EXTENDED EPILOGUE - NINE MONTHS AFTER FINDING NIRVANA ENDS
Nine months later
I don’t know whose dumb idea it was to hold my patch-in ceremony in the middle of the damn bachelor party,” I groan as I roll over onto my stomach and pull my pillow back over my head. “Death. I feel like fucking death.”
“My sympathy level is zero,” Sascha sounds as ill as I do.
I let out a small chuckle when I feel her weight leave the bed and the bathroom door slams shut behind her. Instant regret fills me when my own stomach revolts and vomit rises in my throat. I force it back down, before cursing the two fuckers I hold one-hundred percent responsible for my current state.
Mad Dog and Timber. The former being behind the decision to patch me in, while the latter is the one getting married today, and therefore the cause of the majority of my hangover.
God, I hope those two pricks feel as bad as I do.
The sound of Sascha heaving her guts up permeates the room. Apparently, the hen’s night was as alcohol sozzled as the bachelor party. The pounding of my head kicks up to unbearable when the alarm that I’d hit snooze on blares back to life and reminds me in no uncertain terms that getting out of bed cannot be delayed.
“Sasch,” I call out before I swing my feet to the floor and pray that the contents of my stomach stays put. “Do you need me to get anything for you? Maybe a Berocca and some water?”
“Y—es.” The reply I receive sounds frail. Pushing to my feet, I open the bathroom door so I can check on my woman. As I suspected, she’s a mess.
Sascha is leaning over the toilet bowl, sweat dripping off her naked body. When I hear her begin to retch again, I bundle her long hair into a knot on the top of her head, securing it with one hand while I run a reassuring hand up and down Sascha’s back.
“What time is it?” She asks once she’s finished emptying her stomach.
“I dunno, but the alarm went off twice before I came in here.”
“Argh,” Sascha wipes her mouth, then stands so she can start the shower. “We’re gonna be late.”
When she’s occupied with brushing her teeth while the water heats up, I run my eyes down her athletic frame, appreciating the peaks and valleys that make up her beautiful body. The past six months spent with Sascha have been the best of my life. Her generous spirit, the acceptance that she gives me despite my continuing limitations, and the easy way that both she and Jasmine have let me slot into their life has eased the loss of Benji to a degree that I never expected.
Not having my brother around stings. The mere thought of never seeing him again can suck the joy out of the day without warning; yet, Sascha doesn’t tell me to get over it. She empathises. She sympathises. She understands.
It goes a long way to repairing the hole left in my heart.
It also has my cock standing at constant attention because her gorgeous soul in encased in a body of matching perfection. And, it’s with that thought in mind that I slip into the shower behind Sascha and pull the glass door shut.
“What are you doing?” Bloodshot, amber eyes meet mine. The tiny smile that tugs at her plump lips tells me one thing.
It’s game on.
“Saving time,” I quip. My hangover is forgotten as I crowd her with my bigger body until she’s trapped between the cold, wet tiles and me. “And, saying good morning to my woman.”
I press my hard cock against Sascha’s belly, dropping my chin to her the top of her head once I’ve wrapped my arms around her wet body. When I feel her body yield to my touch, I slide my hands under her ass and lift. A shriek splits the air, sharp fingernails digging in my shoulders when Sascha clutches me to her.
Once I have my woman in the perfect position, I lower her slippery body onto my cock. She’s always ready for me, her slick wetness allowing me easy access to my favourite place in the world. I make the most of it, lifting her up and down over my straining cock with a preciseness that wouldn’t have been possible six months ago. The changes that my talented woman’s physio program has made to my body are mind-blowing to me; even though, the professional in Sascha is never quite satisfied. She’s always searching for a new technique to try on me—not that I’m always a willing patient since my expectations are a lot less than hers.
“Do you feel that?” I groan when she clenches around me in response. “Every time I pump my cock into your body, I feel like I’m being welcomed home.”
A mewling sound that comes from the deep throat of Sascha’s body is the only answer I need. My arms burn, my thighs beginning to ache, as I quicken the pace until the cries that come from my woman have reduced to a whimper. Her pussy is holding me tight, spasming as the climax I’ve worked out of her hungover body comes to an end.
I’m not far behind. Ignoring the way that the burning in my limbs has become a screaming inferno of throbbing pain, I maintain my pace. My orgasm hits, the ripples of pleasure starting at the base of my spine and working their way through the rest of my body.
By the time I’ve finished, Sascha is clinging to me. My body is fucked, a trembling mess, but this wake-up call was worth every aching muscle and screaming ligament. I lean her against the wall and coax her legs back down to the floor. When Sacha’s standing, I pull her under the warm water.
“Well, good morning to you, too,” Sacha quips before she steps behind me and starts washing my back.
It is a good morning, indeed.
My hair is still damp, a dull pain throbbing behind my left eye from the remnants of my hangover, and we’re running late to pick up Jasmine from Wendy’s—yet I couldn’t be happier right now.
As the Queen of Misfits, I’m doing well at fitting in with my boyfriend’s family and friends. I guess, he was right. Time can smooth sharp edges if it’s given the chance.
A car horn erupts, dragging me out of my thoughts. I look over my shoulder and flip the bird at the impatient prick behind us at the stoplights. Then I grin, because my little gesture would have cost me five dollars for the swear jar if my daughter had been around to see it.
My car moves forward, and I go back to my attempts to dry my thick hair into some semblance of a style suitable for a wedding. Joel’s driving—and like usual I’m stuck between ogling his bulkier forearms and giving myself a mental pat on the back for the improvements I’ve been able to bring to his body.
