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Phoenix Rising

Book 1


(A Steel Bandits MC Romance)

Smashwords.com edition







Kristie Shafer


Cassie Alexandra



Copyright ©2017 by Kristie K. Shafer and K.L. Middleton


All rights reserved.

Cover by Pro Book Cover Studios

This book is purely fiction and any resemblances to names, characters, and places are coincidental. The reproduction of this work is forbidden without written consent from the author. The author acknowledges the trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which has been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

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Book One of Two






1


Vaughn


Taylors Falls, Minnesota


IT WAS THE perfect day for an afternoon cruise. The sun was shining, the temperature was somewhere in the seventies, and I had a chick on the back of my Hog – one I’d never banged before. A sweet-butt, with mile-high legs and cleavage a guy could get lost in. What else could a horny twenty-four-year-old ask for on a sunny afternoon?

Music.

I turned on my stereo and found that a Van Halen song I dug was playing. It was an oldie but goodie - Running With The Devil.

I grinned and cranked the volume up.

“Oh, my God, Phoenix, this is so much fun!” she yelled, her hand sliding down my stomach and dangerously near my zipper.

My grin widened. The vibration from my bike must have ‘revved’ up her engine.

“You haven’t seen anything yet!” I hollered back, pulling her hand away from my bulge. “But… how about we get to where we need to be without crashing?”

“I know where I need to be,” she replied with a sexy laugh.

“Darlin’, so do I,” I said, squeezing her knee and thinking about the short-shorts she had on. They barely covered her round ass, which was one of the places I needed to be. And I would, if I got my way.

After a few more minutes of driving, she squeezed me tight around the waist. “Baby, your ride is driving me wild. I need you to pull over now.”

I chuckled. “Right now?”

She rubbed her tits against the back of my cut. “Right now.”

Being the gentleman I was, I decided to let her have her way. I turned the bike down a gravel road, kicking dust up as I looked for a secluded spot to have some fun. Eventually, we pulled off to the side of the road and I cut the engine. She got off first, and it looked like her legs were shaky from the long ride.

“You okay, darlin’?” I asked, removing my sunglasses as she turned around to face me.

“I will be,” she replied, sliding one arm around my neck. She tugged at my blond ponytail. “I need you to finish what your motorcycle started, though.” She grabbed my other hand and placed it between her legs. “I’m so turned on right now, Phoenix. Can you tell?”

Her denim shorts held more fluid than my gas tank. My dipstick rose another few inches.

“You’d better take these off,” I replied, slipping two of my fingers underneath her shorts to tease her for a second.

Her breath hitched, and she moaned as I pushed my knuckle inside of her. “Oh, my god,” she said breathlessly as I rubbed her clit with my thumb.

Unable to wait any longer, I removed my hand and got off the bike, my balls so heavy, they were almost hitting asphalt. “You’d better get that shit off now,” I ordered, unbuttoning my jeans. “Or get on your knees.”

Licking her lips, she got down onto the grass and stared up at me. “I’ve been dreaming about sucking your cock ever since I first laid eyes on you, Vaughn.”

Once again, proving that I could be a gentleman when needed, I decided to make those dreams of hers a reality. I pulled my cock out and pushed my jeans down below my hips to get more comfortable. “Go for it, babe. He’s all yours.”

“Damn, you’re even bigger than I thought,” she said, her eyes wide as she stared at my organ bobbing in front of her.

I slid my hand down the front of her leather tank and squeezed her tit. “Show him some lovin’ and he might surprise you even more,” I said huskily.

She gave me a flirty grin. “I suppose I’d better. He looks a little angry right now.”

I looked down at the reddish pink tip of my cock. “Looks like you’re right. I think you should help him blow off some of that steam,” I said, smiling down at her wickedly.

She giggled. “Oh, baby, I plan on it.” She opened her mouth and was about to do just that when my cell phone went off.

“Fuck,” I growled, recognizing the ringtone.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, watching in disappointment as I shoved my dick back into my underwear and zipped my jeans.

I looked at my phone. It was much later than I’d thought. I should have been paying attention to the time. “I’m fucking late for church. I totally spaced it,” I replied, pissed as hell. “We gotta go. Now.”


2


Vaughn



PULLING UP TO Devon’s Tattoo Parlor, which was located on the east side of St. Paul, I saw one of my club brothers, Len, standing there finishing the last of a joint. I backed my bike into the only spot available. I was definitely the last one to arrive and knew there was an ass-chewing in store for me from Tom, our club president.

And I didn’t even get a hummer, I thought glumly. At least that would have been worth the earful I was about to receive.

“Looky here, it’s the ever elusive Phoenix. I was beginning to think you’d become extinct,” Len said while blowing out a puff of sweet smoke. “Of course, you probably will be after he gets ahold of you.”

“Shit happens. He’ll understand,” I said, trying to play it cool. I knew full well that I was in hot water.

“Yeah. Tell him that. See how Tom responds to that bullshit,” he said, smirking. “It was nice knowing you.”

Ignoring Len, I stepped inside the parlor and headed toward the heavy, wooden doors leading into the clubhouse.

“Hey sexy,” Devon cooed, as I strutted past her. “You’d better get that fine ass in there. Prez was yelling a few minutes ago. I’m pretty sure I overheard something about your nuts and a blender.”

Devon was Tom’s niece and the best tattoo artist in the city. Normally, she was in the shop inking up the locals, as well as the guys in our club. On days we had church, however, she just hung out and looked pretty. She’d do her nails, answer calls, or run errands for Tom. Besides being his niece, the chick was as hot as hell and always a sight for sore eyes. Her long, black hair nearly reached her ass, and her eyes were so brown they appeared almost black. But what I loved most about her were the tattoos, especially the ones on her double-Ds, which she wasn’t afraid to show off. On her left breast was a devil wielding a pitchfork. On the right was a beautiful angel, with her wings spread out and looking ever-so peaceful. Devon said the tattoos matched her personality. Treat her with respect and she’d be sweet to you. Fuck with her and your life would be hell. She definitely had it in her, too. I once saw her stomp on a dude’s face after he grabbed her breasts while getting a tattoo. He left the shop bloody and in tears.

