I had no idea how Daniel and Eva King did it. If I lived in a house as nice as theirs, I would never allow five, let alone fifty drunken bikers inside it. The noise was deafening. People yelled to make themselves heard over the music. Between their shouting, the random bursts of raucous laughter, and some idiot gunning a bike engine outside, I was half a second away from plugging my ears.
Jakob led me through the first floor like a man on a mission. He’d threaded our fingers together the second we stepped inside, and now he all but dragged me behind him, barely raising his chin in acknowledgment of the greetings thrown his way. Maybe taunting him was a bad idea. Despite the fact that we’d been forced together almost 24/7 the past few days, I still didn’t know all that much about him. Sure, once or twice he’d dropped his guard and acted borderline playful, but now I couldn’t tell if cock teasing him had crossed some sort of line. To me, it was foreplay, but with the muscle popping out along his jaw, Jakob looked more pissed off than turned on.
We followed a hallway through the center of the home and emerged into a living room. To my left, a big man gesticulated as he talked, beer in hand. Foam splashed out of the can he held and rained down on the hardwood floor. He either didn’t notice or didn’t care. The woman he spoke to glanced at the mess he made, but she didn’t look like she was in a hurry to clean up after his drunk ass.
We moved past them into the kitchen. I had to tug my feet up every few steps to unstick the soles of my shoes from the tile floor, evidence of still more spilled drinks, and God knew what else. A big trashcan overflowed in the corner. Cigarette and pot smoke mingled in the air, creating a haze of smog overhead. It was like I was back in high school, and someone had thrown a rager while their parents were out of town. This felt more like a party for teenagers, who had zero respect for anyone else’s things, than for grown-ass adults.
I glanced at Jakob’s back. I was a pretty tidy person, and the sight of beer cans lining every available surface was making me twitchy. What was it doing to a clean freak like him?
I tugged on his hand.
He paused and turned to me, a brow raised in question.
I nodded toward the overflowing sink. “Want me to find you a pair of gloves and a scrub brush?”
From the flat look he gave me, he understood the joke and did not think I was funny.
I grinned up at him.
He shook his head and kept walking, hauling me forward. Straight ahead, a set of French doors opened onto a large porch. I took a deep breath of fresh air as we stepped outside. Tiki torches lined the railings around us, their citronella-scented oil keeping the worst of the bugs at bay. People crowded the deck, drinking and eating. To our left, a big man in an apron flipped burgers on an open grill. A young biker dashed past him and puked over the railing, her friends laughing at her.
I looked away, slightly queasy, and took in the scene spread out around us. The backyard was huge, with what looked like a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of landscaping. On the far side, a towering retaining wall held a small hill at bay. An Olympic-sized swimming pool was sunk into the center of the yard, complete with diving boards, water slides, and a small army of deck chairs. Spread around the pool were seating areas, pergolas, picnic tables, a waterfall leading to what looked like a manmade river, two fire pits, and still more drunken bikers.
The word Lupercalia came to mind as I stared out at the crowd. It was an ancient Roman festival that revolved around sex and slaughter. The Kings looked like they were doing all they could to bring it back into practice. The swimming pool was packed with people in various states of undress. A fully nude white man of average height and build stood on the edge of it, hands raised overhead as he yelled. His fully erect dick was huge. Like, porn star big. Someone threw a beer can at him from the pool, and he leaped forward, trying to cannonball onto their head. In an adjacent hot tub, a man and a woman were going at it like jackrabbits, careless of the people they shared it with or those who stood nearby, watching them with rapt gazes. I looked away from the couple when two women rose from a picnic table in the back and started beating the hell out of each other. Several other bikers streamed forward, I thought to break it up, but instead, they joined in, and a small brawl erupted in their corner of the yard.
I was way too sober for this shit.
Jakob turned to me. “Like a rowdy night at the bar, huh?”
I sent him the same flat look he’d given me in the kitchen and tried to pull my hand from his. There was a cooler full of beer nearby with my name on it.
He tightened his fingers on mine and tugged me close. “You’re not going anywhere. This isn’t like a shift at Charley’s. The rules don’t apply here.”
