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Dedication A special thanks goes out to Zac Smith, my cover model, and FuriousFotog for taking such an excellent picture. I knew he’d be perfect for Loki, and the photo is just beautiful. To my husband, thank you for giving me the time to write this book. None of this would be possible without you. To my kids- as always, you’re the beat to my heart. The reason I do all things. Without you, I’d be lost.

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

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 (March 2015) Charge To My Line (April 2015)

Text copyright Š2014 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.

Table of Contents 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 20 Chapter 21 Epilogue Coming Soon You’re the Keys Loki’s life was a lie. Everything he’d done for the last eight years was under an assumed name for the

Benton Police Department. He’d lied, cheated, and stolen all in the name of the law. He wore himself thin, and not even the open road could take away the pain anymore. Then his little next door neighbor moved in, and suddenly he had a reason to get out of bed every morning. Except he was an officer of the law, and a member of a prominent motorcycle club in the area, The Dixie Wardens MC. Neither of which she could deal with. To My It wasn’t the scars that covered her new neighbor’s body that scared Channing. It was the badge. The fact that he belonged to The Dixie Wardens MC was only icing on the cake. She should be running away as fast as her legs could carry her. But there’s something about Bryce ‘Loki’ Rector. Something that eased the unreasonable fear she felt every time she came into contact with something that reminded her of her past. Cuffs They say love isn’t easy, and it definitely isn’t for the two of them. Loki has to learn to feel again, and Channing has to learn to live. Their road isn’t an easy one by any means, but Loki makes two promises. One, he’ll never let anything hurt Channing. Two, it’d be over his dead body that he’d ever let her go.

Chapter 1 I finally found my sleep number. It’s six. As in, six bottles of beer. -Things to live by Loki 1 year ago “Will you please, please, please mow the lawn, Andrew? Please,” my next-door neighbor begged. She was begging her Hell, I didn’t know what he was. They didn’t look anything alike, so I was inclined to think that they weren’t brother and sister. I had only heard him call her Channing. But they sure as hell didn’t act like lovers...or even husband and wife. Their relationship wasn’t a normal one. It was as if they only tolerated one another, which was why I leaned towards roommate, more than anything. They worked opposite shifts. She was a nurse or something at the hospital at nights; based on the black scrubs she left the house in every night. He worked in an office during the day, as a manager or something. She worked outside a lot, making their home the best looking on the block, while all I ever saw him do was play video games from his chair in the living room. She was always the one who bought the groceries. She was always the one who washed the car. She was also the one who mowed the lawn. She got the mail. The list goes on and on. Except this day. She looked...rough. Like she hadn’t slept in days. Her red/brown hair was in a messy bun on the top of her head, tendrils falling out all around her face. She was wearing a pair of sweatpants that said, Destin, FL. on them, and a white tank top that showed off a slight pudge that was adorably cute on her. She was on the heavier side than what I normally went for, but there was something about my little neighbor that made me want her. Hell, even right now she was hot. I was on a creeper under my truck, changing out the oil. No, not a creeper as in a creepy person, but a flat board-like device on wheels that let me lay on my back and move around under the car. Our houses were small, and our yards were even smaller. Which meant I was about fifteen feet away from her and I could hear every word. Especially when Andrew, the douchebag, told her, “Fuck off, I had to work all day.” “I know, Andrew, but I have someone coming to quote how much it’ll be to fix the foundation, and I can’t have them look at the foundation if they can’t see it. So we have to mow the lawn. Please, I feel

really awful today,” she pleaded. She did sound awful, that was for sure. Her voice was nasally, and she coughed every couple of seconds. My guess would be the flu. “Sorry, sister dearest, but I really am tired. Reschedule the appointment,” he told her. “Maybe next week when you can mow the lawn yourself.” So...he was her brother. Good to know. I’d been wondering about that for nearly five months of living next to them. I could’ve, of course, found out. But I was supposed to act like I didn’t know anything about anybody. Which would’ve been hard to do with her. She had this...magnetism that made me want to know every little detail. With that he took his ‘tired self’ inside. It was only minutes later that I saw him sit down on the chair I could see through the living room window. He slipped on a pair of headphones, took a sip of his beer, and started playing. Lazy bastard. Going back to my work to distract me on how irate it made me feel that he wouldn’t help his own sister out when she was sick, I was surprised to hear the sound of the lawn mower going. Scooting out from under the car completely, I found the stubborn woman mowing the lawn. She made two passes right across the part of the yard that was closest to the foundation before she physically had to stop. I was on my feet without conscious thought, watching her to make sure she was okay. When she finally called it quits and stopped the lawn mower in the middle of the yard, my alarm became warranted. She bent over, coughing and wheezing, and it was then that I walked over to her, scared shitless. “Hey, are you okay?” I asked her from a far enough distance back, as not to scare her. She looked up, giving me only her light green eyes, and nodded. “Yes, I just have asthma. And I’m pretty sure I have a cold. Normally, I wear a face mask, but I forgot.” I remembered the facemask. She looked ridiculous with it on, and I’d always wondered why she wore it. Asthma was a good explanation, though. “Do you need something?” I asked in concern when she dropped to her knees. “In-inhaler,” she wheezed. “P-purse on table.” I left her there, on her knees, and walked straight into their house. The little fucker playing Call of Duty didn’t even look up as I walked straight through the living room to the kitchen table. Grabbing the pink polka dotted purse, I dumped its contents on the table.

Fishing through the sheer amount of shit, I finally found two inhalers, one brown and one red. Fisting them both in my hand, I walked out of the house, directly between the TV and the man playing his war game. He snarled, but didn’t say anything as I hurried back outside, finding the woman on her hands and knees, trying her hardest to take a deep breath. “Red or brown?” I asked as I dropped down to my knees beside her. Her answer was to grab the brown one, uncap it, and take two puffs. Long moments later, her breathing began to slow, and she pulled a long, deep pull of air into her lungs. She repeated this two more times as she looked at the grass. On her third deep inhale, her head finally lifted, and her eyes locked on my own. Then she froze. Yeah, that was normally the reaction I got out of people. At least lately. I was undercover for the Benton Police Department trying to take down Varian Strong. Strong was a ‘suspected’ rapist, and dealer in the area. I said ‘suspected’ very loosely. We all knew he did it, we just couldn’t prove it. The BPD had six women come forward with their suspicions, yet not one single shred of evidence could point towards him. He’d been questioned, warrants had been served, and wiretaps were put on his phone. Which had been monitored nearly 24/7 for three months before they made the decision to put someone undercover in his construction business. What better way to do that than making someone look like a druggie wanting his next hit of Meth? Someone desperate. Someone who’d look the other way when their boss did something shady. Yeah, that’s what I looked like. Long, shaggy hair down to my shoulders. Bruises and needle sticks from sterilized needles at the bends of my elbows and in the webbing of my fingers. Shitty clothes that hung off my form. I was big though, no doubt about it. I couldn’t hide the muscle with anything else but baggy clothes. I looked like a vagrant. Then her eyes locked on the scar on my neck. The one I’d gotten when I was sixteen, when a gang member from my hometown slit my throat for his initiation into a gang. A gang that I was trying to get out of. A gang that didn’t let people just leave. I’d survived having my throat sliced open because of a police officer. The local gang officer that’d cruised the gang’s territory trying to keep gang activity to a minimum. He’d saved me with his quick thinking, and kept an eye on me for the duration of my high school years. Oh, and married my single mother. He was also now my stepfather.

Trying to do him proud, I’d joined the Coast Guard, and went to school to get my paramedic degree. After six years in the coast guard, I got out when my mom got sick, and got triple certified as a firefighter, paramedic, and police officer. I moved to Benton because of its nearly nonexistent gang activity. I didn’t want to deal with gangs. But I did want to make the town, and the surrounding area, better. Going undercover wasn’t my original goal; but, overtime, it was certainly a bonus. I became good at being a different person. Or maybe I was just that person, trying not to be me. I mean I was in a gang for five years. I lived on the streets while my mother worked her ass off at a diner, working the night shift. I was most definitely not supervised, which is what led to my destruction at the ripe old age of eleven. “T-thank you,” She said after a while, finally finding her voice. “No problem,” I said and walked away, leaving her there in the grass. Her eyes were terror filled, and I knew she wouldn’t be able to walk with me that close. She was in a vulnerable position: sick and scared. I gave her the only reassurance I could. My back.

Chapter 2 I don’t always find a series I like on Netflix. But when I do, I watch all twelve seasons in a row while living off of cookies and chips for three days straight. -E-card Channing “I’ll be back by midnight,” I said to my brother, just in case he was listening to me and didn’t have his earphones all the way up. Although, most likely a useless statement, I wanted to think that he cared enough about me to be concerned about where I went. Though, I knew he didn’t. When I said he could move in here for a couple of weeks, I never meant he could stay with me forever. It’d been six months since he’d moved in, and in that time he hadn’t once looked for alternate places to stay. I should’ve known, but it was nice having someone around...even if they didn’t talk to me. Or help. Or pay for anything. The neighborhood wasn’t a good one, and I liked the feeling of knowing my house wouldn’t be unoccupied when I came home. Especially with all the rapes that had been occurring during the night. Who would have thought that a serial rapist would show up in this small town? It all started about six months ago with a young teenager, arriving home after a night of partying with her friends. She’d pulled her car in the garage, shut it off, and got out before she closed the garage door. Then she set the alarm and went to bed. Which was a serious mistake. According to the news feed from the security cameras, the man had bypassed the security system by unknown means, and rearmed it once he was inside. From there everything looked fine on the outside, while inside a young girl was getting her innocence stolen from her, and then drugged to make her forget. Since then, there’ve been nearly nine other victims, and they can only remember that they were fine before they got home. The first one was the luckiest since they’d installed cameras after the home was built. The others hadn’t been so lucky. They only woke up confused, beaten, and raped with nothing to remember about how it happened. Walking outside, I made it to my car, keeping my head down as I went. It wouldn’t do to see my neighbor. My hot, sexy, drug using, badass neighbor. It was inevitable though. I was drawn to the man like the crops need the rain. He was like an incandescent star in a pitch-black sky to me. No matter how hard I tried, my eyes always strayed his way. The way he watched me unnerved me, but it also set my blood on fire.

Hell, I was a 26-year-old woman. He was a hot male in his prime, despite the baggy gangster clothes that covered an extremely muscled body. His hair was about three inches too long and shaggy blonde. When he looked at me, he always had a couple strands in his steel blue eyes, only adding to the appeal. “Hey, sis,” Andrew called. “Can you pick up some dinner on the way home from work?” He didn’t wait for the reply, which wasn’t surprising. He didn’t care that I worked until nearly three in the morning. All he cared about was getting a hamburger and fries. Did it ever cross his mind that I didn’t have the energy to do that after I got off? I had to be at school at nine tomorrow morning. When I turned back around, I saw my neighbor shirtless, bending over the hood of his newest acquisition. A 1970 Plymouth Barracuda that I was just dying to take a ride in. In fact, I would kick my brother out right now if he gave that car to me. It was loud. So loud that it made my heart race. The color could use some work, but the engine was sound. With all the work that the man put in it over the past three weeks, there was no wonder. Did he even work? I’d seen him outside on my way to work the last three days, and he’d still been there when I’d gotten home. Although it was nearly seven at night, and I was gone the entire day, he was out there. In the same spot he’d been in when I left. He could work sometime in the interim, yet I didn’t think he did. I couldn’t wait to see what color he painted it. “Hi, Channing!” I screamed loudly and turned, finding my next-door neighbor, the creepy as fuck next door neighbor to my immediate right. Varian Strong. “Umm, hi, Mr. Strong. How are you?” I asked, backing away toward my car. He smiled at my retreat, knowing what he did to me. My heart raced. “I’m fine, sweet thing. Going to work?” He asked with feigned concern. I nodded emphatically. “Sure am. Have a good night!” I dropped down in my car, then locked it as inconspicuously as I could before starting it and backing the fuck out of my driveway. I freakin’ hated my neighborhood. Mostly. Mostly, because I liked the way that my neighbor was watching me drive away, and the way his eyes

narrowed in Varian’s direction once he saw me pass him. I’d known he was paying attention. He was a smart man. He knew the neighborhood was just as dangerous as I did. Although he wasn’t a scared little rabbit like I was. I’d grown up in a suburb in New Orleans before the levees collapsed. My mom had died in the floods shortly after, and my dad’s shrimping business had gone under as a result. We’d never done badly for ourselves, but with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was nothing left for us to go back to. We’d survived, but only just barely. We relocated to Ruston, Louisiana, much to my brother’s annoyance. My dad had found a job as a truck driver, and left my brother and I home alone nine out of twelve months a year. My brother was a year older than I was, but he acted as if he was four years younger. When I turned eighteen, I’d moved out to go to school in Monroe, about an hour away from our new home. I’d graduated with a cosmetology degree within a year. Ever since, I’d been working my ass off. My newest gig, which brought me to Benton in the first place, was an unusual one. After struggling for two years trying to make a clientele, I branched out, trying my hardest to save up for my future house and pay my insurance out of pocket. I had asthma. And with the changing of seasons, I ended up having attacks that sent me to the hospital at least once a year. I also couldn’t lapse on my coverage, or I’d never get it again without paying outrageously for it. My car groaned as I pulled it into my usual parking spot at the back of the building and died once I no longer had constant pressure on the gas. It coughed, sputtered, and shook as it wheezed its final revolution before I turned the key and shoved my shoulder against the door. My car was a beast. It was a 1975 Pontiac Firebird with gold worn out paint and black accents. It had a T-top, and it was my baby. I had the best of intentions when I’d purchased the vehicle off the side of the road when I was twenty, but as the years went by, I only had enough money to keep the car working. Not make it pretty. There were springs coming out in the seats, I’d replaced both seatbelts with junkyard finds, and the dash was so cracked that it didn’t even resemble much of a dash anymore. And don’t even get me started on the engine work the car needed. Angling myself out of the car, I stood and bent inside for my purse. Hitting the lock with the palm of my hand, I slammed the door hard, glad to see that it actually closed

all the way, and walked inside. The smell was always the first thing to get me when I walked in the door. The sickly sweet scent of flowers. I hated flowers now. After seven years on the job, I could never see another flower again and be happy. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I loathed flowers. Why, you ask? Because the smell reminds me of death. I am a beautician. My clientele were dead people. Black Water Funeral Home had been my home away from home for over five years now. Walking down the back hallway, I keyed in my entry code and walked into the back room. We called it the locker room. This was where we housed all the bodies. This was where all the magic happened. I was alone when I entered, which was how I liked it. The only person that was usually here at this hour was Brittany, the mortician. However, she was nowhere in sight when I arrived; so I stowed my purse and jacket in the staff lounge room and walked to the computer to pull up who I was to work on first. Ahh, a Mrs. Rose Abernathy, 23. I blanched when I saw the cause of death. God, I hated suicides. I guess all I could be thankful for was that she hadn’t shot herself. Instead, she’d hung herself, which was nearly as bad, but easily covered with makeup and clothing. Pulling up the picture the family had sent over, I set the lap top on the table beside the work area I’d be making Rose beautiful at, and walked over to cooler number three. You’d think that after five years at this job I wouldn’t be so paranoid, but every single time I opened the coolers, I held my breath. I don’t know what I expected. To find her alive? One thing I didn’t do was watch shows about zombies. I had enough of an imagination as it was, I

didn’t need to be adding to that over activeness. Rose was a cute girl, and it made my heart hurt to think that something so awful had happened to her that she thought the only way out was by taking her own life. Once I had her at my station, I washed her hair. The hardest thing about working on dead people was that they didn’t sit up, which made it infinitely harder to do anything. I also had to have a lot of upper body strength, because picking her up to wash her was quite literally dead weight. When I had her about two inches off the table, a belch of air released from her lips, startling me. Once again, after five years of this shit, you’d think I would be expecting that little puff of released air. But no, not me. I shrieked and stepped back. “Gets you every time,” a dry voice said from the doorway. I turned, not surprised to see her there watching me and glared. “Go fuck yourself,” I snapped. Brittany laughed. She had a smoky laugh that sounded so sultry and smooth. At 53, she was a bombshell. Tall, much taller than my own 5’7. She had the most to die for body with big boobs, long legs, and a narrow waist. I liked to call her the real life Ethnic Barbie doll. Her black hair emphasized her Guatemalan heritage. Long and silky. She reminded me of Laura Croft: Tomb-raider, with the way she always wore her hair in a ponytail, and the long main hung to her ass even then. She didn’t dress like Laura Croft, though. As a mortician, she had a very ... gross job. Which was why she lived in Carhartt Overalls. She looked cute, and she hated when I pointed that fact out to her. “You don’t say that to your boss!” She mock glared. I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Where have you been?” She grimaced. Her eyes screwed up at the corners as she pursed her lips, as if she tasted something foul. “The owner wanted to see me about my hours.” “What about your hours?” I asked in surprise. “He says I haven’t been here as much as I used to and wanted to see why. He said Joshua complained about how much he was having to do since I wasn’t ‘doing my job.’”

Her face showed the disgust in her tone. I looked at her sympathetically. “Joshua is a dick, and always has been. You’re here nearly fifteen hours a day. Your husband already doesn’t see you enough as it is. Your kids either.” “Ever since JJ left, I haven’t had much to go home to. Cabe works all day long. We’re lucky to even see each other some days. But I get tired of no human interaction. That’s why I’ve cut down my hours. I’ve been going to a bookclub. We discuss romance novels. You should come with me some time,” She said happily. Brittany was married to The Chief of Police for Benton, Cabe Warren. He was a beast of a man, and took no crap. But he had a lot of responsibilities, and worked well into the night. Although, it worked for them. They’d been together since they were sixteen and seventeen. They’d had kids when they were 18 and 19. And their youngest, JJ, had just graduated from college and moved into her own place. They were ‘free’ according to her. Not that they utilized that. They still worked just as much now as they did when their kids were young. “Anyway, he wanted to make sure I was ‘alright,’” She shivered. “Yick.” She felt the same way about Gustavo as I did. Although, she hadn’t shared those feelings with her husband. Wanting the get the subject off Gustavo, I changed the topic. “Did you get anything good today?” “There’s been a suicide, which I see you already found. And a couple of MVAs. They’re going to need” She grimaced. Yick. I hated watching her work, but she sure was a genius. She was a magician with putty, wire mesh, and cardboard. She could fix pretty much anything deformity wise, and I made them pretty once she was done. We worked well as a team. We’d worked together for a little over a year now, and I couldn’t imagine working with anybody else. “What time are you leaving?” I asked. She looked at her watch when a deep voice said from the doorway behind her, “Now.” We both jumped. Her husband was standing at the door looking forbidding. He had on a simple pair of jeans and a black t-shirt. It wasn’t the clothes that made him look authoritative. He just was. And the badge on the front of his jeans, with the large black gun at his hip only

added to the effect. When I was sixteen, I’d been pulled over by what I thought was a cop, and then nearly sexually assaulted. If it wasn’t for some kids from my school hearing me scream, and then coming to investigate, I would’ve been raped. Ever since, I’d had a deep fear of cops; Cabe was no exception. I knew it wasn’t a rational fear. I knew the guy who’d done it was only dressed in a costume, but everything that happened left a stain on my sixteen year old soul that told me I couldn’t trust cops. No matter what. My eyes widened, and my palms dampened. If I looked in a mirror, I’m sure my pupils would be dilated as well. Cabe took in my reaction to him, just like he always did, and stayed far away from me. He knew how uncomfortable I was with him, and that was what made my reaction to him seem so stupid. I knew deep down that he’d never hurt me, but my rational mind and my logical mind didn’t seem to connect at times. “H-hi, Mr. Warren,” I said, putting the table and the dead girl between us. He smiled sadly at me. “Hello, Channing. How are you today, sweetheart?” I shrugged. “I’m okay.” His mouth kicked up at the corner, transforming his hard face from granite to a softness I didn’t often see in him. “You look kind of like crap.” I laughed; I couldn’t help it. Not many men were so candidly open with women. I liked a man who wasn’t afraid of a woman going off on him when he told her she looked like crap. “Cabe!” Brittany chastised. “You don’t tell a woman she looks like crap!” He chuckled. “Sorry.” He didn’t sound very sorry, but that was okay. I liked a man with balls. “It’s okay. I had an asthma attack a couple of days ago. The old allergies are kicking up again since it started raining so much. Not to mention spring is right around the corner,” I told them. “You ready, pretty girl?” Cabe asked his wife. She smiled dreamily at him, making me long for someone to look at me like that, and walked into his arms. “Yep. I am.” “Bye you two. Have a good date night.” I told them.

After they relayed their goodbyes, I got back to work, spending my night with the peace and quiet of the dead.

Chapter 3 If you think a minute goes by fast, you’ve never had a transvestite try to strangle you with a coat hanger because you called him sir. -Life lesson Loki “Anything new?” My boss, Cabe Warren, asked me. I stepped up to my blinds and flicked them open with two fingers, peering out at the dangerous neighborhood. “No. He came to the neighbor, but she got in her car and drove off before it got out of hand. The guys a fucking creep,” I growled into my phone. We all knew that he was dirty; I just hoped he didn’t ‘piss where he slept.’ I didn’t need another complication like the hot woman next door, or her shitty brother. I also didn’t need to worry about my target raping the women in his neighborhood. But I was. “Have you made contact with him yet?” He asked. I watched as my neighbor came out with a bucket and the water hose as she got ready to wash her car. Not that the car needed it. It was too rusted out for a wash to make a difference, but she did it every Saturday like clockwork. “Met him last night when I was walking Lucy,” I confirmed. Lucy was my three-year-old Rottie. She also thought she was a human, and never met a stranger. Which chapped my ass when the piece of shit Varian bent down and scratched my dog with his filth stained hands. I didn’t want those hands anywhere near anything of mine. Inwardly, I was snarling in outrage. Outwardly, seeing the faded jeans that I picked up at the Goodwill, black motorcycle boots, needle marks, shaggy hair, and the stained white t-shirt, he dismissed me as less than dog shit. Which was what I wanted. I wanted him to think I wasn’t a threat, but more of a...possible business associate. If he saw the ragged clothes, the shitty house, and the less than stellar car, then maybe he would think I was desperate, and could be bought. But I couldn’t come on too strong, otherwise he’d be suspicious of my motives. Instead, I stayed in a house with a foreclosed sign out front, and worked on my truck all day so I could make it look like I had no job and very little ambition.

Then, when I walked into his construction office on Monday morning for my interview, he’d know I was in dire straits. Hopefully. “Good,” Cabe said. “I’ve got to get back to work, and so do you. What time’s the interview next week?” “Monday at nine,” I sighed. “Good, I’ve had taps put on V.S. Construction’s phones again. Surveillance will start once you get officially hired. Talk to you later,” he hung up. I’d already gone over it more than once with him, as well as the rest of the team. I knew he was worried about me, but there was only so much a man could take. I’d turned in my resignation before this job even started, and the chief hadn’t accepted it. I was beyond tired of being someone I wasn’t. I was ready to just be me. A police officer and a member of The Dixie Wardens. The Dixie Wardens MC was my home away from home. When I turned eighteen, I’d joined the Coast Guard and left my hometown of Boca Grande. I lived and breathed the Coast guard for six years before my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though she’d reassured me that she didn’t need me, I’d retired and come home to help her with the store she owned. The one she loved with all her heart and soul. My father had died while serving in Desert Storm when I was nine months old. With the pension my mom received, she opened up her shop, You Are My, on the Boardwalk in downtown Boca Grande. For six months, mom and I worked at the store and kicked cancers’ ass. Once she’d gotten the all clear, I’d gone into the police academy. Once out of the academy, I’d moved to Benton, Louisiana where I’d met my best friend, Killian ‘Trance’ Spurlock. Trance and I both prospected with the local MC because of our love of bikes. From there, we’d become brothers and best friends. Now, the only thing missing was my mom, but she’d never leave her store, and I’d never leave my club. A knock at my door startled me, and I realized I’d been watching my neighbor wash her car so long that she was now done and nowhere to be seen.

Flicking the blinds back down, I walked to the door, and looked out the peephole. Startled, I yanked the door open to find my neighbor on the porch looking anything but comfortable. “Hey,” she said softly. “I just wanted to thank you for mowing my lawn.” Surprise had me blinking at her. Huh, I hadn’t expected her to realize who’d done it, let alone come over and thank me. I’d done it as soon as she’d left for work last night, all the while shooting ‘die-fucker’ glares at the man sitting on his ass playing video games. “You’re welcome,” I rumbled. “You looked like shit yesterday; I just wanted to make sure you didn’t up and die. I didn’t want to have the police all over our neighborhood or anything.” I’d been teasing of course, but at first she didn’t look like she’d caught on until she found the corner of my mouth tipped up in laughter. “Yeah, nobody wants a cop here,” she said forcefully before she visibly shuddered. The certainty in her voice made me tip my head to the side. Why she was so adamant about that was dumbfounding to me. Did she not like cops? Uh-oh. “Got a thing against cops?” I asked as I leaned against my door jam. “No,” she said a little too quickly. “Gotta go, my foundation guy is here.” Then she fairly sprinted away, running as fast as her legs would carry her. I watched her ass jiggle as she ran, and was surprised to find myself not only erect, but rock-fuckingsolid. Closing the door to my house, I stripped out of my shirt and walked to my shower, clothes dropping off as I went. I bypassed the boxes that were still packed at the side of my room and walked into the bathroom. Shucking my jeans, I kicked them off to the corner of the room and cranked the water as high as it would go before stepping under the cold spray. It was when my head was lathered fully with shower gel that I heard the rumble of pipes causing me to curse. I was fucking late. My mind had been on other things while I should’ve been getting ready. We had a run planned tonight, and I was going to hold us up if I didn’t hurry. Washing off quickly, I stepped out and wrapped the towel around my waist before jogging to the door. Yanking the door opened, I walked outside, unsurprised to find six bikes in my driveway.

Stepping down onto the first step, I yelled, “Give me ten! Let me throw some clothes on.” They raised their hands, acknowledging that they’d heard me as they all crowded around my ‘Cuda and checked out the new headers I’d put on that morning. As I turned, movement caught my eye causing me to look up. My eyes collided with those of my neighbors and held. It seemed like long moments passed as we both stared at each other. Finally, the worker that was checking out her foundation broke our staring contest, allowing me to dash into the house. I threw the towel on the edge of my bed and shoved my feet into jeans that I found in a box serving as my dresser. The search for a clean t-shirt took longer, but nonetheless, I found one and slipped it over my head before dawning my colors. My Dixie Wardens MC cut. Finding socks and shoes, I walked over to the bed and sat down, pulling on my socks before attaching my ankle holster that was already holding my compact .45. Then I buckled my boots, tied the shoelaces, swiped on some deodorant and dashed out of the house. Heading straight for my bike, I straddled it, kicked the kickstand up, and started it with a roar. Although it was drowned out by the sound of six other Harleys starting right alongside me. The last thing I saw as we pulled out into the street was the dismayed eyes of my neighbor as she watched me ride away. Which made me wonder, was it because I was in a MC, or because she didn’t want to see me go?

Chapter 4 I want to bang you like a screen door in a hurricane. -E-card Channing

4 months later I needed sex. If I didn’t get some sex soon, I’d die. For sure. My eyes wandered over to the house next door, and I watched, for the fifth night in a row, as the man masturbated in front of his window. The sad thing was that he didn’t even know what kind of erotic show he was giving me. He had curtains for Christ’s sakes. Why did they become so sheer at night? With the back lighting of the light, all I had to do was sit on my bed, stare forward, and I had a perfect real time movie of the man in silhouette as he worked his hard cock. Fuck, but I could even see it when he came. How was that even possible? And tonight, here I was laying out on my bed, naked, and masturbating to the sight of it. I was a sick fucker. Even more, it was almost fate that he’d wait until so late at night to do it. I mean, it was three in the morning for Christ’s sake. Did the man ever sleep? He’d started going to work during the day now, and I was only able to see him early in the morning or late in the evening. Though, he was always working on that car until it was late, even if he worked that day. So late that he had to use a light. And I could see it for hours. Tonight was different though. He’d had to bail out early due to the storm, which put him in his room earlier than he ever got there. His window was open, just like mine was. And the storm was going strong. Which was why when the wind gusted, the window treatment on the man’s window blew back causing him to look over quickly. And in that instant, the curtains stayed parted, our eyes connected, and I knew he saw me masturbating

along with him. The smile told me everything. He didn’t stop, though. Instead, he got closer. He was so close to the curtains that I could’ve thrown the dildo I was masturbating with at him and struck him with it. Not that I would have. He probably would’ve kept it in retaliation, but still. He was so close that I could swear he heard my labored breathing. Our hands worked on our bodies in unison. I watched him work himself faster and faster, moving his hand so quick down his hard length that it was a blur. My eyes threatened to close as my orgasm became imminent, but I fought it. I didn’t want to miss a second of this show. Moments later, my orgasm blasted over me. My nipples tightened to hard peaks, and goose bumps broke out over my skin, despite the muggy air. Lightening shot down my spine and centered in my pussy as I shoved the dildo inside me even harder, prolonging the release that was rocking my body. His hoarse shout had me snapping my eyes open to watch as his hand worked his own orgasm out of his dick, jetting hot spurts of semen into his hand. His eyes looked over to mine as he watched me slowly pull out the purple dildo, and he smiled before letting the curtain go once more. It was then that I realized he’d seen me come, and I’d seen him do the same. He’d moved the curtain. Holy shit. His dick was huge. Holy shit. Now I was horny all over again. Fuck.

*** The note on my car, before I left for work, had me blushing so hard that I felt lightheaded. ‘WAS IT AS GOOD FOR YOU AS IT WAS FOR ME?—LOKI’. The handwriting was in all caps, and had a slight lean to the right, and I knew instantly whom it was from. My neighbor. Loki. At least I had his name now. Loki...the biker. The very big, scary biker who belonged to a biker gang. When those bikers had pulled up that day, four months ago, in their black leather, riding those massive bikes, my breath froze in my chest. They were all massive and scary looking, and the older one, the one with the goatee down to his chest, was quite intimidating. Especially when his eyes moved to me, pinning me in place as he surveyed me. The only reason he’d finally moved his eyes away from me was to turn to the man, Loki, who’d come running out of his house in a freakin’ towel. He’d yelled that he’d be right out, and then turned, except he stopped in his tracks when he saw me checking out his luscious body. I knew he had a great body hiding under those ratty clothes, but holy shit. Over the past few months, I had a plethora of Jill Till images of him in my mind that I thought about whenever I needed release. In fact, my Jill Till was so freaking full of him all hot and sweaty that I thought I couldn’t possibly add any more to it. Then last night, I’d seen even more of that delicious body, and I realized that I wanted him so bad that it literally hurt. Which led me to this morning and the note. My phone jingled as I balanced my bag, and drink, so I sat it all on top of my car to answer it before dropping down inside. “Hello?” I answered as I started my car. “Chan? Hey, do you want to go get our nails done?” Brittany asked. Today was Brittany’s only day off.

However, it was Saturday, and I had to work at my second job with The Bayou Funeral Home. Normally, I wouldn’t go out this early, but I’d gotten a call from Ray Platt, the manager, asking if I could work in the ‘parlor’ as he liked to call it. Really, it was just a glorified receptionist, but still, someone had to do it, and he’d promised me a bonus. A bonus I needed to pay my part for the foundation to be fixed. Especially now that it was affecting my being able to close and lock the doors. Ordinarily, I shouldn’t have to mess with something like a foundation since I’m renting, but the door not shutting was making me nervous. The landlord told me I would have to kick in some cash if I wanted it done. I hadn’t been able to lock my back door in over a week because I couldn’t get it closed all the way. Luckily my brother was there, even though he’d lost his job and hadn’t been able to pay rent in over a month now. The rent was more reasonable than anywhere else in the area and I could afford it on my own. “I’m sorry, Brit. I have to go to work at The Bayou today. They needed me to stand in for Stephanie. Again. I could probably be considered full time in that position now with how much I’ve had to do it lately.” As I spoke, I backed out of the driveway and started to drive away when a yell stopped me in my tracks. Pressing my foot gently on the brake, I looked up to see my neighbor running towards me. At least I thought it was my neighbor, but where yesterday his hair was long and shaggy, today it was short and spiky. Making him look absolutely gorgeous. “Jesus Christ...” I said to no one in particular. “What...what?” Brittany yelled into my ear. I ignored her though and instead cranked the window down keeping the phone wedged in between my face and shoulder. “Y-yes?” I asked as he placed one hand on the top of my car, and the other on top of my door. Then he leaned in and asked, “Did you want this stuff on top of your car?” I looked up, as if I could see through the roof, and groaned. “Yes. Yes I did.” He smiled wide, showing me straight white teeth, and handed me my bag and drink. “Thank you,” I said huskily. His eyes fastened onto my mouth, and then leaned in, kissing me softly on the lips. “You’re welcome.” Then he was gone, leaving me panting behind him.

“Holy shit,” I exclaimed. “WHAT?” Brittany yelled into my ear. She was squealing right along with me as I told her what happened. “Oh, we are definitely discussing this tomorrow,” she snapped. “I’ll bring the coffee this time.” I drove to work in a daze, totally out of it. That man’s lips were deadly.

*** Of course, I would have to deal with a grieving family. Fucking Ray. All he did was see a pretty girl and he had to jump on her the moment she showed up. Although it was convenient, since the woman seemed to make the crying man’s weeping become harder. I hated this part, dealing with a man who was so broken up about his daughter’s death. To make it worse, their daughter was burned alive, which the man made sure to point out to me numerous times. The man’s wife just sat there in shock. She didn’t speak or cry; just sat there and stared blankly into space. Controlling my shiver, I bid them to take a seat as I watched the woman and Mr. Platt walk back into the back. I didn’t understand what was going on, and why those two couldn’t go with them, but it really was none of my business.

I was paid to guide them to where they needed to go, and show them around. Not be their psychiatrist. I was a hairdresser. Normally that would make me a confidant of sorts, but that was my failure in life. I hated dealing with people. I was awkward and socially unkempt. I didn’t want to deal with their petty problems, because I had enough problems on my own. When I was in my senior year in high school, people liked to call me Queen Bitch. They always said that I thought I was too good for them, when, in reality, I was barely hanging on to my crumbling family. Taking care of my own problems came first, which normally put me in the ‘bitch’ category. “Can you bring me something to drink?” The weeping man asked. Just as I was about to comply, a biker walked in the door, and my breath stalled in my lungs. He was wearing the same type of vest that I’d seen on the men that pulled into my neighbor’s driveway several months ago. Did he know my neighbor? Then his thunderous expression made me take a step back, and swallow convulsively at the contempt on his face. Thank God it wasn’t leveled on me, because I probably wouldn’t have been able to stand against his ire. “My sister, Shannon Spada, is being buried two days from now,” the giant said.

“Of course, what can I help you with?” I asked. The giant also had a Mohawk, and my eyes kept straying from his thunderous expression to the couple in the corner. Didn’t Mr. Platt just take that woman back for the same reason? “Name’s Tiago Spada, I’m here to checkout some of the rooms, get some things ironed out before the viewing of my sister in a couple of days,” he snapped. Looking at my paper for the name of the sister, I found her, and the name Tiago Spada next to it. As well as the woman who’d just gone back with Ray. Adeline Spada. Hmmm. My eyes widened. “Of course, I’ll be glad to show you the way,” I said as I turned quickly. My eyes went wide as man after man poured through the door, but I didn’t comment on it. Hopefully ignoring them was the way to go. He nodded, but didn’t answer. Looking at the weeping man in the corner, I felt horrible that this family couldn’t come together for their dead loved one, but I was not one to judge. My family wasn’t all shits and giggles either. “O-okay, follow me,” I stuttered as I led him past the weeping people in the corner. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the killing glare he turned on who must be his parents, and I barely contained a shiver. Doing my best to ignore the intimidating man at my back, I led him down the hallway and started my usual chatter about the funeral home, and what the company’s goal was. When we finally made it to the first viewing room, I was extremely relieved to find that the other fifteen men didn’t follow us. “Do you have any special requests on what you’d like to see?” I asked him. “Actually, I’d like to see the very back room. We have a lot of people coming, and I’d like as much privacy as possible,” He said. So it went. I showed him what he wanted, and he asked questions. Then the officer and his dog showed, freezing me in my tracks. My lungs froze in my throat, and I about had a panic attack on the spot. It didn’t help, either, that the dog was going nuts, barking and straining at the officer’s hold. Everything seemed to dim out, and I stared in horror at the man and his dog.

