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Text copyright Š2016 Lani Lynn Vale All Rights Reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Dedication Here I am again, trying to figure out just who the hell I should thank for this book. The one person that always comes to mind is my husband. He’s the best husband in the world. Likely you think that yours is, but you’d be wrong. Mine is. :) He’s the man who’s changed my life, and I fall in love with a little more each day. Then there’s my mother, who works her butt off for me, folding my laundry and taking care of my kids so I can get one more chapter in. Or how about my mother in law who introduced me to the book world. You can thank her now for inspiring my love for reading, which ultimately morphed into my love for writing. Then there’s my kids. They may be holy terrors, but I wouldn’t know what to do without them. Then there’s all the readers that make it possible for me to continue writing. Thank you all for loving my books.

Acknowledgements Golden Czermak- I fell in love with this picture the moment I saw it. Thank you so much for taking it. It’s pure beauty. Chase Ketron- The moment I saw this photo, I knew it’d be perfect for this book. Thank you so much for taking it. Asli and Dani- thank you so much for all the hard work you put into this book to make it shine.

Other titles by Lani Lynn Vale: The Freebirds Boomtown Highway Don’t Care Another One Bites the Dust Last Day of My Life Texas Tornado I Don’t Dance The Heroes of The Dixie Wardens MC Lights To My Siren Halligan To My Axe Kevlar To My Vest Keys To My Cuffs Life To My Flight Charge To My Line Counter To My Intelligence Right To My Wrong Code 11- KPD SWAT Center Mass Double Tap Bang Switch Execution Style Charlie Foxtrot Kill Shot Coup De Grace The Uncertain Saints Whiskey Neat Jack & Coke (5-6-16) Vodka On The Rocks (7-6-16) Kilgore Fire

Shock Advised (4-6-16) Flash Point (6-2-16)

Griffin Storm wasn’t a man prone to violence, but when someone takes what Griffin holds dear, the world as he knows it is gone. Retaliation, revenge and rage fuels him. His MC, The Uncertain Saints, do their best to offer support, but Griffin is beyond redemption. He’ll do what he has to do. Kill who he has to kill. He doesn’t care if that means he dies. If it gets him what he wants, then it’s worth it. He fakes it all until the night he walks into a sex shop for batteries and lays eyes on a woman that will change his life. Lenore makes him think past tomorrow. Makes him want to see just what the future might bring. But his life’s a dangerous one built around pain and deception, and not for the faint of heart. He won’t give up the past, not until he’s done what he promised to do. And if that means she’s not there when the dust settles, he’ll risk it. Lenore, though, won’t give up on him. She’ll fix him, whether he wants her to or not.

Prologue We could all learn something from bees. Doesn’t matter what the size, if you chase someone with something that’ll hurt them, the fuckers run. Plain and simple. -Griffin’s secret thoughts Griffin Uncertain, Texas “What are you going to do?” My partner asked me. I looked over to him, closed my eyes, then scrambled to the nearest trashcan and lost my lunch. This couldn’t be happening. Not to me. Not to him. My God, he was the only thing keeping me sane. The only thing keeping me on this earth. What would I do without him? Once done, I stood, feet braced apart, and reflected on what I was about to do. “Don’t do anything stupid, Griffin,” my partner said, watching as the rage started to pour through me. I was going to kill whoever did this…and enjoy every fucking second of it. If I went to prison afterward, fine. So be it. It’d be worth it. I looked over at him, really looked at him, and shook my head. “You don’t know what it’s like,” I rasped, voice roughed. “You’re right. I don’t. But what I do know, is that if you keep traveling down this path, you’ll fuck yourself. All your hard work. Your career. Your life…it’ll be fuckin’ gone. Get those thoughts out of your mind,” he said forcefully. “You don’t know,” I said again. “You don’t fucking know!” It came out as a desperate scream…the kind where you don’t want what was reality to actually be real. “You don’t freakin’ know. You don’t know!” I kept repeating. I closed my eyes as a tear slipped free. God, what had I done to deserve this? I looked over at the table, in the middle of a cold, God forsaken morgue, where my son’s body laid for me to identify. And I broke. “That’s my boy…” I cried, voice hoarse. “He was my baby. He was my boy.”

“I know, Griffin, I know,” Wolf whispered. “I do know.”

*** Two days later I stared down at the coffin that held my six- year- old son. Or what remained of him. The cemetery at my back was filled with people. Family. Friends. Colleagues. My ex-wife was really living it up, letting everyone know how hard this was on her. My mother’s eyes were dead. She looked like the light had gone out of her; none of her usual animation was where it was supposed to be. I looked down at my dark washed blue jeans, black button down chambray shirt, and crossed my arms over my chest as I studied my feet. My boots were new. Tanner had been asking me for weeks when I planned on getting new ones. We’d planned on going the day he got home from his mom’s, and I’d gone through three days of having the sole of my boot flapping every time I stepped funny, just so he’d be able to give me his opinion on which ones I should get next. Because, you know, a six-year old’s opinion was important to picking out the most perfect pair of boots. An opinion that I would no longer have. “You okay?” My mother asked. I nodded. “Yeah.” It was a lie. We both knew it was a lie. But she didn’t call me on it. Mostly because she couldn’t lie about it herself, either. Neither one of us was okay. We were so far from okay that it was almost comical. Almost. The two graveside workers started to lower my son’s casket into the ground causing my heart to lurch. It was a size that no one, not even the casket makers, should ever have had to make. I idly wondered if they had depression issues. I would. Hell, I already did.

“You ready, son?” The pastor who was officiating asked. I nodded. “Yeah.” My ex started to wail as the first scoop of dirt was placed on top of Tanner’s casket, and I wanted to smack her. Not that I would, but a guy could dream. My mother took my hand and together we watched. Silent and still. While the men and women that had attended the funeral slipped slowly away, the shuffling of their feet across the grassy cemetery lawn softly punctuating the sound of the dirt hitting the casket. Five men, though, remained. Five men at my back, who would always be there. Mig. Peek. Casten. Ridley. Wolf. Although they didn’t speak, I had their silent support…just like a brotherhood should.

Chapter 1 I work hard so my cat can live a better life. -T-Shirt Lenore 6 months later “Do you have any batteries?” A deep male voice asked. I blinked, looking up from the Cosmo magazine I’d been reading, and immediately blushed. Freakin’ blushed! You would think after owning a sex toy store for four years that I would be beyond blushing. But, boy oh boy. The man currently standing in front of me was to die for. Drop dead gorgeous. Tall, blonde, and so, so handsome. Okay, I need to stop reading romance novels. But, my God, he was freakin’ sexy. He was tall with blonde hair shaved up the sides, leaving hair on the top of his head like the men on that Viking show were wearing. He had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, and a beard covering the lower half of his face. He had on a navy blue t-shirt tucked into dark washed jeans, with a brown belt around the waist. He had muscles. My God, did he have muscles. I didn’t even think I could span my hand around his biceps, they were that big. And his t-shirt clung to his well-defined chest, making my mouth dry. “Batteries?” He asked again, impatiently this time. “Umm,” I hesitated. “The only types we sell are the ones prepackaged with the v-vibrators,” I stuttered. He glared harder. “Which ones have double A’s?” He asked shortly. I stood on shaky legs, rounded the counter, and walked over to the huge wall of vibrators on the back wall. We had every shape and type of vibrator known to man. And, as a courtesy, we sold batteries with them.

In case, you know, you wanted to try it out in your car on the way home. Well, not really. I wasn’t sure why they were included, to be honest. Mainly to make the customer happy, I supposed. I refrained from asking why he came to my place of business instead of the Dollar General down the street, and was glad I did in the next instant when he offered that information up willingly. “The dollar store’s power is out due to the storm,” he said, grabbing the nine-inch whopper dong that was directly in front of him. “Umm,” I interrupted him. “If you don’t mind me asking, how many batteries do you need?” His shrewd blue eyes turned to me, and I had to bite my lip to keep from gasping. “I need six of them,” he answered. I nodded. “Then that one,” I said, pointing to our most popular one, “Would be your best bet. It’s the cheapest that we have that takes six.” I handed him the All American Whopper Vibrator and promptly blushed from the roots of my hair all the way to the base of my neck. “Thanks,” he said, tucking it under his arm as he followed me back to the counter. “Got any drinks here?” I shook my head. “No. Not unless you want a Capri Sun,” I said, pulling my stash out from under the counter. He shook his head. “No. I don’t want to take your drink. Thanks…” He stopped when a moan drifted up to us from the dressing room. I sighed. “Be right back.” I walked through the fetish wear and stopped at the closed dressing room stall that was only half a door for this very reason. “Sir,” I said. “Ma’am. You can’t do that in here. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” I freakin’ hated it when people had sex in the dressing rooms! I mean, seriously! Who does that? A moan was the only thing that drifted to me in reply and I started to get mad. People thought that since I was just five feet two inches tall, that I wouldn’t bust my fist on their face…but they would be wrong. I grew up with two brothers who treated me like a little brother instead of a little sister. I knew how to hold my own. They made sure of that. I pulled my keys out of my pocket and opened the dressing room door to find a pasty white ass thrusting viciously into the willing vagina of his girlfriend. “Excuse me,” I said. “Do you mind taking that outside before I call the police?”

The guy kept thrusting, but the woman’s eyes opened. She promptly started slapping the man on the back of one thigh. However, the man kept going, and I knew this was going to get nasty. I’d detected the guy was on something the moment they’d come in here. His pupils were dilated, his eyes were slightly unfocused, and I just knew – I knew – he was going to be trouble. His girl, though, hadn’t been wasted. In fact, she’d been just fine. And she looked nervous as hell to be in a sex store. Now, though, she didn’t seem all that embarrassed if the coloring that rode high on her cheeks was any indication. “She said to fucking leave,” the deep voice said from behind me. “Get your fucking cock out of her and get the fuck out.” I coughed. The guy listened to the man, though. Thank God. He turned around with a glare, pulling himself from the woman with little care that he was swinging it out for everyone to see. He had a pretty sizable cock, but it was nothing compared to the monster dildo I used. “Please leave,” I said again. The man glared and bent down to pick up his jeans that were around his ankles, roughly pulling them up and over his still hard cock. Luckily, he left without another word, the girl trailing behind him. “That happen often?” The man asked. I shrugged. “At least once a shift.” His eyes showed surprise, and I thought it was kind of funny. I didn’t think much of anything would shake this man, but it appeared that knowing that I dealt with that type of situation on a daily basis was upsetting to him. Weird. “That’ll be thirty-two fifty,” I said softly. He handed me his credit card, and I swiped it, not able to help myself from looking at the name on front before handing it back. Griffin. That was an interesting name, and fit him aptly. I wondered if he went by Griffin.

“Have a nice night,” he said as soon as I’d handed him the receipt. I couldn’t say I wasn’t disappointed…because I was. Very much so. But it wasn’t all that surprising. I didn’t get many second looks. It was the red hair. Match that with my pasty white skin, freckles on top of my freckles, and a scar that ran down the center of my chest, and it was kind of obvious why men didn’t bother giving me a second look. Not that he could see that scar, but I’m sure if he did, he’d freak out just like the other men who’d seen it did. It was my hair length, though, that fascinated most guys. It hung down to the bottom of my ass cheeks if it was unbound; which it usually wasn’t. And guys seemed to think it was really cool that I had such long hair, which was inevitably what made them stop to talk to me in the first place. The next few hours seemed to drag by as I waited for the end of the night. By the time two A.M. rolled around, I was practically bouncing off the walls to leave. Not that I had anything to go and do on my Saturday night. Nobody in Uncertain, Texas had anything to do on any night, whether it be Monday or Saturday. We had two restaurants that closed at eight P.M., two bars, a Walgreen’s near the interstate, a Dollar General, and a neighborhood grocer. That was literally it. Unless you wanted to go to the lake, something that I didn’t do. Not at night, anyway. Being eaten by an alligator wasn’t really my thing. Humming to myself, as I always did, I locked up and started to walk around the building where I parked. As I spotted my car, I nearly choked on my tongue when the dildo that Griffin had purchased a few hours earlier, sat on my hood with a note that said, “I won’t be needing this.” I laughed as I took it home. I wasn’t laughing at all an hour later when I was using that thing of beauty and calling out Griffin’s name as I came. Hard.

Chapter 2 When you think you’re in love, listen to your heart and not your dick. It doesn’t often lead you astray. -Note to self Griffin This town fucking sucked. It was the backwoods, ball sack of Texas, and, most of the time, I couldn’t wait to get the fuck away from this place. But occasionally the place had its moments. I’d been assigned to the county when I’d signed on with the Texas Rangers, and would probably be here for a long fucking time. I’d sold my house after I found out I’d be relocating, and I was still living out of a box, even though I’d been in the small town of Uncertain for over a year now. The only thing that’d been unpacked had been the kitchen stuff and Tanner’s room, even though he only visited every other weekend. I’d yet to see why this little stretch of highway even needed a Texas Ranger, seeing as the area had about five hundred people total, and not a single city hall among the four towns that I covered. Uncertain was the quietest of the four towns, which was why I’d chosen it over the larger ones. My soul needed time to heal after the divorce from hell. Then I needed it even more, six months later, after going to the crime scene where Tanner’s body had been discovered. The peace here was like none other. Seeing Tanner like that, broken and so damn cold had marked me in a way that I knew I’d never recover from. God, I could still remember the way his cold skin felt in my hands, how it felt like ice. I viciously shut that line of thought down. There would be no going down that path tonight. “That was something,” an amused male voice said from behind me. I looked up to find three men dressed in leather at my back. I’d heard them walk up, but I didn’t think they’d bother me while I was taking care of the other asshole. “Yeah,” I said, hauling the man up and shoving him back into his car. He was knocked out cold and probably wouldn’t remember this in the morning. Not that I cared if he remembered or not. The fucker deserved to know what would happen to him if I caught him giving it to a woman who kept

saying no. A woman, who I noticed, was no longer there. A woman who looked quite a bit like the red head from the sex store yesterday. “We haven’t seen you lately,” the closest man said. I raised a brow at him, getting back on my bike. “Yeah?” I asked. “Yeah,” the man closest said. “We want you to come to church today. We have a few decisions we need to make.” I laughed. It wasn’t a nice laugh, either. “Yeah, I’ll see what I can do about that,” I said, walking away from them. I hadn’t been back to the Saints clubhouse in months…since Tanner’s death. Which was, if I had to admit, why I was hesitating to go back. Tanner had loved the Uncertain Saints clubhouse. He’d loved watching the bikes. Loved the boys. Loved the water only a few hundred yards away. He loved everything about Uncertain, Texas, and hated living with his mom, my ex-wife, Noreen. But in the State of Texas, it was standard protocol for all children under the age of seven to stay with their mothers, even if their mothers were cheating pieces of shit who would do absolutely anything to stick it to their fathers. I knew the boys were hurting, just like I was. Knew they missed my boy nearly as much as I did. Which was why I finally grew a pair and went to the clubhouse, even though it nearly tore me in half to do so. Everybody there had a story. A piece of their life that fucked them up so bad that they wanted to retreat into the darkness. Which was what our club had grown into. A group of men who all had their own sob stories. Each of us had something in common. Grief, anger and sorrow. We were all tired of our lot in life…tired of the way the law handled things, or in some cases, didn’t handle things.

It was why the six of us had formed the club. We were a team, bound together by grief and loss. Mine story hadn’t been so bad when I’d started. Just a pissed off man that lost his wife to a piece of shit. Now, though…well let’s just say my life was definitely darker after Tanner’s death. The first person I saw as I entered into what the men had started calling ‘Church’ was Peek, our unofficial ‘president’ of The Uncertain Saints. He was the owner of three tattoo shops in our area, he was forty-four and a big pain in my ass. He never let me spend a night alone, and was always there, even when I didn’t want him to be. The second person I saw was Wolf. His story was just as bad as mine. His wife and unborn son were killed by a serial killer who preyed on cops and their families. His best friend had succumbed to the same serial killer, and now Wolf was raising the best friend’s son, whom he’d adopted just a few short months ago. The last person in the room was Mig. His real name was Vitaly, but when he was in the Navy and flying, he’d been nicknamed ‘Mig’ because he was half Russian and a mean motherfucker. A mig was an enemy aircraft-one that nobody liked to see. Since he wasn’t nice to anybody, he was deemed Mig by his colleagues shortly after arriving. Mig found it funny, not that he’d admit it, though. Mig wasn’t much of a talker. He was a man who knew what needed to be done and just did it….and sometimes showed you how to accomplish it. Which was what I liked about the man. He didn’t waste my time with niceties, only got the job done and got out. “We’re waiting for Casten, and Ridley, then we can start,” Peek said, kicking back in his chair and taking a sip of his beer. I nodded, taking a seat beside Mig and reaching into the cooler that was built into the middle of the table, and grabbing my own beer. I’d not had one in a long time, and as I took a sip of the cold brew, I realized just how much I missed it. I’d been going for the harder stuff lately…the stuff that would take my mind off of the gaping hole in my chest quicker than a beer would. “Okay,” I said, crossing my arms and looking at the wood grained walls of the room. I counted the planks of wood as I waited for them to start, not really in the mood to do much more than enjoy my beer.

“Booked your arrest today,” Ridley said as he came into the room, shaking his blonde hair out of his face as he did. His eyes were on me, and they were shining with barely contained laughter. “He told us that you helped him,” Ridley laughed. “It was the greatest thing in the world.” Ridley was a Sheriff’s deputy for Harrison County, the same county I was assigned to. He was how I’d met the rest of them, and a large part of the reason that I’d joined up with The Uncertain Saints. Before I’d loved the hell out of my bike, but I drove it out of necessity now since my wife was given my truck in the divorce settlement. She’d also taken all of my money and left me with barely a dollar to my name. I’d had to apply for a job as a Texas Ranger not only to get the fuck away from Noreen, but also to earn some extra cash since I was still expected to pay her a whack in child support. Child support that I no longer had to pay. “What happened?” Peek asked. I sighed. “Pulled him over for erratic driving. He was trying to force the girl in the car to give him head while he drove. She said no, so he hit her, which made him swerve so hard he nearly hit me.” “You saw the whole thing, didn’t you?” Peek asked. I nodded. “Every damn thing.” “Stupid fucker should’ve looked beside him before he did that. That’s what I would’ve done,” Ridley said. I tossed him a look, which he laughed at. “I meant if she was giving me head,” he amended. “I wouldn’t be having anybody watch my woman do that.” Ridley was married, and happily in love with his wife. His dead wife. He’d met her right out of high school and they’d married about a year later. She’d died during a home invasion, and Ridley still acted as though she were alive. He didn’t date. Didn’t go out willingly. Didn’t stay out late on the rare occasion that he did happen to go out. “Yeah, well I pulled the little fucker over and beat the shit out of him…accidentally. And his woman took off,” I explained. “Told the guy I knew where he lived if he wanted to file a complaint.” I wasn’t a good guy. I was a cop…but I was pretty sick and tired of our supposed justice system.

The justice system was flawed. Cops are held back by rules that don’t apply to the criminals, good guys go down for crimes they didn’t commit, and bad guys walk away from crimes they did commit on bullshit technicalities because the prosecution can’t make the charges stick. Which was what was going on with my son’s murderer. My wife’s new husband had gotten tangled up in a bunch of shit and my son had paid for it. And what did Dick get? A slap on the fucking wrist. A reprimand. Why? Because Dick had money, and a lot of it. Dick was an ‘upstanding businessman’ and he didn’t do anything ‘wrong.’ I called bullshit, and I was now taking it upon myself to dole out retribution to the men and women that I knew wouldn’t get into the system. And with the help of some of the men in my MC, we’d actually done quite a good job at it. We solved and tried the cases that the fucking system wouldn’t take care of. Lack of evidence didn’t matter to us. What mattered to us was guilt and innocence. I didn’t give a flying fuck if there was no evidence to tie a rapist to the rape scene. “Speaking of which,” Casten said as he strolled in, a large rectangular box in his hands. “I found some shit you need to see. Shit that I think you’ll be interested in.” Casten sat the box on the table and flipped it open, revealing two AR-15’s that had the serial numbers filed off them. “Where’d you find those?” Wolf asked. “Bought them,” Casten said. “Off of one of those garage sale sites. Look familiar?” It took me a while to see it, but the moment I did I came right out of my chair…then nearly lost my lunch. They were the guns that had taken down my son in the drive by shooting. I’d studied the school surveillance video feed of my son’s death…of his murder…hundreds of times. I knew the bodies of the men who’d shot my baby. Knew the guns that they used. Knew the area directly surrounding where my child was murdered. Knew everything I could from just a video. And these guns were the ones that had been used to shoot my boy. “Who sold it to you?” I asked roughly. “Some kid, all of eighteen,” he answered. “She had no clue about what they even were. Said her

father asked her to drop off what was in the box and to make sure she got eighteen hundred dollars for it,” he answered. “Got her address?” I asked carefully. Casten smiled. “Of course,” he said. My eyes closed, and by the time I opened them again, after counting to a hundred, the box was closed and moved to the side of the table. “You’re not giving that to the cops,” I said. Casten gave me a look. “No. I’m not.” We’d all lost our way from the justice system under different circumstances. What bound us together, though, was inherently good men we all saw in each other, the good men we knew each other to be. We were men at the end of our ropes, pushed too far by an unfair, flawed justice system. We only wanted those who did wrong to be punished for their crimes. And I’m not talking petty theft or getting caught speeding. I’m talking about the types of crimes that guarantee the perpetrator a spot in hell. Drug dealing. Murder. Rape. Those were the crimes we were trying to fix. “I need the address,” I said hoarsely. Casten slid a piece of paper at me. “We’ll go when he gets home. The girl says he works in Jefferson as a mechanic,” Casten said. “Doesn’t get home until after eight in the evening.” I nodded. “You’ve got a date.” Before I could get up to leave, though, Peek stopped me with a raised hand. “You won’t go without us,” he ordered. My jaw clenched. “I won’t go without you,” I assured him. I was lying. I was going to go now. I was going to figure out any and all connections this man had to my ex-fucking wife and her douche of a husband, and I was going to make them all pay for what had happened to my son. One broken bone at a goddamned time if I had to.

Chapter 3 The beard made me do it. -Lenore’s last words Lenore I took walks at night when I couldn’t sleep. This night was no different. Working nearly every night, until a minimum of two in the morning, meant I had an unusual sleep pattern. Uncertain was a small town. Population five hundred. Although very beautiful, the town had a certain ‘feel’ to it. It wasn’t often that I could tell you just what that feel was, but tonight, I could almost taste the danger in the air. I had my dog, Doogan, with me. That didn’t help, though. There was something going on in my neighborhood, and I just knew I shouldn’t have come out tonight. “Come on, Doogan. Let’s go home,” I whispered, too afraid to make too much noise. Doogan suddenly stopped at my side, and I stopped with him. Doogan was my baby, even if he didn’t look much like a baby anymore at eighty pounds. He was as smart as a whip and beautiful to boot. He just wasn’t very fast, and when he didn’t want to go somewhere…he didn’t. Doogan is a Neapolitan Mastiff. He was already a good eighty pounds, and according to the vet, he wasn’t finished growing yet. I’d found him on the side of the road when he was just a newly born pup. These lonely highways were a popular place to abandon dogs, and I spent the majority of my time looking for them when I wasn’t working at my shop. I volunteered at the shelter two towns over, crossing over into Louisiana to do it. And it wasn’t unheard of for me to bring dogs with me when I went. Sadly, I couldn’t keep them all. I just couldn’t afford it. Doogan was bad enough when he required a fifty-pound bag of dog food a week. “Come on, Doogan,” I urged, giving his collar a tug. Doogan didn’t budge, which was why I had a front row seat as a man sailed over the railing of Mr.

Marshall’s porch, and landed about ten feet away from where I was standing. “Oh, my God,” I breathed. I didn’t move, though, because the man was suddenly surrounded. Men in leather were everywhere…but the one man that held my attention was stomping down the porch steps and heading straight to the man on the ground. Griffin, the man who’d bought batteries from me just two days ago, was well and truly pissed. When his eyes swung to me, I didn’t know what to do. Should I run? Stay where I was? Question after question barreled through my mind, leaving me shaking in fear…and something else I wasn’t ready to admit to just yet. “Go home,” he ordered. I blinked, looking to my left and right to be sure he was talking to me. Since I didn’t see anyone else around me, I decided he was talking to me, but I just couldn’t get my legs to cooperate out of fear. Not to mention that I would have to walk through the lot of them to get to my house. When I didn’t move fast enough, he issued the order again, only this time it was biting. “Go. Home,” he snapped. I turned on my heel and started walking, coming to a sudden stop when Doogan still refused to move. “Mother of God,” I whispered. “Come on Doog,” I whispered frantically. “Let’s go.” He did move, just not in the correct direction. No, he walked straight up to Griffin and licked his hand, a hand that was stuck out, not in invitation to approach, but instead to stop the dog from getting too close to him. “Can’t you control your fuckin’ dog?” He grated out angrily. Tears were stinging my eyes, because, by that point, I had the attention of not just Griffin, but the whole freakin’ lot of them. My heart was beating frantically in my chest as they watched me, and I just knew that if I didn’t get the hell out of there I’d get the hell beaten out of me…or worse. “Where do you live?” Griffin asked, taking a hold of Doogan’s leash. It slipped from my hands, and I watched in helpless horror as it did. And what did Doogan do? He freakin’ followed him! “Umm,” I whispered. “Three duplexes down from here.” “Be back,” Griffin said as he took my hand in his free one and started to walk me back to my house.

The men returned their stares on the man they were circling, and I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see one of the big ones kick the poor guy on the ground next to his feet. He didn’t say a word, and neither did I. I was too scared. What if he beat the shit out of me? Raped me? What if… “I’m not going to hurt you,” Griffin growled, interrupting my inner diatribe. “I know,” I lied. He snorted. “Stop shaking. I said I wouldn’t harm you. I’m a cop.” Yeah, but good cops didn’t beat the shit out of people in the dark of night. So what did that make him? “Keys,” Griffin said, snapping me out of my reverie. I did not want to give this man the keys. But did I have much of a choice? No. So I gave the man my keys, as I nervously watched him walk into my house, look through all my rooms, before heading in the direction of my bedroom. I probably wouldn’t have freaked out the way I did had I realized he was only going to be more persistent in going into my room, but I did freak out. Then he got a curious look in his eye. “Don’t go in there!” I yelled when he started to push my bedroom door open. He cocked his head. “Why not?” Because the vibrator you gave to me is on my nightstand…next to my lube! Instead, I settled on, “Because that’s my room! Get out!” He grinned. It was the first grin I’d ever seen grace his lips, and I knew I’d do anything to see it again. Even humiliate myself by letting him go into my room where he would undoubtedly see what I most definitely did not want him to see. And I knew the instant he saw it once he turned on the light. His body froze, spine going solid. He went through the room, checking under the bed and in the closet, before he stopped in front of my night stand and picked up the vibrator that had very recently been inside of me.

Very recently – as in a scant hour ago. Then, with me watching in horror, he brought it up to his nose and inhaled deeply and obviously. My mouth dropped open at the way his eyes darkened. Mother. Fucker. Then, without a single word, he placed the vibrator down gently on the nightstand and disappeared into the night without so much as a backwards glance. Leaving me with a proverbial flood going on in my panties as arousal shot through me at the way he’d knowingly smelled the vibrator. Sweet baby Jesus, that was hot! So very, very hot. And so very, very bad. My mind was torn between wanting him to come back and never wanting to see him again. I did, however, sneak out onto my front porch to look down the street. By the time I got in a place where I could look without being seen, every single one of them was already gone.

*** My eyes snapped open as my heart beat out a rapid staccato in my chest. Someone was in the room with me. “Shh,” a familiar deep timbered voice soothed. “It’s me.” “Why are you in my room?” I asked Griffin. “I want you,” he whispered. The storm that was raging outside shook the house with a massive thunderbolt, and I groaned as Griffin’s body settled on the bed, pinning my thighs with his. “You want this,” he said roughly. I shook my head no, but my ass betrayed me by pushing up and back against his hardening dick as his big body was pressing me down into the mattress. My mind was only partially online, which might’ve been the reason that I was letting some virtual stranger, one who’d beat up my neighbor only hours before, touch me. “I can’t,” I whispered. Griffin ignored me, lifting his knees, one by one, to remove the sheet that was keeping me from him. My hair was in a tangled mess around my face, and I threw the braid back, coming up on an elbow to look behind me. But I couldn’t see a damn thing except for the blinking clock in the corner of the room that told me the power had already gone out once tonight. “What are you doing?” I asked when I felt him reach over my body to the night stand. I had my question answered only moments later when I heard the familiar buzzing of the vibrator as he turned it on. “I debated on whether or not I should come back here tonight,” he whispered, running the vibrator all the way down the length of my spine. I gasped. “I probably shouldn’t be here…” he whispered against my neck, causing shivers to course down my body. “I’m not a very good person.” “You’re a cop,” I breathed, inadvertently pushing my butt up to allow him better access to the good stuff. But the way his legs bracketed mine kept me exactly where he wanted me. “Doesn’t mean a damn thing in this day and age,” I heard him rumble right before his lips began trailing down my spine just as he’d done with the vibrator only moments before. “Hold still,” he said gruffly. I did. The snick of a pocket knife being opened had me stilling even more, if that was even possible, and I

waited, shocked and unmoving, as he used the knife to cut my panties from my body. Oh. My. God! Ohmygod. He just cut my panties from my body! Griffin slid the vibrator between my thighs. The way he had me laying on my belly with my legs held shut by his, created a tight passageway between my legs. So when the vibrator slipped between my thighs, running along the outside of my sex, I shivered in anticipation. The vibrator was already slicked up with lube, something I hadn’t even heard him open. And with the way my pussy was already leaking for him, the vibrator sank all the way down between my legs until the tip touched the bed. As he slowly dragged it back up across my closed sex, my eyes crossed when it moved over my unexposed clit. “Mmmm,” I moaned into my pillow. My arms were now at my sides, and I latched on to his thighs. They were covered in jeans, but they were so soft, and I focused on the way his hard thighs felt underneath my hands to keep from coming like a two pump chump. “When I gave this to you, I thought you’d just repackage it with new batteries and resell it since it wasn’t opened,” he murmured softly as he continued to pump the dildo between my thighs. That’s probably what I should’ve done, but, honestly, it had never crossed my mind. The only thing that had crossed my mind was using it – while I thought about him – and that’s exactly what I did. “H-how do you k-know this one is y-yours?” I stuttered. I hated my stuttering. But it was something I would forever struggle with when I was overly nervous or excited Something that I’d learned to live with. Not that it wasn’t still embarrassing. I tensed up in response to my thoughts. My reaction had him folding his body over mine, leaving the vibrator in place and buzzing against my clit. “What’s wrong, my queen?” He rasped against my neck. I shivered. “Your queen?” I asked. I felt him smile against my shoulder blade before he bit it. My nipples pebbled. “Your underwear. They had ‘I’m the Queen’ on them,” he answered. “Now tell me what had you tensing up when you were like melted butter in my hands only moments before.”

I laughed. That was funny. “Nothing,” I lied. He got up so abruptly that I didn’t think to move for a few long seconds, but then he was back, pushing my thighs apart as he settled between them once again. This time sans pants. “You’re not going to tell me?” He asked, clarifying his question. I started to roll over. I wanted to see his face…or at least what I could see of it. But he stayed my hips by placing one large palm over my ass. “Stay,” he said. “And answer my question. Honestly this time.” I bit my lip…not wanting to say anything to piss him off, which meant no lying since he could apparently tell when I was. But I also didn’t want to bring attention to my shame. So when the vibrator suddenly entered my pussy, sliding all the way in and not stopping until there was nowhere else to go, I screamed my surprise into my pillow. “That really the way you want to play it?” He asked. I couldn’t say this was a bad thing, but when he removed the vibrator completely and said, “I guess I’ll leave then.” I blurted out my biggest shame. “I stutter when I’m excited!” I yelled, coming up to my knees in an attempt to turn over again. He stopped me this time by taking both of my arms and yanking them down so he could hold them in between my knees, and I was left feeling a little uneasy. I’d never been restrained before. Then again, I’d never experienced this much pleasure before…even if I combined all of my sexual experience. “So you’re excited?” He asked, once again running the vibrator against the lips of my pussy. I nodded into the mattress and mumbled, “Y-yes.” “Good,” he answered, pushing the vibrator into my very ready channel once again. My eyes closed as I felt myself opening for it. It felt so good. So good. “Did you come on this?” He asked, running his lips down the cheek of my ass. I didn’t even think about lying. “Y-yes,” I answered.

“And who did you think about?” He asked, trailing his nose softly across my ass cheek. I felt the distinct outline of his cock against my leg. The only thing containing it was the underwear he still had on. “I thought about you,” I answered truthfully. He growled something unintelligible and started to fuck me harder with the dildo. It entered and exited me so smoothly that I couldn’t help but moan in excitement. “You’ll not do that again,” he said, yanking the vibrator from my sheath. I heard it hit the ground, vibrator still running. But I couldn’t find it in myself to care. Not when I heard the crinkle of a wrapper opening. A condom wrapper, not a candy wrapper. Although both were exciting options, one was definitely better than the other. At least at this moment in time. I felt the head of Griffin’s cock at my entrance before he said, “From now on, it’ll only be me. Got it?” Did he think I was crazy? Of course I was going to agree. “Got it,” I agreed breathlessly. Not that I would keep that promise. I mean, how would he know if I ever used it again? Especially since I didn’t see this happening very often. He filled me so completely at my agreement that I dropped my head down onto my pillow again. “Don’t move your hands from here,” he ordered, dropping them so they were resting between our splayed thighs. His cock was massive, and I couldn’t think about anything but my pussy and how conquered it felt. I was fairly sure I was dying and going to heaven. I’d never felt anything so good in my entire life! And all of this was at the hands of a stranger! I didn’t even know Griffin’s last name. Not where he worked. Not if he had a wife and two and a half kids at home. What kind of car he drove. Not one single thing except for him beating up my neighbor.

And that didn’t bother me a single damn bit. All I cared about right then was the way he was making me feel. The way his cock filled me so completely that I just knew I’d be sore in the morning. Can’t sit down kind of sore. Did I care? Not a fucking bit. “Harder,” I gasped. He chuckled, but nonetheless started to pump even harder inside of me. That’s when I realized that my legs had slipped open more, and his balls were now rubbing against my hands each time he thrust in and out of me. I’d never been the type of girl to listen. Never. So when I lifted one of my hands up and cupped his balls, he growled low in his throat, shoving into me even harder than before. “You like it hard, my Queen?” He asked. “Yessss,” I hissed. The way his legs slapped against the backs of mine, as well as the way he bottomed out inside of me with each stroke, had my orgasm there even before I could say it. I clamped down on his cock. Hard. His hands clenched on my hips. His balls pulled up, and then he started to grunt as his release emptied out into the tip of the condom. And I couldn’t help the flicker of disappointment I felt over him no longer being inside of me, but that feeling was immediately overwhelmed when my body took off flying. My orgasm rippled through me. My abs clenched. My head swam. And I collapsed, knees going out from under me. He followed me down, grinding himself into me for a few long moments before he pulled out. I couldn’t find it in me to move, though. I was too thoroughly sated to deal with turning my head, and when my eyes closed, I didn’t stop them. Which was how I missed him leaving. With the vibrator.

*** It wasn’t a dream. After I placed my feet onto the floor beside my bed, the first thing I saw were my panties. My cut panties. The ones that Griffin had slashed from my body. My sex clenched, and I felt the pronounced soreness. Yet another sign that last night wasn’t a dream. I even smelled him on me. It smelled manly, like the men’s deodorant aisle at the grocery store. Would he be back? Or was that just a onetime thing? What was the protocol here? I knew he lived here. The leather jackets that the men were wearing last night announced them as members of the Uncertain Saints. They were a motorcycle club that I’d seen around town quite a few times. And, although I hadn’t seen the back of Griffin’s leather jacket, it only made sense that he’d belong to them. They were scary. Griffin would fit right in with them. So it seemed to reason that I would see them again…the question was…when? And would it be awkward? And how did Griffin get into my house? I looked down at Doogan and glared. “How could you let him in?” I asked him. Doogan didn’t even bother to lift his head from the floor at my question. “You’re not even going to bark in excitement to let me know someone’s here? What if that’d been a serial killer or something?” I asked him. He didn’t even budge. “You’re a turd,” I said, standing up. I was naked from the waist down, and I blushed as I thought again about how he had cut my panties off my body. How good Griffin had felt inside of me. How slutty I’d been to allow him to do that without knowing his last name first…even after knowing

what he’d done to my neighbor. “Shit!” I said, walking into the bathroom. The first thing I saw in there was the wrapper from the condom in the top of the trashcan. The second was the note written on my bathroom mirror in red lipstick. “See you tonight,” I read aloud.

Chapter 4 What goes around comes around. Remember that when you fuck up. -Fact of life Lenore The next day I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I also couldn’t help but be thankful that I’d shaved that night before bed. Had he come the night before, I’m sure my Chewbacca impersonation would not have impressed him Not that I did that often, but when you have no hot water…things just slide. Like shaving your legs when you don’t want to be in the cold water for longer than you have to. I guess I should be thankful that the landlord had come to fix it yesterday morning, or I probably would’ve scared the man off. “What’s going on?” A woman asked from beside me. I turned to find Mrs. Robinson staring at the house down the street just like I’d been doing. “A man was beaten yesterday, and they’re doing something with the crime scene,” Mrs. Ellwood from across the street explained. “Henry really had the crap beaten out of him. They think it’s over some guns he stole, according to his daughter.” I blinked. Henry had stolen guns? That was why Griffin and his biker gang had beaten him up? Had Henry stolen their guns? Or had the biker gang only been after something else? Would I know? Would I have the guts to ask Griffin later on tonight? For some reason, I didn’t think I would. I’d probably chicken out, and then roll over to let him fuck me from behind again. Not that that hadn’t been nice, but it would’ve been nice of him to let me touch him. “Do you think they’ll move their cars if I ask them to?” I asked Mrs. Ellwood. Mrs. Ellwood looked over to me. “Yes, dear. Just tell them you need to leave and I’m sure they’ll be accommodating,” she explained. So that was how I’d gone up to the police officer at the edge of the scene and then got questioned for thirty minutes. “Ma’am,” the older officer said, “I’m going to need you to step back.”

