“So, this is different,” she said, and while her tone was friendly, her eyes were serious. “Since my mom died, Dad hasn’t exactly been dating women. Half the bitches he screws are younger than me and none of them have brains. I hear you own a business and while I’d never say you’re old, you’re definitely in the right age range for him. What gives?”
I smiled weakly.
“Not sure how to answer that,” I said, wondering why the hell I’d let him talk me into coming out here tonight. If he wanted me to meet everyone, he should be introducing me to them. Instead he’d thrown me into the deep end without a warning, which was sort of a dick move. “Your father and I are sort of seeing each other, I guess. Officially, just a couple days ago, although it feels like longer. It’s complicated. I’ve worked for the club since last February, and he hired me to clean out at his place. We hooked up and then my house blew up. It’s not a typical relationship.”
Her eyes widened.
“No, I guess not,” she said thoughtfully. “Why did your house blow up?”
“Good question,” I said, shrugging. “Gas buildup, so far as I can tell? Maybe the oven—in the past year or so, gas started leaking if you bumped the controls wrong. The fire investigator is looking into it. I guess for my purposes it doesn’t really matter why the place blew. All that matters is I don’t have a house … That’s really what I’m focused on at this point.”
“So he moved you into our place,” she mused. “And he moved in your daughter, too? Did I hear that right?”
Taking a drink of my beer, I tried to figure out the best way to answer that question.
“Melanie isn’t mine,” I said. “In fact, I don’t have any children of my own. I’ve been raising my cousin’s girl, though, and Melanie is her friend. Jessica is down in California right now and I don’t know if she’ll be coming back or not, but Mellie needed a place to stay. We’re actually really lucky she wasn’t hurt in the explosion—she was in the house right before it went up.”
Em’s eyes widened.
“Interesting …” she said, and I wished I could read her thoughts. “You realize this isn’t normal for my dad at all. Is Melanie out here tonight?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head emphatically. “She’s already got a crush on that Painter jerk, and the last thing I want is her out here spending more time near him.”
“Let’s not talk about Painter, okay? Hunter and I will probably sleep out at the house tonight, so maybe I’ll meet her in the morning. We weren’t sure we were coming until the last minute. Things are sort of up in the air, but we usually stay with him …”
I caught a hint of question in her voice, and I realized she must be wondering if my presence would change things out at her dad’s place. I took a deep swig of my beer, because the longer this conversation continued, the more awkward it got. Where the hell was Reese?
“I’m sure he’ll want you to do whatever you normally would,” I told Em. “Please don’t let us get in your way. You’ll like Melanie—she’s a sweet kid. And she deserves better than what she’s got going on back home. I really appreciate your dad’s kindness.”
A funny look came over her face, and she shook her head.
“ ‘Kind’ is not a word women use for my dad.”
I shrugged, because he’d been kind to me.
He’d also been overbearing, scary, and pushy … But once a man throws his body over yours to protect you from an explosion, I guess you tend to overlook the little things.
My plan to slowly sip one drink over the course of the evening fell apart pretty quickly. For one, I was nervous as hell and the booze soothed me every time I started feeling panicky. Ideally he would’ve met me at the gate, introduced me to people, et cetera. But I also understood he was a host, and it made me feel kind of proud that he trusted me enough to simply throw me into his social circle on my own.
My “slow sipping” plan also fell apart because the Reaper women knew how to drink and they weren’t shy about encouraging me to join them. Before I knew what was happening, Dancer had lined up a row of tequila shots in front of us, issuing everyone salt and limes before declaring, “Drink up, bitches! If God wanted us sober, he wouldn’t have made shot glasses so cute!”
We all licked our hands, poured our salt, and sucked the shots down like a line of good little soldiers.
All but Em, that is.
“What’s up with that?” Dancer demanded, shouting to be heard over the music and growing noise of the party. She nodded toward the younger woman’s water bottle. “You love shots. You used to sneak them in my bathroom with your sister. Don’t tell me you’ve given up alcohol?”
“Not in the mood, I guess. Is there a law that says I have to drink?”
The women stilled and Dancer leaned in, studying the younger woman with owlish eyes. She held up a finger, waving it back and forth in the air like a divining rod, biting her tongue in concentration. Then the finger moved down, pointing toward Em’s stomach.
“You got somethin’ in there we should know about?”
My eyes went wide, darting toward Em’s tummy, which was covered by a loose T-shirt. She blushed and looked away. Dancer and Marie burst out in screams, jumping up and down, and suddenly we were surrounded by big men wearing leather and concerned facial expressions.
I was glad to see them, too, because so far as I could tell, the women had lost their minds.
“What the fuck, babe?” Horse demanded, catching Marie and pulling her into his side protectively. A young, tall, muscular man wearing black leather with red accents came up behind Em and tugged her back into his arms. He let his hands rest over her stomach and he grinned.
“Told you they’d figure it out,” he said, not looking particularly upset. I glanced at his patches and decided this must be Hunter. With his hands over her stomach. Holy shit—Em must be pregnant! Wow. I wondered how Reese would feel about that?
“Fuck me,” muttered another man. He was tall and built and had a pierced eyebrow and lip. His vest said his name was Ruger, which I recognized, although I’d never met him in person. This must be Sophie’s old man—I’d met her earlier with the other girls, although she’d wandered off toward the kitchen to grab more cups a few moments ago.