Authors: Cat Porter
Butler pressed his lips against my brow.
I swallowed past the mountainous lump in my throat. “Shit, I haven’t thought about all that in a long, long time.”
He took my hand in both of his and rubbed at each finger, one by one. Tension melted off each digit with his careful stroking. “You still have the farm?”
“You lost it?”
“No, we sold it to one of dad’s cousins. Mom found a good job in Meager, and we moved into town. Life moved us along.”
“That’s what life does.” He ran his knuckles down the side of my face. “Try to get some sleep now.”
I settled back down on his chest while he hummed.
“What is that?”
“The song you’re humming.”
He cleared his throat. “It’s ‘Maybe Tomorrow.’ Stereophonics.”
“Can you sing?” I asked.
A noise escaped the back of his throat. “I used to be in a band in high school,” he said. “Lead guitar and lead vocals.”
“Really? So, my instincts about you were right, huh, Rhett?”
“Yep.” Butler grinned. “We were fucking good, too. Something else I trashed and stomped on.”
My fingers rubbed at the base of his warm throat. “Sing it for me.” I moved back from his chest, keeping a hand on his stomach. “Please.”
He took in a breath, his middle expanding. His rich low voice filled my sore heart, my nicked soul, the thick quiet of the small room. The deeply warm, husky quality of his voice held me still, soothed me, stirred me. The lyrics pleaded, wished, full of grains of hope yet full of bittersweet resignation.
I clung to him, his fingertips pressing into me. This song was me, and it was Butler wanting to find our way home, hoping for a better day, but knowing not to hope for too much.
A tear slid down my face, pooling in my throat. I only wanted to ride the wave of emotions in his voice, feel every lyric, feel this stolen stillness with him as the Jacks were in some sort of full emergency mode beyond the walls of this small room.
He sang the last note and let it go in a deep hum. His fingers played with the ends of my hair.
“Did they touch you, Tania? You’ve got to tell me the truth.”
“There was some groping.”
He sucked in a tight breath, his hold on me tightening.
“But that was it,” I said. “They threatened me with more to get to me, but they didn’t get a chance. It’s okay.”
“No, babe, it’s not okay. Nothing’s okay. Don’t you see that? Through your association with me, you got punished; you became a victim.”
“The craziness started when I stabbed Scrib when he got a little too friendly.”
“I stabbed him.”
“I stabbed Scrib.”
“With what? You have a concealed weapon on you?”
“Wreck’s lipstick knife, remember? It’s a sweet little piece.”
“Apart from the aesthetics, I thought I’d keep it handy, just in case. And, boy, did it come in handy. Didn’t get me far, but in the end, I used it to get Scrib off of you, too. So, that was very good. Otherwise, you would have been in a hospital bed right about now. Did any of the guys grab it at the cabin? Because I’d really like to keep it.”
“Jesus, Tan. I’ll ask them.”
I picked at a bloodstain on his T-shirt. His hand clamped over mine.
“You shouldn’t have been there in the first place. All that’s on me, and I will never forgive myself.”
“You’re not responsible for Reich being nuts,” I said.
“He’s mad at me, got a beef with me, and he took it out on you. See how that works?”
I held his gaze. “You got me out of there.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Look at me that way. I’m no savior. I’m the reason you got taken. I’m the reason he hurt you.”
“You’re not the bad guy here. Reich is. Reich is the one instigating trouble. Reich is the one to blame.”
He smoothed the hair from my face. His jaw was set. “You got hurt today, hurt bad.”
“Yes, and it was awful, but—”
“Tania, stop. Stop.”
“No.” I smoothed my hands across his chest. “Listen to me. You are not to blame.”
His face was ashen. He was exhausted, worn out.
I ran my hand down his cheek. “Do you feel okay?”
“That depends on what you mean exactly.”
I gently pressed my lips to his, and he sucked in a tiny breath at the contact. His face seemed pained.
“Butler.” I kissed him again, the taste of him arousing something fundamental in me, something primal breaking free.
His cool forehead slid to mine, our lips a breath apart. He was fighting this.
I kissed him again, and a small groan escaped his throat. His hand fisted in my hair at the back of my head, his eyes wild, his fingers gripping my face.
“Today could’ve ended very differently.” His voice was a rough whisper. “I can’t lose you. I can’t.”
My heart doubled over. “You didn’t lose me. You found me.”
Oh, I wasn’t talking about only today.
“You found me,” I said. “You did that.”
“I put you in danger yet again.”
Butler was on a ledge, and I had to get him down. I had to get him to focus, to hear what I was saying.
“I’m here with you right now, and I can feel you all around me—your heat, your breath, your heartbeat. Now, you show me what you’re feeling.” I held his tense gaze. “Show me.”
He brought his mouth closer to mine, and my lips parted for him, his warm breath heating my skin. I could almost taste him. I was poised on the edge of his cliff.
“Show me,” I whispered, my hands sliding up his back, his dense muscles flexing under my touch.
He bent slightly, his tongue swiping through my lips, licking, stroking mine, taking my breath away. His hand wrapped around my neck, and the other fisted in my hair while he tasted, he drank, he savored. He pulled back again, his eyes piercing mine, his breath ragged.
“Show me,” I breathed.
Butler took my mouth in a wild kiss, and our tongues found each other again. Raw emotion and aching need surged through me. He unleashed a groan, and a burning heat seeped through my insides at the sound, at the press of his fingers gripping my face. He fed my hunger, and I fed his.
