Rico Hanthorn found few pleasures greater than riding his Harley. He loved his bike as much as he loved his family. The purr of the motor beneath his thighs defied words as she rumbled with power with every rev of her engine. The feelings and the freedom it gave him were unmatched. She was his pride, and she carried him through the city with the respect and fear gained by his station.
His father, John Hanthorn, was the leader of the Angels of Mercy bike club. Their club had run the west side of the city for forty years. The Angels had fought bloody wars when he had been a child—his father disappearing at odd hours only to come home with the smell of oil on his hands, soot on his clothes and grim satisfaction in his eyes.
The Angels had hard control over the import and export of weapons, while high-quality drugs were theirs to disperse. Rico was one of their best enforcers and well regarded to eventually take his father’s position. Leadership wasn’t a blood right, but Rico had the respect of his peers. He had sacrificed his time, body and life to the Angels. He’d more than proved his worth, and no one would ever doubt his allegiance to the club or his fellow members.
Through years of toil and grit, they had squashed any incursions into their borders. The west was theirs. But on their eastern outskirts, an unending rivalry had waged. The Demon Riders had a chapter on that side of the city. They were slightly smaller, but they traded in the same enterprises and were just as ruthless in maintaining their power.
The Angels’ most violent altercations had occurred with the Demons.
In more than ten years as part of the Angels, Rico had only faltered once when faced with the rival club.
It wasn’t during a bloodied battle or a moment of unexpected compassion. It was during a cease-fire in a part of the city controlled by neither club. Rico’s job, like many at the time, had been to stand quiet and menacing behind their leader. The Demon Riders and the Angels of Mercy had been clashing so often and so ferociously that the police were not only arresting sizeable numbers of their members but also manipulating their animosity against them.
The clubs had always hated each other, but they’d always detested the cops more.
Utilizing a tentative truce, they’d met in the dead of night in an empty parking lot to discuss options and territory boundaries. Rico had only been three months initiated but had been eager to be involved and please his father.
He’d felt confident and calm—until he’d scanned the Demon Riders and seen a familiar face. Their gazes had locked, their eyes widening, Rico had felt the sinking realization of a grave mistake. As an Angels of Mercy member, he shouldn’t have felt fear when surrounded by his club—but he had. Rico had felt certain everyone would realize what he had done.
Although he had escaped the encounter without the revelation of his youthful stupidity, the terror had lingered under his skin for months, sinking into his dreams and everyday life. It had hammered home the need for discretion and to keep his liaisons within the safety of his territory.
It was a lesson Rico had hoped to never need to teach his sister.
Angelica was ten years his junior—seventeen, arrogant and reckless. At his father’s request, she was to be kept as far from the club as possible.
“She’s young and impressionable,” his father had insisted one evening.
John Hanthorn’s bald head had shone under the porch’s backlight. He’d held a smoke in one hand and a beer in the other. Even when at rest, with no club members to control or impress, John Hanthorn had a barely leashed ferocity.
“Your mother wants her behaving. I want her nose out of business that doesn’t concern her. You’ll get her back in line?”
“Good.” He’d taken another long drag, letting it out in a heavy cloud. “And, for God’s sake, get her hair back to normal.”
“That’s more difficult.”
His father had turned his head slowly, his gaze flat, his voice cold. “Did I stutter on my order?”
“No,” Rico had immediately corrected. “It will happen.”
His job had been made clear. Unfortunately, Angelica had refused to listen to him. His sweet, brunette sister had turned platinum blonde. Her dresses, floral shirts and jeans had become revealing crop tops, ripped pants and a tight-fitting leather jacket.
Rico had spent more time chasing after her than at the club’s headquarters or doing work with his fellow members. He was a glorified babysitter, and it was only fear of his father’s anger and retribution that kept him from complaining about the situation.
Every day, Rico waited to hear a tale about her stupidity. She acted like an unruly child who wouldn’t stop until she’d made her point. He had enough faith to believe her actions wouldn’t be life-threatening. His goal was to keep the extent of her rebellion and the fallout from their parents.
Today, he hoped, would be a little bit peaceful.