I glanced past him. The woman in the hot tub started screaming as she came. “I can see that.”
Jakob gripped my chin and turned me back to him. “We do this every couple of months to blow off steam. People drink until they black out. They fuck who they want, and they fight who they want, and afterward, there are no hard feelings. There aren’t any consequences here, do you understand?”
He let me go, and I nodded up at him, trying not to let the mood of the crowd infect me. It was hard being the extrovert that I was. This was the kind of energy I fed off at the bar, only to a much greater degree. A heady rush of adrenaline sluiced through my veins, waking me up. Between what just happened in the car and then watching the couple in the hot tub, I was turned on. The sounds of a nearby brawl put me on edge as I waited for the violence to boil over into the rest of the crowd. It was a strange collision of emotions, and it made me feel reckless and wild.
I looked away from Jakob, back into the yard. God help me, I understood why they did this. Despite some small part of my psyche screaming at me to get out of here, a much larger part of me wanted to stay for a while. What would I do if, for a single night, I stopped giving a fuck? If I did whatever the hell I wanted without having to worry about consequences?
My clothes suddenly felt too tight. The night air was electric on my skin. I wanted to throw back my head and howl, strip naked and join that couple in the hot tub, push Jakob over the edge and see what he would do if he ever really let himself go. I had a feeling it would either lead to the best night of my life or scar me forever. Maybe both.
I felt the intensity of his gaze as I stared out into the revelry, and I slowly brought my eyes back to his. His pupils widened as he took in my face, like a predator sighting prey.
“Jakob,” I breathed.
He tore his gaze from mine. “Fuck,” he spat out. Someone called his name from the crowd. He ignored them and turned back to me. “We’re not here to party. You’re not ready for that yet.”
“Don’t tell me what I’m ready for,” I said.
He scowled. “Fine. I’m not ready for that.”
“You won’t scare me off.”
His answering laugh was mirthless. “Don’t tell me what I won’t do.”
Okay, I deserved that.
“Jakob!” someone roared.
We both turned. Shit, it was Daniel King. He’d risen from his chair by one of the fire pits and was gesturing us over.
Jakob lifted a hand in answer and then stepped close to me, his blue eyes flashing in the torchlight. “We get this over with and get out of here.”
I took a deep breath and nodded, reeling my recklessness back in.
We descended from the porch into the fray and wound our way toward the small crowd gathered around their king. Daniel slapped the guy sitting next to him on the back of the head and gestured for him to get up. The man rubbed at his noggin, grumbling under his breath as he wandered off.
“Stay close,” Jakob said. He veered away from me and took the vacated seat.
I turned from him and headed toward a bench full of women on the other side of the fire. “Mind if I sit?” I asked.
The woman closest to me was a biker in her early twenties. I’d served her once or twice at the bar but couldn’t put a name to her face. She was pretty, with olive skin, auburn curls, and a deceptively innocent face. If not for the leather vest she wore with The Kings’ emblem on it, you might think she was a beloved kindergarten teacher instead of a gang member.
“Sure,” she said, scooting over a little.
The woman beside her turned toward me as I sat. I stared back at her. I couldn’t help it; she was stunning, with skin so pale it shone like burnished alabaster in the firelight. Her thick blonde hair fanned out a little in the breeze. Blue eyes latched onto mine, slightly bloodshot around the edges, and she swayed even while sitting down. If we were at the bar, now would be about the time I thought about cutting her off.
“You fucking Jakob?” she slurred.
Whoo boy. This should be fun.
“Who said that?” I asked.
She glanced around us and then looked back at me like I was an idiot. “Everyone.”
“Okay,” I said. I’d learned over the last three months that it was best to remain as neutral as possible when confronted with a drunk person.
Her eyes narrowed. “So you are?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
She leaned in front of the woman between us. “I used to fuck him.”
The woman tried to push her back. “Don’t be a bitch, Amanda.”
Amanda glared at her. “Don’t tell me what to do, Emily.”
Emily turned to me. “Ignore her. She had a bad day.”
