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Text copyright Š2015 Lani Lynn Vale All Rights Reserved The purchase of this E-book allows you one legal copy for your own personal reading enjoyment on your personal computer or device. You do not have the rights to resell, distribute, print, or transfer this book, in whole or in part, to anyone, in any format, via methods either currently known or yet to be invented, or upload to a file sharing peer to peer program. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Such action is illegal and in violation of the U. S. Copyright Law. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. If you no longer want this book, you may not give your copy to someone else. Delete it from your computer. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Acknowledgements I’d like to once again thank FuriousFotog for taking this beautiful photo of Shawn Dawson. And Shawn Dawson for allowing this photo to be taken. I freakin’ LOVE it! You two made magic together. To Asli, my editor. Thank you again for all that you do for me. You’re the best.

Dedication To my husband. I love the hell out of you. :)

Other Titles by Lani Lynn Vale: The Freebirds Boomtown Highway Don’t Care Another One Bites the Dust Last Day of My Life Texas Tornado I Don’t Dance

The Heroes of The Dixie Wardens MC Lights To My Siren Halligan To My Axe Kevlar To My Vest Keys To My Cuffs Life To My Flight Charge To My Line

Code 11-KPD Series Center Mass (May 2015)

You’re the Charge… Bad Boy. Screw-up. Good for nothing. Hero. Angel. These were all words Grayson ‘Torren’ Trammel had heard whispered behind his back over his lifetime. What he hadn’t heard was ‘quitter,’ and he’d be damned if some little rehab chick, with her beautiful brown hair, and hot, sassy little mouth was going to label him as such. To My… Tru knows Grayson’s not for her. He’s too bad. Too hot. Too demanding. Too taken. She tells herself that almost daily as she helps Grayson get back into fighting shape after a horrific accident nearly ripped his life away from him. That had taken the life of one of the men in his MC. Grayson is everything her father warned her about, but there’s just something about him that intrigues her. That makes her want more. The man’s a firefighter. How bad could he be? Line… Apparently, he could be way worse than bad, but he could also be so very, very good. Something Tru realizes, rather quickly, when the two can no longer fight the pull that’s between them. Now there’s only one word she wants to hear when it comes to him: his.

Table of Contents Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Epilogue What’s Next?

Prologue It’s all fun and games until your jeans don’t button anymore. -Life Lesson

Tru Three months prior “I dare you to go up and hug that fireman. Wrap your legs around his waist,” Iliana challenged me. I looked to where she was gesturing and rolled my eyes. “No.” I was trying to have a relaxing drink at the newest restaurant and bar in town, Halligans and Handcuffs. What I wasn’t trying to do was draw attention to myself; especially, in a room filled with my mother’s colleagues. “Oh, come on, you big chicken. Balk. Balk. Balk,” she clucked. I shook my head again. “All you’re doing is making yourself sound like a dork.” Seriously, why did the woman have to embarrass me? I averted my eyes as the tables around us started to turn and study Iliana. Just pour a few drinks in the woman, and she became the queen of obnoxious. She smiled widely. “Oh, come on. Do it.” I took a pull of my beer and looked at the man she was wanting me to hug. He was tall. He’d dwarf my five and a half feet easily. “What will you give me if I do?” I asked as I took another sip of beer, keeping my eye on the man with the shaved dark hair, dressed in his fire department blues. Large, mouthwatering biceps. Arms that were covered from wrist to where his sleeve stopped in tattoos. Strong, angular chin. Slightly crooked nose. Deep toe curling laugh. “Whatever you want,” Iliana promised holding up her pinky finger in the air with a dare. Knowing exactly what I’d take if she actually held up her end of the bargain, I smiled. I took her pinky finger, and we kissed our hands one by one. “Deal,” I said and stood. “What are you going to take?” She asked warily, knowing I’d given up too easily. Iliana was my best friend and roommate. We’d moved in together when we’d started occupational therapy school, and had been living together ever since. She was two years younger than my twenty eight, but acted like she was fifty, that is, unless she was drinking, like she was doing right now. In real life, she was that boring person who never did anything because she was too scared her

boyfriend would find out that she actually had fun without him. And the way she acted didn’t say twenty six. It screamed old. For instance, she had a Tempur-Pedic bed that sat up like a hospital bed…and it was about to become mine. “Your bed. For two weeks,” I said with an evil grin. She glared at me. “If you do it, it’s yours for a month. His name’s Torren.” Downing the remainder of my beer, I started walking off purposefully in the man’s direction. Torren, she’d said his name was. That was a weird name. Who named their kid Torren? Why not Paul, or Brian? Those were normal names. Then again, my name was different, too. Once I got to within a straight shot of him, I started jogging. Then, when I was close enough, I jumped into his arms and wrapped my hands around his neck, and my legs around his hips. He caught me, reflexively. One hand going around my ass as the other went up to protect his beer. “Uhhh,” he said as I stayed there for another couple of seconds. “Do I know you?” I barely contained the urge to giggle. He sounded so lost. Then I became aware of the other men surrounding us. I’d been so focused on the man, Torren, that I hadn’t even taken into account the circle of badass I’d broken with my entrance. “Sorry about that,” I said as I dropped down. “I thought you were someone else.” With that, I turned around and left, trying my hardest to forget what it felt like to be wrapped in his arms. Iliana was grinning like a fool as I walked toward her. By the time I sat down at the table, this time purposefully facing in the opposite direction of the bar, she was practically crying in hilarity. “Oh, God,” she wheezed. “You should’ve seen his face!” “He’s not still looking at me, is he?” I worried. Jesus, the man was hot. Up close, I could tell his eyes were the color of a stormy day. And the sheer size of the muscles of his arm were mouthwatering. The colors of his tattoos were even more magnificent up close. “He’s gesturing towards us with his head, talking to a waitress. I wonder what he’s saying,” Iliana whispered loudly. I tried my hardest not to turn around and look.

It was a close call, but I managed it. “Uh, oh. Here she comes,” she whispered. The young girl stopped at the table with a beer in her hand. “Hi,” she chirped. “I was sent over here to give this to you.” When she placed the beer on the table, I waved it off. “No thank you, I don’t drink.” She eyed the empty beer bottle that she’d brought me earlier, but wisely didn’t comment. “Dude, what the fuck?” Iliana gasped once the waitress left. My eyes widened. “I don’t know! It just came out of my mouth! I don’t know!” I was seriously freaking out. I was such a dork. I was literally a homebody. I didn’t do this sort of shit. I’d never even had a boyfriend! I was still a virgin! I didn’t know how to flirt! I didn’t even know what the hell had gotten into me earlier. “He’s not looking at me, is he?” I was starting to freak out. “We should go.” I stood and threw my backpack over my shoulders. “Come on, quick.” I started pulling her, and she grabbed her own beer long enough to chug the remnants, and slammed it down onto a table as we poured into the parking lot. “Hurry,” I demanded as we started walking quickly to my truck. “Oh, my God. He’s in the doorway,” Iliana said as she looked over her shoulder. I yanked her arm hard. “Turn around. Eyes straight ahead. Get to the truck before he starts trying to talk to me.” I’d just made it to my truck when Torren’s voice yelled out over the nearly empty parking lot. “I don’t bite!” I turned around, and, swear to God, I said, “I do!” My hand went over my mouth and I looked at Iliana, wide eyed. “Did you slip me a roofie?” She laughed. “Oh, my God. He’s walking this way.” Wasting no time, I backed out of the spot and spun my wheels in my haste to get out of the parking lot. “He’s laughing,” she said as she watched until she could see no more. “I do believe, Tru, that you now have yourself a sexy firefighter admirer.”

Chapter 1 Fuck going to my happy place. I’m going to my naughty place. -E-card

Torren “Just drop me off right here. I can walk inside,” I snarled at the orderly that had insisted she bring me down here. The woman, Bianca, I think she said her name was, smiled tightly at me. “It’s hospital protocol.” I rolled my eyes and stayed in the chair even though I didn’t need it. “Here we are, Mr. Trammel. Tru will be with you in just a moment,” Bianca stammered, before practically running away. I guess I could’ve been a little hard on the poor girl, but I wasn’t in the best of moods. For one, I wasn’t even in the hospital anymore, so why the fuck did I need to ride in a wheelchair? Two, my shoulder hurt. I hadn’t been able to work in over a month, and I missed my friend. Tunnel, the man I’d suggested join The Dixie Wardens MC, had died of smoke inhalation a little over a month ago, and I’d just seen his widow on the way down here. He’d died in the same fire where I’d hurt my shoulder, tearing my rotator cuff in my quest to save another biker’s woman, Rue. Only, I’d been lucky and he hadn’t. Tunnel had been married. Had a young daughter. He’d been a police officer. What was I? Nothing. I’d had to break down the thin wall between Rue’s apartment and the one next door with a computer chair and, in the process, had fucked my shoulder up pretty good. A week later, I’d had surgery, and now I was in therapy after a two week break to get the inflammation to settle down before starting to build my strength back. “Hi, Mr. Trammel, I’m Tru and I’m going to be your COTA,” a woman came in saying as she looked at the chart in her hands. “How are you feeling?” It didn’t take me long to realize who she was once she looked up. It was the woman from the bar a couple of months ago. The one who’d jumped in my arms like she was my lover and hugged me in front of Molly. Which had changed the last two months of my life. It shouldn’t have felt so good.

Not when I’d wanted Molly. The woman had been a stranger. But as I’d held her in my arms for a few long moments, I’d been reluctant to let her go. I’d had to restrain myself from clutching her to me and kissing the hell out of her. In fact, she’d been the one to let go and look sheepish. Her muttered, “Oh, wrong person,” had followed in her wake. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her for the rest of the time she was there. She was around average height for a woman. Five six or so, with long, wavy blonde hair. It looked like she’d been out in the sun a lot. It had a lot of highlights in it, and looked great against her lime green scrubs. “You,” I said smartly. She smiled sheepishly. “Oh…hey. I didn’t realize it was you.” I tilted my head. “Yeah, it’s me. The random guy you jumped.” She cracked a smile instead of looking scared. She had beautiful white, straight teeth. The kind that probably cost a mint to fix. “I did not jump you,” she interjected, a smile tipping up the corner of her lips. I shrugged. “You jumped in my arms. Same thing.” She laughed. A deep throated, throw your head back, kind of laugh, causing me to smile right along with her. “It is not the same thing, and you know it,” she giggled. “Are you ready to get started?” I grinned deviously back at her. “My body is your temple. Do with me as you please.” It was her turn to look devious. “Remember you told me that in about an hour.” *** I laid back on the padded table and gritted my teeth. Pain. Everywhere. Everything hurt. My back hurt. My legs hurt. My head hurt. “Why do my toes hurt?” I groaned. She gave me a patient look. “Because every time you lifted your arm up, or I moved it where you didn’t like it, you stood on your tiptoes to get away from the pain. It’ll never get any better if you don’t push yourself past your comfort zone.” My eyes narrowed. “You don’t think I’m going past my comfort zone?”

She shook her head. “I know you’re not.” I sat up, wincing as I did, and narrowed my eyes at her. She wasn’t my favorite person at the moment, and it was hard for me to keep myself from lashing out at her. Even if she was hot. The last hour had been intense. Today was my first day of occupational therapy on the road to recovery, and it was frustrating as shit when I couldn’t even hold a goddamned pencil. I’d practiced putting on my shirt countless times - something that I used to do without thought, now took intense concentration to make sure I didn’t fuck anything up worse. “What makes you say that?” I asked her. She pursed her lips, causing the skin around her nose to wrinkle cutely. Too bad I was too pissed to find it any cuter. “You’re overly cautious. You stopped before it even started to hurt. You were anticipating the hurt, so you didn’t go as far as you probably could have,” she said frankly. I blinked. Had I been doing that? I’ve always been one to know my limits. Not knowing your limits was a damn good way to get other people killed. However, I did know how to push past those limits. For instance, beating a hole in a wall with a computer chair was past my limits, and I was paying for it now. I would do it again in a heartbeat. “Okay,” I said as I sat up on the table, letting my feet dangle over the side. “Do me again.” She looked at me passively, not even rising to the bait, and walked over slowly. Taking my arm in her hand, she slowly started to lift until it was parallel with my shoulders, then went even further. My muscles tensed. Adrenaline started shooting through my veins, and my breathing and heart rate sped up. “You’re already two inches past where you could go last time,” she said slowly, lowering my hand down until it lay limply at my side. I was trembling. My hands were shaking, and I was sweating so bad I knew I’d need to go home and change before my, so called, date with Molly later this afternoon. Molly and I were complicated.

Molly didn’t want to be with a firefighter, but she wanted me, in the meantime, until she could find someone else. I’d resisted temptation for a very long time. I’d met her when she was sixteen, but even back then, she’d been fucking beautiful. Out of respect for Cleo, a fellow member of The Dixie Wardens, I’d stayed away from her, even though every cell in my body called to her. For four years I’d been dying to have her…and then the woman currently standing in front of me happened, and all of a sudden Molly didn’t even register as a blip on my radar. I’d agreed to have dinner with Molly only because she was worried about Cleo, whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. Cleo seemed fine to me. More than fine, in fact. He had a new woman. One who’d agreed to become his old lady a few days before. If I was being honest, that was what was bothering Molly. She was no longer Cleo’s pride and joy, and in her place was a woman Cleo couldn’t live without. There was one major thing that Tru made me realize that night, three months ago, and that was that Molly was incredibly selfish. She needed attention. When she wasn’t the center of everyone’s universe, she tended to insinuate herself there whether you wanted her to or not. “I knew you could do it, big man. I’m going to go get you some ice, and then we’ll talk about some of the things I’ll discuss with the occupational therapist you saw last week. Sound good?” Tru asked, startling me out of my thoughts. “Yeah, that’s fine,” I rumbled, while raising my hand and running my fingers over my brow. She left, and I watched her ass sway in her scrubs. Her hair, at some point, had gone from flowing down her back, to up in a bun at the top of her head, and I found it adorable. There were a lot of things I found adorable about her, in fact. She was incredibly different from Molly. Molly was dark, where Tru was light. Molly had ash black hair while Tru had sunny blonde. Tru’s complexion told of minimal, if any makeup, while I’d never seen Molly with anything less than the whole shebang. Molly had a smoking hot, toned body, while Tru had full, rounded hips, and legs that begged to have them thrown over my shoulders while I fucked… “Here you go,” Tru said, thrusting the ice into my lap, and taking care of the problem that had popped

up while I thought about how her legs would look pinned to her chest while I fuck… “Hey,” Tru said. “Are you okay?” I blinked, looking down at the ice covering my hard dick, and grimaced. “I’m fine,” I lied. “Tired.” She nodded and looked at me warily. “Okay, well you did a good job today. I just wanted to be honest with you. I don’t want you to hold back, because I’m sure getting back to work is very important to you. If you just keep giving me a hundred and ten percent, I’m sure you’ll be back in three or four months.” I grimaced. Getting back to work wasn’t the only thing I was missing right now. I couldn’t ride my bike because I couldn’t hold my hand up. I couldn’t work on cars because I couldn’t hold a fuckin’ wrench. I couldn’t weed eat my lawn. I couldn’t even cut my own meat. The last time I’d been out to eat, I’d had to ask them to cut it up for me, catching so much shit from the guys at the station, as well as the Dixie Wardens, that I’d vowed not to eat around them again until I was able to hold a knife and fork. “I know. I’m a pain in the ass when it comes to being a patient. I’ll try harder,” I replied as I was finally able to lift the ice off my cock and put it on my shoulder. Tru was right about one thing, for certain. I needed to get better. I was a firefighter and paramedic with the Benton Fire Department, which meant I couldn’t do a damn thing until my shoulder was, at least, up to eighty percent. Company regulations ensured that. “It’s okay, big guy. I’ll walk you out. It’s closing time for me. I’ve got a hot date later,” she said, patting me on the shoulder, and then turning to grab a backpack off the desk at the back of the room. “Date?” I asked, unsure as why I was all of a sudden pissed off. Fuck, but technically I had my own date. Why was it a big deal if she had a date? “Yep. It’s one I’ve been looking forward to for a week now,” she smiled widely and started walking. I caught up to her, walking with her as she waved to the lady at the front desk, the one that was always scared of me, and walked out the front door into the late afternoon sun. “Huh,” I said as I walked. “I have a date, too. One I’m probably late for, but oh well.” She looked up at me and smiled tightly. “Well, I’ll see you next Monday at the same time. Remember to keep up with your physical therapy, too,” she said quickly before going to the same little truck she’d spun the tires on in the parking lot of Halligans and Handcuffs in her haste to get away from me. She looked cute driving the little Ford Ranger. Even cuter when she rolled down the window, waved, and then started blasting country music as she

pulled out of the parking lot.

Chapter 2 Save a horse. Ride a beard. -Tru, Note to self

Tru “What a small world! I can’t believe, out of all the COTA’s in Shreveport, you’re the one that has him!” Iliana exclaimed as I stood at the sink and washed the dishes. “You lucky bitch!” We didn’t have a dishwasher. It was so old and decrepit that it now served as a pantry since we didn’t have one. Most of the time it only held bread, but I had an evil bastard of a dog that liked to eat stuff off the counter, so if we had a cake or something, it’d go in there, too. “I know. He’s so freakin’ hot. And I had my hands on him the entire afternoon. I pissed him off, though, when I told him he wasn’t trying very hard,” I snickered, remembering the expression on Grayson’s face. The look on his face had shown me the fire I knew was hidden in there. Grayson struck me as calm, cool, and collected. I wondered if he ever got mad enough to yell. Even after nearly an hour of exercises, and me telling him he wasn’t giving his all, he still didn’t frown, or even get snappy, like some clients did their first few times. My job was always interesting, that was for sure. Pain had a way of changing how even the most respectable of people acted. Even the little old ladies who’d fallen and broken hips got moody when they were hurting. I’d have thought at least I’d have gotten a frown out of the man. Instead he smiled and joked the entire time, keeping me very entertained throughout. “Hey,” Iliana said, interrupting my recollection of the afternoon. “Do you want to go run at the trail, and then go grab a burger?” I snorted. “Getting a burger after working out seems kind of counterintuitive.” Not that it didn’t sound damn good, though. She grinned. “Yeah, but if I run, it’ll be like the cheeseburger never happened. Then I’d feel no guilt tomorrow morning when I step on the scale.” The girl was pretty particular about her weight. Where I fluctuated in between one thirty and one forty, Iliana was a cool one twenty, and she never deviated. She was the most annoying person on the planet, and it was depressing at times to live with her when I’d look at a cookie and gain ten pounds, while she could eat two boxes of Oreos and lose two. It was nice to have a workout partner, though. If anything else, I got to stare at her shapely ass while she ran in front of me, keeping me extremely motivated.

“Sure, whatever you say, Ana. I’ll go get dressed,” I grinned at her. I’d just bought a new pair of running shoes. What better way to break them in than to actually run in them? *** “I’m just letting you know, that when my ass no longer fits into my jeans, that I’m going to come into your room at night and haunt your dreams,” I teased as I got out of the car and walked with Iliana into Halligans and Handcuffs. Halligans and Handcuffs was a bar, but still had a nice restaurant portion attached to it. Why Iliana wanted to go there when we were both sweaty and nasty was beyond me. I was fairly positive that tight shorts and a neon pink tank top was most definitely not appropriate. However, Iliana had won the race, and I was never one to back down from a bargain. If she wanted to go, I was going, too. “I’m sure. I go to bed after you, so it’d be impressive if you actually woke up to do that,” Iliana laughed as she grabbed the door handle and swung the door open. I’d expected to be blasted with classic rock, which is what usually happened when we entered Halligans and Handcuffs. What we got was a celebration. “Shit,” I said as I started backing out of the door. “Turn around. I think this is a private party.” I was stopped by a giant hand coming down and wrapping around my wrist. “No, darlin’, you can stay. We’re just celebrating a friend’s life, that’s all,” an older man said. I followed the hand up until it reached a brawny shoulder, and even further to a leather covered chest. I blinked. The man I was staring at was the president of the local motorcycle club. The Dixie Wardens MC. I’d seen them around town, and in fact had known that they owned this place. What I hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing yet, was talking to one of them yet. And, of course, I would be choosing the president to make an acquaintance with first. “Oh, okay. Are you sure?” I asked worriedly, looking around at the massive amount of police officers and firefighters, as well as leather clad men, filling up the bar. There were women, too. However, they were all huddled in a corner of the bar, taking up three tables in the restaurant portion, while the men stayed on the bar side. Most of the women, at least. There was one lone straggler on the men’s side, and she was standing in front of the very man I couldn’t stop my brain from thinking about. She had her hand on Grayson’s chest.

Her ample breasts that, might I add, were barely covered by her short, sleeveless blue jean dress, were thrust upwards into Grayson’s line of sight. He was leaning against the bar with his good hand cupping his bad shoulder. He held his arm at such an odd angle that I was sure he was in pain. “Is this for that cop that died a few months ago?” My best friend had a problem. She couldn’t seem to keep her foot out of her mouth. She said what she wanted, and didn’t seem to be capable of filtering. The old man, Silas, nodded. “Yes, it is. Today would’ve been his twenty fourth birthday.” Sadness panged in my heart, shadowing out the irrational jealousy I felt when I saw Grayson lean forward and tuck a stray lock of hair behind the beautiful woman’s ear. “Where do you want us to sit?” I asked solemnly. Silas smiled. “Anywhere. If you want food, though, you’ll have to sit at the bar. We’ve got no waitresses on staff tonight.” So that was how we ended up sitting at the bar, eating hamburgers, and listening to stories of Tunnel Morrison’s life. I studiously ignored Grayson and the woman. Or tried to, anyway. Were they dating? Did he love her? How long had they been together? Why couldn’t I find a man like that? The questions rolled through my mind like a firestorm. I’d secretly been hoping that Grayson was kidding about going on a date. Not that I wanted to deny anyone their happiness, but I’d started to entertain the possibilities of what’d it would be like to be with him. Now, though, I’d never know. The two of them looked pretty happy. Or at least the woman did. I was on the last bite of my hamburger when a glass crashed to the floor, effectively silencing everyone in the entire joint. I turned, following the noise with my eyes, to find Grayson bent over the bar, his head down and his body hunched as if in pain. I’d not even meant it to happen, but I was up and on my feet, walking quickly in Grayson’s direction before I thought through my actions. “Torren?” The woman asked worriedly. “Are you okay?” “Cramp,” he groaned, stiffening when the woman placed her hand on Grayson’s shoulder and pressed lightly. “Get your hands off me. Don’t touch it.”

I blinked at the harshness of the voice, surprised at the vehemence in the response. Even so, I didn’t hesitate to place my hands on him. “Grayson,” I said quietly, pressing into his body on the opposite side of the woman. “Sit up and let me work it out.” I felt bad. It was probably my fault he was hurting. If I hadn’t pushed him, he wouldn’t be feeling worse right now. That was, though, something he needed to get over. I’d push him even harder by the time this was all said and done. He didn’t stiffen up when my hands made their way under the leather vest he was wearing. Nor when I took the leather vest off and shoved it between my legs to hold it while I shoved his shirt up to lift it off the one shoulder. He lifted his arm, grimacing in pain as the fabric slid over his shoulder and bunched at the base of his neck. I reached into the purse that was around my neck, slipping out my lotion, and squirting a generous dollop into my hands before I started working it slowly into his shoulder. I ignored the looks from the various men that were surrounding us. Especially the evil one from the woman who very clearly did not want me touching her man. Well, too fucking bad. I’d do it if I wanted to do it. He’d feel better when I was done with him. “Where does it hurt?” I asked. However, the answer was irrelevant when my hands came in contact with the huge frozen muscle on the back of his shoulder. His trapezius to be precise. The entire thing was twitching uncontrollably, pulsing with his heartbeat. “Right there,” he gasped when my fingers met the angry muscle. “Your hands, God they’re magic.” I smiled as I worked my fingers along the muscle. “You were saying I was a beast this afternoon. In fact, I specifically remember something about my hands not knowing what they were good for,” I teased as I tried to take my mind off the perfectness of his skin. On how the muscles under my fingers felt like heaven. On how it’d feel to run my naked body along his. “Do you want me to do that, Torren?” The snotty woman’s voice broke in sharply. Torren shook his head. “No, Molly. Tru’s got it just fine,” he groaned as I worked the muscle with my strong, pliable fingers.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman, Molly, make the ugliest face ever before she practically exploded. “Well, that’s just rich. This is her, isn’t it? The woman that took you away from me,” the woman snapped crossly. I didn’t say anything, but inside I was jumping up and down like I’d won the lottery. Then, with his sadness tinged words, he made me feel a whole lot more for him. “Molly,” he said tiredly. “The world lost a great man a few months ago. If you paid attention, you’d know that I was present at the time of his death. I sure wish you’d think about that right now, the reason I even agreed to meet you tonight, instead of the fact that I haven’t been giving you the attention you’ve so desperately wanted in the last couple of weeks. Not even to get into the fact that I’ve been busy having surgery and all.” I blinked, surprised that he’d been so harsh. On the other hand, the man was in pain. Both physical and emotional. Now was most definitely not the time to have a discussion about your relationship when we were surrounded by...holy shit. At least ten men. All watching the show as if it were a soap opera. Their eyes were not just on Molly, either. They were on me. On me and Grayson. I tried to block them out as I watched the knot in Grayson’s shoulder relax. It started slowly. At first it only stopped twitching, but the more I worked my fingers over the knot and the surrounding area, the more it went down until there was nothing left. “What’s that feel like?” I asked as I smoothed my thumbs over the area, running my fingers on either side of the incision that was a nice, healthy pink. He groaned. “Magic.” I snorted, which was seconded by someone else behind me. I did not rise to the bait. Or tried not to, but I couldn’t help it. I looked behind me. The same man who told us to come eat, the one with the beard. The president of The Dixie Wardens. The king of beards. I turned around and smoothed my hand down over his shoulder, happy with my work. It wasn’t until I looked down that I could see his eyes were on me.

They were fixed solely on me. He was peeking out through the gap between his arm and the bar, head hanging upside down as he watched me work. “You okay?” I asked, meeting his eyes. He blinked, then lifted his head from the top of his hands and turned towards me. “Other than I’m going to smell like a Bath and Body Works explosion, I think I’m pretty damn good. My arm had been cramping up since I got here. Then all of a sudden it locked down tight and my hand lost its ability to grip a beer mug,” he grinned. When he turned, I got my first good look at his chest. It was thick and defined. His shoulders were broad, and his ab muscles, the ones I’d only gotten glimpses of all day, looked superb, even after being off of work for the last three months. His eyes watched as I cataloged his physique, coming to a stop at his waist where the deep V of his lower abdomen disappeared into his groin. Which, sadly, was covered by a distressed pair of blue jeans. The blue jeans hung low, giving me the ultimate teaser, yet covering all the good parts. “Thank you,” he rumbled as he worked the t-shirt back in place. Then he held out his hand, and I grabbed it and squeezed. He smiled. “Not that I don’t love ‘em, honey, but I was wanting my cut, not your pretty little hands.” I blinked. “What’s that?” He reached down and my heart started to beat out of my chest. My face flushed, and my belly fluttered crazily. I squeaked as his knuckles brushed over my mound before he gave a small tug on the vest in between my legs. I blushed profusely then. Mother fucker. Jesus Christ, Tru! He was just wanting his vest. Keep your cooter under control! I berated myself. Did I let go? Fuck no. I couldn’t make myself. He grinned at my blank expression before tugging a little harder. The buttons on the front of the vest caught the seam in my pants, which inevitably rubbed against a very special spot, making my eyes widen in surprised pleasure. He grinned even harder as he finally worked the vest loose and then slung it carefully over his

shoulders before he worked his arms cautiously into the holes. “I like your outfit, by the way,” he said cheekily, grinning so wide that the cleft in his chin became even more pronounced. Jesus, that thing should be illegal. “Thanks,” I managed to choke out. “You do know that half the men in this bar are cops, right?” He asked with a raised brow. I looked around and then back to him. “Yeah, so?” I questioned him. “Wearing a shirt that says, ‘If you see the police, warn a sista’ makes you seem kind of suspicious,” he explained. I shrugged. “My momma’s a cop. And my daddy’s the fire marshal. I have nothing against the police. I just thought the shirt was cute.” “You’re Frank Doherty’s daughter?” He exclaimed loudly. I nodded. “Yep.” “Shit,” he sighed. I blinked. I seemed to have a blinking problem. But I couldn’t figure out why he’d be upset about it. He shook his head at my confused look, but he wasn’t the one who answered. It was the man to my side. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place who he was. “That’s fuckin’ rich!” The man crowed loudly. I tilted my head slightly. “What the fuck?” I asked finally. “Torren got into trouble a few years ago when he first hired on. He played a prank on another member, but it ended up being your pops who got the brunt of it. Doherty’s never liked him since,” the man cried. And I literally do mean cry. He was wiping tears of hilarity out of his eyes as he spoke. I gasped. “You were the one who burned off his eyebrows?” I screeched. “You’re the Torren Trammel?” The bar erupted in laughter at my gasp of outrage. My dad had come home with no eyebrows one day, around five years ago, and they’d never grown back right since. I’d been outraged on my father’s behalf. Not because he hurt my father, but because I’d been on the receiving end of my father’s bad mood that day, and I’d lost the payment for my college education as a result.

I’d moved out a few weeks later, in with Iliana, and spent the next two years struggling to pay for everything. But I’d done it. And color me surprised when the first person I saw as I walked across the stage was my beaming father. I’d forgiven him that day. I know now that what we’d fought about really hadn’t had anything to do with my father’s bad mood, and everything to do with my bad attitude. And I’d lost two years with my father that I could never have back. “Hey,” Iliana said from behind me. “Isn’t that the reason your dad kicked you out of the house?” I turned around and glared at her, hoping she’d shut her mouth. Alas, Iliana was nothing but predictable. When I didn’t answer, she jumped around in surprise, pointing her finger at Torren accusingly. “You’re the reason I had to share a bed with her for nearly six months until she could afford her own bed!” “What’d I have to do with anything? I just set the man’s desk on fire, accidentally. I didn’t do anything to her,” he said indignantly, pointing at me accusingly. I snorted. “You didn’t do anything, Grayson. I was young and dumb, and brought it all on myself.” He nodded. “Well, okay. But I’m sorry anyway. I really pissed him off, so I’m sure it wasn’t all you.” He looked so sheepish it was almost comical. However, I still didn’t want to go into any more detail on the matter. Luckily, I was saved by the bell, so to speak. Or the whine anyway. “Torren, why does she call you Grayson?” Molly whined. Would it be rude to smack her? “Because that’s my name,” he said with a tone that was perilously close to being smartass-ish. “Oh,” she pouted. “I’ve known you for years. Why didn’t I know that?” Probably because your boobs are too big and require too much oxygen to fuel your brain like most normal human beings. I snorted. I amused myself sometimes. “Well,” I said. “Y’all have a good night. See you next week, Grayson!” With that, I walked away, only too aware of the eyes I felt boring a hole in the back of my head. Ones that I wanted to have there, and a pair that I didn’t.

Chapter 3 As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I can’t please everyone. I sure as heck can piss everyone off, though. -Tru to Grayson

Torren Pain comes in all shapes and sizes. As I sat in the waiting room for my very last occupational therapy appointment, I started thinking about the many types of pain I’d experienced over the last few weeks. Some of it could be physical. Some mental. Other emotional. Mine, at the moment, was coming from one certain part of my body, and it wasn’t my shoulder. It’d been three months since I’d started physical therapy and occupational therapy. I was nearly done. I was back to seventy five percent of normal on my shoulder, and both therapies were going great. So great, in fact¸ that I was about to see the occupational therapist to discuss the end of my therapy. However, I was sure of one thing. I didn’t want it to end. I was enjoying it too much. What I found, in the last ninety days, was that there were over a hundred places on my body that Tru could touch that gave me an instant hard on. And she touched me a lot. “Good morning, Grayson, how are you doing today?” Tru asked as she met me at the door. I gritted my teeth. No matter what I tried, I literally could not get the woman to use Torren. Even after asking her multiple times, she still refused to do it, so I gave up. She was now the sole person on this earth that used my real name. Even my pop didn’t call me Grayson anymore. “Doing good, sweet girl. How are you?” I asked as I took the door and held it as we walked through. She smiled up at me, gracing me with one of the things that made my Monday afternoons. I’d seen a lot of that smile, and I would be sad if I no longer needed therapy. I’d no longer have an excuse to come see her. Then again, I’d no longer have a reason to keep my distance, either. The only reason I’d been doing so was that I knew Tru was too professional to start a relationship with someone that she had an obligation to help get better. She wasn’t like that, and I was secretly happy for it.

What better way to get to know a person’s character, other than spending a ton of time with them. One thing for certain was that there was a lot of sexual tension going on between us, even if neither one of us acted on it. “I’m well, thank you for asking. How’d your first day back at work go?” She asked as I followed her down the hall to her office. I grimaced. “I thought for sure I’d be doing more than I did; that shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. I literally drove the ambulance all day, but was unable to do anything. It didn’t help that the captain was glaring over his shoulder the entire time, making sure I didn’t do anything stupid.” She smiled, catching me off guard. That smile had many abilities. One of which was stealing the breath from my lungs when she turned it on me. My feet caught on each other, making me trip slightly and run my hand out to the side in order to catch myself. At the same time, she stopped and turned. Instead of my hand coming to a stop on the wall, it came to a stop in the middle of her chest. She gasped sharply in surprise, looking up at me where I stood towering over her. I didn’t move my hand, and she didn’t move either, so we stayed like that for long seconds before I finally found the willpower to pull away. “Sorry,” I mumbled, pulling back until I was standing on the opposite side of the hallway from her. She smiled somewhat dazedly and turned, gesturing me to follow. “Today’s just a day for me to go over my progress with you with the OTR. She’ll re-evaluate you, and then make sure you’ve reached all the goals we set in the beginning. Pending her approval, I’m pretty sure this’ll be your last visit with us,” she smiled tightly over her shoulder. I felt something weird. Something I couldn’t quite explain. It had to do with the fact that she seemed somewhat upset. Was I happy that she didn’t want me to go? ‘Cause that, in turn, made me start to think about things. Things like what it’d be like to have her in my bed. Or taking her out for a ride on my bike. Or taking her to meet my pop. The last two things weren’t things that I did. Sure, there was the occasional ride from a bar to the girl’s place, but the kind of ride I was thinking about with Tru was the kind that lasted hours. The kind that required her arms wrapped around my chest, and her crotch rubbing against my backside while I took her for the ride of her life. I could definitely tell, too, that Tru wouldn’t be the one and done type I usually went for.

