Authors: Max Henry
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
“Sully!” His tortured scream for help cuts through the air as I stop at the windows to get my bearing on where I am and how far it is to the fence from here.
Can I do it?
I have no choice but to try. This is it. If I screw this up, I’m dead. I’ve pushed the beast too many times and the punishment for this infraction isn’t something I’ll come back from.
I’ve never made him this angry. Being caught with King was nothing compared to what I’ve done by coming in here.
With my hands on my belly, I utter a few final words before I make my break for it. “This better be worth it, little one. You at least owe me a university degree for this.”
My best estimate is two hundred yards if I beeline to the gate. I squint at the steel panel, realizing the damn thing is impenetrable. With it shut there’s no way out, no gaps I can edge through. I run my eye over the line of the fence looking for the weakness, the best chance I have to get over, under, or through. As I reach the corner, my stomach plummets. I don’t have a chance in hell of doing this—there’s a damn guard tower in the top corner with one clearly armed man scouring the perimeter.
Will he shoot me though? The boss’s wife? As though hearing my question, the guard reaches for the radio clipped to his chest and speaks into it. He turns and locks his gaze directly on the end of the mansion I’m in.
I slink around the edge of the window frame to rest my back against the wall, temporarily defeated.
The commotion continues at the end of the hall; Carlos barks orders, Madam Bitchface squeals and gasps where appropriate, and the low, lulling tones of Sully’s voice mingle in the spaces between.
I’m trapped. Death faces me no matter which way I go. “I’m sorry,” I mumble into the room, apologizing to the unborn life inside me, and to the man I love who was so close to getting what he deserved—a family of his own. “I messed up big this time.”
“So . . .” Callum says as he rocks on his heels. “We’re startin’ a war.” He rolls back and forth to stretch out the unused muscles in his legs.
“That what they decided?” I take the cigarette offered by Hooch and stare out across the back yard at the clubhouse.
I’ve got a few hours to waste before I meet up with Sully and Elena, and spending them at home became a non-option when I found myself cycling from room to room, growing increasingly frustrated with the fact I couldn’t take her back there. Instead, I’ve spent the last two hours since getting in smoking and drinking with these two monkeys. Hooch vetoed his return to Fort Worth; he told his old man there wasn’t anything he needed to get back for, and opted instead to be the eyes and ears the southern brothers need on what’s decided at the mother chapter. Consequently, my lungs are filled with more tar than oxygen, but whatever keeps me from losing it completely, I guess.
“War is what I heard. No official word from the man in charge, though.” Callum’s gaze drifts through the open door to where Apex sits on a stool at the bar. The frown on my friend’s face leaves him looking almost . . . conflicted.
Is he seeing our president for what he is now, too?
As though the old bastard can hear us talk from such a distance, Apex casts his gaze sideways and glares at the three of us. Hooch tips his chin, holding up the smoke he’s lit in a friendly acknowledgment.
“The whole thing’s fucked. We’re being used by Carlos, and that fucker in there is lettin’ it happen.” I roll my eyes toward the bar, my back turned to Apex so he can’t see.
“Used how?” Callum asks. “Other than this bullshit work he has us doin’.” He grimaces as he drops to his ass on the deck to take the weight off his bad leg.
“Think about it.” I tap my ash to the ground. “Carlos whispered in your old man’s ear”—I point to Hooch—“and dangled the bait for us to take—the work to clear our debt. Carlos said he did it for cheap labor. But that’s bullshit.”
“Why?” Hooch crosses his arms over his chest, squinting at the smoke that curls off the smoke poised between his lips.
“He set us up. By givin’ us that work, he knew exactly where we’d be and when. What better way to track and control our whereabouts? Who then do you think he passed that info on to?”
“You sayin’ our rat was never within our walls?” Callum frowns, clearly trying to patch the pieces together.
I nod. Riding out to see Shanaya gave me time to think, and fresh air to clear the fog in my head. The puzzle pieces were there all along—I just needed the time undistracted to step back and place them where they belonged, to look outside the box.
“Far from it,” I reply. “He told the Blood Eagles where to find us, knowin’ that our clubs are at war. He wasn’t tryin’ to do us over,
get on the good side of the Eagles. He was turning us even more against one another.”
