Daniel King looked like shit. We stood in his front hall, deep enough into it that the sunlight streaming through the open front door didn’t touch him. His eyes were bloodshot, skin ashen. Every time anyone moved too fast or spoke too loud, he winced. Jakob said there were no consequences for anyone’s actions last night. Too bad for Daniel that didn’t apply to hangovers.
“Good morning!” I yelled at him, because yes, I was vindictive enough that I liked seeing him flinch.
“What do you want?” he asked, voice rasping like sandpaper.
“We need to talk,” Jakob said. Just then, a young kid in a Kings vest hustled past carrying a box of empty beer bottles. Jakob waited until he was gone before saying anything else. “Somewhere quiet.”
Daniel nodded, looking relieved at this respite from the busy hall. He turned and led us deeper into the house. As we passed the picture of him and Redding, Jakob reached out and snagged it off the wall, so quiet that all I heard was the soft sigh of leather. He shoved it inside his jacket before anyone else could see it, tucking his arm close to hold it there.
I thought Daniel and Eva would have to burn the house to the ground and start somewhere fresh after how trashed it was last night, but the new recruits took their cleaning duties seriously. They’d all been in the military, and if their first few years in service were anything like mine, they knew how to keep their heads down and get a difficult job done with minimal complaining.
Daniel wove between bustling people and showed us up a back staircase. It deposited us into an upstairs hallway that looked as if it had escaped the worst of the party’s perversions.
“In here,” Daniel said, pushing open a door and striding inside. It was a large home office, painted a deep green. It looked like something more suited to an English country manor than a southern Texas ranch home, complete with a heavy wooden desk, bookshelves, and a trio of leather chairs. This must have been Eva’s doing. It didn’t fit Daniel. For starters, it was too nice. He looked more suited to holding court in a dingy clubhouse, with army and biker paraphernalia plastered all over the walls.
Daniel paced over to a vintage drink cart and poured himself a glass of whiskey. He didn’t ask us if we wanted one. If it were anyone else, I’d assume they weren’t trying to be an impolite host but were just too hungover to function. With Daniel, I knew this for the subtle power move it was.
Jakob sat without waiting for an invite, so I took the chair beside him. Daniel folded himself down across from us, whiskey balanced on his knee. He scrubbed a hand over his face, and some of the fog cleared from his expression.
“What’s this about?” he asked.
“Who the fuck is Redding?” Jakob demanded.
I gripped the arms of my chair, muscles bunching, ready to spring free if I had to. Jesus, Jakob. So much for easing into this.
It was a testament to Daniel’s nerves that he didn’t so much as blink in response. “No idea.”
Jakob pulled the picture from inside his jacket and shoved it at Daniel.
The man was a good actor. He frowned as he took it, looking it over for several seconds before the light of recognition dawned on his face. “Oh, this kid.” He set the picture aside. “He’s just some guy I used to serve with.”
He lifted his glass and took another slow sip of whiskey, like nothing was wrong, like this was just any casual conversation. It reminded me of that first night in Jakob’s apartment. But his free hand slipped down the side of his chair, and his eyes gave him away. He must have had a weapon strapped beneath the seat.
I was just about to shout a warning when Jakob spoke.
“Don’t even think about pulling a gun on me,” he said. “I’m not in on anything with my dad.”
Daniel’s hand stopped. A dark smile spread over his handsome face. “I don’t believe you.”
Jakob let out a harsh breath. “I don’t want to lead the club. I’m happy right where I am. I’m not going to tell you that again.”
Daniel leaned forward in his seat, so fast that whiskey sloshed over the side of his glass. “So why are you staying with Liam?” he demanded. “Introducing him to your fake girlfriend?”
I leaned back in my chair, surprised. Damn, he was good. He’d only pretended to fall for our ruse, had gone right along with it, had done everything in his power to splash it around town, and all along, he knew we were lying. Jakob had tried to play him, and he’d played us right back. I wouldn’t underestimate him again.
