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The crazy shit is happening again.

That thing where my blood boils beneath my skin and my heart pounds as though it’s going to burst out of my chest.

Not a heart attack. I might prefer that to knowing what it really is.

My reaction to him.

I see his face in angles and lines.

The sharp chin and floppy light blond hair falling into his brightest blue eyes.

I hate how I notice the lengthy frame of his body and the way his hands hold those notebooks he’s always carrying.

He’s a nerd and dresses as one. Jeans with slashes in both knees, a comic book t-shirt under a dark hoodie and a pair of Timberland boots on his feet. The kid needs to drag himself back from the 90s. The oldie decade is dead. I’d roll my eyes if they weren’t squinting aversion.

Unaware.

He’s always so unaware in his own surroundings.

It’s reckless in this jungle, where the weak get eaten alive.

I want to know what’s on the nerd’s mind all the time.

What makes his brain so interesting that he can act as though no one else is around him?

He strides the hallways and rarely glances at anyone.

Plenty look at him, and he only looks up from his shitty book when they call out to him.

It’s an oxymoron how he’s a popular nerd.

Everyone loves him, and that means I hate him.

I hate how my belly clenches every time I catch a whiff of apples because that asshat always smells like the fruit.

Does he eat them by the tree load?

Who cares?

I don’t.

I care that he annoys me.

Impossible to work him out. He’s a puzzle I can’t make sense of.

This annoyance started not so long ago.

And the more I see him, the worse it gets.

Resting a shoulder against my locker, my crew bound up to me, and I hardly give any notice to their conversations.

Bates, Sofia, Paris and Preston.

They crave my attention, but I tune them out. Bates will brag about who he banged last weekend. And Sofia will have her ninth, rich bitch third world, problem of the day.

Girls walk by, vying for our interest. I bet they’re wet when Bates throws them a pity wink, but nothing registers in this moment. It’s as if the hallway has cleared of everyone.

My eyes are on him.

With masculine grace, he moves along the hallway.

He chews his pen and I feel it in my chest.

A gnaw.

That is when my anger builds until it burns.

It rages inside me, screaming for an outlet.

How dare this jackass make me wonder and feel.

I’m a star football player, I don’t have deep emotions.

And I don’t give any thought to guys like him, that’s for damn sure.

Not any guy.

His expression is always unguarded.

It’s raw and open, as if I can touch it if I tried to.

Why is that?

Why doesn’t he care what people think about him?

It’s unnatural.

That same tickle I get when he’s near hits my throat again. And I swallow around it as one of my boys throws a ball and I lift my hand in the air to catch it on reflex.

The girls cheer and coo, trying to get closer to my athlete status.

It’s white noise. My eyes focus over their heads as he hits a left, disappearing into the science department.

Little fucking nerd probably going to suck a teacher’s dick for extra credit.

The thought of it sends a shard of…something through me.

Something I ignore.

I always ignore it.

A tick moves my jaw.

Crazy feelings stir inside of my chest and I try not to react.

Instead, I drag my gaze away and let Sofia’s arm curl around my waist. The blonde cheerleader is perky and up for anything, as always.

I need to expunge that little shit Sage Fierro from my mind.

I need to destroy him.

One accidental run in with the kid months ago and he’s ruining my fucking head.

I still feel his hands on my chest so he didn’t meet the floor with his face. I feel mine on his arms, saving him from the fall.

The same growl I had back then gurgles up my throat.

Those deep blue eyes and fucking mouth.

He’d looked up at me, so damn shocked.

I want to destroy him from the ground up.

Make it so he doesn’t exist, so I can stop this…whatever is pounding through my gut.

My father says find an enemy’s weakness and use it against them.

The nerd isn’t so innocent.

He doesn’t know he’s made a nemesis of me.

But he will soon.

The Fierro’s will discover they don’t own everything.

I’ll break him.

And I won’t have to think of those eyes or the burn in my chest ever again.

Copyright© V. Theia 2020.

 

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Renegade Souls MC

Exclusive First Chapter -Savage Outlaw

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Chapter One

“Woman, you better stop and listen to me. You’re gonna be mine.”

The callused hand wrapped around Roux Tucker’s wrist. Almost sending her apoplectic as she wrenched herself free and pushed her hands into Reno’s chest.

Fury and irritation hardened her husky voice box.

Her new gel nails meant she couldn’t put her fist into his face as she wanted to.

“Don’t ever put your hand on me again, asshole, or I’ll cut it off and shove it up your ass.”

Maybe he had a brain in that baboon sized head of his because he didn’t touch her again. But he blocked her path with his mammoth body.

She tipped her head back, scowling up at one of her dad’s idiot men.

Dressed in denim and leather and the most prized possession of any biker, his Diablo Disciples cut. Reno was a tall man, with midnight black hair in a short shaggy cut and a clipped beard. Quite intimidating to anyone else. But she could give a fuck that he was scowling at her. She’d been avoiding his calls for days.