He’d dropped his sister at the house of another club member whose daughter was a friend. It meant he had most of the day to focus on other more important tasks for the club. He’d ridden across town and parked his bike outside Carson’s Gym. He had one arm resting casually on his leg while the other stayed on the handlebar of his bike. He stared into the establishment.
A week ago, the Angels had gained word that a dealer had been working from inside the gym without permission and with no dues being paid to the Angels. His operation had only been small, but the Angels had never tolerated competition. He’d been found by enforcers who had left him bloodied but alive. Rico’s presence outside was a reminder to the owners that they were no longer trusted.
He’d been there for almost an hour, his gaze following everyone who came in and out. He’d seen the son of the owner flinch at the sight of him before rushing inside. Rico was almost ready to leave when his phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket, seeing his sister’s number.
“What?” he demanded.
“I’m sorry!” she said, sounding panicked. Her voice was thickened with tears. “I’m sorry, Rico!”
She gave a tearful, fearful sob and Rico heard a muffled sound as something covered the speaker. Rico was on edge, his teeth gritted as he tried to hear anything to give away what was happening. When the noise stopped, Rico’s every muscle was tightly coiled.
“Angelica?” he asked.
The answer didn’t come from his sister.
He knew the voice. It sent a complicated rush of emotions through him. Pearce Walton—a Demon Rider and someone who had been causing Rico grief for more than a decade.
“Walton,” he bit out, “what have you done to my sister?”
“You should come here.”
“Where is she?”
“Pine Hotel on York Street. Room 6A. Come alone.”
The call ended.
Rico turned on the engine and swung his bike around, going toward York Street. He felt a tight ball of anger and worry form in the pit of his stomach. Their gangs notoriously fought over York Street. It was currently on the Demons’ side, and while it wasn’t the heart of enemy territory, it was still far from a safe zone.
Why the fuck is Angelica in a hotel room with a rival gang member?
Rico would kill Walton if he’d laid a finger on her.
He sped and cut corners to get to the street quicker, his tension only mounting as he crossed their borders. He expected to see Demon Riders lining the street or to ride into a trap and have numerous guns pointing at his face, but the streets remained free of enemies, and no one stopped him. When he arrived in front of the Pine Hotel, there was only one Harley present. He came to a stop beside it. The bike was in prime condition and accented in red. He knew it was Pearce Walton’s.
Rico climbed off his bike and walked into the hotel lobby. He scanned the space, his hand twitching with the desire to grab a weapon. The receptionists were busy behind the counter and a few guests sat with suitcases. No one seemed suspicious, but his worries didn’t ease.
He crossed the lobby to the elevator and hit the floor number. The hotel was simple enough that he didn’t need a key card to access the upper floors. Rico cracked his knuckles in the lift while running through a plan. He had a knife and a handgun. If he needed to, Rico could shoot Walton and get Angelica back to their side of the city. The consequences could be dealt with once his sister was safe.
The elevator doors opened, and he scanned the room numbers before walking toward the letter he needed. Not far down the hall, he spotted Pearce Walton leaning against a door. The man had a slimmer build than Rico, and although his enemy was slumped, Rico knew the Demon Rider was as tall as he was. His sleeveless black vest had many patches displaying his allegiances. His heavily tattooed arms were crossed, but the bright colors of his skulls and flowers were unmissable. His blond hair, which stopped at his shoulders, was brushed and slicked back behind his ears. His beard was thick but well-trimmed and maintained.
This brings back too many memories.
Angelica was in danger. The past should have been the furthest thing from his mind, but Pearce Walton had always been complicated. He was entangled in things Rico couldn’t easily pull apart. He was a cold, standoffish Demon Rider now, but ten years ago, he’d been clean-shaven with his hair falling loose. His smile and touch had been rife with flirtation, and his moans had been unguarded and interspersed with Rico’s name.
“Hanthorn,” Pearce greeted.
He then turned, opened the door and walked inside the room. Rico placed a hand on his gun but followed warily. The room was small, and the sheets of the bed disturbed. Angelica was sitting in the middle, while at the foot was Benny Walton. He was Pearce’s cousin and the son of the Demon Riders’ leader. He had an eyebrow and ear piercing. His jet-black hair was spiked, and his leather jacket had no insignias, making it clear he wasn’t yet fully initiated. Benny looked cautious. Angelica, despite her tear tracks, looked stubborn. She reached out and took Benny’s hand in her own.