“You look beautiful,” Joel says as he pulls the car into Wendy’s driveway. “Stop fussing. You know you’re only gonna make it worse.”
With one final glance in the mirror, I flip my sun visor back into place, and follow Joel into my mother’s house. He’s right. My hair is as good as it gets without access to a blow dryer.
“Yay. You’re here,” Jasmine squeals her delight after we’ve shut the front door behind us. As usual, she runs right past me, her pink, lace dress swinging behind her, and jumps onto Joel. “I had sooooo much ice cream last night. My tummy almost burst.”
“Thank God it didn’t. That would have been messy,” Joel laughs at her exuberance.
“Yeah, but then I saw the M & M’s and all of a sudden there was room.” She raises her hands in the air and widens her eyes. “It was magic. I felt it inside me and then, kazaam, I had enough space for some chocolate.”
Joel chuckles at my child’s antics, then meets my eyes over the top of her head. A cheeky smirk lifts one side of his top lip before he says, “Your mummy felt magic this morning. It was inside her, too.”
“Really?” Jasmine jumps out of Joel’s arms and into mine. An oomph leaves me, stealing the breath from my lungs from the impact of her inelegant landing. “Maybe we’re both fairies? Do you have a wand, mummy? I can give you one of mine, if you want?”
“That would be great, peanut.” I mouth the ward “jackass” at my man, pressing my thighs together when he winks at me.
The sound of footsteps interrupts the retort I can see on the edge of his tongue. Joel rearranges his face into his best innocent expression before turning to greet Wendy. She’s already outfitted, her modest dress looking sophisticated in a way that I haven’t managed to master yet. There’s a broad smile on her face when she kisses first Joel’s cheek and then mine.
“We had a wonderful night last night. Thank you for letting me keep her.”
“Any time,” I answer, trying to convey welcome and truth in those two simple words. We have a weird dynamic that’s slowly becoming more organic and real. The open relationship that Wendy has with Joel and his siblings hasn’t grown between the pair of us yet. I live in constant hope that we will find our equilibrium together one day.
Very soon would be my personal preference, although I realise that it’s not something I can manufacture, so I push down my growing impatience and let Wendy take the lead.
“Time to go?” Joel breaks the silence that’s grown after my response.
Wendy shakes her head. An apologetic smile covers her face when she waves us toward the front door. “I’m going to take my own car. Kyle phoned earlier and asked me to bring Victor to the church. Apparently, he was held up somewhere.”
I sink my top teeth into my bottom lip so I don’t smile. I know precisely where Kyle spent the night. It was pretty hard to ignore the distinctive sound of his pipes outside the night club where I was partying with JJ, Maddi … and Lacey.
The latter of whom was the only one of us who didn’t accept the ride home with the Prospect that the boys sent with us as security and a sober driver.
Although, I’m thinking it might be prudent to keep that little snippet to myself.
At least, until I’ve been able to find out from Lacey exactly what happened.
As Lacey closes her front door behind me, I let out the breath I’m holding. Last night was the culmination of my dreams. She’s always been special to me, and I would’ve made that fact known a long time ago, if she hadn’t fallen for Benji first.
At the thought of my best friend, I raise my face to the sky and cross myself. I hope like hell that he approves of what went down last night. It’s been over a year since he left us—although it seems like yesterday, sometimes—and I feel like I’ve given Lacey enough time to decide if I’m what she wants.
Because I know damn well that she’s who I need.
The engine of my Harley rumbles to life. I jam my helmet on my head and ride in the direction the church where Timber and JJ are getting married today. There’s shit-loads of stuff to set-up. And one grumpy groom who’s hellbent of perfection to help organise.
I weave through the Saturday lunch traffic, passing the soccer mum’s and the weary-looking families who are enjoying their short escape from the nine-to-five drudgery that is their lives. It’s moments like this that remind me why I chose the life I did. My parents were alcoholic fuckwits burnt out by the pressures of everyday life. When the opportunity to prospect was offered to me by Mad Dog, I grabbed it with both hands.
There was no way in hell that I was following in their footsteps and joining the rat race.
Just like there’s no way I’m never-ending up trapped in a love-less marriage like theirs.
What I feel for Lacey will sustain me through good times and bad.
Now, I need to get her on-board.
The power of my bike is evident when I squeeze the throttle and blow past the unwanted memories of the parents I left behind. I hold her flat, taking both my Harley and my riding skills right to the edge, slowing only when I pull into the parking lot of the church.
“About time, don’t ya think?” Timber strides out of the double front doors with two decent sized boxes in his arms. I’ve got barely enough time to pull my helmet off and drop it onto the seat of my bike before he thrusts them at me. “Take these around the back. Don’t let the fuckers get out. And, don’t fucking laugh.”
A weird fluttering sound fills the boxes. I close my left eye and try to peer through the little holes in the side, but I can’t see a damn thing. “What are they?”
Timber ignores me, flipping me the bird over his shoulder as he strides away. Mad Dog passes him, carrying another three boxes. They’re the same as the one’s I’m holding. I repeat my question when he gets closer.
“What’s in the boxes?”
“Five-hundred fucking butterflies,” is my President’s answer. His face doesn’t show any emotion when he jerks his head toward the back of the yard surrounding the church, although I see his shoulders shaking as he walks in front of me.
“Butterflies?” I’m certain my ears have deceived me. I know JJ walks all over Timber, but butterflies? He would have put a stop to that idea, surely?
“Yep, butterflies.” Mad Dog stops and looks at me. As I thought, he’s lost it. He has silent tears of laughter rolling down his face. “They’re letting them free after the ceremony. Apparently, it’s unique.”