“What are you doing to me?” His thumb stroked the side of my mouth.
“What you’ve done to me.” I kissed his thumb and took his hand in mine. “And your seductive singing voice has only made things worse.”
He chuckled, the lines of his face finally relaxing. “Well, in that case, you want to hear my version of ‘Riders on the Storm’ next?”
I shoved at his side.
“I was kidding. How about ‘Wild Horses’?”
His fingers slid through my hair, and I leaned against him and closed my eyes. He sang that beautiful song to me so gently, a sensual lullaby. An ache bloomed inside me for him, for his lost happiness, for the tenderness burning in his soul. I focused on his voice, on his touch, and I willed them to blot out the images of Reich and Scrib dancing behind my eyes. All the tension in my body eased and faded.
Bikes throttled in the distance, and the clamor in the building had now waned.
I sank into Butler’s beautifully rugged voice vibrating through his large powerful body, a body that clung to mine. And, in those lingering notes of music, we both clung to a thousand tiny hopes, which seemed elusive as grains of sand.
THE SENSATION OF BEING CHASED
was overwhelming, and my body jerked awake.
Butler only gathered me in his arms tighter, a hand cradling my head. “Shh. I’m here, Scarlett. I’m the one holding you. I’ve got you, baby. I’ve got you.”
I trembled, a cold sweat beading on my skin. He caressed my back and sang to me as I curled into his chest. His beautiful voice unclenched the steel clamp of Scrib’s eyes from my soul, unleashed Reich’s laughter from my ears.
The next time I woke up, I was alone. A quick glance at my phone confirmed it was finally morning.
I sat up slowly in the bed and took in a breath, my feet touching the floor. I shuffled to the bathroom, and stared at my dull reflection in the small mirror. I pulled the V of the huge T-shirt further down my chest and tugged the tape from my skin releasing the bandage.
Grace burst into the room. Her delicate features were an austere mask, her eyes went to the red slashes on my skin.
She led me back to the bed and set about inspecting my wounds, cleaning them. I wrapped my fingers around her wrist. Her hand holding the antiseptic-soaked gauze hovered over my chest.
“I’m fine, Gracie. Thank you.”
She resumed dabbing at my skin, her face still tense. “I came by last night, but you were sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
Had she seen me and Butler together?
“By the way,” I said. “I called my mother before I fell asleep and told her that I was spending the night with you and the baby since Lock had to go out of town at the last minute.”
Her forehead wrinkled. A slight movement, but I knew her so well.
“Say it already,” I urged.
“Just like when we were in high school. Remember when you wanted to spend the night with Trip Hofstedt at his family’s cabin in Spearfish, and you told your mother that you were spending the night at my house?”
I let out a small laugh. “Oh, right. Trip was sweet. Good kisser, too.”
She shot me a hard look. Not amused.
The door burst open, and our heads jerked toward the noise.
“Tania.” Finger filled the doorway, his usually neutral, unreadable face was drawn and tight, his dark eyes fiery coal. One large hand was splayed over the door.
“I’m fine,” I said, adjusting my shirt so it covered the cuts.
“That’s all she keeps saying,” Grace spit out. “
I’m fine. I’m fine
“But I am, honey,” I said.
“Sure you are.” Grace pitched the gauze into a small plastic bag at the side of the bed. She wiped at her eyes as she shot up and faced Finger. “Take a look. See how
she is. You’ll appreciate it.”
“Grace, don’t,” I said.
“I’ll leave you two alone.” She stalked from the room, her boots stomping on the cement floor.
Finger approached the edge of the bed. His index finger yanked down the loose V of my T-shirt, and I pulled in a breath. His face erupted into a malicious glower.
was sliced into my skin to match the ones on his face.
“Motherfuckers!” he bit out through his clenched jaw. His eyes darted to my wrists and the red marks around them to the cuts on my fingers.
My stomach rolled. “Finger—”
“That’s about me, clear as day!” Finger’s jaw tensed, his shoulders one long ridge. “He used you to send me a message, to—”
“Please, please don’t start some kind of war over this.”
Finger’s white teeth dragged over his bottom lip. “War’s already begun, baby.” His gaze ricocheting around the room with the force of a bottle rocket.
I pushed up in the bed. “They can’t find her, can they? One of them was with Reich, and if you—”
“I will take care of this.”
“Oh, yeah?” Butler stood in the doorway, arms folded, face stony.
Finger spun around. “They took her from you, asshole. What was she doing with you anyhow?”
“I was at Butler’s place because I wanted to be. They took me when I left the building.”
“I don’t need you defending me, Tania,” Butler spit out, his eyes flashing.
“Both of you need to concentrate on getting things right between your clubs. That’s how you can make this”—I pointed at my chest wound—“better.”
They both stood over me, a savage simmer seething between them, hot and fierce. Two warriors, one dark and one light, from some heretical fairy tale. Their minds were undoubtedly swarming with the same images of revenge seeking—bikes roaring, bloodletting, smashing skulls, breaking bones.
But there was another way to take this.
I touched Finger’s arm, and his thick gaze met mine. “I need you to do me a favor.”
“Anything,” he replied.
Butler let out a huff.
“I need to see my brother.”
“Of course,” Finger said, tipping his face at me.
“What are you up to, Tania?” Butler asked, his voice sharp.