I glanced between the two of them. “It happens.”
Amanda leaned forward again, turning to look across the fire at where Jakob and Daniel were deep in conversation. “He couldn’t keep his hands off of me when we were together. If I were still with him, he would have dragged me down onto his lap, not sent me to sit somewhere else.”
“Okay,” I said again, because what the hell else was I going to say to that? She obviously wanted to argue with someone, and another lesson I’d learned while working at Charley’s was that there was no winning arguments with drunk people.
She grinned. It wasn’t a friendly look. “He must not like you very much.”
I sighed. “Why don’t we cut through the bullshit, and you just tell me what you’re hoping to get out of this conversation?”
She reached out and shoved my shoulder.
“Oh, you want to fight?” I asked. “I’ve seen you in the bar before. I’m six inches taller than you and outweigh you by about thirty pounds of muscle. I’m also stone-cold sober, and you’re not. It won’t end well for you.”
She tried to shove me again, but Emily grabbed her. “Stop it, Amanda. You’re drunk.” She turned to me. “I’m really sorry. She’s not usually like this.”
“It’s fine,” I told her. I looked at Amanda. “Did Jakob get you off?”
She blinked. “What?”
“When you were with him, did Jakob get you off?”
She sat back. “How is that any of your business?”
I shrugged. “It’s not, but humor me.”
“Yes, he got me off.” Her smile was cutting. “Sometimes two or three times when we fucked.”
I perked up at that. “Well, that gives me something to look forward to.”
She frowned. Clearly, this wasn’t the response she’d anticipated.
“Look,” I said. “How about instead of getting into an argument that leaves both of us looking petty and jealous, we congratulate ourselves for choosing to sleep with a man who knows where a clit is?”
She narrowed her eyes at me, but she didn’t look like she was glaring; she looked like she was trying to process my words. I didn’t envy her. Thinking around a heavy buzz wasn’t easy. I’d done some stupid shit myself and acted out of character when I was drunk, and I was willing to cut her a lot of slack because of that.
“Come on,” Emily said to her. “Krista’s never been anything but nice to you. And you don’t even like Jakob anymore.”
Amanda glanced up at her friend.
Emily rubbed her back. “It’s okay.”
Amanda looked about ready to cry. “Fuck. You’re right.” She turned back to me. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Why did you have a bad day?”
She glanced to her left, at a group of men gathered around a picnic table. “My boyfriend doesn’t know where a clit is.”
Once the tension between Amanda and me broke, I got along with the two women pretty well. We sat and talked for a solid hour. Emily was a King, which meant she was a veteran. She was army, like Jakob, and as deep night set in, and the party seethed around us, we sat in a little bubble by the fire and traded war stories.
Amanda switched to water after our little argument and was starting to sober up. She told me she was born and raised in Kearny. Her parents owned the bakery in town, went to church every Sunday, and were deeply involved with Kearny’s various boards and clubs, which meant that she had all the best gossip. Her boyfriend did actually know where a clit was, but she’d been so upset earlier because he’d been an asshole to her lately, to the point that she was planning to break up with him.
“What about you?” I asked Emily. “You seeing anyone here?”
In answer, she held up her left hand, displaying a wedding ring. “He works on an oil rig off of Corpus Christi.”
“How are his shifts?” I asked. I’d met a few rig workers since moving closer to the coast, and the hours could be brutal from what I’d heard.
“He’s gone for two weeks at a time,” she said. “When he’s out there, he works seven days a week, twelve hours a day. But then he comes home for two weeks and has that whole time off, so it’s not that bad.”
Amanda glanced from Emily to me. “Don’t let her fool you. She worries the whole time he’s gone.”
Emily shrugged. “The fact that any mistake could lead to a massive explosion and a horrific oil leak might have something to do with that.”
“Has he thought about leaving?” I asked.
She nodded. “We talk about it every time he’s home, but no one else nearby pays the same or has the benefits that they do.”
Amanda set her water cup down by her feet. “They’re building that car plant a few towns over. That’s supposed to bring something like ten thousand jobs to the area.”
