Sirens screamed in the night air as Mace stared down at the pool of blood. Juice, his Sergeant at Arms, had just been hauled off in the back of an ambulance. His death hadn’t been called—yet—but Mace knew he was gone. He’d only had a couple of minutes with Juice before the cops had arrived. It had been long enough to find out who was responsible and to make a promise that would upend his world.
“Cowboy,” Mace called, and his lanky VP stepped forward until he could see the toes of his scuffed cowboy boots. “Find Scar.”
“Okay, Boss.” Cowboy shuffled his feet. “Did Juice give ya a name?”
“Yeah, but first we secure Scar. Let me know when you have eyes on her. Don’t involve the rest of the crew. I’ll handle it from there.”
“Will do, Pres.”
Mace stood tall as his VP walked away and started his bike. The engine growled to life as Cowboy took off on his mission. Times like this reminded him why he had to make changes to the club.
“Mace.” Sheriff Brown addressed him.
He looked toward the cop, who had accepted more than a little money from the club over the years.
“It just came through.” Brown tapped his mic. “Juice didn’t make it.”
Mace nodded. That just confirmed what he’d already known.
“If you have information, you need to share it. We don’t want a turf war,” Brown said.
The sheriff flinched under his penetrating stare.
“Since when do you tell me how to handle my business?”
“Just trying to protect the club, like always.”
“Hmph.” Mace snorted as a light drizzle began to fall. As usual, the crime lab analysts were late to the scene. Any evidence would quickly wash away, not that he needed it. “Is that what you do? Help us?”
“I know you’re upset—”
“Upset? Juice just got gunned down for no fuckin’ reason. He has a little sister who’ll be all alone now.” Mace exhaled a harsh breath. “I don’t need your help with this. The gloves are off.” He turned toward his Harley with the weight of Juice’s death on his shoulders. “I got arrangements to make. Let me know when we can collect Juice.”
The darkening clouds matched his mood as he pulled away from the curb. Two blocks down the road, he whipped into a gas station to check his texts. Scar was at the tattoo shop. The door was locked but Cowboy had seen her inside cleaning up.
On my way, Mace responded.
Everyone knew there was history between Mace and Juice’s sister, Scarlett, and Cowboy wouldn’t want to get in the middle of it. Minutes later, Mace eased his bike up next to his VP and killed the engine.
“Ya doing this alone?” Cowboy asked.
“Yeah. I’m going to tell her then take her into hiding.”
Cowboy straightened in his seat. “What the fuck? Why?”
Mace’s mind rolled back to his last words with Juice. “Juice said she was in danger. He made me promise to protect her and I will.”
“Who did it? I need to let the crew know. We gotta strike back hard and fast,” Cowboy growled.
Mace shook his head. “No! Not yet. Tell the crew the only thing Juice said was to protect Scar and that’s what I’m doing.” Mace stared hard at his VP. “And watch your back.”
A cloud crossed Cowboy’s face. “What’s up, Pres?”
“We have traitors in the club. I got to figure out exactly who’s involved.” Mace whispered the words even though there was no one around to hear.
Cowboy flinched as though he’d been slapped. “One of our own killed Juice?”
Mace sighed. “Yeah, but there are more, I’m sure. The only one I trust now is you.”
“Fuck!” Cowboy’s fist hit his handlebar. “I got your back, Boss.”
“I know that. Once I get Scar safely tucked away, I have research to do.”
“Whatever ya need, Boss. If one of our crew is after Scar, ya can’t use our safe house.”
“I got someplace else in mind.” He was way ahead on that. He had a place no one knew about. As President of Wraith’s Blood, he needed a hidey-hole.
“I don’t wanna know where.”
Mace nodded. “Safer that way.”
“But if ya think ya’re compromised, I’m a call away.”
“I know, brother. You’re going to have to make arrangements for Juice. He wanted to be cremated. We’ll have a service when it’s safe.”
