I ignored the comment and pushed ahead.
“I know the basement part,” I continued. “But I’m going to have to figure some other things out, too. Noah needs to get registered for school. It starts a week from tomorrow back home. Do you know when it starts in Coeur d’Alene?”
“No idea,” he replied.
“Do you know what school he’ll be going to?”
“Did you think about schools at all?”
“I didn’t think about anything other than getting him safe and hurtin’ the f**kers who nearly killed him. That’s fixed, so from here on out you’re in charge.”
“Okay,” I muttered, leaning back in my seat. I put my bare feet up on the dashboard, knees bent. I enjoyed not having to drive. Noah and I weren’t like most families, where the adults could take turns on a road trip. “I’ll take care of that. The next thing to worry about is a job. You have any idea what the market is like right now?”
“Nope,” he said again.
“You’re not the most helpful person.”
“It’s not like I planned this, babe,” he replied. “I got a phone call last night, I called Horse for backup and we left. That’s it. Haven’t had time to do a damned thing since then. If I’d known about this shit ahead of time, I would’ve hurt the f**kers preemptively. I’m doin’ this on the fly, Sophie.”
I felt my snark die. He was right, which wasn’t fair. Again. Ruger was always right. It didn’t make any sense, because so far as I could tell he lived life without a second thought for the future. I scrimped and saved and planned and worked, yet I still couldn’t get any traction.
“Might be able to arrange something for you with the club.”
I looked at him and frowned.
“I appreciate all you’ve done for me and Noah,” I said slowly. “I even appreciate what you and Horse did earlier. I don’t care that it was a crime. But that’s where I stop, Ruger. I don’t want to get involved in any more illegal things. I won’t be your drug runner or something.”
Ruger burst out laughing.
“Jesus, Sophie,” he said. “What the hell do you think I do all day? Fuck, my life’s not even close to that interesting.”
I had no idea what to say.
“I’m a gunsmith and security expert,” he continued, shaking his head. “This should not be a surprise to you, seein’ as I’ve wired up your apartments over and over. I spend most of my time repairing firearms in a perfectly legal shop the club runs. I design and install custom security systems on the side, ’cause I get off on that shit. Lotta rich f**kers with summer homes on the lake. All of ’em need security and I’m more’n happy to take their money.”
“Wait—they let a motorcycle gang run a gun shop?” I asked, startled. “I didn’t know that part. I’ll bet the cops love that.”
“First, we’re a club, not a gang,” he said. “And the store is technically owned by one guy. Slide. Been a brother for fifteen years. But we all pitch in and it’s a group effort. Having him hold the deed makes the paperwork easier, given the type of business. I apprenticed with him.”
“So this gun shop is one hundred percent above the table?” I asked skeptically. “And people actually pay you to install their security. Aren’t they afraid you’ll be the one breaking in?”
“I’m damned good at what I do,” he replied, smiling. “Not exactly forcing ’em to hire me. You want to see the gun shop, come check it out. Check out any of the businesses.”
“You have more than one?”
“Got a strip club, a pawnshop, and a garage,” he said. “Lot of the guys work in those, but we got civilian employees, too.”
“And what do you see me doing, if I worked for the Reapers?” I asked, considering the strip club.
“I don’t know what we need,” he said, shrugging. “Not even sure there’s an opening. We’ll have to check and see. But it’d be good for you. Got health care plans and shit.”
“So you guys don’t do anything illegal? It’s all legitimate?”
“You think I’d tell you if we were doing something illegal?” he asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“Exactly. So it doesn’t really matter what I tell you anyway, because you wouldn’t believe it. Club business is for club members. Seeing as you’re not a member, it’s not your problem. All you need to know is I’m trying to help you here. If there’s a job you’re qualified for, it’ll be yours. If not, no big deal.”
“Ruger, don’t take this personally, but I don’t want to work for your club at all, even if there’s an opening,” I replied. “You know I’ve never wanted anything to do with the Reapers. You and Horse helped me and I appreciate it, but nothing’s changed. I don’t agree with your lifestyle. I don’t want Noah around your friends, either. I don’t think it’s a good environment for a child.”
“You’ve never even met them. Kinda judgmental, don’t you think?”
“Maybe,” I said, looking away. “But I’m going to do the best I can for Noah, and hanging out with a bunch of criminals isn’t part of that. I don’t believe for a minute that there isn’t something shady going on with you guys.”
Ruger’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. Great. Now I’d insulted him.
“Considering your folks haven’t talked to you in seven years, your son’s father needs a restraining order, and you can’t hold down a job or provide for your child, seems to me like you aren’t in a position to be calling us anything,” he told me, voice tight. Friendly Ruger was gone. “Lotta things happen at the clubhouse. Some of those things run deep, no question. Might scare you. But I’ll tell you one thing. When one of our own is in trouble, we don’t kick ’em out in the street. More than I can say about your daddy. He’s the model citizen and we’re the criminals, but shit goes down, I can count on my brothers. You got anyone you can say that about? Besides me? Because deep down in my heart, in my guts, in my f**kin’ DNA, I’m a Reaper, Sophie. Still sure we aren’t good enough for you?”
I caught my breath, hating how my eyes filled with moisture. Bringing up my folks was a cheap shot. I tried to ignore the tears, refusing to blink and let them fall. Then my nose started running and I sniffed.