“Oh, it’s unique, all right.” I can’t take it anymore; I put the boxes down. My hysterical laughter is going to shake the poor creatures to death—that’s if the noise me and Mad Dog are making doesn’t give them a heart attack first. With my hands on my hips, I bend in half and try to catch my breath between bouts of crying laughter. “I’m never gonna let him live this down.”
“Fucking none of us are.” Mad Dog almost has himself back under control, until he meets my gaze and I set him off once again.
We’re making enough noise to wake the dead. When one of us has nearly stopped, one look at the other has the laughter starting again. My stomach muscles are starting to hurt. I can’t get the visual of Timber—big, bad, Blake the Butcher—letting these tiny, delicate creatures free to flutter above his head.
“I can hear you pair of pricks.” The groom’s gruff tone promises violence when he sticks his head out of the nearest window and yells at us. “Don’t fucking make me come out there.”
Mad Dog and I look at each other, shaking our heads, and holding our guts. We’re barely upright, ready to take the boxes where we’ve been instructed when Mama C’s voice floats across the yard.
“All of you boys are being silly. It’ll be sweet. Imagine if one lands on you, Lucas? What a pretty sight that would be.”
And, that’s us done. We give up on transporting the butterflies and plonk our asses on the grass verge next to the path. There’s no way to stop it.
I’m going to die from laughing at my VP and his pretty butterflies.
Which is preferable to death-by-guilty-conscience. Because sitting here next to one happily married man while one who’s getting married in a few hours curses us out, the depth of what I did last night hits me. I betrayed my best friend.
I let my feelings for his woman get the better of me.
Dead or not, Benji is who Lacey belongs to.
I shouldn’t have answered her call last night.
As much as I want her, I have to respect my fallen brother.
And, that means that I can’t have Lacey.
I did a bad, bad thing. That’s the only thought floating around my head as I hear Kyle’s Harley rumble down the road as he leaves. I’d pressed my back against my front door after I shut it behind him, physically unable to move another step. Now, with the sound of his bike fading in my ears, I let my legs give out and slide down the wood until my ass hits the floor.
Hiding my eyes behind my hands, I try to find a way to make what I happened fit with my vow to love only Benji forever. It doesn’t matter which way I turn it, there’s no denying the truth.
I broke my promise.
I let my emotions get the better of me. My need to feel arms around me once again led me down the path of no return. The phone call I made to Kyle has irreversibly changed our relationship—and damaged our ability to remember the man who ties us together without guilt.
“I’m sorry.” I lift my head and scream at the ceiling. Tears burn my eyes and I try to blink them away. It doesn’t work. They run down my cheeks, unheeded. “I love you, Benji.”
JJ and Timber’s wedding is in mere hours. I should be getting ready; I am a bridesmaid, after all. Instead, I sit with my back against the door and my face raised to the heavens, whispering prayer after prayer that a miracle will happen.
Please, God, let me have my man back.
Eventually, my muscles begin to scream so I move away from the door and push to my feet. The foreign tenderness between my legs has images of my night with Kyle flashing through my mind. He was different to Benji. More cocksure; taking control in a way that didn’t make me feel threatened. The well-hidden vulnerable streak that drew me to Benji was missing and that had thrown me for a few minutes until Kyle took everything into his own hands. Then I’d yielded without complaint and let him work my body into a frenzy that had resulted in my first orgasm in over a year.
I close my eyes in an attempt to ward off the comparisons. They’re unfair. Expecting Kyle to compete with a ghost is not normal; yet, that’s where I find myself. Pitting two men—best friend’s and brother’s to the very end—against each other in a sick game of “what if”.
Except one is dead. The voice in my head likes to taunt me with the reality of my situation, just in case I forget for twenty-five seconds that I’m alone.
My eyelids lift, catching sight of one of the few photos I have of Benji. This one hangs near the front door. Most days, I kiss my fingers and lay them against his mouth on my way out. I don’t have that urge today—instead the usually loving cast I read in his expression seems to be judging me.
“I’m sorry.” I whisper in the solitary silence that grips my home. “I let you down.”
For the second time this morning, my knees give way and I collapse to the floor. The tears that had subsided return, this time accompanied by sobbing that feels like it will split my already-broken heart into more shattered pieces.
I am lost. Guilt, regret, and loneliness fill every atom of my being. I’ve been by myself longer than we were together, and it kills me. He’s missed so much.
“Lacey.” Warm arms wrap around me, a second pair joining the first a second later.
“Oh, honey. Don’t cry.” Maddi croons to me, rocking both of us in time with her words. JJ strokes my hair, murmuring sweet sentiments that match Maddi’s. I didn’t even hear the front door open, otherwise I would have attempted to get my shit back together. The last thing I want to do is ruin JJ’s wedding day.
“I’m sorry.” I raise my head and look her in the eye.
“Don’t be silly,” JJ’s expression oozes sympathy. “Days like this are always going to be hard. If you need to cry, that’s fine with me.”
“What happened?” Maddi questions me quietly, speculation in her eyes. She was my moral support when I made my call to Kyle last night. If it wasn’t for her prodding—and a whole heap of alcohol—I wouldn’t have had the guts to make my move.
“Everything!” I snap. Part of me is mad at her. He’s her brother; she should be encouraging me to stay true to him. Maddi’s eyes widen at my rudeness, her lips thinning when she presses them together. I can see that she’s fighting back the urge to bite back at me
“Feeling guilty is natural,” JJ tells me in a firm voice. “I imagine that Kyle’s feeling much the same.”
God, here I am worrying about myself when Kyle’s out there dealing with the same emotions. He has a lifetime of feelings to sift through and I simply pushed out of my front door without so much as a goodbye. I’ve not only failed in my vow Benji, I’ve let Kyle down.
