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Watching Meadow Rodriguez come toward me as I sat at a nearby table, stirred every cell in my body. But not for what most would think. Truth was, she never did it for me. Hell, no one did. What woke the beast in me was the fact that she listened. It all had to do with control and control was what I intended to keep. No matter the cost.

But knowing what she thought of me, what everyone thought of me, didn’t sit well. It was like a dead weight in the pit of my gut.

I let out a slow breath.

I tried with everything in me to let her know that I would never hurt her. I may have messed with her a little but that was only to maintain an image. I had worked hard over the years to get to where I was and I wasn’t about to let it all go to waste over correcting some damn rumors. So, I let them slide into little ears. They were passed on from person to person. Maybe they were even used as bedtime stories to scare children into being good little boys and girls. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. Because it didn’t matter. I used to try correcting the rumors but now, what was the point? People believed what they wanted to believe.

As Meadow neared the table I was sitting at, my gaze flicked to Sunny Harrison and Roy Allen, or Shade, as most knew him by. They stood by their SUV; their eyes locked on her. They watched, waiting for me to pounce no doubt.

It wouldn’t happen. She had something I wanted and that was it. After she gave it to me, she would never have to see me again.

But the closer Meadow got, the more I saw the fear in her dark eyes. She had been a feisty little thing from the moment I met her weeks ago. I enjoyed toying with her, knowing it drove her guys crazy, but it would never amount to anything more than that. Although, they didn’t appreciate my sense of humor.

“I won’t hurt you,” I said, as Meadow sat across from me.

“Isn’t that what the villain usually says before they kill their victim?” she asked, her voice monotone.

I bit back a chuckle. Truth was, I liked her. She was fun. But rumors were rumors and she believed what was said about me. “Doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. Doesn’t matter if anyone believes me or not.”

“Good because I don’t.” She looked around her.

I picked up the small mug and took a sip of coffee. I wished it were liquor, but alcohol was dangerous. Especially when I didn’t know what was going on or if I would see tomorrow. There was a mole in my club, and I had no idea who it was. I didn’t like that shit. I was used to being in control. For most of my life, I knew exactly what was happening day in and day out. My club, the way we made money, and more. They were all under my watchful eye, but this threw me off and I didn’t like it. Not one fucking bit.

“Did you get what I asked for?”

Meadow reached into the front pocket of her jeans. “You never asked but yeah, I got it. I’m not sure if this is what you want though. My mom had no idea what you were talking about.”

I leaned across the table and took the ring from Meadow. I did a quick scan of it, noticing the set of numbers engraved on the inside. I wasn’t sure if this was what I had been searching for either, but it was a start. “I’m not sure actually,” I confessed.

Meadow frowned. “What do you mean?”

“My dad was a twisted individual.” I squinted as I read the inscription.

“Why didn’t you ask my mom yourself?”

My gaze met hers. “Have you met your father? He’s a scary fucker.” Even I was man enough to admit that he was a person I did not want to mess with. “I’ve toyed with death before but I’m not stupid enough to cross your dad’s path.”

“Do you know my father?”

“Not personally, no. I’ve tried to stay away. Cause you know, I’m in Hell’s Harlem territory and all.” I winked, taking the words she had used weeks ago and throwing them back at her.

Meadow rolled her eyes. “This place is away from their clubhouse, so I think you’re good.”

“Listen, what happened before…” I hesitated, knowing I should apologize for the shit I had done. For touching her when she didn’t belong to me. For making her think that I would have taken it further than what I had already done when she clearly told me no. I was an asshole, maybe even worse than that, but I knew when no meant no. Even though the rumors had said differently about me.

Meadow’s eyebrows rose.

“I’m a bastard and I’d rather deal with animals than humans but…that…anyway, thanks.” I stood from the table.

“Wait.” She rose to her full height. “That’s it?”

“What more do you want?” I demanded. “I suggest leaving before what happened earlier tonight is the least of your worries.”

“I just…” She shook her head. “This doesn’t make sense.”


I looked over her head, seeing Sunny coming toward us.

“Please, tell me why you would go through all of this trouble just for those numbers,” Meadow said quickly.

“You ask too many questions.” I stuffed the ring into my pocket. “Leave it alone, Meadow.”

“He’s right.” Sunny grabbed her hand. “Let’s go.”

“No.” She stepped around the table, blocking my path. “Why demand for me to get this from my mom? What’s in it for you?”

I glanced over her head. “You need to put a muzzle on your pet.”

“I want answers,” she cried, shoving me.

Much to my surprise, she was a strong tiny thing.

A wicked grin spread on my face. “Listen here, little girl. I’d be careful who you demand answers from. My crew is not as nice as Hell’s Harlem. Although, I seem to recall a time that they were actually much worse than my club.” I chuckled for added effect. “Those were the days.”

“Tanner.” Meadow clenched her hands into fists at her sides. “How did you know that my mom had that ring or even that number you were looking for?”

“Because it was in my dad’s will,” I told her.

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“If you must know, when my dad died, he had stipulations in his will that it be read at a certain time and on a certain date.”

“I think he saw one too many action movies,” she muttered.

I agreed. “That date has come and gone already. His lawyer called me right at the exact time my dad requested. I almost didn’t believe it myself.”

“I don’t care what the numbers get you but why do I feel like there’s a catch?” Meadow asked, staring up at me. “You can’t just want those numbers and be on your merry way.”

“And why not?” I turned back around. “You’ll learn to leave well enough alone, Meadow. Don’t make me change my mind.” I started walking away, heading toward an alley that was past a few buildings. Once I reached my bike, I would head to the clubhouse and try and figure out what the hell these numbers were used for. There had to have been more in my dad’s will, but I was too focused on getting Meadow to actually do what I wanted, that these numbers were my main focus.

As I was nearing the alley, I pulled my phone out of my pocket to let my vice-president know that it was done when something caught my eye. I stopped suddenly, looking around me. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled. Nothing was out of the ordinary. It was later in the evening, but people still milled about. It was the busiest area in town. With a few cafes, restaurants, a bar or two, the area was slowly building. But it was definitely busier than when I had visited as a kid.

Even though everything looked normal something was still off. But what happened next went far beyond just being off.

Pulling the pistol from the back of my pants, I lifted my arm, aiming at my target.

Gunshots sounded.

People screamed.

Sirens rang.

I heard it before I saw it.

I watched them fall, crumbling to the ground in a pile of limbs.

Meadow was screaming, trying to push the large body off of her.

My stomach dropped, my arm falling to my side.

Sinking back into the shadows, I watched the mayhem before me. They couldn’t see me, but I could sure as hell see them.

People were running, trying to figure out what just happened.

I didn’t know either. Maybe I would never know but I knew I would be blamed. Even though I never pulled the trigger, there were cameras. I tried shielding my head, but it was too late, knowing my face would be noticeable to anyone who looked at those security tapes.

One thing I did know was that I would do whatever I could to clear my name. Even if I died trying. 

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