I nodded. “I will,” I said stepping back. “But I need to leave for a doctor’s appointment in twenty minutes.” “Ma’am,” he said, somewhat irritated, “I’m not joking. If you make me tell you again, I’ll just put you in the back of my cruiser, okay?” I blinked. “Listen,” I hesitated. “I have a doctor’s appointment that I can’t miss.” But I needed to tell him… He cleared his throat, and I looked behind me just in time to see a large shadow engulf my body. “Sir,” the policeman said. “What can I help you with?” My eyes closed in mortification. “The lady’s car is blocked…how about you go move it for her?” The man’s deep voice said. Griffin. Shivers tore down my body, and I looked over my shoulder in time to see the glare Griffin aimed at the poor officer. My God…the man had sex pulsing through his veins. I turned around as the officer moved past the yellow tape, gaping when I saw the huge gold star at his hip. The massive gun at his side. The cowboy hat on his head. Let me repeat: the cowboy hat on his head. Sweet Mary, mother of God! “H-hey,” I whispered. He didn’t move, nor did he say anything. Then moved past me without another word, making my stomach plummet into my feet. Snap. Well if that didn’t say it all right there, I didn’t know what did! Should’ve known…should’ve fucking known! Lenore Lane Drew didn’t get men as hot as Griffin. Well, let me re-phrase that. I didn’t get more than one night with men as hot as Griffin. I turned on my heel and stomped in the direction of my car, thankful that the cop I’d been speaking to earlier had moved the cruiser. I passed Griffin on my way, and stopped directly in front of him. “Thank you,” I whispered. “I would’ve missed my doctor’s appointment had you not moved it.”

His eyes softened and he raised his hand to rest on my shoulder. “I’m sorry. Just been a long fuc-freakin’ night. Have a good rest of your day,” he said seriously. I smiled and patted his hand. “You too,” I said. “Hope yours gets better.” I drove out of the neighborhood without looking back at anyone, thinking it’d be better on me in the long run if I got rid of him now. ‘Cause if I did it later, it might be too cruel. For him at least, not me. The drive to Longview was a long one. It always was. The drive home was even longer, though. Something I had to do twice a week for at least another month, according to my doctor. As I drove, I tried not to think about the man with the blonde hair and haunting eyes. Tried not to think about how big he was…or how well he fit inside me. Tried not to think about what his voice did to my body, whether I wanted it to or not. I walked into the cancer center, smiling at the first woman I saw upon entrance. “Did you have a bad night, Lenore?” Jaylen asked, frowning slightly at me. I shrugged. “It wasn’t bad, why?” I knew why. I had dark circles underneath my eyes from being woken up in the middle of the night by a man who I still wasn’t completely sure was real, despite evidence to the contrary. “You know, those sleeping pills the doctor prescribed you really aren’t going to hurt you,” Jaylen admonished. I nodded. “I know. I just don’t want to take them unless I absolutely have to.” And I didn’t. I was already taking all these other medications. I didn’t want to pump more into my body if I didn’t have to. “You took your stomach meds at least, didn’t you?” She looked at me sternly. I nodded and held up my hand in the universal ‘Spock Sign.’ “Vulcan’s honor.” She laughed. “You know where to go.” I did. Unfortunately.

Not many twenty-five-year old’s grace these doors, and I hated that I was one of them. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even my worst enemy, Jenna Wickes. Not that Jenna Wickes was that bad…okay, I was lying. She was that bad. She hated me. She loved to call me the ‘fat little ginger’ with ‘ugly amounts of freckles.’ She never missed a chance to comment on my ‘fire crotch.’ Which, I guess in all technicality, it was the color of fire…but that didn’t mean she needed to call me that in public. Nor had she seen my crotch. She also loved to make me look stupid. For instance, in high school, I’d finally gathered enough courage to ask my best friend, Remy, to prom. I wasn’t in love with Remy. I was more in love with the idea of Remy. He had a great home life. He would be a great provider and father figure. He would be able to give me everything I’d need out of life…but neither one of us were in love with each other. We’d made a pact when we were thirteen that if either one of us didn’t have prom dates, we’d go together. And we’d also made another pact that if either one of us weren’t married by the age of thirtytwo, we’d get married. Remy was my best friend. And Jenna Wickes knew he was…and hated me for it. Which was what it all boiled down to. She hated how I had Remy’s devoted attention, and had hated it for over twenty years now. When I’d finally gotten up the courage to ask Remy to go to prom with me, he’d smiled at me funny. I’m sorry, Lennie Lou. I’m already going with Jenna Wickes, he’d said. That’d been the beginning of hell for us. He’d gone to prom with Jenna, and then had later married her. I’d had to attend my best friend’s wedding as he married the one woman I hated more than life, and he hadn’t even realized it. I’d been made the godmother of his kids. I’d been to every Christmas party, birthday party, Easter party, Fourth of July celebration.

You name it, I went to it. And Jenna made sure to torment me the entire time. She hated that her husband refused to give me up. Hated that her kids loved me more than her. Hated that Remy took me out duck hunting with him instead of her. Fishing when it wasn’t duck hunting season. But Remy didn’t know that I had something wrong with me and I was scared as hell to tell him. Because it’d been Remy and me since kindergarten. He was my very best friend in the whole entire world…and I didn’t want to leave him here by himself. So I was trying to fight this by myself. Which sometimes turned out to be way harder than it would be if I’d just told him. Because I knew he’d be here with me if I did. I just didn’t want him to see me like this. Didn’t want him to know that there was a possibility I’d be leaving this place. “You ready, Lenore?” Misty asked. I smiled at her as I continued walking to the door where I would be getting that rotten shit poured into my veins. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said in false cheer. She smiled at me. “So what do you have to read today?” She asked. I pulled out my Kindle and showed her the hunky guy on the front cover of my next read titled: Highlanders Gone Wild. She laughed. “Is it complete porn, or does it have a story to it this time?” She asked. I grinned. “My porn always has a story to it. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” She snorted and pointed to a seat that was in the very back corner. She’d purposefully saved that one for me, and I was grateful. I hated to be the middle of attention. Which meant I didn’t sit in the middle of the room whether it was during chemo, in a restaurant, or at a movie theater. Regardless of whether they were the best seats or not. I’d sacrifice comfort for privacy any day of the week. Misty started to get all the bells and whistles going on my treatment, and I sat down to let it happen.

She poked, prodded, positioned and prayed with me before we started. It was something she did with all of her patients, and I found myself appreciative. I couldn’t find it in me to pray for myself. I prayed for all the others in the room, but it seemed kind of selfish to pray for myself when the other women and men in the room were more deserving of life than I was. I didn’t have kids at home. I didn’t have a family that depended on my income. I wouldn’t leave anyone behind that would be as affected as the others in chemo treatment with me. Sure, my parents and siblings would be devastated. So would Remy. And Remy’s kids, Macynn and Madison. Jacklyn Corrie, a woman also getting chemo at the same time as me, would leave behind two kids, her husband, her parents, and the students she taught. Hundreds of lives would be affected if she died. I had maybe eight. Sure, my friends would probably miss me, too. But they’d move on. “Your phone’s ringing in your bag. Do you want me to get it for you?” Misty asked. I nodded. “Yes, thank you.” It was easier to stay still while this was going on. Chemo, I’d learned, was extremely toxic. If the line from my port were to disconnect, it’d be bad, and I didn’t want to have to put Misty in the position of having to clean the mess up that would happen if I did. Misty handed me the phone and patted me on the shoulder. “I’ll be right over here if you need me, okay?” She asked. I nodded and answered the phone, putting false cheer into my voice. “Hey, Remy!” I sang into the receiver. “Where are you?” Remy asked with annoyance. “I’m doing a little shopping,” I lied. “Why?” He snorted in disgust. Remy hated shopping. That was because his wife was a super shopper. Something that he hated since he couldn’t afford her shopping habits on the best of days. “I’m at your house, but you’re not here. There’s eight million police cars outside your neighbor’s

house, too. They tell me there were guns found on the premises that were used in a drive by shooting of a kid. Did you hear about that?” He asked. “No, I haven’t.” I said honestly. Had that been why Griffin had been there the night before? Was he trying to catch the man who had killed a child? For some reason, it’d never occurred to me that he’d been there to plant the guns. I couldn’t say that I knew Griffin, other than in the biblical sense, but I just knew he wouldn’t harm an innocent child. “I’d suggest not coming home any time soon,” he said. “They’re blocking the street all the way up to the first house.” Little did he know that I had another couple of hours of this left. “Okay,” I said. “What were you wanting?” “Nothing, just to shoot the shit. Got off early,” he muttered. I could sense he was distracted, and I knew he’d be all up in the middle of the cop’s business if they let him. Curious Remy always getting himself in trouble. “How was work?” I asked. Remy worked in the oil field, one week on, one week off. He’d been gone since last week, and I expected my place was the first place he’d gone once his tires had crossed into Uncertain territory. “Long and hot as hell,” he answered. “You busy later tonight?” I nodded. “No, come see me.” Dr. Parsons cleared his throat, and I looked up. “Oh, gotta go,” I said before he could reply. “Bye.” I hung up before he could say anything else, and I turned to smile at Dr. Parsons. “Hey!” I said. He smiled. “You doing okay, Ms. Lenore?” I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. So what’d the scans show?” He shook his head. “Nothing. It hasn’t grown, but it hasn’t shrunk either. So my best plan of action, as of now, is for us to monitor it. No more chemo, but I would suggest a CAT scan at least every three months. Or if there’s any changes in your headaches or eye sight. Anything at all, okay?” I frowned.

That hadn’t been what I wanted to hear. I’d hoped to hear that the little ‘pea sized blip’ had shrunk to nothing. When I’d come into the ER for extreme headaches two months ago. I had a CAT scan done, which was how they’d found the mass. Since it was in a location that made it inoperable, they’d decided to do a few rounds of chemo to see if they could shrink it. And apparently it wasn’t shrinking. “So what do you think it is?” I asked disappointedly. Dr. Parsons shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of practice. It’s not hindering anything at all. And since we don’t know when it appeared, we can’t correlate it with any of your other symptoms.” I had migraines. Then again, so did a lot of the US population. “Just don’t worry about it? If my migraines come more frequently, I should contact you?” I asked. He nodded. “That’s my suggestion.” I scrunched my nose at him. “That wasn’t what I wanted to hear.” He smiled. “The good thing is, is that it hasn’t gotten bigger. Which it would have if it was cancerous, in my honest opinion. Now all we can do is watch it, and go from there,” he said softly. I sighed. “Well, I guess that’s something,” I said tiredly. He smiled. “Let me know if you have any questions. Call my office, and they’ll get you to me, day or night.” He extended his hand. I took it. But I couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. He was supposed to tell me that everything was fixed. That I could live my life like it was supposed to be lived. I guess I was destined to be disappointed. First Griffin, and now this. Awesome shit.

*** The day after my final chemo treatment, I wasn’t awakened nicely. I peeled my eyes open with the utmost reluctance. But with the way somebody was shaking the shit out of me, on top of the glaring light in front of my eyelids, I finally opened them. Griffin was staring down at me worriedly. His face a mask of…fear? “What the fuck did you take?” He asked sharply. I blinked. Once. Twice. Three times. “Snap out of it,” he said, snapping his overly large fingers in front of my face. “A sleeping pill,” I said tiredly. “What’s it to you?” He blinked. “Why the fuck are you taking sleeping pills?” He growled. “Because it was either I take them or I feel nauseated,” I said slowly. I couldn’t get my brain to function. Man, these pills were no joke! Then my eyes widened. It’s kind of like when you’re not thinking about it, it’s not real. But the moment you give attention to the monster, this one being my upset belly, it comes roaring back to life with a vengeance. Pissed off as fuck that you’d been denying it attention. I bolted out of bed, my legs tangling in the sheet that was underneath Griffin’s ass. I fell to my knees, making a mad dash to the bathroom. Griffin was up and hauling me to my feet, and I was silently thankful as I ran to the bathroom and purged my stomach into the toilet. Well…what was left in it, anyway. Which inevitably wasn’t much. Only Gatorade, this time. At least it tasted good coming back up. Kind of. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Griffin asked. I pointed to the papers on the counter. The same papers that I left with after every treatment.

It detailed the treatment I’d had, what I should do in case of extreme vomiting, dizziness, or dehydration. It seemed easier than explaining to him what was going on while I was still dry heaving. I collapsed onto my ass and let my head rest on the lip of the toilet seat. I knew it was gross…but right then I couldn’t find it in me to give a crap. Griffin, however, did. He picked me up, cradling me like a small child instead of a one hundred and thirty-pound woman, and carried me back to my bed. “You okay?” He asked. “Shit, I feel like an ass for waking you up.” “Fine,” I mumbled, curling into my pillow. “You need anything?” He asked. “Nuh uh,” I shook my head. “Nothing.” I thought he’d left, he’d been silent so long, but his next question startled me. “Who was the man that was here today?” Griffin asked as he ran his fingers through my hair. “Best friend. He’s married,” I thought to add. Griffin hummed. “He looked concerned when he didn’t find you at home. Came over and talked to one of the officers to ask what was going on.” “Remy’s nosy. He’s a born and bred busy body. He gets it from his mother.” Griffin snorted. “More like he’s protective of you.” “Remy’s got a wife that means the world to him. He doesn’t worry for me like you think he does,” I admitted. “Well, that’s not the way he came off when I spoke to him earlier,” Griffin said, settling down on the bed beside me. I rolled over and buried my nose into his side. I could smell his deodorant, and it smelled good. Was that weird of me to think? I couldn’t tell. “So you have cancer,” Griffin said. I shook my head. “No. Yes….no.” I couldn’t make up my mind. “I do and I don’t. Well, I don’t,” I said, making myself confused. “That’s clear as mud,” Griffin said dryly. I snorted.

“I know, believe me. I feel the same. I have a small, pea-sized mass on my brain, and they don’t know what it is. They can’t biopsy it because it’s in my brain stem, the area that controls my breathing. So they can’t explore it like they would somewhere else in the body,” I mumbled into his side. “They tried chemo to see if it’d shrink, it didn’t but it also hasn’t grown, which is good. So now they’re back to the benign mass that they’re just going to monitor and hope it doesn’t change the diagnosis.” “So you don’t have cancer…but they also don’t know what you have. Do I have that correct?” He clarified. I nodded, my hair catching as I did. Griffin had my braid in his hand, and he was running it between his fingers. “You still have hair,” he observed. I nodded again, getting the same result when he refused to let go of my hair to let me nod properly. “Yep. My reaction to the chemo was some mild ‘thinning.’ It wasn’t enough that anyone besides me would really notice,” I murmured. “You gonna be okay if I leave?” He asked. “Mmm,” I said, my eyes going heavy once again. “That a yes?” He persisted. I nodded again. “It feels like your circling your head around, not nodding yes or shaking no. Which one is it?” He nagged. I fell asleep before I could answer, so I didn’t know that he stayed with me until the dawn kissed the sky. And not because he felt bad for me, either, but because he wanted to.

Chapter 5 When the beard of your dream walks into the room. -Beardgasm Griffin “Where were you last night?” Wolf asked, leaning back in his seat and staring at me with those cold eyes. I turned to him and gave him a look. One that clearly said, ‘Since when do I answer to you?’ He grinned. “You were supposed to meet Peek up here at midnight, but you never showed. He whined about it this morning,” Wolf explained. I shrugged. I was supposed to meet Peek. But I’d gone by Lenore’s place just to see her. I wasn’t sure what kept me going back there. I wasn’t even sure what it was about her that held my interest. She had long red hair… I preferred blonde and short. She had freckles and never wore makeup. I usually went for women with painted-on faces, who wore enough mascara to make them look mysterious. She was everything I never went for in a woman, so why did her innocence attract me like it did? Why was sex with her the best I’d had in my thirty-four years of life? I’d had more women than I could count, and none of them had ever affected me like she had. I didn’t know why I stayed all night. Maybe it was because I’d felt bad for waking her up when I shouldn’t have. I didn’t know that the chick had fuckin’ cancer, though. Although, if I’d known that, I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at her. Most of the girls I fuck only see me for one night. Very few of them, if any, ever received repeat status. Just Lenore. And look what I’d done. Gone and fucking sunk my cock into a girl that could die.

Like I needed that in my life. I needed it like I needed a hole in my fuckin’ lung. Goddammit! She would not get to me like this! I had too many other fuckin’ things to worry about to add her ass to the list. Motherfucker! I would not fall to her! I would get my act together, find the motherfucker who’d killed my boy, then I’d get on with my life. And it wouldn’t have that sweet ass, or her pretty eyes anywhere in it. “I was sleeping and I forgot,” I lied. I didn’t forget. I stayed awake the whole night with Lenore’s face shoved practically into my armpit. But I hadn’t moved, and I couldn’t tell you why. It wasn’t something I was proud of. Spending time with people made them start thinking things were different than they really were. “Chick on your right checking you out,” Wolf said. “Who is she?” I turned to find Lenore watching me from across the room. Although she was trying valiantly not to make it look like she was looking. She had the menu up in front of her face, and she was looking up periodically to stare at me. I smiled as I picked up my coffee cup. “She’s the girl I bought those batteries from the other day,” I told him. “The girl that owns the sex store.” He blinked and studied Lenore a little more closely. “She doesn’t look like she’d own a sex store,” Wolf muttered. I shrugged. “I didn’t think so either.” “Who’s the guy?” Wolf asked. “Her husband?” I moved my head to watch as the best friend, Remy, came into view. He took a seat at the table, then wrapped his arms around her. His big hand curved around her chin as he turned her face this way, then that. My hand clenched onto the empty coffee cup I had in my hand and the piece of shit broke. The handle snapped off, and I closed my hand around it, allowing the sting of the jagged edges to dig into my palm to alleviate the raging need to pummel the man in the face. “That’s the best friend,” I said. “He was at the crime scene yesterday.”

Wolf nodded. We’d been partners now for nearly a year. Well, unofficial official partners. He was also a Texas Ranger, just like I was. Although he was in my area, his cases were completely apart from mine. He was known to help me, though. Which was why he was asking. I’d gotten booted from the case the moment the firearms used in my son’s drive by shooting came into the picture. I was told to hand the case over to Wolf as of one hour ago. Something I did not want to do. Though I had to if I wanted to keep my job. The entire reason I’d taken the job down here a year ago was because of multiple shipments of guns that were tracked down to the very lake and bayous that ran through Uncertain. All of the Uncertain Saints members had been drawn to this area by the same common denominator. The motherfuckin’ Caddo Lake. In my case they were using the Big Cypress Bayou and Caddo Lake as a transport. Boats were bringing the guns up from the Gulf of Mexico, and they were following a multitude of rivers and the lake into Jefferson. It had taken me quite a long time to figure out how, exactly, they continued to slip past me. I still couldn’t figure out who was doing it. Or why. I knew where, and that was enough for now. Because Caddo Lake would lead me to the bastards that had stolen my son from me…and, eventually, I’d let them know just what they’d done. “What was his reason for coming?” Wolf asked, snapping me back to the here and now. I held my cup up to the waitress, but couldn’t help but look back at Lenore before I answered Wolf. “To see her,” I said, locking gazes with her. “They fucking?” Wolf asked. My eyes broke from Lenore’s to focus in on Wolf. “From what she told me, she doesn’t have anything but mutual friendly love for him. They’ve been best friends for a very long time.” I knew I’d fucked up within seconds of saying it. “Knew you had something going for her,” Wolf snorted. “Would’ve been easier if you’d have just said so, though. Instead, I had to act like a damn woman to get you to admit it.” I gave him an annoyed look.

“Bite me.” He laughed. My eyes returned to Lenore as I felt the waitress, Nina, take a seat at my side. Nina was a habitual flirt, and there were times that I would rather pull my hair out than talk to her. Today was one of those days. So I stayed silent and kept my eyes on Lenore. Remy’s back was to me, thankfully, otherwise I knew he would have confronted me about my staring by now. It wasn’t like I was trying to hide it. I should be, though. Nobody needed to be dragged into my shit. My baggage was enough to fill a train car packed full. It would be unusually cruel to bring anyone into the shit storm my life had become. “Can I get you boys anything else?” Nina purred. I rolled my eyes to rest on the ceiling, gripping the jagged ceramic tightly to keep myself from pushing her off of me Since I was dressed in my works finest, with my Texas Ranger badge on my hip, it wouldn’t do to shove around people that I was supposed to protect. It didn’t mean I couldn’t have the thoughts, though. “No,” Wolf said, ignoring Nina for his newspaper. “What about you, handsome?” Nina asked, shaking my arm lightly. “No. Check,” I answered shortly. “Okay, sugar. I’ll get you your check,” she said, standing up and making sure to rub her nasty pussy against me. I wanted to curl my lip in disgust but, alas, that would be another rude thing that I wasn’t supposed to do. I was to be ‘nice to everybody’ according to Rider, my boss. I breathed a sigh of relief when she walked off, and nearly laughed when I saw Lenore give Nina a disgusted look as she passed their table. “So now that you’re officially off your case,” Wolf said, folding his paper to show me the article he was reading. “What are you going to do about this?” I winced at seeing a picture of my ex-wife and her husband. I really hated her. With a passion.

The article’s headline read: Life after our son’s death. I snatched the paper out of his hand and started scanning the article. It was an exclusive with Senator Justin Hayes and wife, Noreen Hayes on the tragic drive by shooting of their son, Tanner Hayes. The more I read, the more upset I got. “Tanner was not his kid, he was mine. His name wasn’t ‘Hayes’ it was Storm,” I snarled, slamming the paper down on the table once I read the thing. “And she wasn’t the one who chose to do organ donation, I was.” That was only a few of the things I’d noticed wrong about the article, and I had a half a mind to call up the so called reporter who’d written it and give her a piece of my mind. “I’ve got to go,” I said, standing abruptly. “Let me know if you have any questions on the case.” He wouldn’t have any questions. Wolf and I shared all evidence between our cases. He knew why I’d been looking for the guns that Robert Toler had sold on an online garage sale site. Knew everything related to my son’s case. He knew, as well as all the Uncertain Saints. They’d caught me beating information out of a man that’d been witness to a shooting and had given us misleading information. All the information he’d given the police were lies, though, and I had to deliver a lesson in telling the truth. And, my brothers, had stood there and watched me do it. I’d known they were there, of course. But nothing would have stopped me until I delivered my message. It was my good fortune, though, that they’d found me. I’d not been in a good place after my divorce. Not at all. And with their help, I’d been able to channel that anger into sheer determination and will. They’d given me that from the get-go, however. There’d been no ‘initiation’ or ‘prospecting’ like normal motorcycle clubs do. My membership had been based solely on my character. They needed someone like me. Just like I needed someone like them. We were just a bunch of guys with knowledge, skills and connections, all bound together by the simple fact that we’d each been royally fucked over by someone at some point in our lives It was what I’d needed.

And I’d gotten it. They’d gotten me. Wolf nodded to me as I stood. “I’ve got breakfast.” I snorted. We had company cards. It didn’t matter who ‘had’ breakfast. Neither one of us really had to pay for it. “Got it,” I said. “Thanks.” He nodded, watching me as I turned and left. I felt his eyes on me the entire way. I knew he was worried. Hell, there were days I was just as worried about him as he was about me. But that was the reality of living with the knowledge that you’d been screwed over, and each of my brothers knew it. They worried. Kind of like a certain red head who followed me out. I’d gotten to the back alley, slowing down a bit when I realized she was following me. I didn’t know what I was going to say. She didn’t need to get tangled up in my business right now. I was a fucked up mess who was just as likely to get arrested as I was to arrest someone. I was walking on a fine line, one that straddled legal and not legal. And every day I was leaning more and more towards the not legal side of life. Something that a sweet girl who volunteered and still went to visit her parents every Sunday didn’t really need to be a part of. “Griffin!” Lenore called. I didn’t slow down. Instead, I rounded the side of the restaurant and disappeared into the shadows cast by the building. Lenore appeared at the corner, and I could tell by the look on her face that she was sorely disappointed. She wandered to look around the other side, stopping within inches of me, which was why I was able to see the sorrowful look in her eyes that she didn’t try to cover up at all. She wanted to talk to me and I’d gutted her by not stopping. So when she turned to head back the way she’d come, my hand shot out and I roughly pulled her into

the shadows. She cried out as she slammed into me, and my arm banded around her back to hold her still. “Shhh,” I said under my breath. “It’s me.” She instantly collapsed. Full blown, knees giving out, collapsed. “Fuck,” I said, my hand going down to wedge under one ass cheek. “I’m sorry.” She shook, and I turned and pressed her against the wall. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” I said softly against her ear. Her arms threaded around my neck, and she hugged me tightly to her. “It’s okay,” she said. “I just have to tell my heart to stop beating out of my chest is all.” I snorted and leaned back. “What do you want?” I asked. “You l-left,” she whispered. I lifted a brow at her. “Yeah,” I said. “I have to go to work.” She shook her head. “No. I mean, this morning. You were there around dawn, and then you left and didn’t come back.” I was wary of the way she was taking this conversation. “Yeah,” I answered. For some reason, the idea of her being upset that I left did funny things to my heart, and made me feel incredibly guilty. “I didn’t want you to leave.” My eyes closed and I leaned my head forward until it rested against her head. “I’m not a good person,” I told her. “In fact, it’s very likely that by the end of the year, I’ll end up in jail because I’ve been toeing that line too close to the edge. There’s no reason you need to be taken down with me. There’s nowhere for us to go,” I said. “You and I don’t work.” “You don’t know that.” I pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve done. What I plan to do. All you know is that I fucked you good.” She scowled at me. “That’s not what I was thinking. How dare you put words in my mouth.” I laughed softly against her cheek, letting my head rest against the top of hers. “It doesn’t matter what your reason is,” I said, moving away until she stood on her own two feet. “My mind’s not going to change. I won’t be responsible for you. I’m going to fuck you up.” Her spine straightened as she glared at me.

“So why’d you even involve me at all? Why not leave me the fuck alone in the first place? Then we wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation right now,” she seethed. I could practically feel the anger rolling off of her, and I felt somewhat bad for putting that expression on her face. “I’m sorry,” I said, backing up. I was out in the sunlight when the sadness in her voice made me freeze. “Griffin?” she asked softly. I closed my eyes. “Yeah?” I croaked. “You didn’t tell me why you involved me at all,” she whispered. I opened my eyes and pinned them to her. “Because I couldn’t help myself. I’ve never wanted anyone more in my life.”

Chapter 6 Sometimes it’s best to reflect on just how amazing tits are. - Griffin to Lenore Lenore Because I couldn’t help myself. I’ve never wanted anyone more in my life. Who did he think he was, saying something like that? He was the king of what I would call wishy washy. One second he was telling me he wasn’t good for me, and the next he goes and says something like that, something that makes me care so much more about what kind of trouble he’s in. It’d been a week and two days, and I still couldn’t get those words out of my head. And to make matters worse, I saw Griffin everywhere. I saw him at the bank. I saw him when I was coming out of the dog shelter…two towns over. I saw him when I was leaving work. It was like every time I turned around, there he was. Which made it nearly impossible to stop thinking about him. And I kept replaying our time together in a continuous loop in my brain. The way his hands felt when they touched the sensitive skin at the inside of my thighs. The way he smelled. The way he filled me up when… “Jesus Lenore, stop!” I admonished myself. “At least you’re not totally inept. Maybe you can use that knowledge to get a life,” Diane McDermott said disdainfully at my side. I wanted to punch her in the throat. I hated Diane. She was Remy’s wife’s best friend, and not any nicer than Jenna. If you added Jenna and Diane together, you had a lethal combination of beauty, no brains, bad attitudes and smuttiness. They were like Cinderella’s evil stepsisters: self-centered jerks who only cared about themselves. “Hello, Diane,” I said as I walked down the street. Diane kept pace with me. “Where are you going? To help those geezers at the old folk’s home? Trying to make up for what you

did to your papa?” Diane smiled deviously. My heart pinched at the mention of my Pap. He’d been my best friend in the whole entire world, and when he’d needed me I wasn’t there. “Yes, Diane. That’s where I’m going. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late,” I said, trying my hardest not to engage in anything with her. “Or are you going to see Remy? You know, Jenna thinks you and Remy have a friends with benefits kind of relationship, although she’s never been able to prove it,” Diane said viciously. I glared at her. “Let me ask you something, Diane. Do you want to have relations with Jackson?” I asked. Jackson was her baby brother. He owned Uncertain Motors, the only mechanic shop in Uncertain. He also didn’t forget to tell Diane on a daily basis just how annoying she was. Which I loved. “No!” Diane said, voice raising about eight octaves. “Really? Because that’s the kind of relationship I have with Remy. It’ll never be anything more than that. I love him, but I’m not in love with him. Those are two totally different things, and you should really figure that out. You should be focusing on your own problems with your so-called boyfriend. I’m sure he loves you, he’s still with you after all. But he’s obviously not in love with you seeing as he’s in my shop every few days with a different girl, buying toys and using them in my parking lot,” I hissed I knew I overstepped my bounds nearly the instant those words came out of my mouth. Dammit, I really shouldn’t give any information out about my customers. Not what they purchased or how often they shopped, and definitely not what they did in my parking lot with those purchases. But the bitch pushed me, and she had it coming. Diane brought out the worst in me, and had since high school. Her and Jenna had bullied me every chance they got. I was at the point that I no longer had a civil thing left to say to either of them. “I’m sorry, Diane. I shouldn’t have said that,” I apologized when Diane still hadn’t spoken. Diane’s eyes went from being wounded to calculating. “Don’t apologize to me, bitch. Just stay the fuck out of my way.” I closed my eyes in remorse as Diane walked away from me, and when I opened them again, I saw Griffin, on his bike, staring at me. He was across the street and in front of the diner – well out of earshot – but I still had the feeling that he knew exactly what had just happened. I’d gone and pissed off an angry bear. And we all know what angry bears do.

They strike back.

*** The next day, I woke up with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. From the moment I walked out of my duplex to grab my paper, I knew I shouldn’t have said what I had said to Diane yesterday. I shouldn’t have provoked her. I knew it’d come back and bite me in the ass. And the article on the front page of the paper was enough to make my blood boil. Uncertain Pleasure Boutique a disgrace to this fine town. I almost died. When I’d first opened Uncertain Pleasure, it was because of the many sex toy parties I had attended throughout college. I’d learned that the sex toy market was a quite profitable and well-selling one. And to my business oriented mind, it was the perfect thing to open when I got out of college. During the last two years of my MBA studies, I started hosting my own sex toy parties, and I’d done so well with them, that by the time I graduated, I’d had quite the nest egg saved to use for startup capital. Uncertain wasn’t my first choice of locations to open my new business, but it has been one of the few places I could afford. Why? Because people in the south are prudes…mostly. A lot of the surrounding towns didn’t even allow alcohol sales. You had to travel to the bigger cities. Uncertain was smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. Where God comes first. And apparently God doesn’t want you to open a sex toy shop, at least according to nearly all of the bankers that had turned me down for a loan. So when the opportunity to open up my shop in Uncertain had presented itself, I’d jumped on it. I’d had Uncertain Pleasures open for nearly four years now, and although I wasn’t doing magnificent, I also wasn’t doing ‘bad’ either. But it was people like Diane that were really hurting me. It was one step forward and two steps back. “Oh no,” I breathed, eyes closing as tears threatened my eyes. I walked inside moments later, stiff and sick. What was I going to do?

And why would the paper publish such an article? The more I thought about it, the madder I got. What in the world gave them the right to judge what I was doing? Just because I owned the only sex toy shop in the area didn’t make me a bad person! I’d really worked myself into a good lather as I got dressed and made my way out the door. But by the time I arrived at the newspaper offices, I wasn’t quite so sure of myself. I opened the front door to Uncertain Times, and immediately winced. Why? Because Griffin was in Orlando, the copy editors, face. And he was bellowing at him. “Doesn’t your reporter ever do her fucking homework?” Griffin snarled at the copyright editor. “Because if she had, she would’ve known that Lenore has fucking cancer. That she volunteers at a fucking animal shelter every Tuesday and Friday. That she reads to the goddamned kids at the library in Jefferson every Wednesday. That she volunteer’s at Ted’s House every Saturday to watch over Alzheimer patients, like her own grandfather, so their families can go out and get things done for a few hours without having to worry about watching their loved one’s every step. “Had she done her homework, she would’ve known Lenore wasn’t a ‘plague amongst society’ like her article made her out to be. She’s a fucking saint that deserves a fucking commendation. Not censure over what she does for a living which, let me tell you, isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen in my life. She could be pedaling drugs to school age kids. She could be prostituting her body like the ladies on Tenth Street. She could be selling organs on the black market like the case I’m working on right now. So no,” he snarled, getting further into the Orlando’s face. “She isn’t a fucking menace, and what you’ve allowed her,” he pointed at Diane, “to publish is slander. It’s against the law, and if Lenore wanted to, she could sue you. And she’d motherfuckin’ win!” Oh boy, I’d never seen Griffin so mad. Even that time I’d had the stupid urge to go check on him after seeing him storm out of the coffee shop, he wasn’t this mad. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Everything coming out of his mouth didn’t scream ‘leave me alone’ like he wanted me to believe. It screamed, ‘I care about her. And I watch over her.’ I couldn’t breathe. “Now, I want a retraction printed in tomorrow’s paper. And I want a public apology to her by Monday. I don’t care what or how you have to do it, just make sure you do it,” Griffin hissed. He looked so fucking yummy. He was in faded jeans, motorcycle boots, a button up black long sleeved shirt, with a cowboy hat. I’d never seen a cowboy biker before, but he was totally working it and I loved it.

And seeing him so incredibly mad on my behalf was more of a turn on than the cowboy hat sitting atop of his head. Then, without another word to either of them or a passing glance to the crowd that has amassed to witness his little speech, he turned on his heel and headed for the door. He only stopped to push the door open. “Coming?” He asked. I blinked, turning to him to see him holding the door open. For me. “Me?” I asked. He grinned…and my panties melted. “Yeah, you,” he confirmed. “Let’s go get some lunch.” Without a word, I followed him out, ducking underneath his arm as I passed through the open door, and stopped once I got outside on the sidewalk. “Where do you want to go?” I asked softly. I was nervous. Why had he done that? “Just to the diner, I guess. Unless you want Taco Bell?” He gave me a sketchy look. I snorted. “No. I don’t want Taco Bell.” Yuck. Taco Bell was the worst, at least that was what it was considered here anyway. He grinned. “Good.” We walked in silence to the diner. The whole time I was very aware of him beside me. He was still angry; it was rolling off of him. His long strides ate up the sidewalk, and I had to practically power walk just to keep up with him. His hand brushed mine, and my heart sped up in response. I kept my eyes forward, even when I felt him studying my face. What I was wearing. My shoes. My hair. He took in everything about me, and my nipples pebbled in reaction. He noticed those, too. “You read the paper?” He asked finally. I nodded. “Yeah, I read the freakin’ paper,” I sighed.

“I’m sorry. Knew the moment I watched her storm off yesterday that she was going to do something stupid. I was ready for it, but I didn’t think she’d be so stupid about it,” he said. I shrugged. “Diane doesn’t like me very much.” He laughed. “No, I don’t bet she does. What’s her problem?” “She’s best friends with Remy’s wife, Jenna. Jenna and Diane were as thick as thieves in high school and still are. They’ve made it their life’s mission to make sure that I’m miserable as hell,” I explained. “Sounds like a bunch of bitches to me,” he countered. The diner came into view, and I was suddenly nervous. The diner was the social hub of Uncertain. If you were seen in the diner with someone, especially someone of the opposite sex when you were very single, everyone in the town would know it within thirty minutes. It was one of the “perks” of living in a small town. Didn’t he know what this would say to folks? Even if that’s not what it means, that’s what they’d think. “You do realize that by going in there and sitting down at a table together, you’ll be sending a message, whether you mean to or not. You’ll be involving me in your life, something you said you didn’t want to happen just a few weeks ago,” I told him. He stopped at the front door and turned to face me. I studied his face. His eyes. The way his beard had appeared to have grown out. He was so handsome. Not clean-cut, movie-star handsome, but rugged, rough-around-the-edges handsome. “I know exactly what it’ll say the moment we walk in there together. But the truth is that I’m tired of being away from you. Tired of fighting feelings that I’ve never had before,” he answered honestly. “Tired of staying away from you.” My mouth went dry. “You…what?” He smiled. “You heard me.” I blinked, but before I could get my wits about me, he opened the door of the diner and said, “Get in.” I ‘got in.’ Fran, the only waitress to work the diner at this time of day, gaped at us. “Two,” Griffin’s deep voice blasted through the quiet diner. The rest of the patrons turned to look at us, and I blushed. Jesus, you would think these people didn’t have anything else better to do! Fran jumped to attention and smiled at the two of us. “Take the one in the back,” she replied.

Griffin took my hand and led me to the back booth, sitting me with my back to the door so he could see it and whoever came in through it. I sat and stared at him. Waiting. He didn’t disappoint. “Why’d she write that article?” He asked. “I saw you both yesterday. What did you two fight about that pissed her off so much?” “She said some cruel things to me about my Pap, and I couldn’t help myself from informing her that her boyfriend was cheating on her,” I answered tiredly. He blinked. I turned to look out the window. He was sitting across from me at the busiest eatery in town, which happened to be directly on the banks of the lake. Most people accessed it from the bayou side. I never went on the lake. Ever. And although it was a quietly beautiful view, I didn’t find it calming like most everyone else did. “Tell me about your Pap,” he rumbled softly, surprising me. “He was my best friend. Confidant,” I said. “He used to live at home with my family. When I moved out, he decided to move closer to where I was going to college. He was in a retirement community about twenty minutes from my campus.” “I was supposed to go out to lunch with my Pap. But when I got out of class, my stomach had started hurting, and I ended up throwing up for two hours straight once I got back to the dorm and completely forgot about everything but myself,” I said. “When I realized I missed the lunch date, I called him right away. But he’d already left because he was worried about me since I never missed any of our lunches. He pulled out onto the highway that led to the campus and was struck by a hit and run driver. He was killed instantly.” Griffin’s eyes closed, and my head tilted as I studied him. He looked torn. Like he wanted to say something, but didn’t quite know how to say it. “I’m sorry to hear about your Pap,” he said, finally opening his eyes. I smiled sadly. “It took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t actually my fault. I stayed in school. Finished my degree a year later…then moved home,” I explained. Uncertain had always been home for me.

