Picnic shifted, the sound of his chair scraping pulling Ruger out of his thoughts.
They’d been at it for nearly two hours, and so far nobody had changed their positions on the truce. Most of the men wanted to give it a shot. Ruger agreed. He thought the Jacks were walking, talking bags of shit, but at least they were a known quantity. They understood the lifestyle, and all other issues aside, they were still bikers. He wasn’t ready to throw down for a Devil’s Jack, but backing off for the duration? That made sense.
“Anyone else want to talk?” asked Shade. The big man with spiky blond hair and a nasty scar across his face was the national president, a position he’d held for less than a year. Ruger didn’t know him well, but what he’d heard was good. Shade lived in Boise, although he’d made noises about moving farther north.
“I got somethin’ to say,” Duck announced, boosting his big body up off the couch. In his late sixties, Duck was the oldest member in Coeur d’Alene. One of the oldest members in the entire club, actually. He wasn’t an officer, but nobody was stupid enough to tell him he couldn’t talk. Ruger knew whatever he said could be the tipping point.
“I hate the Jacks. They’re cocksuckers and ass**les, we all know it. That’s why it hurts me so much to admit this, but I think we should give the truce a shot.”
Ruger cocked his head—hadn’t seen that coming. A Vietnam vet and fighter from day one, Duck had never been the voice of peace.
“Here’s the thing,” Duck continued. “That little prick Hunter is onto something. We’re the same kind of men where it counts. We know what life is really about, and that’s the freedom to ride and live on our own terms. We joined this club because we don’t give a shit about citizens and their rules. I’ve always taken what I wanted when I wanted it, no apologies. I live free. Any laws broken along the way are just collateral.”
Brothers around the room murmured in agreement—even Deke.
“These kids moving in, though, they’re not like us,” Duck said, looking around, pinning each man with his eyes in turn. “They’re. Not. Like. Us. They got no freedom and no reason to live, aside from making money. They wake up every morning plannin’ to break the law, which means the law rules their lives. I’m not scared to fight, you all know that, but why fight when we can let the Jacks do it for us? Live to ride, ride to live. Not just words, brothers. Anything gets in the way of living and riding is a waste of my time, and that includes fighting the cartel.”
Men all over the room voiced their approval. Deke shook his head, and Ruger knew him well enough to realize he was pissed. He’d been beat, and Deke wasn’t used to losing. And Toke? He was practically vibrating, he was so pissed off. At least he kept his mouth shut—kid like that had no business speaking here.
“We’re all gonna pay for this,” the Portland president said. “But we’ve hashed it out. No reason to keep talking at this point. Let’s vote and get it over with.”
“Anyone got a problem with that?” Shade asked. Ruger shot a look at Toke, concerned. Nobody spoke up. “Okay, then. All in favor?”
A chorus of “ayes” echoed around the room, which held close to forty men.
Only six guys disagreed, four from Portland and two from Idaho Falls. No surprise, Toke was one of them. That was unfortunate, Ruger thought, given Hunter’s location. Not that he gave two f**ks about the man, but he liked him better than any other Jack he’d met. What he’d told them about the cartel added up—it was a big problem, one they’d have to deal with sooner or later. Ruger didn’t want their shit in his territory, and neither did his brothers. Might as well let the Jacks be their cannon fodder.
“We gonna have a problem here?” Shade asked Deke bluntly.
“They keep out of our way, we won’t have a problem,” Deke said after a pause. “Right or wrong, we’re Reapers. We stand together.”
“Gonna hold you to that, brother,” Shade replied.
“The girls have been workin’ hard, putting together food for us,” Picnic said, rising to address the room. “Pig won’t be ready for another hour, but the kegs are tapped. Thanks to everyone for comin’ up here. We always appreciate the company. Reapers forever, forever Reapers!”
“Reapers forever, forever Reapers!” echoed through the room, rattling the windows. Toke didn’t look happy, but Ruger knew he’d do his part. Men stood to talk, some heading downstairs to the party, others standing in clumps.
“A word?” Picnic asked Ruger before he could escape. He stopped, turning to his president.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Em’s pretty hungover this morning,” Pic said, eyes speculative. “How about your girl?”
“Not my girl,” Ruger grunted. “And no idea—didn’t go home last night.”
“Really?” Pic asked, raising a brow. “That ’cause you had business here or ’cause things are f**ked up at the house? Em seems to think they’re f**ked up. That gonna be a problem for the club?”
“Em sure talks a lot,” Ruger said, narrowing his eyes.
“Em still hasn’t figured out she can’t fool her daddy when she’s drunk,” Picnic said. “It’s useful to me. She seems to think you’re claiming this girl for your property. Says you told her she can’t talk to any other guys. What’s the story?”
“Not sure that’s any of your business,” Ruger replied, his tension growing. “Sophie knows the situation and so do I. That’s enough.”
“That’s great, so long as we don’t have any misunderstandings,” Picnic said. “If she’s yours, fine. She’s not? Lot of guys here today, guys who aren’t usually around. You can’t explain the situation to me, how do you plan on explainin’ it to them?”
“Won’t be a problem,” Ruger replied, his voice firm. “Made things clear to her and she knows what she needs to do.”
Picnic eyed him thoughtfully.
“Send her home,” he said. “Bring her around for a family party, start small. See how it goes. This is throwing her into the deep end and that’s gonna backfire on you.”
“Scare her off, you mean?” Ruger asked. “That might be best. I don’t know what the hell I want with her—”