New York summer weather was ideal for taking to the road on my Harley. When I was going fast enough, which was any time I wasn’t stuck in traffic or behind a station wagon hovering half a mile under the speed limit, the breeze against my bear arms and face was almost cool enough to be considered refreshing. Air conditioning was overrated and no comparison to the open road on the seat of a Harley, engine purring between your legs, throttle itching to be opened up on every straightaway.
Of course, the way I rode earned me a few speeding tickets and some warnings from the police. I was almost on a first-name basis with some of them.
I liked the adrenaline rush of being on my bike, but I also liked the time to clear my head. Being part of an MC was a fast-paced lifestyle, and I was still acclimating to the intensity of it all.
Just weeks ago, my buddy Axel almost landed himself behind bars going after the leader of our rival gang, the Black Hearts. Watson, a true and total sociopath, had nearly brought all of us down with him. If it hadn’t been for Axel risking his neck, I hated to think where we would all be.
Axel had the most to lose too. He’d just started seeing Ellie when it all went down, the girl he’d fantasized about for half a fucking decade. Then, out of the blue, he learned he had a three-year-old daughter.
I took a right at a red light, the tires squealing as I accelerated. I smirked as the car behind me honked. The asshat hadn’t even had to tap his brakes. People were so damn sensitive these days. I looked over my shoulder, gave the guy behind the wheel of the silver sedan a wide grin, and opened the throttle, leaving him and his mom-car behind until they were nothing but a tiny speck in my mirrors.
I didn’t envy the car, that was for sure, but I found myself wondering if he had a wife and kids at home like Axel did. It must be nice to return to a place with a bright smile there to greet you. That and a warm body to share a bed with.
Something unsettling coursed through my body, and when I realized it was jealousy, I shook my head in shame.
“Pull yourself together, you pussy,” I muttered, the wind drying my teeth.
The roar of the engine calmed to a steady rumble as I pulled off the road and rode up to the open bay doors of the new shop. I killed the ignition and swung off the bike as Ellie, the beautiful blond mechanic who was now engaged to Axel, spotted me and waved.
“Morning,” she called cheerfully as I approached, wiping her hands on a rag and then tucking it into the back pocket of her jeans. She put her hands on her hips, like she always did, and cocked her head to one side. “You eat yet?”
I shook my head. “What do you think?”
She rolled her eyes at me and waved for me to follow her. I tailed her around the hood of the old Impala she was working on, and we ducked into the office along the side of the shop.
Jamie, my cousin, looked up from her computer and smiled at me. “Hey, cuz.” Her eyes returned to the computer screen, but she maintained the conversation. “How’s it going?”
“As good as Mondays go.”
Ellie stepped behind the desk, pulled a coffee from a drink tray, and handed it to me. Ellie was good like that. For as long as I could remember, she had always made sure to have a coffee for me when she came to work. Sometimes, she even picked up breakfast.
My heart swooned over her when she tossed me a small paper bag sealed with a green sticker. “And your bagel. Don’t say I never do anything for you.” Ellie folded her arms and rested her hip on the desk.
“I’d never say something so untrue.” I grinned as I opened the bag. I was greeted by the smell of herbs and butter and cheese, and I impulsively licked my lips. “You’re the best, Ellie.”
“I know I am. But,” she shot me a cocky smile before turning and making for the door, “I’ll never get tired of hearing it.”
“So modest.” I chuckled as the door closed and turned back to Jamie, who was still scowling at the computer screen as I rested my forearms on the counter and sipped my coffee. “You trying to ignore me, or are you actually busy?”
“It’s Monday morning. What do you think?”
I scratched my chin to feign thoughtfulness. “Maybe a little bit of both?”
Jamie rewarded me with a quick glance up from her computer. “You’re smarter than you look.” She let out a long sigh. “We have a lot of work coming in the next couple of weeks, and at the rate we’re going, there’ll be some unhappy customers banging on our door.”
“How far behind schedule are we?”
“At least a week.”
“I don’t know how you guys are going to make up for extra time. Axel’s still only on part-time hours, and I’m not going to be the one to ask him to come back. We all know how happy he is to be spending time with Hanna.”
I shook my head. “Don’t look at me. I’m not asking him. He’d have my head faster than I could blink.”
“Then we need a different solution. Think one of the other guys might be willing to step in for a little bit? Just a couple of weeks, three at most. At least until we’re caught up. I’ve already had to turn a couple of guys away. It’s not good for business.”
I took a big gulp of coffee and flinched as it burned my throat. “Yeah. I’ll see what I can do.” I turned away from her and opened the door to the shop. “Hey, cuz? You’re doing great, you know. You’re a good fit for this job.”
Jamie beamed at me. “Thanks.”
