Read Strays (Red Kings #1) Online

Authors: Emma Kendrick

Strays (Red Kings #1) (5 page)

BOOK: Strays (Red Kings #1)


She stopped her attack and embraced him once again. Tyler looked down at her, unsure if the hug was only a temporary lull in the violence. “I know and I'm sorry. I promise to call next time I go out like that.”


“I'm just glad that you're okay.” She squeezed him tighter, breathing in the comforting smell of his spicy cologne and motor oil.


“Relax, pipsqueak. He's fine.” The harsh voice that rumbled through the lot was laced with annoyance. “Just like I told you on the phone."


She released Tyler quickly and spun to face Dean, who was looking at the pair's affection with a bored expression. “How was I supposed to know that you were telling the truth? You're insane! You could have been lying to me while you were chopping Tyler into pieces.” The hacker's eyes went wide at her hateful words, hoping the biker would take them in jest and not get angry with his friend.


Dean laughed darkly at the words and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Trust me, sweetheart. If I was chopping him up, I would have told you. Besides, do you really think I would haul his ass all the way to Atlanta just to kill him?”


“I don't know, would you?” Tyler grabbed Jackie's arm and tried to pull her in the opposite direction, silently pleading with her to not say anything else. She yanked her arm out of his grasp and stalked back to Dean. “Would it have killed you to let me talk to him for like two seconds? I just wanted to know that he was okay.”


Dean smirked down at her as she closed the distance between them, incredibly amused at the woman's determination. “Tyler is a grown man. He doesn't need your permission to leave town.”


Jackie's rational side, however, was anything but amused. Her brain was trying to convince her mouth to stay closed, but it continued spouting insults at the outlaw. Tyler wrapped his arms around Jackie, trying to shout apologies over the girl's frenzied verbal attack as he put himself between the pair. Dean openly laughed at the pair and shook his head, before turning around and heading into the clubhouse.


“Jackie, come on.” The blonde man looked at his best friend as he pulled her towards the truck. “You’re overreacting.”

“Oh please! Overreacting?” That, apparently, had been the wrong thing to say. The small girl turned on him, fire in her eyes. “Do you know how worried I was? I waited for you for hours! And then I come here and find my truck in the lot and you nowhere to be found!” Her hair flew everywhere as she got into the passenger side of her vehicle, slamming the door. “And then TJ gets the brilliant idea to console me by telling me you are off gallivanting with a bunch of criminals!”


Tyler cringed as he sat behind the wheel. “Come on, it’s not like that.”


That hadn’t been the right thing either. “Not like that? Then what exactly is it like?”


“They’re my friends, Jack.” He sighed. “No, don’t roll your eyes. I'm allowed to have friends. I was safe, we just got a few drinks. Yeah, they aren’t the most presentable bunch, but I like them.”


Jackie looked at her friend and then down at her hands. Tyler had never been good at making friends and she felt bad for being so hard on him. “I wouldn’t take them to meet the parents, that’s for sure…” She breathed in, already regretting the words she was going to say. “I’m sorry, okay. I know it’s not easy for you to find a place you fit in… I was just worried about you.”


“Thank you, but you don’t have to be. I can take care of myself.”


The brunette rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right.” She looked at Tyler as he laughed at her, feeling better. “Come on, let’s go home. I’m in the mood for leftover pizza and trashy reality TV.”


“Sounds like a plan.”
























March 4th


This was taking way too long.


Jackie was on her way to the clubhouse, waiting for the traffic light to turn green. The smell of the french fries coming from the take-out bag next to her made her want to devour them before she made it to the auto shop, and the damn light just wouldn't change.


Since her fight with Dean two weeks before, she hadn't made any visits to the clubhouse. Even Tyler hadn't pushed her to go, since she still had him on probation for scaring her. Taking that into consideration, she was surprised when he called her right before her shift ended. He was sweet-talking her over the phone, saying how the boys missed her, and how she was a breath of fresh air in the garage. When she cut him off and asked what he wanted, he had stuttered out an embarrassed, "We're hungry, but everybody is busy working and there's no one to go get food." She had sighed and told him she'd be there with lunch as soon as she could.


The truth was that she couldn't avoid going to the clubhouse forever. Something was bound to come up and make her go there and face Dean. She admitted to herself that maybe she had handled the situation with the biker a bit impulsively. Yes, she had been scared out of her mind for Tyler and she didn't trust Dean at all. But perhaps cussing him out and almost attacking him wasn't the right way to go.


