Freebirds, Book 4
She’s the definition of lost. Doesn’t know her name? Check. Cruelly beaten within an inch of her life? Check. No memory of anything that’s happened since she woke up from that beating? Check. Losing a child she doesn’t remember conceiving? Check. She hasn’t felt anything but lost in a very long time. Then an old biker tells her danger is on the horizon. He sends her to a man that she instantly feels a connection with. A bone deep connection.
He’s the definition of despair. After the death of his young wife while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, he hasn’t seen the appeal of participating in the world around him. He’s lost the only thing he ever loved. He’s been a shell of the man he once was. His only escape from reality is feeling the wind in his hair, going as fast as he can get his old Harley to take him. That’s the only time he can push his demons back far enough to feel peace. That is until she screams his name.
* * * * *
Listen to a sample:
I heard the door jingle behind me, but ignored it in favor of my Coke. I’d had a very bad day. My mother was a total and complete bitch. She’d thoroughly embarrassed me in front of the entire school today, and I was completely done with her. After graduation, this Friday, I’d be leaving this shit hole place and never looking back. Money or not, I was gone.
I hit the last dregs of my Coca Cola and placed my empty on the bar counter with a crack. Mr. Stoker acknowledged me with a nod of his head, and went back to helping his customer, while keeping his gaze partially trained in my direction. I felt bad for my outburst as soon as I did it, smiling sheepishly at him before he turned away again.
I was constantly replaying the event in my head. My freakin mother decided to come to my senior awards ceremony drunk and high off her ass. Why she decided to play the caring parent today, of all days, was beyond me. The woman was most likely mentally unstable; not that she would ever see someone to confirm it.
All she had to do was wait one more week and she would have had a perfect ten out of ten in the crappy parent who missed everything department. Of course, that would be my luck. I was probably the unluckiest person on the planet.
She’d walked into the room just as I was walking across the stage to accept my award. The door hit the cement wall with a bang as she burst through the gym door. She practically fell through it in her haste. Laughing and carrying on as if she didn’t just interrupt a ceremony that housed every single one of my peers and their parents. It was bad enough that they suspected she was a shitty parent, but to have her confirm it was another thing.
She made it about halfway down the main aisle when she spotted me on the stage. She yelled and hooted so loud that I could feel heat rising in my face. Utter and complete embarrassment consumed me.
About five steps passed before she went down, threw up on herself, and then started sobbing about my father leaving her with nothing but two snotty kids to take care of. They weren’t even hers, blah, blah, blah. Same story, different day.
I didn’t wait for help; I yanked my award out of the stunned principal’s fingers, hopped off stage, and hauled my mother up to her feet by her overall straps. Wasting no time in blowing the place, I ran out the side entrance and listened to the alarms shriek until I closed the door behind us with a click.
Not knowing what the hell to do with her, I finally decided on just throwing her in her car and letting her fend for herself. I’ve cleaned up after her for the last time. I needed some advice, which was how I ended up at Stoker’s.
Stormy, my twenty two year old sister, works as a barmaid at ‘Stoker’s Bar and Grill.’ Mr. Stoker’s, literally, the most awesome man on the planet. If I could adopt a father, he would be the one I would choose. I could probably take a bat to the booze lined up on the back wall, shattering every last bottle in a fit of rage, and he wouldn’t bat an eyelash. He’d only grab the big ass broom and dustpan, then start cleaning up my mess.
Not that I’d do a thing like that. Well, not to Mr. Stoker anyway; but there’re only so many things I can take before the red headed temper takes over.
My sister passed me, a cloud of her perfume trailed in her wake. I couldn’t help but gag a little at the noxious smell. The girl insisted on using the most insufferable scents to ever grace the planet. They probably didn’t smell bad to most people, but they turned my stomach. Even the candles she burned at home, at times, made me nauseous.
She passed me again, and then was back in a flash, setting food down in front of me. I thanked her profusely and dug in.
“So, tell me what happened.” Stormy insisted, as she took her seat.
Knowing she wouldn’t let me eat until I spilled the beans, I told her the whole embarrassing thing.
“You’re shitting me!” She fumed.
She stared at me flabbergasted. I nodded my head, confirming that I was, in fact, not shitting her.
“That crazy bitch. I cannot believe that…” She trailed off.
I ignored her though. She’d set the most delicious plate of nachos down in front of me that I’d ever had the pleasure of tasting; ignoring them during my recap of the day’s events was as close to torture as one could get. The queso slid off the chips in a gooey mess, and I couldn’t help the moan of pleasure that escaped me at the taste.
Devouring my last bite, I licked each of my fingers, releasing each one with an audible ‘pop.’ Then my eyes moved to my sister’s plate. I wondered if she was going to finish them.
