Burn

Book 1 - Sentinels Motorcycle Club Romance

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Fall in love with motorcycle club romance in a whole new way! You'll love the bad boy in this brand new sweet romance from USA Today bestselling author Elana Johnson. It's 65,000 words of action, suspense, and heartwarming, satisfying sweet romance!

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CHAPTER ONE:

Tyson Pike stood in the doorway leading to his room, the sight before him turning his stomach. He hated the sight of his motorcycle club, and even thinking that could get him killed.

The other boys had enjoyed themselves last night at the start-of-summer party. Tyson had made sure everyone had what they needed, especially Daddy, and then he’d disappeared into the woods that surrounded the clubhouse where the members of the Hawks Motorcycle Club lived, drank, partied, and more.

The “more” spread out in front of Tyson, the vice-president of the club, and a sigh leaked from his mouth. But he ground his teeth together and dug in like the animal he’d been nicknamed for.

Bulldog found the trash bags in the kitchen—really just a long, galley-style area that separated itself from the main room with a counter. A dozen barstools sat along the length of the wood, and it currently held bottles and cans and red plastic cups.

Trash first. Bulldog knew that better than almost anyone, as he’d been cleaning up after his brethren in the club for a while now. Yes, Daddy employed a couple of girls to clean, but Bulldog had told them not to come if they valued their freedom. Their virginity. Their easy lives without drugs, without hard men with tattoos and ruthless demands, and without the fear of how they’d ever get away from this place.

Bulldog had been in with the Hawks for seventeen years now, and at first, he’d enjoyed the thrill of it all. He’d worked hard as a pledge, followed all the rules, and as time had gone on, he’d moved up in the club. Whenever he’d grown tired of the lifestyle, he reminded himself of why he’d joined in the first place.

To keep his sisters safe. He absolutely couldn’t have JJ or Lila here, doing anything with the men he spent his time with. And with their father out of the picture and their mother in and out of rehab, Tyson would’ve done anything to keep his sisters away from the Hawks.

Even becoming one himself.

It was that bulldog tendency inside himself again, making quick and tough decisions at the same time. Decisions that had kept him here for five years longer than he would’ve liked to be.

He picked up cups, napkins, wrappers, and garbage, the silence in the club grating against his nerves. It was never quiet in the club after noon, but before then, the only noise was that of the furnace in the winter or the air conditioner in the morning.

In May, neither was running, and the silence would slowly drive Bulldog mad. He left the full trash bag at the end of the bar and stepped around it to the narrow alley between the counter of the kitchen area, which included a sink, range, fridge, and a lot of cupboards.

He could usually find a box of graham crackers or a bag of chips in the kitchen, but for parties, Daddy employed a cook. Really, it was Rooster’s old lady, but she did make a mean plate of nachos, Bulldog’s favorite food.

Bulldog fiddled with the volume button on the radio on the shelf above the sink, not wanting to wake anyone. Sure, he had friends here in the club, but he liked almost everyone here better when they were asleep.

Especially Daddy.

The music came on low, and Bulldog adjusted it again, facing the huge general room where the bikers hung out, played pool, watched movies, and enjoyed their parties. With a couple of hours of work, it would look like humans lived here instead of wild animals.

He sang as he wiped, washed, gathered, and hauled trash out to the Dumpster on the side of the industrial building Daddy had designed and built with the drug money the club earned moving marijuana from the US to Canada.

Bulldog hated the drug—all drugs—since seeing what it could lead to with his own mother. But by the time he’d learned what the Hawks really did behind closed doors and after dark, he’d been in too deep.

You’ll find a way to get out, he promised himself as he went back inside the clubhouse, the morning still quite chilly though the sun was peeking over the tops of the trees now. Not a single cloud hovered in the sky, and Bulldog took a moment to inhale deeply, as if he could smell the west shore of the lake from here.

If he walked through the woods about a quarter mile, he’d be able to see the lake, and he sometimes did that when he needed to get away from everything—especially what the Hawks did.

As he went back inside, his thoughts wandered to Maverick Malone and the Sentinels, a rival motorcycle club of sorts, an hour south around the curve in the lake in the town of Forbidden Lake. Some of Bulldog’s best days had been spent down there, simply watching Mav’s club when Daddy suspected Karly Lydell of running to them for help after the death of her husband.

They were some of the best days, because he’d been away from here. Away from Daddy’s stinking breath and complete paranoia. Bulldog did not get along with the president of the Hawks, but he was too powerful to overthrow without a carefully laid plan.

Bulldog had started to work on one of those. With earplugs, he could be in bed by ten, and up by six o’clock, which was about two hours after everyone else in the club finally stumbled to sleep. He’d had plenty of time in the morning hours to poke through things here and there, and he knew the real reason Derrick Lydell had been killed almost three years ago.

