Authors: Drew Elyse
Copyright © 2016 by Drew Elyse
Cover Design by By Hang Le
Editing by Word Nerd Editing
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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All rights reserved.
To Margarita - My Pancake
Because this book has all the references
that I know you’ll get.
And because I missed our 10-year
so the 11th will have to do.
FIVE YEARS AGO
“You can’t be serious.”
I said the words, but looking at the girl in front of me, I could tell she was. My Ash was reserved. Her emotions were always hiding beneath the surface. They broke through only sometimes.
In that moment, her desperation wasn’t hidden at all.
“It’s dangerous,” she insisted.
I tried to stay calm, to reason with her. “Ash, babe, just last week you were as excited as I was about me getting a prospect patch. I’ve always wanted to be a Disciple, and it was what you wanted, too.”
“That was before they killed my dad!”
Her head was totally fucked over this.
“You know they didn’t. They’re mourning Indian as much as I am, as much as you are. He died, and it’s fucking terrible, but you know any of those men would give their own life to bring him back to you. If you just calm down, you know it’s true.”
Tears fell from her blue eyes—eyes that had been stained red for over a week. Nothing made a man feel more fucking impotent than watching his woman cry constantly and not being able to do a damn thing about it. I hadn’t lied; any of the Savage Disciples MC men would give up their lives in an instant to bring their fallen brother back, to give Ash back her dad. I would take a bullet right then and there just to make her stop hurting.
“They might not have meant for him to die, but it’s their fault. The fucking club is the reason he’s gone!” She went right on working herself up.
In that moment, I wanted to be able to rewind more than I could put in to words. Just over a week before, we were happy. Everything was good. Fuck, everything was going exactly as it should.
I’d been made a prospect for the club, the first step to my fucking life-long dream of being a member. My uncle, Gunner, put the cut on me himself. It was everything I’d wanted since I could remember, since the first time Gunner brought me around the club as a kid.
The first thing I did? I went to Ash.
My girl, the daughter of a Disciple, grew up with the club. The brothers were her family, just like they were mine. Since I was six years old and I first met her, she’d known having that patch was all I wanted. Fourteen years later, it was real.
Ash was fucking thrilled. My firefly beamed as bright as I’d ever seen her. She’d thrown herself into my arms. She couldn’t stop looking at the cut on my shoulders, the visual proof it was really happening. At least, she couldn’t stop looking until I got her to take it off me so we could really get to celebrating.
But that night, with Ash curled up next to me in my bed, my cell rang. The first bad sign was the three a.m. call. The second was the way Gunner greeted me.
“Is Ash with you?”
I didn’t know why he would need to ask that. Ash was nearly always with me. Indian might not have liked it, but his daughter was eighteen. And anyway, she’d been staying the night with me on occasion even before that. So yeah, if she weren’t at home with Indian, she was in my bed.
I hadn’t expected him to be asking because there was no way for Indian to tell them she wasn’t home.
I hadn’t expected that I would need to wake my girl in the middle of the night.
I hadn’t expected that it would fall on me to tell her her only family member was gone.
I did, however, expect the way Ash had fallen apart at the news. I was even prepared for the fact that she wouldn’t bounce back from it right away. Moving forward was going to be a long road for her, I knew that.
Still, I never could have guessed she’d even think the things she was saying to me.
“So what, Ash? You want me to leave the club? Give up being a prospect and just take off?” She couldn’t mean that.
“Yes.” Not even a moment’s hesitation.
“The club is family.”
“I know your uncle is—”
is family. All of them, not just my uncle. The brothers are our family.”
She looked at me and something about her eyes scared the shit out of me. “No. I don’t have a family anymore.”
Fuck. It was so much worse than I thought.
“Baby, the brothers are still your family. They helped raise you. Can you honestly say Roadrunner, Tank, Gunner, Stone—none of those men are your family? They love you.”
Her tears came harder, but there was no surrender in her. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t stay here and wait for the club to take anyone else from me.” A sob rocked her before she could say, “I can’t stay here and wait until it takes you.”
