Reapers Wrath. Road to Salvation - Begley Jamie ang.pdf

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Young Ink Press Publication Copyright © 2020 by Jamie Begley Edited by C&D Editing & Hot Tree Editing Cover Art by Cover Couture Photo (c) Wander Photography All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is

entirely coincidental. Connect with Jamie,


Warning Have you ever wondered how soulmates fall in love after they meet? Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18

Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45

Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48 Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52 Chapter 53 Chapter 54 Chapter 55 Chapter 56 Chapter 57 Reading Order Maria Sarah Brianne Hello…? 1. A Last Name that came with a Black Credit Card and a Crown 2. Exactly the Way You Dreamed of a Hot Teacher Doing It

Warning This book contains scenes that some readers may find disturbing, including graphic depictions of rape and sexual assault, and is intended for adults only. Reader discretion is advised. Reading this book… will be like entering the dark web. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Have you ever wondered how soulmates fall in love after they meet? Well, this is it…

Chapter One


eaper felt the spell Ginny placed over him

break, as the factory door closed behind her. Brushing past Shade, he started for the steps, only managing to get one foot down before Shade called out to him in a mocking voice. “Where are you going? You just going to leave your bike in parts?” “I forgot my water bottle in the club. I’ll finish it later.” Disconcerted by Ginny, he could only think of that lame excuse. Hurrying up the steps past Train, he needed to

be inside the club before Ginny exited the factory with Rider. She had rattled his brain and emotions the day before when he heard her singing, and being so close just now put him into the same funky headspace she sent him into yesterday. Taking the steps two at a time, he reached the porch in record time. Moon, who was watching the door, took one look at his face and opened the door immediately. Walking through the empty club room, he made his way into the kitchen, bypassing the crowd waiting for breakfast, and headed to the fridge for a bottled water. He’d drank down half the bottle when he saw everyone in the room staring at him. “What?” he snarled. “Nothing,” Nickel mumbled, switching his gaze to the back of Sasha’s head as they waited their turns to fill their plates. Deciding to eat before he finished working on his motorcycle, he got in line behind Nickel, telling himself he wasn’t eating just because Ginny could still be in the parking lot. He remained rigid in his spot as Shade and Train came in through the door to stand behind him. At least the brothers were smart enough not to say anything to him as they waited for Nickel to fill his plate. “Ginny came at the perfect time. Rider’s ass is always first in line, and he never leaves us any bacon.”

Reaper didn’t give a fuck if Train was talking to him or Shade. He didn’t respond, focusing on taking a plate and placing a mound of scrambled eggs on it. “You can have the bacon. I want the waffles. Jewell uses the recipe that Ginny made when she worked for us.” Shade moved from behind him to his side to take a plate. Taking his fork, Reaper stabbed the two remaining waffles, placing them next to his eggs. “At least you won’t have to work out in the gym for an hour to work them off,” Train consoled a Shade. Reaper glanced at him out of the corner of his eye; the brother didn’t look upset at having the waffles stolen from him. “I’ll eat the toast. The jar of jelly that Ginny brought in as gifts is still full ...,” Shade began. Going farther down the line, Reaper picked up the jar of jelly, placing it in the crook of his arm to carry it into the dining room where he sat at the small table farthest away from everyone. He then concentrated on eating and not on the woman who touched him and stared at him as if her heart were in her eyes. Lifting a forkful of eggs to his mouth, his hand was shaking so badly the eggs slipped off. When he saw Train and Shade taking a seat at table close by, Reaper knew they weren’t done trying to get under his guard. As Shade watched him over the cup of his

coffee, Reaper opened the jar of preserves, slathering the waffles with it, before closing the jar tightly. He really didn’t want the sugary fruit for breakfast; he just didn’t want Shade to have it. He wasn’t stupid. The brothers were trying to get a rise out of him about his reaction to their former housekeeper, and they were about to get it if they didn’t watch their steps. He was spoiling for a fight, needing to shake off the myriad of feelings the woman was bringing to life. He could deal with rage, hatred, and revenge. What he couldn’t deal with was the stirring of desire that freaked him the fuck out. He was using his fork to cut the waffle when he saw Shade start to get up from the table, his narrowed gaze on the jam. As he braced for the fight he had been trying to provoke, Train placed a hand on Shade’s shoulder, stopping him with a muttered aside that Reaper couldn’t hear. Shrugging, Shade picked up his dry toast and started eating as his wife and children came in the dining room and took a seat at the table. When her violet gaze landed on the jar on his table, Reaper inwardly groaned. Rising from the table, Lily approached him, innocently unaware that she just stopped the burgeoning fight between him and Shade. “Excuse me, do you mind if I take the jelly? John finished the one at our house, and I’m trying to get him to

eat before he has to go to school.” “Go ahead.” Under Shade’s mocking gaze, Reaper reluctantly forced the words out. “Thanks. I need to tell Ginny to make a few extra jars next time. She brought four, and this is the last one.” Picking up the jar, Lily started backing away from the table, keeping him within her eyeline until she was safely seated by Shade. Lowering his head, Reaper forced down a bite of the waffle smeared with the jam, desperately trying not to overhear the conversation going on at the table just a few inches away. “I think he growled at me.” Not even her whispered voice could keep him from making out Lily’s words. “He must like the jam as much as John and you do.” “Apparently.” Shade’s sardonic reply had Reaper grabbing his plate to leave, only to find his ass glued to the chair when Ginny entered the room. A rush of relief hit him when he saw Lily wave at her. It was shortlived, however. Other than a small wave in Lily’s direction, Ginny kept walking toward his table. “I just wanted to tell you good-bye before I left.” He drew a blank at what to say to the woman; he needed to shut down the attraction surrounding them whenever they were near each other. Unable

to force his vocal cords to work, he became aware of the others in the room listening. The brothers were easy to decipher, waiting for him to tell Ginny that he didn’t give a fuck, tautly preparing themselves to intervene. The women members expected him to give her a cold shoulder, sympathy pouring out of them in waves. Reaper wanted to do both. The only thing stopping him was Ginny’s undaunted strength. She was unlike any other woman he had ever met. There was no fear of him in her expression; it was the exact opposite. Ginny familiarly greeted him as if he were a long-lost lover and she had just been reunited with him. It was crazy as fuck. What was even more alarming was a part of him felt the same. Alarms sounded shrilly in his head at her behavior and at his own. When she had touched his cheek, it were as if Ginny had touched him a million times before, yet he knew she hadn’t. The most confusing part was it had felt so fucking right. Unable to talk with the alarm blaring in his head, Reaper sat there like an infatuated dumb fuck. “Lucky and Willa have been kind enough to put me up at the church. If you decide to come to town, we could grab a coffee at the diner. I leave in the morning.” With her hand at her side, she tugged down the bottom of her top. The tell-tale sign of her being nervous struck him like lightening making

him forget about the set down he was about to give. That was ... if he could ever get his fucking tongue to work again. “Well ...” She trailed off when he remained silent. “I hope to see you again.” Watching her turn and composedly leave, a flash on the edge of his memory tried to click in place, then was gone just as quick. Confused, Reaper was still staring at the empty doorway when he became aware of the voices around him. “Did Ginny just make a move on Reaper?” Lily asked Shade. “Yes.” Shade didn’t try to hide his amused expression. “Are you sure? I’ve never known her to do that before.” “Pretty sure.” Shade’s amusement deepened. “That’s not the best part,” he told Lily. “What’s the best part?” “Watching Reaper unable to get a word out. He had the same problem when I saw them in the parking lot.” “He did?” Lily looked away from Shade to give Reaper a heartening smile, as if he were a thirteenyear-old boy who needed her help to pursue his crush. “You should go have coffee with her. She wouldn’t have asked you for coffee if she didn’t like you.”

“Maybe you could give Reaper a few pointers so he won’t be so nervous around her.” Egging his wife on wasn’t Shade’s best move when Reaper was in a I-want-to-kick-someone’s-ass mood. “I’d be happy to.” Lily’s encouraging nod toward him had Reaper seeing red at Shade’s smug satisfaction. The brother plainly wanted to rattle him. What Reaper couldn’t understand was: Why? Reaper picked up his dishes, and as he passed in front of Shade and Lily’s table he stopped to glower down at them. “You’re lucky Lily and your kids are here.” Shade’s smile disappeared in a split second. “No. You are.” Picking up a butter knife, Shade dipped it into the jelly jar, slathering a large amount onto his toast. Fuck. He realized too late why Shade was trying to irritate him; it was payback for the waffles and jelly. The son of a bitch couldn’t stand anyone getting the better of him. Shade was a dominate personality inside and out of the bedroom. In another lifetime Reaper would let it slide, not caring enough to insert his own dominance. Those days were long gone. He couldn’t do anything with Lily and his children there, but Reaper promised himself that Shade’s enjoyment of the jelly would be a fond

memory ... and the waffles ... and the fucking bacon .... Fucking gone. Forever. When Lily began trembling at the men’s prolonged stares, Reaper forced an amicable smile on his lips. “Later.” Shade received his silent message and gave one of his own. “Later.”

Chapter Two


arrying his dishes to the kitchen, he placed

them in the sink, then went through the swinging door just as Rider was coming into the kitchen. He sent the brother backpedaling to keep from getting knocked to the floor. “What’s the fucking rush?” “Fuck off,” Reaper muttered. As much as he had wanted to fight in the dining room, he now wanted to get to his room to settle the turmoil wreaking havoc on him, like a vicious undertow he couldn’t escape. It wasn’t safe for anyone to be

around him until he could gather his rioting emotions back under his control. He had no fear that he would hurt Lily or the children. But he wasn’t confident he could restrain himself from the feelings Ginny awoke within him, and he’d take out every brother in the club to combat the tender emotions he hadn’t felt since he laid Gavin to rest. Shoulder-checking Rider aside, Reaper was disconcerted to see Ginny sitting on the couch with Winter, watching the interaction between him and Rider. Viper had also turned to look, his jaw hardening in warning to behave in front of their guest. Held motionless—not from Viper’s unspoken admonishment but from Ginny’s gentle gaze on him —Reaper stood frozen, taking the hard shove that Rider gave him back as he went into the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Ginny,” Winter apologized. “My brother-in-law obviously got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.” Ginny kept her gaze pinned to him as her lips curled in a calming smile that stroked over his bruised and battered soul begging to be touched again. His fight and flight instinct was working overtime. After picking up Shade at T.A.’s wedding, he had been determined to head to Ohio this morning, and when he saw her in the parking lot, the need to escape had kicked into overdrive, wanting to avoid

seeing Ginny again at any cost. The harder he tried to get away from her, the more she appeared. His failed attempts weren’t giving him any time to regroup. “I’m sorry. I thought the room was empty.” Managing to get the words out, he was able to spur his body into motion, heading toward the front door. “There’s nothing to apologize for. I’ve been known to use that particular phrase myself, especially when it involves Rider.” He didn’t respond to Ginny’s humorous attempt to excuse him for the way he acted and glared at the doorway, his main objective to get away from her. “Reaper, before you leave, I want you to meet a friend of mine and Viper’s.” Winter’s firm request had him silently cursing. He recognized her tone; she had no intention of letting him leave so easily. Deciding that fleeing wasn’t working, he changed his trajectory, moving closer to the couch where the two women were sitting. Inwardly fighting Ginny’s effect on him, he coldly gazed down at her. “We’ve met.” His abrupt revelation had no effect on her. “Gavin was in the parking when I arrived. I introduced myself.” Scooting to the side of the couch, Ginny patted the space between her and

Winter for him to sit down. Was the woman insane? He was making it plain that he wanted nothing to do with her, yet she sat there, patting the couch cushion as if they were close acquaintances. If it wasn’t for her young age, Reaper would begin to doubt his recollections of the past, that the drugs had fucked with his brain, and there had been something between them. Only two things held him grounded. One, he would never have touched an underaged girl, and two, he hadn’t cheated on Taylor. Ginny was the one living in a parallel universe, not him. “I even offered to help him work on his motorcycle.” Laughingly grimacing at herself, Ginny lightly explained to Viper and Winter, “He was smart to ignore me. I’ve never rode on a motorcycle before, much less worked on one.” “I hadn’t either, until I rode with Viper.” Winter laughed. “I was terrified I was going to fall off. I held on so tightly that I probably bruised his ribs.” Viper shook his head at his wife. “I didn’t even know you were afraid.” “What would you have done if I told you?” “Took my car instead.” “That’s why I didn’t.” Viper frowned. “Are you still afraid when we go out for a ride?” “No, I actually miss riding as much as we used

to.” Winter switched her gaze from her husband to Ginny. “Having Aisha curtailed most of our joyriding, but at least once a month, we ride around to spend time together alone.” “I saw Aisha at the wedding yesterday. She’s adorable.” “Thank you. Luckily, she takes after her mother,” Viper joked. Reaper agreed. His tiny niece’s features were more like Winter’s than the hard angles of his brother’s. About to take the opportunity to leave, Ginny forestalled him by bringing him back into the conversation. “Her hair color is more like Gavin’s.” Self-consciously, he started to raise his hand to his hair. Stopping himself, he shoved his hand into his pocket to hide the betraying movement. Her expression didn’t show what she thought of the hack job he had done to his hair by shaving half of it off and tattooing the exposed portion. Instead, he felt as if she were memorizing each tattoo and imprinting them into her memory. Gavin took a step back. Ginny was breezing her way through every guard he used to keep everyone out. It was as if a part of her was already inside him, and she was intent on reclaiming that part, as well as taking a part of him to establish herself into his life.

He needed to get the fuck away from her before he was sucked into believing the connection that Ginny was trying to make was real and not a figment of his imagination, as he’d been telling himself since he heard her sing at the wedding yesterday. “Aisha reminds me a lot of Gavin when he was younger, especially when she wants to do something I’m not ready for her to try.” Reaper felt the beginning of a lump in his throat at the hint of sadness in Viper’s voice. Ginny must have caught it too. It was the first time she took her attention away from him. “My brothers complained the same way about me. I drove Silas crazy watching out for me. He was the oldest and could be a real pain when I was younger. I realized he was just being protective, but at the same time, I still wanted to do what I wanted to do. I think it’s in the younger sibling’s DNA to rattle the older ones.” Viper looked up at him, their eyes meeting at the memories of the many blowups they’d had. They had argued since his release, but Viper was the only one Reaper held himself back from getting into a full-scale argument with—like he had before coming to Treepoint. Now, Viper either gave in to his demands or walked away. At first he thought it was because Viper was waiting for him regain his strength, but later

acknowledged Viper was never going to fight him. Reaper would never hold the same respect from his brother as the other brothers did, because the other men had proven themselves to Viper. He would never be given another chance. Viper wouldn’t chance him being hurt again. His brother would rather walk away from an argument at the cost of his pride before causing him any pain. Before his captivity, Viper wouldn’t hesitate to knock his block off if he thought he deserved it. Now, if it came to a physical blow, Viper held back, incapable of hurting him, even with a gun to his head. Slate had not only managed to emotionally obliterate him, but he had destroyed any chance that his brother would ever again see him as an equal. Reaper mentally shook his head at himself. He’d paid for that burst of temper with nearly ten years of captivity, as well as what was left of his sorry life. The only thing that kept him sane was the desire for revenge on his tormentors. “I can’t imagine you giving anyone a hard time, Ginny” Winter said, breaking the stilted silence from the two men. Ginny rose from the couch, tugging her top down as she gave a self-effacing grimace. “Unfortunately, I used to be pretty obnoxious when I was younger. Thankfully, I grew out of it. I

learned that you have to wait for something worth having.” As Ginny approached him, she looked up at him. Reaper tried to ignore the silent message she was sending. Clenching his hand in his pocket, he stood still as a stone, despite the muscles in his legs shaking. “I learned that something you had to wait for wasn’t worth having.” Reaper didn’t lift his eyes away from Ginny’s despite Winter’s gasp at his harsh rebuttal. If he hadn’t been afraid of the feelings rising inside him before, the resolute expression on her face terrified him now. “Then you must have wanted the wrong thing. That’ll give you the wrong expectations every time. Maybe if you’re willing to change your point of view, you’d be able to see that you pinned your expectations on the wrong thing. But when you place them on the right one, you’ll get what you wanted all along, just in a different package.” Was Ginny talking about Taylor? Or was he reading more into what she was saying? No one talked about Taylor in front of him, not even Calder, since he’d been there the day Taylor came to the rehabilitation center to see him. “Or, in my viewpoint, I don’t want it anymore ... whatever package appears.” Their eyes dueled, his flashing in anger that Ginny believed herself capable of fulfilling the

hopes and dreams he had built in his mind with Taylor. He didn’t give a fuck if he was taking what she was saying out of context; he needed to make it plain that whatever momentary connection they made yesterday was just that and nothing else. Her resolute gaze became tender, shining an inner strength into him, letting him know she wouldn’t back away, despite his refusal to acknowledge the instant attraction between them. “Life is always everchanging; that’s what Viper, Winter, and I were discussing when you came in.” Diverting her gaze from him to Viper, she said, “I’ll think over what you said and let you know my decision.” “Don’t do anything rash, Ginny,” Viper warned. “I’m not going to make any promises I can’t keep. It was nice seeing everyone again.” Turning toward him, she held her hand out. “Gavin, meeting you was a bright spot in my trip home. Take care and try not to give Rider too hard a time.” Her eyes dared him to take her hand. Unable to resist the challenge, his automatically raised. The palm of her hand against his had goosebumps traveling up his arm, reminding him of that long-ago afternoon on the beach when he was in high school. Turning their hands to the side until the back of her hand was upward, he removed his hand to stare down at the scarred flesh on Ginny’s hand. “What happened to your hand?” he asked

thickly. “I got it being too impatient to wait.” She dropped her hand to hide it against the side of her pants. “That’s one of the benefits of getting older, like I told you. I’ll never make that mistake again. I can wait for what I want. You all have a great day.” Reaper watched her leave, wanting to go after her. As soon as she was out of eyesight, it was as if the bright sun outside had dimmed, even though the sunlight shining in the window was just as bright. “God, I miss her so badly.” Reaper jerked his head toward Winter when she spoke the thought that he wouldn’t allow himself to say, even in his own mind. “She had the whole club organized. I still haven’t been able to find my favorite coffee cup lid after she quit.” “I miss her every Monday when I post the club jobs and have to listen to everyone complain,” Viper muttered. “What was the decision Ginny said she would think over?” Viper’s expression turned grim. “I had to tell her that neither Rider nor Shade were going to be able to fly back with her tomorrow, and I would be taking their place.” “You told me last night I would,” he ground out. “And we spent most of the night arguing, with

you saying you wouldn’t. You left the club with your saddlebags this morning. Seemed to me you were planning on leaving. Ginny has made only one stipulation with The Last Riders protecting her, and that’s being kept informed. With me taking over for Shade and Rider, I didn’t want to spring it on her tomorrow.” “What in the fuck is there for her to think about?” “Ginny isn’t cool with me leaving Winter and Aisha. Someone has been watching Rider and Jo’s house, which is why I told you last night he couldn’t go. She’s afraid that it’s her stalker, and if that’s the case, Winter and Aisha could be in the same danger with me going. Ginny also asked if that was why Shade wasn’t going, and I had to admit it was in part, and that Lily is also pregnant. Her contract is almost up with Mouth2Mouth, and she hasn’t decided what she’s going to do afterward. Rider and Shade think she’ll make a run for it and go where the stalker can’t find her. Unfortunately, if she does, we won’t be there to protect her.” “Fuck.” “The Last Riders owe her. If her house hadn’t been blown up because of us, she wouldn’t have been in Queen City in the first place.” Viper’s grim visage showed it was yet another blame he placed on his shoulders.

“Talk to Shade and Rider again; get them to change their minds. Hennessy and Core can come back from Ohio and watch either Jo or Lily.” Reaper tried frantically to find any option other than himself. “You don’t think I’m up for the job of watching Ginny?” Reaper knew he was walking on a minefield if he answered. He should just fucking walk away, but he had been on too many military missions not to offer his opinion. And, if Viper went with Ginny, the stalker wouldn’t hesitate to take him out to get to her. “I think the man after Ginny is shady as fuck or he wouldn’t have gone this long without being caught. It’s going to take someone just as good to catch him.” “Neither Rider nor Shade have been able to catch him. The only one better than them is you, and you’re refusing to go.” “I’m no use to her!” His fury broke free, seeing his options were running out. “I didn’t see my own kidnapping coming! I wasn’t able to protect my own damn self. How am I supposed to protect her?” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Winter grip the arm of the couch. Lowering his voice, he raked a shaky hand through his hair. “I’ll talk to Shade and Rider. One

of them will go.” Viper sat stoically during his rant. “Fine, let me know so I can inform Ginny. If not, I’ll be on the plane in the morning.” “If they won’t, I’ll go.” He had to get out of the room before the rage boiling inside him exploded in front of Winter. He needed to put distance between him and Ginny, but everything was fucking working against him. “It would be a big help if you would, but if you want to try to convince Rider or Shade to change their minds, go ahead—it’s your time to waste.” “If you all care so much about Ginny, the last thing you should want is me watching over her.” “I care enough about her to give her the very best protection I can, and that’s you.” “Then God help her if I’m the best you can come up with.” “You’ve never failed me yet, Reaper, and despite what you think, you never failed yourself.” Reaper had to look away at Viper’s anguished expression. “Every brother and I have tried to convince you of that, but it goes in one ear and out the other. I see now that we’ve been wasting our time. We’ve been trying to convince the wrong person.” Reaper turned his gaze back to Viper. “Who in the fucking hell is that?” “Gavin. And until we convince him, then

you’re never going to be at peace, brother.” “He’s dead and gone.” “Let’s hope not.” Viper’s anguished expression became confident. “Because he’s the only one who’s going to be able to save Ginny.”

Chapter Three


nwilling to stand there and continue arguing

with Viper, he turned to go into the kitchen. Shade and Rider were still there, and he had to change one of their minds. However, he didn’t make it a step before the front door opened and Diamond and Knox came in. At first he thought they were there to visit, until he saw Calder walk in behind them. From Diamond’s troubled face, whatever she had to discuss with him wasn’t going to be good news. The fact she hadn’t texted him and she

brought Knox and Calder made it clear she felt he was going to react badly to whatever she was going to say. Reaper changed his direction without pausing to greet them. “Let’s go to my room.” Going up the stairs, he was conscious of Viper’s and Winter’s eyes on them. When Viper was about to stand, Reaper shook his head. He didn’t need another audience to witness what Diamond had plainly felt like she need reinforcements to discuss. Opening his bedroom door to let Diamond enter, he saw Knox hang back, letting Calder go first while he remained in the hall. That had Reaper’s gut clenching. “Does Diamond think I’m going to flip out on her?” Just minutes before he worried he would lose it in the kitchen. He might walk a tightrope between sanity and insanity, but he would take his own ass out before he’d hurt a woman again. Knox looked through the doorway to his wife’s purpose-filled features. “Diamond’s not afraid you’re going to hurt her. She just wanted me here in case you have any questions she can’t answer. I’ll wait here.” Reaper gave him a curt nod before heading inside his bedroom and shutting the door. He motioned toward the sitting area that had a small couch and chair. Diamond and Calder both sat on

the couch and Reaper took the chair. “You usually call.” Reaper gave Diamond a piercing stare. “Moon texted Knox that you packed your saddlebags. I didn’t know how long you were planning on being away, and I didn’t want to wait any longer to give you the information I discovered.” His jaw clenched at the revelation. “It’s nice to know the brothers are watching every move I make.” “You know that’s not true.” Traces of anger filtered through the business-like tone she usually used with him. “I did try to call this morning, but you didn’t answer. When you didn’t, I asked Knox to find out where you were so I wouldn’t waste a trip out here. I do have other clients.” Taking out his cell phone, Reaper saw the missed call. His lips tightened at the realization he missed the call when he was talking to Ginny. “Calder just so happened to be there when you decided to come here?” “No, I called him last night,” she admitted. “I know he is the only one who you’re willing to discuss your dependency problem with and, frankly, I wanted him here for you in case you need him.” “Ah … I see. You’re not afraid I’ll hurt you because of what you’re going to tell me; you’re

worried I’ll backslide in my recovery.” Sardonically, Reaper didn’t know which he preferred—that Diamond was afraid of him or that he would take the opportunity to start using again. Neither reasons would make that happen. Then again, neither did they inspire confidence that he would be able to handle what Diamond was about tell him. “I don’t need to be protected from myself. Whatever bad news you have to tell me, I’ll deal, just like any other brother in the club does.” “I didn’t come to give you bad news. Actually, it’s good.” “You needed Calder to tell me good news?” “I consider it good news. Unfortunately, I don’t think you will.” Reaper wanted to get up and pace around the room but remained seated. “Tell me.” Diamond hesitantly began. “Have you … watched the tapes that Slate took of you?” “No. I didn’t have to watch them; I lived them.” “I asked you to watch them.” She sighed. “Have you discussed them with Viper or any of the other brothers? They can confirm what I’m about to tell you.” He clenched his jaw. “I don’t know if Viper’s watched them. Some of the brothers have. I haven’t asked which tapes they’ve seen, nor do I want to.

As far as talking about it with him or any of the brothers, I never will. Have you watched them?” “You know I have.” He had to give Knox’s wife props for not betraying her opinion of the tapes. “Then, can you tell me how I’m supposed to talk with any of them, especially Viper?” Diamond tightened her lips. “I can’t.” Anyone who cared about Viper would never want him to watch the brutality that Reaper lived through for almost ten years. “Exactly.” Tensing, he sat forward, linking his hands together. “What’s so important that you dragged Calder out so early this morning?” Diamond slowly opened her briefcase, taking out a folder before closing the case. “I found out who she was.” Reaper didn’t have to ask who she was. The woman he killed preyed on his mind every moment since he saw her vacant gaze staring back at him. As Diamond held out the folder for him to take, his hand slowly reached for it while he mentally prepared himself to see the image of the woman’s face. Expecting to see the same image back at him that had been burned into his brain from that horror-filled night, he had to blink several times after opening the folder to reconcile the image he was seeing now.

The woman in the picture was smiling laughingly at whoever had taken the picture. He had snuffed that smile out with his bare hands. It didn’t matter that he’d been drugged; it still sickened him to his soul that he had given in to Slate’s goading. “Her name was Cecile Lelong. She was twentysix when she disappeared. They recovered her body two days ago.” “Why didn’t you call me?” Unconsciously, he squeezed his eyes tight, fighting back the grief that he felt at ending a life just for the sole purpose of Slate wanting to capture it on video. “Because I was in Lexington, and I had to drive back. I only stopped long enough to meet Calder before coming here. I wanted to be here when I told you.” Reaper closed the folder and handed it back to her. “Is that why you brought Knox here—to arrest me?” He stood up and looked down at her. “You could have saved him the trouble. I would have turned myself in—” Diamond shook her head. “There aren’t going to be any charges brought against you.” Dumbfounded, he could only frown at her; he was sure he misheard her. “I was in Lexington because I was waiting for Knox to get a hit on the DNA that came back after they found Cecile’s body. It was exactly where Ink

said he buried her. I wanted to wait until the autopsy and DNA results came in before telling you. Knox showed me a picture of Cecile from her missing poster, and from the tape, I confirmed it was her. “After I confirmed her identity, I made an appointment to talk with the Commonwealth Attorney. There aren’t going to be any charges against you.” No longer pacing, Reaper furiously strode around the room as if he were caged in, then stopped in front of Diamond. “I did it! I deserve to be in prison! I didn’t ask you to get a deal for me!” Diamond remained sitting, her expression resolute despite his yelling. “I didn’t have to cut a deal.” Keeping her voice firm and controlled, she straightened her shoulders. “All I had to do was show him that tape,” she explained in a low voice. He took a step back as if she had shoved him back physically. “You showed him the tape?” “Did you really think I wasn’t going to make sure you weren’t going to spend a day in jail after I sat and watched every single one of those tapes?” Diamond shoved her briefcase and folder to the side of her lap to stand. She brought her hands to her hips as she jutted her chin out and stared back at him. “The only ones responsible for Cecile’s death were her and Slate. It’s right there in that folder you don’t want to read, any more than you

want to watch those tapes. She made four unsuccessful attempts on her life previously. In fact, she had just been released from a psychiatric hospital where she was on a forty-eight-hour watch after she jumped out of her father’s car at a red light. Slate must have been her backup plan if her last attempt was unsuccessful.” “It doesn’t matter how many times she tried! I’m the one responsible! My hands choked the life out of her!” He angrily hit his chest with a fist. Then, tormented, he started to hit himself again. “It was me!” “Watch the damn tape!” Losing her cool, Diamond reached out, grabbing his wrist to stop him. “Look at them!” Diamond didn’t stop her tirade even though he carefully moved his arm away from her. “You didn’t get those scars by giving in to what they wanted you to do! You kept trying to get away despite being chained to that bed. They administered drugs to you twice, then threatened to kill Taylor. Despite all that, it took them an hour and twenty-four minutes to break you into doing it. You didn’t even realize it was her you were trying to kill! “I’m sorry for what Cecile must have been going through mentally to bring her to the point that she wanted to take her life. Still, because I did see those tapes, feeling sorry for her doesn’t mitigate

the fact that she was using you without regard of the harm it was doing to you. She watched you being chained to that bed, saw those drugs being pumped into you, and allowed Slate to abuse you when you wouldn’t give in to her demands to kill her. Let me tell you something”—Diamond took a shuddering breath—“if it had been me, I would have gladly killed her after five minutes to get Slate to stop hurting me the way he was you. “And I didn’t have to ask the Commonwealth Attorney not to press charges on you. You want to know what he said? He told me he would have broken after ten minutes. So, don’t you dare stand there and yell at me because you’re not locked up in cell!” Diamond appeared to be earnestly fighting back tears as she watched him scrub his wrist on the side of his jeans where she had touched him. However, he stopped when he saw a tear roll down her cheek. “I would lock myself inside a cell for the next twenty years before I ever let you spend one more hour behind a locked door again. The Commonwealth Attorney isn’t guided by emotion; he’s following the law, and that’s why a warrant was issued for Slate’s arrest.” Reaper had to spin on his heel, unable to look at her anguished expression any longer. “Don’t,” he managed to say through clenched teeth. Knox’s wife’s heartfelt support of him was

getting under the barricade he had surrounded himself with. Diamond was slipping beneath the defenses that were already strained from Ginny’s million-watt smile and words that, while his mind shied away from, his soul had felt—as if Ginny had reached inside to caress and soothe the torment that was ripping away what little desire he had left to face another day. The only reason that he hadn’t given in to the struggle was as simple and as old as time—vengeance. “I want to talk to her parents.” “It’s not going to make you feel better, and it certainly won’t them. They were told the circumstances of her death and that Slate facilitated her death. If you want to find another way to punish yourself, I can’t stop you, but don’t bring them into it. Leave them alone to their grief.” “What am I supposed to do?” he asked raggedly. “You don’t need twelve jurors to punish you when you’re doing it yourself. You’ve made this room your prison cell. The only time you go out is to work the security room or search for Slate. The police will find him. Knox said everyone else responsible for your captivity is dead.” He turned sharply to look at Diamond. She held up her hands. “I didn’t ask how Knox knows. And, as an officer of the courts, I don’t want to know. He wouldn’t tell me if I ask,

anyway.” “They’re not all dead.” He clenched his fists by his sides. “There’s one other than Slate. And the ones who paid to be in his videos are still walking around.” Diamond blanched, her gaze switching to Calder for help. He had remained silent as Diamond spoke, giving his support without interrupting. At Diamond’s glance, Reaper narrowed his eyes on them. Whatever they were about to tell him wasn’t going to be good. “What isn’t Diamond wanting to tell me?” Tight-lipped, he nodded toward Calder. “Slate made sure that no one could be tracked from his website. It didn’t help that Crash used his expertise to erase anyone who visited the site. Slate posted a different number each day for how to contact him, even instructing them on buying a burner phone. Knox and Jonas both said that it would be easier to find a needle in a haystack than finding the ones who paid to participate in the videos. They’re working on identifying them for you, but you need to be prepared for them never being found.” Reaper stared at Calder unseeingly. Imaginary faces of the ones who fueled his need for revenge, one after another, inundated his mind. His hands went to his back pockets to keep from tearing his room apart in the rage he was bottling down.

Sorting through the imaginary faces, he forced the fury aside, harnessing cold reason. He needed to focus on accomplishing his wants—to kill everyone who had taken part in the videos. But he wasn’t going to achieve his wants. Instead, he had to focus on his needs. He needed to kill the blackhearted couple who had been there when he was first taken prisoner. Vamp had only been there four times, then stopped coming. The four times she had been there burned into his memory. He needed her to die, to extinguish her from his memory and to draw a line through her name on the mental list of people he promised to exact retribution. There was one more. The Count, who had continued to come until he told Slate that Reaper was too ugly to fuck. “Tell Knox and Jonas to concentrate on the woman during the first videos Slate took of me. If I find her, I can find him.” Reaper tamped down his harsh tone as he instructed Diamond the direction he wanted to head. He wasn’t ready to give up and let bygones be bygones. He wanted every lead checked out and then double-checked until the very last one on his list was found. Knowing every last one of the fuckers were dead would give him the revenge he was owed. Hatred fueled his every breath. It was the only emotion he wanted to feel. Anything else just brought memories of what he was never going to

have—love, marriage, children. He had built those dreams around another woman. He was now a man incapable of building a future with any woman. Gavin was deceived by Vincent Bedford, Memphis, Crash, and even Taylor, but Reaper would never trust his heart to make his decisions for him again. He had to stay as far away from Ginny as he could. As enticingly as she called to him, he had nothing left to give her that was worth a damn. Her ass needed to go back to Nashville, while his planned to stay right where it was. Rider and Shade had to change their minds voluntarily … or he was fucking going to change it for them. Reaper nodded at the folder. “Can I keep it?” Diamond frowned. “Why?” “I want to look it over. I won’t contact Cecile’s parents, if that’s what you’re worried about.” “You can have it.” “Thank you.” “Are you okay?” “I’ve never been better,” he lied smoothly. The more information he gathered about Cecile and how she contacted Slate, the easier it would be for Reaper to find his quarry. Slate was counting on him to give up his fruitless search. The bastard couldn’t be more wrong. Reaper would search for him until his dying day.

Chapter Four


nside her car Ginny took deep, even breaths to

calm her erratic heartbeat. She was proud of herself for how collected she appeared in front of Gavin, despite being so anxious to make a good impression on him. All she wanted to do was wrap her arms around him and feel him in her arms. His unapproachable behavior had stopped that possibility in its tracks. The fierce warrior’s body forewarned pain if anyone got too close. If Gavin’s sheer size and tattoos weren’t enough to put the fear of God in

someone, then the caged animal lurking in his stark gaze would have them running for cover. The connection she felt with him yesterday was what fueled her courage today. It was the same connection he was pretending had never happened. She knew from the moment she put her hand out to him this morning that he downplayed what happened at Trudy’s wedding. He had no intention of following up on the attraction. Ginny was willing to bet he couldn’t wait for her to leave. The only way Gavin would ask her out for coffee was if he were on fire and needed someone to put the flames out. Starting the engine, she pulled out onto the road and drove down the mountain. She made her way back to the church, returning in a less chipper mood than when she left. The plans she made last night to get better acquainted with Gavin had failed to materialize in the bright light of day. Wanting a few minutes alone before going inside, Ginny walked around the side of the church and sat down on one the swings. Unlike Gavin, she wasn’t questioning what she felt when their eyes met across the swimming pool. She had been waiting all of her life for those feelings to strike her. She had fallen in love with Gavin at first sight, and dammit, deep down, she knew he had also. Ginny wanted to call Trudy to ask for her

advice but reminded herself that her sister was on her honeymoon, and Ginny didn’t want to spoil it with a fight about Gavin. Trudy had managed to find a few minutes alone with her before she and Dalton left. “He’s not the one you’ve been waiting for,” Trudy hissed at her as soon as the bathroom door closed behind them. Ginny didn’t blink at her sister’s stricken expression. “Why not?” “Because he can’t be.” “He is.” Ginny resolutely crossed her arms over her chest. “No, he’s not,” Trudy determinedly argued back. “If you’d picked any other man in the whole world, I’d tell you to go for it, but not Reaper. Sweetheart, he’s not for you.” “Give me one good reason.” “I can give you several, but the most important one is he’s still in love with his ex. You deserve someone in love with you, not a woman he’s waited years to be with.” “I was waiting for him. He just doesn’t know it —” “And he won’t want to know.” Trudy sharply cut her off, seeing her warning was going nowhere. “You’re not Taylor, and she’s all he cares about.” “You’re not Oceane, but that didn’t keep

Dalton from falling in love with you.” As soon as the words left her lips, Ginny regretted them. Trudy’s hurt gaze at being reminded that she wasn’t Dalton’s first choice either effectively grounded the euphoria of finding out the identity of the man whose soul had connected with hers just minutes before. “Taylor is living, not buried six feet under,” Trudy said reproachfully. “I’m sorry.” Ginny reached out to grab her sister in a hug. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.” Ginny wished she could take it back. She didn’t want to ruin Trudy’s perfect day any more than she wanted her own excitement crushed. “I know you didn’t.” Trudy’s assurance didn’t make her feel any better. “What I was trying to say was that Oceane had her time with Dalton, just like Taylor had her time with Gavin. It doesn’t mean they can’t love us just as much. You’ve proven that, Trudy. I can do the same for Gavin.” Ginny wasn’t ready to be brought down to earth. Unfortunately, Trudy was determined that Ginny’s feet would remain planted firmly on Mother Earth. “It’s not the same, as much as I wish it was for you.” Pulling away, Trudy’s concerned brow emphasized just how serious she was. “Let’s forget Taylor then, Reaper isn’t stable.

He’s a one-man wrecking crew. He doesn’t fight to win. He fights to obliterate.” Ginny didn’t want to hear any more negatives about Gavin. She couldn’t understand why Trudy was so adverse to her being interested in Gavin. Before, anytime his name was mentioned, it had been about his kidnapping or his rescue, even a few details of what he had gone through afterward. And anything she had been told was imparted with sympathy and worry about him. Now, because she was interested, it seemed as if Trudy had made a Uturn to lead her away from his direction. Undeterred by the warning or the shiver that ran down her back at Trudy’s words, Ginny had been preparing herself for more discouragement when a knock on the bathroom door ended their sisterly talk. Ginny had made sure to avoid any more alone time with Trudy before she and Dalton left for their honeymoon. Finding Gavin actually existed had her walking on air. Trudy, even though her concerns were meant with good intentions, was trying to tether Ginny solidly back in reality. Reality had always sucked for her; for once she wanted to be brave enough to reach for the stars. “Yo, you don’t have anything better to do than sitting there, staring into space?” Ginny was pulled from thoughts of her conversation with Trudy to see Killyama striding

toward her from across the playground. Intuitively, she knew Trudy sent Killy on the mission to check up on her and make sure she was nowhere near Gavin. Killyama sat down on the swing next to her, giving her the once-over at the way she was dressed. “You look nice.” Ginny wasn’t taken in with the unexpected compliment. “Trudy send you?” “I’m her second choice. She wanted to send Sex Piston, but she’s working.” “I see.” Ginny used her foot to turn the swing toward Killyama, facing her directly. “You can report back to Trudy and tell her that Gavin has no intention of getting further acquainted with me and to save herself the bother of keeping tabs on me.” “Chill out, little bitch. T.A. just wanted us to watch out for you.” When Killyama didn’t pull her off the swing and beat the living crap out of her for her snarky attitude, Ginny sent her an apologetic smile. “There’s nothing for her to be worried about. It’s not like Gavin is beating down my door to get to know me.” “Heard you were at the club this morning. I take it, it didn’t go as you wanted?” Killyama wasn’t her first choice to bare her feelings to, but she was there, and Ginny couldn’t contain them any longer. She desperately needed

someone to confide in about Gavin, and her feelings for Gavin would be the last thing Trudy wanted to hear. And if she confided in Willa, she might tell Lucky, who was friends with Gavin. Unable to stop, Ginny exposed herself to Killyama’s ridicule. “I’m pretty sure he thinks I have a screw loose, which Trudy probably thinks, too, but that’s okay.” “It is?” Ginny nodded, giving Killyama a pleading look for understanding. “I touched him, Killy. I actually was able to touch him.” Ginny bit her lip, trying to stop the flow of words but couldn’t. “It was liquid silver, like reaching out and touching a star.” “Were Gavin’s socks blown off?” “Not hardly,” Ginny admitted with amusement before turning serious. “Gavin’s special, isn’t he?” “Yes.” At the soft tone in Killyama’s agreement, Ginny felt an unexpected twinge of jealousy. “You care about Gavin, don’t you?” “Don’t get your panties in a twist.” Killyama waved her hand with her wedding ring pointed toward her. “Gavin may be special, but he’s not the star in my sky.” “He’s mine.” Ginny made her claim out loud, not so much as to warn Killyama off but to stake her claim to the universe. “I’m glad T.A.’s in Florida and can’t hear you

say that.” “I don’t understand. Anytime Gavin’s name was mentioned to me before, it was about how he amazingly survived. I hear nothing but respect from all of you, yet when I show interest in him, it’s like I’m going after Jason Voorhees.” Killyama started laughing. Ginny pivoted her foot in the dirt as she grabbed the chain of Killyama’s swing and tugged her closer. “I’m serious. This isn’t funny. I am meant for him, despite what Trudy, Sex Piston, you, and even Gavin think!” she snapped. “I know what I felt yesterday. I know what I felt when I touched him today.” “That’s why I think it’s fucking hilarious.” Rising fast, she set the swing jostling behind her legs. “Enjoy your laugh.” Ginny started to move around the swing, needing to get away from Killyama before she snatched a handful of hair out of her head and jinxed her to hell and back. “Sit your ass back down.” Ginny started past her, only to find her arm taken in a firm grip. “Sit. Down.” Ginny sat. Killyama was an expert on chasing fleeing felons; Ginny had no chance of outrunning her or taking her on physically. No, the best way to handle Trudy’s friend was to listen to what she had to say,

then, when she least expected it, show Killy that she was no laughing matter. She might not be an expert on kicking ass, but she was at making people regret getting on her bad side. “You can quit giving me the evil eye. You’re so hot for the dude that you don’t even see what’s in front of your face.” “I’m not a child. He was held captive for almost ten years, his fiancée got married while he was gone. So, yeah, it makes sense he would have several issues stemming from what he went through.” “You have no fucking clue.” All visage of Killyama’s humor deserted her, leaving her face a stark mask that had Ginny clutching the chains of the swing. “Your sister is afraid for you, and you should be, too, because Reaper is no Jason Voorhees. You can shoot Jason’s ass and have time to get away. With Reaper, he’ll just keep coming at you.” “I’m not afraid.” Ginny looked away at the untruth. She had no fear he would hurt her physically, but she could see him shredding her soul to protect the space he wanted to keep away from the world. “Then you’re an idiot. Little bitch, if you’re going after Reaper, you need to open your eyes wide. There’s a fucking reason that most of The Last Riders take the shit Reaper dishes out. They

consider him a brother and would die for him in a fucking second. I was suckered into how much they cared about him and how bad I felt about what Reaper had gone through, and I missed seeing what was right in my fucking face.” “Stop, Killy. You’re not going to scare me away from him.” Ginny was holding the swing’s chains so tightly, she felt the links imprinting into her skin. No matter what Killyama told her, though, it wasn’t going to change the way she felt about Gavin. Killyama blazed past Ginny’s vain effort to stop what she was about to say. “Every single one of The Last Riders might love Reaper, but they are scared shitless of him too. I saw firsthand where Reaper was kept and how they drugged him senseless. Fuckers don’t go to that extreme unless they are afraid of what he could do.” Ginny wanted to put her hands over her ears to stop the flow of words coming out of Killyama’s mouth. Instead, her lips firmed in a tight line of determination. “There’s nothing you can say that’s going to put me off Gavin. He’s the one I’ve been waiting for when other girls were talking about their crushes and boyfriends. Do you know how many times I tried to tell myself he didn’t exist, and each time I did, I felt as if I were betraying him?” “I’m not here to discourage you from Reaper.” Killyama leaned forward, placing her forearms on

her thighs. “T.A. and Sex Piston think I am, but I’m not.” “You aren’t? It sounds exactly like what Trudy would say.” “You don’t like hearing the truth, then you better toughen those titties up, because Reaper is the last man on earth you should want. You’d have better luck landing Kaden’s expensive jet than landing Reaper.” “How is this not discouraging me?” “Little bitch, this isn’t discouragement; it’s preparation. You go with your eyes shut about what Reaper is capable of, you’re doomed for failure before any relationship you want with him can start. Put aside that liquid silver shit and you might stand a fucking chance. You really want to know why T.A. and the other bitches don’t want you to go after Reaper?” Ginny had a feeling she wasn’t going to like Killyama’s answer, but she answered, “Yes,” anyway. “None of them think you have enough courage to fight for what you want.” “I know how to fight for what I want!” “Do you really? I haven’t seen it, nor has any other bitch. You let your brothers shut you out of their lives, despite how much you care about them.” “Don’t. You don’t know anything about my

relationship with my brothers!” “What relationship? When’s the last time you even talked to them?” Ginny was starkly forced to admit the truth. “They don’t want anything to do with me.” “Exactly. And you just take it. Like you taking every-fucking-thing unless it involves protecting someone else. You have no problem standing up to Lisa and Dalton West when you wanted to protect Willa and Lucky. The only reason you showed the talent you hid for fucking years was because you were protecting the friends you made in Queen City and here in Treepoint from your stalker. You think standing up to your eight brothers and your stalker is hard? It’s going to be nothing compared to what Reaper is going to throw at you.” “You’re right...” Ginny had to agree with the view that Trudy and her friends had of her. She lived most of her life behind the barrier of having to keep the secret of her identity intact. At the age of three, she had been groomed not to make waves, to hide behind the well-meaning warnings of Trudy, Hammer, Will, and Freddy to blend in, keeping herself and, therefore, them safe. That any slipup would have deadly consequences had been drilled into her head until she had lost the little girl she was born to be. The only way she was ever going to reach Gavin was to put aside the conditioning that had

kept her alive and risk everything for him. “You look scared shitless. Is it really that frightening to put yourself first?” Killyama asked. “It is when I could get someone else hurt.” “Little bitch, what’s it going to take for you to figure out that the only one you are protecting yourself from is yourself. You and Trudy aren’t helpless children any longer. You have people who can take your back if you just step back and give them a chance.” “At what cost to them and their families? The Last Riders taking other people’s backs is how Winter almost lost her and Aisha’s life. If you hadn’t been there … There are some prices too high to pay.” “Is there?” Killyama asked softly. “Look at me, Evangeline.” Ginny turned, lifting her face to reveal the torment of the deeply held fear of her past catching up with her. She already had three deaths on her conscience, Ginny didn’t think she could handle any more. Killyama lifted herself off the swing to stand beside her, placing a comforting arm around her shoulders. It was something Trudy would have done. From Killyama, it was strange yet somehow it infused the strong woman’s strength into her. “I don’t know the answer to that question. Only you do. You’re the one who’s going to have to decide if

a future with Reaper is worth the price and be ready to live with the consequences, because I’m telling you straight-up: don’t keep any secrets from Gavin. If you truly feel like he’s your soul mate, tell him the truth from the get-go. He’s too smart not to figure out that there’s something off with you, and it’d be better if you tell him yourself. Go all in with him, or be prepared when he finds out and walks away. Reaper has no more second chances in him.” If she did miraculously become involved with Gavin, she would bring danger right to him. She remembered the brief glimpse of unbearable pain she had seen in Gavin’s eyes when he told her that he had learned waiting for something wasn’t worth it. He had been through so much; was it fair to want him in her life? Killyama shook her head at her. “I can read your mind. You’re already trying to protect him.” Killy dropped her arm from around her shoulders to grab her biceps, giving her a hard shake. This was the Killyama that Ginny was more familiar with. “Reaper doesn’t need your protection; he needs someone who will make him whole again. Someone who’s going to blow his fucking mind and put Taylor in the rearview mirror.” Ginny gave a choked laughed. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to accomplish all that.” “Bitch, I have faith in you. Don’t worry. I’m just a phone call away if you need my advice.”

She had grown up hearing Killy’s advice to the other bitches, and Ginny didn’t have high hopes today, either. Offended at the look on Ginny’s face, Killyama straightened to her full height and poked a finger at her chest. “I’m the only one who bagged a Last Rider.” Ginny couldn’t let her sister be one-upped. “Trudy nabbed a movie star who used to belong to Oceane Fournier.” “Used to be, so he doesn’t count. Besides, I wouldn’t expect T.A. to be giving you advice anytime soon.” “No, I don’t expect she will.” “You’re better off. T.A. gives shit advice. I’m all you need to get the job done.” Ginny held her hands up in surrender. “Fine. If I do feel the need for anymore advice, I’ll call you.” “I’m not done.” Killyama grew serious again, using her hands on Ginny’s arms to move her backward until the swing bumped against the back of her thighs. “There’s a few things you need to know before you make another move on Reaper.” Ginny sat at the tone of Killyama’s voice. “I’m not going to sugarcoat what I’m going to tell you, and if you ever breathe a word that I told you, I’ll call you a damn liar.” Ginny licked her suddenly dry lips. “I don’t

need sugarcoated. I’ve learnt it doesn’t make it go down any easier. Do you know anyone better at keeping a secret than me?” Raising a questioning brow, Ginny didn’t think Killy did, because she began without preamble. “Have you heard about the dark web?” Her blood went ice-cold. “Yes, but I’ve never gone there.” “Buckle up, this isn’t going to be a fun trip.”

Chapter Five


s that everything?” Keeping her face

expressionless, Ginny prayed there wasn’t a tell showing. “Yes, it’s likely Hammer and Jonas have more information, but good luck getting it out of them.” Killyama cast her a worried look. Ginny could see that she was having second thoughts about entrusting her with the confidences that she had shared about Gavin. “If any of The Last Riders or Hammer ever found out what I told you, they’d hate me. I jeopardized my marriage, little bitch. You

better not make me regret it.” “I won’t. Thank you, Killyama. I owe you one.” Shakily, Ginny got to her feet. “I didn’t ask for anything in return, but since you offered, don’t think I won’t if I ever need to.” Ginny nodded, well-aware that Killyama would if the need arose, which was why she hadn’t offered the repayment lightly. “You should go. Someone will have noticed us talking so long. I’ll walk you to your car.” When she lifted a foot to move, her knee buckled. Killyama grabbed her arm, pulling her into hug. Ginny managed to return it. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome. Didn’t want you to bite the dust in your nice outfit.” “Not for that. For being there when Gavin needed you.” Ginny tightened her arms around Killy. “Anything, anytime. Without you, Gavin might still be in that hellhole. I won’t ever forget that you were willing to sacrifice your love for Train to help Gavin. You’re the best person I’ve ever met, and I’ve been blessed to have good people in my life.” “I wouldn’t say I’m the best, but if you say it, I’ll take your word for it.” Ginny managed a laugh as they pulled away and started walking. As Killyama got in her car and closed the door,

Ginny used her hand to stop the door from shutting. “I owe you a debt that I’ll never be able to repay.” “You know me well enough to know I’ll cash that promise in if I need to. You okay? You’re looking a little green around the gills.” “I’m fine.” Ginny removed her hand from the car door. “Before I leave, there is one other thing I meant to tell you.” Ginny didn’t know if her queasy stomach could handle much more. “Before I left the club, Reaper was on a rampage, trying to get Shade or Rider to change their minds about returning to Nashville with you.” Ginny frowned. “Viper told me he was the one coming back with me, not Gavin.” Killyama shrugged. “I don’t know why the change of plans, only that Reaper was freaking the hell out on them.” “I’ll call Viper. I don’t want Gavin forced to do anything he doesn’t want to do.” Ginny began reaching into her pocket for her cell phone. “Don’t be stupid. Nothing is going to happen with Reaper in Treepoint and you in Nashville. Reaper will ignore any attempt you make to contact him, and he sure as fuck won’t be calling you. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t think I didn’t get some dirt under my nails when I wanted

Train. Reaper is a mean fucker, and if you’re his soul mate like you think, you better be prepared to use every motherfucking advantage you’re given. I didn’t spill my guts to you about Reaper for you not to use it to your advantage. Look at it this way, you’re not forcing Reaper to do a damn thing; Viper is. See? Problem solved. You can keep a clean conscience and have Reaper with you in Nashville. Enjoy the plane ride.” Ginny jumped back from the car as Killyama jerked the door closed. Jesus, and they call Crazy Bitch crazy. She and Killyama should switch names, Ginny thought to herself aloud, getting in her own car. There was no way she could go inside the church now with her stomach churning from the information Killyama had given her. Merging into slow traffic on the main road, Ginny drove to a quiet spot where there wouldn’t be many around—the lookout, where Willa had almost fallen to her death trying to save Sissy. Parking in an empty space, she got out of the car, walked to the edge of the cliff, and looked out over the town. Seeing that she was alone, Ginny released the torrent of emotions that she had kept bottled-up in front of Killyama. Low sobs turned into louder, harder ones that had her falling to her knees and clutching her belly. How had God allowed one of his precious souls to be treated that way?

When Trudy told her that Gavin had been found while she was living in Queen City, she’d told her that he’d been in bad shape. Trudy had given her a few details but hadn’t gone into the graphic ones that Killyama hadn’t held back. Imagining the pain Gavin had been forced to endure had her wanting to drive back to The Last Riders’ clubhouse just to assure herself that he was still there. Minutes turned into an hour, as her anguished sobs transformed to painful hiccups. The mental and physical abuse he suffered was more than horrendous; it had been pure evil. Ginny was no stranger to true evil; however, what Gavin survived had taken a mental, emotional, and physical toll on him. Locking him in a basement, unless being used for someone’s amusement, would have driven any normal man insane. The isolation of being separated from The Last Riders would have made it much worse. Ginny had worked with them, she saw how close they were, so being left to himself must have been a torture in itself. Ginny knew how lonely she was when she’d been separated from the Colemans. The feelings that must have gone through Gavin’s head during the years he was held captive had her snatching up a rock and throwing it as far as she could. How many days, months, years had passed

before realization inevitably struck that he wasn’t going to be rescued? Like Gavin had said, I learned that something you had to wait for wasn’t worth having. Was that why he felt that way? Her fingers searched the dirt, found another rock, and then struck out at an invisible God high in the heavens, beyond her fury. Ginny raised her eyes heavenward. “How could You? I thought he was safe in Your arms!” she screamed. “Why? You could have saved him!” Memories assailed her of what she had been doing while Gavin had been kidnapped. Every joyfilled moment or any spark of happiness was now tainted by what he must have endured. “How many times did he call out for Your help, only for his pleas to go unheard? How often did I pray for him? Begged for You to love him until I could be by his side? Why? Oh God, why didn’t You save him? Or Leah? No more! You hear me?” Ginny screamed at the top of her lungs. Using her fingertips, she wiped her tears away, getting back to her feet and staring dismally up at the sky. “No more,” she stated in a cold voice. “Never again will I ever beg You for anything,” she vowed, leveling her gaze to stare blankly at the town below. Gaining Gavin’s love wasn’t going to be possible until she earned his trust. To do that it would be necessary to be in close proximity to him. As much she hated Gavin being forced to go to

Nashville with her, it was the only way she stood a chance of reaching that goal. Killyama had been right to let The Last Riders take the fall for that, as much as it hurt her to achieve it that way. Killyama was right about another thing, also. She might have to take a backseat where Gavin was concerned for now, but she darn sure could do something about eight stubborn males who didn’t live too far from here. With sudden resolve Ginny went back to her car, leaving the overlook to drive farther away from town. The mountain roads became steeper as she passed the Last Riders’ clubhouse, then steeper still after passing the Porter’s. Tightening her grip on the steering wheel of the rented car, Ginny turned into a rutted driveway, coming to a stop when she saw the two-story house that she grew up in. In her mind, she replayed images of that long-ago day when she watched Freddy give rides on the ATV that he had been proud of buying. That ill-fated day would live in her memory for the rest of her life. Losing Leah and Freddy had left a hole in her heart that would never heal, which was compounded by being removed from her brothers’ house. Ginny held back from confronting them overtly, demanding to be let back into their lives, like the angry, grief-stricken child she had been when she

was forced to leave. Instead, she had left the choice of seeing her to them, fearful of being permanently barred from them forever. Swallowing the thick lump in her throat, Ginny got out of the car. The house had been painted since she visited at Christmas. She had come here many times after getting her license, so many times that she’d lost count. Each visit had been accompanied with a gift and a prayer for a different outcome than her previous visits. Yet another prayer that had gone unanswered. She had stood outside that door, begging them to just let her come inside to talk, only to be met with complete silence. Uncomfortable and forlorn at being ostracized, Ginny had left just as she had arrived—alone. The large house held so much love within. She had ached for it every day since it had been denied to her. Had they even missed her? Had they even opened the presents she left on their doorstep every Christmas? Opened the birthday cards she sent? The uncashed checks contained another painful reminder of them each time she looked at her bank balance. Encasing her heart in steel, Ginny walked to the front of the car, raising her voice so that her brothers could hear every word she said. “I love you, but I can’t keep doing this. If you don’t come out this time, I won’t be back.”

The wind above stirred the trees’ bare limbs, making a mockery of the stillness from inside. Looking away from the house when her brothers didn’t come barreling out, Ginny took one last look around the side of the mountain that had been her playground. The tree where she parked the car next to still held the bullseye target that Silas had hung; he’d taught her to use the same bow he learned on. The small wooden shelter that Jacob taught her to build when she was eleven years old was still standing, despite being covered with vines and old leaves. Walking to the small pit where Isaac taught her to build a fire without matches and where they celebrated her success by toasting marshmallows on a stick, held nothing but the ashes of just one more memory that was going to have to last her for a lifetime without the opportunity to make more. Her family taught her every possible survival skill, yet nothing could have prepared her for being stonewalled by the ones she loved the most. As much as she had succeeded without them, it didn’t make them any less important to her as the years passed. Walking back to the car, she glanced once again at the empty porch. Ginny remembered the first day Freddy brought her here. How scared, sullen, and alone she felt. That whole first month, she must have called Will a hundred times to come and get

her, yet the Colemans had showered her with love until, gradually, as the months passed, the calls became fewer and fewer. She had grown to accept and return the love they had unselfishly given to her. The excited expectations she began the day with were dampened with the fear of Gavin never being emotionally ready to have a new woman in his life. However, coming here was restoring her optimism about Gavin. Planning to pay forward the unconditional love and understanding she had been given in her life to Gavin would steadily lift the bleakness from finding out the details of the horrors that he had survived. Ginny cut the thought off sharply. Her family’s love had boosted her during the darkest days after she had to leave and it had carried through until now. Gavin’s torture had been so extreme that he wasn’t able to find his way out of the darkness, even with the help of The Last Riders. He wouldn’t be reaching out for any emotional connection, regardless of any attraction he felt toward her. The wind stopped blowing, creating an eerie quietness that extended toward the house, despite there being three trucks parked outside. They were going to let her leave again. Squeezing her eyes closed at the heartache, Ginny started for the side of her car when the unnatural stillness was broken by a scent that had

her nose twitching at the appetizing aromas coming from an open window. She ground her teeth in anger that they were uncaringly sitting down to eat at the same table she had shared with them so many times, while her heart was breaking in two. That anger had her striding toward the porch. She had already decided this would be her last attempt to heal the breach between them. There was nothing left to lose; her fear of losing them forever removed the obstacle holding her back. Her temper, provoked by the slight they were giving her, had her raising a hand to pound on the door. Before her knuckles connected with the wood, the smell of what was cooking inside became discernable, invoking a faint memory from her subconsciousness. It was her first Christmas morning with them, and Leah had woken her up to open Christmas presents. When they ran out of their bedroom, Ginny thought they would go down the stairs to see the gifts Santa had left behind. However, Leah grabbed her hand as she instead ran toward Freddy’s room and flung the door open. Afraid of getting in trouble, Ginny tore her hand free as Leah shouted out in excitement. “Wake up, Pa. Ginny and I want to open our presents!” She dove on top her sleeping father’s mattress. Freddy groaned, then started laughing as he

wrapped Leah into a hug. “Santa called and said he wouldn’t be here for a couple more hours. Go back to sleep.” “Nuh-uh. I don’t believe you. You just want to go back to sleep.” Leah giggled when her pa started tickling her. Envying Leah, Ginny held back at the door self-consciously. Freddy looked up, seeing her, and patted the bed next to Leah. At the invitation, Ginny laughingly ran toward the bed. “Why didn’t you come in with Leah?” “I didn’t want to get in trouble for not knocking.” Squirming from Freddy’s tickling fingers, she nearly toppled off the bed. With a quick reflex Freddy caught her, scooting over so she had more room. “Daughter, family doesn’t haven’t to knock; all you have to do is open the door.” As the memory replayed in her memory, she dropped her hand to the doorknob, her anger turning into despair. She missed her brothers. They might not be related by blood, but they were as much a part of her as Trudy. Turning the knob, the door easily swung open. Tears rose to her eyes at what she saw waiting for her on the other side of the door. All her brothers were lined up, waiting for her in the living

room, except for Silas, who was sitting on the bricks of the large fireplace, his face buried in his hands. She walked over the threshold, and he lifted his head. His haggard expression showed how difficult it had been for him to remain inside the house. “Why, Silas?” Standing, his face revealed how much he had missed her and the pain it had cost him. “The door was always open for you; all you had to do was come inside. There were never any locked doors between us and you. The only thing keeping you out was you doubting our love. How many doorways have you walked through without waiting for the door to be opened to you? Yet, with your own, you used it to keep yourself apart from us.” The truth stung. Feeling guilty, she moved her eyes away from him to the long line where her other brothers stood. Their love and affection were apparent, making her heart clench. She didn’t deserve them. She never had. The love and acceptance they gave her was built on lies and misconceptions. Freddy had died with the secret that he wasn’t her father; he’d only confided in Silas, leaving her other brothers in the dark. Silas had sworn never to disclose the secret, and as far as she knew, he had kept his word. The fact that her relationships with her other brothers was built on a foundation of

misconception laid heavily on her conscience. Not only had she allowed them to keep believing the falsehood that she was their biological sister, she was responsible for them losing the sister who rightfully belonged in her place. “Leah is dead because of me. I should have been the one—” “I’m the only one responsible for Pa and Leah’s death.” Silas’s rugged features turned stern at her words. “I’m the one who gave him the money for the ATV and I forgot the helmets. No one regrets that day more than me. I told you then that the accident was never your fault, and I didn’t want to hear you blaming yourself. I still don’t.” Listening to Silas shoulder the blame wasn’t something she could do. “You were watching us while Pa had you going back and forth to get situated in the van. None of us made that day easy for you. We were running around the shop, trying to get on all the ATVs. It was mayhem. You and Pa should have gone alone.” “Then it was my fault because I was the one who begged for us to go with them,” Jacob spoke up from the end of the line. Hurt that the blame was getting passed around, she placed the guilt directly where it belonged. “I was the one who let Leah have my turn.” The men before her were no longer young boys, having grown into adults without Leah, who

deserved to be there with them. It haunted her that when Freddy allowed her into his family, his kindness to her resulted in the death of one of his own. “Ginny …” Moses tilted his head to one side then spoke for the men beside him. “It wasn’t a choice of Leah or you. It could have easily happened after you had your turn or when I rode with him. Only one person is responsible for Leah’s death and that was Pa. He didn’t wait for Silas to come back, even though Silas had warned him to. He was our father, but he wasn’t without his faults. Silas was more of a father figure to us, and that was even before Dad died.” A lone tear ran down out of the corner of her eye. “He was so happy that day.” “Yes, he was. We have to remember him and Leah that way,” Silas told her. “We weren’t given a choice. There is no reasoning for death. Death comes for whom he’s meant to take, and it wasn’t for you. Do you think we would have hurt any less if it was you instead of Leah? You know how sweet and loving Leah was; don’t you think, if the positions were reversed, that she would be saying the same thing, wishing it were her?” Ginny felt her lips tremble. Leah’s final words to her were etched into her memory. “You’re the best sister in the world. I love you.”

Leah died believing they were sisters. She had deserved the truth, just like the rest of her brothers did. “There is something I need to tell you.” Another tear ran down her cheek. Admitting she wasn’t their sister was the hardest thing she ever had to do, and that included standing beside Freddy’s and Leah’s graves as they were lowered into the ground. “I’m not—” “There is no one in this family more important than the other,” Silas cut her off. “Dad taught us from the time we were old enough to sit in a highchair that I works alone, but when you put it together with others, it’s strong enough to move mountains.” “I remember. Dad bragged he had enough children that he could move any mountain he wanted.” Ginny repeated the boast she had heard a thousand times before his death. “He loved being a father ….” She broke off, understanding what Silas was trying to tell her. If she told her brothers that she wasn’t their sister, she was disrespecting their father’s memory by taking away one of the things he was most proud of—his children. While she might not be his blood daughter, Dad had claimed her as his, and that was good enough for Silas. It had to be good enough for her too. Ginny felt a weight fall off her shoulders. Her dad had selflessly sewn her into the fabric of their

lives, showing her the love and protectiveness he had showered over each and every one of them. She couldn’t recklessly rip apart what he had stitched together. “He was the best.” Silas pulled her into a bear hug, and Ginny laid her head on his shoulder. “Being a good man runs in the family.” She reached up to hug him back. “I’ve missed you, Silas.” Raising her head, she lowered one arm to motion to her other brothers. “I’ve missed all of you.” Ginny gave a squeak when she found herself swallowed in a huddle with her brothers. Isaac was the first one to jokingly pull away. “You gained some weight since I saw you last.” Ginny glared at him for his brotherly teasing. “No, I haven’t.” Jacob grinned wickedly. “Looks that way to me too.” Her youngest brother, Fynn, shouldered his way under the older ones. “Does this mean I can cash the Christmas and birthdays checks she sent me?” Ginny gave an admonishing gaze when Moses lightly hit Fynn on the back of his head. “Yes,” Ginny told him. “Everyone can cash theirs, also, except for Isaac and Jacob. Theirs, I’m going to put a stop payment on.” “Sis, don’t be so sensitive. You look fantastic. Doesn’t she, Jacob?” Teasing her mercilessly, Isaac

hooked an arm through hers, drawing her closer to him. Distrustfully, Ginny waited for it. She had been the brunt of his jokes too many times when they were growing up not to be wary. “So, how’s the music career going?” Isaac asked affably, as if he was really interested. Ginny wasn’t buying it for a second. “Good.” “Do you like living in Nashville?” Moses tried warding off the ragging that Isaac couldn’t resist giving her. “No, I miss Treepoint too badly to enjoy living anywhere else,” she answered truthfully. Isaac’s face grew solemn. Tugging her closer to his side, he brushed his cheek against the top of her head. “Then it’s about time you brought your fanny home to see us.” Ginny couldn’t hide her battered pride. “I was about to leave.” Her voiced cracked. “I wasn’t going to come back anymore.” “We heard. You shouted it loud enough.” Isaac dropped the teasing, which was so much of his personality, showing the forthrightness that was never far away. He never had a problem telling someone his opinion when asked, not pulling any punches to make them feel better. Growing up with him, she had quickly learned the meaning of the old adage truth hurts. “Dad would have been proud.

Wouldn’t be surprised if they heard you in town.” “You heard, and you still didn’t come outside?” Hurt cut through the joy she was feeling at being reunited with her family. Isaac lifted her chin with a callused hand. “It hurt us just as much.” Fynn poked Jody aside to get her attention. “Yep. Silas said you had to want to come inside, but he said there was no harm giving you an incentive.” Reaching in his jean pocket, he took out a shiny object, waving it front of her. Ginny started laughing. “Those are my car keys.” Fynn grinned. “Isaac was lookout while Silas had me sneak out to get them when you were looking at your shelter.” Ginny cleared her throat. “You did?” “Yep.” It was Fynn who answered, but it was Silas who Ginny looked at. Her brothers wouldn’t make a move without Silas’s say so. Silas stared back at her with somber features. “You’re too stubborn not to have meant it. I know you felt as if we deserted you—me in particular— but I wanted to do what was best for you. I had a choice to make after Dad died to keep you in a bubble or let you fly and find a place you were meant to land. You were meant for more than this mountain. All of us could see it. The only one who didn’t was you.

“Every weekend when Leah came home, you begged her to bring those magazines her momma bought. Or when I used to listen to you sing upstairs in your room, yet I never heard a peep out of you when Leah or the others sang during Dad’s sermons or playing around. Didn’t you think I noticed after you finished your school lessons you would go stand on the front porch just to watch the cars go down the mountain? We had to let you go to see how high you could fly, or we would have shielded you from the very dreams you were capable of achieving for yourself. Was I wrong?” The pain of letting her go showed plainly in his eyes, but she could also see the uncertainty that he hadn’t done the right thing. She had been reunited with Trudy, made a lifelong bond with Willa, was singing with one of the most popular bands in the States, performing songs she wrote, but the most important dream she found wouldn’t have come true on this mountain. “No,” she admitted hoarsely. “I landed exactly where I was supposed to be.”

Chapter Six


hey’re going to freak the fuck out when

they see me instead of Rider or Shade.” Reaper watched as the black limo came to a stop a few feet from Kaden Cross’ private plane. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” He turned his attention from watching the lead singer of Mouth2Mouth take his wife’s hand as they exited the rented limo to give Cash a hostile glance, unable to deny the truth that he deliberately used his appearance to inspire fear and caution in others. It wasn’t as much for the shock value,

merely giving a clear warning that not only was he not going to be fucked with, but if they did, the repercussions would be as extreme as his appearance suggested. Their fate would be a foregone conclusion—death. If the way he looked didn’t clue anyone into that deduction, he had several tats that spelled it out for them. “Shade and Rider both prefer to blend in the background.” Cash’s gaze didn’t veer away from his. “Rider blend in the background? Since when?” Rider was incapable of fading into a background if there was more than one person around. “I’m surprised he didn’t become a member of the band just to have the fans shouting for him.” “You could have at least not worn The Last Riders’ jacket.” To give Cash credit, Reaper could tell he was trying to hold his temper at bay while still venting his frustration. “Why shouldn’t I wear it? They’re the reason I’m forced to be here.” Reaper curtly went back to watching the various members climb out of the limo. “A word of advice, which I’m sure Shade and Viper both gave you, if you piss Kaden off, he’ll kick your ass off the plane and not give a fuck that it’s not on the ground.” Ax, D-Mon, and Sin piled out, none accompanied by a female companion.

Reaper might not have wanted to be saddled with watching Ginny, but it didn’t mean he went into it half-assed. He had spent the night finding out everything he could about the band. Cash shifting irritably on the truck seat had Reaper refocusing on him. Reaper’s lack of concern at the warning was prodding Cash’s temper. The brother might be married and a father, but he had remained just as loyal to The Last Riders, continuing to sit there while Reaper antagonized him by tuning out most of what he was being advised. When Cash flexed his fingers, as if wishing he had his brass knuckles, Reaper knew he reached the end of Cash’s patience. As much as he would welcome the opportunity for a fight to take his mind off the upcoming flight, he really didn’t want to enter the plane sporting another bruise on his face or nursing a broken rib, which was Cash’s favorite target when he let his fists do the talking for him. “Why did the whole band fly in for the wedding?” Reaper could imagine the price tag of flying a private plane. It seemed curious to him why Kaden would foot the bill just to play at a smalltown wedding. While there had been at least a hundred people there, it wasn’t the numbers they were used to performing for. T.A.’s new husband, Dalton, must have made it worthwhile for the group to make the trip.

“Kaden’s wife is friends with Penni, and Sawyer has also grown close to Grace, Dalton’s daughter, since she started working with Penni. Shade said that they met Dalton several times, and they offered to sing at his wedding.” Cash’s explanation fit what little he knew about the friendships. When Dalton and his son had visited the club before he and T.A. had started dating, Reaper had kept to his room or rode his bike. The only interaction he had with any of them had been with Calder when he joined them. Calder’s wife, Vida, was friends with Sawyer and Lily, Kaden and Shade’s wives, respectively. The two couples always stayed with Lily and Shade when they visited, each time without any of the band members. If he wasn’t looking for the man who was stalking Ginny, he wouldn’t have given the disparity another thought. Every aspect of Ginny’s life was going to be looked at through a magnifying glass. To find the stalker, he would need to be able to read Ginny’s life like a map in order to expose the weakness. While he remained alone during their stay, he still ate meals with The Last Riders and witnessed the interactions between the three couples. They might have become friends because of Penni, but the affection between the three women seemed more like sisters than friends. He didn’t give a damn about the secrecy, making no attempt to

question Shade or Viper about their past relationships. Guarding Ginny brought it to the forefront as just another detail that needed to be ironed out. Reaper would question Viper once he had the opportunity to gleam more information about them for himself. Once upon a time, he would have asked for the information he needed. Now he was smarter and wiser. Actions spoke louder than words. If he had delved deeper into Vincent Bedford’s personal life, instead of only taking his business into account before trusting most of The Last Riders’ money, then his captivity would never have happened. He had allowed his personal safety to be jeopardized, something he only had himself to blame. Staring out the windshield, Reaper felt goosebumps spread up the length of his arms as Ginny emerged from the limo. Unlike the other women getting on the plane, she was dressed comfortably in jeans paired with a bulky grey sweater. The jeans weren’t form-fitting; instead, they were loose and faded. Nothing about her would make a man stand up and take notice, until she opened her mouth to sing. Her exceptional gift shone like a beam, highlighting the spectacular beauty from within. The beam had hit him with the force of a Mack truck. Reaper hadn’t felt a spark of life in his dick—

that hadn’t been brought about by the drugs forced onto him by his ex-captors and Slate’s sadistic purposes—in so long that he mistakenly assumed he would never experience the same sexual desires from before. When she touched his cheek, the sexual response had stunned him, making it impossible to move away from her gentle touch. The worst part of his inexplicable behavior was the asinine notion that Ginny had somehow imparted a fragment of her lifeforce, latching onto him as if she had always been there inside of him. Her touch had reached out and stroked a scarred soul that no longer believed in human goodness. The fragment had delved deep, trying to bring a fresh burst of oxygen to the starved Gavin. Too late to resurrect the man he once was, Reaper had to come to grips with the myriad of feelings and longings that Ginny invoked. What little research he found out last night before grabbing a couple of hours sleep exposed a woman opposite of those he was attracted to. If Ginny likened herself to a package, it was one he had no interest in opening beyond being able to find out who her stalker was so he could fly his ass back home. “Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think.” He looked over to see Cash’s encouraging nod toward the plane. Reaper reached for the strap of his duffel bag. “You’re not taking many clothes with you.”

