I’m so excited to share a preview from the next book in the Titan series. Below are the opening scenes of Jax, a standalone romantic suspense novel.
Jax’s cheek stung as the eighties rock band hit a power chord and the dance floor went wild. Wedding guests danced, guys lifted their beer bottles as they sang along, and kids screamed through the melee with blinking neon lights. He would’ve put his hand to his face to calm the sting from the open-palmed hand-slap rejection, but there was no way he would give Seven that level of satisfaction.
“What?” Seven let her delicious pink lips tip into the slightest hint of a smile. “You’ve never been rejected before, big boy?”
Maybe he’d had a few too many wedding-reception-themed shots, but that she didn’t give him her full smile… He shook his head and considered it a challenge to earn her full, sexy grin. “Was that a no?”
“Most people would think so.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Too bad. I thought it was the start of foreplay.”
“Not a chance.” The tip of Seven’s tongue darted out and licked her bottom lip, taunting him with her tongue stud. “I didn’t think I had to spell it out.”
His deep laugh rumbled as his hand ran behind the dress shirt’s loosened collar. “And why’s that?”
“You’re the type to have been slapped a time or two.”
“Really?” An eyebrow with two tiny pink jewels on the end of an unseen barbell piercing lifted. “I call BS.”
“Cross my heart.” He made a cross as she rolled her eyes.
They would be the oddest pairing in the history of wedding reception hookups—except this one was going nowhere… unless she left with him.
“Never slapped until me.”
“Until you, sweetheart.” And wasn’t that the hottest thing that a woman had ever done? Said no with style. Seven was unforgettable in every way he could tell.
For the past two years, they had shared more than a few dirty looks, and for the past two hours, they’d shared liquor, shaken and stirred, poured into shot glasses, and announced with ridiculous names like Devotion Potion, About Thyme, and Something Blue.
Each shot was as brightly colored as Seven. The bold colors were needed, she explained, to combat dark and grumpy people like him. Twice, she’d called him a jerkface, and with every jab, he wanted to take her back to his hotel room even more.
When she’d slapped him, it had taken every ounce of restraint not to kiss her until her mind changed. Consent was a thing, and he got it loud and clear, but God, Seven made his chest tight when she got feisty. He was certain her “no” was concrete, but hell if he didn’t want to know what lay under her maid-of-honor dress.
Jared Westin slapped Jax on the back. “Am I interrupting?”
Jax grumbled, and Seven snickered her hello. And poof—the locked-eye standoff between him and Seven disappeared like forgotten bad dance moves on a wedding reception night gone long.
“Hey, Boss Man.” Jax checked his annoyance and decided it was better that Jared thought he was on his best behavior rather than irritating the wedding party. “Just catching up.”
“My lady friends deck me too when we catch up.”
Jax’s official title could have been Titan Jackass for all the aggravations he’d caused, though most times it was justified. Including now. “No punches were thrown.”
Jared tipped back his beer and took a long draw, lifting it away to greet someone a few tables over then turned back to Seven. “Miscategorization. Was it a slap, then? I just saw…” He lifted his arm and swung it out. “The follow-through after impact.”
Jax chortled. “Drama llamas.”
“Do llamas drink beer?” Boss Man joked.
Jax kept laughing. “Have you been asking your kids for your lines lately?”
“It was a slap.” Her coy smile served only to reignite Jax’s hope that a “no” today might be a “try again” sometime soon. “As evident by the handprint on that handsome cheek and my deep satisfaction.”
“Handsome, huh?” Jared repeated, stroking the beard he’d been growing. “Eye of the beholder.”
Jax rolled his eyes. “Some could say the same about—”
“Remember who signs the paychecks.”
“Handsome or not”—Seven elbowed Jax’s side—”he deserved it.”
She lingered, warm and playful, and Jax took a tight breath as Boss Man eyed their dynamic. He’d already been slapped, so what did Jax have to lose? He tossed an arm over her bare shoulder and sensed Seven freeze. His skimming fingers caressed her soft skin as goose bumps prickled. He couldn’t wait to try again sometime soon and gave her arm a light squeeze. “You left no handprint, beautiful. No evidence.”
