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’’Don\ remember my face at a particular set of swings one night when you were fourteen? Or when you chatted me up in front of your Scorpion boy all those years ago at that bar job of yours?’’ He said all this soothingly as I studied his face in disbelief. That familiar cologne... I\d entrenched it into my memories after that night on the swings, trying to savour a piece of him. That explained the nostalgia.

’’And that Daniel boy,’’ he added, leaning his darkened face into me until he was half a foot away. ’’Didn\ ever wonder why that law firm called you up outta the blue to come in for an interview? Or how they even got your resume? Or that your lack of experience was never an issue? Same with that convenience store job. None of that clicked in that pretty little head of yours?’’ He eyed me with a soft smile, like he enjoyed my shocked reaction to all of this. ’’Although I\m pretty pissed he was f*king you on the side when he was explicitly told not to touch you.’’

I gazed into his eyes, and they stared openly back at me. He wasn\ playing any games. This was for real.

’’The Jackals have been looking out for you for some time now, sweetheart.’’

’’Looking out for me without my knowledge? Why didn\ you look out for me when my father was beating mom and me?’’ I bit back, scowling at him with unrepressed anger. ’’Seems like the Jackals didn\ give a f*k that I starved most of my life while my mom drank herself to oblivion.’’

’’Christ, you really are so clueless,’’ he muttered quietly. His fingers touched my cheek and I flinched away, trying to get his touch as far away from me. But he only kept coming at me until he tangled a strand of my hair around his index finger, raking his eyes all over me.

’’Your mother was the daughter of a once Vice President of the Jackals, birdy. In our club, that means you\ e ours whether you like it or not. But when he passed, your mother met a f*king douchebag wannabe loser that wanted nothing more than to be a part of our club. When it was clear his pathetic ass wasn\ gonna get in, Joanne wanted nothing to do with us. She chose a piece of shit to play daddy to you before he turned her to the drink.’’

What...? ’’What do you mean \play daddy\?’’

’’Norman wasn\ your real father. Sorry I have to break that to you. Doubt that\ll actually pull on your heartstrings, though.’’

No, it certainly didn\ . In fact, I felt elated at that news. ’’How do you know that?’’

’’Because she had you before she met him.’’

A tear escaped my eye. I wasn\ a monster like him. All those years of hating my bloodline because it was linked to a sick f*k like him. Didn\ mean my situation was any better. His words were vibrating through my system like a tsunami. The news digested in waves.

F*king Daniel. I can\ believe how naïve I was. But how the f*k would I have known better? Was anything he did genuine? Ordered to hire me, and then f*king me against said orders. Did he keep me at an arm\s length to hide our relationship from the outside world - from the Jackals? Was that whole broken hearted woe-is-me he spouted to me all a lie to get me to acquiesce to the arrangement?

I\d wondered how he knew about the bikies, and that I was in a dodgy part of town. Or that Jaxon was a Scorpion long before I\d known it. That was a piece of the puzzle fitted. Everything else still felt like a giant sloppy mess of f*ked up shit with a cherry on top.

’’So she left and then what?’’ I found myself asking as I took him in with more ease than before. It seemed like the danger was over, that he wasn\ going to hurt me after all, not if he was spouting all that ’’looking after you’’ shit.

He moved to the wall, resting his back against it beside me. The guy was massive next to my tiny self, much bigger than I remembered him at the swings all that time ago.

Raking his hand through his shaggy black hair, he said, ’’My sister, Rita, got close with her.’’ His sister was Rita? More shock. ’’We were like family once upon a time, but you probably don\ remember me. Used to watch over you when you were a kid at Felix - I mean, your grandfather\s house.’’

Those eyes. Oh, my f*king God. He was the little boy in the pictures with me as a baby. The sharp chin of his, those dark eyes... My breath thinned as I made the connection. All doubt ebbed away as his words solidified. This man had known me all my life. ’’I don\ gotta know you to know you.’’ Why did my heart seize in my chest all of a sudden?