Cash gave him a look filled with misgivings. It was the same one that Viper had given him when he had refused the offer to drive him to the airport. “Don’t need much.” Cash’s rugged features filled with annoyance. “Planning on doing something stupid so you’ll be on the next flight back? If you are, save Viper the headache and tell him before you get on the plane.” “I already did.” “What did he say?” “I’m here, aren’t I?” Reaper glanced at the hands gripping the steering wheel. “You want a piece of me too?” Cash loosened his grip. “No. What I want is for you to get your act together.” “You and everyone else needs to realize the old Gavin is gone. He’s not coming back.” “Brother—” “Do not call me brother,” Reaper snapped, then heard Cash’s frustrated sigh. “You’re the same man I served with, no matter how much you think you aren’t, Reaper. We’ve all changed. Fuck, even you can see we’ve all changed. Did we go through the same shit you had to go through? Fuck no, but damn, take it easy on us. If we had known, there isn’t a brother among us who wouldn’t go back in time and take your place. But since we can’t, don’t minimize that each of us would cut off one of our hands just to see

something as simple as a smile from you.” “I don’t have one fucking thing to smile about anymore.” Dully, Reaper put the strap of his duffle over his shoulder as he prepared to get out of the truck. “I would have found a way to take myself out if what happened to you happened to me. I’m man enough to admit I don’t have your strength.” Cash flicked the door lock so Reaper couldn’t get out when he reached for the door handle. “But brother, you fucking made it out alive. None of us would have accomplished that, and you know that’s a fucking fact.” “You done?” Reaper held back the retort he wanted to give—that none of them would have been stupid enough to let Vincent Bedford and Memphis take them down. He didn’t have to say it, though, because they all knew those two men would never have gotten the better of them. No, he was the only Last Rider who didn’t deserve the jacket on his back. He never had. The friendship he once shared with The Last Riders was once the most important thing in his life. Now he didn’t feel much of anything, except the shame of what had been done to him. He was no longer worthy of being a Last Rider, and it was scab on his soul that he wasn’t strong enough to tell them that to their faces and give Viper his jacket back—again . Every day he swore he would do just

that, and then he would get on his bike and leave to make his way on his own. Every day he failed, unable to leave the last part of his old life behind, because he knew if he did, he would no longer have any reason to keep breathing—except for vengeance. He had to survive long enough to collect the retribution owed to him. Every time he rode away from the clubhouse, he could see the fear etched on his brother’s face that it would be the last time he would see him. As much as he wanted to tell himself that he didn’t give a fuck about anything or anyone, he lied. He did care. What little emotion left inside of him that kept him sane was for Viper, who he couldn’t bring himself to cause any more pain. Which was why he was going to suck it up and get on that plane, despite every primal instinct in his body telling him not to. Was he strong and mentally sound enough to protect the woman that Viper was trusting him with? Was he determined enough not to cave in the face of any drugs? Cash gave a frustrated sigh as he disengaged the lock mechanism. “Then go. It’s easier to talk some sense into Greer Porter than into you.” He used the opportunity to escape the close confines of the truck without giving Cash a backward glance. He felt the brothers’ need to help. Each had

tried in their own way to break through the barricade he surrounded himself within. They wanted to be able to shoulder some of the tormenting memories of what had been forced upon him. Reaper got that. If the shoe were on the other foot, he would do the same. How could he tell them that their attempts were doomed for failure? He would have to open a tiny fraction of his barricade, and that wasn’t going to happen. They didn’t need the shit festering in his head spilling over into the way the brothers treated him. He would rather have them think he was a basket case than see the pity in their gazes. As he approached the plane and the man waiting by the steps, he saw Kaden Cross’s eyes flicker over him, taking in the new arrival who would be joining his entourage. Cross’s expression didn’t change seeing the haircut or The Last Riders’ jacket, and his once-over didn’t stop until he had taken in every detail of Reaper’s appearance before meeting his eyes. “You must be Reaper.” Gavin gave the lead singer of Mouth2Mouth a curt nod, not taking the man’s extended hand. “Yes.” Unfazed at having his greeting ignored, Cross motioned for him to go up the steps. “If you’re ready, we’ll take off. You’re the last to arrive. Nickel is already on board.”

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Reaper forced his leaden legs toward the small stairs, moving slightly aside instead of going up. “You first.” Reaper drew his narrowed gaze away from Cross, taking in the surrounding tarmac and the trees bordering the small airstrip, while keeping the other man in his peripheral vision.


ou can store your bag in one of the

overhead compartments,” Cross said laconically as he went past him. Reaper climbed the short flight of steps, steeling himself to board the plane. He was even able to control a flinch as the door closed and locked. He surveyed the few empty seats that were unoccupied. Ignoring Nickel’s motion for him to sit next to him, Reaper walked past him and the curious members of the band who openly watched as he made his way past them. Unlatching the overhead bin, he shoved his duffel bag inside before taking off his jacket. Already feeling himself wanting to rip the door open and get his ass off the plane, the emotions of being trapped had his heart doing palpitations. Sitting down in an empty seat near the rear, he buckled the seatbelt before he worked himself into a full-fledged panic attack. Concentrating on his breathing, he imagined

himself swimming in the cool depths of the ocean, where he always felt more at home than on land. Finally, he was able to dampen his racing heart. Gaining control just as he heard the engine start, he focused his attention from the window to the other passengers on board, instead of watching the wheels leave the pavement of the landing strip. Recognizing the band members next to him who were staring curiously at him, Gavin moved his gaze away from D-Mon to the woman who was sitting in front of the bass player. Ginny was the only one who hadn’t spared him a glance as she stared out the window. He could tell she didn’t want to be on the plane any more than he did. From her bleak-looking profile, he didn’t think it was for the same reason. The singer didn’t want to leave Kentucky and her friends behind. Viper told him the only reason she left Kentucky in the first place was because the home that she worked so hard to buy from Willa had burned down. Now that she earned enough money to buy herself a new one in the town she loved, Shade said the fear of drawing the stalker to Treepoint kept her from returning permanently. She was also refusing to go back to Queen City for the same reason. Gavin clutched the armrests as the luxurious airplane started inching forward, biting back his shout to let him off the metal prison, and closing his

eyes as the engine grew louder. His head fell back on the headrest as he felt the plane silky glide into the air and the engine turned into an almost silent purr. Unable to prevent himself, he stared out into the blue horizon as the plane flew higher, cursing Rider and Shade inwardly at forcing him into accepting the job. The rational part of his brain said he didn’t blame them, believing the stalker was trying to find another way through their protection by turning their focus on their own women instead of Ginny, while the other part of his brain didn’t give a fuck. He just wanted his ass to be on the ground. A soft touch on his hand had his attention returning from staring blankly ahead, where he was mentally beating the fuck out of both men. “Are you okay?” Her soft query had him snatching his hand out from under hers. “You shouldn’t have gotten out of your seat while the plane is climbing,” he snapped. She tilted her head to the side. “That was twenty minutes ago.” He jerked his head back to the window, seeing the billowing clouds below. “Time passes when you’re having fun, doesn’t it?” she quipped. “I don’t consider this fun.”

“I take it you don’t enjoy flying?” Turning from the window, he glared at her. “I don’t enjoy being locked up, whether I’m in the sky or on the ground.” For a split second, Reaper regretted being rude to Ginny when her skin paled and her lips trembled as if she didn’t know what to say next. The instinctual drive to keep everyone the fuck away from him had him reacting strongly toward her, even enabling her to sit down next to him without him noticing. “I’m sorry, then, that I’m the reason you’re here.” Fuck. Fuck. The hurt tone in her voice sliced through him like quicksilver. I’m not going to talk to her, Reaper told himself, trying to rebuff further conversation, hoping she would give up and return to her seat. “It’s the last place you want to be, isn’t it?” “I wouldn’t say that.” Damn, his resolve hadn’t lasted three seconds. The knowledge he had fucked up came when she relaxed back against the seat. Another streak of quicksilver shot through him, this time in a different area of his body, when a hint of her perfume filled his nostrils. Taylor had worn sweet, flowery scents, which he had considered a contraction of her personality. Ginny’s was fresh and clean, as if she had just stepped out of a shower.

The image of Ginny being in the shower naked slammed the brakes on the comparison of the two women. “Would it help if I called and asked Viper to send someone else when we land?” “No,” he muttered, relieved he was able to get the word out. At least he was getting better at forming words when she was near. Congratulating himself, he tried to pretend she wasn’t there and gave rebuffing her a new goaround. “Then you’re stuck with me.” Was that a tinge of satisfaction he heard in her voice? Despite his aloofness, the woman wasn’t exhibiting any irritation or any sympathy that he didn’t want to be on the plane. Ginny was unlike any woman he had ever met. She didn’t shy away from him when he was making it plain he wanted to be left alone. There wasn’t anything flirtatious in her attitude, either; she was being open and friendly without resorting to any feminine tactics to ease the discomfort of the situation. She wasn’t pretending to be something she wasn’t just to get him to be nicer to her. He was beginning to understand why she had earned the respect of The Last Riders. “For now.” The new go-around had lasted one second longer than the last one had. “For now?”

“Until I find the person who’s been stalking you.” Which better be sooner rather than later if she was determined to talk him to death. “What makes you think you’ll be able to find out who it is after most of the Predators and The Last Riders have tried?” “Because whoever it is hasn’t dealt with me.”

Chapter Seven


avin, wake up. We’re about to land.”

Jerking awake at the soft voice in his ear, his first reflex at waking up in the unfamiliar place was to bolt to his feet, but a warm hand pressed against his chest prevented the impulse from taking control. Instead, he glanced wildly toward the voice, finding Ginny’s compassionate gaze staring back at him. “I fell asleep?” “Yes. You went out like a light. At first, I thought you were ignoring me, but when Kaden came on the intercom to fasten our seatbelts and

you didn’t move, I realized you were sleeping.” He couldn’t believe he fell asleep with so many people around him, especially with Ginny so close. Hell, he couldn’t believe he had fallen asleep so easily anywhere. Usually, it took him hours to doze off, and then only for short bursts of time, which had him feeling as if he hadn’t gotten any sleep at all. The last thing he remembered was staring out the window, wishing he had never answered Shade’s text the day of the wedding. “Can I have my hand back? I need to fasten my seatbelt.” Dumbly, he glanced down, finding her hand held in place against his chest. “Sorry,” he mumbled, feeling blood rush to his cheeks. Her lips curled in an impish grin. “Anytime.” Reacting as if he had been shot, he recoiled from her, moving as far away as he could get in his seat. “No, thanks.” Hurt filled her eyes at his cutting remark. Shoving a heavy swath of hair behind his ear, Reaper felt as if he had stepped on a small kitten. “Sorry.” “The first apology, I’ll accept.” Clicking her seatbelt over her lap, Ginny looked forward as if she had a first-row seat for the landing. “The second, you can make it up to me by paying for dinner.”

He would have been better off not apologizing. The obtuse woman wasn’t getting the message that he wasn’t interested. Clearly, he was going to have to be blunt. “No, we need to get several things settled up front. I’m here because Viper gave me no choice. I am here to find the person stalking you. What I am not here for is to be your buddy or anything else. The only thing I want from you is to do what I want when it involves your safety. You do that, and we’ll get along just fine. You get me?” “I think so.” She hesitated then asked, “If you don’t mind, can I ask you a quick question?” Reaper magnanimously agreed, completely taken in with the deferential way the soft timber of her voice sounded. “Go ahead.” “Thank you.” Her politeness lured him into thinking she was done speaking. She wasn’t. Reaper was taken aback by the proudful manner now confronting him. “First off, if you want to lie to yourself about what happened at T.A. and Dalton’s wedding, go ahead. I won’t stop you. We both know the truth.” Ginny’s self-assured demeanor, with hurt still visible in her eyes, couldn’t have shook him more if the plane had suddenly dropped from the sky. She was openly bringing up the contact they had shared at the pool, which he was still trying to convince

himself hadn’t happened. “Also, if Viper is the reason you’re here and you’re not happy about it, then that’s your problem with him, not with me. You don’t want to be security for me? Then don’t; it’s that simple.” Ginny held up a commanding hand when he would have opened his mouth. “I’m not done. If it involves my safety, all you have to do is ask and I’ll ask how high, so I don’t see any problem with us getting along just ‘fine,’ as long as you remember one thing. While you may only be here because Viper wants you to be, I don’t have to take the protection The Last Riders offered, and that means having to put up with someone who is rude to me. Been there, done that. Now, my question is: Are you going to call Viper or am I? Or, better yet, can you chill out and use a civil tone when you talk to me?” Ginny was no kitten. She was as fierce lioness who expected to be treated like an equal or his ass could hit the road. “I’m chill.” He wasn’t, but he could pretend he was … for now. Being sent home because Ginny refused protection from The Last Riders due to his behavior would be even worse. “Good.” Ginny leaned closer to him, and Reaper stiffened when her hands went to the sides of his hips. “Don’t touch ….”

Ginny expertly drew the sides of his seatbelt toward his abdomen, clicking it into place. “Safety first.” Lowering his lashes to glare at her threateningly, he clicked his tongue on the roof of his mouth, the sound making her lift her brows at him. “I’m still chill,” he said behind clenched teeth. “You don’t look it.” She raised her brows higher. His hands grasped the armrests tighter to stop himself from tossing her through the tiny window. “I am. So, where do you want to eat?” “Dirty Dan’s. I’m dying for a bag of burgers and fries.” “Dirty Dan’s?” “Don’t worry, you’ll love it,” she assured him chipperly as the wheels bounced down onto the landing strip. “I prefer not to eat at a place called Dirty Dan’s.” “I’ll remind you of that when you want to go back.” Everyone waited in the seats until Cross came out of the cockpit. As he opened the door, the others on the plane began gathering their things from the overhead compartments. Ginny unfastened her seatbelt to stand. “I won’t be a minute to grab my purse.”

“Take your time.” Unfazed by his lack of eagerness, she went back to her original seat. As he stood to retrieve his duffle bag, he caught the signal that Nickel would be outside. “Want to catch a bite to eat, Ginny?” Closing the overhead bin, Reaper turned to see D-Mon come up behind Ginny to take out the leather purse she had stowed. Turning, Ginny placed a hand on the seat to brace herself to maintain distance from D-Mon. “No, thanks.” Taking the purse from D-Mon, she frowned and indicted she wanted to get past him so she could walk down the narrow aisle. “I’m only talking about catching a quick bite.” D-Mon placed an arm along the overhead bin, effectively keeping Ginny from leaving. “No. I like our working relationship just as it is, don’t you agree?” “You don’t have a problem hanging with Kaden or Ax. Why not me? Could it be I’m just the low man on the totem pole?” Shrugging the strap of his duffel bag onto his shoulder, Reaper didn’t interfere, curious to know if he was the only man she had no problem holding her own with. If D-Mon tried to get out of hand, though, he was close enough to bash the guitarist’s face inside out if she got in trouble. Hell, he might do it, anyway. It would be the perfect way to get

sent home by defending Ginny’s honor. Viper wouldn’t be able to blame him when Cross sent him back. “I don’t hang out with Kaden or Ax. What we do is work. Which is more than I can say for you. If you worked as hard as you played, we wouldn’t have such long rehearsals. I’m sure your bandmates, as well as the crew and I, would appreciate that. “You’re a big boy. You should be able to hear the word no without turning nasty. If not, you can be the one to explain to Kaden why I won’t be practicing with the band anymore.” Straightening, she took a step forward, forcing D-Mon to remove his hand from the bin. He put both hands in air, backtracking at the frostbitten look Ginny was giving him. “I was just playing around.” “I was never good at playing those types of games, and I don’t plan to start now, especially not with you.” Reaper had to give her credit; even though he was standing just a few inches away and the other band members never once looked at them or told D-Mon to back off, she handled the amorous guitarist herself. He had lost count of the number of times Taylor had turned to him or one of The Last Riders when she hadn’t wanted to be bothered. “Message received. Can’t blame a guy for

trying.” Moving aside, he went down the aisle and toward the front of the plane where the others were getting off. “Ready?” Spotting him, Ginny’s annoyance with D-Mon melted into the same unreserved friendliness she continued to treat him with, as if they were best fucking friends. The only time she hadn’t acted like that was when he tried to lay down the law. Even then, she managed to turn the tables on him. “Yes.” Reaper went down the aisle, leaving Ginny to follow. Outside, he scanned the area, taking mental notes of everyone nearby. This airport was much larger, and there were three carts waiting to drive them to the entrance. As Ginny came to his side, he didn’t notice anyone else, paying attention only to her. Yet, he felt something eerie, as though someone was watching closely. Nickel’s rigid stance with his booted feet planted apart and his hand at his back under his leather jacket showed he felt the same. The overcast sky limited his ability to scan the shadows where someone could hide. The bank of windows of the terminal allowed hundreds of eyes to follow their progress as they both climbed into one of the awaiting carts. Nickel took the forward-facing seat, while Reaper took the one that would give him a view of

the rear beside Ginny. Reaper tried not to think of the closeness of her body next to his as the cart lurched forward. It was a short ride to the private entrance. “Gavin and I are going to Dirty Dan’s for lunch; you want to come?” Ginny asked Nickel brightly. Nickel shook his head. “I’ll pass. I’ll grab our luggage and an Uber to the apartment. You good with that, Reaper?” “Yes.” Reaper pretended to agree to Nickel’s intentional deception. They had met in his room this morning before heading to the airport to discuss how they would handle Ginny’s security. When they were going back and forth between destinations, it had been decided that Reaper would ride in the car with Ginny, while Nickel followed discreetly behind, watching for other tails. Reaper had already called ahead and had a rental car waiting for Nickel. In little time they were walking out of the airport, with Nickel going in the direction of baggage and Ginny, the band members, and him walking outside of the terminal. “What about their luggage?” Reaper asked when they started walking behind the others as they made their way to long-term parking. “One of Kaden’s staff members collects it from the plane and will deliver it to their homes. Kaden doesn’t like to make his traveling habits public.”

“I wasn’t judging,” Reaper said, eyeing each person coming and going past them. “Oh … Usually, people do when they find out Kaden has his own airplane.” “He’s protecting his wife and those he cares about. You travel with them frequently?” “Every now and then.” “D-Mon bother you often?” Ginny slowed her steps, letting the group get ahead of them. “Depends on how long he’s been away from his groupies. I wouldn’t call him Mr. Persistent. More like Mr. Opportunist.” “I’d call him a dick.” Reaper didn’t bother lowering his voice the way Ginny had to keep the others from hearing. Ginny laughed. “I wouldn’t down him too fast, if I were you. Both Shade and Rider like him. He can be fun to be around when women aren’t.” After walking between two stone pillars, the band members started breaking apart individually to go to their own cars, except for Kaden and his wife. Reaper closely observed each vehicle they got into. Ginny waved as the others drove past, pressing a button on her keyring. “Here we are.” Opening the driver door of a grey KIA sport that was parked farther away from the others, Ginny got inside as he bit out a curse, going to the opposite side. Opening the back door, he tossed his bag into

the back seat before moving to the front. “Don’t do that again,” he snapped, closing the door after him. Putting the key in the ignition, she looked at him with a perplexed expression. “Do what?” “Don’t get in the car before I check to make sure no one’s inside.” “Okay.” When she would have put the car in reverse, he stopped her. “Hang on for a few minutes.” “Okay.” She patiently looped her hands over the steering wheel. Five minutes later, he received the text he had been waiting for from Nickel. “We can go now.” Unconcerned, she backed out of the parking spot, and turned on the radio. “That’s it? You don’t want to know what we’re waiting for?” “Nope. I told you I wouldn’t argue with you about my safety.” Keeping her attention on driving, she didn’t spare him a glance. “I’m really easy to get along with, you’ll see.” Ginny took her eyes off the road long enough to flash him a quick grin. “Can’t wait.” “Me neither.” Reaper wanted to bang his head against the dashboard. Did she have to be so nice to him? He was being a smart-ass, and she was acting like he

had given her a compliment. Turning the radio up louder, she darted the small SUV between two slow-moving vehicles before sliding expertly into the third lane of fastmoving traffic, bopping her head to the beat. Reaper grabbed the oh-shit handle when Ginny nearly kissed the front end of an eighteen-wheeler. The skillful driving sent a bead of cold sweat slithering down his back. Serving in the military, he had learned to recognize several characteristics that would make a great soldier. In the short time he had known Ginny, she exhibited both—fearlessness and courage. She held her own against Viper, D-Mon, and him without batting an eyelash. The soldier in him was astute enough to be aware that type of inner strength wasn’t ingrained; it was learned behavior. Damn. He hadn’t anticipated beginning to like her. Resisting the instant attraction could be a fool’s mission. I’m fucked. Ginny lowered the volume of the radio. “You say something?” “No.” After they ate, he would call Moon and have his ass on the first available plane to Nashville. He didn’t care whether Cross wanted Moon there or not. Every day was a trial of endurance to keep the memories at bay that dogged his nightmares. If he

gave her the littlest chance, she could wreak havoc on that tremulous balance. He had drawn an imaginary line in the sand, and he would not cross it for anyone’s well-being. Reaper saw Ginny on the other side of that line, plain as day. And not only was she standing there, she was digging a trench. A warrior knew when to retreat. He didn’t have the emotional capacity to participate in the war that Ginny was signaling she wanted to wage. Wars came with a price, and he had nothing left to give.

Chapter Eight


ou’re kidding, right?”

Standing outside the tiny restaurant that was the size of a school bus, Reaper stared doubtfully at the grimy exterior where Ginny was determined to eat. Laughter bubbling out, she hooked her arm through his, tugging him toward the door. “Quit being a stick-in-the-mud. You’re going to enjoy it.” The smell coming out when he opened the door made him realize how hungry he was, until he went farther into the restaurant. Then his appetite took a dip when he saw the inside was dirtier than the

outside, appearing as if it hadn’t been painted since it was built. If he had to take a guess, the restaurant was at least fifty years old, which was a kind assumption. Before he could do an about-face, Ginny tugged him down onto the closest metal stool. “Marty? You here?” Ginny yelled out. A burly man exited the door at the end of the restaurant marked Restroom. Catching sight of him, Ginny gave him a bright smile as the man who Reaper assumed was Marty came around the counter. “Where else would I be?” Tying a white apron behind his back, Marty moved to stand in front of them. She had no answer for that bit of cheer, and Reaper didn’t blame her; Marty’s fuck you disposition was plainly written across the front of his apron. “I’m back from Kentucky! You miss me?” “Didn’t know you left. What you want to eat?” “We’ll take two sacks,” Ginny ordered cheerfully. Reaper gave her a side-eye. Was she on fucking valium? The big man didn’t move away to start the order. “Who’s the new shadow?” “Marty, this is Gavin. Gavin, Marty.” Ginny gave a wave of her hand between the two men.

“Reaper,” Reaper corrected her. Ginny continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “He’s a friend of mine from Kentucky.” The men critically sized each other up, neither extending their hands at the introduction. “What happened to sunglasses and bozo?” The snide comment had Reaper arching a brow in Ginny’s direction. “He means Shade and Rider,” Ginny explained to him before answering Marty’s question. “They stayed home. Shade is expecting a new baby, and Rider wanted to spend more time with his family also. They left Gavin to fill their shoes.” “He doesn’t look happy about it.” “No, he doesn’t. I’m hoping one of your burgers will make it worth the trip for him.” Marty rolled his eyes at Ginny. “The boy has eyes. If just being with you doesn’t do that trick, my fucking burgers aren’t going to help.” Giving Reaper a disparaging once-over, the beefy man then jostled his heavy body to the side and behind the tight counterspace, bending over to take hamburgers and fries out of a small metal freezer. The only way Reaper would touch any food that asswipe cooked was to shove it down that asshole’s throat, Reaper thought vindictively. “Marty must be in a good mood.” Ginny grinned infectiously as if the asswipe couldn’t hear. Swiveling on her stool, she got up to go to a cooler

along the wall. Sliding the glass open, she took out two sodas before coming back and placing one in front of him. “Any water in there? I don’t drink soda.” Reaper pressed down on his feet, preparing to rise, when he heard a snort from the asswipe. “Don’t have any fucking bottles of water.” Turning from the grill, Marty took a dull and cloudy plastic glass on a shelf before going to the sink and filling the glass with tap water. “Ocean has enough shit in it; don’t need more fucking water bottles.” Reaper opened the can of soda as Marty went back to the grill and started flipping the burgers before dropping the fries in the fryer. Reaper jerked his head to the side when he heard Ginny’s muffled laughter. “What’s so funny?” She lowered her hand. “You are. He loves bugging his customers. You’re making his day.” “It’s going be his last day if he doesn’t stop.” “Boy, you couldn’t take me down with my hands tied behind my back.” Marty reached under the grill to take out two white bags, snapping each open. Reaper watched as he put the buns on the grill to warm them, then started putting them together with the patties. His movements were quick and efficient as other customers started coming through the door.

“We made it just before the lunch rush hit,” Ginny enthused as the customers ordered, then went outside to wait for their numbers to be called to make room for others entering. “Yippee. How come it’s called Dirty Dan’s instead of Marty’s?” Ginny’s eyes almost bugged out of her head at his question. “Ixnay on asking …” Ginny tried to frantically call him off by waving a hand at her throat. Smirking, Reaper ignored her. “The first owner die of food poisoning?” It was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. “I fucking wish.” Marty slammed the cash register closed, sending a customer hurrying out the door like a scalded cat. “Dan is my ex-partner. Son of a bitch is the fucking reason I’m here flipping burgers instead of enjoying my retirement in the Bahamas.” Slamming more burgers on the sizzling grill, he continued his tirade. “Fuckhead stole forty grand from me and my wife. I hope his fucking dick rots off. Then my fucking cheating twat of a wife stole every last dime in the bank. Bitch even took my coin collection. I hope those tits I bought her shrink down to nuggets. Fucking bitch ….” “I should have warned you not to mention Dan’s name,” Ginny whispered from out of the corner of her mouth.

Reaper glared at her as the profanity escalated from the grill. “I’ll have to work another motherfucking twenty years before I can retire now.” Ginny gave Marty an apologetic smile as he plopped two bags in front of them. With a thick hand, he then reached out to slide the ketchup and mustard bottles closer to them. “Thank you, Marty. I’m sure Christy regrets her decision to leave you.” Reaper nearly gagged at the sweetness coming off Ginny. “I doubt it. The other three I married didn’t.” The asswipe had found four women to marry him? The bastard had to have been loaded. It certainly wasn’t his looks or personality that had drawn them. “Don’t choke on your thanks, fuckwad.” Reaper tensed, bringing his hands to the counter to rise. His was going to break every bone in the asswipe’s body. A firm hand on his thigh stopped him cold. “Gavin’s just jetlagged. Our plane took off early this morning.” Ginny’s attempt to diffuse the situation had the anger draining out of him like pulling a plug in a sink. “My bad.” Reaper planted his ass back down on the metal stool. “Thanks.” Scowling at him from the other side of the

counter, Marty heaved his hefty body back to his grill. Removing her hand from his thigh, Ginny opened one of the bags as if nothing had happened, taking out a burger that resembled the size of a White Castle burger. Taking a bite, she scooted the other bag closer to him. “Eat up.” He had no intention of touching the fucking food with a ten-foot pole. “Trust me.” Taking a bite of her burger, she popped the top of the soda can. “Marty can be a little hard to take, but you’re going to love him as much as I do.” “Doubtful.” Reaper testily opened his bag, tilting it to look inside. The burgers were on the bottom of the bag, and Marty had dumped the fries on top. Taking one of the fries out, he popped it into his mouth as he dug one of the burgers out from under the mound of fries. Ginny watched him with a smile. “Marty says it saves paper products by the way he bags them.” “It would save paper if he served them on dishes, too.” “Then you’re wasting water.” The way the asswipe had converted her to his way of thinking had to be a result of the taste of the burgers or the man’s winning personality. Being around him less than fifteen minutes, he knew it

wasn’t Asswipe’s personality. Achieving his goal, Reaper pulled out one of the burgers. Ginny was starting on her second burger before he had started his first. Fuck. Ginny nodded at him when his eyes widened in shock, silently agreeing with her on how amazing the burger was. The fries were nothing to sneeze at, either. Aware of Asswipe waiting on another customer, Reaper shoved the rest of the small burger into his mouth and dug in for another burger before the asswipe could see him. “You need to open another restaurant in Treepoint. You would be a millionaire,” Ginny told Marty, pointing a fry at him. “Wouldn’t do any good. It’s the grill that makes the hamburgers so good. It’s one hundred years old. “Number 23 up!” Marty bellowed. “This baby is seasoned from years and years of frying burgers.” Reaper stared at the third burger that he pulled from the bag at that bit of information, wondering if Asswipe had ever cleaned the grill more than the greasy apron he was wearing. Reaper thought about asking how old the oil was in the fryer, then decided he really didn’t want to know. When his hand came out empty as he tried to sneakily take out another burger, he couldn’t resist tilting the bag to make sure there wasn’t another

that his fingers had missed. Fuck. Ginny, happily munching, took another out of hers. He couldn’t understand how she was still eating when she started before he had. Being nosy, he snagged her bag and looked inside to see yet another burger and more fries. Taking the bag from him, Ginny reached for her last burger. “Marty guarantees you four burgers in your sack, but he leaves it to his discretion if he wants to add more.” “How many did you get?” “Six.” “There’s a lot of fries in there too.” “Marty has always been kind to me.” “I’d say so.” Sarcasm dripped from his tone at Asswipe’s palpable satisfaction as he handed off a waiting customer’s order. Regretting now that he had wolfed the burgers so fast, he enviously watched the customer leave with the sack of hamburger gold, debating how badly he wanted another burger. Enough to swallow his pride and order another sack? Ginny put an end to his debate. “You might as well place an order. He knows you want it.” “I wasn’t—” Ginny scoffed at him as she dug more fries out of her bag. “You know you want another sack, I know you want it, and Marty certainly knows you

want it. Been here, done this before with Shade and Rider.” Hurting his pride was still a hard pill to swallow. “Next time, you can sit in the car while I order the food.” “Is that what Shade and Rider did?” “It’s what everyone does.” “Except for you?” “Rudeness doesn’t bother me. It’s a person being mean that I dislike.” “There’s a difference?” Wadding her empty sack, she gave him a direct look. “Rudeness hurts with words; meanness uses actions. One can heal; the other leaves scars.” Getting up from her seat, Ginny went to the trash can to throw the sacks away. “Marty, I’ll take a jumbo to go,” she yelled out as she sat again. “I need to make up for lost time without having you close by.” The only response from Asswipe was a snort from the vicinity of the grill. Ginny smiled sunnily, inviting him to smile back. Reaper felt as if every ounce of oxygen had been sucked out the restaurant with that one smile. Staring down at his hands, he saw they were shaking. He pressed them down on the counter to stop the telltale movement. Precipitously, Reaper rose. “Cancel the order. Let’s go.” Managing to get the words out with the

last bit of air in his lungs, he grabbed for his wallet in his back pocket, took out his cash, and strode toward the cash register, uncaring if Ginny followed him or not. Slapping some money on the counter, he was out the door before Marty could reach for it. “I told him to keep the change,” Ginny said when she joined him. He stood frozen, staring ahead, blanking, concentrating on getting his aching lungs to work. “Wow. Those windows on that truck are tinted so dark, I can’t believe they can see to drive.” He blinked at the truck that was driving by them. The tint didn’t look that dark. “It’s getting warmer, don’t you think?” To him, it felt the same as when they had gone into the restaurant. “Won’t be long before spring is here. I can practically smell it in the air. Can’t you?” Taking a deep breath of air, Reaper felt the oxygen flow into his lungs. “All … I … can smell … is hamburgers,” he gasped out. “You sure you don’t want me to get the jumbo sack to go?” Shaking his head, Reaper wordlessly walked to the car, then got inside after Ginny electronically opened the door. Ginny waited until she was in the flow of traffic

before speaking. “Did I do something wrong?” She meekly looked at him through lowered lashes. “No. I was full.” Turning the radio on, he ignored her until they arrived at an apartment complex. Taking his duffle bag, he followed her into the lobby then the elevator. Viper had rented the apartment next to Ginny’s during the duration of her contract to the band for use by The Last Riders. When Ginny would have paused at the one he and Nickel would be staying in, he motioned her forward. “I want to check yours out. Stand in the doorway where I can see you,” he ordered her as she opened the door. Stepping inside the apartment, Reaper prowled around. It was homey with decorative pillows on the overstuffed grey couch, while classy at the same time. Going to a door, he opened it to find a closet. Moving to the kitchen, he gave it a perfunctory look, seeing there wasn’t a place for anyone to lie in wait. Going to a square hallway, he saw three doors. One was a bathroom. He took longer there, checking out the linen closet and the shower before going to the room across the hall. He was able ignore the headrush he received at the scent that hit him when he entered. Reaper didn’t have to be told that it was her bedroom; he could fucking smell her in there. It was like walking into a room filled with

springtime. Making quick work, he checked out two closets and a private bath before kneeling to look under her bed. Going to the window, he noticed the curtain provided adequate protection from prying eyes. Leaving the bedroom, he made sure Ginny was staying put as he went into the guest room. Reaper gave it the same attention that he had given hers before going back to where she stood. “Let me have your phone.” Obediently, Ginny took her cell out of her purse, watching as he keyed a number at the top of the favorite contacts. “Text me at least an hour before deciding to go out. I need to know where you want to go. Do not open your door before texting me, even if it’s Nickel. I’ll give you the go-ahead before you open your door if someone is coming over or knocks. If you hear anything you can’t place, lock yourself in your bedroom, then your bathroom. Keep all your windows locked. Don’t open them for any reason. Lock the door behind me.” “Yes, sir.” Walking past her, Reaper couldn’t avoid making eye contact, expecting to see sarcasm. What he found had him moving faster to get more distance between them. “Lock the door.”

“Goodnight, Gavin.” He rudely closed the door himself, waiting only long enough for the three locks to click in place before going to the apartment Viper had rented. The apartment was laid out exactly like Ginny’s. The only difference was the furnishings. A huge black leather couch with a recliner would have given the brothers room to sprawl out comfortably to watch the massive television on the wall. Finding the controller on an end table, he was flicking it to the news channel when Nickel came in, wheeling his suitcase. “I tried to give Ginny her suitcases, but she wouldn’t open the door.” Reaper walked to the open door, texting Ginny that it was okay to get her suitcase. Watching as she came out, he waited until she was inside before he shut the door. Confused, Nickel stared at him. “Why wouldn’t she open the door for me?” “Because I told her to open the door for me only.” “Trust a brother much?” “The last time I trusted a brother, I lost nearly ten years of my life.” Nickel paled as if he’d been struck. “Sooner or later, you’re going to have trust someone again.” “Won’t be today, so get over it.” Returning to

the television, he started listening to the news, unconcerned with Nickel’s wounded pride. “Any tails?” Nickel paused as if he was about to say something, then must have decided it would have been a wasted effort. “No. If anyone was watching, they’re good. I would have sworn someone would follow, but if they were, I didn’t see them.” “If her stalker was there at the airport and didn’t follow, then he’s tailed her before and knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up. She drives like a lunatic.” “I had to break a few limits to keep her in sight. She should go for the Cannonball Run,” Nickel said admirably, rolling his suitcase farther into the apartment. “You see anyone suspicious at the airport?” “No.” Reaper pulled his boots off, dividing his concentration between Nickel and the news. “You?” “No, but I agree someone was waiting for her to get off the plane.” Neither tried to convince the other their instincts were wrong. “I had a late night, only managed to get a cat nap before I met you. Mind if I get some sleep?” “Go for it. I’m not tired.” Reaper let Nickel take his choice of the bedrooms before going to the other one. Tossing his

bag onto the bed, he took out a change of clothes before hitting the shower. The cool spray of water cleared out the tiredness he felt coming on. Drying his body off, he dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a long-sleeved, black thermal shirt before heading back to the living room. With the news playing in the background, he went into the kitchen for something to drink. Pouring himself a glass of orange juice as he toweldried his hair, he decided to call Moon and give him a heads-up that he would be heading to Nashville. Slinging the towel around his neck, he carried the glass into the living room to turn the television off before making the call. His finger hovered over the button as he listened to the news. Several minutes passed before he clicked the off button to take out his cell phone, pressing Viper’s name instead of Moon’s. “If you calling to tell me you’re not staying—” “That’s not why I’m calling,” Reaper interrupted. “Where are you?” “Drinking a beer with Shade in the kitchen.” “Both of you go to the factory office and call me back. Call Train to meet you there. We need a convo without listening ears. You can fill the others in later.” “Give us five.” When Viper disconnected the call, Reaper sat down on the couch to wait for his returning call.

When it came, he told Viper to put it on speakerphone. “Go ahead,” Viper said. “You know what we talked about a couple of months ago?” Viper grimly answered without pause, “Yes.” “It’s here.”

Chapter Nine


inny entered the bright interior of the

nightclub for the mandatory meeting that Kaden insisted everyone attend on the second day back in Nashville. The massive area had three bars with two dance floors. Seeing most of the staff and band members were sitting in front of the stage, Ginny found an empty table. “How was your trip?” Ginny gave a welcoming smile to the woman who took a chair across from her. She had been friends with Kimmy before they started playing in

Nashville. “Fantastic.” “Damn. I should have taken you up on your invitation to go.” “Yes, you should have.” Feeling self-conscious, Ginny wished she had paid more attention to Kimmy’s advice about dressing up and putting on makeup, when the admiring gazes of the males in the room showed disappointment that the makeup artist and stylist sat down with her and not with them. “Who’s the new eye candy?” Ginny didn’t have to ask who Kimmy was talking about. Gavin stood out like a sore thumb, regardless of him trying to blend into the background of the side wall with Kaden’s security team. “That’s Gavin.” Kimmy winked at her good-naturedly. “He attached like Rider and Shade are?” Ginny felt like a rag doll sitting so close to Kimmy, even though she had made her best effort to be attractive. Kimmy, however, was gorgeous in any outfit. Meanwhile, Ginny had to spend an hour trying on clothes, endeavoring to achieve the same look of appreciation from Gavin that the men had showered on Kimmy. Her efforts had been a complete waste of time. She could have been dressed in a playboy bunny outfit, and he wouldn’t have noticed. The surge of jealousy she was

experiencing was confounding and made her disappointed in herself. “Yes.” The lie rolled of her tongue, making her feel like a terrible person, yet she made no effort to revise her answer. Placing Gavin under the category of “already taken” might not have been the brightest idea in the world, but it was the fastest one she could think of with Kimmy’s interest. Alone, with the one-sided conviction that she and Gavin were meant to be together, she felt like a failure as a woman. She didn’t know how to flirt or use her feminine wiles. Heck, the one and only time she had tried to use false eyelashes made her look like a racoon. Each time she felt a small crack opening to initiate anything romantic between them, he put out a no-trespassing sign physically and emotionally to shut her out immediately, and then she would have to start all over again. This morning, the air had a distinct chill when he was waiting for her outside her apartment door. Brusquely asking for the plans of the day, he severed any attempts of normal conversation. She reluctantly stopped trying to engage him five minutes into the fifteen-minute drive to the nightclub when he started texting on his phone. Arriving at the nightclub, he headed directly to the spot he was at now. Ginny noticed the other security personnel gradually edging away from him, putting more

space between them. The security’s team wariness emphasized the isolation that Gavin wanted from others. Gavin’s appearance alone would put the fear of God into any sane person, coupled with the aloofness he wore like a second skin by overlooking them, broke her heart a little piece at a time. One word or overture from him would ease their apprehension. They’d be able to look underneath the tattoos, imagine his hair neatly trimmed without the wacked off hair, and with a warm smile from him beckoning them closer, they would see the man she saw, the man she fell in love with on first sight. She still felt the tingle in the palm of her hand when she had touched his jaw and saw the beautiful soul that couldn’t be hidden no matter how hard he tried to disguise himself. He was and would always be Gavin to her. “Why is Alec standing on his head?” Ginny looked at Alec, Kaden’s head of security talking to Kaden, and saw that he certainly wasn’t standing on his head. Kimmy grinned. “Just checking. I see I’m not the only one appreciating your new candy.” Blushing at getting caught, Ginny fiddled with a button on her cream jacket. “I have a thing for tats myself,” Kimmy whispered conspiratorially as one of the light technicians approached their table.

“Morning, girls.” “Lawrence,” Ginny greeted him, looking away when he bent and kissed Kimmy’s upturned lips. It was everything Ginny could do to hide her disgust when Lawrence raised his lips to send a smug look toward the men in the room, observing them before sitting down next to Kimmy and placing a proprietary arm around her shoulders. “Where were you this morning? You told me you’d pick me up at nine.” Kimmy frowned up at her boyfriend. “You told me that you didn’t know how long it would take to make the changes Nick wanted, so you’d drive yourself.” Lawrence frowned back. “I did, but after Nick called and said that the changes weren’t major, I told you we could ride together.” “I must have forgotten. I’m sorry.” “No harm. Just didn’t want to have to deal with Kaden if I missed the meeting. He fired Bruce for missing the meeting last month. I have a bills to pay and a girlfriend to spoil.” Ginny wanted to gag. The only one who wanted to be spoiled was the man who was trying to guilttrip his girlfriend. Ginny couldn’t understand what Kimmy saw in Lawrence and why she was dating him. Ginny had shot him down each time Lawrence had asked her out. The situation changed, though, when they

moved to Nashville. Personally, Ginny believed Kimmy started seeing him to deal with her loneliness. The only person who disliked Lawrence as much as she did was Nick, Kimmy’s brother, who constantly begged her to stop seeing him. “Bruce wasn’t fired for not coming to the meeting,” Ginny spoke up to correct the untruth. “He was fired for being drunk during the show the night before. He didn’t show for the meeting because he knew Kaden was going to fire him.” “I wasn’t aware of that.” Lawrence didn’t bat a lash at being corrected. “Then I don’t blame Kaden.” He was full of crap. How could Lawrence not have known? It had been a source of gossip for a good week after Bruce had shown up to give Alec his work identification. “The day he came in to turn his badge and I saw you talking to him, he didn’t tell you?” Ginny called him out on another untruth. “No.” Lawrence shrugged at her. “I guess he was too embarrassed.” “I guess so.” It was either partially agree with him or call him a liar. With the fib she told Kimmy about Gavin being attached, she couldn’t throw stones at him, much as she wanted to. Lawrence condescendingly patted Kimmy’s hand that was laying on the table. “When you

move in this weekend, all the confusion about rides won’t matter, anyway. We’ll be driving together all the time.” The news that Kimmy was moving in with Lawrence came as a surprise. Her friend had two previous long-lasting relationships, and with both she had adamantly refused to move in with them. “I thought we planned to move me next weekend. I haven’t told Nick yet.” Kimmy’s confusion was obvious. When Lawrence shook his head at Kimmy as if her friend was a child, Ginny twisted her jacket button so hard it came off. “You were supposed to tell him last week. What’s the holdup? He knows we’ve been dating two months. He’ll understand you wanting to move out of the apartment you share with him.” Ginny stared worriedly at Kimmy’s demoralized countenance. “I’ll talk to him at lunch.” Lawrence shook his head at her, not content with Kimmy trying to make amends. “We’re having lunch with Darla to meet her fiancé. My sister is just as important as your brother.” “I didn’t ….” Kimmy pressed her fingertips to her forehead. “Of course she is … It just slipped my mind. I’ll talk to Nick after work.” Lawrence pulled her closer to his side. “You should ask Kaden if you can take a couple of weeks

off so you can get some rest. I’m starting to worry about you. Your look tired, and you’re forgetting a lot of stuff lately.” Ginny gripped the button so hard she felt the small holes denting the palm of her hand. Disliking the man more and more, she couldn’t help herself from butting in. “I think you look great. I don’t think anyone else here would agree that you look tired. Cleve and Terrel nearly cried when you didn’t say hello when you walked past by them.” Kimmy gave her a thankful glance. “Thank you. That makes me feel better.” “That makes you feel better?” Lawrence removed his arm, stiffly pulling away from Kimmy. “My mistake that I cared enough to be worried about you. I’ll see you after the meeting.” Sliding out of the chair, he let them know he was clearly affronted. Kimmy started to get up to go after him, but Ginny didn’t give her the opportunity. She would have tackled her to the ground before letting her apologize to that domineering man again. “The meeting is starting.” Kimmy settled back on the chair. Kaden going over the instructions for the performance tomorrow night prevented any further talking. Ginny was so frightened at the dramatic change in her friend that she barely listened to

Kaden’s words. If looks could kill, the one that Lawrence had given her would have left her bleeding under the table. Ginny didn’t think Kimmy had seen it, and even if she had, Ginny doubted she would have called Lawrence on it. This was a Kimmy who Ginny didn’t recognize. Kimmy might not have seen it, but Gavin had. He moved his position along the wall so he would be able to follow Lawrence’s progress through the room to the group of technicians congregating together farther away from the stage. Unconsciously, Ginny’s lips curled in disgust when one laughed while looking toward Kimmy and used an elbow as if to congratulate him. She loathed men like them. Their amusement at Kimmy’s expense was going to be short-lived. After the meeting, she was going to find Nick and have a talk with him. Unable to watch the men any longer, Ginny started paying attention to what Kaden was telling the crew. “Here is the set list for tomorrow night. I don’t want any glitches during the show like the last time,” he warned as his assistant began handing out a sheet of paper that held the order of the songs. Kaden didn’t belabor the point; each of the staff knew he expected the best, paid for the best, and if they couldn’t achieve the standards he wanted,

they would find a pink slip in their email. “Notice I added the last song that Ginny and I have been working on. If the audience likes it, then we’ll stick with this list for the remaining time we have left. Which brings us to something the band and I have been wrestling with over the last few months. “We have come to the decision that we won’t be renewing our contract here in Nashville. Not only will we not be extending our contract, we’ve decided to cut our performances short. We’ll finish the next two weeks instead of the next two months as originally planned. The band and I know this will be a financial hardship on the staff, but we want to assure you that you will be paid until the original contract expires. We’ve enjoyed living in Nashville, but we’re ready for a break until we come to a decision on where to go next. We hope you understand.” Ginny wasn’t upset with the decision. She had already informed Kaden that she wouldn’t be renewing her contract with him. However, she could see that Kimmy was taking the information hard. She tilted her head, her eyes searching for Nick, who was sitting in the front. Nick turned and gave her a reassuring smile. Kimmy didn’t look for the same reassurance from Lawrence. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny saw the enraged way Lawrence broke off talking to a sound technician. Kaden’s announcement had obviously

put a wrench in Lawrence’s plans, because Lawrence settled wherever a crew hired him. So, unless he picked up and moved with Kimmy, jobless, it would bring an end to their relationship. Because Nick would definitely be going back to Queen City, and that meant Kimmy would too. The brother and sister were close and had grown even closer since their parents’ deaths. Ginny couldn’t be happier. Even from before he began dating Kimmy, Lawrence made Ginny want to shower to rid herself of the icky scum that his presence oozed. The disgust only escalated with the smothering way he treated Kimmy. Thankfully, she had never been tempted to accept the overtures he made toward her when she first joined the road crew. When it came to intimate relationships, Ginny would readily admit she was no expert. Nevertheless, she had been lucky to witness several happy relationships, but what Kimmy and Lawrence shared was as unhealthy as a relationship could get. Kimmy went from fun-loving and selfconfident to timid and insecure. Even Nick noticed the drastic change in his sister. “I’m with Kaden. Nashville rains too much for me. I won’t miss having to run to the apartment garage every time a tornado siren goes off, either. How about you?” Kimmy asked once the short meeting was over.

“I won’t be going back to Queen City.” Holding back where she was planning to go, Ginny saw Gavin signal with a downward pull of his hand to stay put before slipping unobtrusively through the door where Lawrence had gone out. “I went shopping while you were gone. If you have a few minutes to spare, I want to show you. I dropped the outfits off in your dressing room.” “I’m free after tomorrow night’s soundcheck.” “You mind if we do it now? You can pick out which one you want to wear, and it’ll be ready for you to put on after the soundcheck. I don’t want to take too long. I don’t want to keep Lawrence and his sister waiting.” Ginny bet she didn’t. Kimmy had a big decision to make and probably needed an opportunity to discuss Kaden’s announcement with Nick before she went to meet Lawrence. Regarding her impatiently when Ginny remained unmoving, Kimmy restlessly started walking ahead without her. “It won’t take long.” Giving in when she saw Kimmy was getting upset, Ginny caught up with her. Making their way to the back of the stage, they walked toward the dressing rooms. The back area had a large platform with steps going down, leading to a long corridor and the performers’ dressing rooms. At the end was a large room where VIP guests were able to relax while waiting for the show

to start, and where they were able to get a private meet and greet with Kaden and the band. Her dressing room was more of a closet than a room, barely large enough to fit the dressing table, chair, and the rack of outfits Kimmy picked out. “I hope you like what I chose,” Kimmy said, waiting for Ginny to open the door. “There’s one I fell in love with for you. It’s a white dress.” “Then I’m sure I’ll love it too,” Ginny assured her, opening the door, then coming to a standstill at the destruction within. “What the hell …?” Kimmy stared, just as shocked as she was. Shreds of colored fabric had been cut and tossed around the room. Pressing her trembling lips together, Ginny read the message scrawled on her mirror in lipstick. “Nightingale, if you don’t sing for me, you won’t sing for anyone.” “Kimmy, go find Gavin,” Ginny instructed hoarsely as she moved farther into the room. A knife had not only been taken to the clothes but also the seat cushion on the chair. The white stuffing was mounded on the dressing table. Pushing down the bile that was rising from her stomach, Ginny looked down at the white foam to see a dead bird laying in the center. “I’m here.” Forcing her eyes away from the bird, Ginny met

Gavin’s eyes in the mirror behind her. Wanting to run into his arms and hide from the fact that the tiny bird had been killed to hurt her, Ginny had to turn her nerves into steel as she turned to face the man standing behind her. “I hate him.”

Chapter Ten


hat the fuck? Who did this?”

Sin appeared next to Gavin. Ginny would have recognized who it was by the voice alone. It was just as good as Kaden’s, the melodic tones distinctly his own. It was much deeper and smoother, making a woman think of fine whiskey and a smoky bedroom with satin sheets and a sexy drummer sprawled on top. Kaden’s was more like cognac—dark and mysterious with notes of fire underneath. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the

devastation in the room any longer. Brushing past the two men, Ginny rushed out of the room where Kimmy hastily moved aside in the corridor to give her space. Gavin immediately exited the room, his phone already to his ear. “Alec, get to Ginny’s dressing room, pronto. Lock down the exits. I don’t want anyone leaving without my eyes on them.” “Did you leave my room unlocked when you brought the clothes?” Ginny whispered as Gavin continued to talk to Alec. “No,” Kimmy answered, giving Gavin a frightened look as he ended the call. “I swear, Ginny. I’m always careful about locking doors. Alec drummed that into my head when he told me I was the only one who had a master key to get into all the dressing rooms. Well, beside him. I wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize my job or anyone’s safety.” Ginny placed a reassuring hand on Kimmy’s shoulder. “I believe you.” Gavin didn’t seem as sure. “Where’s your key?” Kimmy raised her wrist in the air, showing the purple elastic wristband with the key dangling. “It’s never out of my sight. Ever,” she stated forcefully. “Not even when I sleep.” Ginny hit her forehead with the palm of her hand, aggravated at herself.

“The door was unlocked when I opened it.” Ginny shook her head. “I can’t believe I didn’t catch that before I opened it.” She hit herself again. “Stupid.” “Yes, it was.” “Thanks for trying to make me feel better,” she snapped at Gavin. “I’m not here to make you feel better. You should have waited for me. I told you to stay put.” “I screwed up. Okay? I feel bad enough as it is.” “Good.” Sin came to her rescue. “This isn’t her fault. It’s the fucker who trashed her room. We all leave our rooms unlocked once we arrive. No one expects their room to be trashed. Usually the place is full, with everyone coming and going. Whoever it was knew that everyone was in the meeting.” Ginny paled, grabbing Gavin’s arm, forgetting her irritation at his rebuke. “Alec usually has a security guard walking the area, even during the meetings.” Fear that she would have another death on her conscience, Ginny started walking frantically back to the door. Had the security guard been in there and she hadn’t noticed? Gavin caught her, preventing her from entering. “Sin, you and Kimmy go to the VIP room and lock the door. I know it’s clear because I just came from there.”

Sin nodded. “I can watch Ginny too.” “She’s stays with me.” Sin didn’t argue and neither did Kimmy, looking relieved to be out from under Gavin’s suspicious regard. “Kimmy didn’t have anything to do with this. If she said she locked my door, I believe her.” “I do too.” “You do?” “Yes,” he said shortly, moving her out of the way as Alec arrived with four men from his staff. There was enough testosterone in the thin corridor to make any woman have the jitters, yet the only one who drew her gaze was Gavin. It wasn’t Alec who took charge; it was Gavin. Giving quick instructions, he had Alec check on his handheld radio to see if any of his staff was missing, while he sent two off to check the security footage, then placed the last two at the opposite points of the corridor to make sure no one left. “Mason is missing,” Alec reported. “Are the exits covered?” Gavin asked. “Yes.” “Then we’ll start at the VIP room and work our way down. You have an extra man you trust?” Gavin asked Alec as they walked toward the room a few steps away. “Nate.” “Get him here.”

Using his knuckles to tap on the door, Sin opened the door at Alec’s prompting. With his hand on her back, Gavin urged her inside, checking the restroom before going back to the doorway. “Nate’s here,” Alec told Gavin as he came through the door. “Stay here with them. No one comes in here until I get back. Understand me? No one.” “Yes, sir,” Nate responded deferentially to Gavin’s instructions, even though his boss was inches away. Content his order would be obeyed, Gavin took her arm, moving her to a private corner of the room. “You have your phone?” he asked. “Yes.” Ginny patted her jacket pocket, reassuring herself it was still where she placed it this morning. “I want a happy emoji texted to me every two minutes. If you become the least bit uncomfortable, text me a sad one.” “Okay.” “I don’t care if this fucking room catches on fire, you don’t fucking leave.” “I swear,” she promised, trying to lighten the hard-lined way he was talking to her. Gavin wasn’t having it. “Don’t disappointment me again, Ginny.” Ginny reached out, running her hand down the

length of his arm. “I won’t.” She tried not to be hurt when he shrugged away from her touch. Feeling helpless, she watched Gavin and Alec leave the room, shutting the door behind them. With her heart pounding, Ginny took a chair closest to her. “Why would someone want to trash your dressing room?” Kimmy’s frightened voice broke the silence. Ginny didn’t know how to explain. Shade had warned her not to mention she had a stalker to any of the crew before she came to Nashville. The only ones who knew about the situation were Kaden and Alec’s security team. “I don’t know.” She had no idea who her stalker was, so she wasn’t lying. Kimmy wasn’t buying it. “Is the person responsible the reason you have your own security? I’ve worked in this industry long enough to know you don’t pay out the big bucks for this type of security without a darn good reason. Kaden has a huge fan base, but they cover the whole band, not just him. What’s going on, Ginny?” Uncomfortable under three sets of eyes focused on her, she couldn’t bring herself to be evasive when a man they all knew was now missing. “A fan has taken a liking to me enough that he will strike out the only way he can.” “Apparently, he wants to be more than a fan if

he doesn’t want you singing for anyone else.” At the same time, Kimmy’s mouth gaped open. “You have a stalker?” Denying Sin’s assessment would be futile, so Ginny didn’t, answering Kimmy’s shocked question instead. “Yes.” Kimmy’s eyes widened. “For how long?” “Since Queen City. When I moved to Nashville, he stopped. Or so I thought until I went to Treepoint and Viper told me someone had been watching Rider.” “Who’s Viper?” “He’s another friend of mine.” Ginny took out her phone, texting Gavin a smile emoji. “Jesus. You have a stalker. Why didn’t you tell us?” Kimmy looked at Sin for confirmation as to his lack of knowledge. Sin shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I’m just as much in the dark as you.” Ginny licked her suddenly dry lips. “Alec and Shade said it would be for the best if you didn’t know.” The drummer’s sensual lips curled in a smile. “We’re all potential suspects, Kimmy.” “Even me?” Kimmy shook her head as if she couldn’t believe anyone would think she could be a suspect. “I mean, I like you, but not that much … I mean, not anything more than a friend.” Ginny couldn’t help but laugh at Kimmy’s

comical expression. “I know you don’t.” Ginny assured her. “I think it was more of a precaution from letting it unintentionally slip to the wrong person.” Kimmy’s shock became confrontational. “You mean, like Nick or Lawrence?” It was Ginny’s mouth that dropped at Kimmy’s spurt of anger. “I was talking more like someone who works in the nightclub or one of the regulars who comes to the shows.” “Good,” Kimmy snapped. “Because I can tell you for a fact that it wasn’t Nick or Lawrence. Nick was in the meeting before I came in, and Lawrence doesn’t even like you. He told me about the time you asked him out and he turned you down.” “I didn’t.” “He says you did.” “Then he’s lying, or he has me confused with someone else.” “Maybe I heard him wrong. I’m sorry.” Kimmy might have apologized, but Ginny saw the doubt in her eyes. “I’ve never asked Lawrence out, not even on a friendly date. Ask anyone on the band’s staff or the nightclub’s if I’ve ever asked anyone out on a date. I just don’t do that.” Ginny sent another emoji. “I can vouch for that,” Nate broke in from

where he was standing. “Me, too.” Sin amusedly corroborated. Flushing, Ginny swung her head in Nate’s then Sin’s directions. “I thought we were friends.” Kimmy didn’t try to hide her hurt feelings. “I tell you everything. You didn’t mention you had a stalker or that you were dating someone.” “We are friends.” Ginny broke off to text another emoji before continuing. “I explained about why I didn’t tell you about the stalker, and I’m not dating anyone.” “Then I don’t—” Ginny jumped in her chair when Kimmy suddenly jumped up. “You’re sneaking behind my back, seeing Lawrence, aren’t you?” “What? No!” Flabbergasted at Kimmy’s assumption, Ginny wanted to shake some sense into her illogically thinking friend. “Then why wouldn’t you date? Unless ….” She had never seen this side of Kimmy before, and the sudden change in her behavior was scaring Ginny. “You are sneaking around with Lawrence. You come across as a Goody Two-shoes, yet you’re banging him behind—” “No! I haven’t!” Kimmy’s whack-a-mole reasoning was totally out of the realm from her

normal behavior . “Then who? You spend most of your time with Lawrence before the shows—” “That’s because he is constantly missing my intro.” “The only other ones around you are Shade, who’s married, and Rider, who has a girlfriend.” Ginny’s nerves were already strung up with her room being destroyed and a man missing, so Kimmy’s wild assumptions were sending her over the edge. “Those aren’t the only men I’ve been around!” Ginny’s stomach dropped when Kimmy’s face broke into a broad smile. “It’s Gavin, isn’t it? That’s why you told me he’s attached.” Ginny wasn’t able to compose her guilty face before Kimmy saw it and misinterpreted the expression as hitting on the truth. “You’re with Gavin! Wow! You sure nothing is going between you and Lawrence?” “I’m sure.” Ginny’s concern for her friend’s irrational behavior was replaced by a wave of temper. “And what’s so shocking about me and Gavin?” Kimmy stared at her as if she had never seen her before. Ginny felt the same toward her. Being locked in the room was dissolving their friendship fast.

“I just imagined him with someone more ….” Kimmy broke off when she realized she was about to put her foot in her mouth again. “What?” Hurt that Kimmy was right had Ginny sliding to the edge of her chair. “Prettier?” “Ladies …,” Sin interrupted the budding argument. “Perhaps this isn’t the time—” “Sexier? Thinner?” Jealousy had Ginny talking before her commonsense could catch up with her. “You’re so worried about Lawrence and me when nothing is there, but it didn’t stop you from asking me if Gavin was attached!” The Kimmy that Ginny was more familiar with made an appearance. “So, you and Gavin are a couple! You should have just said so! It’s no big deal. I’m so happy!” At that point, Ginny was about to jinx Kimmy with a wart the size of Pluto on her upper lip when a sound from the doorway had Ginny turning, then wanting to sink to the floor at the sight of Gavin standing there. “Uh … I …” Ginny had never been so embarrassed in her life. She had unintentionally proven to him that she did live in an alternate universe. “I can explain.” And she would, as soon as she came up with something that made any sense. “It’s doesn’t matter. I understand. I told you it wouldn’t be an easy secret to keep.”

What secret? Had she missed something? Maybe she drank the same Kool-Aid that Kimmy had? “Did you find Mason?” Nate asked. “Yes.” Gavin came to a stop in front of her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “We found him in a freezer in the nightclub. He’s on his way to the hospital.”

Chapter Eleven


hy did you let Kimmy keep assuming

we’re a couple?” Ginny engaged the blinker as she sped up to merge onto the interstate. She was too upset about Mason being in the hospital to be humiliated over Gavin overhearing the out-of-hand conversation with Kimmy. “I want to find out exactly how possessive your stalker is over you.” Gripping the steering wheel like a lifeline, Ginny continued driving as if his unemotional explanation hadn’t drilled a big hole through her

heart. “I see.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gavin’s head jerk toward her at the flat intonation of her voice. “You don’t agree?” “Whatever you think.” Shrugging, Ginny took the turnoff to her exit. “You think I’m wrong?” Ginny remained mute, sitting stiffly behind the wheel. “So, now I’m being given the silent treatment? Fine. I don’t give a fuck if you agree with me or not. It’s my call.” Pressing her foot down on the accelerator, Ginny drove to her apartment in record time, pulling into her parking spot with a screech of tires. Gavin’s hand went to the dashboard as she slammed the car into Park. “You trying to kill us?” Releasing her seatbelt with a snap of her fingers, Ginny turned sideways in her seat. “It’s one thing for me to put myself on the line to draw him out and another to paint a target on you. That’s unacceptable, and I won’t allow one more person to be hurt because of me. Especially not you.” Gavin unclicked his seatbelt just as angrily. “Why not me? Because I was stupid enough to get myself kidnapped or—” Fury went through Ginny like a fireball. Leaning toward Gavin, Ginny put her face right in

his as she poked him in the chest. “Because I love you!” she shouted out in the close confines of the car. Surprise had his shoulders hitting the window at his back. “I don’t care if you think I’m crazy or not. It’s the truth. From the moment you walked out onto that patio, I knew you were the one I was waiting for—” “You’re right; you’re crazy—” Ginny jabbed him again. “Shut up! I’ve always known you were out there. Always … I just didn’t know who you were or where! Then you walked out on the patio, and I knew.” Ginny dropped her voice, pleading for him to understand. “I knew.” She jabbed him again. “Deny to yourself that you felt the same. Go ahead! I can’t stop you. But don’t lie to me and expect me to go along as if I don’t know what I felt.” Giving a particularly hard jab, Ginny leaned closer until she could feel his breaths against her lips. “And another freaking thing”— another pointed jab had him pressing back farther —“Don’t. Ever. Compare me to other women!” she snarled. “And don’t pick a fight with me when I’m driving. It’s not your call when you place your life in danger, not anymore. What you do affects me, too! “I know what life without you is like. You’ve yet to find out what me not being in your life is like,

but you’re going to find out.” Ginny angrily moved away from him, getting out of the car and slamming the door behind her. The sound echoed off the silence in the garage. Then a hard slam followed hers, rocking the car. “What in the fuck does that mean?” Gavin shouted out to her retreating back. “It means you’re going home! I’m calling Viper,” Ginny yelled back from over her shoulder, viciously punching the elevator key. “You’re not serious.” If she wasn’t so furious, she would have laughed at his confounded expression. “Yes, I am.” Raising her chin high, she walked into the opening elevator. “You should be ecstatic,” she said snidely, punching her floor number before heatedly crossing her arms across her chest. “You only brought enough clothes for a few days; you won’t even have to wash them.” Stepping past him when the elevator opened, Ginny walked to her apartment and keyed her code into the electric lock. Swinging the door open, she then gave a smartass wave of her hand for him to enter, preparing herself to wait while Gavin inspected the apartment. A small squeak escaped her when she felt herself lifted onto her tiptoes as he took her upper arms to frog march her inside the apartment. Then Ginny felt her back pressed against the wall as

Gavin clicked the lock. Forced to lean her head back to look up at his grim features, Ginny stubbornly lifted her chin even higher, not about to take back a word she said. “You’re the most irritating wo—” Ginny narrowed her eyes on him in warning. “—person I’ve ever met.” “That’s plainly untrue. Rider holds that honor.” She disdainfully sniffed up at him. Ginny could practically see the steam coming out of his ears as he tried to retain his passive façade. “He’s now in second place, thanks to the most cockamamie nonsense I’ve ever heard coming from you.” “Really!” “For fucking sure.” “I can prove it.” Her eyes dared him to prove her wrong. “How?” Was he freaking laughing at her? Any other time she would have been thrilled to see anything but the dead sea behind his eyes, just not when she was trying to make a point. Bracing her hands on his chest, she shoved him back, well aware of the hard muscles under his Tshirt, and that the only reason she was able to move him back was of his own will. With enough room to move, she took out her

cell phone, pulling up the pictures she saved. Finding the one she wanted, she pressed, zooming it bigger before turning the screen to face him. “See?” Gavin’s lashes lowered as he stared at the picture. “What am I supposed to be looking at?” “Is that you in the mirror or not?” “Me?” Gavin grabbed her wrist, lifting the phone higher until it was at eye level. “Is it you or not?” Ginny was glad of his hand on her wrist, afraid the phone would slip from her sweaty palm, and terrified he wouldn’t be able to see the same thing she had. “Where did you get the picture of me from?” Ginny was so relieved that she dropped her head to his chest. “Lily.” Feeling the muscles tense under her cheek, she raised her head before he could pull himself away. “What does a picture of me prove?” “I didn’t know it was you until you came out to the patio. I just knew you were the man I was waiting for.” “You’re crazier than I thought.” “I’m from the mountains of Kentucky. We have superstitions we believe in. One is, if you look in the mirror at the bottom of a cellar steps, you’ll be able to see the man you’re going to marry. Lily took this picture Halloween night. Don’t you see?” “Are you high?”

Ginny put her phone back in her pocket. “No.” “This is ridiculous.” Abruptly, Gavin turned and began searching through the apartment before coming back. “Save yourself the trouble of calling Viper. He’s too busy with the factory to worry about your drama. You’re stuck with me.” Ginny stayed as still as a statue. She said what she had to say. Only time would prove what she was saying was true. Unfortunately, she was running out of that commodity, since her stalker was no longer content to stay in the background. Gavin becoming a casualty was unacceptable to her. She wouldn’t sit back and watch that happen. “Waiting for a storm to hit is fucking useless. It puts you at a disadvantage.” Ginny didn’t shrink away from Gavin’s powerful body towering over hers. “What do you suggest?” “Meet the fucker head-on. Ride the storm with me, and let’s find out who he is.” “I don’t want to make you a target.” She really didn’t want him to leave, but then she didn’t want him hurt, either. Gavin gave a smile that turned her blood to ice. “I was in the Navy; storms are what I’m best at.”

Chapter Twelve


hat are you wanting to do?” Making her

way to the couch, Ginny sat down. “We make him believe we’re a couple.” “How do we accomplish that?” “You telling Kimmy we are was a good start.” “I didn’t exactly tell her we’re a couple,” she argued. “I just said that you were attached. She just assumed it was to me.” Gavin folded his arms over his chest. “How did she get that impression?” “Kimmy saw you and asked if you were the one

taking Shade’s and Rider’s place.” “And …?” he prompted. “And …” Ginny guiltily lowered her gaze to his boots. “She asked if you were attached. Erring on the side of caution, I told her you were.” “Why would you err on the side of caution?” “Well, I couldn’t say for sure if you were or not, so I erred on the side of caution and told her you are.” She nodded as if that should make perfect sense to him. “Yet you didn’t use the same caution when telling me your own feelings?” “That’s different.” “How’s it different?” “Because we’re meant to be together.” “We need to get something straight—” “Let’s not, if you want me to go along with your idea.” “You know we’re not going to be a real couple, right?” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Of course. I’m not crazy.” “I just want to get it straight—” “Okay, it’s straight. Can we move on?” “We’ll start off with me moving in here.” “That works for me.” Gavin ran his hand through his hair. “Cut it out.” “Cut what out?” she asked innocently.

“Staring at me like you are.” Poor guy was clenching his jaw so tightly that she could see the muscles bulge out. Ginny couldn’t help but grin. “Gavin, relax. I’m just teasing you.” Sighing, she managed a more solemn expression. “Is this better?” “Yes. This is serious. Whoever is stalking you is going to a lot trouble to make you notice him. He’s not going to be happy that your attention is focused on someone else.” “I take your safety very seriously.” “I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you. Did you know Mason is an ex-Green Berets?” “No, I didn’t.” “Well, he is.” “I see.” Rising from the couch, Ginny went into the kitchen, coming back with a watering can to water the plants around the room. “What do you see?” “You want me to take this more seriously. I am. Go ahead. What comes after everyone thinks we’re a couple?” “We give him an opportunity to get to me.” “How?” “I’ll start a schedule I follow when you’re around and give him an opportunity when no one else in around.” “Who will be with me?”

“Nickel. And I’ll make sure you’re either in rehearsals with Kaden or on stage. I won’t leave you alone.” “I didn’t think you would.” As she carried the watering can back into the kitchen, she heard Gavin’s phone ringing. She unashamedly eavesdropped on his conversation. “How’s Mason?” Gavin asked. When she’d asked earlier to go to the hospital instead of coming home, he’d told her that Alec would call with an update. Wrapping her arms around her waist, Ginny waited nervously for the call to end. Thankfully, it wasn’t long. “Mason if fine. Alec is driving him home. He has a bump at the back of his head and he needs someone to stay with him for the next few days, but the doctor said it’s not a concussion.” “I’m glad. I’ve been worried sick about him.” Going to the coffee table, Ginny picked up her cell phone. “Who are you calling?” “I’m calling Alec. I’m going to go stay with Mason.” “No, you aren’t.” “Yes, I am.” Disregarding Gavin’s decree, Ginny started to call Alec. She was left blinking when he swept her phone out of her hand. “Do you want whoever knocked him out to

come back and finish the job?” “No.” “He could think something is going on with Mason instead of me.” “Whoever did it has been watching me enough to know when and how to get in my dressing room. I’m sure they would know that I was there because I feel responsible.” “You want to bet his life on that reasoning?” Ginny bit her bottom lip. “No.” “Alec is going to stay with him tonight and make sure he’s not left alone until he recovers.” “That doesn’t make me feel better.” “It’ll have to do, because you’re not going.” “You enjoy bossing people around, don’t you?” “What?” Ginny sat down on the couch to take her tennis shoes off. Then, curling up against the armrest, she pulled a throw pillow onto her lap, making herself comfortable. “You do it to me a lot. I would be upset, but you’re just as bad with men. You expect everyone to follow your orders—Nickel, Alec, his men. I bet you and Viper fight constantly.” “We used to, not so much anymore.” His pained expression showed it was an unwilling admission. She couldn’t help but try to heal his pain. “Your both alpha. He’s giving in because he loves you.”

“You don’t know shit about Viper and me.” Ginny saw his back go ramrod straight as he tried to deny her assertion. “I don’t have to. I can see it with my own two eyes. With both of you being alpha, the only one that Viper would be able to cave into would be you.” “Quit saying that as if we’re two dogs trying to piss on the same tree.” Ginny made a face. “I certainly didn’t mean it like that. Both of you are leaders, not followers. It only stands to reason you would have fights.” “I’m no leader.” Reacting as if she had hit a raw nerve, Gavin went to the door. “I’m going to get my things and talk with Nickel.” “I’ll make us lunch,” she offered, beginning to get up. “Don’t bother. I’ll find something while I’m next door.” “I didn’t mean to upset you, Gavin.” “I’m not upset. I don’t care enough about your opinions to give a fuck.” It took all of her willpower not to burst into tears at his callous remark. However, Ginny would rather shoot herself in the foot before she let him know he hurt her. She would lick her wounds after he left. Ginny proudly tossed the pillow aside to stand as if he had missed his mark. “That’s fair. You

didn’t ask for my opinions. I should have kept them to myself.” Giving him a dismissive nod of her chin, she went to the door to unlock it. “If you’re ready, I’ll lock the door behind you.” Gavin paused before going through the door. “Are you going to let me back in when I come back?” “Of course.” She raised her clear eyes to his. “I’ve been making the effort to discover what type of man you are, while you couldn’t care less what type of woman I am. It shows by you having to ask me that question. You might not know me well enough yet to know this about me, but I’m going to be fair and give you a heads-up. You’re not the only one who’s not afraid to ride in storms.”

