“You leave my girls out of this,” Picnic said, reaching for his gun. Ruger’s hand flashed out, catching him.
“Hear him out,” he murmured.
Hunter grinned, the expression feral.
“You should worry, old man,” he continued. “Because I guarantee those cocksuckers down south won’t care how pretty those girls are when they give the order to shoot them down in the street like dogs. Now me? I don’t even own a f**kin’ goldfish. At the end of the day, who’s got more to lose here? You call me when you’re ready to talk.”
With that Hunter stood up, shoving away his chair. Deke flushed, but Picnic’s face could’ve been carved from stone. Hunter thew a handful of bills on the table and walked out the door.
“He’s f**kin’ with us,” Toke said. “Cartel’s got f**k all to do with us up here. He’s losing territory. That’s not our problem.”
“You really think they can hold out?” Ruger asked him. “Cartel’s got a thousand kids ready and waitin’ to die, every one of them so hungry for glory they’ll shoot their own mothers. Jacks are tough bastards, but they’ll be f**ked if they can’t shut them down before they get a foothold. We would be, too, and you know it. Those gangs exist for one reason—to make money. We let them take over, we’ll lose our territory and our freedom. No f**kin’ point in breathing without that. Not to mention the cartel doesn’t care where they shit or who they kill. You want them here in Portland?”
“This is big,” Picnic said slowly. “Bigger than we can decide here. We’ll get the brothers together, make sure we’re all on board. Take it from there.”
“I’ll never make peace with the Jacks,” Toke muttered. “You want peace, you’ll go through me to get it.”
“That a threat?” Ruger asked. He respected the hell out of Toke, but it wasn’t his decision to make. “I hate the thought of taking on a brother, but don’t think I won’t. We’re in this together, Toke. That means we make the call as a group.”
“You think you could take me?” Toke asked, cocking a brow.
“Only one way to find out,” Ruger replied, meeting his gaze without flinching. “But I tell you one thing. We start fightin’ with each other, the cartel wins. Keep your eyes on the prize, brother. We make peace with the Jacks, they’re our buffer. That lets us put our energy into makin’ money and gettin’ laid. We give it a shot and it falls apart, least we’ll pick up some good intel along the way. Make it easier to go after ’em, the time comes.”
Toke took a deep breath, then let it out, visibly forcing himself to calm down.
“I’ll never forgive them for what they did,” he said. “Jesus, she’s still so f**ked up. You got no idea.”
“You damned well shouldn’t,” Horse told him, voice serious. “What happened can’t be undone, and the ass**les who did it deserved to die. Good news is, they did. Think ahead. We turn the Jacks into allies, we’ll own half the west coast with the Jacks as a line of defense between us and the cartel. That’s somethin’ we should consider.”
“I’ll settle for protecting my girls,” Picnic muttered. “Fuckin’ asshole knows where they are, maybe’s even watching them. You know what that means?”
“Means nobody’s safe,” Horse said softly. “And he’s damned right about one thing—in our world, we don’t f**k with citizens, so long as they show respect. We keep our towns safe and control what gets in. I know the Jacks did your niece, Deke, but she got as much justice as they could give. The cartel, though … They’re shootin’ women and children, and they don’t give a f**k who they kill so long as they get their money. No values. I’ll take the Jacks over them anytime.”
“If they’re telling us the truth,” Ruger said. “Remember—they lie. We need information.”
“Time to call the brothers together,” Pic said. “No help for it. You want to host, Deke?”
“Do it in Coeur d’Alene,” the Portland president replied, shaking his head. “We got nothin’ like the Armory. Whatever else the Jacks might be, they aren’t magic. We meet at the Armory, we’ll have space to talk. I’ll start making calls.”
No girl should have to lose panties this expensive.
I felt almost wistful when I found them in Ruger’s couch. Dark, rich purple silk, delicate lacy cutouts in the front. Whoever she was, she’d shelled out way too much money prettying up for a one-night stand with the man-whore.
I knew the pain of lost panties myself … On that less-than-spectacular night Noah had been conceived, I’d had to go without mine after we got kicked out of Ruger’s apartment.
Sighing, I dropped the couch cushion I’d been vacuuming under. I’d made my first pass through Ruger’s house doing surface cleaning. Now I was on to the deeper stuff, which meant hunting through the bowels of the furniture, among other things.
It was Thursday afternoon and the week had come together nicely. After my visit with Kimber, I’d gotten in touch with some of the girls from the club who’d left their cell-phone numbers. They were coming over on Friday night to meet me and hang out. They sounded every bit as nice and thoughtful as I’d suspected, and I couldn’t wait to put faces to names.
I’d also gotten to know the neighbor down the road, a woman in her late thirties named Elle. She’d been widowed a couple years back and now she lived alone. We met her Tuesday afternoon, when Noah and I went exploring and wandered onto her property.
She and I spent a couple hours sitting outside her house (she had one of the old, original farmhouses, which meant a kick-ass porch complete with swing and rockers), sipping iced tea, and shooting the shit. Elle really hit it off with Noah, too, and had already offered to babysit if I needed it. I got a great vibe off her, Noah adored her, and we’d been thrilled when she had us over for dinner on Wednesday.
Wednesday was also when I started cleaning Ruger’s house.
This was partly out of boredom. I also felt guilty, because Ruger was a single man who clearly enjoyed his freedom, yet he’d brought us home anyway. This had to cramp his style. Not that I particularly liked the idea of him being completely free to indulge himself … I knew I couldn’t have him, but it still bugged me to think of him with other women.