Authors: Max Henry
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
“I need help,” I admit. “I don’t think I can do the ride back to you without coming undone halfway.”
“And where the fuck
I roll my head to the side to look for a sign within view, but my vision’s shot to hell. “About sixty mile out from Kansas City . . . I think.” A quick nap might be on the cards while I wait on the asshole to show up. “You should see my bike from the road.”
“You really sound like shit, man. Do I bring first-aid?”
Nurse Hooch, at your service.
“Yeah, that’d be good.”
Hooch sighs, a defeated sound. I can just imagine him sitting there, pinching the bridge of his nose as he holds the phone to his ear. “You realize they’ll notice I’m gone?”
“I’m sure they will.”
“This better be fuckin’ worth whatever bullshit lie I spin when they ask why I’m leavin’ in a time of crisis, King.”
“It fuckin’ is. More than you’d know.”
“King. Wake up, man.”
“. . . shouldn’t be much longer. Call me if you need anything. I’m headin’ . . .”
“His fever’s gone, so he should improve now.”
The incessant whine of a power tool pierces through the delicious dream I’d been having of Elena barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen of our newly finished house. The vision was so strong, the smell of cooking breakfast is still ingrained in my nostrils. I could have sworn it was real, if it wasn’t for the fact that the house is still nothing but framing out the back of Mom and Dad’s, and Elena isn’t with me.
What the fuck is that noise?
Groaning, I grind the heel of both hands into my closed eyes and roll to my back.
What the fuck did I do last night?
Was it even last night?
Memories of the run, the ambush, and patchy visions of the ride after come in dribs and drabs between the skull-rattling drone of whatever the fuck is going on outside.
The whine is a fucking grinder. Who the hell grinds shit this early in the morning?
I roll my head to the right and look around. This sure as fuck ain’t my room—at the clubhouse or my new place.
What the fuck . . .?
Taut tape pulls on my skin as I push myself upright and swing both legs to the side of the bed. My bare feet hit the cold wooden floor with immediate pins and needles.
How long was I lying down?
quick inspection of my side shows a dressing over where I remember one of the bullets catching hold. I lift a tentative hand to my shoulder and find, as suspected, a matching dressing over the other wound.
Five solid minutes of wriggling my toes and flexing my calves later, I have enough feeling back in my legs to chance standing without folding over. They don’t have to be capable of running a marathon, just operative enough to shift gears and use the foot brake on my way to Elena.
God, how is she? Chills run across my flesh at the thought of her being hurt by that fucker’s hand.
If Carlos has laid a single motherfucking finger on her, I’ll—
Laughter echoes from outside of the plain bedroom I’m in. I look around again at the picture rail that circumvents the timber walls, the heavy drapes that pool on the floor beneath the window, and the ornate mirror hung over a simple four drawer dresser. Nothing about the place is familiar.
Unease prickles down my spine as I locate my boots, clean and polished, sitting by the foot of the bed. My belt hangs over the footboard and my jeans are freshly laundered and folded, resting atop the dresser. No shirt though.
Where the fuck is my cut?
The voice returns, loud and abrupt as it battles against the fucking horrible sound of the grinder. The tool shuts off and the crunch of footsteps on gravel grows closer to where I am.
Fuckin’ paper-thin walls.
I tug my clothes on and buckle my belt, as what I assume is the front door closes with a muted thud. The heavy footfalls continue to grow louder until they stop outside my door.
Where the fuck is my gun?
I check the sheath tucked inside my boot and find it empty.
Fuckers even took my knife.
The door opens with a quick arc, and I’m left standing half-dressed, half-prepared, and not even close to being half-happy with the current situation. A burly man with dark hair that’s graying around the edges stands in the doorway, dirty work clothes on, and a pleased smile toying his weathered and cracked lips.
“Good. You’re awake. You can join us for lunch.” He spins and walks away without another word.
Explains the “early morning” grinding then. How long was I out? I shuffle across to the built-in wardrobe and open it in the hope of finding a shirt to wear when the guy returns and tosses one at me from the doorway.
“Should fit you. We had to trash your old one, sorry.”
