Authors: Evelyn Glass
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, events, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
Black Dagger copyright @ 2015 by Evelyn Glass. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
Book 1 of the
Mad Jackals Brotherhood MC
“Why do you have to make things so difficult, Mia?” Eli’s last words resound in her head long after the end of the fight.
Their arguments were becoming more and more frequent, more and more heated. There was a time when they never said a cross word to each other, but that time had long since passed.
She turns the radio up as she waits in traffic, hoping to drown out the thoughts that make her grip the steering wheel harder. Usually she tried to keep calm when Eli was cruising for a fight, but something inside of her had just snapped this morning. She hadn’t been able to stop herself from saying the things she’d been thinking for so long.
“Stop trying to change me, Eli! You know I love my work, I’m not giving it up just because of some macho pride bullshit!” She’d watched as his fists had clenched, as his look of surprise at her outburst had changed to anger in the space of a few seconds.
“Macho pride bullshit? Is that what you call it? Just because I want to take care of you! I thought you, of all people, would appreciate someone looking out for you!” He knew exactly what to say to hurt her; he should, though; he’d known her for longer than anyone else – well, almost anyone.
“I don’t need you to take care of me, Eli! I’m a big girl!” She’d taken a couple of deep breaths, drawing on her psychology experience to try to get her center back. “Do we have to have this argument every week?”
Eli had turned away then, gathered up his things without looking at her and made his way towards the front door. “I don’t have time for this anyway. I have to get to work.”
She’d walked up behind him, wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and rested her head on his back. She could never let him leave with a cross word still between them. It was a hangover from her childhood – she’d been left twice without a goodbye, without being able to make things right. She’d learnt her lesson. “Don’t leave like this, Eli. Please.” She couldn’t hide the vulnerability in her voice, though she hated hearing it.
She’d felt his shoulders relax against her then, as if all the energy had been sucked out of him. He turned around and held her close to him. Mia rested her head against his shoulder, letting herself sink into the comfort of his arms. “I feel like you’re so mad at me all the time.” Her voice was soft as she looked up to him, wondering what had changed between them, what she’d done to make him so angry with her.
“I’m sorry, Mia. I’m just tired and grumpy from the store.” Eli shrugged as if to say that explained it all, but it didn’t, not nearly.
She knew he worked long hours, trying to prove himself to his father, to show he’s more than capable to take over the growing chain of hardware stores that were fast becoming a household name in California. But things had become more and more strained between them in the past few months.
Mia felt like she had to walk on eggshells around him for fear of starting yet another argument. It made her glad that she’d managed to refuse his offer of moving in with him. He’d made the point that she spent most nights at his place anyway and he was right, but there was something holding her back from completely binding herself to Eli, something that made her shy away each time he brought up the subject of marriage. Having her own place gave her a feeling of safety, knowing that if things went south between them, she’d have somewhere to go.
“You’ve been working really hard and I’ve got some vacation past due. How about we take a long weekend, go somewhere, and maybe take a trip down the coast? Just get away for a few days.” She’d looked up at him, voicing a thought that she’d only been entertaining in her own mind up until that moment. A change of scenery: perhaps that was all that they needed to get things back on track between them.
But Eli’s expression of incredulity made it seem like she’d just asked him to take her to Mars. “Leave? You know I can’t do that! Not now, when things are so busy. Jesus, Mia, how irresponsible do you think I am?” He’d released her, looking at her and shaking his head in disbelief.
She had reached out to him and then thought better of it, knowing that if she tried to touch him, he’d just reject her and that wasn’t an emotion she wanted to have to deal with on top of everything else. “I think you’re too responsible, Eli! You’re twenty-six years old and you haven’t had a holiday since high school! Everyone needs a break sometimes, even you. Your dad will understand.”
Eli held his hand up, stopping her from saying anything else. “This was about you and
job, how I don’t like you working there with
people. It’s not safe. Don’t turn this into being about me. There’s nothing wrong with me, or with my job. I’m not the one that’s unstable. I’m all right.”
Mia bristled at this. “And what? I’m unstable? I’m not all right?” She stared at him open-mouthed; she couldn’t believe he would throw this in her face – an accusation that she was no better than her mother, that she suffered from the same disease of unhappiness.
