I stood over the lifeless body, my fists clenched so tightly I could barely feel my hands. The only thing left now, the only thing I felt, was rage, pulsing through my veins. The Inferno Motorcycle Club had taken everything from me - my soul, my honor...
And now this.
Mad Dog had taken everything from me. But nothing they had done before would compare to this.
This eclipsed everything else.
They would pay. He would pay.
I would burn the club to the ground.
I would kill them all.
West Bend, Colorado
My heart rate finally began to slow when I saw the “Welcome to West Bend” sign. It had been racing since we left Las Vegas, adrenaline pumping through my veins, all of my senses on high alert. It had been a while since I’d felt this way, especially given my past. Five combat tours would make you pretty much immune to anything. This, though - on the run, sabotaged by my own club, by the man I’d been protecting for the last few years? Hauling ass from the scene of an ambush? I wasn’t sure if it was fear or anger that had my heart nearly thumping out of my chest. Probably a mixture of both. Betrayal would do that to you.
West Bend, Colorado was home, and it felt safe, even if it wasn’t really. Safer, maybe, at least temporarily. But certainly not safe, not with the trouble I was in, the trouble I was about to bring to the town. You couldn’t tell that to my body, though; my response to my hometown was a visceral one. Love for this place was written into my DNA. It was part of who I was, even if who I was had gotten so far off track in recent years that even I didn’t recognize myself anymore.
The summer air, thick with the smell of cut hay, seemed to change as I passed the city limit sign. “City” was not quite the right word for it, of course, not with a population of barely over two thousand people. But it was a bustling metropolis compared to what it was when I was growing up and there were less than three hundred people in town.
My Harley seemed more content now too, the rumbling of the motor between my legs becoming more of a purr as I wound my way through the mountain pass toward home. The sky was a blue so bright it was almost blinding, a shock to the senses after living in smog-infested Orange County, California. The nostalgia I’d always had for this place made it painful when I was gone, but it had been three years since I’d been able to bring myself back here. I wasn’t sure how my dad was going to react to my coming home, especially considering who I was bringing with me and what trouble was following us. It had been three years since I’d been home.
Three years since my mom’s funeral.
Three years since the last time I’d spoken to my dad.
~ ~ ~
“You’re not bringing that kind of poison back here, Cade Austin,” he said, referring to my brand-new affiliation with the Inferno Motorcycle Club.
“I’m not coming back home, dad,” I said.
He squinted at me, staring, his eyes unblinking, and I had to look away, feeling guilty under his inspection. “At least your mother isn’t alive to see this.”
“Dad.” It was the lowest blow he could make, bringing my mother into this.
On the day of her funeral, no less.
“No,” he said. “I’m glad she never found out. To the end, she was still proud of you. She still thought you were a good Marine. She was so happy with you since you’d gotten out of the Corps, when you were made supervisor at the warehouse, living out in California.”
I swallowed hard. My father had the ability to reduce me to nothing with a single sentence. My mother died proud of me, when she had no cause to be proud of what I’d become.
Of who I'd become.
He was right; it would have killed her, even before the cancer had gotten her, to know the things I’d done. She knew I was a rider, but would never have predicted I would cross the line to the other side of the law.
“I’m not the same person I was before, dad.”
“That’s for sure.” He stared at me, disapproval and disappointment etched into his features. Looking at him then, I realized how much my mom’s illness- and probably, all of my shit- had aged him. I’d never thought of him as an old man, and he looked old. I had a sudden pang of regret then, so strong it nearly brought me to my knees. In that moment, I wanted more than anything to take it all back, to tell him I was coming back home to run the ranch. Then, just like that, the moment was gone, replaced by a sense of inevitability.
“Dad, I -” I stopped.
What could I say? I had nothing to say. I’d chosen my path, and there was no changing it.
I’d been too far gone for a long time now.
“Unless you’re going to tell me that you’re walking away from that gang of criminals, I’ve got nothing to say to you.” He exhaled and shrugged his shoulders, his weariness apparent.
More than anything, I wanted to hug him, the way I did each time I came home from deployment. Back then, Dad would clasp my shoulder and say, “Welcome home where you belong, son.” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, not even knowing I was leaving home for the last time.
I couldn’t walk away from the MC now. It was the only place I belonged anymore.
It was the only place dark enough to handle all of my demons.