For now—just for the next twenty minutes—I’d let myself touch him, savor his presence.

Then we’d go our separate ways.


When we finally pulled around the back of Elle’s barn to the little gravel parking area in front of my new apartment, I dropped my arms and let him go. I didn’t let myself feel sad.

I tried not to let myself feel anything.

He swung off the bike and took my hand, leading me over to the door, which was a good thing. I felt like I was trapped in a dream, everything distant and surreal.

“Crap,” I muttered, looking at the lock. “I don’t have my keys. They’re in my purse, and I have no idea what happened to it, or my phone.”

“They might find your purse at the house,” Ruger said. “Your phone is gone. I’ll get you a new one tomorrow.”

He let me go and turned back to his bike, digging through one of the saddlebags to pull out a small black leather pouch. When he came back and opened it, I saw a collection of strange little tools.

“Lock picks,” he said shortly.

“So this is just another part of your life?” I asked, numb. “You just go around, ready and waiting to break into places?”

He glanced up at me and opened his mouth to speak. Something in my face must have caught his attention, because his expression softened.

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“Babe, I’m a locksmith, used to be my job,” he said, his voice gentle. “Locksmith, gunsmith—if it’s made of metal and has tiny little parts, I like working with it. When I was a kid I built shit out of Legos; now I have big-boy toys. For a while I worked full-time doing lockout calls. Sometimes it’s not about scary stuff, okay?”

I nodded, but I wasn’t sure if I believed him.

“Whatever,” I murmured. The door clicked open and I walked in, looking around. Everything was just like I’d left it the day before. Normal. All normal. It could almost have been a dream.

“You need to get cleaned up,” he said. “I’ll call Kimber and tell her to bring Noah home in an hour or so. I don’t want him freaking out.”

“Was he worried about me?” I asked, walking over to get a drink of water. I considered offering him one, and then didn’t, because f**k Ruger. The little surge of anger was good—made me feel less numb.

“I’m sure he was,” he replied. “Kimber’s been with him the whole time, though. They’ve been watching movies and shit. I talked to him for about five minutes this morning but I haven’t seen him. I was focused on getting you back.”

I turned to look at him, so big he seemed to fill my tiny living room.

“Soph, we need to talk,” he said slowly, looking almost nervous. “I need you to tell me everything that happened. Did they … hurt … you?”

I snorted.

“Um, yeah, they hurt me,” I said, reaching up to touch my bruised cheek. “They threw me in a van, tied me up, and held me prisoner while threatening to kill me because of some bullshit with your club that I don’t understand or care about. So yeah, that part kind of sucked. Thanks for asking.”

“Did they rape you?” he asked bluntly. I shook my head. His face softened with relief, and he walked toward me. I held my hand up flat, halting him.

Limits. Time to set them.

“Ruger, we’ve been playing around, and it’s over,” I said, focusing my eyes on his chest. His 1% patch taunted me, reminding me exactly why this had to happen. “I know I’ve said that before, but everything’s changed now. It doesn’t matter how you make me feel or how nice you are. Your club is dangerous, and I don’t want anything to do with any of you. Noah and I, we can’t afford that.”

He stilled.

“I can see why you might feel that way—” he started to say, but I cut him off.

“No, you really can’t,” I said. “You didn’t spend the night handcuffed to a bed, wondering if you’d get raped or murdered. You didn’t hear your friend screaming in the dark, or hear a gunshot when you tried to escape. We could have died, Ruger … So here’s the way it’s going to be from now on. I’ll let you see Noah once a week. We’ll make the plans in advance. You’ll keep him away from your club and you won’t talk to him about motorcycles. You won’t wear your damned colors and you won’t do anything that could ever lead to any kind of danger. You’ll call me to make arrangements and you’ll pick him up and drop him off when and where I tell you.”

His eyes hardened and his jaw clenched. I felt his anger and frustration in the air around me like a tangible thing, which was actually kind of funny because I didn’t give a flying f**k what he thought of my plans.

Not anymore.

“You’ll follow my rules,” I continued. “Or I’ll never let Noah see you again. Believe me, I’ll do it. In fact, I’d like to do it right now, but I know how much he loves you and it would be devastating to him. So we’ll try this out, and if it works, great. It doesn’t work or I feel like he’s in danger? You’re gone.”

“You can’t do that,” he said. He started toward me again. I stood my ground as he closed in, doing that domination thing, getting into my space. I stared up at him, his chest about three inches from my chin, and I didn’t care how big and scary he was.

I didn’t care about anything.

“I’m his mother. You have no rights. None. I let you see him because I’m a nice person, and I can stop being nice at any time. Do not f**k with me, Ruger.”

He reached up and touched my face lightly, running his finger across my cheek. It sent shivers down my back, and just like that I wanted him.

“I won’t f**k around,” he said. “Just so you know. I nearly lost you. I won’t risk that again. I told you before I’d never be a one-woman man, but I was wrong.”

I looked in his face, studying his eyes. He meant it. I thought about lying in bed with him … I wanted to give in. I wanted him.

It didn’t matter.

“Too late,” I said, and I meant it. “I’m done with you, and I’m f**king serious. Get. Out. Of. My. House.”

He held my gaze, then the miracle happened.

Ruger listened.

He backed away, turned, and walked out of the house. I heard his bike roar to life outside and then the sound of him riding away.

I’d done it. I’d finally managed to put Ruger in his place. Unfortunately, I was too tired to enjoy it.

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