Chapter Thirteen


eaper stared up at the dark ceiling with eyes

so tired they felt like they were filled with sawdust. Rolling to his side, he used his legs to kick the covers off him. Ginny’s spare bedroom was a fourth the size of his at the club. His racing mind wouldn’t let him sleep. He kept going back to the way he had spoken to her when she got too close to the truth. He remembered his arguments with Viper when they got out of the service and him trying to get his brother to see him as an equal. What hit him hard was that Ginny’s

insight was probably closer to what really had gone down. Even as a child, Viper had been responsible; their mother leaning on him with Ton being deployed. When she left, Viper had easily stepped in as the provider. Entering the Navy, each step up the ladder of command had crafted and honed Viper to become a man to be respected and feared. It was only when Viper left that Reaper started relying on his own strength without having Viper ready to pick up the pieces if things went to shit. Coming out the service hadn’t been an easy adjustment for Ton. Their father had spent too many nights out at bars, and Reaper had lost count of the fights he had to get him out of. He never told Viper, not wanting him to worry about Ton. When he was old enough to join the service, Ton finally settled down enough to quit drinking, and he took a job that gave new meaning to his life. Entering the service, Reaper had found his purpose in life. He took the skills he was taught and moved up the ranks just as quickly as Viper had, until he landed on the team that Viper commanded. They hadn’t butted heads then, because it had been Viper’s job to look out for his men, and Reaper’s job to follow his orders. No, what had changed the dynamic of their relationship was when they started the club. He had presumed the fights were because Viper didn’t respect him and only saw him as a younger brother.

Ginny’s viewpoint had him seeing the flip side of the coin. Had the problems with Viper been because both of them had such dominant personalities and only one could win, and not because they saw the other as stronger or weaker, older or younger? Rolling to his other side, Reaper replayed memories of past arguments with new eyes. Did she have a point, or was Ginny getting into his mind? He’d been afraid of this exact thing happening. His emotions becoming chaotic, another scene flashed through his mind of the couple who pretended to be kidnapped—the people who duped him. Clenching his hands by his sides, he grasped the sheets to keep himself on the bed instead of getting up to pace. He had locked the door of the bedroom, but he hadn’t barricaded it because he hadn’t wanted her to hear him moving the furniture around. Reaching for the extra pillow beside his head, he pulled it over his eyes, trying to block the seam of light underneath the door. He kept imagining shadows moving from the other side. Hyper-aware of every sight and sound made it more difficult to sleep. He had tried every sleep aid to help him, except medication, which he refused to take. He was so tired, he felt it in his bones. What little sleep he did manage to get was sporadic and not certainly not deep.

Wearily, he dozed off, only to wake gasping for air, covered in a cold sweat. Sitting up on the side of the bed, he flicked the light on, seeing the two pillows in two different areas of the room and the blanket barely hanging onto the front of the bed. Picking up his watch, he saw he’d been asleep for two and a half hours. Knowing he wouldn’t fall back to sleep, he went to his duffle bag to take out his computer. Making himself comfortable on the bed, he opened it, going to the file that Shade had sent him on Ginny. Reading through the pages, he discovered she hadn’t had an easy life. Ginny’s mother had signed her parental rights over to her father when she was four years old, leaving her to be raised by her father, Freddy Coleman. This was his second time reading the information, and he still raised an eyebrow at the number of children Freddy had fathered. At his death, he’d had ten children, and from the information given to him, he had been a good father, if not a little unconventional with the way he had raised them. Even with most of the children born from different mothers, he had managed to keep a good relationship with them. Why had it been so different with Ginny’s mother? As far as it was written on the report, Ginny had no contact with her once she signed her rights away. Scrolling down farther, he reread where her

sister, Leah, and her father had died in an accident when they were riding a four-wheeler. Not long after that, Ginny was removed from the care of her brothers to live in a foster home until she had graduated. Skimming through her school records and the jobs she held once she was on her own showed she was a hard-working and reliable employee and was determined to make it without any help. Not like there was any help offered. Neither the Colemans nor her foster parents had displayed any interest in her welfare. Reaper was rereading the report for that very reason. Why hadn’t her brothers tried to maintain a relationship with their sister? The Wests were her foster family, so it could have been they never developed a connection to Ginny, but why hadn’t her brothers, especially the older ones, tried to keep an eye out for her? Her brothers kept to the same isolated lifestyle they had before their father’s death. The only time they left their property was to work the menial jobs they held in town or to go to the store. From the reports, none of them had a girlfriend in the past or even currently. Reaper found that unbelievable, making a note to tell Shade to investigate further. Scrolling down, Reaper continued reading about Ginny’s stalker. It hadn’t been her first. No, that dubious honor belonged to her first boss, Carter

Dawkins. Old enough to be her grandfather, he had made a pest of himself when Ginny worked for him at his insurance office. He skimmed through Knox’s meticulous reports of the times he’d been called in as sheriff to cease Dawkins’ harassment of her. Ginny had only called once; the other calls had come from a cook at the diner, concerned with the way Dawkins was watching Ginny. Since the old fucker was now six feet under, Reaper knew he wasn’t the one currently making her life miserable. Ginny’s friendships had been few in Treepoint. She developed a close relationship with Willa after she worked for her. Lucky, as her pastor, had been her school mentor when she was younger. Other than that, there were only casual friendships. Like her brothers, she never dated. The fact he couldn’t get around was when she worked for The Last Riders, Ginny retained a professional relationship with the members. Reaper found it hard to believe that a young woman her age hadn’t developed a liking to one of the brothers, considering how many hours she spent at the club. If she had been with someone, she was either skilled at hiding or Shade hadn’t included it in the report, which could have been the case. But Shade’s report was detailed, even going so far as making notations to the side, yet he hadn’t delved deeply into the confidential aspects that only someone close to Ginny would know. Shade

probably hadn’t done so because it wouldn’t have a bearing on who was stalking her, and it didn’t, other than the fact Reaper’s curiosity was piqued. After leaving Treepoint, she had moved to Queen City with Penni, Shade’s sister, going to work for Mouth2Mouth. From there, Shade’s probe into Ginny’s life came from Penni. Other than Penni, she had several friends, none of whom Penni described as close. She had found a roommate once the band quit touring. Gianna had been a friend of a friend who worked for Penni. Again, there was no reference to Ginny’s dating life. Finishing Shade’s notes, he summarized by saying that, other than working, Ginny had led a reclusive life, only going out occasionally with the casual friendships she made in Queen City, or when she visited with Willa in Treepoint. Rubbing his eyes, he closed the computer. There had been no interest in men anywhere in the research from her childhood to now, yet she told him she loved him. Why? He wanted to dodge the question, but if he was going to identify the stalker, Reaper had to look in the unlikely spots to find what Shade and Rider had missed. Her stalker made himself known after Ginny sang for the first time at a nightclub; had the stalker, like him, felt the same connection, except Ginny was unaware of it? Or was she? He was going to have to ask, which was a conversation he

didn’t want to have, as it would expose the connection he had felt. Closing his eyes, he drifted off just as the sun was beginning to shine through the top of curtains, lightening the walls with a pale amber glow.



orcing himself go through his emails after

making himself breakfast, Reaper didn’t look up from the computer when he heard Ginny come into the room. “Good morning.” “Morning.” Opening an email from Viper, he started reading, tuning her out as she went to the kitchen. “You’re up early.” He didn’t respond, continuing to work on the computer. “I can make us something to eat, if you’re hungry?” “I ate.” “Couldn’t have been much. I don’t see any

dishes.” “I did them.” “You already did them and put them away?” “Yes.” “I knew you were the perfect man for me.” His attention flew from the computer screen to Ginny, whose smile showed she achieved her goal. “I’m going to make a cup of coffee. Would you like a cup?” “No, thanks. If I want one, I can get it.” Her smile disappearing, she turned from the counter to get her coffee. Staring at the computer screen, he couldn’t remember where he left off and had to start over. When he read the email for the third time, he admitted to himself that he was listening to the small sounds Ginny was making instead of concentrating on working. Answering Viper’s email became a trial in endurance when she took a seat opposite of him, taking a bite of her toast as she stared a hole through the back of the computer. He ignored it as long as he could before raising glowering eyes. “What?” “Are you usually this quiet in the morning, or is it just me?” “Both.” Becoming exasperated, more at himself for letting her divert his attention, he added, “I’m trying to work.”

As she stared at him thoughtfully, Reaper tried not to squirm uncomfortably. His eyes dropped to her throat when she swallowed a bite of her toast, trying to prepare himself for what would come out of her mouth next. “Go ahead. I won’t say another word. I promise.” Well, that wasn’t fucking good. Taking a sip of her coffee, she took her cell phone out and started doing something on it. Lowering his gaze back to the email, he tried again to focus, unable to prevent himself from looking at her intermittently through his lashes as she finished her toast and coffee before gathering her cup and plate and going back to the kitchen. When she didn’t come back to the living room, he began to wonder what she was doing. The more he told himself not to look, the more he wanted to. Hearing her opening and closing cabinets, then going to the refrigerator had him thinking she was doing it to irritate him. He was about to give in to his curiosity and ask what she was doing when she breezed out of the kitchen and went into her bedroom. With her finally gone, he was able to finish Viper’s email and had pulled up another when she breezed back in again, carrying a jacket. “Where are you going?” When Ginny pinched two fingers together and

slid them across the front of her lips, then pretended to throw something over her shoulder, he knew he was getting payback. “Locking your lips and throwing the key away is juvenile. I need to get this done, but hey, if you want to go out ….” Snapping the computer shut, he started to get up to go with her, irritated the work he told her he wanted to get done would have to wait. When he would have gotten up, though, she raised a hand to stop him as a knock sounded on the door.


alking to the door, Ginny flicked the locks

before opening the door. “Don’t open ….” He got up so fast his thigh hit the leg of the table. She didn’t listen, opening the door as Reaper came to limping stop to see Nickel on the other side. “You ready?” Nickel asked, eyeballing him from over Ginny’s shoulder. “Yes. I hope I didn’t disturb you.” Ginny gave Nickel the same sweet smile she gave him that turned his dick on like a circuit breaker. “No.” Nickel grinned at her. “I could use some groceries, too. Rider only left half a jar of peanut butter and a few cans of soup. You mind if we grab

some lunch before we go? I’m starving.” “Works for me. All I’ve had is toast. You in a mood for some burgers?” Ginny asked, placing her phone in her purse. She was taking him to their restaurant? Technically, it wasn’t their restaurant, and he hadn’t wanted to go back, but she didn’t know that. “Are you kidding? I eat so many burgers the brothers call me the burger king,” Nickel bragged. “Since when?” Nickel glared at Reaper at the snide question. Ginny ignored the exchange between them, going through the doorway as if he didn’t exist. “Then you’re going to love the restaurant I’m going to take you to.” How in the fuck did she consider that dive a restaurant? “Ready?” “Ready is my middle name,” Nickel joked back at her. “Your middle name is Dwight,” Reaper mockingly revealed the truth. Nickel gave Ginny a pained look, taking her arm. “I can see why you wanted to get out. I’m buying.” Reaper shut the door on her muffled laughter, cursing when he realized Nickel had the only set of keys to the rental car. Before he could barrel out of the apartment

after them, he got a text. Looking at his phone, he saw it was Nickel telling him that he left the keys on the counter in the other apartment. He wanted to follow to make sure she wasn’t being tailed, but he also needed to establish a routine of them being apart to give her stalker an opportunity to find a pattern of behavior. Pacing around the room, he felt caged in with her being out without him. He didn’t give a fuck if was with Nickel; it didn’t lessen the antsy feeling that had him wanting to climb the walls. He had planned for her to be in rehearsal or somewhere else where there were multiple people around, not out alone with Nickel, going to the same place she had taken him. Fuck it. He was going. His hand was on the doorknob when the phone vibrated in his pocket. Ginny sent him a text this time. His mind started going to a horror-ridden scenario where Nickel had been blindsided and she was running for her life, and she was begging him to save her. Pressing down on the message, the dark path his mind was going down took a second to comprehend what he was staring at. A fucking happy face emoji. Below was a picture of the diner. Ginny was letting him know she was safe and where they were. Shakily sitting back down at the computer, he forced himself to open his emails again, trying to

get his breathing back to normal. He was tempted to take his pulse, then decided he didn’t want to know if he was about to have a heart attack. Let it be a fucking surprise. Resuming work on his emails, an hour later, she sent another happy emoji, showing which grocery store they were at with the address below. Searching on Google maps, he saw it was just four miles away from her apartment. Without Ginny’s presence, he was able to finish his work, only to be left wandering around the rooms, waiting for her to come back. Glancing at his watch, he timed how long it should take them to shop then drive back. Giving them an extra fifteen minutes, he went to the window, looking down at the parking lot anxiously waiting for Ginny’s car to appear. How many fucking groceries does she need? His palm was getting sweaty from holding his phone so tightly when another text dinged. “She’s at a Starbucks!” he roared out to the empty apartment. Glaring at the happy emoji, he shoved his phone into his pocket. He didn’t move away from the window. Several minutes passed before he finally recognized Ginny’s car turning into the parking lot. Taking out his phone, he noted a car and a truck turning in behind them. He would go out and take down their license plates when she came inside.

Turning from the window when he heard her voice outside the door, he took another look out the window, seeing a black BMW slide into a parking spot across the street, facing the apartment building. He was typing in the make and model onto his phone when Ginny and Nickel came inside. “No wonder none of the brothers told me about Dirty Dan’s. Stingy bastards wanted to keep him to themselves.” Yeah, that’s why, Reaper thought sarcastically. “I told you, you would love it,” Ginny reminded Nickel as they placed several bags of groceries on the counter. Nudging one plain paper sack to the end toward him, she then went behind the counter to put her groceries away. “Ginny thought you might be hungry,” Nickel explained, nodding toward the bag as he hooked two bags in his hands. “Marty’s a character, isn’t he?” “You liked him?” Reaper made no effort to go for the bag of food. “He might be a little rough around the edges, but if I had a problem dealing with dickheads, I wouldn’t be a Last Rider.” “You can let yourself out.” Nickel dismissed his suggestion, hooking one leg of a counter stool. “I take it you didn’t like him?”

“He was all right,” Reaper lied through his teeth, opening the bag and scooting the fries to the side so he could count the burgers. “What did you order?” “Ginny ordered the original sack for me.” “How many burgers you get?” Nickel tried to hide his amusement. “Six. How many did he give you in the jumbo?” “Six.” And the fucker might have put in maybe four extra fries in the bag than the regular. He hated the asswipe’s guts. “You should heat them up. It has to be cold by now. Ginny wanted to go to Starbucks for a passion tea after the store. Have you had it? It’s amaz—” “No,” he barked out, “I haven’t.” Both Nickel and Ginny jumped at the loud crack of his voice. “Okay … just asked. I better go get my ice cream in the freezer.” Nickel straightened from the stool. “I enjoyed lunch, Ginny.” Ginny smiled at him from over her shoulder as she put cans of vegetables away. “I’m glad. We’ll have to do it again.” “Anytime.” Seeing the warning in Reaper’s eyes, Nickel took off. Locking the door behind him, Reaper went back to his bag of food. Moving around Ginny, who was removing more groceries from the bags, he

took out a plate from the cabinet. Arranging his food, he placed it in the microwave, and as it heated, he texted Nickel the makes and models of the cars and trucks that were outside and that he wanted their plate numbers. When the microwave dinged, he took his food out, then sat at the table, eating as he watched Ginny work around her kitchen. He almost asked her if she was giving him the silent treatment but stopped when he remembered the last time he had asked her that question. “I finished my work.” Stepping up to the plate, Reaper decided to man-up and be the first to break the uncomfortable silence. Closing the fridge, she started folding the empty grocery bags. “How’s the food?” Ginny’s cool behavior displayed her lack of interest. “It’s good.” The food tasted more like cardboard with each bite. The coldness she was exhibiting was strikingly different from the way she had been treating him. He should be happy. Instead, he was strangely disappointed and couldn’t explain why. After placing the empty bags on top of the refrigerator, Ginny made herself a large glass of ice water. Carrying it to the table, she set it down in front of him. “I need to leave in a couple of hours to get ready for the show tonight.” “Thanks for the food.”

“No thanks needed.” She shrugged. “You didn’t ask for it. If you don’t want to eat it, don’t.” “I do.” Picking up one of the burgers, he prepared to force another one down. “Did you enjoy your lunch with Nickel?” “It was okay.” He frowned at her lackluster reaction. “What was wrong with it?” “You weren’t there with me.”

Chapter Fourteen


hoving his plate away, appetite lost, Reaper

reached for the computer, opening the folder he made for the questions he had for her. “You seem to enjoy Nickel’s company more than mine.” Monitoring her reaction, he saw she seemed more confused than triumphant at the note of jealousy he deliberately injected into the question. Taylor had loved to make him jealous. Hell, to be honest with himself, it was what had drawn his attention to her.

Ginny tilted her head to the side. “Why do you think that?” “You smile at him the same way you do me.” He had to give her credit; she didn’t give away any movement that would betray how she felt. She seemed genuinely puzzled. “No, I don’t.” “Yes, you do,” he argued. “Then either you’re not looking hard enough or you don’t want to see the difference.” “Or maybe it’s a habit you’re unaware you have.” Ginny sank down on a chair across from him. “Why don’t you just come out and ask me what you want to know instead of beating around the bush? Are you trying to hurt me, because I’m not trying to hide that I care about you?” “You haven’t known me long enough to care about me.” Ginny squeezed her eyes tightly shut, as if she was experiencing excruciating pain. When she raised her eyes back to his, he felt an intense sorrow trying to pierce through the shield around his heart. “I’ve known you forever, Gavin,” she whispered. “Because you felt a connection to me at T.A. and Dalton’s wedding?” “You know I did. You felt it, too.”

“Who else have you felt that connection with?” Her probing gaze had him shifting uneasily on his chair. “You think I led my stalker on?” “Not deliberately, no.” “Because I smiled at him?” “It’s a nice smile.” “Are you serious?” She solemnly waited for him to take it back. When he didn’t, a puff of air escaped her as if he had punched her in the gut. “You’re being a jerk. If another man said that to me, I’d never talk to him again.” Wincing, the depth of pain she was showing sent another piecing pain into his chest. “I’m not saying you deliberately—” “Thanks.” Sarcasm rolled off her in waves. Reaper braced himself as rage beamed at him from across the table. “No, there has never been anyone else other than you. I wish there was. Right now, you don’t know how much I wish that were true. If there had been, I wouldn’t still be sitting here. Believe that, Gavin.” “I was making sure we didn’t leave any stones unturned.” “Is that what you were doing? I don’t think so.” She shook her head at him. “I think you were trying to explain away why you’re so damn concerned about the way I smile at other men. Why don’t you

call and ask Nickel if he thought I was flirting with him? Then call Shade, Rider, Moon—hell, call every man I am acquainted with and ask them! You want to know something about me, Gavin, come out and ask. Don’t dillydally around and presume something about me that isn’t true.” “The only way I’m going to figure out who it is, is to find a link between you and whoever is stalking you.” “There is no link!” Tears glistened in her eyes. “There is no link. There can’t be, Gavin.” “Quit calling me Gavin!” “I can’t call you Reaper!” she yelled back. “Why not?” “Because I fell in love with you before you were Reaper. I fell in love before I really knew what love was.” “Stop … I don’t—” “What if I tell you something that you can connect to my stalker?” Mockingly, she waited for him to argue. When he couldn’t, she continued piercing his heart just as surely as she had when she poked his chest with her finger when she got angry at him in her car. “There is no link to anyone else, because there has never been anyone but you. I have a large family, mainly boys, but I had a sister who was everything to me. Our father homeschooled us, and while Leah spent a few days a week with her

mother, she was the only girl I spent time with. When Leah came back from visiting her mother, she brought books and magazines that she let me have. We laid on her bed and dreamt about what it would be like when we grew up. Bless her heart, Leah was a romantic. We would read the magazines and books together and dream about the man we would love and the life we would have one day.” The tender, reminiscent smile on her lips pierced the hard interior of his heart, aware that none of Leah’s dreams would ever come true. “Leah wanted to be an astronomer. She was fascinated with the stars in the sky. She was the one who told me what a soul mate was, and we would dream about who they’d be. Leah was certain hers was a boy she had seen a few times. She said all the signs pointed toward him.” When Ginny paused to stare blankly over his shoulder, Reaper knew she was lost in her memories. “Signs?” he encouraged her to continue. “Like one of the mountain superstitions I told you about,” she resumed talking, her focus returning to him. “There are dozens of them, and Leah knew them all. Our brothers would make up a few of them just to trigger us. Jody told Leah her husband’s first name started with a B.” Peals of laughter came from her at the memory. “What’s so funny about that?” Captivated by

both her and the story, he began thinking of the men in town who had names that began with a B. He couldn’t think of any that would be so funny, until one family came to mind. “The Hayes?” Ginny had to wipe tears of laughter away. “Part of the Hayes’ property borders ours. They had cousins who were always coming to visit them. Their pa named the boys starting with the letter B. Leah had a crush on Bubba, but Jody said it could be Bud or BoDean. Then Matthew told us if we buried a lock of our hair under a bush on their property on a cloudless night at midnight when there was a new moon, and then dug it up on the cloudless night of a full moon and put it in a bowl of water, the hair would point in the direction our husbands would be.” From the peals of laughter coming from Ginny, Reaper was left to assume the girls were gullible enough to be taken in by their brothers. “You did it, didn’t you?” “Oh … yes.” She had to wipe more tears away. “But how did you know it was a cloudless night during a new moon?” His lips twitched when his question set off another round of laughter. “That question would have been helpful if you had been around when we were cutting our hair. Back then, we took Silas’s word for it.” Reaper couldn’t hold back the full-fledged smile any longer. “He was in on it too.”

“Yes.” She nodded. “They all were very helpful, keeping Pa occupied so we could sneak out. Of course we were terrified sneaking onto the Hayes’ property at the dead of night. The Hayes and the Porters are adamant about how they deal with trespassers. Our pa was, too, but at least he wouldn’t shoot you dead if you went over his property an inch. Luckily, we made it back with our lives. When it was time to dig up our hair, our brothers generously helped us to sneak out again. That time, it didn’t go as easily.” “What happened?” “We had no sooner dug up our hair when three bright orange lights appeared in the trees. We were so scared we were afraid to move until these things started coming down the hillside from where the lights were. They were carrying flashlights and were wearing shiny clothes, and their skin was green. I tried to hide under a bush, but Leah was so scared she took off screaming.” “What did you do then?” “I went after her. I couldn’t let them catch her alone. Thankfully, we managed to outrun them and made it home alive.” Ginny laid her head down on the table on her folded arms, her shoulders shaking. It was a few moments before she controlled her laughter enough to continue. “We scared our pa to death when we ran into his bedroom, screaming that aliens were coming, and we hid under his bed.”

His laughter joined hers at just imagining the terrified girls. “Pa jumped out of bed, yelling for the boys. When they didn’t come right away, he knew what they’d done. He gave them two minutes or he was getting his belt. Miraculously”—Ginny rolled her eyes at that—“Pa didn’t grab his rifle when they came out wrapped in aluminum foil and green face paint. Poor Leah was nearly hysterical before Pa was able to drag her out from under the bed to show her it was our brothers.” “They had all done it?” “Everyone, except for Moses and Ezra. They were the lookouts to make sure Pa was occupied.” Reaper wanted to ask how long it had taken to get her out from under the bed, but being a boy once himself he understood their warped since of humor when it came to harassing your siblings. “How bad did they get in trouble?” “In the morning, Freddy let Leah and me pick the switches he used to spank them with. Of course”—making a grimace, she shook her head at her young self—“after the wailing started, I begged him to stop.” “Leah didn’t?” “No, she left to take a bath. She was too miserable. We had run through a patch of poison ivy.” “It didn’t get you?”

“Some, but I wasn’t mad at the boys like Leah was. She dropped her hair, so she was more mad at that than anything else.” The love she shared with her family was unquestionable; it was apparent in her voice and expression. What he couldn’t fathom was why her brothers hadn’t remained in her life after Leah and her father had died. As if reading his mind, Ginny grew more serious. “Anyway, we didn’t try that one again. There was a gazillion other ways that we tried without involving itching.” “And because of games you played when you were younger, you think we have a connection between us?” “I can understand you thinking we were just being silly children. I thought so, too, until I grew older and started going to school, and I lost Leah. I never outgrew the feeling that someone special was waiting for me.” As she talked, her gaze never wavered from his, opening the gates of emotions she had gone through as a young girl. “I never had the school crushes that the other girls had. At first, I thought I was just shy where boys were concerned. Then, when I didn’t have the same shyness with girls, I began to think maybe I was attracted to girls. I was scared and confused, but deep down, I knew what was making it so hard for me. A part of me was missing—my soul mate.

The older I got, it became worse. Boys were uncomfortable to be around or get close to. I felt like I was cheating on you.” Ginny gave a bittersweet laugh. “Don’t you find that hilarious?” Actually, he didn’t. Reaper tried not to cringe away. He had been living his best life, bed-hopping from one woman to the next, then got engaged to Taylor. From the mocking undercurrent of her question, she was aware that being faithful to a young girl, who he hadn’t even been aware existed, was the furthest thing from his mind. Feeling guilty despite himself, and not liking the feeling, he jutted his jaw out belligerently. “If I don’t believe in soul mates now, I certainly didn’t when you were just a kid.” “I’m wasting my breath, aren’t I?” Ginny slapped her hands down on the table to rise. “I need to take a shower before we leave.” “Ginny ….” Angrily, she slammed her hands down on the table again, looking down at him. Reaper was glad she was across the table. “Don’t Ginny me! I’m not upset you didn’t know about me back then, but you do now, and despite what you’re feeling, you’re pretending it doesn’t exist.” “I don’t feel a damn thing for you!” he yelled, getting to his feet and bringing his hands to the

table. They stood like two adversaries, vehement at not yielding to the other. “You’re lying. I know you are!” The steam went out of him. “I’m not. I don’t want to hurt you—” She dropped her hands from the table. “Too late, because you have.” She stared him down. “How wonderful for you that you believe that. It would make it a lot easier for me if I could lie to myself like that. I can’t, though.” Reaching across the table, Ginny snapped his computer closed. “I’m about to give you a real good laugh. You sure you don’t want to sit back down?” “I’m good,” he snapped back. The fury pouring off her should have warned him, but Reaper was too appreciating of the fiery sparks coming from her. Color highlighted her cheeks and her breathing had her breasts thrusting out. Slinging tumbled hair away from her face, she reminded him of a wildcat about to pounce. Pure lust rushed through his body like a tidal wave, making him dizzy. The shock had him grabbing the sides of the table, but Ginny didn’t notice the effect she was having on him. “A couple of times, I could have sworn you were so close, then it would go away, and then I’d feel it again.” Ginny raised her hand to snap her fingers. “Then suddenly, nothing. I couldn’t feel you anymore. It just felt as if there was a deep

sadness in my heart, just like when Leah and Pa died, but worse. So much worse. Has anyone you loved died?” His face twisted. “My fiancé.” “She didn’t die!” Ginny yelled. He clenched his jaw. “Shut the fuck up!” “No, I won’t! When I couldn’t feel you, I thought you had died in an accident or gotten sick. The only solace I had was that I thought you were with God. It didn’t make me feel better, but I told myself you were in a beautiful place with angels singing to you until it was time for me to join you there.” Her face twisted in pain, mirroring his. “I know. Crazy, right? That’s some of the shit I went through. “Do you have any concept of how I felt when you walked out onto that patio and I saw you and found out who you were? To realize you were Viper’s brother, and you were the one who had been kidnapped for all those years? All the years that I laughed with my friends, went to movies, and lived a normal life when you were kept from the people you loved?” Ginny took a shuddering breath. “Don’t expect me to stand here and keep my mouth shut about what I feel for you after you lost years of your life and the what-might-have-beens. Do me a flipping favor and call Viper; ask him if he loves you and see what he says. Better yet, call any

of The Last Riders and see what they say!” Her voice dropped down to a lower octave. “After you do that”—Ginny reached across the table for his cell phone, using her fingers in a quick flick to send it skittering across the wood where it came to a stop against his hand—“then call Taylor and ask her.” Numbly, Reaper made no move to pick up the phone. He didn’t have to call; he already knew how they would respond. Everyone, even all the hardened brothers, would tell him exactly that— that they loved him. He also knew Taylor’s answer. “And while you listen to the woman you think you loved … who wore your ring …” Lifting his eyes from the phone, the stark pain he witnessed in her eyes nearly bowled him over in pain. Tapping the side of her forehead, as if she wanted to pound some sense into his head, she continued, “… I want you to keep one thought front and center.” She dropped her hand limply to her side. “Which woman would you trust to always be by your side? The woman you almost married or the one you met just a few days ago? Then see if you can lie about that to yourself so easily.” Reaper was left standing as she departed, waiting until she was out of sight before sinking down onto the chair and burying his face in his hands. There wasn’t one part of what she had told him

that hadn’t rung true. Logically, he knew the soul mate crap didn’t exist, but to her, it was real. And regardless of how many times he played back the day at the pool, it had the same impact on him. Was he ever going to admit that to her? He couldn’t. The lie, as badly as it hurt her, was preferable to the truth. During their argument, he’d had to keep the table between them, too experienced with women not to recognize the desire she had to hold and touch him. He should have told her … You can’t hold ashes.

Chapter Fifteen


ou don’t want to wear the dress I

bought?” Sitting quietly in the chair of Ginny’s dressing table, Reaper pretended to scroll indolently through his phone as Ginny went through the clothes that had been destroyed by the stalker. “I spent an entire day searching for this,” Kimmy argued, lifting a navy blue, leather dress off a rack. “It’ll go perfectly with the dark outfit that Kaden is wearing for the duet at the end of the show.”

“I’m not wearing it, Kimmy. I’m wearing the one I brought.” Lifting his eyes from the phone, he saw that Kimmy was unzipping a clothing bag, exposing the dress within. “You’re kidding me, right?” “I’m not joking.” Taking the bag away from Kimmy, Ginny hung it back on the rack. “Let’s get my makeup done, unless you want to be the one responsible for delaying the show?” At least he wasn’t the only one coming up short against Ginny’s refusal to be swayed from something she decided upon. Giving up the pretense of not tuning into their conversation, Reaper put his phone away to calculatingly observe Ginny. To find her stalker, he had to find out just how close the person was to her. Unless the person was fucking invisible, he had to be within her circle of acquaintances, if not someone she considered a friend. They were too familiar with her life, finding access where no bystander would be granted without standing out. They had slid past Alec’s, Shade’s, and Rider’s notice. That skill alone exhibited how dangerous they were. Giving Ginny the chair, Reaper moved to stand against the wall, out of their way. “If you want to wait outside, I’ll let you know when Kimmy’s finished.”

Reaper leaned his shoulder against the wall, making himself more comfortable. “I’m good where I am.” Meeting Ginny’s gaze in the mirror, he refused her suggestion. If he wanted to be a gentleman, he would stand outside the door, leaving a small crack to check on her safety. Concern about her welfare wasn’t what kept him rooted in the spot, however, wanting to change the pattern of her behavior to throw her stalker off his game did. The stylist wasn’t happy he’d rejected her suggestions, and it showed as Kimmy started brushing her hair back. His lips tightened when Kimmy laid the brush down on the table and he saw several fine hairs clinging to the bristles. “Do you pay Kimmy for her services or is she doing it for free?” Kimmy spun of her high heels. “Excuse me?” “Even I could brush her hair out without hurting her.” Flustered, Kimmy looked at Ginny’s embarrassed features. “I’m not tenderheaded,” Ginny said, trying to excuse the treatment she was getting from the woman. He wasn’t having that bullshit. His own expression became inflexible. “Be gentler or start walking.” Kimmy’s movements were slower and more careful as she pulled Ginny’s hair back, pinning it

with hairclips. Every so often, Reaper caught her gauging his reaction as she put on Ginny’s makeup. The awkwardness as they worked didn’t bother him, but he could tell it did Ginny. “I really like the blue dress, Kimmy. I appreciate the effort you put into finding it for me. I just … I wouldn’t ….” “She doesn’t want to wear it because it was the only one that wasn’t destroyed,” Reaper explained when Ginny couldn’t. Kimmy’s paused as she moved a small fan closer to Ginny’s face. “I should have thought of that myself,” Kimmy’s berated herself. “I can return that one.” Ginny shook her head. “I was planning to pay for the dress and the clothes that were destroyed.” “I’m a terrible person.” Latching her makeup carrier closed, Kimmy started to leave. Ginny caught her by the arm. “Don’t say that. I should have told you. I just assumed you knew I would pay for them. This my fault. Don’t blame yourself when it was because of me the clothes were destroyed in the first place.” “You can’t blame yourself for other people’s actions.” Kimmy flushed when she looked toward Reaper. “I should have known why you didn’t want to wear the dress. I would be freaking out if it had happened to me.” Her lips twisted wryly in selfdisgust. “I was more worried about my pocketbook

than understanding how scary this must be for you. You are always there for me, and when you needed me, I tried to pull your hair out. Your boyfriend was right to call me out.” Hearing himself being referred to as Ginny’s boyfriend had a jarring effect on him, particularly because of Ginny’s reaction. A thirteen-year-old girl would be more blasé than she, as a wide range of emotions filled her face. The shy, innocent glance she gave him was mixed with a flood of embarrassment that colored her cheeks. The only thing that kept his ass in the room and not heading back to Treepoint was Viper. Leaving would put Viper on the frontline just when Ginny’s stalker was escalating. The killing of the bird escalated his threats, making him more likely to strike out at the person keeping him from getting Ginny. And right now, it was him. If he left, Viper would be the one taking his place. Reaper couldn’t give a rat’s ass if her stalker tried to take him out. What had panicked him enough to hitchhike his way back to Treepoint was Ginny. The longer he was around her, the more he feared what she was telling him was true. “I’m really not tenderheaded. My sister used to rip my hair out by the roots when we were—” A strange look crossed Ginny’s face as she removed her hand from Kimmy’s arm to turn the small fan off. “—when we were little. Gavin was just being

protective of me, weren’t you?” “Sure.” Kimmy didn’t believe the bullshit, and Reaper refused to give her a pass from the way she treated Ginny. He might have no problem being a jerk to her, but he wouldn’t hurt a hair on her head, and no one else was going to, either, while he was there. Sliding her makeup case out of the way, Kimmy went to the rack to unzip the garment bag Ginny brought. Diffidently aware that he was watching, Kimmy carefully removed the dress. Taking the dress from Kimmy, Ginny gave him a sweet smile that always turned his mind and balls to steel. “Gavin, do you mind waiting outside for a few minutes? I need to get changed.” The tiny space was claustrophobic with all three of them standing. It wouldn’t give her enough space to get undressed without touching him. Reaper barely avoided the door hitting him on the ass he left so fast. Sin and Kaden stopped talking at his sudden appearance in the corridor. “They kick you out?” Sin asked. “You can wait in my room if you want?” “They won’t be long.” Rejecting the offer, Reaper stayed by Ginny’s door, refusing to be drawn into the efforts by any of the band members to be buddy-buddy. He didn’t want to be friends with them, had no desire to find out what they were into, and for fucking sure didn’t trust any of them

any farther than he could throw them. Sin shrugged off the rebuff. “You can see Ginny’s door from there. Just trying to make it easier on you.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” Reaper turned his head to Kaden. “How’s Mason doing?” “Furious at himself that he let someone get the better of him.” “Lessons like that are hard to learn.” He should know. “Alec told me you came down hard on him.” Reaper shrugged. “I warned him to have his men working in pairs. Shade and Rider cautioned him that Ginny’s stalker wasn’t an amateur. He was overconfident, and it nearly cost Mason his life.” “That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it?” Sin’s laid-back behavior flipped on a dime, dissatisfied at having someone he just met criticize a man who he’d worked with for years. “Look at your boss; he isn’t disagreeing with me, is he?” Sin turned to Kaden, and his eyes grew dark when Kaden remained silent. “I have shit to do.” Taking the few steps needed to reach his dressing room, Sin left him and Kaden staring stonily at each other. “When I have an issue with someone I work with, I talk to them privately. I don’t discuss their fuckups with others.”

“Did you have a talk with Alec?” “I did. He overextended himself. It has been rectified. He’s doubled his staff for the remaining time we’ll be here.” “Then enough has been said.” “I would think you would be more forgiving of other people’s mistakes.” Reaper took it in stride that Kaden wasn’t taking his criticism of Alec lightly. Alec only had to answer to Kaden, not him. If Reaper wanted to say something about how Alec handled security, then he better be prepared to have his own faults thrown back on him. He lived with his past mistakes every day, so there wasn’t anything Kaden could throw out at him that he hadn’t said to himself. “Then you thought wrong.”

Chapter Sixteen


he band was warming up when Kimmy opened

the door. Taking a step back from the doorway, Reaper moved aside so she wouldn’t brush past him. Instead of walking away, she paused. “I enjoy working with, Ginny. I usually don’t act the way I did today and yesterday.” “Then we shouldn’t have any more problems, should we?” “No, we won’t.” Embarrassed, Kimmy escaped down the narrow corridor.

With the doorway clear, he went inside, then wished like hell he hadn’t. Her long, cream-colored boho dress had bell sleeves that swung with every movement as she tugged on the material clinging to the side of her hips. Rattled by her appearance, he stood rooted to the spot. “I need to give Marty’s burgers a rest for a while.” He was unable to give her any reaction. How did Ginny have the ability to make him feel like a little boy seeing tits for the first time? If she were side by side with Taylor, every man would get a rise out of his dick looking at Taylor, while Ginny would be the one placed in the friend zone. Taylor had the something extra that had a man determined to have her: there was nothing extra with Ginny. She was what she was—a good, wholesome girl who would make soup when you were sick, do you a favor, and even hang out with you when you were bored. Taylor was flashy on the outside, while Ginny’s beauty was ingrained into her character. Being around Ginny he was starting to remember the discontent in his relationship with Taylor before he was kidnapped. “You look fine to me.” The hurt look in her eyes gutted him. Fine was a bad four-letter word to women when they wanted

to be complimented. “Nice dress. It suits you.” He meant it as a compliment. Sweeping loose hair to the side, Ginny gave him a false smile that didn’t reach her wounded eyes. Her injured pride made him feel like a piece of scum. He hated himself for becoming the man he had. However, any encouragement he gave her would hurt her more if she really believed herself in love with him. Telling himself that didn’t ease his conscience, yet he made no move to repair the damage. “They’re ready for me.” “Ginny ….” Inching past him, she went to the doorway. “If I don’t hurry, it’ll put Kaden’s set behind.” Rushing out, Reaper followed her down the corridor. Her long hair falling to the top of her back in silky waves, and her backside swaying had his gaze fixated on her instead of where he was going, which meant he smashed his foot on a metal step, nearly sending himself falling face-first up the steps. “Fuck!” Holding the railing above him, Ginny turned toward him. “What happened?” “Nothing,” he muttered. Nodding, she went on up the stairs. Being careful this time to keep his eyes on the

steps and not her ass, Reaper managed to make it to the top. Then, as she took her spot behind the curtain, he had to squish himself behind her or fall off the small platform. A wild compulsion came over him to grasp her upper arms and pull her back against his body. Every ion in his body wanted it, but the ones in his brain shouted to keep an emotional distance from her. Disgusted with himself for even thinking about touching Ginny had him taking a step back. The metal railing pushing into his back cleared his mind from having her body so close to his. Suddenly, the spotlight pointed toward the stage hit the portion of the curtain that Ginny was standing behind. She pulled the curtain so it would cover her more. In the dim light, Reaper saw the glint of her metal bracelet on her wrist as the bell sleeve fell down. It wasn’t the first time he had seen it. Recalling the last few days, the only time he hadn’t noticed her wearing it was when she came out of her bedroom in the morning. Women often had a sentimental attachment to their jewelry, depending on how it was acquired. Taylor had loved jewelry. For special occasions, he bought her a few pieces, in addition to the engagement ring he had given her. Taylor would have ripped out one of her eyeteeth for the one Ginny was wearing.

The expensive gold metal flashed when light hit it, highlighting the tiny dangling charms. Reaper wished he had paid more attention to the different charms. He had given his first girlfriend in high school a charm bracelet, with several little trinkets commemorating places they had seen. The only one he vaguely remembered on Ginny’s was a Christmas tree with small stones of different colors that shone when the light caught it. A strong emotion gripped him, one he hadn’t felt in so long. At first he wasn’t sure what it was, until Ginny lowered her hand and the sleeve covered the bracelet again. It was jealousy, attacking him so swiftly and viciously at his heart, trying to jumpstart a reaction from him. He coldly pushed the emotion aside, concentrating on who could have given her the jewelry. She could have bought it herself, but somehow, Reaper didn’t imagine Ginny spending that kind of cash on herself. She lived simply and frugally, hoarding the decent salary Kaden paid her. No, the bracelet had been a gift. From Shade’s dozier on her, Ginny’s brothers had been estranged from her since she was twelve, so that left them out. Her foster parents had turned their backs on her once she graduated high school, leaving them out too. Was it Willa? They were close as sisters, which made it a firm possibility that she could have given the bracelet as a gift. Lucky

would be able to answer that question for him. Does it really fucking matter who gave her the bracelet? Reaper castigated himself. Except, a tiny section at the back of his mind, the section that had been duped by Memphis, Crash, and Vincent was signaling something was off about Ginny. He didn’t know what, but until he found out, every-fuckingthing mattered. There was something else off. In the report on Ginny, Penni told Shade that when Ginny began her singing career in a karaoke bar, she needed a friend to sing with her to help with her stage fright. Shade also explained that the only reason she was willing to perform now was to draw her stalker out. The woman standing in front of him, waiting for her cue, showed no signs of stage fright. Either Ginny was now used to performing regularly or, once again, there was something off about the change in her. Both little kernels of doubt had his instincts on alert. Was the reason Shade and Rider couldn’t find out who was stalking her because Ginny was withholding information from them? A bright circle of light swept around the stage as the band ended the current song. Reaper studied Ginny’s composed profile as she was introduced to the waiting crowd. For someone who was supposed to suffer from stage fright, Ginny seemed remarkedly coolheaded.

When the light hit the side of the curtain she was behind, Ginny moved to the side and stepped out onto the stage and the music switched to another melody. Moving forward now that she was out the way, Reaper was able to view the stage and watched her stand before the microphone stand; the lights hit her full-on, creating a glow around her. When her hand touched the microphone, the shouts and cheers from the crowd automatically stopped, as if the audience were holding their breaths in anticipation. Reaper realized he was doing the same, when he felt a buzz from holding his own. It was like being transported into a different world when she sang. From the vacant expressions on the audience’s faces, they were right there with him. He had seriously underestimated just how good Ginny was. Ginny made you feel every word she sang as if she’d written the song solely for you. The bright lights and being on stage highlighted what he missed before—Ginny was star. She might not be famous, but it was there for all to see. For the short time she sang, it was clear—even to someone as inexperienced as him—her future in music would be golden. Breaking his focus from her took all of his willpower. Assessing the faces in the audience helped, forcing his concentration away from Ginny. Male and female alike were spellbound, making it

difficult to take them out of mix of potential suspects. Mason had been knocked unconscious from behind, so whoever was responsible would have had to drag or carry him down the long narrow corridor to reach the side door of the kitchen of the nightclub. Reaper didn’t think the stalker was just lucky the corridor was empty. It had been meticulously planned after they had found out Kaden called the meeting. The kitchen would have been empty until the evening, giving Ginny’s stalker the opportunity to stash Mason in the freezer without getting caught. Reaper’s gaze went from table to table as Ginny sang, each word allowing them to experience the emotions the song conveyed. The sound of clapping drew his eyes back to Ginny as the music changed tempo, blending into the beginning of another song. Jesse, another lead singer and guitar player, moved to stand next to Ginny. The audience started cheering before resuming their silence once again. Jealousy struck again as Ginny and Jesse sang together. He had gone years without any feelings, other than hatred and revenge fueling every thought, yet Ginny had somehow managed to erupt a maelstrom of emotions within him in a matter of days. His sanity since coming off the drugs had been hard won. When Taylor had visited, letting him

know there was no going back, he almost lost it, yet he somehow came out of the deep despair. Standing behind the black curtain across the stage from Ginny, Reaper felt as if a yawning abyss just opened in front of him. Ginny wanted a future with him, she saw him as the soul mate, she had been waiting for him. What Reaper was witnessing reiterated to him that what Ginny wanted was never going to happen in a gazillion years. The abyss was too deep and wide for him to be able to reach her without destroying what little of him was left. The woman was a star. Becoming involved with him would not only destroy her career but the voice the world deserved to hear. Everyone knew what happened to stars when they fell to Earth …. They disappeared, as if they had never been born.

Chapter Seventeen


sound at his back had Reaper turning to see

Kaden coming up the metal steps. Reaching the top, Kaden silently watched Ginny’s performance, waiting for his cue. Continuing his perusal of the audience, Reaper remained still, despite being uncomfortable with Kaden being so close. He watched the crowded interior and saw the already full club was even more packed, all waiting for Kaden’s turn on stage. Reaper wasn’t surprised at Kaden’s popularity. The sexual energy he put off was hard to miss. The

music he wrote and sang captured listeners, while his looks did the rest. Kaden exuded a sexual chemistry that, along with his talent, he could easily fill a venue twice the size of this one. Reaper had missed his rise to fame, but he didn’t need Shade’s file to fill in the blanks. The media had documented the rise and the fall. Except it wasn’t much of a fall, since his audience hadn’t deserted him after the knowledge of his drug use and the hard partying that characterized his lifestyle during his early years. The death of his mother, sister, and her family had been the turning point for Kaden, withdrawing from the limelight for several years before emerging with a more mature, hardened appearance. His private life had gone through a change, also. The hard partying days switched to a reclusive lifestyle with a wife and children. Kaden protected them with an iron fist. No part of his fame was allowed to impact his family, who were his main priority. Speculation had been rife that Kaden would return to his previous lifestyle, yet the singer remained steadfast in the new life that he was building, while the other band members were more than happy riding the rough edges of a knife. Kaden and Alec were managing to keep their screwups to a minimum, exerting their control over the band in a contract that Kaden demanded before resuming his place in the band.

Alec, never far away when Kaden was performing, was at the bottom of the steps with one of his men, making sure none of the fans had the opportunity to get within breathing distance. “Ginny’s a good kid. Whoever is stalking her won’t stop. It’s just going to get worse as she gets more popular.” “I agree.” Kaden’s remark was enough to have Reaper take his eyes off the crowd. He continued his perusal, hoping to find a defining face to store in his memory. Reaper’s focus switched to another table, but a couple at a table in the center of the nightclub blocked his as they tried to find empty seats. “Is she planning on returning to Queen City or Treepoint when the show ends?” “You’ll have to ask her that question.” “I have.” Kaden said as Ginny and Jesse’s song trailed off and the crowd started shouting for another. “Then I guess we’ll both know when she does.” “Will you be staying with her, or is she going be handed off to someone else?” “Viper will make that call.” Kaden’s arrogant features, shadowed by the black curtain, held disappointment in his answer. “I thought you were smarter than that.” Losing focus from Kaden’s derision, Reaper shifted his full attention to him. “What in the fuck

does that mean?” “If you or any of The Last Riders think Viper is calling the shots where Ginny is concerned, then you’re all delusional.” Raising a questioning brow, Reaper started to disagree with him then stopped. “Why? Has she said something we’re unaware of?” “She doesn’t have to. It comes from experience with dealing with her. Look at her.” Following Kaden’s gaze, he saw Ginny smiling out to the crowd as they shouted at her to continue singing. “She never stays despite how loud they get. It takes me two songs to get them calmed down, and even then, it’s because the waiters tell them she’ll sing again later in the show. I tried to add an extra song to her set, and she told me no. And anything I try to change, she disagrees. I’ve only had one other person tell me no when I want my way.” With another wave, Ginny walked toward the curtain. “Who’s the other person?” “My wife.” Giving him a wry look, Kaden walked out just as Ginny reached the curtain. When she caught sight of Reaper standing behind the curtain, warmth filled her expression. Unsettled, his hand went to the metal railing. It was the look he imagined seeing on Taylor’s face when she had come to visit him, but and it hadn’t been

there. He had known Ginny less than six days and had felt more love from her than he had from Taylor the whole two years they’d been together. “Did you watch?” Detouring away from what she was really asking, Reaper took the only route he could. “I didn’t see anyone standing out in the crowd.” He was afraid if he gave an inch, she would take a mile. What she was seeking wasn’t in him anymore. When Ginny realized it would never be, she would move on to greener pastures. I’m doing her a favor, Reaper told himself. Her aminated expression faded as she went down the steps and back to her dressing room. Nickel was waiting outside her door and gave her a broad grin as she approached. “Damn, woman! Next time Reaper can watch your door. You sounded great!” “Thanks, Nickel.” Reaper could barely hear Ginny’s low voice with Kaden’s music playing a few feet away. “You mind giving me a few minutes alone? I want to go over the song Kaden and I are going to sing. Tonight’s the first time we’re singing it in front of an audience.” “Go ahead. You want me to get you something to drink?” Nickel asked. “No, thank you. I keep several drinks in my

room.” Expecting Nickel to make a remark about Ginny’s reserved withdrawal into her dressing room, Reaper waited for him to ask if he was responsible. When Nickel just resumed his position by the doorway, he was the one left wondering why Nickel wasn’t questioning Ginny’s reticent behavior. The longer they stood there, Reaper became even more curious. Was Nickel holding his tongue, just to keep from starting an argument with him? Or was it his guilty conscience that had him reading more into the way she was acting than any hurt feeling he assumed she was having? Tired of standing still, he started walking down the narrow corridor that led into the main part of the club. He nodded at the three guards posted to stop anyone attempting to get backstage, then turned around and started walking the same route back, mulling over Ginny’s behavior. Fuck, he was worse than a thirteen-year-old boy experiencing his first crush, overanalyzing every-fucking-thing said or done around her. There was only one way to find out. Reaper resumed his position by Ginny’s door. “Did Ginny seem different to you?” Nickel frowned. “No. Why?” “You don’t think she was acting weird?” “I’m not getting what you’re asking. She seemed normal to me.”

Was he imagining the change? “She wasn’t acting friendly or smiling like she usually does.” Nickel shook his head at him. “She seemed pretty normal to me. Ginny’s never been much of a talker to any of us. I think she’s shy. Maybe that’s what you’re getting since you haven’t been around her long.” Were they talking about the same woman? He started rubbing his temples, as if to clear the confusion that Ginny was creating in him. Letting his hand fall to his side, he saw that Nickel’s look of confusion matched his. “She didn’t seem shy when she went out shopping with you,” he argued. “Ginny acted friendly, but nothing out of the ordinary that I could text home about.” “Why would it be worth a text home?” Reaper’s own curiosity grew. “You’re kidding, right? Most of the brothers pulling detail with Shade and Rider have been trying to get with Ginny since she worked for us at the club. Believe me; if Ginny gave me any hint she was interested even a little, shit, I’d been on that like cotton candy on a stick.” “How many brothers have tried?” “It’d be easier to tell you who hasn’t.” Nickel laughed, leaning his shoulder against the wall to face him. “She getting to you too?”

The way Nickel was talking to him reminded him of the days when they shared an easy camaraderie. They would sit around, shooting the shit, talking about women and getting laid, or who they wanted to fuck next. His freestyling sexual conquests ended when he fell in love with Taylor, but that didn’t mean he had stopped listening and joking with the brothers. No, that had come to a crashing halt when he turned his back on the club. Memories flashed back of the good times he and Nickel had shared, until he remembered who else had typically been there—Memphis and Crash. Their betrayal of him was something even death couldn’t repair. What they had allowed to happen to him showed a deep-seated hatred from two men who he had considered friends. If he misjudged their friendships, then who else had he misjudged? He had no intention of allowing anyone close enough to find out. “She’s an attractive woman. Could be I’ll have better luck than the rest of the other brothers.” Reaper didn’t feel any qualms at drawing Nickel into his ploy to piss Ginny’s stalker off. The more people believing there was a developing relationship between Ginny and him, the more likely the stalker would find out. “Go for it, brother,” Nickel encouraged. An unexpected pang of guilt at deceiving Nickel almost had him revising bringing Nickel into

his plan. Squashing it down became harder when Nickel started confiding about Ginny’s likes and dislikes. “You can’t crack Marty’s skull as much as you want to. Rider tried that, and Ginny busted a napkin dispenser over his. Plus, Ginny didn’t talk to him for two weeks.” Reaper narrowed his eyes at Nickel on that bit of information. Nickel wasn’t so gung-ho on Marty as he pretended to be in front of Ginny. The fucker had been trying to get laid. No longer feeling guilt at lying to Nickel, he listened, stunned at the intel the brothers had gathered in their efforts to get Ginny in their beds. “Getting on Willa’s good side will help, but not much.” He snorted. “I tried that myself. Any mention of Ginny to her, and she sics Lucky on you, giving you one of his sermons on chastity. Have you had to listen to that spiel from Lucky?” “No … I can’t say I have.” “The whole time I just … I just wanted to smash his nuts with the Bible sitting on his desk.” “I take it listening to the sermon didn’t help your cause with Ginny?” “It did jack shit. Save yourself the effort. You have a better chance of kissing Marty’s ass.” “I take it that was the route you were taking.” Nickel uncomfortably breezed on past that fountain of information. “Another thing, don’t bad-

mouth Lucky in front of Ginny; she’ll rip you apart. Moon found that out when he was complaining to Shade about Lucky winning his paycheck playing cards. Since then, anytime Viper wants to send Moon to relieve one of us, she turns him down.” “I thought it was because he was hitting on the women backup singers and crew?” “Fuck no! Moon was doing his best to get Ginny. He was behaving. At least, for him. He had his pick of the women, but he was keeping on the down-low because he had higher ambitions.” Crossing his arms over his chest, Reaper listened to Nickel spill Moon’s secrets, none of which was interesting to hear. What had grabbed his attention was the part about Lucky. “It was a dumb move from Moon. Lucky was her pastor and mentor when she was younger.” “Yeah.” “Anything else I should know?” he gritted out. If the brothers had made as much effort in finding Ginny’s stalker as getting her in bed, the fucker would have been caught by now. “Act like you like kids. Doc screwed the pooch on that one. He wouldn’t let one of Kaden’s kids sit on his motorcycle. Ginny crossed him off the list too.” Reaper could imagine the hardcore biker’s reaction to letting a kid touch his motorcycle. He had yet to allow any brother to park anywhere near

his prized possession. “Oh … before I forget, don’t tell her—” A throat being cleared had them turning and startled to see Ginny opened her door. Reaper was at least able to keep his shit together, while Nickel turned bright purple, trying to find his way out of explaining why they had been talking about her. “I was just talking about … Jewell. Reaper was asking how she was doing managing the factory.” Rolling his eyes at Nickel’s entreating expression to back up the lie, Reaper decided not to throw himself into that fire pit. Nickel was on his own. “You need something?” Ginny quirked an eyebrow at him. “No. It’s time for me to be back on stage.” It was his turn to be embarrassed. How had he lost track of time? Nickel’s smug smile at having Ginny’s focus turned on him had Reaper considering several options for payback when they got back to Treepoint. The fucker wasn’t going to know what it was like to have a Saturday off. Nickel started after Ginny as she headed toward the stage. “Cool. It’s my turn—” A hard elbow shoved him back. “Nothing’s wrong with your ears. You can listen here,” Reaper ground out, going after Ginny before

Nickel could catch his breath. Sparing the hunched-over brother a gloating glance, he bumped into Ginny. “What happened to Nickel?” He unrepentantly lied to a concerned Ginny who started to go back down the corridor. “He ate at Dirty Dan’s for lunch. The greasy fries are catching up with him.” “Oh.” Blushing, Ginny quickly spun around, hurrying in the direction of the stage as if the hounds of hell were after her. Nothing embarrassed women more than men’s bluntness on having to take a shit. He was two steps from the top of the metal stairway when he looked up to see Ginny standing above him. “You’re very handsome when you smile.” Mesmerized, he watched Ginny move closer to the edge of the step until a centimeter separated them, he then warily watched her hand reach out to rub her knuckles down his bearded jaw. “I like your beard.” Fighting the instinct to rub his jaw back against her hand, he snatched her wrist to jerk her hand away when the metal under his palm broke the spell she had placed over him. “Who gave you the bracelet?” So close to her, Reaper saw her pupils dilate. He knew before she answered that Ginny was going

to lie. “I bought it for myself.” He narrowed his eyes up at her, letting her know without words that he didn’t believe her. She trailed her hand away from his, leaving him standing alone on the steps, as she moved into position behind the curtain. Coming up the remaining steps, he stopped at her back. “Who gave you the bracelet?” When Ginny didn’t answer immediately, he thought she wasn’t going to answer at all or repeat the same lie. “It was a Christmas gift.” “From whom?” “My sister.”

Chapter Eighteen


inny’s answer made sense. Wearing her dead

sister’s gift would carry an intense sentimental value. What he couldn’t understand was why she lied to him in the first place, but he wouldn’t be able to harp on why she lied without coming across as the world’s biggest a-hole. Before his talk with Nickel, it wouldn’t have bothered him to be cast in that role. Hell, he had been working on that role since getting on the plane to Nashville. However, something told him if he handled it the wrong way, he would get his wish,

and he wasn’t sure he wanted it to come true any longer. Catching Ginny’s stalker would save The Last Riders’ manpower to use elsewhere right now. Having to worry about Ginny removed from Viper’s shoulders was another plus, as well as making him feel as if he was pulling his own weight since returning to the club. Each excuse could be good enough on its own merit, yet there was an excuse he didn’t want to acknowledge—the fear of Ginny cutting him out of her life like she had Moon and Doc. Refusing to admit the truth eliminated the fear of Ginny getting close to breaking through the barrier he placed around his heart. After Taylor, he believed no other woman would be able to get past his defenses, yet Ginny was managing to twist him inside out in a matter of days. When the spotlight hit the side of the curtain, Ginny stepped out onto the stage as the music switched from grating high notes to soft strands that floated over the heads of the cheering audience. The applause was cut off as the music dived low. The onlookers went silent, wanting to hear the new chords of a song they had never heard before. Moving closer to the curtain so he could get a better view, Reaper saw Kaden and Ginny together behind the microphone. Seeing them in the

spotlight, he understood why the crowd had gone silent. They were a perfect foil for each other. Kaden’s raw masculinity gave an illusion of a sexual chemistry to Ginny’s more feminine allure. Reaper was sure more than one onlooker was imagining Kaden and Ginny fucking. The image was so powerful that it even had him going there, despite having proof that Kaden was a faithful husband. The new song played to Kaden’s more dominant personality, while Ginny’s voice was weaker, the idea of her not arguing back. But as the song progressed, Ginny’s grew firmer, while Kaden’s softened. As the song trailed off, you could hear a pin drop in the nightclub. Even the waiters and waitresses had stopped, caught up in the heartache of the song. The applause was deafening as the audience rose to their feet. Kaden gave a sweep of his hand, as if giving Ginny all the applause. Grinning as an upbeat song started playing, Ginny started this time, with Kaden joining in intermittently. The audience didn’t bother taking their seats. When the second song ended, Kaden thanked the audience for coming to their show, but he had to start over when the audience wouldn’t stop calling for another song.

Reaper saw a look of surprise cross Kaden’s face when Ginny’s hand covered the microphone as she said something to him. Kaden nodded at her, then stepped aside to go to Ax, who then began playing another song. The band joined as Kaden walked back to the microphone with Ginny. When the third song ended, the audience tried for another, but Ginny raised a hand above her head, silencing them. “I want to thank you all for letting me share my voice with you.” Ginny’s voice had a small catch that had him studying her from where he was standing. She was staring out over the crowded nightclub as if she were taking a picture. Walking off the stage, Ginny left Kaden to deal with a crowd who demanded more. A subdued Ginny walked past him as if he weren’t there. When they reached her dressing room, Nickel gave him a quizzical glance, as if he also noticed something was wrong. “I won’t be a minute to get changed,” she said, going into her dressing room and closing the door behind her. “Something happen?” Perturbed at the change, Reaper shook his head. “No. Is she usually like that when a show is over?” “No, but it’s been a couple of months since I’ve been here.” Nickel turned his head away from the

closed door. “You sure nothing happened?” “If you’re wanting to know if I’m the one responsible, ask. Don’t beat around the fucking bush.” “Did you?” Nickel asked. “No. We went to the stage, she sang, she came back, that’s all. I didn’t see any new faces in the crowd, either,” Reaper added. The sound of the door opening had them ending the conversation. Ginny changed into a pair jeans and a dark navy sweater and was carrying her garment bag over her arm. “You guys hungry?” Ginny’s friendly inquiry was a turnaround from the lukewarm demeanor she displayed before going inside the room. Reaper had noticed the change in her after the first set; Nickel only noticed after the second. Never having seen her perform—outside of the wedding—Reaper wouldn’t know if her behavior was out of the norm. Nickel took the garment bag from her. “I could eat.” “Are you sure?” Ginny asked doubtfully. “Gavin said your stomach was upset.” “Did he?” Shooting him a dirty look, Nickel took Ginny’s arm as they began walking. “I have an iron stomach. What are you in the mood for?” “I thought we’d just grab a pizza on the way home. If it’s okay with you guys?” “Sounds good to me,” Nickel agreed, holding

the back door open for Ginny. Reaper wondered if Nickel would be so fucking agreeable with his boot shoved up his ass. The private parking lot for employees was brightly lit. Reaper saw Ax, Sin, and Jesse talking by Kaden’s car, with Kaden sitting in the driver’s seat. Nickel placed Ginny’s bag in the trunk while Reaper checked out Ginny’s car before motioning for her that it was safe. “We’ll grab the pizza and meet you back at the apartment,” Reaper ordered Nickel after he shut the trunk. Reaper flipped Nickel the finger at his disappointed expression, then got in the front seat with Ginny. “What do you like on your pizza?” Ginny asked with her phone in her hand. “I’m not picky, just what you normally have.” “I’m ordering a Hawaiian special, with extra pineapple.” Reaper pretended to make a gagging noise. “Order an extra-large meat lovers. Nickel and I can share.” Laughter filled the car. “I didn’t know you were capable of doing that.” Reaper looked at her as he buckled the seatbelt. “Doing what?” “Making a joke.” Grinning, Ginny started the car.

He didn’t know he could, either. As he studied her in the dark interior of the car, she took her eyes off the road long enough to give him a quick smile. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone,” she teased. “No one would believe you.” Turning his head, he stared out the dark window. “Why? The big bad Reaper doesn’t know how to tell a joke? Don’t you know laughter is soup for the soul?” “You’re in a good mood all of a sudden.” “Why wouldn’t I be in a good mood?” “You weren’t earlier.” “I guess it just hit me that singing at the nightclub is coming to an end.” “What will you do next?” “I haven’t decided.” It was the same evasive answer she gave everyone. “Bullshit. “I have a few options I’ve been thinking about.” “Such as?” “When I decide, I’ll let you know.” “In other words, being your soul mate doesn’t invite me into your confidence?” “It does if you believe I’m your soul mate. If you do, tell me and I’ll be completely transparent about my future plans.” Reaper locked his jaw shut. He could wait until

she was ready to tell him. He had never been good with ultimatums. “I can wait.” “Then we have that in common.” Slowly braking, Ginny pulled into an open parking spot in front of a pizza restaurant. “At least it looks cleaner than the last one you took me to.” “You should lighten up. It’ll make the pizza go down easier. You can wait here. I won’t be a minute; my order is ready.” “I’m coming inside with you.” “Suit yourself.” “I will.” Getting out the car, he went inside with her. Two teenagers were behind the counter and greeted her as she came in the door. Reaper stood beside the cash register as Ginny talked. The chitchat went on so long that Reaper picked up the boxes. “Nickel is waiting,” he reminded her. “Oh … you’re right.” Smiling at the teenagers, she reached into her jeans pocket and took out some cash, giving it to the girl behind the counter. “That’s for you two to share. There should be enough in there for you to get the prom dress you wanted, Annie. Jason, you can get those tennis shoes you’ve been saving for.” Both teenagers looked shell-shocked at Ginny’s

generosity. They weren’t the only ones. “You’re kidding?” The young girl, holding the thick wad of bills in her hand, was able to get her wits together to respond. Reaper felt for the pimply-faced boy who was staring at Ginny as if she hung the moon. Ginny gave them a sweet look. “No. You two are working every time I come in here. You deserve to have something nice done for you. I’ll be leaving Nashville soon, and I wanted to give you something to remember me by.” “You’re leaving?” Ginny gave the boy another gentle smile at his stricken expression. “Yes.” “You won’t be coming back?” “No.” Reaper liked the way Ginny didn’t give the boy false hope. “I’ll miss you.” “I’ll miss both of you,” she stressed, not singling Jason out. “In a few months, you won’t even remember my face.” “I’ll remember.” Reaper bet the boy would; it was hard to forget a first crush. That Ginny was aware of the boy’s feelings was plain. She wasn’t overly friendly, nor did she come across as anything other than a good customer who appreciated their work.

“Can I—” “Ginny.” Reaper broke in, knowing what the boy was gathering his courage to ask. Ginny gave him a grateful look. “We should be going. A friend of ours will be wondering what is taking us so long. Bye.” Holding the door open for Ginny to walk through, Reaper caught the envy and resentment from the teenager. Reaper let the door close after them. “You have an admirer there.” Ginny waited until they were back in the car before she acknowledged the crush. “He’s a really sweet guy. The first month Jason started working here, his mother sat across the street in her car, watching him, afraid he was going to be robbed. His dad passed away when he was just a baby, so it’s just the two them.” While listening to Ginny, he took out his cell phone. “That’s a lot to learn in the few minutes it takes to get a pizza.” Shifting in his seat, he tilted his phone to the side as he started texting Shade. Ginny turned her head to the side. “If you’re texting Shade about Jason, save yourself the trouble. Jason has never been out of Nashville.” He put his cell phone back in his pocket. “Did you seriously think Jason could be my stalker?” “No, but it wouldn’t be the first time I was

wrong, either.” “I’m sorry.” He jerked his head to the side. “What for?” he snapped. Reaper didn’t want Ginny’s pity. “For talking so long. I’ll tell Nickel it was my fault.” Every single time he expected Ginny to say something to piss him off, she managed to take the wind out of his sails. Everything in him told him that she was just that fucking nice. Ginny was the type of woman you could take home to meet your parents, who your friends would be fortunate to catch. He had never been attracted to a woman like her. No, he had set his sights on the ones who had a certain oomph, and he wasn’t talking about looks. It was the type of oomph that screamed one word… sex. The type of woman who could handle the freestyling exploits within the club, feminine enough to give in to him when he was determined to have his way. A woman who, when you made her yours, made you feel as if you scored the winning touchdown during the Super Bowl when you fucked her. He had a woman like that once and lost her. His thoughts turned morose. A sarcastic voice in the back of his mind had his fingers curling into fists so hard his short nails dug into his palms. So, how well did Taylor work out for you?

Chapter Nineteen


eaper groggily turned the handle of the

shower on. Stepping closer to the tile wall, he let the driving force of the cold water hit him in the face. The freezing temperature accomplished what two cups of black coffee hadn’t—clearing away the fogginess and making him feel twice his age. Becoming more clearheaded, he turned the water to lukewarm and started shampooing his hair. Running his hand over the smooth portion of his scalp, he felt the small stubble beginning to grow. He would run his electric razor over it when he got

out of the shower. With Ginny gone with Nickel to meet Kimmy at the nightclub to try some new clothes, he had time to kill before she came back. Getting out of the shower, he dried off, wrapping the towel around his hips as he buzzed off the tattooed portion of his scalp. His head was bent over the sink as he washed away the loose hair when he heard the sound of his phone going off. Grabbing a clean towel, he rubbed his head dry as he reached for the phone without looking to see who was calling. “Your bird has taken off.” Shade’s voice on the other end of the line had him dropping the towel to his shoulders. “What in the fuck you talking about?” “Ginny. She ditched Nickel. He can’t find her.” “Why in the fuck didn’t he call me?” “He’s afraid you’re going to kill him when you see him. He wanted me to tell you not to.” Reaper strode into the bedroom, quickly getting dressed. “He’s safe until I find her. Where did she ditch him?” “At the nightclub. She asked Nickel to get her and Kimmy some coffee from the kitchen, and when he came back, she was gone. Kimmy told him that Ginny told her she was going to get them some snacks from the VIP lounge and she never came back. When Nickel checked, she wasn’t there.” “How do we know the stalker didn’t take her?”

Shoving his boots on, Reaper stood to grab his jacket as he rushed out of the room. “Nickel found a note she left in the lounge; it was addressed to him.” “Her stalker could have left—” “Nickel checked the security footage. She left on her own steam,” Shade cut him off. “Fuck.” Instead of going to the front door of the apartment, Reaper went into Ginny’s bedroom. Giving it a quick glance, he saw a pale blue envelope propped against her lamp. “How long ago?” he asked Shade. “She has a thirty-minute head start on you.” “Tell Nickel he’s dead. He shouldn’t haven’t waited so long to call me.” “He called me immediately. He had trouble figuring out the coffee pot, or she wouldn’t have such a big lead.” Picking the envelope up, he tore it open, taking the letter out. “Got to go. I’ll call when I find which direction she’s going. Any idea?” “No. I thought this might be coming. She’s been squirreling cash away, so nothing’s off the table. Don’t think it’ll be Treepoint or Queen City. If her stalker followed her to Nashville, she won’t take the chance she’ll lead him there.” “I agree. Ginny couldn’t have taken off at a worse time with us not knowing which direction

she’s headed. We have our hands full increasing the production of the supplies you and Arin said we should, while maintaining our normal orders. Find her quick. If she goes underground, we won’t have a chance in hell of finding her before hell breaks loose. Call me when you come up with a lead. I can spare a couple of brothers if you need them.” Knowing Viper and all the brothers had their hands full, Ginny taking off just added to his overfilled load. Reaper could feel the strain coming from the other side of the phone, making him feel like shit that Ginny had successfully managed to slip away on his watch. Disconnecting the call, Reaper started reading her letter as he strode out of the bedroom and the apartment, going to the other apartment Viper rented.



I’m sorry I had to leave this way. If I had any other choice, I wouldn’t have. I knew you wouldn’t let me leave without telling Viper. A guilty conscience is a hard thing to live with, and his has had to live with me long enough. I should never have accepted his help in the first place. I let Shade talk me into accepting The Last Riders’ protection, and I went along with it

because I didn’t want anyone I cared about getting hurt because of me. If I stay, that’s exactly what I’d be doing. I can’t let you be hurt. You’ve been hurt enough in this lifetime without me bringing more pain to your door. I love you, Gavin. Leaving wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, so I’m asking Viper and you to respect my decision. I mailed a letter to him, which he should get tomorrow, explaining why I decided to leave. I left out my feelings for you. You can disclose that part if you want. I didn’t want any blame mistakenly placed on you. You can’t help my feelings for you, and they are there despite your refusal to admit your own. If the shoe was on the other foot, I don’t know if I could, either. Don’t think I’m leaving for good. You’ll see me again, after I’ve found out who is stalking me and stop him. Please tell Viper not to worry about me. I’ve been on my own since I was twelve years old, and I’m pretty good at taking care of myself. The only part I regret is leaving you. Go home, Gavin, where you want to be. Just do me one favor; try not to fall in love with someone else. You really are meant for me. Love, Ginny


pening the door of the apartment, Reaper

found the key he was looking for on the counter in a plastic tray. There were two sets; one was for the rental car, and the other was for a spare motorcycle that Rider kept there when he was on Ginny’s detail. The brother was going to have a hissy fit when he found out Reaper had taken it. However, he needed the speed and the maneuvering that a car couldn’t provide. Locking the door behind him, he was in the elevator in less than six minutes after getting Shade’s call. Shoving Ginny’s letter into his jacket pocket, he rushed to find Rider’s motorcycle. Starting the bike, he pulled up Google maps on his phone, trying to decide which direction she would go. There were so many ways out of Nashville that he would have an easier time throwing a fucking dart at a map. About to call Nickel and ask if the surveillance tape showed which direction she had gone, a thought struck him. Ginny was big on saying goodbyes. She had written a note to both Nickel and him and was mailing one to Viper. She also told the two kids at the pizza store last night that she wouldn’t be seeing them again. Sending a quick text to Kaden, Reaper put his phone and the letter in his pocket and gunned out

of the parking garage. He was going to take a chance on Ginny’s next move. If he was wrong, there wouldn’t be any catching up with her. Going so fast, he was surprised he wasn’t pulled over. It took him ten minutes to get to where he was going versus the almost twenty minutes it would have taken him to ride to the nightclub. Finding a spot to park was aggravating, and he didn’t have the time, so he parked between two cars. The owners were going to be pissed off when they returned and saw he hadn’t left them any room to move their cars. Uncaringly, he got off the bike to go into the restaurant he swore never to go in again. Marty was behind the grill and there were several customers standing at the cash register. Reaper went around them to stand at the counter. “Has Ginny been in here?” “Today?” Opening a brown paper bag, he started putting burgers inside. Placing his hands on the counter, Reaper prepared to jump over the counter if the asswipe kept playing games. “Yes, today.” “She left about ten minutes ago.” Reaper lifted his hand just to smack it down in frustration. “Fuck.” “She give you boys the slip?” “Which direction did she go?” Marty lifted the fry basket to dump the fries

inside the bag. “Took off toward the interstate.” Nodding, Reaper headed toward the door. “Wait!” The customers moved when Marty waved them away. “Take this.” Marty held the bag over the cash register for him to grab. “You’re going to get hungry before you catch her.” Giving him a dirty look, Reaper ignored the offering, reaching for the doorknob instead. “If you underestimate Ginny, you’re never going to find her. She wasn’t driving the same car she usually pulls up in.” “What was she driving?” “A black four-door Taurus. I’m guessing it’s a 2015 or ’16 model. I took down the license plate. It’s on the bag.” Leaning forward, Reaper took the bag from him. “Thanks.” “Didn’t do it for you. Did it for her. I don’t want anything happening to that girl. She’s my best customer. She came by to give me a good-bye card. Bought me a week’s getaway in the Dominion Republic.” Marty shook his jowly head. “Like I have the time to take a vacation.” Ginny meant more to him than any customer. The asswipe cared about Ginny, and she cared about him, too, or she wouldn’t have come to tell him good-bye and give him something so Marty

would remember her. “Do yourself a big favor and sell your business as fast as you can. Take a break from the restaurant and put a hold on the Dominion Republic for a few months.” “Any reason why I would want to sell?” “I’m just returning the favor.” Reaper left with the bag, leaving the asswipe to stare after him. On his bike, he called Shade with the license number and the direction she was headed. Then, putting the burgers in the saddlebags, he took off toward the interstates. He chose the westbound ramp, since the southbound interstate would send her toward Florida. Though she’d find it easier to hide with all the tourists, something had him going west. He told Shade to call Nickel to take the eastbound interstate. That only left northbound, which would have put Ginny coming too close to Kentucky, the exact place she’d lead her stalker away from. Once on the interstate, he started looking for black cars His deductions were based on wild guesses. Guesses that, if he was wrong, Ginny would no longer be the responsibility of the club or him. If she achieved her goal and successfully managed to slip away, Ginny could be out of his hair forever, or at least the time it took her to feel safe enough to return to Treepoint. A shiny black hood caught his eye.