“We need to go,” I say as I scramble to my feet.
“Like that?” Maddi lifts an eyebrow at me. She runs her eyes down my body. I look down, surprised to find that I’m still clad in my silk robe.
“Shit. Give me five.” I make for my bedroom, happy to have an excuse to take a few minutes to myself.
“You can run, but you can’t hide,” Maddi calls after me. JJ giggles. “We want details, you know? I’ve had a suspicion that there’s more to that lanky, little shit than he lets on so I’m not letting you out of here until you spill. We’re already late to pick up the kids, we can wait you out.”
When she says things like that, Maddi reminds me of how Benji would cut through tension with a wisecrack. She’s the best and the worst thing for me—a way to keep him fresh in my memory and an eternal reminder of what I don’t have anymore.
I know she’s lying. I doubt she’s ever looked a Kyle in a sexual way, considering he’s practically her fifth brother. No, she said that to put me at ease.
And, strangely, it did. Because if she can be cool about me moving on, then maybe Benji would approve after all?
The first anniversary of Patrick’s death has been and gone, yet my feelings haven’t lessened in the slightest. I miss him with every breath I draw into my lungs and every beat my heart makes. Seeing Matthew and Lachlan most days, watching Madelaine blossom into her new life as wife and mother, and having a small part in Joel’s domestic bliss with my daughter just drives home one cold, hard fact.
Everyone is thriving despite what he put them through—and I remain stuck in an ongoing mire, constantly wondering what if. What if I’d tried harder to stop him? What if I’d followed through on my decision to leave him?
What if he’d loved me more than Alanah?
Would anything have been enough to stop Patrick seeking retribution for the betrayal he’d felt at the hands of Victor and Alanah? Would it have been enough to cool the vengeance that burned within him, the need for revenge that he hid from me for fourteen years?
I sincerely doubt it. Although, even that belief can’t make me move on. The man is responsible for the death of Benjamin, yet I still love him. I mourn a monster, and I don’t know when that will stop.
“You need your damn head read,” I mutter to myself as I grab my keys from the hallstand. Smoothing down the front of my dress, I pull my handbag over my shoulder and prepare myself to face the outside world.
It was hard enough facing Joel and Sascha on my own this morning, without needing to see Victor as well. That man can see straight through me. He knows that I’m suffering and he’s sympathetic to it. And I could appreciate that, if it was all he felt. But, no, he has to add in a great big helping of regret and guilt, with a side offering of condemnation.
Slamming my front door shut behind me, I march to my car, and drive the fifteen-minute journey to Madelaine’s house. Victor now lives full-time with them, ostensibly to help with the twins, even though it’s clear that the true reason is that he’s coming to the end of his battle with lung cancer and Mikhail wishes to spend as much time as he can with his father. It’s sad, yet none of us have room to complain—he’s outlasted the doctor’s predictions by almost six years.
We’ve been blessed to have him with us for so much extra time.
Parking my car out the front of the grand house that they call home, I find that my frustration with Victor has dissolved during my drive. He feels responsible for the havoc that Patrick wreaked, and I understand his feelings. What I can’t wrap my head around is the scorn he heaps on me for having the same regrets.
“Victor?” I call out as I come to the top of the steps that lead into the landing near the front door. “It’s me. Wendy.”
I can hear him shuffling toward the exit so I cool my heels and wait for him. The possible risk to my head for assisting him is not worth the few minutes it will save. The Christmas wreath hanging on the door catches my eye, then I notice the lights hanging from the gutter. Stepping back and craning my neck, I spy Santa and his sleigh mounted to the roof. It makes me grin.
Who would’ve thought any of us would live to see the day where Mikhail Kennedy allowed his home to be decorated with such gusto. The house looks like it belongs to a middle-aged accountant, not the slightly-insane President of an outlaw motorcycle club.
“What are you grinning at?” Victor grumbles. He’s barely audible and clearly out of breath, an irritable expression on his prematurely wrinkle faced.
“Such a welcome,” I choose to ignore his mood. Raising my hand, I point at the lights and the wreath that sways with subdued violence after he slams the door shut behind him. “Never thought Mikhail would agree to any of this.”
“When you’ve found your angel,” Victor holds his oxygen mask over his face and breathes deeply. I already know what he’s going to say when he pulls the mask away from his face—that doesn’t lessen the pain any. “You do what it takes to keep her. I’ve drilled that in his thick head. Don’t want my boy repeating my mistakes.”
The devotion in his voice is a dagger to the heart. Alanah has been able to reach from beyond the grave and inspire an enduring love in two of the toughest men I’ve known. It’s mind-boggling—and more than I’ve been able to achieve and I’m alive and breathing.
First Thomas and then Patrick. The only two men I’ve ever loved and I’m batting zero for two.
Thomas left me, pregnant and penniless, to salvage his family’s fortunes.
Patrick chose revenge, and then death, over staying with me.
I sniff, determined not to let the tears that are making my nose tingle fall.
“Feeling sorry for yourself, again?” Victor cuts into my pity party with his curt query. He straps his oxygen mask over his face and beckons me forward, an eyebrow arched as he anticipates an answer to his rude question.
Shaking my head, I take hold of his arm and steady him as we begin the descent down the front steps. Mikhail wanted to build a ramp for his father, but the grumpy man told him it was a waste of money since his time is almost up.
“You know what your problem is?” My heart drops into the pit of my stomach. Victor is like a dog with a bone. He’s getting worse as his time runs out; much to my dismay. Another shuddering breath is dragged into his rattling chest and he’s off again. “You pick terrible men.”