“Darlin', you know my nuts could never fit into a blender,” I said.

She laughed. “Good luck in there.”

Winking at her, I opened the door to the church and felt all eyes on me.

“What the fuck, Vaughn?” Tom growled while glancing at his watch.

I gave him a sheepish grin.

“Wipe that smile from your face. You think you can just come and go as you please?” he asked, staring crossly at me. “Sit your ass down.”

I mumbled another apology and took my seat at the large, wooden table. Tom had a short fuse and a long memory, so I didn’t try giving any explanation. He would have told me where to shove it. Tom had been the President of the Steel Bandits for as long as I could remember. When I’d joined the club ten years ago as a prospect, he’d not been pleased at all about having a teenager hanging around. But, the respect he’d had for my parents had swayed him to eventually let me in.

“That all you have to say? I’m sorry?” he asked, drumming his fingers on the table.

For the most part, Tom was a decent guy, but if you crossed him, he held a grudge like nobody else. “Sorry. No excuses. I fucked up. I lost track of time. It won’t happen again.”

Sully, our vice president, piped up. “I bet we all know where you lost it.” He turned to Tom. “I saw him about an hour ago with some fine fender-fluff riding through town.”

I rolled my eyes. Prez didn’t care if I was being held down and raped by a gang of sex-crazed cougars. I was late and it was my fault. I fucking knew it. “Yeah, so what?” I said to Sully. “I already admitted that I was wrong. You’re just jealous because your old pecker hasn’t been dusted off in years.”

“Actually, I shined it up real nice last night when I was fucking your mom, Liz,” he replied with a wicked grin.

Unable to help myself, I grinned at the joke while flipping him off.

He returned the favor and added that he could still smell my momma on his knuckles.

The guys around the table starting laughing and giving me shit until Tom banged his gavel on the table.

“Enough,” he said sharply. “I won’t have you disrespecting Liz like that.” Tom turned to me. “And, Phoenix, you know the rule – pay the fine for being late, and don’t let it happen again.”

I nodded. “Sure thing.”

Len walked into the room, the smell of pot following him. “We all here?”

“Now we are,” said Tom, as Len sat down. He banged the gavel again and called the meeting to order.


3


Lily



“I JUST DON'T understand why you can't go to Minnesota with me. We had this all planned out.”

“Sweetie,” Karl replied, sighing loudly, “You have to know that this case might actually be the one that could make me partner. I have to be there for my client and the firm, or they might pass me up.”

My boyfriend worked for one of the largest corporate law offices in Chicago. I was proud of him, but sometimes I wished he would devote as much time and energy to me as he did to his job.

“I know, but… it’s only for a few days. Can’t you just talk to the other partners or have your assistant handle things while you’re gone? Besides, I thought the trial was a few weeks away?”

“It is but there’s too much to do right now and I’m needed in the office. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but think of it this way,” he said, flashing me one of his dazzling smiles, “you could be sleeping with a partner soon. You know how much this would mean to me. To us.”

A partnership.

That was his life’s dream and I’d known that from our first conversation. Karl and I had met a little over a year ago at a fundraiser. I’d been there taking pictures for the newspaper I worked for. He’d been there representing his company and dropping off a substantial donation. The man, who was as pretty as any Abercrombie & Fitch model, with his intense green eyes and gorgeous chiseled features, had caught my eye immediately. I’d studied him the entire night, admiring his long legs and sexy body, wondering exactly who he was. Surprisingly, Karl had approached me before the end of the night. We’d ended up talking for hours, after realizing that we had so much in common. He was funny, smart, and compassionate and I knew instantly that I wanted to get to know him better. Afterward, he called me for a date, which I’d jumped on. Since then, we’d been inseparable and had even moved in together. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that his job always seemed to come first. In fact, I lost count of how many times he’d been called away in the middle of the night, on a Sunday, or during one of our dinner dates. The worst was the time he’d let a business call interrupt us during sex. After that, I refused to talk to him for a week. But, the man was a charmer and I forgave him after he bought me roses and took me out to an expensive restaurant.

“I know,” I said, hating the whine in my voice, but unable to help it, “but… I really wanted you to come home with me. Even if it’s just to keep me from going crazy.”

I’d promised my parents that I would make it, since I’d missed the last party and knew that my grandmother would be hurt if I didn’t make it this year. Working for the newspaper kept me busy, too, but I’d warned my boss, months in advance, about this year’s shindig. And I thought that Karl had, too. Apparently, I’d been wrong.

“I’m sorry,” he said, primping and preening in the mirror as usual. I’d never met a man more concerned with his looks than him. Sometimes I had to fight just to get a little mirror space. “I truly am. Anyway,” he said, giving his reflection one last glance, “it's only for a week; you’ll be fine.”

“We’re talking about my parents. Have you forgotten all the stories I told you?” I said dryly.

I loved my mother and father, but to say that they were overbearing would be putting it lightly.

When I’d graduated from the University of Minnesota, I’d been offered a job as a staff photographer for a relatively small, but reputable newspaper. The only problem was – it had been in Illinois. My parents had been anything but thrilled, especially since I was their only child. The thought of having me so far away from home had been very troubling and they tried talking me out of it several times. When they couldn’t, my dad spent the entire week before I’d left making sure that the engine of my car was in great working order. He’d spent hours under the hood, checking the spark-plugs and whatever else it was that men do under there, and then some. My mother, on the other hand, had spent the entire week wringing her hands and blubbering about how we’d never see each other and how Chicago was such a scary place. By the time I left, I’d been emotionally exhausted and ready to start a new life.