Emily shook her head. “We looked into it. Entry-level pay for a machinist is only half his current salary.”
I sat back. “Damn.”
Across from us, Daniel King roared with laughter, so loud that it drowned out Amanda’s next words. She shot him an annoyed look, and I followed her gaze. More and more bikers had congregated around him while I spoke with Amanda and Emily, and now he held court on his side of the fire. Jakob still occupied the seat beside him. I’d expected him to get bitched out again, but instead, Daniel, looking like a full sociopath, had been grinning every time I glanced their way.
Jakob was leaned away from Daniel now, talking to another Kings enforcer, who sat on his other side. Firelight played over the hard planes of his face, sharpening his features. Behind him, the bacchanalia raged on, members of the club drinking, eating, fighting, and fucking as if they were trying to resurrect a long-dead god of depravity.
The other enforcer said something to Jakob, and Jakob nodded in answer and took a sip of his beer. I’d had two beers myself while sitting here, but instead of feeling a buzz, the alcohol only served to deepen my exhaustion. I wanted to leave. The wooden bench beneath me was unforgiving, and my leg was starting to throb.
As if he could feel my eyes on him, Jakob glanced at me across the fire. He’d done it a lot since we’d sat down, sometimes watching me for long moments as he talked, sometimes just a quick flick of his eyes, as if he were checking that I was still here.
Our gazes locked.
“You ready?” he mouthed.
He set his beer down and stood.
I turned to the women beside me. “We’re gonna head out.”
Amanda glanced over at Jakob. “Don’t settle for anything less than two orgasms.”
I grinned. “I won’t.”
She’d made me laugh a few times while we talked. She had a dry kind of wit and a healthy amount of self-deprecation that made me glad we’d avoided an altercation.
I pushed up from the bench and paused for a second, breathing around my pain. Fuck, that hurt.
Emily stood and grabbed my elbow, steadying me. “You okay?”
I nodded. “Just a bum leg. I’ll be fine in a second.”
Actually, I didn’t know if I would be. A deep, throbbing ache had settled into my hip. My knee wasn’t happy either. Between my fight in the elevator and my sprint down the nursing home hallway, I’d pushed myself too hard today. Sitting on a rock-hard bench had only made it worse.
Jakob took one look at my face and came over. “I got her,” he said to Emily.
She nodded and sat back down.
Jakob moved closer, sliding an arm around my back like he was getting ready to scoop me up.
I put my hand on his chest, stopping him. The wall of pectoral muscle beneath my palm felt intractable. “You carry me out of here right now, and I will never live it down. I can walk.”
His expression flattened out. “You fall over, and they’ll never let you live it down either.”
“I’ll say I was drunk.”
He shook his head. “You’re so fucking stubborn.”
“You’re so fucking bossy,” I snapped.
Emily made a strange noise beside us. It sounded like she was choking back a laugh.
Jakob ignored her, looming over me, mouth set in a hard line. “If you start to fall, I’m throwing you over my shoulder. I’d rather deal with you being pissy than being hurt.”
“So chivalrous,” Amanda said in a dreamy voice.
Jakob shot her an unamused look.
I snickered and started to hobble away, glad that she’d broken the tension. Funny that I could keep a cool head when faced with a belligerent drunk, but the second Jakob started to order me around, the brakes on my temper malfunctioned. I hadn’t been lying to Gran when I said we might end up killing each other.
Amanda winked at me as I passed.
“First round is on me next time you come in,” I told the two women.
“We’ll hold you to that,” Amanda said.
I don’t know if it was my pain or if the party’s energy had changed, but as we left, I no longer felt the temptation to join the debauchery. Even the sight of two people fucking against a wall, half-hidden by the shadow of the porch, didn’t turn me on. I just wanted to get back to Jakob’s parents’ house and sleep for the next twelve hours straight. Thank God I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
Since we’d arrived, the house had gone from dirty to trashed, and despite myself, I felt bad for Daniel and Eva. Who was going to clean all this shit up in the morning? Would Daniel pull rank and order the new recruits to do it? If so, I didn’t envy them the job.