“How do you know? You can’t see your cheek.” She leaned closer, long eyelashes upturned, and the friction of their clothes made a soft swish in the raucous room.
A choked laugh caught in Jared’s throat, and amused, he tipped his bottle toward Jax. “But there was a witness.” Then he took another swig and tipped his head toward Seven. “If you need a guy, I hold up well under cross-examination.”
“Good to know,” she joked.
Jax fought the urge to fold Seven tighter to his side and mold her to his hip. Her laughter ran the length of her body, staying with him after she stopped.
“On that note…” Seven blew Jax a kiss while her fingernails scraped across the back of his silk shirt, hidden by his suit jacket she’d nuzzled into. Only a few inches separated her lips and his cheek, close enough that he could feel the shadow of heat on his skin. “I have to run. I’ll see you if you come back to Iowa sometime.”
He dropped his chin and whispered, “Mixed signals, babe.”
“Good night, Jared.” She extracted herself from Jax’s side and turned on the sky-high heel that had first left Jax dazed in church. He’d said a prayer of thanks when he saw her walking down the aisle because she had no idea how much he’d needed to see her, those shoes, and that dress—but mostly her. Now Seven waltzed away as though she knew he couldn’t stop staring.
“Don’t look so surprised.” Jared shook his head, cracking his knuckles against the side of the longneck. “She knows you.”
She knows you… For as little as she did, Seven may have known him better than Titan.
A dark cloud coiled in his chest. Accusations of an often-recurring attitude problem echoed in his ears. Gone was the high of toying with Seven, the closeness of touching her, and the adrenaline burst from making her react.
“And your night is about to get worse,” Jared warned as Jax caught Sugar, Jared’s wife, making a beeline for them.
“I gotta roll also.” If he thought some of his teammates were a pain in the ass, this woman had it in for him. He didn’t need a liquor-fueled confrontation tonight. “But I’ll have my phone on if anything unexpected pops up—”
“Too late.” Jared laughed into his beer as Sugar’s long stride made record time. “Should’ve just split.”
“Jax.” She coolly pursed her red lips together.
And have Jared chew his ass for that? Nope. “Looking nice tonight, Sugar.”
The dark-haired, leather-clad façade faded long enough for the ice queen to smile for her compliment. Then Sugar’s suspicious smoky eyes narrowed. “There are more than enough biker bunnies here.”
Sugar’s social assessment of his behavior was Jax’s cue to take cover, and he stepped away, giving no shits how obvious the duck-and-cover was. “There are. Good night.”
She stepped forward, on the offensive. “Who would gladly say yes to whatever you offered Seven.”
“Two witnesses, then.” Jared rumbled with sarcasm. “I’ll make sure Seven knows.”
“Generous of you.” With a quick wave, Jax ducked away and kept walking through the eclectic groupings of people.
The straightlaced mixed with the straightedge. All of Sweet Hills’ community leaders mingled with 4-H Council leaders, who wore their best overalls and mud-scraped work boots. Then there were Titan Group and Mayhem MC, an odd combination of Ryder and Victoria’s social circles, filled with former military, CIA spooks, and gang members of the motorcycle club variety.
Very few occasions—births, weddings, and funerals—could bring this assortment together without needing to call the police. Even the sheriff was on the dance floor, ignoring the outstanding warrants Jax assumed Mayhem had. The motorcycle club had to have a few with their guns and drug runners. Having worked a Titan op a couple years back and turning on national news regularly, Jax didn’t believe the club’s legitimate business ventures were anything more than a BS front.
He moved to the bar, and the bartender held up a shot glass that Jax regrettably recognized as Something Blue. “Never mind.” He waved it away. “Water instead.”
Jax threw down a tip for the open bar and glanced at the paper embossed with Victoria and Ryder. There would be so much hell to give Ryder about this Pinterest explosion, then Jax cringed that he knew what Pinterest was. He blamed his teammates and the pregnancies over the years.
“Anything else, buddy?” the bartender asked.
“No.” Jax held out his water bottle. “Cheers to the day we stop pointing out the obvious. Pretty damn sure I know whose wedding this is.”
