Running Wild (A Havoc Novel)
Embrace the danger.
Sean Rush is an adrenaline junkie. That’s why he was in the Army, why he steals and races classic muscle cars . . . and why he can’t stay away from bad boy Ryker, a Havoc Motorcycle Club lieutenant. Fortunately, Ryker can’t seem to stay away from Sean—he’s spent the last eight months breaking into Sean’s apartment and stealing into his bed, leaving Sean physically satisfied but increasingly restless.
Sean has always avoided relationships. He likes to come and go without being controlled. And Ryker is possibly the most controlling man he’s ever known. Still, he finds that he wants more from Ryker than their silent nighttime encounters.
Then one of Sean’s thefts goes bad, and Ryker’s protective instincts kick into overdrive. He takes Sean to the Havoc compound, determined to keep him safe. But Sean’s past threatens the safety of Havoc—and everything Ryker holds dear. Worse, Ryker’s hiding secrets of his own. Soon it’s obvious that the adrenaline rush can’t keep them together anymore. But maybe love can.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Heat Wave: 5 - Very explicit love scenes
Erotic Frequency: 4 - Fairly frequent
Genre: action / adventure, contemporary, drama, romance
Orientation: bisexual / pansexual
Tone: dark, exciting, gritty, intense
Themes: age gap, alpha/alpha, angst, child abuse / neglect, commitment, family, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, military, politics / power struggle, protection, PTSD, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues
Kinks: biting, bondage, dirty talk, hate-sex/angry sex, lapdancing, masturbation, rimming / anilingus
Settings: America, Florida, motorcycle club, North Carolina
Careers: blue collar, criminal / outlaw, military, security guard / bodyguard / bouncer
Every single time he broke into my house, I had to convince myself it wasn’t a dream.
I never knew when he’d show, couldn’t plan for the times he’d yank the sheet off me before the mattress shifted under his weight. His hands were big and rough on my bare back, and when he flipped me over and skimmed between my legs, that heated rough on my cock was heaven.
So was the big, hot body on mine.
I didn’t know if I should be stopping it. But why would I? Hot sex, no commitment. Hell, no talking. Most of the time just a soundtrack of classic rock, punctuated mostly by the Grateful Dead, which made the whole thing so goddamned hot. It was the perfect nonrelationship for a guy like me, since my lifestyle was completely nonconducive to relationships.
But this guy wasn’t just any guy. No one in my twenty-four years had ever had the balls to pull this kind of break-and-enter shit with me. I was impressed. Fascinated.
He was a shadow. I was used to moving through places unnoticed, but even though he had it down to an art form, he definitely wanted to be noticed when he came into my bed. And he was strong. Stronger than I was, which was no easy feat.
He was tattooed. Always bore a couple of bite marks after we finished. I couldn’t help myself—I liked the idea of leaving my mark, but then, I was always hoarse the mornings after he visited, so I guess we were even.
He liked to study me in that brief space of time postsex before I crashed. I could see the appreciation in his dark eyes, and it made me squirm. He’d notice that I was somewhere between embarrassed and enjoyment, and he’d chuckle, low and husky, and that made my cock hard. Again.
I wanted to ask him why the hell he kept breaking in, but I didn’t. It was obvious to me—he wanted to fuck. And I was acquiescing when I normally wouldn’t have. I liked control, all types, all the time. But during these visits, it didn’t matter.
He made me dizzy. Pliant. Incoherent.
I could tell he liked me that way. Expected it.
He’d take his sweet time—always did—but I always got what I needed when I needed it. He didn’t hold anything back, would stop me from thinking, worrying. Took all the shit from my shoulders for those hours.
The whole thing was a free fall every single time. I pleaded for it, gave it up with no shame because sex shouldn’t have shame. And I wasn’t ashamed of this at all . . . but I didn’t know if I was supposed to be his secret . . . or if he was mine.
Why the hell did I think about it this hard, this much?
I was getting seriously laid on a regular basis. More orgasms than anyone had a right to. Fucked blind and dumb.
Fucked to sleep.
And then he’d leave. I never knew how long he stayed, pretended I didn’t give a shit. But I’d wake up in the morning and tell myself he’d stayed for a while after I went to sleep, even though I had no idea if he had or not. Because I pretty much passed out by the end of it, the good kind of exhausted where I was so comfortable I probably had a stupid smile on my face when I did so.
Did he tire me out purposely?
