Authors: Carmen Faye
Vance was elated to see Dusty, Caleb, and Butch as they exited through security. All three of them stood off to the side, away from the small crowd that was late-night airport traffic. He hadn’t known until they landed how it worked with a private jet, but the one that had been chartered for Maya was large enough to pull up to a gate with a jetway.
“Are we set to go?” he asked, taking Maya’s hand and pulling her close to him. This was a very large and open public place, and while guns couldn’t get through security, they could be carried here, in the baggage claim area. He knew his boys were carrying, and if anyone looking for them showed up, things could get disastrous. Vance didn’t want to see innocent bystanders harmed, but if it took a gun fight to stay alive and keep Maya out of harm’s way, they would engage.
Dusty nodded. “The truck’s out there. We’re stopping on the way to pick up a storage load, if that’s alright. I figure since we’re all the way out here, we might as well grab a couple of orders and kill two birds with one stone.”
“That’s fine,” Vance agreed, practically blowing it off. A routine run to the storage facility just outside of Phoenix they used for overflow when they ran out of room for the weapons they trafficked was not a big deal. They’d get there, get in and pull the inventory for the order, pack it nice and neatly in the truck, and be on their way. It would take thirty minutes, tops. They were fast and efficient at their jobs, and they’d learned to keep the storage building organized so they wouldn’t have to fumble through everything and potentially lose an arm because someone had left a loaded gun around.
As they filed out toward the truck, Maya leaned into him and asked in a quiet voice, “How big are these orders?”
She looked a bit wide-eyed and concerned. He doubted she’d spent a lot of time around large weapons, and he wanted to reassure her, though he wasn’t quite sure how. “Typically, whatever we’re getting from storage is small. It’s filler for an order we’ve pulled from our regular stock when we’re short a few pieces. Or a special order of things we don’t keep on hand. Don’t worry, the guns and ammo come separate.”
She nodded but didn’t look completely convinced. And as they approached the rig with the thirty-foot trailer, she stumbled. Vance had to catch her. “I didn’t know we were taking an army with us.”
He laughed. “No, not an army. This is a freighter that usually runs through Wheelie but lands somewhere else. It won’t be on the Scorpions’ radar.” It would protect the precious cargo well. And once they were through Wheelie, they’d pull off at a scenic area where the guys had parked a nondescript sedan with extremely tinted windows. He and Maya would take that back to his place and settle down for the night. Everything else could wait till morning.
He helped Maya up into the cab of the big rig and introduced her to the bunk that was built in behind the seats. She seemed to marvel at it. “I guess truckers have long hauls and do end up pulling over to sleep while they’re on the road,” she mused. “And I remember one of the truck stops I went to on my road trip had showers and stuff they could use. I never thought about how much it would cost if they stayed in a motel every night they were away.”
Vance wanted to remind her that, sometimes, they grew road weary in the middle of the day and pulled to the side of the road for a nap. She was still getting acclimated to the idea that not everyone could afford to stay in swanky hotels. Tonight, though, the bed would serve as seating for Vance, Maya, and apparently Dusty, while Caleb drove and Butch kept lookout from the passenger seat. They could never be too careful. Even if they thought there wasn’t a chance in hell the Scorpions would catch them in this ride, they had to be cautious and cover their bases.
Maya yawned as they settled in, and Vance draped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her tight to his side. “Tired?” he asked. He wasn’t exactly full of energy himself. The pep in his step had failed about the time he’d released his sexual tension on the plane.
She nodded. “It just washes over me suddenly when I fly. Terrible jetlag. And we did a lot of shopping. I’m just drained and ready for sleep.”
Dusty scooted over, and Vance did the same. “Why don’t you stretch out a little and lay your head in my lap? You can close your eyes and get a little rest. It’ll be close to midnight when we reach the car, and then another forty-five minutes to my house.”
He thought she might protest, but she quickly took the suggestion and was asleep by the time Caleb had them out of the airport. Vance absently caressed her head of silken hair as he thought how lucky he was to have her here with him. And how stupid or insane she must be to have agreed to come back here.
He didn’t want to shout to the two men up front, so he held a quiet conversation with Dusty, willing Maya not to wake up. “Have we heard anything from the Scorpions lately?”
