“I’ll come with,” Em said, popping up on her toes to give Picnic a quick kiss on the cheek. For all her whining about him, she obviously adored the man. I felt a twinge of jealousy. Even before they’d kicked me out, my parents were never the kind of people you’d just casually walk up to and kiss.
Nope, not in the Williams household. I’d been devastated when they said they’d have nothing to do with a daughter who was a whore, let alone her bastard. Now I realized I was way better off without them. Noah’s circle might be small, but everyone in it loved him unconditionally, and they weren’t afraid to show it.
My parents didn’t deserve to meet their grandson.
We found Dancer, Marie, and Maggs arranging a mountain of food on the tables, laughing and smacking hands playfully as guys tried to steal bites before it was ready.
“Thanks for picking up the chips,” Maggs said. I noticed all three women wore black leather vests.
“I thought you said only guys could be club members?” I asked, nodding toward them.
“Oh, these aren’t club cuts,” Dancer said. “Check it out.”
She turned around and I saw a patch on the back that said “Property of Bam Bam,” along with a Reapers symbol. My eyes widened.
“I didn’t realize the property thing was so … literal …”
“The guys have their colors and we have ours,” Maggs said. “Civilians don’t get it, but all the patches mean something. The guys fly their colors because they’re proud of the club, but their cuts tell stories, too. You can learn a lot about the guy by the patches he wears. It’s like a language or something. Everyone knows where everyone else stands.”
“The great thing about a property patch is that you’re totally covered,” Dancer added. “There’s not a man here who’s gonna touch me, no matter how drunk or stupid he gets by the end of the night. Not that I’m too worried here at our own clubhouse, but we go on runs where there are hundreds of riders, even thousands. Everyone who knows a damned thing about the MC world takes one look at this and they know not to f**k with me.”
“Yeah,” Em said. “You f**k with one Reaper’s property, you better be ready to take down every guy in the club.”
“Huh,” I said, trying to sound noncommittal. I liked the idea of protection as much as anyone, but there was something very uncomfortable to me about a woman choosing to call herself property. Shades of Zach and how possessive he was, maybe. But Maggs and the others didn’t seem too terribly oppressed, either.
I glanced around, taking in how many women were starting to fill the courtyard. Only a handful wore property patches.
“What about the rest of them?” I asked. Em shrugged.
“They’re not important,” she said bluntly. “Some of them are sweetbutts and club whores, which means they’re around a lot—the guys share them. Some are just random girls looking for a walk on the wild side. But none of them really count, not compared to us. They’re all fair game.”
“Free pu**y,” Maggs said, her voice matter-of-fact. “They’re just here to party, and if we’re lucky, they’ll help clean up. They give anyone shit, their asses are out the door. Good news is, they know their place. Half these girls work at The Line anyway.”
“What about me?” I asked, unnerved. “I don’t have a patch.”
“That’s why you’ll stick with us,” Dancer said, her voice serious. “Despite his general dickitude, Ruger’s right about one thing. You really don’t want to f**k around with the brothers. Don’t flirt if you aren’t interested in following through. And for f**k’s sake, don’t go off alone or into the Armory with anyone, particularly upstairs. There’s some wild shit that happens up there. You don’t want to be part of it, trust me.”
“Jesus, you’re gonna scare her,” Em said, frowning. “Look at it this way—would you go to any party or bar without taking some basic safety precautions? Only take drinks you’ve poured yourself, or ones that we’ve given you. You ever been to a frat party? Think of it that way. Dad, Horse, Ruger, and Bam Bam are safe. Don’t go off with someone you don’t know, though. Stay in public areas. Use common sense and you’ll be fine.”
“Hey, the good news is I saw Buck earlier,” Em added. “He manages The Line. I’ll introduce you at some point, you can ask him about waitressing. I’m definitely not on board with you stripping, but waitressing could be a pretty good gig.”
“Would you work there?” I asked her. Em burst out laughing, joined by Maggs and Dancer.
“My dad would kill me before he let me work at The Line,” she said when she finally caught her breath again. “Or maybe his head would just explode? He’s still trying to convince me I shouldn’t work at all. He’d love it if I just stayed home and kept house for him, maybe did some charity work on the side. He hasn’t decided to join us in this century quite yet.”
I thought about the tall, stern man I’d just met and had to smile. I could totally see him being overprotective like that.
“Doesn’t he want grandkids some day?” I asked. “There’s a middle step, you know.”
“I don’t think he’s thought that far ahead,” Em replied with a giggle.
The whistle of a firework shooting off cut through everything, and we all looked up to watch an explosion of red, white, and blue above the courtyard.
“Isn’t that illegal?” I asked, eyes wide.
“Don’t worry about it,” Dancer told me. “We’re so far out nobody gives a shit. And if they did, they’d just call the sheriff’s department, and we’ve got a good relationship with him.”
“The Reapers get along with the cops?” I asked, stunned.
“Not all of them,” Dancer said. “But the sheriff is a pretty good guy. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s always gangs trying to move into the area. The sheriff can’t begin to keep up with them. Even if he knows about them, he can’t do shit without evidence. The Reapers help keep some of those problems under control, in our own special way. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, no question. City cops are a different story, though. They hate us.”
Another rocket shot up, this one exploding with a mighty flash and a bang. It wasn’t dark yet, but the light was fading enough for it to mess with my vision. When I stopped blinking from the bright light, I saw Ruger watching me from across the courtyard.