Stormy kicked me hard under the table, and my head snapped up. Glaring at her, I hauled my fist back and punched her in the arm, leaving a cheesy residue on her black polo shirt.
“You bitch!” She whisper yelled at me.
She kept glancing off to her right, but my phone dinged in my pocket, and I pulled it out instead.
I gasped at what I saw. “No way!”
My fellow computer geek, Andie, was showing off her newest acquisition. Her parents bought it for her graduation gift. It was the newest laptop computer with all the bells and whistles; it had enough memory on the drive to run the United States of America. Well, maybe not that much, but still, it was more than enough.
“Look how much memory this has!” I squealed to Stormy.
She, of course, ignored me like always. She could give two shits about a computer. “You’re such a loser.”
“Yeah? Well, you suck.” I said petulantly.
My eyes wandered back to her plate of food, and I stared at them for a few heart-wrenching seconds before movement in the seat beside me caught my attention. I turned and followed the broad muscles of the man in a camo uniform. Immediately, I disregarded him. Men who were hot normally ignored me, so why waste my time by looking at him. Something about my red curly hair usually turned them off. It would only dent my ego.
Turning back to my sister, I asked, “Are you done with those?”
She was staring at the man beside me, but turned her eyes to mine at my question. “Yeah, sure.”
I dug in, totally ignoring the fact that she was quieter than usual.
“What’s your malfunction?” I asked, around a bite of cheesy goodness.
“How are you not fat?” She asked resentfully.
“I run so I can eat like this. When my pants start getting tight, I start running more. When they fit again, I stop.” I said simply.
A chuckle from beside me had me stiffening, but I did my best to ignore the fact that the shit head beside me was laughing at my fatness.
“Jackopa, what are you doing here?” Mr. Stoker asked excitedly, as he sidled up to the bar directly in front of the mystery military man,
“Dad, you know I don’t like being called that. You know it, yet you still fucking do it.” The man, Jackopa, growled.
His voice was deep and smooth. It sent shivers down my spine.
“Son, that’s a good, strong name. My granddaddy gave it to you. How many times do I have to tell you that?” Mr. Stoker chided.
“Yeah, well tell that to everybody else. They think it’s weird,” He muttered under his breath. “Can you get me some of the nachos? They’re looking mighty delicious.”
I sucked my fingers clean of cheese and sour cream just as he said that, and accidentally inhaled instead of swallowing. Choking and sputtering, I couldn’t stand it anymore and turned to survey the man.
He was flipping gorgeous. He had black hair, almost blue. Although, the Miller Lite beer sign directly above his head could account for the blue, if I thought about it too hard. It was buzzed tightly to his scalp, just long enough that you could tell the color, but nothing else. His eyelashes were dark, as well as his eyes. They were a deep green; so green they were almost black. His face was utterly beautiful. Not one single blemish marred his beautiful face.
Clearly, he had some Native American background if his sharp features had anything to say about it.
His mouth was kicked up to the right, revealing straight white teeth. His body was beautiful. Strong thick arms covered by the desert camo you see on off duty military personnel. The Army patch on his chest told me what branch he belonged to, but I never would’ve guessed otherwise.
I turned back around as I saw him grin wide at my blatant observation of his body. Good thing I hadn’t looked at his package like my eyes wanted to do; I would’ve never heard the end of it then.
Wiping my hand on the towel, I stood and pulled my t-shirt down, covering my stomach entirely. It wouldn’t do if my skin was showing. I didn’t want to be known for dressing like a slut puppy in high school at our twenty-year reunion, and I always made sure to dress conservatively. Today, I was dressed extra special in a white pencil skirt that came just below my knees and a fitted top. My one downfall, however, were my Chuck’s. At least they were new and didn’t have any dirt on them.
I was secretly happy I wasn’t wearing my usual uniform of jeans and a t-shirt. I didn’t want Jackopa thinking I was a slouch or anything.
“Alright, sis. I have to run by the library to register for classes at TU. The deadline is eight tonight, but the library closes soon. I need to hustle. I might not make it as it is.” I said before downing the glass of Coke that Mr. Stoker had just handed me.
“My son can give you a ride, Winter.” Mr. Stoker said, glancing out the door at the setting sun.
“That’s not necessary, Mr. Stoker. It isn’t but another four blocks. That’s why I wore my Chucks; I knew I’d be walking.” I explained nervously.
“Nonsense, he isn’t doing anything for a while. The nachos will take at least thirty minutes to make since we used the last batch of chicken on yours. He doesn’t mind.” Mr. Stoker said with all seriousness.