Roux was what they called a MC princess. Her father was the president of the DDMC, therefore untouchable by any man that came through the club doors. Until recently that is, and she didn’t know why.

For years, her dad told anyone that was new that if they even so much as blinked in Roux’s direction, they’d have their cock and balls cut off and displayed on the wire fence outside. It was a fast and hard rule, and no one dared to cross Axel Tucker. She was an untouchable woman, growing up in a lifestyle that was far too rough and dangerous for a female, yet she loved it.

Those club men were her family.

Idiots and drunks and lazy bastards for the most part. But her family nonetheless, and she was always protected by them. Too much at times.

But for the past four months, Reno, one of her father’s patched men, had made strides to let her know they were going to be a thing.

Like this was the twilight zone.

He’d never shown interest in her before, not even mild flirting.

Like hell they were.

He must have lost his damn mind.

What weirded her out the most was her dad, the president of the club, and her fiercest protector, didn’t so much as blink when Reno made a move in front of everyone. He didn’t take out his gun and shoot Reno’s kneecaps off. Didn’t threaten to hang him over the roof by his feet.

Nada.

“Give him a chance,” is what her dad actually said to her.

She’d had a few choice words for her dad that day, but she couldn’t think about it. Not when she was trying to shake her fucking shadow.

“You know I like it when you’re feisty, Roux.” He smirked and licked his lower lip like he thought it was the sexiest move on the planet. Maybe it was. Maybe his whores fell for it, but she didn’t.

She didn’t feel any type of way for Reno.

Not a tickle.

Not a flicker of attraction.

He was one of her dad’s newer guys, not one she’d grown up with. That would even creep her out if one of those guys started hitting on her. They’d bought her first period pads and gathered as a group to exact revenge when her prom date was a complete douche canoe.

“Go away, Reno. I’m not in the mood for your bullshit today.”

The sigh exited her lungs when she felt him following her through the clubhouse. She was starving and Chains, her dad’s VP, was always cooking something. She hoped it was grilled cheese. She needed grease to get over her hangover.

“What you in a mood for, princess? Can’t be work, didn’t you get fired again?”

“Don’t call me that,” she said, entering the kitchen to the heavenly scents of cheese.

He wasn’t wrong. She did get fired. Again.

The seventh job in two years but who’s counting?

It’s not her fault everyone she’s worked for is a degenerate asshole pervert.

She wasn’t suited for an office.

They looked down at the way she dressed.

She knew they first saw her tight clothes and the full sleeve of tattoos. She wore her ink black hair in a high ponytail with half of her head shaved around the side. And then her many piercings adorning her ears and nose. Roux didn’t give the impression of someone hire worthy.

Fuck them, she thought.

Her attire or how she looked shouldn’t even matter.

She’d swallow her boredom and go back to working in the office here. Diving through the shit storm of invoices her dad ignored for months on end. No wonder the club was running in the red.

It wasn’t ideal, she hated it actually, because it meant her dad kept a closer eye on her. He didn’t treat her as a twenty-one year old woman. To Axel, she was the baby girl he raised alone because her mom, a former biker chaser, couldn’t cope with a screaming kid and took off before Roux was out of diapers.

Yeah, she wasn’t forgiving that mom of the year any time soon. The bitch could rot for all she cared. Anyway, moving on.

Tucker’s didn’t forgive easily, and they held a grudge for eternity.

It was one of life’s lessons she’d received from her bossy dad.

She was young, not bratty. Sure, she might be a bit of a handful at times, but what woman wasn’t? She’d grown up around the MC, it meant she matured a long time ago, around men who drank, cavorted, and caused holy hell.

She didn’t aspire to a nine-to-five job. There was something she was good at, but no one approved of her gambling.

“You gonna hold up and talk to me or what? I wanna take you out tonight.”

“No, fuck off,” she said sweet as can be as she took a seat at the long table, already occupied by three men who were feeding their faces. They snickered as Reno sighed, turned on his boots and left.

“Go easy on him,” Chains said, putting a grilled cheese in front of her. He knew her tastes so well. He should, he helped raise her. An odd man, but she loved him anyway. She smiled and said, “nope. Where’s dad?”

“Out,” he answered vaguely.

The club life was a hard one. Violent, turbulent, often dangerous.

She didn’t live at the clubhouse, but she did have a room. The only woman who did.

The only other women through the doors were biker chasers and they came to party. It was nothing new to Roux. Like watching boring TV seeing those chicks sashay in every weekend hoping to fall on a dick and get his property cut.

She’d rather cut off her crown and glory than be that woman.

Not for Reno.

Not for anyone.

And not the biker she did want.

But the less thought about him the better.

She munched her way through double helpings of a grilled cheese slathered in jalapeño jam, while Chains did his own eating sitting opposite her.