His lecture is halted for a minute or two while we manoeuvre him into the front seat of my car. I duck around the front of my car to the driver’s side, whispering a prayer that I know won’t be answered.
“As I was saying,” Victor says approximately one second after I’ve pulled away from the curb. “You pick terrible men. All of your problems are caused by that one undeniable fact.”
He crosses his arms and stares out the windscreen, acting as if he hasn’t just insulted me.
“There was a time when you were nice.” My knuckles turn white as I grip the steering wheel. “I know what my problem is, thank you very much. I’m not enough. I never have been.”
Out of the side of my eye, I see him roll his eyes. Victor shifts in his seat, adjusting the oxygen cylinder that’s resting between his knees. “No, you’re a martyr. Thomas bloody Taylor must have done a real number on you for you to believe that nonsense. I know you and Beast came to a sticky end, but you had many good years with him before that.”
Victor nods his head. “Yeah, it must’ve been Thomas.”
My furry steering wheel cover twists in my hands as my temper ignites. It’s lucky that the traffic has thinned out because I twist in my seat and glare at him.
“Thomas was nothing compared to Patrick. At least he had a decent reason for leaving me—money. What was Patrick’s excuse? He couldn’t let go of a freaking ghost? He wanted to punish a dead woman and the man he led me to believe was his best friend for falling in love. The many good years that you speak of weren’t so damn good, if I’m honest.”
A car horn blares. I swing around to face the road, yanking on my steering wheel to bring my vehicle back to the right side of the road. The other driver raises their fist at me as we pass each other.
The near-miss has my heart pounding and my body shaking. I look at Victor, ready to apologise. He seems unperturbed, simply shrugging and continuing our conversation like hadn’t almost killed us.
“If it was so bad, why did you stay? No one forced you to.”
“The kids needed me.”
“Bullshit.” Victor raises his voice and points a finger at me. I expect him to need to stop to breathe in some oxygen. He doesn’t. Apparently, his indignation is enough for him for the moment. “Those kids have needed you more in the past six years than they needed you when they were little, and where were you? Living with the fucking asshole behind all their pain. You were sleeping with the goddamned enemy. Don’t try to spin it with me, Wendy. You didn’t take one for the team—you swapped sides and now you want sympathy because your side lost.”
My mouth drops open. I stare out the windscreen, operating my car on auto-pilot as Victor’s harsh words sink in. There’s a knot in my stomach that is almost painful. It’s screaming at me to deny what he said. To tell him that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That I stayed because there were five children who needed me.
But, I can’t. He’s summed me up in five succinct sentences. I stayed because I loved a horrible person. I stayed because it didn’t matter what he did or who he hurt, I knew that they wouldn’t blame me for it. I stayed because I wanted to. That way, I got to have my cake and eat it too.
As we pull into the parking lot at the church, I fight to quieten the thoughts circling my head. They won’t shut up. I switch off the engine and lean back in my seat.
The truth will set you free? Not necessarily. Sometimes it teaches you that you’re not as perfect as you thought. Then it chews up all your assumptions and spits them out. It looks like the end of your dreams, yet, in reality, it’s a fresh start—free from the blinkers you’ve deliberately worn your entire life.
I meet Victor’s hard gaze. It’s plain to see that he’s waiting for me to argue the point with him. Surprise lights his eyes when I don’t.
“I guess I am the textbook definition of a martyr.” He smiles, dipping his head once. When he looks at me again, I continue. “What does it make you then? A wise, old man?”
A lifetime of regret fills his craggy face. Victor shakes his head. “No, it makes me a foolish, old man who wasted his life because he didn’t have the balls to take what he truly wanted. My wisdom comes from knowing what it feels like to stare down the face of death, full of the knowledge that you let the best thing you had slip through your fingers. Don’t you make my mistakes. You’re still young enough to hard another red-hot crack at life.”
I’d hardly call forty-seven young, but I understand what he means.
“Good. Now let’s get inside so we can get good seats for the wedding.”
Carrying my daughter into the church where JJ insisted that she and Timber get married is surreal. In front of me, my beautiful wife walks, my son pulling faces at me over her shoulder. Beside her, my best friend kicks up a stink because he doesn’t think the flowers hanging at the end of each pew are the correct fucking shade of purple. And, in the front row my brother and father sit together, talking to each other in low voices.
The fact that this is my life scares the shit outta me.
So many people; each with the power to bring me to my knees if something happened to them.
It’s a fucked-up situation to be in.
One I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Holly starts picking at the edges of the President’s patch on my cut. I take her chubby, little fingers and pull them away. She giggles and returning to her task the second I let go. It’s her newest game. Glancing down at the front of my cut to make sure the stitching is holding, the contraction between the worn black leather, and the pink ruffles on my daughter’s dress catches my eye. I don’t look like a normal father. Hell, I don’t look like a normal citizen.
Yet, my kids see nothing but their dad when they look at me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that the way they view me might change one day when they learn who I really am.
A killer. A torturer. A man who chooses to give the bird to the rules of society.
Pushing those thoughts away to examine on another day, I close the distance between me and Lainey. Satisfied that my patch is going to hold up against Holly’s inquiring fingers, I slap my woman on the ass, holding my free arm out for my son when she turns to face me. Ash comes to me easily, shoving his hands into my hair and pulling at the strands.
“Don’t you have a bride to dress so we can get the fuck out of her before the church comes down on my head?” Lainey pokes her tongue out at me and I laugh. She rolls her eyes when the twins poke theirs back at her. Everyone standing near us joins in my laughter when our babies mimic her again. She throws her hands in the air. “I give up. They’re going to be the death of me. I can’t get away with anything nowadays”
When she makes a move to pass me, I grab a handful of her ass to halt her. “There’s a price to pay, Mrs Kennedy. A kiss.”
