Authors: Cynthia Rayne
Oh, yeah, she liked the bike. It was loud and sleek. Dead sexy.
“Hold on,” he said over his shoulder before they took off. With a shriek, she wrapped her arms around his waist and held on for dear life. They zoomed through the main drag, which passed by in a blur of asphalt and whizzing trees.
Eventually, they stopped in front of Seventh Circle Motors, according to the sign above the door. The sign featured a red ring of fire encircling the shop’s name, along with a devil holding a wrench.
There was an office connected to an enormous warehouse-type structure and three large garage doors, which were already open. Inside, she saw a concrete floor and a vaulted ceiling. Along the walls were red metallic cabinets. A couple of them were open and they were stuffed full of shiny steel tools. A car was lifted into the air by a red metal contraption and a young woman stood beneath it, her arms upraised.
“Dani, come here a sec,” Axel called as they walked into the shop.
Dani set her tools down and walked over to them with long-limbed grace. Charlie thought they were both in their mid-twenties. She was tall and thin with short, spiky black hair streaked with purple and shorn on one side. The streaks matched the chipped, eggplant polish on her short nails. Dani wore a pair of black coveralls and Doc Martens splashed with violet and silver in an artful pattern.
“S’up, A-man?” Dani asked.
“Don’t call me that.” Axel ruffled Dani’s hair and she slapped his hand away, but her blue eyes danced with amusement. “I need you to do me a favor. Since the prospects got patched in, I’m fresh out of free labor options. I want you to watch Charlie while I’m at church.”
Dani gave Charlie a once-over.
Charlie crossed her arms over her chest and returned the favor.
“She’s a mite old for a babysitter, dontcha think?” Dani asked.
He sighed. “You’d think, but Charlie’s a thief and a liar.” We found her squatting at Hades. And I’d appreciate it if she was here when I get back from the meeting.”
“Holy shit. She stole from the club?” Dani stared at her like she’d grown an extra head.
when people talk
me, instead of
me,” Charlie said, rolling her eyes.
“Yup and Voo’s pissed,” Axel answered Dani, ignoring Charlie’s crack. “So, you’ll watch her?”
“Sure thing, boss,” Dani said with a nod. Then she scowled at Charlie in a warden-with-a-prisoner way.
“Thanks. I owe you one.” He grabbed a Taser from a pocket in his leather vest and handed it to Dani. “You know how to use this, right?”
She hit the button on the side of it and electricity arced between two steel points. “Yeah, my dad taught me how.” Dani bit her lower lip, and she had an evil gleam in her eye.
Charlie stepped back and resisted the urge to hold her hands up. “Is this necessary?” While she might be a flight risk, she wouldn’t hurt anybody.
“Hell, yes,” Axel said, looming over her again. “If you lay so much as a fingernail on Dani, I’ll—”
“Whoa. No one is hurting anyone. If you’re worried about it, you can lock me in your office.” It was plain to see Axel cared deeply for Dani, and that irked Charlie for some reason.
“Nice try. You’d pick the lock and be on your way in five seconds flat.” Axel grabbed his phone. “I’m running late,” he told Dani. “Shock her if you have to and if she makes a run for it, call me. The brothers will round her up.”
Oh, fantastic. The last thing Charlie needed was a biker posse on her tail. Not that she’d be getting very far, anyway, since Betty had gone kaput.
Axel motioned to the tools. “And make sure she doesn’t make off with half the garage!” With that, he sprinted outside to his bike, started it up, and took off.
Charlie was left with Dani, who watched her with a scowl. And Charlie did her very best
“Are you gonna make me use this?” Dani asked, lifting the weapon in her grip. Again, she sparked it up for show.
“Screw that,” Charlie said with a shake of her head. “Flopping around the floor in a puddle of my own pee would make this day even more craptacular.”
Dani’s lips twitched, but otherwise her face was a calm mask. “At least now you’re making some sense. Stealing from the brothers was an epic fuck-up, Char.” Dani had called her Char rhymed with bar, which was where Charlie currently wanted to be. Preferably with a whole bottle of vodka and a straw.
“It’s Charlie, not Char. And yeah, I’m fully aware.
and all that.”
She should’ve stayed elsewhere. Any other hotel would have been better. Hell, even sleeping on a park bench cuddled up with lice-ridden, rabid raccoons would’ve been a more enticing option.