She’d be one I’d have to work out of my system slowly. She even had the potential to never be worked out of my system. The type that got in there and never got out. The type you didn’t want out. “Hey,” Tru said, interrupting my deep thoughts. “You okay? You’re not very talkative today.” I shrugged. “I’m fine. Thanks.” She looked reluctant to let it go, but in the end she did, and I was thankful. The time would come when I’d bring the subject up, but I had to get through an appointment with the OTR first. Only then would I implement my plan of action. One that Tru would accept. *** “Well then, that’s it, Mr. Trammel. You’re done here, I’m glad to say!” The cheery older woman spoke jovially. Her name was Anne, and she had to have been one of the nicest women I’d ever met. Too bad we hadn’t met under different circumstances. “Thank you. Tru did an excellent job keeping me in line,” I smiled at the woman, when in reality I wanted nothing other than to look at Tru. She was a silent presence at my back, having stepped out to answer a phone call, and coming back in a few minutes later only to stand at the back and not disrupt the meeting any more than she already had. “I’m sure she did. She was one of my wisest students and now one of the best employees I’ve ever had. Now,” she said standing. “Get on out of here. I don’t want to see you back in here unless it’s to bring me some thank you cookies.” I snorted and stood, holding out my hand to shake the woman’s hand. “I’ll keep that in mind.” I’d bring the woman cookies, but only because I wanted to see Tru again. I’d use anything as an excuse. “All right, I’ll see you around. Have a good day,” she said as she walked with me to her office door. I smiled at her and followed Tru’s retreating back out the door. I kept following her, watching her ass in her scrub pants the entire way. “I was thinking we’d go to lunch after our appointment to discuss what you should continue doing, if that’s okay. My treat,” Tru said as she looked over her shoulder. I looked up just in time that she didn’t catch me checking out her ass, but only barely. “Sounds good,” I rumbled. She smiled. “Perfect. I didn’t bring a lunch.” She led me to a padded table where she patted it softly with her hand, indicating I should sit.

She didn’t move her hand, however, and I sat, bringing her hand perilously close to my thigh. Her body was very close, too. She realized her mistake too late, and had to take a step back to make it acceptable. I gave her that, but only because I knew it was important to her. But in forty five minutes when my session was over, it’d be a different story. *** 45 minutes later “I can’t believe that still hurts,” I mumbled as I took a seat on the bench across from Tru, rubbing my shoulder as I did so. She smiled remorsefully. “It’ll get easier. Your muscles are still learning. Today was a day to make sure you could do all you’re supposed to be able to do.” I stared into her eyes, mesmerized by the sight of her big green eyes. “So how is your physical therapy going?” She asked as she glanced up from her menu. Her beautiful eyes caught mine, and I smiled. “It’s good. Only have one more of it, too. Although, the man who does it with me isn’t near as nice to look at as you are,” I teased. She gave me a wry look. “Whatever.” I snorted and looked at my own menu, settling for the Turkey melt and chili, before setting it down and staring at Tru as she perused her menu. “What are you getting?” She asked as she glanced up again. “Turkey melt,” I said. “Not a steak?” She asked in surprise. We were, in fact, in one of the best steak places on this side of the Louisiana border, but my belt couldn’t afford any more bad eating. I’d already gained nearly fifteen pounds in the months after I’d had my surgery. “My waist line doesn’t appreciate my love for steak,” I explained. The waitress interrupted the conversation to take our orders. Tru ordered a six ounce rib eye and a baked potato, pleasing me. I liked a woman that wasn’t afraid to eat in front of a man. It was a nice breath of fresh air. Molly, I’d observed, would never order anything other than a salad. She snorted as the waitress took her leave. “Mine either; yet, you don’t see me eating a salad.” I smiled widely at her. “I saw you in those tight shorts at the bar when you worked that spasm out of my shoulder. You looked pretty fucking enticing in those tight pants. No diet needed there.” She blushed, making my smile turn wider. “Iliana made me go. I’m still mad at her about that, as a matter of fact,” she pouted.

“I’m glad you came. That was a nightmare,” I said, truly meaning it. That’d been so painful that it’d stolen my breath and made my stomach clench. Then her skillful hands had landed on me, offering her comfort, and taking my pain away from me. She’d taken a little piece of me at that moment, and had spent the last three months taking away even more until I was hopeless with need. I wanted her so bad I could barely stand it. “I’m sure Molly, if I remember her name correctly, would’ve taken care of it just fine,” she said softly. I laughed. That was a good one. Molly doing anything that didn’t benefit her. I’d earned myself the cold shoulder that night, and in the three months since, it’d never warmed. Which, surprisingly, was fine with me. In fact, I hadn’t thought about Molly once in the last couple of weeks. “Molly’s one of my good friend’s little sister. She wouldn’t have offered any assistance, though. She’s the type that’d let you work your ass into the ground, regardless of any pain you’re feeling, as long as she had what she wanted,” I expounded. She blinked. “You’re telling me she wasn’t willing to help you?” I shook my head. “No. I’d been telling her all night that my shoulder wasn’t feeling good, and that it kept getting progressively worse in the three hours I was there. The only reason I’d stayed was because it was Tunnel’s birthday, which the club was celebrating. The entire time Molly kept going on and on about how upset she was about her job, while my head started pounding worse and worse. I was in the process of leaving when she threw a fit that I was her ride, and she didn’t want to leave yet. So I sat back down, and the jostling must’ve been what my shoulder needed to finally give. That’s when I dropped my beer. She only offered to rub my back when you started in our direction.” What I didn’t tell her was that my eyes had stayed locked on Tru as soon as she’d made it through the door. Which had pissed off Molly even more. Molly had realized that Tru was the woman that had put her hands all over me before the accident, and had let me know just how unhappy she was that she was there. Tru’s mouth had dropped open during the explanation, and then anger slowly replaced her calm features. “What a bitch.” I shrugged. Molly was an acquired taste. She wasn’t that bad once you got to know her. She did, however, take a lot of getting used to. Cleo loved her, and I had, at one point, thought I loved her. Now, though, I knew better. Molly was not for me, and I was not for Molly. What was for me, was sitting right in front of me pissed off on general principle.

“That’s awful. I’m sorry,” she whispered quietly. I shrugged, liking the fact that she cared. “It’s all right. I got over it.” Our food came after that, and topics turned from our social life to politics. Then from politics to the state of the economy. Finally, we switched to my job and my role with The Dixie Wardens. “I joined The Dixie Wardens when I was fresh out of the fire academy. I was young and hot headed, on the fast track to self-destruction after my mom died. My father was a member of a different chapter out of Tuscaloosa, and recommended The Benton Chapter to me out of desperation. I took to it like it was always a part of my blood, and haven’t looked back since,” I said softly. “Were you close to your dad?” She asked. I shook my head. “Yes and no. I am now, but then, not so much. My mom and he divorced when I was young over something that I was never privy to. When she died, I went to live with my grandfather. That’s when I finally got to know my dad.” “Wow,” she said with a raised eyebrow. “You’re a mess.” I felt a smirk tip up the corner of my mouth. “You could say that again. I…” My voice trailed off as a man came into the steakhouse we were eating at. He looked familiar. Familiar as in, when I looked into the mirror, familiar. “What the fuck,” I whispered. The man walked through the door, going straight from the hostess station to the back of the restaurant where I’d seen Cleo sitting when I walked in. We’d exchanged nods, but he’d been in his work clothes, so I hadn’t wanted to interrupt him. Now, though, I wanted to interrupt him. By my fist hitting his face. There was no way on God’s green earth that Cleo hadn’t seen the resemblance between the two of us. No. Fucking. Way. “Grayson?” Tru called. And even the sound of her voice, the one that had soothed my aches, pains, and nightmares, couldn’t bring me out. I saw the moment Cleo realized I knew. His eyes flared, and he stood, ignoring the insistent voice of his boss, and our president, as he walked slowly outside. Lucky for him, and for me, he’d gone the back way. “I’ll be right back,” I said as I stood, not waiting for her reply. I made it outside within moments after Cleo. “Let me explain,” he said, but I didn’t wait. My fist was flying before the words even left his mouth.

I’d known, of course, that I could possibly have a brother out there somewhere. In fact, everyone had. I’d been actively looking for him since I’d found out about him four years prior. My fist, the bad one, hit his face with a sharp crack. He went back on a foot, and lifted his hand to touch the split in his lip gingerly. “I’ll give you that,” he said darkly. “Now that you’ve got that out of your system, you’ll let me explain.” I stared at him, darkly, ignoring the burn in my hand as I did. “I’m eating with my girl, and I have to be at work in an hour and a half, but I’m all yours tomorrow after I get off,” I spat. He nodded once. “I’ll meet you at your place.” “You do that.” I hissed at him, then turned to leave. The good feeling that Tru and I had fizzled out after that. Sensing my mood, we’d cut lunch short. She left disappointed, I could tell, but I couldn’t be in the same room as my fucking brother and not want to talk to him. I was taking it out on Tru, and she didn’t deserve that. So after a hug and a kiss on the cheek, she left without looking back, and I sat outside the restaurant and watched my brother through the plate glass window like some adolescent child. I’d been searching for him so long that it felt almost surreal to know he was there. And one of my best friends had kept his existence from me. He, unfortunately, had some major explaining to do before I forgave. But I had the feeling that I’d never forget.

Chapter 4 I can’t eat anymore, I’m full. Do you want dessert? Yesssssss. -Tru to Grayson

Tru “Do you mind taking Rowen Trick-or-Treating?” My sister, Reese, pleaded. Picking up the pile of clothes I just folded, I walked into my bedroom. “Sure…but do I have to dress up?” I hoped I didn’t. Reese had started a tradition when Rowen had been born a little over two and a half years ago when it came to holidays. Her ex had left her when he found out Reese was pregnant. Therefore, Reese had made a promise to herself that she’d go above and beyond for her child since she was going to be the lone parent. Which turned into huge ordeals when it came to holidays. For Christmas, she decked her house in boughs of holly, fa la la…blah, blah, blah, blah. In fact, she decked out everyone’s house, including Iliana’s, and my, apartment. Then there was Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, and Halloween. Halloween was at least a fun one to experience. The others were just damn annoying at times. I’d dress up if I had to, but hopefully I didn’t, because I didn’t like looking like a fool. “Yes, of course you have to,” Reese said like I was a dumbass for even asking. I sighed. “Okay, well can she go in my neighborhood, or does it have to be yours?” I asked as I started putting away my multiple pairs of underwear, stopping at the red ones that I’d worn two days prior. The last day I saw Grayson. No, Torren. He’d asked me to call him Torren as he left. Again. But I knew him as Grayson. He’d always be Grayson to me. “Yes, I’d rather you do it in my neighborhood. Rowen wants to see her friends one last time before we move next week,” Reese said sadly. Reese had taken a new job in Kilgore as the school nurse. They’d be moving within the next couple of weeks, and Rowen, as well as Reese, were having trouble adjusting. Reese was a nurse at Christus Health on the cardiac floor, and had my mother watch Rowen when she was working. However, my mother was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and little by little, her

ability to watch Rowen had dwindled down until she was barely able to do it. The demands that chemo was having on her body were much more strenuous than she’d originally thought. Plus it wasn’t good on my mother’s immune system to watch a little girl that was exposed to so many viruses. So Reese had made the hard decision to move an hour away and start Rowen in daycare while she was working. Reese would now be able to get off in time to get Rowen, but she’d also be further away and not as able to help our mother out on her days off. My mother, however, was one hell of a fighter, and with my father’s, sister’s, and my help, she’d get through it. We just knew it. “That’s fine. I don’t have anything to wear, though,” I said hesitantly. I knew where it’d lead. She’d want me to wear her costume, and I was afraid to see what it was. “You can wear mine,” she said just like I knew she would. “Okay, but what were you going to be?” I worried. Reese was also a size smaller than me. Although she was technically my big sister, she didn’t look like it. I was twenty eight where she was twenty nine. She, however, looked like she was my twin. My skinny twin. “I was going to be a spider while Rowe’s gonna be a ladybug,” she said sweetly. I smiled. “Okay, I can do a spider.” *** “Jesus Christ,” I hissed at my sister as she got ready for work. “I can’t be this spider.” She turned and laughed at the expression on my face. I was looking down at the skin tight black leggings, black long sleeved t-shirt with eight pink spider legs embroidered on it, and sighed. “This is awful,” I said. My thighs looked massive. And I didn’t even want to think of my ass. “Why couldn’t you do this again?” I asked. “I have to work one more shift to be able to pay this rent and rent at my new place,” she explained patiently. She’d explained it a few times now, and I still wasn’t understanding why she did it. She had enough money, it was just routine for her to save, since it’d been a reality for her before she graduated and started nursing school. “Whatever. At least let me change my pants,” I pleaded. “No, Tru, like me, like me!” Rowen cried loudly.

I sighed, completely defeated. My, nearly, five year old niece had a way of doing that without even the least bit of coercion. “You’re so going to pay me back for this. I swear to God, Reese,” I promised. She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I’ll be back in the morning. Make sure Rowen…” I interrupted her. “You do realize, right, that I have Rowen at least once a week. Sometimes twice. I know everything there is to know about that child.” She grinned unrepentantly. “You know, Tru, I really can’t wait for you to have a child of your own, and find out what it’s like to have something that means so much to you being out in the world with someone else while you’re working. I seriously cannot wait for the first time I watch your baby, and you call me five times a night.” I glared at her. “Don’t jinx me, hoe.” She guffawed. “You’d actually have to pull that stick out of your ass and go on a date before you can get pregnant. Or hell, even talk more than a sentence to a man.” I pursed my lips and glared at the bitch. “Fuck off.” “Language!” She snapped. I flipped her off instead, really not wanting Rowen to say fuck, because then I’d never hear the end of it from Reese. The woman was like a wildcat when it came to her kid, obviously. It was easier to let her have her way. You know, in case I desired my hair to be connected to my head, that is. She was a vindictive bitch like that. “All right, sweetie,” Reese said as she bent to Rowen who was busy coloring on the floor at our feet. “I’ve got to go. Have fun with Aunt Tru, okay?” “Yes, mommy,” Rowen smiled. Before Reese left, she turned around and pointed at me. “Five pieces of candy, tops.” Pffft. Yeah, right. *** “Just go knock on the door,” I told Rowen. Rowen got out of the wagon I was using to pull her through the neighborhood and walked up to the house that had its light on. I was with a couple of the other parents, and we watched as the girls walked up the winding path that led to the front door. The house was pretty. One of the better ones in the neighborhood. The only thing different about it was the bike that was parked up on the front porch. The porch steps had a Jack O’ Lantern, and the front window was decorated with streamers of DO

NOT ENTER tape. I was minding my own business when the fake body that was lying on the lawn reached out and grabbed me by the leg. Which is why, when my niece knocked on the door and walked in, I missed it. Instead, I was too busy screaming my ass off and kicking at the man who had hold of my foot. The man was laughing like a fucking loon. Heart pounding in my throat, I finally worked my foot loose and looked up, only to see the ladybug who belonged to me nowhere in sight. What I did see was the front door open, and all of the other kids now with their parents. All the kids except my niece. “She went inside, mommy,” Pandora, Rowen’s favorite friend, yelled loudly. “Fuck,” I hissed and started running towards the front door. I stepped inside, surprised that the interior was so cozy. I heard my niece’s voice jabbering away in the kitchen, and froze halfway in the living room. “Hello?” I called out. “In here,” a familiar sounding voice called from the kitchen. I walked in slowly, unsure of what I’d find, and froze when I saw who occupied the kitchen. “Tru! Look what I found! A firefighter!” Rowen crowed loudly. She sure as fuck, did. She found my firefighter! “What…what?” I shook my head, confused. “I seem to have an intruder,” Grayson rumbled from his seat at the table. He was wearing his BFD, Benton Fire Department, uniform. Across the table from him was a tall man who was standing against the wall instead of sitting, and next to him was the old man, the president, of The Dixie Wardens MC, Silas. They all watched me with blank expressions, as if I (or Rowen) had interrupted a very important conversation, at a very inopportune time. “I’m so sorry,” I gasped as I reached for Rowen. “No!” Rowen cried loudly, hugging Grayson around the neck with all her little armed might. Grayson blinked, surprised at the move, and then winked at me. “I seem to have a friendly intruder,” he amended. I snorted. “The kid doesn’t know a stranger. We were just trick or treating at your door, and some bozo grabbed my leg and scared the crap out of me. When I looked up, she was already inside.”

“Prospects,” Grayson answered. “Not Bozos.” I blinked. “Who?” He waved his hand. “Never mind. You have a daughter?” I shook my head. “Niece. My sister had to work. She made me come.” His eyes dropped down to the outfit I was wearing, and I felt a blush rise up my face and completely devour my face. Goddammit, I knew nothing good would come of this outfit. He nodded and stood, walking towards me with an insane amount of grace for such a large man. He looked better today. A little more tired, but he wasn’t pale like the last time I’d seen him. I’d known something was wrong immediately after he’d gotten back from where he’d been. Instead of prying, I’d left him alone, knowing that whatever had been upsetting him, was something he wasn’t willing to share. Not that he should’ve shared with me. I wasn’t anything to him. Reaching for Rowen, I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her out of Grayson’s arms before she could protest, eliciting an ear piercing scream from her. “No!” I winced at the decibel, as did the three men. “I’m sorry,” I said as I turned. “I’ll be going.” “Does your sister live in this neighborhood?” Grayson asked my back. I turned and nodded. “She’s at the corner. For another week, at least, and then she’s moving to Kilgore.” I said as I made my way outside. My group was gone, as was the wagon. And the candy. “Shit,” I said. “The wagon’s gone.” “Someone took it,” a man said from beside me. I jumped, as did Rowen. “God!” The man chuckled. “Sorry about that. I have someone going after it already. I can bring it back to you.” I blinked, surprised. “Thanks.” That was nice of him. He shrugged. “No problem. I recognized you from the bar the other night. Didn’t figure Torren here would be too happy that I let that slip away.” “You’re right,” Grayson rumbled. “I wouldn’t.” I turned to Grayson in surprise. “It wasn’t his fault.” He shook his head. “I know. Sterling’s men will find it.” Sterling was a pretty name. However, by the look of the man’s face, even covered in zombie makeup,

looked like he wouldn’t appreciate me expressing that opinion. “That’s okay. If you find it, just let me know. The only thing it had were the keys to my place. But those won’t get him very far without the address,” I explained. “It won’t get him far at all,” another voice rumbled from the darkness. “We’ll find it.” Silas. He sure was kind of scary, but there was also something about him that made me feel safe. Why he was worried about a child’s wagon, when there were so many other things in the world to worry about, was beyond me, but whatever. “Walk her home, Torren,” Silas ordered. “Way ahead of you, old man,” Grayson grumbled as he held his hands out for Rowen. Rowen went to him happily, throwing herself into his arms and wrapping her hands around his neck. I shook my head. No devotion whatsoever in that little girl. None at all. All the girl needed was a set of arms and she was happy. “I’ll walk you. I’ll bring the wagon back to you if we get it,” Grayson rumbled as he grabbed my hand and led me out of his yard. I didn’t protest, and also never tried to get my hand back. In fact, I kind of liked that he had a hold of my hand. His hand was rough. I could feel a scar that ran along his palm, and his fingers were large and wide. You could tell that he worked with his hands. “I almost moved into your sister’s house when I bought my own, a couple of years ago,” Grayson said. “But I didn’t like the corner lot. So I chose mine instead.” I nodded, understanding completely. “My sister nearly had someone go through her kitchen window earlier this year. He would’ve, too, if my dad’s truck hadn’t been parked across the front walk as it was.” Rowen laid her head down on Grayson’s shoulder, snuggling in as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She’d be asleep before we got back. “I remember that. We responded to that call,” he said. “Never put two and two together, I guess. I was extremely glad I hadn’t moved there after that, though.” The walk was over way too fast, and we ended up at my sister’s door in less than ten minutes. I walked to my car and pressed the garage door opener. His eyes followed me as I did so, noting that I hadn’t unlocked the car.

The disapproval rolling off him made me want to roll my eyes. That was something I always did. It was easier than carrying keys when I had no pocket. “That’s not safe,” he rebuked. I shrugged. “It’s a good neighborhood. I’ve never worried about it before.” The garage door went up as we spoke, and I led us inside, leading him directly to Rowen’s room. “You can lay her down there. Thank you,” I said as he placed her in her bed. It was a princess castle. Reese had paid a local contractor nearly a grand to build it, and I was still unsure how she was going to have it moved. It literally took up the entire room. “Thank you,” I said as I started working her arms out of the wings. “She’s pretty heavy. She would’ve been hard for me to carry that far.” Once the wings were off, I peeled off her shoes, followed shortly by her tights. “She looks pretty capable of walking,” Grayson noted as he stood in the doorway, watching me. I laughed. “She sure is. She just got tired after the first quarter mile. Thank God I had the wagon!” He smiled, looking down at the sleeping girl. “She’s cute.” I nodded and walked to the door. “That she is.” As we walked back through the house, I could feel his eyes on me. Could feel the way my body reacted to his. We walked through the kitchen, and back into the night, coming to a stop just outside the garage door. “Thanks again for walking us,” I said quietly, bringing my hands up to cover my arms. He watched the move, and then something shifted. His eyes, which had been friendly before, suddenly started to blaze. He moved fast. One moment he was standing four feet away from me, and seconds later, he had me pinned up against the brick of my sister’s house. I went willingly, of course. One moment I was trying my hardest to keep my hands off him, and the next I was in his arms, my hands finding a home in his soft hair. His mouth came down on mine. Hard. The moment our lips touched, my body ignited. I moaned against him, feeling the heat of his breath against the sensitive skin of my neck, sending shockwaves coursing down my spine. “I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” he said, slamming his mouth back down onto mine.

Our tongues played a game, dueling against one another’s. I never would’ve thought that the feel of his tongue against my own would’ve felt as it did. Never would’ve believed that with one tiny movement, I’d be straight on course to an orgasm by a man for the first time in my life. I gasped when his jean-clad thigh worked in between my own, pressing against me, just right, so that I was on the verge of an orgasm before I’d even realized what was going on. I gasped into his mouth, clenching my fist hard, eliciting a growl out of him. “Fucking perfect,” he hissed, grinding his thigh into me, letting me feel the hard length of him where he was pressed up against my hip. I sucked hard on his bottom lip and I ground myself down onto his thigh, seeking that little push that I needed to bring my orgasm upon me. My abs clenched, and I sucked hard on his tongue as my orgasm finally tore through me like a tornado of feeling. I’d had orgasms before, of course. But none like this. It was a good one, too. A soul shattering, breath stealing, mind blowing release of energy that had me seeing stars. “Beautiful,” Grayson rasped against my lips. I could feel his hard length prodding me insistently in the belly, but when I started to reach for it, he stayed my hand, bringing it up between our chests. “Not yet. When we do that…and note I said when, not if, we will need more than a few minutes for a quick fuck against a wall. I want to enjoy you. Savor you. Suck all of your juices free before I fuck you so long that we’re both raw inside. I’ve never wanted someone so much before in my life, and I want to savor our first time,” he said, staring straight into my eyes. Little did he know, that he was in for a lot more than our first time…but my first ever. “Dinner tomorrow?” He asked as he started backing slowly away. All I could do was nod and lean back against the wall because my legs still were confused on what they were supposed to be doing. When he grinned and turned his back on me, I finally came back on track again, just enough to watch him walk away, enjoying it way more than I probably should have.

Chapter 5 Be a gentleman, know when to hold the door open for her. Be a man, know when to pull her hair. -Life Lesson

Tru “Hello?” I gasped into the phone. “Hey, baby. What’s wrong?” My dad asked. I closed my eyes and tried not to cry. My car. My baby. Was gone. I’d known as soon as my car had started this morning that this would be her last time. She’d made an awful coughing sound…one that had been getting progressively worse over the last few weeks. My 1993 Toyota Corolla had over two hundred thousand miles, and had breathed her last breath at the stop sign two miles down from the hospital. My dad told me that I needed to get the oil changed. However, it’d been over a year now, and I still hadn’t gotten around to it. Who knew one had to get their oil changed every three thousand miles…instead of every forty thousand? I’d been on my way to be with my mom for her second to last round of chemotherapy when the knocking started. When the shuddering started, I prayed that it would at least make it to the parking lot a couple hundred feet across the intersection, but it was a no go. The poor gal shuddered one last heave, and stopped a car length short of the intersection. Cars honked angrily behind me, and I snapped my hand down hard on the hazard light button before shaking my fist at the angry driver right behind me who’d been honking. I was in jeans and a long sleeved tee, pouring sweat in the unusually hot November sun. I was in long sleeves because they kept it subarctic in the hospital. Had I known that I’d be pushing my car out of the way, I’d have worn shorts. Oh, and tennis shoes instead of fucking Uggs. Closing my eyes in humiliation, I got out speaking to my dad as I looked around. “My car just died,” I said sadly. With a muttered, “Hold on tight,” he hung up, leaving me with nothing to do but watch the hundreds of cars move around me. My dad was a really good dad.

Which was why when a freakin’ fire truck pulled up only moments after getting off the phone with him, I knew I owed him a case of beer. Especially when none other than the star of my dreams stepped out in his bunker pants like a knight in a shining fire truck. “Hey there, hot stuff,” Grayson called to me as he sauntered up, two other men at his back. I exhaled a relieved breath. “Hey, Grayson. I’m so glad you’re here.” He grinned broadly at me. “You’re in for a little exercise?” That was the truth. “Yeah, I decided today would be a good day for a walk.” He chuckled and motioned the others forward. “This is Sebastian and Kettle.” The two men in question nodded politely towards me, suspicion settled down deep into their eyes. “My dad called?” I asked once I turned back to Grayson. “Yep. He said, and I quote… ‘Go get my daughter before she kills herself trying to move her car out of the way,’” Sebastian said, using finger quotes, and speaking in an authoritative voice extremely close to the one my dad always used. “That sounds a lot like him. Demanding and making sure I never had the chance to question his orders,” I said patiently. That elicited a laugh out of them all. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one on the receiving end of my father’s orders. They, of course, made it look easy when they moved my car across the intersection and into the parking lot of the Dairy Queen. No one tried to take them out with their vehicle. I contemplated hopping into the truck and moving it, but I had a feeling that neither my dad, nor the three men, would appreciate my thoughtfulness. They came back once they locked my car up, Grayson bringing up the rear with his arms loaded down with my things. He handed me my keys, followed by my purse, and the bag of essentials I always took with me while visiting my mom, and my cell phone that I’d somehow managed to leave. “Can y’all give me a ride to the cancer center?” I pleaded. Grayson’s eyebrows slammed together as he looked at me like he’d been poleaxed. “You’re sick?” I shook my head, placing my hand on his cheek. “No. My mom has breast cancer. She’s in her second to last treatment there.” His eyes closed, and when they reopened, I saw the sadness lurking in them. “Of course, sweetheart. Let’s go.” I noted that both of the other men weren’t looking at me with suspicion anymore, but something more. Something akin to thoughtfulness.

The ride to the cancer center was short. People tended to move out of the way of the large fire truck. They even helped me out of the truck and came with me inside. “How are y’all allowed to do this…don’t you have to be within your district?” I asked as I walked through the familiar entrance and down the first hallway. The three of them followed. Grayson at my side. Kettle and Sebastian at my back. “We’re in our district. As long as we can make it to the truck in under a minute…which I assure you we can…we can be anywhere,” Grayson muttered as his eyes followed the pictures lining the wall of all those that had battled cancer under that roof. Some had succumbed, while others were able to prevail. He stopped at one picture in particular, pressing a kiss to his fingers and then placing it on the glass picture of a woman, early forties, and a young man, sixteen at most. The woman was wearing a pink shirt that said, ‘Save the TaTa’s’ with a pink bandana around her head. The young man was gorgeous, even at that young of an age. Beautiful brown hair covering his eyes, the start of muscles peeking out of his tight Bass Pro Shop shirt, and finally, the defining factor that tied him to Grayson, was the dimple in the chin. The beautiful indentation gave him away every time. “That your mom?” I asked, standing partially back off to the side and looking over his shoulder. He nodded once before starting to walk. “Yeah, she had breast cancer. It was bad towards the end. She wasn’t even my mom…I miss her every day.” My heart broke for him. Cancer was a bad disease. Where some people kicked its ass, others died within weeks of finding out they had cancer. Cancer was so unpredictable, and right now, I hated its guts. Mom will make it. I told myself. We rounded the corner and I put my game face on. Mom was, of course, a cop and she’d probably see right through it, but I was willing to give it the good college try. Nurses all around looked up as we walked into the large open room. Patients sat in comfortable recliners interspersed around the room, some with relatives or spouses, and others with family or friends. There were even a few lone ones. Normally, my mom wasn’t one of them, but today I could see the sadness in her eyes until she saw me from across the room. Then her face lit up like a spotlight. To say my mom was pleased to see us was an understatement.

She was a social butterfly and could find absolutely anything to talk about with any stranger. She did so with the three men I’d brought with me. My mom was a dreamer. She only ever saw the best in people. She had a dream for me and my sister, and that was to marry someone that loved us like my father loved her. And with each new guy she met when it came to the two of us, the more she hoped that we could find that. I could practically hear the plotting going on in my mother’s head. However, Sebastian and Kettle were quick to explain that they were both married, and mom figured out pretty quick that all of my attention was focused on Grayson, not the other two men. “It’s very nice to meet you in person, Grayson,” my mother said sagely, eliciting a chuckle from the two men behind me. “So, you’ve heard of me,” he stated forlornly. She smiled widely at him. “Yes. From my husband and my daughter. Good things from one, not so good things from the other.” I snorted. The good things sure as fuck weren’t muttered from my father’s mouth. To this day, four years after the incident, he still spoke about it. But with what Grayson said next, I knew I’d fight my daddy tooth and nail if it came down to it. “You’re looking beautiful, Mrs. Doherty. I’ll bet you look good wearing a gun. You can use your baton on me anytime,” Grayson said cheekily. A smile overtook my mother’s face. One that nearly blinded me in its intensity. I knew right then that I was in love with him. Fuck that it’d only been three months. Fuck that I’d only seen him for an hour a day tops, once a week. That was enough. If the man could make my mother laugh when she was getting a treatment, a woman whom had never even met him until five minutes before, was a freakin’ miracle worker. One of the few. My father was just going to have to suck it up, ‘cause I was totally marrying this guy.

Chapter 6 If my mouth offends you: 1.

I’m sorry.


I’ll try to do better


1 and 2 are lies. 4. You’re a pussy. -Torren to Sebastian

Torren “Someone has a crush,” Sebastian goaded as we walked out of the cancer center. I turned my head to him and smiled unrepentantly. “That woman makes my cock hard for hours.” Kettle made a gagging sound and I bared my teeth at him. Which caused him to laugh. “Have you ever heard of TMI?” “What’s TMI?” I asked, batting my eyes at him. He grunted. “So what’d you learn from Cleo about your brother?” He asked as we approached the truck. I got into the back before answering. “Not fucking much. He started there a few months after Cleo did. He came here when his mother got sick, but also to ‘meet his father.’ And he hasn’t been able to get much else out of him.” I saw Sebastian’s frown in the mirror. “So why didn’t he tell you?” “Cleo says he wanted more to go on before he got my hopes up. Ross doesn’t know about me. All Ross knows is that his father lives around here and is a member of The Dixie Wardens,” I explained, thinking about all the time that’d been wasted. I’d always been an only child. When I was younger, I’d dreamed of a brother or sister. My mother had been all I had, and most of the time she was at work or too busy while she was at home dealing with prospective clients. I’d wished, many times, that I had someone to be bored with. Only on rare occasions was I able to visit my father, and it was even rarer to stay overnight with him. Most of the time he came over to us, spending time with me only under my mother’s hawk-like supervision. Back then, it’d been normal. Now, though, I knew that it was not normal. “Still, though. I’d have thought he’d have told you the second he suspected,” Kettle wondered. I’d felt that way at first, too. However, after thinking it over, I knew Cleo had only been looking out

for me. Most likely his partner, too. “How’d you find out you had a brother?” Sebastian asked offhandedly. I winced, remembering how I’d found out. It hadn’t been by my father telling me on his own free will, that’s for sure. It’d slipped out during a fight between my mother and father the summer before she’d been diagnosed with cancer. I’d gone inside, on one of his rare visits, and had returned via the backyard because I’d wanted to show my father the new bike I’d picked up at the junk yard earlier that week. I’d been in the process of rolling it around the back corner when I’d heard my mom hiss at my dad that she still loved him, but could never forgive him for fucking some ‘sweet butt’ and knocking her up. “I overheard my parents fighting one day when I was young,” I muttered distractedly, watching the traffic pass by out the side window. “Your folks were divorced, weren’t they? Ever since I’ve known Booney, he’s been alone,” Sebastian stated. I shrugged. “Yeah, they divorced when I was a kid. When my ma died, I was supposed to live with my dad, but spent most of my time with my Paw because I was such a shit head.” “I can’t see that at all,” Kettle drawled. A grin split my face wide. “I’m not that bad.” “So tell me, Grayson, what’s going on with that girl?” He asked as he pulled through the intersection just in time to miss the car that careened towards us, missing us by only inches. However, the car did not miss the light pole. It hit the pole hard. So hard, in fact, that the light pole swayed side to side, before falling down into the middle of the intersection, causing three cars to slam into it. “Fuck,” I hissed as the destruction played out in front of me. Kettle wasted no time stopping in the middle of the road, flipping his lights on, and throwing the parking break before we all bailed out. Vaguely, I heard Sebastian calling into his mic at his right shoulder, but I was focused on getting the bag and putting gloves on my hands to pay much attention. Once the gloves were securely in place, I started to the furthest car, the one that hit the light pole. Within an instant, I knew the guy was dead. His head was at an unnatural angle, mostly because it was halfway sticking out of the windshield, but that was neither here nor there. I checked the pulse for good measure, and my assumptions were validated moments after. I found a blanket in the back seat, grimacing when I realized it was a child’s, but nonetheless covered

the body up and went to the next car, replacing my gloves as I went. Seeing Kettle at one car, and Sebastian at the other, I went to the final one to find a young male teen stooped over the steering wheel, unconscious. The assessment of his injuries were immediate as soon as I saw him. The wound at his head was bleeding, but not detrimentally. He had multiple abrasions from broken glass, and bruising starting on his face from when the airbag deployed. The hazy powder hanging in the air was also a byproduct of the airbag, making it difficult to breathe. The young male’s pulse was steady and sure, as I felt it before placing him into a C-collar to immobilize his spine. He woke when the ambulance arrived on scene, the sharp bonk-bonk of the sirens jolting him rudely awake. “You’re all right,” I said calmly, placing my hands on the boy’s head. “You’ve been in an accident. Can you tell me where you are?” “C-car,” he rasped. “Driving h-home from s-school.” “Good boy. What’s your name?” I asked softly. “B-bond,” he grated. “Bond?” I asked, clarifying that I’d heard him correctly. “James. J-James Bon-nd,” he confirmed. I let that sit for a moment, and then let out a small laugh. “James Bond? Are you for real?” I asked. He gave me a small smile. “D-damn s-straight.” “My name’s Torren. It’s nice to meet you, James Bond. Although I wish it was under different circumstances,” I said lightly, trying to keep his mind off of what was going on around him. From behind me, I could hear the Jaws-of-Life starting up, knowing that someone was most likely in worse condition than the boy. Being in an accident was scary. Everything seemed heightened due to the adrenaline coursing through their systems. Sounds were louder. Pain was sharper and more severe. Smells were stronger. It was my job to keep them calm, though. I was in their shoes once, and I’d made a promise that I’d do the same as the man that’d done that for me all those years ago. I chuckled and backed up as Dallas and Corbin, the ambulance crew for today’s shift, walked up with the gurney and back board. “James Bond, fellas. He’s A&O times three. Lateral cut above his right eye, bruising evident on the face from the airbag. Vitals are good from what I can tell,” I informed the two men. They both nodded, and took over, getting the boy out of the car expertly and transferring him over to the backboard quickly and efficiently.

