Authors: Catherine Johnson
But he’d had no idea how bad it had been.
He’d promised that he would keep them safe, and he’d been doing his best to keep that promise. As soon as the majority of his stitches had been removed and he’d been able to stand the pain in his ribs a little better, he’d made more visits through that tunnel in the bowels of hell. Fitz and Shaggy had been his companions for those journeys and they’d had the support of the Rojas family. He’d wanted the rest of his table at home, keeping the home fires burning and keeping a careful watch on people important to the club. They’d been under strict instructions not to let Thea know she was being looked after.
Dizzy still couldn’t guarantee that everyone with any affinity to the Los Perdidos was dead. Mexico was a big country, after all, and they were a handful of men, not an invading army, but the horrors that they’d perpetrated on the soldiers and sympathizers that they’d found had sent a message loud and clear. During the previous weeks, he’d become a shell of a man, filled only with rage and brutal vengeance. He could say, with a good degree of certainty now, that no one would fuck with the Priests without thinking twice.
Ashleigh and Shark’s wedding hadn’t been a secret, and there weren’t that many motels near the clubhouse. It couldn’t have been hard for those few Perdidos to figure out where they were staying. Dizzy knew himself that the clerk would give up any information without hardly any effort at persuasion. But he could have paid more attention, been better prepared for an attack. He should have made sure another brother was in their room to help him guard his family. He had no intention of being careless about his personal safety, or the safety of those he loved, ever again.
Except that yet again, he had dropped the ball where Thea and Josh had been concerned, as Annelle was describing in heartbreaking detail.
She’d taken Cage’s chair. While she’d been talking, she’d been leaning forward with her elbows on the table, her hands clasped. Now she leaned back and looked him steadily in the eye.
“So my question to you, and I refuse to apologize for bein’ out of line, is what the fuck are you gonna do about this? If you were ever serious about that girl and her boy, you need to help them, because they are drownin’.”
“You don’t have to look at me like that, Annelle. This is all on me and I know it. She asked for space. I gave her space. But it was a mistake. I see that now.”
“So what’re you gonna do?”
Dizzy lit a cigarette and took a long, comforting drag. He kept his eyes on the glass ashtray as he tapped the ash off his smoke. He knew Annelle was still staring at him, her eyes boring disapproving holes into the side of his head, but he wanted to let the idea that he’d tucked away in his mind come back out to the front to expand and flourish before he answered.
He fixed his eyes on Annelle. She was being somewhat less than respectful, but considering the circumstances, he’d let it go, just this once.
“First thing, I’ll get them fixed up with someplace to live. After that we’ll figure out how to deal with everythin’ else.”
Annelle relaxed visibly and smiled. “Good. You need to stand up for your family, but sometimes you need to stand up to them, too.”
“I know jack about raisin’ kids Annelle. She says she knows what’s best for her boy. She’s brought him up good so far. I listen to her.”
Annelle thawed fractionally more. She might even have looked a little sympathetic, not that Dizzy was looking for sympathy.
“But this is your world that you brought them into, Dizzy. She knows her boy, but she doesn’t know this life. She needs you, she just doesn’t know it.”
“She doesn’t want to admit it.” He’d discovered that years of self-reliance had left Thea with an independent streak a mile wide.
“Same thing.” Annelle shrugged.
“Okay.” Dizzy ground his cigarette out. “She at home?”
“Probably, she should be back from the laundromat by now.”
“Right.” Dizzy pushed himself out of his seat and headed for the doors without waiting for Annelle to rise.
He was filled with vigor. This was a chance to make things right. He had a vague notion of Annelle’s heels tapping after him as he headed to the garage bays. He couldn’t motivate this plan on his own, and he couldn’t carry it out on the back of a Harley. He knew he’d have no shortage of helpers. Most of his brothers had tiptoed on eggshells around him on the subject of Thea and Josh, but some had been more vocal than others. They’d all get the chance to say ‘I told you so’, now.
As he walked in, he began to strip out of the coveralls he’d been wearing to wrestle with a Honda. It was obvious from the expectant silence that fell when he walked in that the others had been waiting on his return.
“Shaggy, get the van.”
“What’s up, boss?” Shaggy pushed up from his crouched position next to a Harley he was working on.
“We’re goin’ for Thea and her boy.” He didn’t miss the seven sets of eyebrows that were raised in his direction.
“Why, what happened?” Shaggy took a step forward. He’d been one of Dizzy’s more vocal brothers.
“Nothin’ serious. Well, nothin’ ‘cept they’re bein’ evicted.”
“What?” Ferret had been on a dolly under a Toyota. He pushed himself wholly out now and stood.
“Yeah, they need somewhere to live. We, I’m, gonna sort that for ‘em.”
“We movin’ them in here, boss?” Fitz started pulling off his coverall too, ignoring the paperwork he’d been wrangling with.
“No.” That got everybody’s attention some more. “In with me.”
“’Bout fuckin’ time.” Those were the first words on the subject that Cage had spoken to him.
“Past time.” Shaggy chimed in. Dizzy didn’t call him on it. If they all wanted to take a shot, he deserved it. He’d let it pass, for today anyway.