If the other club members knew….

Bulldog switched his thoughts to something else, because while he could lie if he had to, Daddy had a unique way of seeing everything Bulldog was thinking. He only allowed himself to consider calling a contest vote against Daddy once he had all the facts lined up. With proof.

Unfortunately, it was a very slow process to uncover the little lies, the careful deceit Daddy had been accumulating for so long. But Bulldog would do it—his very name proved that. Once he grabbed onto something, his jaw would have to be broken for him to let go of it.

He could hope that he didn’t crash and burn before he got out of this place.

With the front door open, the breeze filtered inside, removing some of the stink from the air. Bulldog had the kitchen clean and the couch cushions straightened when one of his favorite songs came blasting through the speakers. He was surprised Noose or Rooster hadn’t come out and yelled at him to turn the music down.

Their rooms were the closest to the main room, but he supposed they could buy earplugs as easily as him.

The first person to come out into the main room while Bulldog was still singing and swishing a duster all over the place was Suzie, a petite blonde woman who’d been with the club for years.

“I can hear you clear up on the second floor,” she said, pulling open the fridge though her biker had one in his room.

“Sorry,” Bulldog said, though he wasn’t all that sorry. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“You can never sleep past six,” Suzie said, pulling a bottle of water out of the fridge and twisting the cap. “It’s because you go to bed too early. And alone.” She lifted her eyebrows as if Bulldog cared what she thought about his love life. His non-existent love life.

He didn’t have time for a girlfriend, for one. Number two, he didn’t want a biker club groupie in his face all the time. And number three, claiming an old lady would only tie him further to the Hawks, when he was trying to find a way out that didn’t end up with him—or his family—dead.

“I’ll turn the music down,” he said, moving over to the radio and doing just that. Suzie drained her water, left the empty bottle on the counter he’d just cleaned and went back down the hall.

Bulldog stared at her back, sure she could feel the lasers in his eyes. This place didn’t just clean itself up. He’d just deposited her bottle in the trashcan when another song came on.

He wasn’t the greatest singer, and he knew it. But he sure did love to sing and riding a bike didn’t give him a lot of opportunities to just belt out lyrics. He didn’t today either, because he didn’t need more women telling him to be quiet when it was almost noon.

His last chore became rinsing shot glasses and putting them in the dishwasher. He added a little shake of his hips to the end of the song and bent to put the last of the dishware in the machine.

Behind him, someone started clapping, and Bulldog spun toward the sound already knowing who it would be.

Daddy stood there, a wickedly perfect grin on his face, slow-clapping like Bulldog had just won a singing competition. He chuckled, but the man’s laughter could chill water into ice, and Bulldog gripped the counter behind him.

He wasn’t exactly afraid of Daddy, but at the same time, he really was. It took real grit and authority to run an outlaw motorcycle club, and nobody crossed Daddy. Nobody.

And Bulldog had already threatened him once, over a year ago, when he’d brought Karly Lydell to the club. And the whole fiasco with the tapes….

Bulldog put it all out of his mind and smiled at the president of the club, his eyes immediately moving to the woman at his side.

Because Bulldog went to bed before the parties ever really got started, he couldn’t say for sure if she’d been in the clubhouse last night or not.

He was betting not, as this brunette had an air of innocence around her. Her dark curls reached to her elbows, and she put a tentative smile on her face.

So she’d never been in a motorcycle club before. Bulldog wondered where Daddy had found her, and what he planned to do with her. His heart tapped faster in his chest as he moved down the length of the counter to greet them both.

“Who’s this?” he asked as he came around the corner and sat on a barstool. The woman seemed vaguely familiar to him, though Bulldog never had the opportunity to meet a fresh-faced woman such as the one in front of him.

“This here’s Dani,” Daddy said, beaming at her. “She has certain organizational skills.”

Pure fear streamed from the woman, and Bulldog felt it sucker-punch him in the gut. Because he knew who Dani was now. Dani. As in Danielle Beller, though Bulldog knew she’d been married in the past. What in the world was she doing here?

Daddy reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear, and she cut her eyes toward him and back to Bulldog, a plea there he understood perfectly well.

She possessed beauty in her high cheekbones and that heart-shaped face, and Bulldog wanted to tell her to get out of there. Never come back.

Instead, he said, “Well, organization is my specialty too. I’ll take her off your hands.”

Daddy didn’t look away from Dani, and Bulldog’s pulse went crazy. If the president wanted this woman, he’d have her, and Bulldog needed to distract him quickly.

“I didn’t realize you were up and out this morning,” he said. Daddy never left the clubhouse. Never. “When did you go get Dani?”