I nod and tug the over-sized T-shirt over my battered body. “Thanks.”
“And your vest is hanging in the entry cupboard.” The guy glances up the hall and then winks. “The good woman didn’t want you worrying that it wasn’t being looked after with due care.”
Where the fuck am I?
As long as it’s not Bates Motel I guess I should be grateful for what they’ve apparently done. I gesture to the bandages and clear my throat. “Uh, thanks for all of this.”
His earlier mirth disappears and a stern apprehension takes its place. “I would have dropped you at the local hospital the day after we patched you up”—he thumbs down the hall—“but your boys here have looked after us very generously.”
I frown and walk toward him.
The guy nods once and heads toward where the murmur of voices drifts from, still talking about lunch and how his wife’s got a roast in the oven for dinner so not to overstuff myself. Hungry as I am, I couldn’t care less about eating right now. I sigh and follow where he went into a drab yet tidy living room and gestures to a sight for sore eyes.
Hooch, a guy I remember being introduced as Murphy on a previous trip, and one of the other Forth Worth boys whose name I don’t know, play a game of poker using cards that’ve seen better days. On seeing me they all drop their hands to the table, revealing their cards, and stand.
“He walks.” Hooch takes my hand in his and starts to pull me in for a clinch before he freezes and backs off, probably realizing the error that could have been if he’d slapped my back. “Good to see you up, man.”
“Where are we?” I ask, leaning in close as the man of the house disappears into the adjoining kitchen.
“Seems the club has new friends,” Murphy fills me in. “They came across you before we could get there. Your instructions on where to find you weren’t all that flash.”
“They used your phone to call the last dialed number”—
—“and here we are.”
With my eyes to the floor, I try to remember it, any of it.
“Have you been out?” Hooch clarifies.
“A couple of days.”
“What’s been happenin’ while I’ve been down?” My heart races as I wait on the next words from any one of these three.
Hooch glances at the nameless brother and gives him a tip of the chin before retreating to the chair he’d been in. “How about you pop out for a smoke break, Seamus?”
The lack of food, the excessive bed rest, and the fear of the unknown slam into me all at once. I shake out my hands as a sheen of sweat pricks at every pore, and shift between my feet while Seamus exits the room, showing his prospect patch in the process. “What happened?”
“There’s been meeting after fuckin’ meeting,” Hooch explains. “With Gunner and Twig out, Apex wanted an emergency vote to replace them, but Beefy put a stop to it.”
I search out a seat and sit on the very edge of the cushion. “Why?”
“Said he wasn’t fully convinced of Apex’s intentions behind the immediate appointment of two officers amidst crisis,” Murphy answers.
“Sorry.” Murphy smiles and takes his seat opposite me. “In other words, Beefy thinks Apex would have had supporters voted in whether they suited the role or not. He thinks Apex was lookin’ to strengthen his backing, usin’ the situation to his own benefit by puttin’ men in place who’ll get behind whatever shit he’s got goin’ on in the future.”
“Aren’t we all meant to support the old fuck, though?” I place an elbow on the arm of the chair and try to ease the ache in my side. “Why would he be worried about that?”
“Look, people have been talkin’ while you’ve been laid up. We know that this infighting has somethin’ to do with you, brother.” Hooch twists in his seat, cards flicking between his hands as he shuffles them. “Can you tell us what we need to know?”
I close my eyes and bury my face in my hands. My worst nightmare came to fruition; the club got pulled into my shit. People are confused and rightly so. But how much do I tell them?
“Where were you headed when you rang me?” Hooch asks.
I groan and drag my hands over my beard before facing them both. “What have you heard?”
“That you and Apex are at loggerheads about somethin’,” Murphy says. “Rumor has it, the whole thing’s about a girl.”
Hooch snorts. “Ain’t it always about a girl?” The two morons high-five each other.
“Yeah, it’s about a girl.”
Murphy’s face falls flat. “Why should Apex give two shits about who you’re seein’?”
I look to the carpet between us, tracing the faded paisley pattern with my eyes. “Because she’s Carlos’s wife.”
Hooch chokes on nothing, beating his chest with a closed fist.
