“Does that happen?’
“Rape?” she asked, bluntly. I nodded.
“It’s not supposed to,” she said. “It’s not like it’s considered okay or anything, but I’m sure it’s happened here. It happened in my college dorm, too. Anytime you put people together, some of them are going to do horrible things. And you get enough horny men drinking enough alcohol, it can lead to bad shit. I’ll tell you one thing—I feel safer here than I have at some frat parties. Reaper parties might get wilder than college ones, but we have rules and trust me, they’re enforced.”
“And you grew up around this?” I asked. “Wasn’t that … scary?”
“I grew up with twenty uncles,” Em said, smiling brightly as we passed through the gate. She raised a hand to the guys standing there and they all waved back. Clearly, Em was loved. “All of them would’ve done anything for me. I had aunties all over, too, and a bunch of kids to play with—kids I’d known all my life. You saw how many children were here earlier, and they were all having a great time. Of course, we send them home before things get too crazy.”
“And what age did you start staying later?” I asked. She rolled her eyes and shrugged.
“Dad told me to leave about half an hour ago,” she admitted. “He doesn’t want me to grow up. Not that any guy here would lay a finger on me. That’s the thing—this is a family. Family takes care of each other.”
“And all these women running around?” I asked. “That D.C. guy wasn’t interested in me as family.”
Her face fell, and she sighed.
“You aren’t family,” she said softly. “I mean, you’re Ruger’s family and you’ll be treated with respect—D.C.’s not from around here, and he had no idea who you were—but if you’re serious about not being Ruger’s property, you’ll never be a real part of the club.”
“Would you hate me if I told you I don’t want to be part of the club?”
“I get it,” she said, sighing. “Believe me. I just wish it could be different for you guys. I wouldn’t settle for what Ruger’s offering either, though. No f**king way. You want to get out of here? My dad’s gonna see me sooner or later, so I might as well bug out now.”
“Yeah, I really do,” I told her.
“Let’s go watch a movie or something,” she said. “You can come over to my place if you like. We have a killer home theater setup.”
“Um, that sounds good,” I replied, sort of surprised. “You know, it’s funny. I don’t think of a motorcycle club president as being the kind of guy who’d have a home theater.”
“I’ll bet you wouldn’t think he’d have a virgin daughter, either,” she said, regaining some of her humor. “Fuck this, let’s go. Last time they had a party this big, I walked in on my dad screwing this chick I graduated with. It was disgusting.”
Back out in the courtyard, a circle had formed beyond the bonfire. People cheered, yelled, and groaned every few seconds.
“What’s that all about?” I asked, craning my neck.
“Fights,” Em said shortly. “That’s what happens when you have too many penises concentrated in one place. Oh, and I wasn’t kidding when I said Ruger was up next—he’s out there right now. For some reason they think it’s fun to hit each other. Let’s find Maggs. Maybe she’ll come watch movies with us.”
I laughed, then spotted Maggs. She stood near the fire, staring deep into the flames. I walked over to her but she didn’t look up.
She sighed and crossed her arms, frowning.
“Peachy,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’m just sick and f**king tired of being here without my man. The club’s great and all, but it’s not like having Bolt in my bed.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I hugged her. She hugged me back. I really wanted to stay friends with these women, despite the whole Ruger situation.
“Hey, you want to come and watch movies with me and Em?” I asked. “I’m sick of Ruger, Picnic says Em has to leave, and you’re lonely. Sounds like God himself wants us to get out of here and eat some chocolate ice cream.”
“Ice cream’s no substitute for a man,” she said wryly.
“We can have whipped cream on it,” I said, waggling my eyebrows. “You can pretend you’re licking it off him instead of the spoon.”
“You’re a dork,” she replied, but she smiled.
“I know,” I said cheerfully. “But I’m a dork who knows her refrigerated toppings, and that’s mission-critical tonight. Let’s go.”
“I want you to meet Buck first,” she said. “You need to ask him about a job.”
I frowned. Did I really want to work at a strip club—especially one owned by the Reapers? Didn’t seem like the best way to distance myself …
“You don’t have to decide tonight,” she said. “Just talk to him, and then we’ll get back to what’s really important—ice cream and chick flicks. A sad one, please, because I’m definitely in the mood for a good cry. Let’s just talk to him, okay?”
“Not like you have anything to lose,” Em added, coming up beside us. “Find Buck, then we’ll ditch this place. I’m ready for a three-way with Ben and Jerry.”
Maggs took my hand and pulled me toward the crowd surrounding the fighters, Em trailing us like a puppy. I couldn’t see much of the fight, what with the wall of bikers cutting us off, but Maggs wormed her way through them like an expert. Soon we stood on the edge of the “ring,” which was just a line traced in the dirt. She was looking around for Buck, but the sound of a fist hitting flesh caught my full attention.
Ruger stood in the center of the circle, naked to the waist, hands bare, expression hostile. He was facing off against a man I didn’t know. He looked a little younger than Ruger, and based on the blood dripping down his face, Ruger was kicking his ass.
Em stumbled to a halt next to me.
“What the hell does Painter think he’s doing?” she muttered. “I can’t believe he’s fighting Ruger. That’s f**king stupid.”
“Why?” I asked, eyes glued to the men circling each other. I could see the top half of Ruger’s panther tattoo above his jeans. It really was perfect for him—every movement was lithe and smooth and utterly predatory.