I left them to their duties, going over to Sebastian who was half in-half out of a tiny little Minnie Cooper. The car was totaled, no doubt about it. The front end was so smashed that it was flat in the front. The motor and front end were spewed around the large light pole, along with the contents of the car, which was the most surprising. “Are those…condoms?” I asked in surprise. Kettle, who’d joined the festivities at the small car, snorted. “He’s a drug rep. He was delivering condoms to a local clinic with the company’s logo on them.” My brows rose. “I thought they only delivered pens and shit.” “Apparently,” Sebastian said as he backed out of the window. “They do condoms and pens. What a combination. Who would’ve thought? I snorted and started to reply, but my voice was drowned out by the sound of Jaws starting back up, finally popping the door loose enough to work the Halligan into the small gap. With quick, short jerks, Kettle worked the door loose and finally opened it, allowing even more condoms to flow out of the opened door and onto the concrete. “What the hell? Did you have these in a bag that exploded or something?” Kettle muttered under his breath. The woman who was driving was red as an apple. Not because she was hurt, or in pain, but because she was embarrassed. “I couldn’t help it. My boss tells me what to deliver and where. I just do what he says.” I snorted and started to clean up the scene, brushing the glass into one large pile, picking up pieces of cars and staying out of the cops’ way as they measured and took pictures. Four hours later, we were finally getting back to the station. Our dinner that’d been cooking in the oven now resembled something close to gelatin instead of the casserole that it had started out to be before we’d had to stop cooking it halfway through. I sat down and threw my hands up over my head. “Fuck. I’m hungry.” Kettle took the recliner in front of me and switched on the Saint’s game. “Pizza, bitches.” “No. We had pizza for lunch. I want Chinese,” Sebastian said as he took a seat. “Chinese doesn’t deliver,” I noted. “Or we could,” the bell rang at the front walk and I groaned, not wanting to get up in the slightest. “Hey Dallas, could you go get that?” Dallas and Corbin had been back for going on an hour now. It was their duty to get it since they’d been sitting the longest. “Fuck off,” Dallas muttered from his spot on the other recliner. His hat covered his face, and he moved not a muscle. “You’re such a douche,” I groaned as I got up and made my way to the front door.

Painfully, might I add. I was getting fucking old. Although, thirty three wasn’t that old, it wasn’t that young, either. The things I could do ten years ago…hell even five years ago, wasn’t so easy now. Like working a call and bending over constantly. That shit was for the birds. The doorbell rang again, jolting me forward. “Hold your horses,” I yelled, walking as fast as my sore knees allowed. I finally got to the door and opened it wide, surprised as shit to see Tru at the door with a large casserole in her hand. “Hey,” she smiled, her bright green eyes shining. “I brought y’all a thank-you dinner.” I opened the door wide. “Come in. We were just discussing whether to have pizza again or not.” “Pizza, yum!” She exclaimed as she handed over the dish in her hands. It was still hot, and I could smell the mouthwatering aroma permeating the air. “Is this Mexican?” She nodded and shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “Yep. My mom’s taco casserole recipe. It’s the bomb.” “Did she make it through her treatment all right?” I asked as I grabbed her hand with my free one and guided her into the main room of the station. She smiled sadly. “She did okay. She was pretty sick afterwards. I took her home and stayed with her until my dad got home. He helped make this for you guys, although he didn’t realize it at the time.” Her mischievous grin made me laugh, which woke all the guys up in the process. Even the little shit, Dallas, raised up in his recliner, making the hat covering his face fall into his lap. “Let’s eat, boys. Tru brought us some food!” I crowed. I was fucking ecstatic that she’d come. So much so, that I gave her a hug once I sat the dish on the counter. “Thanks Tru.” She stiffened slightly before moving her arms around my chest, laying her head against my shoulder. “You deserve the moon and the stars for making my momma laugh. I’d give you a thousand casseroles just for that,” she whispered quietly. My arms tightened around her shoulders, and a feeling started to well in my chest, making me feel full and light. A feeling that, just maybe, would grow into an even bigger feeling. A feeling that I couldn’t name right now, but given time, it could be something more. Something I haven’t had for a very long time.

Chapter 7 If I have to put pants on, the answer is no. -Tru to Cleo

Tru “Where are you going?” Iliana asked as she eyed my outfit. I grimaced and looked down. “I wanted to go get a new lock for our front and back door. When I got home this morning it was open again, and I think that maybe with the new lock, it would actually stay locked.” Iliana grimaced. “Have fun. But you could’ve put on something a little more…normal. I mean you’re going to Lowe’s, not the gym.” I flipped her off. “Says the girl who made us go out to eat at a steakhouse in our workout clothes.” She blushed. “How was I supposed to know you’d see your crush there?” I rolled my eyes. ‘Crush’ was such a juvenile word. What I felt was anything but juvenile when I encountered Grayson. “It doesn’t matter. Just don’t tease me about my clothes. You know how I hate wearing clothes,” I muttered darkly, as I slipped my shoes on, sockless. I had a problem, and it had to do with clothes. I didn’t like dressing up. I didn’t like dressing, period. I was a panty and t-shirt kind of girl. The first thing to go, once I entered my house, was my pants. Iliana was used to it. Especially when her boyfriend, Bobby, showed. It wasn’t often that he was there since he was in the Navy, but when he was, Iliana had to make sure I knew so I wouldn’t come in stripping my clothes off. They’ve been together since I’d known her, and I still, to this day, couldn’t see what Iliana saw in him. Bobby was a royal dick. If there was a royal dick family, Bobby would be the queen dick. He’s only second to one man, and that’s his brother, Colby. King Dick. Colby was not in the Navy, he was, however, on the police force. And he was the weirdest, most condescending, slimiest man I’d ever had the privilege of meeting. In fact, I disliked the man so much, that I stayed with my parents on the days that Bobby was in town. Because where Bobby was, Colby was. It was kind of hard to tell the cop that he wasn’t welcome in your house. Especially since Iliana didn’t seem to have the same problem with him that I did. “I won’t, sweetie. You don’t tease me about my chocolate fetish, so I don’t tease you about your pant fetish. Speaking of pants, you’re gonna need to wear yours when you come home, Bobby’s out for a two week leave, and he should be here when you get back,” Iliana said excitedly.

I held the grimace in check, but only barely. Fucking wonderful. There went my weekend. “Okay, I’ll see you in a few. I’m just running to get a new doorknob. Maybe Bobby will put it on for us?” I asked hopefully. She grimaced. “Probably not. You know how tired he is when he gets out. He’ll most likely just hang out with Colby and play Call of Duty since it just came out.” I sighed. Perfect. I’d have to call my dad to come put it on if I couldn’t. “Alright, see ya later,” I said as I walked outside to my mom’s Jeep. She’d let me borrow it after I’d dropped her off from her treatment two days ago, letting me use it for however long I needed. Which, hopefully, wouldn’t be long since I intended to go to a dealership and take a look at the cars this afternoon on the way home from the hardware store. Lowe’s was my new favorite store, which officially made me old. Especially when, thirty minutes later, I was standing in front of the electronic locks thinking it’d be cooler than shit to be able to unlock the door with my phone. “Hey, sexy,” a cool, deep voice said from directly behind me. I looked over my shoulder and stiffened. Shivers danced over my skin (not the good kind), and bile started to crawl up my throat as the person I’d been looking to avoid later showed up exactly where I was. How fucking lucky was I? “Colby,” I said shortly. It was no secret that I disliked him. He knew it. I knew it. Iliana and my mother knew it. Fuck, but even my father knew it. They thought I was overreacting, but I wasn’t. There was just something about the man that I didn’t like. There was no rhyme or reason for it…only that he gave me the creeps. The way he looked at me made me want to gouge my eyes out with a fork. “Whatcha doin’?” He asked, crowding me with his large body. “Getting a new door knob,” I murmured, stepping out and away from the front of the display so I didn’t have anything for him to crowd me against. He leered at me. “I’ll do that for you. For a price.” I shrugged. “I’m…” My reply was cut short when another beefy arm wrapped around my shoulders. This one didn’t set off any internal alarms, though. In fact, this one made my belly settle and relief pour through my body. It was the smell that clued me in on who it was.

A spicy scent, paired with a hint of what reminded me of burned oil. “Thanks, man,” Grayson said territorially. “But I’m the only one that’ll be touching her knobs.” I snorted at that comment, relieved beyond belief that he’d shown up when he did. Colby’s eyes narrowed. “Who’s this chump?” “Torren. Torren Trammel,” Grayson supplied helpfully. “I’m with BFD. We’ve met.” Colby was a douche, and probably thought the fire department was below him, just as he thought my dad’s job was a cake job and didn’t deserve to be paid what he got. Which he’d told me on multiple occasions. Colby’s eyes glowed red hot as he noted that I didn’t pull away from Grayson but, instead, leaned into him. I might have forgotten to mention that Colby had asked me out on multiple occasions where I promptly told him that I was too busy for a boyfriend. He’d never stopped asking me and continued to ask me out each and every time he saw me. “Thought you were too busy for a man,” Colby spat. I tensed, not wanting to start a fight in the middle of Lowe’s. Grayson saved me, though. In a way that only a badass could. “She was too busy. I changed her mind, though. There’s not a woman alive that can resist a fireman,” he jeered. “Oh, yeah? You must’ve not been together too long. I haven’t seen you around her house,” Colby observed. My stomach dropped as Colby started to turn into his usual lecherous self. Why did he know Grayson wasn’t around? See, that’s exactly what I was talking about. Why the fuck was he so goddamn creepy? “Yeah, we’re new. As of this weekend when she baked me a casserole,” Grayson stated. Colby’s mouth clenched when he didn’t get a response out of Grayson. “Well, I’ll see you later tonight. I wouldn’t mind some of your taco casserole for dinner. That’s my favorite,” he said before giving me a creepy wink, and walking away. “So,” I said. “What’re you doing later?” He laughed. “That guy’s a fucking creep. Always making shit harder than it needs to be. Last week he refused to let us get to a patient because he was being ‘questioned.’ Who, might I add, had a bleeding gunshot wound in his damn leg.” I grimaced. “That sounds like him. He’s the brother of my roommate’s boyfriend. I might like my roommate’s boyfriend better if Colby wasn’t such an asshole. “ He nodded in understanding. “Good thing I came when I did,” he winked.

He didn’t even know how much I appreciated it. He just earned himself another fucking casserole. “So … what are you up to today?” I asked as I looked at the paint chips in his hand. I followed his hand upwards, taking in his sleeveless shirt that looked like the sleeves had been hacked off with a pocket knife. The jeans he was wearing resembled something that most people would throw away once they got that worn in, but Grayson worked them perfectly. He held the paint chips up for me to see. “I’m painting my living room. Something manly. What about you?” I gestured to the locks. “I need a new door knob. Mine isn’t latching anymore.” His eyes turned in the direction of the locks I’d been perusing and he shook his head. “Those wouldn’t be very good. Any mid-level hacker could hack into that and have the door open in moments. Not to mention that if the Wi-Fi goes out, you can’t get into your place.” I blinked, never having even thought of that. “Shit. I’m glad you told me that.” He shrugged. “Yeah. I’ve seen it happen quite a few times now that they’ve come out. You wouldn’t believe how many people call the fire department because they’re locked out of their house.” I couldn’t control a snort. “Some people are so stupid.” He winked. “You wouldn’t believe it.” Before I could answer, Grayson’s name was called by the woman at the paint counter. Instead of just leaving, though, he grabbed my hand and took me with him. Giving me the same butterflies I had two days ago when he’d done it at the fire station. Handing over the paint chip to the lady and telling her which one he wanted, he turned to me and studied me. “Where’re you off to after this?” “I need to go look at new cars. I’m thinking about a Ford Explorer. Do you think that’s too big for one person?” I asked. He shook his head. “No. Although it’s not going to be cheap on gas, like a small car would. Like your old one was.” I bit my lip, thinking about the advantages of more room compared to gas prices. “Guess I’ll just have to wait until I look at it before I decide if it’s worth it.” “I’ll put that on for you and go to the Ford dealership with you, if you help me paint my living room,” Grayson said suddenly. I widened my eyes at him. What I’d meant to say was, ‘God, yes!’ What came out was, “What happened to the paint that was already on the walls? It looked good.” His mouth pursed. “Molly picked it out, and I don’t like the color. I wanted beige. She was the one who wanted red. So we compromised and got red.” My inner bitch wanted to snarl at him for daring to say that woman’s name in my presence, but luckily my reasonable side managed not to let her win. I snorted. “Some compromise. Are you sure you and Molly aren’t together?”

He shook his head. “No. She was just helping me. Which she didn’t really do much of. Only helped pick out the colors while she grimaced every time she saw someone dirty.” I burst out laughing. “It’s a home improvement store. If you can’t come dirty to a place like that, where can you?” A smirk crooked up the side of his lips. “Damn straight. That’s what I kept trying to tell her. She never goes anywhere without being decked out to the nines. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a pair of shoes that doesn’t have a heel on it.” “Well,” I pursed my lips. “That’s funny, since I don’t think I own a pair that has a heel on it.” “I knew there was something smart about you,” he said as he took the can of paint with his color of choice in it. He muttered a thank you, and we were off to the door knob section where he quickly offered up a suggestion, which I took gratefully. Why there were over twenty choices for door handles, I didn’t know. After we paid, we walked out, hand in hand, once again. “So you want to meet me there?” I asked. His eyes moved from the parking lot in front of us to me before he answered. “How about I pick you up from your parent’s house?” I thought about that for all of two seconds before answering. “Sure. Do you know where that’s at?” He nodded. “I’ll meet you there once I drop my paint off. Sound good?” At my nod, he leaned forward, gave me a soft kiss on the head, and sauntered away. His ass looked just as good as the front of him did. “God,” I breathed as I watched him shove the can of paint into the saddle bags roughly, and then straddle the bike. Those powerful thigh muscles were beautiful. I couldn’t help thinking about what they’d look like as he thrust deeply into my body. The sharp sound of his motor revving to life pulled me out of my daydream as he slowly walked the bike backwards, turned towards the exit, and thundered off. Catching every man, woman, and child’s attention in the parking lot. I shook my head, smiling all the way. I was in deep.

Chapter 8 Why is it so hard to draw a star without the lines in the middle? -One of life’s unanswered questions

Tru “I know who he is, baby. Your daddy won’t hurt him,” my mother said softly as she sat on the front porch with me. I looked at her worriedly. “I know he won’t do anything in front of us. It’s away from us that I’m worried about.” She was about to reply when Grayson pulled up on his bike. This time, though, he was wearing a nicer pair of jeans, a plain black t-shirt, his motorcycle club vest, and a black and gold Saint’s hat covering his pretty black hair. “Oh, my. He is one good looking man,” my mom breathed. “I heard that, woman,” my father grumbled as he made his way out on the front porch. “What’s that jackass doing here?” I closed my eyes in mortification. “That’s the ride I’ve been waiting on.” My dad’s eyes met mine and narrowed. “You’re shitting me. You’re letting Torren help you buy a car over me?” He spit the name out of his mouth like it was the dirtiest word he’d ever said, and I had to smother the laugh that threated to boil up out of my throat as my mother pinned him with her cop look. “Frank Hubert Doherty. Knock it off,” my mother snapped. My dad’s eyes narrowed on my mother, but there was no anger in his expression. Only happiness. My mother hadn’t yelled at him in nearly four months now. She’d been too tired. Too weak. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll control myself,” he conceded. Grayson made his way up to the front walk and stopped right in front of my father, offering his hand. “Sir.” My dad took Grayson’s hand with reluctance. “Trammel.” I could see Grayson’s eyes dance with laughter. After a quick up and down pump of his hand, dad let him go and went to stand by my mother, who was watching the exchange with her cop eyes. “Hello again, Grayson. It’s nice seeing you again,” my mom said softly. Grayson grinned, showing off perfectly straight teeth. “It’s good to see you not in a hospital. You look like you have a bit more color on your cheeks today.”

My mom smiled at him warmly, and my heart filled to bursting once again. It was so nice to see her genuinely smiling, instead of the fake shit she kept trying to pass off recently. My dad didn’t miss the happiness dancing in her eyes, either. Making him soften, if only minutely. My eyes ate Grayson up. Geez, but the man was hot. I wanted to lick him. Preferably soon. “Are you ready, Grayson?” I asked as I stood. My dad was the one to answer. “Why do y’all keep calling him Grayson? The man’s name is Torren.” I turned to my dad, the man that I’d forever compare all men to, and frowned. “You called him Trammel.” He glared at me. “That’s ‘cause that’s what he’s called at the station. I’ve heard from the men he doesn’t like going by Grayson.” I turned to Grayson in horror. “You don’t like being called Grayson?” He shrugged. “It’s never been my favorite, but I answer to it. You, I don’t mind using it, though. For some reason, when you use it, it doesn’t come off as sounding quite so romance-novel-esque.” I blinked. “Well, okay then. But I don’t want to call you something you don’t like going by.” He shook his head. “You ready to go?” After saying our goodbyes, I made my way down the front walk, looking at his bike in wonder. “I’ve never been on a bike before.” He looked down at me, but I kept my eyes on the bike, taking in the shiny chrome and the black gleaming paint. It was older, but still very large and intimidating looking. “I’m glad I’ll pop that cherry,” he teased as we reached his bike. Little did he know that hit a little closer to home than he realized. “Did you just go buy that helmet?” I asked, surprised when I saw the pink helmet strapped to the back seat. He shook his head. “No. I’ve had it for a while now. No one’s used it before, though.” I knew he’d most likely bought it for Molly, but I wasn’t willing to ruin the moment by bringing her up. “I like it. It reminds me of the paint on a bass boat,” I said as I ran the tip of my finger along the sparkly top. He picked the helmet up and strapped it onto my head. “Feel okay?” He asked, his gray eyes boring into my own green ones as he held the side of my head with both hands. I nodded, licking my lips involuntarily, causing his eyes to flick down and take in the movement

before he returned his gaze to my eyes. “Good,” he rasped and then took a step back, dropping one hand and offering me the other. I took it and straddled the bike, resting my ass on the padded seat at the back. He mounted shortly after me and started the engine with a rough thrust of his leg. The bike rumbled to life, and I squealed as the vibrations shot through me. “Holy shit!” I exclaimed loudly, scooting down until I was nearly crotch to ass with him. He threw a grin over his shoulder, reached backwards for my hands, and wrapped them tightly around his torso. “Hang on. Once we get away from the parents, then we’ll ride.” And ride we sure as hell did. Thoroughly. *** “I think I should go look at something cheaper,” I hyperventilated as I saw the price of the car again. Grayson looked at me. “Yeah, they’re pretty back breaking. It’s hard to think about spending thirty five grand on something like this. It’s a big commitment.” He could say that again. I had expected something more like twenty, not thirty five. I’d been so naïve. “Offer him thirty two,” I demanded as we watched the salesman walk back with the keys to the SUV. He looked down at me sharply. “Why me?” “Because I have a vagina, and you have a penis,” I said obviously. He snorted. “And what’s that got to do with anything?” I shrugged. “Nothing. Just that he won’t bullshit you like he would me. Everyone knows that!” “Doubt it. But I’ll try for you,” he said as the salesman took the final four feet to us. Wasting no time, Grayson looked the salesman in the eye and said, “Thirty.” I barely contained the urge to giggle. “I could’ve done that!” The salesman shook his head, grinning. “No can do on that. I can do thirty one five. That’s the lowest we can go.” “Make it thirty one, and we’ll take it,” Grayson said evenly. The salesman pursed his lips. “Let me talk to my manager.” *** “Holy shit!” I squealed as we pulled up to my place in my brand new car. Grayson grinned hugely at me. “What?” “I can’t believe you got them to knock nearly four thousand dollars off the asking price. I want to be you when I grow up,” I breathed. He chuckled and unhooked his seatbelt. “Too bad you couldn’t park in the driveway,” he said dryly.

I grimaced and looked at the two trucks parked where I normally did. “Yeah, they’re nice like that.” He frowned and stepped out of my new car, his boots clunking on the pavement one by one as he slid out of the seat. I watched him exit the car fully before following his direction. “So which truck is Colby’s?” He asked as he eyed the two vehicles taking up way more of the driveway than they needed to. Assholes. “The blue Ford. Bobby’s is the brown Dodge,” I muttered as I walked up the walkway to my house. He grunted in reply. I opened the front door, which had chosen to actually latch closed for once, and swung the door wide, unsurprised to see two men taking over our living room as they stared at the screen with controllers in their hands. Iliana was nowhere to be seen. “What do you need from me?” I asked as I gestured to the new lock he was carrying in his hands. He looked down. “Phillips head screwdriver.” Walking into the kitchen to our junk drawer, I pulled out the screwdriver and brought it back to Grayson. “If you don’t mind, I’ll go get changed, and once you’re done we can go,” I said hopefully. His eyes flicked to the two men sitting on their asses, not acknowledging us at all, and he nodded. I knew with that one look he surmised that I didn’t want to be there. I left him to the knob as I walked to my room and shut it quietly behind me. I made quick work of my clothes, changing into an old pair of cutoff jeans that were now shorts, and a stained black t-shirt that I’d painted our bathroom in last winter. The shirt resembled the one Grayson had worn earlier. Threadbare and oh so soft. The arm holes were cut down low so the wide band of my sports bra showed. Packing a bag, since I planned to stay at my parents for the weekend, I came out ten minutes later to see Grayson leaning up against the wall, flipping the key ring around on his finger as he glared at the man sitting on the couch in front of him. Uh-oh. “Hey,” I said walking up to Grayson. “All done?” He nodded. “Yep. You ready?” I nodded, chancing a look over my shoulder to see Colby glaring a hole into my back. “Yes. I’m ready when you are.” At his nod I turned to the two men sitting on my couch. Both watching me now. “Will you tell Iliana that I won’t be here this weekend?” Directing my question to Bobby.

At his nod, I turned to go, grabbing Grayson’s hand as I went. “Did they say anything?” I asked once we were in my car. Grayson looked up from his spot in the driver’s seat, watching something. Following his gaze, I saw Colby standing at the living room blinds, watching us. “Nothing. He’s just a dick,” Grayson said roughly. “Okay,” I agreed. Even though I knew that something had to have been said to elicit that kind of reaction out of the usually mild tempered man.

Chapter 9 Firemen do it hotter. -T-shirt

Torren “That guy’s such a fucking dick,” I seethed as I watched the stupid prick of a cop walk away. “You can say that again. What’s his fucking problem?” Sebastian snarled, glancing down at the ticket in his hand. “Who gives firefighters tickets when they’re on their way to a goddamn call?” Kettle snapped from his position in the passenger seat. “One that’s pissed that I’m dating the girl he likes,” I supplied. I was beyond pissed. After the words that’d been exchanged on Saturday, I knew the stupid fuck was out to get me. “I met up with Tru at Lowe’s this weekend. Found that guy practically pinning her to the rack when I stepped in. She clung to me like I was her lifeline. I later followed her home to replace her doorknob. When she was changing her clothes, the stupid fuck started spouting off about how they were an item and I was stepping in somewhere I didn’t belong. When I told him I wasn’t backing off, he got all pissy and told me I wasn’t going to like the results if I didn’t back off. Guess this was one of those results he was talking about,” I ground out through clenched teeth. Even now, nearly a week later, it still had the power to piss me off. Sebastian looked back at me, followed shortly by Kettle. “You’re fucking joking.” I shook my head. “Dead fucking serious.” “Well,” Sebastian said as he threw the ticket on his dash and pulled back into traffic. “Fucker doesn’t know who he’s messing with.” *** “Hello?” I answered my phone as I stepped in through my front door. “Grayson?” Tru’s sweet voice quivered through the phone. I froze. “Yeah, honey?” I’d given Tru my phone number the night I’d dropped her off at her parent’s place after we painted my living room. I’d even had a beer with Frank, even though he still didn’t like me very much. This was the first I’d heard from her since both of us were busy at work. Especially me, since I’d pulled a 48 so Sebastian could take a couple days off to go up to visit the cemetery where his good friends were laid to rest. “I think there’s something wrong with the door handle you replaced. When I got home, it was open again.”

I blinked in surprise. The door was sturdy, as was the frame. When I’d left, the door handle had been on there perfectly well. It wasn’t broken. “How about I come pick you up for dinner, and take a look at it?” I asked as I dropped the bag over my shoulder down to the ground in the foyer. She sighed. “That’d be great. It’s really starting to freak me out that it’s always open.” What woman…or man for that matter…would like to come home to their home being open when that wasn’t the way they left it? I had a feeling that there was something else going on here besides a faulty door handle, but I didn’t want to alarm her without due cause. “Be there in twenty,” I said as I turned around and headed back out the door. “Thanks,” she breathed, before hanging up. The entire way to her house, I thought about what she’d said about her door handle and tried to think back to when I’d tested the old one. It’d been sturdy as well, which begged to mention…how was the thing open every night when she got home if she’d been closing it behind her? I could see accidentally leaving it open once. But not the multiple times it’d been happening to Tru. I drove past her sister’s place and waved, startling the sister who I’d never met, and had a good laugh the entire way to Tru’s thinking about the woman’s expression. I got that a lot, so it wasn’t surprising. It still cracked me up to see how scared people would react when I’d come by. It was just something about the motorcycle, the cut, and the stature of a biker that people found intimidating. Even when I was in my department uniform, I elicited that response out of people. Which I should be used to after all these years, yet it still made me laugh each and every time. I saw Tru as soon as I pulled up to her house. Instead of going inside, she’d taken a seat in her car to wait. Smart girl. “Hey,” I said as I shut the motor off and she made her way to me. “Hey,” she said. “Thank you for coming.” I waved off her thanks. “You’re welcome. If my craftsmanship is faulty, I sure as hell want to know. My man card might need to be revoked if I can’t put on something as simple as a door knob.” She snorted before turning to walk towards the house, but I grabbed her hand and pulled her into my arms, startling her at first. I caught her easily and enfolded her into my chest, planting my nose into her hair. She melted into me, burying her face into my neck. I squeezed her a little tighter, enjoying the feel of her in my arms. “You okay, Tru?” She nodded, not lifting her head from my chest. “Yeah. Just…worried.”

I could relate. I was worried about her, too. “Let me go check it out, and then we’ll get going,” I said. However, I didn’t move, and neither did she. We stayed like that, her wrapped up tightly in my arms, until her friend came home. With the boyfriend. Oh, joy. “Maybe your friend’s man can check it out. We can go straight to dinner,” I suggested quickly, wanting to get out of there before the brother decided to come over and make me remodel his face. With my fist. She snorted. “Bobby’s never done anything I asked of him. Or anything his girlfriend’s asked of him. It’s a miracle if he even picks his come towels up from the bathroom floor.” My mouth tightened at that admission. “He here a lot?” She shook her head. “No. Bobby’s in the Navy. He’s gone more than he’s here.” I gritted my teeth. The guy didn’t sound like he was Navy. I knew quite a few people in the Navy, and they sure as fuck weren’t lazy. They also didn’t let women do their job for them. “Okay, then. I’ll check it out, then we’ll leave,” I said before reluctantly letting her go and turning to go up the sidewalk, Tru’s hand planted firmly in mine. We met the friend and boyfriend at the door. The man, Bobby, looked different without his brother around. Almost like he wouldn’t be half bad of a person. Looked like the brother brought out the best in Bobby. Not. “Thank you. I tried my dad first, but he’s investigating a fire on Washington Avenue tonight. Did you hear about that?” She asked as she walked with me up to the front door. I nodded. “Yeah, we’re the ones who worked it. Place lit up like the Fourth of July. It burned hot and was a beast to put out.” She nodded. “Yeah, that’s what dad said. He kept going on and on about how it’s exactly like the big fire we had ten years ago. The one at that house that’s still burned, and has been since it happened.” I knew which house she was talking about instantly. And now that she mentioned it, the evidence from the new fire did resemble that one. It’d been a huge controversy in our small town. A woman and a man had been fighting over the man having some woman on the side while she stayed home with the kids. Kids that weren’t the man’s kids.

When she’d found out, she’d set the house on fire with her, the kids, and him in it. The man had managed to save the woman’s kids, but hadn’t made it back in for the woman in time before the house went up in flames. Then the man had left the state, leaving the kids behind motherless and without those that were familiar to them. “Well you’re not going to believe this, but its freakin’ latching and everything. I swear to God I’m locking it before I leave!” Tru yelled, bringing my eyes back in focus to see her frowning down at the door handle. I shook my head at the look of annoyance on her face. “I’ll take a look. Scooch over.” “What’s going on?” Iliana asked from behind us. I didn’t bother turning around, getting down on my haunches and staring directly at the lock. The first thing I noticed were the fine scratches on the lock that spoke of something being shoved into the lock that wasn’t the key. The scratches weren’t large enough to be a key. In fact, the scratches indicated something more like a file, or a pick instead of a key. With that one look, my confirmation of someone breaking into Tru’s place were confirmed. “Fuck,” I hissed, standing up. The two women looked at me in alarm as the sharp curse poured from my mouth, followed shortly by a growl. Bobby was leaning against his truck with his arms crossed tightly across his chest. He was watching me with an expression that could only be described as calculating. He knew I’d found something. And when his brother pulled up five minutes after I’d just finished discussing what I thought was happening with Tru, it didn’t surprise me in the least. “Tru,” I said hesitantly. “We should probably get out of here.” That was exactly what I needed. Some hotheaded cop who had an unhealthy crush on Tru walking in and sticking his nose where it didn’t need to be stuck. Especially when he had a hard-on for me. I didn’t trust him. “Do you think we should ask Colby?” She asked reluctantly. I shook my head. “No. I have some friends on the force, as well as a couple in the bureau. We’ll get this looked at. In the meantime, though, I’d be more comfortable if you didn’t stay here when there’s nobody with you.” She nodded in understanding. “I can do that. Let me grab a bag and I’ll stay at my parent’s place again. Iliana and Bobby had planned on going to the boats later. I don’t know how long they’ll be gone, but I’ll just play it safe and stay with them.” I wanted to shout, ‘You can stay with me!’ But I didn’t want to freak her out and push her too fast in a direction she wasn’t ready to go. “Sounds good,” is what I said instead.

See, totally understanding of me, right?

Chapter 10 I’m no weatherman, but you can expect about 9 inches tonight. -E-card

Tru I blinked awake, startled to be staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. The room was unfamiliar, as was the bed. But oh, the bed! It felt like I was sleeping on a cloud. A watery cloud, but a cloud nonetheless. I’d never been on a water bed, and to be honest, I wasn’t aware that they even still existed. Last night we’d watched movies on Pay-Per-View. I’d fallen asleep late, and when he’d offered to take me to my parent’s, I’d refused. I’d said that I didn’t want to wake my mom. What I really wanted was to be there with him. I’d gotten it. He’d helped me to bed, and I’d teased him mercilessly for over an hour about no one having waterbeds anymore. I’d fallen asleep with him on the opposite side of the large King sized bed. Which now, officially, replaced Iliana’s Tempur Pedic. I rolled over, hitting something solid. I’d known Grayson was there. In fact, I’d felt him move each time in the night, always being careful to stay on his own side of the bed…until now, that is. When I rolled, the bed’s natural inclination was to roll with me, pushing me a lot further than I’d intended to go. Which inevitably meant that I was smack on top of him in no time flat, surprising both him and me. “Uhh,” I said as I started to roll back over. However, I froze, feeling the rock hardness of his dick pressing up against my belly. He hissed when I made contact with his cock, and I froze, unable to move. Hell, but I didn’t want to move. Should I move? Am I a slut for not wanting to move? Is that his penis?

Oh, God. It’s massive! I’m totally a slut. I hope my vagina doesn’t look fat if he actually looks at it. All of these thoughts flitted through my brain in a split second, and I was glad that none of the thoughts poured out of my mouth. Because I, apparently, do not have a filter in the morning. Iliana likes to call it BCB. Before coffee bitch. I’ll say exactly what I want to say, when I want to say it, until the brain functioning life force is poured into me. After that, though, I manage to keep my opinions under wraps unless they’re warranted. Our eyes locked, and all of a sudden my mouth was descending onto his. His lips were warm and soft against mine. When his lips parted to take a startled breath, I took the opening and plunged my tongue down into his waiting mouth. Our tongues brushed, and I felt an electric jolt straight to my core. My thighs tried to clench, but the only thing I managed to do was squeeze his thigh with my own. Needing the friction, I spread my legs wider and dropped down until my vagina rested against the hard muscles of his thigh. He drew in a quick breath at the contact, causing something inside of him to snap. He was no longer kissing me nicely. What replaced it was an urgency that only fueled my own. His hands traveled up my back to bury into my hair, and I reveled in the sharp sting as he pulled back, exposing the column of my throat to his hungry mouth. I gasped as he sucked hard, pulling the skin over my carotid into his mouth. My channel clenched in need, causing the moisture that’d built up inside of me to start leaking out. I cried out in longing as one of his large hands found my breast through his borrowed t-shirt, pulling on my distended nipple lightly before bringing the t-shirt clad tip to his awaiting mouth. I didn’t realize that my head could go back any further, but with the added effect of his mouth sucking on my bud, and my pussy furiously grinding on his hard thigh, I erupted, arching my neck in surprise. He growled, taking the tip between his teeth and tugging lightly as I continued to work through the last dregs of my orgasm. When my eyes finally opened and I looked down at him, I could tell that he was only hanging on by a thread. “If you don’t want this, you need to get off me. Now,” he said roughly. As fucking if. “Fuck me,” I commanded just before he rolled us in one swift move. “You ever fucked on a water bed before?” He asked as he ground his erection down into my mound.

I shook my head. “No,” I said breathlessly, swaying back and forth with the movement. He grinned, sitting up until I could see his chest. His knees were planted in between my splayed thighs, and his chest was heaving as he took his hand and ran it down his ripped chest, further down his perfectly sculpted abs, only to come to a stop at the waistband of his underwear. I nearly groaned as I took in the sight. I’d seen him without a T-shirt before. Doing occupational therapy on a man’s shoulder allows you to see him without a shirt without crossing any unseen boundaries. But it’s so much different when you’re in bed with him. Last night it’d been dark. I’d changed in the bathroom, and when I’d come out, the light had been out, and the only thing illuminating the room was gone once I distinguished the bathroom light. Now, though, with the sun pouring in through the opened blinds, I could see his body very clearly. His chest was hairy. Not caveman hair, but a perfect blend of just enough hair to draw the eyes to the perfect places. His nipples and the happy trail going towards his groin. His nipples were dark brown against his tanned skin; the ridges of his abdomen were well defined, and I wanted to taste each and every damn ripple. I didn’t think he had an ounce of fat on him anywhere. Not even a hint of belly on him at all. I licked my lips, bringing his gaze from my eyes to my mouth, and he grinned before he started to lower his underwear teasingly. My eyes started to widen the minute his pubic hair started to show. We were nearly to the good stuff when he stopped. Fucking stopped. Just to the point where the root of his cock started to show, enticing me. It was thick, and the vein that was in the base was engorged. My eyes flashed up to his eyes. The desperation must’ve shown because he bent down, grasped my panties by the band, and practically ripped them off my legs. I squeaked in surprise, my legs splaying open and baring my vagina to him. I could feel the cool air dancing across my wet core, and I closed my eyes as his mouth came down to kiss the top of my pubic bone. I thanked God that I’d shaved the day before. His mouth was so very close to my aching clit, that when I tilted my hips slightly, his lips brushed over it, causing a jolt to course through me. I looked down my body at him, taking in his mouth as it opened slightly, allowing his tongue to escape. He gave my clit one slow, languid lick, causing my eyes to squeeze shut tightly.

