Four Years Earlier….
I frowned up at the warehouse, wondering if I should get out of the taxi or tell the driver to take me back to the airport. The problem was that I had asked for this, had pleaded actually. I was seventeen years old, nearly eighteen, and I barely knew the man who was my father. As for my sister? She was a vague memory I had from when we were both kids, playing tea party with our dolls. I wanted to get to know those two—well, at least my dad—and the only way to do that was to come to them.
Here. In Vegas. At an MC compound where my dad lived with the rest of his charter. Duke Blackstone was The Red Dragons’ MC President and ate, slept, breathed nothing but his club. My sister, Tasha, had run away to live with our father when she was sixteen and I hadn’t seen her since. That had been four years ago.
The driver cleared his throat but I ignored him for the moment. I wasn’t sure if I was ready. The motorcycles parked in the parking lot in front of the warehouse that served as The Red Dragons’ compound both terrified me and made something stir inside of me that I wasn’t used to. My mother’s warning that the thrill of the MC could become addictive echoed in my mind and I swallowed around the nervous lump in my throat. There wasn’t anything more terrifying to me than addiction. Of any kind.
A door to the compound opened and out walked a big, burly-looking man. My heart twisted because I would have recognized him anywhere, even if I hadn’t seen him in more than a year. Duke stopped when he saw the taxi sitting at the back of the parking lot, his eyes narrowing and I gathered my courage before opening the door.
As soon as he saw me he let out a yell and started toward the taxi. “Willa girl!”
I grinned as he drew closer. I might not have seen Duke in over a year but he hadn’t changed all that much. Even when I was a little girl he had looked the same: tall, wide shoulders, thick muscled arms, a slight beer gut, and shaggy salt-and-pepper hair with just a hint of red to it. Dressed in old, grease-stained jeans, a white T-shirt with his leather cut over it, he was the same as when I had looked up at him when I was five years old—the last time he had lived in the same house with me. And then my parents had divorced and my mother had moved my sister and me to Seattle. Since then I had seen him once a year, if that. My mother both loved and hated this man. She didn’t want him around me in case he rubbed off on me. Like he had rubbed off on Tasha.
As soon as he was within reach, he pulled me into his arms for a tight bear hug. I sucked in a deep breath that was full of the scents of smoke, stale alcohol, and sweat. Another thing that hadn’t changed since my childhood. It was both gross and comforting. I hugged Duke back, burying my face in his chest so he wouldn’t see my happy tears.
By the time he pulled back I had my emotions under control and offered him a smile as his eyes skimmed over me from head to toe. “Shit.” His smile disappeared. “As beautiful as your damn momma. I’m going to have to beat the fuckers away with a two-by-four.”
I couldn’t tell if that was a compliment or an actual worry. I knew I was pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way, but he had to be exaggerating. Laughing it off, I pulled my one case out of the trunk and he took it from me. “Thanks for letting me come visit for the summer, Daddy.”
“Don’t go thanking me, darlin’.” He shook his head, leading me toward the compound with his free hand at the small of my back. “I wanted you here with me… Although I’m probably going to regret that in a few days. Shit, I’m going to have to bust some skulls over you.”
I snorted. “Seriously, are you complimenting me or should I be worried?”
Duke stopped at the door but didn’t immediately open it. Instead he just stood there staring down at me. Finally he blew out a breath and shook his head again. “If anyone gives you trouble, Willa, you come tell me right away. Okay? I mean it. Anyone.”
Before I could so much as nod he opened the door and pushed me through. I had to blink a few times as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the compound. When it finally came into focus I nearly gasped. This place, while looking run down on the outside, was a completely different world on the inside.
The first thing I saw was the three pool tables in the middle of what had to be the living room. Five huge sofas sat around the area and there was a seventy-two inch big screen hanging on the wall. There were four men standing near the pool tables, drinking brown bottles of beer and smoking as they laughed. The television was turned on to a local news channel, but no one seemed to be watching it.
Further beyond the living area was a huge industrial-sized kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Two women who were slimmer than I was were fixing some lunch while they giggled over something a man in a different cut was saying. A bar sat off to the side with a skinny old man sitting behind it. He had a mug of coffee in front of him while he smoked a cigar.
It took me less than ten seconds to take all of this in. As soon as someone noticed me standing there with Duke, everyone stopped what they were doing and grew quiet. The only sound I could hear for a full minute was the voice of the anchorwoman who was doing the noon news. I felt everyone’s eyes raking over me and wondered if they thought I was as beautiful as my sister or plain like I was sure I was.
