Her hand flinched in mine. “You wish me gone?” she whispered, pulling her hand back to cradle in her lap.
Reaching forward, I gripped her wrists in my large hands and pulled her toward me. She had no choice but to drop down to my lap. I still didn’t look at her, but rested my forehead against her shoulder. She felt too f**kin’ right sitting on me.
“Y-y-you’re too p-pure for this life, M-Mae. Y-y-you’re not s-safe. D-don’t know how to b-be in all this… b-bad.”
Mae said nothing for a long time, then confessed in a small voice, “I feel safe with you. I do not know anyone else here on the outside and I cannot return from where I came.” Her small body jerked as if a thought slammed into her mind. “Please do not take me back, please! Not to them!”
I finally glanced up and her face was broken. It hurt more than the machete hit to the chest I’d taken in the Mexican war last year.
Gripping her shaking hand, I said, “I-I-I won’t, b-b-but where, b-babe? Where c-can’t you return?”
“Where I am from,” she said evasively.
“The f-fence? Wh-whatever’s b-behind that f-fence? That wh-what you t-talking ’bout?”
She nodded silently.
I reached up and palmed her face in my hands. “Y-you’re t-too innocent for this life. Y-you’ll grow to h-hate me if you st-stay.”
“I believe in forgiveness. I will never hate, especially not you,” she hushed out.
“I-I’ll lay it on the l-line for you, b-babe. I t-trade illegal weapons for c-cash and d-drink far too m-much. I f-fuck sluts regularly and d-don’t commit to no one f-for long, maybe n-n-never will.” I made sure I had her full attention for the last part. “I-I’ve killed p-p-people. I-I’ve even l-liked it, and”—I knew I was bringing the final death blow—“I’ll d-do it again. Y-you want someone g-g-good to take c-care of you. I-it ain’t me, babe. I g-gotta go away t-tomorrow on b-business. We’ll t-talk when I get b-back, f-figure shit o-out.”
Her breath grew faster and she gripped my wrist so damn tight. On shaky legs, Mae stood up and I dropped my hands from her face. I watched as she walked toward the door to the back stairway leading to my apartment. Then she stilled and looked back at me over her shoulder. “You have light within you, Styx, and I feel it shining through like the rays of the midday sun. It is beautiful. You are a good man.”
Fuck. What the hell was I meant to do with that shit?
“I am truly happy that I got to see you again. I thought about you often, the boy behind the fence, the boy on the outside… the boy who stole my first and only kiss, and I nightly prayed for your safety and happiness. It is a ritual I will forever keep.”
Mae sighed and drifted toward me, and I could see the torment she battled on her face, but at what, I didn’t f**kin’ know. After several seconds, she stood before me, slowly bent down, and pressed a soft as f**k kiss to my cheek, moving to my ear to say, “I will be forever grateful that you saved my life, Styx, and sang to me so perfectly on your guitar. You have shown me more compassion in a matter of days than I have had my whole life.”
She laughed out one single laugh, and it was the purest, most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. “You will never know, but in the two darkest moments of my life, you have shown up. You say it ain’t you who is good and who will keep me safe, but you already have. You have saved my life twice.”
I reached forward for her hand, no idea what the hell I was about to do, when a voice from the doorway caught my attention.
Lois stood watching me with Mae, her eyes wide as she watched me gripping her hand. Jerking my chin in her direction, I lifted my hand and signed for her to wait in my club bedroom. She hesitated for a moment but walked away, and I heard the door to my room quietly open and close.
Looking back at Mae, I said, “I-I-I gotta g-go.” With a disappointed smile, she hobbled out of the room.
Grabbing my guitar, I made my way to the corridor holding all of the brother’s bedrooms and hammered on the very last door. After a few seconds, Rider opened the door, rubbing sleep from his eyes and half dressed, and said, “Prez?”
Move her into your room, outta mine. You stay at your home. Don’t let anyone near her while I’m gone. Right? I signed.
Rider’s eyes widened, but he just nodded in acceptance.
“Where’s she now?” Rider asked, sticking his head out the door to search the hallway.
“My room. Go get her. Brothers are leaving for the run first light.”
Blowing out a long breath, he headed back inside and threw on a shirt, his cut and jeans. As he turned back around, I realized I was still standing there watching him like a f**kin’ stalker. Turning, I headed back to my room where Lois was already naked, eying me weird. I dragged my hands through my hair and took a deep breath. Shit! I needed Lois to f**k Mae right outta my goddamn mind.
A soft knock sounded from the door, and I wondered if Styx had changed his mind. Walking to the door, I tightened my robe and unlatched the lock. As I opened it a fraction, the bearded man from before stood in front me. His big brown eyes fixed on mine and he flicked his chin.
“Can I come in?”
Backing away from the door, I tried to stand, but the pain from too much walking made my injury throb.
“Sit down,” he ordered, seeing my discomfort. I carefully lowered myself onto the end of the bed and, moving before me, he crouched down. He looked up through impossibly long lashes. “Can I check your leg?”