My angel doesn’t need telling twice. She finds a gap between our wriggling kids and presses her mouth against mine. Her touch has my cock hardening in an instant, the same way it has done every time she’s been near me during our on-again/off-again, cat-and-mouse, survive-against-all-odds eight years together.
She pulls away, ignoring my attempts to slide my tongue between her lips. I hit her with my puppy-dog eyes, and she smiles. Pointing at our kids, Lainey quips, “There are children present.”
I shrug. “They’ll survive.”
“I’d prefer not to scar them for life, if we can help it.” She tries to pull away from me. I don’t let her. My hand squeezes her ass again, earning me a swat. “And, while I’m on the subject of scarring our kids; it would be nice if you left my fat ass alone.”
Since the kids, her weight has become a sore spot. I don’t know what she sees in the mirror, but it’s not the same as me. I see a woman, with ripe curves in all the right places, more lush than ever. The rounder ass and the bigger tits that came with her pregnancy and have stuck around during the nine months since the kid’s birth are a bonus in my eyes.
“The only thing fat around here is my cock.” I smirk, knowing what’s coming next.
“You’re impossible. You do know that they understand what you’re saying? They’ll work out what it means one day.” Lainey tells me off. I expect her to give me a further lecture, instead she leans over and kisses me on the cheek. “Then when Holly comes home with a man just like you, I’m going to laugh and laugh and laugh. You reap what you sow, Mik.”
My smile disappears while my wife’s gets bigger. She knows exactly where to jab. My daughter isn’t even one yet and I’m dreading the day she wants to date. She already takes after her mother, so I know I’m gonna need a semi-automatic and my own corner of the basement in the Clubhouse reserved, at all times. And, that’s just the bare essentials.
“Well played, angel. Well played.”
Lainey practically skips in the direction of the dressing rooms. Just before she’s about to turn into the hall, she winks at me and grins. “I thought so.”
“JJ. Look at me.” I snap at the almost hysterical bride-to-be. Her green eyes meet mine; concern, excitement, and the beginnings of cold feet clear to see. “Take a deep breath and calm down. There’s nothing to fear. It’s a simple walk down the aisle.”
Her red hair falls around her shoulders when she shakes her head at me. Lacey huffs, her mouth full of hair pins. She flounces over to one of the armchairs provided in the dressing room at the church and plonks into it, giving up on trying to get JJ’s hair ready.
“It’s not a simple walk down an aisle. I’m pledging my life to Lucas. To the Black Shamrocks. I don’t know if I can do it.”
“Seriously?” My ears are close to bleeding from her whiny tone. My brain is screaming at me to slap some sense into her. “I thought this crap was over and done with?”
The bride—well I hope she still is—sits on the floor, the massive skirt of her wedding dress pooling around her. Then she bursts into tears. “So, did I. I love all of you, but this isn’t how I saw my life panning out.”
Huge sobs fill the small room, but I can’t make my feet take me to her. I’ve never understood where her reticence toward the Club comes from. Whether that’s because I don’t know any better, I’m not sure. All I can do is stare at her like she’s an alien.
I’m frozen to the spot in disbelief.
JJ has everything that I have. A man who would die for her. A beautiful child. A career that her husband supports. An abundance of love. An entire club at her back.
Maybe that’s the problem? She feels like there’s too many people in her relationship. It can be overwhelming at times, especially when every little thing that happens spreads through the Club like wildfire.
My limbs thaw, allowing them to move. I sit next to her and pry her hands from her face.
“Explain it to me. What has you so concerned?”
“It’s just too much. Everything is big, loud, and brash. There’s never any downtime. Never an opportunity for us to just be Lucas and JJ.”
“I get that.” I murmur. “But that comes with the territory. There will never be a time when the Club isn’t in your life. That’s not how it works.”
The oxygen that I drag into my lungs burns. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I need to see where her head is—I wouldn’t forgive myself if she went through with this and then hurt Timber by changing her mind down the track.
“Lacey and I will give you five minutes to think. It’s not fair to push you into something that you don’t want to do.” I pause, before telling her where my loyalties lie. “I love you, JJ, but Timber deserves honest happiness. If you can’t be truly on-board with the Shamrocks, then you should leave now. Don’t put him in the middle of a push and pull situation.”
I push myself back into a standing position and look down at her with my hands on my hips. “And, I’d caution you against thinking you can get him to leave the Shamrocks. He might do it for you, but you wouldn’t win in the end because he’d end up resenting you.”
A small nod is the only acknowledgement I receive. Waving at Lacey to come with me, I lean against the cold wall in the hallway once I’m out of the room. A long sigh leaves my lungs, stripping away the lingering doubts that I feel. Deep in my gut, I know she’s going to go through with the wedding. I don’t see how someone can be so excited during the preparations, to call it off with less than twenty minutes until the ceremony starts.
“She makes me so mad.” Lacey breaks the silence with her angry words. “JJ has everything I wish I had, and she’s prepared to throw it away because it’s not perfect. Fucking annoying cow.”
My shoulders shake when I laugh without sound. “That about sums her up. I don’t understand where her head is, sometimes. Her life before the Club wasn’t peaches, yet she acts like it’s the measuring stick for her future. How the hell is there any comparison? I mean, what more could she want?”
The door to the dressing room opens. My heart drops into my high heels. The desperate urgency on her face signals her intent to run.
“JJ, you need to see Timber before—”
“Before what?” She cuts me off. JJ hands Lacey her bouquet and then passes me mine. “It’s bad luck to see the bride before the ceremony. Even you know that.”