Well, that was that. I wasn’t getting out of this no matter what. The man was an iron bar when it came to getting his own way. He wouldn’t be swayed when his mind was made up, and, clearly, it was made up.
“O-okay.” I said as I turned to Jackopa.
He held his arm out for me in a courteous gesture, and I hooked my arm with his cautiously.
He led me outside into the cooling Texas air, and I shivered as he walked me up to a big ass mother of a motorcycle. Chain served as the handlebars, a skull was mounted in between the bars; I had to say I loved it. It suited him to a T, but there was no way on God’s green earth I was getting on that beast in this skirt.
“Umm, I think I’ll walk. You can walk me, but there won’t be any riding today. Not in this skirt. It’d probably pop a seam.” I explained to his jaw.
I wouldn’t be looking him in the eyes. I didn’t want to get lost in them as I did the first time.
“Okay.” He said without argument.
We started walking at quite a brisk pace. Me ignoring him, and him watching me ignore him.
“What are you doing later?” He asked, taking my hand and helping me over a water puddle on the ground.
He didn’t let it go after I was over it, though. My hand stayed in his for the entire walk to the library. I didn’t argue, because in all honesty, it felt nice.
“Uh, nothing. I don’t have to work today, so I guess I’ll just hang out at home.” I stammered.
His smile was brilliant. “Come for a ride with me later?”
“I’ve never been on a motorcycle before. Do you even have a helmet for me? Shouldn’t I have some leather and stuff on?”
“Yeah, I’ll pick you up after you’re done registering. Then I’ll take you home so you can change into jeans, and a long sleeved shirt. What do you want to major in?” He asked, changing the subject.
As a result, for the duration of the walk to the library, I told him about my dream of being a computer programmer. How I loved all the latest technology that came out.
I stopped at the bottom steps of the library and smiled up at him. “Actually, my dream job would be to get to test all the new gadgets that someone makes. However, those jobs are few and far between so I’ll just go with computer science for now.”
“That’s good, honey. You should always do what you want to do. My dad begged me to go into something safe, but that just wasn’t for me. All my life I’ve dreamed about being in the army. Making a difference. When 9/11 happened, I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that the army was what I was going to do with my life.” He said as he touched the tip of my nose with his index finger.
“Will this be a career kind of thing, or just for a few years?” I asked.
“It’ll be a few years for now. That might change later on, though.” He answered.
I laughed. “Well, that really clears things up.”
The lights above the door to the library suddenly winked out and I groaned. Tearing up the steps, I made a beeline straight for the big doors at the front. Once I got to them, I yanked, and then cursed when they didn’t open. My eyes flicked to my watch and I groaned when I realized how long we’d stood there talking.
“Crap. Piss. Shit. Damn.” I groaned and covered my eyes with my hands.
“I have a computer at my place.” He said with a smile in his voice.
I whirled around and glared at him, pointing my finger for good measure. “This is your freakin’ fault!”
“For someone that loves computers as much as you do, it surprises me that you even need to use the library’s computers. What’s up with that?” He asked curiously, grabbing my hand and leading me back down the stairs.
My heart clenched at the feel of his palm against mine, but I somehow managed to answer him despite that. “My mom hocked my computer last week. I managed to get my information off it the next day, but they wouldn’t sell me the computer back because I wasn’t the one to bring it in to them. It can only go back to the person that sold it, within thirty days, and then they can sell it back to me. However, that’s not going to happen. My computer was the shit. I spent eight of my paychecks on it. I’d be lucky if it’s still there.”
“My brother’s a little shit like that, too. Not that he’s ever had the balls to steal anything since he took my car. Which was worse because my best friend caught a ride home with him, since they were at the same party. Then they decided to take it mudding and sunk it in the fucking lake.” He finished with a growl.
I couldn’t help the snort, followed by the guffaws of laughter that poured out of me when I heard him say that last part. “Oh-oh, God.”
“That isn’t funny in the slightest. I spent a year and a half scraping money together to pay for it. Then I restored it all myself. The very first weekend I was out of town at boot camp, those bozos decided to get drunk, and drive my baby. There I was making my one phone call home, per week, my father tells me what those assholes did, and I couldn’t do anything to retaliate. Not a thing. Six weeks later, I’m still mad. They even had the gall to park the fucker in my parking spot at my apartment!”
I ribbed him for the rest of the walk to Stoker’s, but then my smile slipped off my face when I realized that I was still in the same predicament as earlier. “There is still no way I’m getting on that thing with you.” I said, pointing at the bike.
“Chicken.” He taunted.
“Your bike reminds me of a death cycle. Have you ever seen that Nicholas Cage movie where he’s a dead vigilante, and he’s hunting bad guys? Your bike reminds me of that scary looking bike.” I explained hesitantly.
