I am leaning on the bathroom sink and I am looking at my reflection before throwing water on my face and grabbing the toothbrush. It’s still so early outside, I only hear a random bird chirp. And the thudding of my heart.
I spit out the toothpaste and rinse my mouth before looking back at the asshole looking at me. He has the nerve to smile, the bastard. He is happy with himself and I want to punch him in the face.
Why the fuck did I propose Tamie to take her for a ride? Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut? Cause you saw it in her eyes, that lost sadness. I did, I saw the reality of all that has happened to her, all that she has been through settle in that pretty head of hers. I know how that is.
When I was back in the desert, fighting, dodging bullets, shooting people down, I was in that shit. I was sweating, I was high on adrenaline, it was my life and the life of my comrades. And then I was back on streets with white picket fences and McDonald's, amongst people that didn’t jump up on every single noise. None of it was real, not to me, not really.
That’s how she must be feeling, coming back from a war, after having to give her body to whomever paid the monster that was holding her more, caged in that room, wound to be a good doll and nothing more. And now she is free, in a white picket fence house and she is lost.
“Fuck!” I tighten my jaw.
That’s bullshit. That is all bullshit. How grand of me to pretend I am some saint with a big heart that wants to make Tamie feel at ease. Like I was not eyeing her as if she was a goddamn edible candy all through the damn dinner. As if my dick didn’t crave to find out how she moans when a real man takes her.
I walk out to my room and throw some clothes on. I am shaking, sweating and I am out of my mind. My eyes drift to the gun handle I can see from under my pillow and all the dark thoughts that haunt me day and night come to me.
Croissants! Damn croissants and waffles and crêpes! I push the coward thoughts away and I replace them with recipes to keep my sanity. That’s it, I need to check if I have everything I need in the pantry.
I head for the kitchen and gather all my ingredients. I am still shaking but as I see everything fall to place, my nerves calm. Best fucking sniper in the SEALs and member of the Riders of Tyr and I need a waffle maker to be normal. Pathetic.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” I hear a voice and I turn.
It’s Magdalene, Runner’s Valkyrie. A genuine faint smile comes to me and I let out a chuckle. I like Magda. She has been through some serious shit and she came out the other side, marred and fucked-up but she made it. For some bizarre reason she sensed it too, that kindred spirit thing and we became somewhat close.
“What are you making?” She pats me on the back.
Don’t expect hugs – like Lysa does – or kisses – like Ava’s MO – from Magda. The pat on the back is her way to show that she considers you a friend. I take it.
“Croissants, some waffles and crepes. Are you staying for breakfast?”
“When you cook? Sure I do!” Magda says and settles to the seat closest to where I am working.
“What are you doing here so early?”
“I... Don’t tell Runner,” she raises one brow.
“Depends, darling,” I wink.
“Well, I chased some asshole yesterday and let’s say he wouldn’t pull over without a nudge. I asked Bjorn to be in early and see if he can work on my SUV before Runner sees it and starts fussing over me. I ditched the Harley for him and he is still bugging me.”
“Yeah, blame the guy for wanting his woman alive and whole.”
Magda smiles one of her smiles that come as hard as mine. Then she takes a sip of her coffee and looks down at the dark concoction.
“I know he cares, Wood,” she says softly. “How can I explain to him I need this?”
I bite down my jaw. Runner has been through some shit in his life but nothing close to Magda’s fucked up past. Your father fucking you senseless every night for years? And that was not just it. You never fully recover from shit like that. You just learn to live with it and hope that one day, day by day, it won’t hurt so fucking much.
“I need to feel in control, to get all that anger out. To feel right again,” Magda continues. “Chasing assholes that jumped bail or are wanted for some bad shit gives me that control. And I am good at it.”
Whipping eggs and rolling dough I know exactly how she feels. That need to have some control over our life, a control that was taken from us both.
“He knows, Magda,” I say over the kitchen countertop. “He knows but he will always want you safe. You are his Valkyrie.”
At these words Magda’s smile becomes wilder. What’s with those morning sessions with the Valkyries in the kitchen? Do I look like a goddamn marriage counsel? I shake my head and concentrate on the job at hand.
“Speaking of Valkyries,” Magda says in a tone that smells trouble, “I haven’t met Tamie.”
“Tamie is not a Valkyrie.”
I look up to Magda and I see the mischief in her sapphire eyes. Nothing stays a secret for too long amongst the Riders. But what does she mean? Has anyone cast his eyes upon Tamie and expressed his wish to claim her? Cause that would be the last thing that will cross his fucking mind before my bullet gets him.
“Runner said you are the one that found her.”
“I went with Rage.”
“Sure, Rage, but it was you that came back with her. And had her in your room.”
“What’s with the interrogation, Magda?”
