Blue eyes darted to anywhere but me, and her head lowered. “Yes. In many writings, it is said she was King Herod’s niece. She demanded John the Baptist’s head for her birthday and danced the dance of seven veils. She is a reminder that women sin and tempt men to do evil things. All women are born sinners—some more than others—and we must be reminded constantly that we are the reason mankind fell from Eden. Born with the original sin of Eve. My name assures that people are always aware of this fact and that I never forget my place in the great order of life.”

What. The. Fuck?

She regurgitated that shit like it had been pounded into her brain, a rote speech. Her eyes lost life, her voice dropped all feeling, and every part of her body tensed. My fists clenched over and over, and I stared unseeing at her face, biting on my tongue to stop me from screaming and hurtling abuse at the f**ker responsible for her spewing brainwashed shit at me.

Rider had to be right. She had to be from some f**ked-up cult, spouting shit robotically like that. Hell, that’s nothing new in Texas. Everyone still remembers Waco like it was yesterday, and there’s plenty of extreme religious f**kers ’round here, talking in tongue and exorcizing demons day in, day out. ’Course, as Hangmen, we know all of these cults, especially the Davidians. My gramps got the gun trading business the poor f**kers lost when they all fried, courtesy of a few friendly shots from the good ol’ ATF.

Gramps made a killin’, took over their turf, extended Hangmen control in Texas.

As my vision snapped back to focus, I heard Salome whimper, cowering slightly, her black robe drowning her tiny body on the seat as she wrapped the excess material round her shaking limbs. Her eyes were huge as she stared at me, pure fear on her face. I edged in her direction, noticing a flinch of her shoulders and a subtle wince around her eyes.

She thought I was gonna hurt her.

I pushed up my palms. “F-f-fuck, b-bitch, I-I-I ain’t g-g-gonna h-hurt you.”

Her head hung in submission. That just pissed me off more, and before I knew it, I yelled, “D-d-don’t b-bow to m-me. L-l-l…” I paused, refocused on my words, and inhaled. “Lift your f-f-fuckin’ head!” I rolled out in one long breath.

On command, her head snapped up, completely obedient, confusion radiating from her rigid body. “Wh-what do you want of me?” she whispered, her teeth chattering, face ashen, her palms now pressed flat to the floor.

I barely heard her question, the blood rushing in my ears almost drowning out her soft tone in her prostrate position. Her entire body was shaking in fear.

Crouching to her height, I assured, “N-n-not you f-f-fuckin’ fl-fl-flinchin’ when I m-move, th-that’d be a d-damn good st-start.” She tilted her head up, regarding me warily, the shaking stopping, her pouting pink lips forming a small, confused O.

Rubbing my hand over my head, I dragged my fingers through my hair. If she was any other bitch, I’d grab her and kiss the f**kin’ life outta her, make her mine, f**k her ’til she knew I wasn’t gonna hurt a damn hair on her head. But she weren’t like other bitches. She was staring at me like I was gonna kick her black and blue, all ’cause I got pissed at her f**kin’ shitty name.

Reaching for the table, I grabbed my smokes, ignoring her flinching and protecting herself with her arms. If I acknowledged it, I’d probably go kill someone; that’s how f**kin’ incensed I was. I pulled a smoke out with my teeth and lit it with the lighter from my pocket. Taking a drag, I closed my eyes, leaning back on the couch, mentally talking myself down off the ledge.

I opened my eyes seconds later and Salome was fiddling with her fingers, nose twitching, white teeth worrying her lip.

Groaning, I moved before her—right before her—locking straight on her terrified gaze. “L-l-look, b-babe, I g-got p-pissed at your n-n-name.” I rubbed at my throat, forcing it to relax. I could feel my eyes twitching again. “I-I don’t kn-know wh-where you’ve c-c-come from or who d-d-dared f**kin’ call you S-S-Salome, but y-you should n-n-not be called it. N-never will be b-b-by m-me. It’s a f-f-fuckin’ shit name for a b-b-beautiful bitch like y-y-you, a f-f-fuckin’ insult. R-r-right?”

She nodded, a small smile hooking on the corner of her top lip.


I took another drag of my smoke when she said, “Mae.”

I cocked my head, staring at her, and she shifted nervously in her seat like she was gonna admit to committing a murder.

“My sisters, in secret, would call me Mae. We did not like the derogatory names either.” A small, coy smile spread over her pink lips. So she had some f**kin’ spark after all.

Slowly flipping my hand, I clasped her fingers around mine. She gasped but let it happen. I stared at the two limbs intertwined and huffed a quiet laugh to myself. I’d f**ked a lot of bitches in my life, done every messed-up position imaginable, stuck my c**k in every hole, tried every drug, drank every whiskey, but nothing had felt quite like her tiny pale hand wrapped in mine; nothing even came close.

And it killed me knowing she didn’t belong here. For the first time in my life, I wanted to do right by someone, and her being a part of this club, a part of me, wasn’t doing right by her.

“Styx?” My name out of her lips, Christ, it almost stopped my breathing. Looking up, I saw her deep frown; she knew something was up.

“B-b-babe…” I whispered.

“Are you well? You have paled.”

Sighing, I ran our fingers down my cheek. She sucked in a breath, and I confessed, “I… c-can’t k-k-keep you.”