If they caught her, there’d be hell to pay.
Michelle didn’t even want to imagine the level Copper’s anger would climb to if he discovered her trailing after him and his men in the dark woods behind the clubhouse well after midnight.
The fury would be epic.
She may be a fifteen-year-old kid, but she wasn’t an idiot. Sneaking out of her home, pedaling her bicycle across town to the clubhouse, and lurking in the shadows until the men emerged was not only dangerous, it was reckless—and probably pointless as well.
She wouldn’t be able to see a damn thing when the guys finally stopped trekking. But she had to be here. Had to find out if the club had really captured the man who murdered her father.
Four sets of heavy-booted feet tromped through the woods, making no effort toward stealth, thankfully. Shell wasn’t exactly mouse-quiet herself, but the noise from the determined group drowned out her leaf-crunching steps.
She shivered despite the down jacket engulfing her body. Mid-January at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains was pretty freakin’ cold. Lucky for her, it hadn’t snowed in the past few weeks.
“Fuck, it’s dark out here. Wouldn’t be able to see my own damn dick. We almost done with this romantic stroll through the woods?” That was Maverick’s voice. Easy to distinguish because ninety percent of the nonsense out of his mouth was laden with snark and sarcasm. As one of the newer patches, he was making a name for himself with his wit and constant inappropriate humor.
“We have a fucking flashlight, you big baby. Suck it up and keep walking.”
Zach. Another new patch.
Clenching her teeth in a fruitless effort to stem the chattering, Shell stole on after the men she considered family. Loved them like family as well. Loved them more than the majority of her flesh and blood relatives, if she was honest.
The further into the woods they ventured, the more confident Shell grew in her guess of their destination. The guys had to be headed to The Box. Thoughts of what that meant sent a different kind of shiver racing down her spine. Growing up in the MC, Shell had heard countless rumors about The Box. How the club kept a giant underground torture chamber filled with hundreds of Handlers’ enemies from years back. How it was about a mile out into the woods behind the clubhouse. How the walls were coated with blood and faded screams echoed through the dungeon. The Honeys loved to gossip and guess precisely what went on down there, and each tale was more gruesome than the last. By the time she was twelve, Shell had heard stories of prisoners having limbs sawed off, eyeballs plucked out, and dicks clamped in a vice. Half of what the club girls said couldn’t be believed. At least that’s what her mother told her when she was nine and asked what a blow job was and why she overheard a Honey using it in reference to her father. Since that day, she’d always tried to take what they told her with a grain of salt. It’s not as though the men actually shared any club business with the women who were little more than whores.
The truth was probably a watered-down version of the legends, even if the Honey bragging about blowing Shell’s father had been telling the truth. Turned out the man had been with nearly all of them at one point or another. Something every fifteen-year-old girl wanted to think about. Regardless, The Box existed and wasn’t a place anyone wanted to find themselves.
After another five minutes of wordless journeying through the woods, the men suddenly came to a dead stop.
Michelle darted behind the nearest thick-trunked tree. She held as still as possible, not even daring to breathe. Too bad her heart was pounding so loud it could be heard a mile away.
Had the guys noticed her? Did they suspect they had a stowaway? Could they hear the rattling of her frozen and terrified bones?
This was by far her stupidest idea ever.
“Bring him out to me,” Copper said.
Shell would recognize that voice anywhere. That Irish brogue belonging to the six-foot-five, tatted biker who starred in every teenage fantasy she’d ever had. His name decorated a diary hidden deep under her bed, scrawled over and over with spritzes of cheap perfume and lipstick kisses. If anyone ever found it, she’d die on the spot, but so far, her secret was safe.
“You sure, brother? Wouldn’t it be easier to do this shit down in The Box?” Rusty asked.
Shell frowned. Younger by ten years, Rusty was Copper’s brother and a huge jerk. There was no other word to describe him. Okay, there were a few others, but despite their extreme sailor-enviable mouths, the guys got on her case every time she swore. Sick of them always nagging about ladies not cussing, she avoided using any kind of foul language in front of them. Kinda like she avoided Rusty at all costs.
“I want him out here. I want him to feel the air, see the stars, smell the clean scent of the forest. He needs to realize everything he’s never going to have the chance to experience again. He needs to feel what I’m taking away from him. I want him to experience one last flicker of hope that we’ll let him live, right before I slit his fucking throat.”
Shell swallowed. Though she couldn’t see his face, she imagined Copper stroking his beard, deep in thought as he plotted someone’s demise. There were stories about that, too. About the lengths Copper would go to protect his club. His men and their families.
But now she had a front-row seat to the horror show.
“You got it,” Zach said. There was some rustling, then silence that seemed to drag on for hours but was probably only minutes. Everything appeared darker, longer, more intense when outside in the hours following midnight.
Finally, footsteps crunched over leaves again, followed by a grunt and a thud. Shell blew out a silent breath and peeked around her tree. Someone had lit a lantern, illuminating a small clearing in the woods. A man knelt on the ground, arms bound behind him with Copper, Maverick, Zach, and Rusty circled around him.
Back to her, she didn’t have a view of Copper’s face, but she sure had a clear line of sight to the man on the ground.
Reaper, they called him. Because of the number of men he’d sent to their graves. Those were rumors Shell believed. She’d seen the dark-eyed man in action. Her insides quivered at the memories, and she sucked in a soundless, trembling breath.