Fuck, Rico thought.
“We have a problem,” Pearce stated.
“We’re not a problem,” Angelica exclaimed. “We’re a couple.”
Rico knew that tone. He’d been dealing with it for the last few weeks as he’d argued with his sister and told her to stop sneaking into the clubhouse. The club’s members tolerated her, but that was only due to respect for their father. Rico knew how quickly respect could change to animosity. If the Hanthorns couldn’t control a teenager, were they fit members to run the club?
Rico had tried to explain that to Angelica, but she’d only crossed her arms and turned away from him. When he’d persisted and forced her to look at him, she’d just argued more.
Rico could tell from her mulish expression that she wouldn’t be giving Benny Walton up without a fight. And a fight was the last thing he wanted, especially if it involved the Demons and the Angels going to war.
He glanced at Pearce. The man had his arms crossed again and was leaning against the wall. When they locked gazes, Rico knew Pearce had worked out the problem as swiftly as he had. They couldn’t force the teenagers apart. It wouldn’t work. But if they left them alone, they’d only end up getting caught by someone less willing to be discreet.
Rico made a gesture with his head toward the door. Pearce nodded and followed him out into the hall. He shut the door and leaned against it once more.
“He won’t change his mind,” Pearce stated.
“She won’t either.”
Pearce nodded. “We can try keeping them away.”
“But they’ll slip out,” Rico acknowledged.
“Kids,” Pearce agreed.
His statement had been flat, but when their gazes locked, electricity ran down Rico’s spine. Because they had been kids once—stupid teenagers who’d liked men more than they’d ever liked women.
At least we weren’t dumb enough to fuck someone we knew was from a rival gang.
“We’ll still need to do something about this,” Pearce continued.
Rico rubbed a hand over his mouth. He would have liked the luxury of pacing, but he wouldn’t turn his back on an enemy, no matter that their objectives currently aligned.
“Whatever we do, they’ll fight against it,” Rico acknowledged.
“Unless we give them what they want.”
“Let them do this?” Rico demanded, outraged. “They’ll be found out.”
They both knew what that would entail. The Demons would be harsh against Benny. Angelica might gain some lenience from being a woman and non-club member, but she would never wash away the disgrace. She’d be ruined and sent away. John Hanthorn would never accept such a betrayer living under his roof.
And that was only if the right people found them. If they got someone harsh, uncaring and determined to make a statement, then there was no limit to the viciousness that could be unleashed. If an Angels member thought Benny had been taking advantage of Angelica, he’d be killed. But if a Demon Rider thought she was up for grabs and willing to spread her legs…? The thought sickened him.
“We won’t let them be found,” Pearce explained. “They’re not going to stop. So, we have to do a better job at hiding them.”
“You want us to facilitate this and let them betray our clubs?”
“They aren’t smart enough to stay away from each other,” Pearce answered. “They’ll get over it. We just have to wait.”
Get over it, like we got over it?
It had been too many years to hold anything resembling affection for Pearce, but back when it had happened? When he’d realized his lover was an enemy that he was meant to hate on sight? It hadn’t been so simple. He’d once stood so close he could count the flecks of green and gray in Pearce’s hazel eyes. He’d seen laughter and fondness crest the man’s youthful face.
Get a fucking grip. You locked those memories away for a damn good reason.
He couldn’t afford anything tugging his attention away from the club and the safety of his family.
“If they don’t get over it,” Rico replied, “and if they’re caught, this could spark a war.”
“Stupid teenagers won’t start a war.”
“My sister might pull off being a stupid teenager. Your cousin will garner a heftier price than a lecture.”
Pearce straightened and lowered his arms to his sides. It took those few posture changes and he looked larger and more intimidating. Rico knew all the tricks. He’d been taught by one of the best in his club.
So different from the past.
When he’d known Pearce, the man hadn’t tried to take control. He’d seemed to like Rico grabbing him and pushing him down. Now, he was all grown up and used to giving commands that were readily followed. Pearce might be a nephew of the leader, but, like Rico, he would have climbed up the ranks through tenacity and displays of loyalty.
