Authors: Cat Porter
“Get the fuck out of here, you hear me?”
“Please, I need to see his wife. I need to tell her!”
I gritted my teeth as I dragged her away from the front gate of the clubhouse. “You will never see her or talk to her. You stay away from her, bitch!”
“You don’t understand!”
We’d buried him only four hours ago, and brothers and old ladies from clubs all over were in the One-Eyed Jacks’ clubhouse, dealing with their shock, sharing their Dig stories, drinking and eating, hugging, grieving.
Not another party crasher, not now.
I towered over her, my long hair swinging. “Oh, I understand real well. You’re just some fucking groupie coming out of the woodwork like all the rest of ’em. There were plenty at the funeral, plenty more stragglers hovering the past few days, putting on their sympathy show.”
“I’m not a groupie! I knew him. Please!”
“You all know Dig, don’t you? Fuck off, little girl. Go find another club to blow.”
“Why won’t you listen to me?” Tears streamed down her crumpled face as she choked on her hiccupy breaths.
“Get out! Go!”
The viciousness of my yell pushed her, and she staggered backward under its force. I wiped off the wetness on my own face, my heart charged on adrenaline, on desolation.
My stomach clenched, my hands shook at my sides. I needed to eat, to sleep, yet both seemed unnecessary, unimportant. This burning, burning in my veins, in the pit of my soul—that was forever.
“Go!” I yelled.
She ran off down the gravel road.
Three months later, that girl was back.
There was a party. There had been plenty of parties to stem the tide of grief and despair. But it hadn’t worked for me. I couldn’t make sense of the way the currents had turned, sucking me under and then leaving me to float alone on the oily surface. Each party had blended into the next—a haze of faces, broken bottles, savage groping, bad jokes, forced laughs, burning lungs.
“Hey, hey, are you all right?” A small white hand firmly clasped my arm.
My head jerked at the touch, at the small hand’s presumption over my ink. There was something irrational about those delicate fingers throttling the neck of my fanged snake.
“Hey, hey…” I mimicked her voice, laughing.
My eyes flicked over her. Medium height, pretty blondish-red hair in a mess of waves and curls tumbling over her shoulders, and a face like a doll’s—pouty but serious. Her skin was pale with a spray of freckles over her nose and cheeks. Slate-blue eyes were trained on me, making my back straighten. That nervous jitter to her posture and her perfect pink lips made me lean in to her.
Motherfuck, it’s her again.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I growled, my alcohol and weed–induced stupor abating for just a moment. “I told you to fuck off and stay off.” I shook off her hand.
“Yeah, you did, but you wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. And it’s important.”
“Important? What’s so fucking important?”
“You were Dig’s friend. He talked to you that day when I was with him.”
I grabbed her arm and dragged her through the boisterous thick crowd toward where our cars and trucks were parked. I pushed her against the black Camaro.
“What don’t you understand about, stay the fuck away? Look at you. This ain’t a place for you. You’re just a kid. What are you doin’, huh? Go home. Get a life.”
“I wouldn’t have a life if it wasn’t for Dig Quillen! He saved my life. And I know
he called you on the phone to come help, to
to deal with the body,” she whispered roughly.
My fingers grabbed her face, digging into her jaw. “Who the hell are you?”
“Dig killed that guy, Mole. Dig killed him for me.”
Her words flared right through me, like an alternate oxygen, a compound that burned through my lungs, straight through to my brain cells, obliterating everything I’d thought I knew in its wake.
“Dig saved my life, and he got killed for it.” Her eyes searched mine, the white beams of the overhead lights glaring down on us in the dark jungle of the club parking lot.
I peered into her face, my head hanging from my neck. “I saw that room, that bed. That was you?”
“Me.” Her voice was firm, sure.
I was anything but. “You?”
And there, against Dig’s prized car, she told me every horrible detail of her abduction, every disgusting thing that fucker had done to her. How Dig had walked through that door, taken one long look at her, and changed everything.
“Yeah, he called me, and I went and cleaned it all up. No traces left, no body, not even those pizza boxes on the floor.”
She winced, and her chest heaved. I grabbed her, her body wobbling in my grip. Her eyes shot open, and she pushed against me, a panicked moan escaping her lips.
“Who the fuck are you?” I whispered.
“Just a girl. Just a stupid girl.”
“Why do you keep coming here, damn it?”
“I need to tell his wife. I need to tell her that I’m sorry. That-that it’s all my fault.” She leaned over, her body bowing as if she’d been pushed. She gulped in air, planting her hands on the hood of the Camaro. “That it’s all because of me. I’m so sorry.”
“She almost got killed, too, you know,” I said. “Grace was pregnant, and the baby didn’t make it.”
“I know! I heard it on the news. She killed him, didn’t she? The guy who—”
“She killed him.”
“That’s good. That’s really good.”
“You can’t talk about this to anybody. You told your best friends? Your mommy and daddy?”
She violently shook her head. “No, no. Dig told me not to. Not ever. And I haven’t. I won’t.”
The sound of her saying his name stung. “And how can I be sure of that?”
Her shoulders fell, her neck elongated. “I promised him. And I’m keeping that promise.”
There was a force in her posture, a straight line that held firm.
She’d survived being kidnapped, tortured, sexually assaulted, and saved by an outlaw biker who had happened to be dealing drugs to her captor.