“Oh, Jesus,” I panted as my hands moved involuntarily to his hair. The next lick started at my clit, and he dragged it all the way down to my opening, before plunging it inside of me, taking me by surprise. My legs clamped shut, or tried to. His hands came up the back of my thighs, coming to a stop when he reached the back of my knees. Then, slowly, he pushed my knees up until they were resting on either side of my ribcage, exposing everything to his gaze. He grinned at me. “Beautiful.” I clenched at the raspy tone of his voice, forcing more wetness out of my core, and drawing his attention. Slowly, his head descended, and he licked my juices up, devouring everything he could reach north of my perineum with his tongue. He sucked. Licked. Flicked. Nuzzled. By the time he finally withdrew, I was a quivering mass of nerves. And ready. So ready. “Lift your shirt up,” he demanded. I blinked slowly before reaching my hands up and skimming the shirt up until it came to a rest underneath my chin, exposing my sensitive breasts to his gaze. “I can’t wait to fuck you. Watch your breasts bounce with the force of my thrusts,” he growled. Then, finally, he lowered the waistband of his underwear, and the cock I’d felt earlier was exposed. It looked angry. Veins popped out over the large, thick length. The head was large and engorged, and his balls hung low. I licked my lips and took my knees with each hand, widening them as far as I could get before he finally took the hint. Lowering himself down on one arm, he used the other to guide his cock to the lips of my sex. The large, ruddy crown touched my clit, as he rubbed it in circles, coating his cock in my copious juices. “Goddamn,” he said, eyes going hooded as I lifted my ass up, hoping he’d take the hint and put that monster inside of me. He did. Fully lubricated and coated in my wetness, he lined back up with my entrance, and slowly started to push inside. It wasn’t long before he was aware of the tightness. I bit my lip, plucking my nipples with both hands. His eyes moved up to mine and realization dawned.

He didn’t withdraw, though. Instead, something dark shifted in his eyes. Something that spoke volumes, yet I couldn’t decipher because I was so hopeless with need. “Please,” I cried. His jaw clenched, and he started to push harder, breaking through the membrane that’d never been given to anyone. Only him. It didn’t hurt like I’d thought. It actually felt freaking awesome. His cock withdrew, then he pushed right back forward, repeating the process until he was fully seated inside of me. I was full. So full. He looked into my eyes, gauging my reaction. He didn’t need to. I was fine. More than fine. So fine, in fact, that I was ready to take over if he didn’t pull his cock out get on with it. Once he was sure I was okay, he pulled back all the way, coming to a stop with the tip resting against my entrance. With one rough thrust, he was back inside of me, filling me back up to the brim. I groaned, letting go of my breasts to grab onto the pillow beneath my head. Trying to find purchase to anything as the bed rocked and swayed with our movements. It was like being on a roller coaster… only with a cock inside of me that hit the spot that was quickly pushing me towards another orgasm. One that I knew would take my breath away. His eyes were everywhere. On my breasts as they swayed. On my hands as they clenched the pillow. On our bodies where they were connected. All the while, though, my eyes were on his. His muscles clenched and released with each forward and backward movement. His eyes were animated, and sweat fell slowly down his face and chest. A droplet fell from the bottom of his chin, splashing onto my collarbone. Wanting to feel it on me, I sat up, relishing in the feel of his cock taking me deeper. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him down with me until we were chest to chest, face to face. His breath was coming in pants, and the movement only served to heighten the experience. I felt so full. The feeling, although foreign, felt right. Like I was made to take him, and he was made to fill me. His mouth captured mine, and he ground his cock into me, making the wiry hairs surrounding his cock dig into my clit deliciously. He growled when I clenched onto him, making his hand reach down until he captured my knee again.

Hooking one arm underneath, he started to pound into me, so fast and hard that our skin slammed together, filling the room with the sound of us. His eyes met mine and he said, “Let go.” I hadn’t been realizing that I was holding on, but as soon as he said that, whatever was holding me back released and I screamed out my climax. Euphoria poured through me as my orgasm stole home. The tunneling of his cock, as it hit deep inside of me, making it go on for forever. Once he was satisfied that I’d gone, he went up to a half plank above me, pulled out deliciously slow, and unhurriedly started working himself over my stomach, all the while staring into my eyes. I didn’t know what to look at. The sight of his hand working his cock, or his eyes. I alternated looking back and forth between the two, finally settling on his cock when I felt him stiffen. Then hot streams of come shot out of his cock, decorating my stomach with his release. His abs tightened with each spurt, and my hand snaked down to cup his balls, coaxing the last dregs of his come out of them as he continued to pulse onto my stomach. After one last grunt of effort, he froze, staring at the remnants of his orgasm on my belly, for all of two seconds, before he lifted his hand and rubbed it into my skin. “Is it weird that I’m ready to go again just by seeing this?” He asked as he continued to rub my belly. I shook my head, smiling. “No. I’m right there with you, honey.” He leaned close, dropping a kiss to my mouth. “So, I’m guessing that you’re into me.” I giggled. Fucking giggled. I was such a loser. “You bet your big fat cock I am,” I stated firmly.

Chapter 11 Do I have my own bike? Why would I need one when I have my own biker? -Viddy to Tru

Tru I felt different. Like I’d become an adult. Yes, I’d been an adult for going on seven years now, but now I felt official. Like losing that little piece of skin made me something more. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” Grayson asked for the fifth time. I sighed, patting his thigh. We were on his motorcycle riding to his shop. He bought the building on the outskirts of Benton a little over a year ago, he’d said, and that’s where he worked on his cars. And other’s cars. “Grayson,” I yelled over the idling motor. “I told you it was all right two turns ago.” “Are you ever going to call me Torren?” He asked with a look over his shoulder. Taking in my shaking head, he turned around and continued through traffic. Once we were stopped again, he responded to my statement. “Most girls wouldn’t want to go to a shop where there’s grease and dirt all over the place.” I snorted. “You do know that you have yourself a tom girl…right?” “What’s a tom girl?” He asked cheekily. “One that doesn’t wear heels, and has no problem getting dirty,” I retorted. With that he gave my leg a squeeze, and turned twice more before pulling in front of a building set fairly far off the road. There wasn’t a sign. There wasn’t anything identifying at all. Just a moderate sized white building made out of tin, with a big black door large enough for a vehicle to fit through. He pulled the bike around back and shut off the vibrating machine. The silence was nearly deafening as I started to remove my helmet and look around. The back was much the same as the front except for a few pieces of furniture here and there. A large metal barrel was set out a little further with large pieces of wood hanging out the top. “Having a bonfire soon?” I asked as I saw the large pile of wood on the ground next to the pile. “Not really, no. I just have some trash I need to burn, but when I’m here I don’t have time to keep an

eye on it like I should.” “How long will we be here?” I asked, thinking that that a fire would be nice right about now. I was freezing, even while wearing my jeans, one of my own sweatshirts, and one of Grayson’s. He shrugged. “Couple hours, if you don’t mind. I just have a transmission I need to break down and get into the steamer. Once that’s done, I’ll wash up and get out of here. Then we can go to the party. Sound good?” Grayson had asked me if I would be willing to go to a party with the club later in the day, and I’d agreed. Incredibly curious to find out more about The Dixie Wardens. They’d been in our town for a few years now. In fact, they’d come in at a pivotal time in my life. I remember the first time I’d crossed paths with one of The Dixie Wardens. When I was nineteen, I’d been walking down Main Street to Utterly Delicious, the local ice cream joint, when I saw an older man. He’d had a really long white beard with long white hair covering his head; he’d reminded me of Santa Claus, as did his ginormous belly. But that was where the similarities to Santa ended. He’d been wearing black jeans with a chain, black boots, a black shirt, and a leather vest with ‘Dixie Wardens’ and ‘Benton Chapter’ on the back. There was a woman on the back that resembled a creepy skeleton wraith, and I’d been enamored ever since. There’d been numerous times that I’d seen the same man after that, and even more when I’d seen others in the club. What I hadn’t seen was Grayson. Which was probably a good thing, because I could see him leading me down the path of destruction with him. He’d told me all about his youth. How bad he was. How he had a chip on his shoulder the size of Kentucky. And I would’ve gone down with him, because if he was anything like he was now, I’d have been sunk. This morning had been pivotal for me. I didn’t know how he felt, but I was totally and completely his. And likely, I always would be. I nodded. “If you want to get this started for me, I’ll keep an eye on it. Make sure it doesn’t get out of control.” ***

Torren I washed my hands in the vat of Solvent, scraping the grime of the last two hours off my hands as I watched Tru pick up the last piece of wood and throw it into the barrel.

Sparks flew causing her to squeal and jump back in surprise. Of course, she’d known it would do it. She’d done it five times now. And each time it was funnier than the last. She was wearing a pair of faded jeans that had a hole above her right ass cheek, and it was driving me wild. I could see skin peeping through the hole, which meant she was either wearing a thong or, even worse, nothing. Her boots were slip-ons with hot pink tops that you couldn’t see unless she took a large step that brought the hem of her pants up slightly. Her hair, which had been flowing free before, was now in a rubber band that I’d provided her. Although she’d fought me on it, I hadn’t caved. Mostly because I didn’t think she’d look good with charred hair. She’d relented, but hadn’t stopped letting me know that she resented me for it. Something about meeting people today and wanting to look good…or some shit. Whatever her reasoning, I didn’t want her to get hurt, and free flowing hair when you were burning was a no-no. I’d just picked up a red rag and started wiping down my tools when a dark figure rounded the side of the building. I dropped the tools in my hand back to the dirty table and made my way outside just as Colby approached Tru from behind. “Can I help you?” I asked sharply, startling both Tru and Colby. Colby whirled, as did Tru. Colby was pissed, where Tru was scared. She hadn’t realized that there was anybody behind her. The motor of my air compressor had been running as was the steamer that was cleaning the parts to the transmission I’d just broken down. Pairing that with the crackling of the fire, and it made it generally impossible to hear anything out here. After ascertaining she was okay, only rattled, I turned my attention back to Colby. “What are you doing back here? This is private property,” I said coldly. “Saw smoke. Worried there was something on fire,” he answered quickly. “Normally, you’d check with the front door…ya’ know?” I replied coolly. “I’m going to have to give you a ticket for this, you know,” Colby said, gesturing to the fire behind him. I blinked. “What are you talking about? You can’t give tickets for burning outside the city limits.” Colby looked surprised that I’d called him on the fact that he’d overstepped his bounds, but I wasn’t going to bend over and take his shit. I wasn’t his bitch, and I damn sure wasn’t someone he could pull his cop attitude on. I was a hothead when I was younger, and still was, only I controlled it better. If he wanted

to deal it out, I’d dish it right back at him. Which brought up the next question. Why was he out of the city limits, anyway? Was he here because of us? He didn’t just happen by my place of business. He had to take three back roads out of town to get to it. “I was called in because your neighbors called the Sherriff, but they were all busy,” he hesitated. “Well,” I said, giving him that out. “How about you just call the Sherriff’s Department and tell them to come out when they can? You have no jurisdiction. Not to mention that there’s not a burn ban, and there’s no reason I can’t burn - other than you just don’t like it.” I tried not to spit the words at him, but it was hard. The guy was really getting on my fucking nerves. Making up excuses to come out here. He probably had just been sitting out there when he saw the smoke, what little of it there was, coming from the back, giving him just the excuse he needed. What a dick. “That’s not possible. Now that I’m back here, I see that there’s not a water source…” Colby tried, but I wasn’t having that. “There’s a water source on the other side of the barrel. Not to mention a fire extinguisher right there,” I said pointing towards the back wall where I’d moved the extinguisher, which I’d shown Tru how to use. “Now, I’d like you to leave unless you’re arresting me, for which I’d like to request my lawyer.” Colby looked like I’d force fed him a lemon. I wasn’t some ignorant civilian he was pulling this crap on. I knew the laws, especially those which pertained to fires. I was a goddamn firefighter, after all. Colby turned and pinned Tru with a glare before he walked off. His hand on the butt of his gun the entire way. I followed him, making sure he actually left. Which he did, for the most part. My suspicions were confirmed when he went to his personal car across the street and dropped down into it, looking over his shoulder at the building as he went. Once settled, he sat there while he placed a phone call, gave one last look at the building, and left. I felt Tru’s stare as soon as I rounded the corner of the building. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered once I was close enough to hear her. I took her into my arms. “The guy’s a dick. Not like you have any control of that. He shouldn’t be a police officer, though. He’s probably done a lot worse to other people that didn’t know the law like I do.” She nodded. “Still. I feel like it’s my fault he’s focused in on you. I’ve just been ignoring him, but since you came along, he seems to have gotten a lot worse.” That wasn’t surprising. The man had a hard-on for Tru.

He’d probably been able to ignore the fact that she’d rejected him when she wasn’t seeing anybody, but the moment I came into the picture, he wasn’t able to ignore it any longer.

Chapter 12 Truckies don’t need to know how to handle a hose. They let their women take care of their hoses at home. -T-shirt.

Torren “What do you make?” The man Molly was on a date with, asked. I blinked, knowing that if I spoke aloud, my mouth just might get away from me. Tru had no such compunction. She told him exactly what I’d been feeling every single time somebody asked me that over the course of my career. “Why do you care what he makes? Obviously, though, it’s not enough. He’s the one who’ll hold your mother’s hand while his friends cut her out of her car. He’s the one that gets up in the middle of the night and risks his life responding to an emergency call. He’s the one who does life-saving CPR on your best friend while you look on in shock. Whatever he makes, is not fucking enough. It’ll never be enough. Because what he gives you is his time. His heart. His love. And in some truly awful instances, his life. All so you can have yours. Something that he doesn’t have to give, but does so anyway of his own free will,” Tru seethed. Tru was also drunk. As a skunk. She’d been having fun with all the ladies at the party, and this was the first time I’d managed to get her away from them all night. “So she wears the pants in your relationship?” Douche Canoe asked, slinging his arm around Molly possessively. What on earth was Molly thinking bringing some Wall street-type to a Warden’s party? Sure, we tried not to get too rowdy since we were all, in some capacity, part of the civil services, but bringing someone that was so obviously out of place here was just plain stupid. And Cleo, for his part, knew it. Cleo’s eyes narrowed on the interloper, and was probably about two seconds away from shoving his fist into the man’s throat. He was wearing a shirt that said he handed out throat punches, too. So wouldn’t it be ironic if he actually did it? Tru shot me a smirk, just before I replied with, “We prefer it when neither one of us is wearing pants.” Rue, who’d been carrying on with Tru, her replacement best friend whose name rhymed with hers (Yes, I’d heard that all night, too) burst out laughing. “Oh God, that’s pretty funny right there.” “What’s funny?” Baylee asked loudly, most likely well on her way to being drunk, too. Sebastian reached out and encircled his arm around Baylee’s neck, pulling her into his chest. “Tru was just telling us about how she and Torren don’t wear pants when they’re together.”

Baylee turned to Tru. “You know, I wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d said Torren didn’t wear shirts when you were together, because that’s the only way I ever see him. The no pants thing is new, though.” “We’re one of a kind. I don’t like wearing pants, and he doesn’t like wearing a shirt. We’re like two peas in a casserole,” Tru announced just as loudly. “Jesus, you sure know how to pick them, don’t you, Tore?” Molly said snidely. I quite liked that Tru knew how to let loose. It was nice to have someone not care about what other people thought of her. “I really do. She’s dynamite in bed,” I replied distractedly. Molly growled. Fucking growled. I looked at her in surprise. Cleo was surprised as well. “What’s your problem? Are you sick?” “Cops are here!” Dixie boomed from the front door. Everyone looked around at each other. To be honest, half the room was off duty cops, while the other half was off duty firefighters. Others were active military. What the fuck would the cops be called on us for? We weren’t doing anything wrong. It didn’t surprise me when Silas crossed the room and opened the locked door to Halligans and Handcuffs. And it really didn’t surprise me when none other than Officer Colby was at the damn door. “Mother fucker,” I growled underneath my breath, pulling in Tru until she had her back against my front. “I need to pee,” she announced quickly. Oh, and loudly. “I’ll show you where it’s at,” Baylee tried, but Sebastian stopped her with a hand on her belly. “Don’t move. Something’s not right. Torren will take her,” Sebastian said softly to his wife. I took that as my cue, guiding Tru across the room and into the back hallway where the private offices were. Opening the door, I quickly turned on the light and shut the door behind us, locking it for added measure. “Bathroom’s through there,” I said, pointing to the closed door. She went, and I took the time to pick up the phone on the office desk to call some backup. “Hello?” Loki answered tightly. “Hey man,” I said looking towards the bathroom when I heard a loud thump, followed by a dainty curse. “We’ve got some fun going on here with the cops. I’m sad that you couldn’t make it.”

“Goddamn Prescott. I told the chief he was up to something when he went hightailing it out of here with a noise complaint like his balls were being tugged,” Loki grumbled. His statement was followed by him talking to someone, the Chief I assumed. All I could make out was the occasional ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘dumbass.’ I didn’t need to know who they were talking about, though. My fingers started rolling the cord of the phone while I listened to the two men discuss something, as well as listen to Tru who was busy singing ‘I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt.’ I was very near busting a gut when Loki came back on the line. “Hey, the chief’s on his way over. He says to cooperate ‘till he gets there, and he’ll take care of Prescott when he does. Were y’all being loud? Where’s the noise complaint coming from?” I shook my head, perplexed. That’d been why we’d chosen to build the bar where we had. It was about two miles down from my shop, just inside the city limits. There were no homes, nor businesses, in the area. Who would’ve called a noise complaint on us was beyond me. Not that we were being noisy, either. In fact, we hadn’t had any music on all night, so the only ‘noise’ that was happening was by conversations, and none of those had been loud. Which only left one option. Colby Prescott. “Negative,” I said. “Trance’s in the area with Kosher. He’ll be there before us,” Loki said and hung up, leaving me to listen to the final chorus of Tru’s song. “Hey,” I called out. “You’re all right, right?” She giggled. “Yeah. But…I think I may need a life alert.” I scrunched my eyebrows together in confusion. “Why?” “Because I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” she giggled again. I ran my hand down my face in weariness. With the late night we had, followed by the very early… very satisfying morning, and then the long afternoon and night, I was beyond exhausted. All this, on top of working the night before. Sighing in exhaustion, I walked to the door only to realize she’d locked it. “Tru,” I called through the door. “Can you reach the lock?” I was answered with the sound of her heaving, and I could only hope that she’d made it to the toilet. Dixie probably wouldn’t like the fact that his bathroom had vomit all over it. Reaching into my back pocket, I pulled out my wallet and grabbed my library card I hadn’t used in years, then stuck it between the lock and the doorjamb, popping it open with ease. I made a mental note to let Dixie know how easy it was to get open, then dropped down to one knee behind Tru who had, indeed, made it to the toilet before throwing up an insane amount of alcohol. “Oh, my God,” she moaned. “I swear to God, I don’t usually drink so much. It was only because Dixie bet I wouldn’t do it. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever been drunk.” I believed her. Dixie came off as an innocent old man, but he sure as hell didn’t act like one. “I know, sweet girl. You

doing okay?” I asked, smoothing her hair back from her face. She moaned and sat back, leaning her head against my chest. “I blame you. It’s all your fault.” I barely contained the urge to laugh at her. Somehow I knew that wouldn’t end well, and I managed to suppress it. “And why’s that?” She pointed a finger at my face…or tried to. It ended up more towards the roll of toilet paper, which was a good ten inches from my face. “I found out about them Wardens, today.” Was it bad that I thought she was cute when she was trying to be stern? “Them Wardens?” I asked. She nodded. “Yessum. Them Wardens. You’re one of them Wardens. Dixie told me so. And Baylee. And Rue, my long lost twin. And…” I covered her mouth, stopping the excessive flow or words pouring from her mouth. “Was it bad, what you learned?” I asked as I pulled her up to her feet, and led her to the sink where she washed her face. Then her hair. Followed by her neck. Which inevitably meant the white t-shirt she was wearing became nearly transparent with the water that she was practically pouring over herself. She shook her head once she was finished, and I couldn’t tell if it was due to the fact that she was answering my question in a negative, or trying to lose some of the water from her face and hair. “No. It was all good. I was just unsure of whether I would want to be,” she held up her fingers and air quoted the last word. “ ’Owned.’ ” “Ah,” I said, taking the hand towel hanging on the rack and covering her chest with it. I could’ve taken off my jacket, but then I’d have my forty caliber out where everyone could see it, then it would no longer be concealed. Which made the concealed carry license I had null. “Do you want kids?” She asked suddenly, startling me out of my thoughts. “Uhh,” I stuttered. “No. Well yes, but no. Not right now. Maybe in a few years. Why? Do you?” She shrugged. “Yes. Not right now, though. I just started my job. I want to work up the food chain some. Did you know that the human head weighs eight pounds?” I couldn’t follow the woman’s line of thinking. “Huh. Imagine that. I think I’ve heard that somewhere.” The smile was threatening to break out on my face again. “It was Jerry MacGyver,” she said stoically. My laugh burst free from my throat in a sudden boom, and Tru laughed with me, even though I doubted she knew what she was laughing at. “Do you mean Jerry Maguire?” She nodded and started to walk out of the bathroom, wobbling side to side like she was on a tight rope. Without waiting for me, she yanked open the door and started to walk outside. Straight into chaos.

Chapter 13 I think I need a massage. There is so much tension in my vagina. -E-card

Tru “I’ve never been in jail before. Do you think my mom will be mad at me?” I asked Rue, my BFF. She was leaning against my back, as I was doing to her, so we didn’t have to lay down on the disgusting concrete benches, nor touch the wall. We’d been in the ‘drunk tank’ for going on six hours now, and I had a feeling that my mom was making me stay there because I was an embarrassment. When I’d called her four hours ago, very much sober, she’d sounded disappointed in me. I’d never disappointed my mom before, and it felt horribly wrong. But she didn’t know what had happened! “Me neither. It’s a first for all of us. Although, my husband’s spent some time behind bars,” Baylee said from her perch across the room. My eyes widened in surprise. “Really?” She nodded. “Yep. A couple years ago, he shot someone trying to kill his sister in the hospital. He didn’t get charged for the murder, but he was charged with bringing the weapon onto hospital property. He had to do probation and wear an ankle bracelet.” Hmmm. I didn’t know what to think about how easily she waved it off, but it wasn’t me married to the man. Sebastian was scary. I didn’t know any of the men all that well, although their wives and I had made quick friends at the beginning of the night. “What do y’all think about being married to a man who’s in a motorcycle club?” I asked, testing the waters a bit. I was scared about that part of dating Grayson…or ‘Torren’ as they all liked to call him. “It’s not too bad, really. They don’t do anything illegal to make their money. They help where they can. They actually do a lot of stuff around the community,” Viddy said. “When that tornado came through last spring, two counties over, they spent nearly two weeks over there cleaning up the mess and helping to rebuild. Then, they’d go down every weekend once they used up all their vacation time.” I’d actually heard about that. “Our husbands are all in public service in some capacity. They try their hardest to be good, but sometimes it just takes a little strong arming. They’re not bad people at all. They’re actually just like the normal citizens. They have hearts and consciences and everything,” Adeline said proudly. “Torren saved my life a few months ago,” Rue said from directly behind me. I froze, “What?”

I’d met Rue in the hospital a year prior, while consulting on a patient. We’d made fast friends, so I, of course, had heard about the incident, but this was the first time I’d heard of her blaming herself. She nodded, and I could feel her hair bouncing against my shoulder. “Yep. I was responsible for getting him hurt. And I’m the reason that Tunnel died.” Every single woman in the room shouted in indignation, but it was Adeline, the closest to me, that I heard the best. “You were not responsible for his death, and you know it. Don’t hold that over yourself,” Adeline said fiercely. “He wouldn’t want you to. Tunnel had an oath that he stood by, and he would’ve done the same for anyone: man, woman or child.” Rue slumped harder against me. “I know. God, I know. It’s just so hard to not blame myself. God, I still dream about it. Poor Cleo doesn’t know what to do about it, but I can’t make the dreams stop.” I reached up and pulled a piece of her long hair over my shoulder, and started to braid it. She sighed. “I miss him.” The same thought was echoed by them all. “I’m ready to go home,” Channing moaned a few minutes later. “My ass is killing me. And I can’t even imagine how much we’re going to have to pay the babysitter that’s watching all the kids.” I smiled. “Probably an arm and a leg.” I could feel the reluctance about dating Grayson start to seep out of me slowly. They didn’t’ realize it yet, but they just sold me completely on him. Whereas, before this conversation, I was worried about dating someone that was affiliated with a motorcycle club, now I felt at peace with my decision to pursue a relationship with him. “Spada. Mackenzie. Rector. Spurlock. Doherty. Caruso. Your bail’s been posted,” A burly old cop said from the bars. Rue and I stood cautiously, while Baylee, Viddy, Adeline, and Channing all stood from their prospective seats with annoyance. We were all tired, hungry, and mad. Three deadly combinations. Add, on top of that, that we’d all seen all of our men thrown down to the ground and handcuffed was not helping either. Especially since the last sight I had of Grayson was with blood running down a cut above his eyebrow. I’d sobered up real quick after that. Although, it couldn’t have been because I had a knee in my back while a male cop had been handcuffing my hands behind me. They’d come off right quick once they realized whose kid I was, though. That didn’t mean I wasn’t still arrested. According to Officer Colby Prescott, I’d assaulted him and tried to pull his gun, which was the biggest crock of shit I’d ever been served in my life. I hadn’t even been able to walk in a straight line. The only reason I’d even been near Colby was because he’d ripped Grayson out of my arms and shoved him into the path of another cop, effectively knocking me off balance and throwing me into him in

the process. I’d then been thrown to the floor, causing Grayson to go ape shit. He’d watched me from his own perch on the floor as the officer searched me for weapons and then handcuffed me. I’d never wanted to cry so hard in my life. I couldn’t make sense of what had gone on around me, and when the ladies and I were locked up with each other, we still weren’t able to piece together the clues. None of us had been sober enough to make any sense of it. The first person that I saw, when I stepped cautiously out of the cell, was my mom. She looked me up and down, and turned on her heel to leave. I followed behind her like a sulking teen instead of a nearly thirty year old woman. “Your mom looks pissed,” Rue whispered to me. I nodded. “She was. Is. Shit.” The ‘shit’ was because my mom had sent me a glare over her shoulder that’d said volumes. Mostly the ‘shut up before I beat your ass’ look I used to get when I was a kid. “Your mom’s kind of scary,” Baylee said from beside me. I nodded. My mom was scary. You didn’t work for thirty years as a beat cop and not become scary. However, I was surprised beyond belief to find my mom giving the same exact look to nearly everyone she passed. Including the Chief, Cabe Warren. “I need to speak with you. Now,” my mother demanded. There was none of the usual companionship between my mother and Cabe Warren right then. He’d been to many, many barbeques since I’d known him. He’d shared fish stories with my father, visited my mother during her chemo treatments. Fuck, but he’d even babysat me at one point in time. Now, though, there was no friendship. Only a pissed off mama bear. He led her into a conference room. When we’d have stayed outside, she waved us in and pointed to chairs like we were children. However, that didn’t stop us from sitting. No, sir-ree. “Now, how about you tell me just what in the mother fuck you were thinking arresting my girl. You damn well fucking know that she’d have never touched another police officer with the intent of violence,” my mother said in a deathly calm voice. I blinked. She wasn’t mad at me. She was mad at them. Score! “I know, Doherty. I’ve already put Prescott on administrative leave pending investigation. Boys too hot headed for his own good,” Cabe muttered, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands. “Your girl was just in there because they were all drunk off their ass with no one to take them home. We didn’t have

anybody in the tank with them.” Well…that was just insulting. “If you’d have let their men go, then that wouldn’t have been a problem. I’d have been here earlier, but Frank was working a case, and I was throwing up too much to get here until now,” my mom said sternly. Uh-oh. Pulling out the cancer card. I knew, for a fact, that she was fine for the two days leading up to her next treatment, so it was likely she left me in here because she wanted me to have the experience. Mom was funny about life experiences. Like the one time she thought it’d be a great experience for me to go on a ride along with her and her partner when I was fifteen. It’d been great up until the point that my mother was slugged in the face by a male trying to get away. Luckily, I’d been in the car when he’d tried to run from her, because once he started running, after throwing rocks into her partner’s face, my mother had shot him in the ass. Then I had to sit watching as he bled beside my window until the paramedics had come to pick him off the road. My mother and her partner, Dan, had just left him there until then. Now, I could laugh about it, but then, it hadn’t been even the least bit funny to see someone abuse my mother. “I’m sorry, Daniella. I know it’s not easy getting out. You’ve got one more round, right?” Cabe asked hopefully. My mother was genuinely missed on the force. She was also their spokeswoman, which was probably why he was missing her the most. With my mom gone, he had to be the one who gave any and all statements to the press. “Yep. Then I’ll be back. Bald, but I’ll be back,” she smiled savagely. God, I loved my mother. “Not that this hasn’t been fun, but our men have been locked up for the same amount of time we have, and I’m ready to go the fuck to sleep,” I growled, getting tired of their back and forth. My mother gave me a reproachful look, but nonetheless made for the exit. “I’ll be getting those boys out, too.” And with that, we followed her down some dank hallways to a large celled in area. My eyes widened when I saw the sheer amount of people in there. What’d they do? Arrest the whole damn bar? And how’d they get them all here? Then I got a look at the other people more closely, and they were a little too rough around the edges to belong to our group. What probably happened was there were a bunch of drunks they had to move out of the drunk tank and behind bars to accommodate us women, and in the process made the large cell seem much smaller than normal. The funniest thing was, was that every single one of The Dixie Wardens MC had a seat while the other

men stood as far away from them as they could, which was not very far. Sebastian, Silas, and Dixie were on one bench while Kettle, Grayson, and Cleo were on the other directly across the room. Each had their eyes closed while leaning against the wall, acting for all the world like they were just sitting for a short snooze. “Alright, boys. Time out’s over,” my mother said, causing all of our men to open their eyes slowly. Then each and every one of them smiled at my mother, causing her to blush red to her roots. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one affected by those grins. I heard sighs behind me, as well. Even the other female officer that had come to open the cell had a blush covering her face. Potent stuff, those smiles. Lethal was more like it. *** I walked through the door to Grayson’s house, flipping on the light right inside the door. Then I kicked off my boots as soon as I crossed the threshold, pushing them to the side so he wouldn’t trip over them. My body was still vibrating from the exhilarating ride on the back of his bike, as well as the hot kiss he’d given me as soon as he’d gotten to me, once the cell had been opened. Right in front of my mother, who had a Cheshire grin on her face as she unabashedly watched. The woman had no shame! “Thank fucking Christ. I need a fuckin’ shower,” Grayson said. He followed behind me, shutting and locking the door before arming the alarm. “Wouldn’t do having you in prison. There’s no way I’d have sex in that place. You’d be miserable,” I said lightly, tossing a smile over my shoulder. He scowled. “It wouldn’t have even been an issue if you hadn’t been tossed to the floor by that piece of shit.” I steered clear of that subject, and instead of commenting, walked into the kitchen where I promptly started to look through Grayson’s fridge. “Do you want bacon and eggs?” I asked over my shoulder. He was leaning against the counter, his eyes on my every move. “I’d rather fuck you,” he answered honestly. I froze and slowly stood from my bent position. “Umm,” I said, speechless. He’d never used that kind of vulgarity before, and I kind of liked it. “Before or after breakfast?” I asked. He walked forward slowly, before pinning me to the fridge. “Now.” His hands met my hips, skimming up the inside of my t-shirt, pulling it up as he went.

I lifted my arms, because I was helpful like that, while my core clenched at the look on his face. Oh, Jesus, but he looked practically savage. His cheekbones were sharp. Color rose high on his cheeks, and the look in his eyes turned me on more than I’d ever been before. “Gray…” I started, leaning back slightly. He followed me, his fingers going to the waistband of my jeans where he viciously ripped the button from the hole, then yanked my jeans to my ankles. Then I was lifted, one of his arms around my ass, and the other up high around my waist. My jeans fell from my ankles as he twisted, planting me on the other side of him directly beside the table. His mouth came down on my neck, and my hands found his hair, clenching in surprise as he wasted no time yanking the cups of my bra down and exposing my nipples to the cool air. His hot mouth came down slowly, pulling my nipple into his mouth, running the tip of his tongue in circles around the distended bud. “Oh, shit,” I said when my knees started going weak. It was embarrassing how quickly the man, currently feasting on my breast, could affect me. “You taste…” he said roughly, switching to the other breast as the hand not currently cupping my breast went down, sliding swiftly inside my panties. My core clenched as his large fingers started to work between my legs. His thumb flicking the very tip of my clit with the edge of his fingernail, while the other encircled my entrance, teasing the juices from my pussy. “Taste like what?” I panted, leaning back against the table and lifting my foot up to the table top to give him easier access. “Like mine,” he growled as he plunged two fingers in deep. I screamed, yanking back hard on his hair. Hard enough that he was pulled from my nipple with a loud pop, causing him to grin at me like a lecher. “I’ll be yours on one condition,” I breathed, causing his eyes to narrow. “And what’s that?” He punctuated the question with a twist of his fingers. “If you’ll stop fucking around and actually stuff that fat cock of yours inside of me,” I hissed, pulling his mouth up to my face. His lips crashed into mine, and he removed his hand, working at his belt, frantically, as he plundered my mouth. I heard the crack of something hard hitting the table, but I didn’t pay it any attention as I pushed him forward slightly, ripped my bra over my head, then turned around before bending over. Oh so slowly, I pulled my panties over my ass, exposing my readiness to him. One large, rough palm slid up the outside of my thigh, and his thick hand slid up to my ass and grasped

it. I gasped at the feeling, the lips of my sex parting for him. “I didn’t ask last time,” he said, touching the tip of his cock to the entrance of my sex. “If you were on birth control.” He teased me, giving me just the very tip of his cock before pulling back. Causing my pussy to clench in need. “Birth control. Five years now,” I said quickly, not able to get out complete sentences. The fat cock of his started to push into me slowly, and I laid my head down on the table, reaching up to grasp the other side with both hands. His cock slid into me in one swift push, bottoming out inside of me before he was all the way in. “Did you know that your pussy elongates with the amount of arousal felt?” He asked softly, starting to work his stiff dick inside of me. I moaned and shook my head, barely able to comprehend anything beyond the feeling of his cock tunneling inside of me. “Yep. It sure does,” he said, pulling back and burying his cock into me up to the hilt. I panted at the fullness of it all, trying in vain to hold back the tidal wave I felt barreling towards me. It was no use, though. Once he started moving into me with more swiftness, I was sliding into home. The roughness of my hips slamming against the edge of the table with each of his thrusts, on top of the feel of his hands taking large handfuls of my ass and squeezing tight, had my eyes squeezing shut, and a scream of pure, white hot pleasure bursting free from my throat. “God, yes!” I screamed. His chuckle followed close on the heels of my scream, but I was far from caring. His movements picked up, and suddenly my one orgasm turned into the gathering of another as each plunge and retreat of his cock had me on the precipice once again. With one last grunt from him, and the feeling of his warm semen pouring into me, I shot off again, moaning my pleasure into the table’s top, going along for the ride. His movements slowed after my core stopped clenching uncontrollably around him, and he slowly pulled out, leaving a warm trail of his release to run down my thigh. “Holy shit, I don’t think I can feel my legs,” I panted. He chuckled and then reached to the side to grab a towel out of the drawer. “Does that mean you won’t cook me breakfast while I’m in the shower?” He asked with a whine.