“He was settin’ us up to take each other out,” Hooch says, his eyes wide with the realization.
“Exactly. He was clearin’ a path.”
Callum’s eyes narrow. “You think Sawyer’s in with Hooch’s crew as an informant?”
Hooch shakes his head, sucking the last life from his cigarette before he drops it to the ground and stubs it out. “No way. That kid hates his old man more than we do. Fuck, we don’t mention the asshole’s name around him half the time because it’s a surefire way to waste an hour tryin’ to talk him off the ledge. He’d rather kill the guy than work for him.”
“Apex is gonna tell us to rain hell on the Blood Eagles.” Callum rubs his palm over the stubble on his jaw. “But if we do that we’ll play right into this fucker Carlos’s hands.”
“Mm-hmm.” I flick the butt of my smoke into the tin at my feet. “Fine fuckin’ conundrum, huh?”
“I need a fuckin’ drink.” Hooch leads the three of us inside.
Callum hobbles across the room and gets reacquainted with his position on the sofa while one of the property girls carries a fresh brew over. I sit beside Hooch at the bar and eyeball Apex while he’s distracted talking to Beefy. The bastard wears a permanent scowl, accented by the crow’s feet that wrinkle into his weathered skin. Not so long ago I thought I had this guy figured out, that I was one of the few men he respected. I’d actually felt proud at that, thinking it was some sort of achievement. Now I feel like nothing but a fool, played for the novice that I was. He’d never respected me; he’d simply made sure he kept a future enemy close at hand.
I make the most of Apex’s break in conversation with Beefy and interject. “Did new officers get voted in?” The remaining officers were in the meeting room when I’d arrived to deliberate the course of action the club would take against the Eagles.
Apex looks me over; his eyes roam my face with a frown before he answers, “Not yet. Majority ruled we vote them in once the whole club gets a say on the current situation.”
The answer surprises me. “You putting it to general vote?” From the way Callum had talked, war had been decided.
“Why wouldn’t I? This fuck-up of yours affects everyone, King.”
I shirk off his snide attempt to lay blame. “Isn’t retaliation a given?” I feed him the bullshit he’ll expect to hear. “They gunned two of our own. Eye for an eye.”
“Not always.” He takes a swig of his coffee—black as his heart. “Didn’t do it back in ’97, did we?”
“Exactly, and look where that got us.”
“What you sayin’, King?” He twists in his seat to place a pointed elbow on the counter as he faces me.
“Nothin’.” If he chooses not to retaliate, it paints us all as cowards. The Blood Eagles took two of our own. They stole lives from our brotherhood. Why the fuck should they be able to just walk away?
“You sure it was nothin’? Sounded like you had a fuckin’ opinion for a second there.”
I turn my head and glare at him. “So what if I did?”
“Don’t pay you to have an opinion, boy. I pay you to do what I tell you to.”
“And what exactly
you tellin’ us to do?”
“Sit back and let me handle things.”
With all due respect, fucker, you haven’t been doing that very well.
“I’ve already set up a meet with the Blood Eagles president.”
“The one and only. I’m seeing him on neutral ground tomorrow.” Apex slides off his stool and heads for his office, calling out over his shoulder, “Which is why I’m on the road again in five. Some of us have things to do that’ll help the club, not fuck up what others have spent a lifetime building.”
Is he kidding?
He honestly thinks people believe the bullshit lies he spins? Anybody with a working brain can see that his secret rendezvous with our enemies are done for anything but the club’s benefit. What good are talks with Hammer going to do? Does he expect to settle the death of our own over a fucking cold brew? Hostile parties don’t get to gun down our brothers and then walk away from the recompense of their actions with a simple “sorry”. Twig would roll in his grave if he knew just how unaffected the man he gave his life for was over what happened. And if our members aren’t as disgusted by his nonchalance as I am, then what sort of fucking self-sabotaging assholes are they?
“Did I hear that right?” Hooch asks after Apex has shut his office door.
“Probably,” Beefy mutters.
“What happened to retaliation after death?”