Dani tucked the Taser in the back pocket of her coveralls and grabbed a wrench before she walked back over to the car. She faced Charlie, presumably to keep an eye on her. “Good. Have a seat and shut your cake hole. I’m not in the mood today,
She decided to let the nickname thing go.
Prisoners can’t be choosers.
Charlie spied a red steel stool and sat down on it. It made a scraping noise as she rolled it across the concrete floor, and she winced
“Yeah, I got it. You’ll sic your biker boys on me.”
Dani didn’t look away from the car suspended above her head. “Oh, I’ll do way worse that.”
“What could be worse?”
come after you.” Dani’s gaze shot daggers at her. No threat and all promise.
Crap on a cracker.
These people were awfully serious about some sandwiches and a few stolen nights at
. “Yeah, well, don’t worry about it. I’m not up to anything.”
“What?” Charlie asked.
“My dad always said the devil will get you for lyin’ as quick as he will stealin’, you know.” With a groan, Dani reached above her head, straining. She had a wiry sort of strength in her small biceps.
Charlie didn’t have any muscular definition, but she could run like a cheetah if she had to. It paid to be fast when you had sticky fingers. “How would you know anything about stealing?”
Dani chuckled. “Call it a hunch.”
Charlie leaned forward and stared at her companion with renewed interest. Dani had said she shouldn’t steal from the brothers, but hadn’t scolded her for stealing in the first place. It was a telling distinction. Maybe Dani was more remarkable than she’d originally thought. “Have you ever stolen anything?”
Dani didn’t answer, but a small, pleased grin curved her lips for a moment.
Charlie knew that look. Once she’d tried stealing, Charlie was hooked. While she wasn’t a kleptomaniac or anything, she did get a high from theft. Maybe it was the wicked thrill of getting away with something. Or the adrenaline rush.
In pursuit of answers, Charlie changed the subject and turned on the charm. A little small talk might thaw her jailor out, and she didn’t want to spend the next hour or so trading insults or threats. “You and Axel are a couple then? You own this shop together?”
Dani stopped mid-wrenching and held her stomach as if she was going to upchuck. “God, no! Don’t say things like that. Yuck.”
She seriously used
to describe dating the sexy six-foot-and-then-some biker? “He isn’t your boyfriend then?”
“Uh, no.” She did a full-body shudder as though the thought alone revolted her. “Not even close.”
Charlie was surprised at happy she was to hear that news. “Why not?”
“I’ve known him forever. He used to babysit me when I was a kid. Liking him would be all…
Flowers in the Attic
.” Dani grimaced.
that book,” Charlie said.
She’d gone through a serious V.C. Andrews stage in middle school. She used to devour the books, though the seriously twisted romantic relationship between the brother and sister characters freaked her out.
Charlie often lost herself in books. She could always count on a good old public library. Whatever town she blew through, she could get a library card—after she lied about her address—and load up on all of the books she wanted. She didn’t even have to steal them.
Dani smiled, just a little. “Me, too.”
“They’re so very,
They both shivered then laughed like old friends sharing a private joke. And the pressure in the room eased a bit.
Charlie sighed and rolled her shoulders as the tension slipped away. Dani went back to working on the car. She fiddled with something and some motor oil spattered on her chin. She hastily wiped it off, and it stained the back of her hand. She had a bit of a tomboy vibe. Maybe it was a byproduct of being raised around all this testosterone?
“I don’t get it. Axel’s so…” Charlie stopped herself before she made a purring noise, like a house cat curled in the heat of the sun. Words couldn’t even cover it. “Uh, he’s attractive, if you’re into bikers,” she said lamely.
Dani raised a brow.
“What?” She touched her cheek and slyly checked her palm.
Do I have something on my face?
“Why are you being weird?”
“If you’re into bikers, huh?” Dani waggled her eyebrows. “Do tell.”
“Shut up,” Charlie snapped. “He looks fine, but he’s an asshole.”
“Yeah, and you’d like a slice of that anyway,” Dani insisted.
“I never said—”
“You didn’t have to.” Dani planted a hand on her hip. “If you didn’t care, you would’ve said he’s hot and been done with it, but you’re bein’ all twitchy about it.” She shook her head. “Well, this is gonna be entertainin’.”
