Book Two: Devil’s Bastards MC duology
Zelda Jurov had many reasons to move to a sleepy little town in Wyoming. She wanted to make art. She wanted to get away from her family. She wanted to be left alone with just her dog for company.
Too bad no one told the bikers next door.
John knows he should stay away from his sexy new neighbor, yet Zelda is a temptation he can’t resist. But when club business spills into his personal life and Zelda is put in danger, will he risk everything to save her?
Mud was a sonofabitch to get from under your nails. It got down deep in there, so no matter what, you had a line of grey sludge caked in your nail bed. Zelda had tried everything over the years. Files. Lye soap. Nail brushes. Steaming water. Lemon juice. Nothing worked. She was resigned to the fact that she was always going to have the stain of her work on her hands, no matter what, but that didn’t mean she didn’t still try.
Her work clothes were in a heap in the mud room and she hummed a few bars of a song to herself as she padded barefoot to the big farm sink in the kitchen. The window over the sink was old, thick glass but it rattled in the casing and she grimaced. They were at it again next door. Another party. She rolled her eyes as she reached for the dish soap. This property was so quiet during the day. It was down a winding dirt road and her clients usually called in a panic three times before they found the farm house. So why was it that her neighbors’ guests never had any trouble finding their property.
She couldn’t really hear the music, thankfully, the trees muffled quite a bit. But the bass rattled the windows. Zelda used the dish brush to scrub under her nails anyway. Well, did it count as dinner if it was like nine thirty?
In winter she didn’t notice how late she was in the studio because it got dark so early anyway. She turned off the water and wiped her hands dry. She thought maybe there was some bacon left. She could throw together a BLT without much effort. She looked down at herself and laughed, after she put on clothes. The plus side to losing the work clothes as soon as she walked in was not tracking in paint or dried clay or whatever else she might be working with. Benefit of living alone, she reasoned, she could walk around basically naked and not worry about embarrassing anybody.
“Igor,” she called as she walked through the kitchen to the laundry room.
There was a muffled woof followed by a whomp whomp sound as the dog galumphed down the stairs. The borzoi was old and he liked laying in the middle of the floor of the bedroom above the laundry room. She wasn’t entirely sure of the makeup of the house, but she thought it had something to do with the water pipes that ran under the floor. It was likely warmer there or something; maybe he just liked the pile of laundry on the floor because it smelled like her. She wasn’t going to begrudge him his spot. On days when she ran the kiln he camped out in the studio.
His nails clattered on the kitchen floor boards as she pulled a pair of ratty boxer shorts out of the dryer. “Hey shchenok,” she crooned. She was bent over to pull the boxers on and it put her face at the borzoi’s eye level–it didn’t matter how old he was, she’d probably always call him puppy. He licked her face. “Did you have a good day protecting the fortress from invaders?”
He huffed and his tail wagged to the left. Zelda laughed because it was impossible not to. The hound was a gift from a client, a kind of bonus for a portrait she’d done of his daughter when she was working with oil and canvas. There was a lot of gold leaf. That got under her nails too. His own hound had whelped and she’d complimented the pups as a means of making conversation with the otherwise reticent gentleman and she’d ended up leaving his property with a check and a promise of a companion once the dogs were ready to leave their mother.
The dog had been an adjustment as Zelda had always considered herself a cat person. But when he wasn’t exercising he was a pretty, silky lump. She pulled a sweater off the top of the pile of folded clothes on the laundry table. An old, handmade monstrosity from her textiles phase. The shade was something polite people called puce, but her mother said looked like the pink vomit chips janitors put down in mental hospitals. There was a kind of olive green stripe she’d worked into it, but she wanted a deconstructed look, so there were also well placed holes. It was dystopian Sesame Street.
“You hungry, buddy?”
Igor harrumphed at her and turned back to the kitchen. So that was a yes, then. She followed him out. The dog was smart, like, wicked smart, so his kibble was kept in an old steamer trunk. She poured the food into his bowl and stepped back before he could trample her foot. He liked his food.