The obvious surrounded him as the bartender moved on, and Jax obviously shouldn’t have hit on Seven. Yet, the way she’d slid her arm under his suit coat said she obviously didn’t mind their flirtations too much. Jax smiled around the top of his water bottle before taking another sip of water. After she’d slapped him, when they had been close enough to taste and tease, her breath startled for a second, surprised, as though maybe she couldn’t believe she’d done that.
Tension had to erupt somehow… and, inhaling slowly, Jax wanted that panting breath next to his ear next time, with her thighs wrapped around—
“Need anything else?” the bartender asked again.
“No.” He needed to bail and gulped his water, tugging at the already unbuttoned collar of his shirt. “Thanks, man.”
The bartender’s good night met his back as he left without so much as a goodbye to his teammates and walked out of the Sweet Hills Community Center.
Farm trucks mixed with minivans and rental cars in the parking lot, and at the front were two rows of Mayhem Harleys, the club’s insignia on full display. But more interestingly, Seven was at the end of a row. Her hands were on her hips, and her brightly colored hair matched the angry expression on her face. She was pissed, which seemed par for the course. At least he wasn’t the only guy there getting a dose of Seven’s bitching as she stood behind an MC member leaned over a car.
So a drug deal was going down. Classy. At least Seven was pissed about that.
“Should’ve left with me and screwed.” He rolled his eyes at the questionable, illegal activities, turning the other way, not needing to see whatever they were getting into, and wandered until the sidewalk ended.
Behind him, a motorcycle started and revved, and Jax didn’t look to see if Seven was on the back of the Harley, going home with a biker. “Have fun.”
But he turned as the car Seven and the biker had been leaning against rolled toward the parking lot exit. The driver’s window was still down, and Jax froze. The car slowed, the driver’s eyes caught his. It’d been years since they had seen one another, and violence long held at bay boiled under his skin.
Jax snarled. He couldn’t process words. Hatred couldn’t form the vileness needed to justify a breath wasted on the driver.
The car continued its slow drive away, crunching the gravel in the lot until it sped off, and Jax couldn’t tear himself away from what—or who—he had just seen.
Deacon Lanes—a ghost from his past, the source of his misery, and a string puller at the CIA.
Why had Seven been talking to the man who had killed Jax’s wife?
The familiar roar and vibrations of Johnny’s Harley should’ve been comforting as Seven held on to her ex-husband as they flew down the highway. The hog had been a part of their marriage, even their friendship, for as long as she could remember. Seven knew how the motor growled down the asphalt because she had watched him build it by hand, piece by piece, from stripped parts.
The custom front springer and chrome grips to the throwback fenders made the Harley uniquely Johnny—classic but rugged, just like its owner. Sliding on to Johnny’s Harley was like slipping on a pair of her favorite jeans.
They slowed as they exited, and Johnny turned his head. “Relax, babe.”
“Sorry.” She was stiff as a brick on the back of his bike, but then her hiked bridesmaid dress flew from where she had pinned it under her thighs.
As the dress flapped in the wind, she breathed deeply, hoping some of the oxygen would work its way to her angry muscles. She let her mind wander back to Victoria’s wedding—to Jax Michaelson. The brooding anti-biker could moonlight as the poster boy for Italian sex gods. Seven blamed his dark hair and matching eyes more than his muscles. At least she was more curious about running her fingers through his hair than along the curves of his cut arms and chest.
Johnny turned his head. “There ya go, babe.”
“What?” she yelled, ripping her mind from the absurd fantasy of touching Jax’s hair.
“Loosening up, finally.”
Ugh. Apparently, thoughts of Jax helped her relax—when he wasn’t working her up with obnoxiously rude comments.
She balanced her high heels on the foot pegs as her hair whipped loose from the skullcap. Johnny slowed, leaning onto a side street as she stayed straight. Two turns later, they pulled into the church parking lot, where she’d left her car after carting Victoria from the hair salon, in her dress, with makeup and hair done, ready to marry the love of her life, Ryder.
When Seven and Johnny had gotten married, they’d done it at the courthouse, same place they’d gone to drop off their divorce paperwork. There had been no hairdos and no special makeup. Seven couldn’t remember what she’d worn to either event but could bet that Johnny had been dressed in his uniform of jeans, a Mayhem MC tee, and his leather cut that proudly displayed his member patch. At the time, she’d thought he looked fine—hot, even. Leathers had worked her up at the time. How times changed.