“I didn’t,” Daddy said, finally looking away from her. She took a small step sideways, trying to get away from his hands, and Bulldog’s protective genes kicked in.

“How’d she get here then?” Bulldog asked. People didn’t just come to the Hawks’ clubhouse. Anyone who wasn’t a member had to be blindfolded on the way in, and only brought by a member in good standing.

“She came last night.” Daddy purred at her again. “I heard she slept upstairs somewhere.”

She did look a little rough around the edges, and her eyes seemed made of glass as they filled with tears. Daddy traced one finger down the side of her face, and Bulldog leapt off the barstool.

“I’ll take her,” he said, striding forward. He paused in front of them, very aware of Daddy’s hungry eyes on him. He scanned Dani as if he were really assessing her, and then he said, “I like her. She’s mine.”

“Yours?” Daddy asked.

Bulldog met his eye, a challenge rising through him he absolutely could not let the other man see. “Yeah,” he said evenly. “I don’t have anyone. Haven’t in a while.” He shrugged. “She’s sexy. I’ll take her.”

Daddy unlaced his arm from Dani’s and said, “Perfect.” He backed away, his eyes never leaving Bulldog’s. “See how you like her first, though. No need to claim her without seeing what she can do.” Then he turned, sauntering toward the hallway that led back to his private rooms.

Bulldog watched him go, his heart sinking all the way to the soles of his boots.

Perfect.

What did that mean? If Daddy wanted him to have Dani, there must be a reason, though he had advised Bulldog to see if he actually liked her. To Bulldog, though, how he liked the woman was secondary to her safety.

“Thank you,” Dani said, blowing her breath out. “He’s creepy.”

“And he’s not even the worst of them.” He spoke very, very softly, though Daddy was definitely the worst of them. Bulldog needed her to understand, and he refused to let himself glance around the club. He trained his eyes on her, as if he’d be able to see if he could trust this woman or not. “Did you really stay here last night?”

She nodded and looked away.

“Did you…did something happen you didn’t want to have happen?”

“No,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I found a room that was empty and slept on a bare mattress for a few hours.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I was trying to sneak out when he came up behind me.”

Bulldog sighed. “Well, you’re in now, Dani. There’s no sneaking out.”

“I have a son at home,” she said, panic filling her face. “I can’t stay here.”

“Who brought you?” Because Bulldog was going to get his airhorn and wake the moron up before he demanded to know what he’d been thinking, bringing a trembling, doe-eyed woman like this to the club.

“I don’t know,” she said, swiping at her eyes. “He said I could make a hundred bucks. I needed the money.”

Bulldog took a step closer to her, and he knew he was big and bearded and intimidating. But Dani didn’t shy away from him. Just held his gaze with tears in her eyes.

“You only make money if you perform for them,” he said. “Is that what you want?”

She shook her head, those pretty pink lips trembling. Just the fact that Bulldog had looked at her lips had him in a tailspin.

“You need a job,” he said, and he wasn’t asking.

She nodded, and Bulldog wondered if he’d gone crazy. Because he said, “Fine. Anyone asks you anything, and you say you have to talk to me. Then they won’t touch you. Number two, you’ll have to work here if you really want to stay. I’ll find you something.”

He turned and started in the opposite direction that Daddy had been going. He hoped he could find his sanity, because he should have this woman on the back of his bike, blindfolded, as he took her back to her son.

Instead, he said, “Come see where you’re going to be staying while you’re here,” and he pushed open the door to his own suite of rooms.

CHAPTER TWO:

Danielle Robbins glanced around the small room the huge motorcycle gang member had brought her into. She knew who he was, despite the beard and the ink clawing its way from under his collar.

And Tyson Pike had known her first husband. She, Reid, and Tyson had all gone to high school together in Grand Central, and she thought she’d caught a glint of recognition in his eyes when they’d met in the main room.

The “rec room” Daddy had called it. Dani had certainly seen it a wreck—and filled with half-naked, writhing bodies, loud music, and too much smoke. She’d ran drinks from the long counter that separated the galley kitchen from the rest of the room to anyone who wanted them, because she needed the money.

She closed her eyes and thought of Jonas. She’d do anything for him, and last night had proved that.

“I can set up a bed here,” Tyson said. “And you can sleep in there. We’ll have to share the bathroom.”

Dani didn’t move. She ran her hands up her arms, her only sign of nerves. “I can’t stay here.”

“If you want to stay in this room, that’s fine,” he said. “There’s usually only two or three guys who stumble into the wrong room each week.” He shrugged and nodded toward the door, a dark glint in his eye. “The outside doors don’t lock.”

Dani didn’t want him to see her fear, but she had a feeling it was a scent on the air. “I have a son.” Her voice trembled slightly, but she lifted her chin and clenched her teeth to contain the shaking. “I can’t sleep over here. Ever. So don’t bother getting another bed.”

