Blood & Rust (Lock & Key #4) (9 page)

BOOK: Blood & Rust (Lock & Key #4)

and got on the road, the sun was setting. Two hours of driving later, with me behind Butler on the highway, he suddenly pulled off into the parking lot of a steak house.

He tore off his helmet, a hand digging through his matted hair. “I’ve been riding since sunrise this morning. I need a break.”

“Of course.”

He tugged off his gloves. “We’ve still got five hours ahead of us. I say we call it a night here and pick it up in the morning.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I’m starved. How about you?”

My brain stuttered, my gaze hanging on his pale blue eyes.

Loaded question…

My eyes flicked up at the huge hanging sign emblazoned with an old-fashioned caricature of a smiling cow. “I could eat that cow.”

Butler laughed and steered me toward the restaurant’s entrance, a hand at my back as he opened the door for us. A sweet warm
went off inside me. His tiny bit of chivalry was perhaps trivial, insignificant, but coming from a man like Butler—who, by all outward appearances, did not seem like the polite, caring gesture type—it made an impression.

We settled into a booth and ordered quickly. The waitress brought us our sodas.

“Thank you for helping me at Dave’s property,” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“I had fun.”

“Did you? You liked it?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“You didn’t think it was boring?”

“No. I really liked it.” He drained his glass, his eyes on me. “Is that so hard to believe?”

“A little. But I’m glad. You helped me a lot.”

“You usually do this shit on your own, right?”

“I do, yes. It was different to have a partner in crime for a change. You were good. Your eyes kept moving, hunting. You weren’t afraid to get dirty.”


We laughed.

“We found some amazing things,” I said. “Many times, it can be like a really bad garage sale. Or you find something good, but then it’s moldy or damaged. The worst is when they’re badly repaired, and then they don’t have much value, which can be really disappointing.”

“Every time, you go into it believing, with the same high energy and focus, don’t you?” he asked. “Believing that the next thing you see or touch just might be an authentic whatchamacallit.”

I laughed and clinked my glass against his.

He studied me as I drank, his eyes narrowing. “You’ve got a lot of fucking patience then, Tania. And an extreme level of belief. That’s…special.”

I squirmed in my chair, a stab of heat spreading through me. His good opinion actually mattered to me. “You have to, or you could miss out on something remarkable.”

“Yeah, remarkable is the word.”

My pulse ratcheted at his words, at the firm tone in his quiet voice that seeped under my skin, like it wanted to play there.

“I’ve learned in this business that good things happen when you least expect them. You never know.”

His eyes leveled with mine. “No, you never know. Life fucks with you that way.”

“Yeah, but some of those fucks can be good ones.”

He laughed, a hand passing over his chest.

The waitress arrived with our dinner, and we both tucked into the chargrilled steaks and thick French fries.

“So, this past year, you’ve been working with different clubs?” I asked. “Is that how the nomad thing works?”

“No. I worked with different chapters of my own club. Only if our national president approves can I have contact with other clubs.”

“That’s why you were at the Flames of Hell when Grace and I saw you in Nebraska?”

He wiped his mouth with the large white napkin and crumpled it. “Right. How’s your brother doing? Has he calmed his ass down since his girlfriend took off with his kid?”

“He’s sort of calm. The last time he came up for a visit, my mom laid down the law about him being a consistent dad. He keeps trying with Jill, but I think he needs to give that a rest.”

“You think?”

“She’s done with him and all the club crap that comes with being some biker’s old lady—sorry.”

“I get it. It’s a lot to take on for some. But if he still loves her, he should fight for her.”

“You’re right.” I put my fork down. “But sometimes, the love crumbles into bits, and there’s no putting it back together.”

“Sometimes, yeah.”

“Anyhow, I’m sure my brother is not a suffering monk or feeling lonely at his club without her.”

“He’s popular.”

“You’ve spent quality time over there at the Flames’ clubhouse?”

His eyes caught mine. “So have you.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Something I picked up on that day you and Grace showed up at their clubhouse. You and Finger know each other, don’t you?”

“He’s Catch’s President. Our paths have crossed.”

“How much crossing?” His voice was clipped.

Why did he care if I knew Finger?

I shrugged. “I’ve met him a few times through my brother.”

Butler said nothing. I held his gaze, chewing on the crushed ice cubes from my glass, chewing on the answer he wanted, but wasn’t going to get.

“How are you doing with going back to Meager?” I asked. “Huge decision. You’re not an officer anymore. You’ll be seeing Grace again and Lock.”

He pushed his dish away. “I’m glad they’re happy together. They both deserve to be. It’s great that it worked out for them.”

I shot him a look. “Aw, that’s so sweet.”

“Excuse me?”

“Save that for the Jacks. How do you really feel?”

His large shoulders rolled as he leaned forward on the table. “You really want to know?”

“Yes, I do. Were you in love with her? Are you still?”

“You don’t beat around the bush, do you?”

“That’s part of my charm. Answer the questions.”

“I’ve always been attracted to Grace. Everybody knows that, don’t they? Last year, I thought it was our time, our moment. But it wasn’t, and it isn’t ever going to be. Even though we were together for that short time—forgetting that she was working me for Jump—it didn’t click for us. I’d thought it would be a natural fit, but we were trying too hard. Then again, I was high for most of it.”

“You didn’t want to fight for her?”

The edges of his lips turned up. “I started to, but then I realized I needed to learn to fight for myself first.”

My spine straightened. “Yes. Exactly! I couldn’t agree more.”

“I’d made enough of an ass of myself,” Butler continued. “She and Lock were strung out on each other the whole time anyhow, and it was cutting them deep. You can’t fuck with that.
would be a real sin. My pride got bucked, but I survived.”

“Yep, you survived. Yet again.” I went back to my food.