The windows were still rattling. The party next door must be getting into full swing. If she dipped her head she could see lights through the trees and what looked like a bonfire. She didn’t actually know very much about who the tenants next door were. The realtor had sworn they never used the property anyway so it wouldn’t matter. And she was right, they didn’t seem to. Except at night. She went to the fridge and pulled out the pack of thick-cut bacon. She couldn’t actually hear anything so she wasn’t going to complain. Let them party, it wasn’t hurting anything.
Besides, she’d been craving bacon so hard she’d finished the day’s work by making a few tiny clay piglets she’d glaze and turn into earrings or something. The cast iron pan clattered on the stove and Igor looked up briefly before going back to munching on his kibble. She turned on the gas and reached up to pull her hair out of the messy bun she’d pulled it into that morning. She was well into the cooking of the bacon when she glanced out the kitchen window and noticed her studio light was on.
Well, that’s weird, she thought. She distinctly remembered turning the light off. The studio was a kind of tiny-house and had been the main reason she’d purchased the place.
According to the realtor it was the oldest structure on the property, the previous owners lived there while the farmhouse itself was built. It was a loft space with lots of natural light and she’d been able to build a simple kiln next to it. She bit her lip. She turned off the lights, right?
Zelda removed the frying pan from the heat and turned off the gas. She was second guessing herself now and she knew it, so she leaned against the counter to think. She remembered placing the unfinished clay pieces on the big table and dumping her water bucket. She had cleaned her tools and draped the towel over the sink to dry. Her apron had been thrown on a chair. And yeah, she’d definitely turned off the light.
Zelda walked over to the sink to peer out of the kitchen window. So…why was that light on? She saw movement in the large window that faced the farmhouse. It looked like a girl. She narrowed her eyes.
“What the shit?” she muttered to herself, pushing away from the kitchen sink. She didn’t know who that was, but they didn’t need to be in her studio. The pieces she had been working on today were delicate, if they broke she’d have to start from scratch. Zelda stormed into the mud room and shoved her feet into a pair of oversized Wellington boots she wore over her sneakers when she gardened. They flopped on her feet, but they would do for what she was about to do now.
Igor harrumphed behind her and she glanced back at him. “Go lay down.”
The borzoi was the opposite of a guard dog. He was a gentle diva with lion hair and he’d just as soon make friends with an intruder as attack.
He didn’t even bark, usually.
She thunked out of the farm house and let the screen door slam shut behind her. As she marched closer to the studio she saw a second shadow. Great. Two people. She was far enough in the country that she highly doubted they were homeless. More like two teenagers who decided to run away from home. There actually was a bed in the loft space above her work area, but she rarely used it and she suspected there was a leak in the roof so the mattress was probably on its way out. She was within a few yards of the studio when she noticed the door was wide open.
“I don’t know who you are in there,” she called, figuring it was probably smart to announce herself, “but you break it, you fucking bought it, okay?”
There was a silence and then a loud thump and a drunken giggle.
Zelda narrowed her eyes. “I’m coming in, hands where I can see them.” Better to sound mean, right? “Oh, you have got to be kidding me.”
There was a man passed out on her studio floor. His legs were sprawled and he was shirtless under a leather vest. His girlfriend, or, rather, the girl who was with him, Zelda supposed, was also half undressed and she was on her knees beside him, giggling in that way that drunk girls giggled, her breath coming out in hisses.
“He passed out,” she said, waving her arm to gesture at the scrawny man.
“I can see that,” Zelda said. “What are you doing here?” She sidestepped the girl’s shoes and stood over the man, kid, she realized. He couldn’t be older than twenty-two.
“It’s a party, right?” The girl lifted her shoulder. “We were gonna have a good time.” She waggled her eyebrows in an approximation of a leer, her words slurring only the slightest bit.
“…You’re from next door.” Zelda realized and immediately felt like an idiot. Of course they were from next door. That was much more likely than teenage runaways.
“Right, the party.” The girl raised a hand to toss back her hair and lost her balance, falling from a crouch to her ass. She was drunker than Zelda had initially thought. “Toady wanted to have the sex in the woods but I said I wasn’t going to have a pine cone up my ass.”
“Girl’s gotta have standards.” She would be lying if she said she wasn’t amused. It wasn’t so long ago Zelda would have been this girl.