We’d lived about ten miles outside of town for the majority of my life. “But I came home and I just couldn’t stay there. Reminders of my grandfather were everywhere. About a month after I moved back home, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I moved out. Got my duplex and have been there ever since,” I said softly. “You two know what you want?” Fran asked. I opened my mouth, but a rude voice interrupted what I was about to say. “So, Lenore, I see that you’re the star of the newspaper,” Jenna said loudly from the corner of the room. I’d seen her there when I walked in, I just didn’t think she’d be ballsy enough to bring it up with Griffin here. Apparently she was. Griffin stiffened at the mention of the newspaper article, then, slowly…oh so fucking slowly, got up. He turned his massive body until he was standing directly in front of me, then addressed Jenna. “I think,” he said softly, “that you should carefully consider what you say to her from now on. You wouldn’t want to upset your children’s godmother, now would you?” I was fairly positive I hadn’t mentioned I was Remy’s children’s godmother. But it didn’t surprise me that he knew. He could’ve picked it up from almost anyone. Everyone in Uncertain knew my business. Just like I knew Fran had liver cirrhosis because she drank from the time she got up to the time she went to bed. And how Judge Kubrick, the local grocery store owner, cheated on his wife every Tuesday and Thursday while his wife was playing Bunco. And also how Remy and Jenna were having marital problems. He was working his ass off to keep her in the lifestyle that she wanted, which meant he wasn’t home like she wanted him to be. She had gotten drunk at The Cloud, the only bar in town, and she had a habit of gabbing about all of her woes to anyone that would listen whenever she was drunk. “You can’t threaten me,” Jenna smiled at him. If she were my friend, I would’ve smacked some sense into her. Since I didn’t like her all that much, I didn’t. I believe that Remy would be so much better off with a woman who would appreciate all of him, and not just his wallet. Jenna sucked as a mother, too. Which was why Remy’s kids ended up spending quite a bit of time at my place when I was off. If I wasn’t around, they went to Remy’s parents’ house.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure Jenna watched them at all. Well, unless Remy was in town. “Where are your kids right now, Mrs. Wickes?” Griffin asked. Jenna smiled darkly at him. “With my husband.” “And why are you here instead of with them?” He asked, challenging her. Jenna’s smile froze on her face. I’d actually heard from Remy. He invited me to go fishing with him and the kids, but I’d declined because I’d been too concerned about my business. “They’re having some daddy and daughter time,” she snapped. I smiled. “You do know that he invited Lenore to go, and apparently not you?” Griffin asked. Ouch, right through the heart. I didn’t bother to ask how he knew that, either. I just waited to see where Griffin was going with this. “He always does that. Which is why I’ve found my own things to do while he does his,” she hissed. She immediately saw she made a mistake running her mouth like that as she looked around hoping nobody was listening. She wasn’t that lucky. Everyone had heard that declaration. And not one of us was naïve enough to think she meant anything other than she was cheating on her husband. A husband that was a son of the community. Uncertain’s golden boy. Everyone loved Remy. He was always available to lend a helping hand when it was needed. He was literally that guy who’d give you the shirt off his back. And Jenna most definitely wasn’t. “Shit,” she hissed, turning her glare onto me. “You’re such a bitch.” I leaned back, smiling. “I didn’t start this today, you did.” She flipped me off. “Do you know how hard it is to live up to you? Remy loves you. He hates that I won’t go hunting with him and loves that you will. Hates that I won’t go fishing but you will. Hates that I can’t cook and you can. It’s like I’m constantly fighting your shadow, and you never even had him!” I blinked. “Do you think that if you actually tried to do these things with him and for him that he’d be happy? But you haven’t ever tried, though. How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t even try it? I don’t really

like fishing, either. But I go, and I sit there with him. It’s about the companionship, and it’s not my fault that I’m willing to do those things with him that you won’t,” I told her softly. Her eyes flared. “What would be the point? He doesn’t ask me,” she said. I raised a brow at her. “I’ve been there when he’s asked you before,” I called her on her lie. She narrowed her eyes on me. “Let me clarify…he doesn’t ask me first.” With that she got up and left, tossing down a hundred-dollar bill for a meal that was probably about ten bucks at most. I just shook my head. She really had no clue about the money situation. If she only understood how hard it was on Remy to do the week on, week off thing he was doing, I wondered if she’d be throwing down a ninety-dollar tip. Griffin sat down and his eyes were wary. “We’re not in love with each other,” I blurted again. He nodded. “I know.” I raised my brow at him. Seemed I’d been doing a lot of that lately. “How do you know everything about me?” I asked once he sat back down. He smiled. “Trade secret.” I narrowed my eyes. “You’re not spying on me, are you?” He raised a shoulder, but didn’t answer. I thought maybe I should look around my house later to see if I could find any hidden cameras. That’d be like him to do. “I can’t believe she’s cheating on Remy. He’s going to be devastated,” I said morosely. “You’re not going to tell him,” Griffin said. Both of my brows rose. “Oh really? You’re not the boss of me.” He gave me a look. “That’s not something he needs to hear from you. You’re his best friend…but he’s going to deny it if it comes from you. You need to let him hear about it by himself. I’ll tell him.” “He’s not going to like hearing it from you. He doesn’t even know you,” I said with affront. “Trust me on this,” he said. “He would be better off hearing it from a man. If what you say about being his confidant is true, he’ll come to you anyway. But you need to give him time to investigate it before he tells you. It’s embarrassing as hell to find out.”

I blinked. “Someone cheated on you?” I asked softly. He nodded once. “My wife.” “You’re married?” I semi shrieked. He snorted. “No, I’m most definitely not married. I’m so far from being married that I can get. At least to that whore.” “Shit,” I sighed. “What happened?” He shrugged. “The usual.” I placed my chin in my hand and looked at him until he sighed. “I worked long hours, much like your Remy,” he answered, but I didn’t correct him when he called Remy ‘mine.’ “But my wife thought she was smarter than me and she wasn’t. I found out about two hours after her first time with her now husband, Justin. Waited for her to tell me for about twenty-four hours before I kicked her out.” I blinked. “That was nice of you to wait twenty-four hours…but were you sure?” I asked. He nodded. “Came home early from a job to find her and the man in our fucking bed, going at it so loudly that I swore my neighbors could hear,” he said, nodding to Fran as she placed two glasses of water down in front of us. He waited for her to move out of earshot before he continued. “Was able to watch the whole damn thing without them even knowing. Got his name and info while they took a nap. Called his wife to let her know what was going on. Made myself a sandwich.” My eyes widened the more detailed he got. “And they didn’t hear all of that?” I asked, dumfounded. He shook his head. “Nope. Not a single thing. She came out of our bedroom about two hours after I’d arrived home and froze.” My eyes were getting wider and wider. “What’d you do?” I asked. “Nothing. Acted like I didn’t know a thing. I said, ‘Hey baby. How was your nap?’” He said. My mouth fell open. “And she still didn’t tell you?” I gasped. He shook his head. “So how did they get him out?” We both paused as we gave our orders to Fran, and I turned back to him and snapped my fingers.

He grinned. “That was the funny part. Our room was on the second story. So I watched on the surveillance as he tried to shimmy down the lattice outside our room.” He laughed then, and I smiled. “He hurt himself, didn’t he?” I whispered conspiratorially. He nodded. “Broke his leg. But damned if that fucker didn’t crawl the fuck away. I show the video from time to time to my friends who don’t believe me,” he answered. “I also threaten to give it to the press from time to time, too.” I blinked. “The press?” I asked. He inclined his head. “He’s a Texas state senator.” I leaned forward until my chest hit the edge of the table. I was nearly stretched out over the top of it. “Senator Justin Hayes is the man that your wife cheated on YOU with? He’s uglier than my Uncle Murral,” I whisper yelled at him as I slapped my hand down on the table in shock. He shuddered. “Yeah, that’s him.” “Wait a cotton-picking minute,” I said, recalling a story that’d been in the paper last week. The same day I’d seen a paper clutched in Griffin’s hand as he angrily stormed out of the diner. “It was your son.” His eyes closed. “Yeah, that was my baby.” My eyes instantly welled up in realization of all that this poor man had been through. “Oh, Griff. I’m so sorry.” He lifted a shoulder indifferently, but I knew he was affected. Now I knew exactly what had caused that ‘just-don’t-give-a-fuck’ attitude that seemed to envelope him most of the time. He’d lost his little boy. From what I’d read in that article, it had been reported that the little boy was shot outside of his school and that it appeared to have been intentional. Dear God, someone had murdered Griffin’s son!

Chapter 7 Dear teenagers complaining about life: You’ve only felt the tip of life’s dick. There’s a lot more to go. Pull your big girl panties up and hold on. It’s gonna be a rough ride. -Words of Wisdom Lenore The next day it was like the words at the diner had never happened. Griffin had done a wonderful job at hiding all those emotions he’d shown me the day before. “What do you have to do today?” Griffin asked as he walked with me up to my front door, my hand in his. I’d just gotten in from doing a supply run for the shop, and had been surprised to see Griffin in the store as well. He’d followed me home without a request from me, and then kissed me silly the moment my feet hit the ground outside of my car. I let go of his hand to reach into my purse for my keys when the front door was opened. Remy was standing there with an odd look on his face. I could hear his girls playing somewhere beyond the living room, and I smiled at him. Griffin’s hand was on my back as Remy and him silently stared each other down. “Move out of the way, Rem. I have to pee,” I ordered him, unsurprised to find my house occupied. They were always showing up out of the blue. Remy moved slightly to allow me entrance, but moved back over just as quickly to stop Griffin before he could come inside. “What are you doing here?” Remy asked Griffin. I turned around and elbowed Remy. “Ouch,” Remy cried. I glared at him. “Move out of the way so Griffin can come in,” I admonished him. Remy moved with the utmost reluctance. Satisfied until I could go relieve my unbearably full bladder, I darted to the hallway bathroom, only to turn when I saw Maddison in it. “Shit,” I hissed, making my way to my bathroom. That’s where I found Macynn. “Get out of my makeup!” I yelled at her. Macynn was five going on thirty, and Madison was eight. They were both little trouble makers that took after their father a little too much.

I slammed the door to the toilet and took care of business, coming out two minutes later feeling like a new woman. “Didn’t I tell you to get out of my make-up?” I asked Macynn. “Yep. You did,” she confirmed. I rolled my eyes. “Then why are you currently using my eye liner as lip stick?” She looked at the eyeliner in disgust before tossing it down. “Nobody tells me anything!” Macynn cried. “How is a girl supposed to learn to do this if her father won’t teach her?” I laughed. Macynn was also a bit of a drama queen. “Maybe when you’re ten I’ll teach you how to do all of that,” I said, washing my hands and drying them on the towels that my mother told me were only for decoration. It drove my mother nuts when I did it. My argument was still valid. If I had the ‘decoration’ towels up, then what the hell was I supposed to hang my ‘non-decoration’ towels on? “Let’s go,” I ordered Macynn. She let out a long sigh and jumped down off the counter, following behind me as we walked back into the living room. “Who is that?” Madison asked from where she peeked around the corner of the hallway. I smiled. “That’s, umm…” I hesitated. “Her boyfriend,” Griffin said, startling all three of us when we realized he was staring at us…and could hear our conversation. Wait, what? He’s my boyfriend? Holy shit! We hadn’t spoken much after what he’d revealed about his son. He’d been lost in thought, and I’d been too worried to broach the subject anymore. But I guess he really meant what he’d said as we were walking into the diner. I was his. Did that make him mine? I’d be sure to ask him when Remy left…which would hopefully be soon. My mother yelled from the kitchen. “Who wants to try my cobbler? It’s going to be slammin’!” I rolled my eyes at my mother’s use of the ‘hip’ language as she liked to call it.

My mother wasn’t old…per se. She was, however, very stuck in her ways as a Southern Lady. She used please and thank you, said ‘bless your heart’ and ‘you’re kidding’ way too much. But I loved her anyway. “I’ll try it,” Remy offered almost immediately. “We will too, YaYa!” Macynn squealed. I felt Griffin’s presence at my back, and looked up at him over my shoulder. “Do you like peach cobbler?” I asked him. His eyes, those beautiful baby blues, shined with mirth. “Peach cobbler is fattening,” he told me. I raised a brow at him. “That didn’t answer the question,” I observed. He grinned. “No, it didn’t, did it?” I elbowed him softly in the belly. It wasn’t a surprise that he would call that fattening. With the way I remembered his body feeling pressed up against my back, it wasn’t in the least bit surprising that he’d be conscious of what he put into his body. I pulled Griffin with me into my kitchen to see Remy, my mother, and the two girls crowded around my kitchen island. “Who are you?” My mother asked excitedly as she looked up and saw Griffin. “That’s Auntie Lennie’s boyfriend, YaYa!” Macynn crowed. “He’s hot!” I covered my face with my hands and laughed into them as my mother came over instantly. “I really wish my daughter would tell me about these important life decisions she makes. A couple of weeks ago she told me she was gay…you are most definitely a man. So I’m confused,” my mother said. I laughed harder into my hands. I had said that. But only because she kept pestering me about finding a man. It’d been only days after I’d first met Griffin. He’d rocked my world twice. Once by fucking me into oblivion, and second by holding me through the night. I’d been in denial. I didn’t think it’d ever be possible to go back from that. Which was why I told my mother I was pretty sure I had to be gay if this thing with Griffin and me didn’t work out.

Because no one would be able to live up to all that was Griffin. “My name is Ronda Lenore Drew. What’s your name?” My mother asked, extending her hand to Griffin. I sighed and removed my hands from my face where I’d been peeking out at my mother. Griffin shook my mother’s hand and said, “I’m Griffin Storm.” “And what are you? A cowboy?” She asked, eyeing Griffin’s outfit. He was dressed head to toe in his Texas Ranger’s gear. Boots. Jeans. Cowboy hat. And Badge. Although she couldn’t see the badge, yet. “I’m a Texas Ranger,” he said, moving out from behind me so my mother could see his sparkly gold badge and gun at his hip. My mother’s eyes widened. “Holy cow, Lenore! You’ve hit the jackpot!” My mother cried loudly. At that, I grabbed Griffin’s hand and led him into the kitchen. I pointed to a seat at the end of the island, the only one left after Remy and his two girls took theirs, and walked around the counter into the kitchen. “What does everyone want to drink? I have milk, water, tea, and coffee,” I said. “Coffee,” Remy said. “Water,” Griffin rumbled. “Milk!” Both girls yelled. I rolled my eyes. I could’ve guessed all of those. “So where did you meet my daughter?” My mother asked. Griffin looked at me with amusement before he said, “I needed batteries and Uncertain Pleasures was the only thing open.” My mother blushed as she dished up Remy’s plate first, followed shortly by the girls. My mother didn’t disapprove of my business, but she also didn’t go blurting out what I did to everyone. She was the quintessential Christian, always going to church every Sunday. However, she was also proud of her daughter and supported her any way she could. Even if she’d never stepped foot in my store once all the dildos were out on the shelves. “Why didn’t you go to the store down the street from there? The Dollar Store is always open,” Remy murmured around his fork filled with cobbler. “Closed due to power outage.” Griffin murmured, his eyes on the cobbler my mother was giving him.

She scooped a healthy amount onto another tea plate and set it down in front of him. Griffin looked up at me with humor shining in his eyes, but nonetheless dug into his cobbler, finishing it even before Remy. “Well, how is it?” My mother asked. “Good,” Remy muttered. “I think the breading is a little too thick, though.” “No, it’s perfect,” Griffin declared, leaning back to rub his taut belly. My eyes followed his movements, and I wanted to scream at the injustice. The man was in tip-top shape. One plate of cobbler wasn’t going to hurt him in the slightest. I wouldn’t be surprised if he worked out longer today because of it, too. “Thank you, Griffin. Remy, why can’t you ever say anything nice like that?” My mother teased. “Because I’m not a kiss ass,” Remy muttered under his breath. Apparently the two men still had some hostility to work out. “Actually,” he said. “My mother’s a state champion cobbler maker in Arkansas. I’ve tasted so many cobblers that I couldn’t even begin to tell you a number, and this one was close to perfect.” My mother’s eyes lit up. “Really? Who is your mother?” My mother asked, leaning forward onto the kitchen island. “Rayleigh Deen,” he answered. My mother gasped. “Your mother is not Rayleigh Deen!” My mother squealed. “Oh, my God! This is her recipe!” Griffin grinned. My eyes widened. Griffin’s mother was somewhat of a famous celebrity, kind of like Wolfgang Puck and Emeril. We’d never been without her cookbooks in my mother’s house, and I currently had three of them in my own cabinet not five feet away. “Holy shit!” Remy exclaimed. “My mother watches her cooking show every Sunday.” Griffin shrugged. “Reruns. She hasn’t filmed anything new for six months or so.” “Why not?” I asked. I regretted the question the moment the words were out of my mouth. “Because of Tanner,” he said softly, pushing away from the counter and standing to his full height. “I’ve actually got to go. Duty calls.” And before any of us could say another word, he was gone, and we were left in silence that he left behind.

“What happened?” Maddison asked softly. My heart wanted to cry out for him. “Tanner was his son. He died in a drive by shooting about six months ago,” I said softly, staring at the door like I could will him to come back. “Oh, that poor man,” my mother said softly. “Shit,” Remy said. “That just sucks.” “Is he the one that was killed at his school?” Maddison asked, looking at me. I nodded. “Yeah, baby. I think that’s him. Although he hasn’t given me many details on how he was killed yet. And I’m too scared to ask him.” “If he wants you to know, he’ll tell you,” Remy said, sounding so positive about his statement that I wanted to believe him. I looked up at him, remembering the advice Griffin had given me this morning about how I shouldn’t tell him about Jenna, and smiled at him sadly. The two men in my life had some serious problems. And I hated that for them. “Maybe you should go to his work and check to make sure he’s alright,” Macynn suggested. I smiled sadly at her. “I don’t know where he works, baby doll. I’ll be sure to ask him for next time I upset him, though,” I teased. She grinned at me. “You plan on upsetting him a lot?” She asked. I shrugged. “I’m only human, baby, and I have a smart mouth. I’m sure it’ll happen quite a bit.” But a question did linger through my mind as I went about my day. Would he run every time I pissed him off or he got upset? Which led to another question. Could I live with that?

Chapter 8 The chains on my mood swing just snapped. -Bumper Sticker Griffin “What do you mean?” I asked, leaning across my desk that was situated in the middle of my office. He nodded to the papers in front of me and I scanned them. I gathered in a matter of moments the enormity of what I was reading. “This bill’s effectively repealing the ‘in plain view’ law,” I said in surprise. What the fuck was that about? When a police officer was conducting a routine procedure, like pulling a car over, he could use the ‘in plain view’ law to search the vehicle without getting a warrant issued first in certain circumstances. Like if a police officer saw something, say a bag that resembled a baggie of weed on the front seat of a car during a regular traffic stop, he could legally search the entire car because he saw something suspicious ‘in plain view’ that justified further inspection. And if during that search he found a stash of illegal guns in your trunk, well, that basically was on you since it was your own stupidity for leaving a bag of weed out in plain view. “Motherfucker…” I said, shaking my head. “And Justin’s backing this bullshit?” “Yep. After his assault in January, six months before Tanner’s death, he’d said in his statement to the police that a man had assaulted him because he refused to back the proposed law. Then two days later, he recanted the entire statement saying he was mistaken,” he said. “Which got me to thinking. What high profile court case would make a difference to this right now,” he said, tossing a file folder on the table. “And I found this.” “So, let me get this straight, with the repeal of ‘in plain view,” I gathered from what I was reading, “This entire case would have to be dropped since without the law the search that was conducted and the evidence that was found was not done so legally,” I finished incredulously. Wolf nodded. “That should have never passed,” I seethed. Wolf nodded his head in agreement. “It had a lot of backing, though, from democrats and republicans alike. It was expected to pass in the senate, and it did. It’s now in the house.” My mouth dropped open. “You are shittin’ me,” I seethed. Wolf shook his head. “Not even a little bit,” he snipped back sarcastically. “And how exactly does that fucker play into all of this?” I asked, my head starting to pound. “When it was first proposed, Justin wasn’t going to back it. I’m thinking that, at least at first, it seems like he might have refused,” Wolf carefully explained. “Then from what I can gather, something changed,

and he’s on record as a backer of it. I guess they found a way to force him to back it.” I knew what he was getting at. They forced him to back it by offing his stepson – my son. And he had. He totally caved in to them. “What are you doing?” Wolf asked. “Going to visit my ex-wife,” I growled in frustration, pushing out the front door of our shared office and heading straight to my bike. I felt my phone vibrate against my thigh, where it was tucked into my pocket, with an incoming text message. I didn’t bother to look at it. It was Lenore. She’d asked if I was okay three times now. I’d been too much of a coward to tell her that it hurt. It hurt every single day. It hurt even worse at night when my mind wasn’t occupied and I had no distractions. There was just no way I’d be able to talk about it, though, not when I knew she’d be her gentle and sympathetic self, she wouldn’t be able to hide the worry in her eyes, and she’d want to ask me what I was feeling. I’d told her just about all that I was willing to tell her. She didn’t need to know what position my son’s body was in when he’d died. The way his backpack, the Iron Man one he’d been so proud of when we bought it together, had fallen to cover his face. She didn’t need to know how he’d crawled about a foot and a half towards the teacher who’d also been shot and killed. How when I arrived on scene, I’d promptly fallen to my knees at the sight of my little boy in a pool of his own blood right there in the school’s parking lot. She definitely didn’t need to know that I’d gone home afterwards, held a gun in my hand, and contemplated my life. Contemplated what it would be without my boy in it. Contemplated whether or not I should use that gun on myself to go join him. I’d been so weak that night. And when I’d woken up the next morning, after drinking myself into a dreamless, passed out stupor, I realized that I had more life left in me, at least enough to make sure I took down all those involved in my son’s murder, anyway. Lenore wasn’t a part of that plan. But the moment she introduced herself as Lenore, and I’d looked into her innocent eyes, then learned

that her middle name was Lane, I knew I couldn’t deny my feelings for her. Not when she shared the same middle name with my boy. Not when I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Not when I couldn’t sleep without waking up, wishing she was next to me. I just hoped she’d be able to get over the fact that I couldn’t talk about Tanner. Not yet, anyway. It was still too raw, the wound in my heart. It felt like I’d been shot. The pain was a dull ache that reminded me every single second that Tanner was no longer on this earth with me. Would never grow up to go to college. Would never see his wife walk down the aisle towards him. Would never hold his child in his arms and realize that his whole life was in the palm of his hands. The ride to my ex-wife’s place was uneventful, and I took the long way, which took me over two hours out of my way The wind was freeing to me. Three hours of uninterrupted therapy that I desperately needed. It helped me clear my head enough to allow me to think about what would need to be done once I reached Noreen’s place. Hopefully Justin was there. It was the weekend, after all. Noreen and Justin were quite frankly the busiest people in Texas, though. She was so busy now that she was the wife of ‘Senator Hayes’ that it was unlikely they ever had time for him. He was my boy, my mini me. They only ever wanted him for the photo ops. One good thing had come out of her marrying Hayes, though. That being that Tanner and I got even closer than we’d been before, he became more mine than hers. I loved having him with me. It was challenging with such a demanding job, sure, but I’d give my life to have that again. To have him wake up in the morning and ask for candy instead of cereal. To have him refuse to go to bed, begging me for just one more show. Pestering me relentlessly to watch Shark Week.

I’d cried last week when I saw a Shark Week teaser on TV. This would be the first time in four years that I wouldn’t watch it twenty-four seven for a solid week. I arrived at Noreen’s gates at the front of their estate almost before I was ready. I hadn’t seen her since Tanner’s funeral. I couldn’t deal with her shit on a good day, and I really didn’t want to deal with it today. But I needed answers. Answers that would only come if I asked the questions. Turning the bike off, I pressed the intercom button and waited for the butler, or whatever the hell he was, to answer. It didn’t take long. He was always prompt. “May I help you?” Broderick asked coolly. “Yo’ Brody. Can you let Noreen know I’m here and would like to speak with her?” I asked him. Broderick’s tone audibly changed within moments of hearing my voice. “Certainly, please pull around.” I did as told, starting my bike and pulling it into the visitor’s drive that led to the front steps of Noreen’s swanky home. Broderick opened the door as I was getting off my bike. I grinned at him and offered him my hand. “Hey, man. How’s it going?” I asked. Broderick smiled at me, but I could see the same grief in his eyes that I saw in mine. Broderick and Tanner had been thick as thieves. Broderick had been the one watching Tanner the majority of the time that he was here, and he loved Tanner like I did. Like a son. And he was grieving, just like I was. One just didn’t wake up and get over this kind of pain. It was the kind of pain that wrapped around your heart, squeezing it so hard that you could barely breathe whenever you thought about it. And I could tell we were both thinking the same thing in that moment. That we missed Tanner. That we’d give anything to have him in between us like it used to be when I’d come over to pick him up or drop him off. “Mr. and Mrs. Hayes are to be leaving shortly,” he looked over his shoulder. “They’re going to a

social function.” His voice held anger. Anger was something I was used to. I’d harbored my anger, weaving it around me like a web of protection in hopes that it would get me through the day. Most of the time it worked…but sometimes it didn’t. “I won’t be long,” I said, offering him my hand. He took it, nodding. “They’re in the front room,” he said, squeezing my hand in commiseration before I walked past him. My heart ached when I stepped inside and didn’t’ see my boy barreling toward me. Something that had happened every time I entered this house without him. He’d run to me, a huge smile on his face, as he screamed that he’d missed me. “What are you doing here, Griff?” Noreen asked. I ran my hand through my hair, letting it settle on the back of my neck, while I contemplated my shoes and got my thoughts in order to reply to her question. “I need to talk to you and your husband,” I said. Her eyes narrowed. “We’re to be at a function in about an hour.” I could tell. She was wearing a black cocktail dress that made her look like an uppity bitch from New York instead of a senator’s wife. “I don’t really care what you have to do,” I said, passing her to enter the sitting room where they always received their guests. “I need to talk to you today. Right now to be specific.” Noreen huffed in annoyance as I dismissed her without another word. Justin didn’t look any more pleased at seeing me. “What are you doing here?” He asked. I walked to the stuffy bar in the back of the room and poured myself a shot of whiskey and downing it before I turned back to Justin. “Explain to me about the bill,” I ordered. Justin’s face blanched, and he looked at Noreen with worry before turning back to me. “I don’t know what you mean.” Both of my brows rose. “Oh really? That’s the way you want to play it?” I asked carefully. His eyes narrowed on mine. “Noreen, give us a minute,” he ordered.

Noreen balked, as she always did. She’d always been that way. She hated to be told what to do, and especially when it came to her own safety. She was always oblivious. And this time was no different. If she didn’t get out of here in the next two minutes, she was going to witness me beating the absolute crap out of her husband. “Now, please,” Justin said again when she’d crossed her arms and started tapping her high heeled foot. She turned around in a rush of annoyance. “Fine,” she hissed. “Just be ready to go in half an hour.” With that parting comment, she left, leaving me with a man that was partially responsible for having my son killed. “Time for you to talk,” I ordered. “Or I’ll make you.” He didn’t seem worried, but he should’ve been. Because I was about to ruin him, and not just his face. “I don’t know that I understand what you’re asking,” he evaded. I turned and poured myself another drink before throwing it back. Then I put my hands on my hips, breathed in deeply a few times in an attempt to reign in my temper, before turning around to face him once again. “Okay,” I said, walking towards him. I popped my knuckles as I went, not stopping until I was directly in front of him. “You’re sure?” I asked once again. His eyes narrowed. “I’m sure I don’t know what…” I didn’t let him finish. My fist met his stomach in the next second, and he doubled over in pain. The breath from his lungs exploded in a deep exhalation, and he started to wheeze. “I don’t know!” He insisted wheezily. The next shot was against his foot when I stomped mine down on his instep before quickly following it up with a knee to the face. He dropped down to the ground, and I saw that the tan tuxedo he was wearing now had the blood from his broken nose all over it. “You’re sure about that?” I asked.

“Yes,” he was crying now. I smiled then. I used the bottom of my foot to force him onto his back, holding him in place with some of my weight on his chest as I looked down at him. “Well then, let me tell you what I already know,” I said, looking down at his blood-covered face. “I know that you were asked to back a bill and when you said no, they retaliated by shooting my son. Then, when you realized how far they were willing to go, you suddenly changed your mind and backed the bill.” His eyes closed, his shoulders slumped, and I could’ve sworn he started to cry harder, but it was hard to tell since he was already crying pretty hard from the broken nose. It had to sting like a bitch. “I can’t tell you!” He whined nasally. I got down on one knee beside his head and bent slightly forward to stare directly into his eyes. “I don’t care if you die. I don’t care if Noreen dies. Y’all chose y’all’s bed, now y’all gotta lie in it. The person who didn’t have a choice was Tanner, and he didn’t deserve what happened to him. Now, I know you probably never thought they’d really take it that far, but you did know there was a threat – a possibility – and you didn’t tell anyone. Specifically, me. So now I’m telling you that you will tell me. Your life as you know it is over. Now all you can do is tell me the entire truth before you go down for it. I’ll make sure it’s a padded fall if you do that. But if you don’t, I’m going to make you wish that it was you who laid there dying in that school parking lot. Do you understand?” I said slowly to him. He nodded, swallowing thickly. “Justin!” Noreen’s shriek sounded form the doorway. I didn’t look up, keeping my eyes connected to Justin’s. “Oh, my God, what have you done to him?” Noreen wailed. “Broder, call 911!” Broderick didn’t come, as I knew he wouldn’t. He saw the look in my eyes before I walked in. He knew what I was about to do, and I’m pretty sure it was relief and gratitude that I saw in his eyes. So I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard his car pulling out once I got inside. Noreen and Justin were alone. “Tell me,” I insisted. His eyes closed, and he turned away from me to look at Noreen for long seconds before he said, “They threatened my wife if I didn’t sign, and I knew they’d do it. After they did that to Tanner, I knew they wouldn’t stop until I complied.” “What are their names?” I asked. Noreen pulled on my arm. “Get off him!” She shrieked. I threw her off me, and she hit the floor with a thud.

“Go sit. Your ass. The fuck. DOWN!” I roared. Noreen blinked. But she followed directions. For fucking once. She sat on the floor next to the couch with her knees up to her chest, watching me as I questioned Justin. “Names,” I snapped. He took a deep breath. “I don’t know their names. I only have an address and a number,” he whispered painfully. “Give them to me.” “In my phone,” he whimpered. “Under notes.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and passed it up to me. I quickly went to his notes, forwarding the note to my email as well as Wolf’s. I threw the phone onto the ground next to his face, and it bounced to hit him in the nose again. He hissed in a breath, and I smiled. “You’re going to jail, you know,” I said. He nodded. “I know.” “Good,” I said, standing. “What’s going on, Justin?” Noreen asked. “Your man here got our son killed. Do you care?” I asked. Noreen looked up at me. “Of course I care, but my husband wouldn’t do that!” She decreed. I laughed humorlessly. “Of course he would. He just admitted to it. Maybe if you’d learned how to keep your cunt where it belonged, we wouldn’t have lost Tanner.” She jerked back as if I’d slapped her. “How could you say that to me?” She asked, her big crocodile tears pooling in her eyes. I laughed. “Because it’s fucking true. And don’t try to run, Justin. I’ll only find you.” With that parting shot, I left to start the long drive back to Uncertain. My thoughts on the one person I wanted to see right now. Lenore.

*** Lenore My eyes drooped closed once more. The last hour of work always got me. There was something about that last hour, between one and two A.M., that always had me fighting off sleep. Something slapped down onto the counter in front of me, and I had to control the urge to shrink back from the weirdo in front of me. He’d been in the store for so long now, and I was ready for him to get gone. How I could even think about falling asleep with him here just across the room from me was beyond me. I could practically feel the nastiness wafting off his body. I wasn’t looking forward to going into the bathroom, either, especially since I’d seen him disappear in there about twenty minutes ago. “Can I help you?” I asked warily. The man smiled, revealing crooked teeth that looked like they hadn’t been brushed in well over a decade. “This one is open, does it get a discount?” He asked, pushing the pocket pussy, with its open box, across the counter to me. Now, there weren’t many instances that owning a sex toy store made me uncomfortable, but now was definitely one of those times. “Yes,” I said. “I’ll give you a ten percent discount.” I wanted to vomit. The man had probably taken the toy into the bathroom and used it, but there was no way I’d open the box to confirm that. My video cameras didn’t cover the bathroom either. And it’s not like I would be able sell the toy to any other customers. Once the box was opened, it was unsellable as far as I was concerned. I didn’t sell open toys. Period. “Thanks,” he said, smiling his disgusting smile. I didn’t pick the box up, I just scanned it with the handheld scanner and pressed enter to ring up his total. “That’ll be eighteen fifty,” I said, praying he wouldn’t ask for anything else. I was out of luck.

“You got any good tasting lube?” he asked. “My girl likes strawberry. My favorite is grape.” I wanted to gag. “Yeah,” I choked. “Over there.” He turned to peruse the lubes on display to the right of the register, all the while pumping his finger in and out of the toy pocket pussy. It made a disgusting squelching sound that had my stomach heaving. I did not want to know what was inside of that toy making that sound. Not at all. “I’ll take this one,” he smiled again. It wasn’t a nice smile, either. It was a pervy one. I scanned the barcode with my handheld scanner once again, and gave him his total. “Twenty-five fifty,” I said. He handed me a twenty and five crumbled ones, followed by fifty cents. “Thank you,” he said, smiling one more time at me before he turned. But he came to an abrupt stop when he saw the man that was directly beside him. I smiled at the man. “Hey, Griffin,” I said. I’m sure he could hear the relief in my voice. I didn’t really like being here by myself this late at night, but this was the time that my business excelled, so I did it despite my misgivings. With Griffin here, though, I felt totally safe. I was more focused on how he looked in those tight jeans, the t-shirt that looked like it had been painted across his chest and that leather vest. I’d not seen him in it since that night when I saw him and those other men beating the crap out of my neighbor. “Hey, baby,” he rumbled. The pervy guy hustled himself around Griffin’s body, and Griffin grimaced as the filthy man passed him by. The front door chimed, signaling the man’s exit, and I waited for Griffin to say what was on his mind. “That’s gross,” he said. “Did he have a pussy on his finger like a fuckin’ ring?” I nodded. “He did. I think he took it into the bathroom and tested it out. He’s been here for nearly an hour now, and he disappeared into the bathroom for over twenty minutes of it.” He scrunched his nose up as he moved closer, then leaned on my counter to look at me.

“How much longer do you have before you leave?” He asked. I stared into those beautiful blue eyes, studying his beard, his lips, down the column of his throat, and stopped at the vest that was covering his chest. “An hour more,” I said to him. “Uncertain Saints?” He nodded. “My club.” “Your club?” I persisted. “My motorcycle club,” he clarified. I nodded. “I didn’t realize you belonged to a motorcycle club. What do you guys do? Ride around town in a group and stuff?” A grin played at the corner of his mouth. “Somethin’ like that,” he said. “Mostly, we just count on each other. If I need somethin’ they’re there. Kind of like a band of brothers. We do go on runs quite a bit. We’re actually going on one tomorrow. Want to go?” I raised a brow at him. “I have no one to watch the store,” I said sadly. Riding on the man’s motorcycle did sound fantastic. But I couldn’t leave my store unattended. Saturday nights were my biggest paying nights. I had to have priorities. And although it’d be beyond awesome to have myself wrapped around Griffin for any length of time, I was hesitant. “I can have someone come over, watch the store for you. Or you could ask Remy,” Griffin said, He almost looked…hopeful. “Remy’s going back to Oklahoma tomorrow,” I said sadly. He grimaced. “Then you’ll let one of the prospects watch your store,” he said, not taking no for an answer. “We’ll see. But tell me, what’s a prospect?” I asked. He grinned. “You don’t know what a prospect is?” I shook my head. “No, should I?” “You’ve never watched Sons of Anarchy or anything?” I shook my head. I’d heard there was cheating in the show, and I wasn’t a big fan of that. I read and watched TV for pleasure. So knowing that the main male lead character cheats on his wife just didn’t do it for me. Which was why there was never any cheating and always a happily ever after in the books that I read.

“A prospect is someone who’s trying to get into the club. Usually, they serve about a year as our bitches before they’re taken into the fold. Sometimes, if they prove their worth earlier, like I had, then you’re in much faster than that,” he explained. I tilted my head in curiosity. “Why did you get in so fast?” He grinned. “You really want to know?” I nodded, unsure if I really wanted to know or not. At least if I didn’t know, I could claim deniability. “I was beating the shit out of a man for information on a case I was investigating. They were after the same man. Liked the way I handled the situation, and offered me a position as a member of the club. We were still pretty new then, though. They didn’t start with prospects until a few months after I came on,” he answered. My eyes widened. “Is that the way you solve things? With your fists?” That didn’t sound like a good person to me, but who was I to judge? I’d gotten in a fight with Jenna and Diane when I was in high school because Jenna and Diane had pantsed me in gym class. I’d gotten two good hits in, all the while my pants were around my ankles, before the fight was broken up by the coaches. So I couldn’t say I didn’t understand his motivation. I just thought that it might get him into trouble one day. “Yeah, if that’s what needs to happen,” he answered. I pursed my lips. “You need to be careful.” He knew what I meant. He was a cop. He shouldn’t be doing stuff like fighting with people. He was supposed to uphold the law, not break it. “I know. And I don’t do it unless it needs to be done.” He offered no apology. Not that I expected it. Griffin wasn’t the type of man to apologize for anything. Everything he did had a purpose, and it didn’t matter if it hurt or pissed someone off in the process. It needed to be done, or he wouldn’t have done it. And I needed to decide if I could be with a man that might one day have everything backfire on him. Could I stand by his side? Surprisingly, I found that I could. I may not think that the way he was going about it was the right course of action, but I wasn’t the type of person to stop anyone from doing what they thought needed to be done. “So, do you need to do it often?” I asked, my eyes scanning over his right pectoral.

The vest declared him as ‘Griff,’ on a red patch with white lettering. The patch directly underneath that declared him as the ‘enforcer.’ I wasn’t stupid. I knew what enforcers did. I read! “Griffin,” I hesitated. “If we’re going to do this, I need you to know that I don’t like you running away every time something personal is asked about your life that you don’t want to answer. If you don’t want to answer, just say so. Don’t leave on me.” I continued, “And if you’re going to do this,” I indicated his shirt, specifically the enforcer patch. “You need to know that I don’t like visiting people in jail. The place is gross. And I hear that police officers aren’t treated well in there.” He laughed. “I’ll take that into consideration.” His eyes shone. “As for the leaving bit…I’ll try. I’m not used to having to explain myself, and sometimes it’s easier to leave than to blow up at innocent people who were only enjoying their cobbler.” I smiled sadly at him. “Noted.” “You want me to go check that bathroom?” He asked, eyes moving to where I’d said the man had disappeared to earlier. I shook my head. “No. I’m used to it. I have gloves that I use, and a bottle of bleach I spray generously. I’m not sure my smalls will fit onto your hands, and I’d hate for you to stain your clothes.” I said, picking up his hand. It was big. Way bigger than mine. Scarred, too. And strong. “You look like you got into another fight tonight,” I said, my fingers brushing lightly over the scraped knuckles. He grunted in reply. Well, that wasn’t a denial, at least. “You wanna…come home with me?” I asked, looking up at him. He grinned. “Actually, I was hoping you’d come home with me.” I smiled. “You think I’m gonna say no to you?” He shook his head. “No, I didn’t think you’d say no.” “So you think I’m easy?” I shot back. He shook his head. “Not easy, no. Just unable to resist me.” I laughed. “You think I can’t resist you?” He nodded. “Prove it. I’ve got a will of iron.”

He snorted. “Iron isn’t as solid as say, steel. But it doesn’t matter. If I wanted to take you right here, you’d do it. I have no doubt in my mind, and I don’t need your challenge. You stand no chance.” “Talk’s cheap, big boy. Time to put your money where your mouth is,” I said, wadding up a piece of paper from an order I’d filled online earlier, and tossed it at him. It bounced off his chest, and his eyes followed it as it fell to the ground. “So you want to play, do you?” He asked. “You want to get fucked in your store, where anyone can see you?” I blinked. I hadn’t really thought out the logistics of it all, but I could tell that he’d done so. And I found my heart beating harder. I was breathing faster. And by the look in his eyes, I could tell he knew that I was excited about the prospect. I’d never been what was known as a ‘bad girl.’ I was always somewhat conservative. At least until lately, my subconscious whispered. I’d never done anything out of what was expected of me. But, right then, with that look in his eyes, I knew I was going to give him me. Give him exactly what he wanted. Even if, later, I might regret it.

