“How’s your arm?” Rider’s question startled me.
I stepped closer to his bed and ran my finger over the faded linen of the sheet. “It is fine, just a scratch.” I lowered my eyes, filling up once more, my emotions taking control. Then I lifted them to look right in his eyes. “Thank you for saving me today. You do not know what that means to me.”
He smiled, his light-brown irises shining. I felt my heart begin to pound. “Anytime. We’ll find who did this and we’ll make ’em pay. Styx won’t rest until they’re all dead.”
I did not respond. I did not want to know what would happen to the men when caught. I did not want to know the details of their demise. Feeling a gentle tickle on my hand, I glanced down to see Rider’s fingers pressing against mine. Flicking my eyes up to meet his, I noticed his long shoulder-length hair was free of its ponytail and bandana. It lay loose and free. For the very first time, I saw Rider in a whole new light.
He was beautiful…
Beauty came bursting back through the door, waving a plastic box in her hand, causing Rider to abruptly withdraw his hand.
“I’ve got it! Come on, Mae. You gotta see this!”
“Go have fun,” Rider urged.
Tipping my chin in thanks, I walked to the couch, glancing back over my shoulder one more time, only to see Rider watching my every move. His brown eyes shone. As I tucked my nose into the wide neck of the sweatshirt, I inhaled. It smelled like Rider: outdoors and fresh air.
“You ready?” Beauty asked as she dropped to the seat beside me, switching on the large black box. Reluctantly, I switched my focus from Rider to the large black screen in front me—a TV, Beauty termed it.
She picked up a long black device and pressed a button. Lights and sound came blaring out of the screen, and I jumped. Beauty and Letti laughed on seeing my reaction. “Still not used to TV, Mae?”
As I shook my head, Letti slapped me on the back. “Best f**kin’ invention ever made. You’ll learn to love it!”
Pictures flooded the large screen and I settled farther back into the soft cushion.
“You mind if I join you ladies?” Rider asked as he made his way to the sofa, protecting his injured arm. He stood before the three of us, still shirtless, causing my palms to itch. He was a lot softer than Styx. He was free of scars and he had the kindest smile. In contrast, Styx was all hard edges and gruffness. He was brooding, dark and unkempt, and had the most amazing eyes I had ever seen.
Styx was sin; Rider was peace.
A wave of nervousness swept over me as I contrasted and compared the two of them. Beauty snapped me out of my reverie by answering Rider’s question.
“Sure thing, honey.” She nudged my side and winked playfully. “Didn’t think romance was your thing.”
Rider huffed and flicked his middle finger in the air. “It’s not. I’m bored and if I have to lay in that bed for one more hour, I’m gonna wind up killing someone.”
Rider took a seat on the floor in front of me, his shoulder leaning flush against my curled leg. I stiffened and glanced at Beauty who was staring daggers at Rider. I watched in amusement as her eyebrows furrowed into a frown and her arms crossed her ample chest.
The act was innocent. He had been shot. He was probably craving affection. Being ordered to stay at the club instead of being allowed to go home must have been hard on him. If Beauty, Letti and I had not invaded his state of forced isolation with our impromptu session, he would have remained alone, no doubt feeling sore and ill.
Feeling better about his nearness, I settled back and commenced watching the movie.
It was breath-taking, soul-shatteringly beautiful and I clenched the shabby fabric of the sofa in my fists. A huge lump formed in my throat as a flock of white birds flew across a lake, depicting the closing scene of the movie.
Beauty was sniffing beside me. Even Letti’s tough exterior seemed sorely tested as she squirmed uncomfortably in her seat. She was trying in vain to feign indifference to the deeply emotional story.
Rider reached for the black device—I was told it was a remote—with his good arm and switched off the TV. The four of us sat in complete silence.
Beauty wiped off the last of her tears and her cheeks glowed red. She deliberately turned to me and asked, “So what did you make of it, honey?”
“I… I… I did not know it could be like that between two people.” I swallowed and wrapped the sweater tighter around my body. “So this is true love?”
“This kinda love is what people want, Mae. Unfortunately, only a few seem to get it.”
“Do you have it with Tank?”
Her whole face brightened. She smiled so widely that I immediately envied her. “Yeah, darlin’, I do. Took a lot to get us here. He had a past. Hell, so did I. But we found a way out. We got through some tough shit together, but I wouldn’t change a damn thing. He’s my entire world, and I know I’m his.”
Reaching over, I gripped her hand and squeezed hard. “You are very lucky, Beauty. I envy what you have.” She squeezed my hand right back and leaned in to kiss me on my cheek.
“So, Rider, what about you?” Letti asked as she glanced down at Rider on the floor.
He tipped back his head, his brown eyes bright. “What?”
“Been in love? In the years you’ve been with the Hangmen, I’ve never even seen you even pick up a slut. Got some bitch you pining for somewhere?”
Rider bowed his head and muttered, “No, no bitch, anywhere.”