“You’re from Portland?” the sleepy-eyed blonde asks me while looking over my résumé.
I nod my head. “Yes. I needed a change of scenery, so I decided to come up here.”
Truthfully, I needed to get away from the man who would not stop stalking me. If I had the means, I’d have gone much farther.
I keep that information to myself, doubting the knowledge will affect my chances of being hired.
“I see,” Morrigan responds. “Welcome. You’ll love McDermott.”
I smile back, hoping her words ring true.
She doesn’t look up for a long moment, enraptured in her scrutiny of my résumé. It’s unnerving to see.
I know the document isn’t impressive in the least or sparkling with potential. Even after I stretched the truth on it a little.
I guess since I’m applying for a job that sounds pretty equivalent to waitressing, that shouldn’t matter much.
I have the experience, and I’m hoping that will sway any indecision she might have about hiring the disheveled brunette in her office.
I arrived in McDermott, Montana around 1 a.m. Sleep didn’t come on account of my ever-persistent paranoia even after my head met the fluffy pillow of a bed.
I was worried I might have been followed.
No one came rapping on my hotel door this time though—no crazy ex-boyfriend who claimed to be “madly in love” while he tried to drag me across the country in spite of my resistance.
I can feel the puffy bags under my eyes from stray tears and lack of sleep. My hair consists of stress tangles and knots from my nervous twisting of it every five minutes as I look over my shoulder.
I spent most of the night pacing and watching the parking lot of the little hotel. To be frank, I look like hell. And as much as I try to keep my head up and stay positive, I feel even worse.
Morrigan presses a button on the desk surface and holds a hand out to me. “Can I see your ID, please? I have to run a quick background check, and then we can get on to the point.”
Right. I dig through my purse and pull my wallet out just as the door to my left opens and heavy feet cross the floor toward the desk.
I place my ID in the woman’s waiting hand and glance toward the tall man standing at my side. He’s wearing a curious smile and looking at me with mischievous eyes.
More importantly, he’s a stranger.
I feel my body sag into my chair almost instantly as the realization sinks in.
“Everything good, Morr?” the stranger asks.
She passes my card back to me and gives him an affirmative nod. “Yes. I’m interviewing for the new mom position.” She gestures to me, a smile on her lips. “This is Celia.”
The stranger scrutinizes me for a moment, unabashedly looking over my body. His gaze lingers the briefest second longer on my exposed legs.
I glare without thinking, wishing I didn’t wear this outfit. The only problem is, what I have on is my only semi-formal outfit.
All of my belongings are exactly where I left them: at my abandoned house in Portland, a few states over.
Forgoing anything but myself and few enough clothes to fit into a carry-on was necessary. Especially if I want to feed myself without any source of income for however long it takes me to get a job.
The plane fare to McDermott left a good-size dent in my already flushed savings account. By the time I paid for the taxi and hotel, I didn’t have any other choice but to make do with what I have.
And that isn’t much.
I think it goes without saying that I need this job like I need air to breathe.
When I came across a “help wanted” ad in the newspaper at the breakfast bar of the hotel, I felt the first strand of relief embrace me. All it said it required was working feet and a smile.
It sounds perfect.
Where I’m at in life right now, I’ll take what I can get.
Serving meals to some geriatric club members three times a day, five days a week and doing a little cleaning is simple—perfect.
“Your résumé looks good. I have a few concerns and some questions to run by you, however,” Morrigan says. “It’s nothing heavy considering what I need to know. I’ll ask as soon as Silver gets back.”
Her kind, smiling expression disappears and morphs into one devoid of emotion. I clear my throat and try not to shift in my seat.
“What would you like to know?”
She looks me over intently, like I’m now the résumé she just did the same with. “You have no references listed. May I ask why?”
I go rigid in my seat. “I just didn’t have anyone’s numbers to hand,” I explain, confident because I’m not entirely lying.
Morrigan nods. “Understandable. You said you just arrived in McDermott?”
