He told me he loved me.
And I said it back.
It’d only been six weeks since we met. This was by far the most reckless thing I’d done since running away at seventeen. Although that was less reckless. I was running from danger then, away from this type of life. Now I was running straight back to it, arms wide open and embracing the danger.
And nothing had ever felt more right. Having Nathan wrapped around me while I slept was like sleeping next to a furnace. He radiated heat. But I was too comfortable to be bothered by it. Although it didn’t necessarily bother me, it terrified me. Being this close to him was as exhilarating as it is frightening.
I could still remember after I was kidnapped. My mother loved my father so much that she spiraled out of control without him. She didn’t want to live without him, couldn’t. I didn’t know if it was a choice or not but she let herself be consumed by alcohol and drugs. She followed him quickly into the grave. I hadn’t seen any extreme drugs at the Rebel Souls Clubhouse, but a small part of me still believed that all clubs are the same.
I was nine the first time I saw one of the brothers snort a line of cocaine from the bar. In the beginning mom tried to protect me from it, but she quickly realized it was no use since we lived at the clubhouse. I was ten the first time I walked to the kitchen for a midnight snack with Jamie only to see an orgy happening in the middle do the bar. Two weeks later was the first time I could remember the clubhouse being raided by the cops. The stormed the doors with automatic weapons, dressed in full riot gear. I’d been so scared I peed myself. The second time it happened I was eleven. That time I had been able to hold my bladder.
After my parents died the club turned even darker. I never knew for sure what illegal business they had their hands in, but from the snippets of murmured conversations I’d heard in the clubhouse it seemed like they had their hands in all sorts of pies. Guns, drugs, prostitution, illegal gambling. The list seemed endless. Each new endeavor was built around making more money. And each one was more dangerous than the last. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the entire club had either been taken out or ended up in jail. For the last ten years I’d avoided looking anything up about them. I wouldn’t start now.
Liza and Megan had told me that Hands and Greaser had claimed them publicly. I was sure that was the usual way here, just like it was growing up, but having seen so much public sex growing up, I was glad Nathan didn’t want it that way. If he had, it wouldn’t have been gentle, sweet love making the first time. He’d cherished me. Thinking about it now made my eyes watery. I couldn’t believe I actually cried.
My entire body was waging an internal battle. I loved him. There was no going back from it, but I was terrified of ending up like my mother. Of him ending up like my father. I still didn’t know what the club’s business was. We needed to draw the line now. I was sure he’d let me choose. The only way to survive as an old lady was to know everything and accept it or know nothing and accept living in the dark. Megan and Liza knew nothing. I didn’t think I could live like that.
I had to know.
Nathan moved next to me, his arms unconsciously squeezing me tighter. Lifting my head from its resting place in the crook of his neck I brushed my lips along his jaw. He hummed happily. I continued kissing him awake while contended sounds fell from his lips. “Morning, baby,” he whispered.
“Hi,” I smiled at him, even though his eyes were closed and he couldn’t see it.
“I don’t think passing out into unconsciousness after half a dozen orgasms qualifies as sleep.” His chest rumbled against me as he let out a laugh. “But yes.” I was stroking his ego. He didn’t need it and I was doing so unintentionally. Soothingly his hands rubbed circles over my body, the motion causing goosebumps to break out on my skin. “Can we talk?” I asked tentatively.
His posture stiffened. “What about?”
“We need to decide if I’m going to know everything or nothing about club business.” I could feel him nod but he didsn’t answer as he mulled over my words.
“Can we have this conversation over coffee?”
“Sure,” I said kissing his cheek and separating myself from him. Pulling his t-shirt over my head I walked to the bathroom, doing a quick morning routine. As I was walking out he walked in. He landed a swift pat to my ass as I walked by and a I glared at him playfully over my shoulder.
I was still searching for coffee in the kitchen when he came downstairs, dressed only in grey sweats. I licked my lips, hundreds of lewd images flooding my mind. Forcing them away I reminded myself we needed to talk first. “Do you even have coffee?”
“Yes.” I watched as he pulled coffee from the tallest cabinet in the kitchen. One I never could have reached. “You hungry?”
“What do you want to know?” He asked, diving right in.
“We both know I have to know everything or nothing. There’s no in between.”
“I know.” His response came out strained. He didn’t want me to know anything; I could read it all over his face.
“You don’t want me to know,” I voiced my observation.
“No, I don’t. You ran away from the life once. I don’t want you to run from me.”
“I won’t. But I need to know. I can’t live in the dark like Megan and Liza.”
“Okay,” he said. He was reluctant but he’d give me anything I wanted. That much was clear.
He poured us both a cup of coffee before sitting at the table. I sat next to him, anxiously waiting whatever he was going to tell me. “The club is involved in illegal activities. That much you already know. We are not involved with drugs, guns, sex trafficking or prostitution.” I sighed heavily in relief. Those were my worst fears. “We work in document forgery and run some underground gambling rings.”