“I’m staying with him because he forced my hand,” Jakob said. “And there’s nothing fake about Krista and me.”
I nearly choked.
Daniel’s gaze swiveled to me, eyes wild, the injured animal Jakob had warned me about a heartbeat away from snapping. “Are you in on it too?”
The door behind us opened with a click. “Enough,” a soft, feminine voice said.
I turned to see Eva King stroll into the room. She had her dark hair twisted up into a top knot, leaving her striking features on full display. Instead of the business attire I was used to seeing her in, she wore a pair of slouchy sweats and a form-hugging t-shirt. Her cat eyes, a little less bloodshot than her husband’s, took in the three of us at a glance.
She shut the door behind her and came over to stand next to Daniel. “Stop being a paranoid bastard. If Jakob were in on it, he wouldn’t be here asking questions. Tell them.”
Daniel stared up at her, a mulish expression on his face.
Eva narrowed her eyes and poked him in the shoulder. “Tell them, or I will.”
Daniel heaved a sigh and leaned back in his chair. “Redding’s a sociopathic little shit who was in my unit about a decade ago. He assaulted a local Afghani girl during a deployment, and I tried to get him court-martialed. His uncle was a senator or a state rep or some shit, and he pulled some strings and got him off on an honorable discharge. I haven’t seen him since, but he made a parting comment all those years ago promising to get back at me, and here we are.”
“What’s he doing at Magnolia?” Jakob asked.
“What do you think?” Daniel said, looking at Jakob like he was an idiot. “Your dad found him and brought him in to fuck me over.”
At this, Eva sank onto the arm of Daniel’s chair and started rubbing his back. “Liam needs to stop doing this,” she said to Jakob.
Jakob looked between her and Daniel. “You’re sure my father is behind it?”
Daniel nodded. “Mike.”
Jakob pulled his cellphone from his pocket and handed it over to Daniel. I caught a glimpse of the screen. Plastered across it was the picture of Redding and Mike.
Daniel just snorted, pulled out his own phone, and handed it to Jakob. I leaned over and watched Jakob thumb through a handful of photos of Redding and Mike that looked like they were taken over the course of several weeks. Jakob was right; Daniel knew about this longer than he did.
“I still think this is too messy for Dad,” Jakob said, handing it back.
“The doctor tip you off?” Eva asked.
I frowned. “You mean Dr. Perez?”
She nodded. “Ordering a hit on an innocent woman isn’t Liam’s style.”
“I think Redding got away from him,” Daniel said. “He’s an entitled little prick with a vendetta against me, and he has no discipline. There’s no way your father could keep him in line for long.”
I closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath. What a fucking mess.
“I need to go talk to Dad,” Jakob said.
Eva crossed her arms. “You need to tell him to stop meddling. This isn’t good for the club, this isn’t good for Kearny, and it really isn’t good for my family.”
Jakob shook his head. “He’ll never stop meddling. It’s what Dad does. He has it in his head that I need to lead a club, and he’s going to keep trying to make it happen.” He looked at Daniel. “It helps that you’re an asshole, and he doesn’t like you.”
Subtlety, thy name is Jakob.
I tensed against Daniel’s reaction, but he just grinned. It wasn’t a nice look.
“Convince him to lay off,” Eva said.
“No one can convince that man to do anything he doesn’t want to,” Jakob told her.
I leaned forward. “Not even after this? After shit went sideways on him, and he jeopardized the very person he was trying to help?”
Daniel let out a low laugh. “Not even then.”
Eva looked down at him. “What if Jakob leaves town? Heads up to Hill Country and transitions over to The Specters?”
Daniel shook his head. “Even then, Liam might try to oust me out of spite.”
Wow, Liam really didn’t like Daniel. It made me wonder how far back the grudge between them went and how much shit he had put Jakob through to make Liam hate him this much.
Eva stood. “Then I’m done.”
