“We are a family, aren’t we?” she whispered.
She nodded her head slowly, and he squeezed her tight. They sat together quietly, waiting for Picnic, listening to the frogs and crickets singing in the background.
Ruger, Picnic, and Painter took care of Zach.
They made him disappear, along with the frying pan, my clothes, and every other piece of evidence in the house.
Erasing a human life shouldn’t be so easy.
Ruger had me take a shower, then I crawled into Noah’s bed and tried to sleep. Even if my mind hadn’t been racing, I hurt too bad to get any rest. I’d have a hell of a bruise. At least it wouldn’t show anywhere. The sun was already rising when I heard him come back and turn on the shower. Twenty minutes later he padded into the bedroom and lay down next to me, pulling me into his arms.
I turned and burrowed into him, holding him tight.
“Thank you,” I whispered fiercely, and I meant it. Not just for tonight, but for everything. “Thank you for always being here for me.”
“It’s what I do,” he whispered back. His hand came up and ran through my hair softly, soothing me.
“I was wrong,” I said.
“I was wrong about you,” I continued. “I kept saying I didn’t want anything to do with you, that the club does horrible things. But I’m the one doing horrible things.”
“You survived,” he replied, and his voice didn’t waver. “You protected your son. That’s not horrible.”
“When I called you, you could’ve told me to f**k off,” I replied. “I had no right to drag you into this. Now you’re an accomplice.”
“Babe, it’s over,” he said. “Let it be over. I’ll come by in a couple of days, put some new flooring in the kitchen, throw on some paint. Then it’s done. We don’t need to talk about it, okay? In fact, we shouldn’t talk about it.”
“Okay,” I whispered. “What about us? I feel like this changes things.”
“We don’t need to figure it out right now, Soph,” he said. “Try to sleep. You’ve got to be up in an hour for work. It’s going to be a long, tiring day, and you’ve got to get through it. On the bright side, if anyone asks why you look like shit, you can say you’re hungover. Plenty of witnesses to that, thank f**k.”
“Wish I could call in sick,” I said. “I suppose calling in with a hangover this early into the job isn’t such a good idea, hmm?”
“Probably not,” he said. He kissed the top of my head. “Like I said, we don’t have to figure things out right now, but I’m going to stay with you for a while. I don’t want you alone.”
It didn’t occur to me to argue. I really, really didn’t want to be alone. I’d never believed in ghosts, but I was pretty sure Zach planned to haunt me.
Probably for the rest of my life.
A week later we still hadn’t talked things through.
Ruger moved us back to his house the Saturday after I killed Zach, and this time I didn’t argue with him. He put me back in my old room, and while we spent almost every evening together, he never did more than give me a quick kiss good night.
I appreciated that more than I knew how to say.
Things had changed between us in a profound way, something I think we both knew. All our fighting and nitpicking seemed so silly now. So did my endless agonizing about whether or not I should be with him. Once a man disposes of a body for you, the moral high ground has been lost.
Nothing says “commitment” like accessory to murder.
Sooner or later we’d be together. I just wasn’t ready yet, and surprisingly, Ruger was patient. We both worried that yet another move would upset Noah, but he took it in stride—apparently he’d never considered Elle’s place as anything more than an extended sleepover anyway.
Elle just gave a Cheshire cat smile when I told her we’d be moving.
Apparently life goes on, even after you kill someone.
Marie and Horse had their rehearsal dinner the following Friday night. I wasn’t originally invited to it. No reason I would be, considering I wasn’t in the wedding party or a member of the family. Ruger was Horse’s best man, though, so he had to be there. Apparently in his eyes, and in those of the club, we were officially a couple now, so Noah and I were invited, too.
It felt good to be included.
The wedding itself would be taking place out at the Armory, which seemed odd to me at first. They weren’t getting married in the building or courtyard itself, though. Out beyond the wall was a large meadow where people camped out for club functions. It backed into a grove of old-growth trees, forming a natural canopy that was perfect for a wedding. There were already tents set up along the edges, but the center and back were marked off with neon-orange ribbon that outlined an area for the ceremony.
I offered to watch the kids during the rehearsal, including Dancer’s two boys. We hit the play area inside the courtyard, and they all ran around like wild animals, shrieking and jumping off the swing set. The rehearsal dinner was in the courtyard, too, so I found myself helping the caterer set up while we waited. She was a friend of the club named Candace, and she had a wicked sense of humor.
I also met Marie’s mom, Lacey Benson, and her stepdad, John.
Lacey was … different.
She looked a lot like Marie. In fact, she could’ve been Marie’s sister, at least at first glance. But where Marie’s hair was wild and free, Lacey’s was in one of those styles you just know takes an expensive hair cut, double-processing, and a shitload of product to look so natural and perfect. Marie didn’t usually wear makeup. Lacey’s was flawless, and her clothes never seemed to wrinkle. She was the portrait of a stylish matron, except for the smell of cigarette smoke wafting around her.
She was poised, stunning, and utterly batshit crazy.
The crazy wasn’t subtle, either.
She had a manic energy that couldn’t be contained, and she hovered around Marie like a hummingbird, obviously overjoyed for her daughter. Just watching her was exhausting.
I learned that Candace was more than a nice person—she might possibly be a saint. No matter how many times Lacey made her rearrange everything, she did it with a nod and a gracious smile. This was a step beyond impressive, because Marie’s mother rearranged things seven times.
Then she rearranged an eighth, this time while people were actually serving.