“We’ll make sure he’s safe,” Tyson said, ignoring her remark about the bed. “You’d be perfect to work in Daddy’s office. He hasn’t stepped foot in there in about five years, and there are a ton of records to go through.” He wasn’t telling her everything, Dani knew that. She’d worked as a camp counselor for teen girls in the summers between college semesters, and she had a five-year-old son. She knew a half-truth when she heard it.

“I’m not going anywhere near Daddy,” Dani said.

Tyson sighed, the gesture moving through his whole body. “Dani, you can’t just walk in and out of a motorcycle club. Especially this one.”

“I can’t live here.” Hysteria built inside her, and she turned back to the door. As if reading her thoughts, Tyson darted in front of her.

“Dani,” he said, his voice low. His wide shoulders filled the whole doorway, and there was no way she could get past him. “I’m Tyson Pike. You remember me, right?”

She nodded, no amount of clenching able to keep her chin from trembling.

“This is an outlaw motorcycle club,” he said. “And no one’s claimed you as their old lady. I can, but I really don’t want to.”

Dani knew enough about motorcycle clubs to know what being his old lady meant. It meant no one else would be able to touch her. It meant she’d be his, and Dani was never pledging herself to another man.

“I don’t want you to,” she said.

“I heard about Reid,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Dani stared straight into his eyes. “Thank you.”

“How old is your son?”

“Five.”

“Name?”

“Jonas.”

“Do you have anyone who can take care of him during the day?”

Dani nodded, blinking back her tears. “My sister has him right now. But she has two kids of her own, and I can’t ask her to just take him. Her husband works so much and—” She silenced when Tyson’s pointer finger touched her lips, as if shushing her.

“I have two sisters with kids,” he whispered. “They can help if we need them to. I promise you, Jonas will be fine while you’re here.”

Dani believed him, and not just because he was over six feet tall and spoke with the sexiest voice possible.

“And I promise you’ll be fine here too,” he said. “You just need to do what I said. If anyone talks to you—anyone—you say you can’t talk to them. They have to go through me. Okay?” His eyes burned with an intensity that had shivers running across her shoulders and down her spine.

But having the warm touch of a man in her life was not on her to-do list right now. Or ever again. She’d loved Reid more than life itself, and it seemed cruel that he’d been taken so soon, leaving her and Jonas behind to try to make things work.

She’d waited so long for Reid and then Jonas. She’d been doing okay until her job at the dentist office had disappeared when the old man had retired. Without a way to buy groceries and pay rent, she’d been scraping by as best as she could on savings and life insurance money for the past two years.

And it was all gone now. All the money. All of her resources. She needed a new job, but she hadn’t been able to find anything that would work for a woman in her position. And then someone had mentioned taking drinks to men and making a hundred bucks a night.

“Okay?” Tyson asked again.

“Yes,” Dani said. “Fine.”

“I’ll get us something to eat and get things cleaned up in here,” he said. “Don’t go in the bathroom. Just because I was cleaning up the clubhouse doesn’t mean I keep things neat in my personal quarters.”

Dani turned around and surveyed the room again. No windows. No other ways in or out. It was definitely much safer than the room she’d stayed in last night, huddled in the corner, afraid to fall asleep.

A piece of carpet had been put on the floor, and the room was big enough for a full-size couch, a mini-fridge, and a TV on top of that. She took several steps and went into a bedroom with a queen-sized bed, another TV mounted to the wall, and a closet in the corner. The only door in this room led into the bathroom, but Dani didn’t go in there, as per Tyson’s request.

The warmth from his body melded with her own, but Dani didn’t turn toward her. “How do you stand this?”

Tyson didn’t answer, and she turned and looked up at him. “It’s pretty obvious you’re not happy here.”

“Is it?” He glared at her. “Why wouldn’t I be? I’m second-in-command, and with Daddy drunk or stoned most of the time, I practically run this place.”

Dani didn’t want to fight with him. She just wanted to sleep. “Can I go home?”

“Tonight,” he said. “I’ll come get you in the morning, and I’ll take you home at night, and in between, you’ll work in Daddy’s office.” He stepped away from her. “You can sleep in my bed for now. I’ll go see if I can find some food.”

With that, he walked out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him. Dani turned at the sound of it, hurrying through the smaller, outer room to check and see if it locked. It didn’t, but Tyson—or someone—had put a hook and eyelet on the door, and she quickly latched them together. Anyone who tried to come in would only be able to open the door a couple of inches at most.

“Someone Tyson’s size could bust right through that,” she murmured to herself. But maybe it would buy her a few seconds when he came back. She opened the fridge, expecting to find beer and spirits inside. She found bottled water. Suddenly thirsty, she pulled one out and opened it.