Johnny killed the motor, and Seven slipped off. She unfastened the skullcap and gave it back to him, not bothering to check out what he was wearing and not caring if he looked good. She leaned over to fluff her hair then stormed as best she could in her high heels toward her car.
“What? No ‘thank you’?” Johnny called.
Seven spun, making effective use of the flare at the bottom of her skirt, and evil-eyed him like only she could. They had never had a falling out. They’d never been the couple with big blowup fights, who threw bottles at one another, or the crazy couple who hollered until the cops showed up. They hadn’t made asses of themselves at the MC compound.
They’d simply known they shouldn’t be married, so they’d stopped. It was that simple. The elevator didn’t go any farther, and they had gotten off the relationship ride. Johnny had kept the apartment, and together, they’d shocked the Mayhem world when she moved into a house and he helped move the boxes of her belongings.
But at the moment, Seven wanted to fight. “I have to go get the kids.”
“Fine. I don’t want to hear about it later, though.”
Unable to wait until she got home, Seven folded the skirt as best she could to calm down, but it didn’t look right or stay still, which made everything worse.
“Did you hear me?”
She scrunched the fabric then smoothed it out violently. “I don’t want to throw down in God’s parking lot. But you will hear about it later.”
Johnny tossed his leg over the back of his bike, and his boots crunched with every step as he came forward. “Don’t even tell me you’re mad.”
Mad? “You think?” She beelined for her car door, repeating a mantra: “A fight at God’s house was seven years bad karma.” Why seven? Why not? Her name and all… Man, she was pissed and gritted her teeth. With a quick unlock, she pulled the door open.
“Seven,” Johnny snapped. “What does your sweet ass have to be mad about? Nothing.”
She glanced up at the church steeple. “Sorry, Big Guy.” Then she slammed the door shut and spun, her finger up and wagging. “Don’t you dare play dumb with me, Jonathan Andrew Miller.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “You’re mad about the drugs.”
“Am I mad about the drugs? Of course I’m mad about the goddmmm drugs.” She cringed, not wanting to drop the big GD when she’d just told the Big Guy she was sorry.
He shook his head and turned away. “Surprise, surprise.”
“Yeah, I’m ten kinds of mad, and you acting like it’s some surprising revelation makes me angrier.”
“You only care about Bianca and Nolan.”
“That’s my job in life,” she spit back.
“This is why we never had kids. I knew you’d go nuts.”
She pleated her skirt between her fingers. This wasn’t the time and place to strangle her ex-husband. “Give me strength.”
“What are you mumbling?” he asked.
Seven smoothed her skirt of nonexistent wrinkles. “Have you seen me do blow?”
He couldn’t say yes because she’d never snorted coke. Drugs weren’t her thing. Piercings and hair dye, those could give Seven a high. But not dope.
“Okay, Mother Teresa.” Johnny threw his arm out, waving her away.
She stomped over in high heels that threatened to break her ankles. “You don’t get to bring up my kids and not answer. They saw their mother foam at the mouth, twitch on the floor, vomit—”
“They were too damn young to remember, and you know it.”
“Neither one of us will ever know what it’s like to watch a mom OD with a pops too stoned to notice. That’s trauma, you asshole. No matter how young they were.”
His eyes searched the parking lot. “You’re wrong, Seven.”
She knew the guilt was there. It was for all of them, and everyone had been aware of the risks long before one of their own had OD’d. Bianca and Nolan’s dad would be in jail for a long time, and somehow, Seven had ended up with the babies. She’d always raise them as though they were her own. But even before they’d come in to her life, the drug game was all kinds of screwed up when it came to Mayhem.
“Are you a cokehead again?” she asked quietly. “Because I can help.”
Johnny’s face hardened. “Lay off the pious routine because we’re at a church.”
She shifted her frustration to the man from earlier. The one in the parking lot who she faulted for everything. Seven didn’t know who he was or what he did, but he was a problem. “Back at the reception. Any time I see that man, it’s like I’m not supposed to know.”
