“Where are all the bitches? I need my ego stroked,” Stitch announced as he strolled up pulling a big ass cooler behind him.
I’d set everything up in the back where we had a grill and plenty of picnic tables, the perfect place for a cookout. Which was what I had planned for the Reckless Bastards tonight. “No Bitches, just the Bastards,” I told him, greeting him with our handshake.
Stitch grinned wide like the easygoing guy he was. “Cool. I’ll just have a shot of Patron and a beer to get started. You cooked?”
That was so typical of Stitch. The man was so relaxed all the time. He found happiness in the simple things, where I could barely remember what the simple things were.
Shit had been messy and complicated for so long that simple was a distant memory. Things got less and less simple as time went by, they got violent and bloody, dangerous and life-threatening. Not simple. Anything but simple, that was for fucking sure.
“No,” I said, “the Bitches cooked and set everything up for us.” Because it was their duty and they were happy to do it, but also because I bought them a night out at their favorite biker bar.
“Damn, lookin’ good, Prez! With this spread I’m okay goin’ without some lovin’ from the ladies.” Another laugh erupted from Stitch and he shot a playful frown at Golden Boy and Max as they arrived. “Old married dudes gotta wait, ‘cause you fuckers get fed at home.”
Max grinned and stole Stitch’s beer when he was close enough. “My woman cooks all the time but she’s painting with Moon and Rocky so this meal here is what I would call fortuitous.”
“Yeah? Well I just came from Bungalow Three.” Stitch’s casually spoken words had the desired effect.
“Asshole.” Max grunted out the word and shoved the bottle back into Stitch’s hands before it ever touched his lips. “Glad I didn’t have to kill you,” he told the still laughing prospect who had more than proven himself over the past few years and took beers from the cooler, handing one to Golden Boy.
“My woman never cooks,” Golden Boy offered after taking a long pull from the cold beer. “But she’s oh so grateful when I do.” Truth was that Golden Boy was a damn good cook and being with Teddy had helped him get his anger—at the club and the world—under control so it was nice to see the man he was before he’d spent six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Max laughed along with his brother’s innuendo, shaking his head. “So what you’re saying is that you have to bribe your woman to fuck you?” It was good to see Max wearing a smile so easily. Before Jana came along I was pretty sure we’d lose him to his demons, his PTSD that was pulling him further and further from the club and from life in general. But one petite blonde had changed all that.
My men, my brothers, were changing. They were improving, living better, happier lives. Except the club. The Reckless Bastards had seen a lot of shit over the past few years. Shit that made me question my own leadership skills, made me wonder if they would do better without me. I knew it was sad bastard talk but shit, some days I wanted to give up and run the fuck away.
Until I remembered that this club was the only fucking thing I had left in my life to care about. Without it, who knew what would happen to me. But I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be pretty.
“Yo, Cross, what’s up?” Gunnar strolled in just a few feet behind Jag, who hadn’t been the same since his woman had been carted off by the CIA. All because she wanted to keep Jag and his brothers safe. Another instance where I failed my club. Gunnar wore his usual scowl.
“What’s up is that we have food and booze for an unofficial meeting, so sit down, get comfortable and chill the fuck out.” A wide smile spread across my face that I didn’t feel, but it was intended to help everyone relax.
Except Jag, who grabbed a beer and set it in front of him, unopened, and stared off into the distance. There was nothing I could say to reach him, not now anyway. I didn’t know if Jag blamed me but I knew that I did. Right now wasn’t the time to get into it, but I would.
“Things have been pretty fucked up around here lately,” I began, hesitant at first.
“You can say that again!” Lasso whooped, wearing a big ass grin the size of Texas as he strode up to me and handed me a shot. “To our Prez, for getting every one of our sorry asses out alive. Every. Fucking. Time.” His own shot glass was high in the air and the others joined in.
“Prez! Prez!” Gunnar pounded the table and the others joined in until they chanted so loud I could almost forget why we were gathered here tonight. Almost. Their praise only made me feel worse. Like a goddamn fraud.
I threw the shot back because I needed it and ten more, but for now the one would have to do. “We have more shit to walk through and then this city, Mayhem, will be ours.” They cheered again, more amped up from the free booze and food than my words.
“These Roadkill assholes think they can come after us, after our women and our businesses and we won’t fight back. They’re wrong and I’m ready to prove them just how wrong they were. It’s gonna get ugly.”
“No uglier than Jag’s mug,” Gunnar laughed and shoved Jag’s shoulder, but the man didn’t move. He didn’t react.
“Really ugly and bloody as fuck. Then everyone will know that the Reckless Bastards are not to be fucked with!”
“Fuck yeah!” Lasso was energetic enough for the rest of us. It was definitely his wife Rocky who had taken the cocky playboy and turned him into a cocky ass family man who lived and breathed for his wife and son.
Everyone was happy. Everyone but me and Jag, though I had a feeling his unhappiness was a temporary thing whereas mine seemed to be a lifelong condition. Nevertheless, we sat around the tables, eating enough food to feed a small army, laughing and shooting the shit, making crude jokes the way men did when they were alone together. It was a good time.
A damn good time.
And if I had known what was coming, I would have savored that night even more.