“Because I will miss you,” I answered honestly.

He sighed long and hard through his nose. “It’s not enough, Mae. That’s not nearly enough.”

“I know, but I had to try…” I sniffed through my sobs.

Rider’s hand shook as he pressed a chaste kiss to my head. “I love you. How could I not? You’re perfect,” he whispered, his graveled voice almost inaudible. Warm breath blew in my ear and he whispered, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of all is love.” My heart melted as he quoted my favorite Bible verse. Then my heart broke because I knew this was Rider’s farewell.

“Please tell me you will be safe. Tell me you will be happy,” I urged through a tightening throat.

His nose ran along my jaw and pressed into my hair. He inhaled and whispered, “I’ll never be happy without you, Mae. Fuck. Why him? He’s gonna lead you straight to hell.”

“Is that so, motherfucker?”

The click of a gun loading froze us both.

Rider’s brown eyes met mine and I began to shake in fear. Closing his eyes, Rider backed away from our place against the wall and the barrel of a handgun greeted his head. I glanced over my shoulder to see Styx stood behind, with Ky beside him. I had never seen Styx look so angry before. His hazel eyes were flat and dead as he glared at Rider. Rider, who was naked—I had forgotten he was without clothes. This had not been about sex. It never had been with Rider. This was about giving my best friend closure. It was about letting him go.

“Styx, keep Mae outta this,” Rider said firmly.

Styx’s eyes narrowed as they met mine. Hurt was evident in his stare.

“Styx. Please. It is not what you think,” I begged, blood draining from my face at the sight of Ky’s gun pointing at Rider’s head.

“Then you better explain, sugar. And do it damn fast.” I glanced up at Ky; he was equally pissed. Rider had gone against a brother, a mortal sin in the Hangmen world.

“Styx… baby,” I pleaded, catching Rider’s flinch at my soothing tone to Styx. Styx rewarded Rider’s reaction with a swift hit to the back of his head with his fist.

“Styx, I came in here to help Rider. He has been finding things hard lately. I was worried about him,” I said in panic.

“Fucker’s creepin’ on Prez’s property; that’s what he’s been doing,” Ky said, cracking his neck from side to side. Styx and Ky were going to hurt Rider… all because of me.

Why the f**k’s he naked? Styx furiously signed, drawing my attention. I now understood some ASL through Styx’s intense tuition, and I most certainly did not need his question translated. Styx’s palpable emotions alone conveyed his rage at the scene before him.

“We weren’t f**king, if that’s what you’re getting at,” Rider hissed out in a stabbing tone.

That response obviously got to Styx, and I screamed as he dragged Rider to the wall, slammed him up by his throat and, ripping Ky’s gun from his hand, inserted the barrel into Rider’s mouth.

Rider was a dead man.

I ran over to Styx, trying to lower the tension. I tried to take hold of his arm, but he shrugged me off. I rubbed his back, but he stiffened and shrugged me off again. Styx focused only on Rider. I knew I had to get through to Styx, to help Rider, so I did the only thing I could think of. Walking to his left side, I pulled his arm from across Rider’s throat and, wrapping my index finger around his, lifted it up high and pressed it softly to my lips.

With a hard exhale, those beautiful fall eyes I adored so much finally focused on me. “I burst in on Rider… He was with a girl. Having relations with a girl. It was my fault he is like this… free of clothing. The blame is all mine.”

“Then why the hell was he all over you, pawing at your f**kin’ face, trying to get in your pu**y, a pu**y that’s owned by Styx?” Ky asked from behind. Styx stiffened once more and pushed the barrel farther down Rider’s throat. Rider was completely unafraid. In fact, he seemed to be resolved when he closed his eyes and bit the barrel with his teeth.

I paled.

“Styx! Stop!”

Mouthing something to Rider that I could not make out, Styx pulled back his gun and tucked me under his arm. His hold was consuming and Rider watched us heatedly, until his expression hardened.

Rider ran his hands down his face. “You know what, Styx? Fuck this! I f**kin’ love Mae and I needed her to know. So, I kissed her, and I would’ve done more if she’d a’ been into it. I wanna be her goddamn future… not you.”

Styx released a feral growl.

My head fell. Rider had just signed his own execution.

It all happened so fast. Fists and the weapon went flying. Rider and Styx became a blur of tangled bodies in a fight.

“NO!” I screamed, but Ky gripped my arms and pushed me back toward the door. I struggled to get free as Styx and Rider hit the floor, but Ky pushed me into the hallway, locking us both out.

“Ky, let me back in!” I yelled as I ran at his chest, but he was like a granite boulder barring my way.

“Reel it the f**k in, Mae. This has been coming a real long time. Shit’s just hit the fan.”

“Styx will kill him!”

He shrugged nonchalantly. “Probably.”


Ky rolled his eyes and gripped my arms. “Listen up, bitch. You being in Rider’s room, not cool. Him being buck-ass naked, work it the f**k out. Styx needs this. Maybe if you were more concerned with your man than f**kin’ Rider, we wouldn’t be here right now!”