Undeniable - 4
This book is for the old-school brothers and their old ladies, to the prospects and the patch whores; to the bros, their sport bikes, and their hoes. To all my fellow 47%ers out there, to the little red-haired boys with freckles sprinkled across their cheeks, women who wear their broken hearts on their sleeves, and old men with sad stories to tell. To the holes in our T-shirts, to beaten-up jeans and favorite bandannas, to the sound of laughter, the clinking of glasses, to spontaneous sex, to the smell of exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke. To love that kills and to love that heals, to the feel of cracked leather against your cheek, the sun on your back, and the wind in your hair, to the road beneath you, to the path you’ve traveled, and the ones you’ve yet to take . . .
To true freedom.
But most of all, this book is for my club. A club comprised of people who have held my hand when I needed the support, who have told me jokes when I wanted to cry, who have walked me through all the agonizing, heart-rending processes that come with putting a book together.
Danielle, this book is for you, for standing by me no matter what.
For Christina, because you keep me on my tippy-tippy toes. And in the very best way possible. And, you know, thank you for that thing. That incredible, amazing thing. Love you scissor sista.
For Ashley, who is so vain she probably thinks this book is for her, who probably thinks this book is for her, doesn’t she? Doesn’t she? Well, it IS. Enough said.
For Nicole, for drowning your sorrows alongside me with dry humor and a whole lot of witty one-liners. Thanks, babe.
For Pam, for always looking out for me.
For Claire, who no matter what life throws her way, finds a reason to smile. You’re an inspiration.
For Gail M., who understands my brand of crazy.
For Gail H., who knows my characters almost as well as I do.
For Ellie, Virginia, Hillary, Heather, Courtney, and Toski, because without you I’d never get anything done. Or is that with you I’d never get anything done? *wink*
For Emmy, Cindy, Syreeta, and Karina, for being my go-to girls, for the unconditional support and unconditional friendship.
And for my husband, because without his love, my dreams would still be . . . only dreams.
And for my children, because who would I be without them?
I don’t ever want to know.
It was misery that washed her color away, leading her off her path and astray. So she wandered through her life, unknowing and unsure, until realizing her path had always been right there in front of her from the start. Hidden in the shadows of despair, she found her path, her color, within her beating and beautifully bright red heart.
I wasn’t always broken; we are all born pure. It is our journey that burdens us and leads us astray. Our mistakes that beat us down and cover us in guilt and shame, burying us a little more with each successive hardship. It is up to us to dig ourselves out, to come to terms with our faults, to embrace not only our imperfections but those of the ones we love, and to once again find the path we strayed from.
I had been a simple girl. I grew up in a small town in Montana surrounded by down-to-earth, simple people with small, simple dreams. I loved my mom, my dad, and my big sister with all my heart. I loved books with happy endings and romantic movies, and couldn’t wait to fall in love.
Unlike my ambitious older sister, I was a born romantic. I’d been in love with the idea of love for as long as I could remember, full of flighty, fluffy notions of what happiness truly was. And to me, happiness could only be found within the arms of a man . . . a man who loved me.
I wanted butterflies, holding hands, stolen kisses in the backseat of a car, late-night phone calls, all of it. The anxiety, the desperation, that beautiful, agonizing ache called love. And so I romanticized everything.
I had no aspirations, no big dreams. There was nothing I was working toward, no great goals or accomplishments. Instead of college, I dreamed of marriage; instead of a career, I yearned for children.
Visions of traditional white weddings and babies danced in my head. I wanted three babies—one boy, two girls—a nice house with a white picket fence, a cat, and a dog. By the time I was fourteen, I had it all planned out. The cut of my bridesmaids’ dresses, my wedding reception’s seating chart, the color of my living room curtains, the decor of my children’s bedrooms . . . no detail escaped my attention. I wanted to live the fairy tale, to become someone’s everything and anything, to be his princess.
I wanted my happily-ever-after.
There was only one problem.
Instead of finding my prince, I found a whole mess of trouble. At the age of fifteen, I’d found myself pregnant; by eighteen I was married to a man I didn’t love; and by the age of twenty, I was running around on my husband with a married man.
Then, at the age of twenty-four, I gave my heart away to yet another man, a mistake that would once again drastically change the course of my life.
My weaknesses, my choices, and my decisions—the ones I made and the ones I didn’t—all took me down a rocky road filled with regret, heartbreak, and pain. And eventually, they nearly killed me.
Would I change things if I could? Would I turn back time and do things differently?
This isn’t just my story, the story of a broken woman who lost her way. It’s also the story of my children, the men I loved, and the friends who were more family to me than my own.
This is the story of us all, all our fates intertwined. And for that reason alone, pain and death be damned, I wouldn’t change a thing.
It was a beautiful day. Montana was in full bloom, with nothing but green as far as the eye could see. The sun was shining, children were playing, and laughter was plentiful. All in all, it was just another typical summer barbecue at the Hell’s Horsemen motorcycle compound that, as usual, everyone was thoroughly enjoying.
That is, everyone except for me.
For me, the sun was too bright, the children were a painful reminder that my own daughter wasn’t present, and the laughter was just too darn loud. I felt suffocated by it all, wishing I were anywhere else, wishing I was anyone else . . . anyone but me.
I glanced up at the small group of friends encircling me: Kami, Mick and his wife, Adriana, and Eva, who was peering at me curiously. Those eyes of hers, too big and shockingly gray, seemed to see straight through me; no matter how desperately I tried to hide my feelings, she was always able to discern them. Although I supposed it came with her job.
Married to Deuce West, the president of the Hell’s Horsemen, one of Eva’s unspoken duties was keeping us women in line, ensuring any emotional problems we might have didn’t interfere with the men and their business.
All the same, she was the closest thing I had to a best friend, even if I wasn’t hers.
Kami, her childhood friend and the wife of another club member, held that precious title. I wasn’t jealous; I was just happy to be included in the inner circle. It hadn’t always been that way. Before Deuce had brought Eva home, life was very different inside the club for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be married to one of the boys.
Women like me—sometimes called side pieces, muffler bunnies, seat warmers—were essentially club whores. Even though I had a somewhat elevated position within the club as a den mother of sorts, and was paid to cook and clean, I still had been considered a second-class citizen, expendable and easily replaced.
Eva had changed all that. She’d changed a lot about the way things worked, and during it all had become more like a sister to me than my own had ever been.
“I’m fine,” I lied, trying to smile. “The little one is kicking, is all.”
Being eight months along in my pregnancy, it was easy to blame my moods on the baby, but Eva was far from gullible. With her eyes full of pity, she nodded and turned away. I did the same, my gaze seeking out the reason I was here, standing amongst a club full of criminals and their families.
Already looking in my direction, Jase’s smiling eyes met mine. When his gaze dropped to my swollen stomach, his smile turned to a rather devilish grin.
Even after nearly seventeen years together, it was still painfully apparent how Jason “Jase” Brady, a married man with children, had been able to convince the dutiful wife and mother I’d once been to become his “club whore.” So much so that all I had to do was close my eyes and I could once again hear the bells jingling on the door, feel the wooden floor bend and creak below my feet, hear my own voice call out as it had on that day so many years before . . .
“Mornin’ Joey,” I had called out as I’d entered the neighborhood convenience store.
From behind the counter, Joe Weaver, a former classmate of mine, had glanced up from his Playboy magazine and flashed me a mouthful of crooked yellow teeth. “Mornin’, midget,” he’d said cheerfully. “You bring me any muffins today?”
“Sorry,” I said over my shoulder as I headed for the medicine aisle. “Teg’s got the flu. Poor thing has been throwing up all night.”