“That’s good. Were you a part of any clubs or organizations where you came from?”
“No,” I reply—honestly once again. “I’m not the social type for those things.”
The smile slowly returns to her face after a minute of watching me, searching for signs of deception.
“I see,” she says. “Well, everything looks good here.”
Silver, as she called him, walks back in. He hands me back my ID and exchanges a nod with Morrigan. I hope that means the background check went well.
I’m no criminal. I suppose my reclusiveness is a good reason for that, though it didn’t always have its advantages.
When I caught the attention of my ex, it probably made me the perfect target for someone like him.
“You’re hired!” Morrigan suddenly exclaims, beaming at me with excitement.
Her reaction is a far cry from what she was like for most of the interview, but I suppose she was being professional.
She gets up and rounds the desk, clasping my hand in hers in a friendly handshake. I numbly return the gesture, the shock of what this means for me beginning to set in.
This transition was…easy. And a huge relief that makes my life so much simpler.
“I’ll call you in the morning.” Morrigan waves as I get up and start to leave her office.
I do my best to give her a genuine smile in return, then I thank her before I walk out of the small room.
As I walk through the clubhouse toward the exit, I feel the weight of stress lessen with every step I take.
I’m too absorbed in my own little bubble of oblivion to pay any attention to the large figures that pass by me, or the sound of heavy footfalls and loud chatter.
Tomorrow, my fresh start begins. I’ll get up, go to work, and start a brand-new routine—one without a psychopath watching me every minute of every day.
When I’m back in my room at the hotel, I fall onto the bed and exhale a breath that feels like it’s been trapped inside for months.
It’s surreal to think that a few days ago, I was the victim of a lunatic stalker. Now, I’m just another ordinary girl all over again.
To further reassure myself that this is reality and not a dream conjured to console me, I go over the fact that I’m here, I’m safe, and I’m not going to fall into the hands of an obsessed man again.
It’s enough to goad my exhausted body into much needed sleep; I delve into unconsciousness with open arms.
An overwhelming amount of light shining through my window wakes me. Or maybe it’s the buzzing and classical ringtone coming from my cell phone on the nightstand.
I sit up and take it in my hand.
The bright screen hurts my bleary, sleepy eyes, but through it I can see the clock. It’s just after 6 a.m., and Morrigan, I assume, is calling.
Considering this is a new phone, no one else has been given my number.
I push aside my wariness and answer immediately.
I get out of bed and rummage through my bag for a change of clothes. I have to kick off my shoes and skirt before I can pull on a pair of pants, courtesy of falling asleep in them last night.
“Good morning!” Morrigan chirps, sounding used to waking up at this hour. “Are you ready for your first day?
“The club’s having an emergency meeting, and they’re all always so grumpy without food. I swear, if they go long enough, they’ll eat each other.”
I chuckle. The image of old, gray-haired men fighting is a comical one. I pull on a new shirt and answer, “I’ll be there in a minute. On my way now.”
“Should I have someone pick you up?” she asks just as I’m about to hang up.
“No. I’m at the hotel down the road—it’s only a short walk. Thank you for the offer though.”
“Oh, good, I’ll get started then,” she replies. “The guys will be so thankful for this, and I promise, every day doesn’t start this early. See you when you get here.”
The line goes dead, and I’m ready and walking out the door.
I stuff my key card in my purse and double-check I locked the door before I make my way toward the clubhouse.
I take in the town as I walk this time. Most of the buildings are aged and appear to preserve the original Old Western sort of setting.
Though, unlike the rest of the other aged buildings in McDermott that are all adjacent to each other, the clubhouse seems to be newer and a little more secluded.
It sits on at least its own acre of land that looks like it may have been a part of a farm. There’s an old barn in the back and an assortment of harvesting tools in the overgrown grass.
A long line of bikes sits in the parking lot, with a younger-looking biker watching over them.
As I approach the door, I get close enough to see a name tag on the cut he wears over a leather jacket. It reads, “Slayer.”