Illegal? Yes. As bad as I was expecting? No.
“The worst thing we do is offer protection to guys worse than us.” I quirked an eyebrow at him. “A select few brothers, all non-ranking members work for a legit security company. It’s owned by the MC. It’s a legit business but it’s the most dangerous one.”
“Yeah. For people, but also for shipments.”
“Guns and drugs?”
“Honestly, I have no idea. According to the shipping manifests it’s usually auto parts or electronics. For all I know it really could be.”
“Plausible deniability.” He nodded. “Have you ever had dealings with the cartel before?”
“No. The cartel is a nonstarter for the club. It’s well known they deal in drugs and guns. We don’t knowingly involve ourselves in those businesses. No trafficking either.”
“But if you don’t know then couldn’t you be involved anyway?” I asked skeptically.
“Potentially,” he admitted reluctantly. “But all our clients have to be referred from a trusted client. They wouldn’t risk our working relationship like that.”
“So who do you usually work for?”
“Foreign businessmen whose business isn’t above board. Other clubs. Corrupt politicians. A few washed up celebrities.”
“It’s not as bad as I thought,” I admitted.
“We have our fair share of trouble.”
“You asked me if I’d ever killed anyone.” My breath caught in my throat. “Truth is I don’t know. I’ve never executed someone, but we’ve been in gun fights with other clubs, with people going after our territory or cargo we’ve been protecting. I have no way of knowing if a bullet from one of my guns has ended someone else’s life.”
“It was a hypocrital thing to ask anyway,” I said.
“How do you mean?” He asked, eyes searching mine for answers.
“I’ve killed someone.”
“Jesus, Rachel. What?” There was no anger in his voice, just confusion. Doubt.
“It was self defense.” I took a deep breath, suddenly wishing there was something much stronger than coffee in my cup. “After our parents died Jamie and I became inseparable. We were best friends before but after that we did everything together. We shared a room, a bed. When we were about sixteen some of the brothers started getting inappropriate. They weren’t shy about their homophobia but teenage lesbians were apparently an exception to that rule. They’d barge into our room, kicking it in when it was locked, hoping to find us fooling around. We were propositioned for threesomes, porn. You name it. One of the hang arounds told a coworker about it. He told his wife, who told someone, who told someone else. You know how small town gossip goes. Somehow it got back to the kids we went to school with.
“Jamie and I were walking home from school one day when someone from our class came up to us. He inserted himself into our lives regularly; he wanted to be part of the MC. I can’t really remember everything he said but he pulled us into a deserted alleyway, talking about how they’d have to patch him in if he banged both MC princesses. What he didn’t know was that we’d been trained in self defense and that to get initiation he’d have to go through one of us. He fought hard and knocked me out, even if I was only out for a few minutes. When I came to he was on top of Jamie, trying to get her pants off.” My voice is monotonous like I’m telling the story from a a script and not from a memory. “I took the knife from my boot and stabbed him in the neck. I wasn’t trying to kill him. I just didn’t want him to hurt her.”
Nathan walked around the table, picking me up and setting me back down in his lap. He rocked me as then tears fall. “Look at me.” Sniffing I tilted my head to meet his eyes.
“I told you I had more skeletons in my closet.”
He shook his head, biting back a laugh at my dark humor. “If you hadn’t done what you did, would he have hurt your best friend?” I nodded. “Then you did the right thing.”
“I tell you I’ve killed someone and you tell me I did the right thing?”
“You protected someone you love. And yourself.”
“Nobody knows. Jamie and I swore to take it to the grave. You’re the first person I’ve told in more than ten years. We’ve never even talked about it.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone.” I didn’t respond, there was no reason to. “Can I ask you something?”
“Why didn’t you fight back when Joe took you? You could have defended yourself.”
“If I had been alone I would have. But I didn’t want you to get hurt. That beast had a gun on you. I knew I loved you then, as ridiculous as it sounds. If I had tried to protect you they would have shot you. I didn’t want to lose you.” The tears were back.
“Shh. It’s okay. Baby, you don’t have to protect me. Ever. It’s my job to protect you.”
“Don’t start that macho bull with me. The queen protects the king. I’ll always protect you. Just like you’ll always protect me. It’s a two way street. Accept it.” He shook his head, unable to argue. He knew I was right.
His phone beeped from across the room. Reluctantly I stood so he could answer it. “We’re needed at the clubhouse.”
We changed quickly before riding to the clubhouse. Riding had become my new favorite pastime. The feeling of freedom compared to nothing else. Having my arms wrapped around Nathan wasn’t a bad way to spend my time either.
When the roaring of Nathan’s bike stopped and I could hear again the commotion coming from inside the clubhouse was the first thing that caught my attention. Were they having a party at ten in the morning? Quickly I realized that wasn't the case as the noise was clearly fighting and not partying. Nathan didn’t wait for me as he ran into the clubhouse.