Furthermore, how did he get into my place? It was locked down tight. In my more lucid moments, I thought about adding another dead bolt, more locks and a different security system, all at once, just to see if he could still get through.
But what if he couldn’t?
It was what stopped me every single time.
Noah’s voice blasted through the house, and I stirred in bed, struggling to yank myself out of a dead sleep.
In the Army, I’d learned a lot from the Special Forces guys, including how to shove myself into REM sleep. They’d warned me I’d be giving up on sleeping normally again, and they’d been right. I’d been out for three months now and still slept lightly, usually waking in an instant and always alert.
Except this morning, like random others over the past eight months, my head ached and my body felt like lead. I untangled myself from the sheets and lay on my side, cheek pressed against the cool mattress, my naked body splayed across the messy bed.
The clothes I’d worn last night were scattered with the pillows on the floor, the shade opened just enough so I could see I’d slept through my entire day off.
And I was alone. Except for the rose, which was the only thing left on the night table. There were also more of them in the living room from last week, shoved into a glass since I didn’t have any vases, and I couldn’t just leave them without water.
Red roses. I fucking blushed every time I looked at them, and every time more were delivered. They never came with a card, but I knew who they were from.
I heard Noah fucking around in the kitchen, then he yelled again, “Rush, did you hear me? Berthas’s tonight. Come on, it’s late.”
“Yeah, way too fucking late,” I muttered, reached to the floor to grab a pair of sweats and yanked them on, simultaneously annoyed that I’d ever given him a key, and willing him to deliver me coffee by the sheer power of thought.
He walked into the bedroom without knocking. Noah was an inch shorter than my six-foot frame and broader too, his hair longer than it’d been in forever—mine wasn’t buzz cut, but it was longer and messy, just the way I liked it, while his dark hair was tied at the nape of his neck. Mine went between dark and light brown, depending on the amount of sun I got, and my eyes were the color of good, strong whiskey. His were hazel and were now attempting to scrutinize me.
He’d been my best friend since juvie, but the only thing that kept me from kicking him out this morning was the coffee he handed me before turning to survey the room. “What the fuck, Rush?”
I could ask the same of him, had been planning on it for a while, and now it was going to be a matter of self-defense and deflection, two of my best skills.
But first, coffee. Because I already knew what Noah had been up to the past few months—and I suspected it’d been going on a hell of a lot longer. But when he’d started, I’d still been caught up in my own shit, wondering what the hell I’d do with my life once I got out of the Army. Plus there was all that sex keeping me pliant and distracted. “Fuck Bertha’s. We can just go back to Cy’s.”
“Yeah, after that fight you started last night? I don’t think so.” Noah shook his head. “And you didn’t even drink.”
I hadn’t, ever since I’d decided that the first late-night tryst was the byproduct of an overactive, alcohol-fueled imagination. Had to be.
Didn’t explain the roses, but it’d made me feel a whole lot better. Actually, better wasn’t the right word for it. Disappointed when he hadn’t come back the next night, even though he’d left no indication that he’d ever come back. But he’d randomly snuck in a couple nights later.
And many nights after that.
If he was going to sneak in and fuck me, he could at least have the decency to be predictable.
I took several sips of coffee. “Yeah, you and Linc had no problem joining in.” Linc’d been in Basic with all of us, assigned to the platoon Billy and I were in (Noah wasn’t, but ended up in the Sandbox with us anyway), and he’d left the Army the same time as me and Noah.
Noah grabbed a chair, sat next to the bed, put his feet up, countering, “You threw the pool table into the front window.”
Yeah, okay, there was that. “I told Cy I’d give him the money,” I muttered, then took another giant gulp of coffee. I’d had to fight, because everything twisted up inside of me had no place else to go except barreling into someone’s face.
With my hand still wrapped around the mug, I rubbed my bruised knuckles, the ones Ryker had kissed last night, while Noah continued to bitch. “And then you left me there with Linc—you’re lucky we didn’t have to call you to post bail. And now I find out you left so you could get laid. And you got her flowers? Nice touch.”
Of course he’d naturally assume I’d gone home with one of the girls we’d been shamelessly flirting with last night. Noah was straight, but he’d known I was bi forever, and I’d never been so much partial to either sex as much as partial to sex in general. Lots of it, with lots of partners, and rarely the same one twice, because who the fuck needed that kind of complication?
I hadn’t, until eight months ago, when I’d become satisfied enough. And obviously, it had become complicated, at least in my mind.