“How do you get to the back?” The police officer all but snarled at me. I started at the question, stepping back until my back hit the podium and I could go no further. With a shaky hand, I held up my finger and pointed towards a door that was partially covered by a long curtain at the back of the room. The man’s big arms strained to hold the dog back, and finally, he let the dog go. The dog dashed off, shooting like an arrow towards the door, only to come to a stop with barely restrained violence. I watched it all in a fog. What the hell was going on? When the K-9 officer arrived at the door, he cursed and bellowed at me. But my eyes and mind were no longer on the man yelling at me, but on the man who’d just entered the room. He was wearing his badge on his left hip and his semiautomatic Colt .45 on his other. He had a black polo shirt tucked into his jeans, and black sunglasses sitting on top of his head. His eyes were all for the dog though, completely disregarding me. I was going to be sick. My neighbor was a cop. “Ma’am,” the K-9 officer snapped at me. “Come open this door.” His demanding voice brought me out of the sinking hole of seeing the one person that I’d felt attracted to in years was a cop. Exactly like the one who’d nearly raped me. My God, but he was even dressed the same. Walking quickly to the man and holding my breath, I punched in the code to get to the back room and backed away quickly. Placing my back against the wall and pushing as far into the corner as I could to get, I deep breathed, hoping to hold off the panic attack that I could feel rushing me. I wasn’t successful. It consumed me. Dropping down to my knees, I hunched my body over on itself and rocked back and forth, but I was too far gone. The panic attack and memories had me now.

*** Ten years ago “Oh, my God. I’m going to be in so much trouble,” I groaned under my breath. I watched as the officer approached my car with strong confidant strides. He was dressed in jeans, and a black t-shirt. He had his gun on one hip, and his badge on the other. The bad thing was that not only was I speeding, but I was also out past the curfew that the city put on all new drivers ages sixteen to eighteen. I had to be in by ten on weekdays and eleven on weekends; it was now two forty in the morning. Things were not looking up. When he finally approached my passenger side door, I rolled the window down and looked at his scary face. He didn’t really look like a cop, but who was I to say what a cop should look like? Although, I was fairly certain that unkempt beards were not on the list under professional. “License and insurance,” the cop demanded sharply. Handing him over the papers, I waited for him to walk back to the car, but he didn’t. Instead, he stayed stooped down, staring at me. “Step out of the car please. Have you been drinking?” He asked suspiciously. Startled, I released the latch on my door and stood, walking to the back of the car. He didn’t stop at the back of my car, though; he stopped at the back of his. “Come over here and stand at the back of the car. Don’t move,” he instructed. It was then that the scary factor started to kick in. I was on a side street that ran beside the high school with no lights, and a police officer who wasn’t in uniform was way too close to me for comfort. Did everyone have to step out of the car as I did? What was he going to make me do? Thoughts flitted through my head at a mile a minute, and when he started to walk closer to me, my uncertainty became a full fledge panic. “I’m n-not comfortable being this close to you.” I stuttered. He smiled at me. The only thing I was able to see were the whites of his eyes and his sparkling

white teeth. Which was why I was able to see the evil grin that overtook his face just before he grabbed me by the waist and sat me on the hood of his car. “It’s okay, darling,” he said. “I’ll take really good care of you.” When I started to struggle, his superior strength easily overtook any pitiful strength of mine. He proceeded to wedge his body in between my legs. “Are you aware of how fast you were going?” When I didn’t reply, he put his hand around my wrist and broke it. Just that easy. One quick squeeze and it snapped like a dry piece of spaghetti in his big hand. That was when I screamed. The pain was excruciating. So excruciating that I had my pants down around my ankles before I even registered he was trying to remove them. True panic set in, and I started fighting with everything I had. I kicked, punched, scratched and screamed my sixteen year old heart out. He held me pinned against the trunk, unable to do anything but hold me down with his body as the fight slowly drained out of me. Exhaustion hit, and I knew...

*** Loki When my neighbor dropped down to her knees in the corner of the room, I knew something terrible was wrong. Something more than what was going on around us. “Hey, honey. You’re okay. Shhh, snap out of it. You’re safe,” I said soothingly to my little next-door neighbor. What the fuck was she doing here? “Back away from her, Rector. She’s afraid of cops. Deathly afraid,” The Chief said as he walked towards us. I’d gathered that over the past four months of living beside her. I remembered her offhanded comments about cops. Yeah, nobody wants a cop here, she’d said. Then the way she acted the one time I had a patrol comb through the neighborhood on the pretenses of searching for a young child. As soon as she’d seen the cop car, she’d bolted inside and locked the door. At the time, it’d made me suspicious, but now it was all making a sick sort of sense. Reluctantly, I backed away until I was standing beside my boss. “What happened to her?” I asked, helplessness prominent in my voice. She rocked back and forth, but when the distance between me and her widened, her keening had dropped to small pitiful moans. “From what I’ve gathered from my wife, she was the victim of a rapist who posed as a cop. Been that way ever since,” he said grimly. My eyes closed in pain. “And she lived on the block with that fucking douchebag all this time?” Cabe’s face swiveled towards me, and his jaw was clenched tight. “Yes. Why do you think I gave you that house in the first place?” “I thought it was to get me in the same neighborhood as Varian?” I asked in surprise. He smiled grimly. “Two birds. One stone. My wife also made me promise I’d put my best man on her. That was the only way she wasn’t telling her.” I shook my head. “How could you not tell me this? How’d your wife find out?” I asked.

“I left my report on the kitchen table. Hell, I didn’t even know Channing was in that neighborhood until my wife started freaking out that a suspected rapist was living down the street from her best friend. I didn’t tell you for the same reason you didn’t run any backgrounds on her. You didn’t want to know, remember?” He asked with a raised brow. I threw my hands in the air. “Yes, but I’ve gotten...close to her in the last four months. Had I known...” Cabe interrupted me. “Had you known, you wouldn’t have done a thing different and you know it. You’re serving the warrant in a few hours, aren’t you?” I nodded. “Yes, after he gets off from work I’ll be on the team to serve the warrant.” “Cabe? Loki?” A soft, hesitant voice said from in front of us, pulling our eyes from one another to the woman, Channing, still huddled in on herself in the corner. Her eyes looked wild as she took in the crew behind us collecting evidence, as well as the five cops gathered at the door to the room waiting for the okay to come in from the evidence techs. “You okay, darlin’?” Cabe asked her. For some odd reason, the question set my teeth to grinding. Rage started to swell in my chest at the Chief’s evident closeness to her. However, I tamped it down, knowing it had no place right now. No one would benefit from my attitude right now, and I knew that. So I tamped it down, viciously stopping my snarl of outrage that was about to pour out of my throat. Her eyes looked warily at me, then my badge; I knew when I wasn’t wanted. Giving her a curt nod, I left, even though every cell in my body was telling me not to.

Chapter 5 I guarantee I will fill your life with copious amounts of sexual frustration. -Life lesson Channing “What’s that sound?” My brother asked from his usual seat in the recliner. I’d thought it was just the game he was playing that was making all that noise, but then he asked what the sound was, which made me get up and investigate. Walking to the front window, I took a pull of my beer before flicking the blinds open with two fingers. What I found was our entire street engulfed in police officers, sheriffs, and even an ambulance and fire truck, about five houses back. Surprisingly, all of it was centered on Varian Strong’s house, two houses down and across the street from my own. There were men dressed in black tactical gear with these massive, rifles held out in front of them. The back of their shirts said SWAT in bold white lettering, and I felt my throat start to close. Knowing if I didn’t get my head together, that I’d wind up in another thirty-minute mental breakdown, I turned around and grabbed my bottle of Jack Daniels. I didn’t even bother with the glass; I just drank straight from the bottle. The burn going down my throat felt like fire, but I kept chugging until I couldn’t any longer. Gasping for air to cool the out of control inferno in my throat and to replenish the oxygen in my lungs, I turned back to the window and started to watch. The Jack Daniels coursing through my veins gave me courage, which allowed me to go out on my front porch and sit in my rocking chair to watch the activity. I watched as seven black clad men entered the premises. What in the world was going on? When I came to this town, it was because it was quiet, and had a small population. Yet, over the past year, there’d been multiple apartment fires, rapes, and then this. Was I in the Twilight Zone or something? The next couple of minutes were a blur as a flurry of activity started to overtake the small house. Four large bangs preceded the men, breaching the door with them pushing inside the house, which caused me to laugh.

They reminded me of the Three Stooges, all trying to fit through the door at once. Somehow they’d gotten their wires crossed, and two men got caught up on each other as they’d tried to enter. There was a little bit of fighting to see who got in next, but finally the man on the left, the one in the black BPD shirt, rather than the SWAT shirts, won. Only because he decked the guy on the right that was also in a BPD shirt, with a large elbow to the face. I really, really wished I could hear what they were saying. Minutes ticked by as I waited to see what would happen, and finally they started to exit the house, dragging Varian’s limp body out by the elbows and threw him bodily into a police car. Nearly an hour of the hot afternoon passed by before the form that I’d been unconsciously searching for made his way back to his house after everybody started to disperse. He walked sedately across the street. He had his helmet in one hand, and his Kevlar vest that he’d been wearing in the other, as he walked across the street with his head hung. The cop car carrying Varian honked, making Loki turn his head and glare at the man that was driving the car. “Was that you who fought with the other officer to get in the door?” I yelled. My face flamed as I realized what I’d said, and I slunk down into my seat a little lower just in case he turned that same glare on me that he’d just leveled at the police car. “Yeah,” he growled loudly. “Fucker’s always trying to one up me. Oram’s going to get one of us killed some day.” “Want to come sit?” I asked as a flare of courage sparked through me. He looked tired. And alone. And I didn’t like it. Slowly, he walked from the road, through my yard, and came to a stop at the bottom of the steps. My house was pier and beam, and it sat a few feet off the ground with three steps leading up to the porch. I was sitting on the porch swing with one leg up, and one leg down, pushing myself softly. “Hey,” he said carefully. He was stopped a good ten feet away and watching me warily, giving me the chance to tell him to go away. I didn’t want him to go away.

I had enough Jack Daniel’s courage running through my veins that I wanted him there, and I didn’t care that he still had his gun at his hip, or his shiny badge hanging around his neck. “Have a seat,” I said. It came out sounding way more husky than I’d intended, but it was what it was. I wanted him there, and my body couldn’t help but show that. God, he was so hot. He looked so good with short hair. The long hair was sexy and all, but this short hair brought the attention to his eyes. Made them almost pop. “What’s all that over there?” I said with a wave of my hand in the direction of Varian’s house. Loki took a seat “Varian Strong is being arrested for the rapes that have been going on around the county. He was installing their security systems, and then coming back months, even years, later and bypassing them to get in their houses,” he said quietly. “Holy shit,” I gasped as my eyes went wide. He nodded solemnly. “Yes. I’ve spent the last four months undercover getting evidence on him. He’s a sick fucker. And an asshole to work for, FYI,” he said grimly. I shook my head. Holy shit, I was living next to a rapist all this time! And I only thought the cops were bad. Jesus Christ. “I didn’t know Benton had a SWAT team,” I said offhandedly. “That’s Shreveport SWAT. Benton doesn’t have a swat team. Normally we would’ve just issued the warrant and gone in ourselves, but we only have twenty men on Benton’s force, and Varian is known to be dangerous. I didn’t want to take any chances with him,” Loki said softly. “I can’t believe he’s been in this neighborhood all this time and I never had a clue! The man gave me the creeps, but what the hell? And you...” I said narrowing my eyes at him. “You could’ve warned me or something. Told me to stay inside. God, anything. I slept with my window open for God’s sake!” He rolled his eyes.

“Why do you think I always had my window open? And don’t think I didn’t notice that cannon on your nightstand. If anyone were to come through that window, you’d have shot them,” he scoffed. I blushed even thinking about his open window. “Do you really live here?” I asked, as I nodded my head in the direction of his house. He shook his head. “No and yes. My boss owns it. You know Cabe, right?” He asked. “What? They own that house too?” I gasped. I’d known that they owned the house across the street, just to the right of Varian’s house, but I had no clue they owned Loki’s house as well. “Yep. They had an opening, and lucky us that Varian set up shop across the street. The only thing better would’ve been if the house beside his had been available for rent rather than that one,” he said as he eyed the bottle of Jack in my hands. “Can I have a drink of that?” I looked down at the bottle, then up at him, and offered it to him carefully. “Sure.” He took the bottle from my hands, and his fingertips brushed mine, making me gasp. Watching me all the while, he set the bottle against his lips, and started to suck the liquid down like it was a bottle of water. His Adam’s apple worked with each swallow, and a droplet of sweat dripped from his chin down his exposed throat. My heart started to pound. Slow, thudding beats that made the sexual need in my veins start pumping throughout my body. My eyelids drooped, and I swallowed thickly. I was drunk. There was no other logical explanation for the way my brain wasn’t filtering the things that were coming out of my mouth. Because the next thing I knew, words started pouring out of my mouth. “God, I want you,” I blurted. He let the bottle release from his mouth. He licked a stray droplet of Jack that was on his lips, and I launched myself at him. I swear, if I hadn’t had so much Jack, I would’ve never done this. I wasn’t this girl. I’ve only had sex with three men, and each of those men were of my choosing. I was on top. I was in control. And I left afterwards.

I had a feeling Loki wouldn’t let me do any of those things, especially have control. I really could care less, though. I wanted the man. I’d been lusting after him for four months now, and I couldn’t take it anymore. “Oomph,” he said, as my body barreled into his. My momentum pushed him backwards until his back was resting against the wood of the porch, and my legs straddled his hips. His hand went into my hair and yanked me down to his lips. I moaned, opening my mouth to his seeking tongue, which swept inside when I gave him his opening. His tongue ran along my own, coaxing it, urging me on. I obliged, sucking his tongue, curling my own around his and pulling on it like I would the head of his cock, causing him to groan. The hands on my hair got tighter, and suddenly I found myself on my back with his hips wedged in between my own. Something hard poked me in the thigh, bringing my attention from the need to the feeling of pain. “Your gun,” I said in between kisses. “It’s poking me in the thigh. It hurts.” He laughed darkly against my lips. “Oh, honey. That’s not my gun.” Then I was up and over his shoulder, and he was pushing his way through my front door. “Which way to your room?” He growled. He already knew the answer to that, obviously, but he was being polite all the same. My head turned and I saw the back of my brother’s head with his headphones covering his head. “Back of the house. Very back bedroom.” He was already headed in the direction; the house was small, so it was only a few more short steps and he was in my room with me. Instead of tossing me down on the bed like I’d expected, he hunched his shoulders, allowing my body to slide sensually against his. I came to a stop when I was face to face with him. His hands were cupping my ass, holding me off the ground just by his upper body strength alone, and it was revving my engine big time.

What kind of strength did it take to hold a girl off the ground by at least four inches? I wasn’t a small girl, either. I enjoyed my Little Debbie’s and donuts too much. Sure, I ran; but that was no substitute for eating right, and I sure as hell didn’t. I was allergic to every vegetable besides potatoes; okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a tad, but I sure as hell didn’t like them. And here he was, holding my one hundred and fifty pounds off the floor like it weighed little less than a sack of grain. His eyes were filled with lust and excitement, but in the depths of those pale baby blues was concern and wariness. He was scared of what my reaction to him would be. I was giving all the ‘fuck me’ signals right now, and he was afraid that if he pushed, I would freak. However, he couldn’t be more wrong. I wanted him more than I wanted my next cup of coffee. More than I wanted the chocolate fudge cookies sitting on my kitchen counter. More than I didn’t want him and that was saying something. Cops, as a whole, were a no-no for me, but my mind, as I said, wasn’t working right today. Sure, tomorrow I’d probably have my freak out...but right now, I just wanted him more than my next breath. “Yes,” I answered his unspoken question. With that cleared up, he started ripping my clothes off. First, my shirt was yanked over my head; then my spandex capri pants were yanked down my legs, along with my underwear. Then my bra was yanked roughly down, and I was pushed backwards on the bed. “I’ve wanted to lick this pretty pussy since I saw it last night. Jesus Christ, you sure do know how to tease,” he growled against my stomach. Then he descended, and rocked my world. His talented tongue was put to use once again as he dove straight for gold. He shoved his stiffened tongue into my wet center, allowing his nose to work the swollen nub of my clit. My hands clawed desperately for something to hold on to. They found not his hair, but the chain

around his neck, and I pulled. He growled. The sound vibrating up my sensitive folds to center along the hyper sensitized bud, and I started climbing. Sensing my need, he snaked his hands up the inside of my thighs. One held the lips of my sex open, while the other went to my entrance, and two fingers lodged deeply inside of me, making my body arch. A scream lodged in my throat, and my body bowed. There was something so sexy about him. He was so utterly focused on me, keeping his mouth firmly occupied with my flesh, instead of talking in general. I found it wholly captivating. Loki’s attention to detail was exquisite. My hips ground against his thrusting fingers, and I worked my hips in time with his thrusts. Two fingers turned to three, and my release hit me like a 900-pound hammer. It slammed into me so hard that I physically jolted, causing his fingers to enter me so hard that I screamed in pleasure. My core clamped down on those fingers, and I gasped for air as the orgasm tore through me, obliterating every single goddamned wall I’d ever put up to protect myself. “God,” Loki said. I opened my eyes, unaware that I’d even closed them, and gasped once again at the look in his eyes. His fingers slipped from my pussy with a wet sound, and he lifted them to his mouth, licking every one clean. Individually. Slowly. I moaned. Then he started stripping his clothes. First his shirt, then his belt. His belt hit the bedside table with a thump, and I froze at the sound of his heavy gun hitting the wood of the table. But he quickly recaptured my attention when he started unbuttoning his black pants before letting them fall to the ground. He wasn’t wearing underwear. Or if he was, he took them off at the same time, because as soon as his dick cleared the confines, he sprung free.

His dick was large, thick, and pulsating. The crown was thick and purple, and the shaft was a ruddy red with thick, pulsing veins running up the length. It looked mean and angry, and I longed to get my lips around it. He, on the other hand, had other ideas. With a quick flick, he opened his wallet, stuck his finger in between the folds, and removed a black foiled packet, which he tore open with his teeth. He blew the piece of foil he’d ripped off the package away with a quick breath, and used his nimble fingers to remove the circle of latex from its sheath. Quickly, he rolled it on in jerky, stiff movements. He had to stop and start over twice as he looked at me, but my eyes were all for his big dick. Finally getting it on correctly, he stalked towards the bed, and crawled up between my thighs, giving me most of his weight. His neck was at my eye level, and his cock was lined up with my wet slit. He rocked back and forth slowly, allowing the length of him to become coated in my juices. Moving my eyes from the thin white line around his neck to his eyes, I found them staring at me in question. With a nod of my head, he withdrew until the meaty head of his cock was lined up with my entrance. With a slow push, he started entering me. Once he got an inch in, he slowly pulled back and then started forging forward again. He repeated this four more times until he was seated fully inside of me. The large globes of his balls were snuggled up tight against my ass and his thick cock had me so filled that I didn’t know where I started and he began. “You fill me up,” I whispered against his neck. My lips met the raised line of his scar, and I snuck my tongue out and traced the line with the wet heat of it. He growled savagely before pulling out fully, and then slamming back inside. It was like his nice switch was flipped, and all he had left was the savage beast that had absolutely no control. He was only there for one thing and one thing only.

Fucking. He fucked me into the wall, literally. In fact, he filled me in ways that usually required batteries. And I l fucking loved it. With each thrust of his hips, I moved inches at a time up the bed until I was so far up that he grabbed me by the hips and pinned me against the wall. My back hit the cool drywall with a thump, and I wrapped my legs around him and took his cock, relishing in the roughness that I’d never once experienced before. It was perfect. Everything I never knew I wanted. He grunted with each snap of his hips, but he wasn’t a talker. He was a doer, and I was okay with that. Grabbing a hold of his badge, which incidentally was still around his neck, I pulled him forward until his mouth crashed against mine. His tongue thrust into my mouth in the same rhythm his cock took my pussy. Hard and fast. Punishing. At one point, I could no longer take not breathing anymore and I threw my head back, disengaging our mouths. “Come with me,” he panted as he changed the cant of his hips. Now, it was rubbing against that secret place inside of me that no one had ever found before, and I was lost. My eyes squeezed shut tightly and the moan that was in my throat bubbled out in a strangled scream as my pussy clamped down on his cock. I came. Hard. Starbursts clouded my vision as shocks ran down my spine. My orgasm triggered Loki’s, and he started thrusting inside of me frantically. Long, deep, hard pushes that pinned me to the wall, and prolonged my orgasm. With three long grunts, he froze, tossed his head back, and came, too. It was mesmerizing to watch. His head was tossed back, allowing the cords of his neck to strain. Veins popped out on his arms, neck, and chest.

The sweat that was dripping off his chest became my own, as he dropped his elbows onto the wall on either side of my head. Which also pushed his cock deep inside of me, causing another burst of pleasure to tear through me. “Oh, God,” I whispered against his hair. He grunted, and lifted his head up until he was looking into my eyes. “I’ve dreamt of that. But my dreams couldn’t compare. Not even close,” he admitted softly, before giving me a chaste kiss on the lips. When his half hard cock slipped from my heat, I felt bereft, and I instantly wanted him back inside me. His mouth close gently over mine before he let my legs go, then slowly lowered me to the bed. My knees hit, and he slowly backed away until he was standing. He looked around, noticing that I didn’t have a master bath, and grimaced. “You can put the condom in the waist paper basket right there,” I indicated with my finger the small mesh bucket in the corner of the room. His hands went down to his cock, and he pulled the condom off carefully before tying it off and dropping the condom in the basket before turning back to me. “I’d like to stay with you, but my dog’s been cooped up inside for three quarters of the day. You wanna come over and let him out with me, and then stay at my place?” He asked hopefully. I opened my mouth, but I was interrupted by my big-mouthed brother yelling. “Hey,” Andrew yelled. “The back door won’t shut and the water’s leaking in again.” My eyes closed and opened again. Now that he’d mentioned it, I now heard the rain that was raging down around us. Storms never went unnoticed by me; ever since my mother’s death, I had a hard time staying calm during a storm unless I was distracting myself. Loki’s distraction was perfect. So perfect that I hadn’t even heard it start, and it was a doozy. “You wanna go out my window?” I laughed. A smile lit up his face. “Yeah, actually I do. My door’s unlocked and it’s less of a run from here to there rather than my front window to yours.” Walking to my window, I lifted it up and swept my arm in a Vanna White gesture. He grinned devilishly, gathered up his belongings, and backed me up until I was against the wall. In a

very familiar position. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said against my lips. My heart fluttered in my chest, and hope started taking root in my brain. “Okay,” I said softly. “Sleep tight,” he said before giving me another kiss. “You, too.” “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” he teased, before disappearing out of my window, and then diving into his own. “Goodnight, handsome!” I yelled.

*** The next night I was surprised to find my room not empty. It was filled with a man in jeans, boots, and a leather biker vest that had a scary woman on it. Loki was laying on his stomach with my pillow in a ball under his head. My owl pillow that I slept with curled in my arms was pressed to his chest by one arm, and he had his face buried in the softness. “Hey,” I whispered. It was three in the morning, and I’d just gotten off from work. I’d thought about him all day, and I couldn’t express how freakin’ happy I was to find him in my room after he’d been a no show this morning and afternoon. His eyes lifted, and he stared at me blearily. “Come ‘ere,” he said huskily. Stripping off my clothes that smelled like embalming fluid, I crawled into bed in only my panties and bra. He opened his arms for me, and I curled into his embrace, sinking into his warmth. “I need to talk to you,” he said quietly. My head turned, and I watched him with concerned eyes. “What is it?” “I never meant for this to happen,” he said roughly. I froze before I pushed on his chest to get away from him. He tightened his arms on me. “Shhh,” he said. “Sit still for a minute, please.” I calmed, but only barely. “I told you last night that I was in the middle of an investigation. But I wanted to let you know that, starting in the morning, I won’t be able to be seen with you.” His words froze the air in my lungs, and tears pricked my eyes. “If you didn’t want me, then why did you fuck me last night?” I snarled, pushing against his chest again. “Stop it,” he snapped back, freezing my protests.

I stopped, and looked up into his eyes. They were filled with worry and despair. “What is it?” I asked. “I have to give my testimony at Varian Strong’s trial. And until I do that, I want you to understand why I’m staying away from you,” he said softly, pulling me closer into his chest. I laid my head down against the cool leather of his vest and waited for him to continue explaining. He didn’t disappoint. “He has some powerful friends. Friends that I don’t want you mixed up with. If he thinks he can stop me from testifying, he’ll use everything and anything in his power to do it,” he said jaggedly. “Okay,” I agreed. “For how long?” Did I sound needy? Before last night, I hadn’t believed in love, but over the past few months, I’d certainly fallen off that wagon. I was hopelessly in love with this man. He’d mowed my lawn, saved me from an asthma attack, and I had a sneaking suspicion he’d been the one to replace the exhaust in my car, but I hadn’t been able to prove it. He’d talked with me, watched me, allowed me to watch him, and had been a very charming man. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but all it took was the threat of losing him to make me realize what was being taken from me. “I’ll still live next door. Still visit you in the night when I can. But any other time, I’m going to act like I don’t know you. It’s only for two months,” he said. He sounded like he was trying to convince himself, as well as me, and he wasn’t doing a good job with either. “Okay,” I said brokenly. “I promise, I’ll come back,” he said gruffly. “Okay,” was all I could think to say. “Don’t give up on me,” he demanded as he took a hold of my face. I blinked slowly, and then nodded. “I’ll try.” “You will.”

“I will,” I lied. Sadly, after that night, I didn’t see much more of Loki other than the random night here and there. Which only goes to show that I shouldn’t trust a cop...right?

Chapter 6 Beards. Good for more than just decoration. -T-shirt Channing Present time “Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look so good.” Brittany asked me. I shrugged, unwilling to admit that I’d been fighting a losing battle for the past three months. Especially not to her since she was so goddamned worried about me. In fact, it’d gotten so bad that I rarely got more than three hours of sleep at night. I don’t know what the big deal was. I didn’t even know Loki all that well. Officer Bryce “Loki” Rector wasn’t even a part of my life before he was back out of it again. However, I couldn’t seem to let go. I couldn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t sleep because of my worsening nightmares, and I could barely afford my rent payment. All of those things were starting to compound, and I really just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. And I really didn’t want to talk about it. I knew she was worried about me, but I had to watch out for myself first, and breaking down in public wasn’t a good thing. At least not from my perspective. She wouldn’t wait much longer, either. She’d been more and more persistent lately, and I knew it was a matter of time before she finally got me drunk enough to talk. “It was him, wasn’t it?” She asked softly. “He’s the one that made you like this. Did he hurt you, Chan? Did he do something...bad to you?” My back straightened and I stared at her wide-eyed. “What are you talking about? The man never laid a finger on me! What would make you think that?” “Oh, thank God. I’ve been working up the courage to ask you that for weeks now.” She sighed. “What are you getting for lunch?” I shook my head and looked at the menu. We were eating lunch at Applebee’s to celebrate Brittany’s twelfth 40th birthday. Amazing how she’s managed to stay 40 for all these years. “I think I’ll have the...” she stopped when her phone started vibrating on the table in front of us. Reaching forward, she answered it and put it to her ear while I continued to peruse my menu.

I decided on honey-grilled chicken when the alarm in Brittany’s voice made me look up and study her face. The lines around her face had hardened into a thin line, and she was scowling at the tabletop like it’d done her a horrible injustice. “No, honey. I’ll be there in a couple of hours. Try to calm down. I know baby.” She sighed. “Daddy won’t care that you wrecked your car. All he’ll care about is that you’re alive to bitch about it. Yes, baby. I’ll meet you at the college. I love you.” When she hung up, I stared at her in expectation. “What happened?” She sighed and started gathering her things. “JJ got in an accident. It wasn’t her fault, but her car’s totaled and my husband’s in a meeting with the commissioner all afternoon. I have to go. Thank you for offering to buy me lunch. I’ll have to take a rain check.” “Of course, Brit. I’ll treat you to lunch next week, okay?” I offered. She smiled at me gratefully before giving me a half hug and walking out of the door. I stared after her with a growing sadness growing inside of me. God, what I wouldn’t give to have someone need me like that. To have someone to call if I ever needed anything. Sure, I had Brittany...but she wasn’t family. She wasn’t my lover. She wasn’t my blood. She was my best friend with a life of her own. “Can I get you anything to eat, ma’am?” The waiter asked. I looked at the menu and made a quick decision. “Yes, I’ll have the honey grilled chicken. I want mashed potatoes and asparagus, please.” He nodded as I placed my order and left. I stared out the window at the passing traffic and wondered what the hell I’d do the rest of the day. I’d taken off from my second job, which was now in an actual salon instead of at the shady funeral home that funneled drugs in their coffins. I’d stopped going to school, and to top it off, I was behind on nearly every one of my bills since my brother up and left, taking his half of the rent (when he paid, that was) with him. It didn’t surprise me in the least that my bosses, Gustavo Amadeus and Ray Platt, were criminals, either. I’d read about the secret drug transporting business that Gustavo ran. About how he’d transported

drugs in return for money by using coffins and hearses. I still couldn’t believe all the stuff I’d been so oblivious to; everything that I’d had a sixth sense about ever since I’d started working there. They’d always given me the creeps, and it just goes to show that I should always trust my instincts. Not that those instincts had worked in time to warn me that Loki was a cop. The one man I let myself start to have feelings for was also the one to destroy me. God, I was such an idiot. “Hi there, Detective Rector, how are you today?” The chirpy hostess asked from her position at the stand. I was sitting at the very corner booth closest to the door, and all that I had to do was raise my eyes up a fraction of an inch to find myself staring into the pale baby blues of the object of my affection. The waitress’ smile was warm and friendly, but I knew for a fact the answering one wasn’t really a smile, but more of a grimace trying to be a smile. He looked good. His hair was just as short as the last time I’d seen him, and he’d put on a lot more weight. No longer was he skinny. Now he was what I’d like to call buff. His attire was much the same as the last time I’d seen him, too. Crisp blue jeans, black polo with the letters BPD embroidered above the breast, and a pair of black motorcycle boots. Oh, and a woman on his arm.

*** Loki “Thank you for taking me to lunch. I didn’t want to keep you any more than I already have,” Dortea, the new district attorney, said apologetically. I smiled at her, but otherwise didn’t say anything else. This would be our last meeting before I took the stand on Monday, and I couldn’t be any more excited about it. It’d been three fucked up months waiting for the trial to take place. I was so ready to get this over with that I couldn’t see straight. My life had been on hold for, what felt like, a year. I had a constant headache for the past three months, and in the last two, it’d progressively gotten worse. Varian Strong had implemented every single scare tactic he could to get me not to testify short of actually offing me, which I was sure would only be a matter of time before he chose to try that. I’d been warned. I’d been sent threatening letters. I’d had my car and home vandalized. Threats had been delivered to the club. We’d arrested four of his workers who’d been acting on orders from him, and still he didn’t stop, despite every single one of his workers now sharing a cell next to his. That was inevitably what sent me to Florida for an extended stay. The death threats had progressed to actual assaults, and I didn’t want to put my club, my fellow officers, or Channing in danger. Which actually was a breath of fresh air not to be sleeping ten feet away from her every night. Plus, I got to visit with my mom and stepfather. If anything else, not seeing Channing was the one thing that hurt the most. I could handle car bombs and death threats all day long, but one look at the sorrow in Channing’s eyes every time I saw her but didn’t approach, absolutely gutted me. The look in her eyes, the accusation. As if I was being just like she’d expected me to be. “Table for two?” The host asked. “Yes, ma’am,” Dortea confirmed. “I need somewhere with a lot of light,” she said glancing around the dimmed bar area. “Preferably by those windows right there. Perhaps beside that young woman?” My head turned to examine the windows, first disregarding the beautiful woman sitting at the booth directly behind me, but as soon as my mind registered what it’d seen, my eyes flashed back to hers. They were swimming with tears, and she was staring at the TV above the bar with a grim determination that broke my heart.

God, this all was so unbelievably fucked up. I’d been using every tactic I’d learned in all my years of training to stay away from her. I knew what could happen to her if I started being seen with her in public. Varian’s cronies would see, and then they’d carry that information back to him. He’d then send out orders to do whatever necessary to affirm compliance on my part. And I would have. In a fuckin’ heartbeat. “Sure, that’s Melody’s section, and she’s on break, but I can definitely have Sean over there take your orders. Is that okay?” The young woman asked. At Dortea’s nod, she walked quickly around the half wall that separated the entrance from the seating area, and placed our menus on the table before leaving. We were seated directly across the aisle from Channing. And we were facing each other. She was doing everything in her power not to look in my direction, and I was doing everything in my power to turn my head away from her. We both lost. Our eyes connected, and I could see the desolation in her eyes, and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I hated that I made her feel like I’d used her and tossed her away, and I didn’t know what to do to fix it. Hell, I couldn’t fix it until after I’d testified. I was fucked if I did, and fucked harder if I didn’t. Either way, I was taking it up the ass, and who knew how long it would take until I was able to talk to her. I may be testifying on Monday, but that in no way meant I was free and clear. There might still be instances that I was needed to clarify something, or add something to my testimony. Channing’s head lowered in defeat just before she bolted for the bathroom. I stared after her for all of twenty seconds before excusing myself to the bathroom myself. I walked slowly in the direction of the bathrooms, but instead of going into the men’s, I went into the women’s, being sure to lock the door behind me. The sound of Channing hurling was the first thing to register with my senses, and I instantly knew I just couldn’t do it any longer. Walking slowly to the stall, I was relieved to find that she hadn’t found the time to lock it, and I pushed it open slowly, finding her squatting down beside the toilet with her hair hanging down surrounding her head.

Thankful that she’d chosen the handicapped bathroom, I squatted down behind her and gathered her hair in my hands. “Oh, Chan, I’m sorry,” I whispered. Her hiccupping sob caught me off guard, and my head dropped until it was resting on her shaking back. “Please,” I whispered brokenly. “Don’t cry. I’m not worth it.” I wasn’t used to girls crying. I didn’t have any girls in my life. I had a brother that was fifteen years older than I was, and a mom that refused to let anyone see her cry. The only women I’d seen cry, lately, were the wives of the members of the MC. When the first tear started to drop, I was walking in the opposite direction. I’d seen plenty of crying in my day as a cop, but when it hits me then, I have my cop face on. Right now, I had my me face on, and I couldn’t handle it. “It’s okay. I’m okay. I just ate something bad,” she lied. Badly. Leaning up, she pressed her weight into me, and I wrapped my hands around her waist. My hands sprawled against her abdomen, and curled around until my fingers went around her back. “Sure you did. Can you stand?” I asked, as I buried my head into her hair. She nodded, but neither one of us moved. “I’ve been getting death threats,” I said into her hair. I left out the getting the shit beat out of me part. She didn’t need to know that much detail. Her body froze, and she stood fast. My hands missed the reassuring weight of her body immediately, and I stood, too. She was staring at me wide-eyed. “Really?” She gasped. Then she was in my arms, and I held her while she cried all the harder. She’d put on weight over the past few months. In fact, so much so that her breasts were a lot more cushy, but I’d never, for the life of me, tell her that. We stayed that way until there was a knock on the bathroom door, and an annoyed woman on the other end. “You need to open this door. There’s a line of women out here waiting to get in.” Letting her go reluctantly, I walked out of the stall and opened the door to find a line of glaring women

standing with their arms crossed. “Sorry we had a breakdown.” Their annoyed faces immediately changed to understanding when they saw the woman still crying behind me. The toilet flushed, and the sink turned on as she washed her hands as I held the door open for the ladies who were most assuredly not pleased to find a man in the women’s bathroom, but still understanding. When I felt Channing at my back, I grabbed her hand and led her out of the bathroom. When we reached the end of the hallway, I stopped and pushed her against the wall. “Stay and listen to what Dortea has to say. She’s the DA. Eat your dinner, and wait up for me tonight. I’ll be over when you get off work, okay?” At her affirming nod, I let my hands slip from her face, and gave her a soft kiss on the lips before leaving her standing against the wall. I didn’t look back. I knew she’d follow. Now I only hoped she’d listen.

