Authors: Emily Stone
One thing Sandy Rivers hadn’t missed about Pecan, Texas was the heat. Flying down the highway, her shirt stuck to her and her jeans felt like they’d melted into her skin. All she could think about was getting to her Daddy’s place, where the air conditioning—and the beer—were super cold.
Nothing had changed in the two years she’d been gone. All the same places, all the same folks. Some might find it boring, but she couldn’t wait to get back. She’d missed her Daddy, her friends, and the feeling of having a place to fit in.
Sure, she’d made friends in college, but it just wasn’t the same. Now that she was gone, they’d lose touch quickly; their lifestyles were just too different. In some ways, she was glad. There had always been a sense that she was putting on a show for them, unable to fully be herself.
Her exit came up, and a wide smile split her face. Finally, she was home.
Outside of the Blue Mustangs Motorcycle Clubhouse, Christian Belz leaned against the wall and contemplated how much he really wanted the position he’d taken. The old man was set in his ways, and wasn’t much on listening to anyone else. Yeah, he was relatively new to this club, but in the past four years he’d more than earned the respect of his new family. Everyone but one Atticus Rivers, President.
The roar of a well-tuned engine coming down the road broke his internal monologue. A ’72 Harley SuperGlide with custom paint and handlebars rounded the curve and slid into the parking lot, a huge duffel tied to the back and a slim body in the seat.
She hopped off the seat, and he realized who he was looking at: Atticus’ daughter, home from college, all grown up and ready to take on the world. She sure didn’t look much like the pictures of the little girl in pigtails and braces Atticus kept around the club, or his memories of a gangly girl with a permanent braid and a habit of tripping over her feet. She pulled off her helmet with a relieved sigh that he could hear all the way across the parking lot. Wildly tangled, mahogany hair fell to her slim waist.
Damn, the old man’s daughter had
grown up, and she was smoking hot.
Tight, well-worn jeans clung to every curve, dipping low at the waist to reveal a strip of pale flesh where her shirt was riding up as she stretched. Long, lean legs ended in a pair of much-loved short riding boots. She had a full sleeve tattoo on her left arm and a half sleeve on her right; real nice work in color and grayscale.
Christian slipped inside before she could come up the walk, his jeans a little snugger than when he’d come outside.
She took a moment to stretch out the kinks from the long ride, then took off running for the door. She couldn’t wait a second longer. She burst through the doors and her Daddy was right there, jumping up to catch her when she launched herself at him. “Daddy!”
“There’s my Sandy girl!” Atticus hugged her hard, so glad to see his baby again. He set her on her feet so he could have a good look at her. Two years she’d been away from him, and she’d changed too much. She was no longer the lanky girl he’d sent off to college. Smiling bigger than he had in ages, he pulled her close and hugged her hard again.
“Atticus, you let go of that girl so we can all get a chance to see her,” a familiar voice called out. Sandy turned and saw the woman who was like a Mom and a friend all rolled into one: Atticus’ longtime girlfriend, Mariah. More hugging, and some tears this time. “You come on over here and sit, get a cold drink. You’re fair to burning up. Too damn hot this summer already.”
Atticus watched as his two favorite women in the world walked up to the bar. He settled down at his table, smiling as she enthusiastically greeted everyone around her, people she’d known all her life. This was family, and they were all glad to see her come home where she belonged.
Sandy took a long pull on the ice cold beer that Mariah had put in her hand. It seemed like she’d hugged and kissed the entire town since she’d gotten inside. Not that she was complaining. There was no better feeling than knowing she’d been missed and was so loved by all these people, who most others would dismiss as outlaws. Outsiders. To her, they were just family.
She’d noticed Christian, of course. It was hard not to, with his bad-boy good looks and confident attitude. She’d also noticed the hard looks her Daddy had been shooting in his direction. Knowing she’d never get any good dish out of her Daddy, she grabbed Mariah by the arm and pulled her back into the kitchen. “So, what’s up with Christian?”
Mariah cocked an eyebrow at the young woman she considered her daughter. “I’m sure I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
“Daddy is shooting him death looks.”
Mariah sighed and shook her head. “Best get used to that. You know your Daddy: he isn’t much on change, and Christian is definitely a big change. Folk around here voted him our new Vice-President last month after Gary passed. He’s got a lot of ideas, that young man. Atticus is not happy about it at all.” Mariah got a plate and, out of habit, began making Sandy her favorite, grilled cheese with bacon.
Sandy smiled as the older woman worked. She was so glad that some things never changed, because she was starving. “I’m going to go talk to Daddy.” She turned to go, stopped, and went back, hugging the woman again. “I’ve missed you, Mari.”
Mariah hugged her back hard then pushed her towards the door. “Of course you did. I’m awesome.”
She felt the tension the minute she walked out the door. Atticus was having a heated discussion with the man who’d starred in most of her teenage fantasies. She watched for a minute, taking in the stubborn tilt of her Daddy’s head, the way his hands were balled into fists. Christian was calmer, hands relaxed, but there was an angry flush on his neck. Time to step in and let this fight happen another day.
“Hello boys,” she said, pulling out the chair next to her Daddy’s. She set her beer on the table in front of her and smiled widely at the two men.
“Good to see you home again, Sandy.”
Christian’s accent was more Southern than hers, smooth and rich, like good brandy. “I hear you’re the new Vice-President of the Blue Mustangs. Congratulations. I hope you like paperwork.”
“Live for it,” he replied, flirting despite the flare of heat in the old man’s eyes. Sandy Rivers was striking up close. Her dark green eyes were shot through with gold flecks, set off by all that mahogany-colored hair. He could see Atticus in the shape of her face, wider at the cheekbones than at the jaw, but that was as far as the resemblance to her dad went.