Chapter 9 If you mean ‘donut’ when you say I’ll give you the big ‘D,’ then yes, I’ll take the D. If not, then I’m not interested. -Lenore to a customer Lenore “Go lock the door.” I swallowed hard, staring at the intent look on his face, and thinking I was stupid seven ways to Sunday. You don’t taunt someone like Griffin-Fucking-Storm! Jesus, Lenore! What are you thinking? My thoughts carried me to the door as I locked the door, twenty minutes early, and started to pull the shades. “Leave them,” he ordered. I swallowed nervously, turning to face him. As I started to step forward, he stopped me with the palm of his hand. “Hit the lights,” he said gruffly. I cleared my throat, turning around to ‘hit the lights.’ The store, minus the lights illuminating the dildo display along the back wall, turned off. I stood in the near darkness, admiring the back wall that was lit up like a fucking shrine of dildos. I wanted to laugh. I never turned the lights off in this order. Normally, the lights above the dildos were the first ones to go off, followed by the one over my desk. The ones above my desk went off next, and we were left in near darkness. “Now what?” I asked, worrying my lip with my teeth as I waited for his instructions. “You got the back door locked?” He asked. I nodded. “I can’t see you, darlin’,” Griffin said with amusement. “Y-yes.” Damn, there goes my stuttering. Shit! I don’t know why he made me so nervous. It wasn’t like he was going to hurt me, and we’d definitely done this before. “I didn’t ask last time, but you on the pill?” He asked bluntly.

I shook my head. “N-no.” “You’re gonna have to get on that soon,” he rumbled. Then he suddenly was in front of me, picking me up off my feet with an arm around my ass. I squealed in surprise, my arms automatically surrounding his neck as I held on for dear life. “You’ll have to get that taken care of soon, I want to be in you bare,” he rumbled. I wanted him in me bare, too. Unfortunately, I was allergic to nearly every form of birth control except for condoms and possibly the implant. I hadn’t tried the implant yet. I hadn’t had a reason to… but it was very likely that I would, in fact, be allergic to this, too, since I had reacted to all the other methods I had tried. Low hormone pills. The ring. The shot. Been there, tried them all to no avail. I never got a chance to explain any of this. Nope, I was too consumed with what he was doing to my neck with his lips. His beard scraped deliciously across the sensitive skin, and I shivered when he started to suck. I’d have hickeys in the morning, but I couldn’t find it in me to care. In fact, I was kind of excited. My skin bruised easily. Everyone who saw me and the marks would know exactly why had happened. “What are you thinking about that’s making you shiver like that?” He rasped, his tongue licking from my collarbone all the way up to my chin. I gasped as those gentle swipes of his tongue were felt in my pussy. “Y-you,” I answered honestly. “Good,” he mumbled, hefting my ass up on top of my counter. The cup of pens I had sitting on my counter next to the cash register fell to the floor, pens scattering everywhere. “Lean back,” he ordered. I did, letting my back fall backwards until it hit the cool, wood countertop with a soft thump. His hands started to deftly work at my zipper, followed shortly by my buttons. My shorts were swiftly ripped from my body moments later, leaving me in only my Queen underwear. Okay, so I had a thing for crowns. Nearly every pair I owned had a crown of some sort on it.

This particular pair had a bedazzled crown covering my mound, and I knew the instant Griffin saw it because he started to chuckle. “Alright, my Queen. Let’s see what you have for me,” he rumbled, slowly working my underwear down my hips. I squirmed when my pussy was exposed to the world and Griffin’s ravenous stare. There was a little light from the illuminated ‘closed’ sign that I had hanging above my cash register, bathing my body in a soft red light. Griffin’s eyes looked ethereal as he looked up my body before he slowly started his descent down. My breath caught as his beard met the insides of my thighs, and I started panting when his lips ran down the seam of my sex. No tongue, only the smooth, soft lips of the mouth I dreamed about kissing constantly. “Mmmm,” he growled, inhaling deep. “You smell so fucking good.” I blushed a deep red as I thought about what he’d just done. I never thought I smelled good. In fact, I thought I smelled bad. But to know that Griffin thought the exact opposite was great news to me. All girls wanted to know that their vaginas smelled good, right? Then my mind lost focus as Griffin’s hands left my hips to curl around my thighs and inside, allowing both of his hands to spread open my sex for his hungry mouth. I about jerked off the counter as I let out a shout. “Shit!” His tongue was like a livewire when it touched my clit, circling, coaxing, and demanding a response from me. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. His big shoulders pushed my thighs up, and I looked down, gasping as I saw his head moving back and forth. The red glow from the sign above my head showing the movement of his head as it shimmered across the strands of his hair. My hips jerked when he moved down to thrust his tongue into my entrance, jolting me out of the contemplation of his hair. Hair in which I grabbed with both hands to urge him where I wanted him to be. He didn’t take the hint when I pushed down harder, practically smothering him with my vagina. I let go immediately as I thought about asphyxiating him with my pussy. What if he couldn’t breathe, and I killed him? It’d literally be death by pussy.

“What are you thinking about so hard?” He asked, running the tip of his tongue from my clit to perineum. “S-smothering you w-with my vagina,” I told him. He chuckled, and I felt that sound all the way down to my toes. “You won’t smother me, put your hands back in my hair,” he growled. I did as ordered, placing my hands gingerly in his hair, causing him to laugh. “Hold on to me, Queenie. It’s about to get rough.” I did hold on, and thank fucking God I did. Because in the next instant I was up off the counter, the backs of my thighs across his shoulders, calves hanging down his back, at least six feet off the ground. “Griffin!” I cried, belly tightening as I felt his mouth suck my clit in. I really had to be engulfing him now, but he didn’t seem to care as he walked backwards, only about ten feet, and pivoted. I couldn’t really figure out how he was able to see, but I knew exactly where he was going to put me, and I swear to God my pussy started to gush. I’d always been curious. Sometimes I sat in the swing when I got tired of sitting on the stool. I knew that wasn’t the intended use for this product. But the damn thing was comfortable! I’d set up a demo display for this particular item about a month and a half ago. I’d had a handy man come into the store and install eyehooks into the ceiling, allowing me to hang the swing with ease. It also wouldn’t be coming out of the roof anytime soon. The man had been thorough, screwing the bolts directly into the beam of wood that lined the roof of the store. Which was good since I hit my back with a small thump. “I’ve wanted to use this on you since I saw it the day I got batteries,” he rumbled, hoisting the swing up by the chains that were hanging directly beside it. I gasped as my body jolted, and I was positioned exactly where he wanted me. I licked my lips, watching as he placed both of my feet into the stirrups. They made me splay my thighs wide to accommodate his placement, and my eyes glazed over when I thought of what was in store. “Shirt off,” he said. He sounded breathless.

And I watched in stunned silence as he lost his shirt at the same time I lost mine. “Your bra,” he rasped. I bit my lip as I reached behind me, most awkwardly might I add, and removed my bra. My breasts popped free, and I heard the distinct sound of his throat vibrating with appreciation. “One day we’re going to have to take a picture of you like this…just for my viewing pleasure.” I didn’t answer. Couldn’t answer. Because he started to lower the fly of his pants. I started to gasp with excitement as he started to step out of his boots after lowering his pants. The red glow was really doing great things to the expanse of Griffin’s hard body. Every dip, divot, and groove was more pronounced. My hand slowly lowered to circle my clit, feeling the wetness there and using it to my advantage as I coated my fingers and circled my bud as I watched him. “Stop,” he ordered. I ignored him, circling my clit faster and faster as I watched him kick off his pants, followed by his underwear. A condom ripped in the quiet, and I tensed in anticipation. “I said stop,” he growled as he stepped up to the swing. I felt the large tip of his cock push against my clit, and I finally removed my hand, nearly whimpering now. “Please,” I whined. “I need you inside of me.” He didn’t wait for another invitation, only lined his cock up with my entrance and shoved himself completely inside. I arched. The swing jolted. Chains clinked. My breathing became even more labored. And I was in ecstasy. The feel of him inside me had my eyes crossing as he slowly started to pump in and out of me. “You like that?” He asked. I nodded. “Y-yeah.” “You like me fucking you in front of the windows?” I turned my head, gasping when I saw how close we now were to the windows.

Nobody would be able to see us…I hoped. The Waffle House across the street from me was hopping, and I watched as a couple entered the restaurant. But then a particularly brutal thrust had my eyes returning back to Griffin. “Yeah,” I told him huskily. “I like it.” He smiled. “Good.” Then he started to move faster and faster. My breasts jolted with each thrust of his hips. My eyes closed out of reflex as I started to feel a familiar blooming inside of my abdomen. It started out small, but with each thrust of Griffin’s cock into my pussy, it became larger and larger until it was right there. Right on the precipice, I waited. “Come with me,” I pleaded. He growled low in his throat, and his thrusts started to get longer. Slower. I gasped as my orgasm raced through me. The length of his cock slid all the way down the walls of my sex, pulling the most magnificent orgasm from depths that I’d ever experience before. Griffin’s growl followed as my orgasm clamped down on his cock. I screamed, unable to help myself. My head fell back as far as the swing would allow me. My hands clenched around the chains. My heels dug into the stirrups. Everything came together until my pussy exploded into ecstasy. “Mother fucker,” Griffin bellowed. Then he started to follow me over the cliff, plunging down with me twice as fast. Short grunts, followed by a final sigh of completion followed his release, and I laid there in a daze. “You broken?” He asked, pulling out of me slowly. “Mmmm,” I agreed. Or maybe disagreed. I wasn’t really sure. Tink-tink-tink-tink. Someone was at the front of the store, slowly tapping a finger against the glass.

I stiffened in the swing and slowly started to untangle my feet from the stirrups. Except they wouldn’t budge, and all I did was end up flopping around like a fish while the chains groaned from my movements.

Chapter 10 I hate being sexy, but I’m a bearded man. I can’t help it. -T-shirt Lenore “Easy, baby,” he soothed, reaching forward and helping me remove my feet from their leather prisons. “Don’t move. He can’t see in here,” he soothed. Except my mind wasn’t really into being ‘calm.’ It was working myself into a tizzy. “W-who is it?” I hissed as I felt around the floor with my hands to find my shirt. I found my shorts first and forced them on, shoving my feet roughly into the holes, which incidentally ripped them from my hands. I moaned in frustration and bent at the waist to pick them up from the floor, earning a smack on the ass from Griffin. “I said calm down,” he urged. “It’s one of the boys from the club. Notice he’s not beating down the walls? That’s because he only wanted to announce his presence,” Griffin explained. That didn’t make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel worse. At least, before, I thought they probably wouldn’t know what we were doing in here. But now, I knew for a fact that whomever was outside knew what we were doing. Why else wouldn’t he want to bother us, but also let us know he was there? I finally managed to yank my shorts up my legs and button them. Griffin offered me my shirt, and I realized he was fully dressed. “How’d you get dressed so fast?” I asked accusingly. He laughed. “I wasn’t too busy freaking out. I also leave them like most fireman leave their bunker gear. All I had to do was slip my feet into them and I was done,” he explained. Well…that was…smart. I pulled my shirt over my head, very aware that I was braless, and moved to the counter where I was fairly certain I’d last seen my flip flops. I found them on the floor behind the counter, one resting upright next to the wall, and the other upside down partially underneath the counter. I slipped them on, and headed to the front door where Griffin was already swinging the door open wide for his friends.

“What’s up?” Griffin asked the two men. I couldn’t see them very well. Their backs were to the outdoor lights, so all they really looked were glowing shadows. “You need to get to the clubhouse…now,” the one on the left said. “Okay,” Griffin said. That was it. There were no ‘why’s’ or ‘what for’s?’ Only, ‘okay,’ from Griffin. “Bring your girl,” the one on the right said this time. My brows rose to about fifteen feet past my hairline. I wasn’t theirs to command. I was my own person, and I was the one who made the decision about where I would be going. But, apparently, I was Griffin’s to command. Something I found out only moments later. “Let’s go,” he growled, pulling me along. I didn’t get my purse. Nor my phone. It all sat on the counter next to my computer that was still on. I hadn’t emptied the till. I hadn’t turned out the lights hanging over the dildos. Nothing. All I got was a yank on the arm and I was made to follow Griffin and the two men. A twenty-minute ride later did nothing to improve my mood. I held onto Griffin’s body, reluctantly, as we made the last turn into the ‘clubhouse.’ And I hated it instantly. I could smell the water of Caddo Lake. I could practically feel the slithery, slimy things trying to get to me. The dark night air pressed on my body like a second skin, and I wanted to cry. I really, really hated the lake. Had I mentioned that? No, hate wasn’t a strong enough word for the revulsion I felt when it came to that particular body of water. I detested the lake.

When I was fifteen, my father and I used to go on regular runs to the Lake and the bayou. We’d fish. We’d laugh. We’d have fun. But one day on a particular fishing excursion, it hadn’t been our usual. That day wasn’t the nicest. It was dark. Really dark. And I’d been reluctant to go out with my father, but I hadn’t wanted him to go alone. So I’d gone with him. My father had an old boat. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it ran like a top…until it didn’t. We’d gotten out on the lake, about four miles out from our truck, and the boat had started that puttering sound. You know the sound. All vehicles make that sound when they aren’t working correctly, and my father’s boat was not an exception. So there we were, four miles out, when the sky opened up. It was raining terribly, and the water in the boat was filling up fast. My heart had started pounding as I used the lid of my dad’s tackle box to start bailing out water. It did no good. Within less than thirty minutes, the boat was so filled with water that we had no other recourse but to get out and swim. “Get off, Queenie,” Griffin rumbled, startling me out of my personal hell. I tried to shake off the past, but I was still scared as hell. I hadn’t been this close to the lake for nearly ten years. In fact, since that day, which also happened to be the eve of my fifteenth birthday. And my birthday was five days away. It was too close for comfort for me. I held onto Griffin’s arm tightly, unintentionally digging my nails into his skin. When he tried to remove his wrist from my grip, I started to hyperventilate. “Your girl’s about to run,” one men who’d driven beside us the entire way here, said. I was beyond caring at that point, though.

Mostly because I could hear the soft swells of the water lapping against the shore getting closer and closer, and I was fairly sure I was about to have a full on panic attack any second. Griffin, of course, misunderstood my fear. He thought I was scared because I was at his clubhouse. And he was getting pissed. “Would I ever fuckin’ hurt you, Lenore?” He growled, pulling me closer. I couldn’t see him. My eyes blurred with my tears. My breathing became choppy, and my face was now slicked with a thin layer of sweat. “Lenore,” he growled, yanking his hand from my grip and placing both of his big hands on my face. “What the fuck?” My knees buckled. “Mother fucker,” he growled. “Goddammit. Mig, go get the fuckin’ door.” The moment his foot stepped onto the dock I passed out. And then it was just the darkness of sweet nothingness.

*** “You didn’t have to kidnap her,” a deep voice growled. “I didn’t fuckin’ kidnap her. She was fine until we pulled into the parking lot,” Griffin said defensively. “She’s going to think we’re a bunch of thugs who kill people,” another added. “We do.” I didn’t want to touch that one. Reluctantly, I opened my eyes, and immediately squeaked in surprise when I saw Griffin’s face nearly touching my own. His eyes were lined up with mine, and I was breathing in the air he was exhaling. “You okay?” He asked. “Y-yeah,” I croaked. “What happened?” His brows rose. “You passed out when we pulled into the parking lot.” Then the realization of what I’d done dawned. “Shit,” I groaned. “I’m sorry.” “What was that all about,” he asked, holding his hand out for me to sit up. I took his offered hand and sat up, swinging my legs over the side of the couch and took in the room. We were in a huge, open floor plan house. I was sitting on a couch in the middle of the living room, and directly in front of me was the kitchen. I knew I would find an open window that would look out onto the lake, so I stayed directly where I was, not moving a muscle. “Are there blinds on that window behind me?” I asked, staring at four men standing at the kitchen counter. “Mig, hit the blinds,” Griffin said, not waiting to see why he had to close the blinds. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard them close in the next instant. I finally started to take in the room once I realized it was safe. There were five men and one woman spread sporadically around the room now, and I was rendered breathless when I took the men in. Every one of them was handsome. Every. Single. One. Even the older one with all the tattoos with the woman standing at his side. They were standing closest to the door, and watching me with varied expressions on their faces. Sorrow.

Annoyance. Understanding. Anger. Indifference. Griffin, though, looked like I’d killed his pet bunny. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked worriedly. “I’m not going to fucking kill you.” I raised a brow at his tone. “I never said you were,” I countered. His eyes narrowed. “Then why are you passing out at the thought of coming here?” I laughed in his face. And he didn’t like it if the way his face darkened was any indication. “I’m not scared of you, or your big…f-friends,” I said, looking around the room at the men who didn’t hide the fact that they were listening to our conversation. “I’m scared shitless of the lake. Which you have me on. Literally on. Can’t stand the lake. It gives me heart palpitations.” Griffin’s brows lowered. “You were just at the lake with me at the diner.” I knew he was thinking I was lying, but I wasn’t. “First off, that was the daytime. I could see exactly where I was. Secondly, I couldn’t see the lake. Big – no huge – difference,” I informed him. His brows rose. “Really? You’re that scared of the lake? Why?” “How long have you been in Uncertain?” I asked him. That was probably something one should know if they were sleeping with the man, but I didn’t. We’d never got to many personal questions. And it was embarrassing to ask that in front of his friends. “Year or so,” he answered. I nodded, turning to the other men. “How about you?” I asked Mr. Pissy in the corner. He was really pissy looking, too. What had I done to him? But he answered. “Year or so.” I nodded, turning to the next man, Mr. Indifference. “You?” “Two.” Moving to the next man, Mr. Sleepy who looked like he wasn’t affected by anything, ever, I asked.

“You?” “Six,” he said with a yawn. I nodded and moved on to Mr. Sorrow. “Five,” he answered without me asking. Finally, I settled on Mr. Understanding. “You?” I asked softly. “Twelve.” He was the oldest. And he was also the only one with a woman at his side. “Ahh,” I said. “Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner! You know who I am, don’t you?” He nodded. “Yeah, I knew the moment he brought you inside.” Most did if they lived around here. I was the girl who killed the largest alligator on record in Caddo’s history, an almost fifteen-foot, nine-hundred-eighty-two-point-four-pound monster. Out of self-defense, of course. “What are you talking about, Peek?” Griffin asked, finally standing up to face the man by the door. The woman patted his arm and walked to a computer in the corner, typing as fast as she could. Her fingers were a whirlwind as she typed, and I jumped when a screen started to lower from the ceiling directly in front of me. “Whoa,” I breathed. Then I winced when I saw the picture. It was awful. I looked like a big pile of shit. My hair was sporting dirt and twigs. I had dirt smudged on my face. My jeans. My white shirt. I’d smelled god awful that day, too. And directly behind me was the most massive alligator I’d ever seen in my life. She was being hoisted in the air by a forklift. Her massive jaws were clamped shut with about two thousand feet of duct tape. Her beady, black, dead eyes were staring off directly at the camera as I stood with the gun slung over my shoulder. “What the fuck. You killed that?” Mr. Pissy asked. I looked over to him. “Yeah,” I croaked, turning away from the screen.

And in doing so, I caught a fantastic glimpse of Griffin’s ass. His jeans were really tight. And I could see the gun at his back very clearly, even though I was sure it was supposed to be concealed. “That’s gotta be a record, huh?” He asked. “You don’t even know the half of it, Mig,” the man Griffin had called Peek, said. No, that was right. He didn’t. “So enlighten us,” another voice ordered. This one from the other side of Griffin. Mr. Sleepy who didn’t look very sleepy anymore. He was also the one I’d seen with Griffin at the bar. Wolf was his name. The man who’d taken over Griffin’s son’s case. I shivered when I thought about recounting the story, but they all looked so eager that it was hard to say no, so I didn’t. “When I was nearly fifteen I went to check trot lines with my father, about four miles past the one fifty-five boat ramp,” I started, my remembrance putting me back into what I’d felt that day. “It was threatening to rain, but I went with my dad anyway because I didn’t like him having to go alone. “His boat broke down about four miles upstream, and the skies opened up around the same time. It was raining so hard and fast that the boat started to fill up,” I explained. “It was a small flat bottom with one of those huge motors people use to get them into the places that don’t have much water.” “Muddy Buddy,” Mr. Indifference answered. I nodded, the name sounding familiar, and looked up at Griffin whose blue eyes were watching me avidly. “Yeah, that,” I nodded, keeping my eyes connected with Griffin’s. “The rain just kept coming down, filling the boat, until it finally couldn’t hold any more. I was trying to bail us out, but it was useless, like trying to empty a pool with a spoon, “I replied with a sad, slow shake of my head as I recalled just how hard I had tried. “We sank.” I swallowed. “I had my father’s two twenty-three across my shoulders.” “So what’d you do?” Griffin asked. “Swam. Luckily, the life jackets hadn’t been tied into the boat, so they floated up,” I answered. “My dad made me put on the vest, and we swam until I just couldn’t swim anymore.” “Then what?” Wolf asked. “We got off on the bank, resting against on old abandoned dock,” I told them. “Didn’t notice the huge gator slides…nor the huge nest of alligator eggs that were nestled in the rotting dock.”

“When did you notice?” Griffin asked, his face starting to pale. I stiffened as I recalled those first horrific moments. “When the gator pulled my dad off the dock by his upper torso,” I answered. Gasps filled the room. “My dad was under before I even realized it,” I said. “And I didn’t know what to do. I knew from experience that the lake was over forty feet deep, and that’s what gators do. They take their victims to the bottom and drown them.” Griffin’s eyes looked pained. “But the gator let my dad go, coming back for me, since her nest was still in jeopardy,” I whispered. “But I was waiting for her. The moment she came out of the water like those huge whales do at Sea World, I shot her head full of two twenty-three rounds.” “You killed her?” Mig asked. I nodded. “Yep.” I remembered how the alligator had come to rest half on, half off the dock. The only thing in the water was her huge, fat tail. “And your dad?” I looked over at the man who’d asked. “He wasn’t breathing,” I answered. “He’d floated up to the top of the water and downstream about thirty yards,” I shivered. “I had to swim into the murky water to go get him, but I managed to bring him back to the dock. I pulled him directly onto the bank next to the huge gator.” “You stayed next to her?” Wolf asked. I nodded. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I know for a fact that the river part of Caddo doesn’t have many lake houses. So I did the only thing I could, I got him back to the dock and up onto it so I could start CPR.” “You got him breathing, though,” Peek supplied. I nodded. “I did. And he came to screaming his ass off.” Griffin’s arms went around me when the trembling didn’t stop. I held onto him as I finished the story. “We stayed there where we were two more hours before a boater finally came by,” I said. “The boater called the game wardens. The game wardens loaded us and the massive alligator into the boat, and we drove off back to the state park where my father was transferred into the ambulance with some pretty serious wounds. I was left to answer questions and take pictures.” Griffin growled. “They made you stay?” I shook my head. “No, they asked. My dad’s truck was there. And my mom had met the ambulance at the hospital. Since I wasn’t hurt, and things needed to be taken care of, I stayed.”

“So you’ve never gone to the lake again?” Wolf asked. I shook my head. “No, I have not.” I glared at Griffin. “At least willingly.” He pressed his lips to my forehead. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” I shrugged. “It’s okay.” I refrained from saying, “You didn’t ask.” That wouldn’t be beneficial right then. He shook his head. “No it’s not. But thank you for trying to make me feel better.” He sighed and kissed my head, placing his lips overly long on my forehead before he stood up. “I’ve got to go talk to them, will you be okay here with Alison?” He asked, looking down at me with concern. I nodded, assuming that ‘Alison’ was the only woman in the room. The one who’d pulled up that ugly picture and had yet to take it down. “I’ll be fine,” I said, patting his thigh. “As long as the blinds stay shut.” That was a warning to all of them in the room, and I saw the other person in my line of sight nod in agreement. They’d stay shut. Good. Griffin left, disappearing into a room in the side of the house we were in. When the door shut behind the last one, Mr. Pissy, I finally looked to the woman, Alison. “Can w-we, ummm, t-take that down?” I gestured to the picture. Geez, I’d gone all the way through a harrowing tale and hadn’t stuttered once, but to be put under the supervision of a woman with angel eyes was making me stutter. Nice. She hurriedly complied, hitting a button on the wall that drew the screen up back into the holder in the ceiling. It was still up on the computer monitor, but she hit a button, and the entire screen went black. “Sorry honey. It’s easier to show visual proof instead of having them all question you over and over again…something they would’ve done. They’re all investigators at heart,” she said apologetically. I waved my hand in the air as if to clear it. “It’s fine. I could see Griffin frothing at the mouth when he thought I didn’t want to come here.” The woman smiled. “This is an intimidating place for most people. I wouldn’t have thought less of you if it had been just because you didn’t want to be in a room full of bikers,” she said. “They take some getting used to.” I didn’t doubt it, but from what I’d noticed in the short time here, they didn’t seem all that bad.

“What were their names?” I asked. I couldn’t keep calling them by Mr. Pissy or Mr. Indifferent. “The one with the dark eyes and black hair is named Wolf,” she started. “The one behind you at the blinds was Mig. My husband was the one standing next to me, Peek. The last two standing in front of you, from left to right, are Casten and Ridley.” I nodded. “Thank you.” An awkward silence followed as we both tried to think of what to say next when we both started to speak at once. “So how did you meet Griff?” “So how did you meet Peek?” We both laughed. She held up her hand to halt my explanation. “I’ll start,” she smiled. “I met my husband when we were both twenty-one and stupid.” I raised a brow at her, and she laughed. “Yeah, I’m serious. Stupid,” she snickered and covered her eyes as she thought back to something I couldn’t see. “I’d just turned twenty-one, and was celebrating by getting raging drunk.” I could see where this was going even before she’d started, but I smiled anyway. I loved a love story. “And my best friend dared me to go get this massive back piece. So, me being me, I agreed. I was laying on the chair, ready to get a massive unicorn on my back by some man named Dolly when Peek walked in. He immediately took in the stencil that Dolly had placed on my back, my state of near drunkenness, my best friend’s giggle, and put a stop to it.” My eyebrows climbed. “Really? Why?” “When he was sixteen he got his one and only drunk tattoo by a friend that was equally as drunk,” she explained. “He woke up the next morning with it, and vowed that when he finally opened his own tattoo shop, that he’d never let anyone drunk get a tattoo. And he didn’t.” “I bet that pissed some people off,” I said dryly. She nodded. “If you haven’t noticed, my man is fully capable of taking care of himself.” I did happen to notice that. Although he was older, he was in incredibly good shape for a man his age. “What about you? How’d you meet Griffin?” She asked. I smiled. “I sold him some batteries from my store.” Her eyes crinkled at the corner. “Don’t you own Uncertain Pleasures?” She asked, holding the laugh in.

I nodded. “I do.” “So he came into your store for the batteries?” She giggled. “Yep. He didn’t seem out of place or anything. Even helped kick out the two people screwing in the dressing rooms,” I told her. She snorted as she laughed, causing my smile to widen. “What’s with the name Peek?” I asked. “Is that his real name?” Alison smiled, blushing slightly. “No. His real name is Reedus. Peek is short for ‘peekaboo.’ He has a tattoo right above his, um…penis.” My mouth dropped open. “You’re kidding.” She shook her head. “No, I can’t say I am. The man is nuts. It’s literally right above his wiener.” “Jesus, Ali. Call it what it is…it’s a fuckin’ cock, not a wiener!” Peek yelled from the doorway. I burst out laughing and covered my face with my hands. The couch next to my hip depressed, and I fell into a hard body that I knew very, very well. Griffin’s body was like the negative to my positive. My body gravitated towards his, much like it was doing now. “Have a nice talk?” I asked, turning to look at him. His face was closed down. “We need to talk,” he said softly. Shit. “Talk about what?” I asked. I knew it had to be about what we’d come here for. Why I’d been practically forced to come. And whatever it had to do with, had to do with me. Dammit. Shit. Hell. Piss. When he didn’t answer, I sighed. “So talk.”

Chapter 11 I’m not saying your mom is a slut, but when she gave birth to you she tried to push you back in and out a few times. -E-card Griffin “Mother. Fucker,” I growled, standing up and making my way out of the room we did most of our club meetings in. Most clubs called this room ‘church.’ I called it the room that made me feel claustrophobic with the wood planked walls and the hard wood floors. I stopped with my hand on the handle. “You’re sure?” I asked softly. Peek came up to me and placed one hand on my shoulder. “We wouldn’t joke about something like this,” Peek said as he pushed me slightly to the side and exited the door. Wolf was next to my side, and he looked at me with fire in his eyes. “We won’t let anything happen to her,” he told me. I knew that. Rationally anyway. My heart. The mother fucker. My heart didn’t know that to be true, though. “How do they even know about her?” I said roughly. “I’ve spent the equivalent of three fucking days with her so far. They’ve had to have someone on me twenty-four seven to get that.” “Or an informant,” Wolf said, exiting the door just as Peek said something about cocks and wieners. I was the last to exit the room, which meant I’d missed why they were talking about cocks. Lenore had a smile on her face, though, and that meant that whatever they were talking about wasn’t that bad. Lenore was a blusher, and right now she just looked flushed with happiness, not embarrassment. I hated that I was about to ruin that good mood she was in. I walked to her, finding it increasingly hard to smile in the wake of what I’d just heard, but with the way Lenore was sitting on the couch, her shoulders shaking in laughter, I found my first smile. Albeit reluctantly. I fell into the seat beside her, causing her body to roll into mine.

She removed her hands from her face and smiled at me, causing my stomach to flip. “Have a nice talk?” She asked. I shook my head. “We need to talk,” I muttered as she looked at me. I just kept looking at her, unsure where to start, causing her impatience to win out. “So talk,” she snapped. “We have an informant who excels in the underground criminal network,” I hesitated. “He can get to places we can’t. We pay him for what he hears, and if it’s good enough, we do him favors.” “So…what?” She asked softly. “We owe him a favor,” I told her. Her eyes widened. “What kind of information did he give you to get you to bring me here?” “The kind of information that the man who was partially responsible for killing my son put two and two together to get twelve,” I said cryptically. Peek snorted. I flicked my gaze to Peek for a brief second before it settled back on Lenore and her worried eyes. “So what does that mean?” she asked. “The other day I made a mistake in going to my ex-wife’s house to get some information from her husband. He recently changed his mind and decided to back a bill that will dramatically impact the way law enforcement in this state is allowed to execute duties. He had originally been against this bill, and then he changed his mind, which happened to occur right after my son was murdered. I wanted to know why he changed his vote, and more importantly, who was behind this change,” I explained. “I assumed that being roughed up a bit and scaring the shit out of him would be enough to prevent him from doing anything stupid. But it didn’t, and I am now forced to deal with the mistaken assumptions I made.” She blinked. “Okay,” she replied, confusion clear in her voice. “So what did he do?” “Three hours ago, Justin Hayes made a call that put plans into motion to have me killed,” I told her. Her mouth dropped open. “You’re fucking kidding,” she gasped. I shook my head. “No. Not even a little bit,” I growled, leaning back into the couch and placing both hands on my head, working my hands through my hair. “So what…you’re going to go into hiding?” She asked. I shook my head. “No. I’m not going to hide out. I still have a job to do. I’ll just have to be more careful.” Her eyes started to burn with anger.

“And you’re a fucking superhero? Do you think that whomever he called to have you killed won’t just bring in a sniper to take you out from a thousand yards away?” She hissed. “A thousand yards is unlikely to ever happen,” I told her. “But yeah, a sniper has crossed my mind.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “So what are you going to do?” “Find the fucker before he finds me,” I snapped. “What does that have to do with me?” She asked slowly, sensing there was something else. “It means that I’m going to have to let you go…and hope that they didn’t find out about you in the short time that I’ve been with you,” I said slowly, willing her to understand. She looked like I’d punched her in the gut. “You’re… you’re letting m-me g-go?” She asked softly. I felt like the biggest asshole in the world. Doors opened, signaling the club members leaving as quietly as they could, and I hated myself for wishing they were still here. Lenore would’ve tried harder not to break down had they still been here. But now with the room empty of just her and me, she started to cry, ripping a motherfucking hole in my chest the size of China. “God,” she whispered. “God.” “I don’t know if they’ve even found out about you…this may all be for nothing. But I have to try. I want you to be safe. I need you to be safe,” I told her. “Nothing will happen to you.” Her lips tightened. “And if they do find out we were together? What then?” She replied. “Then we’ll go from there. Our informant said he hasn’t heard so much as a whisper about you yet. So we’re going to go on the fact that they don’t know we were together. Because they’d use you to get to me. They’re going to try to lure me out by taking my ex, first. When that doesn’t work, they’re going to go for something else. Look for a current girlfriend in hopes that I’ll come out for you. But when they don’t find one, they’ll have to think of something else. And I’m hoping with that time, it’ll allow me to find them before they get to me.” “That’s insane,” she whispered, moving until she was straddling my thighs. My hands went to her hips, and I tried extremely hard not to stare at her unbound breasts. “That’s all I’ve got for now,” I said. “We don’t know enough yet to get him.” “You know who he is?” She whispered, leaning forward. Her breasts pressed against my chest, and I had to close my eyes at the look of need in her eyes. “Yeah, we have a fairly good idea who he is,” I answered evasively. The less she knew, the better. “So what…we’re just done? Until when?” She asked, tears forming once again in her eyes.

“For now,” I told her, cupping her face. Her head leaned forward until it rested against mine. Forehead to forehead. “I’m sorry,” I said. “If I’d known it was going to be like that, I would’ve never gone over there.” “Did you get the information you needed to get to the next step?” She asked. I nodded. Her head moved with mine, and our lips brushed. “Yeah.” “Then it was worth it.” I wasn’t so sure. I could’ve found that out in a different way. Maybe not threatened Justin as I had. But I had, and look where that led me. “So what are we going to do? Do I get to go home?” She asked. I nodded, leaning my head to the side and taking her mouth with mine. Her tongue ran along mine, and her eyes darkened. I wasn’t usually an eye open kind of kisser, but I wanted to see Lenore. Wanted to absorb everything that was her. Our kiss was explosive. And quite honestly, it got a little bit out of hand. Once I found the strength to end the kiss, we were both panting. “You get to go home,” I confirmed. “And what about you? Can you spend the night?” I shook my head. “No.” Her eyes closed, and she leaned her face forward. “What if I need you?” She asked. “Then call me. If I don’t answer, then call one of the members,” I told her. “I’ll program their information into your phone before you leave tonight.” “You’re going to let me ride on the back of someone else’s bike?” She asked, surprised. I narrowed my eyes at her. “No. I was going to have Alison take you home in her Jeep,” I explained. “When will I see you again?” She whispered.

“I’ll come by when I’m sure I’m not being followed. And we can meet here, too,” I told her. “So…” she hesitated. “We only have tonight before you act like you don’t know me?” I pressed my lips against hers. “Yeah.” “Then make me remember you,” she whispered.

Chapter 12 If a week goes by and your man isn’t confused or scared by something you’ve done over the past week, then you’re being a woman wrong. -Lenore’s secret thoughts. Griffin Then make me remember you. I growled when I smashed my lips against hers. “You’ll have no problem remembering me, honey,” I declared between kisses. I held her face close to mine, keeping her in place while I ravaged her mouth. “I don’t have any condoms,” I told her, figuring I’d get that out there now. “Shit,” she breathed. “Shit.” I snorted and stood up, keeping my lips on anything I could reach as I walked to my room. Her mouth. Her lips. Her neck. She moaned loudly when I got into my room. “I’m putty in your hands when you do that,” she panted, arching her neck and gasping in gulping breaths of air as I ran my beard along her collarbone. I shucked her shirt off over her head roughly, moving my lips down, coming to an abrupt stop when my exploring lips met something different under the skin of her chest. “What’s that?” I asked, lifting my hand up and circling the patch of skin that looked like it had something underneath it. “A med-port. When I was getting my treatments, they would shoot the stuff into my veins by placing a needle into this right here,” she said, picking my hand up and pressing down on her chest. “It’s like a spongy thing or something. It’s meant for caustic drugs, like chemo, to go into my veins without tearing them up.” I bent down and placed a soft kiss on the area, wishing she didn’t have something like that that she had to worry about. It was a reminder every day that she wasn’t a hundred percent. That something could happen to her tomorrow and she’d have zero control over it. That’s when I knew…right then…that I would do everything to make Lenore’s life one of happiness. I would help her live life like it was her last day. And I hoped she’d make me do the same. Because I knew better than anybody how life could change in the blink of an eye. I knew that one second, you could be standing outside waiting to be picked up, and the next you could

be laying on the ground, leaking your life blood on the concrete you were playing Hop-Scotch on only an hour before. Because that was what my son had experienced. I’d dropped him off at school that day with every intention of picking him up later that afternoon. I’d promised to take him to a movie, one he’d been begging me to see for a week. Then put his lamp together that I’d bought him the week prior that I hadn’t gotten around to doing yet. Afterwards, we were going to have his favorite meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Then I was going to read him his bedtime story, like I did every night, and watch an episode of Scooby Doo as I laid in bed with him. “Griff,” Lenore whispered. “You okay?” “When this is all over…” I hesitated, looking down into her eyes. Studying the way her beautiful red hair, in her long, thick braid, curled around her head like a snake. “I don’t want to fuck around anymore. And I want you to make sure I don’t. I need you to know who Tanner was. Who he still is to me.” She brought my face down closer to hers by placing two hands on both of my cheeks. “I can’t wait to learn more about him,” she whispered, placing a soft, gentle kiss on my mouth. The spark that I’d pushed away when I started thinking about my son reignited with just a brush of her soft, sweet lips. My mouth moved from her lips, traveling back down her neck. I licked a line from the tip of her chin all the way down to the top of one beautiful swell of her breast. She shivered and started to squirm. I looked up at her face as I trailed a finger down the middle of her chest. Then I rubbed my lips slowly over the hardened tip of her nipple while I watched her eyes flare. She had perfect breasts. So perfect. They were smaller than I usually went for, but when I took the entire nipple into my mouth and sucked, I decided I didn’t need any more than what she had. The rest was just overkill when sucking on her nipples got her screaming in excitement. “Griff!” She gasped, arching up into my mouth. My free hand traveled over to the other side and tugged roughly. When my fingers found her other breast, I smiled when she couldn’t decide which direction she wanted to arch her body. I chuckled as I switched to the other side, gently circling the tip of her nipple with my tongue. She grabbed my hair and held on for dear life as her hips started to move up and down in agitation. “Do I make you hot?” I asked her, rubbing my lips along her nipple.