Chapter 7 I’m not weird. I’m a limited edition. -T-shirt Channing I walked into my house completely numb. Would he be there? Or would he not show. Forgoing the lights, I tossed my bag onto the couch and kicked off my shoes at the corner of the hallway. My money was on him not showing. I was afraid that if I let myself hope, that I’d be crushed just like the last time. Cautiously, I walked towards my bedroom. I was nearly there when a deep, resonating voice called out from behind me. “Your door is broken.” I squeaked and turned to find him behind me and staring at me accusingly. Or at least what I could see of him. Mostly, I could only make out his face and that he was wearing dark clothing. “Yes, I know it is. That’s why I had that foundation guy come out. My back door stopped closing over five months ago. Now I just have one of those hook and eye locks that you lock from the inside. He growled low in his throat. “Why didn’t you get the foundation fixed, then?” My back straightened and I glared at him. “Because I don’t have the money,” I snapped. His head tilted. “Well, what the hell is your brother doing? Can’t he help?” My eyes narrowed on him, and I stalked towards him with purposeful steps. With one pointy finger, I started to poke him in the chest. “First of all, my brother no longer lives here. Which you would know if you’d bothered coming around in the past long months. Secondly, I’m doing the best that I can. The foundation will come once I can afford to pay more than my bills. Thirdly, did I give you permission to walk through my house and snoop?” I could almost hear his teeth grinding together. “No, but I had to let Lucy out. What’d you want me to do, let him out the window when he needed to go?” My eyes narrowed on him. “You had some chick in my house?” I hadn’t meant it to come out quite so screechy, but there it was.

His mouth turned up in the corner, and I swung my elbow around, knocking him in the chest. He didn’t move. Not even a single millimeter, and that pissed me off even more. “Get out of my house if you’re going to make fun of me,” I snarled. I saw his hands come up in the darkness in a placating gesture. “Calm down. Lucy’s my dog. Lucifer. Lucy for short,” he told me. You know those times when someone tells you to calm down, and you calm down? Yeah, me neither. “You know what, fuck you. I’m not un-calm!” I yelled. His little lip tilt turned into a full-blown smile, and he started walking towards me. I, of course, started retreating. That is, until my back met the wall of the back hallway, and I could go no further. He didn’t stop, however. No, he kept coming until he’d pinned me to the wall in the same exact position that we’d ended up in months ago when I’d been drinking. His arms went on either side of my head, fists planted on the wall. He leaned down until he was nose to nose with me. “Then would you like to explain why you’re all in my face and screaming like a batshit crazy little harpy?” Yes, he said batshit crazy little harpy. Who did this man think he was? He didn’t know me. He didn’t know what I’d gone through. “You know what? You can take me as I am,” I snarled into his face. “Or what?” He retorted. “Or you can kiss my ass, eat shit, and step on a Lego,” I snapped, trying to push through him. He didn’t budge, though. The man was a rock. Jesus Christ. He laughed in my face, and I saw red. “Get off me, asshole.” I pushed again. This time he relented, but only enough to rip the t-shirt over his head before he was back, pressing his feverish skin against mine. My hands involuntarily went to his chest, one over his pounding heart, and the other under his right pectoral. His skin was very hot against my cold hands. They had to be like ice, but he didn’t even flinch. My thumb swiped up on its own volition, sweeping over the pebbled areola of his nipple, and

eliciting a gasp from him. “Do you understand how fucking hard it’s been to keep away from you? Do you know what it feels like to know you’re sleeping ten feet away from me, but I can’t have you? What it feels like to follow you when you run, but not approach?” He whispered fiercely. “Yes, I under-fucking-stand! You wanna know why I do? Because I’ve been doing all those things too! I lay awake at night thinking about you. I know you’re behind me when I run. I also know it’s been hard to stay away from you, because I’ve been doing the same exact thing! I know the exact day you left town without a fucking word to me. Every single night I lie awake for hours watching your window. You’ve fucking ruined me!” I screamed. “Fucking perfect, because you’ve ruined me, too,” he bellowed back before crushing his mouth to mine. Clothes dropped where we stood. Hair was pulled. Skin was bitten. The sex we had next was sweaty, hot, and hard. Loki only slowed enough to rip his pants down his legs, roll on a condom, and slam inside of me. He plunged so deep inside of my tight sheath that he hit the back of me. My head slammed back into the wall. My hands clawed at his back as he took me hard, plunging inside of me over and over again. When he still couldn’t get the depth he was looking for, he dropped us down until I was on my back in the hallway, back to the cold unforgiving floor. He wasted no time giving his hard cock to me. He drilled inside of me like a man possessed. Our sweat-slicked bodies slid against one another’s, and only added to the thorough fucking he was giving me. He didn’t say anything, just like last time, but his touch did. It revealed everything he was not saying and more. Warmth, affection, need, want. It was enough that I stopped fighting him, and let him have all of me. Every single wall I’d started to rebuild in the last few months was annihilated. We were breathing in each other’s air, our mouths touching. There was no kissing going on because his rough thrusts wouldn’t allow for that, but that didn’t matter. He was giving me enough sensation in my aching core for fifty thousand kisses. “Jesus, yes,” I breathed against his lips.

I felt him smile against my lips before he leaned up off my body and grabbed my hips in his large hands, lifting them from the ground and pounding even harder inside of me. The angle was one that allowed his cock to work that secret spot inside, setting me off like a bottle rocket. I screamed, wrapping my legs around him tightly, pulling him in close. He followed me not even a second after, grinding his hips hard into my own as he released himself. The darkness kept me from seeing his face as he came, but I ran my hands up over his chest and neck, feeling his muscles strain as he jerked inside of me. Finally, his body unlocked, and he dropped my hips back to the ground. His sweaty chest met mine, and his head buried in my neck. Nearly all of his weight was balanced on his forearms as we both caught our breath. “You make me stupid,” he groaned. My wandering hands went up his ribs to his back, exploring the bulging muscles. “You make me mad.” Pushing himself up, he slowly pulled away, letting his dick slip from my body, and making me feel empty in the process. “You make me mad,” he said with no heat whatsoever in his voice. I laid there with my back against the cold floor, and my legs flopped open, unable to move as he walked into the bathroom and threw his condom away. I heard the toilet flush, and still I didn’t move. The light in the hallway flicked on, and I saw him stare down at me with an unreadable expression. “Are you going to get up?” He asked with a touch of humor. “My legs aren’t cooperating at the moment. Check back in ten,” I said, closing my eyes. He chuckled, and then the next thing I knew, I was standing up. My eyes snapped open and I glared at him. “I was in my happy place. Now that I’m not in my happy place, you can get the hell out. I’m still mad at you,” I said, poking him in the chest for emphasis. He rolled his eyes and tugged my hand until we were both in my bedroom. “Let’s lay down in bed. I’m fucking beat, and as soon as we get this talk over with, I wanna catch about six hours of sleep. I have to be at work at ten in the morning,” he told me.

I followed him warily, and watched as he went straight to the bed, threw the covers back, and flopped down right in the middle. Then he patted the bed, and closed his eyes. Picking up the t-shirt he’d worn over, I pulled it on over my head. Then I glared at him for all of two seconds before I took a running jump and bounced on to the bed beside him, then rolled. I hit his body with a thump, and he let out a whoosh of breath before opening his eyes and glaring at me. “Thanks,” he said dryly. “Anytime,” I said as I snuggled deep into his embrace and fell blissfully to sleep.

*** I woke to the smell of bacon, and it made my stomach turn. Lurching out of bed, my feet became tangled in the blankets and I fell face first onto the floor. “Fuck,” I gasped as I struggled free of the blankets and dashed to the bathroom. The door was partially closed, and in my peripheral vision I saw Loki, but I headed straight for the toilet, retching up what was left of my meatloaf dinner from over twelve hours ago. “Is that all you ever do?” Loki asked from somewhere behind me. Gasping for breath, I picked my head up, swiped the top of my forearm across my lips, and nearly fell over when I saw the huge red slash across Loki’s lower abdomen. It went from his left hip to the bottom of his ribs. “Is that a knife wound?” I screeched. He looked over at me, but kept running his fingers down the gash, making me follow his movements with my eyes. “Yep. Happened last night,” he confirmed. “Been in less than twenty four hours and he’s already had someone ready to hit me when I least suspected. Fucking Dortea has her goddamned head in the clouds half the time. She needs to get with the program.” “Holy fucking shit! How did you, ah,” I blushed. “Have sex with that.” “Nothing wrong with my dick, sweetheart. It’s on my belly,” he said dryly. “But,” I shuttered. “I was running my hands all along your chest and belly last night. I hurt you!” He gave me a level look. “I would’ve told you if you hurt me, and trust me, you didn’t hurt me.” I looked at the angry looking gash skeptically. “Whatever you say.” “I made breakfast,” he told me before placing the tube of antibiotic cream back in my medicine cabinet. “I could tell,” I said sarcastically as I went to the sink and brushed my teeth. As the bristles met the back of my tongue, I started to gag again. “You sick or something?” He eyed me warily. “Bacon is disgusting,” I hedged as toothpaste ran out of my mouth and down my chin. “Why? Who doesn’t love bacon? And if you don’t like it, why is it in your fridge?” he asked. Spitting the last of the toothpaste into the sink, I held my mouth under the tap, swished, and spit before

using the towel next to my head to dry my face off. Turning to him, I crossed my arms across my chest and glared at him. His eyes went to my chest, and I looked down to notice what he’d noticed. My nipples were hard and straining the well-worn fabric of his black t-shirt. Dropping my arms from across my chest with barely concealed annoyance, I stomped past him to the kitchen where he had a feast set out. Ignoring the bacon, I filled a large bowl with scrambled eggs and ripped up pieces of toast, placing it on the table. Then I went to the fridge, grabbed the ketchup, and smothered my eggs with it. Stirring it up, I sat down and ate it all like normal people ate cereal. “That’s just...disgusting,” Loki said with supreme distaste. I laughed. “My dad taught my brother and me to eat it this way,” I said, as I took another bite. “Did you answer me yet on why you even had bacon?” He asked as he filled his plate up with bacon and eggs. “It was my brothers. He didn’t take it with him when he moved out.” Partially true, at least. “Where did your brother go?” He asked, startled. “Oh, he left after he found out he didn’t like living with a bat shit crazy little harpy.” Just kidding. What I really said was, “He didn’t like having to pay rent. Which made him have to work. He’s staying on a friend’s couch for the time being.” Another partial truth. See, I wasn’t lying! He grimaced as he crunched into the bacon, making me swallow thickly again as he chewed the fatty piece of meat. “Well, I can’t say I’m upset that he’s gone, but I am upset that he left you with a door that didn’t close,” he rumbled. “I’ll have someone come fix the foundation this week. You me back.” I rolled my eyes. “I have the money. I was just saving it for something...else.” Like medical bills. They’d start piling up soon, and if I had to pay for the foundation, I’d not be able to pay for my next doctor visit. “Regardless, I need to know you’re safe. Which is why I have someone coming over to install your alarm later. The foundation people will be coming out within the next twenty-four hours, they said. If I’m

going to be over here, we have to be cautious. You have to stay away from me during the day. I’ll come to you during the night. Make sure the place is armed when you’re here, okay?” He said as he put his plate into the sink and turned back to me. “You’re leaving already?” I asked in dismay. He nodded. “Yes. I have to be seen around town. Let fuckin’ Strong know he’s not intimidating me. I have a Toys for Tots run later today. We’re riding down to Natchitoches and back. Once I’m done with that, I’ll be back.” This was going to be one hell of a lonely month. Christmas was in less two weeks. New Year’s after that. And he couldn’t be seen with me. Fun, fun.

Chapter 8 Gun safety rules: Do not piss off the woman holding the gun. -T-shirt Loki “You look different,” Adeline said. I looked over at her in surprise. How would she notice something different about me when I’d only been here less than two minutes and hadn’t said a word? “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Because you have an ‘I’m going to fuck anyone who bothers me’ look on your face.” Kettle said dryly. Kettle was a member of The Dixie Wardens. He was also a firefighter with Benton Fire Department. Originally, we’d met while on the job. He’d been the one to persuade Trance and I to consider joining The Dixie Wardens. Then, when we’d decided to prospect, he’d had his best friend sponsor us. Adeline was Kettle’s old lady, and the woman who felt it necessary to poke her nose into everybody’s business. She was also hormonal. Hence, why I didn’t say what I wanted to, and bit my tongue on the snappy retort that had nearly spewed out of my mouth. “I’ve gotta piss,” I said to no one in particular and left. I heard the murmurs that followed my exit from the room. I knew they were worried about me. Honestly, though, I didn’t give a shit. I walked into the clubhouse, and was instantly assaulted with the smell of pine needles. The women of the club decided to put up a Christmas tree the size of an elephant. It reached the roof’s ten foot ceiling and then curled over. The women had wanted their husbands’ to trim the top, but it was too much work to find a thirteenfoot stepladder, and was decorated only on the bottom. It looked incredibly silly, in my opinion. Then again, I wasn’t a big fan of Christmas. I didn’t celebrate it like everyone else did. My mom was a single mother and always worked over the Christmas holidays. Then when I joined the Coast Guard, I never went home on holidays. Even now, I’m not sure we

would even know what to do with holidays. Seeing a tree was new to me. Before all the ladies started arriving, Christmas’ had been just another day, and now I had to deal with the fucking Christmas carols. I hadn’t been aware I detested Christmas carols until Baylee, our VP’s wife, brought that shit and put it on the loud speaker. Now I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that N’Sync and Beyoncé would never be one of my go-to artists. “Why do we have to listen to this shit?” I grumbled as I watched Baylee start to throw a hand full of tinsel at the tree. “Because it gets you in the Christmas spirit?” Baylee teased. Baylee was a good woman, and a perfect old lady for our vice president, Sebastian. She was a paramedic on the Kilgore, Texas fire department with a morbid sense of humor. Her cheery personality balanced out Sebastian’s serious one. They complemented one another nicely. They had something special; something that I hadn’t even realized I’d wanted until I saw the two of them together. But the same could be said for each man in the club that now had old ladies. I hoped that I could find that with Channing. I just had to get through this week, first. “Is this group a boy band or a pussy band?” I asked as I walked to the tree and picked up one of the ornaments. It was a fire hose made out of spun glass. “This is The Backstreet Boys...haven’t you ever heard of them?” Viddy asked in surprise. I turned to find her with an arm full of threaded popcorn. “I don’t listen to pop. I don’t think my radio’s octave can go up as high as these men are screeching,” I said as I plucked a piece of popcorn out of the bowl Adeline was bringing in. Adeline and Viddy were twins. They looked exactly alike, except for Adeline’s numerous tattoos. Black hair, white creamy skin, banging curves. Although Adeline’s were a little more pronounced now that she had a baby. Saylor, Kettle and Adeline’s daughter, was now three months old, and the reason Adeline’s boobs looked like cantaloupes. Not that I looked too hard. I valued my face too much. Kettle was a possessive asshole; especially when it came to his wife and her assets. “How much longer until we’re riding?” I asked Silas, who was sitting at the bar.

Silas was the president of the MC, and the closest thing to a father I’d had in recent years. He was brash, rude, and had a zero tolerance policy for bullshit. I suspected that, at one time, he was a member of the CIA or FBI, but had never been able to get him to admit to it. Although, that wasn’t for a lack of trying. The man was just an iron vault when it came to his personal life. Very rarely did I see him show any emotion, even when it came to his own son, Sebastian. “As soon as the men get their balls back and get their women on their bikes,” he said dryly. “Well,” I huffed a laugh. “Guess we’ll just try for next year then.” He chuckled and tipped up his beer. “Speaking of girls. How’s your girl?” I didn’t even bother asking how he knew I had a girl. Nobody else did, but Silas had ways. Ways that he didn’t ever feel the need to explain. “She’s pissed,” I said as I reached across the bar to grab a beer of my own. “To say the least.” “I’d imagine. You left her for three months, without a word, when you went to Florida. It’s understandable,” he agreed. I was about to reply when my pager went off, stealing my concentration. Mother fucker. That only meant one thing. A homicide. Damn, but I’d really needed the outlet of riding my bike for a good hour. I couldn’t take it with me to Florida because I was supposed to be keeping the attention off me. I’d gotten back last night, and only had a short ride from the airport to the restaurant. Then from the restaurant to my old place. All less than twenty minute rides. My side was burning from the knife wound I’d gotten while checking my mail yesterday. The little fucker Pedro. He was all of sixteen years old and looked like an innocent little teenager in his Chino’s and polo shirt. Fool me once and all that bullshit. “Got a homicide?” Silas asked with a raised brow. Pulling my phone out, I called the station and confirmed that it was a homicide. In fact, it was a double homicide. “What’s the address?” I asked the dispatcher. “5004 Oak Street,” she relayed.

“Have the techs arrived yet?” I asked as I pulled my keys out of my pocket. I’d been back less than twenty-four hours, but I should’ve known they’d call me if a murder happened. They had a rotational pool of detectives at Benton PD, and I hadn’t been there to answer any of the calls in well over three months. It was no surprise that I was the first on the list. Especially with the holidays. Crime scene specialists, however, didn’t get holidays or rotational pools. They got every single murder, every single time. Rain or shine. Day or night. “Yes, sir. They’re already in route,” she affirmed. “Okay, thank you,” I said before hanging up. “Murder?” Silas asked with a raised brow. I sighed. “Yeah. Have fun without me.” I slipped out the back to avoid any questions. Everyone would probably think I was avoiding the runs again, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’d been so overwhelmed with work lately that I’d had to bail on every single one of the events they’d had planned. Birthday parties. Dinners. Baby showers. Barbeques. Fun runs. Hell, I didn’t even get to go to Sturgis this year. I’d gone every year since I turned eighteen. I wouldn’t have missed that one for the world. Everything that I’d missed, lately, they’d contributed to me ‘changing.’ I had possibly changed, but I wouldn’t have missed that many important functions if I could’ve helped it. If anything, I would’ve attended just to avoid the questions that my lack of attendance would’ve caused. I ignored the worried stares that followed me out of the parking lot, only pausing long enough to wave before turning right on Vine Street and heading in the direction of Oak St. I had to clear my mind of all my problems and get my game face on. I’d nearly had them all locked inside the box I kept them in my head when I arrived, but as soon as I walked into the murder scene, every one of them popped back into the forefront of my mind again. “Fuck.” I said desolately. The scene in front of me was gruesome. Two victims. Both females. One was older, but the only reason I knew that was that the victim had graying hair. The other woman had black hair. They were both naked. Both shot in the forehead with what

looked to be a .38. And both had defensive wounds. The first victim was on the couch, and the second on the floor near the front door. “32 year old female. Linda Coolridge. The older lady in the kitchen is her mother, Lucille Coolridge. 54.” The first responding officer said softly to my right. “That’s the woman that hires for V. S. Construction,” I said numbly. The same woman who’d been a small part of taking Varian Strong down, albeit unknowingly. She hadn’t realized, at the time, that she’d hired an undercover cop that was planning on taking down the business she worked for. She’d been sweet. Way too sweet to have what I’d suspected was done to her. I turned to find Tunnel Morrison, the newest member of The Dixie Wardens, standing to my right as he held a notebook open. His eyes moved up to my face, and he knew, without even saying anything else, that this particular case went from horrific to fucked up beyond belief. Tunnel was a fellow cop, as well. Although he wasn’t actually on the undercover case with me, he was aware of some of the details, as were most of the cops at the station. It was hard to keep something like that quiet after the arrests had been made. Especially a case that was influential in putting away the rapist that had been ravaging our small town. “You have a note.” He continued. “A note?” I asked sharply. He nodded solemnly. “It’s on the body of the secretary. Pinned to her chest with a knife.” I cleared my throat. “Have the techs swept this yet?” Tunnel shook his head. “No, sir.” “Alright, well get everyone out. Don’t let them come in. Keep everyone off the grass. Treat everything outside like the crime scene, too. You’re going to need to set up a police line as far back off the property as you can. Keep the press out of my hair, too. Nobody but you and the crime scene techs come in here, got it?” I ordered. He nodded and left to do my bidding while I walked to the body on the couch and read the note that was stabbed through the poor girl’s chest. ‘Two a day will die until you withdraw your statement and get the fuck out.’ Mother. Fucker.

*** By the time I pulled into my driveway that night, I was feeling anything but happy to be there. I was about to make the hardest decision of my life, but I could see no other way around it. After letting out Lucy, I shrugged into a black hoodie, black sweat pants, and a black skull cap that covered my blonde hair. Taking a deep breath, I snuck out my back door and scaled the fence in between Channing’s place and mine. I knocked on the back door, thankful to hear the reassuring beeps of the alarm being deactivated before she swung the door open. “Didn’t you think to ask who the fuck it was?” I barked. She slammed the door in my face. “I deserved that,” I muttered to myself before opening the door and closing it behind me. “What’s the arm code?” I asked. “Fuck you,” she snapped. I sighed. “No, really, what is it? I don’t want you to ever have this inactivated.” “Fuck you. Like I already said,” she said again, much calmer this time. I ground my teeth together. “Channing.” She turned back around and came back to the panel before she started punching numbers. 3-8-2-5-65-8. Which corresponded to the letters, F-U-C-K-Y-O-U. Literally, those were the numbers she’d used on the keypad. “Nice,” I said dryly. She shrugged. “The big man with the scar thought so too.” “Max came? I expected Gabe,” I said as I followed her into the room. “They did come. They also fixed my door for free.” Max and Gabe were members of Free. They were both ex-Army, and helped run a secret side business that helped women get out of abusive situations that they found themselves in. They never asked for anything in return, and they’d been there a lot for the club’s needs in the past months. Gabe had said he’d get to the system as soon as he could, but I hadn’t expected him to fix the door, too.

“How’d he fix the door?” I asked. I hadn’t seen any other way to fix it besides hack the top half of the door off, but I also wasn’t a carpenter. “He got a saw thing and hacked the top half of it off,” She explained. I closed my eyes, and then laughed for the first time since this morning. “Shit,” I said. “I could’ve done that!” “He said you could, but he also said you caught a bad call this afternoon, so he’d do it for you,” she said quietly. I looked absently at my wrist. 2130 hours. I’d spend over nine hours at that crime scene. I’d spoken with neighbors. Searched through their house. Talked with the first responders. The medical examiner. The paramedics on scene. Then the chief. Needless to say, this day had been utter shit, and it was about to get worse. “I need to talk to you, honey.” I said gruffly. “Have you had dinner?” She interrupted. I shook my head. “No, but I really do need to talk to you.” She started going through her fridge and pulling out the mixings for a salad, a Tupperware full of what looked to be spaghetti, and a beer. She handed me the beer, and shoved the Tupperware in the microwave before putting some salad in a bowl, all the while studiously ignoring the large elephant in the room. “My mom died during Hurricane Katrina,” she blurted. I blinked at her for a few seconds before I apologized. “I’m sorry, Channing. That had to be awful.” She shrugged. “It is what it is. My dad checked out after that, left me and my brother alone to drive 18-wheelers. He had to work his ass off to support us. I’ve been alone a very long time.” My stomach started to sink as the point of her conversation started to hit home. “Channing...” I started. “I know you think that’s for the best. And I’ll give you the days. I won’t look at you. I won’t talk to you. I won’t text you. But I need the nights. I need the nights, or this is over before we take it any further. Don’t leave me, too,” she whispered, and a fresh trail of tears started running down her cheeks. I walked hastily towards her and cupped her face in my hands. “I only want you safe.”

She shook her head quickly. “I know. I will be. I’ll do everything you tell me to do. But please, don’t leave me. Not again.” Fuck. How could I say no to that? That’s right, I had no backbone when it came to a crying woman. Instead of going through all the reasons this was a horrible idea, I wrapped her into my arms and hugged her to me tightly. “I won’t.” And I wouldn’t. Not now. Not ever.

Chapter 9 Never judge a book by its movie. -T-shirt Loki Monday morning 0900 hours. Strong v. The State of Louisiana “All I’m asking, your honor, is for a hold to be put on the trial until after the holidays.” Varian’s lawyer, Joshua Fine, said pleadingly. The judge, Abraham Keen, glared at him from under bushy eyebrows. “And like I said, Mr. Fine, you need to get your client to work with the DA, and this could all be over before the holidays. If not, they we’ll be starting the trial tomorrow. Is that clear?” Even me, a lowly paid detective for the BPD, knew better than to contradict Judge Keen; obviously, Varian’s bozo lawyer did not. His gavel clanged hard against the wood of his desk. “Mr. Fine, the next words out of your mouth better be something related to the case and not your Christmas break, or you’ll be held in contempt of court.” Fine’s mouth thinned into a pissed off line as he held his tongue and took his seat. Then he motioned with his hand in Dortea’s direction. “We offer you a reduced sentence of twenty five years if you will give us the names of the men who’ve been helping you while you were incarcerated over the past five months,” Dortea said stiffly. “On one condition.” Varian said ignoring his lawyer’s attempt to beckon him to stop speaking. “Mr. Strong, I advise you to take counsel with your lawyer before you go making deals that you can’t get out of,” Judge Keen said in a bored tone. “We’ve spoken at length about this already. I’d just like to have my thoughts on record, and then we can discuss a deal,” he grinned at the old man. Judge Keen’s eyes narrowed, but that was the only outward sign that he was annoyed. “And that would be, Mr. Strong?” Dortea asked sweetly. “I want to speak to Rector. Alone.” Varian smiled. They all turned to me at once.

I was sitting in the back of the room. I was only supposed to be there in case any of the facts were needed on the case. I wasn’t supposed to actually be needed. That motherfucker. I nodded once, and they all stood, emptying the room out in less than a minute. Varian’s lawyer was the last to leave, and he glared at me, as if saying with his mind that I’d better watch it. What did he take me as? A vagrant? “What do you want, Strong?” I asked once the lawyer closed the door. “Nothing. I’m going to take the plea. I just wanted to see your face when I said what I had to say,” he said smoothly. “And what exactly did you have to say?” I asked just as smoothly. My outer tone didn’t portray the inner turmoil. What was he going to say? Did he know something I didn’t? “You know, you’re not the only one who watched that neighborhood,” he said in a bored tone. Outwardly, I was as cool as a cucumber, but inwardly, I was wary. On the edge of my seat. Where was he going with this? “Is that right?” I asked. “Yep. Saw you watching that girl next door to you. Saw you running behind her every morning. Saw that your windows are real close to each other’s,” he smiled widely. My body froze. My lungs stopped producing the oxygen that my blood needed. Everything in me came to a standstill, waiting to see where he was going with this. My jaw tightened until it was clenched so hard my molars hurt. “I was just wanting to make an observation. You can have the lawyer brought in,” he smiled. Standing up stiffly, I walked to the door and opened it. Once they were seated, I left. I was no longer needed, and I was in a hurry to make sure Channing was all right.

*** The drive took less than nine minutes. I’d just pulled onto the street that ran outside our subdivision when I saw her sitting down on the curb. I would’ve passed her by had she not fallen backwards as I passed. She was wearing a tight pair of black running shorts and an oversized t-shirt, and her hot pink running shoes that she always wore when she ran. Pulling over quickly, I came to a stop directly in front of her and shut the engine off. “Jesus Christ,” I snapped. “Are you okay?” “Fine,” she wheezed. “I just forgot my inhaler; I needed to take a break before it got too bad.” Reaching for her hand, I lifted her up until she was in a sitting position. “Get on, I’ll take you home.” I was relieved. Not that she was having an asthma attack, but that she was alive to have an asthma attack. “Loki, you said we couldn’t be seen together. You made me promise, in fact. What’re you doing?” She asked breathlessly. I got her to her feet and directed her to sit in front of me so I could keep an eye on her on the last mile stretch of road before we reached our homes. She sat stiffly for all of three seconds before leaning back against me and resting her head on my chest. We rode back slowly. Pulling into her driveway, nearly up to the house, I shut the bike off and helped her stand before following her. “Loki, seriously, what the hell are you doing?” She asked alarmed. “Inside, I’ll tell you there,” I rushed out. She looked at me worriedly, but walked into the house. Without punching in the code to her alarm. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I said, “Please tell me you didn’t leave your house unarmed.” When I looked up, it was to see her eyes wide, and her teeth nibbling worriedly on her lip. “I forgot,” she said lamely. “You forgot,” I tried the word on my tongue. “Well how does being raped sound?” She flinched as if I’d hit her, and suddenly the word choices I’d used didn’t sound like the best idea

anymore. Pushing my hands through my spiked hair, I started explaining. “Listen, I’m sorry if I was too blunt, but I really don’t want anything to happen to you. Today, Varian pointed out that he’d seen us together quite a bit over the time I was undercover. Then he took a plea bargain that’ll only give him twenty-five years. He took it too easily, in my opinion. He’s got something planned, I just don’t know what.” Pacing now, I continued. “Yesterday, two women were raped and murdered. One was the one who hired me at the construction company. The assailant left a note. For me. Said if I didn’t withdraw my statement, they’d kill two people a day until I did.” “But...but,” she said confused. “He’s in jail. If he was in jail, how could he threaten you with a note? Does he really have that far of a reach?” “I have two theories on that, but it’s not good either way it goes. One way, it’s Varian having some sort of hold on the men in his employ. Something he’s doing for them that they can’t get anywhere else. Or he’s blackmailing them, forcing their compliance. The other is that there were two people raping, and both of them were working together. My sole focus had been on Varian. It never even entered my mind that he could be working with someone to accomplish his goals. Either way, I fucked up,” I sighed. She’d sat quietly throughout my explanation, contemplating her hands, and then an invisible piece of lint on her shirt. Needing to change the subject and stop dwelling on it until I’d slept on it, I asked, “Did you use your inhaler?” Her eyebrows raised. “No, but I’m okay now. I don’t like using it when I don’t have to.” “How did you forget something like that? You always have it with you unless you’re here. In fact, I’ve always seen it in that little pocket in the waistband of your shorts,” I asked with a raised brow. She walked to the table and sat. “God, I don’t know. I forgot my lunch yesterday. I couldn’t find my keys today. Then I was in the depth of my run before I even realized I didn’t have it.” I sighed. “Maybe you should be a little more careful next time.” “Thanks,” she said dryly. “I’ll try to remember that.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “How about you go cook us dinner then?” She sneered at me. “You have two hands.” I looked down at my hands. “Look at that, I do.” A smile kicked up the corner of her mouth. “I’ll bet they can cook, too.”

“I can make French toast, fried eggs, and grill. That’s about the extent of it.” She stood and walked to the fridge and reached to the top for the bread. “I have a half a loaf of bread,” she said as she dangled the bag from her hands. Then she opened the fridge. “And nine eggs. Is that enough to make eggs and French toast?” “It’s enough to make eggs, or French toast. But not both,” I told her. She pursed her lips. Then she started digging through the fridge. “Okay, well I don’t have any syrup. So eggs it is.” I watched as she shoved everything back in the fridge, closed it, and then stood, holding out the eggs to me. “Okay, what are you having with the eggs?” I asked as reached for the eggs in her hand. Turning my back on her, I had to laugh when I heard her curse and yank the fridge door back open, causing the bottles in the door to cling against each other. “I don’t have any bacon. Or sausage. Or any breakfast meat. I do have sliced baloney and turkey, though,” she said over her shoulder. “Give me the butter and the turkey. Bread. Cheese too.” As I cooked egg sandwiches, we spoke in length about what had gone on that day; this was the first time in years I’d actually told somebody about my entire day. It felt right and freeing somehow. “What do you do to work out?” She asked as she eyed my three sandwiches once we both took our seats. I shrugged. “Run. Lift weights. The usual.” “I run and lift weights,” she observed dryly. “And I don’t look like you do.” “Thank God,” I muttered as I took a bite of my sandwich. “Otherwise we’d not be in the same room as each other. Good for those chicks that want to look like men, but my woman has to be soft. I want to be able to fuck you hard, but I don’t want to be worried about you snapping me in half when your legs wrap around my waist.” She snorted. “You have something against female body builders?” I shook my head. “No, I just like to be the one with the dick in the relationship.” She started giggling, and my eyes went from the spreading yolk that had broken when I’d taken a bite, to her face.

Her eyes were so expressive. Light and mirth danced in her eyes, and it made something inside of my heart melt a fraction of a bit. “What?” I asked. She waved her hand in a shooing gesture. “Nothing.” My eyes narrowed on her. If I’d heard the word ‘nothing’ from a man, I could safely assume that he literally meant ‘nothing.’ Now, when a woman says ‘nothing,’ it could be one of many things. One, it could mean, literally, nothing. Two, it could mean ‘everything.’ Three, it could mean, it’s something, but I want you to do the dirty dishes, and I’m still mad at you for looking at that girl while we were out to dinner last week where you ate the last bite of food off your plate, instead of offering it to me. Oh, and you forgot to pick up your socks off the bathroom floor. Which was why I went the safe route, and assumed everything. “What’s wrong?” I asked cautiously. She stood and placed our dishes in the sink before grabbing the frying pan off the stove. “It’s nothing really, to be honest. I was just trying to figure out what exactly you were trying to get at with your earlier talk about those poor women. What precisely do you want me to do here? Stay away from you? Stay with you? Are you done coming over now? Is this our last time together? What do you want from me?” She finally opened up. I got up guardedly and started helping her; she washed while I dried. “In answer to your question, yes I want you to stay with me. I want you. I’ve wanted you for months now. I’m tired of hiding us. I want to start over, and I want this fucking cloud of shit to get the hell away from me. With Varian taking that plea, he should start his sentence immediately. The threatening note I read, at the murder of those two women, should be obsolete,” I said as I placed a plate I’d dried in its spot. Turning back to her, I leaned my hip against the counter and continued. “Then again, today he pointed out that he knows about us, or at least thinks he does. And he would’ve had no other reason to tell me about that fact, unless he had plans that I’m not privy to, yet. So, yes, I want to be with you, but I want to be careful; I want to be mindful of everything we do together or separately. I’m hoping that once I have the names of the men that helped Varian, that I’ll have the murderer of those two women. If not, then I still have a fugitive out there being a vigilante for Varian Strong’s ‘purpose’ and we’ll have to adjust accordingly,” I told her.

She nodded. “I have to work today.” My heart sank a little bit when I realized she wouldn’t be here for much longer. “Will you come over to my house tonight when you get home?” She nodded. “Sure. It’ll be late though.” I rolled my eyes at her. “You do realize, right, that I watched this neighborhood for a full four months. I know everyone’s schedules. Including yours.” In a matter of minutes, we had the kitchen clean, and she was leaning on the counter next to me. “Do you know how to make ice cream?” Thrown off guard by her random question, I nodded. “Sure.” “I need the salt. It’s in a big tub in the pantry. Oh, and the ice cream makers on the floor in the corner,” she said, pointing to the pantry to the left of the counter. Walking into the tiny room, I grabbed the salt and the ice cream maker, noticing that her shelves were nearly bare. “Hey, when’s the last time you went to the store?” I asked as I walked into the kitchen with the machine. Placing it on the counter, I turned to her as she dug in her fridge for the milk. Her ass was swaying back and forth, as she dug for the half gallon that she’d buried earlier when she was looking for something to make for dinner. The outline of her thong, in her tight gray shorts, was drawing my eyes and making my imagination take off. Was she wearing those cute little black panties with the tiny pink bow on the top, or the red ones with the black lip imprints all over them? I was so distracted while I was thinking that I missed her question. “Hey!” She snapped. My eyes finally focused on her face, and I blinked, bringing her back into focus. “Did you hear what I said?” She asked with concern. Bringing my hand up to my face, I rubbed my eyes with my thumb and pointer finger. “Sorry,” I said. “What did you ask?” “Chocolate or vanilla?” She repeated. Her hair was still in its ponytail, but now the sweat on her face had dried, making the stray locks surrounding her head curl.