She expected to see some sign of Tyson in the room. A family photo. A stack of mail. Something. There was nothing. The walls were white, much cleaner than the ones upstairs, and Dani was starting to realize that while Tyson was here, obviously a member of this outlaw club, he was a lot different than the rest of the guys here.

In his bedroom, the bed wasn’t made, but the air didn’t smell like anything but cologne and leather. She found his jacket and road gear hanging in the closet, along with several T-shirts and lighter jackets. No sweaters. No parkas. A row of boots sat on the floor, all black, all lined up perfectly.

Dani puzzled over the contrast between this room and the party she’d seen last night. She couldn’t remember if she’d seen Tyson there or not. She’d made a rule as soon as she’d gotten off the back of the bike and the man who’d brought her had folded the blindfold. She wouldn’t look anyone in the face. Absolutely no one. Then, if something happened, she wouldn’t have to make any IDs.

She sure had looked into Tyson Pike’s face, though. And Daddy’s.

Her phone rang, and she dug it out of her pocket to find her sister’s name on the screen. “Jodi,” she said, turning back to the only door leading into this place. “I’m so sorry. How’s Jonas?”

“You’re sorry?” Her sister bit the words out, and Dani pressed her eyes closed. She was the older of the two of them, but she always felt like such the screw-up. “Jonas is crying, Dani. He wants his mother.”

“I know.” Desperation clawed its way up her throat. “Look, I’ll explain everything tonight, but I can’t get home until then.”

Jodi sighed in an exaggerated way. “Dani, where are you?”

She sucked back the words. Jodi wouldn’t be able to come here anyway, as Dani wasn’t entirely sure where she was. The ride from the pub in Grand Central had only taken about fifteen minutes, so she couldn’t be terribly far from town. She’d recognized nothing as she’d looked around last night, but it had been dark, and all she’d seen were some trees.

“I’m safe,” she said. “I’ll tell you everything I can tonight.” Behind her, the hook rattled as someone tried to come into the room, and she spun around.

“Dani,” Tyson said through the gap. “Open the door.”

“I have to go.”

“Dani—” her sister started, but Dani hung up, hurried over to the hook, and unlatched it. She opened the door and found Tyson holding two coffee cups in one hand and a couple of loaded grocery bags in the other.

“Move,” he said, and she backed up, stumbling over a fold in the carpet as he crowded into her space.

“Where do you guys get your food?” she asked, backing into his bedroom as he just kept coming at her.

“Same place as everyone else,” he said, lifting the groceries to a table against the wall opposite of the couch. He unpacked a couple bags of chips and two apples before he looked around, his chest heaving. “I thought you were going to sleep, not snoop.”

“I wasn’t snooping,” she said, a flash of fire moving through her. “I was thirsty.” She held up the half-empty water bottle. “And I called my sister to let her know I’m not dead somewhere.”

Voices approached from out in the hall, and Tyson twisted to look in that direction. “Go,” he hissed. “Close and lock the door. Now.”

Dani didn’t hesitate. She did what he said, hurrying into his bedroom and closing the door, turning the lock right when she heard someone bellow, “There he is! Martha-Freaking-Stewart.”

Dani didn’t know what that meant, and she backed away from the door. Her legs bumped into the bed behind her, and she fell down onto it. Men continued to talk on the other side of the door, but no one tried to come in. Thankfully. She didn’t want to admit how nervous she was, and she knew she’d have to put on a tough front when she went to work in Daddy’s office. She could do it when she had to. She had last night.

Right now, she didn’t even have a pair of pajamas to change into, and she crawled up to the pillows on Tyson’s bed, snuggled into them, and pulled the blanket all the way to her chin. She wanted to wait until Tyson handled whatever was happening. Surely he’d knock. Any minute now.

Any minute….

CHAPTER THREE:

Bulldog steadfastly refused to look at the closed door that led into his bedroom and bathroom. Rooster and Crawler wouldn’t go back there, even if the door was open. Apparently, Big Al had left the club that morning, claiming he wouldn’t be coming back.

“And you should see Daddy,” Rooster said. “He’s callin’ for a retrieval group.”

“I bet he is,” Bulldog said. “Big Al handled things he doesn’t want getting around.” He looked out the open door, knowing someone could be loitering just out of sight. Conversations had come to blows lots of times around the Hawks clubhouse, and it was usually Bulldog who broke them up.

“Davy’s calling for a club-wide search,” Rooster said next, and he actually looked worried.

Bulldog thought about the woman in his bedroom, and he could admit he was worried too. “Daddy will never allow that.”