“You know you do,” she breathed, her hands moving from my hair to run along my neck and shoulders. Then, with a movement so sudden, I found her out from under me as she ripped her shorts off her legs. “Get naked!” She ordered as I watched her in surprise. I smiled as I followed the little queen’s orders. Her panties followed her shorts, and I was left with a very enticing, naked Lenore. Her pubic hair matched her hair, and paired up with her porcelain white skin, I was left salivating. The light in the store earlier hadn’t been enough to let me see all of her, and this was my first time seeing her from the front without clothes on with the lights blazing…and I liked it. “You really are a Queen Bee, aren’t you?” I asked her teasingly. She narrowed her eyes at me. “And don’t you forget it.” I placed my gun on the bedside table before I let my pants drop to the floor. Stepping out of my boots one by one, I held my hands out to her. “Now what, my Queen?” I lifted my eyebrows at her. She smiled and patted the bed. The movement let her breasts hang, and the dusky points of her nipples rasped against her arm as she leaned forward to rip the comforter on the bed. “What was that for?” I asked as I let my body fall to the bed. “Well,” she said, “you said you don’t have a condom…and all the other things I can think of doing are kind of… messy,” she said as she climbed onto the bed between my legs. That was true. Then, without further ado, she swallowed my stiff cock. Whole. “Jesus,” I growled, arching my back without conscious thought. “Warn me next time you go swallowing me to the root.” She giggled as she started to work herself down my length, sucking, licking, and flicking as she went. “God,” I groaned, throwing my hand out on the bed to clutch the sheets underneath me. Instead of sheet, I found the braid of her hair, and grasped it tightly. My erection was about three seconds from exploding when I roughly yanked her off my cock by pulling her hair, causing her to laugh. “That’s not what that is for,” she teased. Her lips were puffy and red from her ministrations, and I did the only thing I could at that moment in time. I pulled her on top of me and took her mouth with mine once again. She straddled my hips with her thighs, and started to undulate on my erection.

My previously blocked orgasm started to creep back up, but the way Lenore started to frantically rub her clit against my hard cock meant I wouldn’t have to hold out much longer. Keeping her lips against mine with my hand in her hair, I let my free hand sneak down her back, curve over her beautiful ass, to finally stop at the entrance of her pussy. It wasn’t long before she was trying to go both ways, to urge my fingers into her tight sheath as well as work her clit against my cock, making me smile as I finally sank three fingers inside of her. She moaned into my mouth and I picked up the pace, letting her pussy lips frame my cock as we moved together. She yanked her lips away from mine with a gasp and screamed. Her nipples pebbled impossibly harder, and a red blush started from her chest and moved up her shoulders to her face. I watched her explode, and only when she was finished and collapsed on my chest did I start to come. I used the pressure of the two of our bodies pushed together to pump my release out of my cock. Grunting with each spurt, I coated our lower bodies with my release, and I found it oddly satisfying to know she was covered in me. “Who said we’d need a condom anyway,” Lenore said sluggishly, exhaustion hanging heavily in her voice. I chuckled and hugged her tighter to me, relishing in the comforting weight of her body on top of mine. I hated that, in just a few short hours, I’d have to let her go for God only knew how long.

Chapter 13 What’s worse than a man that wants his woman? A woman that wants her man. -Note to self Lenore I don’t know what I expected when it came to ‘avoiding’ Griffin Storm. What I hadn’t expected, though, was to see him everywhere I turned. It was like he hadn’t left me at all. He was everywhere. I saw him at the supermarket. I saw him at the store when he came for batteries. I saw him at the diner. I saw him out of town at the hospital when I went for my checkup. Sighing, I laid my head back against the soft cushion of my couch. Old re-runs of Roseanne were playing on the TV on TBS, something I found out just lately. Well, the last three days, to be specific. It was a special kind of torture to say the least. Especially with that last night we’d spent together. The entire night. We’d gone until the sun had peeked out over the horizon, and only then did he have Alison take me home. Alison had wisely gone to sleep in hers and Peek’s room. Something I hadn’t noticed since Griffin had brought me to his room and hadn’t let me up for air until I could see him clearly in the rising sun. Now here I sat, three days after I’d seen him last, and I was already thinking this was going to be impossible. Really impossible. Because my body yearned for his. I wanted to talk to him. To tell him about my day. My phone rang about thirty minutes later when the rolling credits on the last Roseanne they would play for the day flashed over the screen. “Hello?” I answered breathlessly. I didn’t know why I was holding out hope for it to be Griffin. He’d flat out said he wouldn’t be calling me.

Even on a burner phone. Apparently those could be traced, too. Something I hadn’t known, and had told him so. You read too many books. The government can do anything it fucking wants to. “Hey, honey bee. I know you’re not going to like this, so I’m just going to cut to the chase,” my father said without preamble. “A little girl is missing in the woods behind our house. Their boat capsized when they hit an exposed tree stump in Lake Caddo.” My heart plummeted. I knew what he was going to ask me even before he asked me. “I’ll be there,” I whispered. I changed into a sturdy pair of jeans, knee length snake boots, grabbed my shotgun off the wall over the door, and strolled out of the door with my phone to my ear. “Hello?” Remy answered, sounding groggy. “I need to borrow your handheld GPS…and you if you’re here,” I said quickly as I hurried down the sidewalk to my car. I loved my car. It wasn’t the best in the world, now that it was over five years old, but it was mine. I’d bought it used. Now it was what I would consider ‘well used.’ I yanked the door open, dropped into the seat, and immediately started my baby up. “Yeah,” Remy said, sounding clearer. “I’m at home taking a nap. But I can go with you when you get here.” I nodded. “I’m already on my way. A little girl’s missing in the woods behind my dad’s place…they think.” “Shit,” he hissed. “I have to call the neighbor over to watch the girls, but I should be ready when you get here. The GPS is charged, thank God.” He didn’t say a word about the fear he knew I was experiencing. He would know. Hell, everyone in the town would know. But I knew those woods like the back of my hand. My father had over fifty-five acres that spanned the length of Caddo, and Remy and I had explored them relentlessly when we were children. In fact, other than my father, the two of us were probably the best bets at finding the child. I just hoped I didn’t have to get near the water. That really wasn’t something I wanted to do if I could help it. At least it was daylight and sunny.

It could’ve been way worse. Like raining…and being fifteen again worse. The moment I pulled into Remy’s driveway, he was in my passenger seat, slamming the door behind him. I backed out and waved to his girls as I nearly peeled out of the parking lot. “Shit,” Remy said, pulling a shirt on over his naked chest. “You don’t have to drive like that when I’m not buckled in.” I snorted. This was a usual argument for us. Remy didn’t like not being in control. It must be a man thing or something. A man argument I would never win with Griffin, because Griffin would’ve just manhandled me into the passenger seat before he rode anywhere in the passenger seat. “Did your dad give you any more details?” He asked once he buckled his belt. I shook my head. “No. He was pretty short. Like usual,” I answered. My father was a hardworking man at a steel plant in town. He was the man that supervised the workers over night. He’d been just a peon when he first started, but had graduated to the man that everyone feared, with not a little hard work and a lot of determination. Which meant he should be sleeping right now instead of looking for a lost kid. There was no way he wouldn’t have done his bit to help find the girl, though. He was a good man. However, after what had happened to the two of us, he’d gotten downright overprotective of not just me, but everyone. When it came to water and boater safety, he was the man you didn’t want to catch when you weren’t following boater safety rules. Idly, wondered if the person that’d been driving the boat that capsized had done something stupid. “Let me borrow your fingernails to open this piece of shit to replace the batteries,” Remy said, handing the handheld GPS over to me. “It’s not turning on. Good thing I brought extra batteries.” I took it from him, ignoring the way my body reacted to the word ‘batteries,’ and drove with my knee as I pried the back of the GPS open with my fingernails. Once opened, I handed it back just in time to make the turn into my parent’s driveway. I wasn’t surprised to see nearly half the town there.

The only ones that weren’t there were the ones that worked out of town. And front and center, was Mr. Griffin Storm and his motley crew. Even Alison was there, causing me to smile. I really liked Alison, even though she reminded me of my mother more than most. “Your man’s here,” Remy said, getting out. He had his belt undone, and he tucked his shirt into his pants before doing the zipper and the belt up moments after. My eyes, however, stayed on Griffin as he took in Remy, then me. His mouth got hard, and he turned his back to me, pissing me right the heck off. I staunched the desire to go to him, and instead walked to my dad who was talking to the Sheriff. “Dad,” I called, hurrying to him. “You ready?” He nodded. “Ready. You’re taking a small group. Glad to see Remy’s here. He can take another. I’ll take one as well, and the rest of these people can just spread out from there. Sound good?” I nodded, and started to move towards the woods when I realized someone was behind me. I didn’t have to turn around to know it was Griffin. I could feel his body. It was like I’d stuck my finger in a light socket whenever he was in my general vicinity. “We’ll stick with her since we’re not used to these woods,” Griffin’s deep voice said as he moved directly behind me. I didn’t wait for my father to agree or disagree, only walked past my parents’ house and down the side yard into the woods. I took an immediate left and followed the fence line. “This trail will lead us around the outer edge of the property,” I told them. The road was a little over a hundred yards away, but if we spread out, it should be covered quite well. Especially with seven men at my back. Seven huge, tattooed, men. “You okay?” Griffin asked me, placing a hand on my backside for a short time before taking it away again. I nodded, took a deep breath, then released it. “If anyone knows what it’s like to be lost, it’s me. So I’ll search for the girl, but I’m not promising I’ll be able to get very close to the water,” I answered honestly. “The tracks run straight from your dock into the woods,” Griffin said. “We know she’s on the property somewhere, and there was a trail of blood on the doc leading into the woods before the trail was lost. So they know she’s at least pretty far from the water now that they’ve been looking for the last hour.”

I’d wondered how they knew she was on my father’s property. It made sense that Griffin would know. He was the only one dressed for ‘work’ in faded blue jeans, a long sleeved chambray shirt, and his cowboy hat. He even had his pretty badge tucked next to the gun at his hip. “Is it normal for you to be in town so much?” I asked as we looked. “I was stationed here by my boss. I’m not supposed leave the forty square mile area surrounding Uncertain without explicit permission from my superiors,” he answered. I wanted to roll my eyes. The man at my side did whatever the hell he wanted, and didn’t ask permission from anyone. “And why are you stationed here? I would think this area would be a gray zone. There’s nothing here,” I said. I’d been wondering this for a while. There was literally nothing here. Why wouldn’t he be stationed somewhere further South, like Houston? Or possibly north, like Dallas? He hummed, stooping down to look at a track on the ground before standing and answering. “The river,” he answered, adding no explanation. “That sure clears up a whole lot,” I said dryly. He turned his head to the side, and smiled at me. My heart started to flutter. “The waterway is a breeding ground for criminals. The rivers and bayous go from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up here crossing through Caddo Lake. It travels through Louisiana on the way down, which makes it a perfect shipping route for illegal goods,” he answered. I blinked. “You’re shitting me,” I said, stepping over a log. Griffin steadied me as I moved to the other side before gracefully following me over. But it was the man named Mig that answered. “You remember that big weapon shipment that was caught just north of here?” Mig asked. I nodded my head. It had been big news at the time. A huge bust, and the cops had been astonished when they found it. The weapons had been stashed in the hull of a boat behind a layer of spray foam. The many assault rifles they discovered were each individually wrapped in plastic to protect them from the foam. “Yeah,” I nodded my head. “I do.” “That was shipped from the Gulf by a couple of Cubans looking for a huge payout. They traveled all

the way up the Red River and were in the heart of Texas without ever being noticed. Caddo regulars all the way down remembered seeing the boat, and called in the tip once they spotted the boat on the news,” Mig explained. My eyes widened. “That’s amazing.” “It’s fucked is what it is. This body of water needs a fucking weigh station that can stop boats just like the highways do with large trucks. They also need some dogs that can sniff out drugs and explosives.” That was from Wolf. Griffin, though, nodded in agreement. “That weapon shipment was one of four apprehended shipments last month. Those are just the ones we knew about. There are probably hundreds more that pass through here with some type of illegal cargo,” Ridley offered his two cents. I mixed up Ridley and Casten when I glanced at them really quickly. The more you studied the two, though, the differences became more apparent. They looked incredibly alike, although I was assured by Alison that they weren’t related at all. Both were around six three or four with dark blonde hair. Both had brown eyes, the same hairline, and a cleft chin. Ridley, though, was the one with the perfectly manicured goatee while Casten had a well maintained beard. “Have they learned the kid’s name yet?” Peek called over from his position about ten feet away. “They must not know because no one’s calling her name,” I said, thinking that was the reason. “The girl’s deaf. That’s why no one’s bothering to call her name. Her name’s Lucy,” Griffin corrected. I blinked. “Well…that’s just sucky.” I then added, “How do you know all this?” “The man that was with her, the brother, told us before he was transferred to the hospital. The brother thinks that the girl went in search of help. Another boater found the brother clinging to the cooler that came out of the boat,” Wolf said. I nodded. Made sense. And it was eerily familiar. Hopefully nothing happened to the girl, though. “We’re nearly at the back of the property,” I said, stopping when I hit the back corner. “This property,” I said, indicating the other side of the fence with my thumb, “Belongs to Old Man Johns. He’s the one that lives on the other side of the road that runs along my father’s house.” “His property crosses the road?” Griffin asked. I nodded. “Yeah.”

“We should send someone over to check that,” Wolf said as he scanned the area. I shook my head. “No, you won’t. He’s got all kinds of traps covering his property. I wouldn’t go on it if my life depended on it. The girl is on this side of the property if she’s anywhere,” I said in disagreement. “How do you know that?” Mig challenged. I pointed at the fence, then picked up a worm that was lying on the ground and laid it on the fence. The worm got zapped by the electric fence before it fell to the ground underneath. “That’s why,” I answered. “Old Man John doesn’t like anyone on his property, so he’s made it as difficult as he could to allow anyone access to it.” Hoping to skip the discussion of why I knew all about Old Man John’s land, I started to run at a ninety-degree angle from the fence post. Our land was shaped as a large parallelogram, and I was starting in the very middle and working my way back away from the lake. Remy was starting in the middle and moving down to the lake. My father was leading his own search. So, hopefully, between the three parties, we’d find Lucy. The next four hours were spent searching for a little girl that seemed incredibly hard to find, and after looking both up and back down again, I was fairly positive she wasn’t on the property. My dad’s acreage only amounted to about fifty-five acres, and we would’ve found her by now if she’d been on it. Which left me wondering. “Anything?” Remy and my father asked simultaneously once we met up again. I shook my head. “She either walked past our house or is on Old Man John’s property.” “Shit,” both my dad and Remy hissed. “Yeah.” “You’re gonna need to go talk to him,” Remy insisted. I ground my teeth. “Why me?” I asked a little shrilly. “Because you’re the only one he likes,” my father countered. “Mother fucker.” “Don’t speak like that, it’s crass,” my mother said from the front porch. I refrained from asking her why she wasn’t out here helping us as a comeback for her telling me how to talk. Instead, I started stomping across the driveway and even further across the street to the old man’s

driveway. I was very aware of the huge man at my back, and almost happy that he was there. Mr. Johns wasn’t my favorite person. He was mean, and always kept my balls when they’d roll over to his property. Luckily, the driveway wasn’t booby trapped. But the moment I set foot onto his turf, the man came out on the porch and started to glare at me. His eyes, though, widened when they saw Griffin at my back. “What do you want?” Mr. Johns asked. “There’s a little girl missing on our property, or yours,” I said without waiting for the niceties of saying hi or anything formal like that. “And you think she’s on my property?” He asked carefully. I nodded. “Yeah, I do. We’ve checked ours. Yours is the only other option.” With the way the lake was situated around both of our properties, it really was just our property or his, unless the girl took to the road, and that was a whole different can of worms that we weren’t thinking about as of yet. “Where you been, girl? Come inside,” Mr. Johns said as he made his way back into his house. I tossed a look over at Griffin. “Don’t touch anything.” He nodded and we both followed him in, walking up to a computer screen he had mounted on the wall next to his TV. It looked like it could rival Fort Knox. Griffin must’ve known exactly what it was, because he stiffened. Me, though; yeah, I had no fuckin’ clue. Instead, I just stood there like a dumbass while the two men studied the screen. “Looks like the south quadrant…” Griffin said. “What do you have out there?” Some military-sounding jargon was exchanged, and suddenly we were back down the road and across the street talking to the group of men. “The little girl’s on this area right here,” Griffin said, handing them a piece of paper, a square area highlighted in the center, that I assumed was a map of Mr. Johns’ property. When I went to follow them, one look from Griffin had me stopping in place. “You won’t be coming,” he said menacingly. I blinked. “Okay,” I agreed. There was no use arguing. I could tell whatever my argument would be, he would easily counter it.

So I sat on the porch steps and waited for all of the menfolk to come back. And they did twenty minutes later, with the little girl in tow. My heart finally slowed. Standing, I ran forward. “Where’d you find her?” I asked excitedly. The little girl was ushered quickly to a waiting ambulance, and suddenly my body was hauled against Remy’s for a hard, unyielding embrace. Then his mouth came down on my cheek before he let me go. “You remember that time we were trying to get our baseball back?” Remy asked, letting me go only enough for him to sling his arm around my shoulders. At my nod, he winced. “Yeah, she was right there. Stuck in that stupid fuckin’ net that you got caught in,” Remy added. I breathed out a sigh. “Glad you found her,” I said, patting his belly and laying my head against his arm. It never occurred to me that Griffin would be upset by the harmless show of affection between the two of us. Remy and me…we were just that, Remy and me. We’d known each other forever, and we were very close. But, apparently, it was something that Griffin wouldn’t tolerate. And when I saw him walking away with a murderous expression on his face, I pulled away from Remy and started running to him. I caught up to him when he got to the woods, and leaned forward to grab his hand. “Hey,” I said. “Stop.” He ripped his hand away from my grip and turned around with a glare. “Don’t touch me,” he growled. I blinked. “What’s wrong?” He raised a brow at me. “What? Me?” I asked when I realized he was just staring at me like I was infected or something. “I didn’t do anything.” He leaned forward and ran a finger along the seam of my lips. “If anyone can have it,” his eyes went to Remy in the distance. “Then I don’t want it.” With that parting comment, he turned his back on me. I hauled back and punched Griffin in the ass with my fist. He whipped around and glared at me.

All six-foot-two-inches of pissed off Texas Ranger motorcycle man. “Don’t hit me, little girl,” he growled. I raised a brow at him and crossed my arms. “Little girl? That’s not what you were calling me the other day,” I snapped. He lifted a lip at me. “That was before I knew you’d forget me so quickly.” I pulled back and let loose another punch, but he caught it with hilarious ease before it could make contact with his stomach, twisting my arm so I had no other recourse but to turn and face the tree that was at my back. I didn’t back up in wake of his anger. No, not Lenore Lane Drew! “I didn’t forget you,” I hissed, leaning into him. “What is your malfunction?” “You’re here kissing him when you should be kissing me,” he growled. I narrowed my eyes. “You just told me three days ago that we couldn’t be seen together! And I wasn’t kissing him out of passion! He kissed me because the kid was found!” I growled. “I don’t care if it was on your fuckin’ pinky toe. Your mine, not his. So his goddamned lips don’t need to be on you without my explicit say so,” he continued, leaning closer to me. My back hit the tree, and my knees started to go weak. “Okay,” I breathed, the only thing I could think to say. He blinked, I guess surprised by my easy acquiescence. “You’re such a weirdo,” he said. “I’m your weirdo.” I said. “What’s that say about you?” Only inches separated our lips, and I couldn’t help it. I closed the distance. My lips pressed firmly to his, his tongue licked across my lips seeking entrance into my mouth. “We shouldn’t be doing this,” he whispered. “It’s going to backfire.” “Everybody already knows we’re together. Everybody. Everywhere I turn people are asking me where you are. I lie, and they know I’m lying because I’m a shit liar,” I told him breathlessly. He sighed. “Should’ve know this wouldn’t work,” he said under his breath. “I know this’ll backfire. I know it with every fiber of my being.” I shrugged. “Well then, protect me. I’m not a stupid girl. I’ll do whatever you want me to do, all you have to do is tell me. And I only go one of two places, work or home.” “What about when you volunteer?” He countered.

I shrugged. “I just won’t do it until we have this figured out.” He rose a brow at me. “You’d be willing to do that?” I nodded. “Yeah, I would.” He let out a slow, relieved breath. “As long as you listen, we won’t bother to act like we’re not what we are,” he grumbled, looking into my eyes as he did so. I smiled, and his eyes dropped to my mouth. But when he leaned in for a kiss, my father’s rude voice interrupted us. “Get your hands off my daughter.”

Chapter 14 Dad’s. Scaring men, law abiding or not, since the beginning of time. -Lenore’s secret thoughts Griffin I watched in stunned silence as Rodney leaned over, picked up a massive fishing pole with a lead weight the size of a small pinecone on it, and casually cast the monster across the water at the boat that had just passed. The lead weight smacked the boat so hard on the aluminum side that the boat driver instantly let off the throttle and shifted into neutral to find out what had just hit him. “This is a no wake zone, asshole!” Rodney yelled, sounding so much like Lenore that I wanted to laugh. I didn’t dare, though. The man that’d been driving looked livid. So mad, in fact, that he turned the boat around and did it three more times before Rodney picked up a different pole. This one he picked up had a weight that was just as big, if not bigger, than the previous one, but this one had a sharp edge on it. I never worried that Rodney would hit the person for some reason. I knew he had excellent control. It was likely that this wasn’t his first time doing this. And he hit dead center on the boat’s hull, right under the letters that marked it as a registered boat, just at the water line. No sound was made this time due to the water muffling it. The weight didn’t completely puncture the aluminum in the same size diameter of the weight, but it did enough that the water started to pour inside the boat, and the man didn’t even realize it. He was oblivious and continued to do donuts in front of the dock. A dock that was moving, due to the waves put off by the stupid man’s boat. When the boat turned, Rodney yanked, and the weight popped free of the aluminum siding. He reeled it in slowly, and I watched avidly while the man’s boat slowly started to fill with water. “Shit!” The man suddenly shrieked, the horrid sound carrying out over the water. I snorted. “You do this often?” I asked him. A grin kicked up the corner of my mouth as the man had to go tie to the dock four down from us. The one that marked it as private. He was able to get himself onto the dock just in time for his boat to sink under the water.

The man snapped his gaze up to Rodney’s, and I could tell there was a fight on the horizon. Rodney surprised me, though, by standing up and making his way to the other dock and pressing a button at the very end of it. Then, as if in an action movie, chains started to move up around the sunken boat, where earlier they’d been hidden by the water. Lifting the boat up and out of the water, allowing it to drain. Rodney had clearly done this before. Twenty minutes later he was back, none the worse for wear. “Can’t stand it that they continuously disregard the rules of the lake. If you’re not going to follow them, then you shouldn’t be able to be on it,” he grumbled, taking a seat once gain. I smiled and raised the beer I was holding up to my lips. I was ‘officially’ off duty. Although I’d been doing a whole bunch of nothing all day. This was one of the drawbacks of being stationed here. There was a lot of traffic on this lake, but it still wasn’t the same ‘pace’ I was used to. After doing it for a year now, it was still just like it was yesterday, and the day before that. Boring as fuck. “So, tell me, how did you meet my daughter?” He asked, looking over at me. I sighed. “I met her at her store when I came in for batteries.” “She made you buy a dildo, didn’t she?” Rodney laughed softly. I turned to look at him, “Actually, yeah. She did.” Rodney smiled. “Taught her the way of business, I did. You do know she has batteries underneath the counter, right?” My eyes widened slightly. “No…I didn’t know that,” I told him. “Wish I’d have known that. Wouldn’t have been embarrassed at buying one of those things if I had!” “You weren’t embarrassed.” He scoffed. “My Lennie is a model saleswoman. She uses what she has to her best advantage, and doesn’t bat an eye at fleecing a big man like you. I taught her everything I know,” he grinned. I rolled my eyes to the rapidly fading sun overhead, and leaned my head back against the chair. After we’d found the little girl, she’d immediately been taken to the hospital, freeing the boys and me to spend the day in Ronda Drew’s kitchen where she practically force fed us all of the food she’d been cooking while we were searching. Remy had left to pick up his kids, but then he’d arrived back with them less than fifteen minutes later, and I got to see, once again, how well him and his children fit into the family. And it hurt.

Mostly because I wished I could’ve had that with Tanner and me. I wished that Tanner could’ve sat in the Drew kitchen and eaten fifteen cookies too many just like Remy’s girls had. I also wished Tanner had met what would’ve been his future step mother and her family. Because, as I was eating a piece of fried chicken and watched the way Lenore’s face glowed, I knew I wouldn’t be able to function without her by my side. The last few days had been pure hell as I tried to stay away from her. It hadn’t worked too well. I’d found myself riding past her place…hanging out at the waffle house to see her sitting at her counter at work flipping through magazines. I’d watched as she pushed her cart through the supermarket. I literally hadn’t gotten a damn thing done all fuckin’ day long, and I hadn’t liked it. If I wanted to be with Lenore, not a damn thing would stop me. Especially when I knew that she was safer with me, than she was without me. Which had been figured out only moments before I’d gotten the call that a little girl was missing. “You spend a lot of time out here?” I asked Rodney. “Yeah, I do. I spend about four to six hours out here a day, if it’s a weekday. About ten or so if it’s the weekend,” he answered. “Why?” Rodney had the red hair same as his daughter, but that’s where the similarities ended. I’d never seen a tan red head before, but Rodney pulled it off. Which I guessed was par for the course if you spent that much time under the sun. He was also big and bulky, something which Lenore was not. Lenore had delicate curves, smooth, milky white skin, and a softness about her that her father did not. “You ever notice anything suspicious? Anything out of the ordinary?” I asked. He contemplated that for a moment. “Yes. But not often. Mostly, I just see non registered boats that I call in. If I have to pay for that, everybody else should have to, too.” His defense made me smile. It was true. If I had to pay taxes, so should the next guy. “You got a problem with the lake?” Rodney asked after I remained silent too long for his liking. “I always have a problem with Caddo,” I sighed. “Now you sound like my girl. Her and her irrational fear over the lake. Do you know she can go into any other river or ocean in the world, just not this one? How does that make any sense at all? The girl has a screw loose,” Rodney shook his head.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Your girl was traumatized by seeing you hurt in this body of water. I’m sure she has no control over what she feels when she gets near this lake or the bayous. I’m sure it’s a lot bigger than you or me can even comprehend, but regardless. The problems with Caddo Lake are all too real, and not a single river in the nation has the same problem as this one, since the lake runs into rivers at both ends.” I answered. Rodney smiled. “Stickin’ up for my girl,” he said. “I like it.” I shrugged. I didn’t care that he liked it. Nor would I care if he didn’t like it. What I cared about was the fact that I was possibly putting his daughter into harm’s way by just being in her presence. I seemed to have a big fat fucking sign on my back that declared me as numero uno. The big bad man that was trying to fuck with someone’s stupid law getting passed. I’d gotten a letter, a certified fucking letter, in the mail this morning by a right bitch of a woman filing a lawsuit against me for sexual misconduct during a case. A case I’d only started a few weeks ago when I handed my son’s case off to Wolf. A case that I’d yet to question anybody on, let alone some woman. I knew what it was for. They were trying to get me off the case, and shoved so far into hot water that I wouldn’t be able to offer any assistance for anything related to my son or his case. Which was excellent timing seeing as I was the one to file the motion with my superior to execute a wiretap on the phone number I’d gotten from Justin Hayes. They’d tried the scare tactics, and then moved on to attacking me professionally, thinking that if they got me mired in bullshit lawsuits and charges, they could damage my name or position. Little did they know that I was so far off the straight and narrow that it no longer mattered. If I never worked another day of law enforcement in my life, it would be okay. As long as my son’s killers were taken care of, that was. “I can keep an eye out for you.” However, Rodney’s eyes were on the man who was still trying to fix his boat. It was funny to watch. I knew he wouldn’t be able to fix that. He’d have to take it to a welder who could handle aluminum. “I can see that my dad showed you his trick,” Lenore called from the tree line. I turned to find her standing as far away from the river as she could without actually being able to see it.

I nodded. “He did.” She snickered. “Most people know not to speed through here. My dad’s lost way too many fishing poles in the water to deal with them doing it anymore.” I could imagine. But it wasn’t the fishing poles he was worried about. A boat had sunk in this very spot earlier today due to all the tree stumps in the water…and that one had been carrying a kid in it. I could imagine he was pissed off and had no other way to stop them from doing that unless he took control of the situation. Rodney couldn’t be out there twenty-four hours of the day. People needed to learn some common sense. “I think I’m ready to go when you are,” she called. I took the hint for what it was and offered my hand to Rodney, who smiled at me. “I’ll see you this weekend for the BBQ cook off,” Rodney ordered. I didn’t bother arguing as I took his hand and shook it once before giving him a tap on the back with my opposite hand and turning to leave. “So…did you have fun?” Lenore asked once I got close enough. I gave her a look that clearly showed her what I thought about her father’s type of fun.

*** I opened the door to my place and winced as I saw all the piles of shit…everywhere. Case files were strewn across every available surface. Beer bottles littered the floor where I happened to be standing at the time I finished them. The last three days had been long. “Something happened, didn’t it?” Lenore asked. I turned to her, studied her face for a few long moments, and nodded. “Yeah, something happened,” I confirmed. “Can you tell me what?” She asked softly. I thought about that for a long moment before nodding. “Some of it, yeah. You just can’t repeat anything I say to you,” I told her. She gave me a look that clearly showed how annoyed she was with hearing me say that. I raised both hands up in surrender. “I had a lot to think about over the last couple of days,” I said. “When I was forced to give my son’s case over to Wolf, I got his weapons case that he’s been working on. A certain set of individuals are on our watch list because of their suspected participation in a gun smuggling case that runs along this very waterway.” I cleared my throat. “And I got to thinking about the case, and started to look up some of the known individuals that they suspect to be involved.” Lenore nodded. “Yeah.” I really liked being able to talk with her. It was nice to get some of this jumble of mess out of my brain and spell it out into words. “Back to my son’s case, I got an address and number of a man that was threatening my ex-wife’s husband to pass a bill through the senate. One of the names of the men that’d been seen in that house over the last week that they’d had the information is the same man that’s been suspected of smuggling guns on my case,” I continued. “Which was what made me start asking for warrants to raid this house since I now had probable cause that the two cases were linked.” “How would they even know it was you?” Lenore asked in confusion. “If he’s able to get enough information on a Texas state senator to either blackmail or threaten him with, there’s no reason in the world he wouldn’t be able to get information about the Texas Ranger on the case that he’s a suspect in,” I explained. “So you think that the two cases are related, and they’re responsible for all this?” She asked. “That’s my suspicion, yes. I think that by getting this bill passed, it would clear the way to their case being dropped since all the evidence we’ve seized would be thrown out,” I explained. “Not to mention that he wants all the guns that were seized returned so he can deliver whatever shipment they were supposed to be a part of.” “So let me get this straight, you’re being accused of sexually assaulting someone and have the

potential to lose your job. You lost your son to this jack wad. And you think, next, they’ll try threatening me,” she growled. I smiled at her indignation, walking to my room and bringing her with me. The moment my bed was within reaching distance, I put a knee into it and collapsed. Lenore followed me down. “The woman won’t get too far. My boss isn’t a harsh man most times, but he really detests liars and doesn’t abide by it,” I explained, turning over to my back in the bed. “She’ll get torn apart once he gets a hold of her. Not to mention the boys were on it before I’d even realized it was potentially a problem for me.” She followed me as I rolled, moving until her front was plastered against my back. We laid in silence, for long minutes, as we both contemplated our own thoughts. And before long, I heard the tale tail sign of Lenore sleeping at my side. Me, though…I didn’t sleep. I worried, and I started to make plans. Contingency plans that I would put in place if anything started to get out of my control. I had plans forming in my mind, and I had a to-do list now, too. And right there at the top of that to-do list was a visit to Justin-fucking-Hayes.

Chapter 15 If I stop my car so you can cross the road, you better wave your thanks. I also don’t want you to dawdle. Knees to chest, bitch, knees to chest. -Driver’s etiquette 101 Lenore I was mad. In fact, I was beyond mad. After spending the entire day with Griffin, I’d woken up the next morning and found an empty pillow with no sign nor trace of him anywhere. If he’d left for work, he didn’t let me know. Now I’d gone a good thirty-six hours, and hadn’t seen nor heard from him. My one attempt at calling him had taken me straight to voicemail, and I hadn’t tried since. I’d been at his place and I was unsure of what he wanted from me. Should I leave? Wait for him? At first, I’d tried to wait. But it became apparent, after six hours, that he wasn’t planning on coming home anytime soon; nor was he planning to call me. Which got me to thinking. Why should I wait for him when it was apparent he didn’t want me involved in his activities anyway? So, after deciding to go home, even after stopping myself from going through the man’s very bare house, I went home and started cleaning. Then I mowed the lawn. And weeded. And planted a vegetable garden with seeds from three years ago. After exhausting myself, I’d gone to work. Spent eight hours at work and went straight to sleep once I’d gotten home. Which led me to now. I’d just masturbated. Why? Because I was pissed off, and that always seemed to help me relax. Plus, shouldn’t one try out the products she sells? It was one in the afternoon, and I was laying in my bed contemplating the merits of getting up against the advantages to staying in bed all day. I’d just about decided to do it, too, when my front door opened and closed. I could hear him walking through my house.

Well…kind of. I could hear him purposefully making noise. He stopped by my fridge. Got a Coca-Cola. Went to the kitchen sink and washed his hands. Then I heard the bathroom door open, close, the toilet flush, then the sink going again. Why did he wash his hands when he was going to go to the bathroom anyway? That made very little sense. But I was too annoyed to ask him. Instead, I rolled over onto my side and glared at the door. I even managed not to gasp when he showed in the doorway buck naked. “You look rough,” Griffin said by way of hello. I glared at him. “You’re supposed to say I’m beautiful, even if I’m not.” I gave him the stink eye. His eyebrows rose at the annoyance in my voice. “I’m sorry I didn’t say you’re beautiful. I thought staring at you with my hard cock in my hand was sufficient. I’ll be sure to remember you want hearts and flowers on our first anniversary,” Griffin said, giving his cock a good stroke before he let it go and started to climb up between my thighs. I wanted to stay mad…I really did. But the first touch of his lips on the inside of one of my thighs had all of my annoyance and reservations about how he thought it was okay to leave without a word and not check-in for days on end. What he did next was no less than spectacular. In fact, it was extremely amazing. Superb. Excellent. His tongue trailed up the inside of my thigh like a snake seeking heat. And boy did he find the heat. Once his face was near the apex of my thighs, he inhaled deeply, making me feel like a voyeur watching him about to inhale the finest of five course meals. And when his tongue touched my clit, I started to squirm. When his tongue ran the length of my slit, my back bowed off the bed like a woman possessed. Something he didn’t like since it was taking his meal away from him. “Fuck me,” I pleaded when his mouth disconnected from my sex.

He shook his head. “Not a chance. You need to come a few times before I give you my cock,” he laughed, grabbing a hold of my hips and suddenly throwing me onto my stomach. I flopped to my belly with a startled laugh, but I wasn’t laughing anymore when his rough hands pulled me up to my knees. Seconds later his entire tongue was buried in my pussy and I was barely holding onto my sanity. “Griff,” I whispered brokenly. “Please.” “You want to give me attitude when I haven’t slept in thirty-six hours, that’s fine. While you’re throwing it off, I’ll be fucking it right out of you,” he whispered darkly against my center. “B-but you’re n-not fucking me!” I said accusingly. “You want to fuck before you’re ready? You want it rough? You want to not sit for a week? That’s fine. I’ll accommodate you,” he replied, just as annoyed as I was this time. I heard him roughly tear into the condom and slick it down over his cock in less than three seconds. Followed moments later by the feel of his cock at my dripping entrance. Now, Griffin was right about one thing. Normally, I would’ve been too tight. Because it was no lie that Griffin had a monster for a cock. One that would take a lot of preparation on his part and mine to get me ready for. But I’d just masturbated with the newest toy I’d gotten in yesterday only a few minutes before. A dildo that had a rotating head and vibrating pearls in the middle that stimulated your G-spot. And I’d come so hard that I could almost replace Griffin. Almost. But my orgasm had left me feeling pleasantly buzzed, and exceptionally wet as well as blissfully ready for anything he wanted to give me. Something he noticed the second he thrust his cock inside of me to the hilt. He bottomed out inside of me in one single thrust, something he’d never been able to do before today. And he knew instantly. “You masturbated without me, didn’t you?” He accused me, squeezing my ass cheek with one, large hand. He said it with such affront that I couldn’t help but try to soothe his feathers. Because he was about to get riled if the tone of his overly calm voice was anything to go by. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I panted, pushing back against him. He growled. “You.” Thrust. “Do.” Thrust. “Know.”

I gasped. “And what’s it to you?” I panted in between thrusts. “You weren’t here for fucking forever, and I couldn’t get ahold of you to tell you I had needs that needed to be met.” He growled at my answer and slowed down to the leisureliest of thrusts I’d ever felt in my life. In and out. Long, slow glides. And they had me panting within seconds of him showing me just what it meant to be teased by Griffin Storm. His bent ankle came up so that he was resting his foot next to my knee, and at first I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. It was different, yes, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Then the small dildo…the one I’d used last night on myself, was suddenly wagged in front of my face. I hadn’t even felt him reach into my nightstand drawer. So the appearance of the hot pink, slim line dildo nearly whacking me in the nose had me pushing back on his cock in surprise. Which, in turn, hit a spot deep inside of me that I liked, so I did it again, all the while the pink vibrator touched me on the nose. “Suck it into your mouth,” Griffin ordered. “Get it wet for me.” I blinked. I had given the thing a good wash of course. But I was worried about just where he thought he was going to put that thing. “W-where are you going to put it?” I asked nervously as I took the small wand into my mouth and sucked it. I was glad I’d washed it as good as I did. He groaned at the sight, making my core even wetter for him. He laughed. “You need more attention than I can give you? That’s why you need poor substitutes?” He asked me. I let go of the dildo to answer, and Griffin wasted no time running it along my spine. It crested the swell of my ass, teasing my anus, as it slid down my crack, and my eyes widened in panic. I gasped when I thought he was going to do something else with it I wasn’t entirely sure I ever wanted, but he kept going until he hit where we were connected. Then he started to push it inside, next to his cock, causing my eyes to nearly pop out of my skull. “Griffin!” I screeched.

The entire wand was maybe an inch thick at most, but then he turned the wand on, making me start to pant. He held it next to his cock as he started to slowly push in and out of me. Then the orgasm that had been on the verge of exploding before was suddenly there and blowing me out of freakin’ orbit. I screamed. I screamed so loud and hard that my knees gave out and I became light headed. Lights swam in my vision as my brain tried to recover from the lack of oxygen. Vaguely, I was aware that Griffin was coming behind me. His cock jumped and pulsed inside me. The wand was gone. As was my sanity and desire to ever masturbate again. I wasn’t sure I could ever top what had just happened to me. And I was fairly sure my life would never be the same. “You’ve ruined me,” I said from my collapsed position on the bed. Griffin squeezed my ass as he pulled out of me, walking to the bathroom, I guessed to dispose of the condom. I didn’t pay attention, though. I couldn’t move my face. Which happened to be buried in the comforter that’d bunched up underneath my head with Griffin’s exuberance. “You want a drink before I get into bed with you?” He asked from the doorway. I shook my head. “I don’t want anything. I have to get up in an hour, anyway; to get ready to go into work.” He grunted in response, turning his back on me to walk naked out to the living room. I thought for sure we’d talk, but the moment he was back in the room with me, he laid down next to my still splayed body, curled one huge arm around my middle and promptly fell asleep. No explanation about where he was. No apology. No nothing. But knowing that he was tired as hell, and had come to me to sleep when he could’ve just as easily gone to his own place, made it all seem okay. Until he did it again two days later. And again two days after that. By the time a week from when he’d done it the first time rolled around, I was hot.