Finally it was the man in the different cut that stepped forward first, breaking the silence that I found uncomfortable. He walked slowly, but his steps ate up the distance quickly with his long legs. I let myself check him out. His hair was on the longish side and dirty blond. His eyes, I noticed once he was closer, were a startling jade green and full of amusement. His features were neither strong nor pretty-boy beautiful, but he was hot in his own right. The cut he wore told me he belonged to the Angel’s Halo MC.
“Raider.” Duke stepped forward, stopping the other man just a few feet away. “I’d like for you to meet my daughter. This is Willa. She’s visiting for the summer.”
I watched as Raider grimaced but his smile quickly returned. “Gottcha, man.” He held out his hand toward me. “Nice to meet ya, Willa. Name’s Raider Hannigan.”
Shaking his hand, I gave him a small smile. “You too, Raider.”
“Why don’t you show her up to her room? The one beside Tasha’s. I need to talk to the men… And be sure to introduce Willa to Bash and Spider. Make sure they remember what I said last night.” Duke pressed a kiss to my temple and handed my case over to Raider.
My father walke
d off toward the men still standing quietly by the pool tables while Raider stepped forward and nodded toward the stairs that led up to the second floor. It was all pretty open and I could see a dozen closed doors on each side. As I climbed the stairs behind Raider I looked down over the first floor and watched as my dad said something in hushed tones to the men standing around before they followed him past the kitchen to a closed door. The door had a huge sign on the front that simply said CHAPEL.
When the door shut behind the last man, I turned my attention to the man in front of me. The angel wings inside of the diamond with a flaming halo over top shouldn’t have looked so manly, but somehow it did. Maybe it was because the diamond represented the one percent of bikers who were outlaws. The Red Dragons had the same diamond on their cuts but with a scaly red dragon bursting through it breathing fire at whoever was behind them.
“Here ya go, Willa.” Raider stopped in front of a metal door at the end of the right side of the second floor. Beside my room there was another door with TASHA’S ENTER AT OWN RISK roughly engraved into the metal. It looked like someone had simply taken a knife and scratched the words into the door. Remembering how crazy my sister had been the last time I had seen her four years ago, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had been the one to do the scratching. “If you need anything let your dad know, okay?” His gaze went to Tasha’s door and his eyes narrowed. “And if either of my guys gives you trouble let me know, okay?”
“Thanks, Raider,” I murmured as he opened the door and placed my case on the floor. I gave him another small smile. “I’ll see you later, I guess.”
“Sure thing, kid.” With a tip of his head he turned and went back the way he had just come.
I shut my door before finally glancing around the room that was supposed to be mine. Since I had a corner room, I had two windows. One that faced the back of the compound where the trash was, and one that faced the side street that led between the compound and some kind of old, abandoned building. The room wasn’t very big. The queen-sized bed with gray pillowcases and sheets wasn’t very old-looking but the quilt on top was and it made me smile as soon as I touched the slightly frayed corners. My grandmother had made this for me when I was a little girl. I used to sleep under it when I would go visit her for the Thanksgiving holiday break from school.
The walls were white and smelled freshly painted while the floor was covered in a brown carpet that looked well used. I had my own bathroom, as I was sure most of the other bedrooms did. Taking a peek inside, I saw that it was simple and efficient. A tub/shower combo with a black, red, and silver shower curtain. The sink was small but there was a large medicine cabinet that had a mirror on the door hanging over it. The walls were a baby blue while the floors were a stone-colored tile. Clean towels were folded in the little utility closet that also had a few cleaning supplies.
All in all my room was nice and kind of homey. Not something I was expecting. When I had imagined my room in an MC compound I thought it would have an old bed that had been slept in by fifty different sweaty bikers and a bathroom that was little more than a hole in the wall. I felt bad for thinking that and I almost wanted to apologize to my dad.
Deciding to unpack and then to take a shower, I placed my case on the end of the bed and started hanging my clothes in the small closet. I had mostly packed shorts and tank tops, but I’d also slipped in some nicer clothes. Who knew, maybe I would hit it off with Tasha and we could go out or something. When I had told my mother that she had just given me a worried look but hadn’t said anything. I knew that she had reservations about my visit, but she also knew that I had to do this. Honestly I think she was hoping I would hate it here and get to say ‘I told you so’.