“True story,” Horse chimed in. “Fuck with us, we’ll f**k you back. Harder. Always.”

She nodded frantically.


“Sounds like a plan,” Horse said. He glanced over at the man on the floor and then caught Ruger’s eye. “Might wanna tell your baby mama that the next time she has a run-in with a guy from another club, she should give us a heads-up before we go in. This could’ve been ugly.”

“She doesn’t get it—not ink, not cuts, nothing. She may have seen his tats, but she didn’t know what they meant. Tape,” Ruger said. Horse tossed it over and Ruger crouched down next to the woman. “Legs together, bitch. It’ll be a new experience for you.”

She obeyed, and he started wrapping tape tight around her ankles.

“You were still in Afghanistan when Sophie and Zach’s shit went down,” Ruger told Horse. “But trust me, it got ugly, and we didn’t exactly socialize after that. She hates me, she hates the club, and the only reason she puts up with the situation is that she loves Noah too much to take away the only man in his life. Sucks for him, but I’m the best he’s got.”

“Sounds like she’s a bitch,” Horse said. “Rumor is, you saved her ass. Fuckin’ knight in shining armor. Might wanna trade your bike in for a pretty pink unicorn to ride, seein’ as you’re such a special snowflake and all.”

“Shut the f**k up, ass**le,” Ruger replied. “I saved her, but I also lost my shit on her in a big way, at a time she couldn’t handle it. Not that it matters now. Long story short, she knows jack about club colors or how we live. She didn’t mention the back patch because she’s f**kin’ clueless.”

“If I could offer a suggestion?” Horse asked.


“You gotta tell her what to expect, help her understand club life before she f**ks up again,” he said. “Save yourself an assload of trouble down the line. Trust me on this, bro. Breaking in a civilian like Sophie as your old lady is rough enough. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Also, she’s got a helluva mouth on her. What happens in private is one thing, but she can’t pull that kind of shit at the Armory. You know it’s true.”

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Ruger snorted, dropping the tape as he finished wrapping Miranda’s legs. Why had he brought Horse? Anyone would’ve been less annoying … even Painter, despite the fact the kid probably couldn’t find his own dick in the shower, let alone pin down a woman.

Unfortunately, only Horse had been both sober and stupid enough to answer his phone in the middle of the night.

“This’ll be hard for your tiny little brain to process, so listen carefully,” Ruger said, rising to his feet and tossing the tape onto the couch. “One, she’s not my baby mama, so stop calling her that. Only funny the first fifty times. Two, I’m not plannin’ to make her my property. I’m helpin’ out because she’s Noah’s mom and for all practical purposes he’s my son. I’ll keep an eye on her for his sake, but she’s a free agent. I doubt she’ll ever set foot in the Armory, no matter what I tell her.”


“Not bullshit,” Ruger snapped. “She doesn’t want me, ass**le. Trust me, I have reason to know this. Our history is f**kin’ complicated—way too complicated for a dumbass cocksucker like you to understand.”

“You struck out,” Horse declared, a slow grin stealing across his face. “And you’re still drivin’ across the state in the middle of the night so you can set her up in your house? You are well and truly screwed, brother.”

“I didn’t strike out,” Ruger replied, eyes narrow. “It wasn’t like that. And I don’t think of her that way.”

“Here’s a suggestion for future reference, then,” Horse said. “Try jerking off before answering the door if you want me to believe you don’t think of her that way. Wood like you were sportin’ usually implies the opposite. Unless it was for me? If that’s the case, I’m genuinely flattered. No judgments.”

“Why hasn’t Marie shot you yet?”

“Because I’m not in denial about what my c**k wants,” Horse replied. “I piss her off, I get no pu**y. Watch and learn. Now let’s get them locked down and start hauling your girl’s shit out to the truck. Jacks’ll be here in a couple more hours, and I don’t particularly care to stay and discuss techniques for removing dumbasses’ ink with them. What kind of suicidal idiot doesn’t black out his tats when his club cuts him loose?”

“Well, he joined the Devil’s Jacks in the first place,” Ruger replied, shrugging. “That doesn’t say much for his intelligence. Hope he has health insurance. Probably gonna need it.”

“Only if he’s lucky. So tell me, brother. How many times you seen The Notebook? ’Cause that’s information the boys back home are gonna need to know.”



Noah slurped down his cereal, hopping in his chair like a bouncy ball.

“We’re going to Uncle Ruger’s today, right? Do you think he has Skylanders?”

“Yup, we’re going to Uncle Ruger’s. No idea about the Skylanders, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up,” I replied. My rush of adrenaline had died down, making it harder to sustain any real anger. Instead I surveyed my studio and finally admitted the truth.

The place was a total shithole. Not only that, I had no excuse for not putting on the window alarms. They sold them at the Dollar Store, for God’s sake.

I didn’t like letting Ruger win, but reality was on his side. I was broke, I’d lost my job, and I couldn’t protect my own child. Waiting tables hadn’t paid enough to support us anyway, and I wouldn’t have been working there in the first place if I’d had better offers. My folks certainly wouldn’t help. I’d been dead to them ever since I refused to “terminate” Noah.

Turning down a safe, free apartment would be insane.

I still wasn’t quite ready to forgive Ruger, though. Intellectually that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Sure, he’d been a dick to me. He’d also dropped everything to drive hundreds of miles and save Noah when he’d needed help. The two should probably balance each other out, if I wanted to be fair. Not only that, Ruger had made a point I couldn’t shake.

I really didn’t want to do my own dirty work.

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