“What’s with everyone around here lately?”

He looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Everyone’s acting nuts. Secretive. Dad’s stressed.” Not to mention this new courtship that was out of left field and Reno’s allowed to live. It didn’t make any sense. “Is the club in trouble?”

Something crossed through Chains’ eyes for a second. A look of guilt? Concern? Then it was gone, but she’d caught it and it put rocks into her stomach.

Their club had never been what you’d call popular.

It warred a lot over the years with the Raging Rebels until that club got firebombed out of existence. Things had been better for the last two years until some of the boys started getting arrested for stupid things. At the last count, six of them were doing long stretches inside. Roux knew it put strain on the club to stay afloat.

Then not so long ago, her now friend, Penelope was used as a bargaining chip for her dad to earn some easy cash. Roux had known then that the club was going through some shit but trying to get anything out of Axel was next to impossible.

“You know I can’t talk about club business, Roux.”

Yeah, yeah. So, fucking outdated. She could easily be a patched member. She knew the club life inside and out, but chest beating men didn’t take in women other than to fuck and party with them. Like they thought they’d sit around the church table talking about periods and menopause. Fucking cavemen.

Fortunately, she loved her mismatched family and didn’t have an urge to become a biker bitch, not in that way anyway.

“Why is that always the go to answer? Just tell me to mind my own business if you don’t want me to know something.”

She was more than a little pissy and it showed when she moved the plate aside.

Chains chuckled. “That temper, girlie, it never changes. You were the same when you were six years old and kept falling off your bike. We thought you were gonna kick shit out of it.”

She smiled remembering. But focused in on the topic at hand, this wasn’t time for memory lane.

“Is Dad in trouble?”

“Axel is fine.” Was all he said as he pushed up from the table, dumped his dishes for a prospect to clean later and he exited the kitchen as she knew he would.

Something hinky was up but she didn’t know what.

Licking butter from her thumb, she shrugged to herself. No point worrying, she’d know soon enough, she supposed.

To get in her father’s good graces, seeing as how he was going to be pissed that she was jobless again, she headed to his office to dig through the mess he had in there. When she saw the man himself talking to Reno.

The pair looked intense and it sent cold to her now full stomach. She stopped in the doorway and watched them.

Reno gestured with a hand, shaking his head at whatever her dad said to him.

Axel Tucker wasn’t old. Almost thirty-eight, shoulder length brown hair with a takes no shit attitude. She knew what people said about him, that he wasn’t liked much. She didn’t care. They didn’t know him, what he’d had to do at seventeen to raise her alone. No wonder she preferred to hang out with guys, all her old girl friends wanted to fuck Axel and that was just gross as hell. Sure, he wasn’t ugly, but it was gross to think of anyone she knew hooking up with him.

She must have made a noise because both men’s heads swerved her way.

Reno smirked as he always did. Dick. She ignored him and smiled at her dad.

“I was just gonna dig into some office stuff.” She told him.

“Hold off on that right now, get over here, Roux.”

Hardening her eyes between the two men, she took herself over. Her suspicious mind relaxed a little when he wrapped a big arm around her and dropped a kiss on her forehead.

She noted Reno was staring at her like a simpering little idiot. She ignored him and the secret look in his eyes.

“Listen, baby.” Her dad started in a voice so serious that she lifted her face, getting that hinky feeling in her gut again. “You need to start taking Reno seriously, okay?”

Concrete landed in her stomach.

This was the shit that made things so freaking weird around here lately.

Her dad didn’t encourage her to date. At all. Anyone.

If it were up to him, she’d be a practicing nun.

The small number of failed dates she’d had always came to an untimely end because no one could stand up to the intimidation radiating out of Axel Tucker.

But never—not ever in a million years—has he ever encouraged her to date from within the clubhouse. She’d see flying pigs first.

About to unglue her tongue from the roof of her mouth, to ask what mind altering drugs he was taking, he went on, with a tick making his jaw tighter. “Far as I’m concerned, you’re engaged to be his old lady, so get used to it and stop fucking throwing a tantrum.”

Judgement delivered. Axel strode off like he hadn’t just brought a hammer down on her life and left her with a smirking guy.

Thud.

Thud.

Whoosh.

Blood rushed through her ears as she finally took a breath.

Reno’s old lady?

Staring daggers at him, she spun around and headed for the door.

Fuck working.

Fuck this whole fucking club.

“And fuck you too.” She aimed over her shoulder at her so-called fiancé.


 

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From Manhattan

Exclusive First Chapter – Manhattan Target

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It’s not rocket science to understand the business I’m in.

You don’t need a PhD to comprehend I’m an independent contractor.

I do the dirty work that people want to ignore.

I receive a message.

I check the offer and time frame.

Research comes next.

I hunt.

And prey.

I stalk.

And then I kill.

Freelance contractor is the technical name.

But in layman’s terms, I’m a hitman.