I ran after him only to collide with his back. He’d stopped short in the doorway. Peaking around his broad shoulders I saw Jamie holding Annie, her arm around her while she whispered in her ear. Gently, I pushed my way passed Nathan to stand in front of him.
“I’m going to put this in language your little man brains can understand,” Jamie shouted. Oh boy. “She,” her yelling continued as she squeezed Annie impossibly closer. “Is my old lady. Off limits. Mine!” Annie’s blush was the color of her hair as she bowed her head, hiding herself from the stares. “I love her. Does anyone here have a problem with that?”
I had to bite back a laugh as I heard metaphorical crickets chirping in my own head.
“Good. Thank you for your time. Please resume your regularly scheduled shenanigans you miscreants.” She pulled Jamie towards the booth where Chrissy was sitting with her mouth hanging open. I turned to Nathan and kissed him quickly before scurrying after them.
“Finally!” I shouted throwing my arms around both of them.
“You knew?” Annie asked while Jamie looked anything but surprised.
“Of course,” Chrissy and I said at the same time.
“And you’re okay with it?”
“I hate that you even have to ask that. Of course. I also already talked to Nathan since your coming out was inevitable. You won’t get any flack from any of the brothers.” They shared a loving smile.
“Okay. Now I want the dirty details,” Chrissy said shamelessly. Annie went even redder than before. Jamie kissed her head before whispering in her ear.
“Don’t you dare!”
“What?” Chrissy asked, eyes full of excitement.
“Tell you how Annie came on to me.” Annie buried her head in her hands while letting out a weak protest.
“That’s not how it happened.”
“That’s how I remember it.”
“I was drunk!” Chrissy and I exchanged a laugh as we watched their exchange.
“Drunk actions are sober thoughts, my love,” Jamie cooed at her while leaning in to kiss her cheek.
“Fine!” Annie shouted in defeat. “About a year ago, after we went out one night, I got very drunk. You know I don’t usually do that. I’ve had a crush on her since junior year of college. And I drunkenly confessed my feelings and tried to kiss her. But she rejected me.”
“That’s not completely true. I told you I didn’t want to kiss you drunk. That it wouldn’t count. So I put you in bed, and when you woke up, I asked you if you remembered anything.”
“Which I didn’t.”
“Which she lied about,” Jamie said pointedly. “You always blush when you lie.”
“Not true,” Annie said while blushing, effectively proving Jamie’s point. I couldn’t help but laugh at her expense. She'd always been the sweetest, purest one of us. We were all rough around the edges, but Annie was the epitome of sugar and spice and everything nice. The woman didn’t have a mean bone in her body.
“Anyways. I kissed her. And the rest is history.”
“You kept it hidden for a long time,” Chrissy commented.
“With how we grew up,” Jamie began, the we being me and her. “People there weren’t tolerant. I just wasn’t ready.”
“So what changed your mind?”
Jamie looked at me, fury coming back as she answered. It was the same look she had while she had been addressing the club. “For the third time today, just today, some testosterone fueled brother hit on her. And she was flirting back.”
“You told me to!”
“I know. I wanted to keep our cover. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. And then Brenda commented that one of the prospects is gay. And so is her sister. So I figured we were safe. If another guy hit on her I would have lost it and whooped his ass.” Chrissy and Annie snickered like she couldn’t. I nodded at her discretely, knowing full well she could easily take half the brothers in the club. Seal, Nathan, and Hawk would probably be the only ones to give her a run for her money.
“Did you have to call me your old lady?”
“You are six months older than me.” Annie just huffed while I suppressed more laughter. Jamie leaned in and kissed her girlfriend’s frowning lips. They turned up at the gesture, but she fought against it, determined to keep her bravado of anger.
Jamie continued to tell us stories of her and Annie’s relationship, each one making Annie blush harder than the last. I was genuinely concerned that she’d never return to her normal color.
I was listening and paying attention but my focus was regularly pulled to Nathan. He was sitting between Hawk and Bender. Or maybe it was Bubbles. I couldn’t read the cut from here and both of their names were so ridiculous I could barely keep them straight. He was nodding and answering Hawk, but each time I looked up, his eyes are on mine. The lust in them made me clench my legs together.
Would I ever get enough of this man?
As I was watching him, a commotion by the entrance caught my eye. Hands was in the doorway, looking like he’d just run a marathon. As soon as he found Nathan he quickly went to him. He leaned over the table, speaking lowly, completely blocking my view of Nathan, so I focused on Hawk. Unfortunately his stone cold disposition gave nothing away.
“Church!” I heard Nathan bellow. The guys scampered from the room and headed to their meeting room. Hawk and Nathan walked slowly towards me, stopping at the table. “You’re needed for this one too, baby.”