“Bertha’s. Tonight. Eleven. The band’s awesome—tribute to Guns N’ Roses,” Noah continued obliviously, like repeating it enough times would automatically make me say yes, which, although annoying as all fuck, was a good thing.
Because at least he’d veered off my sex life.
“Don’t you think it’s better we stay away from shit like that?”
Noah finished his coffee and rolled his eyes at me. “We’re going to drink and dance. Besides, we don’t have to answer to anyone.”
Bertha’s had been off-limits to us when we were in the military because of its rumored associations to Havoc, a motorcycle club with alleged criminal ties. We weren’t so much not allowed in there as strongly advised by our CO to avoid it if we wanted to live. With our dicks intact.
Now that we were out, there were no restrictions, except for those we set for ourselves. Noah and I hadn’t talked about it, but for me, those were few and far between—like the options I had to make a living that didn’t include stealing. But I still avoided Havoc like the plague.
I’d lived in this area long enough to know that the rumors about Havoc being a one-percenter club were actual truths. But a new president had come in a while back and cleaned it up—they were supposedly legitimate now, although who the fuck knew what that exactly meant. Didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous as fuck. Which I was completely drawn to.
I was also smart enough to know when to court it and when to stay away.
Speaking of which, I got out of bed to get away from Noah for a few minutes, took a piss, washed up, and headed to the kitchen. Hopefully, I could talk Noah into cooking something to go along with the coffee.
Noah followed me, picking up our conversation right where we’d left off. “What’s the problem with Bertha’s? You had fun last time we were there.”
Yeah, that was exactly the problem. We’d gone that one time when we were both still in the Army, the illegal nature of the visit making it way more fun than it’d normally be. And that’s the exact night when those late-night visits and the goddamned roses started. “It’s dangerous to hang around that place.”
“Seriously? Dangerous? You’re worried about danger now? After you picked a fight with three guys after you screwed them over at pool?” Noah shook his head, his brow furrowed, because danger was what always amped me up. Noah knew that, and was typically the one to help me feed the need for it while keeping me somewhat safe. We were a good team like that.
I took out bacon and eggs from the fridge—the only food in there—and put them in front of Noah, a not-so-subtle hint. “What are you implying?”
“Don’t be dense.”
But I would, because then I wouldn’t have to admit what happened that very first night. And last night. And all the nights in between that.
I looked up at Noah, who was staring at me funny. “What?”
He pointed to the delivery guy he’d let in—and I’d been so deep in my own thoughts I hadn’t even noticed—and I froze. Not that I didn’t expect it, but fuck, in front of Noah? Really?
And, like he knew, the delivery guy grinned when he said, “Flowers for Sean Rush,” because obviously he thought it was great that I’d gotten them. Again.
Noah grabbed the big box—bigger than normal—and pushed me out of the way to put it on the table. I tipped the delivery guy by lifting Noah’s wallet from his back pocket and taking a couple of bucks, then pointed him to the door. It was only fair since Noah was already opening the box, demanding, “Who the fuck’s sending you long-stemmed roses? The chick from last night?”
Thankfully, there was still no card. Hell, I still didn’t need one.
Ryker was sending them. They came every morning after he made me come. Anyone might think he was courting me, but I knew better. The fucker had to be making fun of me. Didn’t stop me from letting him into my bed though. “Long story. And fine, Bertha’s tonight.”
“You’re just saying that to get rid of me.” Noah smirked as he turned one of the roses in his fingers—this time there were eight roses instead of the usual single one. He touched a thorn and hissed when it pricked him. “Someone’s into you.”
“Yeah, right,” I muttered, walked to the counter, and started cracking the eggs, badly, because I knew he’d intervene.
He did, putting the rose down in the box with the others. “What do you mean, ‘Yeah, right’? In the real world, red roses mean serious business.”
I wasn’t living in the real world. I was sucked into a dream world where a man too big to move as silently as he did broke into my house, and I did nothing to stop him. I was actively encouraging it with my silence.
I was doing the same thing with Noah now, because I knew the fucker was stealing cars. Again.
If I had to pinpoint it, I’d say it started right after Ryker fucked me for the fourth time, which meant about five months ago. Because that’s how I measured things now—in Ryker time. As in, the time before Ryker fucked me, followed by the time Ryker fucked me for the first time, the second time, and so on. I also knew what was different about each time. Because for the most part, (except for the pieces that were missing from our first night pre-first-fucking), I was clearheaded about what happened and when—and they were all excellent fodder for those times when Ryker wasn’t around, and I was forced to jerk off and pretend it was as good as Ryker doing it for me.