My Slavic-Italian father is a winemaker in Napoli. His father was a farmer in the same fields my father now owns for his grapes. He’s a good man who hasn’t done anything wrong in his life.

You can justifiably question where the fuck I got the thought or the inclination to become a hire to kill man, but it’s quite simple really.

I was in the right place at the wrong time, or in my case, the right time.

Things happened. People I knew needed a dirty job done without their M.O. left all over it.

Intending to be one job. One turned into two. My reputation preceded me and word of mouth spread like wildfire that I was the man to hire.

I have very little scruples, hardly any morality and I like money.

I enjoy being rich. You could say it’s my second biggest love of my life.

No one likes eating ramen for dinner every day.

Well someone I know does…but I do not.

Everything I do in my life is in excess.

I enjoy being gluttonous and having things that please me.

I won’t apologize for who I am and I don’t deny myself the things I want if it’s in my power to own it.

Nevertheless, there’s specific rules and I live by them to the letter.

These are my own rules and they are:

I never target kids of any kind.

I won’t go after someone’s kid to teach an asshole a lesson.

I’ll target the asshole for free.

I won’t kill Donata because she won the Tiramisu contest last year and Silvia can’t get over it. Bitch, take care of that yourself by poisoning her macadamia cookies. Or fuck Donata’s husband as payback.

Everything else is fair game if the price is right.

Just like a supermodel, I don’t get my arsenal out for less than fifty grand and that’s rock bottom price to retain my time, the real price comes if I accept. I flew to Dubai to deal with a little fraudulent issue an oil tycoon was having. He deposited a cool five million into my account for my ass to get on a plane.

It’s not a bad life.

I might end up in the blazing pits of Lucifer’s fortress, but I’ll do it in good threads and a Cuban cigar in my hand.

Of course I have a day job.

All good hitmen need a front, but that’s my business and only a few people in the whole world know my true self.  Sure, people whisper about me. There’s always rumors surrounding who I am and what I can do. But no one truly knows unless I want them to know.

I rarely accept a job in person unless I know and trust them already. Everything I take is over the phone or through messages. There is never a paper trail leading back to my name.

Keep your enemies close and your real enemies closer like you want to bone them.

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I adjust the tie before folding down the collar to my crisp white shirt. My own image looking back at me.

I see what everyone else sees.

My Italian roots staining my hair ink black, brushed off my face. Navy blue eyes against my natural tan.

I work out consistently every morning. Have you ever seen an overweight hitman who can clamber up the side of a building because his mark lives on the twenty-ninth floor?

Burgers are nice to eat. Money is better in my bank, so I exercise.

Plus, I like seeing my dick when I look down and not a beer gut. My dick is not happy as I zip up the black pants. It’s the reason we’re getting gussied up in a Dolce and Gabbana tuxedo today.

Business as usual.

Only, today is a little different and it has my rib cage expanding with the amount of breaths I’m taking.

This hit is not the same, in that the mark has proven elusive for far too long.

While I accepted other assignments, this task was dormant in the file and that shit did not sit well with me.

Quitting isn’t in my blood.

It’s the reason I required the big guns to get involved and my fucking gut is on fire for what will happen today.

I haven’t been able to get close enough to the guy.

He’s surrounded by more protection than the Pope.

You would think a crime boss wouldn’t be scared all the time.

But I’ve finally gotten around it.

I hope anyway, or the rest of my goddamn life is going to be miserable.

An hour later I’m sliding into the low slung Maserati GranTurismo in Magma Red. Chosen especially today to arrive at the church across Manhattan. It’s a lavish affair. Already the press are outside. Barriers of security checking invites and wristbands to the guests allowed inside the church.

The prick covered all his security bases.

I tried earlier that week to get a birds-eye view from the roof opposite to keep as plan B. I do my hits with less flare and not with a high-powered rifle that will land my ass on America’s most wanted.

No, this has to be up close and personal.

Choosing my seat at the back of the church, my eyes are razor sharp. The hush comes over the vast crowd of crime families and celebrities alike.

I know my gaze should be with the aging man at the front, standing with his eldest son. The groom is pushing seventy if he’s a day and looks like he’s lived a hard fucking life. Any decent person would feel guilty knowing they’re looking at a breathing dead man. Knowing within a day he’ll be on a mortuary slab, cut open to find out the mysterious reason for his sudden death.

I don’t have guilt and my eyes are trained to the back of the church.

A whirlwind relationship the press claimed to be the romance of the decade.

Former club dancer who met the love of her life only weeks ago is going to become queen to Manhattan’s Vitali boss. The headlines were splashed over the gossip columns this week.

The Vitali family came from Naples decades ago and set up camp in lower Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. They’re one step down from the actual Cosa Nostra, but it hasn’t stopped them warring with most every crime faction and making deadly enemies.

That’s where I come in.