’’About a year after you left, Joanne returned to us,’’ he continued, breaking me from all thoughts. ’’As she and Rita grew close, she asked that we look out for you. It wasn\ easy finding you again after you\d left, but when I did, I stuck around for a while to make sure you were doing alright. Didn\ seem to be going too well, though. Seemed to be trouble in paradise with your man. Had him followed too, just to make sure he wasn\ a f*khead taking advantage of one of our own. Wasn\ long after that before you disappeared on him. He went to prison, came back out a Scorpion. Men on the inside said he did some heavy shit for Finley, earned himself a free pass into the Scorpions. Which means he must have done some really impressive shit inside those walls. Two peas in a pod now, him and Finley.

’’Don\ gotta give you all the answers right now, birdy. I just want you to understand you\ e not here to get hurt. Ain\ no one gonna do anything to you while I\m here.’’ His face leaned down to mine, the intensity in his eyes showing me, once again, how honest he was being.

Still, he frightened me too. How I could feel at peace and yet in fear at the same time in the presence of one man, I didn\ even try to understand it. There was such a hardness about him. The way his jaw ticked, the way his shoulders tensed, how big he was and how puny I felt beside him. At the same time, there was gentleness in his eyes when he wanted to show it. And right now, he wanted to show me it. The softness crept into my being, relaxing the tension in my arms that had been holding tight my knees to my chest.

’’Will you let me go?’’ I asked him.

’’Not yet,’’ he answered.

’’Why not?’’

’’Because I said so.’’

Because he wanted to know about his brother, I figured. How would he feel after I told him? Would he turn back on his word? He was going to lose his shit.

’’You\ e scared.’’ His lips flattened as he regarded me. ’’Whatever you say, birdy, I\m not here to harm you. Understand?’’ When I didn\ nod, his warm hand took mine.

’’You\ e frozen,’’ he murmured. He got up and, to my surprise, took me with him. Wrapping both arms around me, he picked me up effortlessly off the ground and settled me back into the bed, tucking the blue doona around me. The gesture was uncomfortably gentle. I didn\ want to feel good around him.

I warmed up quickly, and he regarded me as though he could see right through me. The only person that ever made me feel so bare was Jaxon;he read me like a book, so watching Remy do the same with equal intensity made me even more uncomfortable. I was falling into a stupid mindset, recalling all those nights as a kid I\d spent envisioning this man. Sometimes I\d been tempted to ask a bikie about him, but of course fear prevailed over desire.

Now here he was;the stranger I\d met for such a brief amount of time that I\d crushed on for years until I became whole with Jaxon. Which was why I was pushing all these unwanted feelings right out of me. I didn\ need a complication. And just thinking about Jaxon made me remember where my loyalty rested. But not even that made any f*king sense. I\d just agreed to let him go on that ride back with - oh, f*k. ’’Is Damien okay?’’ I asked.

Remy gave a single nod. ’’He\s a big guy. Was breathing. Out like a light from impact, but alive nonetheless.’’

’’Was that...’’ I couldn\ make eye contact, so I looked down at the square pattern in the doona as I asked the question. ’’Was that what you intended? For him to survive?’’

His hand went under my chin, and he brought it up so that our eyes met. Darkest eyes I\d ever seen stared into my own, once again discerning every thought I\d tried to hide away. ’’I\m not some kind of monster,’’ he whispered gently. ’’Ain\ no life that don\ deserve takin\ is gonna get taken by my hands. Alright?’’

I nodded. He rested his hand down and licked his bottom lip before he spoke next. ’’Sara, it\s time for you to be honest with me. Time to come clean. You know by now I\ve done nothing but protect you your whole life to the best of my abilities. I\m sure I didn\ stop every bad situation, but I\m hoping I helped make things easier on you.

’’It\s time for you to give a little back. Trust in me. Trust that I\m not going to go back on my word. That I regard you as a girl with the same innocence I met on those swings all those years ago. I need information. I need your trust, and I need your help. I need to know what happened to my brother. Can you give me that, birdy?’’