“I admit it.” Magda throws her hands in the air. “I am not as crafty at this shit as Ava. That scary Russian can fish out a secret you have forgotten you knew. So, I’ll be blunt. What’s with you and Tamie, Wood?”
That is the million-dollar question, Magda! I have no fucking clue what there’s with me and her. Only thing I can’t deny is that there is something there. Something I am too fucking scared to acknowledge and too weak to let go.
“Nothing. The girl is a Valkyrie’s sister and needed saving. I came for you too, Magda. Didn’t mean I wanted to fuck you,” I spit to cut her questions.
“First of all, ew!” Magda twitches her nose. “You are Runner’s brother and I see you as my brother as well.”
“Good thing, little sis,” I smile.
“Second of all, big bro, do not bullshit me. You like the girl?”
“What the fuck you want me to say, Magda?”
“You can talk to me, bro,” Magda says and leans closer. “I know the Riders are not all touchy feely and you are... Well, more clammed up than a rotten oyster but we all need someone to talk to. I am here for you. No judgement, you know that.”
“Nothing to talk about,” I lie. “Now, are you going to help or keep spouting bullshit?”
Magda gives me one of these looks that openly tell me that she is going to let it pass this time but that she is onto me and comes to help. But though I am off the hook, I keep asking the same question again and again: what the fuck am I doing with Tamie?
I realize that I haven’t called ahead exactly the moment I reach Rage’s house. In my head I wanted to take Tamie out for lunch but never asked if she was up to it. I know she is alone though. Rage and Iris reported for duty cause I saw his bike and her car across the street. That’s good. I don’t think I can withstand another meeting with Rage.
I park and go up the stairs with my hands in my pocket to keep them in check. I feel like a teenager here to pick up my crush for a ride and I can’t stop my chest from taking shaky breaths. What is she doesn’t want to? What if she changed her mind?
I ring the bell and take a step back waiting. The few seconds that pass before I hear footsteps approach the door seem like a life time. Then the door opens. And I stop breathing altogether.
Tamie is in those dark jeans we bought together and over that she is wearing a ROT t-shirt that is probably Iris’s but on her curvy body, it is more filled out. And she is barefoot, like that first day I saw her. Her long hair is gathered in a ponytail that leaves her neck exposed and suddenly the memory of her skin against my lips as I held her comes back to ambush me.
I look up into her eyes and I bite my jaw down. Her eyes are shining with joy, joy to see me here.
She blushes. Damn that blush is going to kill me in the end. I know she can perfectly control her body, her face, her posture. She was conditioned to do so to survive. But that blush, that is purely her and only for me. I want to lean in and kiss those blushing cheeks.
“So, about that ride,” I cough pointing at my bike with my thumb.
“Are you free?”
“I am,” she says and smiles softly.
“Just put on the boots I got you, kitten.”
She simply nods and goes up the stairs to do as told. I feel a rush come over me while I watch her go do exactly as I asked without question. A rush that stirs me deeply but I bury it. No! I decide.
She comes back down minutes after with her jeans tucked in those boots. That’s why I got them for her? Was my screwed-up brain planning for this all along? I know it is a calculative, plan-making, ahead-thinking bastard but...
I say nothing just beckon her to follow me and I straddle the bike. Tamie stands close looking at me.
“Ever ridden before?”
She shakes her head and I swell inside. I’ll be the first man to have her on the back of my bike.
“Don’t be afraid, kitten.”
“I am not,” she says firmly.
“You are not?” I give her a side smile.
“No. You came for me and rescued me. You promised you’ll take me to Iris and you did. And you said you will never hurt me.” Her eyes pin me with their honest brutality. “I trust you.”
I take the blow of her words straight to my heart and I bite my jaw down to stop the moan that comes up to my throat.
"Uhm... Rage came for you too,” I grunt out to dispel her illusion.
“He did it for Iris, I know that. What did you do it for?”
Her look is not demanding, just imploring, soft, as soft as her skin, her lips, her hair. She is asking for something of me, something she can’t even name. I am not worthy of her trust but I can’t deny that look.
“For you, kitten,” I admit simply.
Her smile becomes a little wider and my chest constricts painfully. She is smiling to a messed-up man, a liar, a pretender, a shell. But those moments she looks upon me, I feel my inanimate body move to her will.
“Hop on, Tamie,” I pass her the helmet I got for her. “Hold on tight and lean with me.”
She fastens the helmet and she steadies herself on my shoulders before she settles behind me. When her dainty lily hands wrap over my stomach and her chest presses between my shoulder blades, I go instantly hard just like that and thank Tyr she can’t see my shameless erection.
“Yes,” I hear the excitement in her voice.
That makes two of us, kitten, I rev the bike to life and ride away.