Knock On Wood (Riders of Tyr #6)

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Gates of Valhalla

Tamie

I try not to cry but I can’t. I am looking straight ahead and I let the tears run on my cheeks, the feeling inside swelling and pushing the boundaries of my heart.

“Why are you crying, kitten?” Wood asks in agony.

He leans to me and wipes the tears on my cheeks, cupping my face with both hands. I am so small against his rough hands, so defenseless. But as this strong, broken man holds me, I feel safe.

“Kitten?”

“I... I haven’t seen the sunset in years,” I admit.

His look goes rigid and cold and his grip on me tightens. I regret telling him. He is troubled by his own demons, he doesn’t need mine as well. As he closes his eyes and takes one sharp breath to keep his temper, I lift my hand and touch him on the cheek.

His eyes snap open and he dives into mine. I have never seen darker eyes, so mysterious yet so clear. And I have never seen a man so good-looking like he is.

“Don’t be mad, Wood.”

“I am not mad, kitten. I am fucking furious.”

“Don’t be,” I give him a soft smile. “If it wasn’t for you, maybe I would have never seen the sunset again. Thank you.”

He swallows hard and looks away over my shoulder releasing me from his hands. He cannot find nor peace nor relief. He simply doesn’t believe me. I nod to myself and I turn to the sun going down in a splendor of colors, up here where he brought me.

"Uhm... We need to go so we are back at least till midnight. I don’t want us to be another night on the road.”

“OK,” I agree.

I glance one more time at the disappearing sun and I follow him back to the SUV.

He is once more quiet on the ride back and I am too. I am scared so much. I am scared to face Iris, to see her again, to having to talk to her about what I have been through. And even worst, having to face the effects of my incompetence on her.

Here, with him, those hours he has set me free, those were the best ours of my life. Is it because he is a stranger? Is it because deep down he isn't? For some reason, I want to continue this road trip with him for days, months years. Never stop, just be with him always, never having to face Iris and what was done to her, never having to tell her what was done to me.

At the same time, I long to see my sister, see if that wide smile on her face is real, to see if she is truly well, happily married. to touch her once more and hold her. For now, we just ride.

We ride for hours and he stops once for a quick dinner and once to stretch his legs. After that, I am too tired to even notice. Keeping in my memory the feel of the sun on my skin and his hands on my face, I drift into sleep.

***

“It’s late and she is exhausted,” I hear Wood’s voice but he's not in the car. “I shouldn’t have let her stay in the sun for so long.”

“Do you want to set up a room for her?” Another man says. “I got a few rotters in there that can clean shit up.”

“No, I’ll keep her in my room. It’s... safer.”

"And damn cleaner too. Are you sure, though, brother? This is the Hellhound's sister-in-law we are talking about."

“I’ll sleep on the fucking couch, Vince.”

I open my eyes and I see that we have stopped and we are parked outside a big building. Wood is standing outside the car and he talks to a man with a scar on his face. He wears a leather vest that has a name on: Vince. And underneath it reads Herre.

“Wood?” I say timidly.

Wood turns to me and so does the other man. He takes me all in as I get up from the seat and sit up straight and his eyes glint a little.

“Damn, brother! Those are some genes this family has. Sure there are no other sisters out there?”

Wood turns to the man and he growls. The man he called Vince raises an eyebrow and takes a few steps back. Then Wood opens the door and gets back in the car. He seems agitated.

“We are here, Tamie.”

“Iris?”

“Iris is at home with Rage. It's late. I... can take you there now or you can stay with me till the morning.”

I take in my surroundings and a crippling fear comes over me. There is a sign at the building. It reads VALHALLA and underneath the name Riders of Tyr. Across the street, there is a garage and some other shops but the whole place seems quiet. Except for the loud noise coming from inside the bar.

I have been to a club before. A rich man paid Freddie to bring his girls to a private party. I didn’t like it. There were only men there that had too much to drink and too many drugs. And I had to cater to their needs all night. All their perverted, drug-infused needs.

“Kitten?” Wood says and I notice I am hyperventilating.

I turn to him and I face him in terror. Please, don’t let him be like the others, I pray again and again. Not like the others that made me their toy, that lied and took and violated. Not him. Not Wood. Not the man that has cleared my tears so softly with his rough hands. Don't let it be a lie.

“I will take you to Iris,” he decides and puts the keys in the ignition.

But that too terrifies me, going to my sister’s home in the middle of a night. I am a ghost from her painful past. I don’t need to appear to her like that. I grab his arm and he turns to me.

“I will do whatever you want me to, kitten,” Wood says and I hear his honesty.

I relax and I withdraw my hand and I think I see him flinch at my gesture. But he is still looking at me, waiting for orders. He has done nothing to hurt me. I have given myself to him and he didn't take like the others. He kissed me and apologized. And he watched the sunset with me.

“I... I’d rather see my sister tomorrow.”

“You can have your own room but I’d rather have you stay in mine. It’s clean and I’ll sleep on the couch.”

I nod and he lets out a relieved sigh.

“OK then. Let’s go.”

He gets out and comes to help me out of the SUV as he has done every time, like a true gentleman. I take his hand and step out looking around. I glance at the street and I see that the same sign is under almost every shop on the street. The garage, a tattoo parlor, a gym, some kind of office, the bar. Riders of Tyr.

“It’s all ours, Tamie. We own the street and pretty much own the town. Iris,” he says and gains my attention, “works with Bjorn in the garage.”

I look at the garage and I smile. My little Iris has always been good with her hands. We were too poor to have someone fix the radiator or the kitchen or any other thing in the house. But somehow she managed to fix it. My sweet Iris.

I walk across the street to the garage and I reach the large window. It’s dark inside but some lights are on for security reasons and I glance around. On the wall, I see pictures of Iris with some people smiling, posing in front of colorful cars.

“Iris,” I put my hand on the window.

“The best mechanic in the state,” Wood is right behind me. “Damn, she could be the best in the U.S.”

He is proud of her, I hear it in his voice. And I am proud of her too. And happy. So happy, I can’t hold back my tears. She made it. My baby sister made it. She is happy here, doing what she does best, found her purpose in life and others appreciate her as equal.

“Tamie?” Wood wraps his arms around my shoulders.

“She is good. She is well.”

“She is. And now, with you, she is going to be whole,” Wood leaves a kiss on the top of my head.

I want to believe him so much. But I can’t. Iris managed to get away from our shitty life. She became more than the useless shit our mother told us we were. While me... I am nothing but a whore, a plaything, a fake doll. I am worse than our mother ever was.

“I am tired,” I say suddenly and leave his arms.

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