We sat in silence for a long while after that. He was beyond patient. I half expected him to nudge me for an answer when I was taking too long. But he didn\ . My mind was on overdrive, thinking over everything he said, what it might mean if I came clean about his brother. Trying to determine every element of danger that might arise, trying so damn hard to control this to my advantage.

I wanted to cry from the frustration. The conclusion to my thoughts directed me to a dead end. There really was no way out of this. It couldn\ be controlled. Whatever was going to happen, it was out of my hands. Life is a bitch that way;an unpredictable mess of choices and consequences, and people caught in the middle. I\d been the unlucky one caught in the centre of this bizarre kind of situation, and the more I thought about it, the more hopeless I felt.

This was going to get ugly, and there wasn\ a damn thing I could do.

With a deep breath, I made my decision.

Remy

He wanted her something fierce. Had wanted her for years.

Girl was f*king beautiful. Her gentle curves;silky brown hair;auburn eyes that looked on with intensity at everything around her as she observed her small unobstructed world;her slender arms;her round ass;her tanned skin;her gorgeously pouty f*king lips that looked so sinfully tasty;the scowl she wore on her face twenty f*king four seven that only softened when she saw... him.

The f*king blonde, long haired hick of a man who\d walk into the f*king bar looking like he\d rolled around in shit all day long. God, Remy f*king hated him. For many reasons aside from him banging the one woman he had vowed to make his. Reasons that were... justified. He didn\ have to name them, for f*k\s sake. Just... reasons. Good f*king ones, okay?

He knew all about Jaxon. Knew he was a little shit thief back in Gosnells, probably still a f*king thief. No thief deserves a woman like Sara. No f*king way. Knew he was also a little man-whore, probably still a little man-whore too. Great, so now she had a f*king thief, man-whore of a boyfriend.

He gritted his teeth and gulped back his beer as he sent the oblivious man death glares from across the bar. Then he continued watching the se*y waitress in her tiny little white shorts make her way around to the hick, and seeing right through him.

He didn\ expect to be recognized. It\d been six years since that night he\d found her at the swings. He\d been keeping an eye on her since her loser ’’father’’ walked out on them. Threw her mom a few hundred bills a week, told every Jackal owned store if Sara came around looking for a job to take her on without a moment\s thought.

He hadn\ actually been following her personally. He\d sent a few guys over to scope her routine out, see if she was doing well. Turned out she\d been spending an unnatural amount of time down the road in another townhouse.

One night, when he was in the neighbourhood, he decided to see what she looked like. He\d remembered cradling her baby form as a kid. Gave her attention when the adults were busy up until she was three and a half. He remembered her vividly, thought of her as his little sister until the day it stopped abruptly. When dumbass Joanne decided to be with a loser instead, forsaking the club, her father, all for a f*king nobody that everyone saw straight through. Except her.

Dumbass Joanne.

He\d only been cruising down the street, looking for the townhouse she frequented when he saw her walk right out the door. She was in non-existent pyjamas with weird, yellow f*king duckies on them or some shit;the top was so short and the shorts so low, he could see all of her creamy tan hips.

His first thought was, F*k she\s grown up.

His second thought was, What the f*k is she doing out in Jack the Ripper-ville on her f*king own this late at night? Probably to do with that thief of a kid...

He followed her to the park where she sat on the swings, digging her bare feet into the sand. Her head was down and her hair was splayed out all around her. She looked lost in her own little world, so deep in thought she didn\ hear him walk to her. He wasn\ even trying to be quiet. He stopped a few feet behind her and just watched her. Her little hands wrapped so tightly around each chain of the swing she was in. She looked so f*king small, yet judging by the growth in her body, she must have been a teenager.

Sixteen, he figured. She was probably sixteen or close to it, and f*k she was beautiful. No, beautiful wasn\ the right word. She put beautiful to shame. She was perfection wrapped in an angelic form that made you want to knock the teeth out of any man looking her way.

Sixteen, he thought. Not yet legal. He could wait two years. What was seven hundred and thirty days to a patient man? Remy had this. Easy peasy. Especially if it meant waiting for a girl that left him thunderstruck. Absolutely floored. Nothing would go wrong....


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