I place my flowers on the ground and hug her. “What changed your mind?”
“Well, as much as I enjoy being an annoying cow.” JJ lifts a manicured eyebrow in Lacey’s direction. “I realised that the old life I kept mourning was actually pretty shit. I’m much happier now, and that happiness includes the Shamrocks. They’re pivotal to my future. It just took me longer than it should have to grasp that fact.”
Lacey has turned red, but she joins my giggles when JJ’s words sink in.
“If I’d known that all you needed was to be slapped in the face by the truth, I would’ve obliged earlier.” My laughter increases. Conan sticks his head around the corner and holds his hands up to us.
JJ beckons him forward. “It’s time. Let’s do this.”
Timber’s father tucks JJ’s arm through his. I wait for Mik and Kyle to step forward to claim me and Lacey. Once my arm is threaded through my husband’s, I shiver when he runs a finger down the front of my exposed cleavage.
“Stop that,” I whisper.
“Angel, I haven’t even started.”
The music begins. It’s the wedding march being played on an organ—which has Mik pulling a face. We move together, leading the way. Our steps are in unison, just like our dreams for our life. Holly and Ash shriek when they see us, waving and blowing wet raspberries from Wendy and Viking’s arms.
Everyone we love is here—in person or in spirit.
And, I realise that Mik was almost correct.
We haven’t even started.
Maddi was right. There is nothing to fear. Lucas stands at the end of the aisle, a beaming smile on his face as he watches my follow first Maddi and Mad Dog, and then Lacey and Kyle down the aisle. We pass every person who’s come to mean something to me. The numerous brothers. Joel, Sacha, and Jasmine. Viking and Wendy. The twins. Then I see my son, where he sits clapping from his position on Mama C’s lap.
Conan kisses my cheek before passing my hand to Lucas. My future husband grips my fingers tight, pulling me into his side. I go willingly, exchanging a look with Maddi. She takes my bouquet, a tiny nod her answer to the question I’m asking with my eyes.
Please keep my meltdown to yourself?
With Maddi’s unvoiced agreement, I search for Lacey. She’s standing alone, anguish on her face, telegraphing her disillusionment with the world. For a moment, I think she’s staring at me, then I glance to my right and discover that she’s having a silent exchange with Kyle.
My heart breaks for them. I couldn’t imagine being alone—with the answer to my loneliness staring me in the face while I fought it out of a sense of obligation to a dead man. Especially when I know that Benji would give his blessing if he could.
“We are gathered here today to witness the joining of two families.” The minister begins talking. His monotone drags me back to the task at hand. “Today, the Patrice family will merge with the Blake family to create an eternal union.”
His statement grabs my attention. I really should have paid more attention at the rehearsal instead of drinking my weight in wine to calm my nerves.
I have no family to merge with the Blake’s. With an anxious glance over my shoulder, I check the side of the church that is traditionally “mine”. The pews are filled with Shamrocks, they’re spread evenly across the church. There isn’t a divide, at all.
I’m the only Patrice here, however, that doesn’t make the ministers words any less true. The Patrice and Blake families are becoming one today.
Since I’ve managed to drone out the remainder of the minister’s words with the noise in my head, I gasp when Maddi passes me the wedding band I selected for Lucas.
The time has come. There’s no going back.
“Do you, Juliette, take Lucas, to be your husband? To have and to hold, from this day forward. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. Till death do you part.” The minister infuses each word with serious meaning.
“I do.” I slide the band onto his thick finger after I’ve made my vow.
“Do you, Lucas, take Juliette, to be your wife? To have and to hold, from this day forward. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. Till death do you part.” He repeats the same words for Lucas.
My man doesn’t hesitate, he nods his head vigourously and answers with loud certainty. “I do.”
Mad Dog passes him my wedding ring. Lucas slides the thin circle of diamonds onto my fingers, then lifts my hand so he can kiss the back of it.
“I love you, Doll.”
“I love you, too.” I murmur the words to him in response, an honest smile curling my lips.
“With the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
My husband scoops me into his arms, lifting me clear off the ground. He swings us in a wide loop, kissing me as if his life depends on it while he does. My satin and lace skirt is crushed when he holds me against his chest. A knowing smirk lifts his top lip.
“How bad was your meltdown?”
I sink my teeth into my bottom lip so I don’t dob myself in. He’s always one step ahead of me, but he doesn’t need to know that.
“It was bad. I had to pull out the ultimatum.” Maddi answers for me. She laughs when Mad Dog wraps his arms around her from behind. “But it didn’t work. Lacey called her an annoying cow and that knocked some sense into her.”
Lucas nods, seeming calm about her admission. I brace for fireworks, but they don’t come. He runs his nose the length of my jaw, then whispers in my ear. “Didn’t matter anyway. I had the doors locked. There was no way for you to slip outta my grasp. I would’ve dragged you in front of the minister, kicking and screaming, if I had to. You’re mine.”
I know most women would be upset at his words. I’m not. Lucas understands me. He knows that I have a propensity to run when the going gets tough—or I feel overwhelmed. And, he embraces it. Where most men would give up and place me in the too-hard basket, my man rises to the challenge and defeats my demons.
Like Maddi said earlier, what more could I want?
Not a thing.
I have everything a woman could possibly need.
“Thank fuck that’s over,” I shake my head at Mad Dog as we walk out of the church. My wedding band feels heavy on my finger, my son’s weight in my arms adding to the gravity of the deal I just sealed with his mother. They also add another element to the news we received this morning.