“Earth to Lily?” said Karl, waving his hand in front of my face. “Are you in there?”

“Oh, sorry,” I replied, pushing aside the thoughts of my parents, and that old clunker I used to drive. “I was just thinking about them.”

“Your mom and dad?”

I nodded.

Laughing, he pulled me into his arms. “Come on now, they know you’re not a child anymore. I think you’re being paranoid.”

“I wish I were,” I mumbled.

“Listen, when you get home, I will totally make it up to you. In fact, I have something special planned for us.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re going to have to wait to find out,” he said with a glint in his eyes.

The butterflies took off in my stomach as I thought back to earlier in the week. I’d found his credit card statement and had noticed a recent and very large purchase to Tiffany & Co. I hadn’t been sure of what to make of it, but I wondered now if he planned on proposing.

“Fine,” I said, feeling as if my heart was about to burst in my chest. “I’ll go alone but you have to promise me that you’ll attend the next one. My family is going to start wondering if you’re for real or not.”

He hugged me hard. “You have yourself a deal, sweetheart.”


***


I spent the next few days tying up loose ends at work, and hoping against hope that I would suddenly develop a horrible (yet curable) disease that might prevent me from going back home. Not that I wasn’t looking forward to seeing my parents. I loved them dearly. It was just that there were times when I could barely breathe in their presence.

“I’m going to miss you,” I told Karl the morning of my trip. I’d just gotten dressed, my bags were packed, and we were lying on the bed and cuddling.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said huskily, “I am going to miss you like crazy, too.”

I let out a happy sigh. “I love you.”

“Me, too.” He pulled me close and began kissing me deeply.

“Whoa,” I said, chuckling and playfully pushing him away when he began sliding his fingers under my panties. “Slow down, cowboy. You know we don't have time for that again.”

“Nonsense,” he whispered, pulling himself closer to me. “I promise to be quick.”

Still laughing, I quickly lunged out of the bed. I knew if I stayed any longer, I would never want to leave. “I seriously have to get on the road. It’s going to be a long ride to Stillwater as it is.”

He sighed in frustration and got out of bed. “Fine.”

“Don’t pout,” I replied. “Just think, if you were coming with me, we’d be able to have sex later… now you’ll have to wait until I get back.”

“Not this again,” he replied, looking grumpy. “You know why I can’t come with you.”

“Yes. I know,” I said, giving him a kiss. “I’m sorry for the guilt-trip.”

“Make it up to me with a quickie?” he asked, giving me one of his puppy-dog stares.

Unable to resist, and missing him so much already, I pushed him down on the bed and screwed his brains out. When it was over, he helped me with my bags and we said our goodbyes.

“Call me when you get there,” he said, staring at me through the window of my Range Rover.

“I will.” I started the engine.

“Aren’t you glad I talked you into getting this SUV? Now you don’t have to worry about your old car breaking down.”

“Yes,” I admitted, although it had been hard letting go of my jalopy, an old Chevy Malibu. I’d driven it since high school, and although it had seen better days, there’d been a lot of memories tied to the vehicle.

“Drive safely,” he replied and then kissed me.

As I drove away, I glanced at Karl through my rearview mirror and noticed that he was already on the phone with another business call. I hoped that if he did get a partnership, there’d be less of that and much more “us” time. Being the workaholic that he was, however, I wasn’t very optimistic.

4


Vaughn



“WHAT DID I tell you, brother?” Smitty, our treasurer said as he snatched the one hundred-dollar bill from my hand. “And you didn’t believe me.”

“I’m… speechless,” I said, turning away from the spectacle in front of me. I’d just witnessed something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime and probably shouldn’t have. Smitty had been telling me about some trick he’d seen at a bachelor party the weekend before.

“Brother, I am telling you,” he’d said excitedly. “This chick, Gloria, can shoot ten ping-pong balls straight outta her cooch. Her beaver is like some kind of machine-gun.”

“No way,” I’d replied, shaking my head. “No fucking way in hell that ten balls can fit inside of a woman’s snapper.”

“Care to wager money on it?” he’d taunted.

“Fine,” I’d replied, thinking it would be easy money. “You show me a chick who can do that, and I would be more than happy to pay you a hundred bones.”

Smitty then dragged me to a nearby strip joint called The Limplifter the following afternoon. Fortunately, she’d been working the tables when we arrived. He offered her twenty dollars to show us her ‘special trick’. Being the savvy businesswoman that she was, Gloria talked him into forty bucks instead.

“Easiest money I've made all day,” he chided, putting my cash into his wallet. “Hey, you wanna go double or nothing? I know another gal who works here that can shoot fire outta her ass.”

I grunted. It sounded inconceivable but I was done waging my money. “No way, man. I’m going to need what I have left to pay for therapy after seeing what that chick did.”

“Figures, you pussy,” he replied, eyeballing another stripper who was getting onstage. He took his wallet out again. “Oh, hell. Looks like I’m going to be spending this faster than I made it. I wonder what kind of hidden talent she has.”

I watched as the blonde with the big knockers began gyrating to the music. “Looks like her talents are on display and she doesn’t need any hidden ones.”

I liked my woman as the good Lord above intended them to be – all natural and sexy, with three pleasure holes. Two tight ones down below and one that could suck a ping-pong ball out of a hose, not shoot ten of them out of her crotch.

“You got that right,” he replied, watching as she began swinging around the pole.