Point nine on our charter under general rules: Disrespect or assault is to be dealt with at the victim’s discretion, but if an opposing club member kills any one of ours, it’s supposed to be dealt with by penalty of death out of respect for the fallen member who can no longer speak for himself.
“Apex did raise a valid point, though,” I say.
“Such as?” Hooch slips off his stool and waits on my answer.
“The retaliation rule didn’t apply in ’97 either.”
“Might be time we find out why.”
Everything’s quiet. Some people find peace in solitude, but to me, the lack of anything—vocal or otherwise—is unnerving. The quieter the world around me, the louder my mind. I’m busting to use the toilet, but I daren’t move. To get to the attached bathroom from here, I have to cross over the open area in front of the window.
I can’t risk being seen.
Neither Hammer’s motorcycle or Madam Bitchface’s car have left; the driveway arcs within feet of the windows. I would have heard. The doors at the far end of the hall slammed before the talking stopped. I’m shut in, but I’m well aware I’m also not forgotten.
What do I do?
I need contact with somebody outside who can tell me what’s happening—Sully or Maria. But how?
Keeping to my hands and knees, I crawl across the room to the doorway. I stop short of the opening and long seconds pass as I keen my ears for anything—a clue as to what happens beyond. Nothing but the deafening rush of my breaths greets me. Inch by inch I edge closer, and peer around the frame.
My heart shudders to a stop, the air in my lungs frozen as I do everything I can not to make a single sound while I back away.
Seated with his back to the doors and his head hung between arms wrapped around bent knees, is Carlos.
“I know you’re there, Elena.”
Even quieted by the distance between us, his tone holds enough menace to send a ripple of goose bumps across my flesh.
“What are you going to do?” I settle against the open door, my back to its long, heavy panels, and try to find a position that doesn’t aggravate my bladder.
“I haven’t decided.”
My eyes rove the room as I calculate what exactly anybody outside the window could see. Perhaps if I lie flat while I wriggle under the windows I can make the bathroom?
“If I come out,” I say, “you’ll just pack me off with that bitch and sell me.”
His chuckle resonates off the long, unadorned walls. “Is that the problem? You don’t like her?”
“It’s neither here nor there when I’m sure I wouldn’t be in her possession long.”
“You have a valid point,” Carlos answers. “It’s nothing personal, Elena.”
“I have a hard time believing that.” If it were nothing personal, he wouldn’t have used Mama as a drug mule to hurt me and he wouldn’t have married me in the first place, hoping to get access to some fabled fortune that I’m reluctant to believe exists.
“I’m a businessman, first and foremost, and you’re currently a large negative on my balance sheet. I’d be a fool to not try and recover costs.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t throw money away trying to make more the easy way? If that’s really your style, I’ve heard gambling is more of a thrill.”
“I doubt it.”
Silence stretches between us, the scuff of my bare feet across the wooden floorboards as I try to alleviate the pressure in my abdomen barely audible.
“Why haven’t you come down here to drag me out yet?” He has to have sat there for close to an hour, given it’s black as coal outside now.
“I’m working up to it.”
Being here, in
part of the house really affects him. The lion has a thorn in its paw, and it’s called unrequited love.
“You must miss her.”
He doesn’t respond. The bed sits an ominous shadow across from me, the only obstacle I have in my quest for relief. The moon is non-existent tonight, sheltered by clouds, and the light that spills in through the windows is minimal from the flood lamps dotted along the fence line.
It’s worth a go.
The door shifts behind me as I push to my feet and clamors against the wall. I freeze, expecting it to be some final motivation to get Carlos to move, but again, nothing.
The relief when I reach the bathroom unharmed is immediate, and I race to the toilet, chuckling quietly to myself at the absurdity of doing something so mundane when this is quite possibly the moment that’ll define whether I have a life or not come sunrise.
Carlos still hasn’t shifted, his legs visible as I cross the room to sit beside the door again.
“Better?” he asks.
We resume our standoff: me looking for a clue as to how I’m going to get out of this, and Carlos searching for the guts to step into a mausoleum of his greatest mistake. Photos sit arranged in oddly shaped frames on the nightstand. I itch to look at them, to see what life before betrayal looked like. What the life of a monster was before he even knew himself what he was capable of.