Authors: Paula Marinaro
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Paula Marinaro
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Mumtaz Mustafa
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014908876
Dedicated to the memory of my mother, Georgia Pomakis, who saved up some of her brave just for me.
heard screaming, begging, and crying. I saw them huddled against the wall. Pleading.
That’s what was waiting for me at the end of the long, battered hallway of the apartment that my sister and her addict boyfriend, Jamie, shared. As I passed their bedroom, I could see a razor, coke residue, a rolled-up bill, and a small mirror sitting on the floor. I knew if I looked further that I would see a syringe and a heavy elastic band. When Jamie’s sleeve was rolled up, his arms looked like a road map that said: Next Stop Heroin. This Way Please.
Jamie’s drug of choice was H, and my sister’s drug of choice for the past year had been Jamie. More recently, though, I knew she had been doing coke and not just a little bit. I had stopped giving Claire cash about a month ago, after I realized that most of it was either going up her nose or into his arm. I still came by once a week when I knew Jamie wouldn’t be there. I bought my sister groceries and cleaned the house. Sometimes she would even go out with me.
Those were the good days, and I would like to be able to say they were just like old times. But I can’t say that because my kid sis and I never really had the kind of upbringing that could draw on “remember the good old days” scenarios. One thing you can say about a shitty childhood is that it can do a lot to bond two little souls together.
Even in the worst of it, I had always reassured my sweet little sister that she and I were destined to live long, happy lives. I knew the chances were pretty good that there really were no happy endings and no rewards for surviving. But I would be damned if she was going to draw her last breath in fear, huddled on a dirty floor with a junkie’s arms around her. Wondering how the hell I was going to get us out of this one, I walked towards her screams.
They had seen me anyway. I recognized the rockers on the cuts and knew instantly who I was dealing with. Not good, but it could have been worse. These guys were one percenters, no question. I had learned early though, that nobody was all bad or all good. One of the kindest men I ever had known had worn these colors.
y dad’s best friend had been one of the founders of the Hells Saints Motorcycle Club. They met while serving time in county. Spending two years together in a five-by-nine cell, you learn a lot about a man. In the hours of swapping stories, they had discovered that aside from having a long and unpleasant relationship with the United States criminal justice system, they had a lot in common.
My dad and Prosper had both grown up in foster care. They had served their country by joining the service. My dad had been Army and Prosper had been Marines. Jack and Prosper had each completed two tours in Vietnam. They both loved bikes, tequila, and dark-eyed women. Prosper was released a month after my dad. The two of them took to the road that very day, riding across the country, sharing everything. And that everything, eventually, had included loving the same woman.
My mother was Lakota Sioux. She was living in desperate poverty in the Badlands of South Dakota and selling little earrings by the side of the road. My dad liked to say that while she had easily been the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, it was her gentleness that had shone through like a beacon. It took him three days to convince her to ride out with him. Her name was Magaskawee and she was eighteen years old. My dad called her Maggie.
Maggie, Prosper, and Jack spent the next six months on the road together. My mother was pregnant before her nineteenth birthday. When Prosper heard the news, he rode out that same afternoon. I couldn’t say for sure, but my guess is that being around her every day and not having her was something he had learned to live with. But watching her grow ripe and beautiful with the seed of his best friend growing deep inside her was just too much. So Prosper had left. Soon after that, he had started a family of his own. That family was the Hells Saints MC.
Prosper came back into their lives a few years later. By then, I was a little girl. I had been a shy, observant child living in a land of ordered chaos. I learned early on that there was a lot to be said about sitting quietly and watching. I watched for secrets. I found out Prosper’s secret when I watched him watch my mom. Then I watched my dad watch Prosper watching my mom. My mom spent all of her time watching us, so it all worked out okay.
She was nineteen when I was born and eight years later she was gone. She gave us as much as she could in the time we had with her. She taught us the Lakota ways. She would often sing lullabies to us in rich, Native American language. She loved us. And we knew she loved us. I always knew we were safe with her. I didn’t always know that about our father. I knew he would never hurt us, but there were times when I knew he didn’t see us. Sometimes when Claire would laugh or cry or demand attention in her sweet baby way, he would look at her as if surprised she was still there or even there at all.
Our mother never forgot. And she was soft. Her skin was soft and her long hair was soft. Her eyes were a soft, deep brown color. They were fringed with thick, soft eyelashes. When she spoke, it was in soft tones. She never raised her voice. If we were out in the yard playing, she wasn’t the sort of woman who would stand on the porch and yell for her children. She would walk to us and put her hand gently on us. Then she would guide us home. She was our world. It seemed as if she had no other family. We never had any grandparents or aunts or uncles visit us. Once I heard her talking on the phone to someone called Tanka. She was in the bedroom with the door closed, but I could hear her crying in between the words. I asked my mom about it, but she just shook her head and went sad for two days. I never brought it up again.
So Maggie made her family where she could. Although I know sometimes they made her uneasy, she welcomed my father’s rough, wild friends with gentleness and grace. And they seemed gentler around her, those big, muscled, hardened men. Men that the town folk would give a wide berth to would turn sweet around her. My dad had an open-door policy when it came to his friends. Everyone was welcome at any meal. There was never ever not enough. From macaroni and cheese to roast beef. No one left that table hungry.