“I’m getting a beer,” I told him. “You want one?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Smitty, whose real name was John Smith, was a founding member of our charter and had supposedly banged over five hundred chicks in his lifetime. He was now in his fifties and had a gray beard that nearly touched the middle of his chest. I once told him that he reminded me of those rednecks from Duck Dynasty. He didn’t find it amusing and threatened to shove a duck-caller up my ass if I ever mentioned it again.

“So, what do you think Prez wants to talk about tomorrow?” he asked an hour later as we headed toward our bikes.

“Not sure. It can't be good if he’s making us go to church on a Saturday night.”

Meetings were typically held on Wednesdays. For him to call one on a Saturday meant that some kind of shit was going down.

“It better be pretty important, brother,” Smitty said, lighting a joint. “I have a date afterward with ping-pong girl.”

I shook my head and smiled.

Only Smitty would put his dick in something that belonged in a freak show. I told him he’d better wrap a rope around his waist in case he got sucked inside and needed to be pulled out.

He laughed. “Good one, kid.”

I grinned. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, starting my Hog.

“Where you off to?” he asked.

I smirked. “Home to meet up with the babysitter.”

“Babysitter?” he repeated. “You don’t have no fucking kids.”

“I know, but that’s what the woman up the street tells her old man when she wants to get laid. Says she’s ‘babysitting’.”

“You’re ballin’ some woman up the street from you who’s married?” he asked incredulously. “And he doesn’t know?”

“Apparently not.” Or maybe he did. They had a weird relationship, from what I’d been told.

“How did you get involved with a chick like that?” he asked.

“She came on to me after I helped her one day,” I replied, thinking about Mrs. Standish, who admittedly, was sexy for an older broad. She was in her forties, tall with red hair and big cock-sucking lips. I’d met up with her at the grocery store one afternoon after her paper bag had ripped and cans of food ended up on the pavement. She’d thanked me there, and then a few days later, showed up on my doorstep. I’d opened the front door and there she was, asking to borrow a cup of sugar.

“Sorry,” I’d said, surprised that she knew where I lived. “I’m all out.”

“That’s not the kind of sugar I was talking about,” she’d replied with a wicked grin.

The next thing I knew she was in my house, on her knees, and those lips of hers were wrapped around my rod. Afterward, she claimed that she’d seen me riding through the neighborhood and had been fantasizing about hooking up with me. Apparently, her husband hadn’t had sex with her in over two years and she’d gotten sick of using vibrators and dildos.

“You lucky bastard,” said Smitty, looking at a picture I had in my phone of Mrs. Standish. She was naked, on her knees, looking over her shoulder at the camera, a ‘come fuck me’ look on her face. She actually encouraged me to take the picture.

“She’s a looker.”

“I know. A horny looker.”

“And there’s no strings attached?”

“Nope,” I replied, putting my phone away. “And unlike most babysitters, I don’t have to pay her.”

He laughed darkly. “Hell, give her my number. She can sit for me anytime. Preferably on my face.”

I chuckled.

“Seriously, though. Put in a good word for me.”

“I’ll try. Have a good one.”

“You, too,” he replied, patting me on the back.


***


An hour later, Mrs. Standish was over at my place, riding me like a bull. When our rendezvous was over and we were both sweating and panting from exhaustion, I looked at her.

“What does your husband think about you coming over here all the time?” I asked.

She shrugged and began getting dressed.

“Am I the only guy in the neighborhood you’re seeing?”

Mrs. Standish laughed. “Seeing? You mean fucking.”

I just stared at her.

“Do you really want to know?”

“I guess not. I just don’t want your husband coming over here, wanting to kick my ass.”

“Like you’d be afraid of him,” she replied, kissing my bicep.

“I’m not afraid of anyone. I just don’t want to break up a marriage.”

She sighed. “Our marriage ended a long time ago.”

“That’s too bad. Why did you stay together then?”

“Because I’m not a fool and either is he. We both know that love doesn’t last.”

I touched her thigh, which was lean and muscular from all of her yoga and Pilate classes. “My parents still love each other. So does Tom and his wife.”

“They ‘put up’ with each other. Trust me.”

I watched as she finished getting dressed. The woman was obviously bitter about her marriage and assumed that it was normal for every married couple. I felt sorry for her, which made me feel less guilty about our time together. If I could bring her a little happiness for a couple hours a week, then what the hell.

“Thanks again, lover. I’ll see you soon?”

“Sure,” I said.

She kissed me on the cheek and then left my house.

Smiling, I closed my eyes and was thankful for cougars like Mrs. Standish. They offered everything I needed without strings. They also knew when to leave. Who could ask for anything more?


5



LILY


IT WAS AN hour into my road trip. I had the radio cranked and was singing to an Eagle’s song when it suddenly hit me – I’d forgotten my cell phone.

I swore.

I didn’t want to go back, but I couldn’t live without it. Not for an entire week. Angry and frustrated, I turned the SUV around and headed back home. I made it in record time – about forty-five minutes.

“Hon!” I called out as I unlocked the front door and stepped back into the house. “It’s me! Have you seen my cell phone?”

No answer, but I could hear the shower running upstairs. The thought of Karl, naked and dripping wet, made me horny again, so I decided to make the trip back worth my while. As I took the stairs, I began to take off my clothes. By the time I reached the top of the staircase, the only thing I had on was a smile. I reached the bathroom door and was about to turn the handle when I heard the voices.

“I am so glad you came over,” I heard Karl say. “I've missed you so much.”

I gasped.

“I missed you, too, sexy,” a deep, masculine voice said in return. “I love it when we can play house like this, Mr. Lisle.”

My first thought was to burst through the doorway, fists flying. My second was – was that a man’s voice?!

“So how long do we have together?” the stranger asked.

“An entire week.”

“Really? How’d you pull that off?”

“These looks get anything I want. You know that.”