I shook my head, trying to get away from the all-Ryker-all-the-time show. “I know you’re stealing again.”
Noah didn’t turn away from the stove, like scrambling the eggs was the most important thing in the world at the moment. And while I couldn’t lie that I wasn’t starving, the truth was, he didn’t turn because he was guilty.
When we’d gotten arrested together at seventeen, the judge told all of us—me and Noah and Billy—to stay away from cars. But come the fuck on—how was that even possible? Fixing, racing, and stealing cars and bikes was what I was good at. My gift, so to speak. Noah and Billy had started because of me, so I didn’t know if they really loved all of it, or just the stealing part of things.
So when I left the Army, I’d tried to find a way to do some of it. Legally. And when I’d told Noah what I wanted, he told me he’d heard about a new garage here—and he’d gone to meet the owner right before I’d met Ryker. I’d wanted to move to Florida for a fresh start, but Noah hated change. So we’d agreed to stay close to where we’d grown up for a while. Work at Edmund’s on high-end cars. Keep our noses clean.
I knew we were both fucked up. I thought it was the PTSD. That we missed the Army, missed Billy. I was wrapped up in my own secret, and I made every excuse in the book as to why Noah was acting secretive, when in my gut, I knew what Noah was doing and what the problem was.
And now, I waited, because we’d spent a lot of nights huddled together—in juvie, in jail, in the Sandbox—at first pretending not to be scared, and then too tired to care about fear. That would normally be the time guys would confess their deep, dark shit, but hell, we already knew each other’s deepest, darkest secrets.
Until now, when we’re both actively keeping secrets from each other. The only one he didn’t know about was Ryker, and I wasn’t sure why I kept it to myself. There were times I really wanted to tell Noah, ask his advice . . . but maybe I knew he’d tell me to get the hell out of it. He’d force me to realize what I already knew—Ryker left every single time.
Noah finally turned around. “Are you pissed?”
“At myself, for not asking you about it sooner.”
“I only kept it from you because you’ve been fucking white-knuckling it, Rush. I didn’t want to be the one to throw you over that edge. Just because I couldn’t stay away . . .”
“How long have you been getting fucked and getting roses?” Noah countered.
“Nice one.” I stared up at him. “Since we went to Bertha’s.”
“See?” I slammed my fists on the table, so fucking pissed at how off I’d been. That would never have happened pre-Ryker. “Fuck that place.”
“We were both just getting what we needed.” Noah slid a plate of eggs in front of me.
“So what happened to make it a problem?”
I started to eat while Noah attempted to deflect with a muttered, “Nothing, it’s fine.”
I pointed my fork at him and smirked. “Right. You can stop any time you want to.”
Noah rolled his eyes. “Things got out of control really fast. I mean, for months now, it’s been fine. Odd jobs—small ones,” he added quickly. “But last week, there was a bigger call than I thought I could handle and . . .”
He paused, like he didn’t want to say anything more, so I added, “Edmund told you that you were in too deep to back out now.”
Noah’s brows raised. “You know about Edmund?”
“I know he’s got a rep from before he showed up here.” Just because I hadn’t stolen a car in this area in years didn’t mean I didn’t keep up with this shit. I’d been trained by the best, a guy named Al who’d become a legend because he’d killed himself in a stolen car during a police chase rather than being caught and going to jail. People knew my rep, and they told me shit, kept me up with the business, even when I pretended I was done with it. Because every car thief knew that there was no done with it. We were lifers. “You’ve got to get yourself out of this—he’s going to get you in deeper every time.”
Noah rubbed his eyes tiredly. “I know. I’ll figure out a way to handle it, Rush.”
“Right—with my help.”
“I won’t drag you into it.”
Noah sighed. “I’m always getting you into trouble.”
“And I always get you out of it.” It was our familiar pattern, and even though I told myself I was offering to help Noah steal cars because I wanted to save his ass—which was true—I also needed to steal a motherfucking car. I couldn’t deny it any more than I could stop breathing, and it felt good to admit it, even if it was only to myself. “When’s the next one?”
“Tomorrow night. And I can’t pull it off by myself,” Noah admitted, and he looked as tired as I felt. “It’s the Ferrari.”
