He shook his head, looking annoyed. Apparently Picnic liked his sleep.
“Don’t let Boonie hear you call his woman a bitch,” Horse said dryly. “Man’s whipped, might take offense. Remember last time?”
The guys all laughed and I felt completely out of my depth.
“I don’t have her number,” I said, deciding to focus on little details—like Darcy’s phone number—rather than the fact that we were calmly discussing Horse almost killing a man with his bare hands last night.
“It’s in your new phone,” Picnic responded, grabbing a large, padded envelope from the counter and tossing it to me. I managed to catch it, awkwardly, and opened it to find my car keys, a cell phone and a section of newspaper folded open and highlighted. I pulled out the paper first. It only took about four short sentences to describe the total destruction of our trailer by fire. Resident Jeff Jensen was uninjured, had been found outside, inebriated. No official cause yet, but the fire appeared to be the result of a pipe left burning on the carpet.
My hands shook as I put it back in the envelope.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” said Picnic, and he actually sounded like he meant it. “But we had to get rid of any evidence. Also part of the message to other clubs. Either your trailer or your brother.”
I agreed, remembering how I’d suggested burning the place myself. Anything to protect Jeff. The trailer was just a place to live, and not much of one to be honest.
“I’d like to visit my mom at some point,” I said to Horse. “Can I do that? She’ll be really worried and she doesn’t have a way to get hold of me.”
“You can write her,” he said. “Give her your new phone number if you like, she can call collect after that.”
I pulled out the phone. It wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t crap either. I turned it on and touched the address book icon. It already had several entries. Horse, Picnic, Darcy and “armory”, whatever that was.
“What about my old phone?” I asked. “Why a new one?”
“You needed a new account for your own protection,” Picnic said. “We aren’t the only people your brother pissed off. Hearing new rumors all the time. This is safer, you should cut contact for a while. Horse will fill you in after we give him the details.”
“Am I allowed to call anyone I want?”
“Depends on whether you want them to stay alive,” Picnic said, shrugging. “Far as I’m concerned, make that first call to your brother. Educational experience for both of you.”
I powered down the phone and stuck it in my pocket quickly.
“Car’s outside,” Picnic added, like this was just some normal social visit. “Painter drove it up here the other day. Piece of shit, broke down on him twice so I had the guys at the shop fix it up for you.”
I pulled out the keys and felt better immediately. Now I had a way to leave. I liked that idea a lot.
“No worries,” said Picnic, shrugging. “Don’t do anything stupid, Marie. Got me?”
“Got that stuff in the barn for you to pick up,” Horse said to Picnic, watching me with speculative eyes. “We’ll talk when I get back,” he told me. “Won’t be long.”
The three men headed outside without another word. I clutched the car keys and ran my fingers over the bump the phone made in my pants. I had my car, I had a phone and I had a little bit of money in the bank. I could call Jeff if I wanted, or just send him a text to make sure he was all right.
I could just drive away and never look back.
Instead I fixed breakfast, finishing up just as Horse walked back into the house. Ari followed him in from outside, looking at the food-filled counter hopefully.
“Good timing,” I said. “Food’s ready. You hungry?”
“Yep,” he said, but he didn’t sit at the table. He came over and wrapped a hand around my neck, pulling me in for a long, slow kiss that tasted like coffee and sex. Every time he touched me I melted. It wasn’t fair. I wrapped my arms around him and Horse reached down, lifting my butt and setting me on the counter. I opened my legs and he nestled up between them.
Unfortunately, he stopped kissing me, pulling away to cradle my face between his hands, examining my face.
“You okay?” he asked.
I nodded. He closed his eyes and then shook his head before opening them again.
“This sucks. Last night was crazy and I scared you, and now I have to tell you something bad,” he said. I stopped breathing. What more could be wrong? I was overloaded already.
“Your brother’s stupider than we thought. He’s got other shit in play, shit we didn’t know about until this morning. You call him, it’s really not gonna help. If he’s smart he’s already ditched his phone and gone off the grid, but I don’t have a lot of faith in his intellect at the moment.”
I opened my mouth to protest, to say something. Horse pressed his finger against my lips, silencing me.
“Not done yet, babe. Believe me when I say talking to him isn’t a good idea for either of you. These guys he’s pissed off, they aren’t gonna give him a second chance if they catch him, and he’s sure as f**k used up his second chance with us. Whole damn cartel’s after him. You want to keep him safe, you don’t reach out to him.”
“Bad shit?” I whispered. He nodded, face sober. “Like, a drug cartel?”
“Very bad shit with an exceptionally nasty drug cartel. Shit that’s gonna get him dead very soon. Shit worse than anything he’s got with us, which comes as a huge f**kin’ surprise to me, considering how f**ked he was already. These guys…” He shook his head slowly, swallowing hard before continuing. “These guys are not the good guys. You aren’t safe if you’re anywhere near him, and you aren’t safe if they think they can use you to find him. You use that phone to call him, they track it… Let’s just say they won’t be offering him a chance to make things right.”
“If I can’t call Jeff, why did you give it to me?”
“Because believe it or not, keeping you hostage and completely out of communication with the rest of the world isn’t exactly a long-term plan,” he replied, smoothing my hair behind my ears. “Might work for a while, but sooner or later it’ll blow up in my face. I know it’s hard to believe because I’m such a giant ass**le, but I don’t want you to be unhappy. So it’s up to you to protect him by not drawing him out. It’s up to me to protect you, which includes educating you on just how bad things are for him. And I gotta tell you, he pulls shit that comes down on you, time’s up. He’ll be in the ground up there in those mountains and nobody will ever find his body. You got me?”