“He will if it comes out that certain items are missing.” Crawler leaned closer, and Bulldog didn’t like the biker at all. He jumped from ship to ship, voting strangely and coming up with wacky hypotheses that just fueled Daddy’s paranoia. And he was so earnest, like everything was such a big deal.

Bulldog labeled men like him as ambulance-chasers, and he had absolutely no use for them. “Like what?” he asked, though he knew the club stored and moved sensitive items.

“I heard that Big Al took a whole backpack of the weed with him.” Crawler wiped his hand across his forehead, and Bulldog knew the tell. He was just speculating now, and he might have been the one to start the rumor.

Didn’t really matter. Daddy operated on rumors until they were proven wrong, and Bulldog had been the voice of reason for a few years now. He’d kept the Hawks from becoming anything too dangerous, but they did move drugs and people from the US to Canada at least once a month. Sometimes the items came the other way, but most unsavory people wanted out of the country, not back in. Things were definitely more dangerous along the southern border, but Bulldog knew things happened up here too.

He tried to stay out of the worst of it. Tried to keep the Hawks away from it too. Daddy never left the clubhouse, and as long as there was no shortage of food, drink, pot, and women, he didn’t seem to care what the club or its members did.

If it were up to Bulldog, he’d call a contest vote on Daddy’s leadership and get him out. Clean up the club to make it into more like what Maverick Malone ran down in Forbidden Lake. They helped people and distributed food and rode with B.A.C.A.

Bulldog didn’t like Maverick or the Sentinels on principle, but they weren’t outlaws. Thy took care of each other, and he’d slowly realized over the years that he should’ve joined their club instead of this one.

But he’d been born and raised in Grand Central, and one of his two sisters still lived here. Lila lived in Forbidden Lake now, but that wasn’t far enough away should the club decide she was leverage they could use.

His mother, at the time, was two days away from going into rehab for the third time, and the Hawks were convenient, easy. He’d needed a way to keep his sisters safe, and he’d needed a way to pay the bills. The Hawks had provided both, and he hadn’t been thinking long-term when he was nineteen years old.

Rooster said, “We should go see what Tug has to say,” and he nudged Crawler toward the exit.

“Yeah,” Bulldog said. “Let me know what he says.” Tug was a short, squat man who could bench press his entire body weight. For some reason, he had the most trustworthy face, and people told him secrets they wouldn’t tell anyone else. Bulldog didn’t get the same courtesy, but he had plenty of men in his pocket too. Some of the old ladies too. And all of the pledges. He worked with them the most, and if Daddy knew he was training them to be more like a law-abiding club than drug runners…Bulldog would be in serious trouble.

He waited until Rooster’s and Crawler’s footsteps receded, and then he put the food he’d brought to his room on a set of shallow shelves above the table. He waited a bit longer, and then he closed the door leading into the hallway.

Unsurprisingly, the door leading to his bedroom was locked, and Dani didn’t come to unlock it when he knocked. Bulldog opened the fridge and took out the key. The doorknob unlocked smoothly, and he found Dani asleep in his bed, snuggled under his comforter.

He took a long look at her, wondering why he felt such a need to protect women like her. She reminded him so much of his sisters—women doing the best they could while raising their families in a crumbling town. Meanwhile, forty-five minutes south, Forbidden Lake was thriving, and a slip of frustration moved through Bulldog.

He walked around to the side of the bed, gazing down at Dani. She was a beautiful woman, and his heart skipped a beat. Or maybe it kicked out too many all at once. Something had definitely happened that hadn’t happened before, at least for a very long time.

“Not happening,” he told himself. He already had way too much on his plate, and the last thing he needed was his heart messing with his head.

“Dani,” he said, reaching out and lightly touching her arm. She didn’t stir in the slightest, and Bulldog decided to let her sleep as long as she wanted. He knew JJ and Lila never got enough sleep, and he could go get the paperwork started for her to work in the office. He locked her back inside his bedroom, and then he steeled himself for a conversation with his least favorite person on the planet.

He took his time crossing through the rec room, where several members sat at the bar, steaming cups of coffee in front of them. They gossiped about Big Al, but their energy wasn’t nervous or filled with panic.

Bulldog suspected the man had stumbled out in the middle of the night, threats coming from his mouth. He’d probably find him in the woods, passed out. So Bulldog gave the bikers at the bar credit for being up this early, as it was barely two o’clock, and for the night after one of their major parties, that was saying something.

“Bulldog,” a couple of them said, and he acknowledged Gil and Deputy and Sampson as he went by. A woman worked behind the bar, and the scent of something salty met his nose. Irene was Rooster’s old lady, and she made a mean hash the morning after parties.

Bulldog didn’t need the hash. He didn’t need coffee. He needed Daddy to be smoking when he got to his rooms, and he needed him to be compliant. His focus singular, he ignored everyone and everything else as he made his way across the rec room to the hallway that led down the east side of the building. There was a TV room in the front corner, with a couple of pool tables and a storage room that looked like it held soda fountain syrup at first glance.

