It occurred to me that I’d be crashing a party right after cleaning for six hours. Great. I probably looked like an escapee from an insane asylum. I flipped down my mirror—sure enough, my blonde hair was ratty and my makeup had long since disappeared. Oh well … Wouldn’t be the first time chasing down Jess had dragged me out when I needed a shower and bed.
Although she’d never dragged me anywhere quite as intimidating at this place.
I got out of the car and started toward the main door. One of the men walked across the gravel to meet me. I looked him over, feeling old. He had to be twenty at the most, and the scraggly beard he wore with obvious pride had hardly filled in. He wasn’t muscular like his friend manning the door, but all wiry and pointing bones.
“You here for the party?” he asked, studying me skeptically. I couldn’t blame him—my ratty jeans might not stand out too much, but my tank top had seen better days and the bandanna holding back my hair was stained with sweat. I probably had dirt streaks on my face, too. The light in the car had been so poor they wouldn’t have shown up.
Oh, and did I mention the feeling-old part? At thirty-eight, I was pretty sure I could’ve been this kid’s mom.
I decided I didn’t like him.
“No, I’m here to speak with Mr. Hayes,” I said politely. “Mr. Harrison suggested I come here to see him.”
He looked at me blankly.
“I got no idea who you’re talkin’ about,” he said finally. The oversized infant masquerading as an adult turned and hollered at his friend. “BB, you got any idea who ‘Mr. Hayes’ is?”
BB lumbered over toward us like a bear, dark hair hanging down his back in a braid. He seemed to be older than this one, but not much. I sighed. Good lord, they were just babies. Dangerous babies, I reminded myself, eyeing the chains hanging from their pants and the bulky rings decorating their hands.
Those were essentially brass knuckles.
“That’s Picnic, dumbfuck,” BB said, looking at me critically. “Why you callin’ him Mr. Hayes? You got papers to serve? He’s not here.”
I shook my head. I wished it were something that simple.
“I call him that because I work for him,” I said, keeping my voice matter-of-fact and composed. “I own London’s Cleaning Service—several of your businesses are our accounts. Mr. Harrison sent me out here to find Mr. Hayes.”
“Bolt sent her,” BB told the little one. He nodded at me. “I’ll walk you in. See if we can find him.”
I took a deep breath and steeled myself to follow. I’d heard so many stories about this place that I wasn’t sure what to expect. If you believed the rumors, the Armory was a combination whore-house/underground fighting pit, with piles of stolen goods packing every room to the ceiling. Fifty percent pirate cave, fifty percent drug den, one hundred percent dangerous.
BB opened the door and I followed him in, getting my first good look at the clubhouse.
The rumors were certainly wrong about the stolen goods. I’d like to think if they furnished the place with stuff they’d taken, they would’ve picked out things that were a little nicer than what I saw before me.
The room was large, and from the central location of the door it seemed to span the entire front half of the building. On the far right was a bar. Ancient couches and cast-off chairs lined the walls, and several battered, mismatched tables filled the center. To the left was a pool table, darts, and a jukebox that was either forty years old or a damned good replica. The place wasn’t dirty … just very well worn.
It’s funny, but looking around, my very first thought was that I was overdressed—and by overdressed, I meant there was literally too much fabric covering my body.
Wayyy too much.
The women ranged from full-on naked to dressed casually in tight jeans and low-cut tank tops. I stuck out like a … well, like a cleaning lady at a biker party. Half the guys had women on their laps, partially clothed and otherwise, and off in the corner I was pretty sure was a couple having full-on sex.
I snuck another quick look out of the corner of my eye.
Make that definitely having sex. Disgusting … yet strangely mesmerizing … I had to force myself to look away, hoping to hell I wasn’t blushing like a little girl.
You’re thirty-eight and you know where babies come from, I reminded myself firmly. Just because you’re not getting any doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.
People started to notice me—big guys covered in tattoos, wearing leather vests with the Reaper colors on them. Their gazes ranged from curious to outright suspicious. Shit. This was a mistake. So Bolt sent me out there. That didn’t mean it was safe, or a good idea. Bolt wasn’t my friend. Sure, he probably valued me as a worker, but the club valued their strippers, too. Certainly didn’t stop them from firing their asses right and left when their personal drama got out of hand.
Snap out of it.
I took another deep breath and smiled brightly at BB. He’d been watching me expectantly, almost like he thought I’d run away or something. I’m no wimp, though. I might choose not to cuss, but I know what the words mean.
I looked up to see a tall man with shoulder-length, wavy hair and so much scruff on his face he’d entered beard territory. He wore another of those vests. The name on his was “Gage,” and below it was a smaller patch that said “Sgt at Arms.” I’d never seen him at the shop, but that wasn’t saying much—we came in after hours for a reason.
“Says she’s here to see Pic,” BB said. “Bolt sent her.”
“That right?” he asked, eyes speculative. He swept them down my figure and I forced myself to smile at him.
“I’m looking for my cousin’s daughter,” I said. “She came out here for the party with some friends, apparently. Mr. Harrison suggested that Mr. Hayes might be able to help me.”
The man smirked.
“Did he? Imagine that.”
I wasn’t sure how to interpret his words, so I chose to take them at face value, forcing myself to wait for him to continue.
“Back outside, BB,” the man said. “I’ve got her from here. You’re the cleaner, aren’t you?”
I glanced down at my filthy clothing.
“How could you tell?” I asked, my tone dry. He laughed, and I felt some of my tension break.
“I’m Gage,” he said. “Let’s see if we can find Pic.”