“Is your hair curly?” I blurted. She grimaced. “When it wants to be. Most of the time it’s frizzy with a side of curl. That’s why I keep it in a ponytail most of the time.” Then she shook the chocolate syrup at me in question. I shook my head in answer. “I’m a vanilla kind of guy. I don’t do artificial additives. If you do it right, vanilla’s all you need.” I hadn’t meant it to sound so...sexual, but it most assuredly came out that way, and if the look in her eyes was any indication, I’d made a point, and I hadn’t even meant to. “Jesus, it’s those fucking shorts. Why are they so goddamned tight?” I burst out. She giggled, making my heart thaw slightly after the shit day I’d had. “They have to be tight. That way they stay in place when I run, keeping my thighs from chafing,” she laughed. I stayed far away from the whole ‘chafing’ part, sensing the trap that was inevitable. “Alright, what do you need me to do?” I asked.

*** An hour later, Channing was dressed in her simple black scrubs, ready to go to work, and eating a bowl of ice cream. “Where do you work?” I asked. “Why did I think you did hair?” No hairdresser I knew of worked this late at night. Nor did any wear scrubs. “I do dead people.” I let that hang there in the air for a minute, and then laughed until I saw that she was serious. “Say what?” I asked skeptically. She smiled cryptically and then took a long slow lick of her ice cream. “You want to come with me tonight?”

Chapter 10 I need a prince on the streets, and a beast between the sheets. -T-shirt Channing “I guess I thought that the mortician was the one to do the makeup and hair,” Loki said to me as I applied another swipe of concealer on the woman’s face. “Oh, Brittany; you know Brittany, right?” I asked turning to him. He was sitting on a stool beside my table and watching me work. He’d been sitting in the exact same spot, going on three hours now. He looked exhausted, but he hadn’t stopped talking since we got here, asking me questions. He nodded. “The Chief’s wife. I didn’t realize she was a mortician, though. I knew she worked in the funeral home, but I guess I didn’t realize that being a mortician was a—ahh, woman’s job.” He smiled at me conspiringly. Remembering the fit I’d thrown earlier about what he said about female body builders. I mock glared at him and went back to my client. Her name was Penelope Stanley, and she’d died in a car wreck three nights ago. She’d been driving on a back road when a deer stepped out in front of her. When she’d swerved to miss the deer, she’d ran head on into a large oak tree, killing her instantly. She needed a lot of reconstruction on her face, but her family was adamant about it being open casket. I’d been surprised when Brittany had told the family she could do it. Normally, if they were as bad as Penelope here was, she’d tell them straight up that it would be better to have a closed casket. The only reason she’d agreed was that Penelope was the wife of a member of the city council. She didn’t want to risk pissing off her boss, so she’d put in a lot of work reconstructing her face, and making her look as normal as possible. “Brittany’s father was a mortician. Being a mortician seems to run in the family, but when Brittany turned sixteen, her father contracted cancer, and they had to sell the business to afford the treatments. When her father died from complications, Brittany set out to follow in his footsteps,” I explained. He nodded understandingly. “When we made that bust at Bayou Funeral Home, you were up front. You’d said you were the receptionist.” I noted a hint of accusation in his voice, and I wondered how long he’d been stewing on that question.

He was a detective, after all, and it had to have been killing him not to ask it. “I work—worked there as well, on the weekends. It was rare for me to be up front. Since that closed down, though, I’ve been picking up shifts at Clip Tease off Texas Street,” I explained, as I ran the sponge covered in foundation over the black bruises around Penelope’s eyes. He grunted. I worked while I listened to his brain turn over and over again. It took him another ten minutes to get to his next question. “Why do you do this?” He asked finally. I lifted both of my shoulders. “I got in a fight with a customer. He kept coming in once a week just to get his hair washed. Never paid for a clip. Never tipped. Turns out, he just got his rocks off by having his head rubbed. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t come. He yelled, causing me to inadvertently drench him with water, and he’d called the manager. From there it degraded into a he said/she said match, and I lost my job. Not that I liked listening to people bitch about their problems all day long.” “You probably wouldn’t do so well at being a cop. That’s all I fucking do all day; listen to people’s life stories,” he muttered as he watched me squish a piece of Penelope’s face back on. “That’s disgusting.” I shrugged. “I’m used to it. At first, it wasn’t so great, but now it’s just natural to me. I enjoy the silence. I love that I can make them pretty for one last party in their honor. I used to sing to them when I first started. The silence was disturbing, so I sang. Brittany still teases me about that.” He smiled. “So, what are your plans for Christmas?” “I think my dad is going to try to come by. He didn’t really say he could or couldn’t yet, but he won’t know until closer to the day. How about you?” I asked. I thought about the question for a few moments before answering. “I don’t really know. My mom and I don’t spend it together. My brother’s in Germany. I haven’t seen him in two years, since he took his command post. Normally, I’d spend it with Trance, but he just got married and all that fun shit. Guess it’s just you and me babe. If your pop shows up I’ll head home.” My mouth pursed. Christmas hadn’t really been that big of a deal to us since my mom died. “What does your brother do?” I asked as I inspected the color of Penelope’s face to make sure there were no inconsistencies. “Master Sargent in the army. Although he met his wife in Germany, and I suspect he has no real desire to come home anymore. His job is cushy. He doesn’t deploy. Hell, I don’t even think he goes out of his

office during the day,” he explained. The next thing I picked up was my curling iron. I had two pictures of Penelope, both of which had her hair straightened. Except Mr. Stanley wanted her hair in curls, because he hated that she straightened her hair. He also hated when she wore makeup. Unfortunately, I had to since she’d used her face to debark a tree. “Have you always been a c-cop?” I asked shyly. The fact that he was a cop still bothered me, but not as much as it once did. I still had a problem with cops in general. However, Loki was different. There was just something about him that made everything right in my world. Sadly, that trust didn’t extend to his friends. Trance had shown up at his place to borrow a car jack yesterday, and just the sight of him in his uniform had sent me into a near panic attack. It was Loki’s reassuring arms around my shoulders that kept the attack from going into full out panic mode. I was sure, with time, it would get better, but in the interim, I had a lot of work to do. “No. From seventeen to twenty-three I was in the Coast Guard, I went to school part time and got my paramedic certification. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I got out. While she was doing treatments, I got my peace officer and firefighter certification,” he told me. The curling iron in my hand dropped down to hang parallel to my leg, and I stared at him open mouthed. “Holy shit! You’re like...quadruple certified!” He chuckled. “Triple certified, and yes.” “Hmm,” I observed. “Then why did you choose to be a police officer?” “My stepdad was,” he said, as he stood and stretched his arms up high over his head. The move showed off the tight expanse of his belly, as well as the gun and badge at his hip. He didn’t hide them around me, and I was grateful. I’d never get over my phobia if I wasn’t facing it, and it wouldn’t do to have a panic attack every time I saw my boyfriend’s friends. “When did your mom remarry?” I asked. He smiled fondly as he walked over to the bulletin board on the side of the room that had pictures of the funeral home staff.

“When I was seventeen,” he told me. “I fucked up and got sucked into a gang when I was eleven. When I was sixteen, I decided I needed out and I went to the gang resource officer for help. He helped all right, and told me what I should do. The next day, I went to the leader, Mick, and told him I was out. He said if I could survive the exit, I was free to leave. I thought I was in the clear, too, until some little wannabe came out of fucking nowhere and landed on my back. He’d already slit my throat by the time I realized anything was even wrong.” I stood up straight as I listened to him talk, and stared at his back with open mouth shock. “He slit your throat?” I gasped. He turned and gave me a sardonic smile. “How did you think I got this pretty scar?” As he asked, he fingered the scar at the base of his throat. It was so much a part of him now that I didn’t even realize he had it most of the time. It was only when I would run my lips over his neck, or absently run my hand down his jaw to his collarbone that I’d feel it and remember it was there. “I don’t know, but it wasn’t that,” I snapped. His blasé attitude pissed me the hell off. “At the time, it was a big deal. I remember laying there feeling the warmth spreading from my throat; I knew I was about to die. But I crawled out of the abandoned building that The Crimson Horde used to inhabit, right into the path of Officer Zeth Merritt. He held his hand over my throat, staunching the flow, while he waited for medics to arrive. Held it all the way to the hospital and into surgery. When my mom met him, he was covered in my blood, and she loved him instantly. The relationship was a slow build, and they waited nearly a year before he asked her to marry him. It was the best day of my life when that happened.” “What happened? Did they not slit your throat and arteries? I thought you always bled out really fast when that happened. Or, at least, that’s what happens in the movies,” I said as I went back to curling Penelope’s hair. Her hair was very brittle as if it’d been colored way too often, and never treated. Which made me have to be very careful or I’d burn off her hair. “The kid was about two inches over five feet. He had to jump on my back to slit my throat, and missed the jugular. Got a hundred and twelve stitches, though,” he winked. I rolled my eyes at his casual attitude and went back to work until Penelope’s hair and makeup was perfect.

Then I got started on her clothes. “Whoa,” he said turning around. “What?” I asked as I stripped the gown off Penelope’s body and threw it into the corner where the wash pile was. “She’s naked,” he said waving blindly with his hand. I giggled. “Sure is. But she’s dead. She’s not going to care that you saw her dead boobs.” “That’s not the point. It’s just wrong,” he said roughly. I smiled as I worked to get Penelope’s bra, button up shirt, panties, hose, and long ruffled up skirt on. Her shoes, the ones she paid $1000 for, as her husband said, were the last thing to be put on. “Okay, you can turn back around,” I told him. He turned around cautiously and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her covered. “You probably see naked bodies a lot as a police officer...” I left the statement hanging and raised my eyebrow at him. He lifted one shoulder. “Sure, but that’s not the same. She looks like she’s just...sleeping. Most of the ones I see while I’m working look obviously dead.” “Necrophilia...not your thing. Got it,” I teased. He mock glared at me before asking, “Are you almost done?” I nodded. “Yep, just have to get her jewelry on and call Ralph down to help me move her into the casket.” His head tilted. “Who’s Ralph?” “He’s our muscle. When Brittany or I need an assist, he comes down to help. He’s the night security guard,” I explained as I placed the back on Penelope’s earring before backing away to survey the finished product. “She looks pretty good. Much better than she did when you started,” he affirmed. I smiled at him. “Thanks.” Walking to the phone on the wall, I picked it up and dialed three. “How’s it shakin’ little lady?” Ralph’s deep husky voice asked. “It’s going okay, Mr. R. I need some help moving my newest client,” I said with a chipper cadence to my voice.

“Okay, be down in a few. Want a coke?” he asked as an afterthought. “No, I’m okay. I’m done for the night; I won’t be too much longer.” I thanked him and then hung up. “You know,” Loki said. “I could’ve helped you.” I looked at him and made a weird face. “But then you’d have had your hands on a dead person, and I would’ve had to hear about it all night.” He stuck out his tongue, but stepped out of the way as Ralph came in and helped me situate Penelope in her coffin. “You know how I hate moving the dead,” Ralph grumped as he took Penelope’s legs and I took her arms. “Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Quit your bitchin’.” He didn’t, but I didn’t expect him to. “Alright, is that all you need from me?” He asked after we were done. I shook my head. “Yes, you’re free to go back to your porn.” “It is not porn. It is wrestling,” he huffed, before turning and stomping indignantly towards the door. Once Ralph left to continue his duties, I fluffed up Penelope’s hair, and then closed the door on the casket. “He was pretty...short,” Loki surmised. “Yep.” I agreed. Ralph was a 5 foot 4 inch, 76-year-old Chinese man who’d smoked a pack a day since he was sixteen. He didn’t act like any old man I’d ever seen before, but he was awesomely intelligent, and I loved him. He entertained me many a days, unless it was Monday, which happened to be tonight, and the WWE was on. Although, he made it a point to tell me that it’s not the same since Stone Cold Steve Austin left the show, and I readily agreed. “So he’s into wrestling?” Loki asked as he shrugged into his leather jacket. Nodding, I went to the sink and washed my hands thoroughly before donning my own jacket and snatching up my purse. Just as I was looping my arm through the strap, the lights suddenly went out, and we were plunged into darkness. My breathing got heavy, and my mind started to race.

“You know,” I said with a shaky voice. “I’m not a real big fan of the dark in the first place, but the fact that we’re in a morgue is really creeping me the fuck out.” When I didn’t get a response, my heart stated pounding in low, hard throbs. “Loki?” I swallowed. “Yeah?” He asked from in front of me. I reacted before my brain could come fully online, swinging my fist around in an arc, and connecting with what I guessed was Loki’s chest. My hand hit something sharp before it made contact with the meat of his chest, and I knew instantly that A, my hand was broken. Two, I was pretty sure that my knuckles were sporting a cut because I could feel the trickle of hot liquid running down my hand and dripping off my fingers. And eleven, I was going to kick Loki’s ass. As soon as I could stop seeing double from the pain in my hand. “Owww,” he whined. “What was that for?” “I think it’s broken,” I wheezed. “How do you know?” He asked as a light lit up the small area surrounding us. He had a Mag Lite in his hand the size of a baseball bat. “Where the fuck were you hiding that?” I asked in surprise. “I keep it in a holder on the inside of my coat. Never know when a 6-cell Mag Lite will come in handy,” he muttered as he shined the light down at my hand that was indeed bleeding. “Huh,” he said in amazement. “You’re bleeding.” “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” I snapped.

Chapter 11 How do you know a girl’s true feelings? Get her drunk. -Life Lesson Loki I watched as Channing made her mouth thin into a deep slash as she gritted her teeth. The physician’s assistant, Ronnie, one of the men I played poker with once a month, was putting a needle in the gash that spanned from her knuckles to the base of her wrist. She’d received it when her hand had struck my badge, splitting open and filleting her hand like one would when they skinned a fish. “You know,” he said as he tied off another stitch. “You can say whatever you want.” On the next placement of the needle, she screamed. “Your mother is a whore!” She screeched. Ronnie froze, and then looked at Channing in disbelief for all of five seconds before he burst out laughing. “You’re going to have to keep me from laughing. You can say anything as long as you don’t make me laugh,” he wheezed. Her outburst had attracted what looked like half of the ER, all of them waiting to hear what she’d say next. “How many stitches is this going to take?” Channing asked as she eyed the needle about to go into her hand. Ronnie eyed the cut for a few seconds before answering. “Probably fifteen or so, but we’ll see. The more I put in there, the prettier it’ll be.” “Will this effect hand movement?” She worried her lip. “Possibly, but we won’t be sure until after it heals,” he muttered. This time when he placed the needle into her broken skin, the bottom dropped out of my stomach. Not because I felt bad for causing her the injury, but because her knee lifted up and to the side, effectually kneeing me in the balls. I backed off as shooting pains radiated from my balls to my stomach and lower back. Vomit threatened its way up my throat, and I panted to get back under control. Instinctually, one hand went to my balls as the other went to my hip as I doubled over in pain.

“Oops,” Channing said. “Sorry about that.” I lifted my head with great effort and glared at her. “For some reason, I don’t believe you.” “What’s wrong with you, Loki?” A familiar voice asked from behind me. I stood up as straight as I could, which wasn’t very straight, and turned to find Sebastian and Kettle standing behind me. They were wearing the bottom half of their bunker gear, which meant they were working. They were both firefighters for the Benton Fire Department, so it didn’t surprise me to find them here. They brought patients to the hospital all the time, and a lot of times I met them here when I was interviewing eye witnesses. That, and it was a small town, so it wasn’t unusual to see them quite a bit while I was driving around. “I knocked him in the balls with my knee. He can’t talk right now,” Channing said through clenched teeth. “Is that right? And who are you?” Sebastian asked suspiciously. “He was my John for the night and we had a little accident with the knife play. He had to bring me to the ER, and when they tried to cut my panties, I jerked away from them and accidentally kneed him in the balls. I couldn’t help it though, those panties cost me 500 bucks, and this one didn’t pay me for the night yet,” Channing slurred. Sebastian and Kettle were standing there looking at her with large, rounded eyes, not sure what to think of her comments. “What’d you give her, Ronnie?” I asked when I was finally able to stand completely. “A sedative,” he murmured as he finally started to stitch up her hand. “She was white as a ghost, it was only a matter of time before she passed out completely. I just nudged her along a little.” Sebastian and Kettle flanked me as we watched Ronnie stitch up Channing’s hand with the expertise of a man who’d been doing it for so long he could do it with his eyes closed. “So you were her John for the night, eh?” Kettle gave me a sideways glance. I ignored him, fascinated with the way Ronnie pulled her skin closed with the black thread. I’d always been interested in trauma, hence why I got my paramedic’s certification. Although seeing it happen to someone I truly cared for gave me a feeling in my stomach that I hadn’t experienced since my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It was a feeling I didn’t much like, and one that I refused to examine too closely.

“Yeah, he gives great head,” Channing garbled. Kettle and Sebastian both burst out laughing, and Ronnie was smiling like a loon, but he didn’t say anything. “Is this the chick?” Kettle asked once he regained his composure. “Yep,” I confirmed. “She’s the reason why you keep bugging out?” Sebastian asked. I turned to him, regarding his impassive face for a few long moments before answering. “Not really. There’re some things going on with this case that I should probably bring you up to speed on. It most likely won’t affect you, and I can’t tell you all of it, but I’d like you to know...just in case.” “I’m free tomorrow. Come to the house for breakfast. Bring your girl. Don’t come before ten,” Sebastian instructed before leaving Kettle and me standing there. Kettle watched the VP go, and then turned to me. “Viddy and Adeline talk,” he said slowly. I raised my eyebrow at him in question. “And?” “Maybe your girl would like to join their talk sometime. They feel like you’re purposefully not bringing her around because she’s scared of the club. Said your girl freaks out whenever Trance gets near,” he said I looked back to Channing who was nearly done getting her stitches. “It’s not the club, necessarily, but cops. She was...yeah. I don’t really want to talk about it, and it’s her information to share. But suffice it to say, she didn’t have a good experience with one when she was sixteen, and that’s left her wary. I’ll bring her by tomorrow if she’s up to it. Don’t let them gossip about her though. She’s already self-conscious enough.” He nodded. “Gotta go. We were in the middle of dinner when we got that call. I’ll check you later.” “Later,” I said. Forty five minutes later, I was walking with Channing up her front walk. “Will you do it?” She asked as she searched through her purse. “It gives me the hives being under a time constraint. Do you remember that game where you had to try to fit all the shapes into that little box before the timer went off and popped all the pieces back out? That’s the way I feel when I’m disarming the alarm.” I laughed as I took the keys from her, unlocked it, and easily disarmed the alarm.

We were just walking through when my pager went off. “Fuck,” I groaned and glanced at the pager. Pulling out my phone, I called into dispatch with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. “This is Detective Rector, I just got paged,” I said evenly, trying to contain the roiling emotions trying to entice me to spill my guts all over the white tiled floor of Channing’s entrance way. “Detective Rector, we have a single suspected homicide at the gas station on June and Trail Road. Are you available to lead?” Dispatch asked. “10-4. I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I confirmed and we hung up. Turning around, I found Channing looking at me worriedly. “Does this happen a lot?” Putting the phone back in my pocket, I looked at her closely, studying her disposition, and very reluctant to leave her here alone after she’d just been hurt. “You okay to be left alone?” I asked her quietly. She wouldn’t really be left alone. I had a few prospects keeping an eye out on the house, but I’d ask her anyway. She nodded. “I’m fine.” She didn’t look fine. She looked wary. “If you need me, you’ll call me, right?” I asked. She nodded, but stopped mid-nod. “I don’t have your number.” I wanted to smack myself in the head. Taking my phone out of my pocket, I dialed her number. Her phone rang from the direction of her back pocket, but she didn’t reach for it. Once I was assured she had my number, I put my own phone away and walked up to her until our lips were only millimeters apart. “Be good,” I said against her lips. I felt her lips open up into a smile underneath my own as she answered. “Never anything but.”

*** I knew as soon as I pulled onto June Street that this case was connected with the one two days ago. As I pulled into the drive, parking directly next to the police line now encompassing the entire lot, I looked directly across the street to where Channing and I were not even two hours before. The funeral home’s front exit was directly across from the gas station the victim died at, and the side door we’d rushed out of shared the same street that the side of the gas station did. Which meant that we walked outside right about the time the man was being murdered across the street from us. “Goddamn,” I said as I hauled myself out of the car. The first person to walk up to me was Tunnel Morrison, and I knew him being here as the first responder for the second murder wasn’t a coincidence, either. “You were first on the scene?” I asked, praying for a different answer than the one I knew was about to come out of his mouth. He nodded grimly. “Yes, sir.” His voice was quiet and serious. He knew just as well as I did what this meant. We had a killer on our hands. One that had my name etched on the edge of his sword. He was gunning for me, and he wanted me to know it. “Walk me through what you know,” I said to Tunnel as we walked towards the scene. He turned and walked at my side. “I arrived after the convenience clerk called in a dog barking at the back of his shop. It was the victim’s cell phone ringing. His wife was concerned because the man was supposed to be home over an hour ago. He stops here every night for a 6-pack and a scratch off ticket. ID on him identifies him as Brian Jones, 32,” he said clearing his throat. “He’s got stab wounds to his chest and neck. Clothes are in a pile near the back door.” Twenty minutes later, I’d observed the scene and then turned it over to the crime scene techs to do their magic. I found myself facing my boss, and a look of haunted fury was etched all over his face. “Tell me what you know,” Cabe demanded. After telling him how I thought the cases were related and why, I finished off with one last succulent statement. “Goddammit, he’s just playing with me. He knew turning the lights off would draw me out of

there. He also knew I’d be the one called on this one due to its similarity to the last murder. He wanted me to be the one to lead the case.” Cabe shook his head. “I don’t see how it could be Varian. He turned over eight men, who are now in the custody of BPD. They’re on a trip to county lock-up in the morning.” I knew that just because he gave up some names, didn’t mean he would give up all of them. “He’s got at least one more out. This guy’s got to be his partner, or right hand man. He knows Varian won’t give him up; that’s why he’s taunting me. He thinks he’s going to be able to get off scot-free, and I guaran-damn-tee you that he’s got a plan to get Varian out as well. It’s just a gut instinct right now. I can’t prove it, but why else would he give up that easily?” Cabe watched the crime scene techs do their work for nearly five minutes as he thought over what he was going to say. Finally, he turned and started asking questions. “Have you questioned the men? And speak with the neighbors as well as his workers.” I nodded once. I’d already planned on doing that in the morning. “I need someone on Channing,” I told him. “The department’s already strapped on funds as it is. I think it’s time you pulled your club in. Don’t take her out of the picture completely, though. She plays a part in it somehow, and you might need her to flush whoever it is out,” he said. “I won’t use her as bait,” I snapped. He rolled his eyes heavenward. “Did I tell you to use her as bait? Besides, my wife has a fondness for the woman, and I have a fondness for my wife. If I let something happen to Channing, I’d be denied my favorite place in the world. God help anyone and everything if my wife withholds herself from me. Everybody would be feeling it if that were to happen.” After the chief left, I called Tunnel over. “Come over to Sebastian’s house in the morning. Ten or so. We have some things to work out,” I commanded. He saluted me. “Aye, aye.” I flipped him off and left, making a note of the crowd that’d gathered since I’d arrived. No one in particular stood out, but I had a feeling that the killer, whomever he may be, was there. Watching the activities going on at his murder scene, and getting his jollies off while he did.

Chapter 12 That moment when you realize life really is like a box of chocolates. -Life Lesson Channing “Are you sure they all won’t be glaring at me the whole time?” I asked as I reluctantly walked up the sidewalk. It was ten thirty in the morning, and we were already thirty minutes late, according to Loki. However, I couldn’t make my feet move. What if they didn’t like me? What if they thought I was an uptight bitch, when in reality I was just a shy person? “No, they won’t be glaring at you. Sebastian was the one who told me to bring you. It’ll be fine, I promise. They’re my family,” he said with those puppy dog eyes that made me do anything he wanted to do. For instance, this morning, I made French toast, even though my stomach had been roiling at the thought of having to meet his club. And I’d made it with a fucking smile on my face. “Don’t leave me, okay?” I pleaded with him. He winked at me. “We’ll see. I won’t leave you if you’re getting along with the women. And even if I do, I won’t go far.” After that announcement, he knocked on the door, effectively stifling the sharp retort that was on the tip of my tongue. He knew it, too, if the look on his face was any indication. Sticking my tongue out at him in defiance, I punched him in the ass just as the door opened and a very pretty woman with mid back length blonde hair opened the door. She also had the cutest little toddler on her hip that I’d ever seen. “Woki!” The kid bellowed and launched herself at Loki’s empty arms. She was cute. I mean really cute. And with Loki holding her in his arms like she was a precious angel, it was exponentially cuter. “Hi, Blaise. How are you doing today?” Loki asked.

There was no baby talk in his question, which surprised me. Wasn’t it just a natural thing to do to talk to them like they were children, and not adults? Loki spoke to her like she was an adult, but Blaise loved it. She grabbed onto his face and pressed her lips to his scruffy cheek. “Okay,” she said in the cutest, little voice I’d ever heard. I wasn’t a big fan of kids. I only had experience with kids that weren’t mine or family. I’d heard that once I had my own kids, my outlook on kids would change, but I hadn’t met a child I’d liked yet. Until this one. “That’s my daughter, Blaise,” the blonde said. “I’m Baylee.” She held out her hand to me, and I automatically offered the hurt one to her out of habit. “Oh, is this the famous hand that got sliced while you and Loki were doing some BDSM sex play?” She asked with a mischievous tone to her voice. I looked at her like she was crazy. “No, I cut it on Loki’s badge. Hurt like a mother, too.” Baylee smiled a secret smile at Loki, then opened the door wider. “Come in.” Loki entered first, cutting off my questioning about what that smile was about after the knife-play question, and I followed. He led us into a huge, open room. I’m talking massive. The ceilings had to be a good fifteen feet high, with large brown beams lining the peaks of the ceiling. In fact, it was so big that the room had three ceiling fans set on a long pole that spanned the width of the room. It was decorated in a rustic way with distressed furniture, a large brown leather sectional, and a massive plasma screen TV on the wall. There were no cords or anything, and I absently wondered how they hid them. “Hi, Channing,” a deep male voice said from directly in front of me. I jumped and turned my head from the study of the cordless television to the tall man standing in front of me. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. “Hello,” I said softly. Big men had always intimidated me, but he was about the exact same size as the pseudo police officer

who’d attacked me. His build was stocky, and he had muscles that bulged with just the tiniest exertions. His hair was brown, and his eyes were honey brown in color. Luckily, his eyes were warm and friendly. His smile showed me that he was genuinely happy to see me, and I instantly relaxed. This must be Sebastian. The VP of The Dixie Wardens. The firefighter. I liked firefighters. “You don’t remember me from last night, do you?” He asked with a wide smile on his face. I shook my head, feeling the tail of my hair hanging at my back swish and sway with the motion. “Nope.” I popped the ‘p’ as I spoke, putting emphasis on the fact that I couldn’t remember a thing about last night other than the events leading up to getting hurt, and when we were just arriving home. Sebastian and Loki traded that secret look again, making my eyes narrow on the two. “Why do you keep making those looks to each other? What’d I do?” I asked Loki. “I,” he said, “will tell you later.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “You can tell me now...” My voice trailed off when Loki’s phone rang, and he handed over the little girl to her father and walked out of the room without a backwards glance. “Well wasn’t that just convenient,” I muttered to no one in particular. So much for not leaving me. The big man holding his daughter snorted. “You can say that again. He’s been avoiding us for months now.” My attention turned from his daughter to him. “What do you mean?” “He hasn’t come on a run with us in over six months. Keeps ducking out at the last minute. Doesn’t come by the club. His best friend hasn’t even seen him in weeks now,” he explained. He sounded like his dog had been run over by a semi. “I’m sorry,” I said. I was genuinely sorry for the fact that his friends thought he had changed, but I didn’t really know what

to say to that. Loki had been the same since I’d met him. He was passionate about his job. He cared about his community. He was a good man, and an even better police officer. Was that bad? “Nothing you’ve done, sweetheart,” Sebastian said as we moved towards the kitchen. He placed Blaise down on the ground. His daughter followed her parents as we walked up to the granite island. I was left with Baylee and Sebastian both staring at me curiously. “What? Do I have something in my teeth?” I asked worriedly. Baylee giggled. “No, we’re just curious. We’ve been wondering about you for a long time.” “Me? Why?” Surprise laced my voice. Baylee busied herself with cracking eggs into a bowl as she spoke. “We’ve heard a lot about you, but we haven’t actually seen you. Loki’s been undercover, and then out of town for so long that we were beginning to wonder if he’d ever pull his head out of his ass and make a move,” she explained lightly. I watched as she whipped the eggs with a fork, and then poured them into a frying pan. “Oh, well it was never his fault. It was mine. I have a certain hang up about cops,” I said quietly. “Daddy! I’m pooping!” A young boy’s voice followed my statement. “Blaise is playing in the shaving cream!” Sebastian cursed and ran out of the room after the child I hadn’t even seen disappear. Baylee kept cooking as if the fact that her young child playing in shaving cream was of no consequence to her. “What do you have against cops?” She asked inquiringly. Looking around the empty room, I ascertained it was empty before explaining. “When I was sixteen, I was pulled over by an unmarked police car. Or what I’d thought at the time was a police car. It had the lights, and even the siren. When I pulled over, he stepped up to my passenger side window and asked me to get out. What I didn’t learn until later was that he was impersonating a cop, and he’d already raped three other women in two other parishes. I was his fourth victim, or would’ve been if it weren’t for a few teenagers trying to boost a car a half a block down from us. His fifth victim was killed, and they caught him in Mississippi three days later trying to do the same thing again,” I said quietly. Why I’d just told all of that to a virtual stranger, I didn’t know. But Baylee was easy to talk to. She just

kept cooking her scrambled eggs, and didn’t judge me in the least. It also didn’t hurt that I knew she cared for Loki, and only wanted the best for him. I saw the affection in her eyes for him when she’d opened the door. “Does Loki know what happened?” She asked quietly glancing at the doorway behind me and back to me quickly. I let my eyes drift to the doorway to find Sebastian leaning against the door jam, his eyes on his feet, and his hands clenched into tight fists at his sides. Glancing away from his overpowering figure quickly, I nodded in affirmation. “Yes, most of it. I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty with him, but I have a feeling Cabe let him know everything he knew about it. Or at least I hope. It’s not really something I like to revisit all that much.” The doorbell rang, and heavy footfalls went from the doorway to the kitchen, through the living room, and stopped at the front door to let someone in. A cacophony of noises came from the living room, and I got up and edged closer to the door and watched the living room fill with people. Some wore leather vests, while others wore regular t-shirts; even Trance was there. But he was in his police uniform, and I immediately stiffened at the sight of him. “Trance works as a K-9 officer,” Baylee said quietly from behind me. “He’s one of the sweetest men you’ll ever meet, and he loves his wife dearly. Just last week, I saw him pick out baby cowboy boots for his new nephew. Trance’s wife is a twin. I promise, he would not be in this house with my kids if he was a bad person.” I relaxed minutely as she spoke, and finally relaxed enough to study Trance. He had blonde curly hair, and his build was smaller than Loki’s was, but no less powerful. He looked sharp in his navy blue police uniform, and the dog at his side was gorgeous. “He’s got two different color eyes. He’s beautiful,” I said in surprise. Baylee’s giggle burst free and she covered her mouth with her hand. “Whatever you do, don’t say that in front of him. He’s so sensitive about his looks.” My eyes moved from Trance to the other men in the room. The older one I remembered from when Loki had met them outside his house in only his towel. The man was hard to forget with his salt and pepper hair, muscled build, leather biker vest, and his goatee that hung to mid chest.

The fact that it was braided didn’t help, either. The man looked badass. In fact, if I were to think of any man to portray what I imagined a biker would look like, that man would surely be it. “Who’s the guy with the beard?” I whispered. Baylee looked around the room with her lips pursed. “There are like, four men in the room with beards. Do you mean Silas, the one with the gray hair? That’s the one you’re looking at right now.” I nodded. “Yeah, him.” “That’s Sebastian’s dad, Silas. He’s the president of The Dixie Wardens. He’s also a jerk at first, so don’t hold it against him,” she informed me. I looked at the man in awe. “What does he do? He’s in extremely good condition despite the fact that he’s pretty old.” “I heard that, girly. I have ears like a hawk, FYI,” Silas called from across the room, making both Baylee and I jump. I looked at him guiltily and waved partially before hurrying back into the kitchen, face aflame. “Oops,” I muttered, taking a seat in the very corner of the room so I had the wall at my back and side. Plus it allowed me to see whoever came in the kitchen and they couldn't walk up behind me and scare me. It wouldn’t do to embarrass myself in front of everybody. “What’s going on? Is it someone’s birthday or something? Why are all these people here?” I asked. “Loki and Sebastian called a meeting, apparently. Although I don’t really know much more than that. Sebastian came home telling me he saw you and Loki at the hospital last night, and that y’all were coming over for breakfast this morning to discuss some club business,” she said. I pursed my lips. “So...what did I say at the hospital last night?”

*** “Are you sure about this? I’m not sure about this. This doesn’t look like it’s going to taste very good...or work,” I worried. “It’ll work, I saw them on Facebook. Another friend of mine made these for her daughter’s kindergarten class, and they were a big hit,” Baylee said with enthusiasm. I looked at the half banana I had on the stick, and the bowl of melted chocolate she wanted me to dip it in, and thought ‘fuck it.’ Reaching forward, I dipped the entire thing into the chocolate and pulled it back out again. The chocolate coated the entire banana, and then leaked down partially on the stick. I rolled the stick around between my fingers as I watched the final stray bits of chocolate drip off the concoction before I set it down on the wax paper beside the bowl. Baylee was doing the same from her side as well, while we waited for whatever secret meeting the men were having to break up. When I’d tried to go find Loki, I’d been met with a wall of men’s eyes, none of which had been Loki, and I’d retreated right back to the kitchen and Baylee. “How many of these do you have to make?” I wondered. She set the banana pop down that she was working on and reached for a new one as she replied. “He has twenty two in his class, a teacher, and a teacher’s aide. So I’ll make twenty four. Does that sound good?” Sounded good to me. “Yep.” We worked side by side for the next twenty minutes while we spoke about our jobs, as well as the fire and police departments that a few of the men in The Dixie Wardens worked at. “Why don’t you work here?” I questioned curiously. She’d just told me that she worked in Kilgore, Texas. Which was nearly an hour away from where we were at right now. Seemed to me if my husband worked at the local fire department, then I’d try to get on at the department in which he worked. Not to mention it was nearly an hour closer. That was one hell of a drive to do every three days. “Benton Fire Department is a really small department. They only recently started running three engines. Two at the North side of town, and one at the South side of town. They only have two ambulances, and they already have the positions filled for paramedics,” she explained. “Maybe one day I’ll look to get on at the department, but I like where I’m at. I also don’t think I could handle working with

Sebastian. He’s too bossy, and I don’t think I would be able to stop myself from telling him to fuck off.” I giggled. “That would be fun to see.” I could only imagine Sebastian giving Baylee an order of some kind. Then she underminded him in front of the entire department by telling him to go ‘fuck himself.’ He’d never hear the end of it then. “I guess I can see why you wouldn’t want to work with your husband. I could only imagine how freaked Loki would be if I worked with him. He’d wrap me in cotton, then probably get shot in the process because he was too busy worrying about me rather than his own butt,” I agreed. Baylee snorted. “That’s nothing but the truth. I’ve had my own form of protection from those guys myself. They don’t like it when their women are in danger. Trust me on that.” “Bet your ass, sweet cheeks,” Sebastian’s deep baritone voice said from behind us. Then the unmistakable sound of a hand meeting the meaty part of an ass rent the air, followed by Baylee’s shriek of outrage. “Sebastian, you big shit. You made me get chocolate on my fingers!” I turned just in time to see Sebastian put Baylee’s fingers into his mouth and suck. My eyes returned immediately to what I was doing while my cheeks flamed. A warm hand sliding around from my hip to my stomach had me turning my head to the side and up to find Loki’s amused face. His big body was shaking in silent laughter at the awkward position I was in, and the degree of redness still tinging my cheeks. “What’re you making?” He asked curiously, as he watched me dip another banana on a stick into the not-so-melted-anymore chocolate. “Chocolate covered bananas for Johnny’s kindergarten class party tomorrow,” I informed him. His eyes moved from the banana in my hand to the finished ones cooling on the wax paper, and his eyebrows furrowed. “Sebastian, did you see what they’re making your son for his Christmas party?” Loki asked. My eyes went from Loki’s furrowed brow to Sebastian, and the expression on his face was comical. “What the fuck are you making, Baylee?” He exclaimed. “Chocolate covered...oh fuck!” Baylee yelled. “What the hell, the picture Winter showed me of hers didn’t look like that!”