I put my coffee down and joined Ellie at the hood of the Impala. She was currently bent over with her upper half buried in the open space where the engine used to be.
“So,” I said, startling her, “how’s engaged life?”
Ellie scowled as she straightened up, emerging from under the hood like a mechanical goddess of sorts. I would never say so to Axel, but his woman was something else, and watching her around cars was torture for any man.
She tightened her ponytail before answering me. “It’s good. Really good. Neither of us is too keen on wedding planning, though, so that’s been a bit of a roadblock. We don’t really give a shit about how it looks or where it is. We just want a big party, you know?”
“Sure.” I shrugged, pretending I did.
“As long as you guys are all there and Hanna gets to be the flower girl, it will be great. Honestly, we might just do it in our backyard. Low key. Simple.”
“You gonna wear a dress or walk down the aisle in your coveralls?”
Ellie took a swipe at me, and I laughed, backing away from her.
“I’ll be wearing a dress. In fact, I already bought it.”
I lifted both eyebrows. “I’m impressed. I figured you’d leave it to the last second. What’s it look like?”
For some reason, picturing Ellie in a wedding dress was a bit odd. I’d only ever seen her in jeans, tank tops, and coveralls. Occasionally, she would be a bit more dressed up, but that only meant she wore jeans that actually fit and shirts that didn’t have holes or grease stains. Ellie in a white wedding gown would be … different.
“You’ll just have to wait and see.” Ellie lifted her nose, but the corner of her mouth curled upward in a smile. She was excited.
“I’m happy for you.”
All of her fake arrogance slipped away, and she gave me a sidelong look. “Thank you.”
I straightened and cleared my throat. “For the record, though, I’m not happy for Axel. He doesn’t deserve you. You’re too good for him.”
“You should tell him that one time. See how it goes.”
“I’m not suicidal, Ellie. Jesus.” I grunted and shook my head.
She smiled before plunging herself back under the hood of the Impala.
“You know I’m kidding, right?” I called.
“Yeah, yeah. Now, get to work. We have shit to do.”
I polished off my coffee, tossed it across the shop into the garbage can, and sauntered over to a Harley that was in for an exhaust replacement. By the end of the day, I knew I’d have her purring like a dream. I patted the leather seat like the bike was a dog. “You ready for your makeover?”
My phone rang.
Ellie looked over at me and shook her head as I pulled it from my pocket and peered down at the screen. It was Sabian Delgado calling, one of my buddies in the MC. As I put it to my ear, Ellie yelled at me to make it quick. I put my back to her and leaned against the Harley.
“Hey, man, surprised you’re calling this early. Aren’t you usually face down in bed until noon?”
Sabian growled into the receiver of his phone. “If I’m face down in anything, it’s pussy or ass. Don’t waste my time. This is important.”
I chose to let his attitude slide. “All right. What is it, then?”
“Have you seen the news?”
I scoffed. “I don’t watch the fucking news.”
“Some serious shit went down at the mansion, bro. The one Watson was holed up in. What’s it been? A few weeks since Axel trapped his ass and got him locked up? This shit isn’t sitting right.”
I could hear the tension in his voice. Sabian was certainly spooked, and like most of us in the MC, he wasn’t the kind of guy to spook easily. “Define ‘shit went down.’”
“I don’t have all the details yet. I called Ryder, but he’s not answering his fucking phone.”
“Probably because he’s fucking Dani.”
“I don’t think this is the time for jokes,” Sabian grated.
“I’m not making any jokes.”
There was a brief pause on the other end. I liked ruffling feathers. It was what I did best. Finally, Sabian pushed aside my inability to be serious and continued speaking. “The news coverage says the cops pulled seven bodies out of the house this morning around five. They’re not releasing any identities yet, not that I expected them to. But they’re saying it might be a gang hit.”
“A gang hit? The only other gang with enough balls to make a move that big is us, Sabian.”
I tried to process what he was saying. Then I shook my head. “It wasn’t us. No one would go behind Ryder’s back like that. He’d fuck them up. Besides, things have been calm since Watson went down. We have a truce for the first time in ages. I can’t think of any one of us wanting to fuck that up.”
“Me neither,” Sabian admitted, “but it’s probably something we shouldn’t rule out. People have their own intentions, man. We can’t assume to know what’s going on in everyone’s heads.” Sabian was quiet for a minute. I waited for him to continue. My mind was spinning a mile a minute. “The other explanation is that someone else had a bone to pick with the Black Hearts. But that means there’s another player on the board. Wouldn’t Ryder know if someone else had moved in on our turf?”
“I would expect he would, yes.”
“Then I doubt its new blood.”
“Maybe it was internal?” I suggested.
“I don’t like this,” I grumbled. “I don’t like this one fucking bit.”