This was why she’d followed the guys into the woods when she should have been home snoozing away in preparation for school in the morning.
Reaper was the man who’d killed her father five years ago.
Earlier that afternoon, she’d been at the clubhouse helping some of the ol’ ladies prepare dinner. Tasked with letting the men know their meal was ready to be devoured, she’d wandered toward Copper’s office only to hear Reaper’s name being tossed around in conjunction with plans to head to The Box in the night.
Her mind and body had frozen until the noises from Copper’s office alerted her to the men mobilizing. Then, she’d scurried back to the door of the kitchen and pretended to emerge just as they did, feigning her ignorance.
Even by the dim glow of the lantern, it was apparent the eyes staring up at Copper held no remorse. No fear. It was as though life, even his own, held no value to him. Almost made her wish the men would keep him alive and in pain a while before ending him. Most might find it sick. Most might wake with nightmares after watching someone die, but Shell had already been down that road. The soulless look in his eyes was the same she’d seen the night he stole her father from her. Memories from that time had stayed so strong, so fresh in her mind even with the passage of time, and Reaper’s brought them right back to the surface.
She’d been with her father that fated night, four years ago, when the madman known as Reaper shot him in cold blood at a gas station.
As long as she lived, Shell would never forget the horror of that night. It was late on a Saturday, and her father was driving Shell and her mother home from a family barbecue at the clubhouse. From the second row of their truck, she’d watched her dad walk out of the quiet gas station market, two coffees in hand. Seconds later, Reaper appeared from the shadows, shot her father from three feet away, then disappeared as fast as he’d materialized. She’d had as clear a view of his pale face that night as she did now.
It all happened so fast, it was over before her brain processed what her eyes had seen. But once it did, her heart broke clear in two, and she screamed so loud she couldn’t speak for days.
Now, finally, more than four years later, justice would be served, MC style. And she didn’t have it in her to find anything wrong with that. Maybe it was how she was raised, or maybe it was just in her blood, but she had always felt safe, loved, and protected knowing the club would do anything and everything to protect and avenge its own.
Copper had been there that night. He’d witnessed her devastation, seen her in the lowest moment of her life. In her lovestruck teenage mind, she’d hoped some of the reason for Copper’s tireless search for Reaper had something to do with him wanting to ease her pain, though, in truth, he’d have done it for anyone associated with the club.
“You’ve been a hard man to find,” Copper said as he stepped closer to his captive.
Reaper snorted. Whoever had taken him prisoner, roughed him up quite a bit. One black eye, a seeping gash on his cheek, ripped shirt, wheezy breathing. His short black hair was caked with blood, matted to his head. Not near enough punishment in Shell’s eyes.
“Been easy to slip under the radar with you idiots looking for me,” Reaper slurred like his tongue was swollen. He smiled, actually smiled, revealing missing teeth.
From the cover of her tree, Shell locked her knees to keep from charging forward and raining a hell of her own down on the smug bastard.
Copper chuckled. “That may be, but we got your ass now. Been waiting on this moment for a long time.” As he spoke, he drew a wicked looking blade from a sheath on his belt.
Shell’s eyes widened, and she covered her mouth to muffle a gasp. Maybe she hadn’t been as prepared as she’d thought to watch Copper take a life.
Yet she couldn’t tear her gaze away.
The rest of the men stood with spread legs, folded arms, and flat expressions as they watched Copper close the distance to Reaper. Pressing the blade against the man’s throat, he said, “This is for my President, his ol’ lady, and Shell.” The venom in Copper’s voice had Shell’s eyes widening more than the act of blatant violence she was about to witness. He sounded like a different man. A lethal man completely capable of killing in cold blood. “This is for Shell most of all because an eleven-year-old girl should never have to live with the image of her father being gunned down. Rest in hell, motherfucker.”
Reaper laughed, making Shell flinch. The sound was so maniacal it could have been a psychotic movie villain’s cackle. And the man dared to do it while Copper held a deadly knife to his throat.
“There’s so much you don’t know Prez,” he said as though mocking Copper.
“Details don’t matter. You killed my president, now you die.”
Reaper might be a psychotic killer, but he was freaking brave. Not once did he cower, beg for his life, or break eye-contact with Copper. Just as Copper’s arm muscles flexed with the telltale sign of impending movement, Reaper said, “Too bad I didn’t notice the girl watching me that night. Might have taken her with me. She’da made a good plaything.”
The growl that came from Copper sent chills skittering across all Shell’s nerve endings. He didn’t bother speaking, just drew the blade across Reaper’s throat in one fluid motion.
Easy as slicing through butter.
Blood immediately flowed from the slash followed by a horrendous gurgling sound. This time, Shell couldn’t catch the shocked gasp before it left her mouth. The moment it was out, she held her breath and prayed no one heard. Copper didn’t so much as twitch. Zach watched the life drain from Reaper. Mav bounced his leg as though impatient to get the process over with.
But Rusty, Rusty met her gaze with a cold, sadistic stare. Shell gulped down the disgusting taste of bile that flooded her mouth.
As he glared at her, Rusty’s lips curled into a smile that could only be described as predatory.
The hairs on Shell’s arms stood straight on end. Something about that smile set her on edge because she’d swear it had nothing to do with Reaper’s death and everything to do with her.
Shit. Would he rat her out to Copper? The jerk would probably take great pleasure in that. Now that she’d been busted, she could only wait and see what fate had in store for her.