“I got it, Pres.”
“You still have the burner I gave you?” Mace asked.
“Yep. It’s in my saddlebag.” Cowboy patted the bag on the side of his Harley.
“Get it. I’ll be disablin’ my cell. My only contact will be the number programmed into your burner.”
Cowboy shook his head. “I can’t believe this shit is going down. Our brothers? Traitors? Fuck me sideways!”
“I feel you. Shouldn’t be like this but you know there are a couple of officers who didn’t want me as their president.” Mace scratched his head.
“Fuck that. They had their say and it went to vote. You’re our Pres fair and square. If they weren’t happy, they coulda walked.”
Mace cocked his head to one side, popping his neck. “They’ll pay for killin’ Juice.”
“I guaran-fuckin-tee it,” Cowboy agreed.
Mace scoured the street, looking for anyone or anything out of place. “Stay sharp until I get Scar away from here.”
“And don’t act twitchy around the club. As far as the crew goes, I’m protecting Scar because Juice thought she was in danger. Tell them I think Juice was killed because of his sister. Then make yourself scarce until you hear from me.”
“Got it. Can ya tell me who the trigger man was?”
Mace hesitated. He didn’t want to jeopardize Cowboy but his VP needed to know they couldn’t trust the club’s enforcer. “Ghost, but he didn’t act alone. If I understood Juice correctly, the plan was to take Juice, you and me out one at a time but not too close together. I think you’ll be safe for a few days, but don’t take chances.”
“I never liked that fucker. He has shifty eyes,” Cowboy said as he stroked the blade strapped to his leg. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Don’t do anything or trust anyone until I have a chance to investigate.” Mace started his bike and rolled across the street, stopping near the door of Scarlett’s SINsations. He stared at the door before throwing his leg over his bike. She’d done well for herself, but it wasn’t the future he’d thought she would have. She had talent, so much so that she’d gotten a scholarship to a prestigious art school. He’d expected her to move to New York and become famous. Instead, she’d come home and, as Juice would say, become a dope tattoo artist. “Fuck,” he muttered. He was gonna miss his brother.
The door was locked and Mace reached into his pocket for the keys Juice had pressed into his hands. He glanced down and realized his pants were stained with blood. He should have cleaned up before coming here but he couldn’t have taken the time. Unlocking the door, he stepped into her shop for the first time. The smell of jasmine hit him in the face and he inhaled deeply. It was a scent he’d always associated with Scar. Sweat beaded at his hairline. He was more nervous about facing her than he would have been staring down a gun barrel.
He took a hesitant step forward, assuming she was in the back room. This would be the first time in four years that they’d come face to face. He was a nightmare from her past coming to blow up her world. She didn’t deserve this. She hadn’t deserved what he’d done to her a few years back, but at the time, he’d thought it was the right thing to do.
A shadow entered his line of vision as he stepped into the back room and was jumped on from behind. Long legs and arms twined around him. He was engulfed in her jasmine scent and went instantly hard. Under the circumstances, it was wholly inappropriate, but totally unavoidable. “Gotcha,” Scar called out before she stiffened and slid off his back. “Why the fuck do you have Juice’s keys?”
Mace turned to face the sexiest woman he’d ever laid eyes on. Tight black yoga pants and a tank top emphasized her luscious curves, which had ripened with time. She was a woman now. Every cell in his body was suddenly alert. She wasn’t just any woman—she was his woman.
Scarlett knew the moment she jumped on him that it wasn’t her brother, Juice. Or rather, she knew it was Mace. They were of a similar build and hair color, but Mace exuded something that tied her in knots whenever he was near. Her body hummed in a way it hadn’t in years.
She’d given her brother keys to her shop with a little bell on the keyring. She’d heard it and hidden, since she’d thought he was headed down the hall. She’d meant to surprise him by jumping on him, but she’d gotten the surprise.
