Jake Greer’s stare was intense, the warning in his narrowed gray eyes leaving no question that he meant what he said. The face he stared into, so defiant only moments before, was now showing respect.
The young man he’d pinned against the wall tried to indicate with a nod that he did understand, but the position of Jake’s brawny, tattooed forearm across his throat made it impossible for him to do more than tilt his head forward. But that was enough for Jake, who stepped back.
“Listen, Joey,” he said as the younger man shot him a sheepish glance while rubbing his throat. “I was where you were once. When I first joined Rebel Sons, I was full of piss and vinegar and always spoiling for a fight. I thought if I could just kick somebody’s ass, I’d be looked up to. But the truth is, it takes more strength to walk away from a fight than it does to get in a useless one.” Jake inclined his head toward another young man nursing a busted lip across the room. “We’re brothers here. Got it? We don’t fight each other unless there’s a damn good reason. And a card game isn’t reason enough.”
Jake nodded to a burly man standing by Joey’s rival. That man, ironically nicknamed Tiny, stepped away, and the two younger men came together, a handshake cementing their silent truce.
“Clean your mess up,” Tiny growled, and the pair walked to the upended table and righted it before starting to pick up the scattered card deck. A moment later they’d headed off to the pool table, where fewer fights broke out.
Jake smirked at his friend and walked over. “Thanks, Tiny,” he said, clapping his palm on a beefy shoulder. “I wasn’t in the mood to handle that kind of shit today.”
“Hotheads,” Tiny said. “But you told Joey right. He’ll learn.”
Jake picked up the jacket he’d left over the back of a chair and donned it. Pulling a pack of smokes from the pocket, he accepted a light from Tiny. “Those boys make me feel like an old man.”
Tiny guffawed at this. “Thirty-five ain’t old, but given all you’ve been through, I can imagine why you might feel that way.” Tiny’s tone turned serious. “It’s no wonder Finn trusts you like he does. You’ve been tested. Everybody knows it, even the young ones. That’s why they listen.”
Tested. As Tiny walked away, Jake unconsciously rubbed the tattoo through his jacket sleeve. It was just two words: Good Father. He’d had it done after his old man was murdered. The crime had never been solved, but the circumstantial evidence had pointed to the leader of the Vipers, the rival biker club who’d targeted Mack Greer when he’d refused to join in the Vipers’ criminal enterprises.
Jake leaned against a concrete pillar in the nearly deserted hangout, watching as the exhaled smoke from his cigarette mingled with the dust motes dancing in the sunbeam shining through a small window. He wasn’t even supposed to be here today; his plan had been to make the run for the contraband liquor Finn had sent him for and then to go home and rest. But when he dropped by the club on the way, he’d walked in on two young bucks trying to pound each other senseless over a card game.
“Getting too old for this shit,” he muttered, tossing his head to move the hair out of his eyes. He was due for a cut, but hadn’t gotten around to it, and now it hung nearly shoulder length. Its lankness never seemed to put off the ladies; they loved to brush the strands away from his face, their slim hands always drawn lower to trace the ever-present stubble on his square jaw before drifting down to his muscular chest. The ladies loved Jake, in large part because he was seen as unattainable. While Jake was more than willing to bed a girl here and there, the most he could give was a few hours of pleasure. He wasn’t in any rush to give his heart away. The life he’d chosen was often unpredictable. He decided when he did settle down, it would be with someone who suited him. And he was very picky about what he wanted.
The tendrils of smoke had spread into a misty haze when Jake finally stubbed out the cigarette and walked outside, squinting his eyes as they adjusted to the glare of the sun. The Indian bike he inherited from his dad stood beside Finn’s gleaming chopper, the leather seat that had conformed to Mack Greer now conforming to his son. Jake put the key in the ignition and squeezed the clutch as the motor caught, the low rumble bringing back memories as it always did—his dad’s easy smile, his patience, the softer side that would have surprised the average person who thought the leather-clad biker intimidating. At 6′3″ and two hundred twenty pounds, Jake got the same reaction. Men dropped their eyes in respect while women’s lingered with desire. In Jake Greer, both saw the alpha male, and they were right. But he was a thoughtful alpha, with the best parts of his father’s protective nature.
The air was warm on his face as he cruised down the highway toward home. There was work to do at the body shop he owned, but it would have to wait until morning. The run for Finn had taken longer than he’d anticipated. All he wanted now was a cold beer on the front porch.
But those plans were about to change.
It was the flash of color that first caught his eye. The bright ribbon was trailing in the wind, its brilliant red a stark contrast to the dusty stretch of road. It was floating west to east, and he looked to the direction from where it had blown.
He’d passed the old barn a thousand times if he’d passed it once. But today he could just see the gleam of a bumper of a car parked behind the structure. Jake was a man of instinct, and now that instinct told him something was wrong. He went past the building, and then turned back, throttling down the engine as he coasted to the front wall. From this direction he could see a bike parked beside the car. It wasn’t one of his boys’. That much he knew.
Jake cut the engine and hopped off his bike as he made his way toward the barn. The wind was whipping up, thanks to a storm that was blowing in, but over it he could hear the threatening sound of a male voice and a female’s soft, frightened crying. Without even knowing who was inside, he could feel his protective instincts flare.
He was quiet as he edged along the outside wall of the barn, leaning down as he glanced through a gap between two boards. He could not see the woman’s face, just her legs. They were tanned and shapely and clad in pink cowboy boots. The large man blocked out the rest of her, but the design on the back of his kutte was unmistakable. Viper.