Down the hall, at the back of the building—the most protected, hardest-to-penetrate, part of the building, waited Daddy’s quarters. He had the most space, and Bulldog wouldn’t be surprised to find a couple of members standing guard.

Sure enough, Jerome and Redheart stood at the door, their arms crossed as if Bulldog was one of the club’s unattached women who came trolling down this way looking for some of Daddy’s approval.

“Boys,” he said, nodding at them as he paused a healthy distance away. “Is he busy?”

“When isn’t he busy?” Redheart asked, and Bulldog would get all the information from him later. He and Redheart had similar opinions about the club, and yet Bulldog would never stand guard outside Daddy’s rooms.

“Women or drugs?” Bulldog asked.

Neither guard answered, and Bulldog moved forward again. “I’ll be quick.” He’d seen much more of the leader of the Hawks than he liked, but often, Bulldog could get what he wanted when Daddy was in a good mood.

The outer room was empty, and it actually looked like someone had at least picked up the trash. Besides this room where he usually entertained select members or held audiences with people, Daddy had three other rooms, including a large bedroom. He wasn’t in there, though two women slept in his bed.

The shower was empty, as was his office. Bulldog gazed at it hungrily, wondering what he and Dani could find in the mess of papers, folders, books, and ledgers.

He and Dani.

Be careful, he told himself as he turned away from the office. He didn’t need her finding out he had a plan to usurp power in the club and then shut the whole thing down. No one needed to know that. Bulldog didn’t trust anyone, and he wasn’t going to start with a pair of dark, beautiful eyes just because his pulse had acted a little weird.

He found Daddy in his lounge, though it was really just a room with a couple of couches, a television, and a grand piano. The older man sat on the bench and played, stopping when Bulldog broke the seal on the door and poked his head into the room.

“I’m going to give Dani the task of cleaning out the office,” he said. “So I’ll get her paperwork for that started today. She’ll start tomorrow.”

“My office?” Daddy didn’t move from his perch on the piano bench.

“The club’s office,” Bulldog said. “We need to get our papers in order.”

Daddy looked at him with a dull edge in his eyes. Of course, he didn’t know about the feds that had come by the club twice in the past six months. Bulldog took care of everything, but Daddy had been overprotective of his office.

“I can do it,” Daddy said.

But he wouldn’t. Bulldog knew he wouldn’t, and he really needed access to every slip of paper in that room. “No need,” he said. “The girl needs a job, and we have an awful one to give her.”

“Did you try her out?”

Bulldog didn’t confirm or deny, but he hated with everything inside him that Daddy only saw women as objects. Something to be tried and then thrown away if he wasn’t satisfied. “I like her,” he said, which was a totally non-committal answer. “I’ll train her on how to act while she’s here, and you won’t even hear her.”

Daddy looked back and the piano keys, and Bulldog took that as permission. “Great. Hey, what’s going on with Big Al?”

Daddy started playing softly again, a childhood tune that sounded eerie and out of place. “I sent Razor, Tug, and Noose to find him. Razor just checked in. He was in the hammocks.”

“And the backpack?”

“Right there.” Daddy didn’t look up from the keys, but Bulldog spied a black backpack next to the bench. So he’d helped himself to the supply. Bulldog shouldn’t be surprised, but a little slip of it moved through him. Daddy did what he wanted. Took what he wanted. He was very careful about how he endangered the club’s livelihood, and he seemed rather melancholy today.

Bulldog stepped all the way into the room. “Hey, are you okay?”

Daddy looked up, the music silencing. For a moment, Bulldog saw a flash of the man he’d first met seventeen years ago. He’d been vibrant then, hardworking, less cruel. This life had beat him down, though, and desperation filled Bulldog’s throat. He had to get out of here.

“I had Redheart call my physician,” he said. “He’ll be here in a while.”

“Okay,” Bulldog said. “Let me know if you need something.”

Daddy started playing again, and Bulldog got out of there as quickly as he could, because he knew how volatile Daddy could be. Rather, the two broken noses he’d suffered in his life at the hands of Daddy knew how explosive the man could be. He could be docile too, as Bulldog had just seen, but he had a good memory for the horrific times.

The scariest part was, Bulldog could never predict what would light Daddy’s fuse and what wouldn’t. Sometimes, he’d think he had a completely innocuous question to ask, and bam! He’d be flat on his back, looking up at the pipes and beams in the rafters of the warehouse.

Not this time though, and the sad strains of a song filled the air as Bulldog retreated and pulled the door closed behind him.

“Let me know what the doctor says,” he said to Redheart as he left the suite, and the man nodded.