“Well, almost over,” I groan when I spy the five boxes sitting out the front of the church. These damn butterflies are going to be the death of my reputation. “The things that woman can get me to agree to when my dick is buried inside her and my hands are around her neck.”
I didn’t realise that I said that out loud until Mad Dog answers me. “I’m hearing ya, brother. My house looks like Santa fucking Claus threw up in it.”
I run my eyes over JJ’s tiny frame where she’s bent over the boxes cooing over the damn insects. For a second, I let myself enjoy the twitch in my pants that the sight of my woman always elicits. “Power of the pussy.”
“Fucking oath,” Mad Dog bumps his shoulder against mine. He heads off to rescue Maddi from their kids. I wrack my brains for a way out of the impending humiliation. Nothing comes to me, so a few short minutes later, I find myself standing at the double doors that lead into the chapel, holding my new wife’s hand while balancing my son in my other arm, waiting for the damn butterflies to be set free.
“Now,” my mother shouts. The boxes are opened simultaneously, and she ushers the three of us down the receiving line that the Shamrocks and their families have created. As I walk, I hold my breath and pray like fuck that one of them doesn’t land on me.
No such luck. I feel one perch itself on the top of my head, then a couple land on my shoulder. Kaden doesn’t want a bar of them, he shoos them away from him.
“Play with the pretty butterflies,” JJ tries to cajole our son.
“No, don’t wanna.” Kaden doesn’t pull any punches. He crosses his arms over his little chest and pouts. I bite back a laugh, secretly proud that he has the balls to tell his mum what I was too scared to. My humour disappears when another fucking pair of wings show up in my vision and a bloody butterfly perches on the end of my nose.
I make the mistake of checking to see who’s looking. Mad Dog, Kid, Joel—every single brother is staring at me with a shit-eating grin on their face.
Fuck. I’ve got a metric fuck-tonne of shit coming down on my head at our next Church session. With an angry hand, I swat the bloody thing away. It flies a few feet then comes back and lands on my goddamn nose again.
This time I flick it. It gets the message, flying away in an indignant huff. JJ glares at me, but I shrug. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
We make it to the limo she insisted on. The prospect moves to open the door. He stops, a frown creasing between his eyes. “Ah, VP. There’s something you need to see.”
I offer JJ a comforting smile, then block her view by pushing between her and the car. A folded note is taped to the window. It flutters in the slight breeze, lifting enough to show me what’s stuck there with it. I jam my fingers in my mouth and whistle.
Dead silence fills the area. I search above the crowd for Mad Dog, jerking my head at him. He pushes through the people in his way; Kyle, Joel, and Maddi hot on his heels. I order Joel to get his sister out of the way. He takes hold of her arm and tugs her away from Mad Dog.
“What is it?” The gruff question is voiced the second we’re alone.
“A note and a piece of white fabric.”
Mad Dog turns to Kyle. “You need to bag it, just in case we need some answers.”
Kyle slides surgical gloves over his fingers, then carefully pries the note from the window. He holds it open so me and Mad Dog can read it.
Time to get a head start on your white flag.
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me?” My disgust can be heard when I speak.
“Seems like the Ugly Bastards have declared their intentions,” Mad Dog muses. He crosses his arms over his chest, an amused smile on his face. “Like I said this morning, I was getting bored with peace.”
I snort. He did say that this morning, but I thought he was joking. We received word from an ally this morning that a club was looking to take the turf we took from the Mavericks of Mayhem off our hands. They didn’t give a name, just a friendly heads-up.
Now we know why. The fuckers who warned us are the same ones who want our turf.
God, I hate game-playing pussies. I would’ve respected them more if they came straight out and said it. Who leaves fucking notes? Pansies, that’s who.
JJ punches me in the back. I turn to face her, bracing for the up-coming bitch session.
“Do we, at least, get a honeymoon before you go to war again?” A titter flows through the crowd at her question. I raise an eyebrow at Mad Dog. He laughs, then nods.
“Yeah, I think that can be arranged, Doll.” I verbalise his agreement.
I lean Kaden closer to JJ so she can give him a kiss, before I plant one on his cheek myself. I pass my son to Mad Dog and wave my goodbye to everyone else. My mother is dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, my father standing next to her looking unimpressed at her emotional display. I know that he’s only putting on a front. He told me this morning how proud he is of me.
“In you go,” I tell JJ. She doesn’t need to hear it twice. After one last kiss for Kaden, she’s in the back of the limo. I follow her, settling myself beside her.
The driver toots the horn as we pull away from the curb. The sounds of the Black Shamrocks cheering can be heard over the traffic. It brings a smile to my face. Doesn’t matter what happens, we can count of them being there for us.
“So here we go again?” JJ asks. “Another war.”
I run my hand under her puffy skirt until I encounter the warm flesh of her thigh. With a squeeze that tells her my answer has two meanings, I speak, “Here we go again, Doll. Better hold on.”
And, it’s with that promise hanging in the air, that I lower my long body to the floor and duck my head under the layers of lace. As I pull her G-string to the side and my tongue meets her clit, I remind myself that the beautiful pussy in front of me is the only thing able to bring me to my knees.
The Ugly Bastards can take their war and stick it up their asses for the time being.
I have my woman to worship.
Need more Black Shamrocks MC?
Well, I have good news for you! Kyle, Lachie, and Matty will be getting their own books in early 2020.
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In the meantime, Conan, Viking, Butch, Lenny, and Beast are getting their stories told. Flip the page for a sneak peek of Conan, the first book in the prequel series, Black Shamrocks MC: First Generation. This series goes back to the 80’s when they were newly patched Prospects and it will fill in all the gory details about the circumstances that led to the events of this series. I hope you enjoy!!