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Chapter 1—Gator


     “You dead yet?” my dad huffs out like he just ran for the phone. It’s the only giveaway that he actually cares compared to the words that come out of his mouth. Mike Stalone is many things, but a person who talks or shares feelings ain’t one of them. But I’m his kid, so he has to show he gives a damn in one way or another. 


     Not saying I grew up in a family that sucked or anything. Had one of those perfect childhoods, if you can believe it. My parents and I just fit, and everything was fine. Till Mom died in a hit-and-run, and then shit went a bit south. Not too much. My dad never took to the bottle or forgot I existed or anything like that. He was there for me, but the guy never knew how to be a mom to a twelve-year-old, so we both agreed he didn’t have to be. Mom was the one who was soft in our world. She was the one who made us talk feelings and deal with them. Dad never learned that in the Marines, and I sure as hell didn’t get taught it when I joined the Army. But I know him. I’ve learned to read between the lines. When he’s asking if I’m dead, it’s just his way of asking if I’m okay. 


     “If I was dead, you think I’d be calling?”


     That actually gets a harrumph from the man, which is basically a full-on belly laugh if I ever heard one from him. “Keep that wise-ass shit up and that prez of yours ain’t ever going to let you in the club.”


     “Don’t think it bothers them. At least not enough to not give me my patch.” I can’t fight the smile on my face as I say it. Over a year I’ve been working to be a fully patched member of the Hounds of the Reaper. A year of dealing with both minor and major shit. A year to prove my worth. And a year to live up to the reputation of a dead man. 

     I run my thumb over the letters RM tattooed on the inside of my index finger. A reminder that Rick Malone might be dead but never forgotten. And while he ain’t here in the flesh, he and I both made it into the club he idolized as a kid all the way until he got killed in Iraq. Even as the bastard was bleeding out in my arms, he still talked about the Hounds. His only regret in life was not getting patched in. He made me swear I would do it for the both of us. That I would get out of doing what the government wanted and lead my own life with a group of brothers at my back that would do more for me than any brotherhood the Army tried to force upon us. Not all the men I served with were dicks, but there were plenty of them. And not all the Hounds are my favorite, but after a year of getting to know them, and them me, I know I would take a bullet for every last one. 

     “He’d be proud, boy.” The fact that Dad knows what I’m thinking ain’t surprising. We might not talk feelings, but we talk about everything else. Guy’s been my biggest supporter all my life. That never changed when Mom died or when I followed in his footsteps and became a military man like him. Hell, the guy even encouraged me to get out long before I called it quits, and he’s been with me every step of the way with the prospect duty shit. We both know there’s shit I can’t talk about with him, but he doesn’t need to know all the ins and outs of the club. Just that, in his words, I’m alive and still kicking.

     “Yeah, I think he would.” I clear my throat and let the party around me filter back into existence. I tend to go into bubbles when I talk with my dad. My way to show him I care just as much as he does, by focusing only on him, no matter who I’m surrounded by. 

     “Well, now that you’ve got that sorted, when you going to get that woman of yours?”


     A laugh bursts through my lips before I can control it. Old man caught me off guard with me focusing on feelings and past shit, and then he drops that bomb in my lap. Like I said, I talk to my dad a lot, so he knows what I want—and who I want. 


     “In time, old man. All in good time. But I got to get back to the party. Apparently they want the former prospect to enjoy his own patching-in shindig.” 

     He grunts at that, and I just smile. I really can’t fucking believe I’m in. Never worked so hard at something in my life. “Yeah, sure they do. Try not to get too drunk and fall off your bike, will you, kid?”


     “That was one time, Dad, and I was like fifteen.”


     “Still happened. Never know when history will repeat itself.” And with that, he hangs ups on me.


     Fucker. Always needs to get the last laugh in and will never let me live that down, no matter how many times I tell him I wasn’t drunk that time. Not that he’ll believe me. 


     “Hey, Gator.”


     Flint calling my new road name has me walking to a group of brothers. I still can’t believe that became my road name, but after Mad Max explained it, I’m kind of getting used to it. Nothing like getting compared to a reptile that doesn’t know how to let go when they find their prey. Sure beats the shit out of being compared to an energy drink I might have stolen. Not that I’d ever confirm that. Only person who knows the truth lost her memory, and while she’s gotten most of it back, some of it is still foggy. That being one of them. 

     I nod at Flint as he continues to ask whatever he needed me in on. “Tell the truth, man. Did Bass really have it hard up in Washington like he says, or is that all just crap like we think?”