I always thought bikers were gray-haired, gruff men—the kind that show up to school to pick up their grandson or daughter on their sleek Harleys.
Or the ones you drive by on the road who look as if just the wind against their leather and long hair is heaven.
When I walk through the front doors, searching through my purse for a hair tie, a large figure intercepts my path.
I realize how off-base my initial assumptions were once my eyes begin to roam up the man before me.
I look over black boots on the floor, thighs wide with muscle, and a torso covered in cloth and leather that manages to caress every cut and ridge underneath it all perfectly.
His chest is level with my head, and his form is wide enough to take up a doorway with the bulging biceps of his brawny arms and shoulders.
This is a man. One who is so not geriatric but, in fact, seems to be in his prime.
My lips are already parted in awe by the time I look at his face. He is stunning.
I’m rooted to the floor, my gaze stuck on his countenance. His eyes are a gray tone that reminds me of the onset of a thunderous storm.
Dark hair is pushed back from his face, and I can tell it’s not because he styles it, but a result of running his hands through it a lot. I would know that look.
Even if I’m not taking in his form anymore, it’s impossible not to note his formidable stature. Once again, this is a man. There’s no mistaking it.
“Who are you?” he asks, voice deep and lips parting as he concentrates. It only adds to my daze.
I blink when his eyes narrow at me and the storm in them seems to start up. “I was just hired,” I explain. “Morrigan is waiting for me.”
I train my gaze lower, meaning to look away so I can process a thought that doesn’t revolve around his appealing features.
I end up locking eye contact with the bulge behind the crotch of his jeans.
Now, this is much worse. The thoughts filling my mind—I tug on a strand of my hair to get them to heel.
I don’t remove my gaze from his package. God, he has to be packing.
My skin prickles in awareness the longer I stand there, and I realize he must be watching me intently. I swear I can feel his lightning touch of a gaze shocking me to life as he studies me.
Just when I find the courage to talk to him, someone joins our little standoff.
“Grave, so you’ve met the new old lady?” Silver says, clapping a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of me. He visibly becomes rigid.
“Old lady?” His tone is harsh. “Whose?”
Silver’s head falls back as he laughs, his whiskey-colored eyes glinting with mischief. “Technically, she’s the club’s old lady. Morr just hired her to help out with the mama duties.”
His gaze flicks from Grave to me. “Morrigan thinks she has to feed us to keep us all in line.” He winks at me as he goes on. “If only she knew how complicated our appetites can be.”
Grave makes a deep, grating noise that puts me on edge. I clutch the strap of my purse and say, “I need to get to the kitchen now.”
I make the mistake of looking at him. He’s staring me down, eyes full of a darkness that makes my stomach heat.
It’s intense. I find myself drawn into those stormy depths all over again.
He takes a step forward, but Silver is a beat ahead.
His hand grasps my bicep, and he tugs me away. His grip is friendly and not harmful in any way, but I still want to pry his fingers off.
As we pass him, Grave wears a strained expression, the storm in his eyes raging.
Silver whistles in relief once we get into the hallway. “Thought I was going to have to face off with the VP.”
“What?” I ask.
He just chuckles, waving a hand dismissively.
When we make it to the kitchen, he turns to me. “Don’t mind Grave—he’s harmless for all that he is scary. Same goes for all the Reapers.”
I nod, my palms growing sweaty. And not because of fear. “Is he always so…?” I get lost thinking about his eyes alone.
“Blunt? Intense?” Silver rattles off, following with an amused grin at my fluster. “He’s just a man with a few skeletons in his closet.
“Oh, and maybe don’t end up alone with him unless you’re up for some fun. I think he likes you.”
He gives me a last wink before stalking off, leaving me uncertain and a little bit excited.
A part of me isn’t opposed to being alone with Grave. But I also know I don’t have it in me to surrender myself to another man so soon.
Especially one that looks at me the way he does.
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