This girl couldn’t be more than sixteen. Same age Grace was when Dig and I had first laid eyes on her a thousand years ago at a party of high schoolers, all innocence and sharp logic. Same age that Inès had—
My cousin Inès’s adamant face seared my eyes. Defiance, despair, disregard. Even though I’d kept her safe. Even though she’d had me at her side, holding her up, assuring her with soft words, amusing her. My pleading, my strength hadn’t been enough. She’d only slipped through my fingers. Nothing was ever enough for her.
I wasn’t enough.
The girl’s voice broke through my reverie. “I only came to see you. To explain. To find Mrs. Quillen, to tell her—”
“To tell her, what? Her whole life exploded in her face. What are you gonna tell her now that’s gonna make that all better?” I shouted, my pulse jamming in my stiff neck. “Anyway, she’s gone.”
Her face paled. “Gone?”
“She left town. Up and took off. She ran away from all of us. Didn’t even tell me.” I shook, my whole body shook.
She lunged at me, her arms wrapping around my middle. I stiffened in her embrace, my breath snagging.
What the fuck was she doing?
“Forgive me. Forgive me,” she said, her lips brushing against my shoulder, a hand tangling in my hair.
For one moment, I could believe this hug was real. It was her sorrow, but also my own. It was our confusion over this cataclysm in our lives. It was me and this girl out of nowhere, sharing this pain, this grief. It was me being lost and someone else getting it, holding it.
A shiver raced up my spine, and I swallowed hard. “What’s your name?”
“You can’t be here, Jill Loughlin.”
She let go of me and wiped at her face. “Okay.”
“There’s nothing for you here. Nothing.”
She stared up at me, her gray-blue eyes glistening pools of wet, like stones in the sea. The tears, the choppy breaths had stopped. Her hand reached out and pressed against my chest.
“You loved him,” she whispered. “He was a good man. A good person.”
My heart raced under the pressure of her palm. She’d only spent a couple of hours with Dig, at best, yet she was so sure, so confident.
“I loved him like no other.” My voice rasped in the cool darkness between us. “He was my best friend, my brother. I don’t know how I’ll live without him. I know I’ll never forget him.”
Her lips curved into the tiniest smile, her cheeks rising, her gray-blue eyes a force to be reckoned with. Her fingertips pressed into my chest. “You shouldn’t ever forget him. I never will. Not ever.”
I put a hand over hers and held it there, as if I could suck some of the Dig energy she’d absorbed out of her arm and make it flow into mine.
I squeezed her hand at my chest. “What did he say to you? He had to have said something—”
“He told me if the cops ever got involved, it would only make things worse for all of us.”
“And he made me promise to take care of myself, appreciate what I’ve got. And if I needed help, get it, and don’t take it out on myself. ‘Trust me on that one,’ he said.”
My stomach heaved, but I squashed down the physical drive to vomit. I only nodded, a strangled noise escaping my throat.
She moved her hand across my chest and removed it from me.
I shifted my weight. “You gotta go home. The Feds are hanging all over us. You got a car? How’d you get here?”
“I took the bus.”
“Jesus.” I wiped my arm across my face. “Where the hell do you live?”
Almost three hours north of here. “I’m too fucked up to take you home myself, but I’ll get someone who will.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Gotta get you home.”
I only nodded, not sure what to do with her thank-you, her unflustered smile that lit up her whole face, her conviction, her trust.
I couldn’t breathe.
“You remember, you don’t say a word, to nobody. And I’ll be watching out for things on this end. I’ll keep an eye out. Know that I am. Don’t you ever fuckin’ dare
talk to anybody—”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“Okay.” I shuffled forward.
I swiveled to face her. “Don’t fucking thank me!” My voice came out harsh, mean. I hadn’t wanted it to be though. I stood up as straight as I could. “Please, just don’t thank me.”
I had Dready take her home. I told him to get her talking, take down her address and phone number, find out anything else about her. He did.
And I kept tabs on her.
I’d kept eyes on her for the next year.
And Jill Loughlin hadn’t disappointed.
“She saw me,” Dready snorted over the phone. “She was hanging out with two girlfriends, waiting for the school bus, and I revved my engine. She spotted me right off, gave me a long look, and then got on her bus, not missing a beat.”
You couldn’t miss Dready. Over six-three, all muscle, and reddish-brown hair in a mess of ratty dreadlocks.
“Get home,” I said into my phone and shut it down.
I had kept my ears to the ground with the rival MC connected to the asshole who had kidnapped Jill and also his brother who had killed Dig. But things were quiet. Although both asshats were the nephews of that club’s VP, there were no rumblings, no retaliatory maneuvers whatsoever.
But you could never be sure of this shit.
Every couple of weeks I sent Dready up to Ellston to check on Jill. Well, more like let her see him, let her know that the One-Eyed Jacks were a presence in her life. A teenage girl was an unknown entity.
It’d been about a year since she’d come to Meager and found me. She was in her senior year of high school now, went to church on Sunday with her parents, even went to youth group meetings and was a member of the track team. The all-American girl.
Jill didn’t need me, and I had to stop being sucked in by the impulse to help, to save, to bolster.
I had to.
I pushed back the memories, got my head together, and finally made it back to the shop at the club. I left the bag of coffees on the strip of counter by the entrance.