“I want you to stay away from him, Sandy.” Atticus stood outside her bedroom door, much like he had when she was a teenager, giving her rules before going out.
“Who?” She swiped on some lip balm, in a hurry to get to the hastily-put-together coming home party with her friends.
“Christian. I saw the way he was looking at you. He’s bad news.” Atticus crossed his arms and leaned against the door frame.
Sighing, Sandy put down the hairbrush she’d picked up and turned to face him. “I’m sure you’re seeing things. Besides, what makes him so much more trouble than any of the others?”
“They know better than to lay a finger on you, that’s what.” He pulled away from the door frame and punched his finger at her. “They have respect for me.”
“The men here kept their hands off me because I was underage
your daughter. They weren’t stupid.” Sandy walked up to her daddy and put her hands on his tense shoulders. “You don’t like the man, that’s clear, but I barely know him and I’m old enough to judge him myself.”
Atticus pulled away from his daughter, trying to get a grip on the anger that was eating at him. “Sandy, I know you think you’re all grown up now but I’m telling you, as someone with much more life under their belt, stay away from Christian. I’m not kidding.” He turned on his heel and stomped down the stairs and out the door. He needed to work off this mad before Mariah came home.
He’d blown two pool games watching her dance
, and a third watching her flirt with what he assumed was an old boyfriend. He didn’t bother starting up a fourth.
Yes, Daddy’s little girl had definitely grown up. She’d strutted into the place wearing a tight black vest with a Blue Mustangs patch on the back, cutoff blue jean shorts, fishnet stockings, and those old boots of hers. Everyone had flocked to her. Old, young, men, women; they’d all wanted a moment of her attention. She was Atticus’ only daughter, and they treated her like royalty.
As the night had worn on, she’d shown how much a part of this club she still was. A daughter raised in the life, well-versed on club politics and easily one of the toughest women he’d seen, even as a kid. She greeted everyone equally. Everyone but him.
She made a point to stay on the other side of the room from him. After the old man’s earlier warning to him, he’d expected no less. There was little doubt she’d gotten the same warning to stay away from him.
Thing was, he’d decided he didn’t want to stay away from Atticus’ daughter. No, he wanted little Sandy Rivers to want him bad enough to go against her Daddy’s wishes. He just had to figure out the best approach, because it was clear that she wasn’t going to be easy.
She was set up in her old spot in the back of the bar by noon the next day. She
might have a brand spanking new college degree in graphic design, but her passion was the art of tattooing. She’d gone off to school to improve her artistic skills and make her tattoo art better, not to work in some office behind a computer screen creating commercials for hair gel. No, she was going to have people lining up for one of her original designs.
It was warmer in the back, and she went into the store room to see if she could scrounge up a fan. When she returned, empty handed and sweat on her brow, Christian was standing in the doorway. Her mouth went dry.
He was walking sex, or at least her vision of it. Tall and built well, Christian had fairly heavily muscled arms and thighs, a trim waist, and very wide shoulders. The sun had bleached some golden highlights into his light brown hair. Unlike most of the men in the club, he had no beard, but what seemed like a permanent five o’clock shadow. It suited his face. So did the dark brown eyes that she’d often dreamed would look at her the way he looked at some of the other females around.
She stood there staring, unable to form a greeting. There had to be a way to get past this little-girl crush; she was an adult now, for Christ’s sake. This was her place of business for the time being, and she had to be professional. “Mr. Belz. What can I do for you?”
The sound of her voice startled him. She was quiet. “I hear you do originals. I also hear you’re really good.”
“I do, and I am. Are you in the market?” She moved past him and pulled out her rolling stool, sitting down to stop her knees from knocking. That voice of his was killer.
He watched her nervously brush past him with a smile on his face. She was nervous around him. That was a good sign. “I am. A cover-up. You good with those?”
“Depends. Cover-ups can be complicated. Can I see it?” The excitement of new work helped settle her twitchy nerves.
“Sure,” he replied, pulling up on the bottom of his shirt. He pretended not to notice the sharp little breath she took as he took the garment off. “It’s pretty bad.” He ran his hand down his left side, where a series of dark lines ran down his ribcage. “It was supposed to be one of those tribal things--” his words died off when she rolled the stool close and ran her fingers over his side, making him swallow hard.
“It’s really dark and the lines are pretty blown out.” She ran her fingers over the area, feeling that there was some scarring underneath. “The tissue is thickened under the ink, too.” Her fingertips tingled, and she struggled to not caress the smooth warmth of his skin. He smelled of something dark and woodsy, with a tinge of motor oil and gasoline.
The way her fingertips were running over the sensitive skin of his side was driving him a little crazy. It took him a moment to find his voice. “Does that mean you can’t cover it up?”
“No. It means I might have to get creative. Which is what I do best.” She took out a digital camera. “Can you hold your arm straight up?” Standing, she moved a couple of feet back to get a full shot, then did several closer shots for details. “Thanks. You can put your shirt back on now.”
When he was fully clothed again, and she wouldn’t be distracted by a set of killer abs and smooth pecs, Sandy pulled a card out of her back pocket and handed it to him. “Anything specific that you had in mind, or do you trust me to design something appropriate?”
He gave her his killer smile. “Nope, I trust you. I’m sure you’ll want me to look good. Makes for excellent free advertising.”
“Yes, it does. My cell
number is on the back of the card. I’ll get to work on a design this afternoon. As long as I don’t get busy, I’ll have something by this evening. Text me after you get off work and I’ll let you know.” She stood and held out her hand, her stomach clenching tight at the thought of touching his skin again, even for an innocent handshake.
“Can’t wait. Talk later, pretty girl.” He took her hand and instead of shaking it, he just held it for a moment, smiling at her until she began to squirm. Oh yeah, Sandy was fair game.