Every car thief has a car that nearly broke them, one they tried to steal over and over and it fucked with their heads. Every car thief except for me, because Al had trained that shit right out of me. “I’ll do it.”
“Thanks, Rush,” Noah told me, and I wanted to wipe the guilt from his eyes. Until he said, “Now it’s your turn—spill about the roses.”
“My turn? I’m going to steal a car to help you and that’s not enough?”
“No,” Noah deadpanned.
I pushed my plate away. “I’m almost positive they’re coming from the same person.”
Noah looked at me like I was an idiot. Which I was. “We talking guy or girl here? And couldn’t you just ask?”
“It’s a he. And we don’t do much talking, so fuck you and your logic.”
Noah smirked. “Okay, how about afterwards, then? Or in the morning? You must have a few minutes where you actually speak.”
My cheeks got hot, and Noah was staring. He knew I had very few inhibitions in bed, if I had any at all, which was questionable. I was loud and explicit with what I wanted, what I liked, with men and with women.
“Let me get this straight. He comes in here in the middle of the night, has sex with you, and then leaves.”
And that pretty much summed it up, although it didn’t sound that cheap when I thought about it. I groaned and buried my head in my arms, then heard Noah’s quiet sigh.
When he spoke again, the sarcasm was gone. “It’s going to be all right, Rush.”
Was it? I honestly didn’t know. But I was done keeping this secret. I lifted my head and looked at him. “After that night at Bertha’s, I came home drunk. I got into bed, passed out, and thought I’d had the best dream ever. And then the first rose came. Actually, when the room was torn apart in the morning, I was kind of suspicious, but when the rose came, I knew.” I got warm just thinking about it—the good kind of warm, like a safe memory wrapped around me, even though what was happening felt anything but safe. “Nothing happened the next night or the next, but then it happened again and again and again. I tried to tell myself that I was going to stop it the next time, but I couldn’t. Didn’t want to, actually.”
“It’s that guy from Havoc—the big biker you and Linc made the bet about.”
“Fucking Linc,” I muttered. “Why are we friends with him again?”
Noah snorted and shook his head like he didn’t know either. “So what’s the actual problem here? I mean, Havoc or no Havoc, you’ve got someone who’s sneaking in here at night, giving you a great ride, and leaving before you wake up.”
My face got hot hearing my thoughts echoed back to me. They sounded so stark. So exposed. “The problem is . . . fuck. Sometimes . . . most of the time, I want him to be here when I wake up in the morning.” Noah whistled low under his breath and stared at me. “What? Say something. You’re freaking me out.”
“Sorry. It’s just . . . you’re feeling something, Rush. Fucking finally.”
He was right. The asshole was right. It’d been a long time since I’d been anything but numb, starting from when Billy was killed in Iraq. Billy, Noah, and I’d been tight since we’d met in juvenile detention, and when he’d been killed in Iraq, it had ripped me and Noah up pretty badly. We’d both been making shitty decisions since. Shittier than when we were teenagers, so that was saying something.
I’d been trying to tell myself that I wanted Ryker there because I’d started to feel slightly used when I woke up alone, but that wasn’t it at all. I didn’t feel used. I was lonely. And I’d been coming home earlier, staying in more, hoping for him to sneak in. This past week, he’d visited twice, and that had solidified my feelings.
But it’d also proven that the guy on other end of the roses only wanted sex. Because eight months of nothing else? How could I justify it otherwise? “Maybe I do feel something.” I picked up one of the roses out of the box, rolled the stem along the pads of my fingers, balancing the sharpness so it had just the right amount of sting. “But he doesn’t.”
Noah frowned, glanced at the roses and back at me. “I forgot that you never date—you just screw.”
I nodded. Never had a commitment, never wanted one. Ever. Until now.
“Rush, this guy’s sending you red roses. In the real world of love and dating, that means serious business. You don’t just send them to someone you want to see on a casual basis.”
“He’s making fun of me.”
“Seems like a lot of trouble to go through. I mean . . . would you let him fuck you if he wasn’t sending the roses?”
I closed my eyes and sighed.
“I’ll take that as a yes. To me, it looks like he’s trying to seduce you, and maybe trying to tell you how he feels about you.”
“Then why wouldn’t he just come right out and say it? Why the sneaking around, the secrecy? It doesn’t make sense.”
Noah shrugged. “Guess maybe he knows you better than you know yourself. Although that’s not hard to do, Rush.”