Johnny chuckled as if that was the understatement of the night. “No kidding.”
“Why can’t I know who he is?” she pressed.
“No one does.” He crossed his arms. “You’re not supposed to know club business. It’s that simple.”
“I’m not no one.” Her voice quieted to a whisper. “Who is he?”
Johnny wouldn’t raise his eyes to meet hers, all but confirming what she’d heard a few years ago. There was a mole in Mayhem. What charter did he belong to? Why did he come to their founding charter so often? “Whenever he shows up, things get bad.”
Johnny cackled. “Bullshit. They get better.”
They had two very different definitions of getting better. “Money does not equate better.”
“Equate,” he mocked. “I don’t know what you’re smoking, Seven, but it sure as fuck does.”
“You’re going to end up just like my father.” Disappointment made the night that much colder. “I’m going to go get the kids.”
“Just because you’re some Mayhem Princess doesn’t mean you have a say or a vote,” Johnny muttered.
It was her turn to cackle and smirk. “You’re not the president, Johnny. The vote’s done. Drug days are coming to an end whether you like it or not. It’s not the eighties and nineties anymore. Synthetics are made by teenagers in chemistry class. Your profits are cut short, and cartels aren’t as powerful as they were. And you know what? I’m good with that, and I don’t care what that no-name, bad-news-bearing—”
“Moneymaker who can change the hearts and minds—”
“Yeah. Him. I don’t care what he brings to the table or says,” Seven said, finishing what she’d started. “It was a vote. You can’t overrule it.”
His smile was entirely too slick. “Not yet.”
“If you want to be alive to take the gavel…” Seven pushed the tongue stud out of her mouth and toyed with it, wondering how much she should say. “If you’re going behind Hawke’s back like that, especially open in a parking lot, you won’t hold that gavel. You won’t stay alive. And I say that as a friend.”
Johnny pulled on the skullcap that he had let her wear, letting the straps dangle. “Calm your tits and get your kids, woman. I’ll do what’s best for the club, and you do what’s best for you.”
Pillows lined the edge of the bed, and every morning, Seven was fooling herself if she thought there was any way that she would get to hear the news amid the tickles and the giggles. It had become their morning tradition. The kids would come in, and they would start their day with smiles and laughter. Those few moments were perfectly summarized by the Life is Good bumper stickers that she collected every time she passed a store.
“Eek!” Seven squealed as Bianca tickled her neck, trying to get to her armpit. “Ow!” She giggled and caught her breath from the tummy dive Nolan had taken. “You two are killing me.”
The rumble of the garage door opening stopped Seven as she flipped Nolan over and tickled Bianca. Only one person would dare come over unannounced and use the garage to gain entry except Victoria, and she had left for her honeymoon last night.
“Johnny,” Seven yelled. “Why are you awake this early?”
Or maybe he hadn’t gone to sleep yet. Seven would kick his ass if he had ridden to her house intoxicated.
Nolan clapped his hands and yelled for Johnny also, scurrying off the bed as Bianca followed in her more reserved way. So much for getting any news this morning. Seven grabbed the remote to turn off the TV and heard both kids traipsing down the hall—then they stopped abruptly. A quick worry ran through her. Muffled voices and the sound of the kids running back made Seven sit up. “Johnny?”
“No.” The familiar voice matched equally familiar boot steps. “It’s Johnny and—”
“Hawke?” Seven swallowed the ball of panic in her throat, wondering why Mayhem’s club president was in her house. Had she gone too far with Johnny last night when she had warned him not to go behind Hawke’s back? But then Hawke wouldn’t be the one to have that discussion.
Bianca and Nolan scurried onto her bed as Johnny and Hawke stood at the mouth of her bedroom, neither with their best attempts at smiles.
Hawke kept his eyes on the ground. “You decent, Seven?”
She eyed the dynamic between the two men. “‘Course I am.”
“Hi.” Her little boy waved to Hawke from a stack of pillows.
He waved back. “Hey, little man.”
Nolan liked having men in the house, but Bianca could tell that something wasn’t quite right.
“You kids want to go watch TV with me?” Johnny backed toward the hallway.
