The door slammed open with a force that sent it bouncing off the wall, accompanied by a burst of sunlight. "The prick's gone dog!"
Taya pulled the knot tight on the garbage bag she'd just filled and moved back into the shadows. She didn't have to look too closely to guess the newcomer was Jesse. Gallen had warned her he was a loose cannon, prone to violence for the sake of it.
The other bikies gathered closer. Zep stepped into the middle of the group, eyeing Jesse with the thinnest veneer of patience.
"That’s a pretty big statement to throw around, Jesse."
Jesse drew himself up to his full five feet and six inches. What he lacked in height, he made up for in width. His head was shaved bald and covered in tattoos, most of which looked like the work of a home tattooist with second-rate equipment. Just looking at him gave her the creeps.
"The other clubs know nuthin’ about Hollywood."
"It's true, Zep." A taller man, skinny with a bad mullet spoke up. "Shoulda seen their eyes light up when they figured out he's in the wind."
"I'll bet," muttered Zep.
"Don’t prove he's gone dog," said an older bikie Taya knew was Connor.
"Shut up, old man," spat Jesse. "You can't defend him this time."
"Nothing to defend," shrugged Connor. "Hollywood is no dog."
"Quiet," said Zep. "We don't know anything yet."
"Face it, the prick went soft after he got mixed up with that chick last year.” Jesse started pacing. “Prob’ly thinks if he dogs to the cops, he can run away and live happily ever after with her."
A mumble of consensus swept through the room. Taya knew they were talking about Sarah Darcy, Riley’s girlfriend of almost a year. He’d kept her out of the club life and after they split, she moved to London. Word was he'd not touched another woman since.
She felt Connor's eyes on her and picked up a glass and started drying it with a dish towel. Couldn’t be seen paying too much attention.
"Fucking cops!" Jesse was still pacing, eyes wide and crazy. "I'd like to gut every one of those pricks."
Taya flinched, and the glass slipped from her hands and splintered as it hit the tiles beneath her. Idiot!
"Who the fuck are you?"
In an instant, Jesse was in front of her. She willed herself not to react. He grabbed her around the neck, forcing her head against the bar. Glass crunched beneath her feet as the steel grip tightened. Every fibre in her body wanted to retaliate. To put this idiot on his ass. It wouldn't be too difficult either; he was all bluster.
But she couldn’t. Not without blowing her cover. Thanks, Gallen! Jesse wanted blood and she was the sacrificial lamb. He pushed her neck harder against the bench top and she was sure it would snap with any more pressure. The tears in her eyes were from frustration - but they would pass as fear.
"Jesse!” Zep bellowed, “Let her up!"
Jesse released her neck, only to pull her upright by her hair. "I said, who the fuck are you?"
Tears ran down her cheeks. Her face hurt where it had been slammed into the bar, her neck felt like it was pushed out of alignment and her scalp was burning. She’d forgotten how hard it was to play an undercover role so far removed from her true self. Instead of elbowing Jesse in the gut and bringing the back of her foot up between his legs, she willed herself to take it.
"And I said, let her go."
Taya opened her eyes to see Zep with a gun pointed straight at them. Jesse released his grip and she gave what she hoped was a believable gasp before letting her legs give out from under her. She landed on the floor and winced as flesh met with broken glass. The damsel in distress act better be worth it.
"She's looking for JD.” Zep tucked his gun back into his waistband. “Needs some help with her ex."
Jesse glowered at her and Taya recoiled against the boxes under the bar. Thankfully, the rumble of motorbikes echoed through the open door. Please, let it be Gallen.
"Let's see what the others have to say," said Zep.
"Clean up the mess you made," snarled Jesse as he turned and walked away.
Taya waited until the men were gone before she cursed and wiped her face on her shirt; playing the victim made her want to hurl.
Hands on the bar, she hauled herself to her feet, and gingerly wiped the glass pieces from her shorts and legs, relieved to see only a few scratches. A quick survey of the clubhouse confirmed no one was paying any attention to her. She looked around and found a broom leaning against the far end of the bar.
Jesse had stopped pacing and settled against the pool table with the agitation of a caged animal. He had his arms folded across his chest and seemed to be muttering under his breath. She had no doubt he would make good on his threat if he discovered a cop in his clubhouse.
Four more bikies stalked into the clubhouse. Taya was relieved to see Gallen, even though he didn't so much as glance in her direction. Probably for the better, given the state she was in.
"Did you find Hollywood's ride?" Zep asked.
"Was it stolen?"
"Nah, he sold it."
"I told you," exploded Jesse. "He's gone dog."
Zep glared at Jesse with a look lethal enough to stop him in his tracks.
The newcomers explained they'd found the bike being ridden by some kid. His father had bought it for eight grand cash, and Riley had given him strict instructions to lock it in the shed and not touch it. The plan was to sell it on in a few weeks. Except the kid thought he'd show off to his mates.
Zep raised an eyebrow. "He still breathing?"
"Yeah, but he won't be walking anywhere for a couple of months."
Most of the men laughed. Taya chewed on her lip to hide her disgust. Violence was the answer to everything in this world. Alex Riley didn't stand a chance if The Devils caught up with him. As far as Taskforce Ricochet knew, Riley had not become a police informant. So, where the hell was he?
"The father know anything else?"
"Nah. He watched while we dealt with his kid. He would've said if he knew where Hollywood was."
"I tell ya, he's a fucken' dog. The cops have got him stashed in some hotel." Jesse started pacing again. "I reckon we start gutting pigs until they hand him over to us."
"No one's gutting anyone until we find out where Hollywood is," barked Zep. "Jesse, go and blow off some steam without killing anyone."
"Someone get him a woman," said another of the bikies.
Suddenly, Taya felt eyes boring into her. Gallen better get it together because there was no way she was taking the act that far.
"This one will do," said Jesse, starting in her direction.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Gallen walked towards the bar, cutting Jesse off in his tracks. His eyes were hard, the bikie persona firmly in place.
"How do you know Chloe?" asked Zep, not disguising his suspicion.
"We hooked up a couple of weeks back," replied Gallen, not taking his eyes off her. "How did you know I was here?"
Taya shook her head. “I…”
“She came looking for you. Wants some help with her ex."
“I’ll sort out your ex,” said Jesse. “After you finish sucking my cock."
"Back off, Jesse," growled Gallen.
"Why? I saw her first."
"The hell you did." In two long strides, Gallen reached Taya, picked her up and sat her on the bar. "If you got rid of that clown you were living with, then you’re mine, baby."
He pulled her close, pushing himself between her legs and snaking his hands through her hair. Her still-tender scalp was screaming but when his lips brushed hers, it sparked an electrical current from her head to her toes. He smelt like soap and leather and musk. It was delicious.
Her hands found their way to his chest, running them under his vest. Pure muscle tensed beneath his t-shirt. His lips found hers, pressing more firmly this time. A moan escaped as she wrapped her arms around his torso. His tongue swiped across her teeth and she opened her mouth to welcome it in. Her own tongue began exploring his mouth. He dropped a hand from her hair, grabbing her ass and pulling her closer.
She pulled back as the bulge in his jeans pushed against her mound.
"Get a room," muttered Jesse, breaking the spell.
"Don't mind if I do," laughed Gallen, grinding himself against her and sending her lady parts into overdrive.
Author of author of gut-churning Viking romance and romantic suspense that always includes good sex and a happily ever after - eventually.