     I huff a laugh as the group looks at me expectantly. Typical Bass, can’t keep his mouth shut, even when he’s spouting bull. “Oh, he was hard all right. Just not for the reasons you think.”


     The group laughs as Bass makes a move to dive for me, which I easily dodge. I know he’s not really upset, and the brothers at my back don’t even try to step in. If Bass really was bent out on something I said, sure, I’d get a fist to the face, but then a beer afterward. What can I say? We’re a club, and a family. Sure, feelings get hurt, but in the end, we still stick around for each other and get over shit quick. If we don’t, well, I haven’t seen it happen yet, but I know the bylaws have something in place for when shit needs to be settled beyond just a brawl in the backyard. 

     “He did what?”


     The scream draws all our eyes across the compound to Kitten, my unofficial best friend. She claims me as her bestie, and I’m smart enough of a man not to say shit. For one thing, Flint, her old man, would skin me alive if I made his girl cry. She might be tough, like the rest of the old ladies, but she still thinks of me as her longest-known friend. Only because she still hasn’t gotten all of her memory back.

     She claims she remembers the rest of the crew, but they’re kind of like college friends you forget about and only see every now and again. You can pick up where you left off like nothing happened, but it’s still different from the current friends you have. Or at least that’s how she explained it to me. Girl also developed a word vomit thing that’s apparently rare for her but something she does all the time now. She speaks what she thinks and rarely thinks before she speaks. It’s both funny and confusing. 


     I scan the area she’s sitting at. I make a habit of knowing everyone’s ins and outs, no matter if they’re in the club or not. I feel better when I know the lay of the land. Might be an Army thing or just a me thing. Either way, I already see she ain’t a happy camper with whoever she’s talking to on her phone. 

     “That motherfucker! I’m going to kill him. You stay right there. I’m on the way.”

     Most of the club is following the crazy woman to the exit, me included. Girl only shows emotion like this when we run out of sugar, or Diet Coke. Since I made sure we had both on hand a few days ago, I can only guess what’s got her claws out. I might not say we’re friends like she thinks, but the girl does hold a special place in my heart. More like the sister I never wanted but will happily protect. 

     Flint’s the first to catch up to her, spinning her around to face him as he talks. “Kitten, what’s going on? Who we killing, and how many body bags we bringing?” 


     “You ain’t killing anyone. That asshole is all mine. Goddamn bastard left my girl on the side of the road ’cause she wouldn’t put out. Fuck that shit. Only reason why I’m the one killing him and not Bailey is ’cause I got a yard to bury the fucker in.”

     “Wait, that was Bailey?” Ruby, the prez’s daughter, asks as she walks over to Kitten, the entire group of old ladies following her.

     That name has my steps faltering. I need to know if she’s involved. Even if I’m still a few feet away, I listen closely to what’s being said. 

     “Yeah. That asshole she was seeing just proved that he really is an asshole, and not just because I didn’t like how he saw the club.”

     I’ve never felt a need to kill before. Never saw the pleasure in it, no matter how much another person wronged me or a brother. Would I do it? Have I done it? The answer is the same as that dumb question about if bears shit in the woods. It doesn’t excite me, but I do what needs to be done. To protect my brothers and my club. 

     And my woman.


     Bailey has had a hold on me since the second I laid eyes on her. Sure, she was threatening us and saying we were below standards, but the way she said it and how she never showed fear while facing off against a group of Hounds had me rock hard from the moment she spoke. 

     Hearing that she’s not only on a date but one who left her has me itching for the first time to cause harm to another and smile about it. 

     “Where is she?” I don’t care that I’m talking over others. Don’t care that I somehow missed something that resulted in the prez holding his daughter. I zoned out, and that ain’t good. But it proves something to me that I’ve tried to ignore for a while. I might have known Bailey meant something to me, but till this very minute, I wasn’t sure. But I get it now. My head, heart, and dick are all in sync.

     Bailey is ours

     I watch Kitten as she looks to her man, for what, I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Either she tells me what I want to know or I’ll hack into the cell tower and pinpoint where the call came in from. I ain’t just a tatted-up face who knows how to handle their weapon, after all. I can do some serious shit if given three minutes and access to a computer. 

     “East of Topeka. At a nightclub somewhere off I-70. Think she was walking for a while, ’cause she couldn’t get a signal on her cell for a bit till she got to the club. Or I think that’s what she said. The reception was spotty at best, and the noise of the club drowned some of it out. But I know she’s stranded.”