Speeding up, he rode the line between a semi and a red pickup, risking his neck to gain speed on the black car, hell-bent on catching her. Then all he had to do was let her go. He had a little something to give her to help her remember him.

Chapter Twenty


etting in line behind a father with two young

children wasn’t the best decision she had ever made. Ginny pretended to be patiently waiting for her turn in line while all she was doing was blasting herself. It would be quicker to get back in her car and go through the drive-thru. She had come into the fast food restaurant to use the restroom and grab something quick to eat and drink. She hadn’t planned on getting behind a five-year-old who couldn’t make up her mind on whether she wanted nuggets or a hamburger.

She should have waited until she was ready to stop for the night. Her rumbling stomach had disagreed, though, reminding her of why she was in line in the first place. Finally able to give her order, Ginny then took the paper cup from the employee to fill up at the self-serve drinking fountain. Putting the lid on the top when she was finished, Ginny poked a straw through the lid to take a sip when she heard her number called out. The sip went down the wrong way when she saw Gavin standing in line to place an order. She started choking and felt a dozen pair of eyes on her as she tried to clear her throat. “Are you okay?” the woman behind the counter asked, holding out her order. “Yes.” Nodding, Ginny took her order, not knowing what to do next. The employees behind the counter gave her curious looks when she didn’t move away. She couldn’t with her eyes locked with Gavin’s. “Go sit down, Ginny.” Trembling, Ginny found an empty booth and sat. Staring at the bag, she didn’t lift her eyes even when she felt the table shake as Gavin slid into the other side of the booth. “Eat.” Ginny licked her dry lips. “I need ketchup.” She made a move to slide out of the booth.

Two packets of ketchup were plonked down in front of her. “Do you need salt?” “No,” she mumbled. Opening her bag, she took out her nuggets and fries, not knowing what to do next. She didn’t remember seeing a window in the bathroom. Maybe he would have to go— “Don’t even think about it,” he advised her. She had never believed she could be afraid of Gavin, but she kind of was now by the cold way he was talking to her. “I’m not hungry anymore.” “You should eat. I’m not planning on stopping until we need gas.” “I’m not going with you.” Ginny finally lifted her eyes to meet his. Gavin took out his food and started eating. Ginny eyed the humongous sandwich he bought. “That burger took two cows to make.” “There’s another one in the bag. I haven’t eaten in two days.” Ginny guiltily picked up a chicken nugget. “How did you find me?” “Wasn’t easy. Do you know how many fucking people drive the same type of car you bought?” He went on before she could respond. “A shit ton. I wouldn’t have been able to catch you if you hadn’t been pulled over for speeding last

night.” “It was a speed trap,” she said without remorse. It was easier to play the blame game instead of admitting outright to herself that her foot had been a tad heavy on the gas pedal. “I was tired, or I wouldn’t have signed the ticket.” “We won’t go into how fucking tired I am, or how sore my ass is.” Ginny winced at the thought. She knew how sore hers was, and she had a comfortable seat. “Are you mad at me?” Gavin moved on to his other burger. “Let’s put it this way …” Gavin placed his burger on the table before lowering his voice. “Be glad that I don’t believe we’re soul mates, or you’d be driving to Treepoint with an ass as sore as mine.” Ginny frowned. “That’s not possible. The car I bought is very comfortab— Oh.” Ginny flushed when it dawned on her what Gavin was intimidating. Then anger came to her aid, easing the embarrassing thought of being bent over Gavin’s knee. “You and whose army?” she snapped. Her appetite lost, she began bagging up her leftover food. “I don’t need an army when one hand of mine will do the job.” “Are you for real?” Folding her hands on the table, Ginny leaned forward, clearly pronouncing every word coming out of her mouth. “Let me tell

you something, Mr. I-Better-Get-A-Grip. I’ve only been spanked once in my life, and that was by my brother. You ever try to spank me, I’ll … I’ll …” Ginny trailed off, trying to come up with a threat scary enough to make him think twice about spanking her. “You’ll what?” he mocked, starting to eat his burger again. “I’ll … I’ll set a glass of milk out to spoil with something you touched, and then everything you eat will taste sour.” “I’m scared,” he scoffed. “You better be. I did it once when I was mad at Jodi, and it took a year for it to wear off.” “I’ve got news for you, I don’t believe in your cock and bull superstitions.” Ginny broke a small packet of salt and threw it over her shoulder for good luck. “You better,” she warned. Gavin rolled his eyes at her, clearly not taking her beliefs seriously. Ginny shrugged. “Then try to spank me and find out.” Gavin stuffed the remainder of his burger in his mouth, then bagged his trash. “Maybe after I have a nap. You can drive for a couple hours.” “I am not going with you,” she hissed. “Don’t make me call the police on you.” Taking out her cell phone, she wiggled it in front of his face. “I

won’t want to, but I will.” Gavin shrugged. “Go ahead. You’ll be arrested if you do.” Ginny frowned. “Why would I be arrested?” “The car you’re driving was reported stolen.” The satisfied smirk he gave her lifted some of the heaviness she’d been feeling her in chest since she left Nashville. “I didn’t steal the car I’m driving. I bought it.” “The Utah State Police has it listed as hot. You can spend the next few days driving to Treepoint with me or spend the next two days in jail until Viper can get here to clear you.” “Or …,” Ginny said, giving him a better alternative, “I can call Viper, and we can handle this over the phone. Then we both can go on our merry ways.” “Viper doesn’t want to discuss your situation over the phone.” “The situation I’m in is no longer any concern of Viper’s.” Ginny firmly refused to budge from the course she had set for herself. “Gavin, you know I’m right. Cutting myself off from everyone I know is the best way to deal with who is stalking me.” “No, I don’t. I think it will make it easier for him to get to you. Who would be there to protect you?” “Other than 911?” Ginny gave him a wry smile, then stopped when he glowered at her. “I can take

care of myself—” “Since you were twelve?” “My foster parents took me so they’d get nominated for more town committees.” “Were they abusive to you?” Gavin’s sharp question had Ginny jumping in her seat. “No, I can’t say they were abusive. I really can’t explain what it was like. They didn’t do anything I could report as abuse. They were just cold, and when I lived with them, I was cold all the time. When I was finally able to leave, it was like walking out to the middle of summer. I promised myself that I would never be cold again. Since Shade told me I had a stalker, I feel like I need a coat every minute of the day and night. I want to be warm again, Gavin. I can’t be in Treepoint or Queen City, and it isn’t fair of me to continue letting The Last Riders buffer me from the cold. I can do this on my own. All you have to do is let me walk out that door.” “I’m not going to lie to Viper.” “Then I guess we’re in an impasse until Viper gets here.” “You’re getting in the car with me, and we’re driving back to Treepoint.” “No, I’m not.” “Believe it or not, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Viper has a business to run, with some

shit about to go down. He has a more important agenda he needs to exert his efforts on rather than running after you.” Ginny stiffened in her seat as Gavin’s already serious expression became inflexible. “I don’t think the world revolves around me.” “Then fucking act and like it! You took off without us knowing where you were going. The WHO issued a public alert overseas for a viral outbreak. How in the fuck were we supposed to know if you had flown out of the country? Can we agree his efforts are more important at the factory right now than trying to convince you to come home? The outbreak is making everyone sick, and it doesn’t give a fuck if hospitals and medical facilities have their ducks in a row. People are going to die, Ginny. You’ll be safer in Treepoint than wherever you were going. Different states will be at different risk levels. Do you really want to be stuck in bumfuck Egypt if you get sick, or find someone you care about is and you’re hundreds of miles away? Fuck, someone here could be infected. Do you want it on your conscience if Viper comes here and then gets sick? Just because there hasn’t been a confirmed case in the US, doesn’t mean shit. I learned that in the military. They’ll blow roses up your ass until they can’t keep the stink down anymore. Which is why I told Kaden get the fuck

out of Tennessee early.” “You talked to Kaden about this outbreak, but you didn’t say anything to me?” Wounded by his lack of sharing the same information, she had to remind herself she was in a crowded restaurant and yelling at him would be unladylike. “There hasn’t been any reported cases in the U.S. yet, so I was erring on the side of caution where Kaden and the band are concerned. As for discussing the outbreak with you, if you had stuck to the fucking plan we’d already be back in Kentucky where we’ve been getting the Club prepared since December.” He kinda has a point there, Ginny had to admit to herself. “If it doesn’t get as bad as I believe it will, I wouldn’t have made a mountain out of a molehill. Some outbreaks aren’t as lethal nor as contagious, depending on where the spread begins and in which climate. They’ve named it CP-20. It’s a type of blood-borne Pegivirus that affects the heart. It starts with a fever, then overtime your heart just stops. There’s no vaccine, and the highest risk is contracting it through blood; however, they are starting to think it could be transmitted through other bodily fluids. That’s why my discussion to Kaden was just a suggestion to stop performing before it reaches the States. You, on the other hand, I had no intention of letting you stay in Nashville

any longer than necessary.” “Oh. She wasn’t crazy about the high-handed attitude he was taking with her, but she couldn’t deny the warm pit in her stomach that he had considered her welfare. “Do you really want to be by yourself if you get sick? Or unable to get to your brothers or to Willa if they do?” “No,” she acknowledged. Ginny still remembered when her appendix nearly burst at sixteen. Waking alone and frightened after going through emergency surgery wasn’t something she wanted to go through again. Gavin didn’t need to go on, and she couldn’t tell him the why she had to go back. If the outbreak was as bad as he thought it was going to be, there was another reason she had to go back other than her brothers and Willa—Trudy. Ginny let her shoulders slump, pretending to give in to his coercion. “We can go.” Ginny picked up the bag sitting on the table to throw it away. “You win. I’ll drive.”

Chapter Twenty-One


hat about your motorcycle?” Ginny

asked as they approached her car, seeing the large motorcycle parked next to it. “Viper will have someone come and take care of it for me.” “Are you sure? I could follow behind you,” Ginny offered. Gavin continued to the other side of the car. “I’ll ride with you.” Clicking the door unlocked, they got inside. “Don’t you trust me? I’m going back to

Treepoint with you. I won’t take off again.” “I’m too tired to ride.” Ginny watched as he settled back into the plush seat. “Do you need me to give you directions back to the interstate?” “No, go to sleep. I have GPS. I’ll wake you if I need to stop.” Shrugging out of his jacket, Gavin made a pillow of it to shove against the window to make himself more comfortable. Ginny felt terrible. He looked exhausted; dark circles under his eyes, and lines of exhaustion made him appear older. Starting the car, Ginny switched the radio from the blasting music to a soft piano concerto. She would be lucky if she didn’t fall asleep listening to it. The only reason she had it programmed into her stations was because she was writing a song with a piano background. Finding the interstate was easy, and it wasn’t long before she was making decent time. Every so often, she would check on Gavin. Thinking he was sleeping, she would find him staring out the window. After the fifth time, she slowed down, worried that he wasn’t able to sleep with her going so fast. “Are you having trouble getting to sleep?” Gavin jerked his head toward her.

Puzzled at his reaction, she hastened to find out what the problem was. “Am I driving too fast? I can move into the slow lane.” “No, you’re fine. I’ve never been able to sleep when someone else is driving.” Ginny gave him a sharp look. “Then why did you say you were going to?” “I thought I’d give it another try.” He shrugged, sitting up in his seat. “Are you afraid you’ll wake up in Nevada?” she teased. “Is that where you were going?” “I guess you’ll never know.” “You’re not going to tell me?” “Does it matter?” “It does if you’re thinking about taking off again.” “Next time I do, I’ll make sure Viper is given the information so you won’t have to come after me.” “Why not just tell me yourself?” “We both know the only reason you came after me is because of Viper.” When Gavin didn’t contradict her, Ginny switched the music to pop. She didn’t need classical music with a harp crying in the background, when that was all she wanted to do. Every step she took toward Gavin, he never let her gain an inch. “How did you find me so fast?”

“Three days isn’t fast. Fast would have been if I had managed to catch you before you hightailed it out of Nashville Marty told me you switched cars, and he gave me the license plate number. Couple of times I was sure I caught up with you, until I was close enough to read the plates. Knox put a BLO for your car. If you hadn’t been pulled over yesterday, my ass would be in New Mexico, which thanks to some fucker’s negligence you managed to slip past the BLO. Thanks for stopping for the pee break back there. If I had. to go another mile, I would have run out of gas and lost track of you until someone else spotted you.” Ginny held back her groan. She almost made it to where she had been going. No one would have been able to spot her once she got off the main roads. Oh well … She gave herself a mental shrug. No experience is ever wasted. Next time she needed to take off, she would make sure no one was the wiser about which vehicle she drove, and she’d definitely switch the routes to be more erratic if she was suckered into another speed trap. “What are you thinking about?” Ginny looked at him guiltily. “About Marty ratting me out.” Giving him the half-truth wasn’t so bad, she told herself. Ginny didn’t think he would appreciate the deviousness of her other thoughts. “I was surprised, too, especially since you gave him such an expensive gift to remember you by.”

“You’re really good at being sarcastic, aren’t you?” “Am I?” “Yep.” Switching to a slow lane as a semi came barreling up behind her, Ginny waited until it was safe to resume talking. “You seem angry that I gave Marty a vacation, or am I wrong?” “I don’t give a fuck that you gave him the vacation, or that you gave those kids money, or you gave Kimmy your old car, or—” Ginny grimaced as Gavin’s voice grew louder as he listed her presents. “—you even gave Nickel a buy-one-bag, getone-bag-free coupon for Dirty Dan’s.” Ginny reached for her soda cup to help her dry throat. Then she gingerly asked, “Are you angry I didn’t give you anything?” “I’m not mad!” he roared. Ginny set her cup back down, afraid she would spill it with her shaky hand. “I gave them something to remember me by. I didn’t plan on ever seeing them again.” Ginny noticed Gavin’s anger didn’t ease. “If, sooner or later, you planned to go back to Treepoint, then why give Nickel something?” “You know it was just a coupon, right?” Ginny tried to not to laugh at Gavin’s unreasonable anger. “Then why didn’t you give me the coupon?” “Because you hate Dirty Dan’s. Nickel doesn’t.

He loves Marty.” A sarcastic snort from Gavin had her biting her bottom lip. If she wasn’t so angry at God, she would thank Him for the small sign He was giving her: Gavin wasn’t as indifferent to her as he pretended to be. “He doesn’t?” “He thinks Marty’s an asswipe, too. He just wants to get laid.” Confused, Ginny frowned at him. “Nickel’s gay?” “He wants to get laid by you!” “Do you have to yell so much? You’re going to burst my eardrums. Besides …,” she blithely went on, “Nickel hasn’t ever been anything other than a gentleman to me. I’m sure you’re wrong. Now, back to the coupon—” “Let’s not. I’m done talking about coupons and Nickel.” Ginny ignored his sarcasm. She was becoming used to it. “I have gone back to Treepoint several times and never saw Nickel. So, if I went back, it was iffy if I’d see him. That’s why I gave him the coupon. It was actually the only thing I had on me. I didn’t think he’d like me giving him money.” “Next time, give him money.” Ginny filed that information away then continued on as if he never said it. “I left the

envelope with a letter explaining—” “I found it, read the letter. You know what it didn’t have? No coupon.” “Gavin, it didn’t have a coupon, or money, or a vacation package, or car keys to remind you of me. Do you want to know why?” “No,” he answered grumpily. Ginny kept her face forward so he couldn’t see her roll her eyes at him. “I was never going to let you forget about me.”

Chapter Twenty-Two


e’ll take one room with double beds.”

Reaching inside her wallet for her credit card, Ginny held her card out, leaning over the green rope where she was supposed to remain. Gavin didn’t turn around to take it from her. Placing the card back in her wallet, she unconsciously started tapping her foot in irritation. He refused to let her pay for anything, even the fuel, despite her objections. She wanted to argue with him but didn’t, concern growing every hour they traveled at how exhausted Gavin was

becoming. Taking the electronic key from the receptionist, he signed the credit card receipt, then gave it back. “Room 333. The elevator is around the corner to the left.” Ginny was already shaking her head before Gavin could step away from the desk. “Can you give us another room?” Raising her voice so the clerk could hear her, she ignored the hostile glance coming from Gavin. “One that doesn’t have so many threes?” “Oh, sure.” The clerk went to her computer, keyed another card in and gave it to Gavin. “Thank you,” Ginny spoke up again, unintentionally drawing attention from the line of people waiting to check in behind them. The older woman smiled, raising her voice back. “No problem. I’m a little superstitious myself. Room 732.” Gavin glared at her all the way back to her side. “What?” “Everyone in the lobby now knows which room we’re in.” “At least they won’t come looking for us in room 333.” Her attempt at humor fell short. “What was wrong with the first room?” he snapped at her. “Trouble comes in threes,” she quoted. She

didn’t know from where, but she had heard it before. “Let’s go before I decide to keep on driving.” “Are you getting tired of my company?” When Gavin stared her down, she decided it was in her best interest to get busy. Taking the handle of her suitcase, Ginny rolled it through the lobby then made a left. Seeing the elevator ahead, she turned to make sure Gavin was following her. “What?” he snapped. “I was just making sure you were following me.” Gavin stabbed the elevator button with enough force that Ginny was surprised it didn’t pop out of the wall. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a little cranky when you get tired?” she offered helpfully. A man should know how he was coming across, especially toward a woman. Even more so to the woman who was interested in him romantically. As a romantic hero, Gavin would have failed miserably. At least Nickel would have rolled my suitcase, she mentally criticized the man she loved. “No,” he snarled. Ginny rolled her suitcase onto the elevator before Gavin could enter, quickly pushing the seventh-floor button as soon the doors closed, afraid she would get stuck in there if he misused the

elevator panel like he had outside. “Well, you are.” Ginny gave him an affirmative nod of her head. “Just so you know.” “Ginny, I promised myself I’d never hurt another woman, but you’re making it damn hard.” From Gavin’s ashen expression, he regretted not keeping his silence. Ginny almost pretended she hadn’t heard, but his tortured face made it impossible. “You would never willingly hurt anyone, Gavin.” “What you know about me couldn’t fit in a shot glass.” “I’ve been around men who hurt women, and you’d never willingly stoop that low.” “Like I said, you don’t know me.” Ginny let the subject drop when the elevator opened. Their room was just four steps away, so it was easy to find. She was glad, since Gavin looked ready to drop. Keying the door open, he held the door open for her to go inside before he did. Locking the door behind them, Ginny interestedly watched as he removed his belt, then folded it together several times before shoving it under the door. “That’s a nifty door stop,” Ginny complimented, rolling her suitcase farther into the room. Seeing she was about to lift her suitcase onto

the first bed, Gavin stopped her. “Take the other bed. I want to sleep closer to the door.” “Gavin, if someone tries to come in, we’ll both hear them no matter which bed we’re sleeping in.” When he ran a hand through his hair, she plopped the suitcase onto the second bed. “You need to get some sleep,” she advised, as he began prowling around the room as if there was someone hiding under the beds. “I will. I want to watch the news first.” “Go for it,” Ginny said, unzipping her suitcase. “I’m going to take a shower.” Carrying her clothes, Ginny went inside the bathroom. Shutting the door, it took her a few minutes to take her clothes off, imagining Gavin on the other side of the thin wall between them. Ginny laughed at herself for being nervous to get undressed. Gavin had not so much as given any hint that he saw her as a woman. She had practically begged him for compliments a couple times, but she might have been wearing jeans and her favorite sloppy sweater. Turning on the shower, she washed off, managing to avoid getting her hair wet. She had washed it late last night, and she didn’t want to disturb Gavin if he had fallen asleep by running the blow dryer. She slipped into a grey night shirt and pajama bottoms, and tied her housecoat closed after

brushing her teeth, then tiptoed out of the bathroom to find Gavin leaning back on his bed. His only attempt to make himself more comfortable was to take his boots off. “The shower is yours,” she said, sitting down on the side of her bed facing Gavin, as she started to listen to the international news he was watching. The more she listened, the more afraid she became. “Are we going to be all right?” “We will be when we get to Treepoint.” Watching the news coverage wasn’t as frightening as Gavin’s grim visage. “I meant everyone, not just us.” “Time will tell. Go to sleep. Worrying about it tonight won’t make it better tomorrow. People have been living through pandemics since time began. We’ll survive this one too.” Ginny had to swallow her fear down. If anything happened to any of her brothers, Trudy, or Willa, she didn’t know if she could bear a loss like that again. “Ginny ….” Taking her eyes off the television, he gave her a reassuring look. “It’s going to be all right. Get some sleep. I want to try to drive through tomorrow without stopping for the night.” “Okay. Good night.” Taking her housecoat off, she slipped under the covers, expecting Gavin to turn the lights and

television off. “Aren’t you going to sleep?” she asked. “I will in a few minutes. I want to finish watching this special report.” Leaning to his side, he turned the light off, then lowered the volume on the television. Rolling onto her side, she closed her eyes. After driving for so many hours, she fell asleep after a few fitful turns. In the middle of the night, her full bladder woke her from a dead sleep. Sitting up in bed, she turned to the side to get up and saw Gavin was still awake. The digital clock on the nightstand between their beds showed it was two in the morning. She had fallen asleep at ten. “You haven’t gone to sleep yet?” “I’ve been texting Viper. I’m waiting for Shade to call.” “He’s probable asleep, and so should you be. You’re exhausted, Gavin.” “No, I’m not. I don’t need much sleep.” “Keep telling yourself that. Meanwhile, the circles under your eyes look like someone suckerpunched you.” Throwing her covers off, Ginny stomped into the bathroom. Relieving her bladder and washing her hands, she came out, prepared to give him hell, only to find he had dozed off, his exhaustion finally winning. She silently took the TV remote and

muted the television, afraid if she turned it off, the sudden darkness would wake him. Lying back down on her bed, she lay on her side, watching him sleep sitting up. She waited for thirty minutes until she was sure he had fallen into a deep sleep before noiselessly getting out of bed to go to the foot of his. Gently taking the hem of his jeans, she pulled the legs down until he was sprawled out on the bed. Moving to the head of the bed, she gently placed a pillow under him. The lines of exhaustion on his face tugged at her heart. Unable to resist, she traced her fingertips over his upper lip before jerking back when he rolled to the side. Getting back in her bed, Ginny watched him until she started dozing off. Waking with a start at the noise coming from Gavin’s bed, she worriedly sat up, seeing him thrashing on his bed, the pillow she placed under his head laying on the floor. Carefully getting up, she moved closer to the bed, unsure whether to wake him from the bad dream or not. He needed sleep …. Gingerly sitting down on the edge of his bed next to his hip, she placed a gentle hand on his chest when he gave a heartbreaking groan. “Shh … You’re okay … I’m here,” she crooned softly. At her touch, Gavin expelled a deep breath,

then started to breathe easier. Ginny sat there until she thought he had fallen into a deep sleep again. Slowly removing her hand, she started to rise, but she didn’t even make it off the bed before he was twisting and turning again, nearly knocking her off the bed. Putting her hand back on his chest, she started talking to him again. “You’re okay, Gavin. I’m here. Sleep, baby, sleep. I won’t let anyone hurt you ever again,” she promised, through tears in her eyes from his moans. His chest started rising and falling so fast, she was afraid his heart wouldn’t be able to take the pressure he was exerting. It was painfully obvious why he wasn’t sleeping. When his thrashing around knocked her hand away, Ginny didn’t know what to do. Then she remember what she and Leah used to do after they watched a scary movie. Lying down next to him, she wrapped her arm around his waist, snuggling up against him. “Shh … Sleep, Gavin. I’m here. I’m never going to leave you.” Using her free hand, she reached for his other pillow and placed it under his head. Finding a spot on his shoulder, she rested hers. Gavin stopped moving around, his body becoming heavier under hers, as if his tense muscles were relaxing. Ginny closed her eyes, snuggling closer to Gavin. Dozing off, she woke up every so often

when Gavin started to toss around again. At one point, Ginny threw one of her legs over his to hold him still, and placed her head on his chest, using her body weight to show him that she was still there. “I’m here, Gavin. I’ll always be here for you. Sweet man, sleep … I love you.” Each reassurance she gave him made his breathing easier and seemed to comfort him into staying asleep. “I’m never going to leave you ever again. I love you. I’ve always loved you. I always will.”

Chapter Twenty-Three


inny lifted heavy lids to see sunlight filtering

through the bottom of the curtain. Lying still with the steady beating of Gavin’s heart beneath her ear, she was determined for him sleep as long as he could. She lovingly memorized each of the tattoos visible to her to pass the time ticking away. At ten a.m., she propped her chin on his chest to relieve the pain in her neck, discovering a ridge on his nose, which must have been broken at one time. Laying her head back down, his hands caught her

eyes. She liked his hands. They were strong, with callouses on his fingertips. At eleven a.m., she distracted herself by talking to God, telling Him she was still angry with Him, but if he could take the pressure off her bladder for a little longer, she would work at forgiving Him, but she wasn’t making any promises. By twelve, Ginny guessed it wasn’t good enough, because her bladder was at a four-alarm stage. The next thirty minutes were spent regretting the two sodas she drank yesterday. When they hit the drive-thrus today, soda was off her list. At one, Ginny knew she couldn’t hold out any longer. “I love you, baby, but I gotta go.” Whispering so she didn’t wake Gavin, she began slowly moving away from him one deliberate movement at a time. With each movement, she watched him carefully to make sure he wasn’t waking up before making another movement. It was time-consuming but worth it when she was standing over the bed and Gavin remained sleep. Ginny didn’t know what to thank more—that he was still asleep or that he hadn’t woken to find her in his bed. Going to her open suitcase set on the chair, she picked out a pair of jeans and a scooped-neck purple top. Tiptoeing into the bathroom, she closed the door without letting it click closed, afraid the small sound would wake Gavin.

Seeing the toilet, she thought about giving a Hail Mary, relieving herself and trying not to tinkle too loudly. When she finished, she laid two towels over the tank before flushing, satisfied at the muted sounds coming from her savior. Proud of herself for making minimum sounds when she dressed and brushed her teeth, Ginny stepped out of the bathroom and into hell. Gavin was pacing around the hotel room, wildeyed, trying to tear his hair out. Terrified, Ginny froze, but it was too late. He had already spotted her. “What did you do to me?” he roared at her so loudly that Ginny was afraid the cheap pictures hanging on the walls would fall off. “What?” “It’s one o’clock!” “I know. Are you mad I let you sleep in?” Trying to figure out why he was so furious, she was frightened he knew she slept beside him. “I don’t sleep for nine fucking hours! Did you drug me when I was sleeping?” Her mouth dropped open at the accusation. “Of course not—” Ginny found herself lifted off her feet and tossed onto the bed. Leaning over her with his hands planted beside her head on the mattress, he snarled into her face, “Tell me what you gave me!”

Trembling, she stared up at him. “I didn’t give you anything. Gavin, you were exhausted ….” Frightened, she was about to admit she slept with him, choosing to tell him the truth versus having him believe she drugged him, yet he didn’t give her the opportunity. “I’ve been exhausted much worse before and never slept for nine fucking hours!” Pounding a fist on the mattress beside her head, Ginny knew she had to calm him down. As frightened as he was making her, it was nothing compared to the terror he was going through. Reaching for every ounce of courage she possessed, Ginny suddenly twined her arms around his neck, using all her strength to rise up against him and turn, forcing him to turn with her until she was the one on top. Plastering herself against his hard body, she buried her face in his neck, giving him her full weight. “Calm down, sweet man. I didn’t drug you. I swear I didn’t. I wouldn’t do that to you. I love you, Gavin,” she whispered into his ear, feeling his body shaking under hers. “Sweet, sweet man, I love you …,” she repeated over and over until she felt his shaking stop and he lay limply, not straining away from her. Lifting one hand, Ginny raised her head to smooth down his tumbled hair. His wild eyes were unfocused, staring up at her. “I love your tattoo here.” Using her thumb,

Ginny rubbed the tattoo under his earlobe. “Did it hurt?” When he didn’t answer, Ginny rubbed the one right below. “This is my second favorite. The only thing I don’t like is your earring. You need something else. I don’t know what yet, but when I do, I’m going to buy it for you.” “To remember you by?” His beautiful eyes were becoming clearer. “No. So every time you look in a mirror, you’ll know you’re mine,” she stated matter-of-factly. Gavin closed his eyes, then reopened them, shaking his head at her. “You don’t give up, do you?” “Nope. I’m a mountain woman—I don’t know how to give up.” Ginny rubbed her cheek against his chest, satisfied his heart was beating normally again, before lifting her head to meet his eyes. “I didn’t drug you.” He closed his eyes again, nodding. “Do you believe me?” “Yes.” “Good.” When he still didn’t open his eyes, Ginny reckoned he was still trying to convince himself that she hadn’t. “Are you sure?” she asked doubtfully. “I’m sure.” His lying eyes remained shut. Ginny grinned. She had never been afraid of a challenge. Well, she had, but she never let anyone

know it. “Then prove it. Can I kiss you here?” She brought her thumb to his jaw. His eyes sprang open. “No.” “It’ll be short and sweet, just to prove you believe me,” she wheedled. “I can give you one like I give my brothers.” “No.” “I knew you didn’t believe me. I guess we’re going to have to stay here all day, because I’m not —” “I said I believed you.” Were his lips twitching? Ginny started worrying about her own heartbeat skyrocketing out of control at the beginning of a small smile. “Prove it,” she wheedled again. “Short and sweet … for a sweet man—” “Jesus, just do it!” he shouted. “Just shut u—” Ginny didn’t give him the opportunity to take back his permission. Giving him a quick peck on his cheek, Ginny then jumped off him, going to the floor to pick up her scattered pajamas that she dropped when he tossed her onto the bed. “That’s it?” Gavin rose up on his elbows to watch her as she repacked her suitcase and zipped it closed. Pasting a pretend frown on, she put the suitcase on the floor before turning to face him. “Too long?” Faking misunderstanding him, Ginny rolled her

suitcase to the door. Gavin sat up on the bed, his long legs hanging off the side. “I need a shower before we go.” Getting up from the bed, he removed the belt from under the door. “Stay here while I get my clothes from the car.” “Why didn’t you bring them in last night?” “I wanted my hands free in case someone tried to jump us. Your stalker won’t take a chance of losing you with you on the move. I wanted to be prepared if he made a last-ditch effort.” This time her frown was sincere. “Was that why you didn’t offer to help me with my suitcase last night?” He frowned back. “When it comes to your safety, being a gentleman comes last.” “You could have told me. A woman needs to know these things.” “Ginny, what feelings you have for me … we’re traveling in two opposite directions.” Gavin uncaringly said, as he burst yet another bubble of hope that he was ever going to love her the way she loved him. “Gavin, I can carry my own suitcase.” Her forehead creased in irritation as she set her hurt feelings aside. “I don’t know what women you’re used to dealing with, so I’m going to give you a free clue where I’m concerned. I don’t need you to carry my weight when I’m more than capable of

carrying it myself. What I should have said, since you misunderstood me last time,” Ginny spoke clearly and succinctly, “is it would have been nice to have been forewarned that you expected us to be jumped when we got out of the car.” “I should have told you,” he admitted grudgingly. “But—” “No buts. Next time, just give me a heads-up. I don’t scare easily, and I can take it when you tell me I need to be careful. What I can’t take is you thinking I’m a nincompoop with no concern for my safety. You may be here on Viper’s order to protect me, but don’t you ever forget this is my life we’re talking about, and if I screw up, the final result could end in not just me being hurt, but you as well, and that thought is unfathomable to me.” Gavin reached for the handle of her suitcase. “You just don’t stop. I’m going to go get my clothes and load your suitcase in the trunk. Don’t unlock the door for anyone.” Ginny’s hand went to her suitcase, stopping him. “I don’t play games,” she stated. “I love you, and I’m not going to pretend I don’t.” Her voice became gentler yet was just as firm. “We may be going in opposite directions, but we could both end up in the same place. I can wait for you to get there.” Gavin gave a bitter laugh. “I was engaged to a woman who promised she would wait for me.

Taylor didn’t. What makes you so fucking different?” “Gavin, when you figure that out, you’ll have your answer.”

Chapter Twenty-Four


here’s a gas station at the next exit.”

Wiggling in her seat, Ginny saw the lighted sign ahead. “We can’t stop there.” Gavin’s firm refusal had her pleading with him. “I told you six exits back that I have to go,” she complained. “I’m hungry, and we’re almost out of gas.” “Anything else?” “Yes, this is the last road trip I take with you,” she complained.

“A road trip we wouldn’t have been on if you had kept your ass in Nashville.” “You just had to bring that up, didn’t you? For the thousandth time, I regret it. You have no idea how much.” Tapping her fingers on the door beside the window, she leaned forward, seeing a lighted sign. “Can we stop there? They have a gift shop with homemade taffy—” “No. Besides, the gift shop will be closed.” Gavin unapologetically sped past the exit. “The sign said it was open twenty-four hours,” she corrected him. “I love taffy. I’ve never tasted homemade.” Ginny unhappily saw the brightly lit store sign glowing invitingly from the interstate as they drove past. The sign was screaming at her to “come here.” I want to, she replied in her head, but meanie over here won’t let me. “Did you say something?” “I said I’m never going on a road trip with you again.” Folding her arms against her chest, she wiggled in her seat, trying to relieve the pressure on her bladder. They hadn’t stopped since they had started this afternoon. She was thirsty, hungry, had to pee, and dammit, she had wanted that stupid taffy. “How many times do I have to tell you where we’re stopping? A brother is going to meet up with us in four miles with gas and something for you to eat and drink.”

Ginny stared at him suspiciously when he left out the most important part. “Does he have a restroom on his motorcycle, too?” “No, but there will be trees and plenty of privacy.” Her head fell back to the headrest. Then she straightened at seeing another exit sign. “Can’t we—” “No. Ginny, it’s just not safe. I don’t even want you to get out of the car until after Jesus leaves.” “This illness is worse than you’re telling me, isn’t it?” “I’m telling you …” Exasperation on Gavin wasn’t a good look. His cheeks were bulging out like a beaver as if he was thinking of chewing off … her head. Then a long-suffering sigh escaped Gavin, nearly parting her hair. “I don’t want to take any unnecessary chances. Jesus’s sister came back from a cruise. We’re just being precautious. Can that be good enough for you?” “Of course.” She bopped her head to a new song coming on the radio. “I’m not a child. I’m only complaining to take my mind off having to use the potty. I’m sorry. Do you want to play another game?” Gavin looked like he stepped on a rotten egg. “I’m gamed out. For a woman who hates games, it’s amazing how many car games you know.” “I learned them when I traveled on the road

with the band. I might not enjoy playing them, either, but it’s not like you were giving me any stimulating conversation when I tried to talk to you. You even complained about the light on my phone bothering you when you’re driving. And now you’re complaining about playing games, which—” Ginny paused to take another breath. “—I don’t understand, since you won four out of five of them.” “I had to because when I let you win, you gloated for twenty fucking miles. I had to win to shut you up.” “You let me win?” Ginny scoffed. “I was the one who let you win all those games.” “Yeah right,” he scoffed back. “Sweet man, you’re about to get your comeuppance,” she warned, ruining the effect by wiggling in her seat. “Can you stop doing that?” “Then pull over. I haven’t seen a car in ten miles.” “You’re serious?” “Yes, I lost my pride four exits ago.” Gavin slowed her car, gradually pulling off the road near an out-cropping of trees. Ginny eagerly unfastened her seatbelt. then opened the glove box to take out a plastic container. “What’s—” “Handi Wipes. They’re for when I—”

“I know what they’re for,” he snapped. “For God’s sake, just hurry.” Her hand stilled on the door handle. “Do you have a gun?” Gavin lifted his head off the steering wheel. “Why?” “To protect yourself while I’m gone.” “Are you fucking serious?” “Yes. I don’t want to be worried about you when I’m trying to go. You might not know this, but if a woman is nervous, it makes it hard to—” Gavin put up his hand to stop her. “I have a gun.” “Handy? The gun won’t be any good if it’s in the back seat.” Gavin twisted on his seat, his hand going behind him. “If I give it to you, will you shoot me and put me out of my misery?” “You don’t have to be so melodramatic.” She snorted, opening the car door. Shutting the door, she used her cell phone’s flashlight to make her way to the closest tree. Making sure there was no little furry critters around, Ginny took care of her business. It didn’t take long before she was coming out from behind the trees to see the flashing lights behind her car. Gavin was going to kill her. She nearly tripped, she hurried back so fast. Then Ginny froze when a bright flashlight was

pointed at her. “Freeze. Put your hands in the air. Approach the back of the car.” “Yes, sir.” Gavin was so going to kill her. Walking to the back of the car, Ginny waited as the officer talked to Gavin, who had his hands hanging out the window. “Officer,” Ginny spoke up as a car sped past them, “I can explain.” “Shut up.” She shut up. Ginny could only make out every other word as oncoming cars whizzed past. “License … Registration … Stolen ….” Ginny grimaced at that one. She was dead meat. “Don’t move.” She jumped as the officer walked past her to return to his squad car. Keeping her gaze glued to the flashing lights, she would rather go blind than look to see how Gavin was reacting. She was debating asking for protective custody when the officer got out of his car and walked past her again to give Gavin his license back. Her lips tightened when she heard the officer laughing as he casually leaned against her car door. Edging to the end of the trunk, closer to the driver’s side, Ginny could finally hear what the officer was saying, then wished she hadn’t.

“My wife would divorce me if I didn’t pull off for her to use the restroom.” Gavin told the officer what she had been doing! She was never going to let him win Name the Celebrity again. “I’ll radio ahead. Owen would have caught you when you crossed the state line. He takes it as his personal mission to catch any BOLO going through his section. Anytime one of his ex-wives needs a new car, he has his brother, the judge, make sure it’s up for auction. I’ll give you my card; if you get pulled over again, dispatch can fax them that the BOLO was removed.” Ginny promised herself to pay attention to the name of the next county they passed through so she could make an anonymous call to the FBI to report the shakedown going down in the small town. “You can return to your vehicle.” The officer’s permission wasn’t given with the same good, oldboy friendliness he gave to Gavin. Pretending a dignity she didn’t feel, Ginny got back in the car. Flashing lights behind her car illuminated the interior, showing Gavin’s locked jaw. “I don’t know what you’re so angry about. I was the one being laughed at.” Offended, she mimicked his locked jaw. “One more word … Just one,” he threatened. Her lips opened, preparing to further air her

grievances. “Do it”—he narrowed his eyes on her—“and see what happens.” Sitting forward in her seat, she thought about zipping her mouth and throwing the key away again, but she didn’t want to chance her luck. So far, today sucked … other than the hours she spent enjoying every second she was spending with him. Losing her self-righteous indignation by the time he was doing seventy on the interstate, Ginny turned the music on, bopping her head to one of her favorite songs. “You’re going to give yourself whiplash,” he warned. Taking it as a good sign that he was talking to her again, Ginny broke her vow of silence. “Can you name the singer before I count to ten?” “No.” “Come on … You’re not trying,” she heckled. “Billy Idol.” “Lucky guess.” Ginny playfully turned toward him. “The next one is mine,” she told him as the music ended and another one started playing. She only had to listen to the first beat. “Cher.” “You’re cheating.” Placing a hand on her chest, as if she were offended, Ginny didn’t miss the flash of his white teeth as he tried not to smile. It was more like a grimace, but she wasn’t above taking what she

could get out of him. “I don’t call it cheating. I call it winning.” “Still cheating.” “Nope, I disagree,” Ginny said in a sing-song voice. She turned serious when Gavin slowed to take an unlit exit. “This is where you’re meeting Jesus?” Ginny apprehensively watched the dark, winding road ahead as Gavin drove. She didn’t see any lights from businesses or homes. The spooky factor had her rubbing one of her little charms as Gavin decreased his speed to pull off the two-lane road and into a closed gas station. The outside was boarded up with sheets of wood on the front windows. Gavin parked next to one of the pumps that didn’t have a digital cover. “How well do you know this Jesus?” she whispered when he brought the car to a standstill. “I’ve met him a few times. You’re safe, Ginny; he’s a Last Rider.” Gavin gave her a surprised look at her sigh of relief. “You trust him just because he’s a Last Rider?” “Shouldn’t I?” “Most of The Last Riders aren’t sterling citizens.” “Most sterling citizens have feet of clay.” Looking over her shoulder as headlights came

up behind them, she wasn’t aware of the penetrating way he was watching her. “Is that him?” Turning her head back to Gavin, she found his gaze on her. “Yes. He has Neon with him.” Taking leather gloves out of his jacket, he put them on before reaching for the door handle and getting out of the car, leaving her alone inside. With the music playing, Ginny couldn’t hear what they were saying as she saw two men get off their motorcycles, wearing Last Rider jackets and black gloves. One of them went to the gas pump next to her car and slid a key into the side. Taking the nozzle from the pump, he handed it to Gavin, who was standing by her tank. As Gavin pumped the gas, the men returned to their bikes, taking out plastic bags that they placed on the trunk of her car. Ginny felt the car move when Gavin removed the nozzle from the gas tank. She watched the entire interaction between the three men, noticing how Gavin didn’t speak two words to the other men and the space they kept from him. Gavin took the bags from on top of the trunk as one of the men placed his key back into the pump. Then Gavin waited until the two men were riding away before opening the door. Inside, he handed her the bags before starting the car. Sorting through the bags, Ginny divvied up the

contents. Placing two bottles of water into the cup holders, she took out one of the prepacked sandwiches, a bag of plain chips, and a chocolate bar, giving the rest of the bag to Gavin. “I thought you were starving?” “I am.” Opening the sandwich, she took a bite as she opened the chips. “There’s more sandwiches and chips.” “I’ll take what’s left after you pick.” Taking a chip, she opened one of the bottled waters. “What if I wanted the turkey that you took?” “There are two more in there. You can have them.” Gavin took out the only club sandwich that was easily twice the size of the one she had taken. Breaking it apart, he handed half to her. “No, thanks. I—” “I know you like subs. Take half.” “How do you know I like subs?” “Dirty Dan’s isn’t the only place you frequent. You like Geno’s Subs.” “I take it Shade filled a notebook of everywhere I went in Nashville?” “In Queen City and Treepoint too.” He opened a bag of barbeque chips and gave them to her. Setting the rest of the plain aside, she took the barbeque chips. “It sucks having everyone know so much about you.” Another swirl of heat hit her stomach at the

sweet gesture of his unknowingly revealing he had observed something so mundane as her chip preferences. “Yes, it does,” he agreed. “Could be worse,” she said, digging for another chip. “How?” Scrunching the empty bag of chips he just devoured, Gavin took the half-eaten ones away from her. “The advantage is none of the sandwiches have cheese or onions, which I hate. I also got my chocolate fix for the day.” “Do you have to look on the bright side of everything?” “Better than being a Gloomy Gus, like someone who will remain nameless. Especially since neither of us will be breathing in onion breath for the rest of the night.” Gathering the remains of their meal in one bag, Gavin placed the uneaten items in the other one. Gavin took a shiny object from the bag and handed it to her. “You need a pit stop before we leave?” Ginny glared at him. “You knew there was a bathroom here?” “Yes.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” She narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion. “You were going to ditch me in the woods, weren’t you?” “Neon and Jesus were behind us. One of them

would have given you a ride.” The big jerk wasn’t the least embarrassed at being found out. “What made you change your mind?” “Ohio’s finest.”

Chapter Twenty-Five


ow long are you going to stay mad at me?

You haven’t spoken a word in over an hour. While I’m enjoying the peace and quiet, it’s getting old with you staring daggers at me.” Ginny pressed her lips together, determined to give him another hour of silent treatment. “Okay …,” he drawled out. “Can you at least hand me the bag from the back seat. I saw a bag of candy in there.” Reaching behind Gavin’s seat for the bag, she held it open for him to take out what he wanted.

When he pulled out everything but the candy, he took the bag from her, taking his eyes off the road to see it was empty. “Jesus must have left them out,” Ginny offered an explanation. Gavin gave her the empty bag back to repack the items he had tossed aside. Putting it in the back seat, she resumed drumming her fingers on the door. Becoming bored, Ginny took out her cell phone and started working on a song she was writing. “What are you eating?” Gavin suspiciously took his eyes off the road. “Nothin’.” “Hand it over.” Ginny ignored the hand he held out. “No.” “It was a big bag. You’re not going to share?” “I wouldn’t consider the bag big, and no, I’m not.” “So, you do have the candy.” Her big mouth had let her walk right into that trap. “No.” “Why aren’t you sharing?” “I don’t know,” she said sarcastically. “Probably because you were going to leave me in the woods if a cop hadn’t stopped you.” “How many times do I have to tell you that you would have only been left for maybe two or three minutes at the max?”

“Okay,” she mocked, swinging her head sideways while keeping her eyes forward. “You’re really not getting any candy. They’re all mine. And they’re good, too.” She deliberately bit down on the hard-cherry candy to crush it between her teeth, knowing the big jerk would hear what she was doing. Loudly twisting the plastic covering on another piece of candy to open it, she popped it in her mouth. “How did you sneak the candy out the bag, anyway? I saw it in there when I tied the bag.” “I don’t know. Maybe you were too preoccupied being a big jerk to notice.” “I’m not a jerk.” “No, you’re not. You’re a big one.” Gavin took one of his hands away from the steering wheel to go to his jacket pocket. “What are you looking for? The way you’re swerving, we’ll get pulled over again,” she berated him. “I’m trying to find my cell phone. I’m going to call Jesus to come and get you.” “He’s over an hour away.” “I know.” “Are you joking?” “Are you going to give me a piece of my candy?” “Fine.” Ginny reached in her pocket to take one out to give him. “Satisfied?”

“Yes. You can go back to giving me the silent treatment.” “I’ve lost the desire. It gave you too much enjoyment.” Placing her phone in her pocket with her candy, she twisted her body to the side to face him more fully. “Do you want to play another game?” “No—” When Gavin cut off what he was about to say, Ginny looked out the windshield. A car had their hazard lights on. Straightening in her seat, she felt the car start to slow. “Is it safe?” “Probably not, but I can’t leave them stranded.” Easing onto the shoulder behind the car, Gavin parked. “I want you to crawl over the console and get behind the wheel when I get out of the car. If anything goes wrong, I want you to get the hell out of here and call Viper.” Taking out his phone, Ginny saw him text Viper the license plate number of the car in front of him. “I’m not going to leave you.” Gavin reached over the console to take her by the face. His firm clasp had her staring into his flinty eyes. “You fucking do what I’m telling you.” Ginny lowered her eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered.

“Unless you promise, I’ll drive away and leave them.” “Then let’s leave. No one is more important than you.” “Fucking hell …,” Gavin swore, releasing his grasp on her to open the door as a man got out of the car, frantically waving toward them. Swinging away from her, he got of the car. “Lock the fucking door. Ram the back end of his car if I raise my hand in the air.” Ginny started climbing over the console. “That I can do,” she promised. Gavin slammed the car door as he walked toward the man who was urgently motioning inside his car. Ginny gripped the steering wheel when Gavin ran around the car, opening the passenger door and bending down. Fear for Gavin had her watching the other man to make sure Gavin wasn’t being blindsided. Alarm filled Ginny when her headlights illuminated Gavin pulling an unconscious woman out to lay her next to the car. When the stranger fell down to his knees beside her as Gavin began doing chest compressions on the woman, Ginny couldn’t stay in the car. Jerking the door open, she ran to kneel next to the man who was watching Gavin try to resuscitate the woman. “Get back in the car!” Gavin yelled, his

experienced movements not breaking the pumping rhythm he was using on the unconscious woman. “Have you called an ambulance?” Ginny asked calmly, trying to help the only way she could and defying Gavin’s command. “They’re on their way. I missed the turn-off to the hospital.” The man sobbed. “We were on our way to Krista’s mother’s house. She wanted to stay with her until the baby comes. She started to feel lightheaded right after we left… We’re not from around here ….” Ginny patted him on his back, showing her understanding of his distraught explanation. Stopping the compressions, Gavin lifted her chin and held her nose. “Cover her mouth completely with yours and give two slow breaths. Now.” He instructed the husband to quickly do as he asked. The man didn’t question him, quickly doing as Gavin instructed. “Please don’t let her die …,” the man sobbed as Gavin continued with the compressions. “She and the baby mean everything to me.” Ginny kept her eyes on Gavin as she comforted the crying man. His blazing eyes were promising her retribution for getting out of the car. He could do his worst, but she couldn’t just leave the distressed man who was watching his wife and child die in front of him, any

more than he could. Gavin continued to work tirelessly at trying to the revive the woman, leaving only the breathing up to the husband. Seeing flashing lights hitting the trees, Ginny rose, waving to be seen. Then she helped the man to his feet as the EMT came running toward them, attempting to move them out of the way. “We need to give them room to work on her,” she explained to the panic-stricken man when he tried to shove away from her. Going with her when he finally understood what she was trying to do, they stood on the grass, watching the paramedics take over. Ginny couldn’t imagine the horror that the husband was going through with his wife’s and child’s life hanging in the balance. The area around the car quickly flooded with arriving personnel to give assistance to the couple. Three police cars arrived, one blocking the traffic lane that the ambulance was using. Talking softly to the man, Ginny told him that his family was going to be okay, that so many people were here to do their best to save his wife. She told him everything and anything to keep him by her side. Gavin moved toward them when the paramedics readied the woman for transport. “They’re sending for a life flight,” Gavin

related to him what he had been told. “We can go on, Ginny. They want our car moved.” “I don’t want to leave him …,” Ginny began to argue. “A police officer is going to drive him to the hospital. He can’t fly with her.” When Ginny saw one of the police officers who had been talking to Gavin approach, she gave the distraught man a brief hug. Ginny released him when Gavin’s jaw went rock hard, yet he held back the shout she could see he was wanting to give. “We need to move the car.” Gavin’s lips barely moved as he spoke. “I’m coming.” Watching where she walked on the gravel, they returned to her car. Staring out the window as Gavin drove away, she saw the man get in the back of the police car. Ginny felt terrible that the couples’ excitement about their upcoming baby had taken such a devasting turn. Stony-faced as he drove, Ginny started to break the oppressive silence, then didn’t. Gavin wasn’t ready to be reasonable. Her nerves went haywire when Gavin turned on the blinker to turn into a rest area. Taking the lane meant for cars, Gavin parked in the first spot. Ginny wiped her sweaty palms on her thighs, noticing the spot was also the most dimly lit one in

the area. “Gavin …,” Ginny started to plead her case when he unbuckled his seatbelt so hard the metal clasp gave a pop when it hit the casing. Cool air met her face when he tore himself out of the car, slamming the door behind him. Ginny let him have a few minutes, then she got out of the car. The parking area was empty. No one would be able to rescue her from the wild man who was stalking his way toward her. The fear in her chest loosened as he drew closer. The man who had worked so tirelessly trying to save a woman he didn’t know would never be able to harm her. Her wild man had a gentle soul shining through the anger that he was feeling. Not even the evil he had been exposed to could diminish the light from within Gavin. She could see it from where she was standing. God hadn’t allowed it to be destroyed, shielding the light even from Gavin, protecting the beautiful heart that had been gifted to him. A heart created to be a match for hers, only for her. As Gavin grasped her arms, jerking her toward him, her eyes went heavenward, relieved she had made up with the big guy in the nick of time. The Reaper had come for her.

Chapter Twenty-Six


hat were you thinking?” he yelled. “I

told you to stay in the car. If shit goes fucking down, I have to know you will fucking do what I say!” “Lower your voice.” Ginny placed her hands on his chest as he tightened his grip on her arms, letting her weight fall into his body and sending him back to the side of the car. “All I was thinking about was that poor man losing his wife and child, and if anyone could save them, you could.” Gavin’s face twisted in anguish. “I didn’t save

her; she died. I was trying to keep the baby alive.” “You tried, Gavin. You gave her baby a fighting chance, which is more than they had before you stopped.” Gavin shuddered as if he was freezing cold. He stared off into space as if he was in another place and time. Wrapping her arms around him, she hugged him tightly. “I love starry nights. When Leah and I were little, we would climb out of our father’s window and stare up at the sky, waiting for shooting stars so we could make a wish. That’s how I experienced my first and only spanking. We didn’t care it was on the second floor and the overhang was just a few inches wide. “Do you see that tree with the little limbs?” Ginny nodded toward a little sapling not far from them. “Freddy made Leah and me go pick two limbs, then told Silas to spank us with them when we brought them back. Our faces turned as red as that truck parking over there to your left. We thought we were too old to get spanked. Pa told me I would never be too old for a spanking, then handed the switch to Silas for him to spank us.” “Why didn’t he do himself?” Ginny lowered her head to Gavin’s shoulder in relief that his mind was coming back from the dark place he had gone. “Pa couldn’t harm a fly, much less two little girls crying their eyes out before he

laid a hand on them. Unfortunately, Silas didn’t have that problem. He was the one who found us, and he had warned us a dozen times not to climb out onto that overhang. We didn’t listen. After that, our stargazing was confined to lawn chairs that Silas put out for us. Every night that was as beautiful as this, I remember stargazing with Leah.” “How can you say it’s a beautiful night?” he croaked out. ”A woman died, her baby will need a miracle to survive, and they don’t exist.” His body started to shake again. Ginny further tightened her arms around him, slipping her hands under his jacket to rub his back in soothing motions. “Sweet man, it’s beautiful because you were a gift to her. You kept her child alive until help could arrive, and her husband didn’t have to bear the agony of losing his wife alone. You didn’t fail tonight, Gavin. You did what you could. Whether the child lives or dies, no one could have worked harder to save them than you did.” “You shouldn’t be touching me. We don’t know what killed her. It could have been the infection—” “Or it could have been a complication from her pregnancy,” Ginny finished for him. “You told me it isn’t in the States.” “I said we can’t know for sure. I need to call Viper.” Ginny moved away from him, giving him space to talk privately. She used the opportunity to stretch

her legs, and as she did, Gavin walked behind her, keeping her within eyesight as he talked, close enough to react if something happened. When another car pulled into the rest area, Ginny turned and walked back to the car to wait inside, even though the vehicle was parked farther ahead. As Gavin remained outside, still talking to Viper, she was pretty sure she knew what they were discussing. Nervously buttoning her jacket, Ginny waited for Gavin to end the call. When he got back inside five minutes later, he didn’t immediately start talking. “You can tell me. I already know.” He gave her a startled look. “Were you listening?” “No, I didn’t have to. If you weren’t comfortable with me being near Jesus because of his sister, it stands to reason Viper would have the same hesitation about us, especially since we came in contact with someone who died.” Gavin shook his head. “To be on the safe side, we’re in limbo until a cause of death is determined. Viper thinks, and I agree, we can’t stay at the clubhouse until we’re symptom-free for nine days. We have to take into consideration that Lily is pregnant, as well as the health of the brothers and their wives.”

“Which means me staying with Willa is offlimits, also. She’s expecting too. She told me just before I left.” “Yes.” Confirming her other assumption, Ginny didn’t blame them. This was her fault because she had taken off. “If you get sick because of me, I’ll never forgive myself,” she whispered into the dark interior. “I shouldn’t have left Nashville.” “If we get sick, it’s on me. I should have figured out you were about to run. Shade had warned me. Especially when you gave an encore and had never done that before. I didn’t plan on you making it out of Nashville, much less half away across the country.” “Where will you stay?” Ginny wasn’t going to listen to him blame himself. “Viper has rented us two connecting rooms at the hotel. One of Knox’s men will stock the rooms with groceries before we arrive. He won’t even have to go the store, since Diamond has enough supplies hoarded that she won’t even miss them.” “I’m surprised Knox is still there. I expected Diamond to make him take them to her island,” Ginny said. “The island is for emergency use when there is a Zombie outbreak. Diamond isn’t letting anyone step a foot on her island until the dead rise again.”

Gavin said with a wry twist of his lips. Diamond was notorious in their town for being a doomsday prepper after she married Knox. “She afraid they’ll never want to leave.” Grinning at the silliness of what they were discussing, Ginny couldn’t help herself. “I told her she was wasting her money on an island. She should have invested in an underground bunker. Some dude is selling apartments in an underground apartment complex for two million a pop.” Gavin narrowed his eyes on her at the tiny sound she let accidentally escape. “When was that?” “During Christmas … when she was begging Knox to check out a system alert she wanted him to buy her. I was sitting with them at the same table with Dr. Price when she was asking him if he thought the system would sound if anything moved without a heartbeat.” “What did he say?” “He gave her Dr. Alder’s card. He’s a psychiatrist who’s moving into town the first of March.” “A psychiatrist?” “Personally, I think she should ask him if he has any opening day specials, but if you tell anyone else I said that, I’ll deny it. She gets a little testy when you tell her the zombie apocalypse only happens in movies. Willa told me that after Dr.

Price gave her the psychiatrist’s card, she now drives to Jamestown when she needs a doctor. I might need a lawyer someday, and I don’t want to burn that bridge with her.” Gavin didn’t give a full-fledged smile, but it was close. He was slowly relaxing his guard. However, the least little thing, and he would withdraw back in a shell, like a tortoise scenting danger. He wanted his hard exterior to blunt the pain, to prevent anyone from becoming too close. Sweet man didn’t know she loved tortoises. They took a lot patience to get them to show their real personality, and she had plenty to give Gavin; when he was ready to accept what she ready to give. “We’re three hours away from Treepoint. The women’s restroom is empty if you need to go.” “Are you going to leave me stranded while I’m in the restroom?” she teased. “Depends on how long you talk me to death before you go.” Ginny immediately got out of the car. With unfaltering steps, she walked toward the women’s restroom. Sweet man was so obtuse that he was unaware she would never let him leave her behind. Hell, would have to freeze over first. Ginny had never peed so fast in her life. Washing her hands, she dunked the paper towel in the trash at a run, determined not to give Gavin any

excuse to leave her behind. Coming out of the restroom she nearly tripped over her feet at seeing Gavin patiently waiting outside the door. “Why didn’t you wait in the car?” she asked in surprise. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t leave the car keys in the restroom.” Lifting an ironic brow at her, Gavin held out his hand for the keys. Reaching into her pocket she gave the keys to him. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t leave me.” “Ginny, if I didn’t want you to get out the car at the gas station to keep you from getting near Jesus, why would I have let you ride on a motorcycle when you’d be even closer?” “You were joking?” “Wouldn’t say it was a joke, more to get you mad so you’d give me the silent treatment.” Ginny stared at him balefully. “So, why are you admitting the truth when we still have three hours to go?” The big jerk was actually proudly swaggering toward the passenger door. “All good things must come to an end.”

Chapter Twenty-Seven


need to make a phone call.” Ginny turned

the radio down once Gavin was back on the road. “If you didn’t want me listening in, you should’ve made the call while we were at the rest area. I don’t want to pull over.” “I don’t mind you listening.” Finding her cell phone, Ginny pressed Silas’s phone number. “Hey.” Ginny smiled when her brother answered. “Hey. What are you doing up so late?” “Watching television.”

“Don’t watch; it’s depressing.” “Makes me glad I quit work at the lumberyard after Christmas.” “Why? Did something happen?” “Nothing worth mentioning.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Wasn’t important.” Ginny let the subject drop. Silas had always maintained his silence about his treatment at work. His mother and stepfather both worked at the same store, and she had used her influence to get Silas a job there when he was just sixteen. From the few things he had told her, Ginny believed he had been treated unfairly by his stepfather, compared to the other employees. “Anything I can do?” “No. I’m good. I’m not the only one up. What has you calling?” “I can’t call just to talk to you?” “Yes, if that’s why you’re calling.” “There might be another itty-bitty reason why I’m calling.” “Which is …?” “I’m about two and half hours away from Treepoint.” Gavin shot her a glance for giving the information when he didn’t knowing whom she was speaking with. Ginny gave him an okay signal with her fingers,

then went back to listening to Silas. There was a pause from the other side of the phone. “We thought you would be in Nashville for another week.” “I had a change of plans.” “I’ll get your room ready, then.” Ginny had to blink back the tears that came to her eyes at the offer. The years spent away from them couldn’t be made up in the few hours she spent with them before having to leave to catch the plane back to Nashville, but it had been a start. “I wish I could, but I can’t stay there.” “You wanting to stay with Willa?” The disappointment in his voice echoed her own. She wanted to stay close to Gavin, afraid she would lose the headway she was making with him, but Ginny would have enjoyed spending the time renewing her family ties just as much. “No, I can’t stay there, either. On our way into Treepoint, we may have become exposed to CP. We’re going to stay at the hotel there until we find out we’re not contagious.” “Come home.” Ginny was familiar with tone of voice he used on her. “I want to be on the safe side. I’ll call you when I get settled in my room.” If she kept talking to Silas, she would give in to

his demand. It would be easier to explain about her not wanting to leave Gavin without him listening. Her wild man would barricade himself in his room and not come out. “I’ll talk to you, then.” “Don’t be mad at me. I’m doing it for everyone’s safety.” “I’m not mad. I understand.” “You sound mad.” “I’m not … Just get here safely, okay?” “Will do. I love you.” “I love you back.” Disconnecting the call, Ginny put her phone back in her pocket. “You make a habit of telling men you love them?” Ginny rolled her eyes as the hint of jealousy coming from Gavin. She wondered if that was another emotion he wouldn’t admit having for her. “When they’re my brothers, I do. You’re the only man I’ve told I love you.” “It’s none of my business who you talk to.” “Okay,” she mocked. “I thought you had no contact with your brothers.” “You mean, there’s something Shade doesn’t know?” “Cut it out.” So much for the sweet man she had been

appreciating before the phone call. It had lasted a whole whopping forty-five minutes. “I went to see them before I left for Nashville. We were able to heal our breach.” “Was that right before the brother you were talking to quit his job?” “You have a suspicious mind. My brothers won’t take any money from me. Well, except Fynn, but he’s only fourteen,” Ginny corrected herself. “You’ve tried to give them money?” “Ever since I was old enough to start working. They never cashed one check. My brothers don’t have much, but what they do have, they achieved on their own. Our father didn’t have a dime to his name when he died. All he owned was our home and property. We barely had enough money to pay for his and Leah’s caskets. Silas had to borrow money from his mother to pay for them. When I found my first job, I went to her to give some money to pay on the loan, but Silas had already paid her back. He had worked sixteen hours shifts for two years to pay her off. Silas works for his stepfather, who treated him like dirt. He wasn’t the only one. My family has been treated like trash going back as far as I can remember. My father had an eye for women, and he made a lot of enemies in town. They took it out on his children.” “Did they take it out on you?” “Oh yes. That’s the reason Silas let me go. He

didn’t want me to be raised with the stigma of being a Coleman. His attempt was a miserable failure for me. You can take the girl out of the mountain, but you can’t take the mountain out of the girl. I missed my mountain. I still do. When I find out who my stalker is, I’m going to build my home on the spot that me and Leah used to watch stars from.” “If you’re going to build a house there, why did you buy the house in town from Willa?” “No one in town would give me a loan, but Willa. When I had enough equity built in that house, I could have sold it and built the one I dreamed of having. My children will be raised on the same mountain I was,” she warned Gavin. “Are your brothers okay with you building a house there?” “Of course. It isn’t a secret. Leah and I both were going to build our homes close to each other before she died. Her property was right next to mine. Freddy left each of his children a piece of property.” When Gavin took the eyes off the road long enough to glance at her, Ginny saw he was frowning at her. “You don’t have any property registered in your name.” Ginny shrugged. “The property Pa left me doesn’t go into my name until I turn twenty-eight or get married. Until then, it’s in Silas’s name. Freddy

didn’t exactly believe in lawyers. He wasn’t paying one hundred dollars an hour to be told how to handle legal matters when the library in town is free.” “He did his own will?” “Yes.” “Was it notarized with witnesses?” he asked. “Of course. We’re not hicks.” Giving him an exasperated sigh, Ginny turned the radio back on. “Each of my older brothers witnessed it after Pa wrote it out.” “Did he use an ink pen?” Ginny stared down her nose at him. “You don’t have to be so sarcastic about it; it’s perfectly legal.” “Who says? Because I’m pretty sure it isn’t. If Silas filed your father’s will in the courthouse, Shade would have found it during a record search on you.” “Shade did a record search on me?” Fear bloomed in her chest with the force of a paint gun being aimed at her, splattering her with all the lies she had told since she was three years old. She had every intention of telling Gavin all the details of her life; she had just been waiting until he liked her a little better. She couldn’t jeopardize Trudy’s safety. Her sister hadn’t placed her in jeopardy when she fell in love with Dalton. She had to confess to Gavin soon. Ginny understood his issues with trust, and each day that passed, she would only make it

worse when she confessed to having another identity. “Ginny?” “Hmm …? I’m sorry I didn’t hear what you said.” “I was saying, you had to know Shade had done legal search on you when he started trying to find out who your stalker is. Shade wouldn’t have missed it. He might not have found out who your stalker is, but it’s not from lack of trying.” “I didn’t think he would.” Ginny reached for her lukewarm water in the cupholder to take to take a sip, hoping to ease her dry throat. “Gavin, it doesn’t matter if Silas filed the paperwork or not. When I’m ready to build, he’ll sign the property over to me. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.” She could see Gavin wasn’t convinced, but there was no way she could prove it until she had the paperwork in her hand, and if it was legally filed and notarized. He was looking for deception in the wrong place. She was the one who was deceiving everyone she cared about. “Give me one.” Her hand stilled in her pocket. “Huh?” “You can turn the radio back down. I can hear you eating that candy.” “I’m doing you a favor. It’ll rot your teeth.” “My teeth are fine. You’re the one who’ll need

a root canal before we get to Treepoint.” “Maybe so, but I have a dental plan with no copay.” She unashamedly popped another candy drop in her mouth, refusing to share. She loved his pearly whites. “I’m being cruel to be kind,” she said in a sing-song voice, bopping her head to an imaginary beat. “When we get to Treepoint, I’m getting first dibs on the bags. You won’t be getting any more Mr. Nice from me.” Ginny made a psst sound. “Knox won’t have any candy to put in the bags.” “How do you know?” “You said Knox was getting the groceries from Diamond’s zombie stash. Candy wasn’t included in the supply list she updates every month. She showed me the list when we were at the church’s Christmas dinner.” “Why the fuck didn’t she include candy?” “She was afraid it would rot their teeth out, and her island doesn’t have a dentist.” Ginny shrugged as if it made perfect sense. “Her island is small. She placed a limit of twenty people that she would invite to go with them.” “Just twenty?” Ginny nodded. “I agree. That’s way too many people to me, also.” “How many would you take?” “To a deserted island? That’s a no-brainer,”

Ginny scoffed. “Okay … how many would you take?” “Just two. You and me.”

Chapter Twenty-Eight


oom numbers 26 and 27.” Reaper shut off

his phone after reading Knox’s text. “At least it’s on the first floor,” Ginny said. “I’ve been sitting so long my feet are numb.” “I told you to stretch out in the back seat,” he reminded her, putting the car back in Drive. “What are you doing?” Ginny gripped the door handle as if she were about revolt if he didn’t let her get out of the car. “Our rooms are on the other side of the hotel,” he explained. “This way, we can go directly into

our rooms without running into anyone else.” “Oh ….” “You’re not the only who wants to get out.” “Which one are you more tired of? The car or me?” “Both.” His hands tightened on the steering wheel, sensing the hurt he had just delivered. The stark truth was he could have driven into oblivion and not given a fuck. What he needed was to get away from Ginny. Each day he spent with her, Reaper could feel himself slacking the rein he kept on his emotions. She was a paradox—the more time spent with her, he discovered new aspects of her personality. Ginny was charming without being cloying. Her reactions were upfront—you could tell if she liked or disliked something or someone without her pretending the opposite. She was fucking funny and playful, getting excited about the simplest things that he had long ago lost his enchantment for. She acted as if her heart was broken just because she wasn’t able to buy taffy. The most confounding part of her personality was her ability to relate to others, regardless of their way of life. Ginny treated Kaden Cross the same as she treated Kimmy and the other employees at the club. Initially, he thought that she gave remembrances of herself for that exact purpose, but there hadn’t been anything personal in

the gifts she had given. Her main objective was to help, and in return, she received the joy of giving. Discovering that part of her personality got to him, bringing out sexual instincts suppressed so long, and wanting to uncover the rest of her secrets. Each hour spent in the car brought the buried instincts out more until he hadn’t been able to hold back when she asked which one he was more tired of. “Leave you suitcase in the car. After I check out your room, I’ll come back and bring it to you.” Ginny cast him a worried glance. “We’re still being precautious? You think who’s been stalking me will be here?” “I’d rather be safe than find out the hard way.” “Me, too.” “Wait here a second.” Reaper got out the car, checking several vehicles in the parking lot. Seeing no one around, he went to her door. Opening it, he looked inside, then closed and locked the doors. Taking her arm, he started walking quickly toward the side of the hotel. As they drew closer, his hand tightened on her arm, bringing Ginny to a stop. Ginny looked up at him in confusion. “What’s wrong?” “Someone is hiding behind the stairwell.” If he hadn’t been on alert, Reaper would have missed the shadow standing behind the open stairs that led to

the second floor. His finger went to the car fob in his hand, preparing to unlock the car and press the emergency button. “When I say go, run to the car and call Knox.” “But ….” He didn’t have time to argue with her before the shadow stepped out, coming into the light just as he was about to press down on the button. “Silas!” Ginny’s excited shout had his finger stilling. “I was wondering when you were going to show.” Reaper kept Ginny by his side when she started to excitedly run toward her brother. “Stay here.” “He’s my brother …,” Ginny appealed. Then, at his stern look, she nodded her understanding. As Ginny’s brother stepped out into the light, Reaper felt his blood go cold in recognition. Silas was the stranger whose off-handed remarks had put him in the direction of the isolated homes outside of town being used as stash houses for drugs. It was also how he had found out Memphis was using, setting off a chain reaction that stole nearly ten years of his life. “That’s not much of a welcome, Ginny,” her brother reprimanded her. Despondently, Ginny quit trying to get away from Reaper. “I can’t get closer. We both may have been exposed.”

“I’m also trying to protect you,” Reaper told her. “Just because the CDC doesn’t believe there haven’t been any cases in the US, doesn’t mean there haven’t been. Silas could be a carrier, with no signs or symptoms yet.” The turmoil of Ginny’s unexpected visitor had him coming off harsh, as memories of the easygoing man he used to be tried to invade the disconsolate one he had become. “Silas wouldn’t be here if there was a chance he was contagious,” Ginny assured him. Reaper didn’t allow his hold to slacken at her assurance. Ginny was letting her emotions rule her, not caution. He wanted to shake some sense into her. She was the type of person who led with her heart and worried about consequences later. It was a deadly combination, and until Viper found someone else to watch her, he was the only one who was standing between her and tragedy. He didn’t believe the virus was in Kentucky so far, but neither was he sure that her family could be trusted with Ginny’s safety. He’d rather come across as being paranoid about the outbreak than make her angry that he didn’t trust her brother. “Silas, this is Gavin. He’s a friend of mine.” Friends? Reaper didn’t correct Ginny, letting it ride. Maybe in another lifetime they could have been friends, but not in this one. “We’ve met.” Silas took another step under the light hanging on the side of the building.