Winter, she explained, was her partner at the Kilgore Fire Department. Winter had made these for a family barbeque, and they’d been a big hit with the kids. “What’s wrong with them?” I asked in confusion. I didn’t see anything wrong with them, I mean sure, they were a little messy looking. The outsides had drips of chocolate that ran down the length of the banana in rivulets, giving off a vein effect. And the chocolate had clumped more about an inch down from the tip of the...holy shit! “They look like chocolate covered dicks!” I shrieked. “And there it is,” Loki chuckled as he pulled me in closer to his body. “I can’t give these to a bunch of five year olds!” Baylee cried. Sebastian picked one of the chocolate covered dicks...bananas, and held it up for inspection. Then he surprised the ever-loving shit out of me and took a bite of the concoction. “It’s pretty good,” Sebastian offered. “You can’t take them to his school, but the guys will eat them. They won’t go to waste.” Loki followed suit, grabbing up six separate dried chocolate covered dicks and walked into the living room. We followed behind him, Baylee and I, side by side, as we watched him pass out the dicks to the men remaining in the living room. There were only seven now, and every one of them took the creations with a wary eye, but nonetheless took a bite anyway. “This is the best dick I’ve ever tasted,” the old man who looked like Santa exclaimed. Baylee and I giggled as Trance turned to the old man. “Hopefully it’s the only dick you’ve ever tasted.” Santa pursed his lips. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” He asked coyly. “Who’s Santa?” I asked quietly. Well, obviously, my quiet and the rest of the room’s quiet were not one and one, because as soon as I asked that, they all turned to me. I froze when I was the focus of all those eyes; especially Trance. Before, he’d looked pretty normal hanging out with his friends, despite his uniform. However, there was no hiding those eyes.

The eyes that told everyone just who he was, and what he was capable of. They may have been pretty, one blue and one green, but they were anything but welcoming. His eyes were shrewd as he surveyed me. Just as they’d been the two other times I’d seen him before. They were also calculating, sizing me up, and taking inventory. He took in my arms that were crossed tightly across my chest, my eyes that were trying to look at him, but not quite succeeding. My appearance. My everything. I felt like my skin was crawling. Like things were underneath my skin, making it itch. My eyes started to water, and my heart started to pound. I could feel the telltale symptoms that indicated an oncoming panic attack start to take over. I could hear Baylee’s worried voice beside me, speaking desperately, but I couldn’t acknowledge her. I couldn’t look away from Trance’s hypnotizing eyes. Then something wonderful happened. Loki’s chest came into my line of sight. The badge that was hanging around his neck came into view, followed by his hands as they came up to frame my face. “You’re safe, sweetheart. I’m right here. Trance will never hurt you, I promise,” Loki whispered into my ear. My eyes moved from the beaded chain holding his badge to his pale blue eyes, and I came back to myself. “I’m okay,” I said roughly. “I know,” he said back just as roughly. He pulled me into his chest, and I buried my face into the crook of his neck, standing on tiptoes so I could wrap my arms around his shoulders. As soon as his skin touched my own, I felt how cold and clammy I’d gotten. Shivering, I held on tighter as his arms wrapped around my back, pulling me in close. His heart was thundering just like my own, and I realized that I’d scared him. “I’m sorry,” I apologized. “Not your fault, Channing. It was never your fault,” he excused. I shivered slightly. “I know. Now, let’s go introduce me to your friends since I’m not going anywhere and they’re not going anywhere; I want to be able to breathe if you leave the room.”

His eyes got far away for a second, and then he smiled slowly. “Sure, let’s go.” He held my hand tightly, my small one clasped in his big one, and we walked into the living room. They’d all resumed their chocolate covered penis eating; some were finished and holding the empty sticks. Santa was the first to acknowledge me. “Would you like to sit on my lap and tell me what you want for Christmas?” His smile was infectious, and I found myself walking towards him. I would’ve sat in his lap, too, if Loki hadn’t grabbed me around the waist and sat us both down in the closest recliner. I landed on his lap hard, causing an, “oomph,” to escape his mouth. My butt shifted, and my ass bone encountered the uneven blob of his key ring, causing me to shift most of my weight to the other leg. Which also didn’t help, seeing as he had two bullet magazines in that one. Therefore, I balanced my weight towards the middle, and leaned back into his chest, resting my head against his. “You have too many things in your pockets,” I suggested. He shrugged. “They’re necessary.” I rolled my eyes towards the ceiling, catching Trance’s amused ones. I smiled hesitantly at him, and he returned the smile. His eyes warmed, and the cop mask slipped off his face as if it’d never been. “Santa’s name is actually Dixie, although, after the last couple of years and all the women coming along, he will answer to Santa upon occasion. You’ve met Trance and Sebastian. On the far right in the corner is Tunnel Morrison, who’s a cop with the BPD.” Tunnel was sitting on a padded barstool in the very corner of the room. He was young like me, about twenty-five or so, with dirty blonde hair, and a killer smile. He raised his hand to wave, but didn’t say anything as Loki continued. “The man in the corner is named Cleo. He’s another member of The Dixie Wardens, as well as a flight nurse/paramedic in Shreveport.” Cleo was drop dead gorgeous. He had deeply tanned skin, gray eyes that were nearly black, black

hair, long black eyelashes, and he wore black clothes. He was one of the sexiest men I’d ever seen, and intimidating as hell. “Hello,” he said deeply. “Hi,” I replied back shyly. “And finally we have Sterling, but we like to call him Kraken. He’s on leave from The Navy. He’s a SEAL. The Coast Guard’s wicked stepsister,” Loki jeered. Sterling flipped him the bird without interrupting the drinking of his beer. Sterling was most definitely the youngest of the group, but that didn’t detract from his appeal. He was covered, completely, on both arms with tattoos. And boy were those arms big. He could easily compete in the muscle mass department with Sebastian. Loki was muscular and cut, and looked goddamned excellent, but he didn’t have the sheer mass that Sebastian and Sterling had, which I was grateful for. Otherwise, he’d look too much like the man that had attacked me, and then we really would’ve had a problem. “What are you thinking about? You just tensed up,” he asked into my ear. “Nothing. It was nothing,” I refused to talk about it. “You about ready to go? I have to meet the chief at the station in about an hour,” he explained. I would’ve answered, but the cell phone in my back pocket started to vibrate. Leaning over so that Loki’s keys gouged into my ass fat, I retrieved the cell phone from my pocket and answered it. “Hello?” “Hey, baby girl,” my father’s deep, smoky voice filled my ears. I stood up with a wide smile on my face. “Daddy! What’s going on?” I was excited to speak with him. He’d been delivering a load to Michigan when I’d spoken to him last, and it’d been nearly three weeks, which was a record for us. “God, do I have a story for you. I could totally blow your mind with my last three weeks. I was going to stop by your place before I headed to the lake. However, you’re not here, so I just wanted to let you know where I’ll be,” he told me. “Hey! I’m at the lake right now!” I crowed. “Which campsite are you heading to?” I hadn’t meant to be quite so loud, but I was excited to see my dad. It’d been nearly three months since I’d seen him last, and I missed him dearly.

“Bodcau Dam, like I usually do, girly girl. I’ve already got the campsite for the week,” he informed me. My dad usually showed up around Christmas every year, and stayed for a couple of weeks at a local campsite. He stayed in his truck cab, which was his home away from home, even after my repeated attempts to persuade him otherwise. Bouncing on the balls of my feet, I turned around the room looking for Sebastian. “How close are you to Bodcau Dam?” “Very. It’s just around the corner. You passed over the dam on the way in. About five minutes or so,” he said. “Did you hear that, daddy? I can be there in about five minutes,” I told him. “How about I just come and pick you up? Who’re you with, anyhow?” He asked. I smiled. Poor Loki. “I’m with my boyfriend at his friend’s house. He lives about five minutes from the dam. And I can...” I was interrupted. “What’s the address?” he asked in his don’t fuck with me tone. I turned to Sebastian again, but he’d heard the question already and was holding his hand out for the phone. “Hold on, daddy. Sebastian’s going to tell you the address,” I said, just before I handed Sebastian the phone. “Hello? Yes. No. Yes. No. 505 Lakeside Dr. Once you turn on the dam, go about two miles and take your first left. I’m the second to last house on the right.” He held the phone out to me, and not surprising, he’d already hung up. Sebastian’s face was filled with amusement as he looked at me, and then turned to stare at Loki. “You ready for this?” I, too, turned to find Loki’s head resting on the couch, and his eyes closed. His lips were turned up at the corners. “Sure thing. Just what every man wants is to have his girlfriend’s truck driver father beat him up.” “He won’t beat you up. He’ll give you shit, but he won’t beat you up,” I explained.

My dad was a big man in my opinion, and protective to boot. He was really worried about his baby girl, and hated any man I dated on general principle. Then my attack happened, and it took everything I had not to run when I was within touching distance of any man. I’d had to convince dad, on numerous occasions, that I would let him know the second I had feelings for a guy so that my dad could have him checked out. Which I’d neglected to do. For quite a long time, now. “Whatever you do...tell him we just met. Okay?” I pleaded. By the look on Loki’s face, I knew he wouldn’t be going along with my little plan; but a girl could hope.

Chapter 13 Autocorrect can go straight to he’ll. -E-card Loki “At least don’t volunteer that we’ve known each other for nearly nine months now...okay?” She pleaded, eyes glancing warily from me to the red semi-truck sans trailer pulling up. I looked over at her worried green eyes. “I’ll do the best I can, but I’m not promising anything,” I agreed reluctantly. She nodded once. “Just, humor him. He’s going to be really pissed. And he’s going to try to intimidate you. Don’t let him. And don’t hurt him.” I don’t know what, exactly, I was expecting to happen. However, the man stepping out of the truck was about the size of Channing. In height and build. He also looked a lot like her, only he had flaming red hair, and a beard that could rival Silas. The look that landed on me when he caught sight of my arm around Channing’s hip wasn’t a nice one, but I’d be damned if I moved it. “Be nice,” she said in warning. “I’ll try,” I said again. At my assurance, she took off at a run and barreled into her father. He caught her easily, strong and steady, wrapping his hands around his girl and burying his bushy beard into the crook of her neck. “I missed you, girly girl,” he said gruffly. The man was obviously a smoker. He sounded like he smoked no less than a pack a day. But to each their own. “I missed you more, daddy. I’m glad you made it back for Christmas,” she exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have missed Christmas with you for the world. You know that.” They both got quiet after that, and I noticed a change in both of their demeanors, as if they were remembering what used to be. They stayed wrapped in each other’s arms for long moments before Channing disengaged from her father and walked back towards me.

My arms went from across my chest to around her waist. “You Bryce?” he asked as he eyed my hands. I reluctantly let her go, and offered my hand to him. “Bryce Rector. Friends call me Loki,” I confirmed. “His name is Colton,” Channing blurted. He glared at me ignoring his daughter’s introduction. “Well, Loki, looks like you have some catching up to do. Let’s take a walk.” Giving Channing a small peck on the cheek, I looked back at the window where I could clearly see every single one of the men and women inside watching the show, and gestured to Channing with my head. Sebastian met my eyes and nodded. Walking around the side of the house, I moved in the direction of the lake. Channing’s father stepped in beside me, and we both stayed silent until we were well away from the house. “What do you do for a living?” He asked. Looking at the rolling waves of the lake, I answered. “I’m a detective with the Benton Police Department.” I hadn’t noticed he’d stopped until I was nearly at the peer. Turning, I found him staring at me open mouthed. “You’ve got to be shitting me,” he said loudly. I shook my head, and then pointed down to the badge that had somehow fallen behind my cut. Then I moved the cut upwards and turned so he could see the gun at my kidney. “I know what you’re thinking, but we’ve already had our melt downs, and we’re working on getting through it. She doesn’t necessarily have a problem with me anymore, but my best friend, who’s the K-9 officer for BPD, she still has trouble with,” I said quietly. He started walking forward until he was standing directly in front of me. I looked down at him, watching him survey me for long seconds, before he finally came to a decision. “I’ve been waiting a long time for a man like you to show up. Maybe now she can stop being so scared all the time,” he said roughly before holding out his hand for me to shake. I took it.

“Thanks,” I shook his hand. “I’d give my life for her.” “She deserves that and more, my boy,” he noted. “I can tell you’re a good man, though. You’ve been honest with me, and I appreciate that in a man.” I agreed. She did. Wholeheartedly. Channing deserved more than me, but I knew a good thing when I had it. Which was why the subject of our next topic wasn’t going to be a pleasant one, and I wasn’t sure he was going to take it all that well. I had to tell him Channing’s life was in danger all because of me, and I just knew he was going to serve me his fist once I was done. He would be mad, and I wouldn’t blame him one bit. However, I wasn’t going anywhere, and he’d have to pry my dead fingers out of hers before I ever let her go again. “So let me catch you up to speed on how your daughter and I met. Maybe you can offer me some insight on your daughter. What you think I should do,” I said tiredly. So I explained all that had gone on up until this point. I told him about the undercover operation. I told him about how I met his daughter. I told him about finishing the operation, and the subpoena to testify. I told him about the death threats, and how I left for three months to try to get away from said threats. But I also told him how much I cared for Channing. How much I wanted to keep her safe. I asked for advice on what he thought I should do when it came to her, and surprisingly, it was good. “Talk to her. She’s got a smart head on her shoulders. She also knows when to cut and run. Which she would’ve done a very long time ago if you hadn’t somehow gained her trust. Confide in her. She needs to be needed. And by the sound of it, you do too,” he told me sagely.

*** Later that night “Goddamn, but I told that asshole that neither he, nor I, was allowed to open the box, but he was persistent. Put me in cuffs when I refused to open it. So I had to watch as he broke the electronic seal on the back doors,” Colton groaned. “He throws the back doors open, and I see from my position in the back of the cop car when he realizes what he’d just done. Ten minutes later, I hear the whomp-whomp-whomp, of two Apache’s heading towards us at a dead fucking sprint. Officer Dick scrambles out of the back of the box to see men start repelling from the motherfuckin’ Apache’s and landing on the ground. They were aiming weapons at everyone, and I was in the backseat laughing my ass off.” I looked at him in stunned surprise. “You didn’t know what you were transporting?” I asked. He shook his head. “Negative. I only knew that it was something important. I had to call them with hourly updates. This was my fourth haul for this particular company, and I continued to do it since it paid so much. Should’ve known it was the fucking government.” Sebastian, Cleo, Sterling, Trance, Kettle and I were all gathered around the bar at Halligans and Handcuffs, the bar and grill that the Dixie Wardens MC just recently opened. Channing was in the corner, surrounded by all the old ladies, while Colton told us about his last haul he’d just completed. “Goddammit, Loki, I fucking told you that you couldn’t have your dog here anymore.” Dixie growled from across the bar. I turned to find him holding onto Lucy’s collar with a ferocious frown on his face. “And I told you that, as soon as you refused to let Trance’s dog in here, I would stop bringing Lucy,” I said just before taking a sip of my beer. “And I told you, that Trance’s dog knows fucking obedience! Your dog was just eating through a big ass fucking bag of tortilla chips,” he thundered. I glared back at him. “What the fuck were the chips doing on the ground where he could reach them?” Dixie picked up the closest thing, which happened to be a salt shaker, and launched it at me. “It was on the top shelf of the pantry, dillweed!” I caught it effortlessly, but could think of nothing to say. “How the hell did he get up there?” “Fucking Silas left a ladder leaning against the far wall,” he grumbled as he let Lucy’s collar go. Chuckles filled the air around me as I called Lucy to my side. “Sit down, you big bastard.”

He sat, laying his head next to Kosher’s. Kosher was Trance’s K-9 dog, and the polar opposite of Lucy. Lucifer a.k.a. Lucy, was dark where Kosher was light. Lucifer started out as a Ben, and slowly changed to a Lucifer. He ate couches. He ate walls. He ate my clothes. Anything that was left within his eating distance was fair game to him. Which was why he was now kenneled during the times I was gone. I tried to take him everywhere I went, other than work, but it was obvious if he was going to continue living up to his namesake, that I couldn’t continue bringing him here. Silas wouldn’t tolerate it for much longer, and then I’d never hear the end of it. “Alright, Dixie. After tonight, I won’t bring him with me anymore,” I pouted. He turned around and left without another word. “You really going to leave him at home?” Trance asked with a raised eyebrow. He, too, had been on the receiving end of Lucy’s destructive mouth, and I ended up having to buy him a new stock for his AR-15 to pay for the one Lucy had destroyed. I shook my head. “Nah, I’ll just tie him to a run outside. That way he’s not cooped up in his cage.” “We used to have a Rottie like him. Although it was a girl. Her name was Bonnie. She died during the hurricane with my Margery,” Colton admitted sadly. “I didn’t know that. Channing’s very closed off when it comes to her mom. I only got the bare bones explanation, and never pushed for more,” I replied carefully. I knew Hurricane Katrina was catastrophic, but it’d never really touched me like it did everyone else in the lower half of Louisiana. Like it had Channing. I’d seen how much it hurt the one and only time I’d asked about Channing’s parents, and hadn’t brought up the subject since. “Yeah, she doesn’t like talking about it. I don’t blame her. She was with her mom when the tree they were holding onto collapsed. Channing had managed to hold onto what was left of the tree limb, but Margery was swept away. Channing blames herself. I blame myself. It was an all-around horrific thing, and she’s never been able to get past it. She’d already been traumatized from that impersonating fucker

trying to rape her, and then that happened. Needless to say, she’s just lucky to be doing as good as she is,” he told me. The men around the table had conveniently found something else to look at, but I knew they were listening. Anything that affected me, affected them. They were like a bunch of old nosey women who spied out the window at the neighborhood. But I was grateful. I liked that I always had them at my back. “I’m sorry to hear that, Colton,” I said truthfully. He shrugged his shoulder. “Been a long time, now. Life has a way of pulling the cards that it thinks is best for you. Sometimes you win with the hand you’re dealt, and sometimes you lose. But the hand you’re given is only won by the skill of the player. I’ve just got to trust in that; otherwise, I’d have nothing to look forward to.” “Did you learn anything else while you were meeting with the chief and following up on the leads he had for you?” Trance asked. Everyone at the table silenced, and they listened for my reply. I really shouldn’t have been talking about an active investigation, but after today, it didn’t much matter. “No, not really. The Chief took me off the case. Put Hernandez on it. He said I was too involved, and I happen to agree with him. That’s not to say that I’m going to be just laying back and letting everyone else take care of my shit though. I was able to learn that Varian will be transferred to Huntsville the week after Christmas. He also gave up five other men and women; none of which admitted to murdering and raping anybody,” I said as I ran my fingers through my hair. I was frustrated beyond belief. “Does my girl know you’ve had a man on her since that second murder?” Colton asked as he took a pull on his beer. I looked at him sharply. “No, should she know? I didn’t really want her to know. She freaks out enough when a cop is within ten feet of her. I can just imagine what she’d do when I told her she has a cop and a couple of bikers following her around everywhere she goes.” Colton laughed. “I guarantee you she already knows. She picked them up the first time they were sent over to watch her.” I looked at him incredulously. “What makes you think that?” “I taught that girl everything I know. I was a pararescuemen in the air force during Vietnam. I got out when Margery got pregnant with Channing, and I got back into business with my pop. Channing grew up on a shrimper, and I taught her everything I knew during our down time. She knows. I guarantee you,”

Colton smiled widely. My eyes narrowed on him, then I got up and headed to the table in the corner. The table was a corner booth that held five max, but there were five women, a toddler, and an infant packed into the booth. Channing was squeezed into the middle. Adeline and Viddy were closest to her with Baylee and Minnie on the outsides. Minnie was the wife of another member of The Dixie Wardens, Porter. Minnie was a tailor, and the one who did all of the work for the club’s colors. She was also the one I’d be going to as soon as all the shit around me was done swirling. I wanted her to customize a property patch for Channing. I already had it all planned out; all I needed was to get my life fixed, and then I’d make her mine.

Chapter 14 I won’t get jealous. I won’t get jealous. I won’t get jealous. Okay…who’s the whore? -Channing to Brittany Channing Blaise was crawling over the five of us, using our thighs as balance beams. I was holding Adeline and Kettle’s baby, Saylor, close to my chest, breathing in her little baby smell. She was making the cutest snoring noises that made my insides warm and gooey. “No, what I’m asking is, if you found out your husband was cheating, would you make friends with the mistress?” Adeline asked Viddy. I rolled my eyes. They’d been going on and on about this for ten minutes now. It was like they were arguing with a brick wall. “No! Because Trance would never cheat on me,” Viddy re-emphasized for the tenth time. Adeline balled up her fists at her sister. “You little shit! That’s not what I mean!” Viddy thumbed her nose at Adeline. “My ex-boyfriend cheated on me. I found out when I answered a 911 call. The girlfriend had an allergic reaction, and they’d called the ambulance. Then I show up, and I have to save her slut ass,” Baylee grumbled. “Were you living with him at the time?” Adeline asked her. Baylee shook her head. “Yes, I was living with him, which was incredibly awkward. When I got home from my shift, he’d boxed all my shit up nicely and set it outside. Asshole.” I snorted. “You should’ve retaliated or something. I would’ve made him move the fuck out.” Then again, I was a vindictive bitch. “It was kind of hard; he’d already changed the locks and everything. Plus, I’d moved into his place. It was only fair,” Baylee shrugged. I never forgot anything. Never. “My boyfriend from college did that. He didn’t leave me any of my things, though. He just locked it and left so I couldn’t get in. Although, I broke into the place with his old car. Drove it straight through his front window. Then I left so the cops wouldn’t know it was me,” I told them. They all stared at me open mouthed.

“Why wouldn’t you be the first person the police contacted?” Viddy asked. “I was, but Brody had tried to teach me multiple times how to drive a stick shift. I never figured it out. I was so pissed at that moment, though, that I just slammed my foot onto the gas, put it in first, and let off the clutch. I’m not quite sure I meant to drive it through his house or anything, but I did anyway,” I clarified. The women surrounding me giggled, making the baby snuggled into my chest stir and let out a whimper. Putting my hand under her bottom, I bounced her up and down, while I looked around the room. “This is a nice place. Is this new?” I asked as I took in the nearest waiter who happened to be a firefighter with the Benton Fire Department. I’d lived in Benton for a while now, and this was the first time I’d even heard of Halligans and Handcuffs. The décor in the place was stunning. All of the tables were made of diamond plated chrome, and the chairs were made out of what I expected was the material that firefighter’s bunker gear was made out of. The lighting was suspended from the ceiling with handcuffs linked one by one. They had a perfect blend of both firefighting and policing. I loved it. “Yep. We’ve put a lot of work into this place. All of us have done a little something. My contribution was the fire hoses that are housed in the glass of the bar. Adeline found all of the fire department signs. Viddy designed the handcuff lights. Minnie embroidered all the chairs. The guys did their part, too. It was a long process, but we like the outcome,” Baylee said. “You should’ve done those police grates that separates the cops from the criminals between the booths. It would’ve looked cute,” I said absentmindedly. “That’s a good idea,” Loki’s deep voice said from my side. I jumped, startled to see him that close. He was standing directly in front of the table, surprising me, because I’d been so into the décor that I hadn’t paid attention to my surroundings. Something that I never forgot. “Hey,” I said distractedly. “Are you ready to go or something?” Loki had worked this afternoon, and while he’d done that, I’d gone in early and finished all of my

work that I usually saved for when the mortuary was less crowded. But I’d had few distractions today, enabling me to get out early and come to the bar for dinner. I’d been surprised to find my father already here, but he fit in well with the crowd, and I was grateful. I would’ve hated to have to choose between Loki and my dad. “Did you happen to see anybody or anything following you today or yesterday?” he asked nonchalantly. Thinking back to when I drove yesterday and today, I thought about how many people were following me. I’d stopped counting at four, but there could’ve been more. “Three bikes, and a police car. The bikes were further back than the car, but I caught on about a mile away from my house...why?” I asked. “I thought you put them on me.” He looked stunned. “I did.” I cocked my head to the side, wondering why he was looking at me like that. “Then what’s the problem?” I asked. He shook his head, a smile tipping up the corner of his lips. “Nothing. I just wanted to know how many you saw.” “Cleo and Sterling were good. I clocked Tunnel in his cop car first. I saw Silas last. I probably wouldn’t have seen him, either, if I hadn’t gone out the back. He was sitting in the very edge of my yard in the shadows. Is he a spook or something?” I wondered. My dad taught me most of what he knew when it came to defenses, blending all that he knew from the other branches into one long lesson that spanned years. Too bad all the lessons in the world didn’t help me when I needed it the most. If it had, I wouldn’t be as fucked up as I was. My innocence was lost that night, even if I didn’t have it, technically, taken from me. I was blissfully unaware of how horrible life could really be. About as innocent as the tiny little baby napping on my chest. The baby that Loki was looking at, with such longing, that my heart started to palpitate in my chest. “You look good holding a baby,” he said huskily. I wrinkled my nose at him, but didn’t reply, wanting... no, needing, to change the subject. Quickly. Luckily, Baylee did that for me. “Alright, chicks. I’ve got to tinkle. Who’s with me?”

Adeline scooted out next, and then held her arms out for the baby. “I am. Saylor needs a diaper change. And I need to go, too. Giving birth didn’t do anything for my bladder like I thought it would.” Slowly the booth emptied, as they all trailed to the bathroom in a line, weaving in and out of the crowd as they went. I stayed, though. Just looking at Loki held me captivated. He looked good. He’d showered somewhere in between this morning and this evening. He was dressed in a long sleeved red Henley, dark washed jeans, and his black leather vest that he called his cut. I’d gotten a whole entire lecture on the etiquette required when wearing The Dixie Wardens cut, and what each patch on the cut meant. How I was supposed to act and not act when I was representing the club colors, even though I didn’t wear club colors. All the while he walked around, pacing and talking, drawing my eyes to his muscled arms, strong jaw, and even his bare feet. I was embarrassed to say that while he was explaining what the cut meant to him, I was busy trying to control my raging libido. There he was trying to explain the importance of the colors, and I was thinking about throwing those colors on the ground and devouring him with my mouth. “What are you looking at?” He asked, startling me out of my revere of his flat tummy and muscled thighs. My eyes automatically zeroed in on his crotch, and I licked my lips, causing him to burst out laughing. I glanced up at him guiltily. “Sorry, you look good in those jeans. I’ve been staring at your ass all night.” I wasn’t sorry in the least, and he knew it. The smile he shot me was disarming. “Do you want to dance?” he asked. I looked around the room, seeing nowhere to dance, and then back to him. “Where would we do that?” I asked curiously. I’d never danced before. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I’d never wanted to dance before. However, I’d do just about anything with this man. If he wanted to dance with me, than I’d damn well do it. I was on the verge of scooting over in the booth I was sitting at when Loki’s name was called by some woman I didn’t know, grabbing his attention from me.

I about choked on my tongue when I saw the woman that came out of the woodwork to stop next to Loki. She leaned into him and spoke quietly in his ear before turning and walking away. He watched her go, which made me see red. However, he didn’t give me the chance to show him how mad I was. Instead, he walked over to me quickly, gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and muttered, “I’ll be back.” He didn’t wait to see what I had to say about that, only followed after the stunning blonde who, even if she gained thirty pounds and had a double chin, would still look better than me. Fuck. That. I’d be getting my fucking dance. Even if I had to piss him off before I got it.

*** Loki “What did the chief have to say about you keeping me updated on the case?” I asked Eurie. Eurie was another detective with the BPD. She was also damn good at her job, and easy on the eyes. The unsuspecting criminals always fell for her pretty looks before she whipped out a dick bigger than most men. Well, not literally or anything, but she was a ball buster. She didn’t take shit from anybody: man, woman, or child. I’ve considered her a friend for a couple of years now. She was one of two female detectives on the force. She and Detective Hernandez often got paired up on assignments, and they had a clearance rate of ninety four percent, five percent above my own. Which was to be expected. I didn’t ever get the suspects to open up to me. All of my accomplishments came from hard work and determination, not my smooth talking mouth. “He didn’t care. He knew we were going to be sharing it with you. You have better insight on the inner workings of the rapists’ mind than we do. It’d be stupid to kick you off the case completely,” she shrugged. “I just wanted to come tell you that Detective Hernandez and I were partnered up, and that we’d be taking over, officially, from now on. If you get any leads, please call my cell.” We’d hooked up when she’d first gotten on the force, and randomly on and off since then, but our relationship never went further than sex. She’d actually been my only sexual partner for going on two years now. Which had ended the moment I saw Channing a year ago. She’d called only once in the past year, and I’d told her, immediately, that I was involved with someone. Then again, just because I wasn’t fucking her didn’t mean that I didn’t like and respect her. “Good,” I rumbled as I surveyed our surroundings. We’d gone outside, and then circled behind the bar so we could talk without any interference. Unfortunately, it left us more isolated, and I didn’t hear what was going on in the bar. “Okay, I’ll check in with you tomorrow evening. I’ve got a date. Night, lover,” Eurie teased. I rolled my eyes. “Night, Eurie.” Shoving my hands into my pockets to try to alleviate the cold, I walked around the corner of the bar,

and into a mad house. “What the fuck is going on?” I yelled over the music to Cleo. Cleo was sitting at the very first table that was off set to the door. It was the only one in the little nook, and the only one Cleo liked to sit in. He was sipping his beer and watching the crowd that had gathered in the corner of the room. “Your girl’s dancing on the fire pole,” he said lightly. I froze for a few precious seconds, reading Cleo’s face, and judging whether he was serious or not. When I deemed that he was, indeed, serious, I whipped around and started shoving my way through the crowd. I noticed, as I went, that I elbowed Silas out of the way, but at that moment in time, I could care less. If what Cleo said was true, I was about to bust some faces. What I saw when I came up to the dance floor set my blood to boiling. The dance floor was little more than a twenty by twenty section of floor to the right of the bar. Most of the time it had a long table that could easily seat twenty if you squeezed them in tight, taking up that spot. However, on my way out to talk with Eurie, I’d asked Dixie to have a few of the boys move the table to the wall and stack the chairs so I could dance with Channing when I got back in. In the very middle of the ‘dance floor’ was the fire pole. A police and firefighter themed bar just wouldn’t be complete without one. At the time we’d put the big bastard up, I’d thought it was perfect. Now, however, I wanted to rip that motherfucker from the ceiling and bash every man within a ten-foot radius with it. “What the fuck are you doing?” I hadn’t been aware that I was going to bellow until the words poured from my mouth. It was one hell of a shout, though. It quieted everyone and everything, besides the music, which cut off shortly after everything became so deathly quiet. Channing, who’d been at the top of the fire pole hanging upside down, slowly grabbed the pole and slid down. When her feet hit the ground, both men who’d been standing beside the pole steadied her unsteady feet.

She smiled thankfully at Sterling and his friend, Parker. Parker was a young kid, just turning twenty-two a couple weeks before, according to Sterling. He’d come down on leave with Sterling, and would spend the next three weeks of their shore leave here before they were ordered back to base. “I believe my girl was showing off her hooker skills,” Colton said from behind me, drawing my attention. I turned and glared at the man. “Was she now?” I asked in a deceptively calm tone. “Yep. She started taking those hooker classes in college. Her momma would be rolling in her grave if she’d seen what I’d just saw,” Colton glared at his daughter. The boy wonder twins snickered and walked off, lucky to be alive. Channing started to walk away as well, but I moved quickly, looping my arm around her waist and pulling her back into me. “Not so fast, Channing,” I breathed against her neck causing her to shiver. “You owe me a dance.” “Your dance walked out the door when you did,” she snarled. I buried my nose into the crook of her beck and smiled at the jealousy in her tone. “Jealous?” I teased. The music snapped back on, and a Randy Travis song started to fill the room. She stiffened in my arms. “Were you?” She snapped right back. “She’s a co-worker,” I told her, starting to sway my hips and torso to the beat. “You’ve had sex with her,” she stated. I pushed my raging cock until it dug into her ass. “She doesn’t make my dick hard. You do. What happened in the past is still in the past.” I knew it wasn’t going to work. Women didn’t let shit like this go. They picked it to death, and the only way to get them to stop was to tell them what they wanted to hear, or keep their mouth busy. Since I couldn’t tell her what she wanted to hear, I grabbed ahold of her wavy auburn locks, and tipped her head back before I placed my mouth over hers. She moaned into my mouth, and started to lean into the kiss when a loud piercing whistle tore through the air. Bawdy catcalls filled the air as the people around us started to pay attention to our show.

She yanked her face, and then her body, away from me so fast that I stumbled forward. I was just catching my balance when I saw the back of her weaving through the crowd, now dancing to a Johnny Cash song. “My girl’s a fighter. Better go catch her before she jacks your ride and you can’t catch her,” Colton’s amused voice said from behind me. “She wouldn’t,” I narrowed my eyes at the door. “So...did she make all your men?” he asked conversationally, inquiring about Channing noticing all of the security I had following her. I cursed and started to dodge bodies as I hustled towards the door. I didn’t find her trying to jack my bike though. No, I found her jacking her father’s rig. I ran up to the side of the truck and jumped onto the step, looping my hand around the mirror for balance. Channing had closed and re-locked the door, and she didn’t look up from what she was doing between her legs, which was hot wiring the truck, I was surprised to see. “Your dad’s going to kick your ass,” I mused, leaning my head against the glass. “My dad can suck it,” came her muffled reply. The truck’s powerful engine rolled over with a dull roar, and she put the truck in first before she started to inch forward. She also rolled the window down a third of the way so she could hear me. “Get off the truck,” her angered eyes glared towards mine. I refused. “No.” “Now,” she demanded. “No.” I repeated. Her head went back in exasperation as she slammed hard on the brakes. Although, I’d anticipated that, I braced myself against the smoke stack. “Get off and walk around, I’ll wait for you,” she lied. I laughed. “Do you think I’m stupid?” She was breathing hard now. “Jesus Christ,” she snarled.