“Right?” The girl nodded. “And Hunter said there was a little house out here nobody used.” She spread her hands as though that explained everything.
“Hunter was mistaken,” Zelda said. “Wait, isn’t the place next door some kind of bunker? Don’t they have beds?”
The girl cocked her head like this thought hadn’t occurred to her and then shrugged. She poked the kid and he groaned. She poked him again and his arm jerked. His groan turned a little guttural and Zelda opened her mouth, but clearly the girl wasn’t inexperienced. She skittered backwards just as the kid she’d called Toady threw up all over Zelda’s studio floor. “Oh harsh, Toad!” The girl wailed. Some of the vomit had splashed her foot.
“Turn him on his side,” Zelda said, stepping over his legs to get to the kitchen sink.
“What?” The girl was shaking her foot, looking a little green herself.
“Turn him on his side,” Zelda said again. “You don’t want him to choke, do you?”
The girl poked the kid’s shoulder again and Zelda resisted the urge to laugh.
“How old are you?” She came back to the two of them and handed the girl a wet rag.
The girl burped and immediately looked abashed. “Nineteen,” she said.
“And what’s your name?” She squatted low and said a silent prayer that her ancient, ratty boxers wouldn’t split.
“Delilah,” the girl said and finished meticulously wiping her foot clean. At Zelda’s pointed look she cocked her head. “I could be a Delilah.”
“Okay,” Zelda said and grunted as she turned the boy on his side. She wasn’t going to bother to move his arm out of the way of the puddle of vomit on the floor, but she flopped his legs too so he wouldn’t slide back onto his back.
“Fine.” The girl pouted and tossed the rag on the boy’s limp body. “My name is Libby.”
“Hi, Libby.” Zelda wiped her hands on the boy’s jeans even though they weren’t dirty other than from touching bare male hairy armpit. “I’m Zelda. Do they know you’re underage next door?”
The girl snorted and giggled. “It’s not like they’re carding over there.”
Zelda felt positively ancient at thirty-four all of a sudden. She pushed herself up. “Right then, come on.” She offered her hand and helped Libby pull herself up to standing.
“What is this place?” Libby looked at the clay pieces on the table. “Is this like a paint-your-own-pottery thing?”
“I guess so, yeah.” Zelda scooped up the girl’s shoes and handed them to her. “You can either put those on or walk back barefoot.” There was a maglite in the basket under the sink. She turned away from the girl to go find it. Zelda wasn’t about to go traipsing through the trees willy-fucking-nilly.
“You’re not going to call the cops?” The girl looked a little admiring. “That’s really cool of you.”
“No, it’s not.” Zelda pulled out the maglite and tested it. The batteries were still functioning. “Come on, then.”
The girl almost tripped over her boyfriend’s legs because her heels were too much for her to navigate in her inebriated state. “No, it’s totally cool,” she said, “my brother would’ve totally sicced the cops on me.”
“I’m not your brother.” Zelda resisted the urge to inform the girl that she wasn’t an old crone, but it would be pointless to argue with a drunk and, too, when she was nineteen she would have lumped a thirty-four-year-old in with “the aged” too.
“This is only my second party or I’d be with someone better than Toady,” the girl, Libby, Zelda forced herself to remember her name, said conversationally. It seemed she’d decided Zelda was a friend since she wasn’t going to call the cops. Drunk logic.
She had to bite back a smile.
“Why’s that?” She shined the maglite at the tree line and could make out what she thought was probably the trail the couple had taken. Lots of broken ferns and trampled grass.
“Well, you don’t just get to fuck around with the real club members right away!” Libby made a sound that was probably supposed to be sexy but sounded a little pained. “I would give a LOT to fuck around with Axl-” she broke off and stopped for a second. Zelda turned and shone the maglite at her face. The girl had gone pale. “I’m gonna hu-rl–”
She had just enough time to jump out of the way. Libby almost fell to her knees but she kept her balance. Her hair fell in her face and Zelda felt a twinge of guilt about not pulling it up for her. She was digesting what the girl had said, not liking it one bit. Libby heaved once, rising just a little, before doubling over again to hork up what was left of the contents of her stomach. Zelda wrinkled her nose. She’d never had an especially strong gag reflex and she was suddenly grateful.