I glanced into the dining room as we walked past and instantly regretted it. Someone had thrown up in there. Like, projectile vomited ala The Exorcist. It was all over one of the walls and ground into the carpet like people had stepped in it. I shuddered and kept my eyes trained straight ahead from that point on. My leg screamed at me, and I walked with slow, halting steps. Only the thought of the pain killers stashed away in my bag in the backseat of the car kept me from throwing in the towel and letting Jakob carry me out of there.
I breathed a sigh of relief as we rounded the corner of a hallway and the front door came into view. A collage of pictures lined the wall to my right, Eva and Daniel King’s lives spread out before us. There were photos of a teenage Eva in a gorgeous, floor-length Quinceañera dress, surrounded by what must have been her family. She looked young, beautiful, and blissfully happy. Nearby was one of her and Daniel at their wedding, the two of them grinning ear-to-ear as they shared a slow dance.
My gaze slid to the next frame over, and I came to a staggering halt.
Jakob stopped behind me, his hand slipping around my waist, bracing me up. “You okay?”
Two bikers leaned against the wall near the front door. They glanced over when they heard him. I needed to be careful. I didn’t know them, and I sure as shit didn’t know where their loyalties lay.
In answer, I turned in Jakob’s grip, putting my back to the men. I stood on my toes and kissed him. I’d meant it to be quick, but then his lips opened beneath mine, and he did something with his tongue that short-circuited my brain.
Eventually, I made myself pull back.
Jakob’s brows drew together, shading his eyes. “I thought I was a bossy asshole,” he said, voice low.
“You are,” I told him. I wasn’t one for public displays of affection, but I needed to sell this right now. My hands landed on his upper chest, and I dug my fingers into his leather jacket and pulled him down, kissing my way up his neck so I could whisper into his ear, “Look at the picture next to us. The one to the left of Daniel and Eva’s wedding photo.”
He slid his hands around to cup my ass and turned his head a little, just enough for me to nip at his earlobe. I knew the second he saw the picture I meant. He stiffened, fingers digging into me before he forced them to relax. Then he turned back to me and ghosted his lips over mine. To anyone watching, we must have looked like we were making out, but our mouths barely touched.
“We need to get the fuck out of here,” he whispered.
I nodded and pulled away, glancing at the picture one last time before we walked out the front door. It was a photograph from Daniel’s time in the service. He stood with a group of other soldiers, their arms around each other’s shoulders. They wore the light camo of the army’s desert uniform, and behind them, sand dunes rolled away toward the horizon. The men and women filling the frame looked haggard but happy, like they’d just won a hard-fought battle. Daniel had his arm around a baby-faced soldier who couldn’t have been a day over eighteen. Add ten years to him, pack forty pounds of muscle onto his wiry frame, and fill out his face a little, and he’d be a dead-ringer for the Magnolia Hills manager I saw at the police station. The nametag on his chest said Redding. Jakob must have seen this picture a hundred times while passing through Daniel’s hallway. That’s why the man looked familiar.
We walked to the mustang in silence. The night was hot, but a chill slipped down my spine that made me want to shiver. Jakob unlocked the car when we reached it, and I climbed in and dug my phone out from where I’d stashed it in the glove box.
“What are you doing?” Jakob asked.
I held up a finger and dialed the nursing home.
“Hello, you’ve reached Magnolia Hills,” the night receptionist said. “How many I assist you?”
“I’m trying to get ahold of Mr. Redding,” I told her. “What time will he be in tomorrow?”
“He should be in around eight.”
“Thank you so much,” I said and hung up.
I turned to Jakob. His face was carefully blank.
“Just so it’s out in the open,” I said. “The leader of your motorcycle club served in the same unit as the man heading a rival gang’s drug operation. A drug operation that’s encroaching on King territory, destabilizing your hold on Kearny, and has the potential to drag you into open conflict with each other.”
Jakob shoved the keys in the ignition and turned the car on. The engine roared to life. “It could mean nothing,” he said.
I frowned. “You don’t really believe that.”
He glanced over at me and shook his head. “No. I don’t.”
Copyright © 2020 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.