser instinct couldn't argue with what was coming. Wrapping my hands around him on the Harley finished off what little resistance I had left.
I leaned on him the whole time, running my hands up Stinger's abs. Jesus, he was so hard, even with all the layers of clothing packed between our skin. I closed my eyes, savoring his scent, breathing deep to keep me warm while the winter air kissed the tiny bits of our faces still exposed.
The constant hum of the bike underneath us didn't help. My panties felt more soaked each time the cool air caught me there. The tension pulling at my womb dashed everything except the raw, primal need to be filled.
It was going to be a long, hard winter. I could worry and drive myself nuts, or I could buckle down and enjoy him, one moment at a time.
All I had left after we'd both suffered together through so many bitter days. Whatever happened long-term, there was no way this man would let me suffer.