“Why are you always saying that to me?” he asked, although it seemed like he was talking to himself. “You’re so strong, always strong. You shouldn’t have to be that way. I should’ve been there for you. I’m so sorry, babe.”
I shook my head, closing my eyes and turning away from him. His body felt good on mine, strong and safe like always. I felt his penis harden and his hips flexed, almost involuntarily. The achingly familiar chemistry between us came to life and my ni**les tightened as my legs shifted restlessly. He started kissing me near my ear, sucking and licking his way down my neck toward my breast, sending tendrils of sensation racing through me. When he sucked my nipple into his mouth I cried out, then reached down and grabbed his hair, pulling him away.
“I can’t do this right now,” I whispered. He sighed and rolled over next to me.
“It’s not what you think,” he said, his voice firm. I looked over at him, panicked. In addition to everything else, could he read my mind or something? How did he know what I’d found out? Was he monitoring my phone?
“Serena is an old friend,” he said. “I’ve known her for years. We’ve slept together, I won’t lie to you about that, but nothing was happening between us tonight. We were just joking around.”
My eyes opened wider as I processed what he’d said. Serena. The woman on the couch. I felt hysterical laughter bubbling up in my throat and I swallowed it down painfully. This was a good thing, I realized. I could use this as an excuse to be angry with him. He expected it, he deserved it, and he wouldn’t have to know that my mind was way too full of visions of him killing Afghani children to give a flying f**k about him and Serena.
“You promised,” I said, letting the tears I’d been holding back well up in my eyes. Might as well let them out while I had an excuse. They started falling and I gulped. “You promised that you wouldn’t be with those other women, the night we decided to give this a shot. You lied to me.”
“I haven’t been with any other women,” Horse said, his voice a mixture of frustration and something else I couldn’t identify. “I was talking to an old friend. She’s got someone else in her life and I’ve got you. I was just killing time, waiting until it got late enough for me to leave and come back up to you.”
“Can we not talk about this right now?” I asked, trying to roll away from him. He held me, taking my chin and making me look at him.
“Fight with me all you want, babe,” he said. “But you don’t turn away from me. Let’s talk about this.”
“I don’t want to talk,” I whispered, feeling panic rise again. He searched my face, mouth hardening.
“Is there something else?” he asked. “Have you heard from your brother? Tell me. I’m here for you, Marie.”
“Let me check my email,” I said quickly. I pulled away from him and started to get up, but he stopped me, getting up and digging my phone out of my jeans pocket himself.
“Here,” he said, handing it to me. I turned it on and clicked on the email app—the one linked to my main account. There it was, the fake message Jeff had promised.
“He wrote,” I said.
“Read it to me.”
“He says, ‘So sorry about all this, sis. I got your message about coming in and talking to the Reapers. I’m not sure I can do that. No offense, but I’m pretty sure they’re planning to kill me. Talk to them, find out if they’re willing to make a deal and get back to me. I love you. Jeff’ That’s all of it.”
“About what I expected,” Horse said slowly, climbing back into bed. “I’m not surprised he doesn’t trust us. He’s scared and he should be. Odds are good he’s not gonna survive this. But there’s a huge difference between staying in bed with the Jacks or trying to make peace with us. He needs to wrap his head around that.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.
Horse rolled onto his side and propped his head up on one elbow looking down at me.
“You,” he said.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” Horse said, reaching over and tracing the curve of my cheek. “The Jacks will. No question of it. He should know that.”
“You said they were trying to take me back to him,” I said softly. “He’s trying to save me.”
“The Jacks will get you if they can, but their record with women isn’t too good. Three years ago Deke had a niece, Gracie, get in trouble with them. His old lady’s sister’s kid. No connection to the club, other than that. She decided to go to school down in California and turns out she wasn’t far from a Jacks charter. Started dating a guy who seemed nice enough, but he was one of their hangarounds. Apparently she mentioned her uncle was in the Reapers at some point. She went to a party with him and they raped her. All of them. One big f**king train, nearly killed her. They finished her off by carving ‘DJ’ on her forehead. Dumped her by the side of the road. Sent Deke a picture afterward taken with her own phone.”
I swallowed, feeling sick. Then I thought about the woman on the second floor, and wondered if she’d finished with those men yet. What if she wanted to stop halfway through? Would they let her?
“What about downstairs?” I asked, mouth getting away from my brain. “What makes that any different?”
Horse cocked his head.
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s a woman downstairs, I saw her in a room with a bunch of guys on the second floor. They were taking turns…”
“Fuck…” Horse muttered, dropping onto his back and running his hands through his hair. “What else is gonna fall to shit tonight? I’m sorry you saw that, babe. I didn’t think about that at all. Shit.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Are they going to hurt her?”
“No!” he said, sitting up and looking down at me. “Shit, no, I can’t believe you have to ask that. We’re not a bunch of ra**sts, Marie. Shit. If she’s in there, she chose to be there. Fuck if I know why, but women do it all the time. It’s a thing with some of the sweet butts, like counting coup or something. I can’t exactly defend it as upstanding behavior, but that’s nothing like what they did to Gracie. They tore her up so bad, I can’t even explain it. She’ll never have kids. She tried to kill herself twice before they got her into some kind of psychiatric facility. Damn.”