Daniel stared up at her. “What?”
“I’m done,” she said. “In case you forgot, we have three daughters. I’m tired of sending them away every time you want to trash our house. I’m tired of worrying about when they’ll get caught in Liam’s crossfire.” She turned and headed for the door. “I’ll be at my parents with them if you need me.”
“For how long?” he asked.
She whipped around, hand on the door handle, fire in her eyes. “For as long as it takes you to fix this shit.” And with that, she was gone.
Daniel turned back to us, looking murderous. He sat forward in his seat and stabbed the air between him and Jakob with an index finger. “You need to fix this,” he said. “It’s your father destabilizing this town and bringing drugs into Kearny. All because of his spoiled prick of a son.”
“I’ll fix it,” Jakob said.
“How?” Daniel demanded.
Jakob eyed him. “You’re not going to like it.”
“I don’t like anything involving you lately, so just spit it out.”
“The Specters have been eyeing a club in Georgia that they want to patch in,” Jakob said. “If I talk to my dad, I might be able to convince him to let you patch them in as a subchapter of The Kings instead.”
Daniel frowned, a speculative look in his dark eyes. “My first subchapter?”
“Yes,” Jakob said.
I glanced over at him, appreciating his mind for the second time in less than an hour. This was a good play. Daniel was greedy and power-hungry, and only a move like this might tempt him.
“So, I’d go to Georgia for a while,” Daniel said.
Jakob nodded. “You could take Eva and the girls, get out of town, away from Dad’s influence while I find some way to get him to back off permanently.”
Daniel’s gaze sharpened. “I want a truce between Liam and me in writing, with his signature and witnesses so he can’t turn around and stab me in the back as soon as I leave Kearny.”
“I’ll get it done,” Jakob said.
“That still leaves Redding.”
“Leave Redding to me,” Jakob said. “It’s my dad’s fuck up. He and I will find some way to fix it.”
Daniel just stared at him. “You get one shot at this. If you can’t get it done, you’re out.” He leaned back in his seat, dark eyes blazing. “I don’t give a fuck who you are. Your membership is becoming a problem. I built this club from the ground up. These people are more loyal to me than your father. I’m not letting it go without a fight. If Liam doesn’t back the fuck off, he’s going to have a full-blown mutiny on his hands, and I know we’re not the only club that’s had it with his micro-managing and power plays.”
“I need you to explain to me, in detail, why you put up with that asshole,” I said when we were back in the car.
I finished buckling myself in and turned toward Jakob. His hands were on the steering wheel, knuckles white, leather creaking beneath his grip. The muscles of his arms popped. His eyes were shut, jaw clenched as he breathed through his nose. He looked like a man on the brink of committing murder, and the only thing keeping him in the car with me was his death-grip on the wheel.
I reached out and grabbed his shoulder. It felt like iron beneath my palm. “You’re okay,” I said, trying to think of some way to talk him back from the edge. “You did so well in there. Stayed calm and rational even when he was a dick. That was good thinking with the subchapter in Georgia. I think Eva will like it too, and she’ll help convince Daniel that it’s a good move, especially considering their daughters will be safer there until things blow over with your dad.”
He turned his head just enough to glance at me, and I went still in my seat. Somehow in the past few days, I’d forgotten how dangerous this man was. It was hard to focus on his ugly reputation for violence when he kept kissing me breathless. The look in his eyes made me want to sink down and try to make myself into as small a target as possible, and I wasn’t even the focus of his rage. God help Daniel if he ever pushed Jakob too far.
Instead of shrinking away, I leaned forward and pressed my forehead to his. “Hey,” I said. “You did it. You found out who Redding is and thought up a way to keep Daniel and your dad from going to war with each other. I’m really proud of you.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and some of the tension beneath my palm began to ease away.
“Seriously, Jakob,” I went on. “I don’t know how you did it. I would have gone off on Daniel within the first minute we were there. You have every right to be pissed. I hate the way he speaks to you.”