“Jesus, Mia, don’t put words in my mouth; stop trying to get inside my head. That might work with your
but it won’t work with me.” The look on Eli’s face had been so filled with anger that Mia had taken an involuntary step back.
“I’m not trying to get inside your head, Eli and they’re clients, not patients.” The discrepancy between the two terms was important, if only to her. “I’m just trying to get you to talk to me. It feels like we don’t talk anymore; we just fight.” Her shoulders sagged, as if the admission had suddenly made her indescribably tired.
“Why do you have to fight me on everything? It doesn’t have to be so hard. Why do you have to make things so difficult, Mia?” He hadn’t even waited for her to answer him, the door slamming shut behind him as he stomped out of the house.
“I don’t mean to.” She’d said the words to the closed door, not shaking herself out of the moment until she heard Eli’s car head down the street, faster than he had any reason to be going. It was unlike him – speeding. Eli had always been the type to follow every rule; he’d never cheated on a test at school, never lied to his teachers to get out of a homework assignment. He did everything by the book. He was responsible to a fault, and now the cracks were starting to show – as if his shoulders could no longer take the weight of the world that he had been carrying. He was so unlike Ray.
Mia puts a stop to that train of thought as quickly as she can. Nothing good would come of thinking about Ray – that had been true for a very long time. She slows down as she reaches the high school, watching as the kids file in, pushing, laughing, joking and shouting. There were a million ways for her to avoid the school on her way to work, but she convinced herself that it still made sense to go past it; it was the quickest route. She doesn’t allow herself to admit that it’s also a way of holding onto him, of remembering him.
Whenever she goes past Maryvale High, all the memories come flooding back: Eli, her and Ray, they had all been friends. They had looked out for each other. They were a team. They’d known about her mother, that she’d committed suicide when Mia was just a kid and that she’d been the one to find her. Mia shudders as her brain threatens to go back to that time, to that image that she’s never completely successful at getting out of her mind. Repression, she shakes her head at herself, there’s something ironic about a Psych major not being able to deal with her own problems head on.
She puts her foot down, not wanting to linger outside the school anymore, not wanting to let the memories that threaten to overcome her do just that. But it’s a little late for action now; the memories have already planted their roots and it isn’t hard for them to take hold.
“I’ll always come back for you. I promise.” She can hear Ray’s voice in her ears as clearly as she had the day he had said those words. Almost eight years had passed, but it was as if it were yesterday.
She remembers how she’d tried to persuade him not to get patched with the Mad Jackals Brotherhood MC. She was terrified of losing him and she’d grown up hearing stories about the MC and their shady business – nothing specific, but the rumblings she’d managed to piece together suggested that it wasn’t anything good. But Ray hadn’t listened. He never had. Ray did whatever he wanted to do and to hell with the consequences. By that point, Ray had become more than just her best friend; she was in love with him; he made her feel like no one else. He’d told her she was smart, told her to follow her dreams; he’d called her beautiful. No one had ever called her that. Somewhere along the line, she’d convinced herself they were meant to be.
If Eli had been the stable, responsible one, then Ray was the rebel without a cause. He had always been a little dangerous, getting into trouble at school, even occasionally with the police. But he had a good heart, he’d just caught a rough break and it had made him tough – having a junkie for a mother would do that to you.
His mom had run off again with one of her loser friends, leaving Ray – that was right around the time that Ray had made the decision to join the Jackals. Mia had gone back to that time in her mind again and again, wondering if there had been something she could have done, something she could have said to persuade him to stay with her, something she could have said that would have kept him safe. It had taken her a long time to get to grips with the idea that Ray was going to do whatever he wanted to and nothing that she could have said would have changed that.
“No matter what happens, I’ll come back to you. I promise. Nothing could keep me away.” He’d held her face between his hands as he’d said the words, locking eyes with her, his blue eyes shining with sincerity. He’d given her the patch from his dad’s old leather jacket, the one that Ray had always worn. The angel wings were frayed at the edges and faded from the sun, but it had been the most meaningful present anyone had ever given to her, before or since.