It was never an ordinary hit that any street soldier could take on. It’s taken careful, methodical planning for far too long and here we are at the end.

Only this job is personal more than most. I feel it in every slow swallow and precipitous heartbeat as the bride enters from outside.

Being orphaned, she’s not escorted by a father. She’s walked down the aisle by Vitali’s consigliere. The raven-haired brat sends a sweet smile to the groom as she sways her hips encased in the Vegas showgirl type white dress, barely hiding her pussy, it’s that short.

The dress looks ridiculous on her, thank god.

My fingers flex. I already know my teeth will ache later because I’m holding my jaw together with sheer willpower to keep myself in my seat and not charge forward.

The church is surrounded with guards wearing designer black.

Even the priest is looking worried.

Why am I so antsy when I’ve done this a thousand times and not broken out in a sweat?

“I love you,” I whisper under my breath as the love of my life walks down the aisle to the man I’m paid to assassinate.

Yeah, that’s why.

My woman marrying this piece of shit crime boss in front of a thousand witnesses and my heart is in a vise within my rib cage.

The ceremony starts.


 

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Renegade Souls MC

Exclusive first chapter – Indecent Lies

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Once upon a time, Penelope Bridget Astor was deeply and completely in love with a boy who didn’t think of her as anything other than a bratty kid, who creepily followed him around.

And then as all good fairy tales go, he broke her heart.

He went on breaking it until there was barely anything left.

And the even sadder part, he didn’t know he was hurting Penelope at all because he had no idea she was so deeply in love with him.

So, she gave the tiny fragments to whoever wanted them and each time she wondered would this be the one who put her back together, who gave all of her heart back.

And each disastrous relationship ended the same way.

She just couldn’t commit herself.

Because the boy she once loved didn’t know he had her heart and that she was irreparably damaged for anyone else to love.

And now, many years later, she was in big trouble because her dumbass was too upset to check if she was at the right place or not.

Penelope was pretty-damn positive no fairy tale ended with her being held hostage inside a MC. That’s motorcycle club for those not in the know… which she was that person only five days ago.

Honestly, so much slang these men used and got butthurt if she dared question what something meant.

Excuse the hell out of her that she was clueless to this way of lifestyle.

She was brought up in country clubs, not warehouse type clubs that had more than sixty Harley Davidson bikes parked outside.

Or the kind of club where men drank hard liquor directly from the bottle at any time of the day, it didn’t even have to be five o’clock.

So yeah, Penelope was being held to ransom and since she’d burned her last bridge with her parents when she ran out of her wedding, they were unlikely to pay anything.

Even just to get to Colorado she’d used the last of her purse cash for a plane ticket and then a cab to the wrong MC.

That’s how she was in the predicament she was now.

How was she supposed to know there was more than one MC in the area?

Had she known the situation she’d land herself in by running out of her wedding at the last minute, she might have rethought marrying a man she didn’t love.

But at the time she thought it was divine intervention making her overhear Malachai Hunt talking to his bitch of a wife about his twin brother.

Five minutes later, she was shucking up her $19 thousand dollar lacy gown and jumping into an Uber outside of the church.

As hostage situations go, this wasn’t horrible.

She’d seen worse on TV.

She was being properly fed and could even get any snacks and drinks she wanted whenever she wanted them from the kitchen out back.

She had a huge TV and a vast collection of DVDs, plus Netflix to watch.

But it wasn’t ideal.

For one, she was a hostage, that’s never fun.

And for two, she was in someone else’s clothes and they were cutting off her circulation. She picked at the skintight jeans she’d practically had to remove ribs to get into them.

Roux Tucker … the daughter of the man who was detaining her, loaned her a stack of clothes, but Roux was taller and skinnier, more beautiful, not that it mattered when she tried to pull on the jeans, but still… she could hardly walk in them and she was sick of those odious guys staring at her butt.

If they called her sweet bottom once more, she might… she might… well, she was too scared to do anything other than think mean things.

That was the other unpleasant thing.

This MC was full and she meant overstuffed with undesirable men who all thought it was funny as hell to tease her with vulgarity and innocuous staring at her chest and ass.

She’d never been so verbally abused before with sexual harassment.

“Ignore them,” Roux shrugged, unbothered, “the more you complain, the more they do it.”

Penelope noticed not one of those guys ever hit on Roux or said anything offensive.

In fact, they treated her like they were all her father.

Roux explained it was because she was a MC princess and therefore was hands off to every man who walked through the door.

That had to suck for her dating life, Penelope mused.

The men there weren’t terrible looking, some were in fact quite handsome in a rough he chews glass and will kill you sort of a way.

“You don’t find none of them attractive?” She asked the girl sitting at her side in her biker boots and skinny jeans and ripped vintage shirt with the sleeves torn off.

Roux was a rock chick.

“God no.” She laughed. “They’re like my uncles, that would be seriously gross for me.”