     “What’s the name?” I growl, then cast a glance at Flint to make sure he ain’t about to deck me for taking such a tone with his old lady. But he’s just smiling back at me like this convo was bound to happen. And maybe it was. No secret that I’ve had a hard-on for the woman from the start. If I wasn’t putting my foot in my mouth each time I tried to give her a fucking compliment, it would be obvious to anyone that my eyes never left her when she was around. 

     “Tied Up and Tied Down.”

     “Fuck,” I hiss as I turn quickly to go to my bike. 

     Bailey might not be a virgin, but I don’t think she’s into BDSM like that club promotes. Of course, the thought of her getting tied to a St. Andrews cross or down on a spanking bench gets me granite hard, and I grunt as I straddle my bike. I refuse to adjust myself, my self-inflicted punishment as I’m getting turned on while she’s God knows where with God knows who. 

     She made it clear from day one that she can take care of herself. But after the night she probably had, I doubt she has the energy to deal with the clientele at the club she’s at. Not that I don’t think she can stick up for herself and say no. Girl’s got enough confidence that’s so fucking sexy, it oozes off her, making her a challenge, and I’ve got no doubt that I’m not the only one who sees the beauty of her full figure. She ain’t a size two, and I love that about her. So many curves that make me want to trace them with my tongue. So much creamy flesh that I want to compare against my own tatted skin.

     I’ve slowly been covering every part of my body in art. I love the feel of the needle against my skin, the images I look at daily. Some just make me smile; others remind me of things I can never forget. And while I love all the colors I’ve got, I just know Bailey has virgin skin. I crave to see it. I yearn to touch it.

And if any bastard even thinks about breathing on what’s mine just because she’s in the wrong place without me there to watch her back, they’ll feel the entire impact of why they named me after an alligator. ’Cause I’ll get my pound of flesh, and then some.


     And then I’ll take a bite of Bailey’s ass and drag her back to my den to enjoy her over and over again. 

     My phone rings, and I answer with my Bluetooth helmet as I speed down the highway, not even checking to see who it is. Half expect it to be Law, telling me that my brothers are on the way, along with a few others. As I was racing to get on my bike, I saw Ruby heading to her own vehicle. If she’s leading the charge, then I know it’s a race to get to Bailey first. 

     Bailey might not know it, but she’s Hounds property. Her best friend’s in the club, and she’s basically an extension of us with how involved she was in helping Kitten get her memories back. 


     “Time’s up. You got your woman?”

     I almost swerve at my dad’s voice on the line. We might be close, but not usually two-calls-in-the-same-night close.

     Not sure if he’s adding “fucking psychic” to his résumé or if someone tipped him off. The entire club knows I’m close to him. Hell, the club even interviewed him before I pledged. Needed to find out about as many skeletons in my closet as possible before I even stepped into the club as a prospect. 

     Or… he could just be drunk and playing a game with me. He’s done it before, thinking he’s funny as hell. But this time I ain’t laughing.

     “Funny you should mention that….”

     I chuckle at his silence till he tells me to explain. I guess I should tell him thanks the next time I see him. While neither of us really talk feelings, he sure has a lot to say after I tell him everything. Which keeps me focused enough to get to the club in one piece and not ride like a freaking lunatic to get to Bailey as fast as possible. 

     I hang up with my dad for the second time as I pull into a semi-packed parking lot. I don’t see her car, even though I knew she probably didn’t have hers here, based on what Kitten said. Then again, I’d rather Kitten get it wrong, making me look like an ass for showing up when I’m not needed, than for Bailey to ever truly need someone to help her.

     She’s badass, and I don’t want to take that away from her. I don’t want anyone to take that away from her. 


     The doorwoman gives me little fuss about entering. Must not be a private club. Or maybe she just knows I won’t take no for an answer.

     Ain’t hard to find the person I’m after. Not only is she like a fucking beacon for me, but she’s the only other person besides me with most of their clothes still on. 

     I don’t know if I expect her to see me and run into my arms or something. But what she does when I step up beside her at the bar has me laughing after she speaks. 

     “What the hell are you doing here?”

     Her being irate shouldn’t make me hard. It shouldn’t make me laugh and smile and feel a warmth in my chest. I should hate that she’s always so defensive when she sees me, but I don’t.

     She is who she is, and I’m so much into this girl that I might already be in love.  

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