Autumn had arrived in New York City the same day we put Jason in the ground.
The leaves had begun the slow shift from green to burnt orange, the children were all back in school, and dry heat that had lingered for the last couple of months had been extinguished almost overnight. There was a chill in the air, a sort of cold that made you want to draw inward as if there was something out there worse than the cool breeze against your throat.
Something like a man who wanted you all to join the youngest Moretti in death.
When Jason’s casket was lowered into the earth, I was standing at the end of the coffin. His uncle, Johnny “Ryder” stood at the opposite end, his eyes downcast as he followed the slow descent of his nephew’s black and gold coffin six feet under. Dani had her head resting on his shoulder, and both her hands were wrapped around his upper arm. All of us were dressed in black, and Dani looked like a goddess of death. Her lips were painted dark red, and her dark hair tumbled over her shoulders. She looked up at Ryder and whispered something to him.
I wondered what words were on her lips. Whatever they were, they offered him comfort because he tipped his head to her and she pressed a kiss to his cheek. Then, he closed a hand over hers and rubbed her knuckles gently.
At least he had her to see him through this. And their unborn child.
I knew the baby felt more like a burden right now than a gift to both of them. With Isaac Reed, known as The Devil’s Hand or until recently, The Hand, still roaming around free, neither of them felt like they could truly celebrate their next step in life. None of us could blame them. This was a time when everything could change in a heartbeat. Everything was uncertain, and there was no telling who would all be left standing when this was done.
Three tombstones over was Hyde’s resting place, and that was a somber enough reminder that we were all just flesh and bone.
I shifted when the casket was set, and my shoulder bumped Derek’s. He was at my right side and had his arm wrapped around Evelyn, who’d looked like a deer in the headlights throughout the entire service. She was out of her element among this many bikers, and the fact that we were all there wearing our leathers and gear was probably more than intimidating. Derek had done what he could to reassure her, and I’d pulled her aside to let her know this was a safe space to be, but she’d been unable to shake the shell-shocked expression.
I supposed it would take a month or two before she settled into her new role as the partner of a Lost Breed member.
Words were said for Jason, and then we took turns scattering handfuls of dirt over the coffin. Ryder took the lead, followed by Dani, and then we followed suit, one by one, and as I released my handful, I muttered, “You’re forgiven, kid.” I wasn’t sure where the words had come from or why those were the ones I’d chosen to say, but that’s how they came out.
We got on our bikes when it started raining and rode to Ryder’s. He was in the lead with Dani on the back of his motorcycle. Had it been a long drive back to his place, she probably would have driven herself due to her “condition,” but she’d firmly insisted it was perfectly safe for her to sit on the back of his bike. It was a memorial ride. We never exceeded ten miles per hour.
I was a few bikes behind them and could see how tightly she was clinging to him. Her cheek was pressed to his back, right in the middle of the Lost Breed crest, and every now and then, she would close her eyes.
I doubted there was anyone who loved a man as much as she loved Ryder.
Everyone around me had their women wrapped around them. Axel rode behind Ryder with Ellie on the back of his bike. Jax had Holly. Sabian had Angela. Derek had Evelyn.
And I was solo.
It bothered me that there was no girl clinging to my waist, thighs pressed to mine, hair blowing in the wind behind us. It also bothered me that I was bothered to not have a woman of my own.
The girl I’d been seeing a few weeks ago had left when shit got rough, and I couldn’t blame her for it. This life wasn’t for everyone, and as all us Lost Breeds knew, it was going to get worse before it got better. But it had been nice to have someone to go home to. Someone to share a bed with. Someone to help me forget about all the bullshit and the blood if even just for a couple hours.
The sex had been fun too.
When she’d told me she couldn’t hack it and asked me not to call her again, I’d played it cool and pretended it was as easy for me to walk away from her as it was for her to leave me in her dust. She could probably see right through me, but at the time, I’d been incapable of vulnerability. I feared I might be like that permanently now.
People died in my life. I didn’t want to bring someone into this shit if it was going to fuck their life up.
We pulled into Ryder’s driveway around six o’clock in the evening. The rain hadn’t been heavy enough to soak through all my leathers, but I was definitely damp, so when I got inside his and Dani’s place, I shrugged out of my jacket and hung it to dry over the door to their laundry room. My white T-shirt was dry, and only the thighs of my black jeans were wet and sticking to my skin. A few beers would help me forget the discomfort.
I found the others in the kitchen. Sabian had his head in the fridge when I walked in, and he tossed me a can of beer. I popped the tab and foam leaked out. I sucked it off before taking a greedy mouthful.
Dani and Ryder had their backs to the counter. Dani had a bottle of water and Ryder a beer. Their arms were wrapped around each other’s waists as Ryder looked around at all of us. “Thanks for coming. All of you.”