I tried to give her distance. I tried to stand across the room from her like she’d asked so she could talk, but I wasn’t doing that shit anymore. The second I had my arms around her, her face burrowed into my chest and she sobbed. It was a position we’d become all too familiar with.
“Firefly, listen to me,” I said into her hair, “I know you’re hurting, but this isn’t right. I can’t leave the club. I won’t. Once this pain isn’t so fresh, you won’t want to either. We’ll get through this, babe. Just hold onto me.”
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t argue any more. I got her into bed thinking I talked her off the ledge. She was staying. We were staying right where we were supposed to be.
I woke in the morning to find out I was very, very wrong.
“Order up,” Rocco called from the kitchen.
Of course my order was up. Heaven forbid I get half a second to just lean against the counter and take a breath. I immediately spun toward the window and grabbed the two Rueben platters for Mr. and Mrs. Jensen, who came in every Thursday for them. There were some things in life you could count on; the Jensen’s never missing their Thursday Rueben date was one of them.
“Buck up,” Rocco instructed. “Just another two hours and you’re off.”
“Not tonight. Cassidy called in and asked me to pick up the first half of her shift. I’ve got six more hours before I’m out of here,” I shot back.
He gave me a sympathetic look as I turned away. Story of my life. I was sure I looked as tired as I felt. My pale skin, usually a hazard of showing the slightest flush, always highlighted the dark circles beneath my eyes.
Exhaustion was just par for the course, another one of those things in life you could count on. I could hardly remember the last time I wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep standing. Actually, that wasn’t true. It was five years ago, back when I had everything.
I spent the next five hours constantly moving from table to table. I’d learned to force a smile through my sore feet and aching back a long time ago. When I first started my job as a waitress, I figured out a big smile meant a bigger tip. I needed those tips—then and now. No customer of mine ever knew I was anything but thrilled to serve them. It didn’t matter if they were rude, or if the men who came in at night drunk got handsy, or if the one person I least wanted to walk in that door did. None of it mattered. I was perfectly charming from the start to end of every shift.
With just under an hour left before I got off for the day, I dipped into the bathroom. The exhaustion I beat back day after day was taking over. I splashed some cold water on my face. Once I made it through my shift, it would just be a couple hours before I could crash. Of course, then I had to be up bright and early to do it again.
Wiping the dampness away with a paper towel, I tried not to focus on the fact that a quick trip to the bathroom was one of the most restful parts of my day. I took a moment to redo my ponytail and capture the errant hairs that had gotten away. My curly blonde hair was always kept tied up—there was no way I was fussing with the mess before a 6:00 a.m. shift. It was risky business angering that beast. I shook it off, reminding myself my shift was almost over. I’d made it through worse, I could do it. I plastered on the smile I’d spent years perfecting, drawing on the one thing in the world that made all the struggle worth it.
The minute I walked back out into the diner, that smile faded.
Seated in one of the red vinyl booths was someone I absolutely did not want to see. The funny thing? I didn’t even know who it was. All I knew was the scythe and motorcycle logo on the back of his leather vest and the words stitched above it: Savage Disciples.
I’d left the Disciples behind. Five years ago, when I lost my dad, when they put him in the ground with that same patch on his back, I left them behind.
My eyes darted all over the diner, looking for anything that could keep me from approaching that table. Maybe I could find a way to look really busy serving the other diners until Cassidy showed up in…I looked up at the clock and saw it was 5:21 p.m. I could make it thirty-nine minutes without checking that table, right? Maybe?
Yeah, not going to happen—especially when I only had half a dozen other customers to tend to, most of who were regulars. As it stood, my mystery Disciple was the only person in the place likely to need my attention at all.
With any luck, whoever it was wouldn’t recognize me. I’d left five years ago. I’d changed, the Disciples had changed. It might be someone new I’d never even met. Admittedly, it was unlikely, but I needed to convince myself of something if I was going to approach.