“Yeah, it does look pretty mean, doesn’t it? Got it for a song from some old man who couldn’t ride it anymore. Took me a while to get it running like I wanted, but the body was sound. I get a lot of looks when I’m on it, too. I promise it won’t bite.”
His lean, muscled frame flexed as he swung his leg over the bike and turned to me, holding out his helmet. “What about you?” I asked.
“I’ll go slow. Promise.” He soothed.
I was hesitant, but the smile he’d plastered on his face made me cave, and I slowly fit the helmet over my head and walked forward. He held out his hand and I latched onto it like a lifeline. “Don’t make me regret this.”
I lifted one foot and the tightness of my skirt stopped me from lifting it more than a foot off the ground. I raised my eyebrows at him and he laughed.
Dropping my hand from his, both of his hands went on either side of my thighs, pinched the fabric of my skirt and yanked it up to the top of my hips; so far, that if I bent even in a little bit, the world would see my panties.
“Yikes!” I said and started to yank it back down.
He didn’t let me though; instead, he grabbed the back of my thigh and started to guide my leg over the bike’s seat. “Put your foot on the pegs, and scoot real close.”
I did as instructed. Well, for the most part. I didn’t plaster my crotch up against his back. Instead, I left a few inches between us, and then wrapped my hands loosely around his waist.
My mind instantly changed when he started up the bike with nothing less than a roar. My teeth even vibrated with the rumble coming from the motor. It didn’t take me more than a few feet away from the curb before I scooted so close to him; you couldn’t tell where I started and he ended.
My arms tightened around his waist, and I could have sworn I could hear him chuckle.
The ride to the apartment was quick.
I registered for my classes while Jack flipped through channels on his TV. It took less than ten minutes, and I found myself at a loss.
Should I get up and go sit by him? Should I tell him I’m ready to go? What is the protocol here?
“You’re thinking too hard.” Jack’s deep voice broke me out of my silent questioning.
My head whipped around until I was staring at the smirk that was tilting up the corner of his beautiful, luscious, lickable mouth. “Huh?”
“You’re thinking too hard. Want to go for a ride?” He asked.
“Well, I still have the same problem that I had not very long ago. Skirts and bikes and all that shit.” I said sarcastically.
He laughed. “Yeah, gotta live sometime though.”
“Yeah, but you really should show more caution than that. You never know when you’re life will end. Why not take a few extra precautions just on the slight chance that it might save your life?” I asked.
“You’re too young to be that jaded. Aren’t you supposed to be wild and carefree?” He asked skeptically.
I’d never been able to be wild and carefree. My childhood didn’t allow for that.
“Yeah, that went out the window the first time I had to fend off one of my mom’s suppliers from touching my twelve year old self. Stormy wasn’t so lucky.” I said before I even knew I’d done it.
Why had I told him that?
“What?” He asked quietly.
“Yes, I’ll go for a ride, but you have to promise that you’ll go slowly.” I said before walking out his apartment door.
My heart was beating a mile a minute. I’d never even told Stormy of what had happened that night. She thought she was alone in that regard, but she wasn’t. I might not have been raped that night but there was definitely some inappropriate touching going on before I’d hit him, using a move I’ve only seen performed.
I remembered watching him fall as I hit him on the side of the neck. I was proud of myself a few days later, but at that instant in time, I was too terrified to do anything but hide.
I was just glad I’d watched that YouTube video on how to incapacitate an attacker. They’d said that it was a great shot for someone that had surprise on their size and I’d definitely had that. The man hadn’t expected my tiny self to fight back and that was what saved me. Things could’ve gone a lot different for me that night.
Jack and I rode for what felt like minutes, but turned out to be nearly an hour. We were somehow outside of my house, and frustration hit me like a wrecking ball. I swung my leg over more gracefully this time, and smiled sadly at him.
“Wear jeans tomorrow, Winnie.” He laughed and then roared away.
I watched him streak down the street as if he was shot out of a cannon, and my heart let out a little leap at the pace he set.
Hands jittery, I walked inside and closed the door behind me. Stormy rushed up from the other room, and I started to tell her about Jack when her boyfriend, Peter, came in the room right behind her.
The man was a freak of nature, and I hated the way he made me feel when I was around him. Hence, why I avoided him like the plague whenever he came over. Which, coincidentally, meant that I was ignoring Stormy as well.
“Have a good night!” I said with false cheer.
It wasn’t until I got to my room and looked into the mirror that I realized I was still wearing Jack’s helmet. The laughter at thinking that my sister probably thought I was a nut job died when I realized that Jack was riding without a helmet of his own.