Ginny looked up at Reaper in surprise. “You’ve met my brother?” “I didn’t know he was your brother. It was a long time ago. We met at the diner,” Reaper roughly supplied the information. “Been a long time.” Silas nodded at him. “Good to see you again. Haven’t seen much of you since you’ve come back to town.” “You knew I had been kidnapped? I haven’t seen you, either,” Reaper said flatly. “Surprising in such a small town.” Silas gave a laconic shrug. “Don’t get out much. This is the first time I’ve been out of my house since I quit my job. I heard a Last Rider went back with Ginny; didn’t know you were the one called Reaper. Everyone in four states knew you were missing back then. You were kidnapped.” The way he stated it could have come across as a statement of fact or a question. Silas’s reply and expressionless face sent his bullshit meter rising. Viper had been able to keep the details of his kidnapping out of the media, yet Reaper wasn’t naïve enough to think that a slip from anyone from The Last Riders, Predators, or the hospitals he had been in would provide a leak that would allow the whole truth to come out. “How’d you know a Last Rider went with her if you haven’t been in town?” “Just because I don’t come to town doesn’t

mean I’m can’t pick up a phone.” “Silas’s mother is a little bit of a gossip,” Ginny explained. “Not much in town gets past her ears.” Reaper found it pretty damn cagey. Silas’s noncommittal response didn’t provide the answer from where he had gained his knowledge. Silas’s gaze went to both of them. “You both look like you could use a good meal and some rest.” “We could. Ginny can call you when she wakes.” “My sister is coming home with me. Ezra and Fynn are keeping a big kettle of stew and cornbread warm. Plenty for you too. The boys are making a spare bed for you in case you decide to stay.” “We’re staying at the hotel,” Reaper shut the offer down. “Silas … we could be contagious.” Ginny’s attempt at trying to ease the terse situation didn’t help. The two men were engaging in a battle of wills, which Reaper was determined to win. “Ginny and I have everything we need here. A friend of mine booked rooms for us and has already set us up with food.” “We saw. We’ve already loaded the food up to take with us.” The battle of wills had just escalated in a

direction Reaper had failed to register until it was too late. “We’ve?” Silas raised his hand in the air, closing it into a fist when it was above his head. Then Reaper saw other shadows move, blending into the light from various positions around the hotel. He counted five men as they moved closer. Silas lowered his hand. “I wasn’t the only one who came to welcome Ginny home.” “Then it was a wasted trip,” Reaper said. “We’re staying here.” “Then,” Silas matched his ultimatum with one of his own, “we’re staying here too. We’ve already rented the rooms on both sides of yours.” “How did you know which rooms we rented?” Reaper regarded him suspiciously. “Wasn’t hard to figure out which two rooms were for you and Ginny when we saw Knox packing a bunch of groceries inside both rooms.” “Pretty good guess.” Silas didn’t appear to register his sarcasm. “Been known to make a few good ones when the occasion calls for them.” As they talked, Reaper was aware of Silas walking closer. “There was no point for you to rent rooms here. Ginny and I were set up to stay here.” “There is a point when there’s no need for

either of you to stay here when I have plenty of rooms to spare. Why stay cooped up in a small room when you can have all the outdoors at your footsteps? You seem like a sensible man. What makes more sense: Staying here, when you know Ginny will sooner or later answer her door to one of us, or move into my house with just me?” Silas moved in for the kill in his argument. “If you’re so worried about you two being contagious, the only place you could go in town is to The Last Riders’. Personally, I wouldn’t, heard a couple of the women there are pregnant.” “More information coming from your mother?” Reaper asked caustically. “Could be.” Silas gave a grin that didn’t reach his eyes. “I don’t rightly remember who told me. Am I wrong?” “No, you aren’t.” Ginny tiredly leaned against Reaper. “Is there anywhere else we can stay?” Reaper looked down at her, seeing she was asking him and not her brothers, leaving the decision in his hands. Every place he could come up with had drawbacks, and none that would be as safe as to what the Colemans were offering. “You might not have been in town the last few months, but how about the rest of your brothers?” Reaper asked Silas, not giving in to what could be Ginny’s safest option without considering the safety

of everyone involved. If he had to pitch a tent behind the church, he would. “They come into town even less than me.” “Silas is the only one who isn’t a homebody,” Ginny teased her oldest brother. “They could get sick,” he told her before giving in. “We could have been exposed. It’s going to be a waiting game to see if we get any symptoms, which means they’ll have to wait it out with us before coming back to town again.” “If Ginny goes anywhere else but with us and gets sick, we’ll get infected anyway, because no one will be able to keep us away from her.” Silas took a step off the sidewalk as he talked. “As to the food, all the groceries that Knox sent you was enough to feed an army. Plus, we already have three freezers packed full. I reckon we’ll do fine.” “You have three freezers?” Reaper regarded him skeptically. For people who never came to town, they seemed to have an overabundance of food. “Have you watched TV lately? Nothing to do in the mountains but hunt. Ginny looks like she’s ready to drop. The only one Ginny and you will be in contact with is me. That’s why the boys are staying back. Isaac and Matthew share their own place, Jacob and Jody each have theirs, Moses has his. Ezra and Fynn both live with me, but Ezra is going to move in with Isaac and Matthew, and Fynn

will be going to stay with Jacob. See? We have it all worked out.” “Gavin, it’s up to you.” Ginny leaving the decision to him when all her brothers were standing there, putting his say-so over the brothers she loved and trusted, placed a burden on him to consider the best recourse for her. The problem was that he had other options available to him, but all of them involved leaving her unprotected. It rankled with him that Silas had never filed their father’s will. Their reappearance in Ginny’s life could have another motive, and until he could assure Viper that Ginny was safe with them, he didn’t feel good leaving her alone. “I’ll call Viper, then decide. Give me a minute.” “Call whoever you want,” Silas urged without irritation, his face hard and resolved, “but our sister is either coming home with us or we’re staying.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine


re you certain you’re okay with us staying

with Silas?” Reaper didn’t look toward The Last Riders’ factory or clubhouse as he drove past on the way to Ginny’s brothers’ home. “Nine days will go by fast.” It wasn’t much of an answer, but one that would start his stay with them on the rocky ground. He didn’t want to have to search for another place right now, and once he determined that she was safe with her brothers, he would have both Ginny and Viper off his back.

“You’ll like my brothers once you get to know them.” Ginny had perked up once he told them that Viper agreed it was the best option available, if not the only one. Unlike him, Viper had no hesitation about giving his approval with Ginny and him staying with the Colemans. He wasn’t the one who would have to stay there. He was still irritated that Viper hadn’t provided him with a better alternative. “You really will,” Ginny assured him. “You and Silas have a lot in common.” “Like what?” “He hates road trips with me too.” He couldn’t help the small smile tugging on his lips. “As long they don’t expect me to go hunting with them and they keep their distance, we’ll get along.” “Aw … You’re like Moses. He doesn’t believe in killing animals, either.” Wanting to give her an eye roll, Reaper contained himself, even though he couldn’t keep his sarcasm to himself. “Depends how many legs they have.” “Huh?” “I don’t mind taking out the two-legged variety that shouldn’t have been put on earth in the first place. It’s the four-legged, helpless ones I have a problem killing.” He used to have that bleeding-

heart mentality until he was shown firsthand the brutality humans were capable of. “I hope you’re joking.” “Is this the turn-off?” “Yes. Gavin, killing … Never mind.” “Go ahead. What were you going to say?” “Hatred fuels the wrongs done. Forgiveness puts the fires out.” Ginny pointed to the left. “You can park over there.” “Hatred can also provide oxygen to right a wrong.” Hatred was the only reason he had fought so hard to get out of rehab. Without the desire for revenge, he would have been content to wither away. Vengeance was the only emotion he was able to feel after Slate and his perverted clients had ripped his sexuality away from him. Putting the car in Park, he saw Ginny’s brothers unloading the supplies from Knox and carrying them into the house. “There are other emotions that can do the same thing.” Reaching over the console, Ginny laid a hand over his that was resting on the steering wheel. “None than I’m interested in.” Pulling his hand away, Reaper got out of the car, walking to the back of the pickup truck where Silas was standing. “You need any help?” Silas used one of his feet to shove a box toward

him. “You can take that one.” Hopping off the back of the tailgate, Silas took a large suitcase that Viper had packed for him. Reaper kept a safe distance from the porch, waiting for Ginny’s brothers to come back out before entering the house. A broad-shouldered man, who he hadn’t seen at the hotel, came outside. Waving to Ginny as she got out of the car, he started to jump off the porch when a quiet word from Silas, who was coming up the steps, waylaid the man’s exuberant attempt at a welcome. “Ezra!” Ginny laughingly waved back to the man who Reaper assumed was another brother. A younger boy came outside to sidle next to Ezra. “Is that you, Fynn?” Ginny pretended the porchlight was blinding her, placing a hand over her eyebrows to peer closer at the boy. The young boy laughed. “Yes.” Ginny blew kisses in his direction, making the boy giggle despite him manfully trying not to. “Has Ezra been sneaking you his protein shakes? I almost didn’t recognize you.” The boy beamed up at her. “I’ve been working out with him,” Fynn bragged, raising his arm to show Ginny his muscle. “Wow.” Looking impressed, Ginny circled her hands together to make the circle of a grapefruit, exaggerating the size of the nonexistent bicep. “I

can see the potential.” “You can?” Reaper’s heart dropped at the love and hero worship apparent in the kid’s expression. “I can,” Ginny professed with a ring of truth in her words, not faking her reaction. “The girls at school will all fall in love with you.” Reaper saw an inexplicable expression cross the boy’s face. Ginny gave Silas a questioning glance at her little brother’s forlorn countenance as he settled a hand on Fynn’s shoulder, letting him know without words that he was there; a brotherly bond on display with the simple gesture. “We were worried about you when you didn’t answer our calls,” Ezra admonishment, taking Ginny’s focus off Fynn. “Silas and Matt were going to head out in the morning to see what’s going on. Glad you finally called and saved them a trip.” “I’m sorry, Ezra … all of you. I should have called. I changed my number. I was going to call and got sidetracked.” “We can discuss this later,” Silas averted the questions that Ginny’s apology invoked. “Ginny and her guest are tired and don’t need you keeping them up with all your questions. Ginny, you introduce Reaper to everyone before they take off. I’ll go inside and put the food on the table.” Becoming the center of attention, he felt all of

Ginny’s brothers eyeing him. Then, as if in a longingrained habit, the brothers formed a line. They were a variety of different sizes and complexions. Ginny pointed to the left side, giving the man a cheeky grin. “That is Matthew, and the one next to him is Isaac. They’re the hunters in our family and why our freezers are full. Don’t ask him to go hunting. He doesn’t believe in killing animals.” Reaper couldn’t hold back his eye roll this time —neither could the two brothers. The brothers had similar brown hair, yet they wore it differently. Matthew’s wore his high and tight while Isaac’s was tied back. Matthew was a couple of inches taller than his six-foot brother, Reaper estimated. Their piercing gazes vetted him, not shying away from his as he looked them over. From their appearance, they didn’t seem much younger than him. Their complexions were tan and weather-bitten, as if they spent most of their time outdoors. Feeling as if he was under a microscope at the intense way they were staring back at him, it was apparent that Ginny’s comment about his lack of desire to kill was being taken with several grains of salt. “This is Jody.” Moving down the line, Ginny pointed to a honey-haired man with coffee brown eyes. His expression was the friendliest of the group standing in front of him. The same height as

his older brothers, Jody was heavier built than Matthew and Isaac; more brawny and bigger chested than all his brothers, as if he could drive a steel spoke into the ground with little effort. Whatever Jody was doing to develop his upper body strength, it didn’t involve weights or time at a gym. “Jacob looks the most like our father.” Going to the next brother, Ginny brushed away a swatch of her hair that the wind had blown across her face. Jacob’s features were more angular, thinner than the rest. His height was comparable to Matthew’s, yet he seemed half his body weight. He didn’t come off as bony, merely lean. Gentle, midnight blue eyes traveled over his body in return, taking in the tattoos and his haircut without the judgmental condemnation that came from most people he came into contact with. “Moses takes care of all the animals on the property.” This brother was just as tanned as the others, except his complexion was more golden than bronzed. Sienna brown hair and azure eyes that probed his, as if he could see the empty shell within. There wasn’t anything small about him He was a Goliath among them. The younger man looked like he could snap him like a twig, and he wasn’t a small man. The man had to being lifting some serious weights or heaving tree trunks over his shoulders. There was also a quality about Moses

that was different than the rest of his family. Unable to pinpoint what it was, Reaper planned to watch him closely until he could. The brothers left an empty space between Moses and the other man that Ginny introduced next. “Ezra had to suffer through Leah and I using him as our baby doll. He has a bald spot on the back of his head thanks to us.” The younger man grimaced at the reminder. “I threw the pictures away, so don’t think you’re going to be able to pull them out and show him.” Ezra’s voice boomed across the distance separating them. “I have backup copies,” she informed him serenely. Topaz eyes glittered in challenge. “Where are they?” “That’s for me to know and you to find out,” Ginny crooned, trying to spark an argument with her brother. “Careful. Want me to show him the pictures of you playing dress-up?” Ginny hastily shook her head. “We’ll talk later.” Pretending to put her phone to her ear, she said, “Call me.” The easy teasing was unusual with them being separated for so long. Reaper surmised with them being closer to age, they must have developed a

close bond before she’d been taken away. Ezra didn’t resemble any of the family. His coal-black hair and topaz eyes were striking but somehow didn’t have the stand-out features of Moses, while his body was almost the same size. “And last but not least, Fynn is the baby in the family.” A grimace showed his appreciation at being called a baby. From Shade’s information on Ginny’s family, the boy had been born right before their father’s death. There was some resemblance to Jacob, but the still growing boy was lanky and he awkwardly shifted on his feet next to Ezra, as if he was finding hard to stay still. “Do you ride a motorcycle like the other Last Riders?” Curious, electric blue eyes stared at him from across the lawn. “Yes,” Reaper answered, expecting the next question to be the one children always asked: if he could be taken on ride. Already planning his refusal, he was shocked at the sad expression that crossed Fynn’s face as he turned to his brother, hiding his face in Ezra’s chest. Ezra put an arm around the Fynn’s shoulders. “Fynn’s afraid of motorcycles,” Silas explained, coming up behind the group of men. “Boys, better be getting on home. Fynn, you pack your suitcase? Don’t want you trying to sneak back in just to see

Ginny. She’ll be staying for a while; just want to make sure her cooties don’t get you sick.” The boy didn’t need another prompting. Running off and up the steps, he disappeared into the dark in a matter of moments. “I’ll catch up with him.” Matthew jumped up the porch, taking off after his little brother. “Fynn’s afraid of anything resembling a fourwheeler,” Silas explained as his other brothers took off at a slower pace. “How did he find out?” Ginny unhappily stared out into the darkness. “The children in school,” Silas answered. “I blame myself. I should have told him. The kids turned it into a joke. How many Colemans does it take to ride an ATV?” Lines of pain laid heavily on Silas’s face. “Three.” “They didn’t!” Ginny angrily started up the steps once her brothers were far enough away. “Leave it alone, Ginny. It happened a while ago. Fynn has been making the kids pay for it ever since, even the ones who didn’t take part in the teasing. He’s been pulling mine and Matt’s old trick of getting thrown out of school. He’s been suspended for fighting.” “Oh …I might have gotten in trouble once or twice that way myself.” Carrying the box, Reaper followed Silas and Ginny into the house.

The inside was huge. A massive stone fireplace took up the center wall with two couches placed on two opposite ends. Comfortable chairs were scattered around, leaving enough room to walk. Framed pictures filled the walls at various stages of Ginny’s family members added to the cozy, comfortable atmosphere that beckoned anyone entering to feel at ease. Going to the table with her, Reaper found a spot at one end of bench, opposite from the one Ginny sat on. “I’m not that hungry.” Silas set a pot down on table. The aroma changed his mind. “I’ll show you to your room, then.” Silas started to move the pot toward Ginny. “I could eat a small bowl.” He reached for serving spoon before Silas could take it away. Taking a piece of cornbread from a platter, he took a bite before spooning a taste of the mouthwatering stew. The warm stew slid down his throat with a delicious blend of spices and chunks of meat and vegetables. The stew was home in a bowl. It was a meal perfect for a cold night, comforting …. “Do you like it?” Ginny asked, refilling his bowl for him as he reached for another piece of cornbread. Reaper could only nod, his mouth full of

honeyed bread. “I’m glad you like it.” Ginny lowered her head as she took a bite from her bowl. “Matthew makes it a couple times a week to use up the meat.” Taking a drink of water, he noticed brother and sister watching him with amusement. He really didn’t want to know what meat was in the stew. His appetite plummeted as he looked down at a full bowl of road kill stew, Bambi soup, squirrel goulash … With a mountain as their grocery store, the possibilities were unfortunately endless. Ginny was the first to break, bursting into peals of laughter. “It’s beef,” Silas informed him, finally taking pity on him. “But I’m not promising there might be a piece of racoon swimming around in there. Ones been turning our trash cans over, and Matthew promised to take care of it for me.” “Tell me you’re joking.” Dipping his spoon in the stew, he scraped the meat, trying to determine what it used to be. Glancing up at a choked sound, Reaper saw Ginny’s head laying on the table with her shoulders shaking in laughter. The fucker was making fun of him, and Ginny was letting him. He couldn’t even be angry. It was the first time since his rescue that he had been treated like anyone else. Fucking normal. “Welcome to my family.” Ginny wiped her

tears of laughter away with a napkin. “I’m sorry I laughed, but your expression was priceless.” Waving a hand at his bowl, she urged him to keep eating. “Don’t worry, we only serve racoon to guests we don’t want to stay.”

Chapter Thirty


o you think you’ll be comfortable?”

“Can’t say I’ve ever slept on a swinging bed before.” He had never slept on one, much less seen one. Ginny plopped down on the end of the bed, sending it swaying. “Dad built it for me and Leah.” The bed looked like any other bed, except being supported by four thick ropes hanging from the ceiling. “We would fall asleep here, watching for falling stars,” Ginny told him as she got off the bed to

lower the blinds on three set of windows on each of the walls. “We ended up sleeping in here more than we did in our own room. It was just a back porch until we kept getting eaten alive by bugs, so he enclosed it with the windows and added the heater.” Flicking a switch on the portable heater, Ginny twisted her hands together uncomfortably. “I know it’s not much. If you’d rather, you can have my bedroom and I can sleep he—” “This will be fine.” The add-on room had a door to the outside, so he wouldn’t have to go through the house to reach the front door. On the other hand, the doorway that led into the rest of the house didn’t have a door. Ginny had told him that Silas had hung up the sheet on a curtain rod to give him privacy when he slept. “Can I get you anything before I go to bed?” A door would be nice. Reaper kept the thought to himself, seeing a sleepless night in front of him. “No, you’ve already shown me the bathroom. Go to bed before you drop.” “I’m going. I plan on sleeping in late. If you get up early, make yourself at home. Silas laid out some cereals and bread for breakfast in case he’s not around. And feel free to wander around outside. You’re probably sick of being cooped up. Just make sure if you do go exploring, don’t cross over any fences. The Porters and the Hayes shoot first and ask questions later. I really don’t want to be

awakened by the sound of gunfire before noon.” There was no amusement in the warning. Ginny was being deadly serious. “They’re that strict about no trespassing?” “Wait until you see the notices they posted; you won’t have to ask me that question again. If you get close enough to read them, then you’re too close to their property, and they’ll take you out before you know what hit you.” “Are you related to them?” “Why do you ask?” Ginny tilted her head questioningly. “Seems like the Porters and the Hayes aren’t the only ones who aren’t against sneak attacks.” Mischievously, Ginny got his meaning. “My brothers were just welcoming me home.” “They ambushed me.” “They were concerned. Which was my fault for not returning their calls.” “Why didn’t you?” “I was a little distracted.” Reaching out, Ginny tenderly smoothed her thumb along the ridge of his temple. “Sweet man, it worked out for the best. You’re going to enjoy staying here. I’ve been trying to come back since I had to leave. I can finally repay a gift given to me. Good night, Gavin.” When Ginny walked through the curtained-off doorway, a sense of yearning hit him out of the blue. He rubbed his hand along the back of his

neck, as if erasing the feeling of incompleteness and the deep loneliness blanketing him as darkness surrounded the earth at night. Changing into a pair of shorts, Reaper turned the lights off before climbing into the bed. His movements set the bed swinging back and forth, then it subsided into a barely perceptual rocking motion that stilled when he didn’t move. Rolling over, Reaper set the bed in motion again. He was obviously going to have another restless night. Fatigue had his muscles twitching from driving for so long, so he got out of bed, paced around the small room, and counted off each footstep. When the air became too heavy to breathe, he turned off the heater, raised the blinds, and opened two of the six windows. Gasping in lungsful of deep air, he stood at the window until his sore muscles couldn’t hold him up any longer. Then he slid down to the floor, resting his back on the lower portion of the wall below the window. Feeling the sweat drying on his skin from the cold air but too tired to close the windows, he started to make his way back to the bed. Feeling lethargic, he stopped trying to make himself move. If he still believed in God, he would pray to go to sleep and never wake up. Maybe you should pray, he thought sarcastically to himself. He’s never answered one

damn prayer before. Why put me out of misery now? Falling to the side, he felt the rough texture of the indoor/outdoor carpet against his face and body. Sleep finally gave him the respite from the torture chamber of his thoughts. Reliving explicit images of what had been done to him and those he had committed under the influence of the drugs had him writhing on the floor, trying to escape the memories he couldn’t escape from in sleep. Sleep made the recollections worse. They couldn’t be pushed away or combatted against, caging his mind in a never-ending nightmare playing out each time he went to sleep. Sleep had become his new tormentor, replacing Slate in the ability to make him not want to endure another day. Unconsciously, his hands clawed at the carpet, dreaming about digging out the hole that he had hidden under his cot. He was going to make it out … keep digging … the frame repeated over and over…. Warmth covered him in a soft cocoon, pressing him down, stilling his restless movements. Comforting heat drove out the aching coldness, allowing him to slip into a deeper sleep, one without nightmares. The scent of sunflowers replaced the filth he had been trying not breathe in. He felt the perfumed scent sink into every pore of

his being, as if he could never wash it away regardless of how many times he tried. He imagined himself sleeping on a hammock, swaying in the sun with someone singing in the background. God had finally answered his prayers … this was how he had always imagined heaven …. The voice banishing the memories as if they never existed. A burning sensation had him lifting heavylidded eyes and raising a hand to swat away the irritating sensation. He wasn’t ready to wake. Just five more minutes … Just five more blissful minutes and he would get up. Turning on his side, he shoved the pillow under his head more comfortably. The rocking motion came with the dawning awareness that yet another of his prayers hadn’t come true. Jerking himself upright, he found himself on the swinging bed with a thick blanket on top of him. The vague memory of sleeping with the swaying motion underneath him kept his fear in check. He must have been so out of it that he didn’t remember switching from floor to the bed. The heat of the sun hitting his face was what had woken him, not the sudden swinging motion of the bed. Getting out of bed, he stretched languidly, twisting his upper body left and right. His muscles moved supplely with ease, the soreness gone.

After getting himself showered and ready, he headed into the kitchen and poured himself some coffee. Not hungry, he decided to check out the vast property Ginny grew up on. Strolling to the side of the house, he saw a target nailed to a tree trunk. Exploring over a small rise, he found a fort built out of small logs. Reaper could imagine hours of enjoyment the boys would have spent outside. A firepit close by would have provided additional entertainment roasting marshmallows. Every step, he discovered more of the happy childhood they must have spent together. The Colemans’ land had been their playground; the siblings, their playmates, and confidants. Over another rise, he saw a lone building among towering trees. Curious, he strode toward it. When they ate last night, Ginny had explained that Matthew and Isaac shared a home that they had put together after buying an online kit. Ginny’s description didn’t resemble the one he was looking at. Jacob and Jody, however, told him that they had taken the easy route and bought second-hand trailers until they were ready to build. The absence of windows in the front gave the impression of an outbuilding, Reaper mused as he strolled past. On the other side of the building, a flash of movement had his coffee splashing out of his cup. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” A shirtless Isaac

wearing leather gloves that reached midway up his forearms inclined his head at the coffee stain on his shirt. Reaper remained where he was as Isaac stood in front of a large barrel, both men keeping their required distance. The distance between them kept him from looking into the barrel to see what Isaac was doing. Long metal tongs were holding something submerged under water. A flashback of being held forcibly under water had him involuntary stepping forward, disregarding the safe distance he wanted to keep. At the same time, Isaac lifted the tongs out of the water, exposing a metal stick. Reaper watched as Isaac laid it down on the table behind him. Moving away from the table, Isaac used a gloved hand to wave at the table. “Have a look.” Waiting until Isaac moved farther away, Reaper walked over, seeing several more spokes had been placed there. “It’s going to be a metal fence when Matthew and I are done. Do you want to see what it’ll look like when we’re finished?” “Yes.” “You have your phone with you?” At his nod, Isaac told him what website to go to. Pulling up the website, he found, “Iron Bros.

Contract all your iron needs. Fencing Designs, Iron Works, Gates.” “Go to fences—it’s the last one on the page.” Following Isaac’s directions, he found a wrought iron fence with intricate details surrounding a home. Scrolling up to look at the others, he took in the different designs, shapes, and lengths of fencing they sold. “You made those?” Reaper went to another page that showed the iron work they offered, seeing a variety of security bars and security doors that could be purchased online. They also offered installation services. Flipping to another page, he started reading the reviews of outstanding service. From what the reviews said, Matthew and Isaac crafted the iron, and Jody and Jacob were responsible for the installation. All four brothers were given high marks for quality service. “With Matthew’s help. You want to see how we make them?” “Yes.” “Wait here. I’ll open the window. You can look inside from there.” Isaac went inside the building. Seeing the window being opened, he waited until Isaac stepped back before approaching it. The heat that hit his face felt like a furnace. Reaper now understood why Isaac and Matthew were shirtless. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and he was just at the window.

Matthew was holding a long metal stick in a raging fire, a gloved hand twisting the molten metal spoke, his profile a mask of concentration until, with a satisfied grunt, he pulled it out to hand it over to Isaac. Isaac immediately took it away from him, using tongs. Matthew gave Isaac a wide berth to carry it outside. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Isaac go back to the barrel of water to quench the iron. Reaper stayed where he was, a distance away from the men, admiring how well they worked together. Using the back of his glove, Matthew wiped away the rivulets of sweat running down his temple, then turned his head toward him. “Sleep good? Silas said he thought you were still sleeping when I saw him this morning.” Going to an insulated jug of water near the furnace, Matthew took a long drink before going back to the forge. “I was.” Matthew began expertly molding another piece of the fencing into the shape he wanted. “Ginny didn’t mention you and Isaac were iron workers.” Neither had Shade or Rider. “I wonder why.” Matthew held the iron steady in his gloved hand as he twisted the metal in the fire. The sheen of sweat on his upper body showed how intense the heat coming from the forge was. “Even if people in town saw us making what we

sell, they’d swear they saw us stealing it. Easier just to keep our business dealings to ourselves.” “You don’t care that I could talk?” he asked. “We don’t keep it a secret. We just don’t go around town talking about what we do here. Cuts down on the made-up bad reviews they’d give us.” “I could do the same.” “Why would you? You don’t strike me as a man who would be interested or petty enough to worry about us making a living.” Matthew pulled the metal spoke out, looked at it, then stuck it back inside. “Besides, I think you have more on your plate than getting involved with what bullshit the town makes up to make themselves feel better.” “What do you think is on my plate?” Reaper asked, his voice tight with anger as shame filled him, expecting the inevitable had happened and that he had been recognized from the movies that Slate had made of him. Had someone from Treepoint seen them and spread the gossip of what he had done? Matthew answered him matter-of-factly. “I think worrying about becoming infected from the woman you tried to save and protecting Ginny from her stalker gives you a pretty full plate. You don’t agree?” Isaac coming back into the building was a welcome interruption. “I shouldn’t be the only one worried about

being infected. All of you should be concerned.” “We are.” Isaac snorted, taking the spoke that Matthew handed off to him before going back outside. “Which was why we hightailed into town to get Ginny.” “You’re not concerned with Silas contracting the sickness?” “If he does, he does. We’ll worry about it if it happens, just like if Ginny or you do,” Matthew stated practically, handing another spoke over to Isaac. “Won’t be the first time one of us has been sick and another has to take care of them.” “This virus is killing a large number of people overseas.” Matthew paused before sticking the spoke into the furnace. “You do know who you’re talking too, right?” The shadowy flames played across Matthew’s profile. “The Colemans have been fighting against the odds of surviving for generations. This isn’t anything new for us.” Reaper had to respect how the Colemans lived. Isolated, they led their way of life on their own terms without help from anyone. They stood firm in their dignity, despite the harassment they had to deal with when they left their mountain. He could understand why Ginny had worked so hard to earn enough money to build a home, and why she wanted her children raised here. It was an idyllic way of life that didn’t exist anymore, except

for the precious few willing to brave the challenges. Were they brave enough to take Ginny out? Something kept nagging at him about her stalker. He couldn’t put his finger on it, and he was beginning to suspect that Shade and Rider had the same feeling, which was why they were so determined for him to take over. Fresh eyes could often see what others couldn’t. Using the opportunity of Isaac being inside the building, Reaper told them that he was leaving. Continuing in the same direction, he strolled through a copse of trees, wanting to map out Ginny’s brothers’ homes and find any vantage points where Silas could be watched. Coming out from the trees, if he hadn’t been looking where he was going, he would have fallen down a steep hill. Below, a home had been built in a bowl-like indention in the mountain, secluded by the trees and invisible to the naked eye. He had no idea the mountain he had driven past numerous times had this scope of land farther up from The Last Riders’ clubhouse. How far did the Colemans’ land go? Ironically, he hoped Ginny’s stalker tried to scope out the property. He would be scraping their remains off the bottom of the basin. The thought had no more than entered his mind when the hair on his neck stood up. Spinning on the balls of his feet, he saw Ginny staring at him from

under a tree behind him. “I came out to warn you. I see I was too late.”

Chapter Thirty-One


he way he had spun to confront the person

behind his back hadn’t given Ginny time to mask her expression. Everything she felt for him had been captured in that moment before she could disguise her feelings. The knowledge of it shouldn’t have weighed so heavily on him. She had been telling him how she felt with every word and touch from the beginning. “I was trying not to startle you, which was why I stayed back when I saw where you were standing. Matthew and Isaac were worried you might fall and

wanted me to warn you about the drop-off.” Slowly coming to stand next to him with her hands in a thick blue jean jacket, Ginny looked down at the basin. “Moses lives there,” she informed him when he made no attempt to talk to her. “How does he keep it from flooding when it rains?” “Dad rented an excavator.” Ginny pointed to the side of the mountain from where they were standing. “He used the rocks to divert the water to a pond on the other side of the rocks. He moved the cow pins there, too. They roam during the day, and one of the boys pins them in at night.” “How many cows?” “When I was little, Freddy usually kept four. Two calves, then two grown ones.” “Saves the need for foraging for racoon and squirrels.” Amusement shined on Ginny’s face, uncovering a deep inner beauty that, like the land she was standing on, couldn’t be appreciated from a distance. The instinct to leave town the day his bike hadn’t worked had been right. She was getting a foothold, and he was even more afraid he would never get her out … or if he no longer was capable of succeeding. “Yes, it does,” she teased him mischievously.

“That doesn’t mean you won’t find a few in the freezers.” His hand started to rise in a reflex so old that it was almost as natural as breathing. He jerked his hand back, but not quick enough that Ginny missed the action. She bit her lip so hard it went bloodless before she stopped and let the blood return, like what she was trying to do to his fucking heart. “You were going to touch me, weren’t you?” There was no longer a sign of amusement on her face. “It was just a reflex. It doesn’t mean anything.” Lying to himself as well as to her, Reaper found a spot on the ground to sit. “It means something to me.” “It shouldn’t.” Picking a stick off the ground, he broke in two, then threw it away. “You’re determined not to give me an inch, aren’t you?” “There’s nothing in me to give anymore.” Staring out, he saw Moses’ door open and three dogs came bounding out. Coming outside himself, Ginny’s brother threw a yellow ball for the dogs to catch. “I don’t need much, wild man.” Ginny walked toward him. He thought she was leaving when she turned in her brother’s direction, but then he felt her sit down

behind him. Her legs on each side of his, she casually raised an arm letting it hover above his shoulders. Despite how close she was, no part of her body touched his. Feeling her so close, he was going to get up when Ginny raised a finger to point at the dogs. “The red one is Ruby, the black lab is Cooper, and the grey and black German Shepard is Suki.” “Pretty dogs.” Moses quit throwing the ball for the dogs, saying something Reaper couldn’t hear from the distance. Then all three dogs sat down on the grass. Again, Moses said something, and the red dog got to her feet. Motioning the dog to his side, Moses began walking, and the dog moved with him, matching his steps. “What’s he doing?” “Moses trains dogs for other people. The only one I believe is not his is the German Shepherd. Moses told me he washed out from K-9 school.” “When did you talk to him?” “Chill, wild man. I saw him working with them this morning. I called him from here to say hello. Satisfied?” “Just checking.” Ginny rested her chin on his shoulder. “Are you a dog or a cat person?” “Neither.” “You don’t like animals?”

“Never really had the chance to have one. My mom never let us. Then, when we grew older, Viper and I stayed so busy that we didn’t think it would be fair to the dog. Which are you? Dog or cat?” Her sad expression reminded him of what he had read in her file, but it came too late to take the question back. “Both. When I bought Willa’s house, I got a cat. I wanted a dog, but I wanted to wait until I had more time to train one.” “You could get Moses to train one for you.” “Maybe I will someday.” Twisting his upper body, he turned toward her. “Why wait? Are you planning on taking off again?” “No. I promised you I wouldn’t.” “Then why wait?” “Because I want to wait until you want a dog.” Her simple response cut him to the quick. Grabbing her chin, he pushed her back until he was laying on the ground over her. “Stop … Just stop.” Limpid eyes stared up at him. “Do you really think you don’t have anything to give?” “I don’t feel anything for anyone, and that includes you.” “I don’t need much …” Taking his wrist, she moved his hand until his palm was covering her cheek. “A smile every now and then.” Ginny rubbed her cheek against his palm like a kitten

begging to be stroked. “I don’t need kisses and rainbows, sweet man. I just need you. Any way you’ll let me in your life, and I’ll be content. I swear.” “What would it take for you to understand I will never want you in my life the way you want to be?” Reaper leaned over her ruthlessly. “Kisses and rainbows? How fucking old are you?” Driving nails into his own heart like he could see going into hers with every word he uttered, Reaper lived up to his name. “The thought of sex with you makes me want to throw up! Do I need to be any plainer? It’s like your future for us that will never exist! Want to know what future I see for us? Me seeing you in my rearview when these nine days are over! Is that simple enough for you, do you get it now?” he snarled down at her. “No, you’ve said enough. I get it.” The total devastation on her face had him rising back up to give her room to move. Shakily getting to her feet, Ginny brushed the back of her jeans off. “I’ll leave you alone … for the rest of your walk.” Her back ramrod straight, Ginny left with dignified steps. The painful longing for her racking his body had his arms going to his knees to shelter from the chill created by her leaving. Linking his fingers together, Reaper started twisting them to focus the pain in his

heart on another area. A low whine had him lifting his head to see the German Shephard sitting on his haunches, staring at him. “Go away,” he hissed. Unknotting his hands, Reaper lowered his head to his knees. Another whine closer to him didn’t have him bothering to look. “Go!” he shouted. A wet muzzle sniffing his ear had him lifting his head. “Go away,” he pleaded to the whining dog. Ignoring his order, the dog moved, wiggling his muzzle between Reaper’s face and knees, creating a space for himself. “I can see why you flunked out of K-9 school. You should be tearing me to shreds.” Reaper grunted when the dog plopped herself down on his lap, a tongue lolling to the side as she turned on her back, begging to be pet. Reluctantly, he gave in to the begging when she kept rubbing her back on his legs. Running his hand over Suki’s thick fur, he smiled when the dog’s eyes rolled back in her head in pleasure until she closed her eyes, going to sleep. Letting the dog sleep, Reaper looked down at Moses’ house to see him training the lab. “I see what you’re doing. You’re hiding to get out of work.”

The dog raised one eye when he stopped rubbing her belly. His smile widening, he started petting her again. The image of Ginny leaving still hurt like a motherfucker, but at least the dog’s presence revealed the stark truth about him. He was only fit company for dogs.

Chapter Thirty-Two


inner’s ready.”

Closing the front door behind him, Reaper saw Silas placing a casserole dish on the table. “I’ll wash up.” Going to the bathroom, Reaper washed his face and hands, dreading seeing Ginny sitting across the table from him. He had stayed out most of the day to give her the space and time she needed before she would have to see him again. Loathing himself more than she possibly could, he went to the dining room table. Silas was the only one there.

“I hope you don’t mind that I started without you. I was starving. It’s been a long couple of days.” “I don’t mind.” Taking a seat midway down the bench, he saw Silas hadn’t set a place for Ginny. “You want me to go tell Ginny the food is ready?” he offered. “Ginny ate an hour ago; told me she needed an early night.” Spooning a small serving of lasagna, Reaper took a piece of warm garlic toast from the bread basket, tearing it apart. Lasagna was one of his favorite meals, yet he could muster enough appetite to eat more than a couple of bites. “What did you think of the mountain? Matthew and Isaac said they spoke to you during your walk.” “You and your brothers have a beautiful place here.” Silas took a piece of the toast and another helping of lasagna. “The mountain is all of ours, including Ginny’s. Each of us has a part set aside. I was given this house, because I’m the oldest. The other parcels of land are the same size. Pa had a property map drawn out and let each of them pick which section they wanted.” “Do you still have it? I wouldn’t mind seeing it. I had no idea your mountain extended so far.”

“The map is hanging in my bedroom. I’ll show you after dinner. Our property goes right up to the West Virginia line.” The property went even farther than he had thought. Damn. That was a lot of land. “It has to be hard keeping it in the family. The taxes alone must be a killer.” “We’ve always been able to make ends meet.” Another evasive answer, which Reaper didn’t blame him for giving. It was none of his business how the Colemans had the funds to pay their property taxes. “How far were you able to walk today?” “I walked to Moses’ property. I got sidetracked with one of the dogs and spent longer there than expected.” “Doesn’t matter how long you stayed. You have nothing but free time until you’re ready to leave.” “I’ll be out of your hair in eight days.” “No rush. Stay as long as you want. But after eight days, your help would come in handy.” “Doing what?” “Milking the goats is the one chore that everyone hates. I’d get rid of them, but they’re too useful at keeping the brush manageable. The boys have already turned that job over to Ginny. You can give her a break if you decide to stay longer.” “I won’t. “It was just an offer for you to take or leave.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to come off so rudely. I haven’t had the best day where your family members are concerned.” “You have words with Matthew or Isaac?” “No.” Shoving his uneaten plate away, Reaper couldn’t force himself to take another bite. “Ginny?” At his curt nod, Silas reached for his plate, setting it on his. Getting up from the table, he then carried the plates to the kitchen before coming back to clear the rest of the table. “You’re not going to ask what we got in an argument about?” “No. It’s better if I don’t while you’re staying here. I’m her big brother, not yours. If you were a dick to her, that’s your fence to mend, not mine.” “What if I don’t want to fix the damage I’ve done?” “Then why did you mention the argument with her to me?” Taking the basket of toast to the kitchen, he came back with a fried pie and a pot of coffee. “They’re apple.” “I don’t want anything.” Silas took his seat at the table, pouring them both cups of coffee. “Did she use the H word with you?” Reaper gave him a puzzled look. “Did Ginny tell you she hates you?” Silas clarified, taking a piece of pie.

“No.” “Then she’ll get over whatever you fought about.” “It was bad enough that she should have told me she hates me.” He glumly stared at the apple pie. Apple was his favorite. Reaper could have sworn that Silas was inwardly laughing at him, but neither his face nor his voice gave any clue as to what he was thinking. “She didn’t, and that’s what counts. Count yourself lucky. That’s a bridge you don’t want to cross. When Ginny told me she hated me, it took years for her to talk to me again. Ginny doesn’t throw that word around lightly. She only said it to me once, and I never want to hear it come out of her mouth again. It hurts like a motherfucker.” “She’s better off hating me.” Taking a sip of the coffee, Reaper unintentionally picked up a piece of pie. “Ginny’s a good judge of character, and I trust her judgment. Maybe you should too.” “Her judgment sucks.” Taking a bite of pie, the fucking thing melted in his mouth. If Ginny still loved him after the way he had been treating her, she had more than one loose screw floating around. “Why?” “Have you met any of her friends?” “No.”

“She’s friends with a man who runs a restaurant in Nashville.” “Ginny worked in a restaurant, then worked with catering for the band before she started singing. What’s wrong with being friends with him?” “The restaurant is called Dirty Dan’s, run by a man called Marty. He’s an asswipe.” “I see.” “She also has a friend that is her ‘stylist.’” Reaper put his fingers in the air to put emphasis on stylist. “She’s a fucking bitch. Ginny gave her a fucking car.” “Maybe Ginny had a reason to give her the car.” Silas refilled his coffee cup, then lifted the pot in his direction. Nodding that he wanted a refill, Reaper continued his rant. “Ginny should have fired Kimmy’s ass instead of giving her a car. Her worst lack of judgment is how she deals with one of the band members who constantly hits on her.” “What does she do?” “She tells him off.” Reaper snorted, picking up another piece of pie. “A punch in the nuts would stop real fucking quick.” “I imagine so. Would you like me to reheat the lasagna for you?” “No, I’m not hungry.” He wiped the cinnamon

from his fingertips onto a napkin. “If you’re sure, I can show you the map if you’re still interested? I’d offer you more pie, but there isn’t any left.” “That’s cool. I really don’t like pie.” Standing, they went up the steps. Each of the doors above were cracked open, except for one; it was shut tight. The tiny hallway was a square with the doors surrounding the small area. Making a left, Silas led him into a large bedroom with a four-poster bed that took up half the room. “This used to be our father’s bedroom. I took it after he passed. And this is the map of our property.” Reaper moved to the wall where the framed map hung. More pictures of the Colemans were placed around the map. There were ten circles colored around the map, each one with a name inside the circle. Memorizing the map, he saw that Ginny’s and Leah’s parcels were next to each other. If he had kept walking, he would have seen it today. He knew where he was checking out tomorrow. Taking his eyes off the map, he looked at the pictures, drawn to the ones with Ginny in the images. Another little girl was always with her. One in particular drew his eyes. Ginny and the other girl both had long hair blowing in their faces.

They were sitting on a blanket with a picnic basket in front of them and a tent behind them. “She was beautiful.” “Yes, she was.” Feeling as if he was trespassing on Silas’s grief at seeing the private photographs, he started to step away until a different picture caught his eye. This one was a round black mirror with stars inside. “That’s unusual.” “It’s a star map. Our father had them custommade for each of us. It charts the stars on the night we were born. The one you’re looking at was Pa’s. Mine is over there.” The star chart that he indicted was hanging on the wall over Silas’s bed. Narrowing his eyes at Silas’s, Reaper went to it. “I don’t know who he paid to do them, but they’re wrong.” “How?” Silas folded his arms over his chest, leaning against one of the posts of the bed. “They have two different constellations that have been superimposed together.” “You’re that familiar with constellations that you can tell just from looking at it?” Silas asked. “I had to be. When I was in the Navy, more than once my life depended on that ability. These two constellations wouldn’t be in the same part of the sky.” Reaper traced imaginary lines over the mirror to show Silas without touching it. “It’s just not possible. Who did them must have messed up

or didn’t know what they were doing. You should ask for a refund or ask them to be done over,” Reaper advised. “With that kind of mistake, I’m sure they went out of business by now.” “Could be. I would check and have them done right.” “I could, but they wouldn’t be the ones our father gave us. They wouldn’t have the sentimental value.” “I guess.” Reaper didn’t know why it bothered him that the mirrors were fake. Silas could see he didn’t agree with him. “You think I should replace the mirrors?” “They aren’t right.” “Reaper, the stars are never wrong.”

Chapter Thirty-Three


ou’re up early,” Reaper called out so he

wouldn’t startle Ginny as she loaded a goat into an wooden stand, with his head was hanging out through the slates. “I went to bed early.” Moving to the side of the milking station, Ginny put a metal bucket under the goat, who’d since hung his head out between the slates. She gave him a brief glance before she started milking the goat. With short, efficient movements, he heard the sound of the milk hitting the side of the bucket.

“You’re looking all refreshed,” she eventually said. “I went to bed early.” Repeating the same reason she was up early, he then uncomfortably opened and closed his mouth, trying to put into words what he wanted to say. “I’m sorry,” he finally muttered, wanting to say much more, but the words wouldn’t come out of his stupid mouth. “You’re forgiven.” Ginny slid the bucket out from under the goat, placing it on a small table next to her waist, before she started unloading the goat to release it back into the pen attached to the stand. “That’s it?” Dragging his hand through his hair, he wanted to rip it out in frustration. “What did you want me to say?” “I don’t know … I hate your fucking guts would be a good start.” “But I don’t, so I’m not going to say something I don’t mean.” Giving a low whistle, Ginny slid the gate open to the milking station again. “It’s your turn, Millie. Get her, Jack,” she ordered. Reaper moved closer to the pen and saw a flash of black and white fur singling out a particular goat from a herd of four. The dog skillfully maneuvered the goat until she had no choice but to go up the ramp. He gave a low whistle of appreciation. “What kind of dog is he?”

“Australian Shepherd.” She hadn’t looked at him, except the brief glance she had given him, and continued milking the goat as if he weren’t there. “You hate me, don’t you?” “I could never hate you. You said what you were feeling. I can’t begrudge you for that.” “I didn’t have to be such a jerk.” Using his boot, he nudged a tuft of grass. “Do you mind if we don’t go over this?” Setting another pail of milk to the side, she told him, “I’m trying to get several chores finished for Silas.” Ginny slid the gate open, releasing the goat. Then, picking up the pails of milk, he realized she was leaving him behind when she started walking away. “Let me carry them for you,” he offered, reaching out to take one of the pails from her. Ginny swung the bucket away from him. “I can carry them myself.” Her lashes fluttered as if she was trying to find patience before lifting her eyes to his. “What do you want, Gavin? I accepted your apology. We’re good. You don’t have to pretend to be nice, so I won’t ask you to leave. Is that what you want to hear?” Staring down at the spilt milk on the ground, Reaper felt as if he was scrambling in the dark to illuminate the reason he had been so cruel to her yesterday without giving her hope there could be

something between them. “Getting to stay here wasn’t what I was after ….” The thought hadn’t crossed his mind that she would want him to leave. It for fucking sure should have after the way he had spoken to her. Setting the pails down, Ginny opened the door to an outbuilding. Reaching inside, she turned a light on before picking the pails up and carrying them inside. “I know what you were after.” Opening a refrigerator, Ginny set the pails inside before turning back to him. “You lost your temper because I was coming on too strong. I can’t blame you because you’ve been telling me you don’t return my feelings. Sadly, I became the very thing I’ve been running from myself.” He gritted his teeth at her blaming herself. “Stop it, Ginny.” “I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to back off and give you space.” Why was it that, when she was giving him exactly what he wanted, Reaper felt as if his heart had just imploded, sucking all the oxygen out of the building. Striving to maintain his equilibrium, he placed a hand on wooden table, sending the bottles on top rattling. “Sit down, Gavin. There’s a stool right behind you.” Drawing a deep breath became impossible.

With a firm hand on his shoulder, Ginny pressed him down. “Wow. Me backing off is that big of a relief?” Her attempt at humor didn’t help. Unconsciously, he started tearing at his shirt, feeling as if it were strangling him. Grabbing his hands, Ginny moved between his thighs. Releasing his hands, she then hugged him tightly. Side to side rocking movements had him gripping the stool as he tried to concentrate to get his lungs to work. “While we’re here, we should go through the freezers and pick out what to have for dinner tonight. How does steak sound? Silas can light the firepit, and we can grill them. Or I can put a roast in the oven. Which one sounds better?” “Steaks,” he gasped out. “What would you like for sides? I can make baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or sweet potatoes. Which one?” “Baked,” he was able to wheeze his answer out. “How about dessert?” she asked, pulling his hair back from his face to tuck behind his ears. “We could have ice cream. I saw several flavors in the upright freezer over there.” Looking to where she was pointing, he saw a white freezer standing against the wall, next to a chest that was just as big. “Fried pie.” Her hand went to his shoulder to stroke down his arm. “Cherry, peach, or apple? Silas keeps his

preserves in here so any of the boys can grab a jar to take to their house whenever they want one. There might be some blackberry on the shelf or blueberry. I can’t tell from here, can you?” He looked to the shelf that she was nodding at. Narrowing his eyes, he made out the scribble on the masking tape that Silas had used for a label. “They’re blackberry.” “Which do you want?” Breathing in a deep breath, he answered, “Apple.” “I was hoping you would pick that one. Apple is my favorite.” Taking another deep breath, he lifted his hand to wipe the beaded sweat away from his forehead. “You’ll have to help me carry everything.” Releasing him, she went to the chest freezer and opened the door to lean over the side. “Want to come help me pick out the steaks?” she urged. “Silas likes rib eyes. I’m going for the sirloin. How about you?” Getting off the stool, he shakily walked to the freezer, breathing in the cold air as it evaporated the clammy feeling from his skin. There was a variety of different choices that he could choose from. “Any T-Bones?” “Let me see. Those are Isaac’s favorite. He usually hides a couple under the hamburger … or

he used to. Let me see.” Moving plastic bags that had been sealed and neatly labeled, Ginny raised one with a triumphant grin. “Found one. Do you mind holding the steaks while I get the potatoes and the preserves?” Ginny went to a basket that was laying on the ground, leaving the freezer door open. Reaper basked in the cold air, pretending an interest in the array of meat inside while Ginny shoved potatoes in her jacket pocket. Taking a jar of apple preserves off the shelf, she turned back to him. “You find anything else?” “No, I’m just amazed at how much is in this freezer. Are the others just as full?” He nodded toward the two other freezers against the other wall. “Yes. They’re definitely meat and potatoes men.” “The grocery stores in town don’t have this selection.” “They butcher two cows a year. There’s a farmer just over the border in West Virginia who sells Silas his pork products. That’s what’s in one of the other freezers, as well as chicken, which he buys from the same hog farmer.” “What’s in the other freezer?” “Junk food. Frozen pizzas, pot pies, fries, corn dogs—whatever is on sale. Silas hits the sales and buys them in bulk.”

“The Last Riders have one for the whole club. We should invest in another one. The freezer would pay for itself in six months with the way the brothers eat.” “Just make sure you have a backup power supply. We have a separate generator for this building. You could lose everything in the freezers if the power goes off,” she said, coming out of the building. Closing the door behind them, they began walking toward Silas’ house. “Must be a pain having to lug everything from his house to store them in the outbuilding, even if it makes it more convenient for your brothers.” “It would be if it were the only way there,” she agreed. “Fortunately, there’s a back way there. After we set the steaks out, we can take a walk, and I could show you.” As they walked, he realized he no longer saw the Australian shepherd. “Where did the dog go?” “Moses probably took him when we were inside. He was feeding the cows when you came and was going to take the goats to the north side of the mountain when he came back. I see they’re gone, so he must have.” “Do you think he heard?” he asked thickly. His hands started to burn from holding the ice-cold meat. “Heard what?” Ginny didn’t take her eyes off

the path. “My lame apology,” he said thickly. “There wasn’t anything lame about your apology.” Placing the preserves in the crook of her elbow, she wound her free arm through his. “It was a straightforward apology, which I appreciated you saying.” “You’re not mad at me anymore?” Licking dry lips, which he blamed on the high altitude and the fear of how she would answer his question. “I was never mad at you.” She slipped her hand down to link their fingers together. “I was more hurt than anything else.” “You’re not hurt anymore?” He experimentally squeezed her hand inside of his. “No, I’m not hurt anymore.” Ginny squeezed his hand back, the motion releasing the stitch in his side, allowing air to flow freely through his lungs. The reason why was just as scary as having trouble breathing. Since she had exposed her feelings for him, somewhere along the way, he started to believe her. When she said she was going to back off and give him space, he felt as if a rug had been swept out from under him. Now Ginny’s forgiveness was righting his world again. Reaper hated himself for accepting it when she would have done better telling him to leave. For her well-being, he was worse than the virus taking over

the country. At least with the virus, she would have a chance at a normal life when it was over. Loving him, her chance of being happy plummeted to a probability of zero. Ghosts weren’t granted happily ever afters.

Chapter Thirty-Four


re you sure this is the right house?”

The dark house gave him the fucking willies. Aaron watched Lena take out her cell phone, to double-check the numbers brightly lit on the exterior of the house under the porch light. “I’m sure. Look, there’s the bench with the red cushions that he said would be there.” Looking through the windshield to where his wife was pointing increased the trepidation he was feeling. “We should just go, Lena. This doesn’t feel

right.” “You promised me we could do this.” Her scornful glower at him conveyed the view she had of him as a wimp. The many times she blamed herself for ever marrying him in the first place were too numerous to count. Each marked by his refusal to halt the risky sexual encounters she thrived on. He had never fulfilled her sexual needs, and she made sure he had been told that fact frequently. Blaming him for being a coward and leaving her to take the incentive to find the gratification she craved—which he was unable to fulfill. “I told you I checked him out. Whitney and Derek already made another appointment with him.” “You’re trusting them when we’ve only talked to them a couple of times?” Every facets of his wife’s life was cut-throat. He had seen her fire someone just because an employee had come to work one minute late. She ruled their checkbook, making him payback if he spent five dollars over what she expected to spend, yet when it came to sex her standards were lower than those of a slut. “What else was I supposed to do, Aaron? It’s not like you’ve made any effort to replace Slate’s assistance at finding us partners.” “I wouldn’t describe them as partners.” He

tentatively looked around, seeing there weren’t any other houses nearby. The last one they had passed was a couple of miles away. Jesus, he should just file for a divorce. He would, but he was too afraid of Lena’s maliciousness directed at him in a courtroom. He didn’t trust that she wouldn’t be vengeful enough to spill the beans about their sexual diversions and place the blame on him. “Come on. Are we going to do this or not?” “Slate told us to hang tight until he contacted us again.” “I didn’t marry Slate, and the last time we used him, the piece of crap he gave us wasn’t anything to brag about. Of course he’s not going to want us to find someone else—he won’t be pocketing the money we’re giving him. “I’m going. You can stay here if you want,” she hissed through pinched lips. “I’ll tell you what you missed when I come back.” “I’m coming.” He reluctantly got out of the car and walked up the steps with Lena to knock on the front door. Anxiously waiting, he was about to tell her that he would wait for her in the car when the door opened, exposing a man wearing shorts. Desire overrode his worry. Deep down, this was why he had stayed married to the horny bitch. The sensual man opening the door wider for them was fucking sex on a fucking stick, or he would be

when he was finished with him. He thought about the whip he bought with a dual purpose in mind. “I have everything set up for us downstairs.” “Downstairs?” Lena was the one hesitating, stopping them from going down the carpeted stairs he led them to off the expensively furnished living room. The sixty-five-inch television hanging on the wall was the latest in technology. “We can do it up here if you want.” He shrugged. “You paid extra for me videotaping us, and my camera is set up downstairs. The only reason I set up downstairs is the guest bedroom is larger than mine. “Whitney and Derek said you might be skittish the first time. If you want, we can have a couple of drinks and reschedule for another time. I wasn’t too keen to doing this, anyway, with the virus going around. Of course, if we do reschedule, I don’t give refunds—” “Never mind,” Lena said anxiously when no refund was mentioned. The man took off, and they followed him down the steps, his lean, muscled back on display. The basement was decorated in the same style as the living room with another television mounted down there with theater chairs placed in front. There was even a fucking popcorn machine set to the side. “You want some popcorn? I just made it a

couple of hours ago,” he asked inanely as he went to an open door on the side of the room. The room was set up just the way Lena had requested. “Take your coats off.” The man motioned to a small fridge. “Make us a drink. It’ll loosen us up.” Lena went to the small fridge, taking out premixed cocktails in little bottles. “I’ll take the Mai Tai.” “Bob?” she asked, using the fictitious name they had decided on. “Whatever you think I’ll like.” Laying his coat on a chair, Aaron started unbuttoning his shirt, his eyes on the thick bulge under the navy shorts the man was wearing. Giving the man on the bed his Mai Tai, Lena opened her bottle to take a sip, waiting for Aaron to finish removing his clothes. Carry the bottle of Punching Kangaroo to the bed, Aaron sat down. Taking a drink, he ran his hand down the man’s muscled thigh as Lena started to undress. Lustfully watching the muscles on the man’s throat work as he swallowed, Aaron felt his erection swell. “Abby said your name is Bob.” Taking another drink, he edged his hand under the leg of the man’s shorts. The man caught and placed on his knee. “Let’s wait for Abby, then I’ll start recording.” “Almost there.”

Aaron turned at the sound of a thump on the carpet, seeing his wife had passed out. Jumping up, he grabbed his head at the wave of dizziness hitting him, sending him to his knees. Stupidly staring at the drink that was spilling onto the carpet, he looked up to see the man they had come here to fuck get off the bed to stare down at them with hatred pouring out of his eyes. “Fuck,” he gurgled out. “Yes, you are.”



ena woke up, then wished she stayed passed

out. Lightheaded, she managed to raise herself onto her elbows to stare in terror at the room she had never seen before. Seeing her husband lying on the dirt floor, she started crawling toward him. As she moved, her head began to clear, and it became easier to move. Managing to sit up by her husband’s side, she started shaking him. “Wake up!” she screamed, becoming more

terrified the longer Aaron took to wake. “Wake up!” Lena laid her head on his chest, trying to hear for a heartbeat and sobbing out when she felt him moving under her ear. Rising, she shook him harder, crying louder when Aaron opened his eyes. “Get up!” she screeched. “You’ve got to get us out of here.” Helping him sit up, she crawled behind him at the sound of a door opening across the room. The man cruelly watching them seemed familiar, yet Lena couldn’t remember where she had seen him before. “Right on time. Moon said he could get you to take a drink. I shouldn’t have doubted him; he always gets the whores to do whatever he wants.” Lena looked at her husband, seeing the same puzzled frown on him that she had on her face. “Do something,” she whispered, petrified, scrunching behind Aaron as much as she could to hide from the cruel eyes boring holes through them. “There’s nothing he can do.” Peeking over Aaron’s shoulder, she saw a gun pointed at them. “You should have listened to Slate’s advice and laid low. Fortunately for me, I knew sooner or later a few of his sick rats would want to come out and see what they could scavenge.” “If you know Slate, then you know we have

money. We can pay any amount you want to release us and help us get away from the man who took us,” Aaron bargained. Cruel laughter filled the room. “You’re asking for my help? That’s fucking hilarious.” “There’s nothing funny about this. Is this a joke?” Her husband managed to get to his feet. Left exposed, Lena got to her feet to hide behind him again. “No joke. And there’s no amount of money in the world that would entice me to help you. You want out of here, you’re going to have to dig yourself out.” “Oh God! I remember who he is ….” Lena grabbed her husband’s waist to pull him back to her, waiting for the sound of a bullet to go off. Aaron turned around to look at her. “Who?” A tsking sound drew his eyes back to the door. “I’m disappointed you have forgotten me so easily,” the man mocked. “I remember everything about you, Brad. You, too, Cami. How could I ever forget the performance you gave for me? I’m so disappointed.” As he tsked them again, Aaron looked horrorstricken. He turned his head to see his wife nodding hers in acknowledgment. “You’ll never know how nice it’s been renewing our friendship, but I don’t have all night to keep you company.”

“Don’t leave …,” Pleadingly, she started begging. “It was Aaron’s idea. I had to go along with it, or he threatened to give me to Slate. I swear —” “You lying bitch!” Her husband jerked away from her. “It was all your idea! This mess is all your fault, too!” A shrill whistle had them both looking at the fearsome man who was watching them. Amber eyes were the only part of the man that she remembered from the night she and Aaron tricked him into believing they had been kidnapped and were at Slate’s mercy. He had tried to help them and, in return, they had spent the rest of the night raping and torturing him until he hadn’t even been able to scream. “He’s going to kill us.” Going to the wall, she hunkered down into a tight ball, praying it would be quick. “Aw … No, I’m not.” Lena started shaking, too scared to believe him. Aaron did. “How much do you want? You have to go or take me to an ATM—” “I’ve already had my laugh for the day, so I’m going to make this short and sweet. You want to live? You’re going to have to earn that right. “I dug two holes. One will have a key to the door; the other will have a gun. The gun will have

one bullet. If you find the key first, you can open the door and will be free to go. If you find the gun … then it becomes a little tricky. Only one person is leaving this room alive. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one. I don’t give a fuck who does. No, wait, I take that back. I’m rooting for you, Brad. From my experience, she’s a real bitch. Good luck!” Scornfully, he went out the metal door, locking it behind him. Aaron ran to the door and started pulling on the handle. When that didn’t work, he started shouting to get out, banging his fists on the unyielding metal. “What are we going to do?” Lena was already frantically digging, scooping up handfuls of dirt while her husband whined at her, as if she could magically wave a magic wand and get them the fuck out of here. Clawing through the dirt she saw Aaron drop to his hands and knees to start digging. If he found the gun first, she was as good as dead. The coward knew she wouldn’t hesitate to snuff him out to save her own life. Killing her husband wouldn’t even faze her, she didn’t have a conscience on the other murders she had committed. The stupid suckers she’d killed who responded to their ads got what they deserved. The only reason she hadn’t killed Aaron was his usefulness at helping her steal what they could load into their

cars while their victims lay dead. Madly scrambling to another mound of dirt that seemed higher than the rest, she started digging, her hands already tiring; she had to reach the gun first. The key would be useless without the gun …. She had to find the gun, Lena told herself over and over as she dug. She had to find the gun … before he did.



eaper gunned the motor of the truck on the

empty interstate, satisfied he would make it back to Treepoint before the time he was scheduled to drop the truck off with Rider. The plan the evening before had come off without a hitch, or would have if he made it back before Silas or Ginny awoke and realized he was missing. He had been showering as Silas and Ginny were readying the firepit to cook the steaks for dinner. Getting out of the shower, he returned Viper’s call. “I received a reply to one of the ads you posted.”

“Which one?” Reaper stood on the bath mat, dripping wet, making no effort to reach for a towel. “Make Me,” Viper replied sardonically. “They send pictures?” “Sending. Hammer believes it’s one of the couples you had interactions with.” Interactions isn’t what I would call their raping and torture of me, he thought to himself as he moved the phone from his ear. The picture was low quality, but he recognized the couple instantly as he hadn’t been drugged when they had first come down to the basement. That was what happened when their faces and what they had done to him had been burned into his mind. “Reaper? Do you recognize them?” He put the phone back to his ear. “I recognize them. Slate called them Brad and Cami.” “They replied as Bob and Abby.” “At least one of them has an imagination.” Reaching for a towel, he began drying off. “Have you responded back?” “Not yet. I was waiting for you to confirm they were one of the couples you were searching for.” “Send me the link to my burner phone.” “You’re not thinking of going out, are you?” “Just send me the link.” Getting dressed, he went to his room to take out

the burner phone that Viper had packed for him. He heard the front door open and close, then light footsteps going up the steps. Ginny had said that she was going to take her shower once Silas put the steaks on. Turning the phone on, he pulled up Viper’s text messages, then pressed the link. Reaper still felt the rush of adrenaline when he realized, if he planned it right, the Coleman’s wouldn’t even know he had left. Brad and Cami deserved his personal good-bye. Responding to the request, Reaper then turned the burner phone off. He wouldn’t turn it back on until he was well away from Treepoint. Calling Viper back, he set his plan in motion. “I need wheels.” “You’re going to leave the Colemans? Let one of the brothers handle it … We can keep them on ice for you.” “I’m doing it tonight, with or without your help. I’ll be coming back here. I don’t have to get close to them to do what I want.” “What do you need?” “Wheels.” “What type?” “Big, with a lot of horsepower.” “When?” “Nine. I plan to have an early night. Park it at the Colemans’ turn-off. Make sure it’s spic and

span. I don’t want to carry any germs back here. Pick up in the morning by 0600 hours. I’ll make sure it’s just as clean for whoever does the pickup.” “Have you gotten the test kits from Arin?” “Hennessey delivered them an hour ago. “Going to need a couple of brothers who won’t mind being up close and personal with Brad and Cami. They’re going to text me a video of them taking their temperatures, but I can vouch for how good they lie. If none of the brothers want to go, then I can go on my own. Just find someone to take over for me here.” “Already have two volunteers. Moon and Jesus can stay at Jesus’s sister’s rental house. Make sure you keep your distance from them to keep the Colemans safe.” “To save time and so I don’t have to listen to you bitching, I didn’t plan on getting close to either of them, or Cami and Brad.” “You need anything else? I’ll put a box of the test kits for you and the Colemans in the truck for you. Arin’s lab doesn’t have approval for the tests yet. She’s giving them to us as research subjects. If they work, it’ll take at least one worry off our minds.” “They’ll work. Arin has the best private lab in the nation.” “Don’t forget to take them when you drop the

truck off.” “I won’t.” “Be careful. I hope you get them. May the motherfuckers rest in hell.” “Resting will be the last thing they’ll be doing when I’m done with them.”

Chapter Thirty-Five


haven’t seen him this happy since he’s been

here.” Ginny kicked her heels back on the siding of the house as she sat on the edge of the porch. Feeling Silas drop down beside her, she worried her inner lip, afraid of what he would ask. She couldn’t lie to Silas, as much as she loved Gavin. “The mountain air is good for him.” “Yes, it is.” Though Silas seemed to agree, Ginny knew she wasn’t off the hook yet. Her brother had helped

raise all of them; he was an expert at letting you walk into a trap of your own making. Unfortunately, her knowledge of that didn’t keep her from barging ahead. “He’s probably just relieved that all of us tested negative for the virus. I’m glad The Last Riders were able to get testing kits.” Silas twisted sideways to lean his back on a porch post, staring at her intently. “Funny how he didn’t tell us last night before we went to bed that he was meeting Viper this morning.” “Gavin said Viper texted him late last night and he didn’t want to wake us.” “He could have told me at five when I was making coffee in the kitchen. Would have saved him having to sneak back in.” Ginny started worrying her upper lip when her lower one split. “He probably didn’t hear you.” Technically, it wasn’t a lie. Gavin wouldn’t have heard Silas in the kitchen from where he left. “Quit biting your lips. Never play poker, Ginny. You always bite them when you’re trying to get out of lying.” “I’m not lying—” “I didn’t say you were,” Silas patiently continued with the same rapport they had shared from before her family had been torn apart. “I said trying.”

Ginny sat at the same spot she used to sit, where she could see cars passing on the road below through the trees. She and Silas would sit there every evening and watch the cars as they talked. He had listened as if her feelings were the most important things to him. So much of the advice he had given her she still used today. Silas was being too kind and honest to continue bluffing that Gavin hadn’t left last night. “I don’t know where he went,” she admitted. “Are you going to ask him to leave?” “No. I’m not concerned that he could have been infected while he was out. What I am concerned with is him not knowing the dogs have the run of the property at night. If Moses hadn’t pulled the dogs back, Reaper would be nursing several bite marks this morning.” “Or still stuck in a tree. Remember when Lindsey wanted to surprise you with a box of Valentine’s candy. If Isaac hadn’t heard her screaming, she would still be stuck up in that tree.” “She learned her lesson and never came back to the property.” Ginny finally understood what Silas was trying to do. “You want him to stay.” “Wasn’t that what I was saying?” “You like him, don’t you?” “Reaper is a hard man to like, but yes, I do.” “I do, too,” Ginny admitted, smoothing her

hands over her thighs. “I know.” Silas placed his hand over hers. “Am I that obvious?” “To me.” He smiled. “I also know how you knew Reaper didn’t spend the night in his bed.” Blushing at what Silas was imagining had her barging ahead before her words could catch up. “Nothing happened … I swear… He has troub— Gavin doesn’t sleep well.” “Slow down, Ginny. You’re over eighteen, and so is he.” “It’s not like you’re thinking.” “Ginny ….” Silas tried to slow her down again. “I wouldn’t disrespect you by … in your home.” “I heard him too. You calm him down so he can sleep.” “Yes. Please don’t say anything to him. He wouldn’t want you to know. Gavin doesn’t even realize I’m there.” “Maybe not consciously, but he knows you’re there,” he told her. “You think so?” “Yes. I think he was treated so badly that his mind is in constant pain, and he can’t hide from it when he’s sleeping.” “I don’t think he can hide from it when he’s awake.” Silas nodded in sad agreement. “For a few

hours a night, you give him peace. I’m glad he found you.” “We found each other. I’m in love with him.” “Does it feel the way you expected?” “No, it’s so much more, Silas. What I feel is like I was walking along, and suddenly I found this insanely perfect rose that was just waiting for me.” Becoming embarrassed at the way Silas was looking at her, she dropped her gaze. “I’m being silly, aren’t I? I’m too old to be talking like a tenyear-old.” “I hope you never get too old to stop talking that way. You’re a songwriter, and you describe your feelings with beautiful words. Don’t be embarrassed that your music gives you the ability to open hearts.” “Gavin’s isn’t opening. He can’t wait to get away from me.” She sorrowfully stared at the road below. It wouldn’t be long before Gavin went down the same road, without her. Silas moved his hand from hers to lift one of his legs onto the porch. “The way he has nightmares, what happened to him left a mark. Your perfect rose has been trampled so badly that it’s afraid to open its petals, afraid for fear of being crushed again. Have you heard of the Rose of Jericho?” “No. But, to be fair, botany was my least favorite subject.” “Pa taught us about them. They’re called

resurrection plants. Starved for water and care, they wither away until water brings them back to life. Reaper has strong roots, but they’ve grown so strong and deep just to survive that it’s going to take extra love and care to bring him back to his full beauty.” “He’s beautiful to me the way he is now.” “He doesn’t feel that way about himself.” Silas cupped his hand over his knee. “What can I do?” she whispered, seeing Gavin was finished cleaning her car. He had volunteered to clean and wash it for her and, in return, she had offered to make him a homemade pizza and peach pie. “All you can do is keep pouring your love on him and keep your heart open so he can walk in when he’s ready.” “I can do that.” Jumping up, she looked down at her brother. “Thank you. I needed a pep talk.” “You’re welcome.” Re-energized by Silas advice after a sleepless night wondering where Gavin had gone or if he would be coming back, she went to work making dinner. Humming, she started making the dough. That accomplished, as it was rising in a warm bowl by the stove, she started making the pie. Once everything was done, they sat down to dinner. Ginny ate her pizza, listening to Silas and Gavin discuss gas and electric motorcycles.

“Would any of the Last Riders consider buying one?” Silas asked. “Rider has a Zero SR/S. He uses it regularly, but he likes to collect different cars and motorcycles. Most of the brothers who have the kind of money to buy an electric motorcycle would just go ahead and buy their dream one.” “I don’t see many of The Last Riders or the Predators riding them. Most of them would just buy one of Stud’s.” “You know Stud designs motorcycles?” Ginny choked on a bite of pizza at her slip. Stud didn’t advertise that he designed and made motorcycles. Thinking quickly, she took a drink of water to buy herself more time. “Rider has one.” Hoping she was telling the truth, Ginny excused herself to go to the kitchen for the pie. When she came back, Silas and Gavin had switched topics and were talking about movies. Slicing the pieces, she gave a generous serving to Gavin and gave Silas and herself smaller portions. She wanted to go through the floor when Gavin noticed the size different. She had been thrown offkilter by discussing Stud. “I’m not that hungry.” Gavin started to slide his dessert to Silas. “Ginny knows I’m on a diet. I was complaining to her while you were cleaning out the car. I’ve

gained five pounds since she’s been here.” Satisfied at Silas’s explanation, Gavin started eating his pie. “What are we going to do after dinner?” Ginny asked, spooning a piece into her mouth. With Gavin being out all night, she expected him to say he was going to bed early. “Do you have a deck of cards?” Gavin asked. “We could play poker.” Silas gave him an innocent smile. “I guess we might have an old deck in one of the drawers.” Cutting himself another piece of pie, Silas pushed the pie plate toward Gavin. “Been so long since we’ve played. The kids lost all the chips. I have a few fivers on me if you’re game?” Ginny wiggled her eyebrows at Gavin, trying to send him a silent message. It failed. Gavin pulled out his wallet and spread his money beside his plate. “I have a few myself.” “Ginny, get my wallet from the drawer by the front door.” Giving Gavin a self-effacing look, Silas scraped the last bite of pie onto his spoon. Ginny hid her smile behind her napkin. “You want to deal, or do you want me to?” Gavin asked. “You. The arthritis in my hands makes it hard.” Ginny lowered her napkin, wiggling her eyebrows again. The result was just as ineffective as before.

Gavin skillfully shuffled the deck. Recognizing his card mastery display, she realized he’d seen her caterpillar eyebrow and was trying to reassure her he knew what he was doing. “You playing, Ginny?” “No, I’ll do the dishes. You two are on your own.” Ginny raised her hands in the air in surrender. She had warned him; her conscience was clear. “You ready?” Gavin paused with his fingers poised over the cards. “As long as you remember this is just a friendly game. I don’t plan on losing my last pay check.” “Just as long as you remember the same.” Ginny rolled her eyes as she stood to gather the dishes. The two men were unaware that they were staring at each other like greedy sharks, seeing their willing victims over their cards. She would stay and watch, but bloodbaths had a way of splattering during the kill.

Chapter Thirty-Six


walked right into that, didn’t I?”

Ginny took the box from Gavin that Silas had sent him upstairs to give her. She had to yell down asking for one when she heard Silas say he needed to go check on the generators with the storm coming in during the middle of night. Holding back her laughter, she gave Gavin a commiserating look. “Yes, you did. But don’t feel bad. We were raised knowing how good he is, and he would sucker us in every time.” Her hand trembled when Gavin sat down on her

bed. The box was between them, but she took to heart that he hadn’t sat on the other twin bed. “I used to think I was good, but he left me in the dust. The first hands, I thought it was just being out of practice. I hadn’t played since—” Gavin broke off, staring down at what she was storing in the box. “Since you were kidnapped?” she softly finished for him. “Even before that, I hadn’t played for almost a year. The last game I played was in the club in Ohio.” Ginny reverently wrapped a Cabbage Patch doll in tissue paper. “You remember your last game? You must have lost a lot of money to remember the time and place.” “The money isn’t why I remember it. It was the last time the brothers were together, having a good time … until Rider and I got into an argument.” Placing the doll into the box, Ginny picked up a children’s Bible with the pages dipped in fake gold. She smoothed her fingers over the worn leather instead of looking at Gavin. “What makes hur—” Ginny stopped to correct herself, to delicately probe, afraid of Gavin shutting down. “What made you remember it the most? Because it was the last time you spent with them having a good time or fighting with Rider?” Gavin picked up a small trophy. “The fight.”

