I really didn’t like this new dynamic between us. Things were more comfortable when Ruger treated me like a piece of unwanted furniture.

“But I like them,” he said, examining the soft fabric with a smirk. I grabbed for the panties but he held them out of my reach.


“I just got done convincing myself I’ve been unfair to you,” I told him, narrowing my eyes. “Don’t ruin it.”

Ruger didn’t say anything for several seconds. Then he stretched the panties between his hands like a rubber band and shot them at my face. I lurched to grab the silky blue missile. That’s when the towel slipped and I flashed enough of myself to earn a damned fine collection of Mardi Gras beads.

“Nice rack,” Ruger told me. “Checked out the rest of you before, but never those. Usually the other way around, now that I think of it. Tits before—”

“Jesus, you’re a pig,” I said, cutting him off as I jerked up the towel.

“I’ll concede the point,” he said, shrugging and stepping away from the suitcase. “But only if you wear that black bra. I liked the girls. They deserve something nice.”

“Asshole,” I muttered, pissy mood back in full force.

I dug through my bag, pulling out a pair of ratty cutoffs. Then I spotted the super tight, super low-cut “Barbie Is a Slut” tank top my friend Carrie got me two years ago for Halloween, when we stayed with her folks in Olympia. We’d taken Noah out trick-or-treating wearing friendly witch costumes early in the evening. Then we tucked him safely in bed at her mom’s place and took ourselves out trick-or-drinking. I made out with three different guys at three different parties … using three different names. We finished by eating our weight in chocolate chip pancakes at IHOP as the sun rose.

Best. Night. Ever.

I pulled the tank out with a smile. Ruger wanted to treat me like one of his sluts? I could go there. I’d let him perv on my boobs. All day. Publicly. Maybe I’d flirt a little, too, but not with him. Nope, he could just suck it while I flashed the world. That would teach him to play with my panties.

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I hoped his balls turned so blue they froze.

I ignored him as I took the shorts, tank, bra, and panties back to the bathroom and got dressed. I dried my hair and put on full war paint. Then I stepped out to find Horse and Noah were back.

“Hey, Mom—Horse has a dog named Ariel. Can we get a dog, too?” Noah asked the instant he saw me.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “A dog’s a lot of work. We should start smaller. Maybe a hamster. Let’s ask Uncle Ruger if that’s okay or if he thinks it’s too much.”

I smiled at Ruger, whose eyes were glued to my chest. I adjusted my tank, pulling it down just enough to expose the top of the bra he’d requested.

He wanted to break our rules and bully me?

No problem. I was a big girl now, and I could fight back.

“So what do you think, Uncle Ruger?” I asked sweetly. “Is it too much?”


Despite his earlier breakfast, Noah had no trouble polishing off a full plate of pancakes, two slices of bacon, and a glass of orange juice.

Another growth spurt coming, I realized. That sucked. Seemed like I’d just bought him new clothes a month ago. Every time I caught up, the kid got bigger.

“You done?” I asked him, leaning back in the booth. We’d finished packing an hour ago, at which point Ruger and Horse kicked us out. Apparently we were getting in their way. Ruger handed me two twenties and told me to take Noah out for breakfast down the street, which made sense, given the long car ride ahead of us. I didn’t like taking his money but I had to be practical. I couldn’t afford to waste cash on something as frivolous as eating out.

“Done,” Noah said, grinning at me. God, he was beautiful. His face still held a hint of the softness he’d been born with, but his legs and arms were getting lanky. He liked his hair on the long side, so it hung shaggy around his face and shoulders. Not quite long enough for a ponytail, but close. People told me I should cut it. I figured it should be his choice. When he was older he’d learn all about peer pressure and fitting in. For now I wanted him to enjoy the blissful freedom that comes from not giving a rat’s ass about the world’s opinions.

His skin was light, with a smattering of freckles across his nose and face. Sometimes I caught glimpses of myself or Zach in him, but not often. Noah was his own person, no question of that.

Kind of took after Ruger that way, I mused.

“Okay, let’s go,” I said, dropping some money on the table. I tipped the waitress nearly fifty percent—she seemed overworked, and I knew how that felt. Also, it wasn’t my money.

I texted Ruger as I left, wondering if we’d killed enough time. He replied, telling me to give him another thirty minutes. We didn’t have a park right by our apartment, but there was a lot about three blocks away that Noah liked running around in. I’d heard it used to be a hangout for dealers and users, but a few years back yuppies had started moving into the neighborhood. Now about half of it was a community garden, and the rest was for the kids. Someone had built a wooden swing set. Murals on the sides of the buildings bordering the lot kept the place looking cheerful and bright.

It took us about ten minutes to reach the park, and Noah made the most of his time there. I ran laps with him around the edges, hoping to tire him out. It didn’t work, of course. Then we headed back, popping into a used bookstore on the way to pick out something special for the car ride.

We found Horse, Ruger, and two guys I didn’t recognize on the sidewalk outside the building. The newcomers wore leather vests that read “Devil’s Jacks” across the back. Below that was a picture of a red devil and the word “Nomad.” They were both tall guys, one bulky in a muscular way and the other long and lean in his strength. Both had dark hair. One raised his chin in silent greeting.

The men clearly appreciated my Barbie tank top. They were both attractive, but the tall one was actually almost pretty, he was so cute. He had floppy brown hair and hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. He wore a battered Flogging Molly T-shirt with his faded jeans and leather boots. Both of them looked about my age.

“Hey,” I said, coming up to them, smiling. “You must be Ruger’s friends? Nice to meet you. I’m Sophie. This is my boy, Noah.”

Ruger’s eyes narrowed.

“Go wait in the car,” he said, tossing me his keys.

“Those aren’t my keys. Introduce me to your friends.”

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