After the initial shock, she collected herself and studied the big man who had shattered her young heart. His hair was shorter, his beard scruffy, but he was still as gorgeous as ever. He stared at her with black eyes filled with sorrow. She blinked as she took in his tense frame and blood-soaked jeans.
“No,” she said as a bolt of pain slammed into her chest. “No!” Her knees gave out and he caught her as she pitched forward.
“I’m so sorry, Scar,” he said in a voice deepened by grief.
“You’re wrong. It can’t be,” she cried. Not her brother, not her only living relative.
He hauled her up against him as he stroked her hair. “I wish I was wrong but I’m not.”
“Who? How?” she asked as she pummeled his thickly muscled chest with her fists.
“He was shot. I’m working on the who.”
“I want the SOB who murdered him dead.” She spoke the words that filled her heart. Juice had been a good man and a great brother. He might have had some shady dealings, but he hadn’t murdered people for no reason.
“I will take care of it. I promise you that the motherfucker will know pain before he dies.”
“But Juice is gone,” she said with despair.
“I know. I hate having to lay this on you.” Guilt laced his words.
She nodded. He’d just ripped her heart out again, but this time it wasn’t his fault. She straightened her legs and tested their strength. With a sob, she pulled away from Mace, and he let her go. “Thanks for letting me know.” She wrapped her arms around herself but didn’t meet his probing gaze. “I’ll make arrangements. You can go.”
“The club is handling it.” He spoke matter-of-factly.
“I can do it,” she said, taking a step away from his overwhelming presence.
Mace crossed his arms. “Cowboy is handling it.”
Leave it to Mace to come in and take over. “I’m his sister, his next of kin,” she said with a sigh, because she didn’t have the will to fight right now.
“You are, but you’re in danger, so I’m here to get you to safety.”
“Danger?” She ran her hands through her hair. “I haven’t done anything. I don’t know anything.”
“Juice’s last words were to protect you. I promised I would,” he said with a resolved tone she recognized all too well.
Scarlett took a deep breath and leaned against the counter. “I don’t need your protection.”
Mace shrugged his massive shoulders. “Regardless, I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“I said I don’t need you.” She put emphasis and bitterness into the last word. She didn’t need or want his pity. Four years ago he’d made it clear he didn’t want her around, and she wouldn’t let his guilt force him back into her life.
Mace leaned forward. “Little girl, I made a promise to Juice that I won’t break. I will protect you if it kills us both.”
Scarlett crossed the room and paced. “I can’t deal with this right now. Please just leave. I’m a big girl and can take care of myself.”
“I don’t like this any more than you do but you’re gonna have to deal. We’ll pack a bag, put up a closed sign and get outta here.” He picked up a marker from the counter and scrawled ‘Closed—Family Emergency’ on a piece of paper.
“I live upstairs.”
“I know that. You’re coming with me.”
Scarlett snorted. “No! I haven’t been to the club for years. I don’t want to go there now.” She hadn’t stepped foot inside the club since he’d broken her heart.
“That’s fine. We aren’t going to the club,” Mace replied.
“Then where? A safe house?” She raised her hands. “Why can’t you just put a prospect outside? I promise I’ll behave.”
“That won’t work. We’re going to my safe house. No one knows where it is.”
“No.” She shook her head. “Cowboy or Nitro can keep an eye on me.”
“Fuck that. I don’t trust anyone else to protect you.”
Her cell dinged and Mace grabbed it off the counter. “Hey.” She tried to snatch it back.
“No cells.” He pressed the off button then pulled his out of his pocket and turned it off. “Don’t want you communicating with anyone until this is settled.”
“Have you lost your friggin’ mind? I have a business to run.” Scarlett stared him down with her hands on her hips. She couldn’t be under his thumb. Already old feelings that she’d thought she’d buried were surfacing.
“If you’re dead, there is no business.” His eyes flashed daggers at her.
