I’m unloading groceries from my car when I first see him. It’s the roar of the engine that draws my attention. It’s so obnoxiously loud in the quiet cul-de-sac that I can’t stop my eyes from gravitating towards the sound. As I do, the mid-afternoon sunlight catches the chrome pipes, momentarily blinding me before the bike moves into the shadows of the trees lining the road.
I don’t know a thing about motorcycles, but I can appreciate the beauty of it. It’s a beast of a machine, with an emerald green fuel tank and pearl accents. It’s a bike designed to catch attention, and it does. Even if it didn’t, the man riding it would. To say he’s imposing is an understatement.
With fascination—and a healthy dose of trepidation—I watch as he stops the bike in the driveway opposite my house and pulls off his helmet.
His head is covered in a thin layer of dark fuzz, which is at odds with the amount of hair covering his jaw, and every inch of skin not covered by clothes is inked. I’m more than certain his body is covered in even more artwork than I can see.
He isn’t classically handsome, nor is he the type I would usually find attractive, but there is something about him. Maybe it’s the bad boy vibe, or the confidence of his movements—I’m not sure. He’s only wearing plain, boring, black jeans—nothing special—but they do fit him perfectly. The dark denim hangs in a way that accentuates his narrow hips and his tight bum. Beneath his leather vest he has on a loose, dark sweatshirt, the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Looking at him, it’s like he rolled up out of hell to cause mayhem. Simon could never pull off that look, not in a million years. He is a trousers and button-up shirt kind of guy.
He’s also a huge bastard—one that should not be entering my head at all.
My breath catches and all thoughts of Simon vanish as the biker turns and I get a full view of the back of his vest. There are two crossed swords dripping blood onto a skull wearing a helmet. This is macabre enough, but it’s finished off with a T-cross piece over the skeletal nose and red, burning coals for eyes. The words ‘Lost Saxons’ are arced across the top of the garment, ‘Kingsley’ across the bottom.
He’s not just a biker, he’s a biker.
I’m not a native to Kingsley, but I also don’t live under a rock; I know what the Lost Saxons Motorcycle Club is. They’re well-known, even outside the former colliery town. If the newspapers are to be believed, they deal in drugs, weapons—anything that will give them a quick payout. They’re criminals, a gang of men dedicated to living outside the confines of the law, and from the looks of it, I have one of their members living across the road from me.
And he definitely lives there because he’s moving up the path towards the front door with a comfortable ease that only comes from being in your own space.
The bands around my chest loosen a little as he steps inside the house, the front door banging closed behind him, and once again peace and tranquillity return.
I’ve been in Kingsley for more than a year, but I’ve only been renting this property for the past three months. It’s the first time I’ve felt truly happy since I left Simon; the therapy, the breathing techniques, the finding something good in each part of the day is working and I finally feel as if I’m moving forward.
But now I have a biker living on my road.
Maybe I can move somewhere else…
Except, I signed a twelve-month tenancy agreement. Why? Because this house has a good square footage, is in a quiet part of Kingsley and was a bargain.
Now, I’m wondering if Mr Biker is the reason why the rent is so cheap.
I shake myself.
Firstly, for being so judgemental; I’m not usually. This is because so many people have judged me over the years and usually they come to the wrong conclusion. Secondly, because in the months I’ve lived here, this is the first time I’ve seen him. Clearly, he’s not a frequent visitor to the house.
I stare at the now-closed door and sigh. Maybe I should worry about my own problems and not who is living across the street from me. But I can’t help but feel concerned. I left my old life behind, reclaiming what was left of the woman I was before I met Simon. Even after all this time, I’m still trying to work out who this version of me is, but I figure she’s the kind of woman who would not care about the biker living across the street. I also figure she is the kind of woman who doesn’t get involved in other people’s business unless it becomes her business.
But he is a problem and he most definitely is my business, because he lives spitting distance from my front door. I don’t need the kind of trouble this man and his Club will bring. I need quiet, and I need safety. I don’t need the police camped on the front lawn.
Feeling irritated—and a little anxious—I reach into the boot of my car, gather up my shopping bags and heave them out with a grunt. Juggling my load, I fumble for the lid of the boot and manage to get it closed without dropping anything. This is a feat in itself, given how heavy these bags are. How much did I buy?