And not in a very accepting mood.

Chapter 16 Make love loudly. Make war silently. -Bumper Sticker Griffin I was on day eight of little-to-no sleep when I finally tracked my wayward woman down. At a bar no less. At eleven in the morning. A bar where she was surrounded by men watching her every move. Men who had nothing better to do, apparently. She was in the shortest skirt I’d ever seen on a woman. It was so short that it just barely concealed her underwear, and she’s lucky that it did. A black sparkly halter top that accentuated her beautiful breasts, and a pair of black Chuck’s completed the outfit and had her looking absolutely adorable. Lenore’s hair was up in a ponytail, her long hair flowing freely down her back. Her eyes were ringed with black eyeliner that gave her a certain look about her. I’m sure all the men there were having similar thoughts. She was absolutely stunning, even though she looked pissed off. It didn’t make matters any better that Remy was, of course, sitting so fucking close to her that I couldn’t see a goddamned gap in between the two. “Looks like your girl’s moved on again, you poor fucker,” Mig said at my side. I turned my head only and glared at the little piece of shit next to me. Well, ‘little’ being a figurative term. He was, in all actuality, pretty fucking large. He was the size of a small horse, to be honest. A jackass, possibly. “So why are we here again?” Mig asked for the fourth time. “Because my girl is here. I can’t tell you why the fuck you’re following me, though,” I snapped. Mig smiled a tad bit frighteningly at me. “Because someone tried to kill you last night, that’s why.” I ignored Mig’s answer and started in the direction of my girl and the man that was about to have his ass handed to him. Except I slowed when I got close enough to the table that I could hear their conversation. “It’s not ladylike to swear, Lenore,” Remy said with mirth filled eyes. “It’s extremely unattractive.” Lenore flipped him off, narrowing her eyes at him in the process.

“It’s also unattractive to scratch your balls for long periods of time in front of everyone, but do I ever say anything about that? No, you fucking fucker. I do fucking not. So fuck off,” Lenore growled. She was three sheets to the wind and was using fuck like a comma. I wondered what had happened to get her into such a fine mood. And I’d also have to check the urge to scratch my balls in public since it was vastly apparent she didn’t like it when men did that. “Well,” I said, walking up to the table. “This is a loud conversation y’all are having.” I looked around at the patrons of the bar, and nearly every one of them were glaring at Lenore and Remy like they were the plague in the room. “Fuck them,” Lenore growled. “And fuck you, too.” I rose a brow at her. “And what was that for?” I asked carefully. She sniffed at me, refusing to answer, instead turning to Remy and snapping her fingers at him. “Pass the mother fuckin’ salt, bitch,” she ordered. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back, trying in vain to hide my smile. She was absolutely trashed. Whatever was the level of intoxication beyond drunk, it was fair to say that Lenore had exceeded it. Easily. She didn’t sound drunk, though. “What do you do for a living, Mig?” Lenore asked the man at my side. “I’m an ATF agent. Why?” Mig asked shortly. Mig wasn’t big on answering questions, especially ones that came from women. He, for some reason, thought it was because all women were out to make his life a living hell like his wife did. It could never be an innocent question, according to Mig. Lenore’s brows rose at Mig’s short answer, and she leaned forward. “You’ve got to have the worst attitude on the planet earth,” she declared as she leaned even closer. “You remind me of someone I used to know.” Mig’s brow rose. “Oh yeah? Who’s that?” Lenore leaned back and smiled. “My grandfather. He was so awesome,” she gushed. “He used to yell at everyone but me, though. No one else was saved from his abuse.” She smiled dreamily. “He used to go pump gas and complain that the pump pumped too slow. Or when he got a cake from the bakery and the colors were wrong, he’d make them remake it or he’d get his money back. He was the king of complainers.”

It bothered me that she was fond of the fact that Mig resembled her grandfather. In fact, I was downright jealous of Mig in that moment. Lenore hadn’t so much as said a single nice thing to me in the time I’d been sitting there, and I was getting really irritated with that fact. Which was probably why my mouth got away from me. “Why the fuck are you ignoring me?” I asked shortly. Lenore slowly turned to face me with a ferocious frown on her face. Mig picked up his beer to hide his smile, and I wanted to beat the shit out of him. “You want to know why I’m ignoring you?” Lenore asked sweetly. A little too sweet, in fact. I nodded my head. “Yeah, I fucking do, or I wouldn’t have asked.” I was getting just as pissed as she was, which wasn’t a new thing. In fact, I’d always had temper problems. When I was younger, my mother liked to call me her little bull baby because I was like a bull in a pasture. If something pissed me off, I would charge it. I had gotten a check on that part of myself when I’d gotten into the military and the army boot camp sergeants knocked the absolute shit out of me for talking back to them. But it never went fully away. And there were times that it reared its ugly head when I least wanted it to. “Shit,” Remy sighed. “Why don’t y’all take this outside?” Neither one of us listened as we both made our way to our feet. Lenore stood about six inches from me as she moved so close to me I could see the different hues of her beautiful, angry eyes. “I am not the type of woman that you just fuck and sleep with,” she said angrily. “I am a woman that you should take out on dates. I am a woman that you should call and give updates on your daily life. I am a woman that deserves to know that you’re alive and not dead in some fucking ditch on the side of the mother fuckin’ road!” Ahh, the fucks were back. Got it. And I was just as angry as she was. “I haven’t had fucking time to call you the last week,” I replied just as angrily. “I’ve been working. I’ve been trying to catch the piece of shit that killed my son.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Well, would it have killed you to tell me that?” I glared at her. “I was busy.”

“I see,” she said in a deceptively quiet tone. “So what I’m hearing, basically, is that you’re busy, and I don’t rank high enough on your to-do list to warrant more than a quick fuck every few days followed by a nap. Got it. I see where I stand.” She narrowed her eyes. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me, so I’m thinking that maybe you should leave me the fuck alone and tell your damn friends to do the same.” My ‘friends,’ as she called them, were protecting her, and had been for nearly two weeks now. They’d been taking turns watching her during the day and into the night until she got home. When she got home, they used the surveillance I’d rigged up at her house to give her her privacy, but they were still able to ensure her safety by keeping an eye on the feed. “My friends are there to make sure you don’t get shot at like I did yesterday,” I hissed, moving so close that her nose was touching mine. Her eyes widened. And I wanted to keep shouting at her, but I could tell that my words had thrown her. “Y-you were shot?” She stuttered. I fucking loved her stutter. Hell, I fucking loved her! Which was a startling realization in that moment. I hadn’t loved anyone since my ex-wife. Someone that I thought I could count on forever. But I couldn’t, and in this moment, when I realized how deeply I felt about this woman who was so extremely upset with me, I knew I’d have to let go of the anger I still held for my ex-wife. Oh, I could still be pissed off at her husband, but I didn’t have to be pissed off at her. Because if she hadn’t cheated on me, I wouldn’t have Lenore. I wouldn’t have just realized I loved her in the middle of a goddamn bar. Deeply. I refused to think about how Tanner’s life would be affected right now. About how much I knew he’d adore Lenore. He always loved when I was happy, and right now, with the love, concern, and anger on Lenore’s face, all emotions she felt for me, I knew. Tanner would’ve approved. And that was enough for me to realize that I loved the hell out of the woman in front of me. I pulled her in so my mouth could touch hers, and I smiled against her lips. “I’m okay. It was a misunderstanding.” Mig snorted at my back, and I kicked out with my foot, knocking him off his barstool and causing him to laugh. “You’ll tell me what happened later, though, right? I’m not believing it was a misunderstanding,” she

breathed. She smelled like those fruit margaritas she’d been drinking, and tasted like tequila. An odd conversation Lenore and I once had popped into my mind about her not liking the taste of alcohol, and I hid a smile. Tomorrow was bound to be fun for her. She hugged me tightly before letting me go. I let loose of her briefly to retake my seat, then pulled her between my thighs. She fit perfectly in my arms, and I buried my nose in her neck, loving the smell of the lotion she’d put on each time she got out of the bath. I’d have to remember to ask her which one it was and buy her some more. She had about a gazillion bottles in her bathroom of just lotion alone. “What. The. Fuck,” Remy suddenly snarled, pulling my attention to him. I saw he was gazing somewhere over my shoulder, so I turned to see what caught his attention, and my eyes widened when I saw the woman drawing Remy’s gaze. “Shit,” I muttered, as Remy stood and started to barrel his way through the crowd of dancers. He came to a stop in front of a tall, skinny guy in jeans standing next to a horror-stricken Jenna. Then, as if in slow motion, Remy pulled back his fist and slammed it into the man’s face that had been kissing Jenna. The man went down like a rock, falling to the dance floor where he’d been standing only moments before, while Jenna stared on in shock. “You bastard!” Jenna screamed. “What the fuck, Jenna? What the ever loving fuck?” Remy bellowed in anger. “What are you doing?” “You weren’t even supposed to be home tonight!” Jenna shrieked. “Why are you even here?” Yeah, like that was going to go over well, I thought. “I’m here because they moved our rig today,” he bellowed. “Not that you wanted to know since you’re out practically fucking in front of the goddamned town!” “I would’ve loved to know! I bet she knew!” Jenna pointed at Lenore accusingly. Lenore raised her hand to point at herself in mock horror. “Me? Don’t bring me into the middle of this!” “You are in the middle of this! How can you not see that my husband loves you!” Jenna screeched. Lenore narrowed her eyes and I tightened my arms around Lenore’s waist to halt her forward progress in the direction of Jenna. “Do you see what I have right here?” Lenore yelled back. But she was pointing at me, patting my face as she reached up with her free hand that wasn’t locked

around my wrist in a death grip. “I see you have a stand in for my man,” Jenna hissed. Lenore laughed. “Griffin’s not a stand in for your man. Me and Remy don’t have the kind of relationship that Griffin and I have. Griffin’s my man. Remy’s my friend. They both have my heart in totally different ways, and if you’d clear the jealousy out of your heart, you’d see that.” Lenore ground out. I squeezed Lenore’s waist. Although it had crossed my mind that Remy and Lenore were in love with each other, I never actually saw anything more between the two of them then a brother/sister relationship. It was a sibling-like bond that had formed between the two of them over the many years and experiences that they’d shared together. And since Lenore and Remy had been together, as best friends, since childhood, they had that bond that most family would have. That closeness had bothered me…until now. When I saw the devastation on Remy’s face. Saw the love he had for his wife wither and die as he realized what he thought he had with her wasn’t real. That it was just a figment of his imagination. I’d experienced that very same realization myself, only I’d found out a hell of a lot faster than him. “I want you to get your shit out of our house. Make sure you get all of it, because you won’t be coming back,” Remy said tonelessly. “You’ve got an hour. How about you get your man here to help you.” “But that’s not enough time! And I don’t have anywhere to go!” Jenna screeched. By now the whole freakin’ bar was watching this all go down, and not one of them seemed surprised in the least that it was happening. Something Remy was quickly realizing. He turned woodenly to Lenore, and I could practically feel the grief welling off of him. “You knew, didn’t you?” He asked. Lenore’s eyes started dripping with tears, and with the whiniest of voices I’d ever heard come out of her mouth, she pointed at me with accusation. “He wouldn’t let me tell you! It’s all his fault!” Our evening only deteriorated from there.

*** “Well that was thoroughly exhausting,” Lenore said as we walked up her front walk. I’d been pouring water into her for the last hour, so she was significantly less drunk than she had been when I’d first gotten to her. I had to say, though, the woman sure made a competent drunk. I’d never seen anything like it. If it weren’t for the ‘fucks’ I would’ve never known she was lit. “Tell me about it,” I agreed, slowing down when I saw the crack in Lenore’s front door. I could hear Doogan barking wildly from somewhere in the house, and I suddenly had a very bad feeling. “Lenore,” I said, halting her in her tracks. “Here’s my phone. Call Wolf and Mig.” Carefully, she took the phone from my hands and stayed exactly where she was. She scrolled through my contacts as I removed the gun from the holster on my belt. With a two-handed grip, I kicked the front door open, revealing the massive mess inside. Lenore’s living room was destroyed. Her couch was literally ripped to shreds, as if someone unleashed all of their rage upon the unsuspecting piece of furniture. The paintings that’d been on her wall were shredded and broken. The movies, every single one of them, were broken into pieces. Her flat screen was smashed. The only thing left in the entire room were the lights, which lit up the devastation. “Oh, God.” She kept close to my back as I walked throughout the house, finally coming to a stop at the laundry room door where Doogan’s bark was much more pronounced. I opened it softly and moved just in time for Doogan to barrel out of the doorway and head straight for Lenore. He didn’t knock her down, though. He buried his head between her knees and leaned into her, seeking comfort and making sure his mistress was alright. I was happy that he was alive. It could’ve been easily the other way. He could’ve been broken, lying next to the china that was on the kitchen floor. After a quick check of the laundry room produced a similar state of destruction, I walked out into the living room just in time for Mig and Wolf to enter. “Good shake up job,” Wolf observed. I grunted in reply.

“I think this means they didn’t get the message you tried to send,” Mig supplied dryly. “What message?” Lenore asked with confusion. I turned my glare on Mig, and I curled my lip in annoyance at his slip “You fucker.” “Griffin, don’t call him dirty names because I found out you were bad,” Lenore reprimanded softly. “You need to go ahead and tell me what we’re dealing with since I’m obviously in the middle of it now.” Mig and Wolf had smiles on their faces about a mile wide, and I tossed them both a glare as I took a hold of Lenore’s hand and started walking her out the door. “You’ll take care of this, right?” I asked the two men over my shoulder. They both nodded. “Good.” I said, walking into Lenore’s room to grab a few stray articles of clothing. Underwear. Bra. Shorts. A shirt. I wasn’t sure if any of it matched, but it’d work for now until I could get to the store tomorrow. Once done, I went back into the living room to find Lenore was hugging Doogan’s head to her belly while she looked around the room with worry. “Let’s go.” I said, holding out my hand. “Doogan?” Lenore asked worriedly. “What about him?” “I’ll handle him.” Wolf promised. “Where are we going?” Lenore asked worriedly as I pulled her to my bike. I stopped at the side of my bike and handed her the helmet I’d bought just a few days before. She started strapping it on, but kept her eyes on mine, waiting for my answer. “We’re going to Alabama,” I answered instantly, shoving her shit into the saddle bags next to my extra set that I always kept in there for times like these. “Now? But I’m hungry!” She said worriedly. “What’s in Alabama?” I straddled my bike and offered my hand in assistance. She ignored my hand and mounted behind me, placing her feet on the pegs of the bike and wrapping her hands around my middle. After shooting off a quick text to my mom, I shoved the phone into my pocket and started the bike. Proud that she’d be willing to go somewhere with me without me telling her any more details, I tossed a smile over my shoulder and pulled her mouth to mine by a hand at the back of her head. She grinned when I released her lips. Then, that smile disappeared moments later when I yelled, “My mother’s in Alabama.”

Chapter 17 You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you only need balls and a beard…and your momma. -Lenore to Griffin’s mom Griffin “Are you sure your mother wants to meet me?” Lenore asked loudly over the roar of the bike. I sighed and pulled the bike over, shutting it off at the end of my mother’s driveway. I stared up at the quaint white cabin with the dark red shutters. It was on stilts with the ocean at its back, stretching out for miles. The setting sun played along the white sand of the beach making it practically glow with the beautiful red and blues covering the sky. “Yes, I’m sure. She wants to meet you, and she’s excited,” I told her for the fortieth time. “What’s she cooking?” Lenore continued. I rolled my eyes. “I don’t know. I didn’t bother to ask.” I was bringing Lenore to my mother’s. Firstly, because my mother wanted to meet the woman that was ‘changing her little boy.’ Secondly, because I wanted to get Lenore away from whatever threat was looming over my right shoulder. My mom lived in near secrecy off the beaten path in Alabama. She had a quaint little cottage along a thirty-mile stretch of the coast she shared with a few equally private, long-time residents. She, as well as the others that lived in this section, had excellent security. My mother needed it, and not because she was a famous chef. She needed it because my father was a psycho and liked to show up when we least expected it. At one point, my pop was a good guy. But when he came back from his last deployment, he was different. Harder. More…something. Crazy was definitely part of that something. It didn’t all happen at once. It slowly built and built until there was literally no other recourse for my mother and I had to put some distance in between us. He had good days when he could hold a conversation with you and no one would be the wiser that he

was troubled. It was the bad days, though, that had increased in frequency that were the problem. The days where he perceived everything and everyone as a threat to his family. And that meant the maid. My mother’s brother, who was also a military man. The family dog. The family dog had been the last straw. The proverbial one that broke the camel’s back. My father shot our family dog, Sparkle – right in front of me – for barking at me because he wanted to be fed. My mother had then taken me and stayed at a hotel while my father was taken away by my uncle, and had been gone ever since. My father knew right from wrong. He just had a problem with impulse control. When he was in the midst of one of his episodes, he would drift to a place where he couldn’t control his actions and couldn’t decipher right from wrong. He’d always snap out of it, and when he came back to himself, he always knew that he’d done something bad. So he didn’t fight my mom. He knew he was having trouble adjusting to civilian life. He knew he needed help that we couldn’t give him. I still went to see him, but only after I made sure that he was okay first. Starting up the bike, I rode the rest of the way up the driveway and shut it off beside my mom’s small SUV. “Where’s your head at?” Lenore asked softly. I blinked, turning to face her. “Sorry. I was thinking about my dad,” I said softly. “Your dad? I didn’t realize your mother was married.” I nodded. “They’re married. But they’re just not…together.” “What my son is too polite to say,” my mother’s laughter filled voice said from above us, “is that my husband is not well. He suffers from mood swings. He’s unpredictable, and he is dangerous to be around when he’s having an episode, which made it unsafe for us to live with him. I had no choice but to separate from him. He isn’t allowed to come here without our prior knowledge.” I turned to find my mother smiling at me and Lenore, and I let Lenore go to walk up the steep steps towards her. Once I reached the second step up, I opened my arms just in time for my mother to launch herself into them. I smiled as I smelled my mother’s unique scent--roses and mint—as well as the scent of bread wafting

out the open door to her house. Being in her arms always felt right, and the familiar smells made my breathing come more evenly in my chest. My mom always made it better, and it was good to be home. “You’re being so rude,” I teased my mother as I set her down on her feet. My mother gasped, as any good Southern lady would do, and moved around my body to skip down the steps. “I’m so sorry. When he told me y’all were coming, I got so excited to see him again that I forgot you were here!” My mother cried. “My name is…” “Oh, I know who you are,” Lenore smiled. “If I’d have known I was coming here ahead of time, I would’ve brought my mother’s cook books for you to sign, Mrs. Deen.” “My name’s Rayleigh, please use it. Or you can call me mom,” my mother smiled fondly. Lenore’s face blushed as she surreptitiously looked over at me. “Sounds good, Mrs...Rayleigh.” “Oh, I’m so excited. I have some cook books you can have. My office is filled with them,” my mother laughed, pulling Lenore by the hand into the house. Lenore didn’t even spare me a glance as she hurried behind my mother. I followed closely behind, closing the door that they’d left open behind me. My mother’s house hadn’t changed since I’d last been there six months before. After Tanner’s funeral. She had someone come in once a week to clean, I was sure, but besides that, she hadn’t changed it. Which was weird for my mother who was notorious for moving her couches around once a week. “Ma!” I called as I walked into the kitchen. “What’s up with your…” I trailed off as I saw both Casten and Ridley in the middle of my mother’s kitchen. Two men that I’d left three days ago to keep an eye on a man whose days were numbered. Both had their hands full. Casten was rolling out what looked to be dough. He had a red apron on that dubbed him as the ‘butter baby.’ Ridley had on a black apron that was blank, but it was so covered in what looked to be flour. So much so that it might as well have been white. The funniest thing, though, was the apron Lenore was pulling on over her head. On it said, ‘I’m the butter queen.’ I laughed. Lenore narrowed her eyes as she looked down at what had caught my attention, then sighed. “Really, Rayleigh? You couldn’t have found me anything other than one that says ‘queen’ on it?” Lenore asked laughingly.

My mother looked at her with confusion. “What’s the problem?” Lenore smiled fondly. “Nothing. Griffin calls me ‘queenie’ and ‘queen’ because all of my things have tiaras on them. Like my purse…and my…shoes.” She placed her hands down on the flour covered counter as she spoke. I snorted. “No, it’s because all of her underwear have ‘queen’ and tiaras on them. She does have the bag, but that doesn’t have anything to do with why I call her…” I was shut up by Lenore’s flour covered hand coming down flat on my chest. “That’s quite enough.” I winked at her. “Ma, why’d you let these two jokers in?” I asked. I should’ve known they’d come. They were all worried about me. I wondered if Peek had put them up to it or if they’d come on their own. Either way, I was thankful. I highly doubted they’d come for my mother, but in case they did decide to do something monumentally stupid, Casten and Ridley were two of the best in the business. “They said they wanted to come down for a little ‘R&R’ when they called just after you did to tell me you were coming. Knowing it really means they’ve got women trouble and want home cooked meals that they don’t have to cook themselves, I said they could come, too.” My mother explained teasingly, turning to the two men. I wouldn’t put it past them to do that, but not this time. Not that my mother needed to know that. “What’s for dinner?” I asked as I took a seat at the bar. I was staring directly at my mother, but out of the corner of my eye I could see Casten talking to Lenore. Lenore nodded and tilted her head in my direction, and I sighed. “Chicken in bourbon cream sauce. Mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus,” my mother rattled off as she stuck herself into her massive fridge and came back out with a bowl of freshly trimmed chicken. “Oh, and homemade bread.” “Sounds good,” I said, standing up. “I have to make a few calls, and I need to go stretch my legs. I’ll be back in a few.” My mother nodded, but other than that didn’t acknowledge me as she turned to Lenore and started telling her what they had to do first. Catching both Casten and Ridley’s eyes, I moved to the door that led to the back porch, and waited for the two men to appear at my side. They didn’t disappoint.

“When did y’all get here?” I asked once the door closed behind them. “About twenty minutes before you.” Ridley answered, coming up on my left while Casten came up on my right. “Notice anything off?” I asked, keeping my eyes pinned on the ocean that was less than a hundred yards away. “Not a thing,” Ridley said. “Your dad called when we got here, but he didn’t say anything about us being here.” “Hmm,” I said. “He knows you, though. He knows you’re not a threat to his woman.” Dad had my mom’s place wired. He watched who came and went from her place, which was inevitably why I didn’t have a problem with her place not being watched since the beginning of this shit fest. My father did it religiously. He may not be allowed to live with his wife but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to keep her safe. But Casten and Ridley had to think something bigger was going on here for them to come down here without asking me. “You think it’s gonna get bad, too. Don’t you?” I asked. Casten was the one to speak, and he didn’t sound very encouraging. “It’s not that I don’t trust your instincts,” Casten said. “But something else besides the death of your son is going on here, and we think you’re too focused on that to see the bigger picture.” I winced. But I couldn’t say he was wrong. “So what’s your gut got to say?” I asked. “My gut says that they’re gonna get this bill passed by any means possible, most likely because they have someone huge backing this. Bill fucking Gates, huge,” Ridley added. “And nothing’s sacred. Not a kid’s life. Not a cop’s life. Not anyone’s life. And they’ve proved it with your son and tried to prove it to you three days ago.” I couldn’t argue that point. This went beyond just my son, and I knew that. But I couldn’t get past it. My son was more important to me than some bill being passed. If I wasn’t careful, they’d take me out before I could prove who did it. “Did you get anything out of the shooter?” I asked, turning to Ridley. “Not a damn thing. Kid was only twenty and was homeless until about two days before he tried to shoot you,” Ridley answered. “Took him into Paul who booked him for attempted murder. Found out his name is Alex Lively of Tyler, Texas. He was approached about a day before he tried to shoot you. Paid a grand to do it with a piece that the woman provided him.”

“And the woman?” I asked. “No name. Kid’s young and never thought to even ask her. He showed me the roll of bills she gave him, though. I can see why he didn’t care what she looked like. Kid was in desperate need of some rehab. He had needle marks all over his body, indicating he’d had a problem for some time. It would’ve been easy for someone to see that he was an easy target,” Casten said. I didn’t doubt it. I’d been at a coffee shop, of all places, trying to keep awake with some good coffee, when I was approached from behind as I headed out to my bike that I’d parked in an alley. I’d been working the same gun trafficking case that I’d caught a lead on four days prior, and I’d been working on little to no sleep. I had been contemplating the merit of a few hours of sleep compared to trying to talk to the man we’d caught with a shipment of guns passing over the Louisiana/Texas border on Caddo when I’d felt a weird tingling at my back. I turned just in time to knock the gun away from the kid that’d had it pointed at the back of my head. Had the kid not hesitated, I would’ve never noticed as he stepped out from behind the dumpster, aimed at my head, and fired. But he had hesitated, and I’d realized something was wrong in time to stop him from blowing a hole in the back of my head. My eyes wandered along the beach as I finally let myself realize how close I’d come to dying. Possibly by seconds only…and it was a humbling experience. “Thought that house was owned by some old folks.” Casten wondered. I followed his gaze to find a kid, all of two years old, at the most, walking straight towards the water chasing after a football that’d gone about a foot into the surf. But the longer it was in there, the further and further the rolling water took it out. “Shit,” I hissed, shucking my boots from my feet. The next thing to go was my gun as I laid it all on the deck at my feet, took the stairs at a leap and a bound, and started running. My shirt was gone by the time I hit the bottom of the stairs, and I looked down the beach to see if any of the adults sitting around were paying attention to the kid. They weren’t. By the time I’d sprinted half way there, the kid had gone into the water to about ankle deep. By the time I hit the wet sand, he was in up to his chest. “Stop!” I yelled at the boy. You know the tone. Everyone does.

It’s the sound of a parent’s voice, worried and frantic, telling a kid to stop doing what he’s doing and freeze. It worked, too. The boy looked back at me, eyes wide, then his feet were swept from under him as an incoming wave took him out at the knees. The kid flailed and went under. The last thing I saw before he was swept down was the wide, fear filled eyes of a boy that wasn’t supposed to be doing what he was doing. The water felt like quicksand as I took tall, wide steps. My feet ate up the distance to where I’d last seen the boy and I dove under the water. My eyes burned as I looked through the water with them opened, and I came up and flipped my hair out of my eyes. My heart was pounding in my chest as I searched frantically for the red shirt that the boy was wearing. I couldn’t find it. I heard more splashing behind me as I was sure Casten and Ridley joined in on the search, but I didn’t come up for air long enough to look for them to corroborate my thoughts. On my fifth dive underneath the water, with my lungs screaming for me to go back up for air, I finally saw a flash of red. And I swam for it. Eyes starting to dot white with the lack of oxygen in my blood, I pushed forward with one last burst of energy and clasped onto the red t-shirt of the little boy. I was in six feet of water now; by the time I had him in my arms and pushed off to the surface, I was nearly seconds from passing out myself. I hit the top of the water and burst through the surface, taking in deep pulls of air as fast as my lungs could hold them. I pulled the boy up with me, but he did nothing more than flop back into the water face first. I wanted to throw up. I was holding a little boy in my hands that wasn’t breathing. The last time I’d done that, it’d been with my own son. Shaking off those thoughts, I turned the boy over to his back and let his head rest on my shoulder as I paddled into the beach at a diagonal angle. “He got him,” someone yelled from the beach. I didn’t look. Instead, I kept swimming, happy as fuck when I got close enough to the beach where I could walk in. The moment my upper body was out of the water, I held the boy in my hands like one would a baby

and started to breathe for him. I covered his mouth with mine, pinching his nose, as I gave him a small breath. Was I supposed to give half breaths? Or were they full? Would I burst his lungs if I gave too much? Those thoughts sifted through my brain as I did what I could as I hurried to the dry sand. The moment I was completely out of the water, I dropped down to my knees and placed the boy’s body down onto the sand. Casten was there the moment I had him completely on the ground. “I’ve got compressions,” he said urgently. So we both worked together to do CPR on a boy no more than two. Somewhere behind me I could hear Ridley on the phone with 911. I could also hear my mother and Lenore crying. I didn’t look up at them, either. Instead, I focused on breathing for the little boy that looked eerily similar to Tanner, puffing breath into his lungs. And when he started to choke, I started to cry. A lifeguard pushed me back, and I went willingly as I let the professionals take over. Then I heard the father say, “Well, that was lucky.” And I snapped, turning around to glare at the stupid, stupid man. The man who still had his beer in his hand. “You stupid fuck!” I bellowed. “What the fuck kind of father drinks his fucking beer while three men, who you don’t even know, rescue his kid?” I was in the man’s face, and the man was looking at me like I was stupid. “You had it.” He was obviously drunk, otherwise he would’ve thought better of his answer. “You’re going to get fucked,” I hissed, getting close to him. “You can kiss your boy goodbye, is what you can do.” The mother was behind the father, crying, but I could smell the alcohol pouring off of her, too. The entire bunch of them were loaded. Even the minors. “Cops are here, man,” Casten said. I turned to find him looking at me with worry in his eyes. He was wondering if I was about to lose it. I wasn’t.

But I would’ve given anything—anything—to have my son back, and there these fuckwads were, not even watching a precious gift that they still had, while I no longer had mine. “Sir, we’re going to have to ask you to take a step back,” an officer said from behind me. I tossed a look at him over my shoulder and narrowed my eyes. “Fine,” I snapped, taking a step back and keeping both the officer and the parent of the year in my line of sight. “But you’re going to have to make sure you charge him for something. Child neglect, at the least, or I’ll have your badge.” The officer stiffened. “I’ll most certainly do what the situation warrants, sir.” That ‘sir’ was said with such heavy sarcasm that I wanted to punch the young punk’s face in, but I didn’t. See, I exercised self-control every once in a while. Narrowing my eyes at the man as I walked, I turned my back on them both and started walking to where Casten, Ridley, my mother, and Lenore were huddled at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to my mother’s place. Lenore broke off from the group when she saw me coming toward her, and I caught her up in my arms, hugging her to me fiercely. “Are you okay?” She asked, pulling back from me a bit. I nodded. “Fine. Just pissed.” She pressed both of her hands against my face. “Let’s go get you dry.” I nodded. “Our stuff’s still on my bike.” “I got it,” Casten said, breaking off from our group and cutting underneath the house. I started up the steps with Lenore, went through the kitchen and into the living room without saying a word. My mother’s place was on stilts, allowing Casen to get to my bike, up the steps, and up to my room about as quickly as Lenore and I did since we’d had to cut through the house. “Thanks man,” I said, taking my bag from Casten and shutting the door softly behind us. “Are you sure you’re okay?” I heard her ask once again. I shrugged, leaning my head against the closed door. I took huge, deep pulls of air as I filled my lungs with one of life’s precious gift. “My son never had a chance like theirs did,” I told her softly. My eyes squeezed even tighter when Lenore placed her hand in between my shoulder blades. “You did everything right,” she told me. “Forgive yourself.” I shook my head. “It’s not that easy.” I couldn’t forgive myself because I was supposed to be Tanner’s protector, and I’d failed.

I didn’t think that I’d ever be able to forgive myself. I should’ve seen the potential complications with Noreen marrying Justin. He was a senator for Christ’s sake. Why wouldn’t that have been the first thing to cross my mind? Blackmail happened all the time. Usually, it was due to someone wanting money when they kidnapped a child. But not in Tanner’s case. He never got a chance.

Chapter 18 Moving in with a woman is much like saying that her vagina is good enough that you won’t consider other vaginas anymore. -Man Fact Lenore After getting Griffin into the shower and laying down with him, he fell asleep almost instantly. He was exhausted, I could tell. I looked over at him, surrounded by the white sheets that his mother had decorated the bed with. It was about two hours after he’d fallen asleep, and he hadn’t moved a single inch since his eyes had fallen shut, when I realized I couldn’t lay there any longer. His mouth was slightly open, and he was snoring very lightly. Both of his hands rested on his bare chest, right under each pectoral. I studied his defined chest. The tapered muscles that formed a ‘V’ leading down to his pubic area that was only covered by a thin sheet. The security light from outside highlighted the shadows under his eyes, as well as the sharpness of his cheekbones. With a start, I realized that he’d lost weight over the last week. Enough for me to realize that his face was slimmer…noticeably slimmer. His hand twitched, causing me to look down, and I saw that he was covering the tattoo on his ribs with his hand. The one that said one simple word: Tanner. My heart ached for him. If I could give him anything, it would be his son. But I wasn’t a miracle worker, and all I had to give him was me. My support. My heart. My shoulder to lean on. I could hear muted voices coming from somewhere beyond the closed door, and I eased out of bed as carefully as I could as not to wake him. He needed his sleep more than he needed to eat right now. I, on the other hand, was hungry. Almost from the moment I’d walked into the house and smelled the delicious aroma of bread. We’d made the five hour trip all the way there without stopping, and now it was nearly bed time and I hadn’t eaten since brunch that morning. Which was why I slipped out of the room and raided the fridge, heating up leftovers and gobbling

them down while standing. I’d waved to the men in the living room on my way past, and gotten nods in return. After arriving back to the room fully satisfied, I glanced at Griffin. He hadn’t moved so much as an inch since he’d laid down. I took a step toward the bed and leaned over it, placing a soft kiss on his forehead before standing once again. My sore body made itself known then. Riding five hours on the back of a motorcycle hadn’t been as fun as I’d thought it would be. My ass had fallen to sleep within an hour, and my legs had been close to follow. My lower back hurt, and my stomach muscles were sore from clenching them tightly when a car would get too close to us. I turned to the small bathroom off of the room and closed the door silently once I’d crossed the threshold. Hitting the lights, I went through a quick routine of brushing my teeth, moisturizing, and brushing my hair. Once I was finished, I stripped down to my nightshirt I’d hung on the back of the door earlier, sans bra and panties, and walked out The moonlight shining in through the open blinds startled me, and I went to the blinds and shut them tightly so the sun shining in wouldn’t wake us up in the morning. The moment my body slid into bed, Griffin reacted. He turned and pulled me into him, curling his large arm around my body and pulling me in close. I smiled as I snuggled into his arms, hiking my leg up, allowing it to rest curled around his ass. I fell asleep moments later with the calming sound of the sea in my left ear, and Griffin’s steady breathing in my right. But sometime later, groggy from sleep, I woke up confused…and extremely turned on. “You awake yet?” Griffin’s husky, sleep filled voice asked. I nodded against his chest, letting my lips trail along his chest and neck until I found his lips. Then I kissed him, letting him know that I was, indeed, awake. The feel of Griffin moving in between my thighs, his hard, massive cock pushing in and pulling out of my slickened channel had me on the verge of coming without him even put that much effort in. He’d been busy while I’d been asleep. He growled against my mouth as his hands lifted up and cupped my breasts. His thumbs moved over each nipple, flicking and tugging lightly. I lifted my leg up higher over his hip, gasping when I felt him move even deeper inside of my channel.

“God,” I moaned. “Griffin.” He chuckled against my neck, wrapping his entire arm around my back to come to a rest just under my opposite arm. “You fit me so perfectly,” he whispered. “So fuckin’ tight…and God you taste so good.” He licked my lips, sweeping his tongue into my mouth when I gasped at one particularly delicious thrust. “You like it soft and sweet, Queenie?” He asked. I nodded. “I like it however you want to give it to me.” “Good answer,” he said, pulling out very slowly before thrusting back into me hard. My breasts were rubbing along his chest, and it was exhilarating to feel his coarse chest hair rubbing against them with our movements. My hands moved, one to his head where I took a hold of his hair, and the other to my ass, then further back to where we were joined. I let my hand rest there, feeling the way he stretched my entrance for his wide girth. He growled when my fingers met his shaft, then started to fuck me harder, telling me that he’d lost the control by one tiny gesture. “You know what I love about you, Queenie?” He asked me, panting against my lips. “No,” I gasped. “What?” “That you enjoy me so much. You let yourself go, and let me take care of you the way I know you need it. You enjoy whatever I want to do to you, and you trust me implicitly to give you what you need,” he answered, rolling to his back and pulling me with him to rest on his chest. “I trust you with not just my body but my heart as well, Mr. Storm,” I whispered, bending down and gyrating my hips down on his hard cock. He urged me faster, pulling down and pushing up at the same time, taking me higher and higher until on one particular thrust, I started to come. I threw my head back, closing my eyes as bliss started to roar through me. My pussy clenched down on his invading cock, trying to milk his come from him by sheer force of will. He gasped as well and, at the last moment, pulled out of me. Come started to jet out of his cock, pulsing up against my belly as he came hard. I collapsed on top of him, pressing my now sticky stomach against his sweaty one, and tried to recover from the orgasm he’d just given me. “Woke up and your hot pussy was pushing against my cock,” he rumbled. I smiled. “I’ve come to like not sleeping in any panties. Seems it works out well for you, too.” He chuckled. “That it does.”