Chapter 14 I feel a sin coming on. -T-shirt

Torren Two months later “Come take your woman home,” Cleo growled into the phone. I looked at my watch, gauging the time and grimaced. “I’ve got another fifteen on shift, and then I’ll come get her. What’s going on this time?” I asked, smiling like a dipshit. “She won’t get out of my bed,” he answered grumpily. I shook my head. “Okay, did Rue pick her up or did she drive herself?” Rue and Tru had made fast friends in the past two months and their relationship had grown stronger than in the year they’d know each other. Tru needed it. Especially since Iliana had gotten more and more distant. More often than not, Tru stayed over at my place if I was off, and Rue and Cleo’s place if I wasn’t. Very rarely did she stay at her place, and when she went by her apartment, Iliana’s boyfriend was there. And when the boyfriend was there, the piece of shit was there, too. Which inevitably had put a strain on Iliana and Tru’s relationship since I sure as hell didn’t want her over there when I wasn’t. Iliana couldn’t understand the problem between the two, finding it hard to choose her long term boyfriend over her long term best friend. Not willing to put her into that situation, Tru just stayed away. Only going home long enough to change or pick something up that she needed. “Rue picked her up. She’s been here since she got off work over three hours ago.” Cleo growled. I suppressed the urge to laugh my ass off. Cleo and Rue were still pretty new, only having been married for going on half a year. He was also a flight medic who worked a lot of hours, getting time off so rarely that he wanted to spend it with his woman. Not his woman’s new best friend. However, he knew Rue was happy, and he’d do just about anything for her happiness. Even have her friend over when he wanted his wife. Alone. In the bed that they were currently occupying. “Okay, well I’ll get there as soon as I can,” I answered, earning myself a grunt of acknowledgement before he hung up. However, I knew in the next moment that I’d be an hour and a half at least. And that was if I was lucky. Beep. Beep. Beep.

The tones dropped, and we were up and moving. “Medic one. Engine one. You’re needed on East Dam Road. Two vehicle accident. One car reported to be hanging over the side of the bridge,” the dispatcher’s voice called through the radio’s speakers. There were two types of calls. Bullshit calls. Ones that are utterly absurd, yet they’re the ones we get three quarters of the time. Hangnail on your right finger? Call an ambulance. Oh, you’re chest has been hurting for four days, and you’ve just now decided to call 911…at three in the morning? Or…now this is my favorite…the ones where you get a call and you see the passengers of a wreck walking around, joking and playing. However, as soon as we roll up, they’re suddenly all ‘oh, my back hurts. I need to go to the ER. Do you have any dilaudid?’ Then there are the ‘oh-shit’ calls. The ones where you hear the dispatcher tell you about them and know instantly that they’re bad. Kind of like this one. “Fuck,” I spat, getting up and jogging to my bunker gear. My feet slid into my boots easily. Years and years of practice putting them on had me doing it out of pure instinct. The act was like second nature. Dallas and Sebastian did the same on one side of me, while Corbin and Kettle did the same on the other. I was lead medic today, so once I was done, I hopped into the passenger seat of the ambulance and picked up the radio to call us in. “Medic one responding.” I looked down at my hand and said a quick prayer as I always did before my calls. I wasn’t a religious man, per say, but I believed in God. And any help wouldn’t be turned down right now. Not when I had a feeling in my gut that told me that this call wasn’t going to be pretty. We arrive on scene, and my worry was confirmed. It was a bad one. There were two vehicles involved with the wreck. One large Ford truck was set off to the side, its entire front smashed. Its occupant was standing off to the side with a sweatshirt covering his head. The car’s occupants were another matter entirely. They weren’t able to get out. Mainly because when they moved, the tiny car that’d definitely seen better days, teetered over the edge of the dam, tipping back and forth. “We need to get some ropes to stabilize that car. Kettle, grab the straps. Dillon and Corbin, go get some weight on that back end. Torren, wait until they get the stabilization done before you hook up the wench,” Sebastian ordered. Each man snapped too, and I walked up to the side of the car, extending my gloved-hand through the open window. “Hi, can you tell me your name?” I said soothingly, trying to calm the frantic woman down.

“Sar-r-ah. I’ve got three kids in the back,” she pleaded. I looked, following her line of sight to see three young children, all young enough to be in car seats. Turning back to the woman, ran my hand along her head, checking for any injuries. “Can you tell me where you are and what your date of birth is?” I asked calmly. Much more calmly than how I felt. If this thing went over, it’d be virtually impossible to get them out. I wouldn’t have been so worried if they all weren’t strapped in, confined to their seats and unable to move. Which meant one of us would be going in there ourselves to get them out. And since I was the smallest at 6’2 and two hundred and twenty pounds, it meant that I would be the one going in. “The dam road. 12-22-85,” she answered with her tear filled voice. “Alright, Torren. Go get yourself rigged up. Quickly.” Sebastian ordered. I left the young woman to the capable hands of my captain and jogged to the truck, quickly slipping into the rigging of belts and safety harnesses next to Kettle. Once done, I walked over with the boys, double checking my harnesses. “Ready?” Sebastian asked. While we were busy getting the harnesses on, another engine arrived, and started stabilizing the vehicle, connecting chains and attaching it to the front wench of their engine. Normally, they would’ve been able to wench it all the way back, but the angle at which the car was hanging over meant that all it’d do was put the integrity of the bridge into jeopardy. Kettle, who was attached to the front of our own engine with ropes, came up to the very edge of the bridge, threading the length of my rope through his pulley system. Once we were attached, he moved back, giving me room to work, and keeping the line taught. “Ready?” I asked him. He nodded, and I started my entrance into the front of the car through the windshield. The car rocked, making hideous groaning sounds as my weight was added to the burden. “Steady, it’ll hold.” Sebastian said, staring into the side of the car as he kept his eye on the woman. I nodded, punching out the rest of the windshield with a glass puncher. The glass fell into a million tiny shards, luckily only landing on the area of space between the back glass and the seat, completely missing the woman. My adrenaline was pumping as I moved through the opening I’d made. The first thing I did was stabilize each child’s neck. Seconds turned into long minutes as I went about maneuvering each kid onto a backboard. Even worse, they’d screamed at first, unsure about me.

I was scary, of course; anything was scary after a crash like they’d sustained. After a time, they slowly calmed as they listened to my diatribe about anything and everything I could think of. Thirty adrenaline filled minutes later, all three kids were free of their restraints, with their mother, and on the way to the hospital. I was riding in the back with them, running my fingers along the youngest child’s hair. He was two months old, and the chubbiest baby I’d ever seen. “You’re good with him,” the mother, Sarah, said to me. I smiled. “He’s sleeping. I’d be interested to hear what you think if he was screaming.” She smiled. “True. But you kept them all calm in the car, too. That’s true talent right there.” I shrugged it off, but was secretly happy with the praise. It always made me feel good when there was a good ending to something that had the potential to be tragic. *** I arrived at Cleo’s place exhausted but happy. It’d been a long day today, and I wanted nothing more than to lay down on the couch with Tru in my arms while we watched TV. Even if it had to be Dancing with the Stars. “Shit,” Cleo mumbled once I topped the steps to his house. Cleo lived on the Bayou. His house was on stilts; meaning I had to climb half a million steps to get to where I needed to be. Embarrassingly, I was winded once I made it to the top of the steps. Although, a lot of that was because I was on the tail end of a minor head cold. “Sorry. Got a call as soon as I hung up with you,” I mumbled, dragging ass. “Where’s…Ross.” Ross stared at me like he’d seen a ghost. “Y-you’re…what’s…who the fuck?” That’d been my sentiments exactly when I’d learned about him the first time. What was he doing here?” “Ross, this is Torren. Or Grayson Trammel. Grayson, this is Ross Bradley,” Cleo said formally. I held out my hand, offering it to my brother. He took it with stunned fascination. “You’re my brother.” I nodded. “Cleo told me, I just didn’t believe him. He just said to come over and see,” Ross said, shaking his head in surprise. I turned my eyes to Cleo, silently thanking him. I’d been putting this off for too long and, if I had to guess, Tru had a lot to do with this. She’d been

encouraging me for weeks now to talk to him, yet I never could. He nodded in understanding, and then went inside, closing the door quietly behind him. “Cleo’s helpful like that. Did he tell you anything else?” I asked carefully. He shook his head. “No. Not really. Told me I had a brother, and that my father wasn’t a part of this chapter, but the one in Tuscaloosa.” I nodded, taking a seat on the steps with my back to him. “Yeah, he used to be here, but they needed someone who knew how to run a business venture in Tuscaloosa for a few weeks. He met his current wife there, and hasn’t moved back.” Ross’s lips thinned. “He and my mother were never married.” “I could explain that a bit,” I said, stretching my legs out in front of me. “From what I’ve learned from pop, he was in a delicate situation. He was married to my mother, but it was an unhealthy marriage. When he met your mother, she wasn’t aware that he was married, and they slept together during one of the many breaks that my parents took…often. They were back on again when your mother told my father he was going to be a daddy, and their on again/off again relationship was history. From that point on, we had a very limited relationship.” Ross buried his head in his hands. “My mom’s dead, so I can’t verify any of this.” Preaching to the choir, ol’ boy. “So’s mine. Got something in common, there.” ***

Tru “Can you hear what they’re saying?” I asked Cleo from my perch on the bed. Rue and I were watching Dancing with the Stars, while Cleo scowled at the TV from his position in the recliner. “No,” he answered shortly. “Nine. Nine. Seven,” Rue said. “Eight. Eight. Seven,” I countered. “Tens across the board,” Cleo muttered darkly. And to our astonishment, the couple got ten’s across the board. “What are you doing in here?” Rue asked her husband. “They’re on my porch, and y’all are in my bed. Got nowhere else to go,” Cleo mumbled before taking a sip of his beer. “You could try the living room. There’s a TV in there and everything,” Rue tried. Cleo turned his dark eyes on his wife, and I had the distinct impression I was interrupting something. “I’ll just…go.” I slipped out of the room in time to see Cleo prowl across the room to his wife before crawling across the bed like a cat.

I blushed furiously and practically ran out of the room. They’d done it before, but I always felt like I was intruding. I was there quite a bit, but I felt uncomfortable in my own home now. Iliana had sent me a text earlier asking if we could talk, and I’d been putting it off in hopes that her boyfriend wouldn’t be there. Sighing, I walked out to the front porch instead of the back, leaving the lights off. The phone rang twice before Iliana answered. “Hello?” She sounded different. And not in a good way. “Hey,” I said quietly. Iliana sighed. “Hey. I’ve missed you.” “I’ve missed you, too,” I replied honestly. Well that was a good start, wasn’t it? Then it all went to hell with her next statement. “Bobby and I are thinking about getting married. And um, well, the thing is…gosh this is hard…” “You want me to move out,” I surmised from her hesitation. Could I afford a place on my own? I thought I could, but I’d just bought my car. It’d be tight, but I could probably hack it. Not by this weekend, though. “Well…yes,” she answered hesitantly. My brows bunched. Why was she circling around the answer? “Are you okay?” I asked, worry evident in my tone. Iliana was not obscure. She said exactly what she felt. She always had. This hesitant person didn’t sound like my best friend. “Sure, listen I’m okay. I’ll call you in a couple of days if I don’t see you beforehand. You’ll be able to do something with me this weekend, right?” She asked, unsure. I wanted to roll my eyes. Did she think after all this time that I’d blow her off just because of a few rough weeks? She was my best friend. “Yes, of course I can. With bells on,” I replied jokingly. Her laugh eased the ball of nerves that was gathering in my stomach, but didn’t completely erase it. It only solidified my plan of action, and that was figuring out exactly what was going on with my best friend. It wouldn’t be until later the next week that I’d realize that she never called me. Some best friend I was.

Chapter 15 Save your breath, bitch. You’ll need it to blow me later. -E-card

Tru “Hey, baby. How was…what happened to your eye?” I semi-shrieked. I’d been sitting on my parent’s couch, flipping through a magazine on home décor and talking with my sister when he’d walked in; now I was standing in front of him, staring in horror at the black eye that was forming on his face. Grayson turned his stormy gray eyes to me and glared. “Just get your fuckin’ shoes on. We’re late.” I knew that. I was the one who’d called him twenty minutes ago and told him. My mother’s party was tonight. It was in celebration of her last round of chemo that had taken place earlier in the week. As of today, she was cancer free! Boom, bitches! Then Grayson had to come in with his panties in a wad and a black eye. “I’m already ready. I’m just waiting on you,” I said carefully, slipping my feet into my flip flops. He looked me up and down then walked into the kitchen where my father was. My mother was currently being taken to dinner by her boss, who was most grateful to have her back on the force. His real role was to bring my mom to Halligans and Handcuffs in less than a half hour, where we’d all be waiting to congratulate her. “What the hell happened to him?” My sister whispered loudly. I loved my sister to death, but seriously? Didn’t she know Grayson had super hearing? I whipped my hand up and put it over her mouth, glaring at her. When she nodded in understanding, we both tiptoed down the hall that led to the kitchen, stopping at the swinging door that led straight the kitchen and the hallway. “I don’t know what to do,” Grayson said, frustration clearly evident in his voice. “Sounds like a bad situation. What’d the Chief say when you brought the problem to his attention?” My father asked. What were they talking about? My sister shifted positions beside me, then promptly tripped over her own feet, pinning me against the fridge. I absorbed the impact with a shallow ‘oomph,’ and panted through the pain as her elbow met my rib. “Jesus Christ. Stay the hell still,” I growled quietly.

“Sorry,” Reese whispered. “He didn’t say anything. He said he couldn’t talk about it yet. Just that Colby served his suspension, and he had no legal leg to stand on,” Grayson sighed. “I’ll have to talk to Daniella about it. Most likely, though, Cabe’s already aware of the problem. What’d he do this time?” Dad asked him. “He pulled the medic over again. Wouldn’t have been a big deal, but the fucker knocked the back door into my face. I swear to God, if he wasn’t a cop, I’d have seriously…” “Mommy, what are doing in the hallway?” Rowen asked curiously. Damn, hell, piss, and fuck. The door to the kitchen slowly opened, and Grayson’s scowling face took us both in. Jesus, but even pissed off he was extremely sexy. His face was shaved clean, and he’d gotten a haircut somewhere in between the time I’d seen him during my lunch break and now. He was wearing dark washed blue jeans, black boots, and a black flannel shirt. So simple, yet so freakin’ sexy. Although, the black eye wasn’t the best look, the rest of him looked damn good. “Why wouldn’t you just come in here? I would’ve told you. A little childish, isn’t it?” He asked with a hint of annoyance, but mostly tiredness. He’d been working his ass off. Pulling double-time with his shifts at the fire station, and then his mechanic business. Then having to deal with Colby on top of that. The man needed a vacation. However, that tiredness wasn’t a get out of jail free card. “Are you ready?” I asked coldly. He nodded. “Been ready. Just waiting on you.” I refrained from saying that no, in fact, I was waiting on him. However, I didn’t want to trigger his man-period that’d been around every corner lately, so I kept my mouth shut. “Did you know Aunt Tru rented a house?” Rowen asked Grayson out of the blue. Grayson turned his gaze from the little girl at his side, to me with accusation. “She did, did she?” “Yep. We went and looked at it today. It’s in the next town over. She said she couldn’t afford to live in one in this town. They cost too much,” Rowen threw a little extra fat on the fire. I’d told him that I’d wait on making a decision on the new place, but to be honest, I didn’t want to live with my parents. I was twenty-freakin’-eight. It was damn awkward to get up and see your father in his underwear. “I thought you were going to talk with me about this?” He asked. I nodded. “Yeah. But they needed an answer today, and you weren’t here.” His hands tightened into fists.

“I was working,” he said carefully. “I’m sorry,” I said. And I was. I didn’t know what he wanted me to say though. “Alright, guys. We’ll meet y’all there,” I said jovially, trying to stay positive, even though I could tell Grayson wasn’t really happy for me, or with me. It wasn’t like he was offering me a place to live! Something I’d have taken had he just asked! Why was he so mad? We walked out into the night, me slightly behind him, as he led the way to his bike. The entire ride there I could feel that he was tense, which only served to make me incredibly uncomfortable. He drove faster than normal, too. Taking the turns a little tighter, and being a little less cautious when he was changing lanes. As in, a car was going too slow, he’d cut in between two cars to get around them. It would’ve been exhilarating if he weren’t so mad. It almost felt like he was doing it to punish me. Well, he had one thing wrong. This wasn’t a punishment; it was the ride of a lifetime. We arrived a whole ten minutes before my sister, Rowen, and my father. I sat on the back of Grayson’s bike, my helmeted-face leaning against Grayson’s back. Grayson was stiff, but he didn’t move away from the touch, and I had to fight the urge to laugh at the absurdness of it. Spotting my father’s truck pulling into the parking lot, I relished in the fact that he’d be caught off guard by my next statement. “Grayson,” I said against his back. I felt his rumbled ‘what’ more than heard it. Closing my eyes, I smiled before saying what I’d wanted to say for weeks now. “I love you.” *** “What’s going on with Torren? His eyes haven’t left you since the party started,” Baylee asked curiously. I didn’t bother to turn to the man that seemed to be shooting out beams of superheated sex through his eyes and every pore in his body. I could feel it. My vagina could feel it, too. I’d never been one to have spontaneous orgasms before, but there was a first for everything. If anything else, Grayson would have no problem talking me into sex. If the man had come over right

now, he wouldn’t even have to ask me. I’d be offering my body up to him in a heartbeat. And that sure would look bad in front of my mom and nearly all of her coworkers that weren’t currently working a call, since virtually all of the on-duty cops had joined the off-duty ones. “He’s emotional,” I replied, taking a handful of cinnamon roasted nuts out of the bowl I was standing next to. I was a compulsive eater, especially in times of stress. Sex vibes counted as stress, right? “Well, Torren’s always been the happy one. It’s only been since you two have met that I’ve seen him something other than happy. Or at least appearing to be happy. I want to say it’s nearly to the point where I’d call him broody. Sexy broody,” Viddy said, waving her hand in front of her face to fan herself. Yes, the man knew how to make a woman sweat. “And look at the two of those brothers together. They look like they’re getting close,” Rue said lightly. I did turn around at that comment. Ross could be Grayson’s twin in every way. Both had the signature Trammel cleft chin that they’d inherited from their father. Both had the black hair, and dark stormy gray eyes. The only difference between the two men was the tattoos covering Grayson’s arms compared to the clean virgin skin of Ross’. The two had been spending a lot of time together this past week, and this weekend, the two men planned to ride over to Tuscaloosa, and somehow it’d turned into a ‘run’ or whatever that meant, which had nearly the entire club going. “They’re like two peas in a pod. They have so much in common,” I said to the group. “They’re both paramedics. They both ride motorcycles; Grayson spent the entire weekend trying to convince Ross to patch in.” I’d only just learned the term ‘patching in’ when Grayson had started to explain the process to Ross while I was making dinner for us all. Apparently, when a person wanted to become a member of The Dixie Wardens MC, they had to go through a year of being what they called prospects. A current member of the club would be their sponsor, and they’d spend the next year licking boots and eating shit. Or at least that’d been what I got from the entire conversation. Once they’d done enough time as a prospect, or they’d earned the club’s respect and loyalty, then they’d become fully patched in. “Wow, that’d be fun. Then all three members of the Trammel family would be members of The Dixie Wardens,” Adeline observed. “Uh-oh. He’s glaring at you again,” Channing mumbled around a mouthful of peanuts. I tried not to look. I really did. But I couldn’t help it. I had to look. He compelled me to do what he wanted.

Knowing the man was mad at me was killing me. I didn’t like making him mad. Hell, I hadn’t intended on making him mad. I’d just been tired of waiting to have the discussion on where I was going to live. I’d been secretly hoping that he’d ask me to move in with him, but even I could see that it was too soon. I didn’t blame him. Moving in together was a huge commitment, and we’d only officially been dating for going on three months now. What I saw when I finally looked up made my heart pound. “Shit,” I groaned, letting my head fall into my palm. “What? Who’s that standing next to him?” Adeline asked. I wanted to beat my head against the table. “That’s Mance. He’s a cop and a patient of Iliana’s. I met him a couple of weeks ago, and he asked me out. When I told him no, that I was involved with someone, he told me that he hoped it wouldn’t work out so I’d take a chance on him. He’s nice and all, but he’s not Grayson. He doesn’t make my heart pound and give my vagina butterflies.” I didn’t mean to speak the last part out loud, but I’d been so nervous taking in the look on Grayson’s face, that my filter had malfunctioned. “Vagina butterflies?” The group asked as a whole. My face flamed, pure red hot. “Uhh,” I said smartly. “You know, when you get those tiny little flutters…down there…when you catch their eyes on you. Or when they only touch you in the most innocent of ways. Or when they whisper to you really deep and seductive like.” “I kind of like that I do that to you,” a deep, silky voice said at the back of my head. Grayson’s breath touched the base of my neck, causing electric sparks to shoot through me, causing my nipples to harden and my core to clench. “Yeah, I’m sure you do,” I replied huskily without turning around. Shit. When did he leave where he was standing? I’d been looking at him not thirty seconds before, for God’s sake! And if the look on the girls’ faces was anything to go by, his eyes were promising delicious, naughty things just like his voice had been only moments before. “Come for a walk with me.” It was a demand, pure and simple. There was no request at all, but my ass still slid off the bar stool I’d been occupying for half the night. My mother, who was across the room, clocked my movement instantly. She’d been told by my father about the discussion that happened in the kitchen moments before we left, and I didn’t think I’d ever seen my mother so mad before. I waved at her and she nodded, acknowledging that I was okay, and went back to her conversation

with her boss. Grayson grabbed my hand and skirted through thick crowd. People moved out of his way as he went, pulling me along behind him. “Jesus, Grayson, slow down. My legs are about a foot shorter than yours,” I groaned as my feet tripped over themselves. As an answer, he stopped, turned, bent forward, and then tossed me over his shoulder like one would a duffel bag. “Oomph,” I groaned as his shoulder hit my belly, causing all the air I’d managed to save up in my sprint behind him to leave me in a whoosh. The last thing I saw as we rounded the corner to the back hallway that led to the offices were my new friends’ smiling…and knowing…faces. “What are you doing?” I groaned as he led me into the familiar office we’d been in quite a few times before. Seemed Grayson had a phobia of using public bathrooms, so we always came to this one. He set me down on the desk, and then started pacing the room. “I’m having a really hard time holding onto my temper right now,” he said, lacing his fingers on his head as he paced the room. I crossed my arms over my chest and narrowed my eyes at him. “Why?” “Where should I begin?” He asked. “How about the part of the day where I find out you have a new place, even though you promised you’d discuss it with me. Or how about when I got the ambulance door smashed into my face by the fucker that’s obsessed with you, but refuses to admit it? Or how about when your friend from the police department came up and told me you were hot, and that you were working on him?” My back went ramrod straight. “First, I didn’t tell you about my place because I haven’t seen you, and they needed to know immediately because there were people in line wanting to get it. Secondly, it’s not my fault that Colby has an unhealthy obsession for me. I try to discourage it. And as for the cop with the crush, he’s not my patient. The moment he asked me out, I asked my boss to transfer him over to Iliana on a day that I’m not there, so I wouldn’t get this very reaction from you.” He scowled at me, not ready to admit defeat. “I wanted to be involved in the decision on your place. I want you to be safe,” he replied finally, explaining away his reasoning. I didn’t know what to tell him, and sadly, I didn’t think anything I had to say would make a difference. I still had the apartment, and would for one more year unless I wanted to pay my first born to break it. “I’m sorry,” I replied, hesitated, and then went for it anyway. “I do love you, though. From the tips of my toes to the dead ends of my hair.” The lazy grin that spread across his face as he paced nearly made my heart melt. The dimple in his chin became more pronounced, making me want to lick it.

A temptation that I got to do in the next moment when he took two long steps toward me, flattened me against the desk, and kissed me hard, climbing over the top of me and pinning me down. His tongue dueled with mine, and when my hands came up to latch onto his hair, he pulled my hands up and over my head, pinning them down to the desktop with one large hand. “Did I tell you that you look good in my shirt?” He asked, skimming his nose along the swell of my breast. I was wearing my own clothes, but at one point, I caught myself rubbing my arms because of the cold that kept drifting in each time the bar’s door was opened. Grayson, witnessing the act, came over and offered me the black flannel shirt he’d worn underneath his cut. I’d taken it instantly, relishing in the warmth and smell of the super soft shirt. Baylee had told me it was because my nipples had been poking out, and he didn’t want anybody to see them, but I didn’t mind. The gesture was sweet, even if he had ulterior motives. “I like wearing your shirt,” I said against his lips. His finger trailed down, until he reached the top of my shirt, skimming it along my skin where flesh met fabric. “I forgot to tell you that you looked beautiful,” he said hoarsely. My face went soft at his admission. “Thank you. You don’t look too bad yourself.” Bending down, he let his tongue dip down my cleavage, thrusting his tongue between both of my breasts as he’d done the night before. Although it’d been his cock thrusting between my breasts last night, and not his tongue. “Your breasts are beautiful, too,” he admitted, leaning backward. Taking both breasts into his hands, he pressed them together and flicked his thumbs over the pebbled tips. “Last night had been on my top ten fantasies with you,” he admitted softly. My face flamed at the reminder of last night. It’d been perfect. And intense. It’d been on my top ten sex to-do’s as well. I hadn’t thought that having my breasts fucked would’ve been nice. However, with the view I had of Grayson, it’d been inevitable. His balls and cock, as well as his powerful thighs straddled my chest. I’d held my breasts together for him to thrust into, and tried my hardest not to get the cops called on me by holding in my screams of ecstasy to a dull screech as he worked me with his fingers. “And what else is left on your fantasy list?” I asked huskily. He grinned and then stood up completely, leaving me bereft. Walking to the office chair, he undid his belt buckle, followed shortly by the button and zipper of his jeans. “I want you to fuck me in my boss’s chair. Although this isn’t the one that Sebastian uses at the station,

it’s still his,” he grinned devilishly. Watching me closely, he pushed the jeans from around his hips, and let them fall to the floor. I swallowed tightly as I took in his powerful thighs. The patch of curly dark hair that surrounded his large, jutting erection. A pearl of pre-come dotted the very tip, and I licked my lips in anticipation. Then, surprising me even more, he sat down and gestured me over with a curl of his hand. “Come suck my cock.” I did. I didn’t even question him. Dropping down to my knees, I ran the tip of my tongue around the crown of his cock, circling it like a dripping ice cream cone, desperate not to spill a drop. He growled and latched onto my loose hair, holding it up and out of my face so he could get a better view. I looked up at him and fought not to smile at the look of anticipation in his eyes. When I felt his balls start to tighten up, he pulled me off his cock roughly. I stood, my eyes hooded and on him, waiting for his next instruction. “Take off your pants,” he ordered roughly. I did, shimmying the black tights down off my hips and kicking them off right along with my Sperry’s. “Come sit on my cock,” he instructed. Most men would’ve looked ridiculous with their pants bunched up around their boots, and their legs splayed with their cock pointing up at the ceiling. Grayson, however, did not. He looked fucking beautiful. When I went to remove the shirt, he shook his head. “Leave it on.” Following instructions, I straddled his hips with my knees and scooted close until they were touching the back of the chair. The tip of his cock touched my folds, and he hissed at the contact. Reaching behind us, he held his cock steady as I slowly bent my knees, engulfing him fully into my well lubricated channel. “Shit,” I hissed. He didn’t reply, but I could tell it felt just as good for him as it did for me. His eyes burned with emotion, only causing me to clench even harder on his invading length. Eyes flaring, he reached up and pulled the camisole of my top down, exposing my breasts to his hungry gaze. “Ride me,” he demanded. Lifting up slightly, I sank back down experimentally.

His jaw clenched, almost as if he was fighting back his own instincts that urged him to take control. Grayson, though, let me do my thing. I rode his cock slow at first, relishing in the feeling of his hard, turgid length stretching me. Filling me to capacity. I looked down, watching in fascination as his glistening dick disappeared and reappeared inside of me. I licked my lips, and then started to move faster. Soon I was slamming my hips down hard over his. His big cock filling me so fast and unbreakable that my orgasm slammed into me before I realized it was close. With a blinding light of excitement, I clenched down on him tightly, and rode my orgasm as Grayson, sensing the need to take control, latched onto my hips and made me ride him harder. He growled low in his throat and latched onto the skin above my breast, sucking furiously as his own climax overtook him. We sat like that for long seconds before Grayson finally had the wherewithal to let my breast go. “Shit, you undo me.” I grinned down at him, taking in his expression, before giving his dimple a kiss. “Back at ya, big boy.” The door handle behind us jiggled. Then Sebastian filled the doorway with his large frame. My ass cheeks, as well as Grayson’s balls, were shielded from view by the flap of his shirt that I still wore. My hair was a mess of tangles from where he’d lost control and tangled both hands into it. “Awww, man. Your balls better not be resting on my seat,” Sebastian groaned as he turned around quickly and covered his eyes. I blushed furiously. Just as I turned around, a very pissed off face, belonging to one very pissed off police officer, flashed in my peripheral vision before the door closed, leaving my heart pounding in the aftermath. “Shit,” I gasped in embarrassment. “Oops. I never intended to do this in here,” Grayson said sheepishly. I shrugged. “It’s not like we can do anything about it now. Colby was out there, though, and saw me. We should probably get out there before he does something stupid.” Grayson helped me stand, our combined releases gushing as I stood. Walking bowlegged to the bathroom, I cleaned myself up and came back for my pants, pulling the camisole up and over my breasts as I went. “You gave me a hickey,” I moaned as I saw the large mark on my breast, just above the fabric covering my left breast. He grinned unrepentantly at me. “Oops.”

“You know,” I said, sidling up to him. “It’s only fair that you let me reciprocate.” And that was how Grayson ended up with a hickey of his own, above the collar of his t-shirt, and getting ribbed for it for the rest of the night. I did, too, but it was nowhere near as satisfying as hearing Grayson get it from the other members of the MC. In fact, it was downright entertaining, and I had a blast the rest of the night listening to them ribbing him for having no self-control. Which was true. He didn’t. But I didn’t either. I couldn’t get enough of the man. In fact, I didn’t think that I ever would. I drank. Grayson didn’t. I laughed, Grayson didn’t. I was loud, Grayson wasn’t. But he didn’t care about our differences, and neither did I. We were a perfect fit, and everybody knew it. Even the one person that was still holding out hope that things weren’t what they seemed. What I didn’t know, and Grayson didn’t either, was that a man became changed by our display of affection. He was so affected by the news that he promised himself that he’d die before I went any further with Grayson. If he couldn’t be happy, neither could we.

Chapter 16 I will not keep calm. I will raise hell and break shit. -T-shirt

Torren I don’t know what to do. As I walked down the hallway to Frank’s office, I couldn’t tell if I was nauseated because of what I was about to do, or because I was actually nauseated. My hands shook like I was an alcoholic in a room full of whiskey, and my knees literally felt weak. Knocking on Frank’s office door, I waited until he replied with a terse, “Come in,” before entering. Frank’s office was incredibly cluttered. He needed a filing cabinet…or two. Possibly even another room…with a file clerk. My mind was a mess. “Hey, Grayson. Come in and sit down. I have to make one more phone call and then we can talk,” Frank said, pointing to a chair that was also covered in papers. I picked up the papers covering the chair before sitting down, stretching my legs out far in front of me until they were nearly touching the front of his desk. Of course the father had taken to calling me Grayson now, too. It was an off feeling having people use my real name again. It hadn’t been done in quite a long time. I straightened the pile of papers on the chair and then sat them on top of his desk She just told me she loves me, and I didn’t tell her I love you back. I had two options, and neither one of them were good. One was going to kill me, and the other one was going to send me to hell, and then torture me. “What’s on your mind, son?” Frank asked. I blinked, not even realizing that he was done with his phone call. Sitting forward, I leaned my elbows on my knees and scrubbed my face with the palms of my hands. “Everything,” I groaned. “This is all so fucked up that it’s not even funny.” Frank sat back in his chair. The creaking of the leather made me remove my hands from my face as I saw him reach into his desk and pull out a bottle of whiskey, followed by two glasses. My brows raised. “It’s only nine.” “It’s three o’clock somewhere,” he said simply. I chuckled softly and accepted the glass from him. “I think that saying is ‘Its five o’clock somewhere.’ Not three.” He shrugged. “It’s Colby again, isn’t it?”

I nodded, bile running up my throat again at just the thought. “Yeah. I got a letter,” I said, leaning forward and extracting it from my back pocket. Then I handed it to him before watching him read it. What I saw didn’t surprise me in the least. I knew exactly when he got to the part that had been the precursor to my nausea. Your girlfriend better become your ex-girlfriend real quick, or you’ll be finding her skin on your doorstep in pieces. Cunt first. “Fuck me,” he whispered. That wasn’t even the worst of it. I knew exactly who’d sent it. Not that there was a signature or anything. I didn’t need one. I knew it was Colby from the bottom of my heart. I’d shown Silas, Trance and Loki before I came, and their solution was to ‘let her go’ since we had absolutely nothing to go on regarding Colby. “What are you going to do?” His voice quivered. My hands went to my hair, and I shook, vibrating with the rage I felt for what I was about to have to do. “Break it off. I don’t know what else to do to keep her safe,” I said desperately. “They’ve literally got nothing on him. Everything that’s been done, up until now, can be explained away. Nothing ties back to him, and short of killing him, I’ve got nothing left to do. I don’t want her to die. I don’t want her to be unhappy, but if that’s what it takes, then so be it. She’ll be alive.” I’d ran scenarios over and over again in my head. I’d even thought of killing him. Ran through it over and over again in my mind, but coming up short each and every time. If he was gone, I’d be the first one the police would suspect. I didn’t want to bring that down on my club’s head, nor Tru’s. If it was going to be done, it’d have to be flawless. Nothing could lead back to my family or Tru. Nothing. And until that could happen, I’d have to pray that by breaking it off, it’d stop. If it didn’t stop, then I had one other option, and I wanted any and all ties cut before I did it. “She’s going to be crushed at first, but she’s a smart girl, Grayson. She’ll figure it out. Make it look believable, though. Do it somewhere where everyone will see her. I hate to say it, but at the bar would be the best place. Invite her to lunch,” Frank said desolately. His eyes looked haunted, and I could tell it was going to be hard on him as well. “You know,” Frank said. “I can still remember the day where I said all those cruel things to my girl. I lost her, but she came back. She’s a forgiving one, my Tru. You’ve just got to put your trust in her. She’s a good girl. A loyal one. She thought she was sneaky about it, but I could still tell each and every time when I saw her discreetly watching me.”