In comparison to her new friend, Penelope was the complete opposite, looks wise.

With her mousy brown hair she had to dye to a darker shade every few weeks just to give it some life, otherwise it looked like burnt straw.

She was only an inch shorter than Roux, at 5’6, but she felt dumpy next to the other girl, mainly because Penelope had hips and an ass she just couldn’t get rid of no matter how much lettuce she ate or exercise classes she took.

The chunk just clung on for dear life.

She’d come to terms with her shape which was inherited from her granny.

She did love her green eyes, she received compliments on them all the time.

And her plump lips that were au natural.

She was terrified of needles so would never go for enhancements as her friends loved doing.

“What about the younger boys over here?”

“The prospects.” Roux filled in.

She was learning so many new things she didn’t even know existed.

A prospect was basically a modern day slave who was trying to initiate himself into the MC by doing a lot of crappy menial jobs.

Both girls cast their gazes to the pool table across the room. Around it was three guys, probably around their age or a bit younger. Penelope was twenty-six but could never truly guess someone’s age just from looking at them, another of her flaws.

She wasn’t good at anything, no discernible skills to speak of.

It truly sucked being useless.

Only good for marriage and popping out babies and being seen on the arm of someone prestigious to order foie gras for him coming home after doing his secretary in the coat closet.

“My dad would have a shit fit if I messed around with a prospect. He’d kill the prospect, no questions asked.”

Penelope hadn’t seen much of Axel Tucker these past five days, not up close anyway. After the man in charge informed Penelope she was to be detained until the exchange, he’d handed her over to Roux and told his daughter to keep her quiet.

Charming. Now she truly was a thing.

And that was what she’d been running away from.

Becoming nothing, only known as someone’s wife. His trophy.

Oh, she knew alright. Ronnie didn’t love her, not really.

Their relationship was not something she could in all good conscience live with for the rest of her life. He didn’t love her and she certainly didn’t have those feelings for him.

Her circle of society were big on parties. Nothing like she’d seen in this MC for the last week, it was more for the reason of showing off. Who had a bigger, more expensive car this season. Who got the promotion. Who was jetting off to warmer climates.

If you didn’t have something to brag about in society, then you were a no one.

Penelope was a no one.

She wasn’t ugly, she got a lot of attention from boys growing up, but that was the start and end of her resume. Beauty pageant winner and nothing much else.

She sighed and pulled her lips around the black straw, drinking big gulps of the diet coke.

“Do you know who your dad is expecting to make an exchange for me?”

It wasn’t the first time she’d asked.

She felt pretty calm in spite of the state of affairs she’d gotten herself in.

On the plane ride to Denver, she rightly so garnered a lot of questionable looks sitting in the middle row of the plane in her wedding gown and uncomfortable heels.

But for the first time in … forever, she’d felt like she could breathe freedom.

For once in her life, Penelope planned for herself.

And look how that turned out.

“I don’t know. Your dad I presume.”

That made her tummy churn.

No way would her father pay money to get her back, not after what she’d done. He was the more insistent she go through with marrying Ronnie, after all he worked for her dad in his hedge fund company.

“You might want to stay in my room tonight, there’s a big party. Things tend to get loud and out of hand.”

More out of hand than she’d seen already?

Penelope didn’t think these kinds of places existed, where men openly had sex for anyone to watch or consume vast amounts of alcohol, not to mention smoking drugs. That first night, distraught and a little hysterical, she’d frozen to the floor, with her eyes wide and tear filled, scared and alone, while the MC celebrated her capture…calling her a golden goose. And what she’d seen after that, Penelope didn’t think she’d ever unsee it.

Only with Roux grabbing her arm and dragging her off down a long hallway and into her room saved her from the lewd looks she was attracting.

Without a filter or care for her feelings, Roux snapped for her to stay the fuck out of the main room if she wanted to live.

“Aren’t you going to be around?” She turned worried eyes to see Roux shaking her head.

She didn’t know if the other girl liked her or not, other than the fact she made sure no one bothered her.

But for Penelope, she had some form of Stockholm syndrome attachment to the girl and felt safer when she was around.

“Nah, I have somewhere I need to go.”

“Maybe I could go with you.”

Roux laughed and lifted a shaped eyebrow.

God, Penelope would kill to have her brows threaded, it had been over two weeks. She was one of those unlucky women who resembled a yeti found in the wild if she didn’t maintain her facial hair. That meant waxing her upper lip too. She’d look like Elmer Fudd in a few weeks if she didn’t book an appointment with her waxing girl.

Only, she was no longer in Harrison, NY, with easy access to every hygienic self-care spa.

“You know you can’t.”

“I’ll be with you, what am I going to do, run off? I don’t know anyone here.”

“Not going to happen, Cinderella.”

Ugh, they’d all started calling her Cinderella that first day.

She supposed she was lucky that they didn’t make her clean out the chimneys.