He rolled me over and got up, turning the light on in the bathroom as he saturated a washcloth to clean up with. Once he’d tackled himself, he came back to me and cleaned me up as well before tossing the wet cloth in the corner of the room next to the laundry hamper. “You’re gonna pick that up tomorrow, right?” I asked sleepily. He laughed, the rumble of his chest vibrating my face as he did. “Yeah,” he said. “Been cleaning up my come rags since I was thirteen, darlin’. I snorted, and would’ve replied but the sudden stillness of the room had the man underneath me going on alert. “Did the power go out?” I asked, listening hard. I could no longer hear the groan of the air conditioning, nor the soft whir of the ceiling fan. Griffin got up and shoved his foot into the sweats that he’d been wearing earlier, picking up his gun from the nightstand. “Stay in here,” he instructed, shoving what felt like his phone into my hand. “Text Casten.” With that he was gone, and I was left alone wondering what the hell had just happened. Was there someone in the house? Power went out all the time…and I never acted like he’d just done. I heard a soft thump-thump that jolted me into awareness. Pulling up his phone’s messaging, I quickly sent a text message to who was listed as ‘Casten’ in his phone book, and rolled off the side of the bed. I slid down the wall and curled into a ball beside the bed and nightstand. And I stayed there, heart pounding, and listened. “You can come out!” Griffin called long minutes later, causing me to let out a relived breath. I tugged on my short shorts as well as the first t-shirt I could find, and hurried out of the bedroom. The three men in the living room were encircling something big and bulky on the ground. I couldn’t see what it was until I got right next to them, and gasped in realization when I saw what was laying there. “What’s going on?” I asked, taking a step back. “Fucker broke into the house,” Griffin said shortly, nudging the man on the ground with the bottom of his foot. The man was unconscious, I assumed, since he wasn’t moving and all. “So…” I said, waving the light on my phone around the room. However, I froze when I saw an older man standing next to Rayleigh. He had his arm wrapped around her protectively, and Rayleigh was leaning into his side, watching

with concern in her eyes. Was that Griffin’s dad? What was he doing here? “Dad,” Griffin asked, just now seeing the man standing next to Rayleigh due to my light. “What are you doing here?” Rayleigh smiled and looked down at her feet. Griffin’s dad’s face transformed into a shit eating grin. “My wife’s here, boy,” was his answer. “And you’re lucky I was, or you would’ve had a lot more than just him to take care of.” I shook my head and turned back to the intruder as Griffin took a step in his father’s direction. “What do you mean more? Where are they?” Griffin asked. “Go check it out.” That was said to Casten and Ridley, who immediately split apart and went in opposite directions of the house. “Outside.” He said. “Likely wishing they were dead if they’re not already.” Griffin’s parents moved out of the room to get dressed, leaving only Griffin and I with the room’s unwanted occupants. My eyes moved to the man on the ground while Griffin pulled out his phone to make a call. The invader was pretending to be knocked out. I knew it. So I studied him closely, keeping my light trained on the man while Griffin argued with someone on the phone. It was a good thing I did, too. With everyone’s attention but mine diverted, he spit something out onto the carpet, and my eyes widened in disgust. I didn’t warn anyone yet, though. I wanted to see what he would do. And it was good I did, or I wouldn’t have seen the nod, then the shake of his head. “What did you just do?” I asked the man sharply. He closed his eyes and feigned sleep, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I grabbed a hold of Griffin’s arm, and pointed to something on the rug. “He just spit that out of his mouth,” I indicated the small black thing. “And he just nodded, then shook his head.” Casten, arriving out of nowhere, bent down and picked it up. “Camera,” he said, fisting it and then shoving it into his pocket.

Griffin grabbed the man’s face to get him to look at him. “You’re going to want to wake up, or what I do to you will seem like child’s play in comparison,” Griffin snarled. Then the stupid man said four words that changed the course of his life. “I killed your son,” the man said, opening his eyes and smiling at Griffin. Griffin’s hands tightened on the man’s face. “You’re lucky that right now I actually want to hear what you have to say, and I wanna hear all about it,” Griffin growled menacingly. “Then I’m going to fuck you up so badly that, if you survive, you’ll be shitting into a bag for what’s left of your life.” The man didn’t react at all, but I could tell he wanted to. He wanted to tell Griffin that he was crazy…and maybe he was. But one doesn’t mention that they killed your pride and joy and not bring the crazy out. “I did. I enjoyed it, too. I liked the way his small body jerked as the AK-47’s bullets tore through…” He wasn’t able to finish because I suddenly found myself in motion. The lamp that’d been on the bar next to me was suddenly in my hand, and I was swinging it at that stupid little shithead’s face. The lamp itself was made of solid metal. It consisted of a shaft about four inches thick all the way down, and I’d admired it from the first moment I’d seen it. The use of it as a weapon had never entered my mind when I’d first admired it, though. The lamp met the man’s head, knocking him unconscious for real that time. My chest heaved. I was glad the fucker had stopped talking. Griffin had enough visual evidence of his son’s death without adding even more to it. I dropped the lamp on the floor, and it rolled until it came to a rest against Griffin’s bare foot. He was looking at me like I’d grown a second head. “What?” I asked, slightly out of breath. And the most brilliant of smiles appeared on his face, followed by him standing up and capturing me around the waist, slamming his mouth against mine. “I fuckin’ love you,” he growled against my lips. “You say that now…when I beat up some man?” I asked, voice coming out high and squeaky. “Yeah, I say that now…because I can’t hold it in anymore. I’ve loved you since you sold me a dildo I didn’t need,” he said roughly. “This is a fuckin’ camera. How about we break up the love fest and figure out just why he needed

video evidence of what went on in here,” Griffin’s father interrupted us. Griffin didn’t acknowledge his father as he stared at me, waiting. “What?” I asked. He narrowed his eyes. “Fine. I love you, too. Happy?” I asked. He nodded and set me down on my feet. “Casten, take her into our room to get dressed completely. Socks and shoes. Jeans, if you have them,” Griffin ordered, completely in professional mode now. “What about you?” I asked as I started to back towards the hallway. He looked up, and the last view I saw of his face was a seriously scary one. “I won’t be needing new clothes…yet.”

Chapter 19 I started my day waking up in a pool of my own blood. Is that how you’d like to end yours? -Lenore, period day 1. Lenore I sat down heavily in the chair of The Uncertain Saints club house, tired beyond belief. And I hoped I never had to make that trip to his mother’s in a two-day time period again anytime soon. It was torture. My ass would never be the same…at least it didn’t feel like it. I was surrounded by all of the Uncertain Saints, and not one of them had a happy look on their face. “Lenore’s store was hit last night and the prospect, took a bullet to the cheek, but stopped them from doing any serious damage to the store. Luckily, it just grazed his cheek. He’s currently at the hospital getting that looked at. Your place was hit a little less than an hour later, but a couple of Ridley’s deputies had been in the process of doing a drive by so they weren’t able to set the place on fire like they’d originally intended,” Peek started, looking very tired. “Lenore’s place was burned down. Nobody even saw it happening until it was fully engulfed due to the time of night.” “Doogan!” I yelled somewhat frantically. I was standing and marching towards the door to do I don’t know what, but I had to see for myself. Griffin caught me around the waist and hauled me back into his chest. “I had Wolf take Doogan home with him the moment we left yesterday, remember?” Griffin asked soothingly. My legs went weak at the knees, and I sank into Griffin’s embrace like he was the soft place for me to land on. “Thank God,” I breathed, eyes closing as bile started to rise up my throat. I missed what they were talking about as I thought about all the things I would be needing to replace. My hair products. My clothes. My books. “…they have your ex-wife hostage,” Peek finished. My spine stiffened as I looked towards Peek to see him staring at Griffin over my shoulder. I could feel Griffin’s arm tighten around my belly, but he didn’t react very much at all to the news. “And Justin?” He asked carefully. Peek shook his head. “Can’t find Justin. Didn’t know about Noreen, either, until Wolf searched through the boy’s pockets who tried to play firebug. They had a picture of her holding a newspaper that they were supposed to tack onto the tree out front.” Griffin took a huge, deep breath, then let it all out through his nose. “My dad’s following behind us with the piece of shit who tried to break into my mom’s place, as well

as the other four my dad took out before they could do any damage,” Griffin said. “I got a little bit of information out of the guy who says he shot my kid, but other than that, just the standard yes or no answers.” Every one of the men in the room stiffened at Griffin’s explanation. “Says he shot your kid…” Peek said carefully. Griffin nodded, and I turned into his arms to wrap mine around his chest, hugging him tight. He squeezed back a little harder than usual, but didn’t say anything else to Peek’s question. “Well…” Griffin’s father said as he came into the room. “I got an A+ in the art of interrogation during Desert Storm. I think it’s time you let me at him, my boy.” Griffin’s eyes closed, and he took a deep breath. “I want that fucker to suffer. I want him to know what it feels like to be missing a part of himself that is so integral that he no longer knows how to live a normal life…can you give me that?” He rumbled darkly. Grunts followed around the room, but it was Peek who answered, not his dad. “I can give you that,” he said simply. “But you won’t be in on it. You’ll be as far away as you can. We don’t need your emotions to play a part in this. We need a solid head with clear thinking. This isn’t over yet. We have a few of their men, but they still have the upper hand because we don’t know who they represent and what they’re trying to accomplish. Yet.” “I think we should just burn every one of those motherfucker’s. I know someone that owns a funeral business. He has a really nice cremator.” Mig said darkly. I think my eyebrows rose to my hairline at that comment. Jesus, these men were bloodthirsty! Not that I blamed them. Griffin was their brother…and that meant that Tanner was important to them, too. “Nobody’s gonna do anything to them. I got my boss working on his end to identify all these men. Four of them have already been identified as gun transporters on multiple gun shipments,” Griffin said, finally letting me go to walk to the table. He opened a file folder and took out four photos. “These four are already in the system. They only need one more charge and they’re back in jail for the rest of their lives,” Griffin continued. “The one that I wasn’t able to get charges filed against was the one that shot my kid.” “Well, I’ve got you covered there,” Wolf said, opening his own file folder. “Mickey Ramsey, thirtytwo. At the scene of your son’s shooting, three witnesses said they were able to identify a tattoo on the suspects left wrist,” he said, dropping a picture of a butterfly on the table. “This is the same picture you sent me last night of the man, as well as the identifying characteristics.” I looked at the one I’d seen Griffin send last night, then at the picture of the butterfly that witnesses had described to the police officers and then had a sketch artist draw. It was an exact match.

“With his admission to killing your son to a room filled with people, we’ve got him locked down,” Wolf said. “Already have Rider on the charges.” Rider, I assumed, was Wolf and Griffin’s boss…but I could be wrong. I’d never heard the name before, but who else would be ‘on the charges?’ While they spoke, I thought about the last day and a half. We’d been to Alabama and back in less than 18 hours. Five armed men had tried to break into his mother’s house and kill us. Someone had burned down my house, and had tried to burn down my business. Tried to do the same to Griffin’s house. Honestly, I was just plain tired. Tired of shitty people in this world making life harder than it should be. My phone interrupted my pity party, and I was glad. Those thoughts could only lead me into darker thoughts, and I most certainly didn’t want to go there. Not yet, anyway. “Hello?” I answered my phone, making everyone in the room pause to allow me to speak. I winced when I heard Dr. Parsons start right in. “You were supposed to have an MRI today, but they said you didn’t show for your appointment,” Dr. Parsons said. I closed my eyes and scrunched up my nose. “I forgot,” I said, pinching the bridge of my nose. “Can I reschedule for tomorrow?” “Today. They have an opening at one p.m.,” he said shortly. I looked at my watch. “That’s thirty minutes from now.” “I know, they had another woman scheduled, but she perished before she was able to make it to the appointment. Sad, but effective since you need it done. You can’t put these off. This is non-negotiable. We need to see if this mass has grown any, and we have to be on top of it. If we miss it even a month, and it triples in size, it’ll get invasive and we won’t be able to do a thing about it.” I sighed. “I can be there. Thank you, Dr. Parsons.” I hung up and turned to Griffin, who was watching me now with his arms crossed over his chest, and a scowl on his face that would make most grown men quake in their boots. “You missed your appointment?” He asked for confirmation. I nodded. “Yeah. But he’s scheduled me at one.” He nodded. “One of them will take you.” I shook my head. “No, y’all are busy. I can drive myself.” Griffin was already shaking his head in disagreement.

“No. Not now. They burned your house down last night. They sent men after us today. You’re going with someone. End of story,” he said pointedly. I rolled my eyes. “Fine.” He nodded. “Who wants to volunteer?” None of them raised their hands. I wasn’t upset, though. Babysitting duty wasn’t as fun as kicking bad guys’ asses, apparently. “I’ll take her,” Griffin’s father said. I blinked. “Uhhh,” I said worriedly. Griffin grinned. “Dad, I know you’re trying to help, but you aren’t trained like you used to be. You’re getting soft.” Griffin’s father snorted. “I think not, son. I can take you.” Griffin raised his eyebrow at his father. “Yeah?” He asked, moving to his sidearm faster than I could blink. Griffin’s dad, however, was just as fast, if not a little bit faster. Only he didn’t have a firearm in his hand. He’d thrown a knife across the room, and it landed in the wall about two inches shy of Griffin’s hand. “You were saying?”

Chapter 20 I wish I was lucky enough to count sheep when I fell asleep like I did when I was a kid. Now I count my failures. -Hard Truth Lenore “Call me Carrick,” Griffin’s father ordered. I nodded. “Okay.” I looked down at my hands, but used my peripheral vision to study him. He’d insisted on driving, so I’d handed him the keys to my car that’d miraculously shown up outside the club house, and got into the passenger seat without another word. “Now, to answer your question that I can see in your eyes: no, I’m not crazy,” he answered. I rose my eyebrows at him. “That’s not what Griffin said when he was telling me about you and why his mother had to have security.” Carrick grinned. “I didn’t say I didn’t used to be crazy, but it’s been a lot of years. And he hasn’t seen me in ten of them…at least until the day of Tanner’s funeral,” Carrick said softly. “I’ve been on a cocktail of antianxiety meds, depression meds, and I’ve been going to therapy for damn near twelve years now. I’m about as stable as the next person, I guess,” Carrick explained. I smiled, staring down into my lap. “So you never met Tanner?” I asked softly. Carrick shook his head. “No. Although I knew about him. Rayleigh gave me updates on him. Gave me pictures. I bought him birthday and Christmas presents. I just wasn’t there because Griffin didn’t trust me.” “Are you upset about that?” I asked quietly, turning to study him. He looked a lot like Griffin, only he had a lot more laugh lines. His hair was completely gray, no longer the lovely shade of blonde that Griffin’s was. He had the same blue eyes, only in a face that was tanner. He had the same bulky build, and the same sense of style. And I liked it. I liked that the two of them were so much alike. In the fifteen minutes or so I’d been riding with him, I realized that Griffin and Carrick were a lot alike. “No. Why berate him for doing the same thing with his kid that I wanted to do with my own?” He asked seriously.

I shook my head. “Yeah, I guess so.” He winked at me. “You’ll know what you’re capable of doing once you have a child of your own. Like that papa of yours, surviving that gator attack.” I raised a brow at him. “How do you know about my father?” I asked curiously, turning my attention back to the road in front of us when a downpour started to take over the world around us. The skies opened up, and thunder boomed overhead, making me grateful I had a large umbrella in the backseat the size of a small Texas town. He grinned. “I’ve got eyes and ears everywhere. Just because my son lives five hours from me doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on in his everyday life.” I nodded in understanding. “Wish I could’ve done more for him once Tanner was gone, though,” he muttered to himself, his statement barely audible to my ears. “I would trade places with Tanner in a heartbeat if it’d make Griff smile like he used to. Although, I saw a glimmer of the old Griffin this weekend after he saved that baby.” I smiled. “He’s pretty amazing, my man,” I confirmed. “And I’m happy he’s smiling again, too.” Carrick pulled into the hospital and parked in the very back of the lot, as close to the exit as he could get without being in the ambulance bay. I smiled to myself, realizing, once again, how much they were alike. “Will they let me come into the room with you?” Carrick asked hopefully. I shrugged my shoulders. “I have no clue, but my guess would be no. It can’t hurt to ask, though,” I pointed out, getting out of the car and grabbing the umbrella from the back seat. He nodded and followed me into the hospital, staying a foot behind me nearly the entire way. Getting wet when he didn’t have to. Once at the check in station, I gave the lady my name and took a seat where Carrick indicated. Once again, at the closest point to the exit, with our back to the wall, facing the door. Like father like son. I didn’t have to wait long, though, which was a rarity for this hospital. “Can he come in with me?” I asked the lady. She shook her head. “He can wait in the hall outside the MRI room, but he can’t be in the room with you.” I nodded. “That’ll do, thank you.”

Twenty minutes later, I was laying inside a huge, hulking machine, trying valiantly to tune out the annoyance of the machine clicking and clanking away. At first it wasn’t too bad, but the longer you sit there, the harder it becomes to ignore. And, by that point, I had a splitting headache that I was sure would turn into a migraine from hell in less time than it would take to snap my fingers. A loud roar of what I assumed was thunder and not the machine sounded overhead, and I sighed when everything around me went black. Seconds later, lights came on, and an odd, eerie, glow filled the room as the emergency lights blinked on. The machine, however, was done for. I assumed it wasn’t needed during a power outage, so I looked down the tube, pulling my head out of the lovely cage that held me still. “Can I get out?” I called loudly. Nobody answered, and I started to freak out. I’d never been what one would call ‘claustrophobic,’ but being in this tube wasn’t really that great for my nerves in the first place. So I started to shimmy out, using my heels for purchase until I was out of the tube and able to sit up. And I wished I’d never come out. Especially when I saw a man wearing a black mask and gray scrubs pointing a gun at me. My eyes darted around, and I saw the bodies of the medical staff on the floor behind the glass of the observation room. “W-what…” I didn’t get to finish my sentence, because in the next instant, he pulled the trigger, and I fell backwards, hitting my head on the large machine behind me. I raised my hand up to my head, wincing in pain as my hand met something warm and wet. I pulled my hand away to look at it and saw red smearing my fingers. “She’s done…” the man said, turning to someone beside him. “The old man’s down, too. Took out Peter, Brady, and Paul, though,” whomever was behind him said. “And the other team’s about to breach the perimeter of the lake house.” My heart sank. And I watched as the two men left the room, unable to move a single inch from where I was. I must’ve had a concussion or something from when I hit my head, because I couldn’t make my brain work correctly. Couldn’t make my mouth speak the words that were screaming to get out. The only thing that did seem to work were my eyes, and I watched the door for long moments after the

men exited the room. I wasn’t sure how long it was when I saw the door inch forward a couple of inches, and Carrick’s gray head pop through. He was on the floor like me, and the moment he saw me, his eyes went wide. I blinked at him, and he dropped his head to rest on the ground for a few long seconds before he started to painfully crawl inside. There was something wrong with his legs. It was almost like they were broken. His arm was at an odd angle, but nothing else looked wrong until you looked beyond his legs. There was a smear of blood following behind him, staining the floor in dark red streaks as he pulled himself towards me. “You alive?” He asked once he was within a few feet of me. I blinked. “That a yes?” He asked. I blinked again. “Good. Because if you’re not alive, we’re gonna have problems.” I blinked again. He nodded and rolled over to his back, painfully. “Shot me in the back. And I broke my arm in the fall,” he muttered. He must’ve read the question in my eyes, because I knew I didn’t speak it. He pulled out his phone, and he spoke all of four words into the speaker before he passed out from what I assumed was blood loss. There did seem to be quite a bit of it now…but it may be because I was bleeding, too. “They shot us. Radiology.” Shot us? I wasn’t shot, was I? I didn’t feel shot. My head did hurt, though. But that was because of the way I’d fallen back…wasn’t it? I didn’t know how long I sat there, slumped against that machine. Could’ve been two minutes…or fifty. I didn’t know. But I’d never been so happy to see a doctor in his white coat before in my life. “Two in here, too!” He yelled.

I smiled. Or at least I tried. Because I knew I’d make it now. I’d held on. And Griffin would be here soon.

Chapter 21 When shit hits the fan, and everyone around you is losing their mind, find the silent guy. The one that looks calm enough to take a nap. He’s about to fuck something up, and you’ll want to follow him. -Rule of Thumb Griffin “They shot her in the head,” I muttered in shock. The doctor nodded his head. “Right. But as far as we can tell, nothing seems really wrong with her. The most damage was caused when she was thrown back from the force, and the following concussion. The bullet entered through here,” he said, pointing at a bandaged part of Lenore’s head. “And exited here.” He continued, pointing at the back of her head, just under her left ear. “But it missed her brain nearly completely, turning the moment it hit bone to travel along the curve of the skull.” He demonstrated this by drawing a U shape in the air. “It hit one part of the brain,” another doctor said from the doorway. I immediately recognized the name. He was the doctor Lenore had told me about…her cancer doc. He held up a computer in his hand and walked swiftly into the room. “I’m sorry to barge in like this. But when I heard about what happened to Lenore, I pulled her file of the scan she had this afternoon before the shooting happened, then compared it to the one you had done once you had the bleeding under control,” Dr. Parsons continued. He stopped directly between the doctor that’d been talking to me, Dr. Jeffries, and I. And on the computer were two scans. One was what I assumed was this afternoon’s, and one that was the one Dr. Jeffries had just shown me. After comparing the two, I couldn’t see a single difference. “I hadn’t realized she was being treated for brain cancer,” Dr. Jeffries said. Dr. Parsons nodded. “This is the mass I was treating her for, it hasn’t grown in well over a month. In fact, it hasn’t grown at all since I’ve started seeing her. From what we can tell, the mass is benign, but because of its location, it causes her to suffer from severe migraines on occasion.” She hadn’t had one of those since I’d started seeing her, but just before she’d left for the appointment today, she’d mentioned that she felt one coming on. “Okay, so what’s the difference between the two scans?” I asked, looking closer, but not seeing anything. “The mass is gone,” he said, indicating where the mass was located on the earlier scan, and then pointing to where it should’ve been on the later scan.

“Okay,” I said slowly. “So what does that mean?” “Essentially?” Dr. Parsons asked. “It could be that the bullet did what we were unable to do, and removed it by forcing it out. Or it could be that it wasn’t a mass, per se, maybe it was more of a cyst, and it ruptured during the fall. I’m not sure we’ll ever really know, though.” I nodded. “And what does that mean for her?” Dr. Parsons closed his computer and set it down on the bedside table next to Lenore’s bed. “I don’t know, yet. And we won’t know until she wakes up,” he explained. “The reason we didn’t operate is because it was inoperable…at least for us,” he said, walking forward to the board. “This part of the brain is called the brain stem. It controls her breathing.” I nodded. “But she’s still breathing on her own,” I said smartly, looking over at Lenore where she laid peacefully on the bed. The only thing signaling that anything was wrong were the two white bandages on her head covering the bullet’s entry and exit wound. “Yes,” he continued. “Which is what we were worried about when we decided not to operate.” “So what does that mean? That we won’t have to worry about this anymore?” I asked. Dr. Parsons smiled. “For right now, I think Lenore is going to be just fine. In the future, I’d still like her to have regular scans done every three months, then move to every six if everything continues to stay clear.” I couldn’t tell whether I was relived she was shot in the head, or upset. It was a combination of both. “So why is she asleep if she’s okay?” I finally asked, studying the woman that I loved. “She’s in a medically induced coma. It’s just a precaution. We’re giving her body a chance to focus its energy on healing, not routine functions, and we’re also waiting for the swelling to go down,” I nodded warily. “Okay.” “Are there any other questions we can answer for you?” Dr. Parsons asked. I took a seat at Lenore’s side, and looked at her. I almost lost her today. “No. Well…I’m going to have to leave in a few minutes on police business. So you’ll need to explain this to her parents who haven’t gotten here yet,” I said, picking up Lenore’s hand. “We can do that,” Dr. Parsons said, patting my shoulder as he started to exit the room. “Dr. Parsons?” I called. “Dr. Jeffries?” They stopped. “Yes?” “Thank you.” Dr. Jeffries smiled. “Your welcome, but I didn’t do anything. It was all on your lady, there. She’s the fighter, not me.”

Indeed, my girl was a fighter. But she wouldn’t need to fight for much longer. Not with me at her side. But now I was about to wipe the earth clean of ten people responsible for tainting our lives with their brand of evil. With one final kiss to Lenore’s hand, I stood up and walked out the door. Calm on the outside, raging in the inside.

*** “Give me the names!” I roared. I slammed the man who was responsible for shooting my child into the wall behind him, suspending him at least six inches off the floor as I did. “Perry. A-Abraham P-Perry.” My blood ran cold. He was a preacher I’d quarreled with when I’d first moved here. The one who’d refused to give me a ride on his expensive boat to show me around the area. Mr. I can only use my boat for church related purposes. No exceptions. Although it seemed a minor occurrence then…now it wasn’t. I dropped the man, and he slammed to his knees, no fight left in him to hold him up. “You better hope you gave me the right information, or I’ll take your limbs off, and burn the stumps so you don’t bleed to death,” I growled, giving him one last kick before I surged out the door. I’d deal with him later. There were bigger fish to fry right now.

*** An hour later “This is all you have on him?” I asked, scanning the paperwork Wolf had just handed me. He nodded. “This was all we’d been able to get on him. He’s a fuckin’ preacher for Uncertain’s only fuckin’ church.” I shook my head. “Good cover, to be honest. Would know everything about this town, too.” “So how’s a preacher able to afford a boat like that? Seems hellaciously suspicious,” I nodded. We had our man. Wolf nodded. “We’ve been watching him since that killer gave you his name. Got the approval from the boss man, as well as the warrant, leaving me with the power to do almost anything I want to.” I grinned a tad manically. “Good. Let’s go.” Thirty minutes later, the entire team was dressed and ready to penetrate Perry’s house. I knocked on the door, not worried that they’d bother to look through the hole. I didn’t care if they saw me. I was ready for them, too. The first man I saw when I entered through the door to Abraham Perry’s place was the man I’d seen on the security cameras across the street from the hospital. The one who’d thrown the black mask in the trashcan when he thought he’d been far enough away from the security cameras. And…I’d give him credit. He had been. At least from the hospital’s. He hadn’t been from the drug rehab place across the street who’d been battling a bunch of petty thefts. I didn’t even pause to think. I pulled my .45 out, aimed it at the man’s chest, and fired. He stumbled back as the bark of the gun sounded in my ear, then fell slowly to the floor as he clutched his chest in his hands. Two more men ran through the door, weapons drawn, but the two men at my side, Mig and Wolf, took them down, too. The next two on the outside of the door’s entrance were smarter. They fired through the walls. What they failed to do, though, was aim for where we were actually standing. Which wasn’t in the line of fire. Lesson one in tactical training. We were down on the ground, and the moment they poked their heads around the wall, they were taken

down. “That’s five. There’s only six reported in the house, and most likely he’s already in the panic room,” I said through my mic that connected me to the other four men that’d come with me. Casten, Ridley, Wolf, and Mig confirmed my thoughts as they scanned the last few rooms. Finally, we came to the very last room where the panic room was supposed to be, according to the information we’d been able to extract from the ‘friend’ that gave us Abraham Perry’s name. “Bet it’s wired,” Wolf said, looking around the room. “He knows we’re here. I’ll bet he has a hidden latch here somewhere.” The five of us moved throughout the room, pulling everything off the walls and bookshelves. I went to the desk and upended it, smiling somewhat evilly when I saw the small button on the floor where the desk had previously occupied. “Got it,” I said, pressing the button. The bookshelf that spanned the entire width of the room started to move to the side, revealing a plain white room beyond it. Then the shooting started. I dove behind the desk I’d upended, and the rest of the men found their own cover behind various chairs and couches. We didn’t waste time in opening fire. Men that came out shooting had something to hide. “Does he have a fuckin’ machine gun?” Wolf yelled as the bullets started to tear through the room. Boom-boom-boom. Over and over and over, the shots came, not slowing down whatsoever. “Sounds like he kept one of those belt fed AR-15’s he was trying to unload in Arkansas a few months ago,” I yelled. We knew, eventually, the ammo would run dry, all we had to do was hold on until that happened. Or we would have, had the man handling the AR known how to handle a gun. Apparently, he only knew how to sell them, because only moments after the shooting started, a scream of pain and panic filled the room. I chanced poking my head around the heavy wood desk, and started laughing when I saw Perry on the floor, crying because he’d burned his hands. “That barrel gets hot when you shoot that many rounds through it that fast, dip shit!” Mig called as he slowly stepped out from behind a recliner. I moved from behind the desk, and approached the man slowly. Even though our intel told us there were five men in the house, there could’ve just as easily been more.

And I wasn’t one to take the words of common criminals. But luck was with us. As Mig got to the man first, he cleared the room and moved the AR away from Perry’s blistered and bleeding hands. “That looks like it hurts,” Casten said, kicking Perry’s hand with one steel toe, booted foot. Perry screamed. I might, or might not have, laughed. I was a sadistic bastard like that, though. “Now,” I said, crouching down on my haunches. “You’re going to tell me why this bill was so important that you felt it was necessary to kill my son to get it passed.” I leaned forward slightly, letting Perry see my eyes. “And you’re going to make me understand. Because I gotta tell you, man, I’m having a hard time, struggling to stay in control here, seeing as I have the man who pulled the trigger in holding, and I’m looking at the man, who claims to be a man of God, that gave the order. So, start talking, and you’d best not leave anything out.” When he didn’t move fast enough, Mig delivered a vicious stomp onto Perry’s blistered hands. Perry screamed. Once again, I smiled. Did I mention I loved my brothers?

Chapter 22 I want to make a difference, and I can make thirty differences per magazine. -Bumper Sticker Griffin “Should’ve known it was because of his fuckin’ kid,” Wolf said as he and I walked side-by-side into the hospital. “That’s the only thing that can motivate a man into acting so stupidly. Family. It’s always the same fuckin’ thing, day in and day out. They sure know how to fuck you over, every single time.” I didn’t comment. I’d have done anything…absolutely anything…to protect Tanner. But if he was a grown man like Ellis Perry, Tanner would’ve been on his own. I’d learned over the last four hours of the interrogation of the elder Perry that his son, Ellis, had gotten himself into trouble just because of the fact that he was a dumbass. If Perry had been smart, he never would’ve sent his son to do a man’s job. Not that Ellis Perry didn’t qualify as a man at twenty years of age…he did. Ellis Perry had been transporting the goods his father had had shipped from the Gulf of Mexico to a small town in Arkansas when he’d gotten pulled over at the border of Texas and Arkansas All would’ve been fine had he not left a small packet of weed out on his front seat. Ellis, thinking the best thing he could do in this situation was not to lie, had told the officer that it was weed when he’d asked about it. So the officer had arrested him, then his car had been searched for other illegal contraband. The officer thought he’d be getting more drugs…he’d been wrong. He’d found over fifty AR-15’s in crates that had been hidden by the camper over the truck bed. It’d made the young officer’s career…and had ruined Ellis Perry’s life. So his father did what all fathers want to do, but most don’t act on. He’d protected his son, and had started threatening people to get what he wanted. When that didn’t work, he moved to blackmail. When that still didn’t work, he moved on to killing someone else’s son to get his point across. Needless to say, it’d worked. Justin had caved immediately. What Perry didn’t count on was me. Nobody ever did. I was vastly underestimated.

“I’m gonna run by the cafeteria…do you want some coffee?” Wolf asked. I nodded. I hadn’t had anything to eat in well over two days. As Wolf parted ways with me, I walked quickly to Lenore’s room, anxious to see her. However, I froze outside of her room when I saw Remy talking to Lenore. He had her hand in his, and he was talking to her in low tones. “He’s a dangerous man, Lennie. He’s always going to bring danger to your home, because that’s what his job is. He’s a Texas Ranger. He’s not going to give up his job, and even if he did do that, he won’t give up his motorcycle club,” Remy said. “They’re a bunch of vigilantes with vendettas. They’ll forever try to right the wrongs of society, because that’s just the type of men they are.” “I don’t care. I want him to be happy. If I die because of something he’s involved in, it was meant to be. I love him. I won’t let you persuade me otherwise,” Lenore’s soft, melodic voice said. I closed my eyes. Was my life appropriate for a woman? Would me being who I was endanger her? And if I did endanger her, would she be able to protect herself? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she couldn’t. She didn’t have the skills to protect herself, and even if I did teach her self-defense, she didn’t have the mentality to shoot someone. Although she was a spunky woman with an amazing attitude on life, she didn’t have what it would take to live with protecting someone by taking their life. And she might have to do that if she stayed with me. I’d do everything I could to protect her, but there wasn’t a way for me to protect her for the rest of our lives. At some point, she’d be alone. Just like my son had been. And look where my son had ended up. Dead. As these nasty thoughts sifted through my head, I backed up further and further until I was at the end of the hall. Then even further until I was at the elevators. And as the doors closed on the floor that Lenore was on, I realized that I’d just made my decision. Lenore would find someone else. She’d find someone…someone like Remy…that would be able to protect her.

That would be a good father to her kids. That could actually have kids with her that would be protected. I exited the elevator with my heart in my throat. I got on my bike…and rode. I didn’t have a destination in mind. But anywhere would be better than there. Anywhere would be better that didn’t remind me of her.

*** Three days later “You should’ve listened to me, Justin,” I said, hunkering down so I could look straight into Justin’s eyes. “You should’ve done what I said, but you didn’t.” I moved my knife to run along the fucker’s throat. The tip of the knife dragged along his delicate skin, leaving a faint white line as it did. It didn’t cut the surface of his skin, but it did let him know I was serious. “I want you to know,” I said, putting both of my elbows on my knees. “That I will forever be watching you. When you get out of this prison in fifteen years, I’ll be there waiting to take you home. I’ll be with you every step, ensuring that you never live another happy day for the rest of your years.” Justin squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m sorry,” he cried. “Thank you for saving my wife.” I glared at him. “At one point she was my wife, too. She may be a bitch, but nobody deserves what you had a hand in doing to her. No thanks needed.” I shook my head, dropped the knife into the cup holder of my work car, and got out. I dragged Justin out, pulling him into the police station by his arm. Once I was at the desk that would allow me to turn over my suspect, I gave one last word of advice to Justin before I left. “Make sure you watch your back. Wouldn’t want some overzealous inmate doing anything bad to you.” With that parting comment, I left, smiling. The next fifteen years would be absolutely terrible for him, and I promised about four prisoners cigarettes once a week if they ensured it. Money well spent.

*** One day later I stared at the man who’d shot my child. Stared at him so long that his body was strung tight with tension. “I’m tying up loose ends,” I said finally. The man was a cocky little asshole, one who’d been hired by Perry to fake a drive by shooting and had given the man what he’d thought was a ‘fake gun.’ The man hadn’t known what he was getting into. But that didn’t negate the fact that his hand had been the one holding the gun that’d killed my baby boy. His finger had pulled that trigger. Whether he’d meant to do it or not, was beside the point. It was time for him to be a man. Own up to his mistakes. “You should’ve told the cops what had happened in the first place instead of running to that piece of shit Perry. He didn’t protect you. And you shouldn’t have been protected in the first place. You should’ve realized that this whole goddamned thing was fucking wrong. That it wasn’t right. If you needed money, you should’ve gone and gotten a job like the rest of the world has to do,” I growled. Ellis Perry’s best friend, Carter Womack, looked like he’d been through a thousand wars. And he had. “Let’s go,” I said, pointing to the police station. “Make sure you tell them what I told you.” The club had had him locked up at headquarters for days while we extracted every single bit of information from him. Now that we no longer needed him, it was time he went to where he was forever going to be. His court appearance was just formality. He’d be going to prison. He’d spend the rest of his life behind bars. Or he’d die. I’d given him that option—but he’d asked to be put in prison—so he could think about his sins for the rest of his life. And I was happy to oblige. Not that I believed him when he said he wanted to think about his sins for the rest of his life. The little fucker thought he’d get out, that someone would break him out if they had to. That wasn’t going to be the case in this instance, though. The man didn’t deserve anything less. None of Perry’s goons did.

I wouldn’t stop until every last one of them either died or spent the rest of their lives paying for what part they played in my son’s death, whether directly or indirectly. I didn’t believe in Karma. Karma was something that people that weren’t willing to defend themselves believed in. Karma was the coward’s way out. Life’s a bitch, and karma comes in the form of my fists for those that think they can get away with taking the easy way out.

*** One day later “Keep up your meds,” I said to my father as I opened the door to the car. My father glared at me as he stood up, wincing only slightly as he put weight on his weak leg. He’d been shot in the back, just above his left hip. The bullet had clipped a nerve as it passed through, and dad was still having trouble putting too much weight on it without it collapsing out from under him. Hence why I’d brought him to my mom. Which had been where he wanted to go in the first place. Apparently, they’d been carrying on right under my nose for years, and neither one had thought it important to tell me. “He has to stay off his leg as much as possible for the next week. He needs to start physical therapy within the next four days, here are his papers,” I told my mother as my father walked away from both of us. My mother smiled up at me. The smile quickly died as she caught the look in my eyes, then narrowed her eyes. “What’s wrong with you?” She asked softly. I shook my head. “Nothing you can fix. Gotta go.” I ignored her urging me to wait, and instead walked back to my side of the car, dropped my ass into the seat, and took off down the road, getting out of there as fast as the gas pedal would let me. Where, I didn’t know. But again, anywhere but there.

Chapter 23 I hate being sexy, but I’m a bearded man. I can’t help it. -Fact of Life Lenore Karma was a bitch. And I hoped Griffin’s balls rotted off. I hated crying. It made my head hurt. But right now I couldn’t make myself stop. I’d been crying for three hours now. I’d gotten out of the hospital to find myself dropped off at Griffin’s house. Alison had picked me up, and she’d taken me to Griffin’s house…where there was no sign of Griffin anywhere. Alison handed me a rhinestone-encrusted tiara keychain, and had waved goodbye in less than twenty minutes. Woodenly, I’d gone into Griffin’s house and was flabbergasted at what I saw. The entire place was furnished. No more did it have second hand knockoffs. Now the whole place was decorated in the rich colors that I loved. Blue. Teal. Light brown. The kitchen was redone. The floors were wood instead of linoleum. And on the table, in the very middle, was a note. “The house is yours. Alison got a crew to update it for me. I put it in your name as of last week. ILY. Be safe. – G,” I’d read aloud. And now here I was, eating a gallon of ice cream with Doogan laying at my feet. The fridge had been stocked with all of my favorite things. Whole milk. Chocolate syrup. My favorite brand of vanilla ice cream. After walking throughout the entire house and realizing that Griffin had sufficiently erased everything that was him out of it, I sat down on the couch with my ice cream and started to think. I was wearing a pair of Queen underwear, an exact replica of the ones I’d lost in the fire, eating straight out of the bucket. I was sitting on the new couch, really missing Griffin’s old one, and wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do.

First things first, I had to find him. I wasn’t supposed to be doing much walking around due to the gunshot wound to my head, but desperate times called for desperate measures. I should’ve known the man would do something like this. Mr. I’m No Good For You. I’d thought we’d gotten past that, but apparently we hadn’t. I’d woken up only minutes before nurses had said a large, sexy man, fitting Griffin’s description, had shown up at my door with flowers. From what I could conclude, Griffin had heard Remy’s warning to me to stay away from him. Whether he heard my declaration of love or not was yet to be seen, but I knew how Griffin’s mind worked. He’d already felt terrible for my being shot. I hadn’t had to see him to know that he was feeling that way. Griffin was a martyr. If he thought I’d have a better life without him, he’d leave, no questions asked. To top it off, he’d heard Remy, a man he’d felt threatened by since the very beginning, telling me to be aware that Griffin would always have trouble following him, and I just knew Remy’s words were the tipping point of his guilt. Oh so slowly, I stood up and made my way to the back bedroom that used to be Griffin’s to find pants. I’d always wondered why he’d not used the master. But I’d yet to ask why. I made a mental note to do so when I finally got him back where he belonged. I opened the first drawer I came to and nearly hit my knees at seeing exact replicas of my favorite pants replacing the ones that perished in the fire. Except they were brand new without that little stain at the front pocket. I continued to dig, finding that he’d replaced nearly every single thing in my wardrobe down to pinpoint accuracy. He’d spent the last two weeks being a very busy boy. These actions were not the actions of a man that didn’t care for his woman any longer. These were actions that say he loved his woman. And I finally realized that there may be an easier way to get him to come back to me without me looking for him at all. Smiling a tad bit manically, I slowly threaded my feet into my pants, and zipped them up. They were a little tighter, and I thought that maybe soon I should start working out, and possibly give

up all my sweets and carbs. Especially, if I was going to be wearing a wedding dress in my future.