He shook his head, and a smile crossed his lips. “There was this one time I was working a case,” a laugh burst free from his lips. “She must’ve seen my vehicle parked on the road or something. She stopped and wrote a note. ‘I love you,’ was all it said. I’d come out of that burned down building with my heart aching, and then I saw the note,” he shook his head again. “She’s the sun that comes out in the middle of a thunderstorm. She’ll change your life…if you let her.” My eyes closed. I wanted to let her. I knew it was cruel, what I was about to do. God, I don’t want to do it. “Alright,” I said and stood. “I’ll do it this afternoon. Go check on her for me tomorrow, please.” He stood and offered me his hand. “I’m here if you need anything.” I laughed humorlessly. “I’m going to need a shoulder to cry on, but I suspect she’ll need one too, and you can’t be there for us both at the same time.” He smiled sadly at me. “She’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Yeah, but would I be? ***

Tru I left in a haze. What the hell just happened? With my phone tucked into the crook of my neck, I called in sick, knowing I wouldn’t be able to go back to work. There was just no way I’d be able to function. Not after what Grayson…Torren… had just told me. I’m sorry, Tru. It’s just not working. It’s too much work. You’re too much work, and I don’t love you. When you admitted it last night, I knew I couldn’t string you along anymore. Too much work. I don’t love you. I hadn’t been able to say a word. Literally, I stood there speechless. He’d told me that in front of the entire bar. Then that stupid bitch ex of his had given the smuggest look I’d ever seen before, and I’d wanted to punch her straight white teeth out. In front of his friends. My friends. Or ex-friends, now, I guess. There was no way in hell I’d be able to be around them. It’d hurt too much. I had no one. And Iliana wasn’t talking to me. I should probably make an effort there, but right now I just couldn’t work up the desire to do anything.

There was no way I’d bring it up to my parents. I didn’t want them thinking badly about him. Especially when they both worked hand in hand with the fire department. He didn’t deserve their anger. He was just being honest. I walked to the car slowly, trying to think about anything but Grayson…Torren. That man in there wasn’t my Grayson. That was Torren. They weren’t the same. Not even close. The icing on the cake had been when he’d slung his arm around that girl. Molly. Molly had beamed at him, looping her arm around his back and hugging him tight, laying her head against his chest. I’d wanted to run out of there screaming and crying, but somehow I made myself walk. Don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Those two mantras got me to my car, and then into my car by sheer force of will. I could tell that everyone’s eyes were on me. The patrons. The few members of The Dixie Wardens that had been in there. Torren’s brother. Hell, even Baylee had been there to witness my humiliation. I knew as soon as I passed over the threshold of my new place, I’d be a goner. The tears would start, and wouldn’t stop until I was in an exhausted heap on the floor. But I had one stop to make before that. I had to go to the store. A good cry wouldn’t do without ice cream and chips to gorge on. I couldn’t do it without that. I’d be lucky if I didn’t gain thirty pounds in the next month. I pulled up into the parking lot. The very last place I wanted to be. But if I wanted to sleep on my bed without unpacking any boxes for sheets, then I’d have to get through it. That, and I didn’t have anything in my freezer. The only thing in the entire place that’d been ‘unpacked’ was my TV and bed. So I’d gotten the run to Walmart done as quick and painless as I could. I purchased sheets and the first season of Orange Is The New Black, and bought 3 gallons of ice cream before going home. *** It took me a while to realize it. It was somewhere in the middle of my sixth bowl of ice cream and the tenth straight episode when my rational brain had decided to come online. His eyes. That’s what had been bothering me since I’d left. His eyes didn’t say ‘I want to break up with you,’ they said, ‘please forgive me.’

They’d been shiny. At first I’d thought it was because the sun had been shining in his eyes. But the longer I stayed there thinking about it, the more and more I became convinced that I was right. Which begged to answer…why?

Chapter 17 Truckies. First in, last out. -Torren to Sebastian

Torren “Get your ass out of that house, now,” Sebastian bellowed. I ignored him, walking through the burning house, feeling the wall as I went. “You’re not fucking invincible, asshole! Get out!” Kettle added his two cents. The house was crumbling around my ears, but I could hear the weak cries of the infant in the room beyond, and I wasn’t leaving him. We’d arrived on scene to smoke billowing out of the second story’s open window. That’d been the way that the frantic mother had gotten out, slipping down the trellis. She’d tried to get back in to no avail. Her locks had held true, and her infant son’s life hung in the balance. We’d arrived, and as a Truckie, I’d been the first one in, with Dillon at my back. Now, though, I was all alone. Dillon had followed orders, thinking that I’d been right behind him. He was wrong. I wasn’t. I’d frozen at the first sound of the infant’s weak cry before starting slowly forward, further and further away from the front door, and the only portal of exit. “I’m getting the kid,” I stated firmly. “If you don’t get out right now, you’re fired,” Sebastian growled menacingly. I ignored him as adrenaline poured through my veins. Fire was a living, breathing beast. It was tricky, and had a brain of its own. Just when I thought I had a lock on how fire worked, something new would rear its head. Every day was a learning experience. Feeling the hard solidness of a wall in front of me, I followed it to the side until I felt the familiar feeling of a door handle. After ascertaining no heat from the other side of the door, I opened it quickly and shut it behind me, relieved to see that the smoke hadn’t penetrated the room fully yet. I saw the legs of the crib and crawled as quickly as my large body and tools would allow me, stopping once I was in front of it.

The infant’s cry was weaker now, but I was relieved to see that the tiny baby was kicking, fully aware. Pissed, but aware. Then, removing my jacket, I set it beside the child. Stowing my tools on my belt, I reached forward and picked the baby up. Then moved him over to the open coat and wrapped him up as best as I could without smothering him. I picked him up into my arms, cradled him to my chest, and walked to the window. The window that was covered in bars. It was then I knew that I’d have to walk back through the fire, and pray that I’d make it out alive. Three minutes ago it’d been on the verge of destruction. Now, I’d be lucky to make it out alive. “Here goes nothing,” I muttered, and stepped out into an inferno. ***

Tru “You stupid, stupid man,” I whispered, looking down at the man that had such a hold on my heart that it hurt to breathe. I’d thought my dad was joking when he’d said that Grayson had been hurt while saving an infant from a burning building. I hadn’t heard anything on the news, which I’d been watching at the time of the call. Surely something as big as a house fire would’ve made it, but it hadn’t. I’d known, of course, when I started dating Grayson that being hurt in the line of duty was a very real possibility for him, but I’d always thought that it’d never happen to him. Boy was I wrong. It had happened to him. From what I’d ascertained from my father, he’d made it all the way to the front door before a beam in the living room collapsed, making the integrity of the house give. When that had happened, the roof had caved in, causing another large beam to strike him on the back of the head. He’d held his feet, but only long enough to move out the door and collapse onto the lawn. That’s where he’d lost consciousness and was immediately transported to the hospital. The child had been transported in the same ambulance, but luckily he was just fine and only being observed overnight for possible smoke inhalation. I looked from Grayson to his fire helmet that was on the rolling table next to his bed and grimaced. It was trashed, but the thing had done its job, protecting Grayson’s head. The pieces, though, would never be put back together again.

“If he hadn’t been wearing that helmet, he’d be gone,” Sebastian said quietly from the chair across the room. I’d known he was there, of course. But he hadn’t said anything when I entered, and my attention had been on Grayson. “I can see that,” I said softly, looking down at Grayson’s hand. It was clean except for the nail beds and the creases of his knuckles which held the remnants of the terrible fire that’d nearly taken his life. “He’s reckless,” Sebastian growled. I didn’t look up, but I could tell he was sending that accusatory comment to the man currently lying flat on his back in a hospital bed. I nodded again in agreement. “He’s passionate. It’s not in his nature to let someone go if he has the ability to save them.” He had nothing to say to that, so we sat like that in companionable silence, listening to the reassuring sound of Grayson’s monitors telling us his heart was beating correctly. “The kid’s father is FBI. Grayson’s gonna get a medal for his act of dumbassness,” Sebastian said a while later. I looked over to him. “He won’t like that. You know how he is with getting the spotlight. He told me about the night that Tunnel died. He said the press wouldn’t leave him alone for weeks. This’ll only make them even more persistent to get their story.” Although I’d only heard other people’s retelling of their accounts, where Tunnel had perished from smoke inhalation, I knew it to be true. Grayson hated attention. He nodded. “Yep.” I looked down at Grayson, noticing the stray smudges of ash and dirt on him, and walked to the sink to wet the wash cloth I’d spotted upon entering the room. Wetting it with warm water, I took the rag to Grayson and started to clean off the smudges of dirt that I could see, starting at his face and ending with his hands. The white rag was black by the time I was finished. “I catch him staring at a picture of the two of you on his phone a lot,” Sebastian said when I was finished. I did the same. I wanted so badly to talk to him, to see him. To feel him. Taking one last, longing look at the man that had the ability to destroy me, I walked out of the door without another word. I knew I wasn’t alone. I was followed everywhere I went by a few of the prospects as well as the other members of the MC. When I went to the grocery store, they followed. When I went to the doctor’s office last week, they

followed. They left me alone at night, but I had a sneaking suspicion that my new place was wired, and they’d know if I ever needed anything. One thing was for sure, and that was that Grayson worried about me. Which didn’t fit the description of an ex-girlfriend that he was through with. As I walked to the waiting area and to my father, I wondered how long this would go on. There was one promise I could make, though, and that was that I didn’t intend to go much more than a couple more weeks before I decided to fight. I was tired of being unhappy. I was tired of living in limbo. I’d give him another month, and if he didn’t have it solved by then, then he’d have to find a different way. I wouldn’t be able to say away for much longer.

Chapter 18 Firemen never die, they just burn forever in the hearts of the people whose lives they saved. -Plaque in the Benton Fire Station

Torren Three weeks later The front door chimed when I entered the building. As my eyes adjusted to the dim room, it took me a while to realize that Tru was in front of me at the bar. “Torren,” she said, nodding at me before turning and making her way to a booth where she sat by herself. My eyes clenched shut, and my heart ripped in half. I hadn’t realized that the name Torren on her lips could sound so inexplicably wrong. That’s not my name! I wanted to shout. But I didn’t do anything, just walked to the table where Molly was sitting, fighting with every cell in my body not to turn around and look at her. I hadn’t seen her in three weeks. Three long weeks that had been the worst weeks of my life. When I’d broken up with her, I’d watched her walk out of the bar, her head held high. She’d made it to the car without crying, and I wanted to hug her for that. When Molly had tried to put her arms around me again, propositioning me for a date, I’d immediately declined. Then proceeded to the bathroom where I threw up the little food I’d been able to force down before Tru had arrived. Even now, three weeks later, I barely ate. What little muscle and weight I’d been able to put on since my surgery went right back out. I was like a shadow of a man. The only good thing to come out of it all was there was no more threatening letters from Colby. No more…anything. It was as if he’d disappeared. The trap was set, though. All he had to do was trip it. I sank down into the booth on the opposite side of Molly, staring at her blankly. “What’d you need?” She pursed her lips, and her eyes traveled behind me. “Your ex is staring at you. She needs to get a life.” My fists clenched. “What. Do. You. Want?” I asked stiffly. I felt like I was about to jump out of my skin as she reached forward and placed her hand on my forearm. I yanked it back so fast that she came partially forward, looking at me in surprise.

Standing up, I placed my hands in my pocket and strolled out the door, looking down at my shoes as I went to try to avoid looking at the woman that was in current possession of my heart. I didn’t make it. When my eyes looked up to avoid a new waitress that was on the verge of tipping over her entire tray, my eyes caught hers, and they held. Even when Molly caught up to me, placing her hands on mine, they still didn’t stray. Something passed between us in that moment, and I knew she knew. I just prayed that she stayed away for a little bit longer. She didn’t, though. I saw the recognition in her eyes, but I didn’t do a thing to stop her as she came slowly towards me. Stopping with her feet touching mine, she ignored Molly’s outraged huff, as did I. “You okay?” She asked. I swallowed and nodded. “I’m okay.” “I know,” she said. She wasn’t on the state of my well-being anymore, though. She was telling me she knew that I broke it off to protect her. And suddenly I could breathe again. My chest expanded fully for the first time in three weeks. “I know,” I said roughly. She smiled and placed her hand on my forearm, exactly in the same spot that Molly had touched before. It didn’t feel wrong. In fact, it felt anything but wrong. It felt perfect. “I’ll see you tonight?” She asked. At my nod, she turned and left, and that’s when I noticed the man standing at the door. Colby. And by the look on his face, he knew, too. Well, I was ready for him now. Tru may have caught on, but I’d planned for that since the moment I’d ended it with her. I’d planned for two such instances. One, she figured out the truth and came back to me. Two, I couldn’t stay away. Either way, it’d been long enough now that I could make it at least look genuine.

Game on, fucker. I glared at him. Game on. *** Two hours later “What’s that man’s fucking deal?” Sebastian hissed as we watched Colby drive away. I opened my mouth, stretching my jaw to work out the soreness. Of course, the man had found a way to pull us all over…again. This time, though, I had the entire incident on tape thanks to my GoPro that I’d had installed on my helmet. Fucker could hit like a freight train, but I got what I needed. “He looked into me. Found out who I was. Who my father was. Reminded him why his childhood was shit. So he decided to take it out on someone that he knew would hurt me. That’s Tru.” “So what…Colby wasn’t doing anything ‘that bad’ until he realized she was dating you?” Kettle asked. I nodded. “Oh, if you count stalking, breaking and entering as ‘not that bad.’” “So, why now?” Ross asked. I turned to my brother and answered. “He saw Tru come up to me at the diner. Walked in when she touched me. Although it was innocent, he, of course, came in at the exact wrong time.” Which worked well, I suppose. I hadn’t been able to incite him any other way, and if the plan Silas, my dad and I had come up with was to work, he’d have to blow. Just preferably at a place of my choosing. “Your dad’s on his way?” Kettle clarified. I nodded. “I called him the moment I saw Colby in the diner. He’ll be here in two hours. Guess he’ll be going to my award ceremony after all.” ***

Tru “Come on, it’ll be okay,” I urged Rue, nearly laughing my ass off when her face went white. She got off the bike reluctantly and reached into her saddle bags for her purse. “But…I’ve never had my hoo-ha waxed before. Will it hurt?” She asked in concern. I resisted the urge to say, ‘Fuck Yes!’ and instead went with, “It’ll be okay, I promise.” Then we started to walk towards the door, and my mouth got away from me. “If it hurts, I’ll kiss it and make it all better,” I teased. I felt Cleo’s rapt attention on me, and my face flamed when I realized what I’d said. When I turned to him, it was to see his mouth kicked up in a half smile. “I’d like to witness that, if you

don’t mind.” Rue threw her arm out and whacked Cleo on the shoulder, causing him to chuckle before he started his bike up and roared away. She watched her husband go, and I felt a pang of longing hit me like a hurricane. I wanted that so bad I’d kill for it. Preferably Colby. However, I wasn’t into jail sex, and that’s exactly where I’d be if I did anything hasty when it came to Colby. After watching the entire first and second season of Orange Is The New Black, I knew I’d never be able to hack it in jail. I was too much of a loner, and in prison, you’d need friends who’d watch your back. Plus, I was fairly positive Grayson wouldn’t be too happy with me if I decided to pursue that line of thinking. “Let’s get this over with. I swear to God, if this hurts, you’re going to owe me for a very long time,” Rue growled. I followed her as she nursed her snit. I was getting myself waxed and coiffed for the awards banquet tonight, honoring Grayson for his heroism in saving the little baby during the fire that almost took his life. *** Six hours later. Rue “Get her away from him before I beat her ass,” I murmured darkly to Cleo. If I had to see Grayson flinch one more time from her touch, I very well might explode. What he was thinking bringing her, I didn’t know. It was more than obvious to both of us that it was all just an act. One we’d acknowledged only three hours before, while we were both at the diner. He also didn’t know I was here, which was bad for him, because I was about to blindside him. This was ending tonight. I couldn’t handle this anymore. He looked horrible, and seeing him earlier in the day had only set my decision in stone. The man needed a keeper. Cleo’s dark, ominous eyes came to me, studying me like a bug before he got up and walked across the room. “You know,” Rue said with annoyance. “I don’t like her very much, and now there’s nowhere else to take her except for right fucking here. Thanks.” I smiled at my friend, one that’d been with me a lot lately, keeping me company much to her husband’s annoyance. We’d had many nights in their big bed, Cleo on one side of Rue and me on the other. He’d reluctantly been a part of our friendship, and in the interim, I understood the big, dark, brooding man a lot better. “I know. But at least I won’t be here exacerbating her whininess. Wish me luck,” I said as I stood and made my way over to the table where my man was at.

I smoothed my hands down the dress. It was a slim fitting black halter dress with shimmering crystals lining an infinity pattern that started in the middle of my chest and crisscrossed down the entire length of my side. In between each infinity symbol was a hole giving just a hint of skin. There was also a slit up the front, showing off my newly waxed legs. Cleo was already there, taking his sister by the arm and gently pulled her up, not letting go of her hand until she was seated next to Rue. She glared at me as I passed, and I gave her a little wave as I went, satisfied when she nearly tripped over herself. I could tell that he hadn’t wanted to do it, but since he cherished his sister’s well-being, he did it anyway. I sat in the chair beside Grayson just as the city’s new mayor, Tony Leo, walked up on stage with a genuine smile on his face. He was sitting so stiffly, that it was more than obvious he was incredibly uncomfortable being the center of attention. The board above the mayor’s head was playing a slideshow of pictures from the time Grayson joined the department until now. I smiled at one in particular of Kettle, Grayson, and Sebastian all sitting on the bumper of the fire truck. Each of their heads were hung, elbows resting on their knees, covered in dirt and soot. Scooting closer to Grayson, I smiled at my father, who sat across the table beside my mother, then leaned my head against Grayson’s shoulder before tangling my hand with his. He grasped onto it as if it were a lifeline. He didn’t look at me, and I didn’t look at him. But we were aware of the other on some primal level. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like you all to take your seats so we can begin,” the mayor ordered. As the people milling about the room sat down, I caught my first good look at Colby, not surprised in the least that he had his eyes on us. I ignored him, however. Instead turning my attention to the mayor as he introduced the Fire Chief. I listened rapturously as he spoke about the character of the man at my side. “Many years ago, this young man entered the fire department all piss and vinegar,” the Fire Chief rumbled. “He came right out of the rig the first fire he responded to and saved two young children, and a dog, from a fire that they’d lit to keep themselves warm. In fact, I can still remember the day clearly. I’d been standing next to the former Fire Chief, and he shook his head and said, ‘Just what we need, another damn truckie.’ And he was right. Grayson Trammel risked his life countless times, and he needs the recognition for it. He’s one hell of a man, and there’s no other man I’d want at my back.” The waterworks truly began when a beautiful man was introduced as none other than the father of the infant Grayson had saved. He was a tall man with pure white hair. He wasn’t old, per say, but he gave off an air of intelligence…experience… something one didn’t get by old age, but by a hard life.

He had a strong, angular jaw, and a slightly crooked nose that only added to his appeal. Before he started talking, his eyes lit on the woman I’d seen in the restroom earlier, changing her son’s diaper. “My wife and I tried forever, to have a child. And not for the reason your thinking. After three rounds of in-vitro, we’d just about given up hope, deciding to give other options a try, when my Lillie got a positive pregnancy test,” he cleared his throat. “Our dream came true six months ago when our son, Zachary, was born. It almost disappeared in the blink of an eye, three weeks ago, when a fire started while my wife and son were at home asleep.” His eyes turned to Grayson, and held as he spoke directly to him. “You don’t know it yet, but you changed the course of our lives that night,” he shook his head. “We have another son who has leukemia. Although we had Zachary so we could use his cord blood to help our other son, Matthew, we couldn’t imagine our lives without him. However, the blood Matthew received from Zachary wasn’t enough, and we’d planned on him donating more stem cells just this past week. That wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for you. You saved more than Zachary’s life that night, you saved Matthew’s, too.” Grayson hung his head, and I saw him let out a shaky breath before he lifted his head back up and nodded once at the man still staring at him. “For that, I owe you more than just a thank you. I owe you my life. Those two boys are my world, as is their mother, and I wouldn’t know what to do without them. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, deep into the depths of my soul.” Grayson stood and made his way to the man, offering his hand. They shook for a long time, the both of them talking quietly for a minute or two, before the woman with the young child walked up to the two, curling into her husband’s side. From this distance, I couldn’t quite hear what was being said, but I knew it was heartfelt. Both parents were wiping tears away from their eyes when the young boy Grayson saved latched onto Grayson’s fingers, pulling Grayson’s large hand up to his small face, and then leaned his head against him. Grayson stared down at the young boy, smiling softly at him, and my heart officially melted at the cuteness. A flash lit up the room, and I knew that Grayson and the baby would most likely be the stars of tomorrow’s paper. I wonder if they’d give me a copy of the file, I thought to myself. Alas, if the look that Grayson directed at the photographer was anything to go by, he’d probably not appreciate me encouraging him. Oh well, this would be forever embedded in my heart. And I knew that one day, Grayson would make one hell of a father.

Chapter 19 Eat like no one is watching…or was that dance? -One of life’s unanswerable questions

Torren I watched as Tru waved goodbye to her parents, gave her mom a kiss, and then started through the parking lot toward me. She was fucking breathtaking. Dressed in a black dress that had these tempting goddamned holes all over them…then there was that slit that went nearly all the way up to her pussy. “Ride with me?” I whispered to Tru as she walked up to me. She looked up and gave me a look that caused me to laugh. “I’m guessing you don’t really need me to voice my answer, correct?” She queried with a raised brow. I’d already seen her tell her parents that she was going with me I shook my head. “No, I guess you don’t. Your place or mine?” “Yours,” she whispered, drawing her dress up high, so high I could see her black satin panties, and then mounted the bike. I swallowed thickly at the display, practically burning a hole through her dress with my eyes. “You’re killing me.” She winked and patted the seat in front of her. I went, swinging my leg over the bike and started it up. The night was a warm one, and my itchy dress uniform was nearly suffocating. However, when Tru wrapped her arms around my chest, snuggling her warm crotch up against my ass, I completely forgot about the annoyance. I’d nearly made it all the way home when I realized I was nearly out of gas. “Shit,” I said, pulling into the next gas station. “What?” She asked when I pulled up to the pump. “Out of gas,” I said once I turned the bike off. Flipping the stand down, I swung my leg over, catching a glimpse of Tru’s panties. “Ice cream,” I managed to get out, withdrawing my wallet and handing her a twenty. She took it, aware of my game, and slid her leg over the bike. I busied myself with the pump, sliding my card in and twisting off the gas cap, all too aware of her eyes on me.

I watched her walk away, her black high heels clicking against the concrete as she went. Then I watched her walk inside, and the attendant give her a double take. “I feel your pain, man,” I mumbled, before I shoved the nozzle into the hole and started filling up my bike. I made a rookie mistake right then, watching Tru instead of my surroundings. I should’ve known better. Should’ve known that he was going to do something. I didn’t even realize he was there until Tru came back outside with two pints of ice cream, one in each hand. She was looking down at the ground, not watching what was in front of her, but instead of her feet in those heels that I wanted to fuck her in later. Hell, I hadn’t even known anyone was standing directly behind me before I felt the gas from the nozzle pour down my leg. Thinking the mechanism that turned the pump off once the tank was full was faulty, I turned to see Colby standing there, dousing me and the bike with the nozzle that was still pumping gas at an alarming rate. “You know,” he said blandly. “I warned you what would happen. I fucking warned you. Now she’s going to die, all because you couldn’t listen and follow directions. I hope you burn in hell.” The funny thing was, was that the one goddamned time I didn’t have fire retardant clothing, I was in the process of being set on fire. In my God forsaken, itchy-as-fuck, fire department issued, dress uniform. Finally letting the nozzle go, he dropped it to the ground and it swung in an arc back towards the pump. It kept spewing gas until it hit the concrete pole next to the pump, jarring loose the mechanism that kept it pumping. Then, in what felt like slow motion, he removed a bronze lighter from his pocket, flipped it open, and was promptly slammed to the ground by a raging bull of a man who was protecting his son. The lighter snapped closed with the force of the hit, echoing loudly in my ears. Colby landed on the ground with an exhale of breath, and the sound of bodies colliding filled the night air. My racing heart started to slow, and excitement for what was about to happen started to course through me. Rearing back, my father slammed his fist into the stunned Colby’s face, hitting him over and over again before Colby could catch his equilibrium. I winced inwardly, remembering being on the receiving end of that punch once when I was a dumbass kid that’d been picked up by the cops for trying to boost a car. Luckily, the cop had taken me to my father instead; or, at least, I thought I’d been lucky, at the time. He showed me how not lucky I was as soon as the cop pulled out of the driveway when he promptly punched the shit out of me.

At nineteen, I’d never been in a fight with someone of my father’s caliber. My father was four inches over six foot, three hundred and fifty pounds, and had a fist like a sledge hammer. “You okay?” Tru asked softly, looking me over, but not touching. “Yeah, but I want you to go stand by the front door. Stay away from here until we can have the gas cleaned up. In fact, there’s an emergency pump shutoff next to the front door. Why don’t you go ahead and press it. If the clerk doesn’t have the cops on their way, he needs to make it happen,” I instructed her. With one last longing look at me, she followed my command and hurried to the building. Shutting off the pumps, she dashed inside and spoke with the clerk, finally allowing me to turn around and watch as my father finished…whatever he was doing to Colby. I wasn’t quite sure if he was pissed off and beating him, or if he was doing it on purpose. Whatever the reason, I had a feeling Colby wouldn’t be getting up any time soon. “Damn, Booney. You could’ve saved some for the rest of us,” Silas muttered under his breath as he looked at Colby whining on the ground. My eyes moved from my father to Silas, and I grinned. “He was never one to play by the rules,” I informed him. “Fuck if that isn’t right,” Silas muttered, turning his back on us and walking to cop car that pulled into the lot a moment later. “You okay, boy?” My father asked, giving Colby one last good kick before standing. I nodded. “Sure thing.” “You know,” my dad said conversationally. “You could’ve acknowledged the fact that he was going to go for it, and moved, before he actually saturated you in gas. That’s gonna be a bitch to dry clean.” ***

Tru “He’s your brother?” I shrieked in surprise. Grayson’s father winced, covering his ear with his palm when my scream of outrage got a little out of control. But seriously…his brother? Grayson nodded to his father who was leaning against a wall across the clubhouse. “My dad’s with another woman, yes.” I looked at his father and shook my head. “I really don’t understand. How do you not know you have a kid? And does that make Bobby your brother, too?” Booney was nice and all, but the man had the self-control of a rabbit when it came to keeping it in his pants. Who doesn’t know about their own kid?

He shook his head. “I don’t pretend to know what was going through my father’s brain. The woman was just a one-night stand, supposedly, and never let him know about the kid. Later on, Colby’s mother married, and it was to a ‘respectable’ banker. It was in her best interest not to tell him then. The banker was abusive to Colby, though. Colby resented him until the day he died. Then the step-father admitted that Colby wasn’t even his son, and wouldn’t inherit a dime.” “Holy shit,” I said in surprise. “What then?” “Colby was already a cop at that point. He figured out who his real father was, but didn’t pursue any relationship. Probably would’ve never bothered, but then he saw me with you. When he started digging into my past, he realized quickly who my father was. He got his panties in a twist that I’d had a ‘good life’ while he had a shitty one, and didn’t want me to get you, too. Tried to get me fired. My connections wouldn’t allow it, though. Which I didn’t realize until your father shared with me the day before I broke it off with you. When he realized he couldn’t get to me, he started threatening you.” “That’s…that’s… that’s fucking nuts!” I yelled, waving my hands in front of me wildly. He nodded, looking down at his skin, which had broken out slightly from the gasoline, and then back up at me. “He’s a sick fuck, is what he is. Good riddance him being in jail. I just wish I had the ability to suggest the death sentence.” “He didn’t actually kill anyone, so unfortunately, he’ll only be getting twenty years at most. His brother, Bobby, not you, will probably be able to find him a good lawyer. I bet it’s ten years tops,” my mother said honestly. I deflated, shoulders sagging in disbelief. “Then what was the point of going to all that trouble? What a load of shit.” My mother put her arm around my shoulders, bringing me in close before giving me a kiss on my forehead. “It’s okay, baby. We’ll worry about it when the time comes.” I nodded, knowing there was nothing else we could do. When I looked up, my eyes caught on Grayson’s father who was in the process of speaking to Ross for the first time. Ross had his hands shoved down deep into his pockets, his head slightly hung as he nodded to something Booney said. “Frank, would it be all right if I spoke with you for a moment?” Grayson asked. I moved my attention back to the man who was looking at my father with a face that was a little green. Was he sick? Before I could ask, my father got up, and the two of them were walking outside, speaking softly. “What was that about?” I asked warily. “Ten bucks says he’s asking your father for permission to marry you,” my mom said lightly. I practically gave myself whiplash when I turned to look at my mother. “You’re shitting me.” She shook her head. “No. That’s my guess, anyway. He’s been fondling something in his pocket all night. Was even doing it the night of my cancer-free party. The way he looks at you, baby, is refreshing.

There’s not one single thing more that I’d ask for when it came to the man that marries you. Y’all are perfect for each other.” “So…” I said looking at the door. “Do you think I can get out there and listen without them seeing me?” She laughed. “Not on your life.” *** Newspaper article for Benton Times An officer of the law, Colby Prescott, a six year veteran with the Benton Police Department, was charged with attempted murder Friday evening. He was arrested after attempting to set a fireman, Grayson Trammel, on fire. Trammel was just awarded a medal of valor for saving a young infant from a burning building. He was awarded the medal last night, and had traveled to a convenience store near his home in Edgewood with his long term girlfriend, Tru Doherty. While Doherty was inside, Prescott chose that moment to attack Trammel. Trammel’s father was able to intervene before Prescott could actually get the fire started. Prescott’s bail is set at $400,000.

Chapter 20 Can’t get out of bed. Send help. Or waffles. Maybe just waffles. -Text from Tru to Grayson

Tru Two months later Life had been perfect. Absolutely perfect. I was living the absolute dream. He’d found someone to take over my lease, so I was free and clear to move in with him within a week of us getting back together. I’d go to bed beside Grayson on the days that he was off, and wake up beside him in the morning, most of the time with him making love to me soft and slow. The days that he had to work, I’d go to bed lonely, but I’d wake up to him as he’d slip his rock hard body into bed beside me, letting my sleepy warm skin heat his cool one. I’d wrap my arms around him tightly, leaning my head against his ear to warm that up, too. It was a tradition, one that I loved. However, today he’d been fully dressed when he woke me up, forgoing the usual cuddling that I loved so much. Instead, he sat on the side of the bed, his head in his hands. “What is it?” I asked quietly. My voice was still sleep roughened, and he seemed to wilt even more, alarming me. “I heard some news this morning from the DA as I was leaving work,” he hesitated. “They’re not going to go with a trial for Colby. All that work I put into it, and they’re doing fucking nothing. They fear that his mental status is degrading, so they’ve chosen to send him to a psychiatric facility instead of pursuing prison time. Prison might still be an option after, but they don’t think he’s of sound mind enough to ever be out of that place.” I was speechless. They were what? “They’re only putting him in a mental facility after all that he did to you…to me?” I gasped in outrage. The asshole had tried to burn us alive! He’d doused us in gasoline! Then lit a goddamned match. In front of no less than ten people! I mean what more did they need? He should be rotting in a jail cell, not sitting in a cushy mental facility. “Will they even be able to hold him in there if he wants to leave?” I asked in surprise. He shrugged. “I don’t know.” Sitting up, I wrapped my arms around his back, laying my head against his shoulder. “When does he go?” I asked quietly, rubbing my check and nose along the soft t-shirt he was wearing. “He’s already there. Cabe wasn’t even going to tell me, worried I’d do something stupid. It was your mother who did; she thought I’d want to know,” he explained dejectedly. I guess maybe he thought that he’d failed, but he didn’t. He protected me. We were happy. We were

healthy. There was nothing else I wanted. Closing my eyes, I ran my hands down his back until I could feel the gap between his pants and his shirt. Using my fingernails, I ran them up and down his back, scratching like I knew he liked. “Let’s go for that ride you told me about last night. There’s nothing better than family and friends when you’re stressed.” He nodded and stood, dislodging my hands. I made quick work of getting dressed. Dressing in simple jeans, black long sleeved t-shirt that said, ‘This bitch won’t fall off!’ and my pink cowboy boots. Grayson never said a word about my flashy, sparky, hot pink boots. He only smiled softly at me when he saw them, which was what I’d intended today with the t-shirt. I lived to see that man smile. After I managed to get dressed, I walked outside to find Grayson already on the back of his bike, staring out at the neighborhood beyond. He turned when I started down the stairs. “Ready?” At my nod, he lifted his leg and kick started his newest project bike. It wasn’t flashy, or anything really grand, but I’d been working with him on it, and that made it special to me. At first, it was only handing him tools and the likes, but I’d graduated to helping him do miscellaneous odds and ends. He’d taught me how to tear down a transmission, which if I had to admit, I was the bomb at. In fact, it was actually kind of fun getting dirty with him. It made me happy to see that I helped him when and where I could. Lifting my leg, I slid onto the bike behind him and took the helmet he had waiting in his hand for me. It wasn’t until I’d strapped it on tightly that I realized there was something hanging off the top of the helmet. Reaching up, my hand closed around fishing line, and I pulled. It gave easily, and I looked down to see a shimmering diamond engagement ring. Letting off the brake and shifting into gear, he started forward slowly, missing my shrill squeal of happiness by the overpowering growl of the motor. I slid the beautiful square cut diamond onto my finger and admired it while we were still on the back roads in our subdivision. He looked over his shoulder and winked at me once we reached the stop sign to the main road, causing me to positively beam. Wrapping my arms around him tight, he took off, accelerating from zero to fifty in a few heart stopping seconds. It. Was. Awesome.

*** 2 days later “Holy shit, that’s a massive rock,” my sister said, as she admired the ring on my finger. We were sitting in a booth at Halligans and Hadcuffs at my engagement party. How my sister and all of my lovely friends managed to get this done so quickly, was beyond me. I nodded. “It is, isn’t it? I love it, though. Although I keep catching it in my hair when I’m trying to put it up in to a ponytail.” She snorted. “I’m sure that’s a big downfall to being engaged, catching your ring on your hair and all.” I smacked her with the back of my hand. “Shut it.” A loud commotion from the bar had us all turning to see a cute little dark haired woman calling out for another shot of whiskey. “What’s going on?” I asked, gesturing towards the woman. Viddy looked over. “That’s Tunnel’s widow. She got flowers today from her husband.” I tilted my head, thinking that over. “But how…” She smiled sadly at me. “Tunnel delivered her flowers at work for the last four years. This year she got flowers at work again from him, but he’s been dead five months now.” Holy shit. Talk about freaking someone out. How…sad. Horrible. Tragic. Although romantic, it was also heartbreaking. That poor woman. “Well, she deserves a lot more than a shot. That’s awful,” I said quietly, watching her belt back the shot that was just placed in front of her. “I need to use the facilities,” my sister said. “Come with me.” I stood without question. I mean seriously, who the hell wanted to go to the bathroom by themselves when they had other people to go with them? “Ohh! Me, too!” Viddy yelled. I looked down at the untouched beer in front of her with suspicion. “Why would you need to pee when you haven’t even touched your drink?” Her hand went down to her belly protectively, and I smiled, jumping up and down while clapping my hands. “Holy shit! You’re pregnant!” Before I enfolded her into my arms. My yell of exaltation brought Trance’s eyes to me, and then down to his wife. He smiled warmly at her before returning to his conversation with Loki. Loki and Trance were still pretty new to me. I only saw them occasionally at parties, and even then it was random at that.