“Fine, but if I get killed, then I hope you feel guilty.”

As a hostage, it wasn’t so bad, but Penelope was afraid once Axel Tucker knew her father would not be paying any ransom, he had no reason to let her live.

She’d heard them talking, they assumed Penelope was going to fetch them a lot of money.

She could have easily told them no one thought that much of her to pay any kind of money, let alone thousands.

Trying to be brave, she kept her mouth shut.

She didn’t even know if she could trust Roux, she was part of this MC, after all.

It had been a colossal mistake to come to Colorado in hopes of finding refuge with the only boy she’d ever known who made her heart hurt.

That was a lifetime ago, he probably didn’t even remember her.

Stupid impulsive decisions never lead to anywhere good.

Penelope found that out far too late.

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It happened on a Thursday, when his life circled back to the very beginning of everything.

Pastor Danny Murphy, of those Murphy’s, originally from the green shores of Galway, Ireland, would remember distinctly it being Thursday after choir practice, if he were asked later on. He’d just finished picking up all the hymn books from the pews when the double doors flew open, as if a great gust of wind had aided the motion from God himself.

He was tired, wanting a beer and his bed but the church was always open if folks were in need.

The cold blew in right after and wrapped around his neck.

What with the snow inches thick on the ground in and around Armado Springs, Colorado, and no signs of it changing any time soon. The weather was terrible and biting every second of the day unless he kept the heating turned to a balmy 70 degrees.

His housekeeper was going to tan his arse when she saw the power bill.

Danny was a little afraid of Cora when she got in one of her snits, which was most every day. Aye, she had a temper, she did.

But the woman could bake like no one’s business and he was a slave to her honied flapjacks.

The blown doors brought in the bitter cold freeze and a person swathed in so much coat it was difficult to discern who or what it was under there.

Only that he knew it was someone looking for refuge from the cold and the Baptist Gospel church was open to all, no matter the time of day or season.

So, he left the stack of song books on the front pew and watched the person struggle to close the ancient wood.

Danny didn’t shudder for the mistreatment of such old, antique historical pieces.

He loved his church, his first and hopefully his for a long time to come, but he loved his community more, and if one was needing help or shelter, he could overlook scratches on doors.

Taking the time to put away his very worn and very well loved fifteen-year-old black Fender guitar in its case, he kept an eye out for his new guest as they slowly made their way down the aisle. Shrouded in white puffy material and a knitted hat pulled low and a scarf wrapped high, only the sway-gait of the person alerted him to the possibility that it was a woman beneath the cloak of clothing.

“Hello.” He smiled in greeting.

Sounds of his home back in Galway threaded through his voice. Sometimes he was told he’d picked up Americanisms from his friends, but it only took one rowdy night of pints of Guinness and manic bouts of darts down at Brannon’s pub to have the Irish flowing through him once more, as if he’d never left the green shores years ago.

You can take the man from Galway, as his da says, but you can’t take the Galway from the man. Aye, to be true.

He would always be the alley-rat from back home, no matter how far he went.

Silver rings glinting on his fingers when he brushed his too-long mop of light brown hair from his eyes, he saw a set of crystal emerald eyes follow his hand, pausing as if she was startled to see him. He smiled again to reassure she was safe here.

“Cold out, aye? I can offer you a hot tea. Me mother says I make the best tea in Ireland, but I’m thinking she’s a bit biased. Nevertheless, it will warm you up.”

He heard a muffled hello. The small lump shuffled forward, and Danny finally got a decent look at his guest. From the threadbare tennis shoes, one missing a lace, to the coat with several rips in both sleeves. Lord above, she’d been out in weather like this, dressed like that?

He felt a lurch of sympathy in his chest.

Moving over to the trolley that Cora always left off to the side with a tea urn, cups, plates and a barrel of homemade shortbread, her own family secret recipe he was determined to wrangle out of her one of these days. He poured a tea and dumped in three sugars, not that the woman was in shock, or that he knew of yet, it was just instinct.

“Is there something I can be helping you with?” He asked over his shoulder, hearing a zipper, he popped open the barrel and fisted four biscuits, placing them on a plate.

Of late he’d felt a sense of—he didn’t want to label it detachment, but aye, that was how he felt most mornings when he pulled himself out of bed and went on his typical 7-mile run. Then saw to the day to day running of his church, before he did his daily visits to those most in need in and around his community.

Danny loved his work, but most days—for the past months, and worse still over the holidays, he felt disconnected from everyone and everything. Going through the motions, oh, his faith ever strong, there was no doubt in that. His friends would say he needed to get laid, his mother would assume he longed for a wife and kiddies hanging off his belt loops.

Being a man about to turn thirty and a man of God no less, came with its own troubles and temptations.

He loved his work and would always offer a helping hand as he was offered many moons ago when his heart was black and full of hate. He had a cousin once who came to these shores before Danny. Connor’s life ended long before his time because he got in with a wrong motorcycle club.