My blood began to boil and it felt as if my heart had been stomped on. How could he?

“I really do love the cufflinks you gave me,” the stranger said. “I almost had a stroke when I saw that pretty blue box.”

My jaw dropped.

Blue box?

My blue box?

My blue Tiffany box?

The water shut off, and not knowing what to do, I began to panic. One thing I knew for certain – I wasn’t going to confront them buck-naked. I ran down the staircase, gathering my clothes as I descended, wanting to escape the nightmare. I tugged the shirt over my head, buttoned my jeans, and was about to leave the house, when hot rage bubbled inside of me.

What in hell am I running for?

He was the cheating asshole.

Gritting my teeth, I forced myself to calm down and then went into the kitchen, where I found my cell phone. I then went into the refrigerator, poured myself a glass of orange juice, and took a seat at our kitchen table. A few minutes later, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and Karl’s voice.

“So what do you want me to make for lunch, sweetie?” he asked his gentleman friend. “I think Lily made some tuna fish salad before she left.”

I didn’t know what pissed me off more – the fact that my boyfriend of one year had just showered with another man, that Karl was calling someone else ‘sweetie’, or that he was about to serve my tuna salad to his lover.

“Nah,” the man called back. “Not really a fan of tuna.”

“Like I didn’t see that coming,” I muttered under my breath.

“No problem,” Karl said, entering the kitchen. “I can just whip us up a nice…” His voice trailed off when he saw me sitting at the table.

I smiled up at him coldly. “Hello, sweetie.”

“Lily. I... I…” he stammered, his face white. “I… eh... thought you’d left already. Is everything okay?”

“Apparently, everything is not okay,” I replied, trying to hold my hand steady as I took another sip of juice.

He laughed nervously. “What do you mean?”

Furious that he was playing games, I felt the blood rush to my head. I slammed down the glass of juice and stood up. “What do I mean? Are you fucking kidding me? Who in the hell was that in my shower?!” I shrieked.

Karl forced a smile onto his face. “In the shower? Whatever do you mean, sweetie?”

I stared at him in disbelief. Did he think I was an idiot? “First of all, don’t you ever call me ‘sweetie’ again,” I said angrily.

“Honey, relax. You’re being silly.”

“Silly? Cut the shit, Karl. I heard you two up there!” I cried, tears in my eyes. “How could you do this to us?”

“Lily, please… keep your voice down,” he replied, raising his hands. “And I’ll explain.”

“You want me to keep my voice down?” I repeated, staring at him in disbelief. “This is my house! I can yell as loud as I damn well want!”

He sighed dramatically. “As usual, you’re overreacting.”

I was about to scream bloody murder at Karl when the mystery man entered in the kitchen. When he saw me, he froze in his tracks. When I saw him, my jaw dropped in horror. Just when I thought the situation couldn’t get worse, it did. The asshole was wearing my robe!

I pointed at my lover’s boyfriend, like Donald Sutherland had done in the final scene of the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and screeched.

Karl whipped his head around to look at what I was pointing at. “Oh shit,” he replied, biting his lower lip.

“What is he doing with my robe?!” I screamed hysterically.

The stranger, a man in his forties, with a slight belly paunch and beady little eyes, was wearing a fluffy, white towel around his head, along with my favorite pink chenille robe. The one I’d had since college.

“Umm…” Stepping between us, Karl laughed nervously. “Lily this is Keith.”



***



“Lily,” Karl said sadly an hour later. Keith had gone home and it was just the two of us, sitting in the kitchen. “I am so sorry you had to find out this way.”

“But... but... how? Why?” I replied bitterly, not even sure of what to do or say to him anymore. It felt like the year that I’d had with Karl had been a complete sham.

“Let me try and explain,” Karl said, grabbing my hand. “You see… I’ve known, since I was very young, that I felt an attraction toward other men. I never did anything about it, though. Not until I met Keith, who finally convinced me to explore my sexuality. Now that I have, I realize that I’m more into men than I am into women.”

“But, I thought you loved me?” I cried, hating myself for appearing so weak.

“I do love you,” he responded. “But, I’ve also fallen in love with someone else. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it did.”

I pulled my hand away, sat back, and folded my arms under my chest. “Why did you start a relationship with me, if you knew you were interested in men?”

“It's not that easy, Lily,” he said stiffly. “You know how my family is.”

Karl's mother and father were both staunch Republicans and, to put it mildly, were not the most easygoing people on the planet. They were old fashioned and very conservative people. In fact, last Thanksgiving, I’d decided to have a strip of my dark hair dyed a vibrant blue. It was hip and trendy, and I thought it had looked really pretty. That afternoon, when I walked into his parents’ house, his mother had taken one look at what I’d done and frowned. Although she didn’t say it outright, I could tell from the disapproval in her eyes that she thought it was trashy and that I was too wild for her son. If a blue streak made her uneasy, I was pretty certain that finding out Karl was gay would push her right over a cliff.

“But why now?” I asked him, grabbing another tissue from the kitchen table.

“Keith finally convinced me that if my parents truly loved me, they would accept me for who I really am.”

“Which isn’t the man you’ve been pretending to be,” I said miserably.

“No. It’s definitely not. I am sorry, Lily,” he said, now staring at me through his own tears. “But I have to live my life for me now.”


***


Afterward, Karl packed some of his things. As he was leaving, I asked him if he’d used protection while having sex with Keith. He assured me that he did, which was the only thing that I felt grateful for.

When he was gone, I called my mother and told her that I wasn’t going to make it to Stillwater until the following day. She wasn’t very happy when I told her the news, but fortunately didn’t press the issue. After hanging up with her, I spent the night drowning my sorrows with a bottle of wine, listening to music, and crying my eyes out.



6


Vaughn



TOM POUNDED HIS gavel on the large, oak table the following morning, and started the meeting.