His trek back to his room happened with a much lighter note in his step. Dani showing up just might be the big break he needed to find the dirt on Daddy he needed to call the contest vote.

Maybe, he told himself. But maybe was more than he’d had yesterday.

* * *

Later that afternoon, he touched Dani’s arm again, saying her name. This time, she shifted, and a moment later, her eyelids fluttered open. She looked peaceful and content, and then she realized who he was and where she was.

“Oh.” She sat straight up, clutching his blanket as if she’d been sleeping naked.

“Just me,” he said. “It’s time to go back to town.”

That got her scrambling to the edge of the bed. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “What time is it?”

“Almost four,” he said. “Nothing to be sorry about.” He handed her the shoes she’d been wearing, and they left his room. The rec room would be in full swing in a few hours, and Bulldog didn’t want to be there.

And he wouldn’t be. Tonight, he’d stay at his sister’s house, telling tall tales to his nephews about what he did in the biker gang. JJ would laugh in the beginning, and then she’d give him a stern look that told him to shut up.

She’d feed him a homecooked meal, and he’d make sure she and the kids were okay, that they didn’t need any money. He’d ask her about their mother, and then he’d sleep on the couch. Really sleep, like the dead. Nothing like the half-conscious rest he got here in the clubhouse.

He took a helmet from the equipment room near the front entrance to the club and handed it to Dani. “Put that on. And I have to blindfold you on the way out.”

The bright blue sky and fresh air actually startled him as he left the club. He took in a long, deep drag of it, wondering why he didn’t come outside more often. With summer almost upon them again, the nights started later and later, and he could really enjoy the afternoon sun if he chose to.

He navigated to his bike, which was very close to the door, and turned back to Dani to blindfold her.

He straddled the bike, gently leading Dani so she could swing her leg over and settle into the seat behind him. “Hold on,” he said. “And for the love of all that’s holy, lean with me.”

Dani pressed right into his back, and Bulldog couldn’t help but be reminded of the last woman who’d occupied that seat. Karly Lydell had come for an audience with Daddy, and Bulldog had been scared out of his mind that she’d never get out of the club alive. But she had, and with flying colors.

Bulldog had taken a verbal beating that night though, as he’d been told—and he’d stupidly believed without verifying all the facts—that Anderson Tanner didn’t have any recordings of anything criminal. But he had.

The Hawks had those tapes now, probably buried in a box in Daddy’s office somewhere. Bulldog wanted to get them and enter them into his own evidence locker against the club president. But he needed to bide his time, build an airtight case, learn everything he could first.

Karly Lydell’s presence had not made Bulldog’s heart jump around weirdly, but Dani’s sure did. He could feel the heat from her hands against his chest, and he wished he’d put on a leather jacket.

After a twisting, nearly nauseating fifteen-minute ride through the forest, the town of Grand Central spread before him. A hint of nostalgia hit him, and he pulled over to remove the blindfold from Dani’s eyes. “You’ll have to tell me where to take you,” he said.

“My car is at O’Malley’s,” she said. “I met a guy there.”

Bulldog couldn’t believe this woman. She’d met a guy at a bar and gotten onto the back of his bike. “That’s not a super smart thing to do,” he said.

“You don’t get to judge me,” she shot back. “Just get me there. I need to get home.”

Bulldog tensed, but he allowed her to climb onto the back of his bike again. He kept things civil and under the radar as he navigated the quiet, sleepy streets of the town where he’d grown up, finally getting to the busier, downtown district where O’Malley’s was.

“The blue one,” she called, and he took them over to a blue car that looked like it had been touched by the sprinklers that morning and then left to collect the dust all day.

Dani got off the bike and handed the helmet to Bulldog. He shoved it right back into her arms. “Put it in your car, sweetheart. You’ll need it in the morning.”

“What time?” she asked.

“Nine.”

“What do I wear?”

“Something nice,” he said. “But always pants.”

“Why pants?”

“Easier to ride a bike in pants.”

She opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it. She blinked a couple of times and then she asked, “How much am I getting paid?”

“A hundred bucks a day. I’ll pick you up at nine. We’ll leave by four.” He watched her as he gave her the hours. “Does that work for you? Like I said, I’ve got two sisters—”

“That works,” she said, cutting him off. Bulldog supposed he couldn’t blame her. He had let her sleep in his bed as long as she’d wanted though. That had to count for something.

“Great,” he said. “See you tomorrow.” He revved his motorcycle and left before Dani had gotten behind the wheel of her car. Maybe not the most gentlemanly of his moves, but his heart was doing that weird pulsating thing again, and he didn’t want Dani to know.

He loved the wind in his hair as he drove over to his sister’s house, fully intending to ask her about his recent heart palpitations.

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