“Please, just let me go. I made a mistake!” The woman’s voice had an almost childlike pitch in its plea, and were it not for the shape of those legs, Jake would have thought by her tone that she was a child. He felt his jaw clench in anger when he heard her captor’s reply.
“It don’t work that way, you little cunt. Once you become a Viper girl, you don’t leave until we say so.”
The man was twice her size, and Jake found himself resisting the urge to burst through the door to his left and pummel the Viper bullying the whimpering girl. But he had no idea if the man was armed or—if so—what he was armed with. Crouching, he began to move toward the door, peeking around the corner once he reached it. He could see them in profile now. The girl was pretty, her blond hair plaited into two pigtails on either side of her heart-shaped face. The twin to the red ribbon he’d seen was still tied to one of the plaits. Her eyes were wide with fear as she faced her antagonist, a stocky young man with a sparse, wiry beard. His beefy hand was pressed against her throat as he held her against the rough wood of the barn wall, and the swell of her breasts heaved above the top of the low-cut leather vest.
“You’re lucky Cain’s got plans for you, otherwise I’d rip off those tight little shorts and teach you a lesson.” The man pushed his hips against the girl, grinding as she began to sob. “Yeah, you’d like it, bitch. Don’t pretend you wouldn’t. In fact, I think I deserve something for tracking you down.” His hand moved up, grabbing a plait and pulling it back until she was forced to face him. “You think you can just walk into our bar, hang with us, catch Cain’s eye, and then just try to split? Like I said—it don’t work that way. Now, the way I see it, you need to be taught a lesson before we head back, so here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna suck my cock, and if you even think of telling Cain I made you do it, I’ll kill you, got it?”
The girl closed her eyes tight. She was visibly shaking now, and cried out as the large hand ripped open her vest.
“Oh, yeah. We’re going have a real good time.”
Jake felt his rage building, but still waited to just the right moment to make his move. Just as the Viper freed his cock, he lunged through the door.
The Viper was heavier than Jake, but where his weight was bulk, Jake was solid muscle. He hit the other man like a linebacker, driving his shoulder into the Viper’s ribs so hard he heard them crack. The girl fell to the ground as her assailant dropped and rolled across the barn floor, but Jake’s attention was not on her. Even with the cracked rib, the Viper was already trying to scramble to his feet while frantically reaching for the back of his pants. Jake suspected he had a blade or a gun hidden in his waistband, so he stepped forward and aimed the steel toe of his boot at the man’s balls. The Viper fell back, howling, and rolled over to retch into the dust of the barn floor. Jake kicked him again, this time in the side. The Viper stopped vomiting long enough to squeal and sob, and as he lay there writhing, Jake reached into the agonized man’s waistband and removed a revolver before roughly frisking him and removing two blades. He pocketed both knives and then popped open the chamber of the revolver to empty the rounds into his hand. With a snort of disgust, he pocketed the ammo and then tossed the now-useless firearm on the floor beside the Viper’s head.
The Viper looked up, his beard caked with vomit and dust, unable to voice the hatred that burned in his eyes. Jake, now convinced that the would-be rapist was neutralized, turned his attention to his intended victim.
She was still on the ground, watching fearfully as she tried to pull the two halves of her skimpy vest back over her breasts. As Jake approached her, she cringed.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. He removed his jacket, leaving his upper body clad only in a tight sleeveless shirt. “Here.” He knelt down, slowly, and carefully pulled the oversized garment around her body to cover her nakedness.
“What’s your name?”
She looked up at him through wary eyes, and Jake couldn’t help but stare. The impossibly long lashes were heavy with tears, and when she answered it was through little hiccoughing breaths.
“Carmen,” he said gently. “That’s a pretty name for a pretty girl.” He kept his voice soft as he carefully helped her to her feet. “Listen, Carmen. I don’t know how you got mixed up with this guy, but he’s bad news. And we need to get you outta here. Understand?”
She nodded, and he slowly helped her to her feet, waiting for her trembling to subside before leading her from the barn. Outside, he took a closer look at the car parked behind the barn. It was a newer Acura with leather seats. He then looked from the vehicle to the road, noting skid marks where the Viper had obviously forced Carmen’s vehicle off the road and to the back of the building.
“Your car?” he asked. She nodded. “Keys in it?” She nodded again.
“Whoever sent him after you is going to be looking for it, and you’re not in any shape to be driving now, anyways.” He paused, looking back at the barn. “Wait here a second,” he said, but when Jake went to move away, she clutched at his arm, terror in her eyes.
“No! Don’t leave me!”
“I’m not,” he said reassuringly. “I’m coming back.”
It took him all of three minutes to knock the still-prone Viper unconscious and bind his hands and eyes with a strip of oily rag he found in the barn. Jake had no doubt the man would be able to peg him as a Rebel Son, but at that moment he really didn’t care. What mattered now was making sure whoever he called to get the car wouldn’t have any trouble with the man whose ass he’d just kicked. After double-checking that the Viper was securely restrained, Jake made a quick phone call to Tiny, giving him a brief overview of what had happened and instructing him to pick up the vehicle and bring it to his body shop. He also asked Tiny to have a friend on the police force run the plates.
“Don’t tell him why, though,” he said. “The less we say right now, the better.”
The girl was where he left her. Jake found himself concerned about her mental state; she seemed almost in a state of shock and meekly allowed him to put her on the bike behind him. Her arms were slim and soft around his narrow waist, and she clung to him tightly as he pulled his bike out onto the road and continued for home.
It was only as he guided the motorcycle into the garage behind his house that Jake wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into.