Shaking her head, Jackie sighed and looked up at the light, which had finally turned green. She stepped on the gas and continued on her way to the building full of hungry bikers. She pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later and a big smile spread across her face. Several bikes were situated in a neat line and were gleaming in the warm March sun. Jackie had grown to appreciate the raw power of the bikes and understood what had pulled so many people to the machines in the first place.


As a way to earn, the Kings had set up an auto parts store that doubled as the local mom-and-pop garage that had been established by the club's original founder back in the 1960s. It was an easy way to make decent money and employ many of their members while also giving them a place to work on their bikes and conveniently launder money when the need arose. The store was situated across the lot from the biker hang out they had deemed their clubhouse. Both were designed with the same plain brick walls and square windows, making sure outsiders weren't overly suspicious of the place on first glance.


She killed the engine and got out of the truck, making her way to the passenger side. While getting the food, she was startled by a loud barking coming from behind her. Quickly turning around, Jackie was met with a big black dog that was sniffing the air and staring at her. The sight made her jump and she almost dropped the food in surprise. She was definitely not expecting that. She had never seen the dog around the yard before and she was curious about who it belonged to. That thought was pushed from her mind as it barked again, this time louder. The last thing she wanted was to become dog chow.


Swallowing the lump in her throat, she looked down at the dog hesitantly. "Good doggie. Look how big and pretty you are. Don't eat me. Please don't eat me."


A bark came in response as the dog stepped closer to her, never taking its gaze from the food she was holding. Realizing what it wanted, Jackie calmed herself down and smiled. Doggy didn't want to eat her, just the food she was bringing.


Reaching a tentative hand into the bag, she pulled out a few french fries. Jackie crouched down and, the moment she extended her hand, the dog was next to her, eating the fries and licking her fingers. She laughed and patted the giant dog on the head, figuring it was now safe to go inside and deliver the food.


"Bear!" A raspy voiced barked from across the lot, startling Jackie. She quickly scrambled to her feet, eyes wide and heart hammering in her ribcage.


Dean was standing in the opening of the garage bay door, both of his eyebrows raised and an amused look on his face. When he'd heard a car enter the lot and Bear barking, he'd thought the dog was going to scare off some new clients, so he'd gone to shut him up. He was annoyed that Bear hadn't come running when he called, but could only shake his head when he saw the dog. Just like his owner, Bear was temperamental, had a mind of his own, and loved to bite. And here he was, cosied up to Jackie and looking way too comfortable. His less-than-friendly canine had been reduced to a whining household pet because of food and a pretty woman, something Dean could almost relate to.


"Is he yours?" When Dean nodded his head, Jackie cringed and continued hesitantly. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't know."


Dean shook his head and looked at her, seeing the nervous shuffling of her feet. She was adamantly avoiding his gaze. "It's fine. He's always hungry." He moved closer to the truck and crouched down, scratching the dog's ears. "His name is Bear. You're lucky – he doesn't usually like strangers." Dean glanced up at her, smirking. "What are you doing here, anyway?" His gruff voice didn't have the edge it always seemed to possess and that eased her a little bit.


"Tyler called, said you guys were hungry. I brought food." Jackie gestured at the bags she was holding. Bear nudged her foot and jumped up, trying to snatch the food from her. Dean patted him on the head once more and got to his feet.


"We should go in before he eats all the food." He started walking towards the clubhouse, but Jackie's voice stopped him.


"Dean! Look, about last time..." He turned around, waiting for her to continue. Jackie looked at the ground and took a deep breath, then her gaze settled on his. "The yelling and-"


The biker grunted and lifted one of his hands to cut her off, his other reaching into his jeans pocket. He fished out a pack of cigarettes and pulled one from the carton. Pocketing the pack, he took out a lighter. "It's fine." He lit the cigarette and took a drag from it, looking at her closely. "Just make sure it doesn't happen again." Dean turned around and put the lighter back in his pocket. He started his walk to the clubhouse again, Bear trotting behind him happily.


Jackie was left gaping after him, shocked. For the past two weeks, she had been preparing for the hell she would endure next time she saw him. She was definitely not expecting him to be so calm and nonchalant about the whole thing.