Jakob cracked his eyes open again. The ice in them had melted enough that I didn’t feel like he was about to freeze me in my seat.
“Wanna go back in there and defend my honor?” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Har, har.”
His lips twitched. “Maybe read him the riot act over his mistreatment of me?”
“Stop,” I said, but I was relieved that he was cracking jokes.
His eyes creased at the corners. “You sure you don’t want to go beat him up? He’s pretty hungover. You might only have to yell “hello” at him again before he caves.”
I grinned. “You caught that pettiness, huh?”
He nodded. “I’ve never seen you so perky before.” He let go of the steering wheel with one hand, leaving a perfectly preserved set of indents on it.
Those deadly fingers slid into my hair, surprisingly gentle as they curled around the back of my neck. His gaze dropped to my mouth. “You got a sadistic side I don’t know about?”
I leaned into his touch, wanting to keep him distracted, happy that lust was an easy way to change his mood. “I must because I keep having this fantasy about tying you up.”
His eyes warmed as they met mine. “Come away with me after we fix this, and I’ll let you tie me to anything you want.”
Just like that, my apprehension disappeared. Desire coursed through my body. My god, the options. A chair. The bed. Hell, maybe we could rent an older place, and there’d be exposed beams that I could string him to, arms strained overhead, unable to do anything but thrust as I dropped to my knees in front of him and –
“You got that look in your eye that makes me want to fuck you in public,” Jakob said.
“I’m imagining all the things I could tie you to,” I told him.
The wicked grin that spread over his face in response did things to me. “So you’ll come away with me?”
I nodded. After all of this stress, we both needed a break, and, God help me, I wanted to escape for more than a weekend of wild sex. I wanted to spend time with this man, get to know him away from the club, find out who Jakob really was.
He leaned forward and pressed his mouth to mine in a toe-curling kiss. “Then let’s get this shit over with so we can get out of here,” he said when he pulled away.
The engine turned over with a throaty growl, and Jakob stepped on the gas, tearing out of the Kings’ driveway. I breathed a sigh of relief as we turned onto the main road, feeling like we’d all just dodged a bullet. Maybe literally.
“He’s not wrong,” Jakob said.
“Who, Daniel?” I asked.
He nodded, shifting through gears as we picked up speed. “My father is overreaching. Working through Redding did destabilize Kearny. Our hard rule is no drugs, and he broke that rule just to make Daniel look weak. I’d be fucking pissed too if I were him.”
“Yeah, but does Daniel have to be such a monumental dick about it?” I asked, throwing my handbag into the backseat with a little more force than necessary.
Jakob chuckled and shot me a look. “You sure you don’t want me to turn this car around?”
“No,” I said, an image of Jakob pummeling Daniel with his fists flashing in front of my eyes. “Too many witnesses.”
“How much worse is the conversation with your dad going to be?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “Depends on what your definition of worse is.”
“Should I be worried?”
He nodded. “With my dad, you should always be worried.”
I settled back into my seat, drumming my fingers over my thigh. Anxiety crept into my mind, mixed with a healthy dose of fear. Even if the conversation with Liam went better than the one we just had with Daniel, and even if he agreed with Jakob’s terms of ceasefire between him and Daniel, there was still Redding and The Jokers to contend with. I’d been in Kearny long enough to witness how The Kings doled out retribution. Weakness was anathema to motorcycle clubs. The Jokers had made their hold on Kearny look weak. There’d be hell to pay for this. And with The Jokers presence at Magnolia Hills, so close to Kearny, I worried the violence would spill over into our town.
The men would want to make a show of power. They’d want to declare their dominance. Maybe beat on their chests and roar over the corpses of their enemies for good measure. But what if there was another way? One that didn’t involve violence. One where no one but Redding got hurt.
A plan was forming in the back of my mind, but if I went through with it, I might lose Jakob before I ever really had him.
Copyright © 2021 by Navessa Allen
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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.