“Sit on the f**kin’ bed, Em,” he growled, and I realized he might be quiet right now, but he was anything but peaceful. I sat. Hunter came and crouched down in front of me, hands resting on my knees, face-to-face. I didn’t want him touching me, and it took everything I had not to kick him in the face. I’d already learned, though. No point in attacking unless I had somewhere to go with it.
“I want some information from you,” he said. “I’ve got a meet with your dad in an hour. I need him to tell me the truth about Toke, and I need to make him listen about the truce between the clubs. What can you tell me to make that happen?”
“Are you f**king kidding me?” I asked, raising my brows. “You already used me to screw my club. Fool me once, ass**le. I have nothing to say. Nada.”
“Babe, I know you believe Toke is out of control,” he said, his eyes earnest, boring into mine. I squirmed, uncomfortable with his intensity. “And I think there’s a pretty good chance your dad is telling the truth when he says that’s the story. But here’s the thing . . . Right now, only a few guys in my club know what’s happening. We can keep a lid on it for one more day at most. Once the rest find out, we’re looking at a war and nothing can prevent it.”
“Later, sweetheart. Now try to keep your mind on business for me like a good girl.”
“Jesus, you’re a perv!”
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” he replied, grinning. Then his smile faded. “I’m gonna fill you in a little on some shit we don’t talk about, okay? That’s how f**kin’ serious this is. There’s two groups in my club. One side—which includes me, Skid, and our brothers in Portland—wants peace with the Reapers. We aren’t too happy with the way things have been these past few years. I hate to admit it, but a lot of the Devil’s Jacks have lost their way. More interested in money and territory than living free and brotherhood. Our national president is weak, babe. The Jacks have been running loose, and it’s time for someone new to take over, clean house. Up until last night, we just about had things lined up to control the next election. Toke f**ked that up for us.”
I listened, stunned. What was this, some kind of trick?
“I’m telling you this because it’s our last chance, babe,” he said quietly, obviously reading my thoughts. “This gets out, Burke—that’s our guy—loses his shot at the presidency. We bet everything on the truce with the Reapers, on a complete change of direction for the club. There are others who want war, and Toke will give it to them. Mason, our old president, held on as long as he could, trying to give us the time we needed to pull it off. He can’t hold on any longer—cancer. Hasn’t been able to ride for nearly a month. We don’t put this problem to rest—today—it’s all over. That means war between the clubs, babe. The cartel will move up from California and we won’t be able to stop them. They’ll destroy the Jacks and then they’ll come after the Reapers.”
Wow. This was way bigger than I’d ever imagined, and I wished to hell I knew what to do with it.
“Call my dad and tell him,” I whispered, searching his face. “Maybe he can work with you. I don’t have anything for you, Hunter. And if I did, I still wouldn’t talk. It’s not my call to make.”
“Not gonna happen,” he replied, shaking his head. “Not unless you tell me what side he’s on. Is he for peace with the Jacks? What’s his agenda?”
“I have no idea,” I replied, thankful for once that it was the truth. I couldn’t betray my club if I didn’t know anything. “Dad doesn’t share club business with me.”
My words hung heavy between us—Hunter had just shared far too much club business with me. He’d trusted me. Why? Because dead girls can’t tell stories?
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked quietly, subdued.
He reached up and cradled my face with his big hand, wiping a thumb across my cheek. Shit, was I crying? Goddammit.
“No, sweetheart,” he replied, his expression impossible to read. “By the time you’re loose, it’ll be over. Worth the risk, if you can give me any information to make this go smoother. I want a way out, babe.”
He sounded so sincere. Shit. Why did I keep falling for this? Remember how he used you and took pictures of you naked? This man is evil!
“Why did you start talking to me?” I asked, unable to resist. Hell, why not pick at the scab? See if I couldn’t make myself hurt just a little more, because I’m masochistic that way . . . “Why the whole fake romance thing? I understand keeping tabs, but I don’t see the advantage in getting tangled up with me.”
He smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile.
“We wanted peace,” he said. “Seriously, that’s still what we want. We can handle the cartel on our southern border if we’re not fighting with the Reapers up north. If my faction pulls it off, we’ll have the votes we need to take the national presidency. That means we can turn the club back in the direction it needs to go.”
“But what does that have to do with me?”
“We wanted you to seal the truce,” he said, sighing. “Nothing horrible. If you fell for me and I was your old man, that’d be motivation for your dad to push peace between the clubs. He might not be a national officer, but he’s a major power broker.”
I studied his face, confused.
“Your big plan was I’d become your old lady?” I asked. “How was this supposed to play out long term? What was the exit strategy, or were you just planning to dump me once the cartel was beat back?”
“No,” he said. “I planned on you being my old lady.”
I shook my head, starting to get pissed off again.
“You said there was nothing real between us,” I snapped. “You made it pretty damned clear, actually. You were just playing me the whole time.”
“No, I said I wanted to f**k you,” he replied. “I hate to crap on all your fairy-tale fantasies, but you don’t have to love a woman to make her your property. Hell, I already told you I don’t believe in love. But you know what club life is like, you’ve got good connections. We’d have done okay—more than most couples have going for them. I was lookin’ forward to it, to be honest. The fact that you’re smart and I like talkin’ to you didn’t exactly hurt, either.”
“And were you ever planning to fill me in on this? Or just romance me and use me?”
He didn’t answer.
“I need a minute,” I said, overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to think. Clearly, Hunter was an even bigger ass**le than I’d imagined, which was impressive, considering his track record. I felt him stand up, and then the bed sank next to me and his arm came around my shoulder. I threw it off as water filled my eyes. Shit. I hate crying and the last thing I needed was to show him how much power he had to hurt me.