“Thank you, brothers, for coming here so early and on a Saturday,” he began, a serious expression on his face. “I know you’re normally still asleep, but I figured it was better than having you come in tonight, when you’d rather be wetting your whistles and your dicks.”

There were a few cat-calls and howls from around the table.

“Alright, alright,” he said, banging his gavel once more. “Let's get down to business. As you all probably know, there was a robbery in town yesterday at The Sunrise Diner.”

We all nodded our heads. The Sunrise Diner was located in downtown St. Paul. It was a place we all frequented. They had killer omelets, and never harassed any of us for being there.

He went on. “Well, the asshole who is responsible for the burglary not only took all the money from their till, but also tuned up one of the waitresses pretty badly.”

“Which one?” Digger asked.

“Natalie,” he replied.

I stared at him in disbelief. “Are you shittin' me?”

Natalie was a petite, young thing and couldn’t have been more than nineteen. To make matters worse, she was also several months pregnant.

“I wish I was,” he said with a look of disgust. “The fortunate thing is, I heard from the owners that she and the baby will be fine. She just has to take it easy for a while.”

I sighed in relief.

What kind of an asshole beats on pregnant chicks?

Sully, who’d been relatively quiet all evening, cleared his throat. “Now, if that wasn’t bad enough… the shit that went down appears to be our problem.”

We all looked at the V.P. in confusion.

“What do you mean, ours?” I asked.

“Because,” Tom stubbed out his smoke, “a witness who saw the whole thing go down swore that the man who did this was wearing a cut with our colors.”

There was stunned silence.

“You sure this witness isn’t trying to frame one of us?” asked Smitty, scowling.

“Nope,” replied Tom. “I trust this person.”

“Who’s the witness?” asked Sully.

“Sorry, but until we know exactly what the fuck is going on, I can’t divulge that information,” replied Tom. “No offense.”

Tension filled the air as we stared around the table at each other.


***


The meeting ended with more questions than answers. Nobody admitted to anything, which was expected, considering the person involved was a pile of shit and a pussy.

Troubled by the turn of events, I looked around at the group of men. Men I called “brothers.” I couldn't imagine one of them hurting a chick, let alone a pregnant one.

“Looks like we have a little weasel in the group,” Smitty muttered.

We were in the back parking lot of the tattoo parlor and he was rolling another joint. I watched as he expertly picked the stems out of his stash, and then carefully rolled it into a nice, tight joint. I smoked on occasion, but really didn't like the feeling that the weed gave me. It clouded my head, and right now, that was the last thing I needed.

Len took the joint from Smitty. “Weasel, my ass.” He took a long hit. “More like a coward,” he said, coughing.

“A coward who needs to be taught a lesson,” I said, my knuckles aching to teach it.

“Fuck yeah,” said Len. “Let’s find this guy and school him.”

“It’s gotta be a prospect,” said Smitty, taking the joint from him. “Don’t you think?”

“Maybe. I'm gonna go down to the diner,” I said, revving my bike. I needed to find out who this asshole was. The fact that there was a club member doing shit like this was troubling. “See if I can get someone down there to talk to me.”

“Good luck, brother,” Len said, offering the joint. “Here. Take a hit of this before you leave. It’s good shit. It will take the edge off.”

I shook my head. “I'm good, Len,” I said as I tightened the strap on my helmet.

“Fine. Call me if you find anything out,” he replied, handing it to Smitty.

“Sure,” I replied.

I left the clubhouse, grateful that it was Saturday morning and the roads were relatively quiet.

The drive to the diner was only fifteen minutes away, ten if I kicked it into high gear. I hopped onto the highway, weaving around cages, my mind on the club.

We were family; I lived and breathed for each and every member. There’d never been a question in my mind that I’d do whatever it took to keep my brothers safe, and I know that they would do the same for me. But, this shit about beating up a pregnant girl was eating me up inside.

The Steel Bandits protected women and children. They didn’t hurt them. In fact, a couple years back there’d been notices sent around some of the nearby neighborhoods, letting residents know that there was a level-three sex offender who’d recently been released from prison. The dirtbag had moved into a halfway house located right in the middle of the city. Parents had been furious that this monster would be living so close to their homes. The local cops had told everyone that they had no control over where the pedophile lived, but said that as parents it was their responsibility to educate their children and teach them about “Stranger Danger.”

Once our club caught wind of this, we went down to where he was staying, and “convinced” him to transfer locations. It didn’t take much persuading.

Needless to say, the Steel Bandits prided ourselves on keeping the streets safe from scum like that. Now, to find out that we might actually have a deviant in our club torqued the fuck out of me.



7


Vaughn



THE DINER, A rundown building at the edge of town, was busy when I arrived. It wasn’t surprising, considering it was Saturday and they really did have the best omelets in town.

“Hey, Tanisha,” I said, sliding into a booth near the back of the restaurant. “What’s good today?”

“Besides you?” She smiled and licked her glossy lips. “Phoenix, I gotta say that you look finer and finer every time I see you.”

“You ever want a closer look, darlin’, just ask,” I flirted back.

“Not sure what it is about you white boys in leather,” she said, setting down a glass of water in front of me. “But it makes me all hot and bothered.”

I picked out a small piece of ice from the glass and flicked it into her cleavage before she could react. “Feel cooler now?”

She squealed and slapped my hand before I could do it again. “You’re so fresh. You’re going to get yourself into trouble one of these days.”

“I live, eat, and breathe trouble, darlin’,” I teased. Tanisha was one of my favorite waitresses. It didn’t hurt that she had the most beautiful mocha skin, soft-looking tits, and delicious round ass.

“Lord, you’re going to get me fired.” She grabbed the menu from the table and starting fanning herself.