“No one will find out,” Pearce said lowly, his eyes narrowing. “I’ll make sure of that.”
Rico stiffened, sensing the change in tone.
“Is that a threat, Walton?”
“If you don’t cooperate.”
Rico closed the distance but allowed enough space to draw a weapon or throw a punch. Pearce smelled of bike oil and cigarettes.
“Don’t threaten me, Walton.”
“Don’t threaten my cousin.”
“That wasn’t a threat. It was a statement. Your club is as ruthless as mine. He’s an aspiring member, for fuck’s sake. There’s a reason you don’t do shit like this. He’ll be gunned down, and Angelica will be ostracized.”
Frankly, if Benny were his cousin, he would have slapped the man upside the ear and tore through him about learning where to put his dick. Knowing it was happening with his sister made Rico’s teeth grind. He would happily punch the man for daring to touch Angelica, but he knew his sister could handle a flirtatious teenager. If she couldn’t, she’d only need to say a word and the Angels would brutalize whoever treated her wrong. Her insistence that they were a couple only proved that violence would not solve the problem. He’d never harm his sister, and he couldn’t risk beating Benny Walton.
“What do you suggest instead?” Pearce asked, his tone clipped.
Rico tried to devise something better, but there was nothing that came to mind. Anything he considered left Angelica open for punishment or discovery. She’d also never back down if he confronted her directly. She’d run into the arms of the Demons if she thought it would give her what she wanted. Pearce’s suggestion seemed to be the only solution. If they let them have their time together, the attraction of bedding an enemy would hopefully run its course.
“I don’t have a better solution,” Rico admitted, grudgingly.
“Then take her back to your territory. I’ll take him to mine. We’ll arrange something for them.”
If I can’t convince her to use her fucking brain.
Rico knew he had a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding, but he would try anything before committing to this insanity. It was more than just her skin on the line if the Angels uncovered their deal. Protecting family wouldn’t be enough to keep him from the club’s disgust and wrath. They’d make sure he left the clubhouse in a body bag.
“I’ll take her back,” Rico replied. “But I swear to you, Walton, if you betray us, no one will find the pieces I’ll cut you into.”
His hand had never been far from his gun, and he pulled it out, pressing the barrel to Pearce’s stomach. The man barely reacted. He kept his gaze locked on Rico’s. He even leaned forward until there was barely a sliver of space between their lips. Rico could almost feel the scratch of his beard and wasn’t prepared for the sudden and intense desire he felt.
It had been too damn long since he’d been so close to a man.
His club was staunchly heterosexual, and he’d always had to hide his lovers. He’d strip off his insignias and travel to areas of the city where no gang member would ever go. It was difficult to be discreet, but after the stupidity of his youth, Rico had adopted a state of paranoia and anonymity. So far, no one had uncovered his secret meetings in gay clubs. Hell, he’d even slept with women when out with his fellow club members, just to keep the Angels off his scent. But Pearce was not only the forbidden fruit hanging before his lips—he was also a fruit Rico had sampled thoroughly. Pearce had been his first time, for Christ’s sake.
It was no wonder he could never fully push the man out of his mind.
“Threaten me again, Hanthorn,” Peace murmured, “and I’ll make you regret it.”
Pearce’s menacing tone should have infuriated him, but it didn’t. Instead, Rico felt a crashing wave of desire. He wanted him. People didn’t speak to him like that. The Angels knew to follow his commands and never dare disappoint him. His lovers rarely had the guts to ask for his name. Yet, he had a goddamn gun to Pearce and the man wasn’t backing down. Rico had never wanted to devour a man’s mouth more—to shut him up not with fists or bullet wounds but with lips and tongue.
Does he kiss any better than he did years ago?
Rico shifted the gun, trailing it up the man’s stomach and over his chest. It wasn’t a threat anymore. His motions were too languid, his grip too lax. Pearce could have shifted away or yanked the gun from his hand. He didn’t. Their actions were still the height of idiocy. Rico hadn’t flicked off the safety, but it was still live. The first rule of owning a gun was to never point it at anyone unless you planned to shoot them. Pearce let him do it without a bead of sweat. It was addicting. Erotic.
How many people have the balls for this? All my other lovers would run screaming at the sight of my gun.