This is something I have struggled to get used to since I set out on my own: shopping for myself. I was so used to getting whatever Simon wanted, not what I wanted or needed that I now have a tendency to overindulge when I’m in the supermarket. I have to remember I’m on a budget and that I can’t afford a hundred pounds a week food bill. But the freedom to do as I please goes to my head more often than I would care to admit—even after all this time.
I barely take two steps before I feel something shift. Then, the weight of the bags changes as the plastic splits from handle to seam. Laden down as I am, I can do nothing but watch in seemingly slow motion as my milk carton hits the concrete at force, spraying white into the air like a geyser while the rest of the contents spill out onto the pavement, my apples rolling to settle in the gutter.
I move to my car and carefully place the other bags in the boot before turning back to the carnage I have wrought. A white river of milk is free-flowing across the paving slabs and staining the grassy verge.
Shit, shit, shit.
I move to pick up the first fallen item—a ruffled looking lettuce—when a deep, gravelly voice says, “Do you need a hand?”
I jump practically out of my skin; I can’t help it. It’s not a normal response and I know this, but I can’t stop it. My flight response battles with my fight for dominance as I spin around. And my body, which has been conditioned to react over the years, tries to recoil. It takes everything I have to stand still as I let out a garbled yelp.
“Jesus!” I gasp out as I realise the voice belongs to my neighbour from across the street: the biker.
For a moment a tendril of fear works through me, but it winds back a notch when he doesn’t make any sudden movements. I put a hand to my sternum, trying to control my thrumming heartbeat, then drag in a shuddering breath as my counsellor’s voice sounds in the back of my mind: I am in control; I can keep myself safe.
And I can. I have been doing it for months now quite successfully.
For his part, Mr Biker looks contrite and slightly concerned, as if worried I may keel over. It is a possibility, given how much of a workout my respiratory system is getting, courtesy of him.
“You nearly gave me a coronary,” I snap, which is probably not the best idea, given the present company, but shock makes my mouth engage before my brain.
“Fuck,” he mutters, as a tattooed hand runs over his buzzed head. My eyes of their own volition follow the movement and I have to drag my gaze back to his face. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s okay,” I mutter.
This close up, I can see his eyes are pale, a blue so light it looks grey. He’s also wearing a ring through his left nostril that I shouldn’t like, but find I do. I don’t usually like piercings, nor do I like tattoos, but he pulls both off perfectly. Too perfectly, really. He’s nothing like Simon who was more at home in a suit rather than jeans and never left the house without ensuring his hair was perfectly styled. I doubt this man cares about that kind of thing; he’s dressed for comfort. He’s rough, hard, but there is something about him that I like—and I don’t even want to dissect that.
Boy, do I have bad taste in men? First Simon, now I’m lusting over a criminal. I should become celibate and join a nunnery.
But he is good looking, even under the bad boy appearance.
“Do you have another bag?”
“What?” I pull my attention from scanning the thick scruff of beard covering his jaw. It’s verging on wild and this close to me, I can see it has copper-flecks among the brown.
“A bag: do you have another? To put the food in,” he clarifies, speaking slowly, as if I’m not with it—which I’m not. I’m rattled having him in my space, and not just because my hormones are standing to attention. The man belongs to one of the most notorious biker gangs in the country, and he’s also at least five inches taller than I am. He’s bulky, in an athletic way, rather than a steroid way, but that means nothing; Simon wasn’t built but he could still overpower me. That in itself is enough to make me wary, although I do everything not to show it.
He’s not going to hurt you.
Breathe it out, Olivia.
“Oh. Yeah.” I move back to the car and find a spare shopping tote tucked away. When I turn back to the biker and hand him the bag I do it with a lot more confidence than I feel.
He takes it without a word, opening it up and gestures for me to hold it for him. I do so without question. Why? I don’t know. I should run into my house and hide because this man is dangerous. His leather vest with the skull on the back, the tattoos, the swagger: everything about him exudes just how dangerous he is. Except, he’s standing on my driveway, helping me to collect the remains of my scattered shopping.
Are bikers supposed to be helpful?
I stand silently as he puts each item into the open tote bag, unsure what to say.
“Your milk is fucked,” he tells me unnecessarily because I can see that, “but the rest should be salvageable.”
I stare at the river of white wending over the concrete. This means another trip to the supermarket, unless I can survive with black coffee for tonight.
“Crap,” I whisper.
He runs a hand over his beard, and I notice his tattoos span down his arms to the backs of his hands as well. His skin is covered with so many different designs that it’s difficult to take it all in, but I see he has the same insignia on the back of his leather vest tattooed on his left forearm. On his right wrist, just above the palm, the word ‘Karma’ is stamped. I don’t even want to think why he has that tattoo. What karma is he dealing out?