“What was the fight about?” “Taylor. Rider called her a tag chaser.” Ginny frowned. “Rider had to be mad at you for him to say that.” Gavin looked up from his perusal of the trophy. “Why?” “Because you don’t insult someone’s fiancé without a reason.” Ginny shrugged. “At least in Kentucky, we don’t.” “Memphis started an argument when he lost … it boiled over into Rider and I arguing.” “Now I understand why you remember.” Ginny sighed. “You regret arguing with Rider.” “I hit him.” Gavin laid the trophy down to pick up a wooden stewer stick that had different colors of construction paper glued to the top. “What’s this?” Ginny took the stick from him. Placing the stick between her hands, she started rubbing her palms. “A rainbow spinner.” Gavin took the stick back, mimicking her motions. “Cute.” Setting the spinner down, he picked up a Rubik’s cube and began to change the mixed-up colors. Ginny kept sorting through the remnants of her childhood. “The day I had to go live with someone else after Freddy and Leah died, I told Silas that I hated him. I’ll never forget the look on his face.” Blindly,

Ginny stared down into the memory-filled box. “I could have come home any time after I turned eighteen, but I didn’t. I think I still wanted to hurt him, and it was easier to blame Silas than admit how badly I hurt him. He tried to talk to me in town; I told him I was busy and left.” “How did you start talking again?” “When I finally accepted Silas had nothing to apologize for. I was holding in how bad I felt about the way I acted, and I was blaming him for not making me feel better. Kind of screwy, right?” Lifting her eyes, she saw Gavin watching her. “The last time I came here to see them, all I had to do was walk through the door, and it was like I had never left.” “So, you forgave Silas?” “I forgave myself.” Ginny rose from the bed to go to a wooden chest of drawers, picking up the little iron farm animals. None had dust on them. Silas had kept the contents clean, as if waiting for her to come back. Tears clogged her throat at the time she had wasted. Moving back to the bed, one by one, she wrapped them in tissue paper before storing them in a shoe box. “Why are you boxing your things?” “These aren’t mine; they’re Leah’s. Silas asked me to. He wants me to have them.” “You’re leaving her star chart hanging up?” “That stays.”

Gavin rose from the bed. “Did Silas mention the charts are wrong?” Ginny turned from the box to see Gavin leaning over Leah’s bed to get a better view of her chart. “What do you mean?” “The ones I saw in Silas’s room had two different constellations. He said they were star charts of the night he and your father were born. Leah’s is right, as it only has one.” Moving back to her bed, Gavin went to the chart hanging over her bed. “Yours is wrong, like theirs.” “What did Silas say about them being wrong?” “Nothing really. I told him he should contact the person who made them. Silas said he probably wouldn’t, since they were a gift from your father.” “I still see him hanging them. I wish you could have known him. You would have liked him.” “Could I have beaten him at poker?” Wrapping an iron rooster, Ginny laughed. “No. Who do you think taught Silas to play? “Could you hand me the plaque behind the jewelry box on the dresser?” With humor, Ginny peered at Gavin as he found the plaque. “Silas owes me three hundred dollars.” “Losers weepers.” Quoting half the old saying, Ginny took the plaque from Gavin. “Please tell me this is the only tournament Silas played in.” “I would, but it would be a lie.”

Gavin looked toward the doorway ruefully, as if hoping Silas would walk past. “I tried to warn you.” “Exactly when was that?” “I wiggled my eyebrows.” “I thought you were telling me to take it easy on him.” “No, it was warning. When I took the pie away from Silas, that was me telling him to take it easy on you.” “Well, he fucking didn’t.” “Neither did you,” she reminded him. “How fucking good is he?” “He won every poker tournament he’s played in. Last year, I believe he won the International Tournament in Las Vegas.” Gavin’s left eyelid began twitching. “If he wins such big pots, why did he work at the lumber yard so long?” “The lumber yard has the best insurance in the county, and Silas needed that when they were all younger. He’s comfortable enough now with the boys having their own business that he can financially handle just Fynn’s medical care. You’re not really mad, are you? I was going to tell you. It just never came up. Then you were the one who wanted to play. I didn’t want to disappoint you. You were in such a good mood.” “I’m not now.”

“I can see that,” she soothed him. “I thought, what could the harm be when you were only playing with five-dollar bills?” “It went to twenties real fast.” “I kind of thought Shade would have mentioned Silas played. He watched the tournament with me —it was televised.” Both of Gavin’s eyelids began twitching. “He didn’t.” “Are you mad at me? I didn’t—” “No. I know exactly who’s to blame.” “Who?” she asked innocently. “Shade. The brother is dead meat when I get ahold of him.” “You really wouldn’t hurt Shade.” Ginny made a face of disbelief at him. “Shade doesn’t have four legs.”



ough night?”

Ginny moved to the side to let Silas fill his thermos. Blowing on her cup of black coffee, she

put a slice of bread in the toaster. “Yes,” she answered in a low voice, not wanting Gavin to hear if he was awake. “He spent most of the night trying to claw the mattress.” “Were you able to get any sleep?” “Some. It took him three hours to fall asleep before I could slip in his room. Do you want some toast?” “No, thanks.” Pushing the lever of the toaster down, she went to the refrigerator for the preserves. “I promised myself I wouldn’t go inside his room. I sat on the steps, telling myself I wouldn’t.” Ginny closed the refrigerator door, empty-handed. Pressing her forehead against the door, she couldn’t hold back her tears any longer. Silas pulled her away from the fridge and into his arms. “I saw you. I was relieved when you went in. I couldn’t take it any longer myself. I was going to break and wake him up. Probably would have gotten my ass kicked for the effort.” Ginny reached for a paper towel next to her. “Good thing you didn’t. He’s mad at you.” “He was good.” Silas took the paper towel from her, wiping her tears away. Then, opening the refrigerator, he took out the preserves to give her. “Just not as good as me.” “Not many are.” After making her toast, she went to take a seat at the table.

Carrying his thermos, Silas went to the hall closet to take a metal box off a shelf. Going to the table, he opened it and took out a gun. Ginny paused with the toast halfway to her mouth. “I don’t think he’s mad enough that you’ll have to defend yourself.” Silas gave her a crooked smile as he loaded the gun. “This isn’t to protect myself from Reaper. Knox called me this morning to let me know Fish & Wildlife posted an alert. A man was about to be arrested for hoarding dogs. Before they arrived, he set them free. His daughter told them what dogs were released. They’ve been able to capture thirteen, but two are still missing. The daughter told them the dogs are vicious; that’s why she made the report. That was over the border four days ago. If they make it this far, they are going to be hungry, and I don’t want to be their next meal. Moses is keeping an eye out for them. I don’t want you going out without me or Reaper.” With her mouth full, Ginny made the okay sign with her fingers at his steely look. After Silas left, she cleaned the already clean kitchen, then poured another cup of coffee as she searched recipes on the internet with the television on mute, so she wouldn’t wake Gavin. Yawning, Ginny wished she had slept with him another hour, but she had been afraid he would wake. A breaking news alert flashed across the

television screen, warning about an approaching storm with severe thunderstorms that were supposed to have hit last night, but it had stalled in Ohio, causing torrential rains. Texting Silas about the alert, Ginny heard the shower go on. Getting up, she made Gavin a couple of eggs and toast. She was filling a cup when he walked into the dining room. “I made you a small breakfast. If you don’t want it, I’ll stick it in the microwave for Silas.” “I can eat.” “When you’re done eating, do you mind walking with me to bring the goats in? Moses milked them for me this morning and put them out. Silas doesn’t trust the storm won’t stall and wants them pinned back in. And Knox called this morning to warn him about a report of vicious dogs on the loose, and he doesn’t want me to go outside alone. Silas left with his gun.” Gavin frowned. “I hope your brother isn’t like the Porters.” Ginny frowned back. “What do you mean?” “Shoot first, ask questions later. Some of the trees on your property are thick; I don’t want either of us being mistaken for one of the dogs.” Ginny raised her eyebrows at him. “Are you doubting Silas’s ability to shoot?” “He enter shooting tournaments too?” “You’ll have to ask to see his gun collection.”

“He has a gun collection?” “One that has been handed down for generations.” “I’m beginning to understand how he pays the taxes for this mountain.” “It’s how Freddy managed, plus kept all of us fed. I told you that my family didn’t need any money from me. They don’t have a lot, but they manage to make—” “Ends meet,” Gavin finished. “Exactly.” Carrying the dishes to the sink, Ginny then went to the living room closet to put on her raincoat. It wasn’t raining yet, but the cloudy skies showed the storm was close. “Have you asked him about your father’s will?” “No, I haven’t. I trust him.” “Ginny, someone has been stalking you. We’ve checked out everyone you have come into contact with from your past and your present. Nickel is still in Nashville, and no one has shown any overt interest in you leaving.” “With the virus going on …” Ginny sighed. She couldn’t explain her stalker’s behavior. “You really think Silas is planning to hurt me just to keep the property?” “I think it’s a possibility.” “You’re so wrong.” “How am I so wrong? You showed me your parcel. The back road that Silas uses goes through

the rear. If you ever get in an argument, you could threaten to close the access—” “I would never do that, and Silas knows that. He also knows me well enough that he wouldn’t have to kill me to get the property.” “Why not?” “Because all he would have to do is ask, and I would give it to him.”

Chapter Thirty-Seven


he likes you.” Closing the gate to the goat

pen, Ginny patted the male Australian Shepherd for doing a good job, observing Suki bump against Gavin for her share of attention. “She’s okay.” Gavin used a jean-clad knee to push her back when Suki wouldn’t move from him. “Moses coming to get them?” Ginny looked up at the rapidly darkening clouds, taking out her cell phone to text her brother. “Moses said he just finished loading the cows. While we’re waiting, I’m going to get some

hamburger from the freezer. Try not to get licked to death while I’m gone,” she joked. A crash of thunder had Suki cowering against Gavin’s leg. Ginny caught Gavin petting the dog’s head. “I saw that.” Gavin made a face. “This dog is a big baby. She hid behind me when you released the goats from their tether.” “Which shows you how smart she is,” Ginny called back, making a silly face back at him. Going inside the outbuilding, Ginny went to the freezer, taking the frozen package out. Deciding to get some bacon for breakfast, she was opening the second freezer when she heard Suki and Jack start barking. Thinking the dogs were playing with Gavin, she ignored them and grabbed the bacon when she heard the dogs’ warning growls. Slamming the freezer door shut, she ran out and was confronted with mayhem as Moses’ dogs fought with two dogs that she had never seen before. Wanting to scream, she bit it back at seeing Gavin reach for the gun tucked at his back. Pointing his gun at the dog fighting Suki, he hesitated, as the dogs viciously fighting weren’t giving him a clear shot. Running closer, Ginny threw the frozen bacon at the one fighting Suki, and the dogs broke apart

for a split-second, then started lunging again. However, before the other dog made contact with Suki, it fell to the ground. With the other dog not moving, Suki ran to the other dog fighting Jack. “Dammit!” Gavin yelled, moving his position to find a better spot to fire his gun a second time. Ginny moved, too, hoping to throw the hamburger the same way to break the dogs apart. Other than a pained grunt from the massive brown dog snapping at Jack, the crazed dog didn’t stop. Gavin pointed the gun at the brown dog, but before he could fire, Suki grabbed its neck, trying to shake him off Jack. When Jack went down, Suki and the brown dog became a twisting blur of brown fur. “Fuck.” Gavin pointed the gun again. From the harsh set of his features, Ginny knew he was going to fire. A flash of black fur came from behind the tree to their right. “Gavin!” Instinctively, Ginny started running toward Gavin, who had his back to a third dog that was just inches from him. The sound of a bullet being shot had her stopping with a sob of relief when the black dog fell. Her sob then turned into a scream when the brown dog fighting Suki tore away from her and charged at Gavin before he could turn around.

Ginny ran so fast that she didn’t feel the ground under her as she threw herself at the dog. Rolling onto the ground, she was brought up short when her back crashed into the trunk of a tree with the vicious dog on top of her. Reflexively, her arms came up at the snarling mouth so close to her face. The agony of teeth biting into her forearm had her praying not to scream. She didn’t want to startle Gavin when he was trying to shoot the dog on top of her. Bracing herself for a third shot to be fired, she was left gasping up at Gavin coming into her vision as he lifted the dog off her despite the dog snapping at him. One second, he was holding the flailing dog, and then it was sailing through the air to land with a yelp. A fourth dog came out from behind the goat pen. Suki was on a matted black one before they even saw him. Snapping jaws went toward Gavin despite Suki holding one shoulder between her clenched teeth. In one movement, Gavin reached for his gun and leveled it at the advancing dog. The blasting of a horn had the dogs freezing in place as Moses drove the farm truck down the dirt access road. The dog that Suki was holding shook her off, then darted into the trees. Ginny saw the one that Gavin had thrown limp off after his packmate. The other lay whimpering.

As Gavin put his gun back out of sight, Ginny saw a trail of blood running down his arm. Staring at him in concern, she nearly stumbled at the pain coming from her back. “What were you fucking thinking?” he snapped. “I was thinking I didn’t want to see you get mauled to death in front of me.” Ignoring his own injury, Gavin removed his shirt to tear it up as Moses got out of the truck. “Is she okay?” he asked as three dogs jumped out of the truck behind him. “Does she look okay?” Gavin growled from over his shoulder as he tied a portion of his shirt over the bite mark on her arm. Blinking back tears of pain, she gave Gavin a reassuring look while seeing Moses taking out his cell phone. “If you’re calling Knox, tell him there were four dogs not two, and they’re heading toward the Porters’,” Ginny told him. “I’m not calling Knox. I’m calling Silas. He’ll send the boys to help me track the dogs. He can call the Porters and the Hayes to warn them.” As Moses started explaining to Silas what happened, he went to Jack, smoothing the black and white coat. Getting up, he then started toward the dog that Gavin had shot. “Be careful,” Gavin warned, seeing what

Moses was doing. Moses ignored the warning, bending down to gently touch the dog. The dog whimpered back as Moses told him to be still. Moses lifted his eyes to Gavin. “Why didn’t you kill him? You could have.” “They’re starved and hungry. I was just trying to scare them away.” Moses rose to his feet. “Watch,” he ordered his other dogs as he checked the other dogs out. “I’ll unload the cows, then take the dogs to Isaac. He can take them to the vet. They’ll have to be tested for rabies. Silas can take you to the hospital when he gets here.” Moses started unloading the four cows from the trailer. Gavin tied the two sleeves of his T-shirt together to stop the bleeding on her bite wound. “How’s your arm?” Ginny asked. “The bleeding stopped. It was just a scratch.” Ginny pressed a fingertip between his eyebrows when he kneeled down next to her. “Quit scowling. I’m fine.” “You should have stayed in the building and called Moses or Silas. When are you going to stop being so fucking foolhardy?” “I’ve been asking myself that question my whole life.” Ginny realized she’d been bitten on the same arm bearing the scar on her palm. “I tell myself it’s just because I’m in the wrong place at

the wrong time, but the truth is … I can’t help myself. I don’t know why.” She shrugged, then winced at the effort. “I didn’t want you to have to shoot when Suki was in the way, and I didn’t want you hurt. Both times I reacted without thinking.” “I’m not only complaining about today!” “I know.” Ginny bit her lip to keep it from trembling. “I don’t know why.” “I do.” Ginny looked away from Gavin, wanting to throw herself in Silas’s arms. “Ginny goes where angels refuse to tread.” Silas bent down to kneel on her other side in the grass with a first-aid kit. “Because they aren’t fools.” Gavin turned his frustration with her on Silas. “Many heroes have been called foolhardy.” Silas opened the first-aid kit, then gently lifted Ginny’s arm to untie Gavin’s T-shirt. “Her heart has always been too big for her own good.” Supporting her arm from underneath, Silas began cleaning the wound with an antiseptic wash. “I’m leaving, Silas,” Moses called out. Silas didn’t take his attention away Ginny’s arm, raising his voice so Moses could hear what he was saying. “When I called Knox to tell him about the attack, he said the father admitted to having extra dogs that the daughter didn’t know about. They’ve all been vaccinated. Knox will fax the

records to the vet.” “We need to take her to the hospital.” “Why? It’s barely more than a scratch.” Silas removed the sterile gauze that he was using to clean her wound, showing the marks. “Are you up to date with your shots?” “Yes.” “Once I have you bandaged, you can move around; make sure nothing else has been hurt. Dr. Price offered to meet us at the bottom of the hill. If he thinks it’s necessary, we’ll take her. I think it will be the safer way to go than exposing her to the germs at the hospital.” Smearing antibiotic ointment on the mark, Silas wrapped the wound with a clean dressing. “Knox is sure the dogs have had their shots?” Gavin appeared to be calming down under Silas’s steady influence. “I’m sure he is. You can call and ask him.” When Silas would have helped Ginny to her feet, Gavin was there first. His troubled gaze had her giving him a reassuring smile. “I’m fine. Silas is right; it’s only a scratch.” “We’ll see what the doctor suggests,” Gavin conceded. “Let me take a look at your arm.” Silas motioned to Gavin after using hand sanitizer to clean his hands.

Supporting Ginny with his arm around her waist, he lifted his elbow so Silas could treat his injury. “Will Moses call once the loose dogs are all found?” Ginny asked. The thought of someone caught unaware coming into contact with the dogs terrified her. “I’m sure he will. But I’ll call and get an update while you’re talking to the doctor,” Silas assured her. “Your bite is worse than Ginny’s. You might be the one going to the hospital.” Silas finished cleaning the wound, then wrapped his like he had hers. “You two stay here while I go to the house to get the truck. I’ll be right back.” Silas closed the first-aid kit, preparing to leave. A flash of lightning crossed the sky. “The storm looks like it’ll hit any minute. We should walk back with you.” Silas shook his head. “It’s still a ways off. We have time. Ginny’s hurting too badly to walk.” Ginny sent her brother a dirty look. Just when Gavin was calm, he’d lit another fire in him. “You can wait in the outbuilding if the lightning gets worse.” Gavin’s gaze followed Silas until he was out of earshot, then Ginny found herself under his hawklike scrutiny. “What’s hurting you?”

“My back.” “Then you’re definitely going to the hospital when Silas comes back.” “I’m only sore from where I hit the tree,” Ginny protested. “I didn’t hit it with enough force to break anything. I’m not having any trouble breathing.” “Turn around and let me see,” he ordered. “I’ll show the doctor.” Ginny grimaced at how prudish she sounded. “We’re going to the hospital to get X-rays.” “Fine, you can look.” Ginny turned and used her good hand to lift the back of her jacket up. Gavin reached out to help her when it started slipping back down. When Gavin remained silent, she turned her head to look over her shoulder. “How does it look?” Gavin’s face was shuttered closed; she had no clue what he was thinking. “Gavin?” Ginny began to get worried. Was she hurt worse than she thought? “It doesn’t look too bad. Your jacket took the worst. A couple of places are skinned. You need them clean and some antibiotic cream rubbed in.” Ginny nodded in relief. “Silas can help me after I shower.” Feeling the shirt and jacket slide back down, she turned back to face Gavin. “Good thing I wore

my jack—” Ginny broke off at seeing Gavin’s expression. “What’s wrong?” “I’m going to be sick.”

Chapter Thirty-Eight


notting her bathrobe around her waist, Ginny

left the second-story bathroom, planning on getting dressed in her bedroom, then getting Silas to rub the antibiotic ointment over her scratches. Making sure her dressing was still dry, it took a few seconds to realize her room wasn’t empty. With her uninjured hand, she firmly knotted her belt. “Did you need something?” Sitting on the end of her bed, facing the door, Gavin raised the antibiotic ointment in his hand. Understanding his intent, Ginny went to her

chest of drawers to take out her pajamas. “Silas will help me when he comes inside from the porch.” Her brother had gone outside to watch the storm while she had taken her shower. “I can.” Ginny turned from the drawers. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” “I can.” Ginny saw the concerted effort he was making, and her heart went out to him. “I don’t think you can, and it’s okay.” Ginny sat down on Leah’s bed. “My feelings aren’t hurt.” “Yes, they are.” Ginny looked down at the nightclothes in her lap. “Maybe a little,” she admitted. “I can rub some fucking ointment on you,” he stubbornly persisted. “Silas will do it for me.” Gavin stood up. Thinking he was leaving, she started to get changed, when he closed the door and came back to sit down. Surprised, she watched him fiddle with the flip-top cap of the ointment. “There are things that happened to me when I was kidnapped that I’ve never discussed with anyone.” “I can imagine it would be very hard.” Ginny measured her words carefully, terrified of saying the wrong thing.

He gave a bitter laugh. “Your worst nightmare can’t begin to describe what I went through.” Ginny forced herself to keep her face expressionless, afraid any hint of pity would shut him down. “You haven’t been able to talk to Viper?” “No. He’s the last person I would talk to.” “Why?” “Why put those nightmares in his head?” “Because he loves you,” she said simply. “Viper is strong enough to share your pain.” “He’s not strong enough to stomach what I went through.” “I see.” “No, I don’t think you do.” “You can’t touch women anymore, can you?” Gavin straightened his shoulders to stare her directly in her eyes. “Not only women—anyone.” “If Taylor and you reunited, would you have been able to touch her?” Her heart stopped beating when she asked her question. “I told myself I could.” “You’re not sure now?” “No.” “Why?” “Because, when I touched your back, I wanted you.” Her heart started beating again, then puttered to a stall when he continued.

“That’s when I thought I was going to throw up.” She deserved an Academy Award for not showing how much his words affected her. “Do you think you’d feel sick to your stomach if you touched her?” “Yes … Maybe … I don’t know.” There was nothing more painful than Gavin saying he could bear touching Taylor while she made him sick to his stomach. “There’s no one you feel capable of expressing your feelings to? A friend? Someone in the club who you’re comfortable with. Dr. Price seems really nice.” “Would talking to someone about that burn mark on your hand make you feel better?” The excruciating pain from when she had grabbed that meat thermometer still lay in the recesses of her mind. She didn’t own one, never would again, and was willing to bet she wouldn’t find one in Silas’s kitchen. “I would if they had been burned too.” “It’s not so easy to talk about the shit that happened to me.” “Have you ever been a confiding person? Even before your kidnapping?” “What do you mean?” Gavin stopped flicking the cap. “I mean, even when you were growing up,

before you went in the military, when something bothered you. Were you able to talk to Viper, your parents, or a friend if something was going on in your life that was bothering you?” “No. I was raised in a military family; you were supposed to suck it up.” “There was no one you could talk to, like … say you broke up with a girlfriend?” “No. I didn’t need anyone.” “You might not have then, but I think you do now. Take small steps; find something easier to talk about. You didn’t get all those muscles by beginning to work out with fifty-pound weights. You had to start out small, didn’t you?” “Ginny … listen, I just want to rub this on your back.” Gavin motioned toward her with the tube of ointment. “Are you going to let me?” Nodding, she stood. “Wait here. I’ll put my pajamas on in the bathroom.” Going to the bathroom, Ginny shut the door. Sliding on her black, silky pajama pants, she then buttoned the top. Removing the towel she had wrapped around her head, she brushed her still damp hair, her mind a chaotic swirl of emotions. There wasn’t anything more disheartening than knowing she made the man she loved sick to his stomach. “This is how Gavin is feeling. It’s not about you,” she whispered to herself in the mirror.

Not bothering to put her robe back on, she carried it back to her bedroom. “Do you want me to sit on the bed or stand?” she asked nervously. Gavin stood up. “Just turn around where you are.” Turning, she used her good hand to start scrunching up the back of her top. When Ginny didn’t feel him rubbing the lotion into her skin, she knew Gavin had underestimated his ability to cope. Letting her top fall back, she turned to the side to reach her chest of drawers. “You mind if I blow-dry my hair while you work on my back?” Opening the top drawer, she took out her blow dryer. Plugging it in the socket below the light switch, she started blowing out her hair, pretending it was nothing unusual for Gavin to get started. “I’m glad all the dogs were found,” she started talking. “Moses said he used the hamburger meat and bacon to catch them. All of them are at the vet and doing well.” “What will happen to them? Will they be put down?” Ginny felt his tentative touch at the hem of her top. “Moses has offered to retrain them. They were used as bait dogs, so the owner won’t get them back. Once the court finalizes the surrender

documents and Moses retrains them, he’ll find them homes or will keep them. Rocky is getting older, so Moses will probably let one of them take his spot.” “Rocky? I haven’t seen him.” “You wouldn’t.” Ginny tilted her head to the side to get underneath her hair as she felt her top going up in the back. “He’s one of the guard dogs that watches the property. If you had met Rocky, you would have known.” “How many does Moses have watching the property?” “I think six.” “How did the loose dogs get past Moses’s dogs?” “Because Moses is that good of a trainer. He teaches them only to attack other animals if they see them trying kill the farm animals. Unless ….” “Unless?” “Unless they have two legs and aren’t supposed to be on our property. Then he lets them have them for dinner.” “I left the other night.” “I know.” “I didn’t see them.” “Moses must have given them something with your scent.” “They didn’t attack you when you came here?” “No. I knew Moses trained them to my scent even though I was no longer in contact with them. I

had left some of my clothes, so I imagine he used something from one of those.” The cold cream touching her had her holding the dryer tighter. “I was terrified Suki would get hit with a bullet when you fired. Did you learn to shoot in the military?” “Viper taught me.” Ginny turned the dryer to hit the back of her neck at the husky voice coming from behind her. “Who’s a better shot—you or Viper?” “We’re both good.” “Were you worried about hitting Suki?” “Yes.” The feel of Gavin’s fingers sliding across her back had her mind going blank. “She’s a sweet dog.” “My heart stopped when those two other dogs came out. Were you scared?” “For you. I didn’t know you could run that fast. Then I didn’t think you would ever stop rolling.” “Me neither.” “There. That should do it.” Ginny felt the glide of her top fall back down. Shutting the dryer off, she turned back to Gavin. “Thanks, I appreciate your help. I hope it wasn’t too bad.” “I’m good.” Gavin closed the cap but didn’t move away.

The sound of thunder struck outside her window, causing the windows to rattle. Ginny saw the mirror of her star chart begin to shake. Her chart was on an opposite wall of Leah’s, which remained unmoving. Ginny saw it trembling at another crack of thunder and moved quickly, but it was too late. Ginny watched in dismay as it bounced off the wall. Before she or Gavin could catch it, it fell down, hitting the headboard of her bed and shattering the mirror into tiny shards of glass. The mirror wasn’t the only thing that had just been smashed. Ginny felt a terrible premonition, as if her hopes and dreams were never going to come true. Looking down, she saw only the remnants of one lone star. Just one … lone star.

Chapter Thirty-Nine


on’t move!” Gavin barked out when she

started to leave to get a broom and dustpan, unable to contain her grief in front of him. Ginny found herself swept up Gavin’s arms. “Why are you crying? Did the glass cut you?” Ginny blinked back her tears. “No. I’m upset because my mirror is broken.” “Stop crying,” he demanded as if she would be able to stop immediately. She cried harder, laying her head on his shoulder. “Freddy gave me that mirror.”

“I know.” Turning to the door, he carried her out of the room. “I’ll get you another one,” he promised. “I can make sure it’s right.” Gavin trying to tease her just made it worse. “It won’t be the same,” she sobbed. “I need it to be the same.” “Why? It was wrong.” She wailed louder. “Stop saying that!” “I can have it made exactly the same.” Ginny lifted her head. “You swear?” “If it means that much, then I swear. Even though it will still be wrong,” he added. “Thank you. You can put me down.” Sniffing back her tears, she tried to give him a wobbly smile. “I don’t want you to feel sick.” An indescribable look crossed his face as Gavin bent his head. Before she could decipher his expression, his mouth caught hers. Anxious that he would find kissing her repulsive, she was afraid to move her lips. Letting him have her mouth, she closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to see his disgust. She focused her attention on Gavin’s stiff and unyielding lips and realized hers were the same. Forcing her jaw to relax, she let her lips soften feeling Gavin’s lips begin to move. At first, she thought he was pulling away, so she awkwardly started to turn her face, but Gavin resumed before she could. He’d tucked her in so close that her head

was in the crook of his neck, so she was unable to turn away from his kiss. Gavin’s kiss was little more than the chaste one she had given him on the cheek in the hotel room. The only difference was their lips were pressed together. It wasn’t the passionate, drawn-out ones that she saw on television or in public, when couples didn’t care who was watching. There wasn’t anything remotely passionate about what Gavin was doing. In fact, it felt as if he was forcing himself. Ginny pressed her fingertips against the side of his chin. “Stop, Gavin.” Gavin lifted his lips from hers. “You might be trying to prove something to yourself, but you’re ruining my first kiss.” The sob escaping her lips was smothered under his again. While it wasn’t passionate, she no longer felt as if Gavin was forcing himself into kissing her. His lips were firm, but this time it was different. Wrapping her arms around his neck, her lips became malleable to the contours of his, the sensual glide of his tongue across her bottom lip had her quivering in his arms. Hesitantly, Ginny allowed access to her mouth. The stroke of his tongue against hers had her shying away, but Gavin’s followed until they were in an intimate dance as they dueled and stroked to heighten the other’s pleasure.

Unsure if she was doing it right, and mainly worried she would put Gavin off from ever touching a woman again, she took her cues from him. Fleeting strokes of her tongue, beckoning and promising, before fleeing, allowing him the opportunity of pursuing or retreating. Gavin was a military man to the bone. Following her, he captured her mouth, taking her prisoner in a heady rush that she didn’t want to ever end. “Excuse me. I need to get by so I can go to bed.” Ginny found herself unceremoniously dropped to her feet at Silas’s request. “My mirror broke,” Ginny embarrassedly explained. “Gavin was carrying me so my feet wouldn’t get cut.” Silas stuck his head out of his room. “The broom and dustpan are in the utility closet. You need my help cleaning up?” “No, we got this,” Gavin said, making no move to get the items. “Then good night. Make sure you don’t silence your phones. There are tornado warnings out. If the alert goes off, get to the basement immediately.” “Should the boys come here?” “Isaac is staying up; don’t worry. I stayed up until the winds slowed down. The storm looks like it’s going in another direction.”

“How can you tell? That thunder felt close.” “The radar on the news showed it moving off. Isaac will call if it starts to build back up.” “Good, that’s a relief,” Ginny told him. “Gavin, if you get my house shoes, I’ll get the broom. Night, Silas.” “Good night.” Ginny went down the steps, dreading going back up them, worried about Gavin’s reaction to the kiss they had shared. Any time she drew too close to Gavin, he reacted in one of two ways; he would either hide his head in his shell or come out snapping. Taking a trash bag, along with broom and pan, she returned back upstairs to see Gavin waiting with her tennis shoes. “You’re house shoes are too flimsy to wear with that much glass. I’ve already taken off your blanket and sheet and bundled them together. You can put them in the laundry room and get a clean set while I sweep and cleaned it up for you.” Taking the bedding, Ginny felt as if she was being dismissed. Trying not to let it bother her, she went back downstairs. Loading the washing machine, she came to the conclusion she had to give Gavin his space. “Small steps,” she muttered, searching for another sheet set. Finding what she needed, she went back upstairs to see Gavin tying the trash bag.

“Where does he keep his vacuum cleaner? I want to make sure I got it all.” “In the utility room,” Ginny answered. “I’ll get it. You can make your bed.” Muttering to herself when he was out of earshot, she smoothed the sheet out on her bed. It took longer than she was expecting, and when he didn’t immediately come back, she was about to go looking for him when he finally returned. “Sorry, I was watching the weather forecast. The storms are dying out.” Tossing her pillow back on her bed, she turned to look at Gavin, placing her hands on her hips. “If you’re going to tell me our kiss made you sick—” “Ginny, a tornado hit Nashville.” Ginny immediately sat down, reaching for her cell phone on the nightstand, then pulling up her contact list. She simply stared at it blindly. “I don’t know who to call first.” Gavin sat down on the bed next to her. “The band has already left Nashville, and I’ll call Nickel. Who else?” “Marty, Kimmy, Pizza….” “Start with Marty.” She didn’t keep him on the phone long, just making sure he was okay. Then she called Kimmy. “Were you in the storm?” “No. I wish had been!” “Don’t say that!”

“It’s true. Lawrence talked me into staying in Nashville with him. I had a big argument with Nick when I didn’t go back to Queen City with him and the band. I’ve been so stupid, Ginny.” “What did he do?” “I went to the store alone, because he said there was no need for both of us to go and because he said he wasn’t feeling well. When I came back, he was in bed with Jacey. Do you remember her?” “Vaguely. She’s one of the waitresses in the nightclub.” “When I threw a fit about finding them in bed, Lawrence told me he never made any promises, that I was exaggerating their relationship, and he was just giving me a place until I could get on my feet. Jacey is now moving in with him, and I have nowhere to go.” “Nick will let you stay with him.” “I don’t have enough money to get to Queen City. I spent the last of my money paying Lawrence’s bills and those damn groceries.” “Kimmy ….” “I know …,” she wailed. “I don’t need you telling me I told you so like Nick.” “I wasn’t. Do you have my car?” “Yes, but I don’t even have enough money to buy gas.” “I’ll PayPal you enough to get home. Just don’t tell Lawrence I’m sending you the money. Just go.”

“I can’t ask—” “You’re not asking; I’m giving. You can pay me back when you’re back on your feet.” “Thank you, Ginny. I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t called.” “You have my number. You don’t have to wait for me to call if you ever need anything. Let me know when you get on the road so I won’t be worried.” Disconnecting the call, she realized Gavin had been listening. “Kimmy’s boyfriend break up with her?” “Yes.” Gavin narrowed his eyes on her. “You knew it was going to happen. That’s why you left her your car.” “I knew he was ghosting her. I wanted her to have a safe way out when he showed his true colors.” “How’d you know he would?” “It’s his dedication and skill to pretend to be someone else. Lawrence was too sure of himself. That he screwed up wasn’t a shocker. What surprising is that it took Kimmy so long to realize it. I hope she gets away from him without any trouble.” “You think she will?” “She’s been paying his bills. He’ll want to know where she’s getting enough money to leave. He’s shady enough, and I wouldn’t put it past him to talk

her into staying with him and his new girlfriend just for her money.” “I’ll have Nickel give her an escort out of town.” She nodded. “I’ll text her so she’ll expect him.” Gavin placed his hand over hers on the phone. “Don’t tell her. Let me have the address she’s at, and Nickel can keep an eye out. If she runs into any trouble, he’ll be on hand.” “Why not let me tell her? It’ll ease her mind.” “I’m not worried about easing Kimmy’s mind. I’m worried about keeping Nickel safe.” “I should have thought of Nickel’s safety. Lawrence could get violent with Kimmy leaving—” “He could also take Nickel to trap you into doing what he wants. If I can see you’re foolhardy as fuck after a few days, Lawrence would be smart enough to use that to his advantage.” “Lawrence isn’t my stalker.” “I don’t think so, either, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone fooled me.” Ginny nodded. “Me neither.” Lifting her gaze from their hands, she looked at him closely. “Are you sick to your stomach?” “No.” “I was thinking—” “Here it comes.” Gavin scowled at her, getting to his feet. “Don’t make too much out the kiss—” She put up her uninjured hand to stop him. “I

wasn’t going to make big deal about you kissing me. I was just checking on you before asking you for a favor. And … before you tell me the kiss didn’t mean anything to you, I don’t have to be told that—you just did.” Gavin looked taken aback. “What were you going to ask me?” “Never mind.” Ginny turned her blanket down. “I can find another way.” Laying down on the bed, she placed her arm over her eyes. All she was going to ask Gavin was to get the ice pack out of the freezer for her. Making the bed had strained the muscles in her back that were already sore. “Would you mind turning the light off for me and shutting the door after you go? I’m ready to go to sleep. I’ve had a rough day.” The light went out, and then the click of the door had her curling onto her side. Lying on her aching back didn’t hurt as bad as the pain in her heart. Ginny could count on two hands the worst days of her life. Today had edged out number seven. She had been mauled by a dog, been hurt, her mirror had broken, and Gavin had turned into a darn snapping turtle to make sure she knew the kiss hadn’t meant anything to him. Sniffing back her self-pitying tears, she continued going down memory lane. The absolutely worst part of the day with the current holder of number seven being

edged out, was now she had seven years of bad luck to look forward to.

Chapter Forty


right flashes of lightning illuminated the dark

interior of the living room. Counting the flashes between the crack of thunder, Ginny sat on the stairway, listening to Gavin get out of bed and resume his pacing. Each time he got up, she could hear the swinging bed hit the side of the wall, jarring the windows. Hearing a creak of a step behind her at the same time as thunder cracked overhead, she turned to see Silas coming down the steps to sit next to her. Putting her fingers to her lips, she nodded to

her side, silently telling him that Gavin was still awake. “Bad night?” he asked in a soft voice. “The worst,” she murmured, sitting with her hands on bended knees. “I think it’s because he kissed me. I make him sick.” Raising her hands, Ginny buried her face in them. “No, you don’t.” “I do. He told me.” Silas placed a comforting arm over her shoulders, pulling her closer to his side. “He just thinks you do.” Ginny raised her face. “I’m pretty sure Gavin knows when he wants to throw up.” “Describe to me how you feel physically when Reaper is close to you.” Seeing he was serious, she put her embarrassment aside and started thinking of the best way to describe how Gavin made her feel. Her throat went tight trying to analyze the sensations she experienced and how she felt. “I feel as if my heart is going to come out of my chest. I get … warm.” Fire was a better word, but she couldn’t tell her brother that without further embarrassing herself. “I feel as if every nerve ending in my body knows he’s there, and I just want to touch him, and when I do, an electric charge goes through me. I get butterflies in my stomach.” Ginny could see Silas smiling when the

lightning flashed across the room below. “You think that’s what Gavin is feeling?” she asked. “I do,” he whispered so low that Ginny had to tilt her head to the side so she could hear him. “I think he’s misinterpreting the signals that his body is giving him.” “That’s not possible.” Ginny shook her head at him. “Gavin still loves Taylor, his ex-fiancé. He would know what being in love feels like.” “Not if he didn’t really love her, and he definitely wouldn’t if he was lying to himself about his feelings for you.” “You really think so?” “I do.” Both of them turned their heads, since they couldn’t see into Gavin’s room from where they were sitting, and listened to him get back in bed. Silently, they waited for the swinging bed to stop jarring the windows. Several minutes passed before they resumed whispering. “If that’s true, and you have no idea how much I wish it were … do you think he’ll figure it out before he leaves in two days?” “Reaper could have left after he tested negative. He didn’t.” “Not because of me. He thinks you’re planning on killing me for my portion of the mountain.” “He’s not going to be happy you told me.” Ginny rolled her eyes at him, even though the

full effect was lost in the dark. “We both know you would never do anything to hurt me.” Silas solemnly stared at her. “Sometimes it’s unavoidable hurting the ones we love. I hurt you badly when I let the State take you away.” “You did what you had to do.” Ginny leaned closer to his comforting warmth. There were so many past hurts that she viewed differently now that she was older. “When I left, I was only concerned with my pain. You were hurting as badly, yet I didn’t care. I wanted you to. I hate myself that I was being so selfish. You’ve lived your whole life keeping our family safe ….” Ginny had to clear the lump in her throat at how much she loved her brother. “Our family is almost grown, except for Fynn. You need to start searching for your own happiness. You deserve to find a woman who will give you the same love and dedication you’ve given to us.” “I will when the time is right.” He smiled crookedly at her. “I’ll start working on my happiness once Reaper and you are.” “Why don’t you call him Gavin like I do?” “I refer to him as Reaper for a good reason, just like everyone else he comes into contact with, Ginny.” Silas’ direct stare had her wanting to look away, yet she didn’t. “Don’t let your love blind you to what type of man was created when he was kidnapped.”

“He just needs time to heal, to learn to trust me.” “It’s going to be a long and lonely road before Reaper can reach that highway home. Right now, all he is thinking about is reaping a vengeance on those who hurt him. Until those roadblocks are cleared or he finds something more important, he’s never going to see the exit sign.” “You believe he’s on a quest to pay back the people who hurt him?” “Yes. I’ve heard his nightmares, same as you. I would too.” Ginny recalled what Killyama had told her, and she agreed with Silas. Gavin had an endless pursuit before him to find the numerous people responsible for committing or watching the atrocities done to him. However, what he was seeking was unattainable. The dark web protected its own. “Most quests fail.” “Unless a hero is sent to help him.” Silas quietly stood, staring down the hallway toward Gavin’s room. “He’s asleep. Go do what you’ve been waiting to do. Give him a few hours of peace.” Feeling stiff, Ginny used the bannister to help her to stand. “With the luck I’ve had today, he’s still awake,” she whispered. “It’s after twelve; it’s a new day.” “That reminds me, you don’t happen to have a four-leaf clover, do you?”

“No, but I have a horseshoe.” “I can’t keep a horseshoe in my pocket.” “I’ll have Isaac make you a charm to wear on your bracelet.” “Can you do me another favor?” “What?” “Pretend you want to kill me … at least until Gavin falls in love with me?” “Ginny, that’s the only thing in the world I wouldn’t do for you,” he said firmly. “Not even a little?” she pleaded teasingly. “Not even a little.”



inny warily waited for the bed to stop

swinging after he had rolled over. Every attempt to climb onto his bed failed because of his tossing and turning. The way her endeavors were going, Gavin would wake up and spot her before she had time to lull him into a deeper sleep. Exhausted, sore, and nerves on edge at her failures, Ginny gave up. Taking a step backward,

she started to retreat. That was when Gavin changed his sleeping position, turning onto his back to claw at his throat. She couldn’t leave him to suffer in his nightmare any longer. Walking back to his bed, she muttered to herself, “Be brave. What’s the worst that could happen?” “He could freaking kill me,” she answered herself. “Nothing gained, nothing lost,” she muttered back. “That’s easy for you to say—you aren’t freaking real.” Her common sense urged her to run. Before she could talk herself out of the insane idea, she reached out, waking Gavin. Finding herself lifted, Ginny braced herself for the impact of hitting the floor. “I told you so,” her common sense gloated, ending when Ginny felt the mattress under her instead of the floor. “Gavin, it’s me!” Ginny yelled, trying to bring him to his senses. Glaring down at her in the darkness, Gavin seemed just as vicious as the dog that had bitten her the day before. “What in the fuck are you doing in here?” “I’m scared.” She pretended to whimper at the loud crack of thunder. “I’m afraid of storms. Can I

sleep with you? I promise not make a sound. You won’t even know I’m here.” “Go back to your room.” He grunted, rising up into a sitting position. Widening her eyes at another boom that had the windows rattling, she begged, “Please? I’ll go back to my room when the storm blows over.” He gave in, scooting over. “Your ass is out of here when it does.” Ginny raised her hand. “Scouts honor.” “I know everything about your life. You were never in the girl scouts.” Ignoring Gavin’s baleful stare, she climbed under the covers. “No, Freddy wouldn’t let me. He didn’t want me selling their cookies. He said he would have to take a mortgage out to pay for the cookies that he and my brothers would eat.” Snuggling down onto the mattress, Ginny gave a heartfelt sigh at the comfort surrounding her. “This is the best mattress in the whole house. I wore a hole in this side.” Turning on her side, Ginny settled the pillow under her cheek. “Good night,” she yawned out. “I hear plenty of sounds coming from your side of the bed,” he snapped. Ginny didn’t respond, pretending to be asleep. She was so sleepy that she didn’t even have to pretend for long. The swinging motion of the bed woke her. Half-

asleep, she turned and saw that Gavin was asleep and having another nightmare. She groggily threw herself down on his chest, feeling Gavin come awake under her. “What in the fuck are you doing?” “Trying to sleep,” she muttered against his chest. “Go back to asleep.” Patting his chest, she resumed the sweet dream she was having. “Roll over.” “My back hurts.” Patting him again, she snuggled tighter against his chest. “I was going to get my ice pack out of the freezer before you went to bed, but you were so mean to me that I didn’t ask.” Ginny threw one of her legs over both of his. “You’re snoring.” “Sorry,” Ginny muttered, placing a hand under her cheek. “That better?” “Yes.” “Good, now go back to sleep and quit waking me up,” she groused. “I’m waking you up?” “Yes!” Sleepily, she patted him again. “I need to get some sleep. I have to be up early.” “Why?” “I have to bury the mirror.”

Chapter Forty-One


his is the most asinine thing I’ve ever done

in my life,” Reaper complained when his boot sank into the mud. It better be mud. “Shh … you want to get us shot?” He almost ran her down when Ginny turned to glare at him. “The Porters aren’t going to shoot us.” “Yeah right. I’ll remind you of that on the ambulance ride to the morgue,” she quipped before turning around to resume walking. Dunking his head to avoid a low-lying limb, he

nearly went flying over Ginny. His hands went out to catch himself, managing to grab the limb that had almost decapitated him. “What in the fuck are you doing!” Sitting on her bottom, Ginny glared up at him. “I’m trying to be sneaky, and you’re not helping.” “This rid—” “Will you please lower your voice?” she hissed. “Better yet, go back to the house. I’ll be there in a bit.” “I’m not leaving you alone out here in the middle of the night.” “It’s almost dawn.” Raising herself to her knees, Ginny started crawling. “We have to do this before daybreak.” “Why—” “That’s what I’d like to know.” A squeak came out of Ginny at the male voice coming from behind a tree in front of them. Reaper moved his hand behind his back. “Keep those hands where I can see them, Reaper.” A flashlight came on as another man walked out from a tree closer to him. The light was bright enough to shine not only on Ginny and him but also on the man who had stopped them. “Tate.” “Reaper.” “What am I? Chopped liver? I don’t get a

howdy?” “Greer.” “That’s more like it. What you doing down there, Ginny?” Greer asked. “It’s a little early in the season to be looking for our weed patch, ain’t it?” “Is it?” Reaper watched as Ginny got to her feet and started edging back to him, trying to hide the trash bag behind her back. Did she think they were blind? The white trash bag was easily visible even before Greer had turned his flashlight on. “Then I’ll sneak back in a couple of months.” Ginny turned to go, but Tate’s cold voice stopped her. “What’s in the bag?” “Nothing. I just brought it to use when I found your patch.” “You were planning on taking the whole crop?” Ginny turned pleading eyes to Reaper to get her out of the mess she found herself in. Reaper crossed his arms over his chest. It was her ridiculous idea, he thought unsympathetically. “Yes. Sorry. We’ll be going.” Greer moved behind them to block them from leaving. Reaper’s amusement in the situation ended at Greer’s move. “Move back to where you were.”

The lethal intent had the sound of a rifle being cocked from another tree and a third man stepping out. “Lower your weapon, Dustin,” Greer ordered. “They just came for a friendly visit. I invited Reaper over to get a taste of our finest. Didn’t plan on him taking the whole smorgasbord, but we don’t have to be inhospitable just because they didn’t come calling at a reasonable hour.” “The problem isn’t they didn’t call. Toss the bag to me, Ginny,” Tate ordered. “I can’t. I don’t want you to get cut.” “Then toss it to the ground in front of me.” With shoulders slumped, Ginny tossed the plastic bag onto the ground in front of Tate. “Watch them,” Tate said, bending to untie the bag. Taking a flashlight out of his pocket, he turned it on to shine inside the bag. Looking up at her, Tate then turned the light off to tie the bag back up.. “What was it?” Greer looked toward Tate. “Please tell me it’s a dead racoon. I’ve been trying to take one out for the last month, and Holly won’t let me.” “It’s a busted mirror. She’s trying to give us her bad luck.” Dustin raised his rifle again. This time, Tate didn’t tell his brother to lower it. Reaper wanted to pull his remaining hair out. “Please tell me you don’t believe in this

ridiculousness.” “We don’t need seven years of bad luck. Take your bag and go. Dustin, make sure they get back over to their side of the fence.” “Leave it here. I’ll take care of it,” Greer countermanded Tate. “Who are you going to give it to?” Tate asked. “The Hayes’.” He’d had enough. Reaper took Ginny’s hand, making her leave. The Porters wouldn’t shoot a woman, and if they shot him, they’d be doing him a favor. “You don’t have much time, Greer,” Ginny yelled from over her shoulder. “You have to bury the mirror before daybreak.” “Listen to her tell me what to do.” Walking faster, Reaper heard them mouthing off behind their backs, feeling as if he had walked into an episode of the Twilight Zone as fists and punches were exchanged between the Porters. “Should we go back?” Ginny whispered. “No.” “Greer, when I get home, I’ll make you some biscuits and send over a jar of Silas’s honey!” Ginny yelled out. The fighting stopped. “Make it three! Tate and Dustin want one to keep their traps closed!” Greer shouted back. Reaper held Ginny’s hand tighter to speed her

up at knowing she’d give them one of Silas’s preserves to sweeten the deal. “Slow down, Gavin,” she gasped. “They aren’t chasing us.” “No, because they belong in the looney bin where you belong.” “Are you mad?” “Yes.” “A little or a lot?” “A lot,” he growled. “Well, at least you’re not sick to your stomach,” she mumbled. Gavin turned on his heel at her smart aleck comment. “I’ll tell you what I’m not. I’m not going along with another one of your schemes. I’m not going to bring the honey and biscuits back—” “I wasn’t going to get you to. I’m doing it.” “And neither are you! They pointed a loaded weapon at us!” “Technically, it was pointed at you.” “Are you laughing at me?” “A little. Wild man, you were never in any danger. I brought protection.” His mouth dropped open. “You’re carrying a gun? If you’d tried to pull it out, they’d have shot you dead.” The hand in hers itched to paddle her bottom at her recklessness. Ginny made a face at him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see it clearly with the sun beginning to

rise. “I didn’t bring a gun.” “Then what protection are you talking about?” Ginny gave a shrill whistle. The sound had Suki running toward him out of nowhere. “She likes you.” “The feeling isn’t mutual.” “Come on, admit it; you like her too.” “Maybe a little,” he conceded. Ginny started walking, tugging at his hand to get him moving. Suki fell in step at his side. Staring down at their linked hands when they naturally began swinging between them, Gavin raised his eyes to the rising sun, blaming the sudden wetness in his eyes at the blinding light and not at the regret of a future that was never going to be.

Chapter Forty-Two


our ride is here.”

“I’m coming.” Turning from the window, Reaper went to the bed to pick up his suitcase. “I wish you weren’t going.” Steeling himself against Ginny’s wistful voice, he carried his suitcase to the doorway where she was standing. “I don’t need to be here. I’ve tested negative four times, and it’s been over nine days; if I had any symptoms, they would have shown by now. I’m good to go.” Ginny didn’t move to let him pass. “Aren’t you

worried about Silas? I think he put something in my coffee this morning.” “He put Funfetti creamer in your coffee.” “I could have choked on one of the sprinkles.” “Don’t do this, Ginny. You’re going to be fine. Knox has the whole town locked down with the infection spreading to other counties. Your stalker couldn’t get in town if he wanted to.” “I don’t want you to leave because I’m afraid of my stalker. I don’t want you to leave because I’m afraid Suki will miss you.” “She has you to keep her company.” Tightening his grip on the handle of his suitcase, he shut out the pleading he could see in her eyes. “My ride is waiting.” Nodding, Ginny moved, letting him through the doorway. Walking down the hallway, he felt as if he were walking his last mile. The eerie feeling persisted even as he reached the front door and opened it. There was barely enough room to close the door when he and Ginny walked through. All her brothers were waiting outside. “They all wanted to say good-bye,” Silas told him, going down the steps to make more room on the porch. “Bye.” The youngest waved at him, remaining by Isaac’s side. “Bye,” Reaper told him, taking the hand Isaac

held out to him. “Take care.” “I will.” Reaper moved the side to take Matthew’s hand. “Stop by whenever you want to visit. I’ll teach you how to work the forge.” “It’s too hot in there for me.” He wouldn’t be coming back. Reaper planned to stay away from the Colemans as much as he could. “You get used to the heat,” Matthew said, as he moved to talk to Jody and Jacob. That’s good to know, Reaper thought, since he would be spending an eternity there. “Don’t be a stranger. Ginny is going to miss you.” Jacob’s gaze caught his. “Jody and I could use an extra hand to set up fences, if you want to try something new, or even if you get bored for a day.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” Reaper moved away from them, going to the end of the porch where Moses and Ezra were standing. I just have to get past four more and I can go, Reaper told himself. Moses gave him a nod. “I didn’t bring Suki to say good-bye to you. I didn’t want her running after the car.” Reaper nodded back, locking his heart at the emotions at not being able to see the dog for the last time.

“Stop by and see her sometime,” Moses encouraged. “Will you be keeping her?” Reaper asked, despite telling himself not to. “No, she’ll be going to a new home once I finish training her.” “Will she be going to a good home?” “She wouldn’t be going if it weren’t. Don’t worry, Suki will be in good hands.” Reaper turned toward Ezra. “Don’t know if Ginny told you or not, but I have a bike. Anytime you want company to ride, give me a call.” Acknowledging the offer with a brief smile, Reaper went down the steps. “You have my number; use it sometime. I’m up to lend an ear or just to shoot the breeze.” Silas’s expression went from friendly to serious. “You need anything, just let us know. We’re pretty well stocked, and we don’t mind lending a helping hand. All you have to do is ask.” Reaper had to add another lock to his heart at saying good-bye to Silas. Ginny’s brother was like Viper, yet there were differences between the two men. Both inspired confidence and had experience. The differences were harder to explain. Even as a boy his brother was closed-off because of their military upbringing. They were supposed to take hard hits and not whine when things didn’t go their

way. Viper wasn’t as strict as their father, but it was difficult to talk to him, especially after their mother left. Viper’s way of making himself feel better about the situation was to keep busy. Silas was more down to earth. He had a feeling, with such a large family, that Silas had seen and heard it all. In the days of his long stay with them, Silas had made time for all of them. He had breakfast most mornings with Moses. Then he did the chores around the mountain before going to help Fynn with his online schoolwork. After eating lunch with both Fynn and Ezra, Silas helped Jody and Jacob load their truck with what they needed for the next day’s jobs. Before dinner, he stopped to see Matthew and Isaac and see what they had done for the day or what they were working on. Ginny had said Silas wasn’t her stalker, and Reaper freely admitted that she was right. The mountain wasn’t what was important to him; his family was. They were his whole world. Stepping to the side to say good-bye to Ginny was one of the most difficult things he had to do in his lifetime. Unable to look into her eyes, he kept his on the SUV that Viper was in. “I asked Matthew to switch out that back door in the room I slept in. It’s too flimsy.” Reaper felt as if he was talking through glass—each shred cutting him to the quick. “Matt told me. He and Isaac are putting it in after dinner.”

“Good. Make sure you check in with Viper if you see anything suspicious or someone contacts you.” “Why call Viper when I can call you?” “I don’t plan to stay in Treepoint.” He didn’t turn his head at the small sound Ginny made. “Viper’s waiting. Good-bye.” “Gavin ….” Walking away, he pretended not to have heard her, slamming another lock on his heart. “Don’t forget your promise about my mirror. I’ll be waiting ….” Ginny’s voice broke. Opening the back door of the vehicle, he put his suitcase inside before going to the front. When his hand went to the door handle, Ginny moved closer. “And don’t you ever forget … I love you.” Opening the door so fast, Reaper was surprised it didn’t come off in his hand. Inside, he turned toward Viper. “Let’s go.” Keeping his gaze on Viper, he refused to look toward Ginny or the men watching him leave. “And don’t say a fucking word.” When Viper started backing down the driveway, he couldn’t prevent himself from taking another glance. Any idea of his heart just being an organ that only provided oxygen to the cold blood pumping through it was a lie. Ginny was standing in front of

the vehicle with tears streaming down her cheeks, heartache and longing visible to Viper, her brothers, and him. Hope shone on her face that he would get out of the car and hold her; it was plainly written across her expression. As the SUV moved farther away, she began walking down the hill. Taking all his willpower not to shout to Viper to go faster, Reaper memorized every facet of her face, the dress she was wearing, and the fact that Silas was behind her each step of the way. When Viper made the turn onto the road and he saw the last glimpse of her and her hopeful expression die, he almost reached for the door handle but didn’t. He couldn’t go back. To renew her hope would be cruel. The future before him didn’t involve Ginny. It couldn’t. All the things that had been done to him, what he had done, what he planned to do, plus every fucking videotape of him, he needed to put more distance between them than it took to drive to the club. Some distances were insurmountable ….



ou can’t keep doing this.” Viper put his

foot down on the barbell Reaper was about to lift. “Your body can’t take this abuse.” Reaper moved to the leg press machine, refraining from telling Viper that his body had tolerated far more abuse than lifting weights. He added ten more pounds to the weights than Shade had pressed. “Fuck off.” Viper moved to stand in front of him. “Don’t talk to me that way.” “Then leave me the fuck alone!” he snapped. “You only come out of your room to work out. It isn’t healthy.” “I don’t look healthy to you?” Reaper turned his head toward Jewell. “Do I look healthy to you, Jewell?” Jewell picked up her laundry basket. “I’m going to fold my clothes upstairs.” “Don’t drag Jewell into our discussion.” “Then don’t discuss my personal shit in front of her!” “You’re right.” Viper strode toward the basement stairs. “By the way, I came down here to tell you that Lucky’s been calling you for the last hour. He wants to meet at the church.” “Who else will be there?” “He didn’t say. I was just relaying the

message.” Viper left the bottom step to come back. “Talk to me, Gavin. Please.” As Viper walked back, Reaper got a good look at his face. He had undergone a drastic change in just the amount of time he had been back. Viper’s haggard appearance placed another leaden weight of responsibility on Reaper’s back. His brother had been better off when he believed him dead. “I would beg you to tell me what’s going on, if I thought it would do any good. Ton said that when he came here yesterday, you left after five minutes. He was only trying to talk to you.” “Because he’s saying the same shit you are.” Getting off the machine, Reaper picked up a clean towel that Jewel had put out and started wiping the machines down. “There’s nothing to talk about. I’m fine and dandy.” “No, you’re not. Reaper, you’ve been in a dark place since your escape. I understand your need for revenge, but it’s eating you alive.” “I’m not the one who looks like he’s lost ten pounds. Quit worrying about me. If you hadn’t been worried about me, I wouldn’t have been kidnapped in the first place!” Viper staggered back as if he had been struck. Reaper wanted to shoot himself for causing the pain he witnessed at Viper’s reaction. Unable to repair the damage, though, he went to the stairs, going up two at time, practically running to his

room to lock himself inside. Going to his nightstand, he grabbed his phone, seeing the missed calls from Lucky. Texting him that he would be there in an hour, he went to his bathroom to take a shower. Taking off his shorts, he threw them in a hamper before getting in the shower. Turning the water on, he stood under the cold water, fighting back the torment of emotions that were driving him insane because they couldn’t get free. He slid down the shower wall to sit under the cold spray of water. Wrapping his arms around his knees, he rocked back and forth. Letting hatred overrule the other emotions of love, regret, and sorrow, he focused on the motivation he needed to make himself keep breathing. Slate. Vamp. The Count. They had to die … die … die ….



ou wanted to talk to me?” Closing

Lucky’s office door, Reaper strode to take one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Give me a minute. Now that you’re here, Knox is bringing some pictures to show you.” “Of whom?” “Arin has developed a new DNA test. It enhances the one that law enforcement departments are using—phenotypes—to create a picture of suspects from their DNA. Her program cross-matches with pictures for the new IDs that States are requiring everyone to have.” Lucky stopped as the door to his office opened and Knox came in wearing his sheriff’s uniform and laid a folder on Lucky’s desk. Lucky stared at the folder, his face a mixture of emotions. The pastor could possibly be battling his faith against the fate of the person in that folder who Reaper had been searching for. Reaper wanted to rip the folder off the desk, but he let Lucky take his time. “Using the DNA samples … that Hammer swabbed off the mattress as well as areas in the house before you torched it”—Lucky sucked in a deep breath—“Arin thinks she has found a possible match.” Feeling detached, Reaper realized Lucky hadn’t

been battling his faith; it was the hesitation of telling him that the person in the file had been one of his rapists. “Actually, there are two possible matches in there,” Knox informed him. The brother to the side of Lucky’s desk opened the folder. “I watched the first video that Slate made of you. The couple matches the pictures that Arin sent. Fuckin’ unreal what Arin managed to do, I faxed the pictures to Hammer and Jonas, and they agreed.” Reaper kept his gaze pinned to Knox’s face and not the pictures that were within eyesight. “I was so drugged that I wouldn’t recognize them,” he said numbly, leaning forward until the back of his blue jean barely hit the chair. He didn’t touch the pictures. He wouldn’t be able to if a gun were pointed at his head. “You won’t have to.” Knox reached over, closing the folder. “This morning, Shade broke into their home while they were out and made a copy of their hard drive. Without a doubt, Arin found Vamp and The Count for you.” Leaning back in the chair, Reaper pushed his feet down hard in his boots. “Shade broke into their home this morning?” Reaper didn’t feel his lips moving as he talked. He must have spoken, though, because Knox answered his question. “Yes.” Pressing his fingers on the side of his jaw, he

felt the muscles contracting as he said, “Shade was at the clubhouse while I was working out.” Lucky and Knox shared a glance before Knox responded. If his fingers weren’t on his jaw, he would haven’t believe he had spoken. “They live nearby.” “How close?”

Chapter Forty-Three


ay I help you?” The saleswoman’s

frightened eyes darted around the jewelry store as if she were the one who needed help. “I’m looking for a new watch.” Reaper answered, sweeping his hair back like the temperature machine had as it ran across his forward before he had even entered the door. The saleswoman circled behind a horseshoeshaped counter. “Is there a particular brand you’re looking for?” “A Rolex Daytona.”

Her eyes widened with greed. “My name is Charline. Those pieces are in the safe. I’ll have to get the owner to get it for me. I’ll be right back.” Observing the saleswoman going inside a glass office, Reaper saw the owner glance at him, then give a start of shock, as fear crossed his features. Reaching for a pamphlet on the counter, he continued to watch as the owner said something to the clerk, before she returned. “The owner won’t be but a moment. Is there anything else you would like to look at while we’re waiting?” “Do you have any charms for a woman’s bracelet?” “We do. Just step over here.” Charline moved to the counter section closer to the office. With a key on an elastic band on her wrist, she slid open the back of the case. “Gold or silver?” “Gold.” With French manicured nails, she took out of tray of charms, placing the black velvet tray on the glass counter. “Are there any in particular she collects?” “I don’t believe so.” Staring down at the charms, he searched for any that resembled the ones on Ginny’s bracelet. “Is this the watch you wanted to see?” At the sound of the male voice, Reaper looked up from the charms and placed his focus on the

display of watches on a velvet-lined tray. “We have two. Charline will be happy to explain the differences in them. If neither are what you were looking for, she can find it from another one of our stores. I’ll leave her to take care of your needs.” “Do you mind helping me?” Forcing the words out, Reaper lifted his eyes from the watches. “Another man’s opinion would be helpful, Mr. ….” He deliberately trailed off. “Dalt West. And certainly, I look forward to helping you.” Dalt lifted the first watch. “This a Cosmograph Daytona Black dial watch with diamonds.” Tuning out the rest of the details of the watch, Reaper raised his hand toward Dalt, shoving his Last Rider jacket sleeve up to his elbow, exposing his scarred wrist. “Do you mind? Because of the virus, I prefer to touch as little as possible.” “Of course not.” Dalt West had gone as pale as the white walls, and his fingers were shaking as he closed the fastening. “Don’t worry.” Dalt lifted his frightened face to Reaper’s. “I don’t bite.” Reaper’s humor had the owner looking more worried. “How much is this one?” “Twenty-three, nine ninety-nine.” Holding his wrist out, Reaper twisted it back and forth, studying the watch before putting his

wrist out again. “I’m ready to see the other watch,” Reaper prompted when Dalt didn’t immediately unfasten the watch. “Certainly.” Unfastening the watch, Dalt placed it back down on the tray before lifting the other one. “This one is a Cosmograph Daytona White dial stainless-steel oyster watch with sapphires. The price is twenty-four, nine ninety-nine.” Dalt’s hands weren’t shaking this time as he fastened the watch around his wrist. Twisting his wrist to let the light hit the face of the watch, he appreciated the beauty of it. “You can take it off.” Holding his hand out, he let Dalt take the watch off. “Do they make the oyster one with a leather band?” he asked. “I believe I have that one in the Lexington store. I can have it here by Friday. We do require a non-refundable deposit before I send for it.” Shrugging, Reaper took out his wallet. “Charline will take your deposit.” West picked up the tray of watches as he spoke, then moved away from the counter. “Thank you for shopping —” “Where are you going with those? I’ll take them both and”—Reaper placed a finger over the charm tray—“I’ll take the gold star.” “The charm is twenty-two hundred.” Quoting the price, the saleswoman used a white glove to

pick up the charm while simultaneously placing the tray back inside the display case. “That’s expensive for a charm, isn’t it?” “The charm is twenty-four carat gold, and if you look closely there, you can see tiny diamond chips.” She held it out for him to take. Reaper didn’t take the star from her. “I’ll take your word for it … and the moon.” Giving the tray a final perusal, he then pointed at another tiny one that was so small, it had almost escaped his notice. “Add this one to my bill as well. Can you wrap those for me?” “I’ll leave you in Charline’s capable hands,” Dalt said. “It’s been nice meeting you. I’m sorry, she didn’t tell me your name.” “Call me Reaper.” Dalt West closed his store promptly at six. Forcing himself to walk and not run, as much as he wanted to, he made it to his car without incident. “See you tomorrow.” Dalt jumped as Charline called out from her rolled down window. “Good evening.” His car keys fell from his hand as he tried to get into his BMW. Picking them up, he got inside. Wiping his sweating brow, he started the car. Sedately driving the two blocks to his home, he almost pissed himself when two motorcycles pulled out of the gas station and drove behind him. He was

sweating so badly that he wanted to wipe away his sweat again but didn’t want to make any moves that they could see through his rearview mirror. Switching on his blinker to turn down his street, he was relieved to see the motorcycles continue on the main road. He turned into his driveway, pulled into his garage, and kept his car doors locked as he waited for the garage door to completely close before he practically fell out of his car to run inside. “Lisa? Lisa!” “I’m upstairs.” Running upstairs, he was moving so fast that he would have stumbled up them if he hadn’t been holding onto the bannister. “Where are you?” Dalt yelled. “I’m in the bathroom.” Hearing her mumbled reply, he pushed the door open to see Lisa opening the shower door. “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay? Why didn’t call me back when I called, or answer my texts?” he shouted. Sitting on the end of the tub, he tried to catch his breath. Lisa turned the water off. “I had my hair and doctor appointments today, remember? I told you last night. I thought you just wanted to know if I wanted take-out for dinner.” Grabbing a towel to wrap around herself, she then removed her shower cap. “What’s wrong? You’re scaring me.”

“Gavin James came into the jewelry store this afternoon.” Lisa paled. “Did he recognize you?” “I don’t think so. He spent almost eighty thousand dollars.” “What did he buy?” she asked, regaining her color. “Three Rolexes and some charms.” “Charms?” “The charms that go on a woman’s bracelet.” “I know what they go on. I meant, which charms?” “A star, a moon, and I left when he was picking the third one out.” “Did he mention who it was for?” “No, I was too busy shitting myself.” “Don’t be disgusting.” Lisa went to the sink to fill a glass of water. “Obviously, he didn’t recognize you. He was so high every time we were at Slate’s that there’s no way he remembers what we look like. We knew when he came back to town that it was inevitable he would see us. I was in UPS one day when he came in, and I didn’t freak out.” Adding paste to her toothbrush, Lisa began brushing her teeth. “Let’s drive to Lexington and stay there at our condo.” “The worst thing we can do is panic. We’ll keep to our schedule like we always do.”

“That’s convenient for you.” Dalt stood up to take off his clothes. Then, going to the shower, he turned the water on. “You’ll be safe behind locked doors.” Rinsing out her mouth, she spat in the sink. “Then call in to the store tomorrow and tell Charline that you’re not feeling well and are concerned for her and the customers’ safety.” “Don’t think I won’t. Have you seen Gavin lately?” Dalt stepped into the shower. “He told me to call him Reaper.” “Damn. Now you’ve got me wanting to see him.” Dalt closed the shower door on her excited expression. “You want to see him, he’ll be back at jewelry on Friday. One of the watches he bought was special order.” “Friday? I don’t have any plans. If he didn’t recognize you, Gavin won’t recognize me. You were the one biting the fuck out of his neck.” Dalt’s cock got hard at the memory Lisa was evoking. “You don’t want to finish?” he asked thickly. “No, I need to turn the oven off. I picked dinner up from King’s. I left it on low, but if I don’t get out, it won’t be worth eating. Hurry up with your shower. I have a surprise for you.” Taking her towel off, she flung it over the shower, then pressed her breasts against the clear shower door to torment

him. “Bitch!” he yelled out teasingly as she walked out of the room. Fuck dinner. Rushing his shower, Dalt washed and rinsed his hair before getting out to dry off. He dressed in the tan pants and blue, tailored shirt that Lisa had left out for him to wear. His wife was a stickler about what he wore outside and inside the house. The only opportunities when he was given something less expensive to wear was when they went on one of their hunts for prey. Grimacing, Dalt had to shift his cock to be able to zip his pants up at the memory of having Gavin under his control. Having him had been some of best sex of his life … until Slate had ruined him with his mistreatment. The fucking sadist couldn’t understand that you had to take care of a thoroughbred like Gavin. You didn’t run him into the ground until he had nothing left to give. Slipping loafers on, Dalt went downstairs, seeing Lisa already seated at the dinner table. Walking farther into the room, he came to a dead stop at the man seated at the table. “Surprise.”

Chapter Forty-Four


told your wife I didn’t want to interrupt your

dinner.” Reaper waved the gun he was holding at the empty chair. “Don’t be shy. Eat.” Dalt West slowly sat down on the chair across the table from his wife. Coldly watching Lisa West force herself to eat the steak on her plate, Reaper turned the gun back on Dalt. “I said eat.” His eyes flicked downward as Dalt reached for the steak knife beside the plate. “Go ahead. Don’t worry.” Reaper laid the gun

down in front of him. “I don’t plan to use it until you force me to.” Reaper laughed so hard that he had to use the palm of his hands against the table to stop himself. Finally managing to gain control of his wayward emotions, Reaper was able to resume talking. “Sorry, I guess I’m a little emotional at seeing you two again. I would say it’s a pleasure getting reacquainted with you, but I didn’t get any pleasure the first time.” “I have money. We can give you however much you want,” Dalt said through pale lips. “In case you’re unaware of my financial status, I paid for my purchases today with a debit card. I don’t have any need for your fucking money. I have more than enough to last me for my lifetime.” “Please don’t hurt us.” Despite his hatred of the woman, Reaper didn’t find it easy to hear her tear-filled plea. “I’m not going to lay a hand on either of you. I just want some information, and then I’ll leave you alone to finish your dinner.” Dalt narrowed his doubting gaze on him. “You’re not going to let us live.” “Why not?” “You’d be afraid we’d report you to the state police.” “That’s the last thing you’d do. You know I’ll be forced to tell them what sick fuckers you two are. And you are sick. Both of you are too sick to

breathe the same air I do. No, what I’m here for is simple. Where is Slate?” “We don’t … don’t know,” Lisa stuttered through her sobs when he turned his ferocious gaze back to her. “I didn’t think so, but I was hoping you did.” “You believe me?” “Of course. Why would you lie? It’s not like your lives depends on giving me the information I want.” Reaper started playing with the gun, pointing the barrel at Lisa. “How did you start using Slate’s services?” he asked Dalt. “Memphis introduced us to him.” “Ah … my acquaintance with Memphis just keeps on giving … even though he’s dead now.” “He’s dead?” Lisa and Dalt asked at the same time. “Don’t worry; I wasn’t the one responsible.” “Crash told us he moved back to Ohio.” “Of course … Crash. Let’s not forget about that backstabbing fucker.” Reaper gave a harsh laugh. “I imagine he didn’t want to scare you off … Not that The Count or Vamp could be scared so easily. I do have to take the blame for his death.” Curling his lips in disgust, Reaper felt dirty being in the same room with them. “You know what really fucks with my fucking mind? How a seemingly normal, attractive couple

such as yourselves could stoop so low as to rape a man not once … but over … and over. Now, that’s what really fucks with me!” Slamming the gun down with the barrel pointing this time at Dalt, Reaper directed his next question to Lisa. “It was the biting, wasn’t it? You didn’t want him leaving marks on your neck the way he did mine.” As he ran his hand down the side of his neck, Lisa’s eye followed the movement. “The tattoos cover them, but the scars are there. They always will be.” He slammed the gun down again, still pointed at Dalt. “Answer me!” “I didn’t want him biting me,” she admitted. “That’s what I thought.” He pointed the barrel at Lisa. “She got her kicks out of you raping and biting me, didn’t she?” “Yes.” The fucker couldn’t meet his eyes. “Wow, you two are some sick motherfuckers. I have to give you two props … During my stay with Slate, both of you were the most disgusting pieces of worthless shit who fucked me. I can’t say either of you are even human beings. You got off on playing an imaginary game because neither of you were willing to take the pain you inflicted on me, and because I was so fucking drugged I can’t even remember how many times you used me. Lucky me, I have a copy of your hard drive to give me that number. Do you know how many times?” “No.” Lisa was the first to get her answer out.