“Tanisha!” Scout barked out from behind the grill. “Stop flirtin' and bring these hotcakes over to table three.”

I smiled as I watched her walk away, her booty was so big and bountiful. It was like watching a pendulum swing back and forth on a grandfather clock.

“You enjoying that view?” Scout said, wiping off his spatula as he approached my table. “Just gotta be careful. A white boy like you could get lost for days all up in that.”

I chuckled. Scout was Tanisha's husband. I’d known them for years. He was a great guy, and never worried about other men checking out his lady. In fact, I think he secretly loved it.

“So you hear about Natalie?” he asked, sliding into the booth to sit across from me. “I can't believe someone pulled that shit in my diner and to one of my girls.”

“Yeah, I heard. I can’t believe it,” I replied. “She’s okay, though, huh?”

“Physically, she’s going okay.” He tapped his temple. “But that shit doesn’t heal so quickly up in here.”

“I’m sure,” I said, playing with the sugar packets.

Scout and Tanisha had purchased the restaurant about twenty years back and never once had any trouble. That is, before Natalie. When there weren’t cops eating at the diner, there were the regulars, like us. Needless to say, it was pure ignorance for anyone to mess with this place or the employees.

“Cops tell me that they think someone from your club is responsible,” Scout said while wiping off an imaginary stain on the table, obviously feeling uncomfortable with the conversation. “What do you think?”

“That's what I came down here for,” I said, taking a sip of water. “I know my brothers and I can’t think of any of them doing something like this. The club loves you and your place. We would never do anything to hurt it, or anyone here.”

“That's what I thought, too, Vaughn,” he said, sounding dismayed. “But, apparently a witness said they saw a dude wearing a leather cut, with a huge red skull and blue crossbones on the back. Apparently, the name ‘Steel Bandits’ was patched on it.”

I shook my head. I didn’t want to accept it.

“I know this is hard for you. You’re a good man, Vaughn.” He let out a weary sigh. “But, unless there is another M.C. in the neighborhood that has your name, we got a problem.”

“Do you know who the eyewitness was?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Not sure, Tanisha might know, though.”

“Could you ask her?”

“Sure. Hey, sweet-cheeks,” he yelled across the diner and then smiled. “Why don't you bring that sweet ass back this way.”

We both watched as she headed for the table.

“Damn, I’m a lucky man,” said Scout, watching her breasts bounce on the way back over.

“That you are,” I replied, smiling.

“What yah need, honey?” she said, bending down and giving Scout a kiss on the cheek. “Can't you see I am busy trying to run this place?”

“Is that what you call it?” he said, smiling up at her.

She put a hand on her waist. “Damn right I do. Someone’s got to, since your shift appears to be finished for the day.”

I smiled, enjoying the way they bickered lovingly back and forth.

“Woman, my shift is never over and you know it. Hell,” he chuckled. “I do my best cooking in the bedroom, don’t I?”

She patted him on the back. “You sure do, baby-kins. Now, what were you about to ask me?”

“Doll, do you know who the cat was that ID’d the son-of-a-bitch wearing the Steel Bandits cut that roughed up Natalie?”

Tanisha frowned. “Tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him around town before.”

“The witness?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “He’s not from around here.”

I believed her. Tanisha was involved with every organization in town, from the high school PTA to the Chamber of Commerce. She knew more about what was happening in town than anyone, including the chief of police.

“Do you have a copy of the police report?” I asked, hoping it would give me a description of the asshole responsible for this mess.

Tanisha nodded and walked back to the office.

Both Scout and I watched as she retreated.

“Damn,” Scout whispered, admiring her ass. “If that’s not the Eighth Wonder of the World, I don’t know what is.”

I laughed.



8


Vaughn



I CALLED TOM as soon as I left the diner to fill him in on the information from the police report.

“Hey, Tom,” I said as soon as he answered.

“What’s up?”

“I’ve been doing some digging down here at the diner.”

“Oh yeah? You find something, Phoenix?”

“I know who the asshole is who roughed up Natalie and stole from the diner.”

“You do?” he asked, surprised.

“Yep. I’m on way back now. Round everybody up; I’ll meet you at the club in fifteen.”


***


“That fucking asshole,” growled Tom, shaking his head. “I'm going to kill that mother-fucker.”

“Have the cops figured out who he is yet?” asked Smitty, tapping his fingers rapidly on the table.

“I don't think so,” I answered. “I’m sure if they knew, they’d have picked him up by now.”

“Good,” Smitty said, cracking his knuckles. “I want to find him before they do.”

I still didn’t know who the witness was, but there was no doubt in my mind that the man in the police report, who’d roughed up Natalie, was none other than Charlie Krenshaw.

“Who's this Charlie Krenshaw asshole, and why does he have one of our cuts?” asked Piper, one of our newest prospects. Since this meeting was something everyone needed to hear, Tom had allowed the prospects to listen in.

Charlie Krenshaw was once a member of the club, a few years back, who just seemed to vanish into thin air. It was amazing that a man who looked like him could do such a good disappearing act. He was at least six-foot-five and had a scar that ran across his cheek. Not the type that could easily blend in with other folks.

“Charlie,” Tom explained, looking troubled, “was once a member of ours. Hell, he was a prospect back in the day with me.”

“What happened to him?” Piper asked.

“One night, a few years back, his old lady came in here bawling. She said that Charlie had come home drunk and beat the piss out of her, and their kid. Knowing what our reaction was going to be, Charlie bailed.”

The club’s reaction to child abuse was no second chances. Ever.

“Pussy must have found out that his old lady told us what he did, 'cuz the next day he took off, and no one has seen him since,” said Sully.

“What an asshole,” Piper said.

Around the table, heads nodded in agreement.

“So what's the plan?” Smitty asked Tom.