They were both cops for the Benton Police Department, and for the last two months, they’d been working a case that spanned across two states, five counties, and three parishes. It was a major deal lately in the papers, which kept their attention away from all the parties and rides I’d attended. The papers had been speculating lately on what could draw that kind of law enforcement involvement, but all those involved were closed up tight about it. Even Grayson, who I knew for certain knew exactly what was going on. However, I was happy. There was no way I was worrying myself for something that was out of my control. “You and Rue will be pregnancy partners!” I cheered. Viddy smiled shyly at me. “Yeah, but Rue’s a couple months in front of me. She’ll be having her baby when I’m in my second trimester.” As we walked to the bathroom, Reese and Viddy spoke about the drawbacks of pregnancy, and I closed my ears, trying to un-hear about the possibility of my vag stretching out to the size of a watermelon. Reese and Rue preceded me into the bathroom, which was why they never saw the arm loop around my belly, and the hand cover my face. “Don’t yell or I’ll kill those cunts,” Colby snarled into my ear. I froze, and my eyes closed. Oh. Fuck. “Good girl. That’s a good girl. Walk with me out the back,” he instructed. I nodded and started forward, hitting the long column on the door that would disengage the lock. “Go to the side of the building. That’s where my car’s parked,” he growled. I knew if I got into that car with him, I wouldn’t be alive for much longer, so I stalled. “Your brothers are inside. Don’t you want to talk to them?” I asked, knowing it would incite his anger. It did. A hard punch to the back of the head had me falling down to my hands and knees. Gravel dug into my palms painfully, but I stayed there, hoping I could buy enough time for Grayson to realize I was gone. Preferably by not getting another punch to the head. My eyes moved forward, and I saw loose gritty sand covering the ground next to the dumpster. If I could only make it five feet, I could throw that in his eyes. Maybe get away from him. I only managed to get a scant inch from my previous spot when Colby kicked me hard in the ribs, causing me to roll over in pain. The muscles of my abdomen cramped in pain, and my eyes squeezed tightly shut.

God that hurt. Who would’ve thought? My hands instinctively rose up to cover my head, waiting for the next blow, but it never came. Instead, an enraged scream sounded behind me, moving Colby’s attention from me to the new threat. I lifted my arms just in time to see Iliana barreling towards Colby with the anger and fierceness of an enraged kitten. Colby stopped her easily, bringing his leg up just in time to slam it into Iliana’s leg, causing her to fall. What it did do, though, was move everyone out of the line of fire. Four loud booms filled the air behind the bar followed by Colby dropping to the asphalt like a brick directly in front of me. The sound of his body hitting the ground was incredibly loud after all the noise that’d happened only moments before. Eyes open in shock, I turned towards the back door of the bar to see Loki, Trance, Grayson, and my mother standing, shoulder to shoulder, with their guns still raised up in a shooting stance in front of them. “Holy shit,” I breathed. Iliana turned to me in a pained grimace and smiled. “Bobby busted him out.” “What?” I asked, in a little bit of shock. She nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. I called your phone, but Grayson had it. He answered and I told him to find you. I’d been on my way here, anyway, for your party, but Bobby was acting all kinds of weird, trying to rush me out of the house. I thought he was trying to sneak a girl in after I left, so I stopped down the road to watch only to see Colby coming out my front fucking door!” “Oh, my God!” I breathed. “Could we get you out of the path of the fucking blood before we continue this conversation?” My mother growled. I blinked and looked down at the blood that was indeed in a collision course with my pants and stood up somewhat painfully. Grayson’s hand went underneath my arms and helped me up before crushing my face into his chest. He was shaking, and I looped my arms around him, holding him back just as tightly. “I’m sorry, Grayson,” I said softly. He shook his head. “I knew this would happen. I just underestimated the timeline.” I looked over when my mom helped Iliana up off the ground, disengaging from Grayson to run into my best friend’s arms. “I’ve missed you so much,” I said into her neck. She started sobbing about the same time as me, and neither one of us made much sense until much later. ***

“So what exactly happened? Why’d you become so distant?” My curiosity was killing me. She shook her head. “Bobby was acting so weird. I mean it’s like his personality was transplanted into someone else, and I got stuck with the new, evil Bobby. When he told me he got out of the Navy, I was so excited. Then, he started hanging out more and more with his brother, and slowly started to change into someone I didn’t like.” I nodded. I really could see that happening. Colby had always been a persuasive person each time I’d been around him. I remembered one time, in particular, that he’d talked a woman he’d met at dinner into going out on a date with him. He’d been so charming and persuasive that she never stood a chance. He’d dated her for a while, and now I could tell that his plan at the time had been to make me jealous. When it hadn’t worked, he’d broken it off with the woman. Cruelly, if I remembered correctly. “Why didn’t you say anything? I mean, I see you at work from time to time. Why not say something then?” I asked. She shook her head, running her fingers through her tangled hair. “I think he followed me. Bobby, not Colby. He started to get really creepy about it, too. Never letting me go out without him, which is why I stopped calling you. I’d catch him reading my texts. I’m able to forgive a lot, but after tonight, that’s not happening anymore. I’ll need to get him out of the house. Like now,” she said, shivering slightly. “I’ll help with that,” my mother said as she sat down. “I’ve already got them at your place. Bobby’s going to be charged with aiding and abetting. He’ll be seeing the inside of a jail cell. At least for a few years.” Iliana seemed to wilt. “Thank God. I really wasn’t looking forward to kicking him out.” Grayson walked up a few moments after her admission, which brought my attention not to Grayson, but to the man directly behind him standing against the wall. “Who’s that man with my sister?” I questioned Grayson when he slid into the booth. Grayson’s pissed off eyes turned from the tabletop, to my sister, who had a large, blonde man holding her in his arms. “Luke Roberts. That’s Baylee’s brother. He’s a cop in Kilgore, Texas. About an hour from here,” he answered. I nodded in understanding. That explained why she was leaning into him. She must know him somehow. Then he kissed her, and I guessed that knowing and knowing were two different things. Holy shit!

Chapter 21 Remember, as far as anyone knows, we’re a nice, normal family. -Tru to Reese

Tru 5 months later “You know this isn’t normal, right?” My sister asked from her position underneath my dress. “Yes, but something’s poking me in the ass. If you don’t fix it, I won’t be able to wear the petti-skirtshit you have me wearing,” I informed her. She sighed and started rooting around my underwear and petti skirt looking for the poker. I looked to my left when I heard a camera click, and I screeched. “Mom! Get the camera away before I rip it out of your hands and stomp on it with my pointy heals.” I’d meant it to come out more intimidating, but my mom worked with drug dealers and pimps five out of seven days a week. One bridezilla wouldn’t faze her. “Got it!” My sister crowed just as the door opened and my father walked in. He looked at me, looked at my sister who was backing out from under my dress, and then shook his head. “Why me?” My mother came up and hugged him from behind. “You deserve this and more. We were such bad kids to our own parents.” He sighed. “Yeah, that’s true.” From what I’d heard, they’d both been really into the seventies when they were younger, if you catch my drift. My mom kissed him on the back. “Alright, girls. I’ll see y’all after the wedding. Break a leg, Tru.” With that lovely comment, she walked out, not sparing another glance back. “Such a sweet woman,” Iliana giggled. I looked over at Iliana, so happy that she could make it back from Texas. After everything that had happened with Bobby and Colby, she’d elected to move back to her parent’s hometown in Amarillo, Texas. She’d found a job that she loved, and from what I gather, a man that doted on her. Yet, she was reluctant to speak about it, which was to be suspected. It’d take Iliana time to get back on that particular horse again, but it wouldn’t hurt in the meantime to have a little fun. “Alright, ladies. Where’s Rowen. It’s time to get this show on the road. I can practically smell the finish line,” my father teased. I flipped him the bird. “So, you’re saying that you’re ready to give your favorite daughter to a man that singed off your eyebrows?”

He took a threatening step forward when the doors to the room we’d been getting ready in were thrown open. “Alright, people. Chop-chop. Time’s ‘a wastin’,” Rue cheered, clapping her hands together. So, of course, the bridesmaids went out in order. Baylee. Adeline. Viddy. Channing. Rue. Iliana. Then, finally, my sister. “Shit!” I gasped. “Rowen! Where are you? It’s time for you to throw your flowers!” I could hear the low chuckle of the crowd, and realized that I’d yelled that a little loud, causing me to promptly blush. “There she is…Rowen, where’s your clothes?” My father yelled. Rowen furiously grabbed her flowers, then took off like a rocket down the aisle. I watched as her Princess Elsa covered ass disappeared down the aisle. At least she still had her sparkly Princess Anna shoes on. “Well….” My father said, watching her go. “You ready?” With nothing left to say, I leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Absolutely.” *** “I can’t believe you chose Highway to Hell to walk down the aisle to,” my mother scoffed. I smiled at her. “Grayson thought it was funny.” She glared at me. “Honey, your wedding video will forever have everyone’s expressions frozen in horror. How do you not see how this is a big damn deal? You’ve embarrassed me.” “That was probably because your granddaughter performed some Princess Elsa magic with her princess panties and her princess shoes,” I accused. My mom, of course, smiled like that was the cutest thing in the world. “That girl.” It was pretty funny. That’d be fun to watch the crowd’s face when they got a load of her. I would almost place money on Reese’s face being ten shades of red. “I do not want to talk about that child of mine. She gets that weirdness from her father.” Reese blurted as she sidled up beside me. I looped my arm around her waist. “Reesey, will you hold my dress up while I go take a wee tinkle?” Reese rolled her eyes. “Of course, sister dear. I’ll even flush for you if you need me to.” “Y’all are hilarious,” my mother sighed as she walked off. “I think you made mommy dearest embarrassed today,” Reese said as she walked with me to the bathroom. I nodded. “Yeah, but it was totally worth it to see the look on her face when that song came on.” Reese shook her head. “She’s going to get you ashes for Christmas.” “That’s okay. It was one hundred and four percent worth it,” I promised, as we made it to the bathroom door. “Do you think it’d be okay if I changed into some shorts?”

My sister looked at me. “Yeah, but it’s like…thirty degrees out. Won’t you be a little cold?” I shook my head. “No. I brought some long socks. And if I get too cold, I have a husband that emits heat like a space heater. I’ll be fine. Not to mention the hall we rented is heated.” She shook her head but didn’t say another word. She knew I hated wearing anything that was uncomfortable. Then again, she was exactly like me, but out of necessity had to get over it. One couldn’t walk around without any pants with young children about. After a few long minutes of her undoing buttons, unhooking hooks, and de-lacing, I could finally breathe for the first time in nearly three hours. “Jesus, this thing left indentions in my skin!” I tittered. My sister gave me a droll look. “That’s ‘cause you gained nearly fifteen pounds in the last three months. Have your feet even seen the inside of your running shoes lately?” I flipped her off. “I’ve been getting my workouts in a more enjoyable way,” I said as I swapped out the strapless bra I’d been wearing with a sports bra. She gave me a horrified look. “I really…really didn’t need to know that.” I smashed my lips together to keep from telling her exactly what she did not want to hear. Mainly that my sex life was su-fucking-perb, and I was willing to let anyone know it. I was a vindictive bitch like that. I can still remember her telling me about the time she lost her virginity; how horrible it’d been. I’d been at the age where I was just discovering boys, and she’d effectively scared me into never having sex. Ever. It was a vow I’d kept throughout high school, and then college. Now, though, I was secretly glad that she did that. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to give Grayson that gift when the time came. And speak of the devil. My eyes lifted when I threw the t-shirt on just as he was walking in the door. “You couldn’t even let us cut the cake first?” He asked in amusement. He looked so sexy. Black slacks. Black shirt. Dark purple tie to match my bridesmaids dresses. The suit jacket we’d gotten to go with the slacks had been discarded the moment we’d finished taking pictures over an hour earlier. Now, even his tie was gone. It was stuffed into one pocket, the tail end falling out just slightly. His dark hair was longer than normal, but only because I’d requested not having a bald groom for my wedding pictures. It’d been a struggle, but in the end, I’d won. I shook my head. “Not if you desired a wife that would participate in our honeymoon. I was suffocating to death.” He shook his head and turned to my sister. “You have someone outside wanting to talk to you.”

She left quickly, almost as if she knew exactly who was out there. Once the door shut behind her, I moved closer to him. I raised my brows. “Who?” He shrugged, “Roberts. He says he has something he needs to talk about. I didn’t ask, though. None of my business. Now you, on the other hand, are most definitely my business.” Pulling up my shorts, I turned around and pulled the shirt up, baring my butt to his gaze. “What do you think of my shorts?” I asked him, truly interested in the answer. He looked down, and a grin started to spread across his face. “I like it a lot. Now,” he murmured, sliding up behind me. “Take them off.” I gave him an amused look and started towards the door. “Nice try, big boy. We have guests waiting for us to cut the cake.” He was already prowling towards me, completely disregarding my ‘no.’ My blood started to course thickly through my veins. Within three steps, he was on me, and his whisper sent shivers down my spine. “If you don’t take them off, I’ll do it for you. Then you’ll have to put the dress back on because there won’t be anything left of them.” Nerve cells on fire, I hooked my thumb into the waistband of my shorts that read, ‘Mrs. Trammel,’ and pulled them down, bending over slowly as I did so. He growled low in his throat, and his fingers ran down my backside, curving around my inner thigh until his hand rested on my sex. “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll make it as quick and painless as possible. We have to be ready to cut the cake shortly, after all,” he growled. Shivers danced down my spine, and I leaned forward, resting my forearms on the door. He took that as the invitation it was and slowly pulled open his belt. The clink-clink of the two pieces separating seemed to echo off the wall, making the sound seem loud in the empty space. His pants hit the floor with a dull thud, most likely due to the cell phone still in his pocket. My eyes closed as I felt the head of his cock kiss the outer edges of my vagina, and I canted my ass up even more, offering him all I had to give. He took his cock in hand, and rubbed the length of himself down the lips of my sex, coating himself in the juices flowing freely from my core. Each pass of his cock hit my clit, and I clenched tightly, try hard not to come. “You’re already close, aren’t you?” He asked, as his free hand came up my side, underneath my shirt. When his hand found one nipple, I had to clench my hands into fists, digging my fingernails into the palm of my hand to keep my mind distracted.

This was a new game of Grayson’s, seeing how much he could tease me before I came. Most of the time I could wait at least until he was inside me, but today he’d been sending my sexy texts, as well as bordering on pornographic photographs since early this morning. I’d been needy and ready to go nearly all day, with no relief in sight. He chuckled darkly against my ear, and I felt the broad head of his cock against my pussy. Slowly, he started to push his way inside, sliding in deep with the first thrust home. He hissed when he was seated fully, while I panted from the fullness. “Like a fucking dream,” he murmured, pulling back slightly and slamming his hips back forward. My arms braced harder on the door, and I bent over even more. With each forward movement, his balls swung, colliding with my clit and sending me closer and closer to the edge. As if sensing my pending release, he started to pick up the momentum, slamming into me until I had no other recourse but to collapse my body against the door. He used me hard, and I loved it. “Close,” he panted into my ear. Letting my hand wander down to my clit, I started rubbing it in slow circles. It didn’t take much until stars started to explode behind my eyelids, and pleasure so pure started shooting through me. Down my spine all the way to my curling toes. Looping his arm around my hips, he yanked me down hard in time with his thrusts, and within moments he was joining me. With three short, jerky thrusts, he came inside of me. Grunting with each spurt. “Mmmm,” he murmured shortly after, stilling inside of me and running his nose along the line of my jaw. “I’m tired now. I don’t think I can stay awake for cake,” I teased. He laughed. “That’ll be the day.” I would’ve hit him if he’d given me the opportunity. However, one second he was still pulsing inside of me, and the next he was across the room laughing at his hilariousness. “Not funny,” I glared. His eyes went hooded as he took in my disheveled state. “Time to get cleaned up, baby,” he said, tossing me a towel of the nearby table. I didn’t argue. I caught it and cleaned myself up, folding it in half and placing it in the trash.

“Yes, dear,” I quipped, as I replaced my shorts around my hips and worked on my shoes and socks. He came to the seat beside me and waited until I’d gotten my laces tied before pulling me into his arms. “You’ve made me the happiest man in the world,” he whispered. I looped my arms around his neck and hugged him tight. “Back at ‘ya, baby.” He grinned and slapped my ass, the sting jolting me forward. “Now, let’s go cut our cake,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I heard your mom asking where you were before I came in here.” He took off out of the room before the roll of toilet paper I threw at him could hit him. Dammit. She was totally going to kill me. *** “Grayson, excuse me, y’all know him as Torren, said that if I did a good job tonight, I could be the best man at his next wedding,” Ross coughed. “I mean…oops. Sorry bro.” Ross winked. “So I’ve come up here and stolen this beer bottle to give my obligatory brother speech, and to tell everyone how happy I am for my brother.” The crowd laughed and Grayson shook his head. I turned my head and whispered into Grayson’s ear. “You really did say that, didn’t you?” He closed his eyes and laughed. “I’ll never tell.” “Anyway, since my brother felt an obligation to make me the best man, I now feel an obligation to ask all the ladies in the room to give up their keys to Grayson’s house. They’re officially married, and I won’t have any women coming into his house. That’s disrespectful to Tru,” Ross continued. Silence. I just shook my head. That man just thought he was so fucking funny. Then, I shit you not, every single fucking woman in the room, including my own goddamned sister, got up and placed key after key in front of Grayson. Grayson sat stunned as what had to be a hundred keys sat on the table in front of him. He looked like he’d been punched in the solar plexus. “Thank you ladies, that was sweet of you.” Grayson took the mic from his brother and shook his head. “Everybody, the comedian, my brother.” The crowd roared in laughter. “Anyway, thanks for that. Now we have Tru doubting the sanity of our line,” Grayson drawled. Ross bowed once before taking his seat beside my mother, who drew him into a big hug. Ross was a good fit to our family, and since the day Grayson and Ross finally met in person, they had formed a bond that would never be broken.

“Anyway, I’d like to thank you all for being here tonight. Please, enjoy the free booze. I, of course, know that my fellow Dixie Wardens MC will have no problem doing that, but don’t let them scare you off.” Grayson gave a few of the members a stern look, causing them to chuckle. Looking into my eyes, he warmed my heart impossibly more. “A year ago if you’d have asked me if I’d be here today, I’d have told you that you were nuts. Now, though, I couldn’t imagine my life without Tru in it. Her smile makes me want to get up in the morning. Or maybe it’s the way she shoves her cold feet between my thighs. Whatever the reason, I love the hell out of it, and I’d take a thousand cold feet next to my nuts if that’s what it took to keep her at my side.” As the crowd laughed, he walked towards me and offered me his hand. I took it and stood close to him as he spoke one final comment into the mic before setting it down and drawing me into his arms. "And absolutely, under no circumstances, are you allowed to have more than six cats. Ever." I buried my face into his neck and laughed. My husband was a fricking’ comedian. Life went on. For people other than me, too. I was preoccupied in my new world. The world that Grayson and I had created. It was an awesome world. One where we were so blissfully unaware of things to come.

Chapter 22 Ice. Bank. Mice. Elf. (Say it out loud) -Text from Tru to Torren

Torren Marriage-Month one. “She’s driving me fucking insane,” I murmured, head falling back to rest on the pillow beside my wife. My wife snorted, but continued to read the book that she hadn’t gotten more than a foot away from her face since I’d gotten in. She was mad at me. She knew that I knew it, too. But the fact that she was mad at me for something so inconsequential really blew my mind. I mean, seriously. It was a goddamned horse dog! Why the fuck did she want a dog so goddamned big? But no, she wanted the dog. So we got the dog. And now she was locked up in the cage where I’d told Tru she had to stay while we were potty training her. I’d stepped in a puddle of pee in my bare socks yesterday, which had been the final straw. Not to mention the laces from my boots had been chewed off this morning as I’d laced them up to go to work on an engine at my shop. The look Tru had sent me as I walked into the door later had been positively glacial. I’d had a cage delivered from Trance while I was gone, which should do for the first couple of months or so. Not forever, but I didn’t plan on having her in there forever. Just until she learned how to piss and shit outside, which my wife didn’t seem to be understanding. The dog continued to bark, but since I was used to annoying noises when I tried to sleep, I eventually did, much to the chagrin of my wife. I woke to quiet sniffling, and rolled over to find Tru huddled in on herself, curled into a ball, crying as quietly as possible. Reaching over, I pulled her limp body into my arms and cradled her against my chest, curling my body around hers as she wept. “Why are you crying?” I asked quietly. “My book was awful. The hero died,” she sniffled. I blinked, surprised by that answer. “Okay…I don’t really know what to say to that. Don’t read books by her anymore,” I offered a solution.

She sniffed. “It was beautiful. I’m glad I read it. Although, I don’t think I’ll read it again. I got very attached to the character, and he died of cancer before the book ended. Romances aren’t supposed to have bad endings like that.” I wanted to roll my eyes and, instead, said nothing. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t like me telling her she was being ridiculous. “Grayson?” Tru asked after my eyes started to drift closed. Keeping them closed, I grunted, “Hmm?” She traced an imaginary circle on my skin with her finger before she finally broached what was really bothering her. “Would you think less of me if I got cancer and decided to take a medication that helped assist in suicide?” She asked. My heart froze in my chest, and all signs of sleep were drained from my body. Replacing it was terror. Getting up on an elbow, I flipped the light on and stared into her eyes. “What’s really going on?” She squinted at me, the bright light bothering her eyes. Leaning forward so it wasn’t directly in her line of sight, I stared at her beseechingly. She took a deep breath. “You know it’s possible that I could get breast cancer. It runs in my family.” I nodded. “Yeah, but only with your mother. And that could’ve been just a fluke of nature. Why are you saying this?” She shook her head. “I’m not really sure. I just wanted you to know that it was a possibility. And I wanted to know if you’d let me go if I wanted to be let go. If something where to happen, and I was to live half a life, I would hope that you’d let me go.” Leaning forward, I kissed her softly on the mouth. “How about we worry about that when it comes down to it. But know one thing,” I said, leaning in close. “I’ll never give up on you. I’ll fight Satan and God himself to keep you with me. You’re mine, and I’m yours. And you will fight for me if it ever comes down to it. Because if you’re gone, what do I have left?” She wisely chose not to answer that, and instead closed her eyes, leaning her head against my bare chest. I reached over and turned off the light, bringing the covers up high over our bodies before I lay awake for nearly another hour thinking about what she’d said. I really would never give up on her. Ever. ***

Torren Marriage- Month three “Your woman’s here,” Kettle said, pointing in the direction of my wife who was pulling up at the four

way stop. I smiled at her and started jogging toward her. We were in the process of having the annual ‘Fill the Boot’ donation drive that would provide the children of Benton, Louisiana with a new jungle gym. Each year, we chose a different charity to donate to, and all the money we collected, while working the main intersection, would go to filling that charity’s need for that year. Then we’d stand at the intersection and collect money from the motorists who passed through the intersection. Each year we’d collect right around two grand. Then we’d match whatever we made, making it a sizable donation for a worthy cause. She smiled up at me when I got to the car window and handed me a box. “I just wanted to bring this by to you. Give me a kiss, I’m meeting some friends,” Tru said, handing over a long slender box wrapped in red with a giant (and by giant, I mean the size of my head) bow. “Who’s it for?” I asked curiously. She laughed as she started creeping away, “It’s for you, silly. Maybe you should sit down while you open it. Wouldn’t want to break anything.” With that cryptic comment, she accelerated through the intersection, stopped where Kettle was standing, and tossed him the entirety of her change tray before driving away. “What’s that you got there?” Sebastian asked once I got back to my post. I shrugged and opened the package, ripping the massive bow off and letting it fall carelessly to the ground. “That’s littering,” Kettle yelled across the intersections. I gave him a hand gesture and ripped off the paper, surprised when there was nothing in the box. Folding back the paper, little pieces of pink and blue confetti floated down to the asphalt at my feet. “There’s nothing here,” I said as I emptied the box, shaking it. Sebastian’s eyes flicked to the paper, the box, then he gestured towards the paper that was at my feet. “What’s that?” I looked down at the pieces of blue and pink paper, dropping down to my haunches to get a closer look. Picking up a handful, I held it out to him. He picked up a stray piece of pink, bringing it close to his face, before his mouth tipped up into a wide smile. Holding it between two fingers, he held it up to my face, and I read. A car stopped and handed Kettle a five dollar bill, but I couldn’t even muster up a smile. It was a good thing I was squatting down already, because the next thing I knew I was flat on my ass.

“Holy…fucking…shit,” I breathed. “What?” Kettle yelled once the truck sped off. Sebastian was laughing his ass off, so much so that he couldn’t even manage to tell Kettle what the deal was. I, of course, couldn’t either. My mind was in a fog. Kettle jogged over, and I watched him come as if I was in some sort of time warp. Was she really? “Well?” Kettle asked, once he reached our sides. Sebastian pointed at the pile of confetti at my feet, causing Kettle to bend down and pick up a handful. Then, without further ado, a brilliant smile lit his face and he whooped. “You’re gonna be a daddy!” Black spots started dancing in my vision, and I felt what amounted to panic welling my throat. But a weird sense of pride was there as well. Love. Hope. “Boom, bitches!” Kettle whooped. I shook my head, clearing my vision just in time to see Sebastian snapping a photo of me, smiling. “That’ll be going on the wall at work.” I flipped him off. A dad. Holy shit! *** Marriage- Month five “You got eyes on him?” I asked Silas. We were all crowded around the bar. Eight Dixie Wardens strong. As well as Daniella, Frank, and my brother. It’d started out as a party, and turned into a clandestine meeting to talk about what we were going to do with Bobby. The man who had it out for my wife. Silas nodded. “Still in prison. He’s gonna make parole, though. He’s not gotten into one single fight the entire time he’s been in there. Boy’s good. Knows to keep his nose clean. Not even a single complaint from guard or prisoner alike.” I ground my teeth together. That ‘boy’ was dead-fucking meat. Bobby Prescott deserved a lot more than two years in prison, with the possibility of parole at fifteen months. Eight of which he’d electively served as he waited for the trial. Which meant he would be eligible in a little over six months. And we all knew he was already waiting for his revenge. He’d told me in not so many words. Mainly

by pointing at me, then drawing the pointed finger across his neck in the proverbial sign of ‘I’m gonna slit your throat,’ the day of the trial. He’d done it in front of the entire courtroom, yet I’d been the only one to see it. How fucking convenient. I knew he was going to be coming for me. For Tru. In fact, I knew he was going to be coming for me, Trance, Loki, Daniella, and Tru. Most likely Iliana, too. He may wait a couple of months to work up the resources. He may wait a couple years to make it happen. Hell, he might even do it the day he got out. Which was the crux of my problem. The waiting. We couldn’t live like that. Especially not with Tru pregnant. You’re going to be a daddy. Those words, from two months past, still had the power to bring me to my knees. No better words had ever come out of her mouth. I hadn’t realized that I’d wanted kids. Sure, I enjoyed them. But I had no problem sending them home at the end of the day. “We’re not going to let anything happen to them,” Sebastian said slowly. My eyes lifted from their sightless stare to the VP, and one of my best friends. “You don’t know that. You can’t be with us 24/7; neither can I, for that matter. I know, in my gut, that we need to do something now. Something that will fix this before he gets out. I just have this feeling of impending doom. I can’t even enjoy the news of Tru telling me she’s pregnant fully. I don’t have just her life at stake, but our child’s’.” I hadn’t meant to tell them. Not yet. Or at least not the ones that hadn’t already known. Silence ensued at my comment, and I didn’t break it. Surprisingly, it was Tru’s mother who did. She came up to my side and wrapped her arms around me. I held her back for all that I was worth. Frank watched his wife with love and affection, his heart on his sleeve. I knew he loved his wife. Just as much as I loved my own. I knew that because I saw the same look in the mirror as I shaved every morning, watching my wife as she got ready for her workday. I wore that same look. One of a lovesick fool, who wouldn’t change it for the world.

“Grayson,” Daniella said softly into my chest. I hadn’t realized just how tightly I was clutching her, but I needed it. I needed the support. I needed to know someone got me. Had the same state of mind that I currently had myself. “I’ll start on it tomorrow, Grayson. It’ll be fixed,” Silas promised. I didn’t believe him. *** Marriage- Month seven “I have no cell phone reception!” Tru yelled loudly from the other side of the house, walking quickly through the room where Trance and I were moving the large entertainment center, and then out the door. “There’s none out here, either! We can’t move in here!” Trance’s grin showed he knew exactly what I was having to deal with. Having gone through it twice now, with his own wife. Yet, I hadn’t fully grasped what exactly trying to live with a hormonal pregnant woman entailed until Tru had become pregnant. Now she was a little over twenty weeks, and I chanted to myself over and over again that we were half way through. My wife was officially carrying the spawn of Satan. My wife being Satan. I could never do anything right when she was in one of her moods. All I had to be doing was popping my knuckles, or putting the toilet paper on the rack ‘the wrong way’ and she was going bat-shit crazy. Then she would snuggle up to me moments later with a happy smile on her face. Those were the times I lived for. The times where I could feel our little girl moving in between our bodies. “Okay, I found signal. Turns out I was using my old phone. Whoops,” Tru tittered, as she walked back through the living room and back into the bedroom where she was unpacking boxes. Trance chuckled quietly, yet Loki, Sebastian, and Cleo had no such understanding. Their wives weren’t crazy like mine was. I loved the shit out of her, but I couldn’t wait until pre-pregnant Tru was back. “This’s the last box, Torren,” Loki rumbled as he sat the box on the kitchen counter. I grunted in answer as Trance and I moved the massive entertainment center to its pre-approved spot directly across from the kitchen island. “Thanks, man,” I said once we finally put it down. “You helped us enough by fixing Viddy’s car last month. Only fair,” Trance acknowledged. I nodded. “Let me go check on my wife and see where she wants the crib to go, then we can go from there. Six long hours later found Tru and I snuggled in bed together, watching the first movie in our new

home. “Thanks for helping with dinner. I was exhausted,” Tru yawned. I turned my head and kissed the side of her face, smelling the fruity scent of her shampoo that always managed to smell like home. “I know you were tired. Don’t expect it every night, though. I still like the look of you barefoot and pregnant in our kitchen,” I teased. She snorted and turned, lifting her thigh up until it rested just above my knees. “A few more weeks, and it’ll be three people for our movie nights,” Tru said, kissing my chest just above the nipple I snuggled her in closer. “I’m still scared shitless.” She nodded. “You and me both, big boy.” *** Marriage- Month eleven “Torren! Your woman’s here!” Sebastian yelled from the opposite side of the station. I stopped my count and yelled, “Medic!” before I continued counting the narcotics. Every shift we had to account for each and every drug on board, and document it into the system. Today was my day. And it fucking sucked. I hated counting pills. It was tedious, and sucked donkey balls. “Hey, baby,” Tru said softly, bringing my eyes up from the pills to her face. I smiled at her. She was wearing a black fitted shirt that stretched over her rounded belly. The words ‘Future Firefighter’ were written in bold red ink across her upper abdomen. “Hey baby,” I said, patting the cot in front of me. “Come take a seat.” She held out her hand and I held on, ready to move any second if she started to tip over. Something she’d done twice now coming down the stairs of our house. She reminded me of one of those weeble-wobble dolls that I saw Sebastian’s little girl playing with other day. They swayed from side to side as they walked, but never fell down. Although, Tru would most definitely fall down. That’s exactly what I thought of when I saw Tru lately…not that I’d ever tell her that. Not if I desired my balls attached. She finally made it in the back of the medic and took a seat on the cot in front of me. “I don’t feel good today. My head’s pounding and my feet are swollen. My hands are shaky. And I missed you,” she said, looking down at her feet. Or would’ve been looking down at her feet if the large belly she was sporting weren’t so…large. My hand went to her belly, and as usual, I started to feel where the baby was at. It was my favorite

thing to do, guess the body part. Today, by my best guess, our child was head down, with her feet up by her momma’s rib cage. She was lower today, though. Much lower. “Feel like you can breathe better?” I asked in surprise. She frowned and leaned down to look at her belly causing a piece of hair that was held by a clip at the top of her head to fall and curl around her face. “Yes, now that you mention it. Why?” I shook my head. “It just feels like she dropped some from last night. I wasn’t able to feel your ribs last night.” She shrugged. “According to my books, that can happen anywhere from six weeks up until delivery. It doesn’t mean anything.” She sounded so annoyed by that fact that I had to suppress the urge to laugh. Poor Tru had had a rough time of it. Around her twenty eighth week, she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. From that point on, she had to check her blood sugar five times a day, and watch what she ate very strictly. It’d been torture to see her not eat what she wanted to eat. Poor girl. But she’d kicked gestational diabetes’ ass, and controlled it with diet alone. “What was your last blood sugar check?” I asked as I started rifling through her purse for the kit to check it. Tru didn’t like checking it. The sight of blood squigged her out, which was funny since she was married to a paramedic who dealt with blood on a daily basis. I’d nearly died in laughter the first time she realized that the red on my socks had come from a person’s blood soaking through my pants. That’d been a fun call. Not. “I checked it when I got up this morning, but I haven’t been able to eat. My stomach’s been bothering me on and off since last night,” she explained, holding out her hand for me to check her sugars. With a small flinch when the needle poked her finger, she squeezed her eyes tightly shut as I followed the process that I’d done thousands of times before. “It’s low, baby. Forty six. Let’s go get some juice in you,” I said as I locked the meds back up for a later time. She groaned as I helped her up, holding onto my hand as I led her out of the ambulance and into the kitchen. That’s where I found the majority of the crew eating and shooting the shit as they ate game day chili. They all turned to watch us enter, and damn near every one of them got a concerned look on their face when they caught sight of Tru’s gray pallor. “What’s wrong?” Kettle asked from his hovering position over the pot of chili. “I don’t feel well,” Tru said as I led her to the couch where Sebastian sat on one side, and Corbin sat on the other.

Tru leaned over and placed her head on Sebastian’s shoulder, melting into his side like she did with so many of The Dixie Wardens. Smiling, I walked to the kitchen and took a gallon of orange juice out of the fridge. Pouring her a glass, I walked over to Tru and handed her the drink. She took it reluctantly, almost as if I was handing her a glass of acid rather than juice. “Drink it,” I demanded. She stuck her tongue out at me but, nonetheless, drank her juice in one long gulp. “Good girl,” Sebastian said, which elicited a pinch in the side from Tru. He chuckled then went back to watching the ball game on TV. “Mariners win by four,” Tru bet as I was leaving. “Rangers win by one,” Corbin countered. “You’re on,” Tru said. Laughing, I walked over to the pot that Kettle was stirring and asked, “You gonna sit there and stir it all day, or are you gonna let her have some?” He flipped me off, but dished out a bowl of chili anyway, handing it over, knowing I wanted it for Tru. He probably wouldn’t have given it over if it’d been for anybody else. “Here, baby,” I said as I walked around the couch. She took the bowl, and blew on it before smiling gratefully at me. “Is this the deer one?” Kettle confirmed with an affirmative. “I’ve heard all the hype, but never actually had it. It’s pretty delicious,” Tru said earnestly. “Thanks,” Kettle said. She devoured the bowl and fell back into her spot, leaning against Sebastian. Except this time she curled her legs up and tucked them underneath Corbin’s leg; then promptly fell asleep. He didn’t move, eyes still focused on the game, and I just shook my head at the sight. It was funny how one woman had the power to disarm these men. Then again, all of The Dixie Warden women did. “You’re baby’s kicking me,” Sebastian said, gesturing with his head towards where Tru’s belly was pressed up against his arm. I didn’t refrain from laughing then. Our girl was going to be a kick boxer if her activity in her mother’s womb had anything to say about it. At night, when I was there, Tru would use my leg as support and curl herself around my body. The baby tumbled and kicked the entire night, and that’s the way I liked it. Nothing was more reassuring then falling asleep with my wife’s breath on my cheek, and my daughter’s kick at my side.