“Fuck you, Noah.” Because I did know something about myself—both Al and my father had drilled into me—and it was that a guy like me was better off alone.
In return, Noah placed the roses in the middle of the table, right in front of my face.
I groaned and buried my face in my arms. Again.
And then I got ready to steal a car.
Just before two in the morning, Noah put the cameras on a six-minute loop and we entered the lower level of the luxury car dealership several towns over that housed some majorly expensive cars in need of regular maintenance and minor repairs. Including the ’87 Testarossa that waited for me, her gleaming cherry red a siren’s song.
“Better hope she runs,” I murmured, more to myself than to Noah, as I ran my hand along the front bumper. Noah glanced over but didn’t say anything. He had his superstitions. I had mine. It was our usual routine, honed over time, and it should’ve felt out of practice, rusty and odd.
It didn’t, and that worried and comforted me all at once.
We weren’t using keys, since they were locked up more tightly than the cars. Thankfully, predictably, she was already unlocked, so I didn’t have to do anything but unscrew the panel below the steering column and twist the right wires together. Although alarms and locks were infinitely more complicated on today’s models, there wasn’t much I couldn’t get into, given the time and tools.
The engine purred to life, the vroom going right to my cock. In the past, I might’ve said stealing was better than sex, but post-Ryker, no way.
I’d debated telling him about my propensity for car theft, and how the need had been getting stronger every damned day, but decided that he wasn’t my keeper or my conscience. Hell, maybe he would’ve encouraged me. Or maybe he wouldn’t answer if I told him anything real about me.
Although what was more real than sex?
I heard Al’s voice inside my mind, clear as day, snapping me back into reality.
Mind on the game. Eyes on the prize.
“She’s in for new brake pads,” Noah informed me.
I pulled out of the space by the lift and went forward a few feet, then hit the brakes hard. They responded with a slight slip, but they’d be fine. One of the first things I’d learned was never to rely on the car, but rather what I could make the car do for me.
And I didn’t need brakes to stop a car.
Granted, things turned out better when I did have them.
“Let’s go.” With fifty seconds to spare, I eased the car out into the darkness and the garage shut behind us automatically. We waited a beat, and when no obvious alarms rang, I started out along the back roads. The last thing we needed was a police chase—I would’ve aborted the job in a hot minute.
The rain had just started, a drizzle that left the roads slicker than normal, but I really wanted to open her up.
So I did. We fishtailed a few times, but hell, that was part of the rush. Noah laughed, probably the first real laugh I’d heard from him in a long while.
The engine was perfect—inaudible—and the ride was as it should be from a car of this magnitude, a smooth, supple dance on the road. It was almost too smooth, too slick for my tastes, something I didn’t mind visiting but wouldn’t want to drive on a daily basis. I needed rougher. Harder. I was American muscle cars, all the way.
We were twenty minutes out from the docks in Shades, where we’d deliver. And then the familiar dull ache would begin as soon as the adrenaline wore off.
I steered the car off the next exit instead of continuing along the highway.
Noah grumped, “You were worried and now you’re pushing our luck. Just head for the docks.” He always got this way with the Ferraris.
“We’ve got plenty of time.”
“Rush, what the hell are you planning?”
I glanced at him. “We’re racing her.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Noah asked. “No, you’re not— Christ, you’re supposed to get me out of trouble, not in deeper.”
“We’ll be fine,” I told him, and I was calmer than I’d been in a long while, like the weight was finally off my chest. “There’s a race starting in twenty minutes.”
“You planned this,” Noah accused.
“I got us an invite. We can race and still make the drop-off with time to spare.”
“Dammit Rush, we can’t afford . . .”
“First prize is inching up to ten thousand. Serious cash. On top of what you’ll make for the boost . . .”
“Fuck you, Rush,” Noah muttered. But I noticed he’d stopped protesting, so I turned up the radio and found some eighties music. I liked to match the music to the car. I swear they performed better when they recognized their own decade.
I took the back roads that wove together the towns of my childhood. I’d lived in this general area my whole life, just outside of Shades Run until after the Army. I’d been worried that moving too close would bring me too much temptation. And here I was, ready to race where I’d first learned to.
Who said you couldn’t go home again? Although I’d always thought the expression should be, You can’t ever really leave home. Ever.
