The welcoming roar of the Victory Cruiser, for the first time since Dash Denyar had discovered the joy of riding, failed to kick-start his heart. The warm rush of belonging that had become his steady drug over the years failed to surface. Instead, all that remained was the cold.
It was a small thing, really. For the past ten years, Dash had practically lived on the back of his bike. The new car smell had to fade eventually. He just never thought it would for him.
If the others noticed, they didn’t let it show. The usual grunts followed the usual retorts. Like everything was normal, when it was anything but. They were leaving Gunner behind, and even though the visits to the county jail had become frequent over the past few weeks, there was no getting used to seeing the President of Lucifer’s Legion on the wrong side of bars.
But that was set to change tomorrow, when the star witness in Gunner’s trial was scheduled to take the stand.
The star witness that Dash had been asked to silence. It was the most important task he’d been given, and demonstrated not only Gunner’s faith in him, but his respect.
And all Dash felt was numb.
He had experienced this particular sensation before—the strange detachment from the world around him, the way familiar places and faces at once seemed foreign, how the comforts of home felt hollow. How he could straddle his beloved Victory Cruiser with the wind whipping his face and the familiar view of the men he’d come to view as family ahead.
Jax. Hunter. Pete. Butch. Sawyer. All family. All counting on him.
And he was scared shitless.
Gunner hadn’t given him much warning, though Dash reckoned that was by design. The less notice he had, the less chance he would talk himself out of it. It didn’t matter that Gunner had always seemed to understand Dash’s reluctance to get involved with the messier side of club business—all that mattered was he’d been given a task, and he was expected to follow.
“I know I’m askin’ a lot, Dash,” Gunner had said, looking as contrite as a man could while in prison orange. “But this is it, you know? I don’t trust no one to do this but you.”
Which made fuck all sense, but Dash couldn’t very well tell Gunner that. Lucifer’s Legion had made people disappear before. It wasn’t frequent, but at times it was the price of doing—and staying in—business.
Usually, Jax and Pete assumed the role of pest control. Not this time, and there had been no explanation. None was expected. Gunner issued orders, not requests, and defying him was hazardous to one’s health.
Dash rode on autopilot. The freedom of the open road had never felt so stifling.
He had to put on his game face. The others might not notice out here, but they certainly would back at the clubhouse. It wasn’t until they made the familiar turn off Highway 71 and their destination was in sight that he managed to redirect his detachment. Lucifer’s Legion had saved his life after his brother’s death—Gunner had saved his life. And nothing could take the road from him, even when it was stifling.
Not even Rennie.
Just the thought of her had him tightening his throat, and the rush of cold uncertainty returned without censure.
Fucking fuck fuck.
Why did it have to be her? Of all the goddamned women Tanner fucking Wilcox could have brought to the clubhouse that night…
Dash gave himself a mental shake as he pulled his bike into the comforting cocoon of the clubhouse garage. As always, he parked opposite Jax. Not as always, he sat for a moment, even after the others began to dismount. It took the heavy weight of a hand on his shoulder to draw him out of his thoughts, and even then, the journey was a slow one.
“You all right, man?”
Dash shook his head slowly, blinked, and tugged off his helmet. “Yeah…just…”
“Surprised?” Hunter guessed, cocking a blond eyebrow. “No shit. I still think it’s a mistake.”
Yeah, Hunter had been the only one with the balls to voice his objection to Dash being given control of his particular assignment. The others seemed to think it was high-time he got his hands dirty.
“Whattya talk?” Pete demanded as he rounded them, heading for the clubhouse door. He spoke with a thick fake new Jersey accent—one that had become more or less his signature over the years. He got a lot of shit for it, but anyone who saw the gleam in his eyes knew Pete loved the attention. “Dash’ll do just fine. You like red, doncha, Dash? Color goes nice with them eyes of yours.”
Dash felt a ghost of a smile tug at his lips. He dismounted his bike and began stripping his gloves. “Didn’t know you paid attention to my eyes, Pete. What’ll Rita think?”