Murphy just stares. “What?”
“You heard me.” I’m not hot on repeating it.
“How the fuck did that happen?” Hooch finally blurts out. “Why?”
“Didn’t know at first, okay? We met, I couldn’t stop thinkin’ about her, and
she dropped the bombshell on me.”
“You’ve called it off though, right? Like, Carlos is just pissed about what’s been, you know?” Poor Hooch—he’s so damn hopeful.
I shake my head at the guy.
“Shit, King. You know how to complicate things, eh?”
“Yeah, because I did the whole fuckin’ thing with the specific intention of messin’ everything up.” I narrow my gaze on Hooch, ready to throw down if he pushes me any harder, fuck my injuries. I shift my gaze to Murphy and soften my expression. “Has anybody heard how she might be?”
“Dude, we didn’t know about the woman, so how were we supposed to know we needed to keep our ears to the ground for you?”
He has a point there. “Yeah, you’re right.” I absently pat down my jeans. “Where’s my phone?”
“I’ll go grab it.” Murphy pushes up from his seat and leaves the room.
Hooch lets out a heavy breath and shakes his head. “You know Apex blames this whole fucked up hit on you, right?”
“Figured as much,” I murmur. “He’s probably been sportin’ a fuckin’ boner at the possibility of givin’ me the ass from the club over it, huh?”
“He’s got tough competition in Beefy, man. A couple of the lifers have heard rumors that the other officers will veto any action Apex proposes to take against you.”
“Yeah. You might have fucked up, brother, but you’ve got some strong support in that chapter of yours.”
“And yours?” I ask. “Where does Fort Worth stand in all of this?”
Hooch grins, relaxing back into his seat. “You know how my old man feels about Apex.”
“Yeah, he gave me some indication on that.” Certainly sounds interesting, what’s going down in my absence. “They expectin’ me back as soon as I’m up?”
Hooch nods. “Beefy wants to talk to you about your ‘problem’.” His gaze tracks Murphy as he re-enters and sets my phone down on the small table beside my chair. “You got a plan?”
I shake my head as I grab my phone and power it up.
The damn thing has twelve percent left on it. Just enough. I set it aside while it catches up on missed notifications. “I have a contact on Carlos’s side though. Figured I’d start there.”
“That wise?” Hooch leans forward, elbows to his knees as he looks me over.
“I need to know how she is.” I pick the phone up and clear the screen, scrolling through the contacts until I find the number I need. All eyes are on me as I tap the dial icon beside Sully’s name and lift the phone to my ear. “My head won’t be on right until I do.”
Murphy and Hooch exchange glances while I listen to the rings. Our host pops his head around the doorway and indicates lunch is ready right as Sully’s phone clicks over to voicemail. I end the call without leaving a message and pocket the device as Seamus re-enters the room.
“Why all three of you?” I ask, trying to push the frustration at getting no answer to the back of my mind. “Didn’t think I’d warrant this much protection.”
“We’re not here for protection,” Hooch says dryly, gesturing for the other two to head through for the food. “We’re here to make sure you don’t take off.”
I hesitate, my eyes narrowed on Hooch’s back as the he follows the other out of the room. “Thought you’d be on my side through all of this, man.” Here I was thinking he was doing me a solid, but the asshole was working on Apex’s behalf all along.
Hooch hesitates, his eyes cast down as he looks over his shoulder. “I am on your side. That’s why I’m makin’ sure you do this right and don’t charge on in there, guns blazing, gettin’ your ass shot the hell up.” He spins around slowly, taking a step toward me. “You rang and said you needed help, so I turned up. No, I didn’t know what the problem was until now, but fuck, man, you rode for hours droppin’ your blood on the road from here to Texas. Take a stupid man not to realize it was somethin’ you weren’t keepin’ a level head about. You needed somebody to tug on your reins and slow you down, and me?” He thumbs his chest. “I’m the idiot crazy enough to try and pull this bronco in.”
“I appreciate it, brother. I really do.” The whole situation has me as jumpy as a cricket in spring. One comment, one misled thought and I was ready to throw years of friendship with Hooch out the window.