Her stomach jumped because Johnny was separating her from the kids, but Nolan cheered, leaping from the bed to grab onto Johnny’s leg and begging her ex to walk down the hall with the boy riding on his foot. Johnny didn’t play well and pried him off, though Nolan still laughed.
Bianca didn’t move, and Seven worried the girl had instincts far beyond her years.
“Go on, honey,” Seven urged. “Johnny can get you cereal if you want.”
Johnny walked back in and held out a hand to help her off the bed, but Bianca did it herself. She fell into line without help. Whether she wanted to or not, Bianca understood that her little feet were supposed to start moving so the grown-ups could talk.
When Bianca was out of the room, Seven looked up at Hawke. “Is everything okay?”
“What do you think?”
Obviously not. It was a quarter past six in the morning, and neither one of those men had likely seen this time of day on purpose for quite some time.
Hawke’s light-brown hair bordered on blond, and his beard had been salt-and-pepper-colored for as long as Seven could remember. Hawke was tan and weathered, gruff and to the point. He furrowed his brow, which upped Seven’s anxiety, and all she wanted to do was get up and fold laundry—or anything. But that was her OCD tendencies trying to control her behavior. She needed to focus on why Hawke was there and not on her urges to crease, fold, and straighten the chaos out of her life. “You could have called.”
He worked his jaw side to side. “Didn’t want to.”
Which could mean a hundred things. Most likely, it meant he didn’t want a record of this conversation.
“Look, I was busting Johnny’s balls yesterday.” Seven threw her legs over the edge of the bed, smoothing her pajama bottoms. “You know I mean what I say. But I didn’t intend any disrespect. Not to you, not to the club.” Because Hawke had many years ahead of him as the club president, most likely. No one could predict the future. Nobody could predict accidents, fights, drama, or politics. But he had a solid grip on the founding charter, overseeing the role of all charters.
But his face twisted enough that she knew that wasn’t the point of his visit. “I’m not here to get in the middle of your bullshit spats with your old man.”
Now didn’t seem like the appropriate time to remind Hawke that they weren’t together. The not-his-old-lady talk could wait for another day, preferably when she wasn’t in her pajamas. “What can I help you with?”
He ran his hand down his beard, stroking it. “The club’s getting out of the game.”
“I know.” She also knew that Johnny was talking to people about how to avoid that. So would it really happen? She wasn’t sure.
“Changing distribution isn’t a black-and-white decision.”
Maybe Hawke knew what Johnny was up to. “Okay.”
“Our business partners and friends can’t be left hanging. We have to keep our alliances happy.”
Friends… Seven hated having a nice word applied to the corrupt DEA and ATF agents as well as the underhanded cops that networked from the waterways and borders across the highways. She had no idea how such a spiderweb of complicity was woven. Mayhem didn’t have the organization to oversee payment structures or the connections to work the international agents on border countries.
Friends… But if Hawke didn’t figure out how to get everyone happy—meaning whoever took over the distribution and therefore Mayhem’s network—then the war wouldn’t just come from the cartel and the gangs, but also law enforcement who expected paydays and would worry that they’d been cut off.
“You’re not telling me anything I’m not aware of.” Respectfully, she bit her lip instead of asking him to get to the part about why was he there. “But I don’t know anything that might help you.” Her skin went cold at the possibility of the visit. “I’m not going to go see my dad.”
Her dad would tell her anything Hawke wanted to know. Cullen Blackburn couldn’t say no to her, and he’d never had his mind away from the MC entirely, even behind bars.
“No. Not why I’m here.”
Relief came quickly. Anything else would be a cakewalk. “Okay, then?”
Hawke paced at the bottom of her bed, and Seven ran her finger along the slim barbell piercing at the bottom of her eyebrow instead of jumping out of bed and folding the blankets over and over until he explained what the MC wanted from her. No need to tip her hand this conversation made her nervous.
He leaned back on her dresser. “Lots of talk how Suarez’s folks are less than thrilled with the club vote.”
That wasn’t news. Mayhem’s dissenting votes were pissed and wanted to know how the club would continue to line their fat pockets. Greedy jerks.
