“That was low, Ruger.”
“That was true, Sophie. You wanna be all high and mighty, you need to find another target. Your ass is gettin’ saved by me, and behind me stands the club. If you were with the Reapers, Noah’d be surrounded by adults who care about him. Lot of kids in the club, Soph. They go home when things get wild, but lemme tell you—somethin’ like this happened in Coeur d’Alene to one of our kids, I’d have to fight my brothers for the privilege of killin’ the guy. That’s family, Sophie. And Noah could use some of that family around him.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Then don’t talk,” he replied. “But listen up. I get that you don’t want to be part of club life. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna force the point, because if you’re gonna be a stuck-up bitch I wouldn’t want you around them anyway.”
“Shut the f**k up and listen,” he snapped. “This is important. Love the club, hate the club, you need to be aware of a few things, because they’re part of your reality now. The ass**le that hurt Noah, you saw the ink on his back, right?”
“Yes,” I replied, wishing him straight to hell.
“Called a back patch,” he continued. “It’s his club colors, right on his skin. Club colors are what we wear on our cuts—our vests, call ’em rags, too—and they say a lot about a man. In this case, those colors said he was part of the Devil’s Jacks. Lotta MCs out there, good and bad, but the Jacks are one of the worst. Reapers and Jacks are enemies. Things worked out this time, but you run into a guy with colors like that again, you need to tell me. I’ll still go after him, but I’ll call in more backup first. This morning it all worked out. Next time it might not. You got me?”
I shrugged, looking away. Ruger growled in frustration.
“I don’t think you get me, Soph,” he said. “Let me tell you a little story. Got a brother named Deke, down in the Portland chapter. Deke’s got a niece named Gracie—his old lady’s sister’s kid. She had jack shit to do with the Reapers, by the way. So Gracie went off to college down in northern Cali three years ago and started dating a guy who turned out to be a hangaround with the Jacks.”
I looked over at him, unnerved. He stared straight ahead, face grim.
“So little Gracie went to a party with him and a bunch of guys raped her, one right after the next,” he said. “You ever heard of a train?”
I stared at him and swallowed.
“Believe it or not, some women are down with that,” he continued. “Gracie isn’t one of them, and they were not gentle. They tore her up so bad she’ll never have kids. Then they carved a ‘DJ’ into her forehead and dumped her in a ditch. Deke found out when they sent him pictures they took of her with her own f**kin’ phone. Tried to kill herself. She’s doin’ better now, engaged to one of the brothers in the Portland chapter. Did I mention they aren’t nice guys?”
He fell silent. I thought about the two men I’d met earlier, Hunter and Skid.
“What happened to the men who did it?” I asked hesitantly. “Were they … were those guys you were talking to …?”
“It was four hangarounds and two Jacks,” he told me. “Good news is, they won’t be hurtin’ any more girls. Hunter and Skid weren’t part of that particular mess, which still doesn’t qualify them as decent human beings. So let me ask you again—you got me, Soph?”
“Yeah,” I whispered, feeling sick.
Silence fell. Noah started laughing at his video in the backseat. Ruger drove, jaw muscle tight, staring straight ahead. Gracie’s story played over and over in my head, along with what he’d said earlier.
“I’m not a stuck-up bitch.”
“Coulda fooled me.”
“I have a right to keep my son away from your club.”
“That why you left Coeur d’Alene?”
“You know damned well why I left Coeur d’Alene,” I said, hating him. “And that’s the second time you’ve called me a bitch. Don’t do it again.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, frustrated. I crossed my arms. The motion pushed my br**sts up high. His eyes caught on them in the rearview mirror and I dropped my arms, tugging up my tank.
What a stupid game I’d been playing that morning.
Ruger wasn’t a boy I could tease by dressing like a slut. I didn’t want his attention, or to get more involved in his world.
I’d never be more than a toy to him, and the men in his family had a history of breaking their toys.
They just did it in different ways.
Ruger didn’t actually live in Coeur d’Alene. He lived west of town in Post Falls, back in the hills near the Washington border at the end of a private gravel road. We pulled up to his place around five that evening, Horse behind us. The driveway widened into a large parking area behind an L-shaped, two-story cedar house overlooking a small valley. The setting was fantastic. Evergreens surrounded us, and I heard the trickle of a stream somewhere not too far away. A strip of grass ran down the hillside around to the front. It looked like it needed water, and given the yard’s condition, I got the impression Ruger liked his landscaping natural.
Noah bounded out of the car, running around the house in excitement. I stretched up high as I stood, pulling the tank up with me, exposing my stomach. I felt Ruger’s eyes touch me, cool and speculative, and I quickly pulled it back down.
Really, really stupid idea, that tank.
What the hell had I been thinking? You don’t pull a tiger’s tail. I’d spent years wishing Ruger would notice me, just once. Now I needed him to unnotice me and start treating me like furniture again. Life as furniture might not be exciting, but it was definitely safe.
“Your car needs a tune-up,” Horse said, walking over to us. He tossed me the keys and I caught them, chest jiggling precariously. Horse eyed me, then smirked at Ruger, who watched us with something like disgust. “I’ll help haul your shit in, then I’ll head home to Marie. She’s startin’ school day after tomorrow. Want to enjoy some time with her before she gets all stressed out and bitchy.”
Ruger walked to the door, which sat kitty-corner from the three-car garage forming one side of the “L.” A narrow band of deck followed the line of the house around to the front. He punched in a code, opened the door, and we went inside. There he put in another code, because apparently one wasn’t enough for Mr. Security-Is-Critically-Important.