Blushing profusely, I loosened my hold.

The open landscape soon turned into clusters of trees and, turning left, we entered what I read was McKinney State Falls Park. Gathered all around were pockets of families and young people. My eyes widened at what they were wearing: tiny tops and shorts… and nothing else. So much exposed skin and flesh. They looked happy, though, until they heard the growl of the Hangmen pack streaming in.

The families ran for their cars, throwing their possessions into their vehicles, rapidly discharging from the park. The young girls and boys scattered, generally in the opposite direction to our heading. The Hangmen rode on through, the brothers unfazed.

We passed a sign reading “no vehicles,” but Styx paid no mind to the order. The pack dropped into single file and cruised down the shady narrow path. We stayed on the trail for a while, bending and winding down little valleys and up hills, until we hit an open space where we slowed to a stop.

Rider switched off his engine and, unclasping my hands from around his waist, I kicked my leg off the seat to stand. But my legs had other plans. As soon as my boots hit the ground, my legs wobbled. Rider reached out to steady me, pulling me to his chest. “Careful there, Mae. You’re gonna be unsteady after your first ride.”

Unable to stop the giggle climbing up my throat, I burst into laughter. Rider smiled in response as he unclipped my helmet. He lifted the helmet off my head, then slowly smoothed back my unkempt hair. I met his brown eyes and swallowed.

A sharp tinny sound beside me prompted me to look around. Styx was lighting a cigarette, all the while glaring at Rider’s hands like he wanted to rip them from their wrists. Then with a sharp turn, Styx walked away.

Rider lowered his hands, and gathering a bag from the side of his bike, he guided me to a footpath surrounded by trees. All of the Hangmen began to follow, carrying a few small grills and the sacks of food and drink. They were all happy and it was a nice atmosphere to be around.

As we neared the end of the path, I could hear the sound of flowing water. Then we burst into a huge open space and I gasped at the beauty before me. Breaking away from Rider, I hurried forward and stood on the edge of a sprawling rock. I looked down into the crystal-blue waters, a heavy waterfall crashing into the rippling pool below. My hands flew to my mouth and water glistened in my eyes.

A hand rubbed at my back, and when I turned around, Beauty stood beside me, staring at the view. “Beautiful ain’t it, honey?”

Nodding my head, I huffed out a single laugh and replied, “The most beautiful sight I have ever seen. It looks like what I imagine paradise to be.”

Hugging me close, she said, “When you’re ready, we’re setting up the grill. Come join us.” I glanced behind me and saw the entire club looking back, mesmerized by my reaction. Styx was already sat back against a tree, sipping a beer, watching me, always watching me. My lips pulled into a happy smile.

Ignoring the men staring at me, I sat on the edge of the rock and gazed upon the sight before me. A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought of Bella. I knew how much she would have loved this place—the turquoise waters, the sandy rocks, and, most of all, the freedom. Closing my eyes, I raised my head skyward and offered a silent prayer for my dear sister.

I smiled.

Despite my loss of faith in The Order, I still believed she was in a better place than the commune. I just felt it in my heart: a sense of peace. Hopefully she was looking down on me, seeing this exact moment, sharing in the freedom, and most of all, seeing me happy for the first time in my life.

After several minutes of solitude, I slipped off the black leather jacket, too hot in the summer heat, and fiddled with the small straps of the tank. I had never… would never… wear something so revealing. Baring my arms for all to see was taking some getting used to.

Standing up, I turned around and headed back to where everyone was sitting. Several of the women, including Beauty, had stripped into the tiniest of bathing suits and they were sitting with their men, proudly holding them in their arms, kissing them all over, their hands roaming, touching, and stroking.

Styx was still by the tree, Lois and Ky at his sides. He was not touching her, just watching me like a hawk. Warmth spread in my stomach from his attention.

Spotting Rider with Beauty, Tank, Letti, and Bull, I walked toward them. Rider shed his jacket, spreading it out on the ground, gesturing for me to sit down and I acknowledged his politeness with a bow of my head.

Letti thrust a brown bottle in my hands. “Drink. You’ll like it.”

“Thank you.” I tentatively put the bottle to my lips. I took a tiny sip and immediately spat out the liquid. Laughing echoed all around me.

I confronted Letti. “What was that?!?”

Winking, she said, “Bud. Beer. Hops. The drink of the f**kin’ gods! But I take it you’re not a fan?”

With a shudder, I shook my head. Bull took the bottle from my hand and drank the whole thing in one long, appreciative gulp.

“More for me, then.” He grinned.

Giggling, Beauty leaned over a shirtless Tank to a large blue box. She pulled out a small can, opened the top, and said, “Here, try this, honey.”

This time sniffing the contents first, I brought it to my mouth, slowly trying a sip. This one tasted a whole lot better. In fact, it was amazing!

“That better?” Beauty was now sat in front of me, practically bouncing with excitement. I nodded my head and took another sip.

“What is it?”

“A cooler. It’s what I drink, though I get shit from all’a these dicks for doing so. Too girly, apparently. But not anymore! Drinking buddy!” Beauty trilled and tapped her can to mine.