Maybe the Suarez cartel handled paying off the cops, ATF, and DEA agents that helped Mayhem with distribution, or… Maybe she should stop thinking about it. She’d made it twenty-four years of living the Mayhem life without knowing the who and how. If there was a guiding guardian angel who oversaw all cartel-related activities, Seven didn’t want to know because she wanted to make it to her twenty-fifth birthday.
Hawke tilted his head. “Seven?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.” She smoothed the edges of the sheets, pushing out and up, as his gaze bore down.
“We need another friend. Someone to force a conversation with leaders. Not foot soldiers.”
Her fingers splayed on the bedspread. “I can’t help you. I know a lot of people. Suarez cartel members? Friends? They’re not in my contact list.”
“Unless you want Sidney, second-key at The Perky Cup, I’m still useless.” Which she hated being. “I’m sorry.”
“Victoria knows someone I need to know.” The intense focus seemed as though he were trying to telepathically pass along his secret, silent plan.
“Oh.” Seven reached for her cell phone. “You know she left for her honeymoon. Like, hours ago. But chances are, I know anyone she does.” Swiping her screen open, she looked up. “Who am I looking for?”
“Her husband works for a private contracting firm. I believe they have the ability to step in and help negotiate.”
“Titan Group?” Seven bit her lip, not wanting to speak out of turn.
Hawke took a step closer. “And judging from their wedding reception last night, you know a few of these guys too.”
Her cheeks went hot as she remembered slapping Jax, in public, and storming off. “I have a couple contacts.”
“Make a meeting. Feel out the situation.”
If her eyes weren’t attached to her skull, they might’ve popped out. “You want me to ask Titan to help you negotiate drug distribution? With a cartel?” Seven blinked, dumbfounded. “I don’t know that that is what they do.” She closed her hanging jaw. “I think they do legal work. Save people and stuff.”
“Actually, I’ve asked around. I think they do work that needs being done. Simple.”
Seven shook her head, not wanting Ryder and any of Titan to know Mayhem’s dirty little secrets more than they did. She had spent time with several of the guys years ago and then became friends with a few of them off and on through Victoria and Ryder.
Though her biggest concern wasn’t Ryder. It was Jax. The guy was a decent guy except when he was a first-rate prick. When that was the case, he was nothing but a cocky bastard with a bad attitude. All his charm had evaporated in a hot, arrogant Italian second.
Her teeth grated even as her pulse fluttered. The nerve of him, asking what else might be pierced.
Seven drew in a deep breath, hating the way heat crawled up her neck when she recalled how Jax took the tall, dark, and handsome cliché to another level by brooding like a military badass who needed a fucking hug. Someone needed to tell Jax to take his persona down a notch or two. “I’m not that friendly with Titan.”
Hawke cast a doubtful glance. Another freaking witness, as Jared would have called it.
“I’d wait for Victoria. She’d be stoked to help.”
“Don’t wanna wait, Seven.”
“If she green-lights this with her thumbs-up, the likelihood of their help will go through the roof.”
“Do you really think I’d be up at the ass crack of dawn, coming into your house unannounced, if this wasn’t time sensitive as shit?”
“Get ahold of someone you trust at Titan. Set up a meeting. Make it happen.” Hawke didn’t wait for her to respond as he walked out but paused at the doorjamb. “If not for you, do it for those kids playing with your old man.”
Seven held on to her eye roll with every ounce of respect she could muster. “I’m not his old lady.”
Hawke shrugged. “Hard to let an institution die. Johnny might even have been a good pops if he could keep his nose out of the powder bag.”
She toyed with her tongue stud. Johnny wasn’t snorting coke anymore. She was almost positive. “Only if his old lady gave birth to chrome and leather.”
A real laugh and smile cracked Hawke’s sun-worn face, and he rubbed his chest, letting grease-stained fingers trace the president patch on his leather cut. “I’ll be waiting for your call, sweetheart. Don’t let the club down.”
Jax slapped his hand on the unfamiliar nightstand, knocking over a bottle of water but not finding his buzzing cell phone where he expected it. He rolled over, rubbing his eyes, and looked around the unfamiliar room.