“I’d like you to find that son of a bitch and bring him to me. He can’t get away with this,” said Tom.

In other words, Charlie was a dead man.

“Where should we start looking for him?” asked Piper.

“For starters – you, and the other prospects, are going to check out Charlie’s old hangouts. See if anyone has seen him around lately. I’ll get you a picture, so you know who to look for. Let’s not waste any time. I want to find that bastard,” said Tom.

After the meeting wrapped up, some of the guys headed over to Tilly's, which was a nudie bar within walking distance from the club.

“You heading over with us, Phoenix?” asked Sully.

“Nah,” I answered swinging a leg over my bike. “Not feeling it right now. I'll catch you guys later. I have some shit at home I need to do.”

“At least we know it wasn’t one of us,” said Len, pulling out a joint. “I think that calls for a celebration.”

“Drink one for me,” I told him. Then I started my ride and headed off toward home.


9


Lily



SATURDAY MORNING I took something for the roaring headache I woke up with, and headed out of Chicago, toward Minnesota. Most of the drive was a blur and it was a miracle that I made it to Stillwater in one piece. In fact, I was so deep in thought that I almost slammed into a motorcyclist idling at a stoplight. At the last minute, I slammed on my brakes and came to a screeching halt.

“Shit!” I gasped, my sunglasses falling sideways on my face. As I fixed them, I noticed the guy on the motorcycle wore a leather jacket that had a picture of a skull and crossbones.

Oh great, I thought, tightening my hold on the steering wheel. Just what I needed. Getting murdered this close to home by some outlaw renegade.

I watched in horror as the man hopped off of his bike and stormed toward my vehicle, obviously pissed. Frightened, I locked my door.




10


Vaughn




I WAS SITTING at a red light and noticed in my side mirror that a black Range Rover was barreling up behind me with no intention of stopping.

What the fuck?

Just as I was about to peal out and go through the light to avoid getting hit, the driver of the vehicle slammed on their brakes. It came to a squealing stop only inches away from my back tire.

Pissed as all hell, I quickly hopped off my bike and was ready to give the asshole a piece of my mind, when I saw who was sitting in the driver’s seat. Stunned, I stopped in my tracks.



11


Lily



TERRIFIED THAT THE man might pull out a gun or damage my vehicle, I shifted the truck into reverse. Before I could look over my shoulder to see if anyone was behind me, the biker whipped off his helmet. Recognizing the enraged motorist, an old familiar ache began to resurface in my heart.

Vaughn Stone.

Even though it had been six years since I had last seen him, I knew immediately who it was. It would be impossible not to recognize those penetrating blue eyes of his. The ones that had haunted my dreams back in high school. We’d grown up together in Stillwater. We’d even hung out a little in grade school. I guess I’d always had a crush on him, especially when we were teenagers. Unfortunately, my family never approved of Vaughn. They knew his parents hung out with bikers and told me that their kind didn’t like outsiders. Eventually, they forbade me from even being around him, stating that he was dangerous and would only bring trouble. Although I didn’t want to believe them, the rumors about the Steel Bandits, a rowdy motorcycle club from St. Paul, were scary. Needless to say, we kept our distance for the most part. Until our senior year in high school, when he asked me out.

But we weren’t in high school anymore, and I was not ready to deal with Vaughn. Not after the last several hours.

I quickly sped away, almost clipping a car in the process. Looking back into the rearview mirror, I saw Vaughn still standing there, shaking his head.


***


When I finally arrived at my parents’ place, they were ecstatic to see me.

“I’ve missed you so much,” said my mother, throwing her arms around me. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me, too,” I replied truthfully, as she slowly released me. My parents had the habit of getting on my nerves, but right now, I needed something constant and true.

“It’s a shame that Karl couldn’t make it,” she said. “We really wanted to meet him in person. You’d told us so much about the man.”

Not looking her in the eyes, I nodded. “Yeah, he regrets not being able to make it. He’s just so busy with this new case,” I said, deciding that I just wasn’t ready to get into what had happened with them. I was still trying to absorb it myself.

“No ring yet, huh?” asked my father, glancing toward my hand.

“Not yet,” I replied, forcing a smile.

“So when is this man going to make an honest woman out of you?” my mother asked.

Her words made my stomach churn. Never, I wanted to shout. He can’t even make an honest person out of himself.

“I’m not sure,” I said, trying not to cry.

“Not sure?” she replied, frowning. “You’ve been living together for almost a year. You know what they say – ‘Why buy the milk when–‘”

“I know. I’ve heard it all before,” I interrupted sharply.

She gave me a surprised look.

“Oh, leave her alone,” my father scolded. “She just walked through the door and we don’t want to scare her back to Chicago already.”

Mom looked embarrassed. “I’m… sorry.”

I sighed. “It’s okay.”

She reached over and pushed a tendril of hair behind my ear. “You know I just want what’s best for you,” she said gently. “Your father and I both do.”

“I know,” I replied, my eyes welling up with tears as I realized that Karl had once said that to me. And now he was going to be shacking up with someone else. Someone who made him feel “complete.”

“Look now, you’ve made her cry,” said my father, noticing the tears.

“I’m not crying. I’m just tired,” I muttered, forcing another smile to my face.

“Why don’t you go and unpack,” Mom said, staring at me with concern. “And take a nap if you need one. I’m sure the drive exhausted you.”

Nodding, I picked up my suitcase and headed toward my old room.

“We’re having dinner at six. I made meatloaf,” mom called out.

“Sounds good,” I answered.

My bedroom was a welcoming sight. Not only was it exactly the way I’d left it after college, just being there was comforting. I shut the blinds and crawled onto my mattress. My last thoughts were of Karl, but oddly enough, it was Vaughn who found his way into my dreams.


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