Granted, these days my home was more of one than I’d had growing up. I’d done that purposely. I wasn’t going to live hand to mouth, scraping by, and I wasn’t even attempting a relationship, never mind kids. All I’d ever wanted besides a clean place of my own was fun, minimal responsibility, and enough money to keep myself out of debt and trouble. And I’d succeeded, and enjoyed it, even after the arrest and the forced enlistment. I thought I was fine, that I’d left behind the stealing and the scars of childhood.
I got the first inkling that I wasn’t fine when I left the Army. I thought maybe the military had disillusioned me, but turns out I’d been severely disillusioned all the fuck along.
I’d always had trust issues. Post-Army, they were a hell of a lot worse. But I’d settled into working at Edmund’s with Noah, along with going out and pretending I had all I needed. Because hell, it was more than a lot of people had.
The nights Ryker came into my bed were the only times I didn’t have to pretend—didn’t need to pretend. Of course, that scared the fuck out of me, but not enough to stop it from happening.
Sex with Ryker was a lot like stealing cars. The first time, I was also scared as hell, but I still wanted it. Badly. And the fear was overridden by the pure fucking pleasure of it all, the rush, the fix, the pulse-pounding grind of all that power under me, vibrating through me like it needed to become a part of me. Which it did.
The second time? Fucking heaven. Because I knew what I was doing. Knew what I’d feel. And all the times after that? My body learned to recognize the signs of an impending boost. I craved it like a junkie . . . the same way I craved Ryker. Make no mistake, both were an addiction, and I honestly wasn’t sure which was more dangerous. Or if it mattered.
“We’re almost there,” I said to Noah. I had to cross the main drag, keeping an eye out for any police presence. The guys who ran the illegal races would be monitoring the channels for any activity, so we were relatively safe, but I wasn’t taking chances. Even Noah was back into the old rhythms, which included watching the side mirrors while checking for alerts from his phone. The players might change, but technology was always on our side.
I went down two quiet streets, and then it opened up into something that looked like a movie set with the requisite muscle cars, brooding guys, bad girls, and music. Set ups like this happened in a matter of minutes and they were broken down just as quickly, all parties knowing that scattering when the cops showed was the only way to freedom.
The lights—street, head, and some interiors—kept things feeling more intimate than they ever could be.
A quick glance was all I needed to see that the game had changed in the last six years, and I didn’t recognize a lot of the faces here. Good. Before, I’d usually raced farther from home, but we couldn’t have risked a longer trip tonight. This was a one-off. I just needed to bleed this shit from my system.
“Why are there MC guys here?” I asked.
“Looking for you?” Noah ducked when I went to slap the back of his head. “Okay, sorry. And I have no idea. Didn’t think any of them were into cars.”
Ordinarily, they weren’t. For an MC member, a car was a cage. I gave another quick look and noted that the jackets bore the Hangmen’s symbol. They were a relatively newer MC, located about an hour south of here. And I hadn’t heard them butting up against Havoc much, but then again, I tried to keep my nose out of that shit. Because knowing too much about criminal shit for me, beyond the superficial amount necessary to keep me out of trouble, was just another enticement to commit it, like being near a lit cigarette was to a former smoker.
God, I fucking wanted a cigarette.
“Want me to register with BT?” Noah asked me when we’d parked.
The fact that he knew who BT was told me that I hadn’t really had to twist his arm to come here. But he loved this part of it, the gambling, the socializing. The bullshitting. He could talk the devil into selling him souls when he was really in the mood to do it, mainly because of his exuberance. Shit like this excited him like a kid at Christmas.
It was twenty minutes before start time. A lot of guys came here early so they could hang out and party. Intimidate the competition. In my experience, those guys lost more often than they won. I kept my business and pleasure separate—because racing was a pleasure, but I was all business about it.
It was a risk, but a more calculated one than spending years in the Sandbox, where every day you were in danger just by walking off the FOB.
I spent ten minutes working under the hood. There wasn’t much to do at all—couldn’t fix the brake pads at this point, but I knew how to compensate for their failure. Why I hadn’t gone into stunt driving was something my old CO asked me a couple of times. He knew people in California, he told me. “They’re fuckin’ nuts out there, but you’d fit right in.”
And I’d thought about it. But hell, fast driving led to shit like this. A gateway drug.
“She’s pretty.” The guy who’d spoken leaned against the bumper, and I glanced up, took in the leather cut . . . and the patch above the left breast that said President and had the Hangmen’s symbol of the skull and crossbones, with the knife sticking out of the skull’s head.
Or, check your local library.