“Come on, unlock the door and ride home with me,” I said loudly. She shook her head. “I can’t. I have to get my car and drive it home.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Then why did you hotwire this when you could’ve gone to your car the entire time?” She shrugged. “I was mad at him. He deserved it. Then again, you’re not doing so hot, either.” While she was glaring at me, she failed to see her father running up the other side of the truck and open the cab with his keys. She snarled an oath, and then opened the door before she started to swing down. I moved out of the way quickly as the door swung open. She stepped down onto the step and jumped the short distance to the ground before stomping her way towards her car. I caught up to her half way to her car. Since I was only yards away from my bike, I grabbed hold of her arm and swung her towards me. “Hey,” I growled. “Ride with me.” She yanked her arm from my grasp, and the bracelet she was wearing slipped off her hand and swung in an arc to the ground, two cars away. We both walked towards it at the same time, bending down and bumped our heads. It was the comical way, where both parties bang their heads, and then fall over onto their asses. The next five seconds played as expected. We both started laughing, and when I moved to help her stand, bullets started hitting the car we were parked behind, peppering it like one would with a paintball gun. Instinctively, I tackled Channing to the ground, and started rolling. I kept rolling through the gap in the tires of the truck we’d been standing beside until I couldn’t roll anymore. Then I crouched over her, extracted my Glock from my ankle holster and handed it to her. She was laying on her back, staring up at me in fear. “Here,” I said as I shoved the gun into her hand. “You know how to work that?” I asked the question without looking at her, knowing that she did, but wanting confirmation. “Yes,” she said. “One in the chamber?”

“Yes,” I whispered, once the shooting stopped. The night air was still as I reached for the .45 that was at the small of my back and extracting it. “What...” I placed my hand over her mouth, silencing whatever she was about to say. She froze, looking at me with fearful eyes. She nodded silently and I removed my hand from her mouth before taking another look around. The part of the parking lot we were in was near the back of the lot where the lighting was worst. Which was why I didn’t see the gunmen coming until he already had his rifle up and shooting. Burning fire exploded in my right arm, making my grip on my .45 loosen until it fell uselessly to the ground. That didn’t stop Channing, though. She raised her arm up, pointing upside down at the man, and squeezed the trigger. The gun exploded beside my ear, momentarily stealing my ability to hear. It didn’t fuck with my vision, though. I saw the man drop like a house of cards. The phone in my pocket started buzzing, and I quickly withdrew it with my uninjured hand. “Rector,” I barked. “Status?” Trance asked in alarm. I took in the scene. The man was writhing on the ground; I slowly walked on my knees toward him, keeping my gun trained on him the entire way. Once I got close enough, I stood and crouched, kicking the man’s gun away from his reach in a spray of gravel. “One shooter down. I’m not sure if there’s more, but I’m staying where I am. The shooter’s down, but not dead. Channing’s with me. I’ve been shot in the arm,” I stated crisply. “10-4.” I heard a few yards away, and then immediately after, through the receiver of my phone. “Over here.” I called loudly. “Clear.” “Clear.” “Clear.”

“Clear.” “Clear.” The word was repeated over and over again as fifteen people poured out of the shadows. That was one benefit of being at a cop and MC owned joint. There was no shortage of people knowing what to do. There was also no need to call the cops, because there were six already there: three in uniform, and three in plains clothes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Channing take Trance’s offered hand as she was lifted up to her feet. She murmured a thank you before heading to me. “Oh, God. Your arm looks disgusting,” she cried. Several chuckles followed her statement, including my own. “Thanks,” I said amusingly. She poked at it with a lone finger. “Does it hurt?” Just that fine of a touch was enough to shoot shards of pain down my arm in droves. “Ow, fuck. Lay off, woman!” I called out loudly. I kept my eye on the writhing man, and was amused to see that Channing’s aim was true. “You shot him up his dick and into his belly,” I mused. “His insides are probably the consistency of soup,” Channing observed. That was the truth. I had hollow points in all of my guns. If anything was worth doing, it was worth doing right, in my opinion. Hollow points were made to expand and mushroom once they hit something. Let it be flesh or wood. If it comes into contact with the bullet, you best believe that whatever it hits will be destroyed. Police used it to have minimal collateral damage. If a bullet were to hit something, it was made not to travel. “D-do you think he’ll l-live?” Channing stuttered. “Maybe,” I hedged. There was no way the guy was going to live. His internal organs were probably more the consistency of stew rather than soup, but the outcome was still the same. He wasn’t going to make it, but I didn’t want Channing to know that yet. Not until I had my arm taken care of, and we were in the privacy of one of our

homes. The sirens started to break the silence of the night, and in two short minutes, two cop cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck arrived on scene. Then there was The Chief. “What the fuck happened, Rector?” The Chief snarled as I was being looked over by a paramedic. The paramedic, Dallas, replied. “Well, it’s obvious to me he was shot. Is that not obvious to you?” Dallas had a mouth on him, and he couldn’t be serious in any situation. When it came to authority figures, he rebelled; hence, why he smarted off to the Chief of Police. Cabe gave Dallas a withering glare, but Dallas didn’t react in the least, which caused Cabe to turn his glare back on me. He raised his eyebrows at me as if saying ‘well?’ Sighing, I started to explain. Once I was finished, Cabe stared up at the night sky in resignation. “What the fuck is with you Dixie Wardens? I’m so goddamned tired of the lot of you getting into trouble. Goddammit. I was in bed with my wife. Do you know how fucking rare it is to get there this fucking early in the evening? That’s right. Pretty fucking rare.” Channing’s amused giggle sounded from behind Cabe, and Cabe turned to glare at her, but softened once he realized who he was glaring at. “You okay, honey?” He asked. She smiled tiredly at him. “I’m doing better than you, by the sound of it,” she quipped. “Killing. Raping. Shooting. Jesus Christ, Rector. You’re like the fucking plague, leaving death and gore in your wake,” Cabe sighed. The reminder of what was following me sobered my face instantly, wiping away any traces of humor. “Yes, sir,” I muttered. Cabe turned and placed his hands on his hips. “I think you need to get the fuck outta here for a couple of weeks. Take Channing and go visit your folks for the holidays. I’ll see if we can get Varian moved to the new facility this week instead of the next. You had some leave, anyway.” Something inside of me told me that was the correct move for now. Whomever was playing the game with me knew the rules, and I didn’t. What better way to quit the game than to remove myself from the

game board. If I wasn’t here, and Channing wasn’t here, the challenger wouldn’t have any other recourse but to resign, too. At least I’d hoped. There was nothing left for me to do, not with my authority to investigate stripped away. What’s the worst that could happen? Apparently, a lot.

Chapter 15 I like your dick and I cannot lie. My orgasm is the reason why. -Text from Channing to Loki Loki “Why do we have to stay here?” Channing asked as she walked around the cabin. “Because it’s not safe to stay at our places when people have been shooting at us. And it’s not fair to our neighbors,” I said dryly. She stuck her tongue out. “I understand that, butthead. I was more saying why here, in particular. Why not a hotel...or just leave tonight.” “The same reasons apply. Staying out in the middle of nowhere puts less people at risk. This is one of the safe houses the club uses in times of emergency. Silas owns it outright. It’s owned under a false name, so there are no tracks that lead to the club. As for why we’re not leaving tonight, we’re going to be having a few riders come along. Cleo, Sterling, and Parker will be riding with us. Plus, you said you wanted to say goodbye to your dad before we left,” I explained. Parker and Sterling had to meet back in Florida to get back to base within the next week anyway, so it was no skin off their nose to head back with me to act as added protection. Cleo was going because he was amused by Channing, despite only knowing her for a short period of time. Stripping off my shirt, I tossed it to the floor, and followed it up with my boots, pants, and underwear. “What,” Channing cleared her throat. “What are you doing?” I stared at her still clothed body. “Taking a shower. Want to join me?” Not waiting for her answer, I shucked my underwear and walked towards the bathroom. The safe house was simple in design. A kitchen. A living room. A bedroom, and a bathroom. Nothing more, nothing less. It was in the middle of nowhere on twelve acres of land. The floor was made of wood, and the walls were made of faux wood. It was constructed on a budget, but it did its job by providing shelter from the elements. The roof was tin, and with the light rain that was coming down, it sounded heavenly.

Getting to the bathroom, I turned on the water and stepped inside without waiting for it to warm. The cool water hit me on the chest, and made my balls crawl up tight to my body, but I relished in the cool temperature. I always took cold showers. Earlier in life, it was because my mom couldn’t afford a water heater. Over time, it became a habit. So much so that I rarely ever turned on the hot water if it was just me. Even rarer was for me to be in the shower with someone. Hence why Channing shrieked when she stepped into the shower. Her nipples beaded into tight turgid points as the water spread over her back and shoulders. Goosebumps pebbled her flesh, spreading from her shoulders all the way down. “Holy shit,” she gasped. “What’s the deal? They don’t have hot water here?” I reached forward, pressing my body against hers, and cranked the hot water until it was fully on. Her body felt so right today, and her hips softer, almost fuller. Her belly pressed into my abs, a small, hardened pooch there now, where before there was only softness. Then my concentration was stolen from her stomach, to her breasts that seemed to have grown double overnight. Hot water started to cascade down the both of us, seeping between our bodies, and pooling in the places where there was no distance between the two of us. For instance, the valley of her breasts was gathering a pool of water, held only by the press of our bodies. Reaching forward again, I grabbed the soap and started running it along the length of her back, letting the solid bar of Dial slip and slide along her smooth skin. She groaned and let her head fall until it was resting on my shoulder, jostling me and causing a twinge of pain to radiate through my arm. She caught the flinch, and backed off immediately. “Oh, God. I’m sorry. Are you okay?” When I’d gone to the hospital, I hadn’t been in nearly as much pain as I was now, which meant the lovely pain meds they’d given me were wearing off. By the time the whole fiasco and subsequent recounting of the events was said and done, I’d been taken to the hospital where they’d cleaned the bullet wound that went through my lower forearm. Luckily, the bullet had entered my arm and traveled directly in between the ulna and radius. Now it just hurt like a bitch. If that hadn’t happened, I would have required surgery.

“You weren’t supposed to get that wet,” Channing chided. I looked down at the stitches in my arm and grimaced. “Yeah, well shit happens.” “You just let me know how that works for you when your arm rots off from dysentery and Gangrene,” she snapped, gently grabbing a hold of my arm and lifting it out of the water. She maneuvered it until I had my palm pressing against the top of her shoulder, allowing the stitches to remain water free. “Dysentery is where you eat bad chicken and get the shits. It has nothing to do with getting your stitches wet,” I observed dryly. She narrowed her eyes at me. “Whatever.” Uh-oh. Them’s fighting words. “What’s wrong?” I asked, taking my free hand and running the backs of my fingers along her lower jaw. She closed her eyes, and leaned her head against my hurt-free shoulder. “Nothing.” Strike two. Whatever and nothing. “Please tell me what’s wrong,” I said softly, giving her cheek and then her neck a soft, wet kiss. “I’m fine.” Strike three. Curling my hand around her jaw with my working hand, I lifted her head until her eyes stared into mine. Then I crowded her until her bare back met the cold tiles. Her eyes widened, and she gasped when I followed her body, pressing the entire length of my body into hers, from knees to chest. “Tell me,” I said before giving her a punishing kiss. The hand that had been resting on her shoulder was shoved aside, forgotten, as she threw her arms around my neck. She buried her hands into the hair on the back of my head, and she pressed impossibly closer. My raging cock found a home against the apex of her thighs, and I ground myself into her, eliciting a moan. “Tell me,” I breathed against her lips.

Her tongue left her mouth, and entered mine. Our tongues dueled, her tongue running along with mine. She froze when the head of my cock pressed between her clenched thighs. Smiling devilishly, she reached for the soap, got a good lather up, and ran both fists along the length of my raging cock. When it was nice and slippery, she dropped the soap to the bottom of the shower, and then pulled me forward once again. The head of my cock, newly lubed with the soap, slipped in between her clenched thighs. The head tunneled through the lips of her sex, and disappeared between the crack of her ass behind her. “Ohh,” she breathed. Pulling out until the head of my cock rested against the engorged heat of her clit, I gave short strokes forwards and back. The head of my cock was so sensitive that I was getting just as much excitement out of it as she was. I looked down and watched as the length of my ruddy veined cock entered and then disappeared in between her thighs. Soap bubbles were lathering thickly along the stalk of my shaft, mingling not just with my own pubic hair, but with Channing’s as well. She also watched; both of us were zeroed in on the point where I stopped and she began. The tight fit of her thighs and the slickness of the water and soap almost made the entire action feel like the real thing. “I need you inside of me,” she begged. Grinning evilly at her, I pulled back, removing my rock hard cock from her and backing away until there was a foot between us. My cock was the only thing trying to span the breach, but I wanted answers, and I wasn’t going to get any if I just gave her what she wanted. “Tell me,” I said, looking into her pleading eyes. “I...I...” she shook her head. Bending down, she picked up the bar of soap that had made its way to the drain, and started to lather up her body. I helped.

Mostly my washing her turgid nipples, first with my mouth, and then with the bar of soap I stole from her hand. I ran the tip of my finger around her areola, slowly working my way inside until I was over the very tip. Then I pinched it lightly, eliciting a hiss out of her. “If you won’t fuck me, I’ll just do the job myself,” she snapped. Leaning forward, the water cascaded over her body in slow rivulets, washing away the suds that I’d lathered up on her breasts. Then her fingers disappeared between her thighs, and her eyes closed as she sank her fingers into her wet heat. “Yes, Loki. Yes,” she moaned. The sight before me was amazing. I’d never actually witnessed a woman masturbating in person. Sure, I’d seen plenty of women doing it in magazines, but nothing, and I do mean nothing, could compare to this. Reaching forward, I awkwardly fisted my cock with my left hand, and started working it with slow, stiff draws. The head of my cock leaked at the sight of her. Her chest was flushed. Her hair slicked back away from her face. Her tits squished together. One hand was on the opposite nipple, pinching. Then she lifted her breast and ran the tip of her tongue around the areola before sucking the tip into her mouth. I froze, mesmerized. “God,” I breathed. Her eyes opened, and they communicated with me that she knew what she was doing to me. Closing again, she doubled her efforts between her legs before switching to the other nipple. That’s about when my control broke. Lunging forward, I snatched the hand that was in between her thighs out, and pinned it to the wall above her head. “Turn around,” I demanded. Letting the nipple in her mouth go, she turned and presented me with her upturned ass. Then I lined my cock up with her entrance, and slammed inside.

Gone were my problems. Gone were the ‘what if’s.’ Gone was the outside world until there was only her and me. My cock inside her wet heat. There was so much wetness that I didn’t know whether it was coming from her, me, or the shower. Whatever the reason, I worked with it. My cock plunged into her tight pussy unimpeded. The wet sounds of our flesh slapping against each other’s filled the small stall. One particularly rough thrust of my hips caused Channing to lean forward until her forearms were planted in the tiled wall in front of her. I felt the telltale sign of my impending release, and I growled. “Touch your clit. Get there quick, honey.” She complied, dropping her hand until it met the small bundle of nerves. With each rough thrust, she called out until they finally reached a crescendo, pushing her over the edge into oblivion. “Yes!” She shouted. My eyes squeezed tight as I jerked out of her slick heat at the last possible second and spurted hot come all over the crack of her ass. It ran down the valley, disappearing between her thighs, and then running further down her leg before the water washed it away. “Jesus,” I panted, leaning my head forward until it rested on the top of one of her shoulders. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I think I need a pain pill,” I observed. My arm was absolutely throbbing. With nothing else to take my mind off of the pain, it started to consume my arm once again. She rinsed off quickly before exiting the shower, coming back moments later with my bottle of pills I’d had filled before coming here. Twisting off the bottle, she handed the pill to me. I popped it into my mouth and rinsed it down with a swallow of water from the showerhead before rinsing the remaining soap from my body. Once I exited the shower, I wrapped the only remaining towel around my hips and walked into the bedroom where I found her sitting on the edge of the bed.

Her head was hung in defeat, and she looked so very lost that I felt something shift inside of me. Was it something I’d done? “What’s. Wrong,” I pleaded. She broke. All that emotion that she’d been holding back for the past three hours escaped her in a rush of tears. She buried her face further into her hands and cried. Sighing, I gathered her into my arms very awkwardly. She cried so long; so much so that there was a pool of tears not only on my chest, but running down my side and soaking the sheet underneath me. “I think you’ve just lost half your weight in tears,” I said to cheer her up. A watery laugh escaped her, stemming the flow of tears. “I got you a little wet,” she said as she wiped away the tears on my chest. “It’s okay, I don’t mind your brand of wetness,” I teased. She smiled sadly. “Loki...I have something to tell you when we get back from Florida. I’m not ready to tell you yet, but when we get back, promise me you’ll make me tell you.” My curiosity was peaked, but I allowed her to have her secrets. “For now,” I confirmed. “But now that I know you have a secret, don’t think I won’t try to figure it out.” “You can’t turn off the cop in you...can you?” She teased. I rolled my eyes. “No honey. I’ll forever be a cop, whether I’m wearing the badge or not.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. “Okay.” The pain in my arm slowly lessened to just under ‘oh-my-god-i-got-shot-in-the-arm’ levels and I was finally able to take a deep breath. Channing’s breathing pattern changed until her breaths became slow and steady. She drifted off to sleep like that, snuggled deep in my arms. Her head pillowed on my chest. My wounded hand resting on the mattress on the opposite side of me.

*** Channing

“Loki?” I asked into the darkness. I gave it three seconds before I called him again. “Loki?” I called again. Rolling over cautiously so I didn’t barrel into his wounded arm, I found him lying on his side. He was facing away from me, the broad expanse of his back the only thing I could make out in the darkness. The only light there was, was from the full moon peeking between a gap between the blinds. It hit the bed in lines, and cast shadows around the room. I’d woken in a panic, the dream that had been in my subconscious slowly drifting away into nothing. In the dream, Loki had left once he’d learned my secret. However, the longer I stared at his form and heard the soft sounds of his breathing surround me, the calmer I began to feel. The erratic staccato of my heart slowed, and the bile rising in my stomach began to decrease. My hand went down, unwillingly, to the slight curve of my belly, and I felt the flutters again, finally realizing what, exactly, had woken me. Movement. Movement from inside of me. Again. Toto, I thought. We’re not in Kansas anymore. “Please don’t hate me,” I whispered to his back.

Chapter 16 Pogonophile- (noun) one who loves beards. -T-shirt Channing I walked up behind Loki and listened unrepentantly to his conversation. “What did he say to that? Uh-huh.” Pause. “Yep. Sure.” Pause. “Seriously? And Varian?” Pause. “Nothing? You’re sure?” Pause. “Goddammit. There’s no way he was acting independently from him. I don’t have that many enemies.” I snorted, drawing Loki’s attention from the contemplation of the two raccoons currently chattering back and forth animatedly to me. He smiled when he saw me, allowing his eyes to travel from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I’d taken another shower, and then slipped into the only warm thing I’d had on hand, a pair of sweat pants that had been in Loki’s bag, socks that were about five sizes too big, and the long sleeved Henley he’d been wearing when he’d been shot last night. It’d been a good thing that he had the sleeves rolled up at the time, or it’d been stained with his blood, and subsequently thrown in the trash. It gave me comfort, though, because it smelled like him. “Yeah,” he said into his phone, but kept his eyes on me. “I’ll be ready to head out as soon as the boy wonder twins and Cleo get here.” He paused, listening to what whoever was on the phone had to say, and then said, “10-4. I’ll check in once I get there, mom... I mean Trance.” He smiled at whatever scathing retort Trance had replied with, and hung up the phone. Pushing the thin phone into his pocket, he walked towards me. “Nice clothes.” I smiled slightly. “I don’t have anything else.” At least nothing else I was willing to wear. My clothes from last night were stained with motor oil and dirt from the parking lot of Halligans and Handcuffs. I wasn’t willing to wear them, which meant it was the sweats or nothing. Wearing nothing wasn’t really a possibility, either, since it was around forty degrees out. “I have Cleo bringing you some clothes,” he said just as he reached me.

His fingers ran through my tangled hair, trying to separate the tangles. “I have a brush in my go bag. Do you want it?” “What’s a go bag?” I asked with a raised brow. “It’s a bag that’s ready in case of an emergency. It has some protein bars, a spare gun and a couple boxes of ammo. A comb. Some hygiene products and clothes,” he said as he worked his fingers through a particularly tangled spot. “Sure,” I agreed. “How’s your arm?” The small hole that went through his arm, now covered by eight tiny stitches, looked red and angry. The blue stitches stood out, making the wound look even worse. His grimace said it all. “Did you take any pain meds?” I asked. “How about your antibiotics?” “I have to drive,” he replied. I gave him a droll look. “That doesn’t mean you can’t drive if you’ve taken those. It means to use common sense.” The sound of pipes started to vibrate through the forest, and the furry woodland creatures scurried away just in time for four bikes to pull into the driveway. They parked beside Loki’s truck, and got off. Silas’ beard looked even more badass today, than it had at the bar. Today, it was braided and fell to just about chest level. And his shirt. Oh, God, his shirt was awesome. Although it was partially covered up by his leather vest, I could still make out the words. It said, ‘With great beard, comes great responsibility.’ “I love your shirt!” I blurted. His cool demeanor cracked, and the man gave me a devastating smile. This man was sexy for his age. You could tell he could easily hold his own with any of the men that surrounded him in a fight. He was broad, tall, and devastatingly handsome. “Thanks, honey. How’re you doing this morning?” He asked politely with his deep baritone voice. I blinked. I wasn’t really sure what I’d expected, but a cultured voice wasn’t one of them.

“I’m doing okay. I was about to make breakfast and force-feed Loki his antibiotics and pain pills,” I answered quickly. He smiled, showing off straight white teeth. “Excellent. Are we allowed to put in orders?” I blinked stupidly for a few seconds before nodding. “Sure.” “Four eggs. Bacon. Toast,” he said simply. “And, now that the king has put in his order, I’d like the same. Double bacon.” Cleo said sagely. I giggled. “10-4.” Loki’s answering smile was sweet. “10-9.” I tilted my head to the side. “What’s that mean?” He chuckled. “Repeat. I want the same as them,” he said, as he gestured towards the men. After getting the orders from the other two, I left the men on the porch, since it was obvious they were wanting to talk without the virginal ears of a woman around, and started in on breakfast. I was doing damn well, too, until the smell of the eggs started to make me nauseous. Dropping the eggs on the counter, I dashed to the bathroom and puked up the cup of coffee I’d consumed, and then my dinner from the night before. Brushing my teeth quickly, I ran back to the kitchen in time to flip the eggs. “You almost burnt them,” Silas said from the kitchen table, scaring the absolute shit out of me. I whirled with the spatula in my hand, making bacon grease splatter the table where he was sitting. “W-what?” I stammered. “You almost let them burn,” he repeated. “Oh, well yeah, I didn’t mean to,” I said with wide eyes. He turned his head, surveying me from head to toes, lingering on my belly that he couldn’t possibly see. Somehow, though, I knew he knew. He’d spent less than two minutes in my presence, and he knew. “You tell him yet?” He asked softly. My eyes went to the door in a panic. “No.” I shook my head frantically. He nodded once, but his serious eyes never left me. “Don’t fuck him over.” It wasn’t a statement, either. I knew that if I ever did Loki wrong, Silas wouldn’t let me forget what I’d done.

“I won’t. I never will. I love him,” I said simply. His serious eyes held mine, pale blue on pale blue, and he nodded, “He won’t be mad.” I smiled slightly. “I know. I just...he has a lot on his plate right now, and I don’t want to add to that. I want him to know, don’t get me wrong, but I want him to focus on fixing this problem, not freaking out about me. I’d planned on telling him as soon as I saw him again, but then he told me about the multiple attempts on his life and, well, I just couldn’t add to his burden right now.” He nodded. “He’s going to figure it out sooner rather than later. Don’t wait too long, darlin’.” My shoulders slumped. “I don’t know how to tell him, to be honest.” He leaned forward, letting his elbows rest on his knees. “How far along are you?” I blinked. “Uh, twenty three weeks.” He blinked. Then blinked again. “How the fuck are you hiding that from him?” He asked, flabbergasted. I giggled. “I’ve always had a pouch. It’s just...harder now. Not quite so flabby. Then I wear loose shirts. My jeans don’t snap anymore.” “Uh, oh. I looked at your pants to see what size you were. I didn’t realize they didn’t fit.” Loki smiled at me as he came inside with a bag. He offered it to me, and I took it worriedly. Did he hear what I’d said? My worried eyes found Silas’, who shook his head, indicating that no, he didn’t hear us. Which allowed me to relax. I’d tell him the minute we got back.

*** “Are you hot?” I asked Loki as we started our seventh hour of driving. He looked at me oddly. “No. I can officially say you’re the first girl to tell me that she’s hot, and have the air conditioner on.” I snorted. “I have to pee. Can we stop at the next exit?” His head fell back onto the headrest. “We just stopped less than an hour ago.” “Yeah, well tell that to my bladder,” I snapped. “Maybe your pants are too tight,” he tried. I giggled and then pulled my shirt up to show him my unbuttoned pants. “No chance of that.” His eyes went to my unbuttoned pants. He gave me a bemused look. “I’m sorry. I thought that they were universal sizes. I wasn’t aware skinny meant anything other than the style.” “It’s okay. Just remember, for future reference, that I don’t shop in the teen section,” I said dryly. “Well,” he said as his eyes followed the movement of a semi-truck in front of us. “That was all Cleo’s fault. I just told him what size to get.” I shrugged. “I’ll get a pair when we get to...wherever we’re going. I really do need to pee, though. We’ve passed like, eight exits, and all of them have had gas stations. What’s the deal?” “This guy in front of us...oh, fuck,” he said as he slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road. My head whipped around and I watched in horror as the semi-truck that had been weaving in the lane suddenly whipped across all three lanes of traffic, through the light pole, across the center median, and into oncoming traffic. The scene played out as if in slow motion. I watched in a daze as the truck tore through the concrete median as it was tissue paper. Then he hit a caravan and two trucks, before continuing off the shoulder and disappearing down the hill. Then the chaos started. Debris started flying like confetti paper, cars hit wrecked cars. Some went off the road. Some hit the concrete barrier. All the while I sat on my seat in a panic.

Loki had no such problem, though. He, and the four motorcycles with us, all pulled off the road in a matter of seconds. Loki wasted no time in ripping his center console open, withdrawing a box of purple gloves, and donning them. He followed that up by reaching into the backseat and grabbing what looked to be a large duffel bag and bailing out of his truck. He sprinted across the interstate, dodging cars going seventy miles an hour and over, and sidestepped through the ruined barrier. My phone was in my hand, and 911 was on the line before I was even aware that I’d called. “911, what’s your emergency?” The calm voice said. “There’s like a 90 car pile-up on I-10. Uhh, I can’t tell you a mile marker though. Oh, my God. It’s bad,” I chattered frantically into the phone. “That’s okay, dear. We know where you are. We’ve already had five other calls. We have units inroute,” she said calmly. I was anything but calm, though. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the spectrum. “Oh, my God,” I whispered. The phone slipped from my hand, and I laid it down on the seat of the truck before shouldering open my door and hopping out. I got the pants zipped, but not buttoned and started walking towards the chaos. Somehow, I’d managed to grab a pair of gloves, and I slipped them over my hands. There were hundreds of people, just like me, staring at the chaos. I walked across the debris laden interstate, and into a nightmare. I found Silas first, and went straight to him. “What do you need me to do?” I asked quietly. He looked up from the passenger van’s side window and shook his head. “I don’t know, Channing. Just do what you can. Talk to them. Find a car and talk to them.” Which is what I did. I went to the first car I found that didn’t already have a person at it, and walked slowly up to the window.

The car was in shreds. It was what I guessed to be a black mid-size SUV, but resembled something smaller, and much more deadly with the sharp, jagged pieces of metal and the gas leaking out on the asphalt. The woman in the front seat was young, possibly sixteen or seventeen. She was staring around her with a dazed expression. “Honey?” I called. “Do you know what happened to you?” I didn’t know what to say, so that seemed like the logical starting point. “N-no. Where’s my mom?” She asked softly. The girl had a cut above her right eye, and her face was covered in a white film most likely from the air bag being deployed. “Your mom’s not here, honey. Can you look at me?” I asked. She turned her head, and I saw more blood curling around her ear and running down her neck. Shrugging out of my sweatshirt, I moved through the broken driver’s side window and placed the sleeve of the sweatshirt on the girl’s wounded head. I took stock of the girl’s body, and was happy to see that the only thing wrong with her seemed to be the wound at the back of her head. “Can you tell me your name?” “Judith,” she answered a little more coherently. “Hi, Judith. I’m Channing. Do you go to school?” I asked her, trying to keep her talking. “Yes,” she confirmed. “But I was on the way to visit my dad in Texas. My mom and I were having a road trip.” I looked around the car, not seeing the mom anywhere, which made me worry that the girl hit her head harder than I’d thought. We spoke for nearly an hour. Emergency crews responded within minutes of my call, but there were just so many people to be seen, that it took time to get help to everybody. At one point, a man wearing fire gear walked up, assessed the patient, and told me to continue what I was doing. I did, and watched the hectic world around me.

I saw Loki pop up every now and then, as well as Silas and Cleo, but I didn’t see the two younger ones until much later in the day.

*** It was my screaming bladder that finally sent me away from the pandemonium. Judith had been cut out of her car, and I’d stood by watching anxiously. I’d forged a bond with the sweet young woman over the past couple hours, and I felt an attachment to her that I couldn’t explain. However, when my bladder decided that it wouldn’t hold any longer, I dashed towards the woods and walked until I could no longer see anyone or anything before relieving myself. Then I went to the truck, grabbed a blanket out of the back, and waited, not sure what else to do. I could see all of the men in my group, but they were all hard at work helping the crews make sense of the accident. I shivered, still overwhelmed with the destruction. Placing my hands on the hood of Loki’s truck, I hoisted myself up until I was sitting on it, and then leaned back against the windshield and surveyed the area. “Ma’am?” A motherly voice said from behind me. I jumped and sat up to find an older woman in jeans and a sweatshirt standing there, smiling fondly at me. “Yes?” I asked. “I’m Judith’s mother. I just wanted to say thank you for staying with her. You’re a very good woman,” she smiled sweetly. I blinked, and then a beaming smile overtook my face. “Oh, I’m so happy to see that you’re okay. Did you know that they sent Judith to the hospital already? I asked. She nodded. “Yes, I did. I just wanted to thank you.” “Oh,” I said, blushing slightly. “It wasn’t any big deal. I’d bet you would’ve done the same for me.” She nodded sagely. “I would’ve. Please take care of that baby of yours. They truly change your life.” I looked down at my body, wondering how she could tell. I mean, it was obvious to me that I was pregnant, but my own boyfriend couldn’t tell, so how was it that she did? When I looked back up again, the woman was gone. I leaned back against the windshield of the truck, and my eyes closed involuntarily. When they opened once again, it was to find Loki rubbing my thigh gently and talking to me in soothing

tones. “Channing, baby? Are you ready to go?” Loki’s rough voice said from below me. My eyes opened, and the first thing I saw was a dark night sky scattered with millions of stars. Turning my head, I looked down at the man that I loved. Yes, I said I loved. I knew I loved him. After today, I realized how fast life could change. How, in one single second, everything could be cloudy, with no path in sight. Then a single moment in time could change my world, clear the cobwebs, and show me the route I needed to take. “I love you,” I whispered. He froze. “What’d you say?” He rasped. The light from the street lamp above our heads shone down, casting him in an eerie white light. He looked beat. Utterly and thoroughly beat. “I said, I love you,” I said louder. He blinked, and then his face broke into a sad smile. “I love you, too.”

Chapter 17 Me, crazy? I should get down off this unicorn and slap you. -E-card Channing I walked into the room slowly, wondering what I’d find when I got on the other side of the wall. We’d shown up so late last night, that I didn’t meet Loki’s mom. We’d just gone straight to bed after showering. I’d woken to an empty bed, and the afternoon sun shining in through the wooden blinds straight into my eyes. I’d gotten dressed in a pair of sweats that were out of Loki’s bag, the same ones I’d worn just yesterday; even though it felt like the night at the safe house was eons ago. Which led me to now. I was walking as quietly as possible, not that I understood why. “She’s been sleeping a really long time, honey. Maybe we should go check on her,” a woman’s voice said. I stopped in the kitchen doorway in time to see an older man, wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt reply. “Andrea, Bryce said to let her sleep, so you’re going to let her sleep. He said they witnessed that pile up on I-10 yesterday. The poor girl needs sleep; what she does not need is to be badgered on whether she’s planning to bring any grandchildren into the world any time soon.” He was tall, with buzzed gray hair, and a five o’clock shadow that really made him look good. He reminded me a lot of George Clooney, in a rougher, more bad-ass kind of way. I smiled, and my hand absently fell over my stomach. Which reminded me that I’d managed not to barf this morning. Score one for me! “I wasn’t going to badger her about a baby. I was going to make sure she was okay. That’s all,” the woman said. She was cute. She had a short, pixie haircut that allowed her red hair to flow freely around her face. She had laugh lines around her eyes and mouth, offset by a peach colored lipstick that matched her flowy chevron printed dress to perfection. She looked like one of those people that probably got dressed up just to run to the supermarket, but that was all right.

“I’m awake,” I said, startling the two of them. Both of their eyes pinned me to the spot, and I waited patiently while they surveyed me for long moments. “Channing!” Loki’s mom exclaimed. “Come over here. Are you hungry? I’ve started sandwiches, but I’m more than happy to make you anything you want.” I shook my head and walked up to the kitchen island where they were standing side by side making said sandwiches. “No, sandwiches sound heavenly, thank you. Can I help?” “No, girly girl, you just sit right there and take a load off. We’ll make the sandwiches. Anything special on yours?” I pursed my lips and thought about it for a few moments. “Pickles. Lots of pickles. And relish. And olives if you have any.” “Pickles used to be my favorite when I was pregnant. Sounds like they’re your kryptonite, too,” she smiled wistfully. I blinked at her stupidly. “H-how did you know?” “That would be because I told her,” Loki said from behind me. I turned in surprise to find him leaning against the entranceway of the kitchen. He said it so casually that it took me a few moments to react. “How did you know?” I glared. He gave me a ‘you’ve got to be joking’ look. “Honey, I’ve been a police officer for a long time now. I’m not stupid. I can put two and two together to make pregnant.” I snorted, which was repeated by the two behind me. “Well, you could’ve at least said something,” I accused. “I’ve been trying to tell you for a while, I just didn’t’ know how to.” “Would’ve been nice to know here, too. How long have you known?” Loki’s stepfather asked from behind me. I turned to find him staring at his wife. She raised her eyes. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” He pointed the mayonnaise-covered knife at her. “I’ll remember this.” “Ohh, I’m so scared,” she said sarcastically, as she waved her hands in the air.

I was too busy reeling about the revelation that Loki knew to continue listening to their bantering. When I felt his body behind me, I turned to look up at him. “How long have you known?” “After our shower the other night. I felt pretty dumb that I hadn’t put those two things together before that. Some detective I am,” he muttered. I laid my head against his chest, and listened to his slow and steady heartbeat. Cool as a cucumber. No freaking out, or screaming, as I’d feared. Only calmness. “You’re okay with it?” I whispered against his t-shirt covered chest. “It’s not the most ideal of situations, but I’m not unhappy about it. Do I wish we were married first? Yes. With that said, that doesn’t mean that I’m not over the moon about being a father. I wished you would’ve told me earlier, though. Not that I don’t understand what kept you from telling me, however.” I nodded against his chest. “I missed a doctor’s appointment yesterday, FYI. I rescheduled for the day after Christmas, so we have to make sure I’m home by then. It’s the important one where they test my blood sugar and all that fun stuff.” He rumbled his agreement. “I’ll get you there.” “Well, now that that’s settled, how about some lunch?” Loki’s mom clapped.