Straightening my spine, I walked over. “Hi, there. What can I get you?” I didn’t look directly at him. I kept my eyes on the notepad I rarely used. We had a one-page menu; I could remember orders without writing them down.
“How about lookin’ at me, Firefly?” he rumbled back.
That name. My heart froze and then took off in my chest. My dad had called me that since I was little.
“Roadrunner,” I whispered, finally meeting his eyes.
“Ash,” he replied.
I couldn’t help it, I felt my eyes start to sting. I considered all the brothers to be my uncles growing up. They were Dad’s brothers, after all. Roadrunner, though, was special to me. He’d been the one person I knew who loved me as much as my own father. I’d never let myself think about how much I missed him until I looked into his slightly older face.
“Hi,” I choked out.
He was on his feet in a heartbeat, pulling me into a bear hug. “Hi, sweetheart.”
I soaked up his comfort for a minute, pushing back the tears before I pulled away. “What are you doing here?”
He sat back down, and said, “When do you get off?”
“How about you answer my question?” I countered.
“Got a lot to say, Ash. It’d be better if you weren’t working.”
“I’m busy after work,” I evaded. Saying it made me realize how little time I had left. He needed to start talking and get out of here as quick as I could manage.
“This is important,” he insisted.
“Then tell me,” I went on pushing.
“Dammit. You’re as stubborn as Indian,” he grumbled.
Four years later and it still destroyed me to hear Dad’s road name. He went by Indian exclusively. I was the only exception. I called him Daddy.
The absolute devastation that name reeked on my heart must have shown in my expression. Roadrunner reached out to grab my hand, a move I was too withdrawn into my pain to notice until I felt his large one envelope mine.
“I miss him, too,” he admitted.
I knew he did. He and Dad were best friends…if badass bikers referred to another man as their “best friend”. They were brothers, like all the Disciples, but their bond was more than even that. It was why Roadrunner was my godfather. There was no one on earth my dad trusted more than the man in front of me, and I knew Roadrunner felt the same.
“Please,” I pleaded, not wanting to linger on that subject any longer, “just tell me what you’re here for.”
He gave me a long look, and it spoke volumes about how trying he was finding the situation. Then, he hit me with words I was not prepared for. “You need to come home.”
Home. I wasn’t sure what home was anymore. Some part of me still thought of the club, of Hoffman, Oregon where they were rooted, as home, but I had been trying—for years, it had been my goal—to make a new home here in Portland.
Roadrunner shook his head, scratching at the side of his hairy jaw. “Let you make that play, Ash. Damn near killed me to do it, but I let you. Now, I’m telling you it can’t go on. You have got to trust me here.”
The gravity of his voice made me hesitant. “What aren’t you saying?”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, he sighed. “There’s shit going down. Shit that’s complicated, and I need time to explain it. Shit I will explain, once you give me a chance while we’re not standin’ in the middle of a diner.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
He leveled me with a stare that told me his answer was not one I was going to want to hear. “You’re not safe.”
“I haven’t been around the club in years. Who even knows how to find me?”
“Took me less than a week,” he admitted.
It took him less than a week, yet no one had come after me before. No one.
“How did you find me?” I questioned.
“This is Mayhem territory. Got those boys to sniff you out,” he explained.
I knew that, of course. The Mayhem Bringers were allies of the Disciples. Well, now they were anyway. A bloody road brought them there, but they forged those alliances before I left. I had considered the possibility that they might be able to find me, but by the time I’d settled in town, I thought it was pretty clear no one was looking.
“Right,” I muttered.
“Bottom line, girlie, we can’t protect you here. I’d ask the Mayhem boys to do it, but they’re neck deep in their own shit. Having them around might bring you more trouble. You gotta come home where we can keep you safe.”
Crap again. He was right. If there was a threat, I needed their protection. But how would I face
? How would I explain…
The bell above the door chimed, and, on instinct, I turned that way. When I did, I froze. Striding in was a petite African-American woman and a little girl with blonde ringlets holding her hand.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
She wasn’t supposed to be here yet.
