“Numb in places, sore in others, but I’m alive,” he replied, trying to be strong, but his voice sounded strained.

It hurt me to see him so broken, the bandage on his arm, the pain he was obviously in. Tears welled up, filling my eyes. The sacrifice Rider had willingly made to save my life struck me hard. He had always been perfect to me.

Tears slipped down my cheeks at his show of strength and I stood as if waiting for a summons, nervously toying with my hands.

Rider rasped, “Mae, get over here.” Raising my head slightly, I did as he asked and moved toward his prone body. I stood awkwardly beside Beauty.

“Hey, you okay? You don’t look so good,” he gently enquired and frown lines crossed his forehead. Rider seemed genuinely concerned—concerned for me. He had been shot, near mortally wounded, yet here he was, protecting me still.

Beauty groaned and shook her head. “Fuckin’ just caught Styx with Dyson.”

Rider raised his brown eyebrows and looked at me with sympathy in his gaze. “What she doing back?”

“Fixin’ to suck Styx’s stupid c**k by the look of it!” Beauty disapproved. I flinched, feeling nauseous and stupid; no, naïve.

“Beauty!” Rider reprimanded harshly. She turned to me, a grimace on her face. “Sorry, Mae. He’s just got me spittin’! Sometimes bikers in this club can be real f**kin’ pricks!”

“Hey!” Rider complained.

Beauty grimaced again. “Fuck! Can’t say anything right, can I?”

“It is okay,” I whispered with a small laugh.

Rider fixed all of his attention on me, shedding his humor. “He’s a f**kin’ fool to choose that bitch over you.”

I tipped my head in contemplation. My head always hurt when trying to figure out Rider. This time a sense of peace gently settled on me, like snowflakes, when I heard his words and drank in his friendly demeanor. Without meaning to, I beamed a smile at Rider. His lips parted with an audible gasp, then he smiled right back at me.

My heart fluttered. He was such a good man.

Beauty coughed, her wide blue eyes darting between us both, her tanned face getting paler by the second. Thankfully, a very loud knock on the door broke the obvious tension in the room.

“Rider? Beauty and Mae in there with you?” Letti bellowed through the barrier of the closed door.

Rider shifted position, wincing with the effort. He held his shoulder with his good hand as he shuffled up the bed. I noticed his torso ripple and I could not help but admire how he looked.

“Yeah. Come on in!” He shook his head, muttering to himself, “The more the f**kin’ merrier.”

Letti walked in, shutting the door, and gently placed a hand on my shoulder. “The slut is long gone, Mae. She won’t be back if she values her life.”

“And Styx?” Beauty asked.

“Fuck if I know. Left the stupid ass**le on his own.” She affectionately pulled on a lock of my hair. “He was signing at me like he was in a damn rave. The drunken douche said he didn’t do anything with the slut, couldn’t go through with it. For what it’s worth, I think he’s telling the truth. Prez don’t normally lie.”

I nodded appreciatively at her words and the final remnant of coiled tension in my stomach unraveled. Everyone was watching me and my reaction. I rubbed at my arms, feeling a sudden chill in that dark, windowless room.

“You cold?” Rider asked.

I nodded.

“Beauty, go in my closet and get her a sweater.”

Beauty frowned at Rider but turned to the closet and did as she was told. Finding a hooded black sweater, a picture of a Chopper on the front, Beauty handed it to me.

As soon as I slipped it on, Rider said, “Looks good.”

“Thanks,” I replied, feeling my cheeks blush.

I caught Beauty and Letti bouncing worried looks at each other. I chose to ignore them. Today had been traumatic enough without me trying to figure out what concerned them too.

“You need anything before we go, Rider?” Beauty asked, squeezing his hand.

“Nah, I’m all good.”

Beauty turned back to me. “You wanna go to the bar, get a drink? I stocked up on coolers.” I firmly shook my head. I did not want to see Styx yet. I could not deal with it all.

“Well, I can’t take you back to my place. Styx would pitch a fit if I took you from the club, especially with folks out there targeting the place.”

For the second time since I had arrived, I felt out of place, the intruder who did not belong.

“You can stay here.” Letti, Beauty, and I spun our heads round in formation to stare at Rider. Shrugging, he held up his hands. “What? I’m just lying here, bored shitless. Stay.”

“Oh-kay…” Beauty sounded out, then smiled at me brightly. “You seen a movie before, honey?”

A movie? Obviously, the confusion on my face gave her my answer.

“Stay here. I’m gonna grab one.”

Letti groaned. “Don’t you f**kin’ get The Notebook. I can’t watch that shit again. Get something with a high body count!”

“I second that!” Rider shouted at Beauty’s retreating form.

Beauty put one hand on her hip and batted the other in front of her face in dismissal. “Shut it. I’m gonna show Mae what it should look and feel like when a man really loves a woman, okay? I mean, shit! She needs it after today!”

“Whatever, Sunshine Barbie. I’m gonna catch a nap.” Letti moved to the sofa and sat down, closing her eyes. Beauty, after sticking her middle finger up at Letti’s back, left the room to get the movie.