As he opened the door, Dean noticed that Jackie wasn't following behind him. "Are you coming or what?" he asked over his shoulder, then entered the building without a backwards glance. That had her hurrying after him, still not sure what had just happened. Did they just have a friendly conversation? She sighed. Maybe Dean wasn't as bad as she had originally thought.






















May 13th


Jackie parked her truck in the lot of Eastside Mechanics, grabbing her bag from the passenger seat. She got out and carefully avoided motorcycles and their owners while she looked for a familiar face. There were at least a dozen bikes roaring to life, getting ready to hit the road. As they steered down the drive and onto the street, TJ came rushing out of the clubhouse, sliding on a pair of sunglasses.


"Cupcake!" he yelled, jogging towards a large bike near the end of the row. She rolled her eyes at the latest addition to his nickname collection.


"Have you seen Tyler?" Jackie moved towards him, hoping the treasurer could at least narrow down the list of places she had to search.


"I'm doing great, thanks for asking." He smirked as she looked at him apologetically. "He's inside talking business with the boss." TJ picked up his helmet from the bike's left handlebar and placed it on his head. "Why don't you go and wait in the garage for him? He shouldn't be too long." He snapped the buckle together, securing the helmet. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I gotta go." Jackie backed up as he started the bike, waving to him as he peeled out of the lot.


Making her way into the garage, she was surprised to find it empty for the time of day. She settled herself to wait on a stool next to an old Toyota and pulled out her sketchbook, figuring she could use the spare time to work on her drawings. Even though not being able to attend the finest art school in New York had crushed her, with Tyler’s encouragement she had studied art for a couple of semesters in community college. It wasn’t enough to get her a degree, but she was stubbornly keeping at it because it was her true passion in life. Not that it was really helping her out at this point, but it didn't mean she couldn't dabble when she had the chance.


A loud bang shook Jackie from her daze a few minutes later, her head shooting up from the paper to locate the source of the noise. Her eyes fell on Dean, who was storming out of the clubhouse and towards his bike. This wasn't an unusual occurrence, as most of the bikers went riding to cool down.

This time, however, Dean merely sat on his bike while pulling a cigarette from a pack in his pocket. Lighting it, he took a hard drag, letting his eyes roam around the lot. His gaze landed on her before she could avert her eyes, but she tried to act as though she had never seen him. The sound of boots hitting the pavement alerted Jackie to the fact that he had indeed noticed her staring.


"What are you doing here?" he asked roughly, stalking over to her.


She swallowed hard and closed her book, craning her head way back to meet his eyes as he stood in front of her. "TJ said I could wait in here until Tyler was finished doing... whatever it is he's doing."


Dean stared her down, trying to see if she was telling him the truth. He nodded after a second, then closed the distance between them, his eyes landing on her art notebook.


"Whatcha got there?"


She followed his gaze to the paper in her lap, then quickly looked back up at him. "N-nothing. Just my sketch book. It's-" He pulled the book easily from her hands and leaned up against the car next to her to examine it, "-sort of personal."


"Tyler said something about you being an artist." Jackie watched nervously as he flipped through the pages, the blank expression on his face never changing. "Not bad." He stopped on a picture of a motorcycle and narrowed his eyes. "You drew my bike?"


She sputtered out words as he turned to her with a raised eyebrow. "Th-that's your bike? I didn't know it was yours, honestly. I'm so sorry. You can rip-"


His raspy chuckle stopped her and Dean continued his perusal of the book. "It's fine. Don't worry about it, looks good." Jackie let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding, relaxing against the cabinet behind her. The next drawing to catch his eye was one she had finished recently. "How did you manage to make my terrifying guard dog look so nice?"


She laughed, looking at the image of a sleeping Bear. "He's quite sweet once he knows who you are. Especially if you bring him food."


Dean shook his head and replied, "Some guard dog he is." Jackie giggled and Dean's mischievous eyes met hers. The next flip of the page revealed a landscape picture of a city, a river and a bridge in the background. Tints of orange and pink reflected off of the water from the setting sun. A lone park bench sat in the foreground, a lighted tree creating a canopy over it.


"This is really good." A blush crept up her cheeks at the compliment. "Do you think you could do a piece for my bike?" She looked at him, puzzled. "You can paint too, right?" She nodded hesitantly. "So then you could draw something for me and paint it on my bike."


She looked at him incredulously. "Theoretically, yes."


Dean turned expecting eyes on her, waiting for her to continue. "But...?"