“Dalt? How about you? And remember where that gun is pointed,” Reaper advised. Terrified, Dalt answered, “Twenty-six.” “Twenty-six fucking times I had your dick up my ass. You and Lisa paid to be the first to rape me …. “You’re going to love this. I haven’t been able to touch a woman, or man, since I was released. Do you enjoy knowing that?” “No,” Lisa whimpered when he hit the table with the gun. “Don’t fucking lie! If I wasn’t sitting here with a gun on you, you would be laughing your fucking heads off like you were upstairs!” “Please, just leave. We won’t say anything, I swear. You can see we’re terrified—” “Don’t know, don’t care,” he mocked, hatred and fury boiling over until the rage almost took over. “I need a drink. How about you? Where are your manners?” Reaper moved the gun so that it was pointing at Dalt. “I could use something to drink. Dalt looks like he could use something to wash his steak down.” Standing up, Reaper glowered down at them. “I’ll just make myself at home and find us something. I’m trusting that you two won’t move … I’ll be right back.” Leaving the gun on the table, he went to the kitchen where he took his time grabbing three bottles out of the refrigerator. Coming back to the

dining room, he saw the Wests standing in front of the door, blocked by Viper. “Ah, I see they moved. I was right. Viper thought you would be too scared to run. Bats always fly away when their exposed.” “Move out of our way!” Dalt screamed, pointing the gun that Reaper had left on the table. Setting the bottles of water on the table, Reaper walked toward Dalt, who started pulling the trigger. Reaper snatched the gun out of his hand. “Do you think I’m fucking stupid enough to leave a loaded gun within your reach? Or slam it down on a table?” Reaper grabbed Dalt by the back of his shirt and threw him toward the table. “Go sit your ass down.” When Lisa opened her mouth to scream out the opened front door, Reaper reached behind his back for his other gun. Giving the unloaded gun to Viper, Reaper pointed the other gun at Lisa. “That gun may be unloaded, but this one isn’t. I’m seriously advising you to go sit down. And if you scream, and I really wish you would, I’m going to play target practice with your fucking tonsils.” As Lisa went back to the table, Reaper gave a curt nod to Viper to shut the door. Resuming his seat at the table, he took a bottle of water, unscrewing the top. “The only thing I could find to drink was Perrier. You two are boring as fuck. At every town committee, pretending to

live with high and mighty standards so you can look down your nose on everyone else. Wouldn’t they laugh their asses off now if they knew you got your rocks off pretending to be vampires?” Reaper took a drink of the water, then screwed the top back on. “I’d think it was funny as hell, too, if I hadn’t been your teething toy twenty-six times.” Pointing the gun at Dalt, Reaper hooked his finger around the trigger. “Do you have any conception of how badly I want to knock every single tooth out of your head and shove them up your ass one by one?” Seeing certain death in Reaper’s eyes, Dalt began crying. “Yes.” Pointing the gun at Lisa, his finger curled tighter around the trigger. “It makes me sick to my fucking stomach that you were a foster mother. Not one but two children were placed in your care. The only reason I’m not shoving the computer down your fucking throat is because we didn’t find any pictures or tapes of children. “You’re as cunning as the fucking devil. You knew children grow up and talk, and you were smart enough to protect your reputation not to go there. Or are children too helpless for you phony bloodsuckers? It’s no fun to break someone helpless. No, that didn’t make you feel powerful. You needed a grown man for that. Congratulations, you helped Slate break me.”

Unscrewing the water, he took another drink, then closed it. He stood, maintaining a safe distance from the two at the table. “Viper will be getting worried that I’ve been talking so long. I need to go and put him out of his misery.” Their expressions mirrored their shock. “That’s it? You’re not going to kill us?” Reaper turned back toward them, his long jacket brushing a delicate chair meant more for decoration than for sitting. “I said what I wanted to say. I’m good.” “You’re going to let The Last Riders inside to let them have us, aren’t you?” “No. They’ll leave with me.” Lisa gave a sob of relief. Dalt, on the other hand, knew it was too good to be true. “You’re going to tell everyone in town what we did.” “No. When I leave here, I’m not going to think of you ever again.” Walking to the door, Reaper turned the handle. “I can’t believe you’re going to let us live.” Reaper heard the beginning of hope enter his voice. “You must have misunderstood me. I never said I was going to let you live.” “Please don’t. I’m begging you ….” Reaper closed himself off to Lisa’s and Dalt’s pleas.

“You’re going to make us suffer, aren’t you? You’re going to make us go through the humiliation of Knox arresting us, then have us killed? Fuck you! Tell me, how long do we have? A day? A year? Nine years?” Reaper raised the sleeve of his jacket to look at his brand-new Rolex. “You’re already gone.” Straddling his motorcycle, Reaper stared at the picture-perfect home, the perfectly manicured lawn, the shrubs placed evenly apart. Fuck, even the mailbox outshined everyone else’s in the neighborhood. The only thing spoiling the picture was the sound of a chainsaw breaking the peaceful atmosphere of the neighborhood. “You think they’ll call the state police?” “No. They’d rather die than take the chance of ruining their reputation.” “What do you think they’ll do, then?” “I think they’ll try to get the fuck out of dodge.” Less than two minutes later, the Andrews’ garage door opened and a car backed out. Reaper let the back wheels hit the pavement of the road before lifting his cell phone to text Cash. A loud crash sounded a second before a gigantic tree toppled over, crashing down on top of the car. “You think they’re still alive?” Viper asked not making any move to get off his motorcycle to go check.

Neither did he. Reaper stared at the expensive car smashed into the size of a pancake. “No. A stake kills a vampire every fucking time.”

Chapter Forty-Five


triding through the lobby of the church, Reaper

gave a brief knock on Lucky’s door. Viper had wanted him to return to the club after leaving the Wests’, but he needed to get a fresh perspective on Ginny’s stalker. “Come in.” “You have a few?” “More than a few. I could use a break. With Willa and the kids staying at Viper and Winter’s, I don’t have anything else to do but catch up on church paperwork and write sermons. I’m good

until next year.” Lucky placed his ink pen down on his desk right as his cell phone dinged. “Excuse me for a second,” Lucky said as he replied to the text. “Sorry. I’m having a new gate installed on the children’s play area. Ginny talked her brothers into making a donation. So, what can I do for you?” “Actually, it’s because of Ginny that I stopped by. I wanted to pick your brain about Ginny’s stalker. There’s something Shade, Rider, and I are missing.” Shoving his hands in his back pockets, he paced back and forth in front of Lucky’s desk. “I was wondering if dealing with the Wests would give you a guilty conscience.” Frowning at Lucky, Reaper stopped at pacing. “Where the Wests are concerned, the last thing I feel is guilt. Ginny wasn’t close to the Wests— Shade reported they hadn’t talked in years. His report said the Wests gave negative feedback to the State on Ginny. There was not one thing positive they had to say about her in her file. The only good deed they ever did was give that other child, Darcy, back to the State.” “I agree. Lisa gave Darcy back to the State when she was sick and failed to tell the caseworker. If the new foster mother hadn’t reacted fast enough and sought medical attention, that little girl would have died. Do you think Ginny’s stalker could have any ties to the Wests?”

“No. I looked at their hard drive. The Wests weren’t like the other couple. Slate was their only contact to provide their fantasies. I’ve gone over Shade’s and Rider’s information over a dozen times. I’m missing something.” “Shade did the same thing you’re doing when he was watching Ginny. I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to him or Rider when they asked me for a new pair of eyes.” Lucky twirled his ink pen between his fingers. Frustrated at himself for not being able to come up with any new ideas about Ginny’s stalker, Reaper stopped pacing in front of Lucky’s window. The Colemans were lifting an iron gate out of a heavy-duty pickup truck. Silas, Jody, and Jacob were straining to lift the gate once it was on the ground. “There wasn’t much information on Ginny’s mother in the file,” Reaper mused out loud. “No, there wasn’t,” Lucky said from his desk. “I asked Shade about her. He said he checked that lead out. Her mother died shortly after giving full custody of Ginny to her father.” “Did you ever meet him?” “Freddy?” “Yes.” “Oh yes, I met him.” Lucky laughed. “He was a character. He had no time for the church or me. He was a nicer version of Greer Porter, but even more

mountain-minded about wanting to stay isolated. His children were his whole world.” “Silas takes after his father.” Watching the men outside work to set the gate up, Reaper couldn’t place what was bothering him. Each day after he had left the Colemans’, it nagged at him that he was missing the component to make everything click into place. “Do you still have the file that Shade gave you?” “Yes.” Reaper heard Lucky open his desk drawer. “I’ve got it here,” Lucky said. “Who was at Ginny’s roommate’s party when the first note was found?” As Lucky rattled off several names, Reaper braced his hands on Lucky’s windowsill. “Shade checked each of them out,” Lucky said when he finished the list. “He even went so far as to break into their houses and double-checked their whereabouts during each subsequent note that followed. There was no connection.” The nagging feeling he had been experiencing was so close that he could almost grab it …. Reaper turned from the window to face Lucky. Lucky looked up from the file on his desk at his silence. “What?” “There was no connection.” Confused at having his words repeated back to

him, Lucky stared back at him blankly. “I don’t get it.” “We’ve been looking at this fucking wrong.” “How?” “If there isn’t a connection to Ginny—” “There has to be … The notes and attacks—” Reaper shook his head at him. “One of the first lessons I learned when I was in the SEALs was when a problem couldn’t be solved, change the problem.” “So …?” “Take Ginny out of the equation.” Lucky paled. “The problem becomes different.” “Ginny isn’t the target. The Last Riders are ….” Reaper was flinging the office door open before the last word was out of his mouth. Running through the church, he then ran out the front door with Lucky trailing after him. Making his way behind the church, Silas, Jody, and Jacob looked at him like he was crazy when he came barreling toward them. Reaper took out his cell phone and started calling Ginny’s phone number at the same time he asked Silas, “Where’s Ginny?” “She’s at home.” Ginny didn’t answer, and her voicemail didn’t click on. Reaper tried the number again. “Who’s with her?” “No one. Moses had to take one of his dogs to

the vet. Ezra and Matthew are taking Fynn to his mother’s. Isaac was supposed to be there but they —” “Fuck!” Shouting out the profanity, Reaper started running toward his motorcycle. “Lucky!” “I’ll get Knox. We’ll be right behind you. I’ll call Viper,” Lucky yelled over the noise of the motorcycle starting. Releasing the clutch, Reaper sped out of the parking lot, leaving tire marks in his wake. Opening his motorcycle wide, he raced to get out of town, whizzing past the slow-moving vehicles as if they weren’t even there. He had to get to the Colemans’ home in time. The pits of hell were open, and he had to get there before it closed. The gateway wasn’t going to close without him … and he was bringing a guest.

Chapter Forty-Six


aising a clean lavender-scented sheet to the

clothes line, Ginny pinned one corner of the sheet before sliding her hand along the line to use another clothes pin to hold the other corner. The wind sent the sheet gently swaying in the breeze. Reaching for another sheet, Ginny rose to see Trudy standing in front of the sheet that blocked her from being seen from inside. She dropped the clothes pins in her hand into the laundry basket. Fighting the instinct to run toward her sister, she took a step back.

“I told you to not to come here.” Blinking back emotion-filled tears, Ginny managed to give her sister a wobbly smile. “I lasted a whole two days after coming back from Florida. If I had been able to talk Dalton into going golfing, I would have been here yesterday.” “How’d you manage to get out today?” “I told Dalton that Killyama and I were going to the store.” “He agreed to you being around Killyama?” “He had Killyama take her temperature and made her take a test in front of him before he let me in her car. I was determined to see you today. I missed you.” “I missed you, too.” Ginny smiled, then gave Trudy a mock-stern look. “I expected you to stay another week in Florida.” “I came back early for two reasons.” “Do I want to know why?” “Probably not.” Ginny felt Trudy’s gaze critically assessing her. “Killyama saw you at the grocery store the other day.” “I said hi.” Ginny tried to make a joke, but Trudy wasn’t getting sidetracked. “She said you looked like hell.” “I’m not sick.” “I think you are,” Trudy disagreed with her. “Heart sick that Reaper went back to The Last

Riders and you’re unable to see him. Evangeline, this is why I tried to spare you this heartache.” “It’s not in your power to change what’s meant to be.” “You being this sad isn’t what’s meant to be.” “I won’t be this way forever. Gavin—” “Please tell me you don’t think he’s one day just going to realize he loves you and everything is going to be hunky dory.” Ginny tilted her head to the side to keep Trudy from seeing how upset she was becoming. “Stop, Trudy. You can’t protect me. As much as you want to, it’s too late. It was too late from the moment I saw Gavin. Nothing you can say or do will change how I feel about him. If I could wave a magic wand and take back time, I wouldn’t.” Tears started marring Trudy’s mascara. “I want you to be happy. You deserve a man who can give you the life you’ve dreamed of having.” “Gavin is the man I’ve been dreaming of.” Ginny gave a hiccupping sob. Seeing Trudy start toward her, she quipped, “Behave. Dalton isn’t here to take my temperature. What’s the second reason you’re here?” “I could tell from your texts how worried you are about Reaper since he left three weeks ago.” “You could have texted me back without leaving Florida. You could also have had Killyama answer the texts I sent to her.”

“I wanted to be here when I told you,” Trudy expanded on her reasons for being there. “Killy told me that everyone is concerned about Reaper. He rarely leaves his room, and when anyone tries to talk with him, he picks a fight with them or leaves the room to spend hours working out in the basement. Viper and Ton are both worried sick about him. “He’s working himself to death at the factory pulling extra shifts. The brothers have tried to get him to rest, but when they do it ends with a fight. When Hennessy told Viper that Arin was trying to get approval to begin work on a vaccine, Reaper was there and offered to hook her up with an organization that developed vaccines. He met them during his service in the Navy. He had been stationed in the Philippines during the Ebola outbreak, and the organization was willing to give Arin a sample of the original strain. He’s made himself available to translate for Arin and a couple of the scientists, day or night. “When one of Arin’s lab technicians went missing, he sent two Last Riders to find her. She’s still missing. Reaper is suspicious, since the technician was an assistant to the main researcher who’s working on the vaccine being developed at Arin’s lab. “Not only did her technician disappear, Arin’s getting delays that are slowing her trials down.

Arin’s lab is non-profit, which depends on private funding that she uses to provide free vaccines in developing countries. Her donors have started closing their pockets. Reaper made up for the shortfall and then some. If she creates a successful vaccine, it won’t be handed over to the big companies who would make millions off it.” “Will she?” “They think so. But even if she does, hers will be free. Hennessy doesn’t leave her side when she goes to work, because he’s worried what happened to her technician could happen to her.” “Does everyone know Gavin is providing the funding?” “Yes.” “So, his life could be in danger too?” Seeing she was concerned, Trudy tried to ease her worry. “They’d have to get past The Last Riders and Killyama to get to him. He’s low on the totem pole, the researcher and Arin are at greater risk.” Ginny slid the sheet separating her and Trudy when it kept flapping upward, blocking her sight of Trudy. “Do Viper or any of The Last Riders know why Gavin’s become so reclusive since he’s been back?” Missing Gavin was hurting her so badly. Ginny felt a spark of hope that he was feeling the same … until Trudy squashed that spark.

“Train told Killyama they believe it’s because he can’t find Slate, Butcher, and a couple that Reaper is obsessed about finding.” Trudy peeked over the sheet behind her to make sure no one had come out of the house. “Anyway,” Trudy continued, “they think maybe they’re close to finding the couple, but they found Slate and Butcher. They entered the Federal Protection Program. Both of them are going to be given new identities in exchange for complete cooperation.” “Gavin doesn’t know?” “They’re afraid to tell him with the mood Reaper’s been in. I think they were hoping the deal would fall through, or they’d grab the men before the feds could hide them. Slate and Butcher were placed in witness protection last week, so shit is going to get real fast when Reaper finds out.” “He’ll be furious.” Ginny couldn’t blame Gavin for his hatred of Slate. She wasn’t a violent person, but she would make an exception for Slate. “They’re afraid it’ll send him on a downward spiral that he’ll never recover from. That’s why I didn’t want you to fall in love with him. He’s never going to live a normal life until he settles the score with Slate and Butcher, and I can’t blame him. The little I do know about what happened to him makes me want to take them out.” “You couldn’t hurt a fly,” Ginny scoffed. “You’d get Stud and Calder to do it for you.”

“It wouldn’t take much talking. The Last Riders wouldn’t be the only ones lining up to take a whack at the fuckers who hurt Reaper. The Blue Horsemen and the Predators want their shot of evening the score for him as well.” So many people felt Gavin’s pain and wanted to share the load that he was carrying, yet he refused them, just like he wasn’t willing to take what she wanted to offer. When Trudy turned to look over the sheet again, the wind plastered her dress against her body. Ginny changed her expression before Trudy turned back. “Do you ever wonder what our lives would have been like if we had never faked my death?” Trudy shook her head, pain entering her eyes. “Are you trying to tell me you wish I hadn’t?” “No.” Ginny sorrowfully shook her head. “That wasn’t what I meant. I’m the one regretting the decisions I made. If we’d have stayed in the islands, you could have lived a normal life.” “How do I not live a normal life?” “Having to sneak here to talk to me isn’t normal.” “I could also be visiting your gravesite. Which one do you think I’m happier doing? Where’s this coming from, Evangeline?” “Why haven’t you told me you’re pregnant?”

she countered. “I was going to … I just felt bad telling you when I know you’re so unhappy.” “Do Killyama, Sex Piston, Fat Louise, and Crazy Bitch know?” She could tell from Trudy’s face that they did. Trudy would have been the first one she told if it had happened in reverse. Ginny hid her hurt by changing the subject. “Did you bring me a souvenir?” “When Killyama picks me up, she’s going to place a box behind the bush next to your mailbox. She’s going to put my present to you inside.” Trudy always waited until she left to give her presents. When they were little, Trudy told her that she was the main present and the other one was to be opened when she was missing her. Ginny never told her it didn’t work. No present in a gift-wrapped box made up for them being apart. “Bet I know what it is,” Ginny teased, seeing Trudy glance at her watch. Trudy didn’t want to leave, but Killyama was waiting to pick her up. “Bet you can’t.” Trudy wiped a tear away. “A seashell charm.” “No.” “A coral charm.” “No.” They traded a couple of more guesses before Trudy looked at her watch again. “I have to go,”

she said regretfully. “I know.” Ginny bent down to get another sheet. “Don’t forget—” “I won’t forget the box; my present’s in there,” Ginny finished. Trudy was always afraid someone would stumble upon their gifts or she would forget about them. Every year they remained apart, Trudy’s fears became more pronounced. Ginny couldn’t understand. She had never forgotten one. She, herself, was the one who was always forgotten. Ginny raised up to find herself engulfed in a hug. “I should have told you first,” Trudy said chokingly. Ginny quickly pulled herself away. “You’re too close, Trudy. You have to think about your baby and Dalton. Quit worrying about me. Your family has to come first from now on, promise me?” “It was just a hug.” At her mock-admonishing glare, Trudy gave into her demand. “I promise.”

Chapter Forty-Seven


inny closed and latched the goat pen. Giving

Millie a pat of approval, she sent her home to Moses. “Go get your treat.” Smiling as the dog ran off, Ginny started leisurely walking back toward the house. As she strolled through the trees, she felt the wind pick up, sending the limbs swaying. An icy blast of wind managed to sneak under her collar, sending a chill down her spine. She burrowed her hands into her comfortable blue jean jacket, trying to stay warm. Her head was down as she came out the copse

of trees. “I was beginning to give up hope anyone was around.” Ginny raised her head, seeing two men walking toward her. Slowing, Ginny continued forward. “This is private property.” The taller of the two men pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “Our car broke down. I was trying to find someone to call a tow truck for us.” “This is private property. Leave.” Ginny continued to walk, but she started veering away from the men, turning in the direction of Matthew and Isaac’s workshop. “I’ll call the tow truck for you. You can go wait in your car.” “Damn.” The stranger’s voice turned snide. “Where’s all the Kentucky hospitality I heard about?” “Kentuckians give hospitality to their invited guests, not trespassers. You need to leave. Now.” “She’s a fucking bitch. Let’s just get her and go.” The man who had called her a bitch sent another cold chill down her spine. “I’m not going anywhere with you.” The man next to the taller man left his friend’s side to cut her off from reaching Matthew and Isaac’s workshop. Ginny stopped, positioning herself to keep both men within eyesight.

“I can see why Reaper stayed here so long. It’s peaceful.” “That word coming from you is hilarious. You lived your whole life destroying everyone who comes into contact with you,” she scoffed. A satisfied smile played on the cruel face just a foot away from her. “Reaper told you about me? I’m glad to know I left a lasting impression.” “Actually, he didn’t. Reaper hasn’t mentioned your name once. Neither have The Last Riders.” The man’s face gloating expression didn’t change, but his eyes grew sharper. “Then you don’t know who I am.” “Oh, I know who you are … who you both are.” “You’re bluffing.” The gloating expression became cunning. Ginny rolled her eyes at the man. “Really? Your homework on me is sadly lacking. Hammer told me that was your problem when you were in the military, which was why you were never selected for higher assignments. Your taste in friends”— Ginny wrinkled her nose at the other man—“was another mark against you.” “I don’t know a Hammer.” The tall man looked toward his cohort. “She’s bluffing.” “You’re nothing but a peon in Hammer’s world.” Ginny allowed her disgust for the men to show.

“I don’t give a fuck who Hammer is . You can tell us when we have you loaded in the car.” “I wouldn’t take another step if I were you, Slate.” Ginny saw the other man make a menacing move toward her. “You either, Butcher.” Both men backed up a step at the use of their nicknames. Slate was first to regain his bravery. “This is all bullshit. You’re all alone. We made sure.” “By poisoning Moses’ dog?” Ginny shook her head at the men. “That was what tipped us off. Moses was supposed to be the only one left at the house with me, but he had to bring the dog to the vet, thanks to you. You’ve been watching our house for the last two weeks, learning our schedules.” Ginny gave them a pretend moue of disappointment. Her pretense stopped. “You know, I was really mad at God for letting you enter Gavin’s life, but when Hammer told me that you skipped out on the luxurious accommodations the FBI provided for you, it restored some of my faith.” “They set me up with a two-room shithole. Once I have you, Reaper will come running. I’ve already found a small place just for us.” Ginny started to take her hands out of her pockets, stopping when Slate opened his jacket to show the gun that was tucked into the front of his pants.

“I was just going to take my hands from pockets. I’m not carrying a weapon.” Slate’s hand went to the butt of his gun. “Slow and easy.” Slowly taking her hands out, Ginny showed him that they were empty. Slate removed his hand from the gun, letting his jacket swing closed. “Let’s go,” he ordered. “If you want me, you’ll have to come and get me,” Ginny told him. “Works for me. Butcher, get her.” There was nothing attractive about the man who Slate expected to carry out his bidding. The man was so ugly, his features were so mismatched that they each had their own personality. Ginny had to hold back a cringe as he took a step toward her. Butcher froze hearing at a warning growl. “I warned you not to move. I would advise you to run, but I don’t want to go to heaven with your deaths on my conscience.” Butcher took a step back as another dog came out from behind Matthew and Isaac’s forge. Slate wasn’t frightened at the sight of the two dogs, but Butcher remained in place. Slate started to reach for his gun, but then he froze as another dog came out of the woods, close to his side. “I wouldn’t try for it, Slate. Moses trained Lobo to attack anyone with a gun. You wouldn’t be able

to pull the trigger with a stump for a hand,” Ginny advised. “Even if you take out Lobo ….” Ginny gave a low whistle that brought out four more dogs from their hiding spots, with their fur raised and their teeth bared. “I have enough bullets to take them out,” Slate threatened, yet he didn’t make a move for his gun. “Let’s go, Slate.” “Shut up, Butcher. We have enough bullets to take them,” Slate insisted. “Take your gun out first. Then I’ll take mine.” “You go first..” “I hate to interrupt you cowards making fools of yourselves, but the dogs are the least of your problems.” Ginny raised her hand in the air, having no need to look to see who came out of the woods behind. Slate had no idea who he was dealing with, thinking he could outmaneuver her family. Slate’s eyes widened as Tate Porter halted next to her, carrying a shotgun pointed at him. Butcher was greeted by Dustin Porter with the muzzle of his rifle planted in his cheek. “In case you didn’t hear me cocking my rifle, I’m right behind you, ready to blow your fucking head off if you so much as twitch,” Greer Porter told Slate. “Please twitch.” “You can’t touch me … All of you will go to jail.” Slate slowly raised his hands in the air. “You must have missed the signs when you cut

across Porter land,” Greer lied, berating him. “What signs?” Slate started to turn his head to look over his shoulder at Greer, only to have his head crushed with butt of Greer’s rifle, sending Slate to the ground. “The fucking ones that say trespassers will be shot.”

Chapter Forty-Eight


eaper saw the car coming around the corner

just as he was about to make the turn into the Colemans’ driveway. The speed he was traveling, he could keep going in the lane he was traveling in and turn around when he had an opportunity, which was what any sane person would do, or do what he was going to do, which was speed up and hope he made it alive through the oncoming lane, which was totally insane. He took the insane route. It was quicker. Veering off, the side of his jacket rubbed the

pavement before he managed to straighten the bike. Going up the steep driveway, he then nearly plowed into a car that had the trunk up with the emergency lights blinking. Reaper’s already pounding heart went into overdrive. He didn’t recognize the car, and if the car had been broken down, it would have been the bottom of the driveway, not near the steepest part of the driveway. Parking his bike and getting off, he pulled his gun out in one motion as he ran up the steps of Silas’s home. Instead of barging inside, Reaper went to the side of the door and gently turned the door handle. He mocked himself for being careful now, instead of when he came charging up to the house. Anyone inside could have taken him out from a window at his lack of caution. When his phone vibrated, he was tempted to ignore it, but he wanted to make sure it wasn’t Ginny. It was a text from Ginny. I’m at Matthew and Isaac’s workshop. Jumping off the porch, he started toward that section of property, not bothering with the steps. As his feet hit the ground, Knox’s squad car pulled into the driveway. Knox and Lucky were still getting out of the car when Viper, Rider, Razer, and Shade roared up behind Knox’s car. “After I find out what the fuck is going on, I’m

going to beat the fuck out of you for pulling in front of that car, and you know better than to run up to a house without backup.” Huffing his words out, Knox ran behind him, coming to a standstill when they saw Greer Porter bashing Slate in the face with the butt of his rifle. “The fucking ones that says trespassers will be shot.” Cold fury encased him when he took in what had gone down before he arrived. Then horrific visions of what the two monsters had planned for Ginny had shards of ice running over him. Butcher and Slate had planned to kidnap Ginny, which was why they had left the trunk of their car open, but the Porters derailed their plan. The Porters weren’t the only ones who had impeded their success. He counted eight dogs circling Butch and Slate, their ferocious appearances made them look like Cujo on steroids. If these dogs had been like the ones that attacked him and Ginny, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. The way they were grouped strategically around Ginny, blocking her from the two monsters, would have given her ample opportunity to escape. While in the military, he had witnessed several highly trained dogs in action, preforming a variety of duties. These dogs appeared to sense Slate’s and Butcher’s evilness, and with cunning awareness they were protecting Ginny as if she were one of

their pack. Moving as if in slow motion, Reaper stood in front of Slate. There was no satisfaction at seeing him on his knees in front of him. No, what Slate had done to him, and what he tried to perpetuate on Ginny, didn’t allow for any emotions. Slate had dehumanized him to the point that there wasn’t anything left, and that was exactly why Reaper wasn’t going to retreat from him. “Be careful. He has a gun tucked in the front of his britches,” Greer warned when Reaper knelt down beside Slate. “Thank you for making this the happiest day of my life.” “You’re welcome.” Using the butt of his rifle to bash Slate on the back his head, Slate would have fallen forward if Reaper hadn’t put out a hand to push Slate’s forehead back. “I was talking to Slate.” Scowling up at Greer, Reaper reached out to take the gun away from Slate to give to Viper, who came to his side. “Why you thanking this sack of shit for?” “Because it will be the last day he spends on earth.” “I reckon that’s okay, then.” Greer raised his rifle to butt Slate again. “I’m about to make your day really special.” Reaper rose to take the rifle away from Greer. “Why you do that for?”

“He’s mine.” “Fuck.” Unhappy, Greer indignantly turned from Slate to Butcher. “Can I have him?” “No, he’s mine too.” “Fuck.” Greer raised his knee to kick Slate’s head. “I don’t suppose you have anyone else hiding around here I can have?” Greer addressed Slate. “Cut it out, Greer. You know it’s just the two of them,” Tate admonished his brother. “Doesn’t hurt to check.” Greer spitefully kicked Slate in the head again. “I reckon our job is done. I’ll be taking my rifle back.” Greer held his hand out impatiently for his weapon. When Reaper didn’t immediately give it back, Greer moved away from Slate. “I won’t touch the motherfucker. Give me.” Reaper gave his rifle back. With his free hand, Greer pulled up his sagging jeans. “Our job’s done, boys. I reckon they don’t need our help anymore.” Greer turned a calculating look at Ginny. “You can tell Silas when he gets here —” “I’m right here, Greer.” Silas moved around Knox so that Greer could see him. “Oh … fine, I’ll tell you myself. You can send Moses over with that mean son of a bitch”—Greer pointed at a sleek dog that had Butcher afraid to move—“to pay us back for keeping an eye out for Ginny.”

Tugging his pants again, Greer directed his younger brother, “Dustin, make sure you take that gun from that little weasel you’ve been watching.” Greer gave Silas a curt nod. “Can’t say it’s been a pleasure doing business with you, ’cause it ain’t. Make sure you keep to your side of the fence after”—Greer pointed his finger toward Moses as he walked out of the forest from his property —“Moses delivers my new dog.” Reaper watched the Porters leave, then stared at the group gathered around Slate and Butcher, seeing that all of Ginny’s brothers were back and that Fynn was nowhere in sight, he spoke to Silas. “Take your family and go inside. Knox will come and tell you when it’s safe to come outside.” Silas gave a grave nod. “We’ll let you handle this situation. Fynn will be staying with his mother for the weekend. Plenty of time to clean any mess you make.” The Colemans began leaving, except for Ginny and Moses. “Gavin ….” Reaper shut out the sweet tone of her voice. He couldn’t listen to her when his mind was filled with pure hatred for the two men he had been searching for. Ginny wouldn’t be shut out, though, bringing her hand to his arm to turn him so he was no longer staring down at Slate.

“I know you’re going to do what you feel is right.” Her eyes pleaded with him. “Revenge isn’t going to change the past, and it’s not going to give you the future you deserve.” “The only future I deserve is the one I’m going to live once you go inside your house.” Ginny wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head against his chest. “There’s the future you could live with me, if you would give it a chance ….” Reaper’s arms remained by his side, coldly rebuffing her by taking a step away, then turning back to Slate. “Any chance of a normal life was played out long before I met you.” Stonily, he felt Ginny move away and was able to monitor her stiff movements as she began walking toward the house without looking back. “Moses you need to leave.” “I’m not leaving. Ginny is our sister. We saw the car on the way up the drive. It goes without saying that I, nor any of my brothers, will be interfering to help them.” Moses slanted his head down to the dog sitting attentively at Butcher’s feet. “Actually, there is something you need to be made aware of.” Wanting to make Moses leave, Reaper delayed vetoing the idea of Ginny’s brother staying. Many of The Last Riders were there, but they were still outnumbered by Moses’ dogs. Deciding to listen to

what Moses had to say might make it easier for him to convince Moses to go inside the house. “Saber is giving an alert signal.” Moses lay a hand on the tan and white dog’s head that was sitting peacefully next to Butcher. “She smells blood on him. I would have Knox check out who the car parked in the driveway belongs to.” Butcher started shaking. “Don’t let Reaper hurt me. Call the cops. Slate and I have a deal with the FBI ….” Reaper felt nothing as Butcher implored Moses for help. “Saber is never wrong.” Moses disdainfully ignored Butcher’s appeal as he steered away from the man, not afraid to give the monster his back to lay a hand on the dog that was holding Butcher at bay, even though Dustin was gone. “Do you know why Greer wants Trigger?” “No.” “Because everyone on this mountain knows Trigger loves to chase anything or anyone I order him to. When he’s done, Matthew and Isaac’s forge can burn what’s left. I thought that information would come in handy while you’re deciding if I can stay or not. I’ll even throw in this little tidbit for you.” Moses patted the side of his leg, and all the dogs immediately obeyed his silent signal to form two groups, one on each side of him. “They only obey me.”

Chapter Forty-Nine


et him stay,” Viper gave his approval.

Seeing Lucky, Knox, Razer, and Rider give their assent, Reaper lost any reservations he had left. “Don’t let Slate out of your sight.” Leaving Knox and Razer to follow his order, Reaper walked over to where Butcher was cowering. Giving full rein to the fury he had been holding in, Reaper backhanded Butcher across his mouth. When he fell backward to ground, Reaper then brought a foot up to smash him to the ground.

Changing the course of his foot at the last second, he stomped his heavy boot down, missing Butcher’s nose by a centimeter. Placing his other boot on the other side of Butcher’s head, Reaper pulled him up by his hair. A mewling cry came from the man that Reaper hated more than life. When Reaper had him eye to eye, he let him see the hatred spilling out of his. “Please don’t kill me …,” he sobbed. “You’re nothing but a filthy rapist who wasn’t man enough to take what you wanted, so you had other men take it for you. You made me ….” Reaper bottled the words he wanted to spew out like lava erupting from the volcano of hatred that was all that was left of his soul, still unable to release the pent-up disgust that he couldn’t let escape within the hearing of the men nearby. He had been humiliated by these two men during the years of his captivity. He would be damned if the shame he carried every day would be exposed anymore. His degradation and indignity had been captured on video for eternity, while his revenge wouldn’t be. Taking their lives swiftly like he had Crash’s would never settle the score he had been waiting for. “How badly do you want to live?” “Bad,” he blubbered, snot coming out of his nose. “I’m going to give you more of a chance than I

had.” Still holding Butcher with what was left of his hair, Reaper turned him until he was facing away from him, pointing him toward Silas’s house. “I’m going to be fair. The Last Riders get to take turns killing you if you go in that direction.” Reaper pointed him to the left. “You go in that direction, the Porters can have you. You have better odds going that way, but you have to get past Greer. Good luck with that.” He tore out piece of scalp when he pointed him to the right. “You go in that direction, Moses and his dogs can have you. Those are your worst odds; I don’t see you outrunning one dog much less eight.” Using the back of his shirt, he pointed him straight. “This direction, you have your best odds. Through those trees are two rises, and it has a back-access road to the one you came in on. If you’re really lucky, you’ll even be able to get to your car and drive away before you’re caught.” “Who gets me if I go in that direction?” “Me,” Reaper answered, releasing him. “Choose.” Butcher looked back at The Last Riders, then toward the Porters’ property, then at the dogs. Lastly, he braved a glance at him. “I’ll go in that direction.” Butcher looked at Slate as if wanting confirmation that he made the right choice. Slate was too occupied nursing the bump on his head that Greer gave him. “I’m going to be generous and give you a three-

minute head start.” Reaper turned his head toward Butcher. “Run.”



hirty minutes later, Reaper walked out of the

copse of trees, returning to where The Last Riders and Moses were waiting—thriving on the high he felt when Butcher’s life left his body when he’d wrapped his hands around his throat. Getting to Slate, he reached down to jerk him to his feet and he started walking them toward the driveway. “Where are you going?” Reaper kept his determined gaze forward as Viper and the other men rushed to keep up along with his angry stride. “Slate and I are going to finish this together, aren’t we?” Jerking Slate forward despite his attempts to pull away, Reaper stalked them down the driveway to car that they had planned to use in Ginny’s kidnapping attempt. Seeing the trunk open again

infuriated Reaper. “I’m going with you,” Viper demanded. Reaper looked in the window of the car to make sure they had left the keys in the ignition. Stupid fuckers. With a satisfied glee, his emotions switched from fury to a joyous euphoria. All the planning he had suffered in the search for Slate, Butcher, Vamp, and The Count was coming to fruition. All the pain and mental torment he had suffered through was almost over. “No. I’m doing this alone.” Tossing Slate into the truck, he slammed it shut. “If you don’t want me going, take any of us. I don’t care who,” Viper pleaded, trying to block him from getting the driver’s door open. “Move, Viper!” he snarled. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will. You’re going to need all of them to get rid of Butcher. Find a pig farmer and feed them what’s left. I made it easier for you.” Using his shoulder, he shoved Viper out of the way enough to slide inside, but before he could close the door Viper attempted to stop him again. The movement unintentionally blocked Shade and Razer from helping him. Using his left foot, Reaper kicked Viper away enough to shut the door, simultaneously locking it as Knox and Moses jerked on the handles to open the other doors.

Locked inside, he started the car. The Last Riders ran around the back of the car. Fuckers know I’m not going to run them down. His joyous euphoria vanished when he saw Ginny slam the door open to Silas’s house. Then all her brothers piled out behind her. Focused on getting away, Reaper didn’t flinch at the sound of Shade and Rider using rocks to break out the windows behind him. Instead of going in reverse, Reaper drove forward over the grass, heading toward the outbuilding. Gunning the motor when he sped past Matthew and Isaac’s workshop with everyone running after him, he angled the car between two trees. Hearing the metal crunch as the trees scraped the sides of the car had the euphoria coming back. He made it through. Expertly guiding the car through the trees, he came out the other side, going too fast and nearly taking out the goat pen. Swerving, he barreled the car toward the access road that Silas used to unload groceries. Gaining on the road, Reaper pressed his foot down on the gas pedal. Rolling down the window, he threw out his cell phone as he made it to the road. Rubber burned when he turned toward West Virginia instead of toward the club and town. He congratulated himself when he didn’t see

any motorcycles in his rearview mirror, but he didn’t ease off the gas, either. Settling back for the drive, he looked down at the gas gauge and gave a smirk that no one was there to appreciate. Home free, he thought jubilantly. No one could stop him. Turning on the radio, he laughed hysterically at Skylar Grey’s song, “Coming home.” “Yes, I am!” Reaper shouted out, feeling the wind rushing through the open windows as he drove. “I’m heading home … and you can’t stop me.”

Chapter Fifty


et out.”

Leaving the trunk open, Reaper walked away to stare down over the cliff on the highest mountain in Kentucky. “Where are we?” Reaper turned from staring into oblivion to Slate as he dragged himself from the trunk. “I see the brothers took their part while I was getting reacquainted with Butcher.” Slate’s face was so swollen that his features were indistinguishable. Holding his ribs, Slate had to lean against the

car to keep from falling down. “You got your payback. Better not do what you’re planning.” “You think taking a few hits from The Last Riders and getting cracked with a rifle a couple of times is enough payback for the years of torture you put me through?” “Maybe not, but it’s all you’re going to be able to get.” Slate raised swollen, slit eyes to him. “You kill me, you’ll destroy everything you and The Last Riders have worked for and put every one of them in jail.” Reaper folded his arms over his chest. “How so?” “Crash told me where all the bodies are buried behind the club.” “Dead men don’t tell tales,” he mocked. “They do when their federal informants. I’m in witness protection—” “They’re doing a hell of a job protecting you.” Slate tried to sneer at him, but the fattened lips just gave him a comical appearance. “I disappear, guess who they’re going to blame?” “Quick guess. Me.” Reaper was enjoying Slate trying to talk his way out dying. It was a useless endeavor, but Slate could try all he wanted. Nothing would change the outcome. “Not only you, but the whole fucking club.” Reaper lifted one of his hands to stare down at his bloody nails detachedly. “After we discovered

Crash’s duplicity, do you really believe we didn’t consider the possibility of him telling you? Look around these mountains surrounding the town. The choice is limitless where we could have rehidden the bodies.” “Maybe so.” Hunching over to grab his ribs until he regained his breath, Slate gave another reason not to kill him. “But did you or any of The Last Riders consider that Crash taped Memphis being killed by them.” “Did you hand it over to the FBI?” “I did, but if you let me go, I can recant the testimony about where the tape came from, that Nickel faked the video. I’ll tell them I was doing it for the money, to get a new life … I can say anything you want me to say.” Slate’s confidence was cracking the longer he talked, seeing he wasn’t making any headway. “If the tape really exists, why did you have to pretend to stalk Ginny to draw The Last Riders out? All you had to do was tell Viper the tape existed, and he would have given you what you wanted.” Viper wouldn’t have, but it would have given him time to get his ducks in a row to protect The Last Riders. “He wouldn’t have given me you.” No, Viper wouldn’t have, Reaper silently agreed. “Viper had you watched 24/7, even when you

took off occasionally. I needed plans to take you. You don’t go down easy. I needed to bring you to me. Viper sent every fucking Last Rider to protect her, but you.” “That’s why you staked out Rider’s place when Shade and Rider were the only ones to watch her.” “I needed Viper to switch it up. It worked didn’t it?” Slate’s gloating didn’t have the full effect he wanted with his front tooth missing. “That’s why you tried to kidnap her?” “I would have had you back in Nashville, if the fucking bitch hadn’t taken off.” “You wouldn’t have found me so easy to kidnap a second time. Why did you decide to use Ginny in the first place?” “I saw her singing in Queen City. Took me a few hours to recognize her, but I remembered where I had seen her before. Then bingo,” Slate couldn’t help but gloat at his cunning. “Crash used to send pictures of people that regularly came to the club. I checked with my contacts….” “You mean Vamp and the Count?” “Took you long enough to figure that out didn’t it?” Slate gave a half smile with his swollen lip. “They told me how close Ginny was to the Last Rider’s, and they felt responsible for Ginny’s house burning down. I had the note put in Ginny’s apartment to see if the Last Rider’s would react. They came through like a champ.”

“How did you put the note in Ginny’s apartment?” “Her roommate’s boyfriend has a habit that Butcher used to feed before he got all educated. Butcher is from Queen City; it’s why we hid out there. Several of his old contacts came calling.” “So, you blackmailed him to do your dirty work for you?” “Wasn’t hard. When the nerd was using, he used someone else to buy the drugs, but Butcher lied to him. Told him we had it on tape him purchasing the drugs from the buyer that Butcher sold the drugs to.” “And he believed you.” Reaper shook his head at the terror Gianna’s boyfriend must have felt at having to do Butcher’s bidding. “He was afraid not to. He knew we would kill him if he didn’t.” Heaving himself upright from the car, Slate stumbled to a large rock to sit down. “All of this bullshit,” Reaper jeered at him, “just because you blamed me for you being dishonorably discharged. Your hatred of me—” “I don’t hate you … I love you.” Slate’s confession rocked Reaper to his core. Slate nodded, giving a bitter laugh at the expression that must have been on Reaper’s face. “I loved you, and you didn’t even notice.” “No, I didn’t.” “If I made any overture when we served

together, I could have lost my career. I lost it anyway … and you.” “I wouldn’t have reported you. I would have just told you—” “You would have told me no.” “So, you knew I couldn’t tell you no if you kidnapped me.” “I could hear you say yes anytime I wanted to hear it.” And he had … over … and over …. Reaper shut out all the outrage he felt, letting the cold stillness back over him. Turning around, he stared out over the cliff that was so high you couldn’t see the bottom; all you could see was the top of trees. The overcast sky was growing darker. “Which do you prefer: Going off this mountain while there’s still enough light to see where you’re going or waiting until it’s dark so you can’t see a fucking thing?” “You’re not going to kill me. You’ll destroy The Last Riders. Fuck the FBI, we can take off to wherever you want to go, you love the beach we….” Slate was still trying to bargain his way out. “So I can live the rest of my life at your mercy?” Reaper mercilessly jeered at him. “It wouldn’t be the same. You know how I feel about you now.”

The clouds above grew darker as ominous thunder echoed from the sky. A flash of lightning streaked across the heavens above as the storm gathered strength. Sprinkles of rain fell, hitting his upturned face, mixing with the tears coming out of his eyes. Stalking toward Slate, he jerked him up and dragged him to the edge of the cliff. “You love me?” Reaper took him by the other arm to lift him in the air. “You want to be with me?” Reaper yelled at him in torment. “You can fucking spend eternity with me, because that’s the only way you’ll ever touch me again!” Shouting at the top of his lungs, Reaper turned to dangle Slate over the cliff when bright headlights hit them. Temporarily blinded by the lights, Reaper lost his concentration for a split-second, which allowed Slate to struggle out of his arms. The force of the struggle had both men losing their balance. Reaper started falling backward, toward the ground, while Slate started falling over the cliff. Desperately trying to save his own life, Slate tried to reach for Reaper. The momentum would have sent both men over the cliff. Blinking his eyes against the pouring rain, Reaper saw a flash of fur before he was flung to the ground, and then he heard Slate’s scream as he went over the mountain. “No!” Reaper yelled, determined to go over the

mountain after him. Wiping his eyes to stare up at what had pinned him down, he saw Suki laying on his chest. When he desperately tried to shove the dog off him, the dog whined. “Stop, Gavin. If you throw yourself off, Suki will go with you.” Raising up onto his elbows, Reaper looked toward the man highlighted in front of the truck. Pushing back his soggy hair, he tried to make out who it was. As the silhouetted figure walked closer, a flash of lightning revealed the features of the person who had prevented him from ending the painful existence of his life. “Take her and go away.” Doing something he swore he would do never again, he begged, “Please … please, just go.”

Chapter Fifty-One


can’t do that.” Silas went to his haunches to

stare down at him. “Please ….” “I can’t let you end your life. It means too much to so many people.” “It doesn’t mean anything to me,” he sobbed. “I just want the pain to end.” Unable to look at Silas, he turned his head away to stare at the vast opening that should have been his final resting place. “At one time, it meant a great deal to you.”

“Not anymore ….” “Why not? Everything that’s important is still here, waiting for you.” “It’s not the same.” “No, but you’re not the same, either. You’re older, wiser, can appreciate life differently.” “I want my old life back!” he screamed out to the heavens above him. “Do you? What part of that life do you want back that wouldn’t be there if you wanted them?” “Taylor!” “She’s the best you can come up with? You no longer love her. If she told you she would marry you right this second, would you?” “No.” “Why not, if you love her as you say you do?” “Go away ….” “Why. Not?” “I don’t want talk about this.” Rolling to his side and away from Silas, he nudged Suki off his chest to sit up. Before he could stand, she plopped herself down on his lap, whining. “Why is she crying?” “Dogs are sensitive. She feels your pain. Suki will stop if you pet her.” Unable to handle the low whine, he started petting her. The sound stopped. “I thought Moses was going to give her to a new owner.”

“He did. She’s sitting on his lap.” Reaper looked up. “Moses is giving her to me?” “I can’t think of anyone else who will love or treat her better.” “I don’t want her.” He let his hand slide off her fur. “You’re lying, just like you’ve been untruthful about your feelings for Ginny.” Suki started whining again. Automatically, Reaper started petting her again. “I don’t have feelings for either of them,” he denied. “How much pain do you have to go through before you stop deceiving yourself? You almost killed yourself, Gavin. At what point is the pain too unbearable that you can’t ask for help?” Reaper shook his wet hair back. The rain and wind had stopped at Silas’s arrival, leaving a dampness in the air that had his clothes uncomfortably clinging to him. “Everyone asks me that question. And I’ll tell you the same thing I told them: Who can I talk to? You don’t know what happened to me, and I don’t want you to. But to put it plainly, it was vile and disgusting. Who should I share those experiences with? My brother? Fuck no! The Last Riders? Hell fucking no. A psychiatrist? They can piss off. A support group? No, I don’t need other people’s nightmares in my head. I have enough of my own.”

“You can talk to me.” “You?” Shaking his head, Reaper looked up from Suki. “You don’t have any concept of how to help me.” Silas’s grave expression didn’t change at his sarcasm. “I’ve comforted you many times, Gavin. You just didn’t know it was me.” “Are talking about when I stayed at your house?” “No.” Silas placed a dried leaf next to him, and as he rose from his haunches to stand, the leaf twirled under his hand. “I’m talking about the many times—” Reaper’s eyes followed the leaf spiraling upward as Silas raised his hand higher into the air. “—I comforted you when your body was so racked with pain from those tormentors’ abuse that you clung to life from sheer will.” Silas brought his hand down, the leaf falling softly to the ground. Raising his hand back in the air, he made an imaginary circle before lowering his hand again, until his hand pointed toward him. Then, as he flicked his fingers open from his closed fist, Reaper felt a burst of wind blow over him … and heard the wind whispering to him … Survive … Endure … I promised you revenge … I promised you love … a love that was waiting

for you … just for you …. “I’ve kept my promises to you, Gavin. You survived, you endured, you got your revenge, and I promised you Ginny. She’s been waiting for you … She’s still waiting.” This was so beyond the bounds of belief that his mind refused to believe what he had seen, what he had heard. Seeking to disprove what his eyes and ears told him, he opened his mouth to deny what Silas was telling him when another set of headlights lit up the area. “Damn, I knew he wouldn’t stay home,” Reaper heard Silas mutter as he turned toward the truck that parked beside his. Reaper didn’t have to wait long to know who the newcomer was, recognizing the irritating quality of his swagger immediately. “Where’s the dude he took off with?” Greer looked around eagerly. “He went over the cliff,” Silas answered for him. Greer Porter sauntered to the edge of the cliff, looking down. “Damn. I wanted to shove my boot up his ass before you killed him off. I don’t know why I listened to you,” Greer berated Silas as he walked toward them. “It was an accident.” “Yeah … sure. That’s the last time I listen to you, cuz.”

Reaper looked back and forth between the two men. “You’re cousins?” “Shh …” Greer went back to the cliff. “You sure he’s dead?” “I’m sure,” Silas snapped. “How? You go down there and see?” “Why don’t you go down there and check for a pulse?” “I didn’t bring my hiking boots. Guess I’ll have to take your word for it.” “Will you two please leave?” Reaper broke into the squabbling. “I take it he ain’t convinced?” Greer snorted. “You interrupted just when I showed him.” “He don’t look convinced. He still wantin’ to take a nose dive into the wild blue yonder?” “Greer, you’re making me want to take a flying leap. Will you shut up for a few minutes so I can finish talking to him?” “Go ahead.” Greer huffily folded his arms across his chest. “I ain’t going to say another word.” “Now that would be a fucking miracle.” Reaper’s head fell back in bitter laughter. “The boy’s lost it, hasn’t he?” Greer stared down at him pityingly. Lifting his head up, Reaper caught Greer’s expression. “Don’t look at me that way. That’s how The Last Riders look at me when I can’t take a

drink—” “Why can’t you drink?” “Because I’m an addict! I let myself have only one drink, when I kill one of the fuckers who … hurt me.” “Raped you. That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it, Gavin? It isn’t a dirty word … What they did to you is a crime.” Silas sighed, going back to his haunches. “Greer and I both know.” “Who told you? Am I being gossiped about in town?” “I was with you, and Greer came to you in the hospital. If you let yourself remember, he helped you cope when you were in the rehab center. We can both help you now, if you let us. You don’t have to suffer through this alone anymore. You never did. You just have to get to the point where you’re willing to allow us in to take the pain away.” Reaper raised his hands to his eyes, furiously rubbing them as if he could erase the memories plaguing his mind more than any deadly infection ever could. “Hell, I know how to fix this.” Greer stomped away. “Sorry,” Silas apologized. “He’s part of the reason the Colemans don’t claim the Porters as kin.” “I heard that!” Greer bellowed from inside the truck. “It’s the Porters who don’t claim the

Colemans.” Coming back, Greer gave Silas a beer, then gave one to Reaper. Opening his own, Greer turned toward the cliff to raise his beer up in a toast. “Sorry I wasn’t here to shove my boot up your ass.” Greer snickered. “I might come back in a couple of days in my hiking boots and take a piss on your rotting body.” Silas raised his bottle to take a drink. “If his eyes are open, it’ll be bad luck.” “I’ll wait a couple of weeks, then. The animals will have picked him clean by then.” Greer tilted his beer bottle toward Reaper. “Go ahead and drink up. I’ll make sure you don’t go craving it.” Uncaring of getting his pants wet, Greer plopped down on the ground next to him. “How long it been since you’ve had one of these bad mamas?” Greer then took a joint out his shirt pocket. Lighting it, he took a hit, savoring it before handing it over to Silas. “No, thanks.” “Suit yourself.” Greer lowered his voice an octave, taking another hit. “Pussy.” Reaper couldn’t help but smile. If Greer wasn’t careful, Slate wouldn’t be the only one lying at the bottom of the cliff. Heedless of his cousin’s dark stare, Greer held his joint out to Reaper. “I can’t. I don’t want to get addicted to

anything again. I’ll want that high from the other drugs—” “Ten minutes ago, you were going to take a nose dive off the side of a mountain. Fucking unbelievable.” Greer gave a rude snort. “And now you’re worried about taking one hit?” Taking another hit for himself, Greer again held the joint out to him. His expression changed to one just as grave as Silas’s. “Take a hit, and I’ll show you what I can do.” Reaper took the joint, breathing in the scent deeply and luxuriating in the smell. Before his kidnapping, once a week, he would grab a beer and share a joint with Rider or Shade just to shoot the shit. Taking a hit, Reaper closed his eyes, savoring the taste. He held his breath to feel the full effect before releasing the puff. “Good, ain’t it?” Greer said, taking another hit before giving it back to him. Reaper took it for another inhale. “You grow it?” he asked. Greer looked around as if they were being spied upon and lowered his voice. “Yeah, but don’t tell anyone. I’m an officer of the law. Knox makes me take a drug test, even though I smell it on the fucker when he come in from lunch.” “Knox is a friend of mine,” Reaper told him. “He’s still a fucker.”

“I wasn’t disagreeing, just telling you in case you do say something I take offense to.” Greer laughed, hitting him on the shoulder. “You’re right funny when you get a little green in you.” Suki lifted her head at the slapping sound, growling at Greer. “Shut your yap.” While the words came out cross, the tone and gentle hand that Greer used to pet Suki showed the gentler side of Greer. “Damn, this is nice. Been a long time since I’ve been away from Holly and the brats to enjoy a boys’ night out. We should do this again. Sit around, shoot the shit … drink a couple of beers … talk or not talk about whatever you want. Say … once a week?” Reaper saw Greer looked askance at Silas, and Silas nodded in return. “Once a week,” Silas agreed. “Sounds like a plan.” Taking the last hit, Greer then stubbed out what was left and tucked it in his back pocket. “We gotta get busy. Viper and The Last Riders are worried sick about you.” Greer shifted on his ass. “Give me your hand.” Reaper couldn’t explain why he gave in so easily to Greer’s request. Maybe it was the beer, the joint, or a feeling of inexplicable trust that confounded him.

Greer clasped his hand in his, and Silas took their other hands until they were in a circle. “Close your eyes.” He left them open. His trust didn’t go that far. “Suit yourself.” Reaper narrowed his eyes on Greer, waiting for a snide comment. It didn’t come. Greer rolled his eyes at him. “That one, I meant.” Greer’s eyes were filled with laughter. It was the first time he had seen a resemblance to the Colemans. A feeling of heat tingled in the palm of the hand that Greer was holding as a wind gently started blowing tendrils of his hair around his face. Warmth then began radiating throughout his body, thawing out the cold shield encasing the emotions that were too painful to bear. Disjointed voices from far away neared until he could make them out … Heal him. Take the pain away. Heal him. Vamp’s gone. Count’s gone. Butcher’s gone. Slate’s gone. The pain they caused is gone. Heal him. You will never be alone. You survived.

You endured. You won … You won … You won. “Guess I better be hitting the road or Holly will be sending out a search party for me.” Blinking his eyes as Greer removed his hand from his, Reaper felt disoriented. How long had they been sitting there? Suki was asleep and the night was pitch dark outside of the headlights that were still on. “Reckon it be best if you go on back with Silas and stay at his place for a bit. I ain’t been tested for the infection. Haven’t been sick a day in my life, which don’t meant shit. I could keel over dead tomorrow with the infection, and you’d be blammin’ me. Yeah, best you go back with Silas. I’ll call Viper and tell him you’ll give him a ring tomorrow.” Greer stood up to pull his saggy, wet pants up. “We come next week, I’m bringing a lawn chair. I’m too fucking old to sit on the damn ground,” Greer complained, going to the edge of the cliff with his back to them. Reaper’s jaw dropped open at the sound of Greer unzipping his pants. “What are you doing?” Silas asked, his expression just as astounded. “What does it sound like?” he yelled from over

his shoulder. “I’m taking a piss. That son of a bitch ain’t worth me putting my boots on for.” Thankfully, Greer zipped his jeans up before turning back around. Hitching up his pants again, he walked to his truck, then honked his horn as he pulled out. Reaper turned back to Silas. “You know”—Silas’s lips curled into a smile —“that beer went right through me. I need to take a piss too.” The thought of Slate’s cold, dead body being the target of the two men’s urine somehow gave him more satisfaction than Slate actually going over the cliff. When Silas came back, Reaper started to get up and, this time, Suki let him. Wagging her tail happily, she waited for him to pet her. “Come on, girl.” Silas patted the side of his leg to draw the dog to him. “He can pet you on the way back to town.” Reaper looked at the dark expanse over the cliff. He no longer saw nothingness. He saw the bright sparkling of twinkling stars. “Hold on a minute,” Reaper said, going to the edge. “Might as well make it three.” When he came back, Silas and Suki were already in the truck. “You weren’t worried about me taking a nose dive?”

“No,” Silas said, reversing out onto the road, then pulling up behind the car that Reaper had driven. Slowly, Silas used his truck to send the car over the mountainside. “If the fall didn’t kill him, that did,” Silas joked, backing out onto the road, then heading back toward town. “Why didn’t you?” “Why didn’t I worry you’d jump?” “Yes.” “You’d be too afraid Greer would piss on you.”

Chapter Fifty-Two


he still dark night was without the light breezes

that usually fluttered through the trees outside the house. Sitting on the end of the porch with her feet on the step below, Ginny sat, praying to see Silas’s headlights coming up the driveway. Picking up her cell phone, she made sure once again that she hadn’t missed a text from Silas. “Silas will get there in time.” Ginny looked up from her phone to stare at Jacob, who was standing at the bottom of the steps. “Would you believe him, if you weren’t one of

us?” Moses said practically. “No.” Ginny stared up at the star-studded night resuming her prayer. “Do you think Silas will tell him about us?” The frightened voice of her baby brother dragged her gaze from the stars to Fynn. “Not tonight, but eventually,” Ginny reassured him. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Gavin won’t say anything if we ask him to keep our secret.” “But what if he does? I don’t want to be treated like Logan at school.” “No one knows Logan’s secret,” Moses reminded him. “The only reason Logan gets bullied is because you bully him so no one knows you’re related. Which is the same reason Silas got thrown out for bullying Greer. The difference is Silas and Greer were friends, and Silas wanted to stay home and take care of us. Logan doesn’t understand why you’re bullying him, and if you don’t stop, Silas is going to tan your hide.” “I don’t like Logan.” The mulish set of Fynn’s jaw had Ginny rolling her eyes in the darkness. Anyone with a set of eyes could see the resemblance between Fynn and Greer. The only reason no one in town had was because no one was aware of the ties that had been hidden for generations. Those who did know had died out or were to senile to be believed. The Colemans had known about the family tie

but had remained silent until Tate had figured it out when his new wife started an ancestral chart and found a branch on the family tree leading to them. Ginny’s family were experts at keeping their secrets. At the age of four, their secrets had been easily explained away as a figment of her imagination, or tricks that her brothers or Leah could perform. As she grew older, their secrets had been harder to hide or explain away. To give them credit, they had waited to explain their gifts until her eighth birthday. Ginny still remembered that day vividly. Her perception of the world had irrevocably been changed, and she had never been able to see her brothers in the same light again. On her birthday, Silas and Freddy had sat down on their fireplace to explain to her the gifts that had been given to them. Each of the Colemans had an element of power that had been handed down through the generations. Each generation had become wiser about how to handle their gifts, learning to hide them when they had been called witches, warlocks, and an even more terrifying name—demons. They had shielded their secrecy, using the very mountain they were born on to remain isolated from those who would try to destroy what couldn’t be understood. As the generations learned to use and harness

their powers, they became so strong that they grew afraid that those who had gifted the power would seek to destroy them when one of women exhibited powers differently from theirs. Freddy’s ancestor had used the power to save two of her nephews who had fallen ill. Her husband and child had fallen ill soon afterward, and her penitence was to watch helplessly as they were taken with the same illness that had saved her nephews. After being widowed for several years, she had fallen in love again and wanted to marry. Knowing she would use her power if any other family became deathly ill again, the family had removed temptation from her path, giving her and new husband a plot of land on the other side of the mountain. Distancing her and her new family, they kept to themselves until the memory of Coleman and Porter branch of the family tree was forgotten by the Porter side. The Colemans had kept the knowledge alive, though, afraid the intermingling bloodline would create a child that would have limitless power. The strategy had worked. No other healer had been born into the Coleman’s line after that … until Leah. Along with finding out the Colemans’ secret on her eight birthday, Ginny had been given her mirrored circle star chart that Freddy had made for

her. Freddy’s power had been the ability to see the heavens and read the stars, like others could read and understand road maps. Her mirrored star chart showed the stars overhead when she had been born in the center of the circle, then Freddy had told her the stars surrounding hers were the stars of her soul mate on the night she had been born. “I have a soul mate?” she asked Freddy breathlessly, in awe of what he was showing and telling her. “Yes, you were created just for him.” Freddy picked her up and sat her on his lap. “What’s his name?” “You have to find that out for yourself. It won’t be any fun if I tell you everything.” Freddy twisted his face in a comical look. “How am I supposed to recognize him?” Freddy placed his hand over her heart. “Souls don’t have names, and sometimes other souls try to trick you into believing they’re your mate because they lost theirs, or they’re tired of looking, but you’re a Coleman, and you’re strong enough to wait for the one who belongs to you.” “I am?” “Yes, you are.” Freddy’s face grew so serious that Ginny had to lean against his chest, shivering at the faraway look that had come into his eyes. “You have to be very strong, Ginny. The strongest

you’ll have to be in your whole life. When you find him, you’re going to have to be very brave. Promise me?” The last time she had made a promise, she’d had to leave her family and …. “Do I have to go down in another airplane?” “I ain’t going to lie to you; scarier than going down in an airplane. But in return, I promise you that Silas and the other boys will be there to help.” Freddy laid his cheek down on top of her head. “Leah and I will be helping you in a different way, but you’ll know we’re there with you.” Straightening off his chest, she puffed her chest. “As long as I know you and Leah will be there, too, I won’t be scared. I promise.” The promise she had made still rang in her head. Was this what Freddy meant about her being brave? Dad and Leah, Ginny resumed her prayer, please keep Gavin safe. Please, I swear I’ll keep my promise to be brave, just bring him home. Let Jody be right that Gavin will change his mind and Silas can save him. Please. Her mind went back, replaying the day of her birthday. Leah had been at her mother’s, and they were saving the cake and ice cream until after Freddy had picked her up. To keep her mind off the cake, Freddy had taken her upstairs to hang her star mirror on the wall.

Bouncing up and down on the bed must have driven Freddy nuts, but he had patiently nailed it, ignoring her exuberant behavior. “Now I have one just like Leah’s!” Ginny clapped in enjoyment. “I can hardly wait for Leah to come home.” Freddy went to shut the door before sitting down on the bed beside her. “Yours and Leah’s are different. Just like you’re different from the rest of the youngin’s.” “How come?” “Leah doesn’t have a soul mate. Not everyone gets one. And don’t be telling her. It’ll make her really sad.” Tears came to her eyes. She wanted Leah to have a soul mate, like her. Her eyes lighted on her dad as an idea occurred to her. “I can share mine with her.” Ginny laughed in delight. Freddy laid a gentle hand down on top of her head. “You know how I told you all the youngin’s have gifts that make them special?” “Uh-huh.” “Do you know what your gift is, Ginny?” “No. What?” she whispered at the gentle way her dad was staring at her. “Laughter.” “Laughter?” Disappointed, she unhappily jumped off the bed. “I want one like Silas, Isaac, or Jody’s. Anybody can laugh.”

Freddy took her hands and sat her back down. “Laughter heals, Ginny. Laughter is the most special gift of all. That’s the gift we lost when a Coleman became a Porter. You brought it back to us, and the one your soul mate is going to need most of all.” “Okay ….” She wasn’t really convinced, but if her dad said so, then it had to be true. “Don’t ever lose that gift. Laughter heals even the most scarred souls.” “I’d rather read the stars like you and Jody.” “Baby girl, when the right man laughs with you, you’ll not only read the stars, you’ll be able to reach out and touch ’em.” “Wow … Really?” “Really, really.” Lifting her onto his shoulders, he danced around with her. “Don’t forget to grab those stars ….” Ginny was brought back to the present when Isaac stood up from the rocking chair. “They’re coming.” Ginny stood up, looking to her older brothers for guidance. “What should I say?” “Just be yourself.” It was Moses who answered her. “He’s like a wounded animal right now. Let him come to us ….” Ginny tried to listen to Moses’ advice; she really did. It lasted until Gavin got out of the truck. She was unaware she was even moving. Her

lips moved, but she was unable to form words with the silent sobs coming out. While her brothers held back at Moses’ suggestion, Ginny lost what little mind she had left. Finding herself within reaching distance of Gavin, her hands unconsciously flew out, shoving him back a step. “You big jerk!” Suki started barking at her, and Ginny snapped a command at the dog. “Quiet, Suki.” The dog immediately stopped barking, winding behind Gavin to hide. “I told you what happens to you happens to me! I’m tired of ramming my head against a brick wall!” she shouted at him. “Ginny ….” Silas sought to intercede on Gavin’s behalf, but Ginny put her hand up, stopping him. “Stay out of this, Silas,” she snarled, worry and fear making her ignore her brother. Silas hastened over to where the men had started grouping beside Gavin, waiting to support him. It warmed her heart while it infuriated her further with Gavin. “You don’t believe you’re my soul mate? Fine.” She snapped her fingers at him. “You’re not my soul mate anymore. I take it back. My soul mate …” Ginny hit her chest over her heart. “My soul mate would fight to stay with me, because he would

know how badly it would hurt me to lose him. You fought years to stay alive for Taylor. Hell, be real, you’d still take her back if she’d take you. You wouldn’t fight one day for me. You big jerk!” Clenching her hand into a fist, she punched him on the shoulder. The big jerk just stood there, looking at her, stunned. Turning on her heel to go back inside the house, she got to the first step before pivoting around to face him again. “I hate you.”

Chapter Fifty-Three


h-oh … You’ve done it now,” Ezra

whispered at his side. Spinning around again, she stormed toward the front door. The tears streaming down Ginny’s cheeks gutted him. Every man left standing outside winced at the sound of the front door slamming shut and the loud clank of the bar being slid home to lock them outside. “Good luck trying to talk her out of that mad spell,” Jacob said, giving Reaper a consoling pat on

the back. “Nah,” Jody argued back. “He’s good. She didn’t rip any of his hair out so she could jinx him. You have your truck key, Silas?” “No, she took them.” “See?” Jody gave him another pat on the back. “You’re good.” “Maybe I should go …” It had just occurred to him how close the brothers were standing to him … how close Ginny had been to him. He fucked up again. “I shouldn’t have come. Slate and Butcher could have been infected.” “No cases have been reported yet in Kentucky.” Matthew shrugged. “We’re hoping the infection dies when it’s exposed to heat. If so, Fynn and I have you covered if you or Ginny start to get sick.” “You’re not supposed to tell him,” Fynn berated his brother. Looking down at the boy, Reaper recognized the fear on his face. When he had been kidnapped by Slate, living in fear had been a daily occurrence. He didn’t want to have to see that expression on a boy so young. “I won’t say anything,” he promised. “Ginny told you he wouldn’t,” Moses assured him while his steady gaze was firmly fixed on who his words were meant for. “Remember, we’re all family. Reaper’s going to keep our secret, and

we’re going to keep his.” If he hadn’t had such a fucked-up day, he would have laughed at the not-so-subtle threat leveled at him. “Don’t worry, Fynn. I’m not anxious to expose my secrets, either.” Moses didn’t feel the same restraint at showing his amusement. Reaper would have never spoken about Silas’s ability, not only because he had killed Butcher on their property and half-believed what Silas was able to do, despite what he had witnessed with his own eyes, but for the reason that it would hurt Ginny if the secret got out. Shoving his damp hair from his face, he shivered at the words she had thrown at him. “Damn, I’m glad I’m not you.” Ezra slung a friendly arm over his shoulders. “When Ginny gets her mad going, watch out. Don’t let her get near your hair, and keep your belongings where she can’t get to them. She jinxed Isaac one time, and he had trouble finding a comfortable spot to sit until the moon came out—she burnt a pair of his underwear in the firepit with a hornet’s nest. Word to the wise …,” Ezra murmured conspiratorially. “Make sure Ginny’s inside the house before midnight.” Reaper arched a brow at him. “You don’t really believe in jinxes, do you?”

Had he lost what little sanity he had left? The group of men and the boy surrounding him burst out laughing. “You’re asking us if we believe in jinxes? That’s fucking hilarious.” Reaper’s shoulders shook at Ezra’s laughter. “Ezra, language,” Silas reprimanded, even though his voice was filled with just as much laughter. “Sorry,” Ezra immediately apologized. “Ignore the F-bomb, Fynn.” “I think it’s just as hilarious you believe in jinxes,” Reaper said, not appreciating being laughed at. “Don’t get your pride hurt. You’ll think it’s funny, too, once you can see what we can do—” “Ezra!” Silas snapped. The laughter stopped. “Sorry, Silas.” Ezra dropped his arm. “You have to admit it was funny.” “I don’t think Reaper is in the mood to be joking around.” “Oh … because he almost bit the dust?” Ezra asked. Silas looked like he wanted the dirt to swallow him whole at Ezra’s mentioning the attempt Reaper had made to take his life. “They know?” Could life get more humiliating for him?

How did they know? Another question just came to him. How had Silas known? Fynn rolled his eyes at him. “Course we knew. How did you think Silas found you?” Reaper turned his head to look at Silas. “I thought you were just out looking for me and found me.” “The wind told him where you were,” Fynn told him. Remembering how he had rolled the window down to throw the cell phone out of the car so The Last Riders couldn’t track him, he thought back to the burst of wind that had come inside the car as he drove. “I’ve lost my mind, haven’t I? I’m really in a psych ward, aren’t I?” “No.” Silas warned him, “But the more you’re around us, I’m sure you’re going to feel that way.” “If I’m not crazy, then how did you find me?” “Fynn told you the truth. Because I was near you when you took off, I was able to follow you. The wind told me where you were.” “Doesn’t look like he believes you,” Jody commented. “I don’t.” “Didn’t you show him?” Ezra asked. “I did, but I don’t think he believes me.” Silas shrugged. “I thought we could break it to him slowly.”

“I bet he’ll believe this ….” Matthew moved closer to him. Looking down, Reaper saw Matthew touch the sleeve of his jacket. Not seeing anything unusual, he then stared at Matthew questioningly. He was about to ask to borrow Silas’s cell phone to call the nearest mental health facility to make sure he wasn’t a patient, when he felt the moist material warm and slowly begin to dry. “You have no idea what we’re capable of.” The austere way that Matthew spoke to him made a believer out of him. The man staring deep into his eyes had flames coming from within their depths. “Chill,” Isaac told his brother. “He already thinks he’s crazy.” “He’s not crazy.” Ezra removed Matthew’s hand from Reaper’s sleeve, replacing it with his own. “He’s just tired of fighting against the darkness.” Shocked at Ezra’s description of what he’d been going through, Reaper felt the shroud that constantly smothered him begin to lift. “You can’t bury what’s not dead, Reaper. You know better than that. Gavin is still very much alive. It’s his pain you can’t escape from. There’s a much better way to deal with the pain than killing yourself and hurting so many people who love you.”

Already broken, Reaper gave a harsh laugh. “How?” “Allow Gavin to come back into the light.” Ezra’s low monotone compelled Reaper to keep listening. “Give Reaper your strength to accept what happened to you instead of shutting his pain out. Allow Gavin back into the light. He’s so tired of being alone in the dark … Share the light with him.” “I can’t … I have no light to share.” Ezra moved his hand away. “Maybe not yet … but you will. You’ve yet to find enough light to share with Gavin. When you do, you’ll be whole again.” Ezra stepped away, his voice changing to one filled with humor. “Until then, don’t take anything from Ginny in a green cup. See you tomorrow. Come on, Fynn; we need to finish your homework.” “Isaac and I need to get going. We have an early morning,” Matthew said. “When you wake tomorrow, come by the shop. I’ll really show you what me and Isaac can do.” Giving him a wink, they didn’t leave without imparting more warnings. “Hide your hairbrush.” Isaac gave a sardonic snort. “Hide your fucking wallet.” Glancing at Silas, the man just lifted his shoulders as if he didn’t know what his brothers were warning him about.

Jody and Jacob gave him encouraging pats on the back. “Check under your pillow before you go to sleep,” Jody advised. “Check your boots before you put them on in the morning,” Jacob mentioned over his shoulder as they moved away. “Oh, and Jody and I have a job in the afternoon. We could use some help, if you’re up to it?” “If he’s able,” Reaper heard Jody’s aside to Jacob as they walked away. “Don’t worry.” Moses’ lips curled in a smile. “She’ll get over her mad sooner or later. With Ginny, you just hope your big toe doesn’t rot off before she does. I left a bag of Suki’s dog food in the kitchen. You can pay me back when you get the cash. I won’t miss having to feed her. She eats like a horse.” Reaper was then left alone with Silas, who was staring at his house thoughtfully. Realizing he was being stared at, Silas gave him a comforting look. “Don’t worry. We can go in through the back door. If she was that mad, she would have locked that door too. That’s why Dad just put a screen door on it—became too expensive tearing one of the doors or breaking a window to get inside.” Walking beside Silas, they headed to the back door. When Silas reached out to open the new door

that Reaper suggested Ginny’s brothers put up, it refused to budge. “Don’t worry.” Silas ran his fingers over the ledge. “I hid a key, just in case.” When his hand came back empty, Silas gave a frustrated sigh before turning around to face him. “Okay, you should be worried.”