“Better?” she asked when the girl finally stopped throwing up. She reached out a hand and Libby gripped her wrist, stepping around the mess she’d made in the grass and leaning heavily against her.
“Yeah, I think.” Her chest heaved as she got her breathing back under control. “Don’t ever drink Jager.”
“For real,” Zelda said, shoving the maglite under her arm pit so she could flick Libby’s hair off her shoulder. She was willing to support the girl, but she didn’t want to be covered in someone else’s vomit. She remembered she still had the rubberband from her hair around her wrist so she reached back and pulled the girl’s hair in an approximation of a ponytail. Libby made a sound that was almost a giggle and stumbled against Zelda. This was going to be slow going, and it would be better if Libby was awake. “So what, there’s a hierarchy of fucking?”
Libby muttered something under her breath about Axl’s ass and wound her arm around Zelda’s waist. She realized the girl was likely on her way to passing out and resolved to keep her talking as long as she could. They had to stop twice more on their way through the woods. Once so Zelda could rest, she wasn’t nearly as fit as she liked to think she was and hauling a nineteen-year-old made her wish she’d listened when her father whinged about bodily maintenance, then again so Libby could throw up and then rest herself. That time there was no saving herself. Her legs and the Wellingtons were splashed in vomit. She was distinctly not happy.
When they cleared the tree line she could see two men leaning against a few cars. She lifted her hand to get their attention and one lifted his head then nudged the other. They both laughed but neither moved to help her.
That was when Zelda lost her temper. One of them was smoking and the other sipped from a beer can. They both wore the same kind of leather vests as the passed-out kid in her studio. She was positively seething by the time she made it to them.
“So much for Toady gettin’ laid,” the one with the cigarette said, he was younger than she’d thought. More boy than man. The one with the beer bottle laughed, in the light from her maglite Zelda could see he had a small patch on his chest that said Axl. So this was the famous Axl. She glared at him and practically threw the semi-conscious Libby in his direction. The girl groaned and grasped at his vest. The man (she assumed he was a man, in the partial light it was hard to tell, but he didn’t have the baby face of the other) managed to catch Libby without dropping his beer.
Zelda’s lip curled into a sneer. What. A. Prince. She crossed her arms under her breasts and narrowed her eyes even further. The boy who had originally spoken mimicked her stance playfully, blowing a line of smoke directly at her as he did. The other one was fumbling, trying to figure out what to do with Libby’s limp body.
“She needs a bed.” Zelda said pointedly.
“Yeah, Axl, take her to bed,” the other one said.
“Dude, she’s passed out,” Axl said, disgust in his voice. Zelda’s eyebrow arched the tiniest bit. “Also, she fucking stinks.” He shook the girl in his arms and her head fell back, her hair over her face. “Linny–”
“Libby,” Zelda said.
“Libby.” Axl shot her a glance that could have been apologetic, “Libby, wake up for me.”
“She’s out,” Zelda said. “She’s been in and out for about twenty minutes. She needs a bed. Probably a bowl. Water. And I need to talk to whoever’s party this is. Now.”
“Right…” The man, Axl, shot a glance at his friend. “A little help, retard?”
“Language, man,” the other kid took Libby’s shoulders so Axl could lean over and lift her into a fireman’s carry. “You’re gonna make the lady think we’re delinquents.”
“Some of us were delinquents, asshole,” Axl grunted. He took a few steps toward the privacy fence a few yards from the cars. When he realized Zelda hadn’t moved he turned back. “You comin’ or what?”
“You’re really taking her to see Banks?” The kid with the cigarette stamped it out under his boot, his tone was oddly anticipatory. “Like, really?”
“You want her to call the cops?” Axl called over his shoulder, “Come on, he might be, you know, busy, but I’ll take you.”
“Great.” Zelda spared a thought to the bacon that was cooling on her stove, if Igor hadn’t eaten it already, and wondered if she’d have to clean up dog vomit tonight as well.
this book contains graphic violence, discussions of binge drinking, human trafficking, casual misogyny, gendered insults, frank discussions of mental health issues, sexual assault, and vomit.
the dog is always safe.