“Mommy,” my baby called, breaking away from Jasmine and running over to me.
I swept her up right away, my mind going crazy with thoughts of what I was going to do now. Roadrunner was right there. He saw her. He heard her call me “Mommy”.
None of the Disciples knew about her. My Emmy. Just mine.
Now, Roadrunner knew. If what he told me about our safety was true, they would all know her soon. Were it just me, I might not agree to be under their protection, but I would not take any chances with my daughter.
“I’m sorry we’re a bit early,” Jasmine said. “My mom called and needs my help.”
“That’s alright,” I told her. Honestly, she watched my daughter for me all the time while I was at work and barely let me pay her for it. I checked my watch. Half an hour of having Emmy sit in a booth while I kept an eye on her was hardly any trouble compared to all Jasmine did for me.
“Do you need me tomorrow?” she asked.
I glanced over at Roadrunner and from the corner of my eye, saw Jasmine look as well. He said we needed to leave. Knowing the Disciples, their bull-headedness and impatience, I might not still be in town tomorrow.
“I’ll call you,” I settled on.
She nodded, smiling her bright smile at me. Then, she looked down at Emmy. “Later, sista’.”
“Later,” Emmy echoed in her little girl voice.
They both brought their hands up and threw their hair over their shoulder with flourish before batting them in each other’s direction, saying, “Stop it.”
That was their move. Always. It came from one of Emmy’s shows, and it was clear my baby thought she was the coolest when she did it. Little Diva.
With that, Jasmine left. I bent down, hoisting Emmy up into my arms, glad to notice her little pink backpack on her shoulders.
“Did you bring something to do?” Jasmine watched Emmy at my place, so they had access to all of Emmy’s things. I knew she’d be prepared.
“Yep. I brought a color book,” Emmy answered.
“Coloring book,” I corrected in a gentle tone.
“Colorin’ book,” she amended. Almost. She was still struggling with words ending in “g”.
“Alright. You’ll have to sit near the bar so I can keep an eye on you,” I told her. I’d let her pick her booth, but only within reason.
Then, Roadrunner spoke from behind me. “I can watch her.”
I swung back to him, having nearly forgotten he was there. He wasn’t looking at me. He was staring directly at Emmy. His eyes were more expressive than I’d ever seen them. Just from that look, I knew he already loved her. I could also see the hint of sadness. I wasn’t sure whether it was because three years of her life had already passed without him having met her, or because his best friend would never get to know his granddaughter.
If I were honest with myself, it was probably a mix of both.
That sadness, no matter how much he tried to bury it, hit me like a knife in the gut. Roadrunner should have known Emmy. He should have been able to see her as a baby, watch her become the sassy little princess she was now. She should already know him, think of him like a grandfather. I kept them apart. I knew that. That was my burden to bear, exactly as it had been for nearly four years.
Roadrunner buried the surprise, the sadness, everything but pure happiness as he smiled at Emmy. “Hi, baby girl. What’s your name?”
“Emmaline,” she answered, turning her face toward my neck, but keeping her eyes up and to the side to see him. She wasn’t shy. My Emmy didn’t have a shy bone in her body. She was my total opposite in that way. No, the shy act was her sinking in her hook. How she learned to do that already, I hadn’t the slightest. Still, she used it to perfection every time.
“Emmaline,” Roadrunner repeated on a whisper, and that sadness crept back in before he buried it. “I’m Roadrunner.”
“That’s a funny name,” she told him.
“I know. I’m a funny guy.”
With that, she pulled out the full-on smile. He was dazzled. It was hard not to be. She shined brighter than the sun when she smiled. She had him, and she knew it.
“You can call me Emmy,” she told him, pointing at him in what I would call a flirty way if she were twenty years older. She said this as if it were a privilege she bestowed upon him. Diva, absolutely.
Knowing she had plenty of time to finish sinking him while I completed my shift, I cut in, “Are you okay with sitting with Roadrunner? He’s a friend of Mommy’s.”