Realising I’m staring—again—I pull my gaze back to his face, but he doesn’t notice my gawking because he’s focused on the milk spillage.
“It’s only milk,” I say. “No use crying over it, right?”
Then his lips quirk and I forget he’s a dangerous criminal because my mouth is suddenly dry. It softens his entire demeanour and I suddenly want to see him smile every day.
“I guess not. I have some in the house, if you need it.”
I wonder when he was here to bring milk; this is definitely the first time I’ve seen signs of life at the house across the street.
“Do you want me to grab you some?” he continues.
As tempting as that is, I shake my head. “I think I’ll survive one evening without milk, but thank you.”
This is debatable but I’m not keen on being indebted to this man—even if it is only milk. It’s a ridiculous thought but my brain is completely frazzled right now. At least this is the excuse I’m giving myself.
He hands me the newly filled bag and I take it with murmured thanks, trying not to react as his fingers brush over the back of my hand. I can’t deny the way that feels. There is electricity between us—at least on my part, although I swear I see a slight widening of his eyes at our touch. Perhaps I imagined it because it’s gone so fast I can’t be sure it was there in the first place.
He sniffs then clears his throat and my cardiac muscle gets another workout as it beats faster.
“You just moved in?”
“Oh, yeah. Well, about three months ago.”
He blinks and then his brow pulls together. “Shit, really? Three months?”
“I need to start coming to the house more.” He jerks a thumb in the direction of the property he disappeared into before. “I own number fifteen, but I spend most of my time at the clubhouse.”
The clubhouse. With the dangerous bikers where he is a member. This sobers me completely and brings me out of my fantasy. It doesn’t matter how nice he’s being, how polite, I need to bring this to an end. I do not need his kind of drama in my already drama-filled life.
“Thank you for your help, but I should get the food inside before it spoils.”
He studies me. Intently. I try not to squirm under that look. “I’ll help.”
“Oh, there’s no need.”
“I’ll help,” he repeats, as if I didn’t protest.
This annoys me, but I don’t have the chance to voice this because without invitation, he plucks the tote from my hands and reaches into the boot. He wraps a fist around the whole lot and pulls it out as if it weighs nothing, and without a word starts up the path to the front door.
My front door.
I quickly reach for the boot, pulling the lid down and tug my handbag up my shoulder as I jog after him. His legs are longer than mine though and he eats up the space in a few steps. This means he’s waiting for me outside the porch when I reach him.
He lifts the bags slightly. “These are heavy, darlin’; do you want to open the door, so I can put them inside?”
I really don’t. It’s one thing him carrying my bags from the car to my front door, but him being inside my house… I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that at all. But I don’t want to be rude and I don’t want to upset the potentially dangerous biker with the cute face and overinflated sense of chivalry either.
I hesitate too long because his smile fades and his jaw tightens. I see the anger flash in his eyes as he realises why I’m hesitating. Muscle memory is a powerful thing because my brain doesn’t register it’s not Simon; all it registers is the perceived danger. To my mortification, I recoil back as if he struck me. My life with Simon may feel like a decade ago, but that primal instinct to protect myself is still the first thing to switch on when I meet someone new—someone I don’t yet know is safe.
His eyes narrow further. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and I can do nothing to stop the destruction.
There is a moment of silence that seems to span an era. It’s so quiet all I can hear is my own ragged breathing and his huffing.
Finally, he speaks.
“Christ, you try to fucking help someone and this is how they thank you?” He grinds the words between clenched teeth. Then he snorts and shakes his head. Not too gently, he dumps the bags on the ground and leans into me. I pull away from him, my back hitting the side of the storm porch as he gets into my space, all six-foot-plus of him. I have to raise my chin to meet his gaze, and I wish I didn’t because he looks hurt beneath the anger and for some reason that doesn’t sit right with me.
“For the record, I was just going to take your bags inside for you. I usually leave the raping and murdering for the weekend.”
He gives me the dirtiest look I’ve ever seen, turns on a booted heel and starts back up the path. I let my lungs finally reboot and draw in air when he reaches the end of the drive, and I’m filled with a new emotion. This one is abject embarrassment. He didn’t do anything wrong. All he did was try to be nice and I treated him like crap. Did I really think he was going to come into my house and hurt me?
I don’t know.
Old habits die hard.