Dusty frowned. “No, they have their own issues right now that don’t involve us.” Apparently, the president of the Scorpions had borrowed a hefty sum to start up the club a few years ago from a loan shark across the border, and he had never finished paying it back. Now, rumor had it there was a bounty on his head, and the only way to stop the manhunt was to pay up.
“How much does he owe?” Vance asked. Even a dirty, filthy Mexican loan shark wouldn’t bother sending out the assassination order if it wasn’t a giant sum.
Shaking his head, Dusty told him, “I can’t get an accurate read, but the consensus seems to come down to him having borrowed upward of a couple million, and he only paid about half back. Consider the standard interest rate for something like this, and I have to estimate he owes somewhere around three and a half or four million.”
Vance would have been amused, but that actually presented a very real problem. He was sure
, or Triple Threat as he called himself, was desperately trying to find a way to come up with the cash. Counterfeit money wouldn’t fly in Old Mexico, and their drug business wasn’t built up yet and couldn’t raise that kind of money fast enough. Such a large debt could very well be reason to launch another attack on the Mojave Boys, and the added motive of retribution for the death of several of their members was incentive to work quickly and efficiently.
Vance considered what the Boys would be willing to do if they were that desperate for cash. They’d certainly be more rational than the Scorpions, but they would take much bigger risks than usual. “And they haven’t asked for negotiations or anything?” If they’d decided to demand part of the gun running business, they weren’t going to make a desperate, foolish move that would get several members on each side buried six feet under.
“Not at all. The last time we had any communication was when they finally accepted that we weren’t going to admit to cold-blooded murder and left it as self-defense.” Dusty didn’t sound thrilled. “I liked it better when they were riding us. At least then, we knew what they were doing.”
“We need scouts,” Vance muttered, more to himself than anything. But he knew Dusty heard and based on the way he nodded slowly, he agreed. “Our first order of business is to shore up and make sure there aren’t any holes in our security. We need to be on guard at all times, and we need to implement the no riding alone rule.”
“I’m with you.” He looked around Vance at Maya’s sleeping form. “What are we doing about her?” Vance had told a few of his brothers about Maya’s career and fame, and he was surprised none of them had demanded he get rid of her before she became a bigger liability than she already was. “Most of the old ladies are out of town for a while, staying with other families. We only have two or three of them who refuse to leave.”
No one could say the Mojave Boys mistreated their women. Their old ladies were a top priority, and they were always taken out of harm’s way if possible. “She’s staying with me. She knows the threat. She’s already been part of it twice now. It’s her decision, and I’m not going to tell her what to do or what not to do.”
“I get that.” Dusty was a reasonable man. He was older, maybe close to forty, but he wasn’t one of these grumpy old geezers who couldn’t consider different angles in a situation. “I guess my question is, what are you doing with her? Is this still just a lot of hot sex in the city, or what?”
The expression he wore told Vance he damned-well knew the answer. But Vance didn’t know how to define it. “I’m not sure what it is, brother. To tell you the truth, I don’t think she does, either. We decided to see if things work between us, but we haven’t figured out how to pass that test, and I don’t know my ass from my ankle when it comes to judging if it’s working. So far, things are good. We have fun, have sex, and get into intellectual discussions now and then. There’s no talking about feelings and other mushy shit.”
Dusty laughed quietly. “That sounds like a typical marriage in its early stages. You know, when you first move in together and you’re feeling each other out, that’s sort of what it’s like. It’s all new, and maybe you say ‘I love you’ every other breath or maybe you don’t say it at all because, hey, now you’re married and you shouldn’t have to say it. But you have lots of sex because you can, and you talk about things like why the color of the sun is different in different parts of the world. And then you have a water balloon fight or something crazy like that, get all sorts of turned on, and go back to the sex.”
He had Vance laughing now, and Vance tried to hold back so he wouldn’t shake too much and wake Maya. She was sleeping so soundly. “I get it. You’re saying that we’ve got to circle back around to the serious topic of, ‘What are we doing here?’. You’ve made your point, smartass.”
Dusty held up his hands in surrender and dropped the subject. They rode quietly for a while, until the truck rolled up to the storage building. “I’ll be back in a few, man.”
