If they caught her, there’d be hell to pay.
Michelle didn’t even want to imagine the level Copper’s anger would rise 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’d seen him toss out some rage before, but this would top it all.
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.
Dark as it was, she wouldn’t be able to see a damn thing when the guys arrived wherever they were headed.
Four sets of heavy booted feet tromped through the woods making no effort toward stealth, thankfully. Shell wasn’t exactly mouse-quiet herself, and the noise from the determined group drowned out her own leaf-crunching steps.
She shivered. January in the base of the Great Smoky Mountains was pretty freakin’ cold.
“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 things out of his mouth were laden with snark and sarcasm.
“We have a fucking flashlight, you big baby. Suck it up and keep walking.”
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. More than the majority of her flesh and blood relatives if she was being honest.
They 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, she’d heard countless rumors about The Box. How it was a giant underground torture chamber filled with Handlers’ enemies from years back. How the walls were coated with blood and faded screams echoed through the night. The Honeys loved to gossip and guess precisely what went on down there, and each tale was more grandiose than the last. Half of what the club girls said couldn’t be believed. 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, but, regardless, The Box existed, and probably wasn’t a place anyone wanted to find themselves.
After another five minutes of wordless trekking through the woods, and the men suddenly came to a dead stop.
Stephanie darted behind the nearest thick-trunked tree and held as still as possible, not even daring to breathe. Too bad her heart was pounding so loud someone might hear it a mile away.
Had the guys noticed her? Did they suspect they had a stowaway? Could the hear the rattling of her bones? A combination of fear and chill.
“Bring him out,” Copper said.
Shell would recognize that voice anywhere. That Irish brogue belonged to the six-foot-five, tatted biker who starred in every teenage fantasy she’d ever had. His name was secretly scrawled again and again with hearts and lipstick kisses in a diary hidden deep under her bed. 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 get it done 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 it. Kinda like she avoided Rusty at all costs.
“I want him out here. I want him to feel the air, see the stars, realize everything he’s never going to have the chance to experience again. He needs to know what I’m taking away from him. I want him to feel one last flicker of hope that we’ll let him go, right before I slit his fucking throat.”
Shell imagined Copper stroking his beard, deep in thought as he plotted someone’s demise.
“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 sounded again, followed by a grunt and a thud. Shell swallowed, took a 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 his back 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 him in action. Her insides quivered at the memories, and she sucked in a silent, 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.
This was the man who’d killed her father four years ago.
Earlier that afternoon, she’d been at the clubhouse helping one of the ol’ ladies prepare dinner. Tasked with letting the men know their meal was ready, 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 both 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, thus not hearing a thing.
And now, here she was, about to witness the execution of the man who’d murdered her father. Most might find it sick. Most might wake with nightmares after watching someone die, but Shell had already been down that road. 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 back row of their truck, she’d watched her dad walk out of the quiet gas station market, coffee 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 face that night as she did right then.
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.
“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 split cheek, ripped shirt, wheezy breathing. 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.
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 soundlessly 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. Shell most of all, because an eleven-year-old girl should never have to live with the image of her father being gunned down.”
Reaper laughed making Shell flinch. The sound was so maniacal it could have been a 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.
Blood immediately flowed from the slice 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 cold, sadistic stare. Shell swallowed the disgusting taste of bile that had risen.
As he glared at her, Rusty’s mouth curled into a smile that could only be described as evil.
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.
Now that she’d been busted, she could only wait and see what fate in the form of a sadistic biker had in store for her.