Pete pulled a face and grabbed himself. “I’ll let you know when she’s swallowin’ my load later t’night.” He laughed and turned back, and had disappeared inside before Dash could get in another word.
Were it not for Hunter’s probing stare, Dash figured he would have been just fine pretending from that point out. He could have shrugged and carried the weight of Pete’s fuckin’-who-cares until he had to leave for his errand.
But Hunter knew him too well. Aside from Gunner, he was practically the closest thing Dash had to a brother.
A living brother, anyway.
“We can’t do nothing about it now,” Hunter said, falling into stride beside him. There was no use in hoping the man would drop it—he was like a dog with a bone when it came to sniffing out uncomfortable topics. “You made a promise, Dash. You gotta deliver.”
“I said I would, didn’t I?” The words had more bite more than they should. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate the concern, but I got this.”
If he sounded as confident as he felt, he was in deep shit.
Hunter grabbed his shoulder again, and this time Dash couldn’t stand the invasion. He shrugged him off angrily, whipping around to glare at him head on. “What the fuck is your problem?”
Hunter glowered. “Do you really think I’m fucking stupid?”
“Serenity Jones,” he said, poking a finger at Dash’s leather-clad chest. “Every goddamn time someone says the bitch’s name, your eye goes all twitchy.”
“Why the fuck is everyone looking at my fucking eyes all of a sudden?”
“Don’t bullshit me, Dash,” Hunter all but snarled. “What was she to you?”
Dash swallowed and hoped to fuck his goddamn eyes didn’t betray him. “Nothing,” he said, his stomach tightening. “A girl I knew in high school. Before.”
“What, so an old fuck? Is that it? First girl who touched your dick? You gotta soft spot for her?”
“No,” he barked, though he felt himself burn with the lie. While it was true he’d never gotten to any base with Rennie, he sure as fuck had a soft spot for her. If he had any softness left in him, she was the reason. “Not an old fuck. Just someone I knew.”
Hunter’s jaw tightened, his cold blue eyes hardening. “Fuckin’ knew it. I knew it.”
“Knew what?” Jax shouted from the next room.
“Dash has a hard-on for the witness,” Hunter replied.
“Fuck you!” Dash said, shoving him back. “I fucking told you—”
“She’s a looker,” Pete said, appearing at the end of the hall. He adjusted himself again through his paints. “Don’t blame you for wanting to fuck her, man. No problem seeing if she’s up for some fun before she’s in the ground.”
Jax rounded behind Pete, none of the same humor evident on his face. “This gonna be a problem, Dash?”
“Don’t matter,” Pete said, shrugging. “We’re family, ain’t we, Dash? Bitch goes in a ditch.”
Dash’s face felt as though it would melt off, though he wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment, fury, or some combination thereof. That anyone had been able to read him well enough to know he had reservations pissed him off—that he was suddenly the star of his very own interrogation even more so.
Because he didn’t know. Fuck him, he didn’t know. Ten years could do a lot to change a person—he was proof enough of that. Maybe Rennie wasn’t the same as he remembered. Maybe she was a bitch now, rather than the sweet, kind, sexy-as-fuck girl he would have once sold his soul to touch. To protect. To love.
Long fucking time ago.
Still, those feelings had been very real to him.
But fuck if he’d let the others see any more than they had already.
“In the fuckin’ ditch,” he confirmed, his gaze locked on Hunter. “Club comes first. Gunner doesn’t have doubts, does he? Neither should you.”
He brushed passed the prick before Hunter could start in again, and stalked to the kitchen, his steps thundering with more bravado than he felt. Once there, he threw open the door to the fridge and pulled out a beer. Half of it was drained in less than a minute.
Hunter’s doubts compounded his own. His temples throbbed and his heart raced at a gallop.
He had no idea what he’d do with Rennie Jones. He owed Gunner the world and then some, and he’d sworn his oath. Lucifer’s Legion before all, and all included whatever pissant life he’d led before.
Never had he thought he’d see Rennie again, and sure as fuck not like this. By this time tomorrow, she’d know what kind of man he’d become.
He just hoped he figured it out before then.