Iowa, of all places, in an unfamiliar bed, and a wedding was to blame. Weddings were the worst social occasions that he could be forced to attend. Boss Man had given him two options: Show up or plan your funeral. Both needed a suit. Neither would be fun. This one had the benefit of getting laid. But that hadn’t happened. “Your own damn fault.”
Not much of a difference from a funeral then… Grumbling, Jax buried his head back in the pillow. His phone buzzed again with the text message notification. “Really?”
If they had a job this early after someone from Titan had gotten hitched, they needed hazard pay. Surely, he wasn’t the only one who wanted to sleep in. Jax glared at the empty pillow next to him, where a headful of pink hair should’ve been asleep, and rolled back to grab his phone on the other side of the lamp.
SEVEN: Are you still in town?
He closed one eye and read it again, as if that would make the text make any more sense. Was he still in town? Where the hell did she think he went? Jax pinched the bridge of his nose and tossed the phone onto the bed, ignoring her. If she wanted to know, she should have just stayed and found out.
With the pillow to block the sunlight peeking around the drawn shade, Jax burrowed back into bed, pulling the cover over his head.
What was worse? Weddings or churches? The dresses or the—
No, he wasn’t going to do this today. Punching the pillow to fluff it, his mind drifted to Seven on the back of the bike. Too bad she hadn’t spent the night. If her tongue and her eyebrow were pierced, what else was—
Jax sat up, the pillow falling into his lap. He wasn’t going to fantasize about the girl. She was a friend… or something. Either way, they could fuck or they could not. But he wasn’t going to let his imagination roam.
Were her nipples pierced?
“Damn it.” He rolled his shoulders back, trying to let the thought go, and knowing sleep was a lost cause. Jax reached back over and snagged the phone, swiping the screen open again and staring at her message. “This is all your fault.”
JAX: It’s before 8 AM. What the hell do you think?
SEVEN: Early flight? I have no idea. Also, chill, Mr. Grumpy Pants.
JAX: I was sleeping. Until you texted.
SEVEN: Well, now that you’re awake, get up and meet me at The Perky Cup.
His head banged with the dull echo of too many old memories and maybe a few too many drinks. It wasn’t quite a hangover because he was too stubborn to admit he ever got one of those. But he didn’t feel like getting out of bed.
SEVEN: No one ever taught you manners?
This coming from a girl who slapped him and hung out with a biker gang?
SEVEN: Guess not.
JAX: It’s rude to call out someone’s manners.
SEVEN: Are you going to meet me at The Perky Cup?
She didn’t respond. What the hell did she want to talk about? Apologize for the slap? They’d moved past that when she had wrapped her arm under his suit coat. Talk about their feelings? Not her style, either. Why wasn’t she responding? Oh… That was on him, being rude for calling her rude. He grumbled and rewrote his message to make up for his faux pas, rolling his eyes even as he hit Send.
JAX: No *thank you*
JAX: Now can I go back to sleep?
SEVEN: Sure. But one more question?
JAX: What’s up?
SEVEN: Are you a stubborn asshole (a) all the time, (b) some of the time, or (c) most of the time?
He chuckled. Not all the time, but he kept that to himself.
JAX: (d) none of the above. I’m sunshine and gumdrops. Haven’t you noticed?
JAX: And if you’re dying to apologize for slapping me, a text message will do.
SEVEN: That will never happen, Buster.
Amused, he tucked the pillow behind him, rereading her text.
JAX: Who says Buster?
SEVEN: Who doesn’t know when to say YES? Get your ass to The Perky Cup, *Buster*.
“You, last night, apparently.” But that text he decided not to write.
JAX: Fine. When?
SEVEN: Now would be preferable, but I will give you a few to *politely* say goodbye to whoever your company is. Manners, Jax. They are very important. Be polite.
SEVEN: Say things like ‘that was fun.’ ‘You’re pretty.’ Don’t bark or bite her. (Unless she asks…)
He snort-laughed and could picture her deviously texting him about someone in his bed. Too bad he couldn’t picture if Seven had her nips pierced.
SEVEN: Imagine the biggest eye roll I’ve ever given you. Now double it.
He laughed again and lumbered himself out of bed.
JAX: I’m alone, but I’ll see you soon.
And damned if she didn’t make him grin despite how his head pounded.