“I’ll threaten you as much as I like,” Rico said lowly, “until I know you’ll obey.”
He wasn’t sure if it was a threat or a promise.
“I don’t obey many, Hanthorn,” Pearce answered, his voice rough. “What makes you think I’ll obey you?”
Rico’s need intensified. He held Pearce’s gaze and saw matching heat in it. Pearce wanted it, too. An urge to pin the man to the wall nearly overwhelmed him. Rico wanted to put Pearce in his place until he did what he was told. But a sound of movement behind the door had them stiffening.
The snap back to reality was sudden and sharp.
I’m using my gun like a fucking sex toy, flirting with a goddamn Demon Rider in their territory.
He stepped back and holstered his weapon. Pearce noticeably swallowed. That and the desire in his eyes were the only signs that Pearce seemed affected by what had happened. Rico felt shaken. His heart was pounding and his cock already showing interest. The scent of oil and smokes had never been so alluring.
A goddamn disaster.
It was why he’d avoided getting in close contact with Pearce for ten years.
“Neither of us bow to our enemies,” Pearce said, his voice returning to its cooler and more disinterested tenor. “But our clubs made a truce before, so we’ll make one now. You don’t tell the Angels. I don’t tell the Demons. Our priority is keeping these kids from ending up dead.”
“Good.” Pearce stepped away from the door and his voice sharpened and raised to a loud bark. “Get out here, Benny.”
There was no reaction at first, but slowly the door opened. Benny exited first, clasping Angelica’s hand as she followed. They both looked wary but didn’t seem to have heard their conversation. Rico hoped the dangers of being caught had sunk in.
“We’re leaving,” Rico announced.
Angelica glanced between him and Pearce before back to Benny. She placed a hand on his cheek and kissed him tenderly. Rico clenched his jaw. He was already unhappy about them, but his previous interaction with Pearce had left him with an even shorter fuse. He grabbed Angelica’s arm, pulling her from the kiss. She made a sound of surprise as he yanked her out of Benny’s grasp.
“Contact me,” he said brusquely to Pearce.
He didn’t dare catch the man’s gaze as he pulled his sister down the hall and to the elevator. Rico didn’t like turning his back on an enemy. But if Pearce could handle a gun to his chest without a flinch, Rico could endure a few seconds of vulnerability.
He reached the elevator and slapped the button. It was already on their floor from his arrival, and he could pull her in without waiting. Angelica had been silent until the doors closed.
“Rico,” she blurted, “I’m meant to be with him. I will stand up to father for him. I love him. You don’t understand—”
“I understand that you’re a selfish, stupid child who found a person to fuck who would piss us off and get you killed.”
“It’s not like that!” she argued, immediately flushing with rage. “We’re in love!”
“You’re seventeen, and you don’t know what you are.”
“I know I want him! I’ll never give him up.”
It was exactly what he and Pearce had expected. They could shout until they were blue in the face, but nothing short of locking the teenagers in separate rooms was going to keep them apart. And anything they did was only going to make the allure stronger. Pearce’s solution was the only option.
Rico breathed deeply, trying to calm his temper, but it was harder than normal. His moment in the hallway with Pearce had given him too many emotions to process. He wanted to funnel them all into rage rather than acknowledge whatever else was brewing within him.
By the time he felt moderately calmer, the elevator had reached the lobby. His hand had remained encircling Angelica’s arm and he dragged her through the hotel. He glowered at anyone who looked at them for too long. When they were outside and had stopped at his bike, Angelica stared longingly back at the hotel.
“Get on the bike,” he ordered.
She finally met his gaze and glared.
“You can’t stop us, Rico. We’re going to—”
“I’m not going to stop you,” he snapped.
Her eyes widened. “What?”
“I’m going to make sure you don’t end up disgraced or dead.” He pointed at the bike. “Now get the fuck on.”
This time, Angelica followed his command. He passed her his helmet before taking a seat and starting the engine. She wiggled into place behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. Rico left the curb as soon as she was secured. He rode with speed back into Angels’ territory.
Rico knew it was only the start of the misery Angelica was going to put him through. He hoped Pearce would let their next conversation be a phone call. He didn’t want another repeat of whatever lapse of judgment had occurred in the Pine Hotel hallway.