*** Operation Convince Griffin to Come Home- Day 1 “No,” I said to my mom that was sewing my new biker bitch vest. “The lettering looks more like this,” I said, showing her a picture of Griffin’s motorcycle club ‘cut’ as he called it. If this was going to work, it needed to look authentic. It needed to be something that would draw everyone’s attention. And with it being under such close scrutiny, it needed to be perfect. “Take a chill pill, darlin’. This is only what it’ll look like at first. I still have to widen the letters, and change the background color. Just go sit over there and let me do the work,” my mother admonished. “And stop picking at the scab on your head.” “I’m not picking at it. I’m touching it. Do you think it’ll scar?” I asked. “No,” my mother said, but her concentration was no longer on me. It was on the ‘Property of Griff’ leather vest I was asking her to make for me. I’d read up on what ‘biker bitches’ did to please their man on the internet. The first thing I saw was the ‘Property of’ patch. Women usually wore it because their ‘old man’ gave it to them. I was going to wear it because I wanted everyone to know I was Griffin’s. If everyone knew, then that’d take away his excuse that I was safer without him. Mostly because I’d be insinuating myself into his world whether he wanted me there or not. Starting with the pretty vest. An hour and a half later, I was modeling my new vest. “What do you think?” My mother asked. I smiled excitedly at her. I loved it. I would’ve jumped up and down in my excitement, but the sudden movements still hurt to do, so I would have to do with clapping my hands. “Alright,” I said, walking into my mother’s arms. “I’m going to get out on the town, let everyone see me. Starting with the bar that the boys like to go to.” My mother shook her head. “Don’t get yourself in trouble,” she said, shaking her finger in my face. I laughed. “See ya, thanks again for making this awesomeness,” I told her as I walked out the door. But my first stop wasn’t the bar.

It was too early yet. After doing a quick run by my store to see Apple, the prospect that’d been working my store for nearly three weeks, I walked next door to Annie’s, my new friend that I’d met just last week. She’d been at the hospital, of all places, letting her comfort dog, Morelli, do his thing on the hospital wing. When she’d come in my room with that huge ball of fur and slobber, I’d fallen into instant friendship with both Annie and Morelli. It’d been during our short conversation that I’d realized we were neighbors. Annie had opened up a small shop where she did nails, hair, and massages out of the front room of her business. She lived in the back two rooms. “Annie!” I called as I pushed through the front door. “I need your help!” Annie smiled as she walked through the back entry. “Hey girl, you up for that haircut finally?” She asked. I nodded my head. “Abso-fucking-lutely,” I confirmed. “I want about eight to ten inches cut off, and I want to straighten it. I’ve got some impressing to do tonight.”

*** Three hours later “Are you sure I don’t look whore-like?” I asked Annie. Annie shook her head. “No. You look fine. And your ass in those jeans looks amazing.” Annie was a straight talker; I’d come to find out. She didn’t waste time giving false platitudes. As we entered the front door of the bar, I had to curb the urge to squirm as nearly every eye in the place landed on me…and the vest I was wearing. Shit. “You’re doing fine,” Annie said smoothly. “Keep going.” I did, walking straight up to the bar and completely ignoring the table of bikers at the back of the room. I knew they saw me. Knew they’d see the Property Patch the moment I sat down and gave them my back. I moved to the very furthest bar stool and sat down, keeping my back to the room as I smiled up at the bartender. “I’d like a Coca-Cola, please,” I said. The bartender nodded then looked to Annie. “You?” “I want a Jack Daniel’s and Coke, please,” she said. I raised a brow at her. “I got my own problems, girly,” she laughed. “If you only knew.” I waved my hand in the air. “I’ve got nothing but time.” A loud slam startled me, and I turned my head to see the back of Griffin’s back as he pushed through the door to the bar, hastily making his exit. I smiled. Day one seemed to be a success.

*** Operation Convince Griffin to Come Home-Day 2 “Now what are you going to do?” Annie asked me from her perch on the new couch that Griffin had bought. It was so comfortable. And I couldn’t wait to snuggle with him on it. “Well,” I said. “I wore the vest to get gas today. And to the supermarket. As well as to my shop to check in on Johnny. I’m out of places to wear it to.” “How about a photoshoot?” Annie suggested. “With just the vest…and your underwear.” I raised my eyebrows at her. “Well…that could be kind of fun. Do you know someone that does photos like that?” I asked. She nodded. “I do.” I just shook my head. “Well you’re just a Jack of all trades, aren’t you?” She nodded. “Photography is my passion. The other stuff is just things I needed to learn how to do to make the pictures I take beautiful.” That made a lot of sense, how those would go together. “Okay. Where do you want to do it?”

*** Griffin Operation Convince Griffin to Come Home- Day 6 “You’ve got a package at the office,” Wolf said. “I set it on your desk in your office.” I blinked. I was never at the office…or at my desk, for that matter. Most of my work was done from the field or from home. It wasn’t often that I even saw the inside of those four walls. “Who’s it from?” I asked as I walked out to the boat. I was staying on Peek’s houseboat. It was cowardly, but it was the only way I knew that Lenore wouldn’t follow me. I figured the bayou gave me a little bit of added protection from any surprises on Lenore’s part. If she didn’t know where I lived, she couldn’t show up unannounced, and I wouldn’t have to break my promise to myself to protect her from me. It was bad enough that she looked so good in the Property Patch she’d had made. With my name on her back, I felt like I was on top of the fuckin’ world. When she’d entered the bar wearing that and those tight jeans molded to her ass, I’d nearly lost my nerve and broke my promise. But I’d somehow managed to gain enough composure to leave before I did anything stupid. But the last week hadn’t been easy. She was actively trying to kill me; I was sure of it. First the vest. Then the provocative clothes. The new look with her beautiful long red hair cut to mid-back had nearly brought me to my knees. Then she’d told Johnny she no longer needed him to work anymore, because she was taking the store back over. Yesterday I’d had a box of things delivered to me via Johnny, who was now working for her part time and getting paid. When I’d opened the box and saw the fleshlight, lube, and porn DVD starring, you guessed it, a hot red-head, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay strong for much longer. Now I was at the point where I was just seeing how far she was willing to go. And an hour later, as I arrived at the office and walked into my office to see the package, I knew I didn’t have anything left in me to resist her. “Holy fuckin’ shit!” Wolf exclaimed. I covered the photos, the beautifully provocative photos of my woman, and shot Wolf a glare.

“Get the fuck out of my office,” I snapped. Wolf held his hand up. “Sorry. I was just seeing if you wanted to go over a case with me. But I can tell you have a lot more…sexier…things on your hands.” Indeed, I did. And a hard on to go with it.

Chapter 24 Always love a woman for her personality. They have multiple, so you can choose. -Griffin’s secret thoughts Lenore With a panic attack slowly starting to rise further in my chest, I stepped into the boat that would lead me to the houseboat Peek had pointed out to me a few short minutes ago. I’d told Peek I didn’t need his assistance, and woodenly walked down the plank…I mean dock. I got in the small motor boat, and expertly started up the engine. I knew he’d gotten my package. I’d watched from across the street as he’d hurried out of the office, the package containing my photos under his arm, and a sizeable erection in his pants. Only, he didn’t come to me. He’d gone first to the clubhouse, then out onto the lake, never letting the package go the entire time. Now, here I was, riding to my death. But I needed Griffin, and if I had to overcome my fear of the stupid Caddo Lake, then I’d freakin’ do it! So I spun the stupid four horse power motor’s throttle around, and tried not to vomit as I moved swiftly to the boat house. I turned my head to look back, unsurprised to see not just Peek on the dock, but Mig, Wolf, Ridley, Casten, and Alison. I gave a small wave with my hand that was on the throttle, and smiled when every one of the bad asses waved back. Alison squealed and jumped up and down, waving with her whole body. I laughed shakily as I turned back around, watching as the boat came closer and closer. And when the boat was about ten feet away, Griffin appeared from the cabin, and his eyes widened. He almost looked green by the time I turned the motor off and drifted right up to the boat. The bow bumped against the rubber bumpers on the house boat, and the small flat bottom rocked. I clutched the seat and froze slightly, but Griffin’s awe-filled voice shook me out of the panic that I could feel roaring at me at about a hundred and ninety miles an hour. “You’re so fucking stubborn!” Griffin yelled, getting down on his knees to grab the handhold at the front of the flat bottom. I narrowed my eyes at him. “Stubborn?” I snapped. “Who are you calling stubborn, you stubborn ass?”

Griffin’s eyes smiled, but his face stayed flat. “What are you doing here?” He growled. I stood up and launched myself at him. He caught me, but in turn had to let go of the boat to do so. We both fell to the deck of the house boat in a heap, but it didn’t stop me. I smashed my mouth down on his and moaned at the taste of him on my lips. His mouth was just as demanding as mine, and suddenly I was flipped beneath him, no longer the initiator, but the receiver. As in, he gave it to me, and I was expected to take it. And take it I did. I wrapped my arms around him, pulling him even closer to me. His mouth took mine as his hands hastily started to yank at my skin tight jeans. I lifted my hips to help him as he started to shove them down my hips. At the same time, I started to pull the shirt up and over his head, but his cut got in the way of me doing that, and I growled in aggravation. He pulled away from me, his beautiful eyes shining with laughter, as he took out first one arm, followed quickly by the other. Then he hooked a hand in the collar at the back of his neck, and swiftly pulled his white t-shirt over his head, tossing it onto the deck at our sides. I was thankful for the sides on the houseboat, which not only kept me from seeing out, but also the others, who I was sure were still avidly watching from the dock, from seeing in. In the next second, Griffin was descending down my body, leaving sexy, wet kisses on my ribs just under my breasts. Once he reached my belly, he pushed my shirt up and over my breasts, looking up my body as he slowly kissed each hip, one after the other. Then his mouth moved even further down to my bare sex. A bare sex that I’d just waxed completely for him. “I like it,” he growled, then started feasting on me. My back bowed as he sucked my clit into his mouth, circling the little bundle of nerves with his tongue as he did. I gritted my teeth and raised my hands to grip a metal object above my head, not bothering to look and see what it was. Mostly because all of my attention was on how Griffin’s head moved between my legs. How his lips glistened with my wetness.

How his eyes sparkled as he watched me watch him. The whole entire thing was fucking erotic as hell, and I couldn’t wait to do this over and over again. But soon I stopped thinking, as two large fingers sank into my pussy, filling me up as he went deep. “Mother fucker, you’re ready for me already,” he said roughly. I nodded my head. “I haven’t had you in a very long time. Stop depriving me.” He chuckled as he gave my pussy one long, languid lick from anus to clit, then kept moving up my body. He went up onto his knees as he unbuttoned his pants then pushed them over his hips. And I swallowed thickly as he pushed them far enough down for his erection and low hanging balls to swing free. A growl rumbled in his throat as he saw the look on my face once I saw his cock, and he dropped down to a push up position above me, letting his hard dick tease the folds of my sex. “I don’t have a condom,” he said, pushing into me slightly. My eyes widened. “Then why’d you let me get this far!” I bellowed. He smiled. “You’re my woman?” He asked. I nodded my head. “I’m your woman.” “You want my babies?” He asked roughly. Joy surged through me. I nodded. “I want nothing more in this world than to have your babies. To be with you for the rest of my life,” I said, placing both of my hands on his bearded cheeks. I was gifted with a brilliant smile, the same one that’d appeared on his face the moment he saw me riding in the boat towards him, and I loved it just as much now as I did just a few long minutes ago. With the utmost care, he guided his cock back to my wet entrance, and slowly sank inside. My eyes widened at the feeling of him so bare and hot inside of me. He filled me up to the point of pain, and even further to the point where I thought I couldn’t take any more of him. But I could…and I did. He leaned forward and placed his mouth on mine, smothering my moan and filling me up until he was completely sheathed inside my heat. “God,” he gasped, leaning forward to rest his forehead against my temple. I realized he was being extremely careful not to hurt me in any way. He knew that my head still pained me. Also knew that I was supposed to be cautious…and that didn’t surprise me.

The man was extremely good at being in the know. “Take me,” I pleaded. He moved his head, his face a line of concentration and determination. “I’m trying not to blow my load before we’ve even begun,” he said through gritted teeth. I giggled. His eyes narrowed. “Stop moving,” he ordered. I giggled harder. Fucking giggled. Like a teenager. Luckily, my man thought it was cute as hell. “Do you know what those pictures did to me?” He asked. “Do you know how fuckin’ sexy you look with my name on your back?” I shook my head. He pulled all the way out, until his cock head just barely kissed my entrance, then surged back inside. I gasped, pussy clenching around him. He pulled back out, and followed it up with another brutal thrust. And I came. I was a two pump chump. And he didn’t fare any better once he felt my juices start to slicken his way. He lost control, pumping in and out of me frantically. Unevenly. Short. Hard. Shallow, soft. There was no rhythm at all to his movements as he came, long and hard. He filled me up completely with his essence, and if we didn’t make a baby right then, I’d be astounded. With the love the two of us shared, and the way we were so explosive when we came together, there was no way for us not to have created life out of that. “I love you,” I whispered to him, wrapping my hands around his neck. He ran his lips along my neck, up my jaw, to settle on my lips. “I love you back. Over the fuckin’ moon. Past all the motherfuckin’ stars,” he said, locking his gaze with mine. I snorted.

“That was eloquent.” He shrugged, lowering himself until I was taking most of his weight. “Don’t need eloquent. That’s what you’re for,” he said. I rolled my eyes. “You’ll have to marry me if you expect me to be your mouthpiece,” I teased.

*** We were married one week later. My daddy walked me down the aisle. My mother sat with her idol, Rayleigh Deen, and her husband, in the front row. I was the happiest ‘Biker Bitch’ on the planet.

Epilogue What do you marinate your meat in? -Pussy Lenore One week and a day later “I could totally get used to this marriage thing,” I whispered, rolling over onto my belly and burying my face into the pillow. Griffin rubbed my ass up and down, laughing as he said, “It’s only been a day. How do you know you’ll like being married to me?” “Any more nights like the one we just spent together will obviously make me happy. All you have to do is give me one of those once a month, and it’ll be worth it,” I teased. Griffin snorted in amusement, and I opened my eye that wasn’t squashed into the bed and stared at him. “What’s so funny?” I mumbled, letting my eye drift closed once again. He sat up, running his hand down the length of my exposed leg before he stood up and headed to the bathroom. We’d forgone condoms since the boat, and consequently I had a mess that needed to be cleaned up. Which was why a wet rag hit the exposed skin of my thigh, causing me to screech as the coolness clashed with my overheated skin. “God!” I jerked up to my knees, tossing a scowl over my shoulder at the man who was currently laughing while he brushed his teeth. I grabbed the rag and covered my pussy as I walked into the bathroom, making sure to bump into his back so his cock touched the freezing cold porcelain of the sink. He growled and I laughed. I was so happy I could cry. Six months ago, I would’ve never expected my life to turn out like it had. And while I got ready for my night at Uncertain Pleasures, and Griffin got ready for a night of surveillance on Caddo Lake, I wasn’t upset that we weren’t going to spend our entire night together. We’d have many more days to come. And as he wrapped his arms around me the moment I walked out of our bedroom, I once again was struck with how handsome he was. How lucky I was for having the man in my life. “Gotta go, Queenie,” he rumbled. I turned in his arms, looking up at him, and studying him for a long moment before I smiled.

“Be careful.” He shook his head. “Always am, Queenie. Love you.” Then he was gone, and although the worry for him was there, I set it on the back burner, knowing his brothers would have his back.

*** Four weeks later “Hey,” I said, shifting nervously from foot to foot as I watched him start undressing. His eyes were heated, and knowing. “It’s positive?” He asked. I nodded. “How’d you know?” I asked. His eyes, those beautiful blue ones I loved so much, were shining now. “I know your body even better than my own. I know the changes…saw you change every day for the last week. A man knows when his woman’s knocked up,” he teased to hide the emotion pouring through him. My mouth dropped open. “You’re terrible,” I said, shaking my head and walking towards him, He opened his arms to me, and I walked into them willingly, burying my nose into the crook of his arm. The leather holster that crisscrossed his back and looped around each shoulder was pressed into my cheek, but I found that I quite liked the reassuring feel of it. It signaled him as being home. The leather and gun oil smell represented the start of a new day for us, and I counted on smelling it every night to ensure that he was safe. His body was wound tight as I wrapped my arms around his chest, and I leaned my head back to study his face. He was studying the ceiling with great concentration. “You okay?” I asked softly. His eyes tipped down to meet mine. “More than okay,” he replied. “For the first time in a while I’m happy. I miss Tanner every single day, but it’s gotten to the point where I can make it through the day without breaking down. And that’s because of you. Of this.” He pressed his large palm lightly against my belly and the tears pooling in my eyes spilled over and ran down my cheeks. “Don’t cry,” he whispered, pressing kisses to my cheeks where the tears were streaming down my face. “This baby’s going to have one hell of a guardian angel in Tanner. Tanner always wanted a brother and sister.” And for some reason, that only made me cry harder.

*** Six months later I swear, sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve gotten as far away from reality as I have. There I was, sitting on the kitchen floor, eating the cheesecake that’d just fallen off the counter onto the floor, thanks to a very rambunctious Doogan. “Dammit,” I said, looking down at the pile on the floor. “I really, really wanted that.” Luckily, I’d just swept and mopped the floor, otherwise I would’ve really been crying instead of doing what I was doing. It was shameful, sure, but it was a cheesecake! One doesn’t simply pick a cheesecake up off the floor and throw it away. If you’re a true lover of all things sweet, like I was this pregnancy, then you didn’t waste one single bit of the good stuff. You did what you had to do. Which was why as I was sitting on the floor, and heard the loud pipes of Griffin’s motorcycle pulling into the drive, I didn’t bother to get up. Doogan was in the corner, looking at the pile of cheesecake with longing eyes, but I kept tossing him glares to ensure he didn’t think he was out of the proverbial doghouse. The front door opened, then closed, and I took another scoop of cheesecake with my fork before looking up. The moment Griffin made it into the kitchen, he stopped and stared. I’d admit, this was even weird for me. But again, it was cheesecake! “I guess I don’t really ever have any idea what to expect from you,” Griffin said, walking up to me. He dropped down onto his haunches next to me, gave me a quick peck on the lips, then walked to the counter where he poured himself a glass of whiskey. Neat as always. He was so predictable. “One day you’re going to have to drink something other than whiskey neat. Maybe you should branch out. Have a beer first,” I teased, licking the fork I was using, then pointing it at him. He grinned unrepentantly. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said by way of answer. The front door to our place opened, and I looked up just as I’d scooped up another bite to see Mig enter with a thunderous scowl on his face. It disappeared the moment he laid eyes on me, though.

His eyes went from my fork filled with a scoop of cheesecake, to the floor where the cheesecake splattered, to me, and then he smiled. “I can always count on your weird wife getting me out of my funk,” Mig said, walking around me to Griffin. He held out a file folder then grabbed a fork out of the drawer that held the silverware, then hunched down and scooped up a piece of cheesecake. “These pregnancy cravings are a bitch,” Griffin supplied as he took the file folder from Mig. “Good shit. Too bad it’s on the floor,” Mig said, pointing at the pile with his fork. I smiled up at Mig, taking in his dark eyes, and black hair. The black leather vest covering his shoulders denoted him a member of the Uncertain Saints MC. Then I looked at his eyes and studied the black bags underneath. “You okay, Mig?” I asked worriedly. He scooped up another bite of cheesecake before answering. “This case…it’s bad,” was his answer. He didn’t expound and I didn’t ask. I realized rather quickly that the easiest way to get along with him was to give him what he wanted instead of arguing about it. “How’d your date with Annie go?” I asked instead. He smiled. “Good.” That was it, but that was all I needed. The two of them had had fun, and there’d be more dating going on in the future. “Hey,” Mig asked suddenly. “How’d your appointment go?” Griffin’s eyes went to me, and he stared at me in concern. I’d forgotten to tell him I had an appointment today, and the only reason Mig had known was because he’d seen me coming out of the hospital as he was going in. “It went well. They didn’t do an MRI this time because I’m pregnant. They only did a blood test. It came back clean,” I answered quickly. It’d come back clean every single time I’d had an MRI or any blood work done. The bullet that’d entered my brain had taken out the mass on one fell swoop. Even my doctor said he couldn’t have been more precise. And I counted myself lucky. The mass was gone. I was healthy. My baby was healthy.

I was married to the man I loved. Speaking of the man I loved, Griffin looked at me like he wanted to spank me, and I smiled at him. He narrowed his eyes. “Alright, baby. I’ve got to go meet the boys. You want help cleaning this up before I go?” He asked, indicating the cheesecake. I shook my head. “No, I’m going to finish what I want of it, then clean it up. I love you.” He looked down at me for a long time, studying my face, the soft swell of my belly, and the cheesecake before he shook his head, squatted down, and kissed me silly. “I love you, too.” He stopped, looking back at me. “And don’t think we won’t talk about how you forgot to tell me you had an appointment today.” I grinned. That conversation would prove to be…entertaining.

*** Griffin Four months later “Tanner,” I said to the marble headstone where my son’s body was laid to rest. “I’d like you to meet your baby brother, Aiden.”

Shock Advised Tai’s Book 4-6-16 Prologue Every action has a reaction. Every step has a consequence. -Fact of Life Tai “You’re fucking shitting me,” I said, staring at the papers that my friend just handed me. “For real. They give you twenty-five hundred dollars just to donate sperm. It’s perfect. Seriously. Easiest three minutes I’ve ever given,” PD said. I looked at him. “That’s all it takes you; three minutes? You’re weak.” I punched him in the arm. PD hit me at a moment of weakness. Any other time, and none of this wound not have mattered. But then another bill had come into the mail, and I showed how weak I was. “Thanks, PD. I appreciate you telling me this, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. I don’t think I could live with myself knowing I had kids running around out there without me to watch over them.” And I really couldn’t. My life was fucked up enough. I didn’t need to add a kid to the mix. But the longer I thought about it, and the more I thought about the debt I was under, the more and more appealing that sounded. I had a thirty-five-hundred-dollar credit card bill right now that was just gathering interest. Before, when I’d lived in San Antonio, I was making more money. Nearly double what I was making now. Now that I was living in Kilgore, though, I was making enough money to cover my house payments, truck payment, and I had just barely enough to eat, seeing as nearly half my check went to my debt. I was a fucked up teenager, and it’d continued into my early twenties before I’d gotten my act together. Now I was paying for my mistake of not caring about what the real use of a credit card was for. I’d gotten my debt down from over eighteen grand to just over thirty-five hundred in four years. So that money was looking good right about now since it meant I wouldn’t have to eat Ramen Noodles for the week. “Seriously, I think you should think about it. Carrie is letting me do it,” Johnathan said enthusiastically.

Carrie was his new girlfriend whom he thought might turn into a full time thing. “Alright, boys. Time for y’all to get to work. That truck ain’t gonna wash itself,” the chief called. I sighed and picked my rag back up from the bucket, running it over the chrome of the fire truck. But the idea of being a sperm donor took hold…and before I knew it, I was going up there after work for blood tests and sampling.

*** Mia I was desperate. “He’s got leukemia. At this point, the only thing that would help is a bone marrow transplant…or a blood transfusion from a sibling…or a parent that has the same blood type as him,” the oncologist that was taking care of Colt, said. I looked over at Colt, taking in the deep circles under his eyes. I’d only thought he was sick with a stomach bug, but after four days of him still not feeling well, I’d decided to take him in. And thank God I had. “So what do I need to do?” I asked, leaning forward in my seat. Colt grunted in affront that I would dare to move his bed, and I smiled down at my little boy, even though all I wanted to do was cry. “We’ll get him in for more blood work. From there, we’ll test compatibility with any of our registered donors. From there, we’ll see what happens,” he said softly. I looked down at my sleeping baby, and knew exactly what desperation felt like…because if it was possible to make him healthy, I’d steal, kill, and lie to make it happen.

*** Later that afternoon, as I laid Colt down into his bed that was directly across the room from mine, I stared at him in despair. With one final caress to his head, I immediately walked down the hall and took a seat at my computer, starting the research process. And by the end of the night, I had a plan of action. All it would take was getting a little sperm.

*** One month later “But he was the perfect match,” I whispered, looking devastatingly at the phone like it was a live wire ready to lead me to my death. “No.” I looked over at Colt. That was my only chance. Then the lady’s words repeated in my head, over and over again, taunting me. “We’re sorry, but the man that was going to be the donor asked us to take his specimen off the market. He had a change of heart.” A change of heart. Would he have had the change of heart had he known what he would be saving? He’d been my only hope. Some way…somehow…I had to convince him.

Author’s Note: Hello, my lovely readers! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve now hit the special bonus chapter I promised you all. This is a scene that everyone’s asked for featuring Sam, Silas, Sawyer and Cheyenne. I know some of you wondered about Sam and the way he treated Silas in Counter To My Intelligence, so I wanted to give you a little bit of insight as to why. As always, I want to thank everyone for reading my books, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this one. With love, Lani

Boomtown Blues Apologies suck. That’s why most people don’t offer them. -Cheyenne to Sam Sam “Sam,” I heard my name called for the fourth time. I also ignored it for the fourth time. “Samuel Mackenzie.” Cheyenne said with irritation. “If you don’t answer me, I’m going to send the kids over here.” I stopped and turned, looking at my wife. “What?” I snapped. Her eyes narrowed and I knew I’d stepped in it. “I think you need to check that shitty attitude and fucking talk to me before I pick up this stick at my feet and beat the crap out of you with it.” She hissed. I crossed my arms over my chest. “You could try to make me.” I said slowly, letting my words come out nice and slow so she wouldn’t mishear me. Her mouth dropped open, and then she turned and left without another word. “Fuck.” I said once I could no longer see her through the path she’d taken back to our house. “Mother. Fuck.” Tossing the axe down at my feet, I grabbed the shirt I’d discarded over an hour ago and started stomping my way back to the house. It wasn’t long before I caught up to Cheyenne. Mainly because she sat on one of the tree stumps I’d chopped down, crying her eyes out. “Goddammit.” I grumbled, yanking my t-shirt on and making my way over to my wife. I hated it when she cried, and I’d been making her do that a lot lately. Not intentionally, no. But I’d been doing it nonetheless. “Cheyenne,” I said gruffly. “Fuck, I’m sorry.” “You have to stop this.” She cried. “You can’t keep doing this. Something’s got to give.” I looked down at my boots, covered in wood chips, and knew she spoke the truth. “I know.” I said roughly. “Where are the girls?” She hiccupped. “With your dad and Sawyer.” She whispered brokenly. “They came and picked them up, took them to

the snow cone shop.” “Really?” I asked. “I thought dad had to work today.” I wouldn’t admit that I’d been keeping tabs on my father. I’d tried to work up the nerve to go talk to him—them-- for a couple of weeks now. “The girls called him, and asked if he’d take them to the shop after school let out.” She said softly, wiping her eyes. I dropped down to my knees. “I don’t know how to tell him.” I said, letting my head lean down to rest against the top of her knee. She let her hand trail over my head, her fingers tangling in my hair. “It’s time.” I let out a huge breath, then nodded my head. “I know.” “I’ll take the girls to the grocery store with me…give you time to explain.” She whispered. I nodded again, then leaned backwards and tilted my head so I could reach her face with mine. “I fucking love the shit out of you, Cheyenne.” I whispered. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She placed a soft kiss on my cheeks. “Good thing you’ll never have to find out.”

*** My dad pulled up in his truck with all three of my kids filling the back up. He had a smile on his face that reached from ear to ear. One that promptly dropped the moment he saw me standing there waiting. Letting my hands drop to my sides, I tried to appear like I wasn’t pissed off, which for me wasn’t as easy as it looked. Seemed that’s all my head gravitated toward lately, and I fucking hated it. “Girls!” Cheyenne called. “Hop in mommy’s car, I gotta go grab a birthday present for your aunt!” The girls squealed in excitement, and quickly transferred their little bodies from my dad’s truck to mine. I didn’t bother to comment that her vehicle wasn’t a car. It was an SUV. Right now my mind was on other things…mainly trying to find a way to apologize for being such a dick all my life. Dad got out of the truck, as did Sawyer, although much more reluctantly than my father. I was sure Sawyer still wasn’t as comfortable with me as she’d like, and that was my fault as well. I’d gone out of my way to be a dick to both her and my father, and I had a lot of ass kissing to do. Especially if I was laying out all my secrets. “Son,” Dad said. “What’s going on?” I lifted my hand to grab the back of my neck, trying in vain to work the knot out of the base. “I need to talk to you.” I said quickly, ripping off the Band-Aid, so to speak. “Okay,” he said, looking at Sawyer. I held up my hand when she started to leave. “No,” I said, gesturing to the seats that were lining the front porch. “Both of you have a seat. I need to get a few things off my chest.” Sawyer looked at Silas, then with a nod from him, she took a seat and crossed her arms over her chest. Her body was angled toward my dad, almost protectively. I smiled slightly at that, happy that my dad had that once again. When my dad took his seat, his arms crossed loosely over his belt, I let out a long breath before taking another deep one. “I have about a million things I need to tell you…. but I’m just going to tell you what I should’ve told you weeks ago.” I shook my head. Fuck, more like years ago. His brows lifted. “I’m sorry.” I said roughly. “I’ve never in my life felt more ashamed than the day your wife gave me a

dressing down while I was in your hospital room.” Dad looked up, his eyebrows furrowed. “What?” He asked, turning to look at Sawyer in confusion. Before Sawyer could answer his silent question, I barreled forward. “Those were the worst days of my life. They ranked right on up there with nearly losing Cheyenne and losing Dougie.” I said, my gaze going to Sawyer’s and my dad’s now-linked hands. Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly. “I’ve been battling PTSD for about eight years now.” I said, not stopping until I purged myself of everything. “And I’ve taken out everything on you, because you were easier than taking it out on Cheyenne…or my kids.” My dad sucked in a breath, and I knew he was about to let me off the hook. I stopped him before he could, holding up my hand for silence. “It got really bad there for a while…” I said. “The day you brought Shiloh to me. Well, let’s just say I was in denial, and I was making it way worse than it needed to be.” “Sam…” Dad started. I held up a hand to silence him. “A couple months before you met Sawyer I was involved in that bank robbery, and the PTSD I’d been experiencing went to new levels. Almost to the point where I was getting violent.” I pushed through. “I also egged Shiloh on,” I said. “I should’ve stopped, but Shiloh was so desperate to make everyone happy that she chose to keep me happy rather than piss me off in fear that I would flip out.” “That’s not true,” Shiloh said from behind me. “I was just as responsible here as you were, and I owe them just as much of an apology as you do.” My head dropped to my chest as Shiloh came to a stop beside me. She grabbed a hold of my hand, offering her silent support. I’d been a shitty person. Here my sister was, a grown woman that I’d manipulated and forced to choose sides, still trying to protect me when I’d done absolutely nothing to protect her. Not like I should have been doing. My father looked in between us, a smile curving up the corner of one lip. “Never thought I’d see the day, you know.” He said. “You and your brother have it…but you and your sister never did, and I fucking like that.” The confusion on both of our faces must have showed, because dad laughed. “Let’s just get this shit over with. We’re all sorry. I’m sorry. You’re sorry. She’s sorry. Now, who wants a bacon cheese burger?” He asked. “I drove all the way over here, and I’m eating a burger from Jucy’s. Y’all can join me or not, I could care less. I’ve been craving bacon like a motherfuck…”

“Really Silas?” Sawyer said tersely. “Can you at least try not to curse like a sailor?” Dad turned his gaze to his wife. “I’m old and set in my ways. That’s the benefit of age, darlin.’ It means I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks.” He said in reply. “Not even me?” He looked at her so long that she started to blush. I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I’m pretty sure we’re there. You know how the kids like their bacon.” I answered, trying to get off whatever subject that was making Sawyer blush from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. “Bacon’s not good for you, dad. You know that.” Shiloh added her two cents. “Gotta die from something,” Dad said to her. “Might as well be bacon overload.” Funny enough, I couldn’t help but agree with him. Over imbibing on bacon would be a good way to go.

*** Six months later My hand circled around the fuzz at the top of my newest sister’s head, my mind going back to when my own children were that tiny. “She’s gorgeous.” I said to Sawyer. “She’s freakin’ tiny, too.” Sawyer laughed weakly, her hand falling to the side to grab a hold of my forearm. “Sam.” She whispered. I turned my gaze to her. “You’re a good man.” She said softly. My eyes dropped closed. “Sometimes I don’t feel like one.” “That’s the problem with being a leader. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions. But you, Sam, are a good man, through and through. You need to let yourself off the hook. We understand. You’ve apologized. It’s time to put all this behind us, and move on.” She continued. The baby let out a sudden cry that soon morphed into full out ‘I’m hungry now’ mode. I handed my baby sister over, smiling at the way Sawyer’s face turned soft when I placed her daughter in her arms. Leaning down, I placed a kiss on the top of Sawyer’s head. “You did good.” I told her gruffly. “And I’ll be back later with the hellions, so prepare yourself.” She laughed quietly, looking up at me with mirth in her eyes. “I’m not seeing the problem there.” She teased. I snorted. “Yeah, like I’m gonna believe that lie.” She full out laughed, and I waved at her before exiting the room, my eyes scanning the hallway for my father. He’d exited before I’d entered, or so Sawyer had said. I knew he couldn’t be far, which was why I’d chosen to take the stairs to look for him. I found him, too. He was sitting in the stairwell just outside the floor’s doors. He was sitting there staring blankly at the wall, and I smiled as I took a seat at his side. Reaching into my pockets, I pulled out two cigars, handing one to him before lifting the liter out of my pocket. “You did good, old man.” I said. “She’s beautiful.” “What can I say?” He replied. “I make pretty babies.”

“I’m not pretty.” I informed him. He snorted. “You were. You were actually the prettiest out of them all. You had the longest eyelashes I’d ever seen, and eyes so wide and expressive.” He shook his head. “My girls are adorable…but you Sam. I was proud as shit of you. I was so young and dumb, and there you were, making me become a man, wanting the world and stars for you.” He swallowed. “And I fucked up with you.” “You did what you could.” I amended. “And I understand, and would have done the same thing had I been in the same positon.” He made a humming sound in the back of his throat. “You don’t think I would have?” I asked him, lighting my cigar and handing him the liter. He lit his, too, taking a short puff before letting it out. “I don’t know what you would have done, son. All I know, is that I’m glad you’ll never have to experience it.” He said solemnly. “I got a service dog.” I said. “He’s supposed to help me when he can feel an attack coming on. And I’m taking my meds. My head’s getting clearer every day. I feel like I can fucking breathe again.” The door’s above our stairs opened and a woman’s nasally voice said, “Does it smell like smoke to you?” Dad snorted and stood, then started to make his way up the stairs. I followed him, laughing under my breath when my father passed them, calm as could be and cigar in his mouth, not a care in the world. I nodded at them, imitating my father, earning the same glare that my father had received as he passed as well. “Nice,” I said. Dad shrugged. “Stopped trying to please everyone a really long time ago.” He said. “Don’t give a fuck if she gets pissy or not.” My phone chimed and I pulled it out of my pocket, laughing at Shiloh’s text. I showed it to my dad, and his face lit up with a smile. “My two girls.” He said. “Send that to me, will ya?” I nodded, tapping some buttons and sending it to him. His phone pinged, but he didn’t take it out of his pocket. We sat in silence then, smoking our cigars, and didn’t say another word for long minutes. “You know,” he said, finally breaking the silence. “I love you, right?” I turned to my father then, letting everything I felt about him shine in my eyes.

“I love you too.” I said. “And I couldn’t ask for a better father and grandfather for my children. Just wish I would have told you sooner.” He slammed his hand down on my back. “Where do you think you got your stubbornness from, son?” I tossed him a grin, then threw my arm around him, too. And for the first time in a very long time, my father and me were good.

*** 1 year later I looked at the pictures we’d gathered over the years, but my most favorite, the one that stopped me in my tracks each and every time I looked at it, was the one with my whole family in it. Sebastian and his kids. Shiloh and her kids. Me and my kids. My dad and my little sister. All of us were standing in a circle, kids being held in arms or on hips, or even on the floor playing at our feet. All of the adults were in a dep discussion about the merits of bacon, and someone had snapped the picture of us all arguing. There was love in the picture, as well as laugher. What wasn’t in the picture, though, was hate. There was no room for that anymore, and I found that I quite liked it that way.

Books by other authors you might enjoy: HAMMER BY Jessie Lane and Chelsea Camaron Almost as if in slow motion, I see Ice standing there. My prez continues to hold the door open as he nods his head to someone who must be standing just out of sight. As my heart starts pounding away in my chest, and my forehead breaks out into a sweat from my oncoming anxiety attack, a flip-flop covered foot with pink painted toenails appears, followed by a trim leg in a tight pair of jeans, which is attached to a shapely pair of hips. My eyes keep traveling upward over her abdomen, which is hidden by her T-shirt, and then up some more to her breasts that are definitely not hidden by the same shirt. No, her shirt is hugging her ample chest in a way that gets little hammer below the belt stirring in a way he hasn’t in a long time. I blink once, twice, but I can’t shake my reaction to her. She’s beautiful and unlike the usual women I go for. She’s shapely but tone with wild hair, though not in a trashy way, and she has a nervous smile that makes me want to give her a hug and tell her everything will be okay. Holy shit, now I want to be warm and fuzzy and hug people? The medications are fucking with me. Never has a woman gotten me so twisted in an instant. It’s the accident. It’s the changes. It’s anything and everything but her. Regardless, with my club brother and Evan present, I know I have to focus on not chasing her away or fucking her in front of them. I don’t know which I want to do more. Since I don’t want to seem like a complete asshole to my new roommate, I make my eyes move off her mouthwatering breasts, up over her face, until I reach her eyes. It sounds cliché, but I think time fucking stops … or maybe the world. I sort of feel like the floor beneath my chair is shifting sideways, and I’m about to fall out of my chair like a flaming idiot. I’m not trying to sound like some Shakespearian pussy-boy, but her rich brown eyes shine at me in such a way I swear they are as bright as pennies … only prettier. They are the most gorgeous eyes I have ever seen, and I have the irrational urge to see them against my sheets, along with all that wild, sexy, curly brown hair she has. It’s not as long as I usually like it, but the way her curls fall around her face makes me wonder what they would look like after I fucked her into the mattress good and hard for a few hours straight. I’m still lost in her beautiful brown eyes as she comes through my doorway then stops dead cold. I snap out of my daydream to realize she’s standing right in front of me … and I have to crane my head back to keep my eyes trained on hers, which won’t stop staring at me. The sensation that flows through me is worse than having ice cold water poured on you when you’re asleep. It is more than a shock; it is a hit to the very manhood I didn’t think I had left. Now I’m obliterated completely. All by a curvy, little woman who is looking at me with a mixture of hope and dread.

I never understood the phrase “love to hate” until just now. Everything about the foxy woman in front of me lights up every caveman instinct I never knew I had, and I’m half a man who can’t do a damn thing about it now.

Lani lynn vale serie uncertain saints mc 01 whiskey neat  
Lani lynn vale serie uncertain saints mc 01 whiskey neat