Vance nodded, and all three of his men exited the vehicle. He felt lazy letting them do all the work while he sat here, but they didn’t seem to mind. At least, none of them said anything about it as he simply leaned back and let Maya continue to sleep in his lap. He reveled in the feel of it. In his mind, it meant she trusted him, felt safe and comfortable with him, and was completely at peace. That truly amazed him, considering the terrible frays he’d gotten her in and the position he’d put her in as a target of a very young and naïve but greedy and violent motorcycle gang.
He sighed and kicked back, closing his eyes for a few minutes as he heard the lock open and the door creak. They were in, and they would quickly gather whatever was needed. Vance hadn’t asked who the orders were for and who was making the run. He thought maybe he should address that when they returned. He didn’t need any surprises, if they started doing business with new clients.
Maya woke up to Vance speaking softly into her ear, and she found herself very disoriented. Slowly, she counted time up to the last thing she remembered. Getting in a tractor trailer. That’s where she was. And she’d passed out on Vance’s lap, exhausted.
She felt strange, a combination of being slightly refreshed and completely drained. She could barely hold her eyes open, but she was more aware than she had been of what was going on around her. She turned her head to look into Vance’s face and caught his smile. It melted her and made her skin tingle with delight. “Where are we?” she asked.
He smoothed a hand over her hair, and Maya nearly purred like a cat. “We’re switching vehicles at a rest stop north of town.” He kissed the tip of her nose, and it was almost a more intimate gesture than any kiss they’d shared before. It had Maya feeling sentimental, and she could almost see their bond strengthening.
Sitting up, she drew a deep breath and pushed to her feet. “Are you okay to drive? You look tired.” she asked. She knew she was in no condition to drive, and since she’d slept in Vance’s lap, she doubted he had napped at all. She imagined he was pretty tired himself.
“I’m fine,” he told her in a reassuring tone. “Besides, Dusty is driving. We’re under restriction that none of the Mojave Boys rides alone. Bert’s at my place, so the two of them will ride back out together.”
It seemed like a lot of trouble, but it also sounded like a big precaution. For a group of men who managed to keep their territory under their control with tough guy violence, they sure were worried about a surprise strike. Didn’t they have their eyes open for infiltrators? Or were they that sure the Scorpions would make a sneak attack?
Maya’s thoughts were like thick maple syrup, barely flowing and cloudy. She couldn’t make sense of it, and she only knew it made her wary of being out and about at all. But right now, she had no choice, and she let Vance guide her out of the truck and over to the sedan that waited for him. He hadn’t lied. It was a car that looked like every other car on the road, and the windows were tinted as deeply as those of a private limo, the kind she rode in to awards shows and such. She went toward the rear passenger door and was surprised when Vance blocked her way and opened the front passenger door for her.
“You don’t have to give me the front seat,” she told him, yawning. “It’s your friend driving.”
He shook his head. “Just let me be chivalrous. I can watch out the back better from the back seat. And I can finally stretch out my legs across the seat.”
Maya laughed. “I have the feeling the first two reasons are just excuses. You’ve been cramped a long time. I get it.”
Louder, as Dusty approached, he said, “Well, maybe, but I also know Dusty needs a woman in his life that doesn’t nag at him all the time. I thought maybe you two could get to be buddies.”
Dusty chuckled as he took the driver’s seat. “Better watch out, Ice. I can be pretty charming. You might regret wanting us to get close, if you know what I mean.”
Vance grunted, but Maya caught the warning and possessiveness in his gaze. “You wish you had game.” He didn’t have to add the rest of the thought,
Besides, if you touch her, I’ll cut off your balls.
Maya wished she felt chattier. Dusty was a really nice guy, and so far, he was her favorite of the few Mojave Boys she’d met. She could tell that, despite his easygoing mannerisms, he was dangerous and had clout within the club. But with her exhaustion, she had difficulty focusing and could barely maintain small talk.
The ride seemed to last forever with her lack of social ability, and when they finally pulled up to Vance’s house, a wave of profound relief washed over her and nearly had her crying. She needed sleep so desperately that she couldn’t even manage to hop out of the car and run to the bed. She had to wait for Vance’s assistance; she wavered on her feet and felt dizzy, almost like she’d been drugged.
He escorted her inside, where they were greeted by Bert, the man Vance had explained was the unofficial leader of the club. Of course, from what she’d seen, Maya honestly believed Vance should be the top dog, but it wasn’t really any of her business. She might ask about it once she felt more comfortable here. After all, no one had looked at her sideways since she’d come to town the first time, and she felt like she was welcome here. Maya was pretty sure she could get some answers from Dusty or maybe Caleb, who had been young and friendly.