*** “This is a really nice place you have here,” I said to Andrea. I’d started out calling Loki’s mom Mrs. Merritt, but she’d nipped that one pretty darn quick. “You call me Andrea...or mom. You’re family,” she’d said. “Oh, yes. This is a big step up from where I lived with Bryce. Zeth is so good to me,” she smiled wistfully. We were sitting on the back porch watching while Zeth, Loki’s stepfather, and Loki worked on the motor of the boat that was tied to their dock. Sterling, Cleo, Parker, and Silas all sat on the dock, bullshitting with the two inside of the boat. “I wouldn’t mind the water every once in a while, but after Katrina, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live this close to water ever again,” I shivered. Andrea turned to me, rotating until her foot was planted in the chair, and smiled sadly. “I don’t like hurricane season much, either. Zeth’s been trying to get me to leave for a couple years now. He wants to move to somewhere that has four defined seasons, but I just can’t bear to give this place up.” “I don’t see how you could either. It’s majestic,” I said. It felt beautiful out. The sun wasn’t too hot, the weather wasn’t obscenely humid. The ocean breeze felt damn near perfect. Zeth and Andrea lived on the bay. Although it was waterfront, they didn’t have any beach at all, which is one thing I would’ve liked to have if I’d ever had the choice. “So, tell me how you met Loki. He’s told me about you, but not how y’all met,” she said excitedly. I giggled. “Oh, well the first day I met him, I got into a fight with my brother about mowing the lawn. When he refused, I did it even though my asthma was acting up, which was incredibly stupid; but, at the time, I was mad and not thinking straight. Loki helped me when I had the asthma attack that I should’ve expected.” “Oh, dear. That’s awful. He’s a helpful boy like that, though. He’d do all the housework while I was at work. And he was always very neat. He was the most unusual child.” She shook her head. I snorted. “If I leave a sock on the floor, he picks it up and puts it in the appropriate place. And God help me if I don’t put the toilet paper back on the roll correctly,” I shook my finger at her. She laughed. “Oh, yes. That’s my Bryce. I can’t wait till this baby comes and ruins his orderly life!” I agreed wholeheartedly. “I’ve never actually been with him for more than a couple of days. So it definitely should be interesting, if nothing else.”

I would’ve continued with that line of thought, but my phone rang, indicating it was Brittany. “I’m sorry, if you’ll excuse me. It’s my boss,” I said as I stood and walked down the steps. I stopped when my feet met the edge of the lawn and answered. “Hello?” “Where are you?” Brittany asked. “Long story. Did Cabe not tell you I’d be gone until after Christmas break?” I asked. “Yes... but you’ve been gone a long time. I thought you’d be back by now. A call would’ve been nice, though,” she snapped. I sighed. “I’m sorry. It’s just that everything happened so freakin’ fast. Then the accident happened.” “Yeah, I saw that accident. You made the news,” she said mournfully. “I heard about the young girl you helped after the mom was killed.” “Wait,” I startled. “What do you mean the mom was killed?” “That’s just what I mean...don’t you remember? You were the one that was there,” she asked, baffled. “The mom didn’t die. I spoke to her,” I said with a shake of my head. I hadn’t realized how high and alarmed my voice was starting to sound until I had Loki walking down the dock towards me. The mom didn’t die, did she? Did something happen after the wreck? Loki came to a stop a few inches away from me and waited. “Yeah, the girl you were talking to, her mom died after being ejected from the car. The dad met the daughter at the emergency room later that night. Supposedly, he’s some big wig in congress. It’s all over the news,” she said slowly. “I’ll call you back,” I said quickly before hanging up. “What is it?” He asked as soon as the phone was away from my ear. “That girl I was speaking with yesterday...did you see her?” I asked. He nodded. “Sure, but I didn’t stay very long. I checked the mom, too. She was DOI,” he said warily. “DOI?” I asked. “Dead on impact,” he confirmed. “Wait...what?” I asked, running my hands through my hair. The band holding it up came loose, and my long locks tumbled free, but I paid them no mind.

“She was dead. She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. Went through the passenger side window when the truck hit her. Then her body made contact with the ground. Her injuries were incompatible with life,” he confirmed. My eyes must have shown my horror and sorrow, because he pulled me into his arms and wrapped me up tight. “She...she thanked me for watching over her little girl. Was that not the mom?” I asked. I was blubbering now, barely making any sense. Loki understood me, though. At least for the most part, anyway. “Who thanked you? Whoever it was wasn’t the mom, though. The mom was...” I slapped my hand over his mouth, stopping him from saying she was dead again. Pulling out my phone, I googled the accident, and the first thing I saw was the young girl I’d helped, as well as her father, the senator’s devastated face as he gave a press conference earlier that morning. Clicking on the video clip, I watched in silence as the Senator, Malcom Young, thanked the city and state police, the first responders, and that ‘special young woman’ who made a difference at the time his daughter needed it the most. Then, the man’s wife was on the screen. The same woman I’d had thank me after I’d left the scene. “That’s her,” I said, pausing it and showing it to Loki. “That’s the woman who thanked me.” He looked at the phone, then at me. Then he shook his head. “That’s fucked. That’s the same woman who was dead. There’s no way she spoke to you. Her brains were splattered on the...” I turned around and sprinted up the dock and into the house, passing a concerned looking Andrea on my way. I made it to the bathroom just in time to drop down on my knees and throw up the remainder of my lunch that hadn’t had the chance to digest yet. “I’m fucking nuts,” I said once I caught my breath. When I finally got my bearings, I stood, surprised to find that Loki hadn’t followed me. When I flushed and washed my hands, I went to find him and didn’t have to look far. I found him staring at the TV, watching a breaking news cast with the phone to his ear. “No, Trance. How would he know where we are? My mom’s name is changed. They live in a new house. I didn’t take my bike. I’m not wearing anything that identifies me. I’m safe. Keep an eye on Big Red, though. He may be able to take care of himself, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?” He

relayed into the phone. He snorted. “I’d check his friends. Tell the DA to make a deal with them, too, if they’re willing to give away anything on his whereabouts. Dortea will do it. Plus, he doesn’t have much else to go on. He wants me and he won’t be able to find me.” He threw the controller down on the couch and grabbed what little hair he had on his head between his fists. “Fuck yes. Yes, check my house. Check Channing’s too. You could just do a stakeout there. Yeah, he’ll go there. He’ll go back to his place, too. I know he has shit stored somewhere. Probably buried it in the backyard.” “Okay,” he nodded and turned. I must’ve made some noise, because I’d actually startled him. “Yeah,” a smile overtook his face. “No, Lucy has a mind of his own. I can’t help that he showed your puppies how to dig out of the yard. What do you want me to do from a thousand miles away?” “Alright. Thanks. Bye,” he said before hanging up. “What’s up?” I asked. My voice sounded raw. He pursed his lips. “Varian, somehow, escaped from the transport today. Fuckin’ blows my mind, because he didn’t even know when, where, or how he was being transferred. Whoever helped him must’ve been just lying in fuckin’ wait.” My insides shriveled up even more. “So now we have Varian out of prison? Are we even safe here anymore?” He thought about it for a few moments before answering. “Yes. I believe so. But I’m going to stay at an inn instead of here. Just in case. I don’t see him coming this way; but, just in case, I don’t want to put them in danger.” “That’s not necessary,” Andrea said from the doorway. We both turned to find her standing there, ringing her hands. Her hair was slightly mussed from the ocean breeze, which only exacerbated her frazzled look. “I don’t want you to go. You just got here.” “Ma,” Loki started. “No. You’re not leaving,” she said in the most authoritative voice she could manage. “Andrea,” I tried, but she was shaking her head no before I could even get two words out.

“No. You’re staying. That’s final. I have a ham for Christmas Eve, and a turkey with sweet potatoes for Christmas. I won’t have this for us. I want to have a real Christmas. As a family. I deserve that, don’t you think?” Her voice quivered. “Oh, mom,” Loki said before he enfolded her in his arms. I snuck out of the open door, squeezing in between the door jam and Loki’s broad back, and walked outside to overlook the ocean. Although it was touching that she wanted that, I couldn’t help but worry about the potential danger. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but I had a feeling that Varian would find us. No matter how adamant Loki was to the contrary.

Chapter 18 Dear naps, I’m sorry I was such a dick to you when I was a kid. -Life Lesson Loki Christmas night “Hey, daddy. Did you get my Christmas present?” Channing asked her father. It was currently Christmas night, four days after finding out that Varian had escaped. The state of Louisiana knew he was out, too, because he was leaving a trail of devastation in his wake. First, it was the security guard that was driving the van. Varian had constructed a shiv made out of toilet paper, building it like one would paper mache, complete with shit to ensure the weapon held up to the test. After killing off the first guard, Varian’s partner, whomever it was, took out the other guard who’d gone to help the second guard with a shotgun to the man’s face. From there, the two of them had gone from place to place, stealing cars, money, food, and clothing. They didn’t do it nicely, either. How’d we know it was them? By the slit throats. I wasn’t telling Channing any of this, though. I’d done my absolute best not to let her near a TV. I’d bought her a Kindle for Christmas, and gave it to her two days ago when she’d complained about not having anything to do. I’d lied and said the TV had broken, and Zeth had upheld my lie, going as far as looking for new TVs at Best Buy, but coming back empty handed. He’d told my mother and Channing that all the TVs were sold out due to it being so close to Christmas. I hadn’t argued. The lie worked out well for me. Plus, I’d gotten to go with him to help ‘shop’ for the new TV, which was when I’d gotten Channing’s present. Presents. I hadn’t given her the main one, yet.

I was waiting for some alone time, which didn’t happen much in the last two days, seeing as my mom was really milking the whole family Christmas thing. “What do you mean you can’t find Andrew?” Channing’s asked shrilly. “No, I haven’t heard from him since he called last week looking for the spare key. No. Yes. No. Where’s he been living all this time?” Channing wondered. “Yeah, here he is,” Channing said before handing the phone to me. I took the cell phone from her warily. “Hello?” I answered. Channing watched my face worriedly. “Hey,” Colton said roughly. “I didn’t want to alarm Channing, but I’m pretty sure Andrew’s got himself in some deep shit.” I gave Zeth a look from where he was sitting at the bar with my mom, and he nodded in understanding. Leaving out the back door, I walked down to the dock with purposeful strides. I wasn’t worried about Channing following me. I knew Zeth would keep her in there until Colton told me what he had to tell me. “Yeah?” I asked. He exhaled roughly. “It’s bad, whatever he’s gotten himself into. He called and asked for money a few weeks ago, and I told him no. After the way he’d treated Channing, I just couldn’t bail his ass out anymore. I hadn’t heard anything from him until last night when he called to tell me his friend, one that he’d just helped get out of a bad situation, wanted him to take him somewhere. He was asking the best ways to get there to avoid the busiest roads. Speed traps. He wouldn’t tell me who the friend was, either.” A sick feeling started building in my gut. “Where was he going?” I asked reluctantly. “Florida.”

*** Three hours later. “That’s too suspicious. He had to know his dad was going to say something to you.” Parker said warily. “Maybe. Maybe not. What we need to plan for is him coming. We can’t count on Andrew being on our side. Varian’s been using him for months, feeding him the information he wanted. Andrew’s not innocent in all of this,” I said warily, scrubbing my hands over my tired eyes. I was tired. I’d planned on a nice romantic evening, and that had gone to shit with one single phone call. Eighty-five dollars to have Minnie overnight my present and I didn’t have shit to show for it. She wasn’t engaged to me. She wasn’t wearing my patch. She wasn’t even fucking awake anymore for me to ask. “He’s had a little over five hours since he called Colton. Colton gave him every checkpoint road in between here and the Louisiana line he could remember. That won’t matter, though. He’s on his way. I can feel it in my bones. This is all just a sick fucking game to him,” I told them. Silas stood, removed the Glock he kept at his hip at all times, and checked the chamber out of habit. The sound of the slide sliding back, and the magazine being released and then re-loaded was a calming sound that soothed me down to my very core. “Well then, we’ll just have to beat him at his own game,” Silas confirmed as he sighted down the barrel of his Glock, flipped the safety back on, and holstered it.

*** “This is bad news. I don’t want this shit on my doorstep. I still have to live here after you’re gone,” my stepfather growled at Silas. The two older men were snarling and snapping at each other like they were old junkyard dogs fighting over the same bone. Or in this case, the jurisdiction. “This is federal. It’s crossed over state lines. It’s always going to be federal,” Silas snapped. “It ain’t federal. You don’t know if he’s coming or not. I’m chief of police in this town, not you. You’ve got no recourse yet. No crime, no claim,” Zeth barked back. Jesus Christ. “Y’all need to stop fucking around and figure this shit out. There’s a fucking psychopath on the way here, and y’all old biddies are too busy chirping at each other rather than planning to get the job done. Get the fuck over it, or get the fuck out,” Cleo said calmly. Cleo was probably the only one who could say that to Silas and not get his teeth handed back to him. Via his asshole. However, Cleo was very calm; it took a lot to get him riled. Like now, for instance, he was standing rather than sitting. Which was big for him, considering he barely ever looked anything but relaxed and at ease. Adrenaline junkies did it that way. Calm through the storm. They had to be. That was why he was a damn good flight medic. It took a lot of balls to do what he did. “Thank God somebody said it,” Parker mumbled to himself. Sterling seconded his comment with a grunt. “Fine. Just don’t get in my way and I’ll be happy,” Silas growled. “How about you don’t get in mine,” Zeth snarled back. Here we go again. We were at the precinct while a couple of Zeth’s most trusted deputies were watching the house. One from the water and the other from the front of the house. We were all down at the station formulating a course of action. However, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere because the two old men couldn’t seem to pull their heads out and work together.

I did get the answer to a long time question, though. Silas was CIA. Still active CIA. I didn’t know how far his reach went in the company, but it was obviously far enough for him to do what he wanted and take what jobs he felt like taking. He also had a lot of firepower at his back, and I fucking loved him for it right now. “That’s enough,” I said to them both. “I agree with Cleo. Either stop fucking around or get out. We don’t have time for this bullshit.” They probably would’ve fought about whose dick was bigger if the radios hadn’t started to explode with chatter. “Medic 4, you are needed at 2499 West Palm Rd. Single victim. Suspected rape,” one dispatcher said. It was only seconds later when another page went over the airwaves. “Unit 4. Respond to 500 Doral Drive. Neighbors complaining of screaming.” Then another. “Engine two. Respond to structure fire at 663 Jumper Way. Neighbors reporting smoke.” And on it went. Medic after medic, officer after officer, engine after engine was called out to respond to this or that, here, there and everywhere. “They’re getting everybody out,” I said as I came to the sickening realization. “They’re getting everybody out: either A, to get us alone, or B, to get us to go where they want us.” The station phone rang, pulling Zeth’s attention away from me. I kept talking, ignoring him until the tone of his voice changed. “No, Poole, I can’t come. I don’t have any to spare. Every last one of them was called out not even seconds ago. Yes. You’ve got to be kidding me. Alright, I’ll keep you updated. 10-4,” Zeth said before hanging up. His look was ominous, “The counties surrounding ours, every single one of them, have the same calls going on right now. There’s no available backup for over fifty miles in all directions.” My mind was whirling. “Well, whatever happened, I’m going back to Channing.” I asked as I started heading towards the front door. “Use the back,” Silas and Zeth said at the same time.

I nodded and redirected myself only for the windows behind me to shatter in a spray of bullets. “Motherfucker,” I said as I dropped down to all fours, and then even further to my stomach. Curses were echoed behind me, but there were no shouts of pain, which was the one positive thing in this huge clusterfuck. “We need to get out of here. Is there any other way besides...” Silas speaking, but his question was cut off by a percussion grenade. Lights and sounds disappeared for a very long time, and I came to minutes...or maybe hours, later. The first thing to return was my sight. Followed shortly by my hearing. Finally, my disorientation cleared, and a blast from my past sped full throttle into my face. Mick Dempsey, the leader of the Crimson Horde, the gang I’d used to be a part of, was staring me in the face. In full uniform. Police uniform that is. I stared at him in shock. “This was too fucking perfect. What? You thought you were the only one Zeth saved? Well, think again. He saved me, too. Except he didn’t marry my mother like he married yours. My life didn’t turn into a privileged existence like yours did. Bryce was awarded this, Bryce made detective. Bryce won a Grammy,” Mick snapped. “I’ve been following your fucking life for years because your stepfather’s so goddamned proud of you. Saw you around town when you were visiting your mom. Took me two days to figure out why you were there, and suddenly it clicked. Me and Varian became a match made in heaven!” He leered. “Then, last week, your mother came in and told the whole goddamned station about how she was getting a new grandbaby by the one and only Bryce Rector, and that only made the pot all the more sweeter.” “I don’t have any beef against you, man. Just let us go. I won’t say a thing,” I told Mick. Goddamn, but I’d never thought this was all tied to my past. Out of all the people I’d considered to be helping Varian, Mick, the old gang leader and upstanding police officer, was never even in the same ballpark. “No, I don’t think I will. I do have Varian on speed dial though. Want to see how your baby momma’s doing?” Mick asked.

My gut dropped, but I refused to show him any emotion. If he knew what he was doing to me, he’d be proud. And I sure as fuck wasn’t giving him the satisfaction. Then the phone call connected, and I could hear Channing screaming. That was when I lost it.

Chapter 19 I don’t want to let it go. I want to beat you over the head with a nine iron while Let it Go plays in the background. -Channing to her attacker Channing “Hello?” I said into Andrea’s phone. I’d tried my cell phone, but it wasn’t working, and I had the creepiest dream about that dead mother. I’d woken to my heart beating so hard that I could feel it through the comforter covering my chest. I’d looked all over the house, sans Zeth and Andrea’s room, for Loki, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I’d even gone down to the dock, but the only thing I’d found down there was a fishing boat just a short mile off shore, getting their fishing started early. It was five in the morning, but that wasn’t an unusual time for Loki. He normally got up around this time to get his workouts in. It was just my bad luck that he chose to do it on the morning I had a dream about a dead woman. I was in the process of hanging up the phone when I had the sensation that I was being watched. The hair on my arms stood on end, and the skin at the back of my neck started to tingle. I turned, or at least tried to, but I got shoved down to the ground where I landed on my hands and knees. Then a vicious kick to the back of my thigh had me gasping in pain before I collapsed to my belly. “He really thought he could take me down, didn’t he?” Varian Strong said from above and behind me. I whimpered when Varian’s foot went to my armpit, collapsing my arm until my chest was flush with the ground. He leaned in, keeping his weight on the back of my arm until I was screaming in pain. “Do you think he’ll like hearing you scream? Let’s call him and find out,” he hissed. I could hear the phone dialing, and then it was ringing. Varian turned the volume up high, placing it on speaker phone to allow me to hear Loki’s panicked voice when he finally answered. “Loki’s phone, Mick speaking.” Varian’s laugh was dark and bloodthirsty. “Hiya, Mick! Guess who I have on the phone!”

Varian pressed down on the back of my arm again, making my elbow scream in protest as he nearly pressed his full weight on it. I knew it was only a matter of seconds before the bones in my upper arm and forearm snapped from the pressure. What I also knew was that I wouldn’t be able to hold back the scream. I was barely able to do it now, and he hadn’t even done anything yet. I closed my eyes, wishing that I was sitting out on the dock with Loki again, letting my feet dangle off the side. “Can you put Loki on speaker phone?” Varian asked. He waited a few moments before saying, “Ohh, how about a little Facetime, old friend?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Andrea, wide eyed and wielding what looked to be a rifle, big enough to take down an elephant, stop just shy of the kitchen doorway. She looked torn, looking from me to Varian, and was just about to step in when I shook my head frantically. “Ohh, it’ll be okay, Chan-Chan. It’ll all be over soon,” Varian said. “Ahh, there we go. Hi there, Loki. You look a bit tied up.” Loki didn’t reply, and I wondered what he was doing. He had to have been detained by someone, because I knew it would take nothing short of a miracle to keep him away from me right then. “Get on with it, V. I’ve got some business to address with this pretty boy, and I can’t do that with you yacking in our ears,” the man, Varian called Mick earlier, snapped. “Alright, alright. I’ll get on with it. Show him the phone, let him see what I’m about to do,” Varian instructed just as his weight, which had been lessening on my arm, pressed down twice as hard. I could almost feel my bones bending, straining with the effort. “You stupid fuck,” Loki hissed, and a scuffle could be heard from the phone. “Uh, uh, uh,” Mick said. “Watch, so we can get back to business.” That’s when Varian stopped fucking around, and stomped on my arm. I’m not really sure what happened next, because I was seeing nothing but white, as I experienced pain like nothing I’d ever felt before. Then, blessedly, I passed out only to be rudely awakened by somebody torturing me.

I felt my body moving across the floor as pain started to awaken me from the blissful place where nothing mattered. “Oh, dear God,” I heard Andrea cry hoarsely. “Please.” My eyes opened to slits, and then further to half-mast as I took in my surroundings. Andrea was dragging me towards the garage, and being none too gentle about it. One particular bump had me turning my head to the side and puking over and over again from the pain. “Oh, dear God,” Andrea said again. It was around the time she dragged me into the car that I lost the battle with consciousness, and went back to that place that allowed me to feel no pain.

*** “Yes, it’s my daughter in law,” Andrea’s voice said from far away. My eyes strained to open as I listened to the conversation going on around me. “She’s very lucky, ma’am. The bones aren’t broken, but they’re going to need a lot of rest for the next few weeks. I’m almost tempted to go ahead and cast her arm, but I think that’s a little overboard. I’d be more comfortable with an orthopedic specialist checking it out tomorrow,” I heard a man’s voice say. “Okay, we can do that. And what about the baby?” Andrea asked, worry lacing her voice. I perked up at that, too. I’d really like to know about the baby. “Baby boy Rector is doing perfect. He looks big and hearty. A perfect twenty four and a half weeker,” the man said encouragingly. “Thank you, Dr. Royce,” Andrea said, followed shortly by the door to the room closing. Andrea’s weight shifted to the side of the bed, and I finally managed to open my eyes to find her staring at me, tears steadily dripping down her cheeks. The only thought that I kept thinking about, though, was that it shouldn’t be Andrea sitting on my bed right now. It should be Loki. Where was he? “Where’s Loki?” I rasped. Andrea shook her head. “I don’t know.” Then it all came back to me, and I wished I hadn’t woken up to this nightmare.

*** Loki “You son of a fucking bitch!” I snarled, launching myself up from the chair only to be stopped short by the chains that Mick conveniently took from the equipment room. One end was connected to the table, while the other was connected to my ankle. He hadn’t bothered to restrain me any other way. The son of a bitch was too cocky. “Oh,” Mick grinned. “Temper, temper!” I wanted to shove Mick’s smile through his throat by way of my fist. Stupid fucking arrogant bastard. The metal of the cuff cut into my ankle, but the pain didn’t lessen the ache inside my heart each time I replayed Channing’s agonizing scream over and over again in my head. I closed my eyes as the scream reverberated through my head once more, making my skin go clammy; although, part of that might’ve been the after effects of the percussion grenade. I was still nauseated, but now I couldn’t tell if it was because of my terror for Channing, or the goddamn grenade exploding in front of my face. “Got the two of them in the cage, boss,” a man said as he came in the room. He was dressed nearly identical to what I used to wear all those years ago. Black leather pants, cut off black t-shirt, and a leather cut that declared him a member of The Crimson Horde, the gang I’d used to belong to. The man didn’t look familiar, though. What he did look like was a dirt bag, and the picturesque version of what everyone in America considered a common criminal. Long hair. Greasy and unkempt. Soiled, ripped jeans. The red bandana was even wrapped around his head exactly like every low-life thug in the business sporting their ‘colors.’ Then what the man said finally struck home. He’d only put two in the cage. Not five. My guess was that Sterling and Parker were out, and most likely Cleo. They were the furthest away from the exploding grenade, and the most likely to be able to orient themselves the fastest. Their training was extensive. Mine hadn’t been anything to sneeze at either, but ours was nothing like the parajumpers and the SEALs. “Did you search them?” Mick asked.

The man nodded. “Took their guns. They had one each.” Rookie mistake. I knew for a fact that my stepfather carried one gun on his hip, and one on his ankle. I’d learned a lot from the man in that way, which was why I still had the gun at my own ankle, too. I was just waiting for more information on how many more men there were; however, now that I knew that three of us weren’t locked up and/or being contained, I had a little more wiggle room. That was good, too, because I couldn’t stay here much longer without getting to Channing. I wasn’t stupid though. There could be a hundred men outside. If I were to take out Mick, they could all pour through the door, and I’d never make it to her. I waited. He’d make a mistake here soon, and I’d take advantage. Take him down quietly. No fuss meant no men checking up on it. “What’s that look for, Rector?” Mick asked uncertainly. I hadn’t realized I’d been smiling, but I quickly wiped the smile off my face and stared at him blankly. It wouldn’t do to give away my hand just yet. I had to find out where the other three men were. Then all bets were off. Or they would’ve been, if Channing’s stupid brother hadn’t come in guns blazing. “You stupid fuck! You said you wouldn’t hurt my sister!” Andrew yelled. He’d obviously never handled a gun before, either. Because he was holding it like the old school gangsters on TV with the barrel turned sideways and held above his head. He kept jabbing the gun in Mick’s direction, slinging insults all the while Mick stared at him drolly. “You done?” Mick asked once Andrew paused to take a breath. His gun hand was shaking, showing his obvious discomfort with the situation. I knew where this was heading, but the two of them were advancing on each other, booking no room for arguments or interruptions. “No, you stupid prick. You said if I brought Varian here, you’d leave my sister alone. You said you

only wanted him,” he gestured towards me with the gun. I froze, afraid if I made any sudden moves it’d set Andrew off, and then he’d start shooting. “You knew what you were signing up for. Don’t act all emotional now. You know,” Mick said turning his back on Andrew. “Bryce, did you know that Andrew was the one who set up your precious little woman all those years ago?” I looked at him, confused. “What?” I asked. “No!” Andrew screamed. Spit flew out of his mouth, and his eyes, which had already looked squirrely, turned positively manic. Mick smile. I saw it happen. I knew it was about to happen, and there wasn’t one damn thing I could do about it. Not if I wanted to live. Not if I wanted Channing to live. Mick pulled his gun out from his holster, calmly aimed, and fired. “No!” I yelled, but it didn’t matter. The gun barked. Mick’s hand jumped with the reverberation of the gun, and I stared in horror as Andrew’s lifeless body dropped down to the ground. One clean hole in the space where his nose had recently occupied. The smell of gunpowder filled the air, and I watched the blood spread across the black tiled floor in fascinated horror. My hands went to my hair, and I breathed in deep. This was going to kill Channing. Absolutely kill her. “Piece of shit,” Mick growled, before turning back to me, gun still in hand. “Want to know what this’ll play out as? A cop killing a madman who had two cops and a civilian held captive. Too bad the mad man killed the hostages before I could save y’all, right?” He provoked. Then he leveled his gun into the air, took aim, and my eyes closed. Not wanting to see it coming. “Don’t get up,” I heard Parker say from behind me just as a gunshot rent the air. I stared, heart pounding wildly as Mick fell back to his back, clutching his chest. “He’s got a vest on,” I managed to get out. Mick started laughing. “Oh, Peter Parker Penn. This is rich. Does Bryce here know who you are?”

Mick coughed. Parker stripped him of his weapon, found the keys to my cuffs, and tossed them to me. I quickly unlatched the cuffs, pocketed the keys, and withdrew my gun in one swift move, leveling it on Parker. “What the fuck is he talking about?” I snapped. Parker’s eyes went from me back to Mick who was laughing and groaning in one seemingly long expel of breath. Parker got the cuffs on Mick’s side, rolled him over quickly, and cuffed his arms together behind his back. Mick heaved. “He’s the one who slit your throat, Bryce. How perfect is this? It’s like a fucking family reunion!” I blinked, unsure what to say. Lowering the gun, I stared at Parker, finally realizing what it was about him. I knew him a long, long time ago. “That true?” I asked, raising my gun again. Sterling came in with one arm under Cleo’s, supporting half his bodyweight. Sterling sat him down, and took in the interaction between me and Parker. He was torn. I could see he was torn. However, he chose me, coming to stand directly behind me. “What’s going on?” Sterling asked. “Parker’s the one who gave me this decorative necklace,” I explained to him, fingering my neck, and the scar that ringed it. Sterling stayed silent as Parker’s head hung. “It’s true.” I lowered my gun, and then re-holstered it. “Are there anymore out there?” Sterling shook his head. Cleo was the one who answered though. “Nope. There were only four of them. I think they spread themselves too thin. They didn’t do much recon when they were hitting this place. Otherwise they would’ve known the room was divided into practically two halves. Lucky for us they didn’t, otherwise we all would’ve been tagged with that grenade,” Cleo declared. I kept my eyes on Parker, who’d looked up at me in confusion.

“I’ve regretted that day for fifteen years,” Parker said quietly. I blinked. “You’ve regretted it? You nearly killed me.” He shook his head. “I was a nine year old kid. I was dumb and full of myself. I have nightmares. I live those moments over and over in my sleep. My dreams are on repeat. They’re on a continuous loop of when you looked at me in such horror. Remembering what it felt like…sounded like when the knife sliced through your skin. It’s nauseating, and I hear it in my sleep.” I stared at him for a long time, ignoring Mick’s snickers at how awkward the situation was. I wasn’t mad at Parker, though. I’d have done the same thing when I first got in, too. It was hard not to. It was either survive or die in those times, and I had a feeling the same went for Parker, too. “Fuck,” I said scrubbing my hands over my face. “Yes, please,” Cleo grinned. I flipped him the bird and went to the holding cells. “Anyone let the geezers out yet?” I asked as I walked towards the cell. I walked up on the two men playing cards. “Got any 7’s?” My stepfather asked Silas. “Go fish,” Silas replied. What. The. Fuck.

*** I walked into the room, heart in my throat. The room was dark, except for the green lights of the monitors. A weird rhythmic thump-thump had my eyes zeroing in on the monitor to the side of the bed before they focused back on the sleeping figure in the bed. Channing was asleep on her back. Her hand, the one not connected to an IV, was thrown up above her head. Her hair was a mess, scattered this way and that around her head. The gown she was wearing did nothing but swamp her figure, and my heart constricted once more to see her small body dwarfed in the oversized hospital bed. “They gave her some sleeping meds. She was freaking out when she couldn’t find you. It was either sleep, or they’d have had to cuff her to the bed. I chose sleep,” my mother’s tear filled voice said from beside me. “Is she okay?” I choked. My mom was sitting in the very corner. Her phone lighting up her face with what appeared to be a book on the screen. “Yes, baby. She’s okay. They kept her overnight because her blood pressure skyrocketed. They weren’t sure what it was from, but they wanted to keep her just in case they needed to do something about it. That’s not good for the baby,” she said softly. “Her arm’s going to be sore for a very long time. That man stepped on the back of her arm, pinning it down to the ground with her forearm caught in between his boot and the floor,” she shook her head as if to clear the awful image from her brain. “I shot him.” I blinked. I hadn’t heard that part, but then again, I’d been busy giving a statement to not only the local police, but also the state police, the Sherriff’s department, and the FBI. I’d been detained because of my reluctance to talk with anyone until I saw Channing. However, that hadn’t worked out so well in my favor. They’d tried to pin an obstruction of justice charge on me, but Silas and my stepfather had talked the stuck up suit out of it on account of I was ‘distraught’ over the possible harm to my girlfriend. The two old men had come together as if they were best buddies as they ran the investigation like two people who hadn’t been doing their best to undermine each other only a few hours before.

I placed a soft kiss on Channing’s forehead before walking over to my mom and crouching down in front of her. “Are you okay?” She placed her cool palm on the side of my head, rubbing her thumb across the scruff covering my jaw. “You scared the living crud out of us today. Don’t do that to me anymore. I don’t think my heart can take another one,” she whimpered. Something inside of me broke free. “I won’t, mom. I’ve got Channing to keep me in line now. I’m gonna ask her to marry me soon.” My mom snickered. “She told me today she wasn’t marrying you until this baby was born, no matter how much you cried.” I looked over at the woman currently the topic of our discussion. “I’m sure I can convince her.”

Chapter 20 The only reason I’d kick you out of bed was if you wanted to be fucked on the floor. -Loki and his thoughts about mood swings

Loki One month later I stopped beside Channing’s car and set the stand down. Swinging my leg over, I saw the ‘FOR RENT’ sign in the front of my yard and grinned. I grabbed the box out of my saddlebags and started walking towards Channing’s front door. Cabe was kicking me out, but that was okay. I’d purchased a home, signing on the dotted line only this morning. Now all I had to do was move my shit into it, and then move Channing’s shit into it. Then we’d have a home. That was if she didn’t freak out. Stopping beside the front door, I pulled my keys out, dropping the velvet box, I’d also gotten today, in the dirt. Stooping down, I picked it up, flicked the top open, and stared. “She’s going to say no,” I muttered to myself as I slipped the ring back into my pocket, and tucked the garment box underneath my arm. Then I opened the door to the Channing’s house. “Channing?” I called as I closed the door behind me. I stepped out of my boots, and then kicked them into the corner under the coffee table. Walking through the living room, I checked the kitchen but found no sign of her there, either. “Chan?” I called again. I found her in the bedroom cuddled up to Lucy. Looking at the clock to double check that I had enough time, I slipped my shirt off over my head, shucked my jeans, and crawled in behind her. Lucy moved to the floor, as was his usual since I wasn’t a big fan of sleeping with dogs. Channing moved, pressing her back closer to my front, before falling back asleep again.

My hand went from her chest to her belly, where I could feel our baby moving away inside of her. How Channing slept like that, I don’t know, but I commended her for it. The kid was going to be hell on wheels when he finally got here. I fell asleep to the rhythmic movement of our child moving against my hand, and didn’t wake up again until two hours later, sans Channing. Stretching my arms above my head, a small groan escaped me as I worked the tiredness from my body and stood up. I didn’t bother with pants, instead walking straight out to the kitchen to find Channing eating a bowl of cereal in her navy blue scrubs that she was wearing to work for the night. “Hey,” I said just before leaning down and giving her a kiss. She turned her head at the last moment, so my kiss was deflected from her lips and landed on her jaw instead. I looked at her warily. “What?” “You weren’t going to tell me?” her voice quivered with unshed tears. I looked at her warily. Channing cried at the drop of a hat lately. She cried when she dropped an onion. She cried when she gained a pound. She cried when I brought the baby a shirt. If it was a day that ended in y, she cried about it. “Tell you what?” I asked. Had she found my presents? “That you were moving out of your place,” she blubbered. “Fuck,” I sighed and pulled her into my chest. “I wasn’t moving into my new place without you, silly girl.” I heard her mouth slurp, and looked down at her just as she slipped another spoonful of Lucky Charms into her mouth before chewing loudly. I rolled my eyes. The woman was a nut, what could I say? Apparently, I went for the crazy chicks. “I have something for you,” I said carefully. She leaned back, taking another bite of cereal before asking, “What?”