Chapter Fifty-Four


ou need another refill, Ginny?” Mick

yelled out from behind the bar. “No, I’m good. Thanks, Mick,” Ginny reassured the bartender. “Silas should be here any minute.” Staring down at her full drink, she wondered why Silas was taking so long. She started to reach for her purse to leave, then she saw who entered. “Silas asked me to give you a ride home.” “I called Silas, not you.” “He asked me. Moses called, one of your goats

wandered off.” “Then I’ll call Matt.” Ginny had pointedly refused to look at him, pretending an interest in watching Dustin and Jessie dancing on the dance floor. The scraping of a chair alerted her that Gavin had taken a seat at the table with her. “Why are you here? Silas said you came here to eat. No one comes to the bar to eat, especially this bar.” “Never mind.” Sarcasm rolled off the end of her tongue. “You’ve made no effort to get to know my likes and dislikes of places I go, so I’ll let that comment slide. And what’s wrong with this bar?” “It’s a dive; people only come here to get drunk or laid.” “Be careful, Mick could here you,” she hissed. “Mick owns the fucking bar, he knows.” “Go away, Gavin. I changed my mind I’m not ready to leave.” “I’m not in a hurry. Take your time.” “You are not getting my message. I don’t want a ride home with you.” “The message you’ve been giving me the last three days is pretty fucking clear. You’re done with me. See, I get it, hard not to when after sleeping for two days straight, I wake up and find you put my favorite T-shirt over the target hanging on the tree. And if that didn’t paint a clear enough picture, you

disappeared the first day I’m awake.” Ginny spared him a brief glance. “You look more rested than I’ve ever seen you.” “I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time.” “I’m glad for you.” Ginny turned her attention to the dancing couple. “I never imagined you’d sink to a hook-up bar just because you’re pissed at me. What I did had no bearing on you. Just because you hate me and finally realized you had no future with me doesn’t mean you have to settle for the men that frequent this place.” Her mouth dropped open at his assumptions. “Are you flipping kidding me?” Ginny scooted her chair closer to the table. Folding her arms on the table she leaned closer to him. “You … you … big flipping jerk! You think I’m waving a flag over my head saying I’m giving up on us?” Anger had her railing at him. “I said you’re not my soul mate. It doesn’t mean I no longer love you. I’ll love you to my dying day, you big jerk. Soul mates don’t hurt each other the way you hurt me.” Ginny lowered her voice to combat wanting to yell her lungs out at him, and God forbid Dustin and Jessie overhear. “What you know about love couldn’t fill a thimble. You know who you remind me of?” Stiffly, Gavin stared at her with a clenched jaw. Ginny continued her rant not giving him time to

answer. “The prospectors that were gung ho to go out west looking for gold. Then when they found it, they made all those grand plans about what they were going to do with all this gold. Happily they went to sell it, guess what they found out? It was fool’s gold.” Angrily, she pointed a finger at him. “What you had with Taylor was fool’s gold. What you can have with me—if you would just be willing to see with your heart instead of your eyes—is the real thing.” “What I had with Taylor was not an illusion.” “Wasn’t it? I beg to differ.” Being the sweet, understanding woman was getting her nowhere fast; it was time Gavin heard the cold hard truth. “You’ve built up this fantasy about the two of you being happy together. And for some reason, you can’t break yourself out of the illusion of wedded bliss, with the 2.5 children you two probably planned to have. The fact is, if you had married Taylor you would have been miserable.” “You don’t know that.” “Have you even taken the time to look at her Facebook page to see what kind of life she is living? You had the same friends as her at one time. Have you asked them about her?” Ginny released a sarcastic sigh. “I’m not the quitter, you are. If you ever love me the way you thought you did her, I’d be furious you didn’t put up a better fight. You’ve

been tracking your enemies to the end of the earth, but you gave up on Taylor with one no. Instead you’ve been pining after fool’s gold that never really existed, because it’s easier than risking your heart.” “You don’t know what’s in my heart.” “Because you won’t let me.” Ginny gave a ragged sigh. “You don’t let anyone get close enough to hurt you. Gavin, so many people were hurt when they believed you were dead. To have garnered that kind of love, you had to have reciprocated those feelings. What’s been destroying you isn’t what Slate did to you but what you’ve been doing to yourself. Wild man, a heart isn’t like an arm or leg that can be amputated and you can still survive. You know what hurt me the most about you possibly going over that cliff with Slate? Leah’s life was cut short, and you were willing to throw yours away because of him. I’ll never get over losing her, ever, and despite you not wanting to hear this I would never have gotten over losing you. Even if we never had a relationship, I’d know you were breathing, walking, and talking. I couldn’t bear you not sharing this crazy world with me, even if you’re not with me.” Gavin’s anguished amber gaze met hers. “I’m not worth what I put Viper, the brothers, and you through.” “No, you’re not, you’re worth so much more.”

Ginny stood up and held her hand out to him. “Come dance with me.” Seeing he was going to refuse her, she sabotaged his intention. “I was asked to dance two times tonight. Third time’s a charm.” Grinning at him, she reached down to take his hand. “Who asked you to dance?” His tiger-like eyes narrowed on her, while his hand twisted under hers and clasped it within his. He pulled her closer until her kneecaps brushed against his. “Why did you come here tonight?” “Come dance with me, and I’ll tell you,” she cajoled him. Using her free hand, she brushed his long hair back to tuck behind his ear. “Please… for me and Leah. We’ll share the dance with her.” Taking her hand out of his, she slipped her hands under his jacket to slide his jacket down his arms. Gavin didn’t resist as a Berlin song in the background began to play “Take My Breath Away.” “Dance with me, Wild man.” Holding her hand out again, she held her breath as she waited for his answer. The warm clasp of his enfolded hers as Gavin rose to his feet. On the dance floor, Dustin and Jessie began slowly moving away to give them space. Inexperienced, Ginny mimicked the way Jessie was holding her husband. Sliding her arms over his shoulders, Ginny moved closer to Gavin leaving more space than Jessie had between she and

Dustin. Using the beat of the music, Ginny started moving backing and forth. “Why were you here?” Ginny shook her head, “I’ll tell you after our dance. Just feel the music, Gavin. I want to remember our first dance, make it special for me … and Leah. Something we’ll always cherish, even if you don’t care for me. Just this once can we pretend you’ve never loved a woman before …. and it’s brand-new to both of us. Take my breath away, Wild man, make me forget everything but you.” Ginny felt’s Gavin’s body loosen against hers, as he slowly moved. When his hand went up her arm, she thought he was going to pull away, instead he moved it higher until her arm circled his neck. “Hold me like this…,” his deep voice whispered into her ear. Dropping his hands, he went to her waist to pull her closer. Languidly he swayed them back and forth. She was self-conscious of her breasts being pressed against his chest, until the music took over, and as it always did, it drove her into the realm of make-believe that Gavin had never held another woman the way he was holding her. Sensuously, their hips would touch, then part, then meet again with a sensuality that Ginny had never experienced. This wasn’t a boy and girl dance; it was an earthy feast of senses for a man

and woman yearning for each other. Laying her head on his shoulder, she let the music carry her away emotionally, while she remained physically cognizant of the differences between his muscular body and her feminine one. She felt her groin tingle and her nipples harden, and Ginny self-consciously started to pull back at the overwhelming feelings. Gavin’s hand slipped to the back of her hip to hold her in place. Glancing up at him, she was transfixed by the man staring down at her. A feminine shiver had her breasts tightening in need. Blushing at the experienced knowledge she could see lurking in his tiger-like gaze, Ginny quivered at the predatory gleam she recognized, even though she had never been on the receiving end of one before. Realizing she was unexpectedly out of her comfort zone, Ginny tried to backpedal. As the song ended she dropped her arms. “One more.” Winding her arms back around his neck, Ginny held on for dear life. When the next song began playing the moody music, she wished she had never asked him to dance. She asked for a dance she would remember forever, not one that would be scorched into her soul for eternity. Ginny had no doubts that Greer and Silas would

be able to help make Gavin whole again, and she was equally sure she wouldn’t be the one who would be reaping the benefits. How would she survive when he chose another woman to spend his future with, have children, make a home. A home she had been searching for her whole life—first with Trudy, and now with Gavin. Another song blended in seamlessly. Gavin stepped away from her as the words sang out across the bar. “You and Silas set me up just so I would come here? Pretty convenient those love songs are playing.” Ginny masked her crushed reaction and looked toward the bar. “Mick why did you play these songs?” Gavin glared at her for asking the question, surprised she would call him out on his presumption. “Jessie brought it in tonight for me to play for them.” “Thanks, Mick.” Stiffly walking toward Gavin she glared up at him. “I guess you’re not the only stubborn male in Treepoint.” Breezing past him she went to her table to retrieve her purse, then hurried out the front door. “Wait, Ginny.” Ginny started walking across the parking lot heading toward the road.

“Ginny, Wait!” A hand took her arm jerking her to a stop. “I’m sorry.” “I keep asking myself how many times I’m going to forgive you. I love you, Gavin, but I’m not a saint.” “Let me drive you home. I won’t say another word.” “I prefer to walk. I wouldn’t want any accusations of me trying to lure you into the backseat.” “Dammit, will you listen?” “Why should I?” She stopped walking long enough to point a finger in his chest. “Why are you arguing with me? You prefer riding alone.” Ginny turned back to walking, motioning toward the road. “Have at it.” Gavin strode in front of her, blocking her from going farther. “I overreacted, okay?” he shouted. “If you’d let me get a word in edgewise, I’d admit I was a fucking ass.” Ginny folded her arms over her chest. “This, I have to hear.” “I have a confession to make.” Wanting to smooth down the tumbled mess he was making of his hair when he raked his hand through the long strands, Ginny clenched her fingers to prevent herself.

“I’m listening.” “I liked dancing with you. Instead of admitting it to myself, it was easier to blame on you.” “Why?” “Because I wasn’t expecting it to feel so good.” Ginny blushed remembering the warmth that spread thought her body when they were dancing. “During those two dances, I felt like I use to, like I had the world at my feet, and the woman I wanted in my arms. By the third dance I started getting….” Gavin seemed lost for words. “Freaked out,” Ginny added helpfully. “Yes.” The mysterious quicksilver rushed through her bloodstream, again, at his wry laughter, and she saw a glimmer of the man he used to be … the one that was beginning to reappear. The dark sky was spread out before her like blanket, and the twinkling stars seemed brighter than normal, as if they were smiling down at them from above. “Maybe the stars were aligned for us tonight,” she said musingly more to herself than him. “What do you mean?” Ginny lowered her gaze away from the sky. “When you first came to Treepoint, the stars weren’t aligned for us. You were engaged to Taylor, and I was too young. Do you ever wonder what kind of life you would be leading now if you hadn’t

been kidnapped?” “I try not to think about it.” “Go to Taylor’s Facebook page; her life is an open book.” “Are you fucking saying I was better off being kidnapped than being married to her?” “No. I’m saying, quit dredging up your past like one of those gold miners who kept digging, even though the claim had been played out.” “You mean stake another claim?” Ginny didn’t let the irony in his voice bother her. “No, be a man who admits he was wrong and move the fuck on,” she said cuttingly. Gavin laughed. “That’s the first time I’ve heard you say that word.” “Believe it or not, I can let loose with that word frequently when I’m mad—” She stopped midsentence when she realized he was no longer listening to her. “What are you doing?” Gavin was striding across the parking lot and looking down at the ground, as if he were searching for something. “Trying to find my earring. It must have come unlatched when I pulled my hair back.” Giving the ground a cursory glance, Ginny changed directions and went to Silas’ car. “You coming?” “You’re not going to help me look?”

“It’s pitch dark out here, and the lighting is even worse inside; it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. You can call Mick and ask him to keep out an eye for it. Personally I think silver suits you much better.” “The earring was solid gold….” Ginny gave him an unladylike snort. “Then you got taken. It was ten karat, and that’s if you were lucky.” Impatiently she tapped the roof of the car. “You mind opening the car?” Tossing her the keys, he asked, “Will you wait here while I go inside and look around?” “Knock yourself out.” Ginny got inside the car and turning the ignition on. The music was blasting away when Gavin returned ten minutes later. “No luck?” she asked turning the radio down. “No. Mick will call if he finds it.” “Don’t look so discouraged, something will turn up.” Raising the volume, Ginny lowered the car window, enjoying the wind coming into the car. Gavin gave her a harassed look, then turned the volume back down. “You never did tell me why you went to the bar.” Ginny gave him a pained glance. “I have a confession to make.” “What?” he asked taking his eyes of the road. “I was meeting someone.”

“Who?” She turned to stare out the window at the jealous tinge in his voice. “Just remember before you go off the rails, that you were mean to me when we were dancing. By the way, isn’t it customary for a gentleman to thank a woman for dancing with her?” “I haven’t been called a gentleman in more years than I can count.” Gavin put on the blinker to turn into her driveway. After parking the car, he shut the car off and turned to face her. “Thank you. I enjoyed dancing with you, right up until the part I made an ass of myself.” She removed her hand from the door handle. “You’re really sweet when you want to be. Can you hold onto that sweetness for a couple of seconds? Do me a favor and close your eyes.” “Why?” “Just do it.” Gavin closed his eyes. Ginny pressed a fleeting kiss on his lips. “You’re welcome.” Pulling back she got out of the car while he was still trying to regroup. Leaning in the window she broke the news to him with the safety of the car door between them. “By the way, I was meeting Marty at the bar. He bought the diner, and he wanted to have a taste for who made the best burger in town and who

would be his biggest competition.” “Marty bought the diner?” he growled. “Look on the bright side, how often do you eat at the diner?” Ginny took off with a squeal of fright when Gavin jerked himself out of the car. Laughter trailing behind her as she headed for the porch. Running full tilt to reach the front door first, Ginny pulled on the door knob only to find it locked. Warily she looked over her shoulder to see a satisfied Gavin standing on the bottom of the steps jiggling the house keys in his hand. “Wow, how the tables have turned.” Saucily strolling toward the end of the porch, she gave him a plaintive pout. “How was I supposed to talk him out of buying the diner? He said I was like the daughter he never had, and he missed me.” “What happened to his business in Nashville?” “The tornado wiped it out, and the only thing he was able to salvage was his grill. Marty said he wouldn’t have managed to save that except a little birdy warned him to sell before the epidemic hit, and he put the grill in his house and bought a new one for the restaurant. Crazy how it worked out, wouldn’t you say?” Holding back her laughter, she knew Gavin had been the one who warned Marty to get out of restaurant business with the outbreak beginning to spread. “The only thing I can say,” he said wincing as

he handed the house key over to her, “is no good deed goes unpunished.”

Chapter Fifty-Five


inny was carrying her laundry basket out the

front door when a motorcycle pulled up the driveway. Staying on the porch to keep her distance, she waited for Viper to get off his bike and remove his helmet. “Is Reaper around?” Ginny pointed toward to the outbuilding nearby. “He’s at Matthew and Isaac’s forge.” “Mind if I go talk to him?” Ginny’s heart went out to Viper. The last two weeks had to have been hard on him. That awful

day still had her shaken at how close they had come to losing Gavin. In a million years, Ginny would never forget the fear she had gone through waiting for Silas to come back. Every moment she had been in agony that Silas wouldn’t reach him in time, or that he wouldn’t be able to convince Gavin not to end his life. Ginny gave Viper an encouraging smile. “Go ahead. I think he’d like to see you.” Her heart broke at the twisted look of pain transforming Viper’s arrogant features at her words. “It’d be the first in a long time.” His expression was strained, as if he didn’t believe her assurances. Then Viper started toward the building with slow steps, as if dreading what he would find. His faltering steps halted as he turned toward her infinitesimally. Smiling, she came off the porch, going to the clothesline. “He’s doing well, Viper. Go see.” “I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing.” “Say anything you want. There’s no right or wrong way to talk to him. Just treat him the same way you do Shade and Rider.” “I can’t.” “Why?” “I want to make sure he’s doing well. Then I want to rip him apart for taking twenty years off my life.”

Ginny understood the mixed emotions of grief and anger. She had lived through that terrible evening with the same ones tearing her apart. “He wasn’t even going to tell me good-bye,” Viper continued. “Reaper planned all along to take his life when he found Slate. He even bought each of the brothers a good-bye gift!” Ginny winced. Viper gave her a grim smile. “Yeah, the brothers want to return the favor by kicking his ass.” Ginny bit her lip, trying not to laugh. She could imagine how a few of The Last Riders would react. No gift would replace Gavin or make them feel them better if he had succeeded. “I bet,” she remarked only. “He left me jack shit.” Uh-oh … Ginny saw what was coming. “He gave Rider and Shade fucking Rolexes. You know what he left me? His last will and testament!” Ginny didn’t have to ask what he had done with it. Trudy had called her after Killyama phoned her. Killyama said Viper had lost it and had gone through a rampage through the club after tearing the will to shreds. The Last Riders were still finding pieces of the paper that had been flung everywhere. “Viper, deep down, I don’t think Gavin would have been able to take his life. That’s why he didn’t have a gift for you … Buying one for you would

have been his final good-bye.” Viper remained unconvinced. “He didn’t even care how bad it would have hurt me if he succeeded.” “Gavin felt as if you and The Last Riders were better off without him. He was trying to spare you from more pain, not cause you more.” “How do you know?” “Gavin told Silas when I asked him the same thing.” “Thank God for Silas.” Ginny repeated the sentiment to herself. “He’s been calling me to give me updates on Reaper. I wanted to come that night, but he told me to wait.” “You were tired of waiting?” “I couldn’t wait any longer. Silas around, by the way? I want to thank him.” “He and my other brothers went out for the day. They drove to Louisville to pick up some brass. They’re making a day of it to keep Fynn from feeling so isolated. They’re going to hit a drive-thru before going to a drive-in.” “The drive-in is a good idea. We should organize a day for the kids at our place. They’re going stir-crazy. Chance and Noah are driving Razer bonkers.” “I can imagine.” Ginny laughed. “They were constantly in trouble when I worked there. I can’t

imagine what turmoil they’re getting into with school being out so long.” “Put it this way; Lily was suffering with morning sickness yesterday when she was letting the boys finger-paint. When she came back, they were covered in paint. They told her it was the tattoos they were going to get when they’re older.” “I miss seeing them. I made some more jelly for Lily and Beth. I’ll set them on top of your seat, if you don’t mind taking them for me?” she asked. “I don’t mind playing messenger, if you send an extra jar for the club. We’re out since Reaper confiscated the last jar and took it to his room.” “I’ll send a couple of extras.” Viper looked toward the building. “Maybe I should wait for Silas to say it’s okay ….” “He told me you’d be coming; that’s why I went ahead and made the jelly.” “How did he know?” Ginny gave him a wry smile. “Could have been the ten texts you sent him yesterday asking. He would’ve suggested you come yesterday, but Gavin was out with Jody, and Jacob and wasn’t here. Go … Viper, it really will be all right.” Seeking reassurance one final time, Viper nodded before heading toward the outbuilding. Ginny watched as Viper headed inside as she hung another sheet. Ignoring the rest of the basket, she then walked over to the old fort. From there,

she could hear what was said inside and remain out of sight from the building. She and Leah had learned that sneaky tactic when the shop had been Freddy’s. They would listen and giggle every time their dad became angry and frustrated with a project he was working on and the litany of curses that he would never say around their young ears. “How have you been?” Ginny heard Viper ask stiltedly. “Better.” Gavin’s voice was just as constrained as Viper’s. Ginny nervously twisted her hands at the silence. “What are you doing?” Viper asked. “Matthew has been teaching me how to work his forge. They went to Louisville to buy some brass. I’m making space for them to put it.” “You look good,” Viper complimented. “I feel good. Better than I felt in a long time. Working with Matthew and Isaac has me exhausted enough to sleep through the nights.” “You like it here.” “I do.” “You don’t want to come back to the club, do you? Why are you so determined to cut us out of your life?” Ginny felt tears building behind her eyes at the aching pain apparent in Viper’s voice.

“I don’t deserve to be in your lives.” The raw emotions in Gavin’s had her wanting to go to him, yet she knew the brothers needed to hash out their problems, and they couldn’t do it in her presence. “I keep screwing up,” Gavin added. “The only thing you screwed up was how you planned to take your life. How were we supposed to go on without you?” “I thought you and the others would have been better off without me, like you were when Slate had me. It’s only when I’m around that I fuck things up.” “Gavin, that’s not true.” “Isn’t it? Didn’t Knox tell you what I told him about Slate? Slate was a confidential informant. Crash taped Memphis being killed. You want to know the fucking hilarious part? Before he told me, I was determined to throw us both off that cliff. Afterward, I was so furious at what he told me that I was going to scare him, then drive him to town so he could recant what he told them. I would have done anything he wanted … He would have won. When Silas showed up, he jerked out of my hands and fell.” “Silas said you almost went over with him, that one of Moses’ dogs saved you. That … the … one?” Ginny had to wipe the tears from her cheeks as

Viper struggled to get the words out. “Yes. Her name is Suki. Moses gave her to me.” “Knox told me. We’ll handle the FBI and the blowback together when it comes. I’ve prepared the brothers. We’re ready. The Last Riders would have never given Slate the opportunity to recant his testimony. We knew he was a confidential informant and had gone into witness protection before he slipped away from them. We were on marked time then, and none of us cared. The brothers were drawing straws as to who would be the lucky bastard to get him and then get to turn themselves into Knox.” “Who won?” “Razer. He said it was lighter sentence than staying home with the twins.” Ginny had to put a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. “I tried to turn myself in, but Knox wouldn’t let me,” Gavin said. “He said wait and play it by ear until the FBI comes knocking on the doors with arrest warrants.” There was a pause before Gavin said, “I’m sorry, Viper.” Ginny didn’t hear a response from Viper. It took a minute for her to realize that Viper was hugging Gavin. Ginny was tempted to sneak to the window but stayed still. The brothers deserved their privacy, as she much as she wanted to see what was taking place.

“I love you, Gavin. Please don’t put me through that hell again … I’m ….” Ginny couldn’t hold the tears back any longer when Viper’s voice cracked. “I can’t lose you twice in a lifetime. I like to think I’m a strong man, but losing you would break me.” “I have my head on straight now … or I’m getting there. I’m not trying to cut you and the brothers out of my life. It’s just easier to talk to Silas—” “And Greer? He said you and he have been hanging out on Friday nights.” “They help me feel … normal. I was planning on coming tomorrow and apologizing to the brothers, tell them I’ve been a dumb shit to them.” “Most of them are dumb shits, too, and have fucked up just as bad. Do you know what your biggest failing is, Reaper?” Ginny bit her lip at Viper’s question, afraid Gavin would be hurt by whatever negative comment Viper was about to say. “You always expect too much out of yourself. I never doubted your ability to get the jobs done, but each time I tried to take some of the load off, you piled more crap on. You were running yourself ragged, scouting out locations for the new factory, getting investors, keeping Taylor happy, dealing with the brothers … Fuck, that’s only half of the

responsibilities you saddled yourself with. The more weight I tried to ease off you, the more you resented me. You had nothing to prove to me. It was you who you wanted to prove yourself to.” “I was trying to live up to the man—” Ginny had to hold back a sob as she listened to Gavin’s voice crack just like Viper’s. “—I loved and respected more than any other, and I lost myself before Slate kidnapped me.” The embarrassed laughter coming a few seconds later after the silence, Ginny took to mean they had hugged their differences out. “You want me to come and give you a ride to the club tomorrow?” “Yes. I won’t be staying, at least for a while. I asked Silas if it was cool if I stayed here until I get my head on straighter.” “Having visits is better than not having you at all, even though you need to be prepared for them to shove your presents down your throat.” Gavin’s laughter was music to her ears. “I remember the last time I heard you laugh. You and Evie were joking around. Do you remember it?” “No.” “I do. I missed your laughter, Gavin. The only thing I’ve ever wanted for you was to be able to smile again. Brother, I would have given every dime and everything I possessed to see one from

you.” “Do you know when I realized I couldn’t kill myself?” Gavin’s voice was so muffled that Ginny could barely hear him, and she realized they were hugging again. “When?” “When a song come on the radio. Do you know what is was?” “What?” “Your favorite Guns N’ Roses song. ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door.’”

Chapter Fifty-Six


inny had already placed the jams on Viper’s

motorcycle seat and had just lifted another sheet to hang when Viper came walking toward her. “I’m never going to be able to repay back what your family has done for us.” “You don’t owe us anything, Viper.” Ginny fastened the clothespin to the sheet, then faced him squarely. “I love him too.” “I know you do. I saw that when I took him back to the club. For what’s it worth, after he came back, Reaper couldn’t sleep. What little was left of

him when he went to Nashville, I think he left here with you.” “He has it back now, and more and more is coming back each day. Parts of him I’ve never seen before. I can understand how hard it must have been for you all when you thought he was gone forever.” “He’s hard to forget.” Ginny started to reach for another sheet, thinking Viper was finished talking, when she saw indecision on his face. “Is there something else? I’m afraid all four jars of jelly is all I have.” “No, that wasn’t …” Viper gave her a sympathetic glance. “Taylor showed up at the clubhouse last night. She wants to talk to Reaper. I haven’t told him yet.” Ginny managed to keep her questioning expression on her face. “Why didn’t you tell him?” “Gives her time to decide if she wants to change her mind again. If she breaks his heart again, I might not be so nice about it. I’ll call him in the morning if she’s still there and ask him if he wants to see her before I come to pick him up.” “Hopefully, she won’t change her mind.” “You’re not upset about him seeing her again?” “Gavin doesn’t love me, and it will give him a chance to see if his feeling for her are the same. If they are, then I want the same thing you and The

Last Riders want, which is to make Gavin happy.” “Gavin isn’t the only one who deserves to be happy.” “I am happy.” Ginny’s hand went to her heart. “I don’t care if he never feels anything more than friendship for me. He’s alive. I made a promise to God that if Gavin lived, that would be all I would ask. I plan to keep that promise.” “Mine was the same. I guess we can’t be picky.” She gave Viper a smile, changing the subject before she broke into another round of tears. “Tell Winter and Aisha I said hi.” “I will. I’ll see you tomorrow when I come to pick him up in the morning.” After Viper left, Ginny did what she always did when her mind was in turmoil. She began to sing, feeling a familiar song that she hadn’t sung in so long come to her lips. Surprised the words came so easily, Ginny released the pain and heartache she was feeling into the beautiful song. Feeling as if Leah was surrounding her with her love, Ginny poured her love into the song. She might never be able to hold Leah again, and Gavin might never return her feelings, but using her voice, she showed them how much they meant to her. One note at a time … she sent her love sailing through the air ….



eaper grabbed a tall glass out of the cupboard

before he began filling it up at the old sink. Watching the liquid fill the glass made him thirstier, along with the noise of the rushing water. It wasn’t until it was about half full did something else grace his ears, causing the hairs on his arms to stand. Slowly, he shut off the tap when the water rushed over the rim, making his fingertips wet. He thought he might’ve been dreaming, hearing the song from the voice that had kept him alive when he had been in hell. But with the rushing water silenced, he could hear the angel’s voice clearer, and it didn’t come from his head, but on the other side of the cracked open window where he was standing. He still stared at the metal spout, too scared to look up and through the glass, but when he did, Reaper’s heart suddenly stopped as the glass that was in his hands fell. It was like looking at a painting, and the white wooden pane was the frame. The sun made the green grass golden as the just-hung white sheets on

the clothesline blew gracefully in the wind, matching the grace resonating from voice of the silhouette behind the white, billowing cloth. He felt a sudden peace, like all his pain, his demons, his fury had just vanished, and he returned to the man he once was. The man who had been strong, pure, and untouched. The man he had been when he had heard that voice for the very first time … Gavin. Gavin walked to the door of the forge then out it, like jumping into the painting to follow the angel’s voice. Her voice had changed but only slightly, her tone that was once young and modest had become more mature over the years, now holding a slight rasp of longing. Getting closer, he moved one of the sheets out of the way. The womanly silhouette was just on the other side of the sheet before him. The angel had kept him alive in his darkest days. Hearing the song had given him hope to endure. He had thought it was a figment of his imagination, just a coping mechanism that had kept him alive, but she had been real … all this time. It was a distant memory that sat in the deepest recesses of his mind, like a hidden jewel that his body had protected himself from remembering in order not to taint it with what he had become. The memory, however, had slowly crept back when Gavin saw the beckoning light from outside the window, a memory he switched to Taylor, because

his mind hadn’t been able to accept the truth. A memory … “She has a beautiful voice, doesn’t she?” Lucky said, taking his eyes off the window to turn back toward him. Gavin couldn’t have answered if his life depended on it. Standing up from the desk, he walked to the window. He braced his hand on the wall and looked out. The girl was sitting on a picnic table with her back to the church. She was singing “In the Arms of an Angel” by Sarah McLachlan, and the way she sang held a wealth of pain, making him wonder if she was aware of it. It was hauntingly beautiful and spoke to his soul as if she were speaking directly to him. “She was here last night, wasn’t she?” “Yes, she’s the girl I’m tutoring.” “Who was the woman with her?” “You must be talking about her foster mother.” “She’s a bitch.” “Tell me something I don’t know.” Lucky’s rueful voice told of the dislike for the foster mother. “She’s a good kid.” “She’d have to be in order to sing like that.” Letting his hand drop, he forced himself to take a step away from the window, ignoring the whispers of the light wind that was stirring the curtains,

telling him to wait just one more sec— Feeling ridiculous that he was imagining the wind talking to him and that he was watching a young girl, he strode away, refusing to look back. He had not an ounce of sexual interest in her. It was more like sensing … something … Like seeing someone in a grocery store and unable to place a name or face or why it mattered …. A sudden gust of wind blew the sheet up, revealing the identity of his guardian angel. Her singing suddenly stopped. “Gavin?” It’s me, he wanted to tell her. Instead, he could only form her name. “Ginny ….” Concern crossed her face, not recognizing the man standing in front of her. “Is everything all ri —” “I didn’t see … I didn’t hear it before.” “What?” she asked as the sheet fell back down between them. “You were right,” he was finally able to admit it as Gavin stepped forward, moving the sheet out of the way with his tattooed hand so he could stare at her. At last, he was able to say the words that Reaper had denied himself to admit. “Soul mates do exist.” Ginny’s eyes turned glossy. She lifted her hand but stopped right before she touched his face, knowing she didn’t want to bring him pain in this

peaceful moment. Closing his eyes, Gavin pressed his cheek into her hand. The second her soft skin touched his, there was a euphoric moment for a split-second in time. He felt … happiness. But then the pain came flooding back, just like it always did. His brown eyes flew open as Reaper returned. She was an angel, and he was filth. “Gavin,” Ginny tried to stop him when he turned to walk away. “Gavin, please wait.” He denied her pleas, marching on. “Reaper …” He turned at the name on her lips. “That’s the first time you used my nickname.” “Souls don’t have a name.” Ginny walked between the rows of sheets. “Mine recognized yours the moment I saw you. Even if I lost my vision, I would still recognize you.” She reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear. “You may have had sex hundreds of times, asked Taylor to marry you, planned to have children with her in this body … but your soul … that has always been mine.” Reaper took a step closer to her to look down into her shining eyes. Groaning, he pressed his mouth to hers. The sensations going through him weren’t ones of revulsion; they were of two souls reconnecting, as if they had been apart for too long. Cocooned

between the billowing sheets, as if his soul was clean of the filth of the crimes that the others had forced him to commit, Reaper felt cleansed. Each kiss they shared, every driving thrust of his tongue into her mouth, reclaimed the other half of their hearts that had been lost when their souls had been torn apart. The hot-blooded kiss sent fire scorching through his bloodstream, replacing the ice that had been pumping through a heart without any real emotion. Ginny infused not only warmth but an emotional need to connect with her … to become whole again. To recover the missing part of him that he hadn’t even realized was missing. A soul that was the counterpart to his. Engines could run with missing parts, but they didn’t run as efficiently or reach the speeds they were designed to match. However, if you found the missing parts, the engine could run the way it was designed. He and Ginny had been designed to be together from whatever higher up that he had stopped believing in. She was meant to be his. Tearing his lips away from hers, Reaper gasped in lungsful of air, feeling as if he could breathe freely without constriction. He tried to place when had been the last time he breathed so fucking easily … then he remembered…when he had given Viper his jacket back.

The Last Riders had been his anchor. Without them, he had failed, not because he hadn’t been strong enough but because he had hit a storm and, without an anchor, he had run aground. Even a mighty battleship could be destroyed without an anchor to hold them steady. He had believed Taylor was that anchor, which was why he clung to the thought of her during his kidnapping and when he had been released. Finding out Taylor had married and was expecting a child sent him adrift in the dark storms. However, he could see now that Taylor would have never been strong enough to hold him steady in the turbulent waters that had smashed him against rocky shores. Only one woman had the strength of will, the determination, and was reckless enough to hold him steady, to slowly and unrelentingly move him back to calmer water. “I like this shade of blue. It reminds me of the ocean.” Ginny ran her hand over the sheet that was to his left. “Yes,” he answered hoarsely. “Why do you do that?” “Do what?” she asked innocently. “Get me to notice stupid shit.” “I don’t think it’s stupid. I picked them out because I like this shade of blue.” “I like it, but not enough to talk about it when we’re making out.” Curling his hand around the

back of her neck, he pulled her back to his chest. “Are we making out?” she teased, keeping her hands to her sides. “I’m trying to, if you’d quit talking about the color of sheets and hold me back.” “I have a friend who has panic attacks. Sometimes it helps to give her something to concentrate on besides her breathing. I really don’t care about the sheets, either,” she whispered. “And I’m not holding you back, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with you getting sick.” “I don’t have panic attacks,” he denied. “Okay … but you kind of do.” “I don’t.” Reaper lowered his head to nuzzle her neck with his lips. “And the only thing you’re making me is horny.” The shocked expression on her face had him laughing against her skin. “Hasn’t anyone talked dirty to you before?” “Not within my hearing.” He laughed at her prim tone. Searching the contours of her neck until he reached her ear, Reaper used his tongue to flick her earlobe. Growling when she started shivering, he pulled her harder against his body. Twisting his face to the side, he found her lips again, driving his tongue inside as he moved his hand to the back of her neck, holding her in place for his hungry mouth. “Gavin …,” she gasped.

A spring breeze sent the sheets billowing around them as their passion rose higher. Sensations of heat and desire, which he thought never to experience again, had him shaking as much as she was shivering. Looking over her shoulder, he saw the clips holding the sheet in place. Using the hand on Ginny’s neck, he reached out to press the clips, releasing the blue one behind her. “The day of T.A’s wedding, I wouldn’t have been there if Shade hadn’t called me for a ride,” he murmured against her lips. “I was ready to leave without his ass, then I heard you sing.” Purposely, he wrapped his arm around Ginny’s waist to lift her higher before laying her gently down on the sheet. “This is what I should have done when I saw you.” Pressing his mouth against hers, Reaper kissed Ginny softly, as if it were their first kiss. Swirling tongues had them sinking deeper into the daydream he was deliberately creating. With hands on her waist, he bunched up her thin top to her ribcage, as his thumbs sought out the sensitive points that had her arching into his hardening cock. Gasping at the sensation, memories he didn’t want came crashing back, destroying the special moment he wanted for her. Sitting up, his hands unconsciously went to his head. He wanted to crush the thoughts out of his mind.

“Gavin … Gavin ….” Reaper dropped his hands to look over his shoulder at her. “I want to … but I can’t ….” Taking a steadying breath as he looked down into her eyes, courage tried to come to his rescue, willing him to do something that he had never done before. “I’m not a man anymore … I can’t … I was ….” “Gavin … you’re more of a man than any I’ve ever met. Would it work if I did this?” Ginny smoothed the sheet down so she could lay on it. “And did this?” Ginny placed her hands to her sides. “I’ll only touch you if you want me to … where you want me to. For however long you want me to. My brother’s won’t be back until late tonight.” The seductive offer had desire returning. Shifting on his hip so he wasn’t weighing her down, he returned his hand to her exposed belly. “Take off your top,” he ordered thickly. Ginny sat up to remove her top, then resumed her position on the sheet. “I like this … a lot.” Ginny laughed up at him. “Of course you do; you’re domineering as heck.” “I am not.” She rolled her eyes at him. “Okaay,” she smarted off. “Take off your pants.”

“Okay.” Ginny unbuttoned her jeans, wiggling out of them, then tossing them to the side after she removed her sandals. Once she was lying down again, she had to smother a giggle. “What’s so funny?” What in the fuck was she finding funny about him trying to make love to her? Because he wasn’t a real man …. “You want to know something hilarious?” “Not at this moment.” She had to smother another giggle. “But it’s really funny. ” He was going to give her something that he was going to find hilarious as fuck when he saw her face after he paddled her for making fun— “This is the same panty and bra set I was wearing during T.A’s wedding.” Dammit. He started laughing. Dropping his head onto her shoulder, he admitted the truth. “I don’t deserve you,” he said achingly against her skin. “I know.” Her giggles stopped as she turned her face toward his. “But you have me, anyway.” He glided his hand to her shoulder, tugging down her bra strap, then claiming the tender flesh underneath. “Forever and ever.” “Let’s get through the here and now, and I’ll be happy.” “Then it doesn’t take much to make you happy.” Palming her breast in his hand, he used his

thumb to stroke her nipple. They were the size of quarters, with the tips a dusky rose color. Licking one with the tip of his tongue, he saw goosebumps rise up on her arms. “You’re so sensitive.” Letting the warm air from his mouth blow on her nipple, he watched as it peaked, begging to be touched. Swirling the nipple inside his mouth, the pounding desire that he had before came back in a rush. Ginny was right; he was domineering. He would cover her with his body and wreak the same havoc on her senses that she was doing to him. Conscious of it being her first time having a man’s hands on her, Reaper started arousing Ginny slowly, letting her feel the sharp nip of his teeth on her nipple, then soothing it with his tongue. Learning the taste of her skin, he glided his mouth to her other breast as he unconsciously moved closer to her side. Darting kisses between her breasts and down to her waist, he discovered a belly button that was so sensitive that he had her twisting on the sheet. “If you had done this during T.A’s wedding, we would have been arrested,” she moaned out. “No.” Using his fingertips, he peeled her panties off. “Most of the guests were Last Riders—they would have joined in.” “Huh?” Shocked at what he said, she started to rise into

a sitting position. Reaper pushed her back down. Going to his knees, he spread her thighs to see the pretty pink of her pussy. Pressing a finger to her clit, he saw she wasn’t wet enough to take him, so he began playing with the shy petal. The flashes of memories that had destroyed his attempts before were nowhere in sight as he gradually eased one finger inside of her. “You worked at the clubhouse; did you never go upstairs?” From her shocked reaction, he knew she hadn’t. However, he couldn’t help teasing her, especially when it was making his finger wetter. “No, I wasn’t allowed upstairs. And even if I had, I wouldn’t have watched.” Removing his finger, Reaper went down on her to drive his chaste, little virgin out of her mind. He smiled against her pussy when she tried to close her thighs. “Did I tell you to move?” She returned her legs back to her spread-eagle position. Lifting her ass into his hand, he lifted her higher against his mouth as he stroked his tongue inside of her, making her tight channel loosen so he could drive the length of his tongue into her. Ginny gave another breathy little moan that had his cock pushing upward to his stomach. “You’re so fucking tight.” Pulling his tongue

out, he started playing between her labia again, feeling the welcoming wetness he was searching for. Getting to his feet, he stared down at her on the blue sheet. Every part of her body was ready for him, from her taut breasts to her damp pussy, which was softly glowing with her glistening juices. Removing his pants, his desire was burning, fueling his actions and holding his nightmares at bay. Sinking to his knees between Ginny’s soft thighs, contrasting to his more muscular ones. The view gave him a surge of masculinity, wanting to seek out and conquer her mysterious depths. Placing his cock at the beginning of her opening, he froze. “Gavin … make love to me. Please ….” Placing a hand on sheet beside her shoulder, he braced himself to move away from her when Ginny clamped her thighs around his hips and lifted up. Giving a low groan, Reaper sank deep into Ginny’s depths and didn’t come up for air. He was sucked into the sensations, as if he dived into an undiscovered mysterious cove that held a beauty he had never experienced before. The hungry movements of their bodies moving on the sheet showed the everlasting beauty that could be achieved when two bodies moved as one. Every stroke of his cock had them diving lower until nothing but the serene-turned-tempestuous

passion had them grasping for something just out of reach, a feeling that was uncharted, neither knowing it was there until they found themselves in a place of such glorious beauty, unable to believe it existed until experiencing it. Gasping for breath, Reaper managed to lift his head to stare down into Ginny’s eyes, seeing the tears sliding out of the corners. “Did I hurt you?” Starting to detach himself, he stopped when she wrapped her arms around his neck. “No. Did I hurt you?” she asked. “No.” He couldn’t understand why she asked until she lifted fingertips from his cheeks to show him. “Was that real?” “About as real as you can get.” Kissing her tears away, he slipped his hand to her jaw to lift her face to his. “I never felt like that before. Not even —” She pressed her fingers to his lips. “Please don’t say her name, not today. Please … I just want this to be between you and me.” He gently clasped her wrist, feeling the bracelet underneath. “I wasn’t going to say her name. What I was going to say was not even in my wildest imagination.” “Wild man, I find that hard to believe,” she teased. “You’ve been a Last Rider for a long time,

even before you were engaged. I might not have gone upstairs, but I have ears. I came in early one morning and caught Lucky and Rider dressed as pirates, chasing Willa. I can totally believe you might have played a few of those adventures yourself.” Bursting out in laughter, Reaper shook his head in denial. “Woman, I never played a pirate a day in my life, not even when I was a kid dressing up for Halloween.” Narrowing his eyes at her menacingly, he raised her hands above her head. “But if you want to fantasize about having sex with a secret agent, then baby, I’m your man.”

Chapter Fifty-Seven


here’s all the jelly? I saw sitting on the

counter yesterday.” Ginny looked up from the frying pan. “I gave it to Viper. Silas is going to bring more from the storage building when he comes back this afternoon. There’s some grape jelly in the refrigerator.” “It’s store bought. You took all those jars to the storage building. Why didn’t you leave one here?” “Actually, two were meant for here, but when I asked Viper to take a couple to Lily, he asked for a

couple for the club.” “You gave them my jelly?” Reaper asked through clenched teeth. “Technically, those jars are mine. I don’t understand what the big deal is. I have ten more jars in—” “The problem is I don’t want Shade eating your jelly. It’s mine.” Knowing he was being ridiculous but unable to stop himself from making a bigger ass of himself, he plopped back down on his chair at the table to stare sullenly at the unappetizing toast. Ginny placed a plate of bacon in front of him. “You could make yourself a bacon sandwich,” she suggested. “You made some to send to Shade.” Rolling her eyes at him, she turned toward the kitchen. Pulling her down onto his lap, he forced a lackluster apology out. “I’m sorry.” Winding her arms around his neck, she called his bluff. “You don’t look sorry.” “I’m not.” “Didn’t your mother teach you to share?” “All the women in the club cater to Shade.” Ginny frowned. “When I worked there, I didn’t see anyone catering to him.” “I’m not talking the wives.” “Oh … I see. The women who live there?” “Yes.” He put his hand on the back of her neck,

tracing imaginary circles in her skin with his thumb. “Don’t make him any more? Please?” “I won’t make him anymore jelly. Satisfied?” He stared at her suspiciously, trying to read her mind. It wasn’t like her to give in so easily. “What are your plans for the day?” she asked, turning the tables on him by playing with his neck. At her mentioning the day ahead, he switched topics, not wanting to discuss the two situations that he was going to have to straighten out before he returned. “I’m going to the clubhouse to have a talk with the brothers. They want to return a few of the gifts I gave them.” “I bet.” She grimaced. “That’s one gift I’m glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of.” Raising her enough, he pulled out a small box from his pocket, then held it out for her. Fear came to her eyes. Shaking his head at her, he explained, “I bought these because … I know the bracelet means a lot to you, and I wanted a piece of me with you. I didn’t mean to buy them like I meant to buy the brothers’ watches. I bought them spur-of-the-moment because I was missing you.” She gave him a gentle smile. “Then I’ll accept your gift.” Pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth, she jiggled the present in front of his face. “Let me guess.” She jiggled the small box again. “They’re charms.”

“Good guess.” He mockingly laughed. Then he nervously watched as she opened the box, waiting for her reaction. “Aw … they’re beautiful.” Kissing him, the second kiss started spinning out of control when she leaned against his chest, her head naturally going to his shoulder. Breaking off the kiss, he straightened her on his lap. “Behave. Viper will be here in five minutes.” Her face fell. “So soon? I thought we would have at least an hour. Silas just left, and I was ….” At seeing her blush at what he was sure she had been about to say, Reaper decided to tease her. “You thought you’d get a little nookie after Silas left?” He gave her an unapologetic, I-told-so smirk. “You should have taken my suggestion and sneaked down to my room after he went to bed last night.” “Your room doesn’t have a door,” she reminded him. “Which is one of the chores I have to take care of today if you will go ahead and open my present so I can leave.” Ginny stared at the unopened present in her hand. “If I don’t open it, will you just please stay here with me?” she whispered. Taking her chin, he lifted her eyes to his. “The most I’ll be gone is a couple of hours. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have to.” Releasing her chin, he then took the box back and opened it for her. Taking out

the charms, he placed the star, then the moon, and finally the pair of diamond angel wings into her palm. Closing her fingers around the charms, he lifted her fist to his lips. “The next charm I’m going to buy you is a four-leaf clover, to remind you of our first date.” “Our first date?” He shrugged. “I refuse to think of Dirty Dan’s as our first date.” “You’d rather be reminded of us having to sneak out before morning to bury a mirror?” “Yes, I would. I’d rather completely forget about Marty, and you’re going to help me do that by not mentioning he’s moving to Treepoint.” “But—” “No, butts … unless it’s yours,” he joked, tapping her on the side of her bottom to get her to stand up when they heard the sound of Viper’s car outside. Taking her hand, they walked to the door. Raising her wrist, he stared down at the bracelet, looking at the charms. A new one had been added that he hadn’t seen in Nashville. “When did you get this one?” Reaper touched the fragile gold sand dollar. “T.A. gave it to me.” Ginny didn’t lift her eyes from the bracelet. “Why’d T.A. give you a charm? It looks expensive.”

“She gave it to me for singing at her wedding.” “That was nice of her.” “She’s a nice person.” The loud honk from the yard had them going outside. Uncaring of Viper watching, he placed a kiss on her lips. “When I come back, I’ll be bringing that door.” “You going to tell Silas why you’re wanting to put that door up?” she teased. “I’ll leave that up to you,” he said, going down the steps. Seeing her expression, he came right back up the steps. “I’ll talk to him, okay?” Rubbing a thumb over her trembling bottom lip, he pulled Ginny into his body. “If it’s going to make you uncomfortable, when I come back, we’ll talk it over and find another place for us to stay. Now, will you behave, or am I going to have to shove that horn up Viper’s ass?” “I’ll behave.” The tight hug she gave him made him feel better about leaving. Waving at Matthew and Isaac as they were going inside their shop, he got inside Viper’s SUV. “We’re late,” Viper snapped at him before Reaper could shut the door. “I got that message two honks ago,” Reaper snapped back. “I told you we couldn’t be late to the meeting

with the FBI when I talked to you this morning. Now we’re not going to have time to meet with Diamond beforehand.” “We already know what she would have told us —be quiet and let her do the talking. I plan to follow her advice, though she didn’t have time to give it.” “You’re in a good mood.” Viper looked at him suspiciously. “Do me a favor; if I swear not to off myself, will you quit looking for signs that aren’t there? At least not anymore. I feel good. Actually, I feel fucking great.” “You back on your anti-depressants? If so, pass me a couple. I had to listen to every brother in the club offer to pack Taylor’s shit back into her car before you could come today. Then Knox called and told me the FBI were waiting for him when he came in this morning, wanting us brought in for questioning.” “I’ll bring Taylor’s shit out to her car myself after our meeting, and we can let Diamond do the talking to the FBI. They have to build a case against us. They have to prove we’re responsible for Slate’s disappearance. That’s going to take time.” “What about Memphis? They have the tape to prove what happened to him,” Viper stated as he parked in the police parking lot.

“I think I have a plan for that. We’ll talk after the meeting. Then I’ll go see the brothers and get Taylor out of your hair. At least Ginny doesn’t know about her being at the club,” he said, getting out of the car and catching Viper’s expression. He knew when he was fucked. “She knows Taylor’s at the club?” “Yes.” “Fuck. Thanks, big brother.” He slammed the car door shut. “I was worried about how you would react. I thought Taylor was part of the reason you wanted to kill yourself ….” Viper snapped his mouth closed. “Okay, I fucked up.” Gavin laughed, slinging a brotherly arm around Viper’s shoulders. “Welcome to my world.”


ny visage of a smile disappeared before

walking into the sheriff’s office where the desk clerk sent them to the courthouse. “Knox and your lawyer will meet you in Room 2, in the lower level. They are waiting for you.” Reaper and Viper shared speculative glances as they went back out the door then headed for the courthouse. “We’re fucked.” Reaper’s good mood rapidly disappeared at

Viper’s worried curse. Viper had become mired in the shitstorm Memphis had created. The betraying bastard deserved the death he had been dealt. The greedy fucker had been ready to blow the whole fucking club up before he had been caught. Finding the room, Reaper saw a state trooper guarding the door. Another state trooper was stationed outside a door farther down. The trooper checked their IDs before opening the door. “Make sure you keep several feet apart.” Motioning them inside, he then shut the door behind them. Knox and Diamond were waiting inside. “Thank God you two finally showed up. They were threatening to issue warrants for your arrests if you didn’t show in the next ten minutes.” “Time got away from me,” Reaper took the hit for being late. “If they were so anxious for our arrival, where are they?” “The Commonwealth attorney is speaking with the special agents. They’ll call us in when they’re ready.” Diamond stared at Knox worriedly as time passed and no one was sent for them. Cognizant of possibly being recorded, they didn’t discuss any of the variety of reasons they could have been pulled in for questioning. Assuming they were there to discuss Slate, they

were wary to mention his name. The longer it took them to be called, the harder it was not to talk, which Reaper took for the stalling tactic being used on them. “Is this even fucking legal? Keeping us waiting this long?” Viper asked. Diamond, just as frustrated as everyone in the room, went to the door to pull it open. The officer broke off, saying something to the communicator on his shoulder. “I was just informed to bring you to a larger room upstairs. If you all will follow me.” The four of them filed out of the room. Reaper’s gut clenched as they went up the steps, preparing himself to be arrested. Two weeks ago, he couldn’t have cared less. He still felt as if that was where he should be, but Ginny had changed him even before he realized she was behind the voice that had strengthened his will to survive. She kept him so busy with trying to jinx him that he had lost the desire to end his life. She made life worth living again. He didn’t know if he could survive in a small cell without her. The room they entered was a courtroom, except there was no judge sitting on the bench, only four suited men waiting for them in the front of the courtroom. “Please, take a seat and keep a safe distance

apart.” An older agent directed them to the seats in the front row. “I made my clients available at the FBI’s request, despite no advance warning. Since you’re now playing games, we’re leaving.” Diamond firmly blocked the men from going down the aisle. The older man, who must have been the lead agent, spoke up. “I’m sorry for the wait. Unfortunately, it was unavoidable. We were waiting for two more people to arrive. I was just notified that they arrived at the airport and will be with us in the next five minutes. The FBI appreciates your cooperation.” As he finished speaking, the doors behind them opened again. Reaper turned to see Sex Piston, T.A., and Dalton come inside, looking just as surprised to find them there as they were. “What are you doing here? You get lost paying a ticket? This is a private meeting,” Diamond snapped at Sex Piston as they came farther into the room. “I don’t know why the fuck I’m here, and neither does T.A. or Dalton. We were dragged here an hour ago,” Sex Piston argued back. “Why didn’t you call me?” Diamond asked, her eyes on the group of men waiting for them at the front of the courtroom. “I fucking tried!” Sex Piston yelled at her sister.

“Ladies, if you take your seats, we will be ready to get started as soon as those we’ve been waiting for have arrived.” Ignoring the agent’s directive to keep a distance, Knox and Diamond sat together, as well as Sex Piston, T.A., and Dalton. When the agent asked them to move apart, Sex Piston opened her mouth. “Mind your own fucking business, and I’ll mind mine. I’ve had my temperature taken by three people today—I’m good. How many fucking times has yours been checked today?” The agent was saved from the opening of the door. Turning around, Reaper was shocked by who came through the door. Shade, Jonas, and Shade’s father, Will. This shit went deeper and deeper. Reaper didn’t know why they were there, and from Viper’s and Knox’s expressions, they didn’t know either. “Gentlemen, if you have a seat, we can begin.” The new arrivals sat down in the row behind them. From the expressions on Will’s and Jonas’s faces, unlike the others, they knew what was going on. “Do you know what this is about?” Reaper heard Viper ask Shade. Shade shook his head. “Dad called me five

minutes ago and told me to get here quickly.” The lead agent held his hand. “I’m sorry about the delay. Now that everyone’s here, I can explain.” Out of the corner his eye, Reaper saw T.A.’s color had paled and she was shaking. Dalton had placed an arm around T.A.’s shoulders. Sex Piston looked shaken, too. The lead agent came forward. “I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Special Agent Corey. I want to explain why the FBI is here and—” “Then fucking explain already,” Sex Piston yelled out. “Very well. Mr. James, the FBI case on the death of Last Rider member, Memphis Mills, has been dropped. The file has been sealed and closed. The video provided to us of the alleged crime was inadvertently destroyed.” The agent handed him a folder. “Within that folder, you will find a document stating that no charges will be filed or ever will be in connection with Mr. Mills or the witnesses that provided the information.” “Why has the State decided to be so forgiving? Not that my client is guilty in the first place,” Diamond asked. “If you allow me to continue, all your questions will be answered.” Agent Corey moved to Reaper. “Mr. James, this is the approval for the vaccine trail ParmFYOU was

seeking consent to begin. The government extends its apologies in the delays from the company and will ensure ParmFYOU gets the highest priority available. We have also begun an investigation into the disappearance of the lab technician and will keep both you and her boss apprised of the situation. “Furthermore, our agency will no longer offer the man who kidnapped you federal protection. He willfully disappeared, and so the FBI is no longer interested in his location. If, for some reason, he does show up deceased, we are aware of the criminal elements he associated with and will look there if the need arises.” The agent moved to stand in front of T.A. to open the second folder, taking out two envelopes. “Mrs. Andrews.” The agent handed T.A. one of the envelopes, then came back to Reaper and handed him the second envelope in his hand. “These letters are from Miss Evangeline Bellamy” Reaper looked up from tearing the envelope open as T.A. began sobbing to ask Viper. “Who’s Evangeline?” “Mrs. Andrews and Mr. James, Evangeline wanted me to make sure you knew she didn’t make this decision under duress and wants you to respect the decision she has made. And she told me six times to tell you that she is safe and Hammer will be assisting her on her journey home.”

Tearing the envelope open, Reaper began reading the letter as T.A. began wailing in grief.


ear Gavin,

This is the hardest letter I have ever written. I have a past I haven’t told you about. I’ve wanted to tell you so many times, but I was afraid, not for my own life, but for my sister, for Hammer, and for Will. I have another sister you didn’t know about. T.A. is my biological sister. Freddy adopted me when I was four years old. The Colemans gave me a new life, and I will always be grateful for having them in my life. Please don’t hate me for not telling you. I love you, and the thought of you hating me would make what I have to do so much harder. I had Hammer make the deal for me when Killyama told me that Slate disappeared. I knew he would come for you. He was smart enough to know you wouldn’t stop looking for him. He had no choice but to kill you first, and I couldn’t let that happen. My brothers leaving that day was a trap for him, and I nearly lost you. I hope his death gives you the peace you deserve. Viper told me yesterday that Taylor would be at the club today to see you. I kept hoping you would tell me that she was there, but you didn’t. I know

you still love her, and I love you enough to want you to be happy. The hardest part today was not leaving my family but watching you walk away to see her. Even if you decide not to get back with Taylor, I have to settle my past before I can have a future. I learned that lesson from you. I won’t watch my new niece or nephew grow up without me being in their life like I had to do with Trudy. I wish you well, wild man. With all my love, Evangeline


eaper stormed to his feet. “Knox, give me the

keys to your cruiser!” he shouted over Trudy’s terror-filled screams. “He’ll kill her! Jonas, tell them.” Trudy sobbed, holding onto Dalton. When Knox gave Reaper the keys, Reaper started running out of the room. “Mr. James, it won’t do you any good to look for her in Treepoint. Her plane left twenty minutes ago to an undisclosed destination.” Fuck, fuck, fuck! Reaper ran toward the doorway. With his hands held out, he slammed through the second set of doors without stopping. He had seen Knox’s cruiser

parked outside as they had come in the courthouse. Pressing the unlock button as he exited the door, he was in the car and pulling out of the parking spot before Knox, Viper, and Shade came running out. His heart racing as fast as he was driving, Reaper flipped the sirens on, screeching through the traffic on the main drag and driving up the mountain toward the Colemans’. As he drove past The Last Riders’ clubhouse, he saw the men running down the steps and toward their bikes. Flying past them, he started slowing so he could make the sharp turn into the Colemans’ driveway. Hitting the steering wheel, he had to wait until an oncoming car slowed to a stop before he could dart across the lane. Driving up the steep hill, he didn’t have to be told that Ginny was gone. Even if the agent hadn’t told him, it was written on all eight of her brothers’ faces as he jerked the car to a stop. Leaving the door open, Reaper ran directly to Silas. “Tell me you know where she is,” Reaper begged. Silas nodded. “I know where she’s going.” “Thank God!” Reaper took deep breaths at Silas’s confirmation, his hands on his thighs as he tried to catch his breath. He hadn’t breathed since he’d heard Ginny had left. “Tell me. I’ll go right now.” As he straightened up, his breathing stopped

again at Silas’s expression. “What’s wrong? You said you know where she’s going.” The loud rumble of motorcycles coming up the driveway almost drowned out his question. “She’s going back to Clindale Island.” “I’ll get a plane.” Motioning for Viper to hurry toward him, already planning to get Train and a plane in the next hour, not giving a fuck about whatever stumbling block Silas was about to tell him. “That won’t work.” Silas shook his head. “No one can fly or sail in without the permission of the island’s owner.” “Then I’ll get his fucking permission. Who is he?” “The man who wants to kill Ginny.”

Reading Order 1. Razer's Ride (The Last Riders) 2. Viper's Run (The Last Riders) 3. Knox's Stand (The Last Riders) 4. Sex Piston (Biker Bitches) 5. Teased (The VIP Room) 6. Tainted (The VIP Room) 7. Shade's Fall (The Last Riders) 8. King (The VIP Room) 9. Cash's Fight (The Last Riders) 10. Fat Louise (Biker Bitches) 11. Riot (Predators MC) 12. Shade (The Last Riders) 13. Stand Off (Predators MC) 14. Lucky's Choice (The Last Riders) 15. Keeping What's His: Tate (Porter Brothers Trilogy) 16. Merry Blissmas (Biker Bitches) 17. Hostage (Predators MC) 18. Winter's Touch (The Last Riders) 19. Train's Clash (The Last Riders, Biker Bitches)

20. Standing His Ground: Greer (Porter Brother's Trilogy) 21. Crazy B!tch (Biker Bitches) 22. Rider's Revenge (The Last Riders) 23.Stalked (Predators MC) 24. Claiming the Enemy: Dustin (Porter Brothers Trilogy) 25. T.A. (Biker Bitches) 26. Dangerous Love 27. Gavin’s Song (Road to Salvation: A Last Rider's Trilogy) 28. Ho Ho Hennessy 29. Reaper’s Wrath (Road to Salvation: A Last Rider's Trilogy)

Maria Made Men, #4 Sarah Brianne

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eeling the early morning sunlight warm her

skin, a smile touched the curve of her lips as she envisioned the man she had fallen asleep next to and whose face hadn’t left her, even in her dreams. Maria gently opened her eyes, ready to look upon him once more. However, she was only met with an empty bed. Reaching her tanned hand out, she touched the spot he had lain in when her eyes had closed hours ago. It wasn’t even warm, making her wonder if it had all been a dream after all. The only proof she had that he had been there were her

memories and the indention of the bed beside her. He left me … without saying goodbye? She sleepily searched for her phone before finding it and hitting the name of the man who had brought butterflies to her impervious stomach at thoughts of the night before. Maria put her phone to her ear, hearing the white noise before the tone of the ringing assailed her eardrum. bRRing … The butterflies that had been floating in her belly seemed to stop fluttering, beginning to sink. bRRing … She sat up on the side of the bed. Something didn’t feel right as those butterflies slowly sunk to the pit of her stomach, which had seemingly become softer overnight. bRRing … Maria clutched her phone tighter while she held it feverishly to her ear. bRRi— At the answering of the phone, the pit of her stomach cleared and her irrational fears vanished. She waited for his voice to grace her ears. However, it wasn’t a single male voice she heard yelling. It was two. One belonged to Kayne Evans and the other to Dominic Luciano; both voices clearly distinguishable— BANG! As she abruptly stood up from bed, the phone

wasn’t the only thing she clutched; it was her black heart she held, trying to keep it from hitting the ground, unlike the phone on the other end of the call. She heard it smash the ground. She shakily held the phone to her ear, hearing the final sounds of death that departed from her ear and from this earth. In her other hand, she held her chest so tightly that her manicured nails dug into her smooth flesh. When raindrops began hitting the window, where light had been shining through only moments ago, it were as if the gates to heaven had opened, welcoming home the heaven-bound soul who’d just been taken. Going into shock, her mouth open, but no words dared to pass her lips while she stared out at the ominously pouring rain. After several eternal-like moments, she finally heard movement on the other end of the line. It was the quiet whisper of breath she heard, telling her someone was there, alive … listening. “Hello …?” She found her voice that was now as unsteady as the knees that held her up and the clouds in the sky. The breath on the other end of the line echoed louder and louder until the rain and every other sound dropped away, silence magnified like the ringing that had stormed her eardrum when she had first placed the call.

Her heart pounded to the rhythm of the roaring heavens above as she gravely waited to hear the voice of the man who had lived, knowing that the next voice she wouldn’t hear would be the one that she would never, ever hear again. The wretched part was that both men had crept into her dark heart over these past few months, and it hadn’t been until last night when she’d been able to choose which one she desperately wanted to hear next. Maria opened her mouth to speak the name of the man she was beginning to fall in love with, but before she could form the name, a solemn voice stopped her, making her fall to her knees, along with her shattered heart. Any butterflies left in her stomach turned to ash, and the dusty remnants floated down to the abyss. Death had decided her destiny.


A Last Name that came with a Black Credit Card and a Crown


utting one slender foot in front of the other, the

tiny points of her stilettos clicked on the white tile floors of the school hallway that she once walked across every day for four years. Normal people might have a visceral reaction of going back to high school, but Maria “fucking” Caruso was far from

“normal.” Maria was a twenty-two-year-old, tall, goldenhaired, tanned angel who didn’t look like she fell from heaven but from the Victoria Secret catwalk. No, she looked like every man’s wet dream of an angel; a young woman who mastered a look of innocence from her years of modeling in front of a camera but conversely also screamed three letters, S-E-X, at the same time. It was a talent in itself to look like you were the purest and most beautiful thing since the Virgin Mary, while simultaneously sucking a dick. And that was the difference between an angel from a male’s eyes and an angel from the heavens above. Maria Caruso was about as far from a real angel as you could fucking get, and her innocence was about as fake as Tonya Harding’s tears. Not only was the girl blessed by the fucking Victoria Secret god, she was blessed with a last name that came with a black credit card and a crown. Her father, Dante Caruso, was the boss of the Caruso empire and the current reigning king of Kansas City, Missouri. He owned everyone and everything that resided in the city limits, which allowed her a hundred or so pairs of red bottomed shoes, the Birkin on her arm, and the short, suede, mauve dress that was definitely too much for the current occasion, but she went absolutely everywhere like this. Hell, she would go to Trader

Joe’s like this if she ever went to the grocery store herself. The theoretical crown on her head made her the “Mafia princess.” That nickname made her skin crawl, even if it was true. You see, there were two fucking major problems in her perfect life, and the first one was her crown. It will never be big enough. The name Caruso came with a power that had skipped her at birth. It was a power she would never hold, because between her legs was a kitty, not a wolf. What the world didn’t know was that she wasn’t a kitten who needed a pretty little tiara and bodyguards who watched her every move. She was a fucking lioness, and she would take a fucking lioness’s side in killing a wolf any day. However, the mafia’s traditions had been passed down for generations, and all this lioness was meant to be was a mob wife, unlike her three brothers …. “Where’s Dad?” Staring at her little brother with his arms crossed over his chest as he leaned against the concrete wall beside the classroom door, she hadn’t noticed how much older he had started looking lately until she saw him here in Legacy Prep’s halls. “He’s busy.” “Lucca couldn’t come?” he asked next. “No, he’s busy, too.” She narrowed her eyes

down at him. “Leo, did you do something you don’t want me to know?” He slightly shook his cute face, causing his dirty-blond hair to ruffle a little. “I didn’t think I did anything wrong. Usually, Mr. Evans’s is pretty cool—” “Kayne Evans?” Maria’s heart thumped once in her chest, reminding her that she actually had one. “Yeah …?” Leo stared up at her with his deep blue eyes. Only being a sophomore in high school, he still had a growth spurt or two left in him to reach his sister’s height in heels. However, he did already carry her wickedly good looks. So much so that he gave a young Leo DiCaprio a run for his older self’s money. I knew he was my favorite brother. Rubbing her pouty lips together, she made sure her lip gloss glistened. Having had men look at her since the age of thirteen, she knew where they couldn’t help looking first—if they looked at a woman’s face, that was. Her little brother’s brow furrowed, confused at what exactly she was doing. She raised her manicured hand to his silky, blond hair, ruffling it like she always did and putting his thoughts on pause. “Do me a favor and wait here, and I promise not to tell Dad whatever it was you did,” she whispered to him so her bodyguard a few feet back

couldn’t hear. It took him a few seconds of wondering what the hell she was up to before deciding. “Deal.” Putting her hand on the doorknob, she turned it after another thump of her cold heart. Quickly opening it she went inside, then closed the door sharply behind her as Leo went to stand in front of it, so her suit was stuck waiting outside. With her heels clicking in the confines of the classroom, a pair of golden eyes looked up from his desk and to the tanned, shiny legs that didn’t belong to an underaged girl in this school. Looking at the man she had dreamed of since meeting him, she could only form two words. God damn.


Exactly the Way You Dreamed of a Hot Teacher Doing It


s. Caruso.” Kayne quickly cleared his

throat before standing up from behind his desk. “I wasn’t expecting you.” “Our father’s caught up at work,” she told him, barely noticing the slight change in his appearance upon seeing her. The stern marks that lightly etched

his face suddenly disappeared, knowing she must have caught the way too-fucking-hot-for-a-highschool-English teacher off guard. Smiling, she was sure to remind him of their previous two meetings, letting him know they were on a first name basis. Truthfully, she was dying to hear her damn name pass his sexy lips again. “And just Maria.” A hot as hell smile tilted his lips before he nodded in understanding. “Maria, then.” Christ, that smile mixed with her name almost took her the fuck out. “And your mother couldn’t make it?” he asked. “No.” That was the second major problem that made her perfect life … imperfect. “She’s dead.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t … I wasn’t aware.” “It’s all right. It happened a long time ago.” It did, when she was fifteen to be exact, and the way the creepy old men had treated her at her mother’s funeral had made her about as uncomfortable as Kayne was now with how comfortable Maria was about telling him her mother was dead. Walking over to the student desk closest to his, she took off her nude, faux fur jacket, revealing that to-die-for suede, mauve dress underneath before sitting down at the tiny desk that she had once been forced to sit at. “But I’m here,” she let him know with a wave of her hand that this “parental figure” was as good as he was going to fucking get.

He went around his desk, still a bit off guard by her presence. “Sorry, this is very unusual. Any way I could possibly reschedule with your fath—” “He’s very busy, so how about you tell me what it is Leo’s done and I promise”—she held up two slender fingers and twirled them together—“to tell him. I’m sure he’ll either call you or carry out the correct punishment.” “All right.” Clearing his throat again, he took a step back to casually sit on the edge of his desk. Yes, exactly the way you dreamed of a hot teacher doing it. Oh, hell yes, she liked the scenario she was in now. Staring up at the sexy AF teacher from her desk, she took in the view in all its glory, from his buzz cut hair that barely revealed the slight blond tint to it that was missing, to his close shaven, darker beard, all the way to the white button-up shirt that showed the muscles he was hiding underneath when he moved. It was like the beginning scene straight from a cheesy porno. The only thing missing was the trashy school girl outfit, because the sexual tension was definitely there, at least from her end. “Now, what is it my brother has done, Mr. Evans?” Maria had been unable to resist from calling him that. “Please, call me Kayne.”

The way he said it as he smoothed his navy tie down his abdomen just confirmed a few things. One, they were indeed on a first name basis. Two, the sexual tension was very much on his end, too. And three, he wasn’t comfortable with her calling him by his last name as she sat in this desk. Telling her that he wasn’t into the teacher/student role play shit, and she kind of liked that. A lot. It not only showed respect to his profession but to the fucking law that teens and his students weren’t his thing. When she had first met Kayne, she had been disappointed, wondering why the hell she couldn’t have been lucky to get him as a teacher when she’d attended school. Hell, her attendance would have been through the fucking roof. In fact, she would bet every pair of her Louboutins on the fact that the rise in the attendance of female student at Legacy Prep had soared after Mr. Evans was hired. But now Maria counted her blessings, knowing that the door of whatever the hell “this” was between them would have been shut, locked, and bolted. “Leo seemed to be preoccupied with texting a girl in my classroom today. I confiscated his phone for the day and would appreciate it if he kept it in his pocket during my class.” Maria slightly furrowed her brows at finally hearing what it was that got her baby brother in trouble enough to warrant a visit. Never knowing what to expect from a Caruso, it was honestly …

nothing, considering her and her brothers’ track record at this school had warranted every faculty member to despise the name Caruso until their last dying breaths. Her oldest brother, Lucca, had set them up for failure the day his psychotic-teen-smoking ass walked through Legacy Prep’s door. Then, when she finally entered high school, well … she wasn’t much different, just less secondhand smoke. She was followed by Nero, who had every girl crying underneath him or crying to get under him. And now Leo. He might have been cursed with beauty like the rest of his siblings, but that was where the similarities ended. Seeing her confusion, or lack thereof, he stood and walked back behind his desk to open the drawer to take the phone out from its jail cell. “It’s now policy here that the parents must come to retrieve confiscated phones in hopes of keeping cell phone usage down.” “Oh, okay.” Somewhat understanding, she couldn’t help laughing at the attempt to keep teens, who were obsessed by the little five-inch screens, off it. “Is it working?” “Well, it’s certainly made it a pain in the ass, not only on the students but the parents.” Maria laughed again, this time harder at his joke, along with the little curse he let drop. Oh God, she never laughed at a man’s joke.

Walking around the desk again, he now stood over her, holding out the phone for her to take. There was just something about Kayne … It was the way he carried himself that made him different than all the men whom she had ever been around, and in her father’s line of work, there were a lot. There was no shortage of good-looking men around her, but none had piqued her interest even slightly. Sure, she might have thought she was too good for them … but so fucking what? Kayne, however, wasn’t only different than the Mafiosos, there was a presence about him that made the air around him thicker. Being within that one-foot vortex now, she could feel the air being slowly sucked out from her as she stared up into those molten gold eyes of his. Reaching up to take the phone from his hand, she was sure to let her fingers touch his, wanting nothing more than to touch him again since their first meeting and repay the favor …


iddling for another minute after

hearing her bodyguard incessantly banging on the girl’s bathroom door, she decided it was time to step out. It was Nero’s high school graduation. She grabbed her purse, then put one pump in front of the other.

“Shit! Goddamn …” The cursing from the deep voice trailed off as the man started mumbling to himself. She quickly dropped her purse and touched a man’s raised arm, which was holding the side of his face. “I am so sorry. Are you okay? I completely forgot those doors fly open like that.” Hearing the muffled laughter, she shooed her watchdog away to go laugh somewhere else. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” He said it like he was trying to shoo her away, as well. Dang, I hit him really hard. “Are you sure you’re okay? Here, let me see.” She grabbed his wrist with her other hand so she could assess the damage she’d done to his face. “I said …,” he began harshly as he dropped his hand from his face to look at the woman who’d nearly knocked his brains out. Looking at her, he seemed to have lost his train of thought. It took him a moment before he cleared his throat to change his tone. “I’m fine, really.” He smiled at her. She stared helplessly up at him, her eyes unwilling to move away from the liquid gold. Feeling his strong arm under her hands, she realized his body definitely wasn’t bad, either. Oh gosh. She quickly pulled her hands away from him, trying not to smile in embarrassment from touching him longer than she should have.

She finally moved her eyes away from his. “II’m sorry. I feel terrible that I hit you.” Did I just stutter? Being flustered in front of men was something that never happened to her. “It’s really okay. It was my fault. I usually walk farther away from the door, but my mind was somewhere else.” She smiled back at him. It made her feel instantly better to hear his genuine apology. “There’s no mark yet, but I hope it doesn’t bruise on you.” “If it does, it wouldn’t be the first.” He started to lean down toward the floor. “Here, let me get that for you.” She watched him pick up her purse off the floor and felt his gaze on her brand-new nude pumps that she had pulled out of the box that morning. Her body slightly tingled as his eyes rolled over her as he stood up straight. Thank you, Christian Louboutin. He held her purse out, and when she grabbed it and touched him, she noticed the size of his hand spanned the whole purse. “Thank you.” Her hand began to tingle when she slid it off his. “You’re very welcome ….” She swept her gold-colored hair behind her ear, smiling. “Maria.”…


’ll be sure to talk with Leo,” she

promised sweetly, a promise she might or might not keep. Still holding on to the phone, it was Kayne who pulled away this time. Seeing his lingering touch, she knew he didn’t want to pull away any more than she did. It had felt so wrongly right every fucking time their hot skin touched. “Thank you,” he said after he did that thing again where he cleared his throat. Not wanting to press her luck any longer that Leo could keep her bodyguard on the other side of the door, she stood, showing off her best feature yet again—her legs that made her practically as tall as him in her heels. She had to give the teacher credit as she took her time putting on her faux fur jacket. He had the willpower to keep his eyes tastefully above her neck, which made him a fucking saint on account of the tiny bead of sweat that was beginning to form at his brow. “I hope to see your father here in the future.” He made it clear it was a one-time only deal for Leo. “But I’d love to see you again under different circumstances.” “Me, too.” Maria smiled before walking away. She would give the one-of-a-kind designer purse

away just to have his eyes on the back of her head right now. “Goodbye, Ms. Caruso.” The words left his mouth when she opened the door to the possibility of prying ears. The way he said it held a promise that this impromptu meeting wouldn’t be their last, and it had sent a shiver down her freshly shaven, exposed legs until it pricked every hair up. Considering the crown on her head, this was a very dangerous game she felt was beginning to start in her bones, but … she could play it. Turning back, she gave him a wink that only he could see. “Goodbye, Mr. Evans.”
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