She sat at the kitchen table with her head in her hands while Vance stepped off to the side to speak to Dusty and Bert. She probably could have heard what they were saying, but she was too tired to listen and just closed her eyes to wait. Once the guys left, she wanted to change into her pajama shorts and camisole and climb under the covers. She could hide there for days the way she felt right now.
It didn’t take long, and both men stopped to say goodnight with encouraging smiles. Maya forced a smile back, but she didn’t know if it really showed on her face. “Come on, sweetheart,” Vance said, sweeping her into his arms and carrying her into the bedroom. She started to protest that she needed to change, but her head lolled, and she said nothing.
He undressed her and though he didn’t put her pajamas on her, he slipped a thin nightgown over her head and tucked her in. She could hear him moving around through the fog of half-consciousness, but she didn’t even attempt to open her eyes. She was already drowning in a pool of darkness as she felt him lay down beside her.
The next thing she knew she smelled bacon and coffee and heard the distinct sound of grease crackling in a hot pan. She was sore, which was normal after travelling, and it took her a moment to peel her body from the bed, but she instinctively followed her nose to the source of the enticing aroma, finding Vance in his jockeys, standing over the stove, and whistling as he cooked.
Now that she was in the room, Maya could also smell the biscuits in the oven and licked her lips in anticipation. “Is this a special occasion?” she asked, tiptoeing up behind him and looking over his shoulder. She breathed in deeply of the scent of what she was sure would turn out to be the most delicious breakfast she’d had in years.
“Not exactly,” he answered, as he threw scrambled eggs, cheese, and shredded hash browns in a second pan. She groaned, wishing the food was done already and at the same time knowing she was going to pay for eating so carelessly for the past couple of weeks. He continued, “I think that coming home is worth celebrating, and so is knowing that you’re here with me, at least for a while.” Maya wasn’t sure if that was just a statement in passing or if Vance was trying to feel her out and see if she’d changed her mind about anything.
Honestly, she hadn’t even thought about it. She’d been too tired last night and too excited by the promising aroma of breakfast this morning to analyze the circumstances, her emotions, or the meaning of life according to existentialism. “I accept that.”
Vance turned to look at her for the first time, and his face was a mask of disbelief. He blinked at her several times. “Is that supposed to be a reference of some kind?”
She shrugged. “That depends on whether you recognize it or not. I mean, you had no idea who I was, so I didn’t know if you had television here or not.”
He grunted and turned away with a slight scowl. “We don’t live in the dark ages. I even stream movies from time to time. But you won’t find Jax or Tigg around here. And we don’t have beef with a bunch of other gangs or pay off a sheriff. We make our business our own, out here in the middle of nowhere to avoid that cluster. We’re our own law.”
Maya thought now that maybe she shouldn’t have joked around about it, but a slow smile crept over Vance’s lips much to her relief. “But I love the show, and Ron Perlman is one of my favorite actors,” he said.
Maya laughed heartily and walked over to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of cold water, took it to the table, and had a seat. “Do we have a plan for the day, or are we holed up here for a while?”
Vance paused to pull the biscuits out of the oven and put them on a hot pad. “We’ll have a ride into town this afternoon. But we have the morning all to ourselves. I thought we might enjoy our breakfast, take a swim, and then get ready to go. Our ride will be here by then, or shortly after.”
Maya barely heard the rest of the plan. She was stuck on going for a swim. “Wait, are you telling me you have a pool? How did I miss that?” Her excitement nearly exploded, as she lifted her head to search out the back windows.
He chuckled. “The last time you were here, I didn’t exactly give you the full tour. We both had other things on our minds at the time, if you’ll remember.”
She remembered, and Maya had every intention of fulfilling the same purpose again, far more than just once. But right now, the idea of jumping into a pool in the middle of a hot desert sounded utterly amazing. “I can’t believe you’re just now telling me about this!” She pouted her bottom lip, which made Vance laugh at her as he buttered the biscuits and started compiling plates.
“Do you want some juice with your breakfast?” he asked, ignoring her petty childishness. “Or just coffee?”
She threw her hands up in the air. “My diet is ruined, so I might as well have everything you can offer.”
“Juice it is.”