My mom had a way of making everyone feel like an honored guest. Whether the guest had just been released after doing five to ten or whether he was one of the “shadow people” who had been thrown out by his latest old lady and needed a hot meal, a shower, and a woman’s advice. My mother treated them like kings. Because of this, these rough and tumble men were around a lot. When they sat at Maggie’s table to break bread, they found their manners. They found their pleases and thank-yous. They found their ability to keep their elbows off the table and their napkins at the ready. They kept their mouths closed when they chewed. They kept their voices low and their conversation mainstream. They complimented the food and drank their beer from a glass. They offered to help with the dishes.
One thing they didn’t do was ever find themselves too close to Maggie. Not in the kitchen, not in the dining room, not at the table. Our father had been known for his crazy jealous nature. His love for his boys only extended as far as it didn’t interfere with the love of his life. Prosper was the only one who got close to her. Jack only allowed that because when Maggie had a choice to make, she had chosen him over Prosper. He also put up with it because Maggie would have it no other way. Our mother had put her foot down on two things in her whole life. One was that she made each and every important decision regarding her babies. The other was that wherever was home for Maggie and Jack was also home for Prosper.
But they were all gone now. Cancer took my mom early on. After losing her, my dad drank himself to death. I hadn’t seen Prosper in many years.
Prosper had been a hard, handsome man. He had dark brown eyes and light brown hair that was streaked through with caramel and honey sun-kissed highlights. When he picked up the small girl that was me, I felt like I was sitting atop a redwood. He had a deep, gravelly voice and sang a mean Bob Seger. In the summertime, there would often be a warm crackling fire in the smoke pit of our backyard. He and my dad would play soft music and sing in deep harmony. Claire and I would fall asleep to those tunes in our mother’s arms. I grew up knowing all the words. Sometimes I heard my mom humming Prosper’s music softly to herself when she thought she was alone.
Other times there would be different people in our backyard. On those nights there would be no music, just loud men and women with letters on their jackets just like Prosper’s. I didn’t need to watch them to know that their secrets came from dark places. On those nights, I would keep Claire upstairs with me, tucking her in close. Keeping her safe from the dark shadows that they cast upon the bedroom walls.
On my eighth birthday, Prosper bought me a beautiful silver harmonica. As much as I had loved the wonderful little music maker, the best gift of all was the time we spent together. He talked to me about how the harmonica was a magic instrument because it was so small. So small that you could carry the gift of music with you wherever you went. He said that if you had music, you were never alone.
Prosper taught me how to hold it so that the low notes were on the right and what those notes meant. I learned that if I blew into one little hole it sounded one way, and if I sucked the air in it sounded another way. I learned how to isolate those sounds. He taught me to breathe from the diaphragm. He tutored me on the fine art of overblows and how to choke them. Prosper said that while the standard lip lock was a cool way to go, you really needed to do it a different way to play the blues. He taught me how to make rich, soulful sounds by bending notes. I practiced so much I was in a permanent state of cramped hands and swollen lips.
My mother was pretty sick by then. Prosper and I would spend hours sitting by her bedside singing and playing for her. Mom’s favorite was Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” She made us play it over and over again. To her unending delight, Prosper learned to replace the long, soulful sax with a beautiful riff on his mouth harp. When he taught me how to sing in harmony, my childish voice was clear, strong, and fearless. I loved him because he shared her with me. In quiet moments while I sat playing on the floor, they talked softly to each other. I watched my mother then, and I saw what I had missed before. My mother had a secret too.
The love my father had for my mother filled his heart so completely that there wasn’t much room left over for us. Her illness broke wide apart a deep hurt in his soul that only being loved by her could heal. She changed him, and when a woman changes a man that way, that man would rather die than go back to the place without her. My dad’s secret wasn’t that he couldn’t live without our mother, but that he didn’t want to.
He was disappearing before my eyes, and I took to following him around everywhere. I knew my mother would soon be gone, and I was petrified to lose him too. I waited and I watched. He never seemed to notice, but Prosper did. One morning we woke up to find Prosper gently snoring on the couch with Claire’s little body tucked safely under his arm. He was there every night after that until my mom died two weeks later. Prosper was the one who arranged all the things for the service. He held our little hands in his through the whole thing. My dad was too deep in his own grief to tend to ours.
After my mom was gone Prosper would still come and visit, but there were no more magic nights filled with sweet music and firelight. When I watched him then, there seemed to be a darkness growing within him. I knew all his new secrets came from bad places, and that had made me sad.
Eventually he started to bring a woman around. She had the unlikely name of Pinky and she was fascinating. She was round in all the right places and had big blond hair that hung in soft curls down her back. She wore bracelets with little gold bells that chimed when she moved. She had a wide mouth and a big laugh. She smoked endlessly and when she hugged us, she smelled of tobacco and lilacs. I remember she used to bring us cookies, and one time she even cleaned the house. Prosper smiled when he was with her. The first time I heard my father laugh again was because of something she had said.
Prosper, Pinky, and Jack were the family we were left with. Because I was a watcher, I knew that by many standards, Prosper was not a good man. But he was always good to us and that wasn’t only enough, it was everything.
Then came the night when the good in Prosper stepped up to change the crash course that had become our little lives.