“You are serious? Someone wants me dead?” Her shoulders sagged as she hunched forward. Juice was gone. She had no one to turn to except the big guy drilling her with his dark eyes. She couldn’t trust him with her heart, but she knew he’d protect her with his life.
“That’s what Juice said.”
“Who?” she asked. She didn’t have any known enemies.
Mace’s lips tightened.
She swallowed hard. “If you want me to believe you, I need the truth. Otherwise, you can walk out the door.” She waved her hand toward the hallway.
His eye twitched before his spoke. “Ghost shot Juice.”
She stumbled backward. “Ghost? Ghost from the MC?” She was sure her heart stopped for a moment before it began racing in her chest. “That’s impossible.”
Mace inclined his head but his expression remained resolved.
Her mind reeled. “I put a tat on his arm the other day! There is no way.”
“Juice named him and said there are others. Once we’re safe, I can confirm.”
She straightened to her full height and pushed her shoulders back. “We can confirm. Juice was my brother. I want to know the truth.”
Mace tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes before nodding. “Okay. As long as you follow my orders.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to catch Juice’s killers.” Scarlett brushed a tear from her cheek. Her grief had turned to anger. “I’ll gut the bastards myself.”
“Right now I need you to pack a bag.”
“Okay.” She headed for the stairs that led to her apartment. “When Ghost was here”—she cleared her throat—“Tank was with him.”
“They’re tight.” Mace pressed his lips together. He didn’t have to say that he suspected Tank was involved. It was written on his face.
She hesitated for a moment before she spoke because she knew the implications of what she was saying. “They were acting funny.”
He cocked his head to the right. “How so?”
“Just looking at me weird. I don’t know, didn’t think much of it at the time. They were talking low.”
Mace looked around. “You got cameras?”
“Yeah. There’s one in the lobby above where they were sitting. The recording device is on my desk.” She pointed to the corner.
Mace walked over to her laptop and split-screen monitor.
“It has an SD card,” she told him.
He ran his hand along the side. “The card is gone.”
“What?” She walked over and checked for herself. “Fuck! I saw Tank coming out of this room. He said he was looking for the bathroom.”
“Motherfucker!” Mace cursed.
“Don’t worry. It also uploads to the cloud. If they said anything, we got them.”
Mace wrapped his hand around her neck and pulled her to his chest, kissing the top of her head. “Smart girl.”
She inhaled deeply, absorbing his comfort for a second before pulling back. She couldn’t get too dependent on him. He’d nearly destroyed her once. She had to remember that. “Grab my laptop while I pack.” She backed away then turned and ran. She didn’t stop until she got to her room and collapsed on her bed as silent sobs wracked her body.
Juice was gone. Murdered by one of his brothers. She’d known Tank, the club’s Road Captain, all her life, and Ghost had been a club enforcer for years. They’d been with the club when her dad was a member and Mace’s dad was president. This just reaffirmed her belief that you couldn’t trust anyone.
The hair at the nape of her neck bristled before the bed dipped. Mace sat behind her and pulled her into his arms. Boneless, she let him wrap her in a cocoon of warmth.
“Babe, I know you need this, but we have to move. When you’re safe, you can curl up in grief and let it out.” He stroked her hair and down her back.
She nodded and sucked in a ragged breath. “’Kay.” She sniffled.
“Do you have a small duffle bag?” he asked.
She pointed at the closet. “Floor.”
He eased off the bed and opened the closet. He threw the bag on the bed next to her. “Yoga pants?” He looked at her and she nodded. He tossed two black and one gray pair of yoga pants at her. He pulled a few T-shirts off the hangers. “I see black is your favorite color.”
“I guess,” she replied, and stuffed the bag with clothes.
“Panties?” He started opening drawers and found them before she could protest. He held up a few wisps of lace of varied colors before choosing a few. “Can you grab your toiletries?”
Scarlett crawled from the bed and gathered the basics, adding them to the bag. “Good enough, I guess.”