1: Iron Horse

My daddy used to say that courage was being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.

My mother was a tough broad. She had to be with a husband like Corbett Stackhouse running the club. I don’t know if I’d say she groomed me to be somebody’s Old Lady, but I definitely learned the ropes by watching her. Pop was the president of the Iron Horse motorcycle club before he had to step down. A sudden stroke six years ago left him partially paralyzed and in no shape to be riding anymore. The old man would rather die than ride bitch, so he had to turn over his wheels.

Of course the old man still wore his kutte everyday. Pop was probably going to be buried in the fucking thing. That piece of leather was his legacy to my brother and me. The only thing he might have taken more pride in is his blood family, but even I know blood only gets you so far.

Honor.

Loyalty.

Trust.

You know, all the shit that sells John Cena t-shirts.

I grew up drifting between worlds. At school I got a taste of normal but I usually hung out with the kids of other bikers because they got it. Those kids with Martha Stewart moms and Ward Cleaver dads had no idea the world was bigger than little league and selling Girl Scout cookies. Us daughters of bikers were an interesting breed.

Mom raised me to be a tough bitch but also to serve. It was knowing when to do what that would make me a good Old Lady someday. Of course when I was little I wanted to be just like her. She always had her hair and makeup done. Once a week she went to get her nails done. Her tattoos were works of art, even as they faded on her aging skin. At forty she got her tits done. At fifty she got a face lift. She took good care of herself.

She took care of Pop, Jase, me… Everyone, really.

I pitied anyone foolish enough to fuck with someone she cared about because it never ended well.

There were trade-offs for the privileged life she led as the queen of the outlaws. On out of town business there were plenty of women willing to make sure Pop had a good time. I never heard him admit it, but it was obvious Mom knew when he had been with someone else. It wasn’t just the women. There was drugs, booze and enough guns to make even the biggest NRA nutball uncomfortable. Dad did a few stretches in prison while I was growing up. The longest was six years and he missed my high school graduation because of it.

Of course my brother followed in Pop’s footsteps. He was arrested the first time at seventeen for drunk and disorderly, and it spun out from there. I don’t know much about club business because I’m not a member. Even as my old man’s daughter I was never privy to anything. It was what would keep me out of jail if the shit ever landed on our doorstep.

After high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I had a choice to make. Did I want a life or did I want the life?

Since I didn’t know, I chose college. Specifically, I chose business management with a minor in accounting. And what do you know? Pop asked me to take over the bar when he couldn’t run it anymore. Jase was next in line to run the motorcycle club and I was running the business. By day he was working at Dawson’s Garage. At least that’s what his W-2s said.

The Iron Horse was guarded by a thick, eight foot high brick wall that surrounded the edge of the property. Iron horse heads were on the heavy gate that opened only for members of the club. Nonmembers had to be sponsored by someone so if shit went down, we knew who to look at. When I was identified at the gate, the heads parted to let me pass.

Quinn – my head of security – wasn’t good for much other than muscle, but he’d cut off his right arm before betraying a single one of us. I drove through the gate and up the dusty road to the bar. Bikes were lined up outside and the garage was open, which wasn’t unusual. Someone was almost always tuning up their bike.

My dark purple Camaro rolled to a stop at my reserved parking spot and I got out of the car. The leather motorcycle boots I had on crunched on the gravel as I walked toward the front door and I stopped short when one bike in particular caught my eye. I’d know that bike anywhere. The custom paint job on the gas tank was a dead giveaway who the owner was, and for the moment I was tempted to turn around and leave.

I have no idea what I’m going to say to him.

Eric Northman been busted a few years prior for obstruction, possession and intent to distribute even though the one thing I knew he never did was sell drugs. He never did them – nothing stronger than weed, that is – or sold them. In fact, he didn’t want anything to do with them. He was holding that night for Terry, but he just took the hit. Cost him three years in the pen upstate.

The last time I saw him was his sentencing when he told me not to wait for him. It burned pretty bad. I was never going to get passed around because of who my old man was, but I was no virgin. There was some revenge fucking that happened after Eric cut me loose. Despite my anger I was still wearing the prick’s ring. I told myself it was too pretty to take off but that was only part of it. I wasn’t ready to let him go.

And now he’s back…

I reminded myself what Pop said about courage and marched into the bar like I owned it, because I did. My bitchface was turned up to level eight and guys bigger, stronger and definitely more violent than me got the fuck out of the way. My mom taught me that size means fuck-all when an Old Lady is pissed.

I’m not Eric’s Old Lady. I’m just the stupid piece he didn’t want waiting for him when he got out. Asshole.

I didn’t even know if I ever really wanted to be his old lady, but it pissed me off that he just took away my choice.

“Baby Doll.” The words were like a pitcher of ice water down my spine. I knew that voice. I’d heard it whisper filthy, sweet, beautiful things to me in the middle of the night. It had also said some of the most frustrating things I’d ever heard, causing more than one verbal brawl between us.

I was afraid to turn around but I was no pussy.

So I did it.

Holy fuckballs, he’s even bigger than he was three years ago.