In no time at all there were seven Harleys and a van parked outside Thea’s building, and eight leather-clad bikers at her door waiting for her to answer Dizzy’s knock.
When she eventually opened the door and caught sight of them all crowding the hall, her jaw dropped. The sight of her was like a punch to Dizzy’s gut. She looked worse than she had when she’d been bruised and bleeding. Her slim frame was downright emaciated now. The dark circles under her red-rimmed eyes were highlighted by her pasty skin and that vibrant mane of hair hung lank and dull around her shoulders.
“Dizzy? What the fuck?”
She was about to shut the door. He wasn’t going to let her, but before he could even so much as get his boot in the way Shaggy was pushing past them both, and she had no choice but to back into the apartment, lest she be steamrolled by the big guy. As she did, the others followed Shaggy and streamed in.
Dizzy was the last one to enter her home. He was ready to hogtie her if necessary to stop her from arguing against this plan. Without further instruction, each man grabbed something, starting with the larger pieces of furniture, and started trooping out of the apartment.
Thea looked on dumbstruck for a good few minutes, but when Shaggy and Scooby wrangled her bed past her and out of the door, Nut and Ferret following with the mattress, she found her voice.
“Dizzy? What the ever-lovin’ fuck do you think you’re all doin’?”
She punctuated her question by thumping her fist against his chest.
“Annelle came to see me this mornin’.”
And just like that, Thea deflated. Her head dropped, her shoulders slumped. “She had no fuckin’ right.”
Dizzy caught her chin with his forefinger and lifted it, forcing her to look at him.
“She had every fuckin’ right. And she was right to do it. She told me you’re strugglin’.”
Thea tried to twist away, so he dropped her chin and caught her with an arm around her waist. He needed her to stay with him, to listen. He hadn’t intended to bring her close to his body, but she was still trying to escape. And fuck, fuck, fuck, he’d missed the feel of her in his arms. He hadn’t even realized how much.
“Don’t you dare be ashamed. This is more than you could handle. More than anyone could. I’ve let you push me, push the club, away. And that was wrong of me. I see that now. So now I’m not givin’ you a choice. You’re comin’ with me.”
“You’re kidnappin’ me?” Thea asked incredulously.
“If I have to. I’d like you to come under your own steam, though.” It was like holding an antsy bag of wildcats.
“You’re gonna carry me out on your shoulder if I don’t?”
“Yeah, if I have to.” Dizzy shrugged. “Or get Scooby or Shaggy to, my shoulder’s still a bit trick.”
She stopped struggling for a moment. “How are you now?”
“I’m fine. I’ll be better when I’ve got you and your boy with me.”
She started twisting and fighting again, trying to push him away. “No, absolutely not. I can manage....”
“No, you really can’t.” He cut her off. He felt like the worst kind of bastard when her expression turned from anger to devastated hurt. He didn’t figure he could have done worse if he’d physically slapped her. She nearly folded completely in on herself.
“Thea, this is happenin’ whether you like it or not. You can help, or you can let all us ham-fisted gorillas mangle all your things.”
“Fine. I’ll play.” Her voice was deadened. But when he reluctantly released her, she snagged a roll of trash bags from a kitchen cupboard and started to go around the room filling a bag at a time. Dizzy took the roll from her, ripped off a bag, and started to help.
Wondering what all the commotion was about, Thea’s neighbor, Clarice, appeared in the hallway. Thea explained to her what was happening and why. At first, Clarice was shocked by the fact that Thea was being kicked out of her home, but when Thea explained that the club was finding a home for them, to Dizzy’s amazement, Clarice produced more trash bags and boxes and helped Thea to pack her belongings.
It took some time and enough trips up and down the stairs to make Dizzy’s knees scream, but they got the van full with its first load. Thea and Josh didn’t have a lot of possessions, but it was going to take more than one trip to move what they did have.
Cage, Fitz and Easy stayed behind in the apartment, stacking furniture and bagging clothes and books and the contents of cupboards and shelves. Scooby, Shaggy and Ferret straddled their bikes. Nut slipped behind the wheel of the loaded van.
Dizzy walked Thea out and to his bike. “Ride with me?”
Thea shivered a little. It was cool, nearing Christmas. She was wearing a long-sleeve top with a faded, much-washed, flannel shirt flapping loosely over the top. Dizzy didn’t know if she had a heavy coat, or if it had been packed into a bag. She looked suspiciously at him, at his bike, then back at him. Then she nodded.
Dizzy swung onto his bike, and held his arm up for Thea to use to balance herself as she climbed onto the seat behind him. It was the first time that she’d been on his bike with him, and he liked the symmetry of that. This was a new beginning for them. He waited until she was settled before he pulled out onto the street. The van and its escort pulled out behind him.
She was a good passenger, working with the movement of his body in a way that had his cock filling out and his breath quickening. But he felt her go rigid when he took a turn she hadn’t been expecting him to take.
He pulled up at his house. He knew from the way that she’d twitched on the route that she’d been expecting to be taken to the clubhouse. His brothers, when they pulled up alongside the van, were wearing matching dopey smirks. Dizzy knew he’d be taking some shit for this for some time.
“Get to movin’, you guys,” he instructed the grinning men.