“Come,” I instructed as I took her hand and led her into the bedroom where my discarded pants and the box were. She sat heavily on the bed, waiting in anticipation. I picked the box up first, placing it on her lap before backing away slightly. I watched as she opened it, tearing the pieces of tape carefully before unwrapping the present exactly the way it was wrapped. “Tear into it.” She shook her head and finished opening the box, folding each individual piece of tissue paper before she got to the final piece. Yanking it away, the anticipation of the act killing me, she stared in shock at the leather vest. “I know it probably doesn’t fit right now,” I started. “But I want you to wear my patch. I want you to be mine.” She looked up, tears swimming in her eyes. “I thought you’d never ask.” Going two for two, I bent down and retrieved the little silver box from my pocket, and then dropped down to one knee. “What are you doing?” She asked breathlessly. I lifted her shoes up off the floor and showed her. “Helping you put on your shoes.” Her face fell, and I knew I had her. “After that, I’m going to give you this ring, and you’re going to put it on,” I said as I slipped first one shoe, and then the other onto her feet. “We’ll get married after the baby gets here, okay?” She was giggling at that point. “You had me at, ‘helping you put on your shoes,’” she said just before she launched herself from the bed, into my arms. I caught her carefully, sinking to the ground until she was straddling my thighs, her big belly pressed up against my taught one. “I love you more than tuna fish,” she said just before ripping the scrub top over her head, and then reaching for the vest that was on the bed behind her. She slipped it on over her shoulders, and then tried in vain to button the thing. She looked fucking sexy. My name was on the back of her, and her tits were hanging out the front like ripe, juicy peaches. “God,

you look sexy. I wish I could memorialize you like this forever.” She smiled saucily at me. “I think that can be arranged.” “Oh, yeah?” I asked as I ran my bearded jaw along the side of her exposed neck. She shivered and pressed in even closer. “I have to be at work in twenty minutes.” Then she kissed me. Her mouth was a hot, wet trap that sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go. Her tongue played with mine. Teasing, licking, sucking. Her teeth caught my bottom lip and nipped it gently. I wasn’t a talker during sex; I was more of a doer. In that moment, though, I wanted nothing more than to let her know just exactly how beautiful she was to me right then. “You’re so fucking sexy,” I said as I ran my hands up the inside of her thighs, coming to a stop at the underside of her breasts. “I have stretch marks,” she grimaced. She did, that was no lie. However, they didn’t detract from the beauty of her body. I’d never been more turned on than when I finally started see a definite difference in her body. “We’ve had the best sex of our lives, the last couple of months. I’m not even thinking about your big belly, or your ass when I’m fucking you,” I explained. Her eyes narrowed. “I never said anything about my ass being big.” “Your ass is perfect. I love grabbing handfuls of it when I fuck you from behind.” Putting my hands underneath her arms, I pushed her to her feet, yanked her pants down to her ankles, and then ripped them roughly from her legs. She fell backwards onto the bed, exactly where I wanted her. One shoe came off in the process, and I threw that aside too. All I was left with were her panties, but they proved to be no barrier at all as I slipped them to the side, lined my cock up with her entrance, and thrust forward. Her wet folds parted for me effortlessly. The lips of her sex freshly lubricated with her excitement.

The property patch was still on her naked torso. She saw me looking, and released the front clasp of her bra, letting her bountiful breasts slip free of their confinement. With each thrust forward, her tits would shake, knocking forward and backwards so roughly that she had to hold onto them. I leaned forward, curling over her belly, searching for her nipple. She fed me her breast, offering it up like a feast for a starving man. Which I was. I couldn’t get enough of her. The curves covering her body rounded her out nicely, giving me something soft to hold onto as I took her any way I wanted her. My balls slapped against the seam of her panties, knocking against her ass hard enough to send tiny sparks of electricity up my spine. My mouth popped free from one taught nipple only to go to the other one with a single minded determination. Making her come. Her nipples were very sensitive, and there were times where she could come just by nipple stimulation alone. This time being one of them. Her body arched, and her nipple slipped wetly from my mouth as she came. Clamping down hard on my cock, as a gush of excitement made my dick slip inside of her all the easier. It didn’t take long for me to follow her. The wet sound of her pussy taking me, her tits bouncing, and the rough texture of her panties rubbing alongside my dick, had me exploding inside of her in no time. Shooting my come high inside of her heat. The added wetness only intensified my orgasm, prolonging it as my synapses were bombarded with all the added stimulation. “Fuck,” I said as I worked inside of her one final time. She let go of her breasts, letting them slip from her grasp. The distended nipples were still wet from my mouth, and the sight made my cock jump inside of her, causing her to groan. “I’m so late,” she moaned.

I helped her sit up and she waddled to the bathroom, more from the wetness between her legs rather than the baby filling her belly. I grabbed her a new pair of panties, her discarded pants and shoes, and followed her into the bathroom to find her cleaning herself with a wet hand towel. “Do you want me to do it?” I leered at her. She rolled her eyes. “That’s what got us into this mess. Your uncontrollable cock. It has super cock powers that has the ability to zap the common sense out of my brain.” I laughed, then sobered quickly. “Why are you going into work? You remember we have the trial tomorrow, right?” She gave me a ‘duh’ look. “Of course I remember. It’s at ten, correct?” I nodded. “Well then, I’ll have enough time to get two of my clients done tonight, and then I’ll be ready to go by ten!” “You better be,” I declared solemnly.

*** Channing. I resettled in my seat, pressing my back against the uncomfortable bench, trying in vain to find a more suitable position. These stupid wooden benches weren’t made for sitting for long periods of time. Especially by a pregnant woman. Loki lifted his arm, allowing me to press my back against his chest. Thankfully, he’d removed the gun that he kept under his arm and placed it on the bench underneath his opposite leg. Sighing in appreciation, I moved my legs until they were straightened out underneath Silas’ extended ones, earning me a look. Hey, I could’ve placed my legs in his lap. It was the least he could do. He was the one who made me come in the first place. He’d said I needed closure, but to be honest, I didn’t need anything like that. I’d wiped my brother, Varian, and Mick from my thoughts over a month ago. It was Loki and the rest of The Dixie Divas...I mean Dixie Wardens, that kept bringing it back up. I’d be happy if they just never spoke of it again, yet they were adamant that I ‘talk through’ it and not let it ‘fester.’ “Mr. Strong, can you tell me how you managed to hook up with Mr. Hennessey?” The judge asked. Varian’s hand worked at his shoulder where he’d been shot by Andrea over a month ago and shuttered. “Mick, I mean Mr. Hennessey, was the one to contact us. Previously, it’d just been Andrew and me. He worked as a manager at a tech company. We’d hooked up after I learned of his computer skills a few weeks after he’d moved into the neighborhood. Mick contacted Andrew while I was in jail. He was the one to orchestrate the escape.” Varian’s trial had been last week. He’d confessed to nearly all of his crimes. Then he’d implicated my brother in about ten more. That had been the worst part. If I hadn’t allowed my brother to move in with me, then maybe this whole mess wouldn’t have happened. Luckily, it was all nearly over. Varian was only serving as a witness against Mick before they shipped the man off to Huntsville. Only The Dixie Wardens would be escorting the man there, just to make sure he got there safely and all that batshit. In all honesty, I was sure they were doing it for entirely different reasons, but it was

honestly none of my business. “He’s lying!” Mick bellowed. I blew out a breath. This was seriously a waste of time. “Mr. Hennessey, if you do not find your seat promptly, you will be held in contempt of court,” the judge’s old voice snarled. Hennessey sat, and listened like a good little boy for the next few hours as witness after witness testified. This would be the last day we were needed. Loki had taken the stand earlier, followed by my recounting directly after his. I fell asleep like that, waking up nearly an hour later to find the man at the front of the jury reading off a slip of paper. Loki nudged my arm again, pushing me up until I was sitting up more or less on my own. I wiped the corner of my mouth with my hand as I listened to the Hispanic young man read his verdict. “We the jury found the defendant, Mick Hennessey, guilty of...” He listed off a list of crimes, the worst one being the murder of my brother. After the court adjourned, I walked hand in hand with Loki outside. “That was quite a look Mick gave you as we were leaving,” I observed. “Yeah, he’s pissed at me. I got everything he wanted. You. My stepfather. A family. My job. The respect of my club. He’s got nothing. And prison isn’t going to be very nice to him. Prisoners don’t have a lot of love for cops...ex-cops or not,” he said as he held my arm firmly, helping me descend the steps. “Serves him right,” I said. “Here, here,” Silas said from my opposite side. “Karma’s a bitch,” Loki agreed.

Chapter 21 Keep calm and come sit on my dick. -Loki to Channing Channing Two and a half months later I walked with Brittany up the steps of the police station. Hesitation nowhere in my steps. I’d really come a long way in a year. Just a short time ago, I’d have never been able to go near the steps. Now I was preparing to walk inside. I’d even made a batch of cookies for them. All because of my soon to be husband. “Do you want me to paint your toes?” Brittany asked. I looked down at my toes. Or I would’ve if I could have seen them, that is. “Do they need painting?” I questioned her. Brittany snorted. “No, of course not.” I shot her a sideways glare as we walked up the never ending steps. Okay, maybe there were only eight, but I was carrying around a wide load now-a-days. Eight steps was a lot. I’d really packed on the weight in the last three months. I’d gained nearly forty five pounds. Although Loki said he didn’t care, I knew the truth. He thought my ass was fat. “You gonna make it?” Brittany asked worriedly. I looked at her, and continued up the last two steps. “Yeah,” I huffed. She held the door open for me, and we walked into the blessedly warm building. “Jesus, why’s it so hot in here?” Brittany whined. “Because you’re going through menopause,” I suggested with a raised eyebrow. She narrowed her eyes at me. “Take that back.”

I ignored her and kept walking. “Are you sure I should be bringing these up here? I feel like I’m holding a porn magazine in full view of the entire police station,” I said nervously. The cookies in my hands felt like they weighed a ton, but they were nothing compared to the manila envelope holding my photos from the maternity shoot Brittany had forced me to do. “Yes, I’m sure. It’ll be okay. I called Cabe when I pulled up. He said Loki’s been in his office all day making calls about the case he’s on,” she whispered loudly. Why she even bothered to whisper at all was beyond me. She’d done it so loudly that she had made every head in the entire room turn towards us. How was that possible in the busiest part of the station? Mainly, it was because they were all a bunch of busy bodies. Their gossip was worse than women drunk on Wine Wednesday. Not that I’d gotten to participate in Wine Wednesday. Being pregnant really was a drag sometimes. “Hey, baby,” a deep male’s voice said from behind us. I didn’t wait while Brittany stopped to speak with her husband. “Those for me?” Trance asked. “No,” I answered and kept walking. “They’d be for you if you weren’t so mean.” Trance’s eyes warmed. He sure was a cutie. Sometimes I was jealous of Viddy. I only got to see Loki in uniform once a month, and that was for the mandatory department meetings with the Chief of Police, the Mayor, and the detectives to discuss their cases. He stripped out of the uniform the moment he left the Mayor’s office. “Hey,” Trance said as he snatched the cookies from me. “It wasn’t my fault. Viddy made me sleep on the couch for that, too. But he had it coming. I swear.” Trance’s grin was contagious. “Oh, yeah? How about you just show me what you got, and then I might forgive you.” He stared at me for long moments before he unbuttoned his long sleeved shirt, rolled it up until his upper forearm was exposed, and showed it to me.

I blinked at what I saw. Then I started laughing before I walked away. “Oh, shit,” I giggled. “Can I have some cookies now?” He yelled at my retreating back. “Sure,” I agreed quickly. After seeing that tattoo, he deserved the cookies. I’d been holding a grudge against Trance for nearly a week. A week and a day ago, Trance and the boys had taken Loki out for his bachelor party, while the old ladies, and quite a few of the police and fire wives, came out for a baby shower and housewarming party, at our new house. Loki and I had been gifted with so many presents that we’d had to move the party outside. We’d moved completely into our new house only the weekend before the bachelor party, and this was the first time for all the ladies to see the house with all the furnishings in place. Loki had found a nice little place in the middle of nowhere that was only a few short miles away from town. While we’d been busy opening presents, Trance and the boys had gotten Loki drunk. He’d showed up at home drunker than hell, and sporting a new, hideously ridiculous tattoo. At least it was covered easily. Trance’s tattoo would be seen by anyone once his sleeves were gone. The fucker deserved it, though. I still couldn’t believe he’d dared Loki to get a tattoo. Especially that one. Loki’s door to his office was partially open, so I walked right in without knocking. I was startled to find him with someone, though. Detective Eurie Lauder was sitting on the side of his desk wearing her short business skirt that showed off her beautiful legs. Loki wasn’t paying the least bit of attention, though. He was on the phone staring out the window. Eurie and I had a hate-hate relationship. I hated her, and she hated me. We both knew that. We both acknowledged that. However, we kept things civil because Loki didn’t need the added problem of having to worry about his current lover and his ex-lover getting into catfights anytime we were in the same vicinity.

I knew as soon as I met her that she was in love with Loki. He didn’t know, though, and I planned on keeping it that way. “Eurie,” I said nodding my head at her. She smiled tightly at me. “Channing. How’s the baby doing?” I looked down at my stomach, pressing my hand against the little elbow that was poking out of my skin. “Bryce Junior is doing well. He’s very energetic today. Do you mind giving Loki and me some time alone, please?” She grimaced. “Sure,” she said and stood. She didn’t look back and I was grateful. It was time for her to move on. My man was very taken. I knew he had eyes only for me. Which he proved over and over again. He was mine, and I was most assuredly his. “Hey, baby. How are you doing?” Loki asked as he hung up the phone on his desk. I smiled. “I’m good. I, uh, brought you some pictures. Brittany made me.” His eyebrow quirked as he walked around his desk, threw the door closed beside me, and pressed his big body against my own. His mouth covered mine for short moments before he withdrew and took the envelope from my hand. “What kind of pictures?” he asked curiously. “The ones you asked for,” I replied cryptically.

*** I was slipping on my hose when two large hands stopped me, and then pushed me gently forward. “Loki,” I said. “We have to be at Lola’s awards ceremony in an hour.” Lola was the girl I’d saved from the wreckage, and an absolute doll. “We have time,” he rumbled as his stubbled jaw ran along my cheek. “No we don’t,” I tried. “You’re so fucking beautiful,” he moaned against my mouth. “You know I love you, right?” My hand came up and cupped his jaw. Then moved lower as I dropped my hand down his stomach, to his briefs that were doing way too good a job at holding his cock in check. “Yeah,” I whispered huskily. “Why?” Once my hand made contact with his cock, his restraint took a flying leap. “Because I’m about to fuck you like I don’t. Stand up,” he commanded.

*** “I can’t believe you! We’re so freakin’ late!” I moaned. “Lola’s last name is Vine. We’ll make it,” he assured me, as he pulled into a spot at the front of the auditorium. Lola, the sixteen year old who’d I’d stayed with during the wreck, had become very special to me. Her father was a doll, and the exact opposite of any senator I’d ever read about. He was extremely down to earth, and grieved the death of his late wife. Lola was doing well under the circumstances, and three and a half months after the accident that took her mom so suddenly, she was accepting an award for perfect attendance and honor’s society. Loki got out and walked toward my door, but I was already hefting myself out of my wedding present from Loki. He’d been working on my Pontiac Firebird in secret for months, and had only given it to me yesterday. He’d tried to convince me to take the truck today, but I’d been adamant that we take the Firebird. I was sure it was going to be sweet. And it was. It was so beyond everything I ever wanted that I could literally kiss his feet. If I could heft my fat ass down there. “It’s convenient that you have that nifty little police badge that lets you park wherever you want to park,” I said dryly. “Yep. Really convenient,” he agreed. “You know, this’ll be us in sixteen years,” I said conversationally. He turned his head to me, his pale blue eyes pinning me to his gaze. “I can’t fucking wait.”

Chapter 22 You can take your ‘breathe’ and shove it up your ass. -Channing, hour eight of labor Loki Two nights later “Give her a focal point. Something to look at,” the nurse suggested to me. Dixie, who, God only knew why he was in the room, calmly walked forward, and then lifted up his shirt to show off his massive belly. Honest to God, I couldn’t make this shit up. The room was far from empty. Nurses, a doctor, two interns, and two nursing students crowded into the small space much to Channing’s annoyance. Every single one of them laughed, even Channing. “Is that good?” Dixie asked Channing. Tears were still pouring down her cheeks, but at least she was smiling. Even all these months later, tears still killed me. Especially hers. And God help me when this kid finally made his arrival, because his would too. “I need more ice chips,” Channing groaned. I looked at the nearly full cup of ice she was holding in her hands. “Why? That one’s nearly full.” The little pink cup that was holding the ice chips went sailing through the air, and smashed into the far wall directly next to where Baylee was standing. The ice chips hit the wall with a thud, and the sound of thousands of shards of ice hit the tiled floor with a spray. Baylee was too busy laughing her ass off to realize she’d nearly been brained with a cup of ice. “Those ice chips suck balls. I want new ice chips. Ones that aren’t melted,” she snarled. I backed away from her slowly, darting past the two student nurses who were standing in the corner of the room with wide eyes. My feet crunched on the ice as I exited the room, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was getting the little she-devil some motherfuckin’ ice.

“Can I help you, sir?” The lone woman who was at the nurse’s station asked. Today was a full moon, and apparently a very busy night. Channing had gone into labor earlier this morning, but she’d waited it out until around seven in the evening. When Channing had first told me she didn’t want to have any drug interventions, I’d thought she’d gone off her rocker. But arguing with the pregnant woman was suicidal. The nurse came back quickly and handed me a cup of ice. “Thanks,” I muttered, before hustling back to the room. When I entered the room, you could’ve heard a pin drop. “Well?” Channing yelled. “Uhh,” one of the baby doc’s said. “It feels like it’s on fire. Can you put some ice on it?” Channing groaned. “Channing, your, ah, clitoris is not on fire. It’s only a side effect of the crowning. Now, I’ve got you all in position. Push on the next contraction, okay?” Dr. Summer said with a laugh in his voice. I looked at Brittany, Baylee, Adeline, and Viddy, who were all standing in the corner with beat red faces, and raised my eyebrows at them. They shook their heads, refusing to answer. Turning, I strode up to Channing, crunching on the ice once again, and came up to her side. “What’s wrong, baby?” I asked as I ran my hand along her sweaty forehead. She turned her eyes to me and glared. “My clit is burning. Will you hold some of that ice on it?” she asked. “Uhh,” I looked at Dr. Summer for support. Dr. Summer shrugged. He was a smart man. Thus, that’s how I found myself holding a piece of ice over my wife’s clit while she pushed our child out. “Push from your bottom,” Dr. Summer said when the next contraction hit. Channing curled up over her belly, and started pushing. “If I shit, just look away, okay?” Channing panted.

Knowing this was an argument I couldn’t win, I told her what she wanted to hear. “Okay,” I agreed quickly. Jesus Christ, why were women so fucking worried about that? There were a million and one different things to worry about, and she’s worried about shitting on the table. “Breathe, pant, there you go,” I encouraged her. Her forehead, neck, and hair were covered in sweat. Her hand went to the sleeve of my shirt, and she pulled me down until I was eye level with her. Then she said, “Get the fuck out of my face.” I stepped back, giving her some space, and definitely not touching her. “Excellent, Channing. Is it all right if I let one of the interns take over from here?” Dr. Summer asked. “If you leave the room I’m following you,” she snarled. I was secretly glad. Not that I didn’t think the interns needed to learn, but it sure as fuck didn’t need to happen on my woman and child. The tendons in Channing’s neck relaxed as the contraction waned. “Channing, darling, how are you feeling?” The baby doc asked. Channing calmly looked around, and then closed her eyes. “I want to bash every one of your faces in with a nine iron.” I turned abruptly to stare at the wall, trying, with all I had, to control the guffaws of laughter that were threatening to pour out of my chest. Dixie didn’t bother to contain his. He just laughed, and let his big belly jiggle. The nurses and doctors all cracked smiles just as another contraction started up. We repeated the pushing process for nearly two hours. Those two hours were the longest two hours of my life. On the last contraction, the intern started shoving his hand up my woman’s vagina, and I was about to lose my shit when Channing yelled, “Get out of my cunt, you big handed heifer!” And with that, our five pound, six ounce little boy, Justice Reese Rector, made his way into this world, spitting mad just like his mother.

*** “I’m sorry I was such a bitch,” Channing said, tiredly, later that night. I looked up from my little boy’s face to find her on her side facing me, eyes finally open. I smiled at her warmly. “You didn’t mean any of it, honey. I know.” She closed her eyes again. “Baylee showed me a video of some of the things I’d said while you were with Justice when he was getting a bath. I know I was a bitch.” I snorted. That was the understatement of the century, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world. “So...did Dixie see my coochie?” She smiled. A startled laugh burst free of my chest, shaking the baby and making him cry out. “No, I think he slipped out at some point,” I said as I patted the tiny boy who’d already stolen a piece of my heart. Her head fell back against the pillow, and her eyes started to close once again. Standing carefully, I walked over to the side of the bed, and sat down beside her. She smiled at me, but didn’t open her eyes. Leaning down, I gave her a soft kiss on the forehead, and then rested there for a moment, breathing in her scent. She smelled like her original citrus smell. A combination of the shampoo she used, and whatever products she gunked her hair up with that morning. That, to me, smelled like home. I’d found a home with Channing. We shared an unbreakable bond, now. One that’d withstood time, distance, heartache, heartbreak, and death. We were each other’s lifeline. Channing kept me grounded. She made sure I talked through my day. If I ever needed her, she was there. She was irrevocably mine, and I was irreversibly hers. She’d given me a precious gift today. One that I could never, ever repay for as long as I lived. I would spend my days trying to bridge that gap but somehow, I knew, I could never do anything to match her gift of life. She was everything to me. Everything I never knew I wanted. The keys to my cuffs. The balm for my tortured soul. She’s the reason I’m stronger today than I was yesterday, but she’s also my weakness.

She had the power to bring me to my knees, and I like it that way.

Epilogue If at first you don’t succeed, give the jar to your husband and save yourself the time. -Life Lesson Three years later “Loki!” I snapped. “I told you not to call them hose monkeys in front of the kids anymore. Do you realize how embarrassing it is to have them say that when they see a firefighter?” Loki’s grin showed just how unrepentant he really was. Our kids were at a very impressionable age. Justice was three, and our baby girl, Glory, was just shy of eighteen months old. “I’ll see what I can do about that,” he drawled as we walked up to the neighborhood block party. The block party was something the community liked to do around Halloween each year. The downtown roads would be blocked off, and there would be live entertainment as well as arts and crafts for the children. The fire department would get their ladder truck out and give bucket rides for the kids, while the police department would hand out badges. Trance was due to put on a demonstration with Kosher, his K-9 partner, within the next ten minutes. “We have to hurry or we’re going to miss Trance’s demonstration,” I insisted urgently. Loki rolled his eyes. “Haven’t you seen enough of Trance’s demonstrations? I mean, it’s not like this is the first time you’ve ever seen what Kosher can do.” “Yeah, but he’ll be in uniform. I’ll get to see his butt in those uniform pants,” I quipped. “Yeah,” Viddy agreed. “His butt does look pretty damn good in them. Loki growled low under his breath. “What was that, honey?” I teased him. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Cabe’s voice boomed over the loud speaker. “Gather around. The Benton Police Department’s K-9 unit has a special show for you tonight.” “Hey,” I said when Loki started to break away from us. “Where’re you going?” “I’m part of the demonstration,” he grunted out before turning around and leaving. “Temper, temper,” Viddy joked as we watched him hustle away. “He’s been busy at work, and I’ve been busy with work and the kids. He feels neglected and doesn’t

like when I talk about other men’s asses,” I explained with a grin. Viddy’s smile was brilliant. “But what a fine ass it is to check out!” Viddy agreed. I rolled my eyes. “So, I hear Trance finally got a cover up on his tattoo this past weekend.” Viddy giggled. “Yeah, he did. I told him it was time.” Three years ago, Trance and Loki had gotten drunk at Loki’s bachelor party, and came home with tattoos. Loki’s had said, ‘Orgasm Donor’ on his abdomen, near the waistline of his jeans. Trance’s had been worse. His had said, ‘Fuck the police’ on his left forearm. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but with them both being upstanding police officers, it wasn’t a good idea to be sporting that kind of ink, whether you could see it or not. “What’d he cover it with?” I asked as I pushed the double stroller carrying both of my children to the bleachers they’d set up. Justice and Glory were both sleeping, which was to be expected for half past noon. This was their naptime, and normally they were at home and asleep at this time. “It’s an anchor with some detail work. There wasn’t much you could do to cover up such bold black lines. He’s happy with the end product, though. The Chief told him he had to cover it, or he couldn’t wear his short sleeved uniform shirt ever again. Regardless of whether he had the sleeve covering it or not,” she sighed as she pushed her own stroller up against the bleachers and took a seat. I couldn’t help but laugh. A year ago, Loki had gotten into a scuffle while he was questioning a suspect, and his shirt had ridden up, exposing his belly for all to see. The ten or fifteen iPhones readily available got plenty of good pictures of the orgasm donor, and he’d gotten a good talking to by the chief. The next day, he’d started the deep black curling lines of the Samoan tattoo that he’d wanted for years. It’d taken over five visits to finish, but the end product was exceptional. And sexy as hell. “Wow,” Viddy said with wide eyes. “I didn’t realize he was going to have a human target for this demonstration.” My eyes turned to the man walking out onto the field, and I knew, with a sudden pounding of my heart, that it was Loki in that padded suit. “I’m going to kill him,” I growled and stood up. Viddy grasped my hand tightly. “It’s too late. He’s already started,” she gestured with her fingers.

“Well Kosher better hope he finishes the job, because if he doesn’t, I will.” Then I watched as my husband was attacked by a deadly trained police dog. Repeatedly.

*** “Do you want to go eat at Tele’s?” I asked as I strapped Justice into his car seat. Loki started shaking his head adamantly. “No, I arrested someone there last week.” I sighed. That was a standard answer for him, sadly. “Okay; well then, where?” I questioned as I closed the back door to the truck. He waited to answer until I was seated next to him. “Uhh, how about The Blind Tiger?” he asked. I glared at him. “That’s a bar. You can’t take kids to a bar.” “We take them to Halligans and Handcuffs all the time,” he shot back. I gave him a droll look. “Yes...but that’s because y’all own that place. And it’s a restaurant and bar. You also don’t see me taking them there after seven.” He snorted. “Whatever.” I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, and lifted up my ass to reach underneath and withdraw a handful of bullets that must’ve slipped free off the ammo bag I’d moved off the seat when I’d gotten in. Placing them on the seat, I said, “How about Cracker Barrel?” He wasn’t listening to me though. His eyes were on the man just ahead of us that was weaving in between the two lanes. Closing my eyes, I let it play out, just as it’d done many, many times in the last three years. “I need you to run some plates for me. And send a unit to Duncan Road and Sheffield Drive. Alpha. Boy. Seven. Liver. Four. Queen. Boy. 10-4,” Loki said into his radio. The radio was a part of him, just as his wedding ring. Gun. Badge. And Dixie Wardens cut. He very rarely left the house without those things. I must’ve dozed off, as did the kids, because I wasn’t even aware of him pulling over behind the car, talking to the other officers on scene, or getting back into the truck. Instead, I woke up when we were pulling into the Chinese restaurant. “Chinese again?” I questioned huskily. He smiled apologetically. “Sorry, babe. You’ll have to go in and order it, though. I think Barney’s working today.”

Barney was the owner of Magic China. He was also arrested by Loki a little over a year ago for abusing his wife. Although Barney’s wife forgave Barney, Barney never forgave Loki, and refused to serve him. Which was why I always had the pleasure of doing business with Barney. “Thanks,” I muttered and exited the truck. Barney was indeed working, but he refrained from saying any ugly words. For once. That probably had a lot to do with his elderly mother sitting on the barstool at the front of the store, though. “Free Wan-ton soup,” Barney glowered at me as he handed over my order. I took it, smiling thankfully. “Have a good day, Barney.” He didn’t reply as I exited the store. The trials and tribulations of being a police wife sometimes seemed exuberant at times, but when I opened the door to find Loki singing Disney songs to our children, I knew all those trials were worth it. The man was the light of my life, and I’d do anything for him.

*** Loki The house was completely dark when I entered. After eating with the kids, we’d just started getting them in bed when I was called out for a homicide. Luckily, Channing now made her own hours. Brittany and Channing had opened their own funeral home last year, and now worked whatever hours they wanted. If they didn’t want to work, then didn’t have to. That worked out well for our family, because there were times, like today, that I was called out without a moment’s notice. The beep-beep of the alarm being reset had me turning to find Channing standing beside the door punching in the numbers to re-arm the house. “Hey, baby. Did I wake you?” I asked as I stepped into her and gave her a soft kiss on the mouth. She curled her arms around my neck and leaned into the kiss slightly before breaking away. “No, Justice has a fever. We’ve been up, on and off, for about three hours now.” Concern etched her features, and I put my hand around her neck, bringing her back into the space where she belonged. My arms. “Is the fever down now?” I asked. She lifted her shoulders. “Kind of. He’s asleep on our bed. I couldn’t get him onto his own without him screaming.” I ran my cheek along the top of her head, letting my beard run against the soft locks of her hair. Justice was mostly a healthy little boy. Until you got to the asthma attacks. We’d known there was a chance that he’d have asthma, but that first time he’d had an attack, I’d never been more scared in my life. He’d been six months old, and I’d taken him out to the park with me. Channing had been at work with Brittany when all of a sudden Justice started freaking out. His eyes went wide, followed shortly by the wheezing inhale. His ribs started pulling in while he used his accessory muscles to help him breathe. It was truly the most terrifying thing I’d seen.

I’d, of course, seen Channing have them multiple times in the past. I’d seen what they did to her, and how they brought her down. Then to see that on my own child had asthma knocked me for a loop. Luckily I’d been there with not only Trance, but Kettle and Sebastian as well. They’d kept me calm, and we’d arrived at the hospital where Justice became the newest user of an inhaler. Now we kept one in every vehicle. I kept one in my pocket, regardless of whether I was working or not, and Channing kept one in the diaper bag and her purse. “Alright, baby. I’ll be there in a minute. I just want to check the house real quick,” I said as I let her go. She nodded, walking quietly across the foyer and disappearing into the living room. Her long white gown flowed behind her airily, and her brown hair, a good deal longer now, floated around her shoulders and waist as she swayed. Shaking my head to clear it, I walked the house and double-checked the windows, locks, and doors. There’d be no loving going on in the Rector house tonight, unfortunately, but that was okay. Sometimes love wasn’t about intimacy. Sometimes it was about just being with the person you loved. Knowing they were close. Feeling their skin on yours. Smelling their scent. Laughing with you. That’s what I had with Channing. Peace. Love. And forever.

Coming Soon Life To My Flight

March 5, 2015

Prologue I walked up to my mother’s grave. Gravel crunched underneath my boots as I followed the winding path from where I’d parked my truck. The grass that had been green only a month ago was now brown. The leaves on the trees had gone from a nice, leafy green to brown, yellow, and red explosions of color. Fall was in full swing. Not only the weather had changed. My demeanor, for one, had gone through a major overhaul. The last time I’d been here, I had been a wreck. My mother had been my best friend. She’d been my confidant. My savior. My everything. Then she’d had a heart attack while I was overseas, and died as a result. My father had died years ago, but words couldn’t explain how much more it hurt to lose my mom. “Do you see, Nonnie? I wasn’t lying to you. Papa died a year ago,” a woman’s tired voice said from up ahead. My eyes went from my destination to the direction the woman’s voice came from. I only saw their heads over the gravestones though. This cemetery was an old one. There were a ton of huge monuments, headstones, catacombs, and even above ground crypts. This was the heart and soul of Natchitoches, Louisiana. “No, child. I don’t understand. He was just with me yesterday. Ollie wouldn’t leave me like this. He just wouldn’t,” a frail elderly woman’s voice cried desolately. My heart constricted as I listened to the woman weep uncontrollably. “Oh, Nonnie. I’m so sorry,” the woman replied breathily. I hung my head and walked to my mother’s grave, trying my hardest to ignore the sound of the crying

going on from just across the foot path. My mother’s grave was covered in flowers from my sisters. They felt that the area should be beautiful, and I couldn’t disagree with them. My mom deserved the best, which was why I threw nearly two years of a paycheck at the burial plot that would bury her next to my father. Even if it meant displacing the prior occupant. I sat down, leaning forward until my arms hung from my upraised knees. My head rested on my forearms, and I tried my hardest to let my brain tune out the pitiful wails of the old woman. It was really pulling on my non-existent heartstrings. “Ollie! Ollie! I’m right here, what are you doing way over there?” The old woman exclaimed. I looked up to see the old woman barreling towards me as fast as her walker, decorated with hot pink tennis balls at the bottom, could carry her. The woman, who I’d only seen at a cursory glance stood, started forward. However, the old woman, Nonnie, was surprisingly fast and nimble despite her age. She flew across the grass, then the gravel, with surprisingly graceful maneuvering. “Nonnie, slow down!” The woman chided. The younger woman finally caught up to her ‘Nonnie’ and hugged her tightly. “Nonnie, that’s not Papa.” Nonnie looked crestfallen. “But...but...but where’s my Ollie?” My guess was that the woman had Alzheimer’s. “I’m so sorry, sir, my Nonnie doesn’t understand.” The woman finally gave me her eyes. She was beautiful. Short brown hair that came to her jaw with the front bangs tucked back behind her hair, she reminded me of one of my little sisters. She wasn’t overtly tall or beautiful, but she was intriguing. Her black tights and brown suede boots hugged her long, shapely legs. Her top half was swallowed by a long, flowy shirt that came down to her knees, and barely showed off anything good. “That’s okay, it isn’t a big deal,” I finally said. The woman smiled. “That’s good. Nonnie doesn’t mean to kick up a fuss. Do you?” The woman looked at her Nonnie.

Nonnie looked up. “Rue, what are we doing here?” The woman, Rue, looked extremely relieved. “Oh, Nonnie. You wanted to see Papa’s grave. Now we’re going to go back home so I can get to work on time tonight. Right?” “Right dear,” Nonnie said, patting the younger woman’s hand. “Let’s go. I made you late enough.” The woman gave me a fleeting smile as they walked away, and I was well and truly caught.

*** Rue 1 year later “I’m not that man,” Cleo said to me, his hand on my face. “I’ll never be that man. I’m sorry baby.” Cleo was my best friend. My confidant. The person who I turned to when I needed it. In all ways but one. He didn’t do relationships. I knew he loved me, and I loved him. However, something held him back. Something always held on to that last tie. That one single piece of him that kept him from taking that final step. He said it was the fact that he was never here. I knew better. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that he was, a PJ, a pararescue jumper, and everything to do with the fact that he lost his father at a young age, and then his mother at a time when he needed her the most. He was jaded to love. Not because he was betrayed by a woman, but because he was loved too much by one. Which was reciprocated in kind by him. His mom. The same went for his sisters. They were so tight, that sometimes it was hard to get in. I was the fourth woman in his life, and he didn’t want to chance loving me, and then losing me. He could tell himself whatever lie made him sleep at night, but I knew better. It didn’t help that every man on his particular jump team was either divorced or single. They didn’t have a single successful relationship between the six of them. He didn’t think it was possible, and he was too stubborn to see otherwise. “Please,” I whispered against his lips. “Please.” He groaned in defeat, grasping me by the hips with his large hands, and pinning me up against the wall with his large, muscular body. Mikhail ‘Cleo’ Caruso was the epitome of perfection. Tall, with hair black as midnight, and eyes, the

color of charcoal. He had perfect, long lashes that women only wished they could have, and a perpetual bad attitude. He was a dick and a half to everyone that came into contact with him...except for me. I gasped when my shirt was yanked off my body, and then unceremoniously tossed to the floor. “You want me? You’ve fucking got me,” Cleo snarled. Then he was on me.

*** I woke the next morning to my body deliciously sore, and my mind a hazy mess from the blissful overload of the night before. Then my mind came back online when I realized that Cleo was no longer there, and I knew that I’d fucked up. I knew as soon as I’d slept with him that he’d leave. I just thought I’d be awake to convince him not to go. Here I was sleeping through his exit, and I had only sore muscles to show for it. I’d gotten to know Cleo through my many visits with my grandmother to the gravesite to visit my Papa. On some of those occasions, her Alzheimer’s wasn’t acting up, but most of them, she couldn’t remember who I was. I loved that woman with all of my heart, but I knew I couldn’t take care of her anymore. My full time home health nurse gave her two-week resignation yesterday, which meant that I was on my own. When Nonnie was lucid, I loved having her here, but when she wasn’t, it was a nightmare. It was hard to see someone you love with all your heart, go through that. It was even harder to admit that I couldn’t take care of her anymore. It’d been with Cleo’s help that I’d done as well as I had for so long, but I had a very bad feeling that that support had just jumped out of the proverbial helicopter, and didn’t have plans of returning.

Lani lynn vale serie the heroes of the dixie wardens mc 04 keys to my cuffs  
Lani lynn vale serie the heroes of the dixie wardens mc 04 keys to my cuffs