Chapter 23 Don’t get angry, figure it out. If all else fails, use your fists. -Life Lesson

Tru Marriage- Month twelve Parking the car and stepping out with all the strength I had left, I moaned loudly, stretching my arms up high over my head. Today had been one long, goddamned day. One more week. One more week. I was thirty nine weeks and three days. My doctor said he’d induce in exactly a week, today, at the doctor’s office, if I didn’t go into labor naturally. After my appointment, I’d gone back to work even more exhausted, and then proceeded to see six patients because someone had called in sick. I’d had about twice the patients I normally had, all because my boss had caught the stomach flu, which I hoped, with all my being, I didn’t catch. Walking stiffly down to the mailbox, I grabbed nearly a week’s worth of mail and turned, surveying the house and newly built garage. The shop was finally finished, after three long months of constant work. With the new garage, he wouldn’t have to leave to get his work done. I was all for that. That meant more time for us, and less time wondering if he was too hot or too cold, seeing as his previous shop didn’t have a heater nor an A/C unit. A doggie nose started parting the curtains, and I smiled as I walked up the gravel driveway and up the front porch steps. The house was pier and beam, beautifully built, and everything I’d ever dreamed of having from the time I was old enough to remember. Walking in the front door, I immediately started stripping out of my pants. Petunia’s cold nose touched my bared thigh, and I gave her ear a scratch and held onto her for balance. “You’re such a good girl,” I cooed at her. Once the pants were off, I sighed in bliss. My pants had gotten even tighter in the last week, and I feared that it was nearly official. I no longer fit into my pants. My scrub top was next, leaving me in only panties and a white camisole that barely covered my belly. “Grayson?” I called.

“Kitchen,” he answered back. I picked up the stack of mail that was on arm of the couch, and started sifting through it as I rounded the corner to the kitchen. “Hey,” I said, finding a Victoria’s Secret catalog that looked interesting. “Did you know that Victoria’s Secret sells maternity?” As I asked the question, I looked up to see my kitchen full of men. “Shit,” I said, standing there, in the middle of the kitchen. In my panties and camisole that bared my hugely pregnant belly. Grayson had his head in his hands. “Seriously, Tru? What’s your affliction with pants?” I barely stifled the desire to try to yank my shirt down, even though it’d be a useless endeavor. “We had a freakin’ deal! You tell me when you have friends over, and I won’t take my pants off at the door!” I yelled, waving my arms wildly. Silas, Ross and Dixie grinned widely at me while Trance, Loki, Cleo, Kettle, and Sebastian at least had the decency to look down, up, or away. “I sent you a text,” he growled low in his throat. I waved my hand in the air. “You did not.” But I didn’t wait for his contradiction, I turned around and stomped off, disbelieving that I’d done it again. Seriously, why on earth did they have to park where I couldn’t see them? This was my house, after all. I shouldn’t have to wear pants if I didn’t want to! I stomped straight to Grayson’s closet and picked up the pair of sweatpants that Grayson had discarded for his jeans this morning. They were the only pair left that actually fit, but at least they were comfortable. I didn’t bother with a shirt. None of them fit anyway. I was kidding myself if I thought I’d make it to the end of the pregnancy without buying any new clothes. My scrubs were already on the verge of ripping a seam. Slipping my feet into the pants one by one, I was walking into the bathroom and on the verge of making use of it when something shifting in my peripheral vision caught my eye. Bobby’s body filled my vision as he stepped out from behind the closet door, a grin splitting his face wide. I tried to run, but he moved fast. Too fast. He had me against his body in moments, hand over my mouth to prevent the scream that threatened to escape my mouth. “It only took me fifteen months, bitch, but I managed it. Did you know?” He asked, wrapping his hand around my throat, squeezing lightly. I wanted to puke. My eyes closed, and my hand involuntarily went to my stomach. “Know what?”

He smiled, and I could see the slimy smile reflected in the mirror that hung above the bathroom sink. “Colby was my brother,” he said, tracing his finger down along the pulsing vein of my carotid. “But, what I’m guessing you didn’t know, is that he was actually my twin.” A lone tear slid down my cheek, and he raised his finger to catch it, then slowly raised it to his mouth, curling his tongue around the finger sensually. “No-o, I d-didn’t know t-that,” I stuttered. He grinned, baring his teeth at me. “Yeah, not many people do. It was like losing a piece of me when I realized he was dead. I felt it right here,” he indicated his heart with a slam of his fist against his chest. “I knew before I even got the call that he was gone. And I’ve spent the last fifteen months just thinking of all the ways I could torture the so-called brother that killed my twin. And I only came up with one answer. Through you.” Fear started gurgling up my throat in the form of a scream, but he must’ve felt it because his hand clamped down on my throat tightly, trapping my scream. “Uh-uh. We don’t want him coming up here too early. I want to be able to enjoy you first before he realizes I’m here. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he realizes I did you right under his fucking nose,” he sneered. Woof-woof-woof! Petunia. My baby girl. Fear ran rampant through my veins. If Petunia was barking, that’d mean Grayson wouldn’t put up with it for long. He hated when he had to listen to her bark. “Fuck me, that stupid fucking dog. I should’ve taken her out outside when I had the chance,” Bobby growled. Woof-woof-woof! My knees started to collapse from under me. Maybe from the lack of oxygen, or possibly from pure fear. Whatever the cause, only the pressure on my throat kept me from hitting my knees. Little white dots started to dance in my vision, and I knew, too late, that I was seconds away from losing consciousness. Woof-woof-woof! “Night, precious. You’ll want to thank that dog for saving your man. It won’t save you, though,” was the last thing I heard. ***

Torren “When was the hearing?” I asked in outrage. Why wouldn’t they have told us they were holding the hearing? Wasn’t that something they thought the perpetrator’s victims ought to fucking know?

Woof-woof-woof! Tru’s puppy (not so puppy), Petunia, a hundred and eighteen pound, year old, horse of a Cane Corso, barked furiously at the door to mine and Tru’s room. Most likely because she was locked out again. “Kosher, heel,” Trance ordered. Kosher sat whining at Trance’s feet, body locked in waiting, staring at our hound. Woof-woof-woof! The sound was nearly deafening in the small space, making my head pound with each subsequent bark. Each woof echoed off the walls of the hallway, and I fully expected Tru to quiet her down by letting her in, but she never did. Kosher, Trance’s K-9 partner, sat quivering at Trance’s feet, eyes trained on the hallway as well. “What’s going on with them?” Loki asked in concern. A sick feeling of dread started to work its way up my throat, and I walked cautiously out of the kitchen, keeping my eyes on the door. Woof-woof-woof! My hands hit the door knob and I twisted it carefully, fully expecting Petunia to barrel through the door in excitement. Instead, a low, foreboding growl left her throat, and I felt the hairs on the back of my arms and neck stand on in at the threat. Heart pounding, I rounded the corner of our room and disbelief poured out of me at the sight I walked in on. Tru was on her back on the bed, a large black handle of a butcher knife stuck out of her protruding belly. Her face was white, and a growing puddle of blood was seeping through the white sheets of the bed, painting them in red. “Jesus, no,” I moaned, running to the bed and stopping short, scared to death to touch her. The sound left me sounding like a wounded animal, which for all intents and purposes, I was. My mind was cloudy, and I felt like I’d stepped into an alternate universe. One where everything I loved and cherished was gone, and I was left with nothing. “Mother fucker. Call an ambulance,” Loki yelled. “Tell ‘em they’ll need the Life Flight. We’re too far, and the baby might not make it if they send a medic,” Sebastian ordered, violently shoving me backwards until I fell into someone’s arms. I vaguely noticed them as Trance’s, but by the time I finally got my brain back online, Trance already had me out of the room. I struggled hard, trying my hardest to get free. But then one pair of arms became two. Then three. I was screaming loudly, thrashing wildly to get myself free to no avail. “Shit, hold him down,” Silas growled.

“Grayson?” Tru’s beautiful voice called out softly. I froze, bringing my head up so I could look towards the bed, and found Tru’s haunted eyes on me. “Come hold my hand,” she ordered. The arms holding me lifted, one by one, until I was free to stand. I walked towards her slowly, keeping my eyes above her shoulders so I didn’t lose it again. Her eyes were pained, and I wanted to rage. To fight. To rip that fucker apart with my bare fucking hands. I wouldn’t do any of that, yet. Eventually, yes; but, right now, they needed me to be strong. “I’m here, baby. I’m here,” I said, cupping her face in between my hands and kissing her softly on the nose. “I’m not going to die,” she rasped. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut. She better hope not, because if she did, there was nothing on this earth that could keep me from destroying everything and anyone that played a part in making Bobby’s attack possible. *** I entered through the ER entrance with five men at my heels. We’d ridden hard, making it to the hospital in half the time it normally took. “This way!” Rue yelled, standing at a staff only entrance that led through the belly of the hospital. I followed her up two flights of stairs, thankful that she’d forgone the elevator, and stopped at a set of doors that said, ‘Authorized Personnel Only.’ “They’ve been in there with her for over an hour. I haven’t heard…” she stopped when a very pissed off wail sounded from the room in front of us, causing us to all look up. My heart started to pound as a nurse walked toward us from the other side, carrying a squirming infant in her arms. Rue typed in a number on the keypad beside the door, opening the two doors, allowing the outraged wail to intensify. I knew the child was mine from the instant I laid eyes on her. The closer she got, the more sure I became. She looked exactly like I’d hoped. She had Tru’s pretty blonde hair and cute little nose, with my stormy gray eyes. My eyes were wild, I’m sure, because when the nurse’s eyes lifted to me, she halted in her tracks. It probably didn’t help that a large man wearing head to toe black in a biker cut was staring her down. I didn’t have any such problem moving forward, though. “My wife?” I asked her, stepping forward.

She smiled sadly at me and held my child out to me. “Your wife’s still in surgery. They’re sewing her up now, and as soon as she’s done, they’ll be wheeling her into the room I’m about to take y’all to. This is your daughter, though. She’s a very lucky little girl.” I took her from the nurse, cradling her minuscule weight to my chest. “Is she okay?” I asked, not able to take my eyes off my little girl. “She’s fine. She does have a laceration on her thigh, but we’ve cleaned that up, and bandaged it. She’s perfect,” the nurse said softly. I looked up and smiled at her brightly. “Thank you.” She patted me on the arm, then removed a hospital bracelet from her pocket, expertly attaching it to my wrist. “This is what identifies that this little chunky monkey as yours. When we get there, we’ll compare the bracelet around her ankle to the one on your wrist. Your wife has the same one on her own wrist. This’ll be verified every time the baby leaves you and comes back to you,” the nurse explained. I nodded, thankful. Three hours later, as I sat at my wife’s bedside, staring at the tiny bundle of chunkiness wrapped in her hot pink skull blanket, I thanked God I was such a lucky man. Ashe Adriana Trammel was born a hefty nine and a half pounds, four short hours ago, via a caesarian section. The only thing wrong was the lone horizontal wound from one side of her thigh to the other. It could’ve been so much worse. It was thin, and blissfully shallow. More like a tiny scrape than the knife slice we all knew it was. My little girl had been lucky. Tru, on the other hand, hadn’t been. Her C-section had been invasive. Instead of the normal incision in the pelvic region, she had to have the vertical one that went from belly button to hips because they weren’t sure if the baby was pinned by the knife or not. On top of that, she’d had quite a bit of internal bleeding. I hadn’t been able to be there for her, either. She’d been taken by Life Flight, and if it hadn’t have been my brother and Cleo taking care of her, I’d have lost it for a second time. The entire waiting room was filled with friends and family, but I was waiting for two people to get here. Tru’s parents. Only then would I leave.

Chapter 24 When he’s really mad, there’s no one that’ll risk calming him down. Except for his wife. Bitches be crazy. -Silas to Sebastian

Torren “You got him?” I asked as I walked into the empty room. My boots pounded hard on the dirty concrete floor. Boots scuffled once they realized I was here, but my eyes never left my president. Silas nodded, mouth set in a hard, thin line. “Yes.” I only had one word for him. “Good.” I nodded and shouldered past him into the room, closing the door quietly behind me. The control I showed on the outside was not synonymous with my mood. On the outside I was cool and calm. On the inside, I wanted to peal the man’s skin off like an overripe orange. As I flipped the light on and saw the man lying on the ground with his hands and feet duck taped together behind his back. He blinked at me, smiling when he realized who he finally got. Nearly two hours had passed since I learned all that Tru had gone through. I’d sat through the explanation with unearthly calm, wanting nothing else but to put Tru at ease. But the moment I learned he was caught by Silas, I left Tru and my less than a day old daughter, citing the need for a shower and a change of clothes. Then I came straight here, riding with peace, knowing that this was all about to be over. Bobby moaned and writhed on the floor, trying his hardest to get free to no avail. Crossing my arms, I watched him squirm. “I have an oath that I made when I became a paramedic. However, that oath is superseded by the oath I made to my wife when we got married. Lucky-fucking-you,” I smiled, then dropped down to one knee to look into his eyes. Hatred shone bright and hot. Reaching forward, I ripped the tape off viciously, causing him to cry out hoarsely. What a pussy. “Why?” I asked. He smiled. “You killed my brother.” I smiled. “I killed my brother, too. How about you ask me how I sleep at night?” He launched himself at me as best he could, but I stood and stepped out of reach of his useless

attempts to hurt me. “Like a fucking baby,” I said before I reared back and kicked him in the belly. A pained gush of air escaped his mouth, and I wanted to whoop in triumph at the sound. I didn’t, though, not with what came out of his mouth next. “He was my twin. Colby was my goddamned twin!” He screamed irately. I froze when the words finally penetrated my incensed mind, but I didn’t calm down. Going down to one knee again, I made sure I could see his face. Read his emotions. What he had to say next could very well save his life. “So tell me,” I said. “What exactly were you planning on doing to my wife? Think very carefully about what you say next, because it could potentially save your life.” He shook his head, refusing to answer. I smiled, showing him just how fucking crazy I was. “You know,” I said softly. “Tru told me what you said already. I know you planned on raping her. I know you had much more planned for my two girls. Did you know that the huge goddamned knife you stabbed through my wife’s belly only grazed my little girl? But even though she’s going to be okay, one single drop of my girl’s blood was too much. And since I’m not in the right frame of mind, my father has gracefully volunteered to take over matters here so I can get back to my wife and newborn. Lucky for you that y’all will get to make friends.” I smiled at him, relishing in the fear that flashed through his eyes before he was able to cover it. “I hope you enjoy the meeting. It’s the last one you’ll ever get,” I said, giving him a vicious right hook to the face before I stood and left the room. The first pair of eyes I met when I exited the room was my pop’s gray ones. The same color as his son’s. And my daughter’s. He looked livid. Blood didn’t mean loyalty to him. It didn’t to any of the members of The Dixie Wardens MC. Earning it did. And Bobby fucking Prescott was about to have firsthand knowledge to that fact. *** “The best thing you can do for yourself is walk, honey,” I heard the nurse say when I made it through the hospital room’s door. “I don’t want to walk. I want to eat some freakin’ cake. Which I don’t have. And I haven’t had since I got pregnant. The least you could do is go get me some cake,” Tru muttered darkly. Daniella caught my eyes as soon as I moved over the threshold. She had a hand covering her mouth as she tried her hardest not to laugh at her daughter. “How about some cookie cake and a Dr. Pepper from the cookie factory?” I asked, holding up my

treasure for her eyes to feast on. I also had a large french fry from Chick-Fil-A, and a chicken sandwich. Her favorites. She looked at me and her eyes teared up. “You’re the best husband ever!” She wailed. I walked toward the bed, leaning forward once I got to her bedside, and kissed her senseless. She was panting slightly once I disengaged my mouth from hers, and a pained, “Jesus Christ,” had me laughing. Turning to Frank, I smiled. He had Ashe curled up on his chest. Her chunky cheek was resting against his heart, and he had one large hand curled around her tiny tush. “She doing good?” I asked, turning back to my wife. She nodded. “Eats like a horse.” I didn’t doubt that. Not with the hefty bulk she carried. “No doubt about that, baby,” I agreed. “How are you feeling?” She grimaced, but before she could answer, the nurse chimed in. “She’d feel a lot better if she got up and started moving.” I stepped in front of my wife before she could start throwing things. “Come on, honey. I bet you’d like a shower, wouldn’t you?” I asked, knowing I was right. She’d complained of it that morning, and I knew it’d get her up and moving. Reluctantly, she nodded yes, and we spent the next five minutes getting her painfully out of the bed. “Oh, God,” she whispered once she had her legs under her. The nurse moved forward and disconnected Tru’s IV, placing a saline lock over the port before covering the entire thing in waterproof tape. “There you go, sweetie. Keep going, now.” My belly felt sick as she started to shuffle forward, hunched to protect her vulnerable stomach. I had one hand underneath her arm, holding her steady in case she faltered as she slowly made her way to the bathroom. Her ass was hanging out the back of her gown while her father laughed to cover up his unease at seeing his daughter hurting. Daniella hurried ahead of us, turning the shower on for her before sneaking back out again. “You can take off the dressings. It’s best to let them peel off with the water and soap from the shower. While you’re doing that, I’ll change the linens on your bed and bring you some more towels,” the nurse said before she breezed out of the room. Once she was standing in front of the shower, I closed the door behind us and let her arm go. She worked the gown off her shoulders and let it fall unceremoniously to the floor. She looked down at her belly and sniffled. “For some reason,” she said tearfully. “I thought my belly would be smaller once she was out.”

I laughed and pulled her gently into my arms. Even naked and covered in dried blood, she was beautiful. “I heard someone down the hall say that she peed for three minutes straight. And that it was almost orgasmic. How was that for you?” I asked teasingly, trying to get her mind off her belly. It’d come with time. But for now, I was grateful for every inch of her body. I loved the stretch marks. I loved the extra skin. The chunkiness of her cheeks. The swollen ankles. She was mine, and would be for the rest of my life. “I haven’t experienced that yet. They took the catheter out just before you came in,” she said lightly, no more tears in her voice. “But I’ll be sure to let you know how that orgasm compares to the ones you give me.” I tapped her nose. “Brat.” *** She ate her cold sandwich and French fries, blissfully happy with her world. Who would’ve known that telling your wife that her father in law was currently torturing the man that nearly took her life, could make a woman so damned happy? Only my wife. “Did you want some of this?” She asked, gesturing towards her bag of cold fries. I shook my head. “No. Thanks though, baby.” She wrinkled her nose and stuffed another one into her mouth before speaking with her mouth full. “That’s just made my day. Maybe he can send me some pictures.” I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not, but I chose to think that she was. Her mom and dad had left to go home for the night once the nurse came in and announced that visiting hours were over. Now it just left the new family of three. Ashe was curled up in a ball against my chest, making the cutest little musical sounds as she breathed. “I didn’t realize that babies were so noisy,” I said, running my fingers along Ashe’s super smooth hair. “Me neither. You should’ve heard her when I fed her earlier. She sounds like a little piglet. I nearly recorded it, but my dad was here, and I didn’t want to show him my boob,” Tru expounded before popping another fry into her mouth. I grunted. “I have no doubt.” “Grayson?” Tru called, causing me to look at her. “Yeah, honey?” I asked. She smiled softly at me, and then rocked my world. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” I shook my head, stood carefully, and walked to her, giving her a soft kiss on the forehead before I said what I had to say next.

“You, darlin’, are what I never knew I needed. I’ve spent all these years trying to find something I never knew I was missing. But the moment you launched yourself into my arms, you changed my life. This has time of my life, and I know there are many more to come. You’re the charge to my line, baby. Without you, I’d be useless. Without a water, a fire would become a raging inferno. And that’s what would happen if I ever lost you. I’d destroy mountains for you, and will until the day I die.” A lone tear streaked down her flushed cheek. “You just made my life.” “No baby. You made mine.”

Epilogue Home is where the heart is…and where they have to let you in. -Welcome mat

Tru “Oh, dear Jesus. What is that boy doing?” I asked Baylee, looking out the cabin’s window at the ten year old currently riding the dirt bike down my driveway. Naked. Baylee looked up and found her son, then sighed. “That boy. I swear to God. He’ll never learn.” Johnny was a take no prisoners kind of boy. In the five years I’d known him, he’d definitely grown, but his spirit stayed young. I had a feeling that had a lot to do with the company he kept with his father, though. The Dixie Wardens lived hard and played harder. They had a thirst for life, and lived life to the fullest. Just last week I’d come into the club house to find tire scorch marks on the concrete floor. Courtesy of, from what I’d heard, Kettle. Who’d been dared to do it by my husband. “Hey, baby,” Grayson called from the porch. “Do you have any ice?” I cocked my head, but nodded. “Yeah, I’ll bring some out. How much do you need?” “A baggie full. Ashe hurt her hand,” Kettle said as he walked into the kitchen with my daughter in his arms, sitting her down in front of Rue. She was rough looking, too. Her hair was skewed from her pony tail. Her lip was swollen, and she had the makings of a black eye. Rue pulled my daughter’s hand into her own and stretched it out. My daughter whimpered, but didn’t cry. At four years old, my daughter would never do anything abhorrent like cry. She was her daddy’s girl from the ends of her blonde curls to the tips of her black painted toenails. She wanted to be her daddy in every way, including becoming a firefighter and never, upon any circumstances, crying in public. In her daddy’s arms, that was acceptable; only, though, if they were in private. She was not a fan of showing weakness. “What’d she do?” I asked, placing the bag of ice on my daughter’s hand. Kettle laughed loudly. “Ford tried to kiss her. When she told him to stop it, because that was ‘indecent,’ he chose to try again, where she promptly reared back and punched him in the nose. Then Ford, not one to be outdone, returned the punch. They did that back and forth for a good minute before anyone could get to them,”

Trance said dryly as he brought his, just as bloodied, son into the room and set him on the opposite side of the kitchen. I smiled softly, thinking that that was just the beginning. Ford and Ashe were the closest in age, along with Rue’s son, Zach. They were known as the terrible trio. Although the other member’s kids were also close to them in age, none were as close as the three of them. “Baby,” I said to my daughter. “Who told you that you could punch someone?” I knew the answer, of course, I just wanted her to tell me who. However, Ashe’s answer didn’t surprise me. “Nobody.” She didn’t like getting her father into trouble. In fact, she’d go out of her way to make sure he never got into trouble. She hated it when we fought. Although it wasn’t often, we did fight. We’d learned over the years that we shouldn’t go to bed without making up. When we had a problem, we worked it out. Although, most of those times it ended up being ‘fucking it out.’ Ashe and our other two children were signs of our love for each other. If Grayson had his way, he’d keep me pregnant. However, after a third child, in five years, I was over being pregnant. With my last C-section that had taken place six weeks ago today, I’d had my tubes tied. Grayson was still mad at me for that, but he understood where I was coming from. I wanted time to spend with just us. I didn’t want to be pregnant all the time. I wanted to be the real Tru, not hormonal Tru. “Mommy, can you let me hold the ice? I want to go back outside and play soccer with Ford,” Ashe demanded. With a shake of my head, I took her down off the counter and handed the ice pack over. Trance did the same and we watched as the two ran out of the room acting as if the last ten minutes hadn’t even happened. “Ford must take after his mother. So forgiving,” Trance muttered as he made his way out of my kitchen and back outside. I giggled and turned back to the counter where I’d been trimming fat off of the massive brisket that Grayson had cooked the entire morning. “That smells delicious,” Booney groaned as he walked through the door. A sleeping Coal nestled down in his arms. Coal was my youngest, and the toddler coming in on his father’s hip, Spencer, was the middle. Coal was my easy going baby. He had no loyalty whatsoever. All it took was a set of arms, and he

was happy. Spencer, however, was momma’s boy. He needed his momma. He’d take his daddy, but daddy wasn’t momma. Glancing at the clock, I decided now would be a good time to get them to bed. If all worked well, Coal wouldn’t wake until well after midnight. Grayson came up behind me and wrapped his long arms around my belly, bringing me in close to his hard chest. “I’ll go get them dressed. Come up when you can, okay?” He asked, kissing my neck. I nodded, leaning into him for a few precious seconds before he gave my ass a pat and left just as quickly as he came. Booney following him. “I wish I could get Cleo to help like Torren,” Rue sighed, resting her chin to her fist. I snorted. “All I ever get Grayson to do is get them dressed. He steers clear of the dirty diapers. And he doesn’t have the boobs, so he can’t feed them. Although, he will hold one on the rare occasion that they allow him to.” Rue giggled. “Let me do that. Go on up. We’ve got plenty to watch Ashe. Take your time honey.” Rue was a Godsend. We relied on each other a lot, over the last five years, and just like the rest of the women of The Dixie Wardens MC members, we always had help if we needed it. “Thank you, Rue,” I said as I washed my hands. “The casserole in the oven has a little over thirty minutes left. If the timer sounds, just turn the heat off for me, please.” At her confirmation, I walked through the kitchen and up the stairs, following the sound of my husband’s voice as he read to Spencer. Booney was just walking out with Coal when I made it to the top of the landing. “Perfect timing. I didn’t know how much longer that paci was going to work. Here you go,” Booney said, handing Coal off and hustling down the stairs. It still never failed to amuse me, after five years, how uncomfortable Booney became around women breastfeeding. One would think with as much experience as Booney had, that he’d be more relaxed, but he wasn’t. If a baby belonging to any of the members started crying, he was the first to hightail it out of the room. Booney and I had become close over mine and Grayson’s marriage, and I could see why everyone thought he was so lovable. He spent more time with the Benton, Louisiana chapter of The Dixie Wardens than his own, and I expected him to make the move over to Benton as soon as he retired next fall. He was a sucker for his grandkids, and it showed by the lavish gifts he bought them. For instance, the massive sleigh crib I was currently about to put Coal in after I fed him. Sitting down in the recliner beside the bed, I thought about everything I had now, compared to what I had five years ago.

A loving husband. Three perfect children. Parents that were healthy. A sister who’d found the love of her life. A niece that never failed to make me laugh. A job that I loved. A roof over my head. Sunday rides with my man on the back of his bike. Morning cuddles when my husband got home from work. A motorcycle club that would avenge me; where each and every member would protect me with their life. God gave me Grayson at a pivotal point in my life, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. *** Torren Later that night as I lay in bed with my wife curled around me, I listened to the reassuring sound of my son breathing through his monitor. Of the dog’s snores coming from the floor beside our bed. Feeling the soft pulse of Tru’s heart, where my hand rested against her neck. When my mother died, I never thought I’d have what I do now. I thought I’d always be alone. Never have anyone to rely on. And now, not only did I have my club, and every man at the station, but I had my wife. My kids. My in-laws. I had absolutely everything.

Author’s Note

What’s Next? Chapter 1 Tall, blonde, tatted, sexy, and a devoted father. I think I’ll need some new panties now. -Reese’s secret thoughts Reese “Ms. Doherty, you have Katerina Roberts on her way to see you from the playground. The teacher says she’s having a hard time breathing,” Mrs. Shoe, from the front office, called through my intercom. I looked towards the speaker, even though she couldn’t see me, and nodded my head as I said, “Thank you, Mrs. Shoe. I’ll meet her.” I was the school nurse for Kilgore Elementary School. In the three weeks I’d been here, I found that there were three main things that children came to the nurse for. One was a scrape or cut of some sort. Two was a stomach bug, and three was kids having trouble breathing. The trouble breathing thing was the scariest. I’d found that quite a few children at the school had asthma, which was a shocker for me. So I knew quite a few of the regular children due to them coming before recess, or after, to get a puff on their inhaler. Katerina Roberts was a new one for me. “Mrs. Dane, would you mind pulling up Katerina Robert’s record for me to see if she has any allergies or medications she can get if needed?” I asked Laura. Laura Dane was a CNA, or a certified nursing assistant. She’d been a lifeline since I’d started here two months ago. Mrs. Redden, the school nurse I was replacing, was currently at lunch, although she was expected back any minute for me to take my own. Later, when I took over fully, I’d be taking my school lunch during my spare time, because the school couldn’t be without a nurse. But for now, until I finished interning with Mrs. Redden, I’d be able to leave if she was here. Standing, I walked out of my office, through the room that held the exam tables, and into the hallway. I was always surprised at the bright red walls with the black tiled floor. Kilgore took their school colors very seriously. Along the walls on the two furthest tiles, were painted red feet that showed the students where they were to walk as they went through the hallways. It was always fun to see them walking single file, especially the ones that were rebels and made their own path. I wasn’t one to follow the path myself, and I always sympathized with those students.

My daughter, Rowen, was the same way. I used to drive my parents crazy during my school age years, which was always fun to remember now. Back then, it hadn’t been so funny. I waved to Mrs. Shoe, who was making her way slowly down the hallway. She nodded before disappearing into the school’s office. Just before I turned the corner that would lead down the hallway that held the entrance to the playground, I heard the labored breathing of a small child. I sped up, running, especially concerned now. Surely they wouldn’t have just let her walk alone, right? A child with respiratory distress? But as I rounded the corner, I saw the girl on her knees, alone, with her hands planted on the tile in front of her. Typical tripod position for a person in breathing distress. “Honey,” I said rushing forward. “Sweetheart, look at me. Katerina?” The little girl looked up. Her beautiful blue eyes the color of the sky, were scared. Her lips were slightly blue, and I knew she was in shock. “Kat, can I call you Kat?” At her nod, I bent down and picked her up. She was a small little thing, much smaller than most of the children in this school. My guess was that she was a first grader, but most likely on the younger side of the grade rather than the older side. “Can you tell me what’s going on? Did something happen on the playground?” I asked as I started running towards the office. “B-b-b-ee.” She gasped for air. My heart froze. Anaphylactic shock. “Honey, are you allergic to bees?” I asked. I felt her nod against my cheek where her head rested. “Y-y-esss.” The ‘S’ came out in a wheeze as I rounded the entrance to the nurse’s office. Then the coughing started, as I laid her down on the exam table. Laura rushed forward, holding out the small cubby that held each individual child’s medications and said, “She’s allergic to bees, peanuts, and shellfish.” I’d already decided that what she had was related to the bee sting, but having it confirmed made me comfortable in using the EpiPen Junior I saw in her plastic cubby. Reaching into the container, I removed the EpiPen and read the prescription label confirming it was for the same child. Checked the dose, comparing it to Katerina’s chart. The expiration date. Removing it from its container, I took the safety cap off, and then promptly injected it into her thigh.

The click was deafening as the needle penetrated the skin. I counted slowly to ten and watched as, instantly, Katerina started to breathe. Her lips, which I hadn’t noticed had gone completely blue, started to return to their normal color, and Katerina’s eyes opened. Tears started to run down her cheeks, and she launched herself into my arms. I caught her effortlessly, and curled her into my chest as I held the girl’s shaking, sobbing body. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay,” I whispered softly. “Medics are less than three minutes out, but I’m sure her father will beat them here,” Mrs. Redden said, startling me. I hadn’t realized she was here. “Why would her father beat the medics?” I asked. I knew that the parents would be called, but not before the medics, which were a little over a mile down the road. “Her father’s on the police force for Kilgore. Luke Roberts,” Laura said wistfully. Should I know him or something? “I want my daddy,” Katerina whimpered softly against my neck. “I know, sweetie. He’s on his way,” I said softly. Then, turning to Laura, I said, “Go wait for the medics so they’re not freakin’ out trying to get in here.” The school was new, and with the brand new building came new security features. For instance, the front office was the first thing that the public had to pass through to get into the school. It had a wall of glass windows that were bullet proof, and each individual had to be buzzed in by the office attendant. The doors could be opened from the inside, but it kept the general public from waltzing in anytime they felt like it. Which definitely gave us some piece of mind when it came to protecting our children. It was especially nice as a parent of my own kindergartener, too. I felt comfortable sending her to school, knowing that every possible thing was being done to keep her safe. A loud banging from the area of the office had me poking my head out of the my room to find a large, blonde man in a KPD SWAT shirt with a large gun on his hip hammering on the glass doors, while Laura hurried to open it for him. “Make sure it’s him before you let him in,” Mrs. Redden chastised Laura gently. I agreed. The man was big. We wouldn’t stand a chance against him if he got through and he wasn’t the child’s father.

“Can I see your ID or badge?” Laura asked through the glass. He glared at her, but showed his badge, which seemed to appease Laura. Pushing on the bar that opened the door, she stepped back quickly and moved. Good thing, too, or she’d have been run over. He charged to us quickly, his eyes on the now sleeping little girl in my arms. “Is she okay?” He asked in his deep, rumbly, growl. I nodded. “We had to use her EpiPen. She’s good, though. Her heart rate’s a tad fast, but her breathing’s normal. Her lips are no longer blue. She was stung by a bee on the playground.” I saw the large man visibly wilt as he finally made it to my side. His large, scarred, tattooed arm lifted, resting his enormous hand on the small girl’s head, sifting his fingers through her long dirty blonde hair. It was really sweet, and I could tell instantly that he was a wonderful father. His eyes lifted as he caught me watching them, and something hard and unyielding snapped down, veiling his emotions from me. I blinked in surprise. That took skill right there. Must by a cop thing. Leaning forward, I let the girl’s head drift off my shoulder into my waiting hand. The dad understood instantly, holding out his arms, taking the child from me. He took in my spunky Captain America scrubs and shook his head. A small smirk kicking up the side of his top lip. “Luke!” A woman’s voice called from the entrance. I turned to see a beautiful blonde coming through the front entrance. A paramedic. Another woman with red hair followed behind her, pushing the stretcher. His face showed instant relief at the sight of the woman who charge forward and threw her arms around the man and child. Wife. Had to be. “What’s going on, is she okay?” The woman asked worriedly. I explained, cutting off the man’s words. “She was stung by a bee on the playground. A little over seven minutes ago,” I said looking down at my watch. “We used the EpiPen on her. Lower left thigh.” As I explained what had happened, and what her stats were, the red headed woman started taking down notes on a clip board, documenting what I was saying. The other woman, the blonde, watched me with an intentness that showed her concern for the small girl. When they all left together, five minutes later, I watched as the big man stepped up into the back of the

ambulance, and the red head shut the doors behind the couple. My heart panged as I wished I had something like that, then I ruthlessly shut that thought down. Love was a fucking joke. I should know. I’d been in love before. I’d also had that love ruined, forever tainted by my ex. Nope, no more love for Reese Doherty anymore. Or so I kept telling myself.

Lani lynn vale serie the heroes of the dixie wardens mc 06 charge to my line  
Lani lynn vale serie the heroes of the dixie wardens mc 06 charge to my line