He stared at me. “Did you ever tell Grace about you and me?”

I pushed the potatoes to the side of my dish with my fork. “No.”

“Really? I thought girls told each other all about that shit.”

“Well, sometimes, we girls refrain from confessing inappropriate behavior that might disappoint or upset our besties.”

“Inappropriate, I like. Disappoint? That, I don’t like. I think you got that backward, honey.”

me. And that’s not what I meant. You boys always have your minds on one thing.”

is that?”

“How big and hard your cocks are.”

“As if women don’t have our big, hard cocks on their minds.”

I chuckled. “Oh all right. I’ll give you that.”
Guilty as charged.
“What I meant was, I knew Grace liked you, and I didn’t want her to think that, on her wedding day, I was trying to be some sort of backstabbing evil bitch, grabbing at her spoils, trying to make some kind of point.”

“Were you? Just a little bit?”

“No, I wasn’t. Grace and I never competed for guys, never crushed on the same ones. Sorry to let you down, but it wasn’t about you either.”

“Then, what was it?”

I let out a small breath. “I felt uncomfortable at her wedding. She was moving on, and I wasn’t. She was doing something she really wanted; she had achieved a dream. I just graduated college—had done really well, too—but I still wasn’t sure what I wanted out of life. I was in limbo. I didn’t have many job prospects or a sense of purpose. Grace did though. She and Dig were flying. I felt stuck in the mud and left behind. Sounds stupid and immature, but—”

“No, it doesn’t. Emotions are what they are. You can’t help it.”

“I was really proud of Grace. Really proud. Despite me, my mom, even her sister getting pissed at her over staying with the club and wanting to marry Dig, she did it. A life with Dig at all costs had become her new dream, and she went for it. I only felt buried under all my expectations for myself, my mom’s expectations.”

“So, at the wedding, you were letting your hair down with me?” He grinned, as if he were watching a replay of our hook-up with a new fascination.

“I guess so. I was frustrated with myself, my life. I wanted to slap myself in the face.”

“I don’t remember slapping you in the face. I do remember slapping you on the—”

“Shut up!”

He laughed a rich, throaty, unpretentious laugh that only made me laugh, too.

“Butler, I’m quite sure I was a minor blip on your screen.”

“You want me to lie?”

“No, I don’t.”

His head slanted. “Yeah, you were a blip. A blip I wanted to forget. That was a long fucking time ago. We were so fucking young then.”

“Yes, now, we’re so fucking old.” I rolled my eyes.

Grace and I were forty-three now, Butler was only a couple of years older.

“Jesus, she’s laughing. Most women would punch me, slap me, tell me to fuck off for saying that.”

“Nope, I like your honesty, Butler. Actually, I expected you to say something flip or charming to weasel your way out of this awkward moment.”

“Oh, yeah? Like what?”

“Let’s see…how about,
Oh no, babe. You were fucking unforgettable. That sexy bod of yours, that hot pussy—you made my dick come alive. Wildest piece of ass ever.

Butler laughed out loud, his chest shaking. An elderly couple at the next table glanced at us.

“You liked that, huh?” I asked.

His eyes gleamed in the light hanging over our table, his blond hair shining. “Ah, I didn’t forget everything, Tania. I remember you in that dress. I remember you being pissy with an edge of self-consciousness. Then, we grabbed each other, and it was somewhere between angry sex and I-dare-you sex.”

I bit down on the side of my lip. “I was mad at myself after.”

“For what?”

“Not finishing what I’d started. That was bad form on my part.”

“I was mad, too. My dick was even madder.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.”

“Shit, what a relief. Twenty-something years later, I can finally breathe easy again.”

Butler squinted his eyes. “You going to go wild now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Now that you’re getting a divorce?”

“No time for men, wild or otherwise. I’ve got so much good stuff going on with my work and settling into Meager again. That’s what’s important to me now. I’m going to focus on getting my business off the ground, being a good aunt to my niece and my sister’s two boys, helping out my mom. And you?”

“Me what?”

“You must feed the wild need frequently.”

He grinned at me, his fist lightly hitting the table. “After a while that kind of feeding is often just a step above jacking off on my own. Maybe that opinion is a part of me being in my forties now.”

“Don’t be an ass. We’re not decrepit.”

He eyed me. “Go for the wild, babe.”

“Will do, Rhett.” My fingers slid up and down my wet glass. “Do you have a type for your wild?”

“I used to.” Butler stretched his legs under the table. “Blonde, blue-eyed, tall, skinny. You?”

Ah, yes, the complete opposite of me
. Medium height, blackish hair, large almond-shaped brown eyes, and not heavy but certainly not skinny. Just…regular.

“Not so much anymore.” I pressed my fingers along the edge of my napkin. “It used to be a specific look. But, now, it’s beyond the beard or no, long hair or short, dark or light, built or lean, brown eyes or blue. Different things turn me on now.”

“What things?”

“Mostly, it’s an unexpected flare of feeling over an odd detail.”

His bright blue eyes pierced mine. “A flare, huh? Like what? Tell me.”

I cleared my throat. “It can be a smile or a…”

Or the way Butler’s T-shirt was clinging to his powerful contoured shoulders right this second.

Oh, yeah.

Or the way he studied me as I spoke, totally focused on whatever crap was coming out of my mouth and then responding to it with irony or understanding—I was never sure which.

I like that. I really like that.

Or the way his hand had settled on my back as we walked into the restaurant earlier.


Or that glint in his pale blue eyes every time I cracked a joke he hadn’t expected, and I caught a fleeting hint of amusement and ease in them.

Yes, that.

All that.

His eyebrows lifted. “Or what, Tania?”


“Here you go!” The waitress placed fresh drinks in front of us.

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