If you were a Lost Breed, it wasn’t an option to pass on attending a member’s funeral—not that Jason had been a member. Not really. But we all knew Ryder wished he was, and that was enough for us.
Axel opened his beer. “We did right by him.”
“We did,” Ryder agreed with a nod.
Sabian and Angela had taken up seats at the kitchen table. She had her chair pulled up close to him and was leaning forward to rest her elbows on the table. Her nose was pink from the cold, and she’d kept her jacket on. Sabian nodded over at Dani. “Have you found anything else out about Isaac Reed?”
As Dani started to shake her head, Ryder held up his hand. “No work talk. Tonight, we honor my nephew and celebrate his life. Tomorrow, we plan for war.”
Jax lifted his beer. “Cheers to that.”
I followed suit as Derek stepped up beside me. Evelyn was clinging to his side, but they both raised their drinks along with the rest of us and added their voices to the mix. Ellie and Jamie were in the far corner, and they came over too.
It still felt weird to me that Hyde wasn’t there. I doubted I’d ever get used to it.
After the toast, everyone went their separate ways and started mingling as people do after they get a few drinks in their system. All except Evelyn, who followed Derek around the house like a lost puppy dog. When they came back into the kitchen after doing a lap around the living room chatting with Axel and Angela and Jamie, I grabbed another beer for Evelyn from the fridge and pressed it into her hands.
She blinked up at me and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Uh. Thank you.”
“It’ll take the edge off a bit. I know we can be a bit much all at once.”
Her smile was nervous but genuine. She nodded as she cracked open the can and tucked her hair back again, even though it was still in place. “Yeah. It’s a little overwhelming. Derek keeps telling me it’s all in my head, but I can’t help feeling like I’m not wanted here. I don’t fit in. You know?”
I chuckled. “None of us fit in. That’s sort of the idea.”
She arched a skeptical eyebrow at me. “I know you’re only saying that to make me feel better.”
“So what if I am?”
She bit her bottom lip. “Thanks.”
Not long after talking to her, we were interrupted by Dani, who pulled her aside for a chat. I suspected she was checking in on her after everything that had gone down at Derek’s house last week when Jason was murdered right in front of her.
I knew Evelyn had been struggling, and Dani had set her up with a trauma counselor. She was already a lot better than the last time I’d seen her, so it was clear the counseling was working, but there would be a lot she would have to sift through with a professional before she was able to feel normal again. Once that happened, she might find the Lost Breed a more welcoming environment. I liked to think we were all easy to get along with.
Minus Ryder. Sometimes, he could come off like a real asshole.
Somebody nudged my shoulder. I glanced over at Sabian, who had braced himself up against the kitchen doorframe with one shoulder. He nodded over at Dani and Evelyn. “You think Derek’s girl is all right?”
“Just a timid little bird, though, isn’t she?”
I shrugged. “This is all new to her. She came from the complete opposite side of the tracks as most of us. She was in law school, for fuck sakes. And worked as a nanny.”
“A nanny?” Sabian snorted.
“Yeah. She’s used to a much tamer crowd.”
“Kids aren’t tame. They’re hellions that can’t be trusted. Worse than us by a long shot.”
“Don’t tell Ryder that.” I smirked.
Sabian chuckled and looked around for Ryder. He was in a deep discussion with Axel and Ellie at the kitchen table. Jamie was sitting with them and so were Jax and Holly. Jax was watching with a bemused expression.
Sabian shook his head. “Ryder has no clue the shit storm that’s going to rain down on him when that kid pops out. He’ll be wrapped around their little finger faster than he can blink.”
“He’s already like that with Dani.”
Sabian sighed. “I guess we’re all like that with our women. Speaking of which,” he nudged me again with his elbow, “There any special ladies in your life? Anybody your cock is twitching for?”
I polished off the rest of my beer and shook my head. “Not right now.”
“Oh come on. Their ripe for the picking at Kadia. Even just one or two to, you know, fuck around with every now and then? Blow off steam?”
He was right. Kadia was full of beautiful women, and I was surrounded by them four nights a week when I worked my security shift. “Haven’t been in the mood lately.”
“Still bent out of shape over that Hillary chick?”
Hillary was the girl who’d left a couple weeks ago. In fact, she left right before Jason died. “Bent out of shape isn’t exactly how I’d put it.”
Sabian nodded knowingly. “But you miss her.”
“You want another beer?” I asked, waggling my empty beer can. I wanted to change the subject.
Sabian knew what I was doing, but he didn’t question me. He nodded, and I moved around him to go to the fridge. Once I cracked it open, all heads turned to me as if on a swivel, and I found myself grabbing nearly a dozen beers and handing them out to everyone around the house before I was able to sit back with mine and find someone to talk to who wouldn’t ask me about Hillary.
And that someone was Ryder. He knew an off-limits topic a mile away, just like I did. So we talked about everything except my ex, his unborn child, and Jason.