Only with the divine grace of God intervening for Danny, did it thankfully put him on the right path.

The right path for him.

Some would ask what gave him the wisdom to counsel his community as he did for such a young age. No one knew his past, and probably wouldn’t ever hear the tales of a time when Danny Murphy of the infamous Murphy’s of Galway, answered only to his mistress; drugs.

It was the same disconnect in his breastbone he felt from those dark days of trying as hard as he could to die and failing each time.

Even as he smiled, carrying over the tea and snack, he wondered was God of a mind with a new path for the pastor? He knew one thing, he always listened when God spoke to him.

Aye, he wasn’t so daft these days.

The red scarf un-wound from her neck. At least the women felt comfortable enough to take a seat for a while. If she needed a bed, he was sure to find her one, he was well acquainted with the local shelters and no one should be desperate enough to sleep in the snow.

Next, off came the oversized hat and Danny froze where he stood.

The blood stopped circulating inside his veins.

And the shock of what he was seeing—who he was seeing, caused a mass riot within his lungs.

If the devil himself had appeared and started to do the Irish jig he couldn’t have been more surprised at the cascade of blood-red hair that tumbled out of the hat.

Corkscrew red curls fell in rivers over slim shoulders as a face emerged.

A face of freckles dusting over her nose like cinnamon sugar.

He knew the numbers of freckles.

He’d counted them many times. Kissed them a million times and sought them in crowds for years.

Moss green eyes met Danny’s.

Sure, the ground underneath him was rocking because for the first time in a long time, Danny felt unsteady in his own body. He stalled his steps, the cup swaying in his hand. A look of nerves on the woman’s face, she too was stuck in place, but she wrestled with the zipper of her coat, her teeth chattering together to show how cold she was.

“Aoife…” his voice scratched, sure he was dreaming and not standing in front of the girl he’d loved at six. And then at twelve. And at eighteen and every year in between.

The girl who had broken his soul apart at twenty-two.

Memories like a kaleidoscope swept through his vision, he didn’t have one childhood memory that didn’t involve Aoife. The girl he’d loved before he knew what it was to love a person as deeply as he had.

He’d loved her so deeply as a little boy, he’d wanted to be her everything.

Protector and best friend until she only loved him.

Knees just about buckled out from under him.

Aoife here in his church.

What was God doing to him?

The first girl he’d kissed.

The girl he’d climbed trees with and jumped over streams for because she wanted him to capture her a frog. The same girl he hid from her brothers and protected her from her drunk father. The same little girl who would sneak into his house and to sleep in his bed when she was scared of thunderstorms.

The girl who took all his firsts and gave him hers.

The girl he’d worshipped and fucked and lost all in the same year.

And the same woman who had walked away from him and married someone else.

The thump of his disbelief matched that of his heartbeat.

Shaking the fog from his brain, he was a pastor first, a man second.

Oh, she was lovely as ever, he thought.

Her freckles told stories only he would understand.

Though her lips were pulled straight now, he remembered when there was nothing but smiles and whispers of love and temptation on them.

Play with me, Danny-boy.

Touch me, Danny-boy.

I love you forever, and a day, Danny-boy.

She was neither tall nor short. He used to call her height perfect that fit directly under his chin when she curled into his ribs. With a slight build and tempting curves attached to her hip bones. There was not an inch of her body he didn’t know intimately. Once upon a time ago.

Still an artist’s dream come to life as she ever was. With her bow lips and almond shaped eyes and a bone structure he recognized from memory.

“I’ve come a long way, Danny-boy.” She spoke finally.

Sounds of home in her husky tone put heat in his belly.

The love he’d long since locked away started to peek through the cracks in his heart.

Danny cast a look at the ceiling, inhaling rapidly as a dying man would, in his mind he asked; “Lord, how could you do this to me now?” He was sure he could hear laughing.

Her coat unzipped all the way to her thighs, and the mysterious woman he’d first thought was on the thick side, was not at all. Aoife was slender as always.

What bulked out her coat was the baby wrapped around her chest.

A sleeping bairn no bigger than a sack of potatoes that she kissed on the top of its head, and then those bright green jeweled eyes that could once bring him to his knees and make him beg, turned on him.

Razor sharp. Wary. Shocked. Frightened.

Yeah, he noticed that one the most because it hit him square in the chest.

Danny hadn’t moved an inch.

His gaze going from Aoife to the bairn.

“I’m so glad you’re here. I seem to find meself in a bit of a bother, so I do. Can you help me, Danny-boy?”

And that was how Danny Murphy, of the infamous Murphy’s, knew that God was setting him on a new—unknown path once again.

One that would test his faith and loyalty and put him back in a place where his heart ruled … and shite alive, he didn’t have the first sodding clue how to feel when faced with the girl that not only got away but ran far…and took his soul with her.

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