Eric was always a brick wall of a man. At six-foot-four he was easily eight inches taller than me. His thick blonde hair had been cut so it just brushed his broad shoulders, but it was in his eyes that I saw the most change. He looked older than he used to. Prison had obviously hardened him up a bit. I knew deals had been made to protect him.

He had been a Prospect when he got busted. I knew it was Terry’s intention to offer Eric his top rocker if he still wanted it.

Judging by his presence at club HQ, I was guessing he still wanted in. Whether it was just the club, my pants or both remained to be seen.

But since I was sporting level eight bitchface I couldn’t just go running into his arms to tell him I missed him, so I said, “You don’t get to call me that anymore. You tossed me in the reject pile, remember? Now any one of these guys gets to claim me.”

They knew that wasn’t true but the look on Eric’s face told me he didn’t, nor did he like it.

I didn’t hang around to hear his response. Airing out my personal business in the middle of the bar wasn’t my idea of fun. Plus I didn’t need Pop getting any more involved than he already was. It wasn’t much of a surprise to me when Eric followed me to my office. Not much had changed around HQ since he got locked up.

“Baby– Sook, hear me out,” he pleaded from behind me.

“Hear what, Eric? Look, what you did for Terry, no one here has forgotten. I don’t know how close you were to getting your top rocker before your bid, but I know not ratting on Terry to save your own ass got you a pretty big bump. I’m not here to see you; I’m here to work, and I know you’re not here for me.” I was as good as dead to him for the last three years. As far as I was concerned I could stay that way.

“You take up with someone else?” The asshole had a big enough set on him to sound jealous.

“So what’s it to you if I did? You know Herveaux was just dying to get his dick beaters on me,” I sassed.

The primal side of Eric that had both scared me and turned me on came out all at once. He growled as he closed the distance between us and it was like the three year absence didn’t happen. Those big, rough hands of his backed me up against the wall but he didn’t hurt me. Iron Horse had strict rules about violence against women and children. Wife beaters weren’t just excommunicated from the club; they were lucky to survive the farewell party.

“Did he?” Eric demanded. His electric blue eyes seared into mine, like he was trying to hypnotize me into forgetting everything but him.

“It’s none of your business.” I was tempted to knee him in the junk to get a little more space between us but that was fighting dirty and my hard head was good for head butting…

“I loved you then and I still do,” he said. “I didn’t want you to waste your time on some Prospect who might have ended up dead within the first week in gen pop.”

“So you thought it would be better if someone else hung their label on me? Without asking how I felt first?” Jackass.

My head flew forward, cracking against his. Eric let me go to grab his head and stumbled back a bit. I looked up to find it wasn’t his forehead I’d hit. He was bleeding pretty heavily.

“Baby Doll, you broke my fuckin’ nose,” he grumbled.

“You’re lucky I don’t break your dick,” I replied.

I stormed out of the office to get him some ice. Four pairs of eyes stared at me while I scooped cubes into a towel.

“It’s for the Prospect, not me,” I said before the short manhunt could begin.

Terry started to laugh first and one by one the others joined in. I shook my head and went back to the office. Eric was sitting on a chair, head back, with his eyes closed.

“I can’t believe I forgot how fuckin’ hard your head is, Baby Doll.”

Almost as hard as his dick was getting…

I gave him the ice and then went to my desk drawer for a tampon. I unwrapped it and cut it in half so he could use it to stem the bleeding.

“You didn’t love me, Eric. We were stupid kids–“

“No, it was love,” he insisted. “I know there was a lot of shit and a lot of fighting when we weren’t fucking each others brains out, but underneath it all I loved you. If you didn’t love me too, you wouldn’t have been so fuckin’ hurt by what I did.”

Okay, so maybe he was right but I wasn’t going to fold that easy.

“So you thought you’d just come back three years later and we’d pick up where we left off?”

“I don’t think you understand how much time I had to think about what a fucktard I was to let you go like that.” Eric stopped me from putting the cotton in his nose. “It was a mistake, Baby Doll. I could have written you a letter or called you collect, but I wanted to see your face and I wanted you to see mine. I want you to know it’s for real. I want you, Sookie Stackhouse. I’ve missed you so fucking much.”

The sincerity in his eyes was plain as day. While his lips could lie no problem, his eyes were always what gave him away.

Did he love me? Yes.

Did he regret what happened? Yes.

Did he miss me? God, yes.

As angry as I was, I missed him too. I wasn’t over him and I probably wouldn’t ever be.

“The others meant nothing. Just an escape from the loneliness,” I whispered. Tears filled my eyes and spilled over quickly.

Before I knew it I was sitting across Eric’s lap. He stroked my hair while I cried into his neck. Fuckin’ asshole.

“I’m sorry, Baby Doll,” he apologized.

I sniffled and lifted my head.

“No more making decisions for your Old Lady,” I told him.

Referring to myself in such a manner got me another one of those growls that made my ovaries quake and my nether regions experience monsoon season. I wiped his blood off his top lip and then I kissed him. The spark was still there between us.

Three years of pent up frustration was fixing to explode.

It was a good thing he still had his own room in the back because we were going to need it. The guys were going to have to serve themselves for a while. Eric and I had making up to do.

Iron Horse Outfit

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