Charlie composed herself so she could lie her ass off. “He’s hot, but not my type.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” she grated out. “I’m a freaking fantastic liar, and I don’t have a thing for Axel!” The words echoed around the vaulted ceiling. Charlie buried her face in her hands and wondered if it was possible to die of humiliation.
“Yeah, my bad,” Dani said. “You obviously don’t care about him.”
“I hate you,” Charlie growled.
“Yeah, yeah. Get in line.” She shrugged. “Let me guess. You haven’t seen Ryker yet?”
“Axel’s younger brother. He’s better looking,” Dani stated. “But he’s taken. He’s getting married in a couple of weeks.”
Charlie gaped at her. She had trouble imagining someone sexier than Axel. “So, I have a question for you. Why are all the Horsemen sexy? Don’t the Horsemen have any homely guys in the club?”
Dani shrugged. “Maybe it’s in the bylaws or somethin’.” Then she cackled. “Or they’re following the Hooters business model, in reverse.”
For a moment, Charlie imagined a world with sexy men serving hot wings and sighed. “So, whose car are you working on?” she asked.
Dani fiddled with another
doohickey. Charlie had to call car parts doohickeys
and thingamawatchets. She didn’t know a damn thing about them.
Maybe that’s why the Olds crapped out on me.
“Lexi. Her dad’s one of the brothers, too. I’m doing a tune-up and an oil change.”
“You all seem to be real close.”
She nodded. “Small-town life, I guess. Everyone and everything’s connected. You get used to it, and you learn to hide stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?” Charlie asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Charlie wondered what it would have been like to grow up with roots and ties to a community. After they’d moved around a few times, she’d stopped trying to make friends in school. She’d kept her head down, did the work, and practiced pickpocketing. And after Scott had disappeared, it’d been even lonelier. It never occurred to her until she was older that other options existed, that not everyone grew up in a home like hers.
Just then, a truck pulled up outside and another young woman hopped out. “Thanks for the ride, Wendy,” she called as the truck lumbered off. The newcomer slung a backpack over her shoulder and walked into the garage. “Hey, Dani,” she called and then glanced Charlie. “Who’s your friend?”
“Not a friend, but her name’s Charlie. Axel wants to speak with her about some club business.”
Charlie was surprised she hadn’t used the word ‘thief’. Then Dani winked at her, like they were fellow conspirators
“Nice to meet you,” the woman said. “I’m Lexi Cooper.” She had light brown hair and brown eyes framed by a pair of cat’s-eye glasses. She wore a pair of skinny jeans, flats, and a gray Henley shirt, topped with a black and gray checkered scarf. With the backpack and the outfit, Lexi gave off a preppy vibe.
Charlie nodded. “I’m Charlie Nash.”
Lexi frowned at her sedan. “How’s she doing?”
“Not too bad, but you should’ve brought her in sooner. Your oil was a tar pit and that glop clogs your engine,” Dani told her.
Charlie got the impression Dani really loved cars, almost as if they weren’t inanimate objects to her. Maybe she considered herself a vet and cars were big, steel animals she cared for.
“Yikes, sorry,” Lexi said, scrunching up her nose. “Dad’s been bugging me about bringing it in, but school is crazy right now and it never seems to be a good time.” She sighed. “All I have time for lately is studying and going to class.”
“Lexi’s in grad school,” Dani explained to Charlie. “She’s going to get a doctorate and be a shrink one day. Like Doctor Phil with less dick and more sass.”
Lexi laughed. “A hell of a lot more sass. And I’ll be a psychologist, not a shrink. I’m not in med school.” She frowned. “Maybe I’ll be a professor. Or I could do both.” She shrugged. “Oh, hell, I don’t know yet.”
“Wow. That’s amazing.” Charlie was impressed.
She’d never finished high school and hadn’t gotten her GED. Because they’d moved around so much, there hadn’t been much of a paper trail, so no concerned neighbors or authority figures had stepped in when her father died.
Sure, she’d contemplated turning herself over to the system. Foster care would’ve given her three squares and a place to sleep, but she’d ultimately decided to go it alone. Scott had taught her how to be self-sufficient. And she’d had the senseless hope he’d come back to her. Once she was in the system, it would’ve been hard to get her out.