Unfortunately, my nose betrayed me and I sniffed.
“Fuck,” he muttered, and then he grabbed me, pulling me up and onto his lap as he leaned back against the headboard. His arms came around me and he pressed my head to his chest. I burst into tears. It felt good. Cathartic. Everything had fallen to shit and yet, for reasons I couldn’t quite fathom, having him hold me felt good.
Eventually the crying storm died down, and I forced myself to pull it together. So I had a moment of weakness. It happens. Didn’t mean I was going to give him any information about my dad or my club. No matter how nice it felt to have his hand rubbing my back softly.
Finally I spoke.
“So you’re seriously telling me you were prepared to be my old man indefinitely, all to get my dad behind this truce?”
I sat up and turned toward him.
“Could you be more confusing?”
“I was prepared to take you as my old lady so I could f**k you whenever I wanted, keep you around, maybe make something together. I also needed to get your dad behind this truce. Multipurpose plan.”
“Are you crazy?”
He shrugged, eyes impossible to read.
“Burke wanted leverage and I wanted you. Have ever since I first saw you. We made a deal and that was the end of it, at least until Toke lost his shit. Now it’s all falling apart, which is why I’m heading out to meet your dad in ten minutes. I’m not just trying to save Clutch, I’m trying to save all our asses. I wish to f**k you’d give me something to work with.”
I shook my head.
“I don’t know anything, Hunter,” I said carefully. “But you got one thing right—I know what club life is like. And that’s why I’d never tell you shit, even if I knew anything.”
He smiled at me. Actually smiled, proving my theory that he was batshit insane.
“Fuck, I knew you’d make a good old lady. A woman who knows how to keep her mouth shut.”
He leaned forward and brushed his lips against mine, because he hadn’t f**ked with my head enough already. I tried ignoring him, but he nibbled just right and this wasn’t like our other kisses—it wasn’t desperate and wild and fueled by adrenaline. Nope, this was just sweet and beautiful and perfect. Here was the Liam I thought I’d known before . . . How was this the same guy who’d taken those horrible pictures of me?
I sucked his lower lip into my mouth and he groaned. Then he pulled away and leaned his forehead against mine.
“You really want to catch my dad’s attention, take me and Sophie with you,” I whispered. “Give us back.”
“Then I’ll end up dead.”
I pulled away.
“Liam, you’re gonna end up dead anyway,” I whispered. “But if you bring us back, I promise I’ll fight for you. Tell them why you did it, explain what’s going on.”
“We’re all dying, babe,” he said. “Some faster than others. But I’m not giving up. It doesn’t matter if Toke was acting under orders or not, he’s still wearing Reaper colors. Your guy started it, and unlike him, we aren’t shooting yet. There’s still time to save the situation.”
I pulled away.
“Take me back to Sophie?”
• • •
My talk with Hunter left me confused as hell.
It was shitty to learn he’d plotted out my future without even considering what I wanted. And he still insisted caring had nothing to do with our relationship.
I wasn’t sure I believed him, though. In fact, I didn’t. He definitely cared about me. I knew it. Maybe not in a romantic, lovey kind of way. But he’d held me while I cried, and that kiss had been sweet and gentle. Not about sex at all. My cynical brain told me it was just one more attempt to get me to soften up and give him information.
But he hadn’t asked me for anything after he kissed me.
It felt more like a good-bye.
I glanced over at Sophie. We were stuck together on the bed again, each of us cuffed to the top by one hand. She didn’t ask me what had happened while I was gone with Liam, which I appreciated. No way I wanted to explain that one.
“He’s going to go meet with Dad,” I told her.
“I think he’s trying to save the situation. I think he actually cares about me, Soph.”
She looked at me like I’d gone nuts.
“You can’t be serious. He wants to screw you—I get that, he’s a guy and you’re hot. But a man who cares about a woman doesn’t kidnap her.”
The roar of a Harley outside the house cut the air, and we heard the sound of someone riding away. Hunter leaving.
“If I get away and Dad finds out I’m safe, he’ll kill him for sure.”
The thought made me sad. Yes, he was a dick. And he was definitely a liar and a user and worst of all, a Devil’s Jack.
That kiss, though . . .
“Don’t you dare have second thoughts,” Sophie hissed, seeing through me. “This guy is dangerous and we’re going to get seriously hurt if we stay here. We’re going to escape. In fact, we’re going to escape soon.”
“I know. I just wish—”
“I don’t want to hear it,” she snapped, sounding angry with me for the first time. I suppose I had that coming. I was determined, though. I wouldn’t fail her again. I’d get us out of here and I’d get her home safe to her boy, no matter what it took. I wasn’t just any twenty-two-year-old girl—I was a Reaper’s daughter, and Sophie was part of my family through Ruger. She was my sister and my responsibility.
I wasn’t going to let anything f**k up this escape, especially not a man.
Not even a really cute one.
• • •
We gave it an hour before making our move. I pulled out the little Leatherman multitool I’d stolen from him and picked our locks in under five minutes. Once we were both loose, we snuck over to the window to look outside.
What we saw wasn’t encouraging.
The house was in the middle of nowhere. There were scruffy shrubs all around, but nothing big enough to hide a person. The few scraggly pine trees weren’t much better. At least there weren’t a bunch of bikes parked out there—no reason to believe there was anyone besides Skid in the house. It was better than nothing.
“If he chases us, we don’t have a chance,” Sophie murmured, looking spooked.
“He won’t chase us,” I told her firmly. “Here’s what we’ll do. We’re going to sneak downstairs. We’ll figure out where he is, then you go out one side of the house and I’ll go out the other. I can see a back door from here.”