“Silvie and Em, perpetual virgins!” I said, shaking my head. “Ah, the horror of life as a Reaper’s daughter. The poor darlings are screwed, no question. No pun intended, of course.”
That set us off laughing again.
“Screwed is what I’m looking for,” said Cookie, sighing. “Screwed, f**ked, pleasured and reamed, you name it. I’ve worn out three vibrators on this deployment, I swear. I cannot wait to see my man again.”
After an hour we finally found the perfect welcome-home outfit. Several of them, actually. Maggs grabbed a few things too, but I didn’t like spending Horse’s money. He kept saying not to worry about it, but I felt weird buying things for myself. We still argued about me getting a job sometimes, but to be honest I was keeping myself pretty busy. I helped Cookie at her shop, which led to me watching Silvie three days a week. Cookie told me she could teach anyone to make coffee, but finding a sitter she could trust was a lot harder. This was perfect, because I was helping out and also earning a few extra bucks each week. I’d have done it for free, but she insisted. I also ran errands for the guys and started cleaning the pawn shop when their cleaning lady flaked. The Reapers really did have a lot of stuff going on, and Horse had come to appreciate my willingness to kick in whenever help was needed. The other guys noticed too, and they seemed to enjoy having me around.
My phone dinged. I pulled it out to find a text from Horse.
Come by the armory? Need to talk to you.
That sounded ominous.
Complicated. I’ll explain when you get here. No detours, okay?
Maggs and Cookie wanted to keep shopping, so I said goodbye and left. Fortunately I had my own car with me so I drove straight to the armory. I pulled up and parked in the front lot. Painter met me outside, taking my arm and guiding me through the gate and the courtyard to the back entrance, which seemed weird. He said Horse would be out in a minute so Painter and I stood and waited.
This sucked, because Coeur d’Alene might only be two hundred miles from my hometown, but it was way, way colder here in the winter. I shivered and rubbed my arms, noticing there were a lot more bikes than usual in the courtyard, along with some big trucks and SUVs I didn’t recognize. Then Horse pushed through the back door, holding it for Painter, who ducked back inside. Just seeing Horse warmed me a little. He wore a black jacket over his cut and a dark, knitted cap on his head. He’d let his beard fill in a little with the cold weather and I had to say, it looked hot. The look on his face wasn’t hot though. It was so cold I wondered if I’d forgotten something really important.
“We got a problem, babe,” he said without greeting me.
“What’s the problem?”
“Your brother’s made a deal with another club. Somehow he’s getting information about our business and he’s feeding it to them. In return, they’re supposed to snatch you and hand you over to him. These are bad guys and this is going to blow up in his face, which sucks for him, but I’m not letting it spill over on you. We’re locking you down, only way to keep you safe until it’s worked out.”
I stared at him, gaping.
“He’s trying to save you,” Horse said, shaking his head. “I swear, he’s either the stupidest f**k who ever lived or has the worst luck of any human being I’ve ever met. He reached out to the Devil’s Jacks, who in addition to being our enemies are quite possibly the least trustworthy group of bastards ever born. They’ve been looking for a way to f**k us up for a long time and now they have it. Could be a war, we don’t get this under control. The first step is to lock your shit up tight until we find Jeff.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “What could he possibly be giving them? How did he go from laying low to plotting a war to get me back? You said he was against the wall—where is he getting this leverage?”
“No f**king idea where it’s coming from,” Horse said, his face grim. “I swear, if he’d put half this much effort into doing his job in the first place we’d all be f**kin’ millionaires. Instead he’s playing us like his personal chess game, which would be pretty impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that all the chess pieces have guns. The guys are all worked up, pissed as hell, and it’s a damn good thing everyone likes you because this is not a good scene. You’re gonna be moving into the armory for a while, into one of the apartments upstairs.”
“How long?” I asked, feeling a little panicky. Horse shrugged.
“Long as it takes, babe. The Jacks manage to take you, the club goes to war,” Horse replied. “Jeff’s set them on you, and for now he’s got enough info to make the effort worth their while. You stay inside and lay low. Tonight you don’t even leave the apartment. We’ve got guys from other charters coming in, a lot of them already here, could get a little wild. You stay in your room, you keep your mouth shut and you do not do or say anything to draw attention to yourself.”
“Okay,” I said, feeling a little sick. “Is that all?”
He gave a short, abrupt laugh that had nothing to do with humor.
“No,” he said, rubbing his chin. “Another change of plans. It’s time for you to try to get hold of your brother. Email him, call him, call anyone who knows him. We need him to end this, for your safety and for the club. Then he needs to disappear. Permanently. He can make that happen or we will. I’m telling you this because I love you, babe. You want your brother to live, you get him to cooperate with us. That’s his only shot.”
I grew very still.
“Are you planning to kill him for this? That’s two strikes now,” I said, feeling lightheaded. “You already threatened to kill him over the money. Now he does this. I won’t lure him in for you to kill.”
“Not gonna lie, babe,” Horse said, looking me right in the eye. “He has one shot here. He starts a war, he ain’t gonna make it. He’s hired our enemies to take one of our women. This shit will not stand. He has to make things right without sucking you in. You got me?”
I nodded, feeling like I might throw up. Why did Jeff keep doing this crazy stuff? I shouldn’t have listened to Horse, I should have called Jeff a long time ago and worked with him to figure something out—or at least stayed in close enough touch for him to really believe I wasn’t in danger. I’d followed Horse’s directions because I thought it was safest for Jeff. At least, that’s what I’d used as the excuse to ignore my brother while I built a new life.