"But what if I mess up or... or you don't like it? Then I've ruined your bike and you'll hate me even more than you already do. That is, if you don't kill me in a fit of rage first."


He stared at her, slightly wide-eyed at her sudden panic. "Or you could just paint over it and try again?" he suggested carefully.


Jackie snapped her mouth shut, wondering how she always managed to lose her common sense when he was around. "Oh... right. I guess I could try. But I don't guarantee anything. What exactly is it that you want me to draw?"


"Some kind of club logo, like the one on our cuts." He took the pencil from her hand and turned to a blank sheet of paper in the book, placing the book on top of the tool cabinet. Jackie got off the stool and watched over his shoulder as he drew what looked like a lopsided face. He then added hair on top, finishing up with a hastily scribbled 'KINGS' underneath the picture. "Something like this. Except, ya know, artsy."


She picked up the sketchbook and held it closer to her face. After several tilts of her head and turns of the paper, she finally had to ask him. "What is it?" He stared at her blankly and then rolled his eyes, turning his back to her. At first Jackie thought he was angry, but after a second look, she finally understood what he had drawn. "Oh! 'Cut' means 'vest', that's right." She held the paper closer to her face and squinted as she compared it to the picture on the back of his leather vest. "So, that's not hair?" She squeaked as he snatched the book from her hands.


"Forget about my shitty drawing." He flipped the sheet over and laid it back down, then held the pencil out to her. "Get to work."


"What?" Her eyes grew wide as she sputtered a sentence together. "R-right now?" He nodded and wiggled the writing utensil in her face, waiting for her to take it. She sat back on her stool nervously, hoping someone would come distract Dean long enough for her to escape. She hated being put on the spot. "Good artwork takes time. I can't just pull a picture out of thin air. I need-"


Before she could blink, he was next to her, calmly picking up both her and the stool and settling them next to the car hood where the notebook lay waiting. She had no time to make any objections. She merely sat frozen as he once again held the pencil out to her. "I'm not asking for a Picasso. Just a quick sketch."


Jackie nodded mutely and took the pencil from his large hand. After a few seconds of staring blankly at the paper, she signaled with her hand for him to turn around. "Let me see the design again." He shrugged off his cut and placed it carefully next to the paper. "Or you could do that." He responded by leaning a hip against the truck and crossing his arms. "You're gonna stand there and watch?"




"Right, sorry." She started with the outline of the skull, then moved on to the crown.


"I want the skull to look insane. Terrifying."


She said nothing in response, only continued her drawing. After adding some extra shadows to the figure, she looked up at him. "We doing gray scale or color?"

"Whatever you want to do. You're the expert." She smiled softly and went back to her work.


A few minutes later, Tyler entered the garage, quickly becoming confused at the scene in front of him. Nodding a greeting to Dean, he turned his attention to Jackie. "Hey Jack, ready to go?"


She turned her head towards him and smiled. "Yeah, give me a minute."


Tyler walked to her side, eyes focused on the seemingly calm biker looming over her. "What are you guys doing?" While he had grown to trust the club's enforcer, he knew Jackie and Dean were not always on the best of terms. He glanced down at Jackie to see her busy at work. It wasn't unusual to see her drawing, but skulls weren't normally her thing. "What is that?"


"It's a piece for my bike," Dean said with a grin.


"How come you didn't draw anything for my bike?" Tyler asked, crossing his arms accusingly as he stared at the side of Jackie's head.


"You never asked," she muttered distractedly as she finished up the letters on the sketch. "Done. What do you think?" She held the paper up so Dean could get a clear view of it. He examined it thoroughly, then grinned.


"Perfect. When can you put it on my bike?"


She laughed at his eagerness and replied, "I need to do a formal sketch and add some color. Of course, I also have work and-"


"Whatever. Just finish it when you can."


She nodded and stuck the paper into her notebook for later use, then glanced at her watch. "You ready, Tyler? I have to be at work in twenty." Tyler nodded and Jackie stood up, moving the stool back to its original place. "I'll let you know when I get a chance to finish it," she said to Dean, then moved to follow Tyler out of the garage.


"Thanks," Dean said, following them to the bay door. He watched as the pair headed over to the truck, Jackie waving at Taco as the prospect came out of the clubhouse.


"What the hell was that?" Tyler whispered loudly to her, looking behind him to make sure Dean was out of hearing range.


"No idea. But he wasn't threatening or insulting me, so I'm not going to complain."


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