“You asked me the other night if wanting you was a new thing,” he said, his face free of mockery for once. “It’s not a new thing, babe. Not a new thing at all.”
I woke suddenly, wondering where the hell I was. A strong, masculine arm lay across my stomach, pinning me down. A vaulted cedar ceiling rose overhead. I turned to see Ruger lying facedown next to me, and it all came back in a rush.
I needed to get out of here before he woke up and started in on his you’re-my-woman-and-I-own-you bullshit. I couldn’t afford to play around anymore—Noah had been through enough already.
Lifting his arm cautiously, I rolled out of bed and turned to look at his sleeping form. Ruger’s back was half covered by the sheet, and for the first time I had the chance to study his ink in full light. His perfectly sculpted body wasn’t just sexy. It was literally a work of art. His arms were a mass of patterns and designs so intricate I had trouble following them, but dominating his right bicep was a picture of what had to be Noah’s Ark. The animals marching away from it were fantastical, dragons and demons and snakes, but the Ark itself was unmistakable.
My breath caught. How had I never noticed that before?
He shifted in his sleep, the sheet slipping lower. I couldn’t allow myself much time … I wanted to leave before he woke up and we started fighting. Given our track record, I’d have sex with him again if that happened. My clit perked up and sent an urgent memo to my brain endorsing that option. Screwing a man-whore had one advantage—he certainly knew what he was doing.
As for the pink panties I wore? I didn’t know what to think about that. It should’ve grossed me out, but it mostly just turned me on. All those years I’d been lusting after him, and he’d been lusting after me, too. Not enough to stay faithful, of course. But he’d still wanted me.
My ni**les joined my clit in petitioning for another round.
I ignored both of them.
Nothing had changed. The party, Em, all the reasons I should avoid the Reapers. Ruger and I simply couldn’t be together. But for a few minutes, while he still slept, I let myself study the incredibly sexy man who’d been an unofficial father to my son. Across the top of his back was a broad, curved banner of ink matching the patch on his cut that said “Reapers.” Their symbol—the Reaper himself—covered the center, and I saw just a hint of the bottom rocker, which I knew would say “Idaho.”
Strange as it sounds, the combination of his club colors and the Ark illustrated Ruger’s contradictions perfectly.
Strange spots covered his shoulders, and along his side I saw just a hint of the panther’s claw reaching around from his hip.
He shifted and I froze, reality crashing back down.
I needed to get out or we’d have another fight. Realistically, we’d have another fight regardless, but a little break would be nice. I went downstairs and found my phone, checking the time. Seven in the morning. It took me less than thirty minutes to finish the last of my packing. Then I carried everything out to the car, loaded it, and climbed in.
I turned the key in the ignition, feeling sad and just a little wistful.
Things would turn out, I told myself firmly. I was doing the right thing. As if to prove my point, the sun was already high and bright. Birds were singing like in some stupid Disney movie. I turned out of the driveway onto the road and saw Elle, Ruger’s neighbor, walking along with her dog. She smiled as she saw me, waving me down. I pulled over.
Elle’s eyes flicked over the car, noting the presence of boxes and the lack of a child.
“Trouble in paradise?” she asked dryly.
I smiled ruefully and shrugged.
“You could say that,” I replied. “Ruger and I live in different worlds. I realized it doesn’t matter how cheap the rent is, staying isn’t going to work.”
“Do you have a plan?” she asked, and it wasn’t one of those questions that’s actually a passive-aggressive accusation in disguise. My mother had been the master of those … I could tell Elle was genuinely concerned.
“Not really,” I said. “But I guess that’s okay. Every time I make plans they fall apart anyway. Noah’s with my friend Kimber, and she’s got a spare room. I’m sure she’ll put us up until I pull something together.”
“I see,” she replied, pursing her lips thoughtfully. She glanced over at Ruger’s house, then cocked her head at me. “Why don’t you come over and have some breakfast? There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
That startled me.
“Um, I don’t want to sound rude, but I’m sort of trying to get out of here before Ruger wakes up,” I told her. “He’s not going to be too happy about this.”
“He’ll get over it,” she said, that dry tone back in her voice. “He may be a big, bad biker, but he’s still just a man, and men are notoriously stupid. You can’t see my house from the road and he probably won’t come looking for you there, anyway. I have a shotgun if he does. I also have caramel rolls.”
My mouth dropped. Hadn’t seen that one coming.
“Okay,” I replied, suitably impressed.
Half an hour later we sat at her kitchen table, eating sweet rolls and discussing my crazy life. Somehow, she managed to bring out the humor in the situation, making things seem less scary. I wanted to be Elle when I grew up, I decided. She was smart, funny, cynical, and pretty sexy for a woman pushing forty.
“So, you’ve got a bit of a problem,” she said finally, the queen of understatement. “You’re smart to move out. I agree with you one hundred percent.”
“Really?” I asked. “Because I think Maggs set me up last night. She’s trying to push us together, I know it.”
“Well, there’s together and there’s f**king,” Elle said, delicately slicing a cantaloupe wedge.
“It kind of freaks me out when you do that,” I admitted.
“Do what? Eat melon? Orange fruits and vegetables are extremely healthy, Sophie.”
I giggled and shook my head.
“No, act all ladylike and then cuss like a sailor.”
“My late husband was in the navy,” she said, smiling softly. “And I assure you, his language would make your motorcycle club friends cry like little girls. Ruger actually reminds me of him in a way. So wild and violent, but contained, too.”
“Do you miss him?” I asked softly.
“Of course,” she replied, her tone sharpening. “You can’t help but miss a man like that. But here’s the thing, Sophie. I gave up everything for him. We moved every couple of years, so I had trouble making close friends. I thought about having a child, but I didn’t want to raise one by myself and I knew he’d be gone half the time. Then he went and died on me and now I’m all alone. Sometimes I hate him for that.”