“I don’t understand you,” I said, voice low and unsteady. “You can be so nice sometimes. Why do you do this?” I asked, gesturing to the horrible outfit he’d picked. “Do you really hate me so much? I don’t think I deserve this, Horse.”

He shook his head, reaching up and gripping the bridge of his nose between a thumb and forefinger.


“I don’t hate you, babe,” he said. “You piss me off, but I can live with that. Hell, f**kin’ turns me on most of the time. But you just don’t understand all that’s happening here and I can’t tell you without f**king things up. If this bothers you I’m sorry, but there’s a good reason for it. You’ll just have to trust me.”

He turned back to the ledger, ignoring me for another minute. I watched him, seriously considering whether or not to back out of our deal, but I couldn’t do that to Jeff. He needed me.

“Shit, I forgot,” Horse said suddenly. “You need some shoes too. Go pick something out. Doesn’t matter which ones, any of ’em will do.”

Happy for a distraction, I wandered over to the wall of shoes, thankful that for once I could pick for myself. Then I realized why he didn’t bother telling me what to get, because each and every pair were clearly designed for stripping and nothing else. I settled on a pair of patent leather Mary Janes that would have looked almost demure if they didn’t have a four-inch spike heel.

Amazingly, almost every other shoe had even higher heels, some of them on platforms so tall I doubted I’d be able to take a single step wearing them. I grabbed the shoes and gave them to Horse, who didn’t say anything. His eyes darkened though, and he reached down to adjust his pants. I felt a little thrill of desire and power roar to life, which bugged the crap out of me. Why couldn’t I decide whether I liked him or hated him? How could I go from being angry to horny so incredibly fast? It wasn’t fair. I changed back out of my clothes and he bagged them, along with some teeny tank tops and baby doll t-shirts that read “Support your local Reapers Motorcycle Club”.

At least the trip to the grocery store wasn’t bad. It took us about an hour to get everything on the list. Once again, people took care to stay out of his way, which worked just fine for me. We didn’t even have to wait in line to check out, everyone just waved us ahead of them.

“Is it always like this?” I asked him as we loaded up the groceries.

“Usually,” he replied. “We’re not the biggest club, but we’re definitely in charge around here. So long as they give us respect, it’s all good. Not many citizens up for taking on a Reaper, that’s for damned sure.”

“What happens if they do?” I asked. He gave me a sharp look.

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“What do you think?”

Stupid question.

When we got home Horse insisted on unloading the groceries, telling me to go upstairs and put away my new things. While just thinking about the stripper skirt gave me hives, I had to admit that the shoes made me feel sort of sexy. I couldn’t resist trying on the bustier again, which wasn’t so bad with my hip-hugging jeans. I couldn’t see my whole body in the mirror on the top of the dresser, but I saw enough to know I looked good.

Really good.

Once I finished pulling off tags and putting things away I wandered downstairs. Horse was gone, but I found a note on the table.

Got shit to do—hang out and make yourself comfortable. I’ll be back around seven. Have dinner ready. We’re going out tonight.

Not exactly the master of conveying information.

I grabbed Horse’s cordless house phone and a book, then settled myself on the front porch to call Denise and let her know I wouldn’t be back to work. I felt like a complete ass when I told her I couldn’t give any notice. She didn’t buy my excuse for a minute.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Don’t bullshit me, Marie. Your trailer burned down last night and now you tell me you’re living with some man you barely know? What’s really happening? Tell me why I shouldn’t call the cops.”

It was hard to do, but I tried to put just the right amount of concern about the trailer burning into my voice while still sounding happy about my new circumstances.

“Jeff called me last night and told me about the trailer,” I said, trying to sound earnest and sad. “He said he started it, I guess he left his pipe on the floor before going on a beer run. I’m bummed that it burned down but I’m lucky because I already had all my stuff packed up and moved out. Jeff told me he’s crashing with a friend. He doesn’t want me to come back, says it’s his problem and he doesn’t have a place for me to stay anyway.”

“I see,” Denise said, although clearly she didn’t. “I don’t think that’s the whole story, but I guess it matches the newspaper story. Marie, I hate to say this, but I’m not going to be able to give you a reference.”

“I understand,” I replied, feeling depressed. She sighed heavily.

“You call me if you need me. I’ll respect your decision but things go bad fast sometimes. I’ll drive up and get you any time.”

“Thanks, Denise,” I said, eyes watering up. I didn’t deserve her kindness, yet she offered it without strings. As I put the phone down, I decided that sometimes kindness hurts more than getting hit physically.

Go figure.

True to his word, Horse disappeared until a little before seven. I spent my time alone reading and exploring the property. There were several outbuildings, including an old barn and a bunkhouse. The barn had been cleared out and converted into a shop where Horse seemed to be rebuilding a couple of different bikes. I found a fridge out there with some beer in it, which made me think of Picnic, Max and Bam Bam visiting me and Jeff in better times. Horse also had a big fire pit out back, surrounded by stumps that appeared to do double duty as seats and chopping blocks as needed. There were four picnic tables too, obviously hand-crafted.

I guess Horse was good with his hands in more than one way.

I fixed chicken and dumplings for dinner, one of my favorites because it always filled the house with a welcoming and comfortable smell, perfect for day’s end. I heard Harley pipes outside and then Horse walked in through the mud room.

“Smells great in here,” he said, wrapping his arms around me. I leaned back into him, enjoying the feel of his body against mine. Apparently nice Horse would be joining me for dinner instead of his evil twin. “After we eat, we’re going out. I want you to wear the clothes we picked up at the Line.”

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