“I can’t take this. It’s your dad’s. He’d want you to have it.” Mia had held the material out to Ray, waiting for him to take it back. It was too much; she couldn’t let herself take something that was so important to him.
“He’d want me to give it to someone special.” Ray had looked at her with those intense eyes of his, eyes that seemed to see right down to her very soul and then he closed her hands over the patch. He’d wiped her tears away and asked to hear her valedictorian speech. Graduation was just a few days away and he knew she was nervous as hell at having to stand up in front of all those people and speak. When she was done, he’d told her it was the best speech he’d ever heard and she’d shoved him, knowing he was making fun of her. It had broken the tension from earlier and they’d spent the rest of the afternoon together, laughing, kissing, talking about anything other than the MC, anything other than what would happen after graduation.
That night she’d gone home and slept with the angel wing patch underneath her pillow. It was the closest thing to having Ray in her bed and that’s when she’d decided that she would tell him what she already knew – that she wanted him to be her first. She wanted him and she knew from the bulge in his pants whenever they kissed that he wanted her, too. But he hadn’t pushed her, hadn’t made her feel like she was holding out on him. He’d given her time, time she’d needed to make sure she was ready and she knew she was.
She’d slept with that damn patch underneath her pillow for years, as if that would bring him back. But it hadn’t – it never would. She wipes tears from her eyes as she pulls into the parking spot behind the women’s shelter where she’d worked in one capacity or another since graduation. She takes a few breaths to gather herself together, not wanting to walk in looking like she’d been crying. It didn’t matter how much time had passed, Mia had to wonder if she would ever be able to think of Ray without feeling like her entire world had come crashing down around her ears.
Eli had waited until after she’d finished her finals before telling her. He’d known for a few days but hadn’t wanted anything to distract her from her exams. He knew how important they were to her, how much she needed the grades that she’d been working so hard for.
“What do you mean he’s dead?” She had barely been able to get the words out; they’d seemed so wrong in her mouth, like they didn’t belong there.
“I’m so sorry, Mia.” Eli had held onto her shoulders, gently, as if he thought she might break.
She sank to the floor, her legs no longer able to hold her up. “What happened?” Her brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but she knew she needed to hear what had happened to the man that she had been waiting to reappear for four years.
“Mia, don’t do this to yourself.” Eli had stroked her hair, soothingly but she barely felt it.
“Tell me. I need to hear it.” The words had come out harsher than she had intended, but she wasn’t in a position to temper her tone then.
Eli sighed heavily, as if he hadn’t really expected to get away with keeping her in the dark. “I don’t have a lot of details. All I know is he was doing a job for the Mad Jackals. There was a firefight and Ray took a bullet. He didn’t make it.” Eli studied her face, waiting for a reaction. Seconds stretched into minutes and, yet, she didn’t move, didn’t even blink. “Mia, say something. You’re scaring me.” Eli had given her shoulders a little shake and it brought her back to the present.
“I always thought I’d know if anything had happened to him.” She laughed without a trace of humor. “I suppose that’s stupid, isn’t it?”
Eli had bowed his head, as if he were gathering strength for something, and when he looked into her eyes again there was a determination that hadn’t been there before. “It’s not stupid, Mia, but you have to accept that he’s gone. It’s time.”
Mia looked up at him, knowing he wasn’t talking about the few minutes she’d had to process the fact that Ray was dead. He was talking about the years she’d waited for him to come back, the years she’d wasted, pining for someone that so clearly didn’t care about her, not like she had thought.
“I think I need a drink.” Eli couldn’t have been more surprised by Mia’s words if she’d slapped him.
“You don’t drink.” He’d looked at her cautiously, as if he expected her to turn into a crazy person right before his very eyes. Eli was one of two people who had known about her mother’s drinking, how Mia had sworn she wouldn’t let herself go down that road. Ray was the other, and now he was dead. That was a good enough reason for a drink if she’d ever heard one.
“I do today.” She remembers being surprised at how level her voice was, how she’d managed to collect herself together, how she hadn’t even cried. That hadn’t happened until hours later, when she was well and truly wasted and it had all been because of that stupid song.